2. Historical Evidence

The Holy Spirit: Person of "Force"

Part 1: Personal Attributes
Part 2: Historical Evidence
Part 3: "Impersonal" Attributes

Part 2: Historical Evidence

The historical evidence for the personality of the Holy Spirit, and for the Trinity, are so closely related that the two would best be treated as one. While the period of the Arians is too late to be relevant to a study of the earliest Christian records, I would point out that while they denied the deity of Jesus Christ, they affirmed the personal identity of the Spirit.

Clement of Rome, a friend of Paul, writes (probably c. 100 A.D. - perhaps 30 years earlier): “As lives the God, and lives the Lord Jesus Christ and the Spirit who are the faith and the hope of the Elect.” ( This is a literal translation; see Lightfoot, The Apostolic Fathers, p.38; 58.) The Spirit lives, in the same way that the Son and the Father live - the verb being distributed equally to Jesus and the Spirit. Clement consistently sees the Spirit as the source of Scripture: “Let us do that which is written, for the Holy Spirit saith...”; “The Holy Spirit spake of Him [Jesus] ...”; “You have looked closely into the Scriptures, which are true, and were given by the Holy Spirit.” (Lightfoot, The Apostolic Fathers, p.18, 13:1; p.19, 16:2; p.31, 45:2.) This language speaks of a being, not a force.

Ignatius, student of John, writing to the Philadelphians in 108 A.D., says, “If there were some who wished to mislead me after the flesh, yet the Spirit is not to be misled, being from God.” (Lightfoot, op cit, p.80, 7.) Notice that "some" (people) try to mislead "me" (a person), but cannot mislead "the Spirit" (a person). Believers are to be diligent, “that ye may prosper ... in the Son and the Father and in the Spirit.” (Magnesians, Lightfoot, p.72, 13.)

Polycarp, who became a Christian about 70 A.D. and like Ignatius learned from the Apostle John (Martyrdom of Polycarp, 9; Iren fragm, 2.), spoke as his last words before he was martyred: “I bless Thee (Lord God Almighty) ... that I might receive a portion ... in the cup of Christ unto resurrection of eternal life, both of soul and of body, in the incorruptibility of the Holy Spirit .... I glorify Thee through the eternal and heavenly High Priest Jesus Christ Thy beloved Son, through whom, [to You] together with Him [the Son] and the Holy Spirit, be the glory both now and for the ages to come.” (Lightfoot, p. 114; Martyrdom of Polycarp, 14.) Whatever glory he gives to the Father, and to the Son, he gives to the Spirit; one does not give the same glory to a person as to a force.

The Shepherd of Hermas, written about either 95 A.D or 145 A.D, says: “Love truth ... that the Spirit which God made to dwell in this flesh may be found true ... ; and so the Lord, who dwells in thee, shall be glorified.... [Believers] receive from [the Lord] a Spirit that lies not...”[Mandate 3] The Spirit and the Lord dwell in them: either Spirit and Lord are one and the same, or two separate persons, who dwell in the same manner, as persons - and neither of these persons tells lies. “If thou be longsuffering, the Holy Spirit ... will exult and be glad with the vessel wherein it dwells, and minister to God with much cheerfulness.... But if an angry passion attack thee, the Holy Spirit ... finds no room to minister to the Lord as it wishes.”[Mand 5] We are to “distress not the Holy Spirit which dwells in thee, lest it plead with God against thee ... ; the Holy Spirit given to men is a cheerful spirit.”[Mand 10] The “Angel of the Spirit of prophecy who is attached to [a true prophet] fills the man, and being thus filled by the Holy Spirit, he speaks to the concourse as the Lord wills.” A force is not, or does not have, an Angel. “Trust the Spirit that comes from God and that has power...”[Mand 11] It is tautological to say the Power has power; rather, the Person has power.

