The Work of the Holy Spirit
Professor Fr. Georges Florovsky
From "The Christian East" Journal
Vol. XIII No. 2 (pages 49–64) 1932
"Jesus Christ the same yesterday and today and for ever" (Heb.13:8)
It is always the first definitions which are the most difficult. Here we have nothing to which we can refer, nothing from which we can draw deductions. We must not prove, but show; we must look and see.
And just now I am very keenly conscious of the difficulty of speaking of initial principles.
Revelation is a primordial fact, the initial gift of Christianity, of Christian life and faith. "But God hath revealed them unto us by His Spirit: for the Spirit searcheth all things, yea, the deep things of God... The things of God knoweth no man, but the Spirit of God" (I Cor. 2:10–11). And again: "No man can say that Jesus is the Lord, but by the Holy Ghost" (I Cor. 12:3).
In our usual conception of Revelation there is a certain heterogeneity, even a certain ambiguity. And the first thing we have to do is to find out in what this heterogeneity consists, and how we are to set it aside. In a certain sense the whole world is the Revelation of God. The creation of the world is a revelation, "a manifestation of God," in "conceivable images." The whole world testifies of God, of His Wisdom, Mercy and Love. This is generally named: "Revelation through Nature." This is Revelation in matter, so–to–say, the Revelation which is immanent in the very nature and essence of things; which is inscribed and implanted there. Above all, it exists in the nature of man himself; man, who was created and made in God’s image and likeness. This is the "Law of God" "Written in the hearts of men" (Rom. 2:15).
But strictly speaking this is not Revelation in the direct meaning of the word. It is better to speak here not of Revelation, but of God's manifestation. In Nature, visible and invisible, God is manifested, not revealed. In Nature and in the human soul we find only "certain traces of God," "vestigia Dei naturalia." But, so far, this is no theophany. This is only a testimony (Testmonium) of God; and from it the human mind may conclude or presuppose God's existence; may become conscious of God; may divine God in His works. This gives birth to "seeking after God," to religious longing, to religious needs, still unclear and wavering: "That they should seek the Lord, if haply they might feel after Him and find Him, though He be not far from every one of us" (Acts, 17:27). But so far this is not yet knowledge of God, it is not seeing or knowing. Strictly speaking Revelation is not the fundamental essence of every religious life. Even more, we have a right to say that Revelation is, in general, not religion, but it is greater than religion. It is something different, something apart from religion. It is not the manifestation of God in his creation, in the beings created by Him, but a direct vision of God granted to man. God is manifested in all and always. Here we stand before a certain continuity, the continuity of Divine Omnipresence of Him "who is omnipotent and omnipresent."
But not everywhere and not to all is this vision of God granted. There is no continuity in theophanies. Here we are in a realm of rupture and interruptions, of interruptions in the continuous stream of the world’s natural order, though this too is established by Divine command and by Divine Providence, by the Providence of the Omnipotent Creator. This is the realm of the supernatural, and only the "supernatural" is the Revelation of God in the real meaning of the word. In the "Religion of Nature" man recognizes and divines God; seeks after Him and reaches out for Him, for "He be not far from every one of us." But this is only the path of man towards God. Revelation is the path of God towards man. This is above nature, supernatural, this is something new and different, something greater than that force of movement and life which has been implanted in every created being by the pre–eternal and creative "Fiat."
