“The Pentecost”. (Workshop of Barent van Orley, ca. 1530)
Abstract: The article looks at the divine drama from a new angle, shedding light on the third person of the Godhead.
Keywords: Holy Ghost, Jesus Christ, Satan, the devil, Job, Adam, Horus, divine twins, Trinity, trinitarianism, analogy, Thomas Aquinas.
Gordon D. Fee (1994) articulates the problem:
[One] wonders further whether our difficulties do not also stem from our own experience of the church and the Spirit, where the Spirit is understood in such nonpersonal ways — as divine “influence” or “power” — that it is a very short step from our experience of the Spirit as a “gray, oblong blur” [to] our becoming practical binitarians: I believe in God the Father; I believe in Jesus Christ, God’s Son; but I wonder about the Holy Ghost. The Spirit has become God’s specter, if you will, an unseen, less than dynamic, vibrant influence, hardly God very God. (pp. 827-28)
To come to grips with the Spirit Paraclete we must first remind ourselves that our divine concepts function as mere “pointers”. As God transcends our human intellectual categories, we can never formulate a perfect idea of the Godhead. St Thomas Aquinas exemplifies with the bat species: “[The] sun, which is supremely visible, cannot be seen by the bat by reason of its excess of light” (Summa T. Ia.12.1, here). (Of course, Aquinas didn’t know that bats navigate in the dark with ecolocation, but we get his point.) Yet, Aquinas explains that we can form a picture of the divine through analogy. He himself set out to do this in his book Aurora Consurgens (Wiki, here).
In Revelation, too, analogy is necessary, since God cannot reveal the mysteries to men except through conceptions intelligible to the human mind. After Revelation, analogy is useful to improve our knowledge of the mysteries, “either by comparison with natural things and truths, or by consideration of the mysteries in relation with one another and with the destiny of man”. This is actually the view held by the Vatican Council (Cathol. Enc., here). In this way, Aquinas avoids the dangers of a God too close or too far; pantheism or agnosticism. William C. Placher (1996) says:
Children die in agony in this world; people do not find God. A loving, merciful God sometimes just does not seem to be presiding over things, and Luther admitted it. Yet still he had faith. Aquinas had proposed one sort of theological dialectic: Christians believe, as grace moves us to see Christ as God’s self-revelation, that God is (for example) loving and wise — but we do not know what “loving” and “wise” mean with respect to God. We accept the authority by which we are given this language and trust that, if we were to “see” God, then all our human forms of love would seem but a pale reflection of what love is in God. At the same time, divine love is so unlike human love that we can make only the most cautious of inferences from our human experiences to what God would or would not do. We have to live in trust of a God of whom we can know only what that God is not — and we can do this only by grace. (p. 50)
Aquinas talked about analogy quite unsystematically, and in a number of different ways, by way of making the point that our language about God is not purely equivocal (it is not just arbitrary and random that we speak of God as “wise” or “good”), but neither is it univocal. Even words we use non-metaphorically do not mean, when applied to God, what they mean when applied to creatures, and in fact we do not really know what they mean. We believe that, knowing God, we would see how their use was somehow appropriate, but, situated as we are, we are unable to know how they apply to God. (p. 72)
The Holy Spirit has among theologians been deemphasized. Some have argued that he merely represents angelic presence. But why do neither John nor Paul say so, when they are steeped in the tradition of angels? There’s a British school of theology which sees the Paraclete as the alter-ego of Christ (cf. Johnston, 1970, pp. 92ff). It means that the risen Christ comes back to the disciples as a spiritual presence. It’s essentially a binitarian view (Wiki, here). But this can’t be right as the Holy Spirit is clearly defined as the “other Paraclete” in John (14:16). Nor does it tally with the fact that Jesus sends the paraclete. Moreover, only the first paraclete appeared as a man, the other is on earth as a spirit.
