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Posted June 3, 2003

An Excellent But Profound Meditation on the Holy Spirit for Pentecost
Well Worth The Effort In Understanding It

The Healing Presence of the Holy Spirit
in Priestly Life and Ministry:

Reflections from the Thought of John Henry Newman

by Rev. Gerald McCarren

Taken from Spiritual Physician: Living Christ's Own Mission of Healing Love
For further information please contact:
Rev. Richard Gabuzda, Director
The Institute for Priestly Formation
2500 California Plaza
Omaha, NE 68178-0300
E-mail ipf@creighton.edu

It was Newman's deep familiarity with Scripture and the Eastern patristic writings that enabled him to write of the Holy Spirit as he did in his sermons and to develop the theological insights displayed in so many of his published works. "A hundred fifty years ago Newman was carrying on in the West the eastern tradition," wrote Stephen Dessain. Although in a sense Newman was doing nothing new here, as Dessain pointed out, his discovery for the West of the ancient Tradition was a tremendous contribution, yet another one of the ways in which he anticipated Vatican II. Newman's retrieval of the doctrine of the Divine Indwelling, or the Indwelling of the Holy Spirit, is the centerpiece of this theology of the Spirit. To his preaching from the pulpit of St. Mary's we now turn in order, insofar as possible, to let him explain in his own eloquence this great treasure.

In a Pentecost sermon entitled "The Indwelling Spirit," while rehearsing Old Testament texts in which "the gifts of the Holy Ghost are spoken of under the Jewish covenant," Newman declared: "These were great mercies; yet, great as they were, they are as nothing compared with that surpassing grace with which we Christians are honoured; that great privilege of receiving into our hearts, not the mere gifts of the Spirit, but His very presence, Himself, by a real not a figuratively indwelling." As "the Spirit of Christ," the Holy Spirit comes as God's gift "to us from and instead of Christ." The Spirit comes as "the present pledge of Him [ascended Christ] who is absent, — or rather more than a pledge, for an earnest is not a mere token which will be taken from us when it is fulfilled, as a pledge might be, but something in advance of what is one day to be given in full." "He comes to us as Christ came," Newman insisted, "by a real and personal visitation." "It is plain that such an inhabitation," he wrote, "brings the Christian into a state altogether marvelous, far above the possession of mere gifts." The indwelling Spirit, Newman wrote, is "a well of water in him,' in a man's heart, ‘springing up into everlasting life." This gift of the Spirit given at Baptism, for all its splendor, "we hold as a matter of faith, and without actual experience to verify it to us." Yet there are concrete effects.

Here Newman listed first the way in which the Spirit turns our naturally "blind and carnal" eyes toward the Father, "bid[ding] us recognize and adore Him as our Father with a true heart." Such adoration in the Spirit finds the Christian "first looking up to catch the heavenly gift but, when he gains it, not keeping it to himself but diffusing ‘rivers of living water' to the whole race of man."

Second, "the indwelling of the Holy Ghost raises the soul, not only to the thought of God, but of Christ also." All is brought to Christ, "drawn forth and offered up by the Spirit as a living sacrifice to the Son of God."

Third, the Spirit brings "fulness of joy, peace." He lives in the Christian's heart, as the never-failing found of charity," "creating in us the simplicity and warmth of a heart which children have." He is "the Spirit of adoption."

In another sermon on the Holy Spirit, "The Gift of the Spirit," Newman pointed to the absence of visible drama, "such as the power of healing, of raising from the dead, and the like" surrounding the presence and activity of the Holy Spirit dwelling in the heart. "The Jewish Church," he observed, "was gifted by a more abiding superhuman presence than the Christian and with as overpowering miracles, yet it did not possess this privilege of glory." If the drama that we would expect to be attendant upon the Spirit is absent, "the mysterious state in which Christians stand" is not to be underestimated. So great is the gift of the Indwelling Spirit that "we have some insight into the meaning of St. Paul's anxiety that his brethren should understand "the breath and length" (Eph 3:18), and "the riches" (Eph 3:8, 16 et al.) of the glorious inheritance which they enjoyed, and of his forcible declaration, on the other hand, that ‘the natural man' could not ‘discern' it. This gift, imperceptible apart from the eyes of faith though it may be, "is imparted to every member [of the Church] on his Baptism" such that "by this new birth the Divine Shekinah is set up within him." Newman notes:

