As you can see, I am skipping around to passages that seem most pertinent to me, speaking to me. Perhaps one day, I will return to Clement for a fuller commentary, but for now, you will see this skipping around to search for theological and perhaps additional spiritual answers.
For today, I would like to concentrate on two chapters, which are far apart, but I linked together for this blog. Soon, we will be celebrating the Resurrection, the Pentecost, and at the conclusion of the Pentecost, the coming down of the Holy Spirit upon the Apostles, which resulted in monumental, Babel-shattering speaking of tongues. The doctrine of the Holy Spirit has also been getting some theological controversy, unbeknownst to the average Copt, within Coptic circles, the idea that we do not receive the hypostasis of the Holy Spirit in us, but only the gifts, or “energies”, and that these gifts or energies seem to be a created effect in us, not the uncreated nature residing in us. I wish to respond to this controversy some time in the future, but in the meantime, we can agree this idea that we only receive gifts is nothing but hogwash. You might as well believe that the Holy Spirit is created or a mere impersonal force, and then you will be listed among the Macedonians and the Tropici, who attacked the divinity of the Holy Spirit.
In St. Clement, we find something peculiar. In our previous blog commenting on Chapter 2, we find a glimpse of St. Clement’s use of the Holy Spirit, that a “full outpouring of the Holy Spirit” was given to the Corinthian Church. But if I may go back and highlight something from Chapter 2, the sentence before the sentence mentioning the Holy Spirit, he writes, “Content with the provision which God had made for you, and carefully attending to His words, ye were inwardly filled with His doctrine, and His sufferings were before your eyes.” Here, I want to specifically highlight the part where St. Clement says “His words”, and then use this as a way of also concluding that this was in a sense a way of having that “full outpouring of the Spirit”. Why? Because whenever a doctrine or a scripture is written to give forth a revelation pointing to Christ, as is believed the Old Testament as well as the New Testament is, we confess that such prophecies and writings are inspired by the Holy Spirit, and these are considered also “the word of God”. In fact, we will find later, not only inspired by, but also written by the Holy Spirit, as St. Clement implied in Chapter 13. But before jumping ahead, this is just to keep in mind the importance of the Holy Spirit with St. Clement.
The ministers of the grace of God have, by the Holy Spirit, spoken of repentance; and the Lord of all things has himself declared with an oath regarding it, “As I live, saith the Lord, I desire not the death of the sinner, but rather his repentance”
Notice two parts associated with the Holy Spirit. First, the Holy Spirit is the way in which ministers have and minister grace to others. Second, the Holy Spirit is that which inspired these ministers of grace to speak of repentance. Remember in the first chapter and in many Pauline epistles how the salutation would usually be something along the lines of “the grace of God in Christ”? Well, now we have this same grace of God in Christ, “by the Holy Spirit”. And if you can only achieve the grace of God in Christ, then Christ is truly God. And if you can only achieve the grace of God “by the Holy Spirit” then the Holy Spirit is also truly God.
And so these ministers spoke of repentance “by the Holy Spirit”, and this is confirmed when “the Lord of all” is being quoted from the Scriptures. But the scriptures are written by ministers of the grace of God (St. Clement uses the example of Ezekiel here), and this repentance they speak of which the “Lord of all” speaks of, is spoken “by the Holy Spirit.” And therefore, we can safely make the connection that the “Lord of all” is co-essential with the Holy Spirit. This is further attested to in the next chapter of my discussion on the Holy Spirit:
Let us therefore, brethren, be of humble mind, laying aside all haughtiness, and pride, and foolishness, and angry feelings; and let us act according to that which is written (for the Holy Spirit saith, “Let not the wise man glory in his wisdom, neither let the mighty man glory in his might, neither let the rich man Story in his riches; but let him that glorieth glory in the Lord, in diligently seeking Him, and doing judgment and righteousness”), being especially mindful of the words of the Lord Jesus which He spake, teaching us meekness and long-suffering.
Notice very carefully, that which is written by the ministers of grace is what “the Holy Spirit saith”. We always must act according to the will of God, which is “written” in the Scriptures, “said by the Holy Spirit”. This is very profound. If the “words of God” are the “words of the Spirit”, the Holy Spirit, by whom the grace is given, is truly God from God. There is no way around this. Perhaps at this moment, when we act according to the Scriptures, we also receive the effects of this “full outpouring” of the Holy Spirit. Only when God by the Holy Spirit resides in us can we truly understand and act according “to that which is written”.