He has been relativized in the way interpreters take most instances of the word ‘spirit’, in NT and OT, to mean the Holy Spirit. Thus, the divine person is veiled with language pertaining to a more commonplace use of ‘spirit’. For instance, George Johnston (1970) explains that Jesus’s utterance in John (20:22) is really ‘receive holy spirit’:
The text is not λάβετε τò πνεũμα τò α̃γιον, ‘receive the Holy Spirit’, as intended to denote the Third Person of the Holy Trinity. ‘Spirit’ means the vital power that springs from God. (p. 11n)
Here he is made into mere breath. But Jesus could not have breathed the third person of the Trinity onto the disciples. Not only is the very idea implausible, Jesus states explicitly that he has to go away before the Helper may come (John 16:7). I have checked 54 English bible translations. Only J.B. Phillips New Testament translates λάβετε πνεũμα α̃γιον (labete pneuma hagion) correctly as it should be: ‘receive holy spirit’. So bible translators have amended the text in order to accommodate it to trinitarian theology. This is to make up for the scarcity of trinitarian concepts in the gospels. Johnston explains that pneuma, especially as a rendering of Hebrew ruahͅ, has a wide range of meanings. It may also refer to a prophet speaking in ecstasy or under influence of wine; or denote an angel or a demon (p. 15). The Holy Spirit was not present on earth before the Lord sent him. John is very clear about this:
Then, on the last day, the climax of the festival, Jesus stood up and cried out, “If any man is thirsty, he can come to me and drink! The man who believes in me, as the scripture says, will have rivers of living water flowing from his inmost heart.” (Here he was speaking about the Spirit which those who believe in him would receive. The Holy Spirit had not yet been given because Jesus had not yet been glorified.)
If we take John seriously, it means that references to ‘spirit’, in the period before Jesus’s ascension, cannot possibly signify the Holy Spirit. The dove in Luke, descending upon Jesus, was not an embodiment of the Holy Ghost (Luke 3:22). Indeed, on this point Luke differs from all the other gospels. The exception is the passage where Jesus warns against blasphemy against the Holy Spirit (Matt. 12:31, Mark 3:29, Luke 12:10). (All Greek ground texts use definite article, but Matthew omits “Holy”.) But here and elsewhere Jesus speaks about the future manifestation of the Spirit, also in form of “living water” (John 7:37-39). As I shall argue below, the salvational work of Christ results in the restoration of the Godhead; that it may become the Trinity. It explains why there is in earlier times no trinitarian conception.
Johnston, in his otherwise excellent book, crash-lands in the notion that John’s ‘paraclete’ cannot mean a third hypostasis denominated as ‘the Paraclete’ (cf. Johnston, 1970, pp. 123ff). Nevertheless, he argues that it was not regarded merely an impersonal energy. For the fourth Evangelist, the apostolic Church was the genuine Successor to Jesus. On this view, inspired teachers of the church speak with the voice of the paraclete. So the Holy Spirit is embodied in important persons of the church. They are ‘personal’ spirits wholly loyal to the message of Jesus, who will teach, console and inspire those prepared to believe in Jesus.
This is a minimalistic yet convoluted definition of the Holy Spirit, irreconcilable with the metaphysical status accorded him in theology and creed. Johnston thinks that the paraclete is insufficient for the role of another paraclete on a par with Jesus, as he is merely fulfilling a function as representative of Jesus. But it is a consequence of Christ’s victory that the third person of the Godhead is become subservient. How could John have upheld such a minimalist view, when his colleague Paul addresses the same congregations with a pronounced trinitarian language? Paul’s letters are somewhat earlier than the major part of John’s Gospel. The reason why John is unclear about the trinitarian conception is because his Christian audience already knew what he was talking about. He needn’t spell it out, because they knew that ‘the paraclete’ is God. In point of fact, Jesus distinguished him as a person, different than the Father and the Son, who stands out as more menacing. The conclusion is that the Holy Spirit has hitherto been vaguely defined and also made light of. This all has a natural explanation, because we have shunned the truth about the Holy Spirit, not wanting to see who he really is.
We have merely a dim concept of the divine plan. It is not so that everything has been revealed in full clarity. William C. Placher (1996) shows that theology’s attempt to place God wholly inside the sphere of rationality, which began in the 17th century, had ruinous consequences. Against Aquinas, Luther, and Calvin, God was thought of as a “thing” in the world that could be rationally comprehended. This was the beginning of the “God of the gaps” and the conflict with science. Yet, judging from the historical regression described in the book, of how the creed of ‘sola fide’ was relinquished, it seems that something is amiss with the Lutheran ideals that he espouses. He should have analyzed better the determinants of the tragic development of Protestant religion, the underlying causes of devitalization. To all evidence, religion would not allow the tree of Revelation, the Kingdom of Heaven, to branch out.