Till we understand that the gifts of grace are unseen, supernatural, and mysterious, we have but a choice between explaining away the high and glowing expressions of Scripture, or giving them that rash, irreverent, and self-exalting interpretation, which is one of the chief errors of this time. Men of awakened and sensitive minds, knowing from Scripture that the gift of the Holy Ghost is something great and unearthly . . .yet not knowing where to look for what they need, are led to place the life of Christians, which is "hid with Christ in God," in a sort of religious ecstasy, in a high — wrought sensibility on sacred subjects, in impassioned thoughts, a soft and languid tone of feeling, and an unnatural profession of all this in conversation. . . . On the other hand, sensible and sober — minded men, offended at such excesses, acquiesce in the notion that the gift of the Holy Ghost was almost peculiar to the Apostles' day, that now, at least, it does nothing more than make us decent and orderly members of society; the privileges bestowed upon us in Scripture being . . . at the most, a pardon of our sins and admission of God's favor, unaccompanied by any actual and inherent powers bestowed upon us. . . For ourselves, in proportion as we realize that higher view of the subject, which we may humbly trust is the true one, let us be careful to act up to it. Let us adore the Sacred Presence within us with all fear, and "rejoice with trembling." Let us offer up our bet gifts in sacrifice to Him who, instead of abhorring, has taken up His abode in these sinful hearts of ours. Prayer, praise, and thanksgiving, "good works and alms — deeds," a bold and true confession and a self-denying walk, are the ritual of worship by which we serve Him in these His Temples. How the distinct and particular works of faith avail to our final acceptance, we know not; neither do we know how they are efficacious in changing our wills and characters which, through God's grace, they certainly do. All we know is that as we persevere in them, the inward light grows brighter and brighter, and God manifests Himself in us in a way the world knows not of.

Beginning a Pentecost sermon entitled "The Communion of Saints," Newman underlined the gift that the Indwelling Spirit is: "It was the great promise of the Gospel, that the Lord of all, who had hitherto manifested Himself externally to His servants, should take up His abode in their hearts . . . .Though He had come in our flesh, so as to be seen and handled, even this was not enough." Surely God is present to all. "But far higher, more intimate, and more sacred is the indwelling of God in the hearts of His elect people — so intimate, that compared with it, He may well be said not to inhabit other men at all," "The Spirit came to make us one in Him who had died and was alive, that is, to form the Church, a living body, and one; not a mere framework artificially arranged to look like one." One cannot help but think of the second epiclesis, the Communion epiclesis, in our Eucharistic Prayers, whereby we ask the Father to send the Spirit to make the Eucharistic Sacrifice and our Communion effective in our lives, especially with respect to the gift of unity. The Church and its unity supply visibility where the Spirit and His effect in the soul are invisible: "That which is born of the Spirit is spirit' (Jn 3:6); and since God the Holy Ghost is invisible, so is His work."

In "Christ Manifested in Remembrance," Newman again underscored the greatness of the gift of the Spirit, "who should be more to [the Apostles] than [Christ] had been" and who "did more for the Apostles than Christ had done." The Spirit "would come invisibly, and with greater power and comfort, inasmuch as he was invisible; so that His presence would be more real an efficacious by how much it was more secret and inscrutable." At the same time, the Spirit is the Spirit of Christ and "would not throw into the shade and supersede Him whom He succeeded." Here Newman stressed the way in which traces of the Divine Providence so often become evident only in retrospect, the "general principle, which comes before us again and again both in Scripture and in the world, that God's presence is not discerned at the time when it is upon us, but afterwards, when we look back upon what is gone and over." "Special" cases in point are "the mission of our Saviour, who was not understood till afterwards to be the Son of God Most High, and the mission of the Holy Ghost, which was still more laden with spiritual benefits, and is still more secret." After indicating how the hand of God, often invisible in the moment, becomes so evident upon retrospective reflection, Newman pointed to the Spirit's powerful role: "The more secret God's hand is, the more powerful — the more silent, the more awful." What is said of Christ could be said of the Spirit: "If He could work miracles in the days of the flesh, how much more His miracles invisible?"