Justin Martyr, born circa 100 A.D., says in his "First Apology" that “both Him [the Father of righteousness], and the Son ... , and the prophetic Spirit, we worship and adore...” (Ante-Nicene Fathers (ANF), Vol. 1, p. 164.) In whatever way the Father is worshipped, just so is the Son, and also the Spirit. The Father is worshipped as God, and so are the Son and the Spirit. While speaking of the fact that Jesus is called both God and Lord of hosts, Justin says “the Holy Spirit, either from the person of His Father, or from His own person, answers them, ‘The Lord of hosts, He is this King of glory.’” (Op. cit, p. 213, ch 36.) Justin recognized that the Spirit speaks as His own person.

Athenagoras, (writing c. 177 A.D), in a defense against pagans, after discussing how the Holy Spirit "Himself" proceeds from God the Father, says, “Who, then, would not be astonished to hear men who speak of God the Father, and of God the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, and who declare both their power in union and their distinction in order, called atheists?” (ANF, vol 2, p. 133 - "A Plea for Christians.")

Theophilus of Antioch (b. 115 A.D.) expounds upon the days of creation using various analogies, one of which is that “the three days which were [created] before the luminaries [of the forth day], are types of the Trinity - of God, and His Word [Logos], and His Wisdom [Holy Spirit].”

Tertullian, writing c. 200 A.D., refutes the heresy which says that: “one cannot believe in One Only God in any other way than by saying that the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost are the very selfsame Person. As if in this [heresy, each] one were not All, in that All are of One, by unity (that is) of substance; while the mystery of the dispensation is still guarded, which distributes the Unity into a Trinity, placing in their order the three Persons - the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost: three, however, not in condition but in degree; not in substance but in form; not in power but in aspect; yet of one substance, and of one condition, and of one power, inasmuch as He is one God, from whom these degrees and forms and aspects are reckoned, under the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost.” (ANF, v. 3, p. 598.)

He says “the reason why the Lord sent the Paraclete [Holy Spirit] was, that ... discipline should, little by little, be directed, and ordained, and carried on to perfection, by that Vicar [representative] of the Lord, the Holy Spirit.” (ANF, vol. 4, p. 27-8.) In that same paragraph, Tertullian adds that the Holy Spirit “will be, after Christ, the only one to be called and revered as Master, for He speaks not from Himself, but what is commanded by Christ. He is the only prelate, because He alone succeeds Christ.” Who is the Spirit? He is “the Third Name in the Godhead, and the Third Degree of the Divine Majesty; the Declarer of the One Monarchy of God, but at the same time the Interpreter of the Economy [of the three persons in one God]...” (ANF, v. 3, p. 627.) “Happily the Lord Himself employs this expression of the person of the Paraclete, so as to signify not a division or severance, but a disposition (of mutual relations in the Godhead)...” (Against Praxis, ANF, v. 3, p. 604)

When speaking of the Spirit, Tertullian says that "power" is what sets its seal on a saved man, and this “power is the Spirit. And the Spirit is God. What moreover used (the Spirit) to teach? [To shun evil.] ...Observe what He bids. Who, moreover, was able to forgive sins? This is His alone prerogative: for ‘who remitteth sins but God alone?’ and, of course, (who but He can remit) mortal sins, such as have been committed against Himself, and against His temple.” (ANF, vol. 3, p. 98-99; On Modesty, ch. 21.)

Tertullian says that the Church is able to forgive sins, only in that “the very Church itself is, properly and principally, the Spirit Himself, in whom is the Trinity of the One Divinity - Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.” (ANF, v. 4, p.99; On Modesty, ch. 21.) And we are prepared by baptism for the Holy Spirit, so that forgiveness is obtained: “in the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit. For if ‘in the mouth of three witnesses every word shall stand’ - while ... we have the same three [Father, Son, Spirit] as witnesses of our faith ... how much more does the number of the divine names suffice for the assurance of our hope likewise!” (ANF, v. 3, p. 672; On Baptism, ch. 6.)

