On The Holy Spirit

In St. Basil’s work, “On the Holy Spirit,” he puts forth a couple of arguments defending the unity the Spirit shares with the Father and the Son. Before an evaluation of his arguments is presented, one point that Basil challenges the church with in his writing is that the scriptures are sufficient. One immediately sees when reading Basil that he held to a high view of scripture.

The beginning of the book begins with the initial inquiry from brother Amphilochius. It seems that brother Amphilochius is writing out of a genuine interest to hear how St. Basil would respond to the recent arguments against the Holy Spirit as one who is equal with God. In St. Basil’s response one sees compassion towards his brother, understanding that unlike so many in his time people in the Church, even like today’s Church there were those that sought ways to devise traps by using cunning words to ensnare other brothers in the faith.

The first part of his letter is a rebuttal against the heretics, those who believed there was a distinction between Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. A distinction to such a degree that the Holy Spirit was not equal with the Father or the Son, and therefore not God. They argued that based on the words, “from whom,” “through whom,” and “in whom” was conclusive evidence that the Holy Spirit was different in nature to the Father and Son (30-31). St. Basil shows that this does not denote to anything in relation to the inequality among the three persons in the Godhead. Moreover, St. Basil goes on to add passages of scripture that show that Jesus is God, and that the Holy Spirit is God, as one would understand that the Father is God also (36-37). In this book, St. Basil goes to show for the next twenty pages that the significance of understanding this relationship cannot be overstated as it is explicitly revealed in the Word of God.

The next section, St. Basil moves on to focus on the work and ministry of the Holy Spirit. But more specifically, how does one understand the Holy Spirits relationship with God the Father, and God the Son. He begins by presenting the argument of those who disagree with him, concerning that the Holy Spirit should not be ranked with the Father and the Son. However, St. Basil simply shows from Matthew 28:19 that even Jesus himself in giving the great commission to his disciples ranks the Holy Spirit among the Father and the Son (55). He also shows that for those who reject the Holy Spirit has not part in the Kingdom of God either (58).

Following this argument, St. Basil picks up on the theme of Baptism. Initially it is unclear why St. Basil goes in this direction, he even has a disclaimer for his readers by asking the question, what then is the connection between Baptism and the Holy Spirit (64)? St. Basil shows that from the Old Testament that similar to the way Israel was baptized by the Red Sea, there are also many other different types, or prefigures of a future truth that would be revealed in the person of Jesus Christ. St. Basil writes, “he first trained us to see the shadows of bodies and to look at the sun in water, so that we not be blinded by wrecking ourselves on the vision of pure light” (65).[1]

St. Basil shows that Baptism is a way to symbolize the death one partakes with Christ, as they are lowered in the water, and is given new life in Christ by the Holy Spirit as they are lifted out of the water (67). St. Basil writes, “The water fulfills the image of death, while the Spirit furnishes the pledge of life” (67). This is how St. Basil interprets the passage in Matthew 3:11, the one who would come after John would be one who would baptize in the Spirit and Fire, the fire being judgment (69).

St. Basil uses Acts 5:3 as one strong point that the Scripture makes to argue that the Holy Spirit is God, but in St. Basil’s opinion he is convinced that the strongest argument is found in 1 Corinthians 2:11 (75). Here the Scripture reads plainly that similar to the way the spirit of man knows the man himself, the Holy Spirit, who knows the depths of God likewise understands God better than anyone. It begs the question, of who can know the infinite and unsearchable riches of God himself but God alone, the Holy Spirit. Next, St. Basil dismisses the argument concerning how the Holy Spirit is to be numerically related to the God the Father and Son by understanding a simple mathematical relationship. If A = C and A = B, then C = B. The Spirit is ranked with the Son, who is equal with the Father, consequently then the Spirit is also equal with the Father (78).

Continuing in his argument against the heretics, St. Basil shows that the Holy Spirit also deserves to be equally glorified with the Father and the Son. St. Basil writes, “For no gift at all comes to creation without the Holy Spirit,” since one cannot say that Jesus is Lord, unless if it is revealed by the Holy Spirit (94). As a result, no one can understand the paradox of the cross unless as Jesus said to Peter the Holy Spirit reveals it to him or her. Finally St. Basil writes, “for ‘the Law of the Spirit of life,’ says Scripture, ‘made us free’” (95).

In conclusion, St. Basil paints an unfortunate reality of the Churches in his time. They are like, inexperienced “helmsmen,” fighting amongst themselves in a dark, and nebulous mist that keeps one from distinguishing the enemy from foe (119). The certainty of the Church is unknown and the book concludes that if truth is not defended than there is little hope.

[1]Similar to Plato’s cave analogy in book VII in his work entitled, The Republic.

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