Newman's conclusion nicely summed up what can be appreciated by the willing Christian: "Let us beg of Him grace wherewith to enter the depth of our privileges, — to enjoy what we possess, — to believe in, to use , to improve, to glory in our present gifts as ‘members of Christ, children of God, and inheritors of the kingdom of heaven."

An Epiphany sermon, "The Law of the Spirit," afforded Newman the chance to do what he did so often in discussion of the Indwelling Spirit, namely, to marshal pertinent Scripture passages and, as is usually the case, the litany of texts impresses upon the reader of this Parochial and Plain Sermons how undeniably plentiful they are. Here Newman pointed out "[I]f we listen to the voices of the Prophets, we must believe that the righteousness of the Law really is fulfilled in us under the Gospel through the Spirit." It is the Spirit who brings "inward righteousness under the Gospel." Saint Paul, Newman observed, "speaks of the Holy Ghost as ‘the Spirit of adoption' (Rom 8:15)" and "intimates that ‘the righteousness of the law' is ‘fulfilled' in those ‘who walk after the Spirit (Rom 8:4). In connection with this Newman asked: "How can we be said to fulfill the Law, and to offer an acceptable obedience, since we do not obey perfectly?" He answered: "But when I speak of our righteousness I speak of the work of the Spirit, and this work, though imperfect, considered as ours, is perfect a far as it comes from Him. Our works, done in the Spirit of Christ, have a justifying principle in them, and that is the presence of the All-Holy Spirit. And this Divine Presence in us,' Newman explained a few lines later, "makes us altogether pleasing to God. It makes those works pleasing to God, which it produces, though human infirmity be mixed with them."

The last of the Parochial and Plain Sermons that we will treat, though, there certainly are other relevant ones, is "The Spiritual Presence of Christ in the Church." Considering the Ascension of Christ as an apparent abandonment of us, the sermon claimed that "we enjoy the spiritual immaterial, inward, mental, real sight, and possession of Him; a possession more real and more present than that which the Apostles had in the days of the flesh, because it is spiritual, because it is invisible." So close" is Christ, so intimate, "that we cannot gaze on Him or discern Him. He enters into us." This presence of Christ can as easily be spoken of in terms of the Holy Spirit's presence, as Newman made clear: "The Holy Spirit causes, faith welcomes, the indwelling of Christ in the heart. Thus the Spirit does not take the place of Christ in the soul, but secures that place to Christ." This is clearer still in Newman's Lectures on Justification, Lecture VI: "The Gift of Righteousness," where he states that "different degrees or characteristics of the gift are perhaps denoted by these various terms, though to discriminate between them is far beyond our powers." These lectures, given in the Adam de Brome side chapel of St. Mary's in 1838, presented justification and sanctification as "necessary results" of the indwelling of Christ in the Christian soul." Bringing "The Spiritual Presence of Christ in the Church" toward its conclusion, Newman waxed eloquent: "Christ is not present with us locally and sensibly, but still really, in our hearts and to our faith. And it is by the Holy Ghost that this gracious communion is effected. How it effects it we know not; in what precisely it consists we know not. We see Him not; but we are to believe that we possess Him, — that we have been brought under the virtue of His healing hand, of His life — giving breath, of the manna flowing from His lips, and of the blood issuing from His side. And hereafter, on looking back, we shall be conscious that we have been thus favoured."


Certainly Newman's theology of the Holy Spirit has significant implications for spirituality. Newman invites us to take a mystical stance as we approach life. "An inward, most sacred, most mysterious gift" sets the Christian apart. When we consider Newman's words, "from the very time of Baptism they are temples of the Holy Ghost," his words are piercing. How often have we affirmed this claim and failed to appreciate the image for its reality? Being a Christian is a much, much greater privilege than we imagine. If we tend to think in terms of imitating Christ, we need also to look more deeply. Too often, Newman reminds us, we overlook Scripture's many references to the Divine Indwelling. Do we judge them — perhaps subconsciously — to be too good to be true? If this is the case, what are we missing? Even if we in fact enjoy the gift, if we do not recognize it, we cannot relish the love that it is. Moreover, we are limited in our ability to share the gift if we cannot articulate it.