Or, in other words, in Nature God is manifested as the Creator of vitality, the Giver of existence and of life. But in the supernatural, in what is above nature, God in His transcendence appears and is revealed as He who spake; "Who at sundry times and in divers manners spake in times past unto the Fathers by the Prophets, hath in these last days spoken unto us by His Son" (Heb. 1:1–2). God is revealed in the Word, and only God’s word is Revelation in its direct and exact meaning. Revelation is the Divine Voice, the Voice of God, speaking to man. Man hears this Voice, listens to it, accepts it, and understands the Divine Word. For God speaks so that man should hear Him. God created man in His image and likeness that man should listen for His Voice and Word, should hear it, and, even more, that he should treasure it, remember it, and keep it. When we speak of Revelation, we have in mind just the Word of God that has been heard by us. Some heard it direct, without any intermediary; these were the great initiated and prophets. Others heard of it through the mediation of those who were commanded by God and by the power and aid of the Holy Ghost to repeat what they had heard and seen themselves. The Holy Scriptures are the written record of the Revelation they heard, and it was God who gave them the Strength, through the outpouring of His Holy Ghost, to bear and write down His words. The sacred mystery of Divine inspiration cannot be completely fathomed by us. We cannot fully understand in what manner "God’s Holy men" heard the Word of their God and how they repeated it in the words of their own tongue. But even in their transmission it was the Voice of God, the Voice of the Holy Ghost, that was heard, and the feeble human voice, the voice of flesh and blood, had no part in it. Therein lies the miracle and mystery of the Bible that it is the Word of God, the Word of the Spirit, who "spake by the prophets," and yet it is the Word of the Spirit in a human tongue. And whatever the manner in which we understand the Divine inspiration of Scripture, one thing is important. The scriptures transmit and preserve for us the Divine Voice in the tongue of man. The scriptures transmit and preserve for us the Divine Word such as it had been heard, such as it sounded in the receptive soul of man. The mystery of Divine inspiration is not only that God spoke to man, but also that man was listening to God and heard him. God descends to man, shows his Face to man; speaks to him. And man sees God, is lost in the vision of God, and describes what he has seen and heard, bearing witness to what has been revealed to him. Therein lies the significance of the Old Testament Divine visions, of the Old Testament Revelations. In them there is a certain essential anthropomorphism, and this not so much because of the weakness of human understanding, or from a sense of "adaptability," but as a foretaste of the coming incarnation. It is already in the Old Testament that the Divine Word becomes human, is incarnated in the human tongue. And there is another point of great importance. If we want the Divine Word to ring clear, the human tongue must not lose its natural qualities. It must not leave off being human. What is human is not suppressed or swept away by Divine inspiration; it is only transfigured. The supernatural does not go counter to what is natural.
Therefore, it is that God chooses to speak in the human tongue, that through Divine inspiration, through the Breath of the Spirit of Omniscience and Wisdom, human nature should be completed, fulfilled. The human tongue does not weaken or belittle the absoluteness of Revelation; it does not limit the power of God's Word. The Word of God may be exactly and strictly expressed in the language of man, who is created in the image and likeness of God; in the image of God’s Word, as was taught by some of the Fathers of the Church. The Word of God does not grow dim because it sounds and is pronounced in the tongue of man. On the contrary, the human word becomes transfigured, transubstantiated, because God deigned to speak in the human tongue. The Divine Spirit breathes in the organism of human speech, in the substance of human words. And therefore the tongue of man acquires force and firmness. It becomes possible for the word of man to speak of God. Theology becomes possible.
Strictly speaking theology grows possible only through Revelation. It is the answering speech of man to God, as man’s witness of God who had spoken to him; whose voice he had heard and remembered, and whose words he had kept and was repeating. So–called "natural theology" is no theology in the true sense of the word. It is rather a philosophy, a word about the "Unknown God," towards whom the restless human soul reaches out but has not yet found; frequently it loses its way in its search. This is the "Word about a God who has not yet revealed Himself; about whom man can so far say nothing, unless it be that his soul panteth for Him and longeth for Him as the hart panteth for the spring of water." And it is only through Revelation that true theology becomes possible. For the first time in answer to Revelation true prayer is poured out in words of testimony, words of adoration, of thanksgiving and of petition. Again it is an answer to the Word of God.
In Sacred Scripture we are, first of all, struck by the intimate relation of God to man and of man to God. In Scripture we see not only God, but man as well. It is the Revelation of God, but it is also a revelation concerning man. God reveals Himself to man, appears before him, becomes visible to him, speaks with him, so as to reveal to man the hidden meaning of his existence, to show him the path and meaning of human life. In Scripture we see God coming to reveal Himself to man, and we see man meeting God and not only listening to His Words, but answering them. In Scripture we not only hear the Voice of God, but also the voice of man answering Him — in words of prayer, thanksgiving, adoration, sorrow, and contrition. God wants, and expects, and demands this answer. It is for this that He speaks with man. He expects man to answer Him. He is waiting for man to talk with Him. And He draws up His covenant with man.
Revelation is the history of this covenant. Recorded Revelation — Sacred Scripture — is, first of all, history. Law and prophets, psalms and prophecies are included and woven into the living historical web.