To suggest another way of looking at the divine mystery does not mean to offer an alternative theology. What is newly conjured up is often as obscure as everything else. Yet, by viewing the heavenly from different angles we may build a panorama, using complementary pictures of the divine. Religious authors have always had recourse to a rich flora of symbols. Aquinas found appeal in alchemical literature, probably due to its unbridled use of analogy and symbol. For instance, the notion of ‘soul fragments’ (scintillae), scattered in existence as result of the Fall, exists everywhere in Gnostic, Kabbalistic, and alchemical literature.
Also when looking at Revelation, we see through a glass darkly. We shall not believe that the divine plan has been revealed in full clarity, because it is not a scientific blueprint comprehendible by the earthly intellect. Revelation occurred “once”, but this does not mean that it cannot grow. After all, it is not — nor can it ever be — perfectly graspable for the human mind. So, Revelation ought to be seen as something set in motion; it ought to be viewed as a continual process. It continues, little by little, as when polishing a window, that we may come to see better and better. That’s why Jesus, in the Parable of the Mustard Seed, likens it with the growth of a tree. The trunk is the revelation brought on by Christ, but the birds lodging in its branches are agents of continued revelation. Sadly, among Christians, too little has been made of Aquinas’s notion of via eminentiae (Cathol. Enc., here). I shall try the method of analogy in the following fairytale.
In the beginning, before the creation of the world, in the illustrious Kingdom of Heaven, lived a Father with his two sons. The older son was expected to inherit the scepter of authority. But there were unrest in the Kingdom. The younger son, who was the eyestone of the Father, had been gifted a beautiful robe adorned with jewels. Because of this the older brother had grown jealous of the younger. In his resentment, he schemed to get the beloved one out of the way by making him self-conscious. This would occasion his fall into the dark abyss of Physis.
One day, disguised as a serpent, he tempted his brother to eat the fruit from the Tree of Knowledge. As he ate the fruit, he opened his eyes and came to know himself. It brought about his demise in the temporal realm, where the chaotic forces tore apart his body. Still today, the scattered remains lie embedded in materiality as spiritual sparks. The Fall had the consequence that lawfulness was imparted to chaos. It made possible the creation of the orderly material world.
The Father now felt such heartfelt longing for his beloved son that he created Man in his image; but not merely as a token of remembrance. He set a spiritual task for mankind; they must through godly work gather the divine sparks in creation, so that the beloved may one day be born to the material universe, as one among the many earthly men.
In his grief and anger the Father cast out the older son, who fell like lightning from heaven. Although he had forfeited his heavenly inheritance, he remained in his Father’s employ, now as the Lord of this world. As the divine eye, he would roam the earth on the Father’s behalf, testing the loyalty of men.
After many generations of godly toil, and many setbacks, a man named Jesus of Nazareth was born to the Virgin Mary. It was his destiny to return to the Father and inherit the throne. During his earthly sojourn he spoke in parables of the divine mystery. Through his own actions and life history, he revealed the divine plan.
One day, during a sojourn in the desert, the older brother tempted him to abandon his mission and remain on earth as a prosperous and powerful king. But he steadfastly continued on his path, even unto the day when he was crucified alongside two thieves. Thus, the crucifixion came represent what happened at the beginning of time, when he was deprived of his heavenly garment and became infixed in the material realm. He rose again on the third day, now with a glorious body accrued from the divine sparks in creation.
The beloved son returned to his place of origin. At his homecoming, the Father was filled with compassion. He ran to his son, threw his arms around him and kissed him, for he was dead and had come alive again. The Father adorned him again in his royal robe. But the older brother, who in his anger had remained outside the house, experienced a change of heart. He joined the feast of reunion and embraced his brother warmheartedly — he who would inherit all the power in heaven and on earth.
The older son would remain in close vicinity to humankind, but no longer as the Tempter and Accuser. Instead he became the Helper and the Counselor, better known as the Holy Spirit, whose only business it is to glorify the Christ.
The Kingdom of Heaven was complete again.
This story is essentially an amplification of the Parable of the Lost Son (Luke 15:11-32). It provides an answer to a vexing question, namely the whereabouts of the Son and the Spirit Paraclete before the time of Revelation. As persons of the Godhead, they are absent from scripture, aside from an eschatological notion of a Son of Man. Although the term ‘holy spirit’ occurs in two Old Testament books it has a different meaning. It has been alleged that the Holy Spirit appears in Isaiah (63:10); but looking a few lines further up we see that it refers to an angel, a created being. Despite this obvious incongruity, it is regarded the best evidence of an Old Testamental Holy Ghost. It is a common occurrence that spirit refers to an angelic being, not the least in the intertestamental period.