Is there any greater gift that we could share with Christ's people intrusted to our care? Granted that it is possible to share with others in some no insignificant measure the life of grace without knowing it, and that one can also receive this gift without averting to it, the possibilities are so much greater when one knows what one is doing. Would not God's people benefit very greatly from teaching concerning this gift lavished upon us? Would not that teaching be the more powerful if it were complemented by a quality of parish life that is formed by the view of Scripture in all its fullness? In this way much more than information would be made available; a formative environment would communicate the truth of the Spirit's indwelling in many ways and in different dimensions of life.

. . . I am reminded of my own conscious encounter with the theology of the paschal mystery during my time as a seminarian at Immaculate Conception Seminary. In my first semester of study my class took an introductory course in which the teacher, a Carmelite priest, challenged us. Unless we were to develop a personal understanding of the paschal mystery of Jesus Christ, he told us, we would not be ready to be ordained. I remember well my reaction. I was confident that whatever he would teach us about the paschal mystery I would be able to give back to him reasonably clearly on an exam, but insofar as personal appropriation was concerned, I was not so confident. I knew that I had work to do. I remember how more than two years later I would be so pleased that I would be able to make a concise presentation of the paschal mystery to a small faith — sharing group that I led at St. Mary's Parish. I remember being able to speak of the canticle of Philippians 2:6-11 with some small measure understanding. I was able to speak of the kenosis which it presents with a personal idea of what it means to empty oneself to the point where one does not know how one will be filled up, and that it is Christ Himself who fills that emptiness with His life. I was able to come to this understanding only because of a measure of personal struggle, however small, and the assistance of my spiritual director. It was gratifying to find myself beginning to be able to teach that which I could hardly learn so recently.

For those who see with the eyes of faith, the world is painted with the hues of the glory of the Lord. Many times our vision of faith is clouded. In particular, many times we fail to really apprehend the good news that we profess. When we do not perceive its vibrant reality when, if you will, we do not apprehend our faith in living color, we are surely at a disadvantage. In his Essay in Aid of a Grammar of Assent, which is about how we come to believe, Newman distinguishes between real and notional apprehension. In the former we have a vivid realization of what we perceive or imagine; it is real to us. When we move to assent, we experience belief differently No one will give his life for a notion, Newman wrote. One may be convinced that two plus tow equals four, but one is very unlikely to be willing to give his life in testimony to this. Real assent is a different matter; this is the faith that moves martyrs.

Simply really to apprehend and really to assent to the doctrine of the Divine Indwelling is to receive no small measure of healing. To know that the Lord to Whom we turn to pray is so near is a powerful realization indeed, and it invites our cooperation in the transformation that the reality of the Holy Spirit dwelling in our hearts empowers.

As spiritual physicians, it falls to us to appropriate this gift with awareness such that we can articulate it and such that we are encouraged to share it. Then, in a simple but exquisite way, we will be enabled to assist the Holy Spirit in His cooperation in the healing mission of Jesus Christ. All that is required is helping the People of God to recognize the doctrine of the Divine Indwelling and to embrace it. Although at times this will mean carrying Christ's cross, appreciating the doctrine itself makes the cross lighter.

Karl Rahner wrote many times that the Christian of the future, the Christian of this century, would need to be a mystic of sorts if he or she is to remain a Christian at all. Newman shows us how we might do this and enable others to remain under the healing rays of the Sun of Justice. . . .

A Lenten Hymn by John Henry Newman

My God, I adore Thee, O Eternal Paraclete, the light and the life of my soul. Thou mightest have been content with merely giving me good suggestions, inspiring graces and helping me from without. Thou mightest thus have led me on, cleansing me with Thy inward virtue, when I changed my state from this world to the next. But in Thine infinite compassion Thou hast from the first entered into my soul, and taken possession of it. Thou hast made it Thy Temple. Thou dwellest in me by Thy grace in an ineffable way, uniting me to Thyself and the whole company of angels and saints. Nay, as some have held, Thou art present in me, not only by Thy grace, but by Thy eternal substance, as if, though I did not lose my own individuality, yet in some sense I was even here absorbed in God. Nay — as though Thou hadst taken possession of my very body, this earthly, fleshy, wretched tabernacle — even my body is Thy Temple. O astonishing, awful truth! I believe it, I know it, O my God!