A small word on the “word of God”. No one is saying that the Scriptures are literally dictated by God, and the prophets and writers with ears in tuned to the sound waves God produces in their heads somehow causes them to be able to memorize and write those words. In some instances in the Scriptures, this is intended, but not always. Many times, the Scriptures gives us a glimpse of the relative ignorance and personality of the writer himself, which the Holy Spirit may find Himself comfortable to inspire such words into the text to bring to light a revelation of Christ. Fr. Patrick Reardon from All Saints Church in Chicago, IL, gave a nice AFR podcast recently on the difference between the way the Koran is used by Muslims and the way the Bible is used by Orthodox Christians (particularly in ancient times). You may listen to the podcast here, but I will quote what Fr. Pat summed up nicely on the “incarnational principle of Scripture”:
Now I submit to you this morning that this Muslim view of inspiration is radically, 180° at variance, completely alien to what the Christian religion means by the same word. What is missing in Islam is the Incarnation principle. That is to say, we Christians believe that God does not speak to the biblical writers in a way that remains external to them. The biblical writers did not simply take dictation from God. On the contrary, according to Christian theology, God speaks to human beings through their own creative powers, the workings of their minds and hearts. In other words, the Word takes flesh within human consciousness and within human creativity and within the context of real human lives.
In that inspiration by which God caused the holy Scriptures to be written, man becomes a co-worker of God, synergos, becomes a co-worker with God. That’s what we mean by synergia, that God and man together produce this book. So that God’s word is likewise the word of a human being, who is properly called an author. Thus we believe that the teaching of the Torah is not simply the word of God; it is also the word of Moses, and both expressions are used in the Scriptures: “God’s word” and “the law of Moses.” They use these interchangeably. We contend that God spoke through Moses through divine inspiration. It was a Spirit-breathed process that included the thinking and the imaginative powers and the experience, the religious experience, of Moses.
The Incarnation principle means that God’s word was filtered through, digested by, fermented in the mind and the heart of a human being. Thus two different writers, Amos and Hosea, living at exactly the same time and in precisely the same place and facing exactly the same social and religious situation—two men wrote two very different books. The Lord’s prophetic word came through and was assimilated by Amos and Hosea, two very different writers, each of whom was, we insist, a personal author of what he wrote.
We Christians contend that God’s word comes to us through inspiration, through the heart and mind of human beings elevated by the Holy Spirit, through the inner anguish of Jeremiah, the soaring mystic visions of John and Isaiah, the probing questions of Job and Habakkuk, the near-despair of Koheleth, the structured poetry of David, the doubts and frustrations of Jonah, the political struggles of Nehemiah, the slow, patient scholarship of Ezra, the careful narrative style of Mark, the historical investigations of Luke, and that pounding mill: the ponderous mind of Paul. According to this Incarnation principle, God’s word finds expression in inspired literature because it first assumes flesh in human thought and imagination. This truth is indicated in that vision where Ezekiel sees God’s word on the scroll that he must eat. God’s word always comes to us through a human being’s inner experience of it.
We always receive the word of God in an incarnational way. You see, if God can speak in human language, he can become a human being. Already the inspiration of the Bible, we had an adumbration and a prophecy that was to come. This elementary fact is one of the considerations that can make the study of the holy Scriptures a fascinating and a life-long pursuit. The student of the Bible is faced with more than a score of authors whose literary compositions span more than a millennium. There’s no other body of literature, even from a human perspective, like it in all of history.
At the moment I can think of two challenges to this line of thought. First, if the word of God can also be the word of Moses, how can you prove that St. Clement really talks about the Holy Spirit as God when it is by Him something becomes the word of God? Second, how can the word of a creature that uses his character, his intelligence or ignorance, be even close to worthy of calling something the word of God when man can make simple historical or scientific mistakes? Should this not prove that this can never be a “word of God”?
On the first challenge, this is very simple. On every single instance of a writer of one of the books of the Bible, we say this man was inspired by the Holy Spirit. To be “inspired by the Holy Spirit” or “to speak through the Holy Spirit” makes such writings a “word of God”. Therefore, you cannot call something “the word of God” if the Holy Spirit is not involved. The Holy Spirit is required to make something “of God”. Therefore, this proves the Holy Spirit is God.