It is also evident that the reference is to Yahweh, since the text concerns his holy spirit, but not the third person of the Trinity. Likewise, in Psalm 51, David asks: “Do not cast me from your presence, or take your spirit of holiness from me.” (My emphasis.) It is a reference to the fatherly spirit, but not the Holy Ghost. The ground text says ‘spirit of holiness’. They are doing bad theology, all those commentators who claim that virtually all scriptural references to spirit or “breath” refer to the Holy Spirit. Johnston (1970) says that “‘Spirit’ in the Old Testament primarily means the active agent of divine work in nature, history, and chosen servants like the prophets. It is the energy or power of God” (p. 4).
Yet, viewed in the light of above story, the two “cloaked” persons of the Godhead have been present all the time, as the spirit embedded in matter and as the Lord of this world, respectively. We just didn’t dare to see it. Arguably, it explains why Jesus didn’t finish his parable, because it remained for us to find out. Would we continue in the vein of a dualistic concept of the divine, or would we keep up the work of divine restitution?
In Wisdom of Solomon (also called Book of Wisdom, sadly excluded from many a Protestant bible) it is said of Wisdom that she remained with the Creator in the beginning (9:9, here). It speaks of an indwelling spirit that permeates all things, responsible for the circuits of the stars and the remarkable orderliness of the world: “Your immortal spirit is in all things” (12:1); “For the spirit of the Lord has filled the world” (1:7). Also in Proverbs (8:23-30), Wisdom resided with God before time, and acted as His agent in creation. This has a bearing on christology, because divine Wisdom has been identified with the Christ: “Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made” (John 1:3). For the indwelling to take place, there must have occurred a Fall into Physis at the beginning of time, a central theme in Gnostic mythology.
It explains why it is, when we eat the sacramental bread, we take part of His body. The parable of the Workers in the Vineyard (Matt. 20:1-16) portrays the godly work of harvesting grapes, little vessels of sacramental wine. It parallels the gathering of divine sparks, the fragmented body of Adam interspersed in worldly existence, “which holds everything together”. Yet, interspersal of the divine is not equal to pantheistic conceptions; nor must it implicate Gnostic theology. It coincides with Aquinas’s notion that God at every moment sustains and directs created things, otherwise they “would fall into nothingness” (Summa T. Ia.104.1, here). This speaks of a metaphysical presence. God by his esse, is in all things. Still, He remains in the beyond, because God is not one “thing” in the world alongside others. The notion that Christ and Adam are mysteriously the same appears in christology:
So it is written: “The first man Adam became a living being”; the last Adam, a life-giving spirit … The first man was of the dust of the earth; the second man is of heaven. (1 Cor. 15:45-47)
Yet, the first Adam is originally of heaven, because he once wandered in the very same Garden as God. Thus, he came from heaven and became earthly dust. The second Adam took the divine drama in the reverse direction, because he was born in a most humble place on earth. The drama revolves around the restoration of the Godhead. The Father is longing for the return of the Son. Indeed, in pseudepigraph “Apocalypse of Moses”, when Adam is brought back to Paradise, God promises Adam that he, consequent to Resurrection, will be allowed to take over Satan’s throne: “…I will transform thee to thy former glory and set thee on the throne of thy deceiver. But he shall be cast into this place to see thee sitting above him…” (xxxix.2-3, here). Also in “Life of Adam and Eve”, Adam is promised the throne (ch. xlviii, here). In Christian theology, it is the throne accorded to the Son of Man.
