Christianity’s Forgotten Spirit

“Therefore because of the grace of the Spirit which has been given to us, we come to be in him, and He in us. And through his becoming in us, and we having the Spirit, it is reasonable that, since it is the Spirit of God, we are considered to be in God and God in us. Not then as the Son is in the Father, do we also become in the Father; for the Son does not merely participate in the Spirit in order to be in the Father. Nor does He receive the Spirit, but rather supplies it himself to all. And the Spirit does not unite the Word to the Father, but rather the Spirit receives from the Word. And the Son is in the Father, as his proper Word and radiance; but we, apart from the Spirit, are foreign and distant from God, and by the participation of the Spirit we are knit into the Godhead; so that our being in the Father is not ours, but is the Spirit’s, which is in us and remains in us, while by the true confession we preserve it in us.” St. Athanasius, Against the Arians, 3.24.

For the fathers of the Church, our participation in the Spirit is tantamount to our salvation. It is because the Spirit of The Father is sent by the Son that we too can have adoption as sons and daughters of The Father in the likeness of the true or natural Son (The Logos). In much of what passes for Christian ‘dogmatics’ we do not see The Holy Spirit as a part of this matrix of salvation at all. And yet, for St. Athanasius, it is by The Spirit that we are knit into the Godhead, granting us union with God. St. Athanasius is clear that this is not because of some special property of our own but rather is gifted to us by participation in The Spirit Who is in us. We are gifted adoption by the indwelling of the Spirit as The Church bears us in the womb of the baptismal font. Being nurtured on the food of Christ and being granted participation in the Spirit, we come to union with God. This is the end (telos) and the goal of the whole of the Christian life.

 

Let us draw near to the Spirit Who is never far from us. This is the ascetic work of the Christians. To nurture the gift given to us and thereby to grow in union with God is the whole of the Christian vocation.

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