On the second challenge, this requires a slight nuance and understanding of Jewish thought. God is said to “control” all things and all things are done according to His will and yet, He does not necessarily control all things like a puppet-master, where things that go against His will can occur. Does that mean the death of a child from a disease is His will? No! Does that mean God is not involved in these issues? No! Is this a contradiction? On the superficial human logic, it really does! But with God, we are talking about a level, another dimension of will that we can never understand or explain. This is not predestination or puppetry, but it is also not out of control. Christians may say “there is a grand divine plan”. It sounds offensive to say so because this leads to such a nagging idea that God may have a hand in killing millions of innocents. The mere thought of just allowing this to happen is horrid, and allows one to consider atheism. But this is not what this is. What it merely means is that we need to have faith and hope God knows what He’s doing, and that such events are against His doing because He also limits His power, while at the same time, He “orchestrates” in some way, following what the world does and what we do, can all be providentially fit into His plan for all of us. Fr. Thomas Hopko, of blessed and eternal memory in the Lord, had one of his last podcasts about his criticism of the phrase “Relax, God is in Control”, where he says:
…because he gave us this task: to bear witness to this marvelous truth of the Gospel—in some sense, get him off the hook in many, many ways, because he never should be on that hook in the first place. C.S. Lewis has a collection of essays called, “God in the Dock.” Well, people are judging God all over the place. But the 50th/51st Psalm says, “You are justified in your judgments, and you overcome when you are judged,” so if we judge God, he wins. But what does that mean? It means he has a plan that includes evil.
Yes, from the very beginning it was evil. There is no record in Scripture of Adam and Eve living in paradise or what they were doing or however long it was. Nothing. Adam and Eve are created in both the creation stories, and immediately they rebel against the God who made them, and they don’t keep his commandments, which means they don’t really love him and trust him. That’s from the beginning, and we can’t say, “Oh we’re suffering everything because of some Adam and some apple,” or something. No! We are the human beings, but we have been born into the world already fallen, already corrupted. It says in Scripture (Genesis 5:1) that Adam and Eve gave birth to a son named Seth, in Adam’s image, according to Adam’s likeness.
God’s image in us and our ability to grow in God-likeness is never completely erased; it’s never just destroyed. It’s always there, but it could be buried under such complexity and mystery of evil and suffering and family life and people being victimized by everybody and their brother, beginning with their parents and their grandparents and their next-door neighbor and even their priest. God knew all that, and he did it anyway. As I said already, why did he do it? Because he loves us and wanted us, to give us a chance with a New Adam, a second Adam, the real Adam, Jesus Christ, and to give us another chance of repenting and entering into his glory and participating in all of his marvelous gifts. But he knew there would be this tremendous evil.
What I think a better verb than “control” would be—God orchestrates it. God has guided it. From all eternity, this really is according to his will. The holy Fathers make a distinction, as the Bible does, between the ontological will of God and the providential will of God. The ontological will of God is that there be no evil at all, no sickness, no sorrow, no sighing, but life everlasting, and we be created in God’s image and likeness and grow and deepen and develop forever and ever with no tragedy. But that’s an impossibility, because sometimes people say, “Well, if I were Adam and Eve, I wouldn’t have sinned.” Baloney. We all sin. There is no one who is really righteous, not one.
St. Symeon [the] New Theologian, I already mentioned how we have nothing to boast about, we Christians, because we behave worse than others, even people of the Old Testament or even pagans, in many respects, especially since we’re supposed to be God’s presence, his face, his mouth, his ears, his hands, his workmanship, his co-workers. That’s what we’re supposed to be and do, but it’s a synergia; it’s seeing into God’s plan and playing that particular, unique calling that each one of us has, and every person has it. It means the kingdom of God, the Gospel is, the good news, the kingdom of God is open again; the kingdom of God is available to us through Jesus, risen and glorified.
But that means he’s not just controlling everything. He’s wheeling and dealing with evil. One of the best definitions of providence I ever heard was: God doing the best he can with what he’s got, and what he’s got is us. Poor God! But he doesn’t give up on us. No matter how often we fall, we can get up again, but we are told in Scripture—in Proverbs, in Psalms, in Prophets, in the New Testament, in the letter to the Romans, in the Book of Revelation—that we will answer for our works: kata ta erga; we will answer for what we have done, what is written in the books. It’s not just you say, “Oh, I believe in God; therefore I can relax and heaven is mine, because Jesus saved me.” That’s an abomination. It’s just an abomination.