Intriguingly, Jesus calls himself the bright Morning Star (Rev. 22:16). This title occurs also in 2 Peter. It is the planet Venus ascending into the light of day. The same planet at night is called the Evening Star, when it descends into darkness. In Greek mythology, Hesperus is the Evening Star, half-brother of Phosphorus, the Morning Star. Thus, the Evening Star may be associated with Adam. Yet, it is one and the same heavenly body. It is evident from Genesis 3 that Adam is wholly divine, because he saw God, and was with him in the beginning. Yet, he is also wholly human. It seems that the hypostatic union of the two natures of Christ is equally applicable on Adam. He should be regarded ‘created being’ only in his earthly guise. The divine nature of Adam underlies much rabbinic speculation and midrashim texts (Wiki, here). Graves & Patai say:
[W]hereas Adam’s body was fashioned from terrestrial elements, his soul was fashioned from celestial ones … God had given Adam so huge a frame that when he lay down it stretched from one end of Earth to the other; and when he stood up, his head was level with the Divine Throne. Moreover, he was of such indescribable beauty … All living things approached the radiant Adam in awe, mistaking him for their Creator…
Some say that all the ministering angels conceived a hatred for Adam, lest he might become God’s rival, and tried to scorch him with fire … Elsewhere it is told that Adam’s huge frame and radiant countenance so amazed the angels that they called him ‘Holy One’, and flew trembling back to Heaven. (Graves & Patai, 2005, pp. 61-62)
Some say that the Serpent of Eden was Satan in disguise: namely the Archangel Samael. He rebelled on the Sixth Day, driven by an overwhelming jealousy of Adam, whom God had ordered the whole host of Heaven to worship … Samael said: “I will not worship any lesser being! … Let him rather worship me!” (ibid. p. 82)
Adam in this guise has much in common with Original Man (Purusha) in Indian mythology, whose dismemberment led to the creation of the world out of chaos. His bodily parts constitute the different elements of the universe (‘purusha’, Enc. Brit. 2012). Ymir in Norse mythology suffered a similar fate:
Out of Ymir’s flesh was fashioned the earth,
And the mountains were made of his bones;
The sky from the frost cold giant’s skull,
And the ocean out of his blood. (Wiki, here)
Gayōmart, the first man in Zoroastrian mythology, lived during an age when creation was only spiritual. He shone like the sun. But Ahriman, the evil god, tried to destroy him. The Creator protected Gayōmart by giving him the boon of sleep, thus maintaining his unconscious condition. Yet, eventually Ahriman succeeded. His body became the Earth’s metals and minerals. Gold was his seed, and from it sprang the human race (‘Gayōmart’, Enc. Brit. 2012).
The mythological theme of two divine brothers competing for supremacy occurs in Egyptian mythology. Seth (god of chaos) contends with his nephew, the younger god Horus (god of the sky), for the right to succeed Osiris (god of vegetation) as king of heaven and of Egypt. Horus, unlike Seth, has both human and godly nature. Horus comes out victorious, and Seth is adopted as his son. Seth would from then on do the younger god’s bidding (Wiki, here).
The controversial notion of Satan as the brother of Christ has been investigated by theologian Kirsten Nielsen (1998). She argues that “we must understand the necessity for a language in which both good and evil can be maintained without merging and without separation” (p. 51). “The biblical texts continually employ both ideas: the nearness between the two sons of God and the distance between the two sons of God” (p. 181). She finds that the bible includes the devil in the salvation narrative in a vital form. That’s why Satan isn’t punished for tempting Jesus. He fulfils his function as prosecutor; to tempt God’s son in order to verify his merit. It is a means of purification and a step in God’s plan of redemption. This function is most clearly narrated in the Book of Job, where Satan is undoubtedly in God’s employ. Not only that, he is portrayed as a son of God. The thematic envy of the older son against the righteous younger is here played out between Satan and Job. Nielsen says:
The father’s preference for one of the sons in fact immediately causes the son Satan, who feels passed over, to react and to speak evil of the spoilt younger brother. Two sons of the same father, and yet so different. God is not only like a potter who shapes various vessels. God is not only he who creates light and darkness. God is like a father who has both light sons and dark sons, and like a father who, although he has his favourite, never denies his fatherhood to any one of them. (p. 27)
The Job drama has been understood as a prefiguration of the Incarnation. The theme of the father and his conflicting sons is recurrent in the bible, as in the story of the twins Esau and Jacob, who struggled already in the womb. Yet, Jacob has the favour of Yahweh. Here it also concerns the right of primogeniture. As he manages to receive his father’s blessing, the younger brother comes out on top. Although Esau vows to kill Jacob, they are later reconciled. This would be the root metaphor that underlies the divine drama. The Parable of the Prodigal Son should be seen in this light, too, which is why the two brothers are reunited in my story.