Scripture is history, the history of the world created by God, and the history of man who is called to be the priest, the prophet, and the king of this world. Scripture begins with the creation of the world and is brought up to the eve of the new creation: "Behold I make all things new" (Rev. 21:5). Between these two extreme points, that of the first creative, "Let there be," and that of the latest prophecy, the living web of Sacred Scripture dynamically unfolds itself. Revelation is not only a system of Divine words, but, above all, the system of Divine works. This is the reason of the extension of time in Sacred Scripture. We might say that Revelation was the path of God in history. And the culminating point is reached when God enters history for all time; when the Word is incarnated, when God–Man is revealed.
Revelation is also the book of human fate. First of all, it is the book which narrates the fall and the salvation of man. It speaks of the first created paradise, of Adam's expulsion from it as a consequence of his sin; of the first promise of salvation, the so–called "First Gospel" (Gen. 3:15). It speaks of the path fallen man had to tread upon earth, of the new promises, and, at last, of the chosen "Father of all the faithful," Abraham, and of the covenant made with him. It is from here that the actual Old Testament begins. The Old Testament is the sacred history of Israel, the history of that unique people, the people chosen by God, with whom God concluded his covenant. Here the most important thing is the fact of election; the separation of Israel, the setting Israel apart from all other peoples. Israel is the grace–given, sacred oasis in the history of fallen mankind. Only with one people on earth did God conclude a covenant and give it His own law, Divinely inscribed on tables of stone. God establishes in the midst of this people a true priesthood, even though only a temporal and prophetic one. He raises from among it the prophets, who speak words inspired by the Spirit of God. Before Christ it was in Israel alone that there existed a true priesthood and not only an idolatrous one. Therefore it was only there that true Divine service was performed. Here alone was sacrifice, pleasing in God's eyes, offered. Here alone was there a true temple of God, the only temple of the sort in all the world. It was a sacred center for all the world — an oasis granted by the Grace of God, in the midst of a sinful, unredeemed world. It is from here that sanctification begins. "The cloud filled the house of the Lord" (I Kings, 8:10). This election and separation of Israel is easily understood and explained from an historical standpoint, from the historical mission of Israel. Israel is the first–fruit of mankind. Its historical mission leads to the birth in its midst of the world’s Savior. In it was to be accomplished the last limit of the final Revelation of God, the incarnation of the Word. It was because of this that the legislation of Mount Sinai was granted to this people; because of this the prophets spoke. The Sacred meaning of the Old Testament is that it is the history of the ancestors of our Savior, and therefore it is by mentioning them that the Gospels begin their narrative: "The book of the generation of Jesus Christ, time son of David, the son of Abraham," (Math. 1: 1). "For salvation is of the Jews" (John 4:22). The Old Testament is the period of the Messianic expectation, the time of covenants and prophecies. It is not only the prophets that prophesy. Events also become prophecies. The Old Testament history, as a whole, is a kind of fore given image, an historical symbol, a looking forward towards approaching events. St. Augustine said: "The New Testament is contained within the Old and the Old is revealed in the New. In Vetere Testamento Novumlatet, in Novo Testamento Vetus patet; and the Messianic tense expectation culminates in the appearance of the God–Man: "But when the fullness of time was come, God sent forth His Son, made of a woman" (Gal. 4:4). The time of expectation is passed; the promise has been accomplished; the Lord has come. He has come to abide and remain with those who believe in Him: "Always, even unto the end of the world" (Math. 28:20). The Old Testament history is finishing — the history of flesh and blood. The history of the Spirit is beginning — the Kingdom of Truth and Grace is opened (John 1:17). And yet the law is not destroyed, but fulfilled (Math. 5:17), and the prophecies have been accomplished and did not prove vain. The Old Testament was fulfilled, revealed, and completed in the New, in Novo patet. And therefore the books of the Hebrews are still sacred for Christians. Not only, because once, in olden times, God spoke to Israel, but also because now, too, the Word of God is to be heard in the Bible, and now through this eternal, eternally living book, God's Revelation continues coining down to us. It is therein that the mystery of the Bible consists; this is the mystery of the inspired, transfigured, transubstantiated word. This does not mean that time Bible is used in the Church as a book of parables, as a book of historical examples and cases, a collection of texts or theological instances (Loci Theologici). No, the Bible remains history, and it is just as a book of sacred history that it preserves all its power. The law is already set aside and is replaced by something higher. The temple exists no more in Jerusalem and the House of Israel is empty (Luke, 13:35). Prophecy has been accomplished.
