Life in the Spirit


This is the start of a review of what it means to be a disciple living under the influence of the Holy Spirit. I start by exploring what Paul Tillich says about the the Spirit as a power for our New Humanity and Teilhard de Chardin about Union and Sanctification.  This is followed by some Scotus writings on Love and Bonaventure about the path of contemplation and uniting all knowledge and action.


Under the topic of the Trinity I reviewed the theology of the relations of the Holy Spirt within the Trinity and the acts of Spirit as part of the causation of the cosmos and our existence. In this section I explore the relations of the Spirit to the ongoing renewal of life and in the wake of the Incarnation of Christ and the gift of the Spirit into the lives of believers.

We could explore many texts from St Paul’s letters in the New Testament that emphasise the power coming into believers that is a renewing activity in the content of our character to bring about what is often called “Sanctification”. I will however leave all that aside and say that for me the concept of Sanctification is all about becoming our New Humanity that is in fact God’s original intention of our being to become “Beings in Divine Communion”. So in this section of the website I explore various facets of this intentional completion and change of ourselves into that state under the influence of the Spirit. Our future as humanity is not just to be taken into some alternative existence called “heaven” it is to experience a change of character that can take place even while in the world and then completed beyond death and resurrection. This life change of our own character will also influence others in the world around us.

Paul Tillich -The Spirit as the Power for New Humanity

As in other places in Tillich’s theology it does not depend on how we came to be or how things have happened in evolutionary creation but are involved in the situations of our existence as we know them but with the potential for things to be different. In Vol 3 of his “Systematic Theology” Tillich sets out a theology of the Spirit in the context of all the ambiguities, conflicts and tensions of life as we know them now. There are many aspects of life on this planet that include processes that stands against death and resists death and there is a multi-dimensional unity of life with death, with many forms of existing as they have done for the millions of years of the existence of life on earth. In the world there is randomness and indeterminate processes as well as regularities. The rise of science and rejection of religion (with its many faults) could lead many to want to grasp a simple materialistic view of life.  However, against a purely materialist view of the world Tillich says we can wrongly come to conclusions about the inorganic and processes of organic life that try to reduce everything to material explanations, that excludes the spiritual that we in fact need for a complete a real picture of the world in all its dimensions. .Materialism ends in death. But the term “Spirit” is something that points beyond the material and material reductionism. A trust in science and human efforts is not enough to make the necessary changes to our selves and society, This goes with the Franciscan emphasis of the need of divine revelation to complete and change all life. 

Tillich writes that we may recognise in the realm of Spirit (of God) and our spirit potentials for change and growth beyond our material nature as organic beings. Such aspects of Spirit and spirit includes our moral nature and conscious understanding of our selves and what we may become as well as what we are now. Here again we are confronted with our potential for change as freely willed beings that can make new and better choices.

Tillich complains that a lot traditional theology has often limited the term “moral” to individual sexual acts or the receiving of commands and what we ought to do or not to do. But in fact Community in the Spirit goes beyond such limitations. We find ourselves caught up in many contemporary struggles for values and meanings that may shape our ultimate growth as beings. The Spirt gives us moral imperatives and directions that may be unconditional but even so we face all the time our inner ambiguities and personal struggle with our “Fallen” and self-conflicting nature.

Again people may frequently concern themselves with moral laws (that may be about society and international laws) but Agape (the divine self giving love and charity) is what should lay behind moral decisions in all situations.   Agape (Charity) includes the ultimate principle of justice applied to our changing situations. It lifts up and transforms other kinds of natural loving and renews what we understand as Justice and it transforms all relations of power between people and between groups of people. Moral decisions for today may need a freedom from past moral laws because circumstances have changed and Agape must act in accord with new conscience making and new direction for society. The new motivating power of Agape that comes to us is the power of New Being that comes from The Christ. Moral law , even ancient revealed Law, is not sufficient for this necessary change of our character and so we the need to have a freedom based instead on the dimensions and power of Agape. Only inner dynamic change in our thinking and acting into the New Being (and New Humanity) can accomplish what is needed for our change of character and for developing societies  and relations in the world.