Also in case of Ishmael and Isaac, the latter would become the sole heir, against the birthright of the former, because Yahweh wished it. Nielsen notes that the theme is repeated in Jacob’s preference for his youngest sons, Joseph and Benjamin. Joseph himself had twins, Ephraim and Manasseh, of which the older was treated unfairly. The theme has its precursor in the story of Abel and his older brother Cain, of which God favoured the younger. In the divine drama, we can see that the Father’s love, which is personal and therefore always coheres with favouritism, has evil consequences. In pseudepigraph “Life of Adam and Eve”, the devil blames Adam and Eve for his being cast out of heaven (chs. 10-17, here).
Thus, Nielsen suggests that the Parable of the Prodigal Son be understood as a parable about God and two sons of God, Jesus and Satan. Jesus is the son of God who left his heavenly home and cast his lot with fallen mankind:
It might indeed have been that Jesus originally told the parable in order to say something about himself, and not to create an exemplary narrative in which humans can see a reflection of themselves. [The] theme of the parable is not the return of the penitent sinner, no matter how many good sermons may have been written on this subject. The two sons are scarcely suitable role-models if the whole sequence of events is taken into consideration. (Nielsen, 1998, pp. 129-35)
From the beginning, before the Fall, the Godhead constitutes of three persons. It leads me to conclude that the older brother is none other than the Holy Spirit; Satan reformed. He continues in his judicial role, but now as Advocate. He remains the one who can convince men of their sin (John 16:7-9). It’s just that he goes about his business in a less devious way these days, not by teasing people’s sinfulness out.
My fairytale does not give an unclouded account of the drama; it merely complements the picture. Sometimes the Fall is depicted as quite a violent affair, sometimes as the departure of the youngest son. This was a common occurrence in biblical times, since the younger brother had no inheritance to tend to. Jesus also picks up the theme of the two brothers in Matthew (21:28-32). The first gainsays his father, yet later took up the toil. The second wanted to fulfil his father’s wish but failed to show up. Of course, the chief priests and the elders saw Satan as the righteous one.
Jesus proclaims his victory saying “now will the spirit that rules this world be driven out” (John 12:31). It means that he will achieve dominion over his brother (“he will not be speaking of his own accord”; John 16:13). The defeat of Satan means that men are now become responsible for their own personal darkness and evil deeds. We may no longer put blame on the devil. Nor shall we make other people scapegoats for our own faults, for we are now to carry our own cross. As a consequence, a process began by which projections are withdrawn, as we must continually “clean the inside of the cup” (Matt. 23:26).
Satan’s true personality is no longer eclipsed by projections of pitch darkness. Today, we are forced to admit to ourselves that many a natural disaster has been man-made. Satan was never involved. This allows him to come on the scene as the Holy Spirit, no longer in the guise of the arch-fiend. Indeed, people have always had the intuition that the devil is underestimated. In European fairytales he is outwitted and made to work for the good. The thought is also expressed by William James: “The world is all the richer for having a devil in it, so long as we keep our foot upon his neck”. Still, he remains an ambivalent force.
Satan remains in use figuratively, and survives as a useful metaphor. After all, there are still Pharisees and hypocrites around, who clean the outside of cup and plate, but inside are full of greed and self-indulgence. For such people, Satan remains a projected reality. They see Nazis and racists, and evil conspiracy, everywhere.
While the Spirit Paraclete has languished in obscurity, shadowed over by the devil, the Christian God has become a deus otiosus. Something has been lost on the way, namely the Holy Spirit; the lifeblood of religious life. Comparatively, St Paul’s soteriological theology builds on the continual experience, in the primitive church, of the Paraclete. He is God’s empowering presence in the lives of people, and through Him Christ can take his abode in the heart as a new center of personality. But for this to take place, faith is required. It opens the heart for the inpouring of the Spirit.
Marginalization of the Spirit Paraclete has fomented the lame and bloodless morality which characterizes much of modern Christianity, in stark contrast to Jesus’s own personality. It underlies the current lack of spiritual insight (gnosis is the taboo word). The Holy Spirit provides insight into the mysteries, and is therefore accountable for the continuance of revelation. Although Jesus puts emphasis on faith, he also vouches for the way of spiritual insight, as evinced by the parables. Faith and gnosis are not mutually exclusive. Rather, symbolic vision is conducive to faith, and vice versa.