However, in sacred history events not only take place and pass away, but they are accomplished and fulfilled, they are completed. The Past does not mean "passed" or "was," but, above all, has been fulfilled. Fulfillment is the fundamental essence of Revelation. That which has become sacred remains Holy for always and without change. It has the seal, the sign, and the blessing of the Holy Ghost. For even to the present moment the Spirit breathes in the words once inspired by it. The Old Testament is, above all, a book for us. The New Testament is more than a book. In the Old Testament we see most clearly the meaning of the Revelation as of a Word. Therefore we witness to the Spirit "that spake in times past unto the Fathers by the Prophets" (Heb. 1:2). In the New Testament God hath spoken to us by his Son, and we are bound not only to hear, but to see, too.
We admit that the Old Testament is a difficult book. And, as time runs on, it grows no easier. Perhaps, on the contrary, it is more difficult for us to read it than it was for our ancestors. This is not the time or place to ask and discuss the question concerning the "historical authenticity" of the Old Testament. There is no time here to unravel the complex and difficult problem of the so–called "Higher Criticism." It would involve us in giving too much time to it in this paper. But all these critical investigations do not touch upon the fundamental principle of Revelation; do not deflect from its Divine inspiration. Scientific criticism cannot prove the sacred value of the Bible; cannot refute it. Divine inspiration is not a category of autonomous science. The reason of man, left to itself, cannot feel inspiration. Divine inspiration presupposes a certain rupture in the natural order. We need a special method of seeing to be able to recognize it. This in no wise means that faith and reason cannot be united, and that reason knows no religious truths and postulates; that religious truth, the truth of Revelation, is not obligatory or convincing for reason. On the contrary! But to achieve this, reason itself must be transfigured. Out of a world of two dimensions we must pass over into one of three; we must feel depth. Herein lies the nucleus of the theological question of Higher Criticism. To be able to feel the breath of the Spirit in Sacred Scripture, we must "strive after the Spirit," we must possess spiritual intuition and insight. We must learn to discern profanum et sacrum; we must know and feel what is profanum and what is sacrum; we must admit and know that there is a sacrum, quite apart from profanum. And this transfiguration of our consciousness can he accomplished only in the Church, in its spiritual charismatic completeness. Revelation has been granted to the Church not to individuals. In the Old Testament also "God’s Words" were entrusted not to individuals, but to God’s people (Rom. 3:2). Revelation has been given only to the Church, and only in the Church is it accessible to us; i.e., it can be accessible only in the fullness of spiritual life. Outside the Church, for outsiders, it becomes unclear, unconvincing. This unclearness is the nether side of our inattention, of our absence of intuition.
The apex of Revelation is in the Gospels. For the fullness of Revelation — is Christ. The New Testament is also, first of all, history — the Gospel history of the incarnated Word and of the beginning of the history of the Church, which is now expecting its apocalyptic fulfillment. The basis of the New Testament is facts, events, realities, commandments, teaching, and words. Here the basis is Christ and the Church, His Body. "The fullness of Him that filleth all in all" (Eph. 1:23). The Gospel is history. Historical events are the subject and source of Christian faith and Christian hope. From the beginning, from the very day of Pentecost, when the Apostle Peter as an eye–witness, ("Whereof we are all witnesses," Acts 2:32), witnessed to the fulfillment of salvation, apostolic preaching had an historical character. But again it is a sacred history. The Apostles always speak of concrete historical facts and events. They bring vividly before the consciousness of their hearers the image of Christ, they make it live anew, and they show who He was. The uniqueness, the marvel of this historical Figure consists in the fact that He who became visible, whom we saw, was the Son of God, the Savior of the world. Therefore it is that human limits, belonging to a world of two dimensions, cannot encompass this Image. It transcends them; and within historical boundaries we see what is super–historical, what is above the earth. But the boundaries are not obliterated, not wiped away, not dimmed; in the sacred Image historical features are still visible. Therein lies the meaning and importance of apostolic preaching that it is a narrative, a narrative of what the Apostles themselves heard and saw, of what was fulfilled and accomplished, hic et nunc. "Which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked upon, and our hands have handled" (I. John, 1:1). But what happened was unheard of: "The Word was made flesh" (John 1:14). Therefore this narrative is more than merely a narrative; it relates not only something that took place, but something that was realized and completed. Through historical vision we catch sight of what is visible only to the eyes of faith, what only the few saw and recognized during the lifetime of the Savior; what even the Apostles saw and recognized fully only later, after His resurrection, when He had opened their understanding that they might understand "The mysteries of the Kingdom" (Luke, 24:45). The Gospel is