The Breath of Adam

[This is the second in a series of posts about the Holy Spirit. To see the first post, click here.]

My last post on the Holy Spirit had to do with how God brings things into some share in his word. Once God has already brought things to a share in his wisdom through the Spirit, we find that texts about the Holy Spirit fall under a second heading. Genesis 2 portrays God giving life to the first man by breathing into him a breath of life, suggesting that the life of the man is a share in God’s own breath. The word for “breath” there is not the same word in Hebrew as the word for “spirit” in Gen 1:2, but one could surmise a connection. Psalm 104 is more explicit: the psalmist says about created, living things, “When you hide your face, they are dismayed; when you take away their breath, they die and return to their dust. When you send forth your Spirit, they are created; and you renew the face of the ground.” (Psalm 104:29-30) Here the word for breath is ruah both times, and the connection is clear: God sends forth his breath and renews the breath of life in animals and men.

When God creates us to begin with, we have no say in the matter: God brings us into being on the pattern of his Wisdom through his Spirit without any prior contribution on our part. But once we exist as a share in the life of the Son, we also have a share in the life of the Spirit. As God has a “breath” within him, so creatures have a “breath” or impulse within them through which they move and act. And so we find a second set of “Spirit texts” in which creatures are said to have something in them that resembles procession of the Holy Spirit.

Paul speaks of something like this in his first letter to the Corinthians, asking, “For what person knows a man’s thoughts except the spirit of the man which is in him? So also no one comprehends the thoughts of God except the Spirit of God.” (1Cor 2:11) Paul takes for granted a parallel between “God’s Spirit” and “the spirit of the man which is in him”. While the Spirit’s impulse brings a man into existence on the pattern of son, even on the natural level, on that same natural level a man has in him an impulse and a life that is like the Holy Spirit. In a parallel way, while reception of the grace of the Holy Spirit conforms one to the Incarnate Word, so the indwelling of the Spirit causes one to live and act as he did (see for example Roman 8, especially verses 9 through 11).

Despite the scarcity and vagueness of texts about the Holy Spirit, the conclusions I have drawn in this post and the previous one seem clear from Scripture: when we look at how God creates the world, we see him driving things toward the pattern of his Son as though by a might wind; when we look at creatures already living in the world, we see that their own interior impulse toward their fulfilment—and ultimately, toward the glory of God—is a likeness of the Holy Spirit.

Next time, I’ll take a look at what all this means about God’s own interior life, that is, the Trinity.

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The Breath of the Word

[The is the second in a series of posts about the Holy Spirit.  To see the second post, click here.]

For the Scripture project, I will eventually have to write about the Holy Spirit: Scripture = in-spired = in-spirited = from-the-Holy-Spirit. So I have to, but I’ll admit that it’s an intimidating assignment.

Compared to the Holy Spirit, revelation concerning the Son of God is pretty clear. “Son” is a word we use all the time, and its everyday use clearly illuminates its meaning in theology. The Son became a man like us, walking around and talking in plain language just so we would know him. The New Testament features lengthy and carefully written passages directly about the mystery of the Incarnation, such as the prologue to the Gospel of John or the hymn in Philippians 2. In the end, the procession of the Son is a mystery, for sure, but as mysteries go it is nicely laid out.

The Holy Spirit, on the other hand, is mysterious from beginning to end. Even the word “spirit” is less than clear: what are we supposed to make of the “breath of God”? Everybody knows that a son is a person; what do we say about a hypostatic wind? What’s more, the biblical witness concerning the Spirit is scattered over innumerable books of the Old and New Testament, with no one passage simply opening the mystery in an overt way. One is left to gather the pieces together as best as one can.

All that said, I hope to offer an approach that seems to me both faithful to the biblical witness and complementary to the interpretations offered by the Fathers and Doctors of the Church. The result will inevitably be a little less than satisfying, because the basis for any interpretation of the Holy Spirit is so vague and scattered to begin with, but there is no way around making the attempt.

My idea starts with the notion that the Son is the wisdom of God, the Father’s interior Word, the pattern to which God looks in creating the world. That much is clear from Scripture. From there, I think we can gather up what Scripture says about the Spirit under two headings, the first of which I’ll present in this post. Continue reading “The Breath of the Word”

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