Pentecost and Trinity Sunday: Church Fathers

Today, Sunday June 7, 2009 is Trinity Sunday in the traditional Roman calendar. Furthermore it is the Day of Pentecost in the Orthodox calendar. Since I missed Western Pentecost last Sunday, I thought I’d take advantage of the double event to catch up. Here are a couple of classical quotations on understanding Pentecost and the Trinity.

Come, then, let us add yet another reflection, profitable and true, to our previous investigations. All His(Jesus) work on earth had indeed been accomplished, as we just now affirmed. It was however surely necessary that we should become partakers and sharers of the Divine Nature of the Word; or rather that, giving up the life that originally belonged to us, we should be transformed into another, and the very elements of our being be changed into newness of life well-pleasing to God. But it was impossible to attain this in any other way except by fellowship in, and partaking of, the Holy Spirit. The most fitting and appropriate time, then, for the mission and descent of the Holy Spirit to us was that which in due season came—-I mean, the occasion of our Saviour Christ’s departure hence. For while yet present in the body with those who believed on Him, He showed Himself, I think, the bestower of every blessing. But when time and necessity demanded His restoration to His Father in heaven, it was essential that He should associate Himself by the Spirit with His worshippers, and should dwell in our hearts by faith, in order that, having His presence within us, we might cry with boldness, Abba, Father, and might readily advance in all virtue, and might also be found strong and invincible against the wiles of the devil, and the assaults of men, as possessing the omnipotent Spirit.

For it might easily be shown, both from the Old and New Scriptures, that the Holy Spirit changes the disposition of those in Whom He is, and in Whom He dwells, and moulds them into newness of life. For the inspired Samuel, when he was discoursing with Saul, said: And the Spirit of the Lord will come upon thee, and thou shalt be turned into another man. And the blessed Paul thus writes: But we all, with unveiled face reflecting as a mirror the glory of the Lord, are transformed into the same image from glory to glory, even as from the Lord the Spirit. Now the Lord is the Spirit. You see that the Spirit moulds as it were into another likeness those in whom He visibly abides. For He easily turns them from an inclination to dwell on the things of earth, to the contemplation only of that which is in heaven; and from an unmanly cowardice to a courageous disposition. And that we shall find the disciples thus affected and steeled by the Holy Spirit into indifference to the assaults of their persecutors, and laying fast hold of the love that is towards Christ, can no way be questioned. Therefore the saying of the Saviour is true, when He says, “It is expedient for you that I depart into heaven.” For that was the occasion of the descent of the Spirit. (Cyril of Alexandria, Commentary on John 10 excerpt)

11. Let then thus much suffice concerning those outcasts; and now let us return to the divine Scriptures, and let us drink waters out of our own cisterns [that is, the holy Fathers ], and out of our own springing wells Proverbs 5:15 . Drink we of living water, springing up into everlasting life ; but this spoke the Saviour of the Spirit, which they that believe in Him should receive . For observe what He says, He that believes in Me (not simply this, but), as the Scripture has said (thus He has sent you back to the Old Testament), out of his belly shall flow rivers of living water, not rivers perceived by sense, and merely watering the earth with its thorns and trees, but bringing souls to the light. And in another place He says, But the water that I shall give him, shall be in him a well of living water springing up into everlasting life,— a new kind of water living and springing up, springing up unto them who are worthy.