a narrative and an image, but it is the narrative about God–Man. And just because it is a narrative and an historical witness there is a certain reserve in it. The scope of faith is more than reminiscence. Faith grows living, in creative recognition of what it has seen and heard in communion with Christ. The Gospels give us a unique, integral image, an image both Divine and human — the image of God become man. For those whose capacity of perception is not fine enough this image often appears as two separate images, just as it did to those who saw Him in the flesh, as long as their hearts had not been enlightened by faith. The Evangelists and the Apostles were no chroniclers. It was not their mission to relate all that had been done by Jesus, day by day, year by year. They described His image and related His works, so as to give us His image; an historical, yet a Divine image. The Gospels may be called "An historical icon," an icon in words not in lines and colors, yet a picture of His face. Or, to be more exact, the Gospels are not one, but four icons, a four–fold icon of God–Man. And this icon has been delineated by the power of the Spirit. The gospels are the records of the apostolic "good tidings," and the preaching of the Apostles was contained not "in the doubtful words of man’s wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power" (1Cor. 2:4), in the numerous separate reminiscences the figure of Jesus grows living and the sensitive heart recognizes in Jesus of Nazareth, crucified and risen, the Savior of the world and the God–Man. The earthly plan of the Gospel is always mysteriously transparent, and through the historical evidence we see the glimmering of Divine reality. It is true that not all see this, just as not all saw it then; and not "flesh and blood," but the Father which is in heaven hath revealed that He was the Son of the living God (Math. 16:16–17). In the mysterious blending of the double features the Face of God–Man has been drawn, seen, and recognized. For thus it was described by the Evangelists. The whole of the New Testament throbs with historical fulfillment of what has been and is accomplished. But this is no historically isolated earthly stream of events, of "natural events." The narrative of what took place is a realistic narrative. It was, it happened, this meeting of the sky and the earth, of God and man. The meeting and the union: "And the Word was made flesh" (John 1:14) "And yet no man can say that Jesus is the Lord, but by the Holy Ghost" (I Cor. 17:3). It means that revelation becomes clearly heard by us in all its fullness only in spiritual experience. Therefore the Comforter, the Spirit of Truth, has been sent down to us that He "Will guide you into all truth" (John 16:13), that He should "bring all things to your remembrance whatsoever I have said unto you'' (John 14:26). And to the present day, "The same anointing teacheth, you all things" (1 John 2:27). The Gospels are written within the Church. They are the records of the apostolic "good tidings," of the apostolic preaching, and the strength of this preaching built up the Church: "Go ye, therefore, and teach." The Gospels are the records of Church experience and faith, records of what is visible in the experience of the Church. It is the living Image of Christ which the Church has contemplated from the beginning; and it is only within the Church that this Image is fully and wholly accessible. St. Athanasius the Great says: "It is the direct and living meeting with Christ, into whom all the faithful are clothed in the sacrament of Holy Baptism; we are satisfied by the Spirit; we drink Christ."
Divine Revelation is preserved in the Church. It is protected arid strengthened by the words of Scripture; it is protected, but not exhausted. The words of Scripture do not exhaust the whole fullness of Revelation; do not exhaust the whole fullness of Christian experience and of the charismatic reminiscence of the Church. The experience of the Church is wider than its direct testimony. Therefore those who abide in the Church know infinitely more and quite otherwise than "outsiders." For those who abide within the Church, the testimony of the Spirit makes the Scriptures a clearer, a fuller thing; this testimony once more lives in their own personal experience. And this is why we must not speak of the "self–sufficing quality" of Scripture. For Scripture is not only preserved by the power of human memory; it is also protected by the power of Grace in the charismatic life of the Church. In the Church, Revelation becomes an inner spiritual experience. The Church in itself is already a Revelation_ From the Day of Pentecost, when the Holy Ghost entered the world to abide in it, Revelation has become an uninterrupted continuity. The fiery baptism of the created world was accomplished. It was represented by the twelve Apostles and those that were with them, as the chosen first–fruit (Math. 3:2). At any rate the Scriptures demand that they should he expounded and explained. And a true explanation will be one that proceeds from the realities described in the Scriptures. It must be no outward, but an inward explanation, growing out of the depth of spiritual experience. And here we do not so much speak of the personal spiritual intuition of every separate expounder, as, above all, of the living of the fullness of the spiritual experience of the Church itself. For in this experience the Scriptures become vivified by the same Spirit who had once inspired them. When the Church expounds Scripture it bears witness to that of which the Scriptures testify. But frequently new words are used. Revelation is received