The Spirit has always been involved in the self –creativity of life (in evolution) and is the hidden reason behind all becoming. The Spirit always breaks through the limits of the old even in the face of resistance. In the world the limitation of things that reach death The Spirit provides the seeds of new existence. New things surpass the old and previous efforts. From the Spirit there is always the potential of participation in the New. It is this that brings change of Praxis (practice). We can look at and encounter the world in new ways that lead to new praxis, praxis that includes new social relations and acts with renewed personal communion. 

Because of the past failures and corruption of religion there has been a rise of unreligious humanism and political movements with attempted self and society improvements but all these have their limitations because they are still under the control of the old and ambiguous estranged aspects of life. Old power and corrupted structures in us and in society remain without the Spirit that are not changed and there is no new praxis and the bondage to decay remains.

Tillich writes of “self -transcendence” in nature that could be another way of expressing the progress of evolution and development of societies. There is a greatness in this evolution that gives a dignity even to the inorganic but there are often things that profane life and dignity. The Spirt gives dignity to life (and in this respect under the movement of the Spirit we give dignity to all levels of life and existence).  It is wrong to make distinct and arbitrary categories of sacred and profane. Things and people can be demonically devalued, which is again something to be resisted because the Spirt gives value to things that exist as they are loved. (I note here a strong environmental concern that life in the Spirit should have, not restricted to personal salvation and is thoroughly Franciscan). 

In other places too numerous to summarise Tillich writing in the late 1930’s from his experience of German nationalism, the Nazi movement and capitalism in the US, writes of the structural problems of society and the often wrong ways the Church in its various historic manifestations and traditions has allied itself with things that are actually “demonic” and destructive to human dignity and freedom, part of corporate sinfulness, thus needing a transformation of life under the power of Christ ands The Spirit. The often implied implication. is Spiritual growth into New Being is not just personal but involves society and international relations.

In conclusion, there are always aspects of the Divine Spirt that lead us beyond ourselves as we are now to transcend our current nature and see the dignity of things, acting in the Agape that comes from The Christ as the power of New Being. Yet we can never complete our transcendence to New Being and New Humanity unless by participation in what is given to us. The Spirit in cooperation with our spirit is always something alongside us lifting us up and is always more than moral instruction or hope of some separate existence beyond death. 


Teilhard de Chardin- The Union and Sanctification of Humanity

Notes here are taken from a collection of his posthumous essays included in Christianity and Evolution, Christ and Science  and his publication The Phenomenon of Man.  His evolutionary theology is strongly focused on the person of Jesus as representing a Cosmic Christ ahead of evolution and luring life onwards to a completion that he calls Omega. He does not appear to me to write specifically about the activity of the Spirit and yet this may be implied in connection with the acts of Jesus and His evolving role ahead of us. Jesus Christ is the Head of Creation and our completeness as humanity is found in the humanity of Jesus and His risen and Ascended Body of Christ that embraces us. Christ and His faithful people form a whole new thing, and we are drawn into this collectively. By our faith in Him we are assumed into this collective mystical state of existence. In this our blessedness is a state of union together and not simply individual and is a progressive inclusion. The first contact we have with this union is when we enter into baptism and then supported by other sacraments. Our singular union with Christ joins us to all others into this mystical union. This makes for a “Christification” of the world (and can be related to the concept of the Kingdom of God). There is then a creative “Christogenesis” that taking place in history that consists of the historical figure of Jesus and the whole Body of His disciples brought into union in all times and places. In this way our involvement in Church is part of an ordained movement towards unification and society change. Thus our life in the Spirit is this progression towards the futute of completion of the Cosmic Christ that embraces us and leads us to union. 