John sees salvation validated in correct knowing, and Paul is not a stranger to it, either. After all, his oeuvre started as result of an encounter with the Paraclete (intervening on behalf of Jesus) on the way to Damascus (Acts 9). Paul says:
We do, of course, speak “wisdom” among those who are spiritually mature, but it is not what is called wisdom by this world, nor by the powers-that-be, who soon will be only the powers that have been. The wisdom we speak of is that mysterious secret wisdom of God which he planned before the creation for our glory today […]
And the marvelous thing is this, that we now receive not the spirit of the world but the Spirit of God himself, so that we can actually understand something of God’s generosity towards us. It is these things that we talk about, not using the expressions of the human intellect but those which the Holy Spirit teaches us, explaining things to those who are spiritual.
But the unspiritual man simply cannot accept the matters which the Spirit deals with — they just don’t make sense to him, for, after all, you must be spiritual to see spiritual things. The spiritual man, on the other hand, has an insight into the meaning of everything, though his insight may baffle the man of the world. This is because the former is sharing in God’s wisdom, and ‘Who has known the mind of the Lord that he may instruct him?’ Incredible as it may sound, we who are spiritual have the very thoughts of Christ! (1 Cor. 2:6-16)
The Spirit Paraclete is the Illuminator. Jesus makes clear that “the one who is coming to stand by you, the Holy Spirit whom the Father will send in my name, will be your teacher and will bring to your minds all that I have said to you” (John 14:25-26).
It seems that, after the times of Paul and John, a split occurred into followers of Faith and followers of Gnosis. The catastrophic splitting caused immense headache to the Church Fathers. The Gnostics took lightly on Jesus, and as a consequence the Spirit ran amuck, as it were. Gnosis needs to be kept in leash by his brother Faith, otherwise it has devilish consequences.
Restoration of the Godhead unifies faith with insight. The many pedestrian commentaries on Jesus’s parables is evidence that modern Christians give little weight to the latter. They are taken to mean that it is all about brotherly love; that one should forgive other peoples’ misdeeds; that one shouldn’t envy workers that get the same pay, despite having worked fewer hours. But Jesus spoke about spiritual things, not material.
Jesus explains in connection with the Parable of the Sower that his parables are designed so that the profane crowd are led to misinterpret them; “that seeing they may see, and not perceive; and hearing they may hear, and not understand” (Matt. 13:1-23, Mark 4:1-20, and Luke 8:1-15). Spiritual insight by analogy means a process of symbolic amplification. It does not produce a ready-made answer that is clear as water. It means slow growth on the symbolic tree whose trunk constitutes of the creeds of faith. We understand the Parable of the Vineyard profanely if we see the late-coming workers as the Gentiles. In truth, a single grape is enough to pluck, because the blood of the Christ is fecund. Yet, it depends on the quality of the earth. If the seed falls on good ground, it will yield fruit and multiply; perhaps thirty times, or sixty, or even a hundred. This is how symbolic amplification works; it bears fruit to a hundredfold, provided that the tree is responsibly trimmed, by recourse to our faculty of faith.
In medieval alchemy, the ‘oculi piscium’ (fishes’ eyes) are the tiny soul-sparks from which the shining figure of the filius (son) is put together. The alchemists saw the filius as the resurrection body and as a symbol of the Christ. The work consists in gathering the ‘oculi piscium’ hidden in corporeality. The fish was used as symbol of the Christ in the early church. The fish is hovering inside matter itself, like a spirit in matter. Its eye is always open, signifying perpetual awareness. The Son of Man is the manifestation in the material realm of the divine. In fact, in the early church, the Eucharist was still a full meal that included fish, since, according to Mark, Jesus distributes five loaves and two fish. Jesus says in the Parable of the Fishing Net:
“Again, the Kingdom of Heaven is like a fishing net that was thrown into the water and caught fish of every kind. When the net was full, they dragged it up onto the shore, sat down, and sorted the good fish into crates, but threw the bad ones away. That is the way it will be at the end of the world. The angels will come and separate the wicked people from the righteous, throwing the wicked into the fiery furnace, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. Do you understand all these things?”
“Yes,” they said, “we do.”
Then he added, “Every teacher of religious law who becomes a disciple in the Kingdom of Heaven is like a homeowner who brings from his storeroom new gems of truth as well as old.” (Matt. 13:47-52)
First Jesus explains the “obvious” meaning. This they understand. Then he tells the deeper meaning, but then there is silence. The meaning isn’t directly translatable. It must be experienced, because it belongs to the mystery of the Holy Spirit. Yet, the parable has analogous meaning, because a multiplicity of spiritual being, soul fragments, is harvested from the dark waters. He explains that the disciple can bring out entirely new gems,
but that he must responsibly sort out the good from the bad. The disciple must allow the tree to grow controllably, little by little, according to his training in the faith.