Hippolytus, writing about 215 A.D., says, “We accordingly see the Word incarnate, and we know the Father by Him, and we believe in the son, (and) we worship the Holy Spirit. ...If, then, the Word was with God, and was also God, what follows? Would one say that he speaks of two Gods? I shall not indeed speak of two Gods, but of one; of two Persons however, and of a third economy (disposition [or way of reckoning]), viz., the grace of the Holy Ghost. For the Father indeed is One, but there are two Persons, because there is also the Son; and then here is the third [Person], the Holy Spirit. ...[it is] the Father who is above all, and the Son who is through all, and the Holy Spirit who is in all. And we cannot otherwise think of one God, but by believing in truth in Father and Son and Holy Spirit. ...‘Go ye and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost.’ And by this He showed, that whosoever omitted any one of these, failed in glorifying God perfectly. For it is through this Trinity that the Father is glorified.” (ANF, Vol. 5, Against the Heresy of one Noetus, chapters 12 & 14, p. 228.)

Some publications seek to demonstrate that the idea of the Trinity was alien to the Church Fathers. For example, the booklet Should You Believe in the Trinity, published by the Watchtower Bible and Tract Society, takes severely edited quotations from Hippolytus, and on page 7 reports him as having said

“that God is ‘the one God, the first and the only One, the Maker and Lord of all,’ who ‘had nothing co-eval [of equal age] with him.... But he was One, alone by himself; who, willing it, called into being what had no being before,’ such as the created prehuman Jesus.”

I am not dealing with the Trinity or the deity of Jesus Christ here, but I will fill in just one of the eclipses here, so you can see that integrity (or its lack) plays a large part in scholarship (or its lack): the actual words of Hippolytus are that there was “nothing contemporaneous [co-eval] with God. Beside Him there was nothing; but He, while existing alone, yet existed in plurality.” (ANF, v. 5; p. 227, ch 10.) This "plurality" is the Trinity, as the context clearly states - the word "Trinity" is actually used by Hippolytus on the very next page! So we can see that the entire meaning has been twisted by the above publication, to render exactly the opposite meaning of what Hipplytus wrote. The “such as the created prehuman Jesus” is not the thought of Hippolytus, but is introduced by the author of the booklet, directly contradicting what Hippolytus himself is teaching. I urge anyone who doubts this to go to any large library and look up this passage for himself. This is why I always provide documentation for all quotations. The Bereans “where more noble than those in Thessalonica, in that they received the word with all readiness [from Paul], and searched the Scriptures daily to find out whether these things were so.” (Acts 17:11)

Origen writes (c. 230) in the Preface of his "De Principiis," “Then, thirdly, the apostles related that the Holy Spirit was associated in honour and dignity with the Father and the Son.” Precisely what honor and dignity Origen affords the Son is stated in his preceding paragraph: Jesus “was incarnate although God, and while made a man remained the God which He was”. (ANF, v. 4, p. 240.) He says: “We are not, however, to suppose that the Spirit derives His knowledge through revelation from the Son. For if the Holy Spirit knows the Father through the Son's revelation, He passes from a state of ignorance into one of knowledge; but it is alike impious and foolish to confess the Holy Spirit, and yet ascribe to Him ignorance.... For if this were the case, the Holy Spirit would never be reckoned in the Unity of the Trinity...” (Ibid, p. 253, 4.)

Origen says that we have learned that the person of the Holy Spirit was of such authority and dignity, that saving baptism was not complete except by the authority of the most excellent Trinity of them all, i.e., by the naming of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit”. (ANF, v. 3, p. 252, book I, 3, 2.) Again Origen says:

“the Gospel shows Him [the Spirit] to be of such power and majesty, that it says the apostles could not yet receive those things which the Saviour wished to teach them until the advent of the Holy Spirit, who, pouring Himself into their souls, might enlighten them regarding the nature and faith of the Trinity. But [heretics], because of the ignorance of their understandings, ... entertaining unworthy ideas of His [the Holy Spirit's] divinity, have delivered themselves over to errors and deceits, being depraved by a spirit of error, rather than instructed by the teaching of the Holy Spirit....” (De Principiis, Book II, vii, 5.)