What we have in our union of faith with Christ now in His Cosmic Body of united people and this is a creative transformation of the world that was always intended. (This follows writings of St Paul about the Body of Christ uniting all believers into something varied but singular in nature). From the point of view of evolution, the  “Evolutive” transformation and unity of the inorganic and the organic, with our intelligence and onward moral transformation has always been in progress with Christ ahead of us and drawing us to newer states of being. So all that happened in evolution prior to us and in the history of the world is part of a singular movement towards a completion for the world with Christ as the origin and focal point for it. Therefore our individual commitment to Christ and ongoing Spirit led Sanctification is all part of this single whole. 

The Church in its traditional dogmas has often emphasised the Redemptive and Expiation elements of the life of Christ and His death on the Cross but this must be seen as part of a whole restorative and transformative movement that is positive and an ongoing recreation enabling positive changes in human nature. The transformative element of the work of Christ (and the Spirit) is a greater extension of the atoning aspect of the life of Christ. However there is alongside this movement of progress a retrogressive element to human nature that may resist change and keeps the presence of “sin” the world. 

The Church in its existence is the presence of the Cosmic Christ and our individual participation  is a new Phylum (a new order and category of life), forming something new in the world. It is in this way a distinctive new order of life that draw others into itself and is something unique in the history of the world. It was always destined to be present through the coming of Christ into the world.  (In this way Christian faith and the presence of the Church is not just a new and separate religion it is and should be a new order of life and existence in the world). The Church in its existence is God raising up humanity to a new super-existence, a new transcendence of existence with a new character of human interactions. This what the divine grace does (through Word and Spirit). In this divine grace becomes more than something judicial and justifying or hope of a future life in another realm of existing. There is a driving force related to all these things that has connections to what we call Spirit and so here is at work a Spirit of Synthesis. In accord with Tillich all other material attempts at reforming life without God have not worked and cannot last. 

Teilhard was a scientist and in this respect encouraged a bringing together of science investigation and theology. This he believed was part of the spiritual endeavour that lifted up all human endeavour and progress. Science is part of our evolution and so this can come under the realm of the Spirit and our involvement own the movement to Christ Omega and the future. In “Divine Milieu” (the Divine Environment) Teilhard correspondingly writes about our spiritual nature and life within the world as part of its ongoing transformation and evolution towards Omega and writes against the separation of the spiritual and mundane. There is no such separation and our involvement in all of life has spiritual impetus and dimensions. Our own “divinization” in union with Christ is intimately involved in the transformation of the world as we co-operate together with Christ. We do not detach ourselves from the world because we  are to be involved in that transformation. 

When thinking about many negative aspects of life and suffering there may be many things that happen to us and are done to us that may be full of harm and against our chosen desires and we can respond to these in positive rather than negative ways. We can respond under the influence of love to transform what has happened to some good in the direction of the divine future. We can combat our fears and anxieties and make things into greater positive outcomes. Did not Christ suffer from things done to Him but transformed them into good? Our own lives may be lived in that same impulse towards future good. 

Teilhard appears very optimistic with a long term view of Christ-Omega and Spirit progress leading human society towards future goals. Maybe he is justified in that hope but I think we also need to the note of realism that comes from Tillich (above) about the ever present ‘demonic” and backwardness that seems so often to thwart progress in relationships. While trying to participate in Christ Omega and be a new form of life we are constantly confronted wi the old order of  existence in need of reform personally and in societies.


Duns Scotus – The New Life of Acting in Love 

From those  modern views of the spiritual life as we have come to be we turn back to first to Scotus and then to Bonaventure. The primary characteristic of the life of St Francis of Assisi had been his love for Christ, for people including the poor and lepers and for all creation that he recognised as his bothers and sisters. It is these aspects of love that also undergird the themes of love for Scotus. The new life in the Spirit is the recreating of our being and restoring us to our Intended Being in the Divine Love.  With this we also have the divinely bestowed freedom of choice and will. Our natural inclinations lead us to look after ourselves and our needs and those close to us but we also may receive and have the higher motivation towards God and our neighbours that transcends our individual needs and practices the goodness and charity of God. We can say that this acting with the higher motivation is the work of the Spirit in us. We may note here the traditional great debates on how free we are to act and how much our life may be determined by external factors of our inheritance and circumstances. Scotus has a great emphasis that we can choose and by choosing we are responsible for our choices and we can change our character in accord with divine revelation.