Most important of all, the subdual of Satan by the Christ has enormous moral implications. In my article ‘Thanatos’ (here) I discuss the meaning of the adoption of Seth by Horus:
The acceptance of the dark deity symbolically means that our shadow receives a worthier evaluation […] Attempting to abolish suffering, as in global welfarism aiming for an earthly motherly paradise, is self-defeating ideology. To adopt an attitude of all-encompassing goodness, and to think that we can control future developments, is hubristic — it’s like flying too close to the sun.
In the present era, humanist morality rules the roost. Most people side with the human in the showdown between Job and God. It’s because divine darkness is no longer seen as divine. It has been relegated to the underworld, and we pretend that it doesn’t exist. It’s like we don’t want to talk about the dark side, although it is an integral part of life. (That’s why I put extra emphasis on it here.) It goes together with the marginalization of the Holy Spirit. In the Book of Job, God subjects Job to enormous suffering. The absolving realization that Job made is that he counts for nothing. Nor do the Holocaust and the Holodomor matter. The only thing that matters is God. Yet the tension persists, between divine and human morality.
A stupendous phenomenon is that Christians pretend not to see the darkness of Jesus, although it is palpable: “If anyone comes to me without hating his father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, and even his own life, he cannot be a disciple of mine” (Luke 14:26). Jesus physically assaulted people, had a habit of calling people Satan or being the progeny of Satan. The whole nation of Canaanites he called “dogs” who didn’t deserve his help. People said that he was out of his mind and possessed by Beelzebul. He deeply hurt the feelings of those who loved him, including Peter, his mother and brothers; and he scolded them fiercely. He treated Judas with hair-raising cruelty. It’s no wonder that he hanged himself. Jesus was regarded a wrongdoer in his time, a supporter of the Roman overlords, a companion of sinners. In those days a pious man often got the epithet “Son of God”. Jesus didn’t qualify for that sort of saintliness, so he called himself “Son of Man”. Today we would perhaps call him a “holy fool”.
One can get the impression from reading the New Testament that nothing must stand in the way of God. Human morality matters not. Jesus makes this clear when he cures people, saying that this is only to glorify the Son of Man. Had he wanted to heal people, then he would have stayed longer on earth. In John 11 he is indifferent to the sufferings of Lazarus and his kin. He refuses to help him, until four days after his death. Then he orders him out of the grave and sends him on his way. He makes display of unfeeling arrogance. He wouldn’t have performed this miracle if it hadn’t served his purpose. It’s all over the gospels. He cantankerously breaks many rules of conduct and many a religious law. He sends away his apostles to a life of poverty and suffering, knowing that they will all be murdered, except John.
There is a conflict between divine and human morality. Was it right that Ananias and Sapphira should die because they kept some money for themselves? (Acts 5) They were better than most. From a divine point of view, Ananias had lied to the Holy Ghost. From a human point of view, he was behaving very humanlike and responsibly, and kept some of the money. Yet, now they were dealing with the Holy Spirit, not the Jesus of the Sermons on the Mount. Like I said, most people side with Job in his wrestling match with God. This is because, today, we have adopted humanist morality and rejected divine morality. This is evident when people castigate President Trump for not allowing Muslims entry to the U.S., because it “hurts” people. Thus, it must be wrong. But it is not as simple as that. We must stop pretending that only humanist values are valid. Either this, or we can throw out the bible, shut out the spirit, and join the secular humanists. There is in the divine a conflict between light and dark, but the Father never denies his fatherhood to the older son.
The message is that divine morality presides, not human. Yet, we mustn’t pretend that there is no conflict between the two. There is tension in the Godhead between light and dark, but light prevails. On the whole, God is good. The restoration of the Holy Trinity means that divine ambivalency remains part and parcel of the Godhead, yet under the direction of higher authority. He can no longer roam free on earth, causing calamity. The divine ideal of all-encompassing goodness, impossible to live up to in the earthly realm, is abandoned. We are subject to the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, who will tell us the secrets that the Christ continually reveals.
© Mats Winther, 2017.
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