HOLY SPIRIT: Beginning With Mary—The Spirit As Giving Gift by Tom Smail

The Holy Spirit in Person

Beginning With Mary—The Spirit As Giving Gift by Tom Smail

From The Giving Gift

We shall therefore be asking how the distinctive work of the Spirit in salvation and creation is to be understood in its connection with and distinction from the work of the Father and the Son and how therefore the person of the Spirit is to be understood in its connection with and distinction from the persons of the Father and the Son.  Put more simply: How does what he does relate to what they do, and how does who he is relate to who they are?

We may give a preliminary answer to both these questions in terms of our title by saying that the Holy Spirit is the Giving Gift.  First question: What does the Holy Spirit do within the God-man relationship?  Answer: He gives the things of God and the things of Christ to us.  Second question: Who is the Holy Spirit:  Answer: Within the God-man relationship he is the one who is given to us primarily by the Father and secondarily by the Son (both adverbs needing explanation), and, within the life of God himself, he is primarily the Gift of the Father to the Son and secondarily the responsive Gift of the Son to the Father.  The whole of what follows is an explanation of these two questions and answers.

The important thing to notice at this point is that the idea of the Spirit as Giving Gift is central to the whole case we shall be developing.  It is a notion that is significant for three different reasons:

  1. It shows that we are still in continuity with the basic insights of the charismatic renewal. The greek word chaqrisma means free gift of grace, and the renewal has regularly spoken of the Spirit as the giver of many gifts as well as being himself God’s Gift to us.  In a more fundamental and extended way, we are saying the same thing still.
  2. Even more importantly, in describing the Spirit in this way we are using categories that have for centuries been traditional, especially in the church of the West. Augustine in the fourth century and Thomas Aquinas in the thirteenth century both note that one of the difficulties we face when we try to speak about the Spirit is that the word Spirit can be used either to speak of the third person of the Trinity or to speak of the whole Godhead.  So you can quite well say that the Father and the Son are Spirit or, with John’s gospel, that God himself is Spirit, (John 4:24).  So the term Spirit, as well as being the distinctive name of the third person of the Trinity, can be used as a general term to describe the “stuff” of which, so to speak, God is made, the dynamic, free, self-giving divine life that belongs equally to all three divine persons.

Therefore, as Augustine and Thomas argued, we need another term to describe what is specific to, and distinctive of, the third person of the Trinity over against the other two.  For this purpose they, and the whole western catholic tradition that they shaped, thought of the Spirit as Gift.  Father and Son are, each in his own way, the givers, and the Spirit is the Gift that they give.  Father and Son are God as giver, the Holy Spirit is God as Gift.  In the relationship between God and man, Father and Son stand on one side of the relationship as the givers, and we stand on the other as the beneficiaries of their giving.  The gift itself, or rather, the Gift himself, is the Holy Spirit who originally belongs with the Father and the Son on the divine side of the relationship, but who passes across to our side, just as a gift passes from the donor to the recipient.  Thus the Holy Spirit is God as given to us, God who is with us and in us on our side of our relationship with the Father and the Son – he is God as given, God the Gift.

To put the same thing another way, if we analyze the sentence, “God gives himself to us,” the active subject, “God,” refers to the Father and the Son as, each in his own way, a giver of the Spirit, whereas “himself” refers to the Holy Spirit, who is also God, but God as given to us.

All this will become clearer as we proceed.  We shall have more than one serious question to put to the Augustine-Thomas way of thinking about the Spirit, but in understanding him as fundamentally God who is given to us by God the Father through God the Son and who is therefore God as Gift, we shall be affirming the basic approach of that tradition.

  1. Most importantly of all, to describe the Holy Spirit as Gift has a firm basis in the New Testament itself. For example, in his Pentecost sermon, Peter tells the people what God is ready to do for those who repent and come to faith in Christ.  He promises that along with the forgiveness of their sins they will receive “the gift of the Holy Spirit,” (Acts 2:38).  The Spirit himself is the primary gift of God to believers.  Before we are given particular gifts of the Spirit, we are given the Spirit himself as the source of all the rest.  He is the Gift who gives – the Giving Gift.  This is the gift that, when the apostles came to Samaria, Simon the magician tried to buy with money, and Peter had to make it clear that the Spirit is not up for sale to the highest bidder: he is the “gift of God,” (Acts 8:20) who is freely given – in this case through the laying on of the apostles’ hands.  He comes whenever and to whomsoever God is pleased to give him, and not when all sorts of prior conditions have been fulfilled.

He even comes where the apostles did not expect or even want him to come.  For example, he falls on Cornelius and his friends and Peter is amazed and even scandalized to discover that “the gift of the Holy Spirit had been poured out even on the Gentiles, (Acts 10:45).

This way of thinking about the Spirit is not confined to Luke / Acts.  In John’s gospel Jesus offers the woman of Samaria “living water,” one of John’s favorite ways of speaking about the Spirit, (cf., John 7:37).  Jesus says, “If you knew the gift of God and who it is that asks you for a drink, you would have asked him and he would have given you living water,” (John 4:10).  The gift of God is the living water which is the Holy Spirit.  In the same way Hebrews 6:4 describes Christians as those “who have tasted the Heavenly gift, who have shared in the Holy Spirit.”  It is clear that the second phrase explains the first.  To share in the Holy Spirit is to take into yourself the gift of God.

In all these passages the Greek word used for gift is dórea, a word that specially emphasizes the sheer graciousness of the act of giving.  The phrase, dórea tou Theou, Gift of God, complements the phrase, dórea tou Pneumatos Hagius, gift of the Holy Spirit.  God is the donor and the Holy Spirit is that which he gives.  Many other texts could be quoted in which the Holy Spirit is the object of the verb, “to give,” or the verb, “to receive,” showing that the basic idea of the Spirit as Gift that is given by God and received by us is a familiar and central one for many of the New Testament writers.

So, to think of the Spirit as Gift has a good foundation in scripture, in classical catholic tradition, and in modern charismatic experience.  There is, therefore, good hope that it will provide a fruitful starting point for our own enquiry.  Even now, we can set out three affirmations that are closely connected with the idea of the Spirit as Gift and will be with us throughout the book.

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