12. And why did He call the grace of the Spirit water? Because by water all things subsist; because water brings forth grass and living things; because the water of the showers comes down from heaven; because it comes down one in form, but works in many forms. For one fountain waters the whole of Paradise, and one and the same rain comes down upon all the world, yet it becomes white in the lily, and red in the rose, and purple in violets and hyacinths, and different and varied in each several kind: so it is one in the palm-tree, and another in the vine, and all in all things; and yet is one in nature, not diverse from itself; for the rain does not change itself, and come down first as one thing, then as another, but adapting itself to the constitution of each thing which receives it, it becomes to each what is suitable . Thus also the Holy Ghost, being one, and of one nature, and indivisible, divides to each His grace, according as He will 1 Corinthians 12:11: and as the dry tree, after partaking of water, puts forth shoots, so also the soul in sin, when it has been through repentance made worthy of the Holy Ghost, brings forth clusters of righteousness. And though He is One in nature, yet many are the virtues which by the will of God and in the Name of Christ He works. For He employs the tongue of one man for wisdom; the soul of another He enlightens by Prophecy; to another He gives power to drive away devils; to another He gives to interpret the divine Scriptures. He strengthens one man’s self-command; He teaches another the way to give alms; another He teaches to fast and discipline himself; another He teaches to despise the things of the body; another He trains for martyrdom: diverse in different men, yet not diverse from Himself, as it is written, But the manifestation of the Spirit is given to every man to profit withal. For to one is given through the Spirit the word of wisdom; and to another the word of knowledge according to the same Spirit; to another faith, in the same Spirit; and to another gifts of healing, in the same Spirit; and to another workings of miracles; and to another prophecy; and to another discernings of spirits; and to another various kinds of tongues; and to another the interpretation of tongues: but all these works that one and the same Spirit, dividing to every man severally as He will .

16. Such is not the Holy Ghost; God forbid! For His doings tend the contrary way, towards what is good and salutary. First, His coming is gentle; the perception of Him is fragrant; His burden most light; beams of light and knowledge gleam forth before His coming . He comes with the bowels of a true guardian: for He comes to save, and to heal, to teach, to admonish, to strengthen, to exhort, to enlighten the mind, first of him who receives Him, and afterwards of others also, through him. And as a man, who being previously in darkness then suddenly beholds the sun, is enlightened in his bodily sight, and sees plainly things which he saw not, so likewise he to whom the Holy Ghost is vouchsafed, is enlightened in his soul, and sees things beyond man’s sight, which he knew not; his body is on earth, yet his soul mirrors forth the heavens. (Cyril of Jerusalem, Cathechetical Lecture 16)

It will not be out of place to consider the ancient tradition, teaching and faith of the Catholic Church, which was revealed by the Lord, proclaimed by the apostles and guarded by the fathers. For upon this faith the Church is built, and if anyone were to lapse from it, he would no longer be a Christian either in fact or in name.

We acknowledge the Trinity, holy and perfect, to consist of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. In this Trinity there is no intrusion of any alien element or of anything from outside, nor is the Trinity a blend of creative and created being. It is a wholly creative and energizing reality, self-consistent and undivided in its active power, for the Father makes all things through the Word and in the Holy Spirit, and in this way the unity of the holy Trinity is preserved. Accordingly, in the Church, one God is preached, one God who is above all things and through all things and in all things. God is above all things as Father, for he is principle and source; he is through all things through the Word; and he is in all things in the Holy Spirit.

Writing to the Corinthians about spiritual matters, Paul traces all reality back to one God, the Father, saying: Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit; and varieties of service, but the same Lord; and there are varieties of service but the same Lord; and there are varieties of working, but it is the same God who inspires them all in everyone.

Even the gifts that the Spirit dispenses to individuals are given by the Father through the Word. For all that belongs to the Father belongs also to the Son, and so the graces given by the Son in the Spirit are true gifts of the Father. Similarly, when the Spirit dwells in us, the Word who bestows the Spirit is in us too, and the Father is present in the Word. This is the meaning of the text: My Father and I will come to him and make our home with him. For where the light is, there also is the radiance; and where the radiance is, there too are its power and its resplendent grace.

This is also Paul’s teaching in his second letter to the Corinthians (13:13): The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ and the love of God and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all. For grace and the gift of the Trinity are given by the Father through the Son in the Holy Spirit. Just as grace is given from the Father through the Son, so there could be no communication of the gift to us except in the Holy Spirit. But when we share in the Spirit, we posses the love of the Father, the grace of the Son and the fellowship of the Spirit himself.(Athenasius of Alexandria, First Letter to Serapion, excerpt)


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