Origen notes that so awful is the majesty of the Spirit that whoever blasphemes Him is not forgiven. As we receive existence from the Father, and rationality from the Word, so our holiness, if we are holy, is from the Holy Spirit. It is by this means that rational creatures are brought to maturity and may at last attain to the vision of God. He adds:

“Let no one indeed suppose that we ... give a preference to the Holy Spirit over the Father and the Son, or assert that His dignity is greater.... Moreover, nothing in the Trinity can be called greater or less.... This is most clearly pointed out by the Apostle Paul, when demonstrating that the power of the Trinity is one and the same, [in I Cor 12:4-7].... From which it most clearly follows that there is no difference in the Trinity, but that which is called the gift of the Spirit is made known through the Son, and operated by God the Father.” (ANF, v.3. p. 254-5; see De Prin, 1. 3. 7.)

Father, Son and Spirit are three in person and operation, and one in dignity, power and life.

The Holy Spirit is eternal, there never having been a time when He did not exist. “But up to the present time we have been able to find no statement in holy Scripture in which the Holy Spirit could be said to be made or created...” (ANF, vol. 4, p. 252, book 1, ch 3, 3.)

“For these very words ‘when’ or ‘never’ have a meaning that relates to time, whereas the statements made regarding Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are to be understood as transcending all time, all ages, and all eternity. For it is the Trinity alone which exceeds the comprehension not only of temporal but even of eternal intelligence; while other things which are not included in it are to be measured by times and ages.” (De Prin, iv, 28; p. 377.)

Again: “there was nothing which was not made, save the nature of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit .... God the Father alone, and His only-begotten Son, and the Holy Spirit, not only possess a knowledge of those things which they have created, but also of themselves...” (De Prin, iv, 35; p. 380-1.)

Origen makes the unambiguous statement, “This shews that the Spirit is an Essence. [I do not have access to the Greek, but this word “Essence” is undoubtedly hypostases, translated "real being", "person".] He is not, as some suppose, a Divine Energy, having (as they pretend) no distinctive personal existence.” “He is an entity, and an entity is not an energy, though it have a capacity for energy.” (Origen's Commentary on St John, iii, 8 - fragm. 37; quoted in The Holy Spirit in the Ancient Church: a study of Christian teachings in the age of the Fathers, Henry B. Swete (Macmillan and Co, 1912), pp. 133, 373.)

If this were not clear enough, in his Commentary on John, among many other complex ideas, he says: “We consider, therefore, that there are three persons (hypostases - cf. Heb 1:3; this is the Greek word used in formulating the doctrine of the persons of the Trinity.), the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit...” (ANF, vol. 10, p. 328; book 11, 6.) If there is any question whatsoever about Origen's belief in the personality of the Holy Spirit, or in the Trinity, one has only to read these pages, to see that he was thoroughly Trinitarian. The doctrine of the Trinity had not yet been fully annunciated, in Origen's time, but it is clear that Origen was fully Orthodox, in his effort to understand the Trinity. Let it be remembered that the formalized doctrine of the Trinity was formulated in response to autochthonic heresies which arose not from teachings derived from the Bible and the Apostles, but from the conceits of arrogant men, who brought their own false understanding and so-called "logic" to the texts.

Novatian, b. 210 A.D., in a work exploring the idea of the Trinity, in one long passage on the Spirit says the Holy Spirit, “working in us for eternity, can also produce our bodies at the resurrection of immortality, accustoming them to be associated in Himself with heavenly power, and to be allied with the divine eternity of the Holy Spirit.” (ANF, v. 5, p. 641.)




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