in the silence of faith, the silence of contemplation — such is the first silently receptive moment of theology. And in this receptive silence of contemplation the whole fullness of Truth is contained and given. But Truth must still be expressed and pronounced. Because man is called not only to receive Truth attentively, but also to witness of it. Silencium mysticum does not exhaust the complete calling of man. He is called to creative activity, above all, to the building up of his own self. God’s Word must become evident in the reality of human thought; God’s Word must give birth to human thought. This is the creative or positive moment of the knowledge of God. Divine reality revealed in the experience of the Church may be described in manifold ways. Either in images and symbols, in religious poetry and religious art — such was the language of the Old Testament prophets; thus frequently spoke the Evangelists, thus preached the Apostles, and thus the Church is still preaching in the songs and hymns of its Divine service, in the symbolic meaning of its rites. This is the tongue of preaching or witnessing; it is the tongue of charismatic theology. Or, Divine reality may be described in the conceptions of the mind, in research. This is the language of dogma, of dogmatic theology. "Preaching" and "Dogma" are the two ways in which the Church bears witness to Truth, to that inner Revelation which is still continuing in the Church by the power of the Spirit abiding in it (cp. St. Basil the Great concerning the Holy Ghost) This Revelation, this deepening and growing into "The Knowledge of Truth," is the life of the Church: "Till we all come in the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, unto a perfect man, unto the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ" (Eph. 4:13)
Dogma is thought witnessing to Revelation, to what it has seen, to what was revealed to it, to the visible and the contemplated in the Catholic experience of the Church. And this witness is expressed in definitions and conceptions. Dogma is the sentence of experience, the mental vision, true contemplation. We may name it the "logical image," the "logical icon" of Divine reality. And, at the same time, dogma is a definition. Therefore it is that both the logical form of dogma, that "inner word" which is fixed and made definite in outward expression, and the outward choice of words, which are so important in dogma.
Dogma is no new Revelation; dogma is only a witness, a witness of the mind, such as is worthy of the experienced and recognized Divine Revelation, a Revelation granted and revealed in the charismatic experience of faith, of the mysteries of life eternal, such as has been shown by the Holy Ghost. All dogma is revealed by experience, in true contact with "things not seen" (Heb. 11:1).
This is the source of dogmatic decisive authority and of the unchangeableness of Truth, revealed and preserved from the beginning. Dogmas are not developed or changed. They are inviolable, even in their outward choice of words. Perhaps it may sound paradoxical, but it is still true to say that dogma can arise, can be established and expressed, but they cannot be developed. A dogma once established is an eternal inviolable "rule of faith" and the measure of it. Of course this does not mean that something new, some "new truth" is being revealed; but it does mean that such a truth is being expressed and pronounced. In its dogmatic witness the Church is expressing and pronouncing truths preserved within its fold. And its aim is to find and establish the exact words, which should truly express the experience of the Church. These words must be able to transmit the "vision of the mind," which is being revealed to the faithful spirit in experience and contemplation. There is a pre–dogmatic period of Church consciousness; then the language chosen is one of images and symbols. But after this comes the time for bearing dogmatic witness. For truth of faith is truth of reason as well, and thought must enter "into the knowledge of truth." In doing this it becomes creatively transfigured, the very realm of thought becomes transfigured, sanctified, and renewed. When Divine Truth is pronounced and expressed in the human tongue, the very words are transfigured, and the fact that the Truths of Revelation are imparted in logical images and conceptions witnesses to the transfiguration of word and thought, words become sacred. The words of dogmatic definitions, frequently taken from the habitual philosophic vocabulary, are no more simple, casual words, which might have been and still may be replaced by some others. No, they have grown to be eternal, irreplaceable words. This signifies that in the adequate expression of a Divine Truth certain words, i.e., definite conceptions and ideas, or a definite train of thought have been eternalized and stabilized. This means that eternal and absolute ideas are being sought; therefore the Truth of Revelation may be and is adequately expressed in them. This Truth of Revelation has been positively granted, and not only postulated. Not something to be sought, but something given. However incommensurable our present knowledge "in part" is to the promised knowledge that is to be "face to face," — still, now as always, it is full and perfect. Truth is being revealed in Catholic experience and is being expressed in dogmatic definitions. The dogmas of the Fathers repeat in categories of thought the unchangeable contents of "apostolic preaching," they express "in words of reason dogmas which once were narrated in simple words by fishermen, who had received wisdom thereto by the power of the Spirit."