Scotus seeks to establish what makes our acts have merit and says that love (charity/ charitas/Agape) does. When love is put into action it perfects that action and also perfects the will.  When love and will work together that makes the act full of merit. What makes an act have merit is not just the act itself because the divine will accepts such acts of love as merit because God who is love accepts love as an act. Love is God’s gift given to us be used. (We can imagine a circle of love, where God presents love to us to have, we use it and in using it, the love goes back to God). God wants our beatitude and glorification and so gives us a certain disposition of ability to be loving, and this makes our beatitude possible. God could just accept anyone for beatitude but instead accepts that which is closest to Him in acts of love. 

We could say this gift of love and the will to love is an activity of the Spirit. In this way, acts of love are not salvation by works and our own achievements. All we need to do is to consent to the offered love and respond by that love, doing acts of love. God has given love as a gift with which we are invited cooperate and participate in. It is this loving that is a gift of God by Word and Spirit that becomes part of our New Humanity. Loving others is not simply for their own sake (or even ours) it is because we want them to find God. There is then here an evangelistic motive of loving people and helping them with us to find our New Being. 

Scotus discusses the necessary self-love we also need to have in a right way. Love (charity) is a principle that tends towards God. Immediately after loving God, a person tends to love and wills himself to love God because it is the best we can do. Since we want what is good for us we may therefore naturally be inclined to love our self after the divine Good. Loving oneself rightly in an ordered way is part of loving God from whom we came. In consequence the kind of spirituality that is self-loathing is contrary to the direction of the Spirit because God loves us despite what we may do wrongly and wants our good. On the other hand an excessive love for self is blameworthy because it may take the place of God and proper love we are to have for others.

We are often confronted with horribly conflicted and society destroyed situations confronted by the evils of others against us or against some other groups of people near and far. This has always been so and we may see it as left over from our evolved tribal group ancestry. It is in this this respect we meet the teaching of Christ to love our enemies and those we come into conflict with. Scotus discusses that  teaching of Jesus to love our enemies (Gospel of Matthew Chapter 5 vs 44-45). In the gospel Jesus counters part of the Old Testament Law about this. He went beyond old received traditions in many ways. From the Lord’s Prayer, and parable of the wicked servant with debts, we are told we must forgive those who offend against us.  Scotus affirms that we should want our enemies good and desire their conversion for their own good. We cannot properly will for my neighbour what excludes them from the possibility of loving God, and death is such an exclusion. Again, the Saviour indicated the action of being a good neighbour, having mercy on a person’s need, was the right thing to do, and this did not depend on family but could include foreigners. The Ten Commandments contain explications of the command to love our neighbours, not unjustly hating anyone or wishing them ill. Therefore enemies are to be included among our neighbours who are to be loved for the reason we want them to have a chance of being converted and loving God.  As in all the aspects of love discussed here the motivation and action of love is turned towards the other persons’ good in finding God and being transformed by that love. If we are truly on the way to our New Being and Blessedness in eternal fellowship we will want all to find that New Being and the original divine intention of eternal fellowship in glory and blessedness. This radical forgiveness and enemy serving actions often runs contrary to natural inclinations but it is this that is the real remaking of ourselves and our society. We keep finding situations of conflict that can only be overcome with love.

it may be a mistake to think that these things related to love only apply to the individual moral sphere of life. But Scotus did have concerns about the social sphere of life that needs to be rightly governed and in which we need to collective evolve and grow. Alan Wolter in “John Duns Scotus: Political and Economic Philosophy” notes his answer to a question on the obligations of penitent leads him into whole discussion on rights and obligations of ownership and restoration of things wrongly acquired.  In our ideal (before The Fall) life there is not individual property, all is shared, but in our Fallen (underdeveloped) life we must make laws and regulate life against evils involved in personal ownership. Our Christian life involves us in questions of our social behaviour, what we have and how we use it for self and common good. 