And Fr. Thomas continues later in the podcast:
So it’s a synergia, but it’s not just a control on the side of God himself. It’s God inter-acting with us. In some of these podcasts, some people asked: “If God is not in control, what’s the point of praying? We only pray because we believe God is in control.” Well, I think that’s not accurate. We pray because our mind and our heart and our desires are free. God could give me—I don’t know—what he has, as a matter of fact: amyloidosis in my body, and he could heal that if he wanted it, too.
I recently read in a book that on September 11, God could have stopped those boys from flying those airplanes into those buildings, but he didn’t want to do it. Some people say, “Oh, how awful! No, it wasn’t God who did it; it was human beings who chose to do it.” Yeah, but if God wanted to, he could have disabled the airplane. He could have blown it up in space before it even got to the United States shores or wherever. When it has to do with physical things, natural things, then, with our cooperation still, God can make it good; he could make it work. We can control the universe if we’re with God and empowered with grace and know the truth. We can. The Holy Spirit is given to us for this purpose. We can do this. It’s not a case of who’s controlling, but it certainly is the case that the cooperation and the synergia with God is not, as Fr. Meyendorff used to say, symmetrical. It’s not between two equal partners; it’s between God Almighty and us miserable sinners.
But when it comes to the spiritual element in life, God could not change the minds of those boys by whatever he did. It was impossible. He gave them freedom. So if they wanted to drive those planes into those buildings, they were free to do it. God could have stopped them in some way. Sure, he could have, but providentially he decided not to. Maybe it was a lesson to us Americans. Not every day 3,000 perish because of the airplanes; more than 3,000 babies were killed in our hospitals. We’re a terribly greedy, immoral society. Just look at any sitcom. It’s sickening; it’s revolting. Watch the football games, and you have to know about erectile dysfunction—it’s such madness, such insanity.
But it’s equally insane simply to say glibly, “Relax, God is in control.” No, we work together with God, and we can accomplish things on the spiritual level for sure, but even on the physical level as well. God can help us in our physical desires in many ways. I don’t know. Our nuns up the road here just put on an addition to their monastery with a new chapel and bigger sacristy rooms and redone… Yeah, that’s work, and those guys came to work for three years in a row, and the nuns were out there trying to collect money so that they could pay their three workers who practically volunteered to put this together themselves. They’re working! We’re working. God is working, and we are working.
This reminds me of my favorite chapter in all the Scriptures, in the book of Psalms, where it is written, “Unless the Lord builds the house, the laborers labor in vain.” Here, the Psalmist alludes to the idea that it is not the laborers who build the house of God, but God Himself who is building the house. This complete self-denial to allow the work of God be manifest is an essential characteristic of a believer in God. And so this borderline dangerous talk of mostly anything that happens in the world, good or bad, righteous or evil, still seems to have a hand in God, and yet God is still not engaging in puppetry, is a very difficult issue to understand unless one is humble enough to live a spiritual life and try to grow into seeing things through the lens of God gradually.
So if God can manifest His work through whatever the situation can be thrown at Him, God can manifest Himself through the Scriptures, even if there are extraneous errors in the Scriptures that have nothing to do with the central revelation of Christ that is present in them. There is only one perfect manifestation of God in history, and that is Christ, because He is *THE* true God incarnate. If one can understand the difficulty and confusion of divine providence, one can understand the beauty of His providential will, His inspiration of the Holy Scriptures, and His work in creation, even if science suggests some sort of “random evolutionary process”. All of these do not contradict the providential power of God, which is why when some Christians have such a huge painstaking effort at “refuting evolution”, it boggles the mind of those who have spiritually believed in and lived the life of the Holy Spirit, since nothing in science, even the fact of evolution (and it seems that evolution is indeed a fact), can never limit true belief in God, but I will save this for another series of blog post, God willing.
May we always be mindful of the grace of the Holy Spirit in us, and may we learn repentance from His full outpouring in our hearts in this season of Lent.
Glory be to the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit, both now and ever and unto the ages of all ages. Amen!