By the power of the Spirit. In the dogmatic definitions of the Church we again feel the life–giving power of the Spirit of Truth, the Spirit of Wisdom. Dogmas are pronounced not by the arbitrary desire of man, but by the inspiration of the Spirit. Usually this was done during the Ecumenical Councils, but sometimes also through the silent reception of "ecclesiœ sparsœ."
And again; dogmas do not exhaust the experience of the Church; just as Revelation is not exhausted in the words or the "letter" of Scripture. In dogmatic definitions the Truth of experience is only determined and protected, but not exhausted. The experience and faith of the Church are fuller and wider than its dogmatic word. There is much to which the Church witnesses even to the present day in images, symbols, and similes, in symbolic theology. Probably this will exist to the end of time, i.e., to the last passing over from here to the beyond (see St. Gregory the Theologian). From the very beginning the Church was given the fullness of Truth. But it is only gradually and "in part" that this fullness is being expressed. In general all our knowledge here, is always a knowledge "in part." The exhaustive fullness will be revealed only in the beyond, in the Second Advent, in the "meeting with Our Lord." From here proceeds the dogmatic incompleteness of the Church’s witness; this is also caused by the Church being "in a state of pilgrimage," "in via"; that it is still being "completed and maketh increase" (Eph. 4:16). The human spirit and reason are still "increasing." The historical aims of the knowledge of God, of understanding Revelation, are still facing us. There is much that is still to be accomplished. However the incompleteness and the inexhaustibleness of our knowledge here does not weaken its truth, its finality, the impossibility of replacing it; does not deprive it of the finality which has been attained. Within the limits of Church experience there are many mysteries for us to contemplate, mysteries for which no dogmatic words have been found so far. Here there is scope for "theological opinions" and research. There can also exist freedom in the understanding of established dogmas. Of course there is no room here for subjective arbitrary mental choice. Theology must always remain vital, intuitive; it must be nourished by the experience of faith, and must not be split up into autonomous isolated dialectic conceptions. Once more we want to remind you that the dogmas of faith are the truths of experience and of life — therefore they can he unfolded through no logical synthesis and analysis, but only through spiritual life, through actual participation in the fullness of Church experience. A lawful "theological opinion" can he attained not through any logical deduction, but only through direct vision, and this again can only be attained through strenuous prayerful effort, through a striving after the Spirit, through personal spiritual growth, through living communion with the constant Catholic experience of the Church.
Theology can be realized only through a Catholic transfiguration of those who are striving to attain knowledge. Catholicity is a victory over all manner of separatism. Catholicity strives against all kinds of individual isolation, against the self–assertion of exclusiveness and isolation. Catholicity is a certain attitude of consciousness, the measure and limit of spiritual growth. In this Catholic transfiguration, personality grows complete and receives the faculty and strength of feeling and expressing the consciousness and life of the whole. And those, who, in striving to attain Catholic development, have gained this power, accept it as a gift of the Spirit. We name those who express the experience and consciousness of the Church, "Fathers and Teachers of the Church"; because from them we hear not only their own personal professions, but also the witness of the Church. It is out of Catholic fullness that they speak. In their words we feel the breath of the Spirit. The fullness of Revelation is assimilated by the Church in the measure of its spiritual growth. And this gradualness in the profession of faith is connected with the dynamic growth of Church existence, with the process of vital salvation, sanctification, and transfiguration. Perhaps it is not by chance that it is just those dogmatic definitions which treat of the building up of the "new creation" and of the final fate of the Church, which have not yet been expressed. Because this has not yet been fulfilled in time, because we are still seeing its fulfillment: and therefore we know not all about it, and can speak of it only in prophecies and symbols. In those dogmas which have already been established, that which pertains to the future is but partially visible. We possess no categorical definitions concerning the abiding of the Holy Spirit in the world, the action of the Holy Spirit in it; not of the life of the saints and sinners beyond the tomb, nor of much else that is awaiting its accomplishment. Here the Church often limits itself to dogmatic negation, i.e., it witnesses in an