Bonaventure – Our knowledge and life under the Influence of Grace

Prayer is always part of the spiritual life and is more than requests to God. Prayer is always about what God may communicate to us as much as we try and communicate with God. The Church has had many methods and means of Contemplative Prayer and meditation and Bonaventure sets out a specific path for such a life of prayer, self reflection and growth towards God in union in The Soul’s journey to God. 

The journey is based on Bonaventure’s reflection of the vision of St Francis of the Crucified Seraph. It is journey into divine union through the “burning love of the Crucified”, illuminating and purifying. It starts through seeing God in the natural world that we know, through our senses that have been given us. God has revealed parts of the divine nature in and through the natural world. As we contemplate the world we should be ready to see God in it. We should develop a spirit of wonder and awe in what we see. We study and enjoy the wonder of the natural world, we see the wonder of all life that comes from God.

This theme of the spiritual life that starts with the natural world is the basis of course for the already mentioned Natural Theology (Chapter 2). It is a unification of faith with observation of the world, that we would call “Science” and the study of the world and its components and processes. The observation and study of the natural world (the sciences) therefore becomes the beginning of contemplation to lead us back to God and part of our purification and sanctification. It is also be about learning to use all our  abilities and knowledge of things of the world for the service of God and for the good of the world. Some of this may come as news to those who see a conflict between science and faith, that actually the sciences may be the start of the spiritual journey rather than an obstacle to religious faith and that all forms of material knowledge can if received and thought of correctly lead into our spiritual life. It links with what Teilhard de Chardin wrote about human progress in science and technology and that all this can be part of our spiritual as well as material development).

From the exterior world we pass to the inner world of our makeup as beings with our natural abilities and things within our minds. We consider our Memory that is the retention of temporal knowledge and experience that points also towards the future and new things that may be done that are good. We consider the powers of our Intellect as we seek to grasp meanings of things, learning to discern truth from falsehood so that we may come at least in part to grasp eternal truths that are presented to us to know and act on. We note our Freedom and power of choice and to learn to choose the better and most beneficial to act on. We note our Desires and what gives satisfaction, but need learning to desire that which is the best and eternal more than just our temporal lives in the present. We have the power from the Spirit if we want to use it to rise up above ourselves to transcend what we are now and be renewed. This in analogous to what Scotus had written about raising our desires beyond our selves to grasp the divine desire and will to do that which is good and the best, not only for ourselves but also for our neighbours and the wider world. In this context we may think about many other spiritual disciplines and modern psychology may lead us to consider our world within us and our experiences of life and what effects those have had on us, things that may have burdened us and distorted our perceptions of ourselves and other. The aim of such a journey inwards considering ourselves is to see all these things about ourselves in the new and eternal light that may come to us in our prayer and contemplation. 

The journey continues further then into contemplating God as the origin of all being, the source of our existence and all existence, our participation with all of life.  We consider all the characteristics of God in the divine simplicity and infinity into which we invited and embraced. We also proceed to consider Christ as the greatest Goodness of God, the study of Him in all He did. He is the mediator of mercy and inward transformation that we need. Through Him and all His goodness we come to our ultimate goal of union. It leads us beyond rational thought and recreates the divine image and likeness in us.

Complementary to this Bonaventure wrote several other works that focused on the Life of Christ, His word and His actions recorded in the gospels and the cultivation of the presence of the Word in our lives. It reminds us of the centrality of reading and learning from the revelation of Him preserved in the scriptures. Bonaventure also wrote about  St Francis as he followed Christ as an example and also how St Mary conceived and gave birth to Christ so must we conceive in a spiritual manner the presence of the Eternal Word within us to grow and be expressed in our own lives. We contemplate Him so our lives are remade in accord with Him. Thus this is all embracing journey of prayer and contemplation of the visible and invisible is our path to New Humanity.