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Basil the Great: On the Holy Spirit

Basil’s pneumatology contains vital implications for renewal studies.

From his presence the Holy Spirit radiated many attributes. First, the Spirit revealed Christ. St. Basil wrote “when he says ‘through whom we have access (Rom. 5:2), he shows that our reception and kinship with God comes through Christ.”[4] Second, the Holy Spirit was co-equal, one of one, not one of many. Basil recorded “if they think that sub-numeration is appropriate for the Spirit alone, let them learn that the Spirit is mentioned together with the Lord, just as the Son is with the Father.”[5] Hence, the Holy Spirit shared the attributes together with the Father and the Son. Third, the Holy Spirit was intrinsically holy. Basil inquired, “How could the Seraphim say, ‘Holy, holy, holy’ (Isa. 6:3) unless they were taught by the Spirit how many times it is pious to proclaim this doxology?”[6] Fourth, the Holy Spirit was the παράκλητος. He was everywhere present and proceeded from the Father (John 14:26; 15:26). Thus, as St. Basil proclaimed, the Holy Spirit “is above all the name for everything incorporeal, purely immaterial, and indivisible.”[7] In his attributes, he was not diminished but complete and established in God’s divinity.

The unity of the Godhead reflected the work of the Holy Spirit. St. Basil testified, “now the greatest sign of the Spirit’s union with the Father and the Son is that he is said to be related to God as our spirit is to each of us.”[8] The cooperation of the three persons in unity revealed both the divinity of the Holy Spirit as well as the unity of the Holy Trinity. Therefore, God was one, sharing the one divine essence (οὐσία). The Spirit was unique and shared the common nature of the Holy Trinity.

St. Basil’s theology acknowledged both the essence (οὐσία) and distinct persons (ὑπόστᾰσις) of the Holy Trinity. He defined οὐσία as “the goodness of the will, which, because it is coincident with substance, is considered similar and equal, or rather the same, in the Father and the Son.”[9] In addition, St. Basil protested against the “Spirit-fighters”[10] and engaged Holy Scripture demonstrating their faulty logic about the Spirit. Also, he refuted the modality of the followers of Sabellius with the meaning of ὑπόστᾰσις stating “if they say that the persons are divided by being three, there are three even if they wish not; or let them destroy the divine Trinity altogether.”[11] His sarcasm surfaced in the midst of his defense as he championed the equality of the Spirit with the Father and Son. Indubitably, he endured the battle with holy valor.

The doctrine and theologia of the Holy Trinity avowed that there was one God, in three persons, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Although the teaching as such was not fully explicated in the NT, the raw materials were stated in the Christian worship practice and experience. It was important to note the biblical witness which led St. Basil to contend for its veracity. In Scripture, unity and equality linked the three persons of the Trinity. In the baptismal formula in Matthew’s gospel we read “in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit” (Matt. 28:19). This same traditional formula found development in later writings such as the Didache 7:1-4 and Justin’s Apology (1.61). In addition, the Pauline corpus of 2 Corinthians discovered this basic rubric of trinitarian belief. In his benediction to the church in Corinth he penned these words, “the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Spirit be with all of you” (2 Cor. 13:13). Certainly, the apostle’s words sanctioned the root of the mystery of the Holy Trinity. One can understand why St. Basil and the church dedicated their reasoning to contend for the doctrine.

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Category: In Depth, Summer 2016

About the Author: Cletus L. Hull, III, M.Div. (Trinity Episcopal School for Ministry), D.Min. (Fuller Theological Seminary), Ph.D. (Regent University), has served as a pastor with the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) for 30 years and psychiatric chaplain for 28 years. He also teaches courses in New Testament at Biblical Life Institute in Freeport, Pennsylvania. He has researched the growing Disciples of Christ churches in Puerto Rico and has an interest in the significance of the Stone-Campbell churches in American Christianity. His article, "My Church is a Mental Hospital" appeared in the Summer 2015 issue of Healing Line. Twitter: @cletus_hull, Facebook, www.CletusHull.com

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