authoritative manner to what we are not allowed and must not think. And this witness proceeds from the depth of that experience which has not yet been and cannot be expressed. But the Church does not hasten to establish in dogmatic formulae positive theological opinions of the future. And this not because it does not know, but because the time has not yet come for it to pronounce itself. The Church witnesses in a categorical manner to that which is ever present, to that which does not belong to time (as for instance the dogma of the Holy Trinity); or to that which has already been revealed, seen, and accomplished (the dogma of the Person of Our Savior). And in the dogma of Christ the first things defined were those which pertained to the past, in so far as they belonged to time (Incarnation, reality of the sufferings and death on the cross, Resurrection, Ascension); or again it witnesses to that which was revealed direct by Our Savior himself (the Second Advent, universal resurrection, the Day of Judgment). Of all else the Church prefers to bear testimony in symbols and similes, but liturgically; as when it establishes the solemn festivals of Ascension and Transfiguration; or that of the Life–giving Cross. Here the Church testifies to much that has not yet found its final dogmatic expression; to much that is bound up with the sanctification, i.e., the perfection of the world; a sanctification that is being, but has not yet been, accomplished. The mystery of the Ascension of Our Lord can be fully revealed only at the Second Advent "When He shall so come in like manner, as ye have seen Him go into heaven" (Acts, 1:11). For only then, and in the resurrection of all, will the created body be fully re–established and become incorruptible. The mystery of the Lord's Transfiguration is also closely connected with this. We catch but a glimpse of it in the witness of the Light of Mount Tabor, given by the Byzantine Councils of the XIV century. There is no doubt that much has been given us only as foreknowledge. However, this does not mean that we have the right to form whatever opinion we like concerning the truths that have not been expressed; or that here there is nothing obligatory for us. The realm of foreknowledge is no "doubtful realm" (Dubitum) in which unlimited "freedom" is permitted us (In dubiis libertas). The absence of "dogmatic" definitions does not indicate absence of knowledge, and does not authorize complete reserve from all judgment. For that which has not been given in dogma has been given us in an experience, which is the source of the dogmatic definitions of the Church. It has also often been given in written recorded Revelation, which is not exhausted in dogmatic expressions, and which is full of mystery and prophecies. Not all that is known and revealed is proclaimed dogmatically by the Church, but all is given in the dialectic experience of the Church, which indissolubly abides with its head, Jesus Christ, and is unchangeably enlightened and inspired by the Life–giving Spirit.
Father Sergius Bulgakov expressed himself very adequately when he said: "He who has once met Christ, His Savior, on his own personal path, and has felt His Divinity, has, in that very moment, accepted all fundamental Christian dogmas — Virgin Birth, incarnation, Second Glorious Advent, the Coming of the Comforter, the Holy Trinity." (S. Bulgakov: "The Undying Light."1917, p.57). To this I want to add: "Or else he has not yet met Christ, or, at any rate, has not recognized him." "The Spirit abideth with us now, and, in the striving after the Spirit, the path towards the fullness of the knowledge of God is opened to us." (St. Gregory the Theologian).
God speaks to man through His Spirit; and only in the measure in which man abides in the Spirit does he hear and understand this voice: ''The wind bloweth where it listeth and thou hearest the sound thereof but canst not tell whence it cometh and whither it goeth; so is every one that is born of the Spirit" (John 3:8). There are no isolated paths of spiritual life. Since the Day of Pentecost the Spirit abideth in the Church, where God hath ordained "the action of the Spirit"("Omnem operationem Spiritus," as St. Ireneus of Lyons said). Here, by the power of the Spirit, is every soul quickened. Here the Word of God rings and is heard — all the words pronounced since the beginning. Here is the fullness and the path of knowledge. The striving after the Spirit, the prayer for the granting of the Spirit, is the path in which we can glorify God. Through the Breath of the Spirit God’s Revelation will be eternally vivified and will be built up into the living organism of the one and undivided Truth
The Church teaches us to pray:
"Our Heavenly King, Comforter, Spirit of Truth, Omnipresent and All–fulfilling, Treasure of all Good, and Giver of Life, come and abide in us, cleanse us from all evil, and save, O All–merciful, our souls."
Missionary Leaflet # E095t
Copyright © 2005 Holy Trinity Orthodox Mission
466 Foothill Blvd, Box 397, La Canada, Ca 91011
Editor: Bishop Alexander (Mileant)
Edited 4-20-2005 David Hardy