A Mystical Theology of the Holy Spirit in the Human Person

            Theological reflection is important in spirituality because we all have underlying assumptions of which we are not fully conscious, and yet we nevertheless live out from these assumptions in a way which forms our spirituality.  Thus theological reflection helps to bring these assumptions to conscious awareness, and they may be proven or adjusted to align with what is true; and therefore, this reflection consequently adjusts our spirituality to become a more faithful reflection and expression of the truth.  Equally necessary and important in theology is reflection on our experience of God, so that our mystagogical reflection may form and inform our theology.  As Paul writes, “Now we have received … the Spirit who is from God, that we might understand the things freely given us by God” (1 Cor 2:12; ESV).

Therefore in this paper I explore the nature and possibility of the experience of God.  This involves sorting through some issues related to the transcendence and immanence of God, cosmology, and anthropology.  What is spirit and does a human person have spirit?  And how does the Holy Spirit’s work in creation and role in anthropology relate to spirituality?  We will begin by discussing the possibility of experience of God.


  1. Experience of God

The possibility of the experience of God presents a potential problem.  Does experience of God imply pantheism or panentheism; or, is experience of God not truly possible?  Perhaps there is an aspect to human personhood that belongs in some realm beyond nature to make experience of God possible.  But, would that not mean the human person has a divine nature?  And what cosmological framework allows for both the experience of God and the transcendence and immutability of God?

  1. The Problem of Transcendence and Immanence

The possibility of the experience of God raises a problem with regard to transcendence and immanence.  How can one affirm the full deity of the Holy Spirit, who is therefore included in God’s utter transcendence and unknowability, and also maintain that God can be experienced and known experientially by the Holy Spirit?  God can not be thought of so abstractly that he does not actually relate at all to creation.  In The Word and the Spirit, Yves Congar asserts, “God is real and actual.  He is not a God constructed by metaphysical reasoning.”[1]  In Pneumatology, Veli-Matti Kärkkäinen discusses pneumatology built on process theology and Blair Reynolds’s Toward a Process Pneumatology.  “In process theology, God’s immanence in creation is the central theme, which can be explained in terms of the doctrine of the Holy Spirit.”[2]  Quoting Reynolds Kärkkäinen writes, “God is accessible, close at hand:  ‘God dwells within the universe, among us, not in some remote atemporal realm above and beyond the world.’  If this principle holds, then it means that to experience the world, we also at some level experience God.  In other words, the Spirit functions as a real contact between God and us.”[3]  But how does God dwell within the universe without being part of it?  If the Holy Spirit is thought of as divine energies, as one may interpret the view of the Eastern Church,[4] then the result is panentheism.  God’s existence is not part of creation since God is wholly uncreated.  But on the other hand, in order to avoid Deism we must affirm that God is somehow related to creation.

This problem of immanence and transcendence can also be considered from the human point of view.  In “The Experience of the Divine” Ralph Del Colle discusses whether one can experience God.  He begins by contrasting the positions of Lutherans and Calvinists on the Eucharist.  The Lutheran perspective holds that the finite is capable of the infinite, whereas for the Calvinists the finite is incapable of the infinite (i.e. the Eucharistic elements remain merely bread and wine.)  He applies these opposing positions to the human experience of God:  “Does one know and experience God because God is present in something finite (the Lutheran position), or because the finite creature is raised through faith to God (the Calvinist position)?”[5]  Both of these positions raise a concern for each:  “On the one hand, one does not want to confuse God with what is not God; while on the other hand, one wants to be sure that one actually experiences God and not just some aspect of ourselves or the created order,”[6] writes Del Colle.  Thus the problem of transcendence and immanence is evident.  How can the Holy Spirit of God be present in the human person, while remaining transcendent?  God’s immutability requires that God would remain God, if God should be experienced.  On the other hand, how can God be experienced unless the Holy Spirit is somehow made present to the human person?  Otherwise a so-called experience of God would be wholly psychological or paranormal, and not truly a divine encounter.  And since “God is present to us only through the mediation of our creaturely way of knowing,”[7] as Del Colle rightly asserts, there is a real danger of misrepresenting spiritual experience as always divine – especially if one’s cosmology is essentially panentheistic.[8]  To begin exploring these questions, let us discuss our cosmology.

  1. Cosmology

In this cosmological framework, there are most fundamentally only two aspects:  God and not-God; or, Creator and created.  More precisely, though, the created order includes spiritual realities such as angels, but not the supernatural in its strictest sense.  Here the term supernatural does not refer to these created realities or miraculous effects and such.  “Rather,” as J. P. Kenny explains in the New Catholic Encyclopedia, “it is reserved to signify a new relationship of God to man [sic], a fresh contact between Infinite and finite, a real descent of God to a personal creature.”[9]  Thus the term supernatural is used here in the strictest technical sense to refer to that which transcends the constraints of Nature; where, Nature with a capital N refers to the universe (or universes, if they exist) and everything in it.[10]  This includes more than that to which the physicist may limit it – all that is available to the senses or verified by experiment.  That is to say, Nature includes that to which the metaphysician may extend it, accepting the whole extent of creation, created spiritual realities as well as all that is known to the physical sciences.[11]

  1. The Supernatural and God’s Self-Gift

Kenny makes three assertions about the supernatural: “(1) It surpasses all the demands and forces of nature; (2) it involves something infinitely more precious than miracles or preternatural gifts; and (3) it connotes with metaphysical necessity a created gift.”[12]  Loosely speaking then, the supernatural can be thought of as God’s way of being immanent in transcendence as loving self-gift in the unilateral and infinite interface between Godself and the boundary[13] of Nature.  As Kenny sums up his discussion of the supernatural,  “In the strictest technical sense, the supernatural connotes the Self-gift of the Three-Personed God, Father, Son, and Holy Ghost, to a personal being out of love and friendship.”[14]  Thus the loving self-gift of the Trinity is central to the concept of the supernatural.  But does a gift of Godself violate the transcendence and immutability of God?

The formula “Created Actuation by Uncreated Act” is used by M. De La Taille “to designate the central conception of his theory of supernatural reality.”[15]  This formula attempts to understand how God might communicate Godself to created reality while avoiding any conception that might be understood as panentheism or as a violation of God’s immutability and transcendence.  T. E. Clarke describes De La Taille’s theory as follows:

Whereas the notion of efficient causality suffices for the natural relationship of the created with the uncreated, supernatural union can be grasped in its uniqueness only by conceiving that God makes Himself, analogously, the act of a created potency. As act communicates itself to, perfects, and actuates potency, so God supernaturally communicates Himself to, perfects, and actuates a created reality. Because of His transcendence, however, He does so without being limited by reception in the potency.[16]

The ‘created actuation’ is distinct from both Nature and Transcendence.  From the human perspective God appears immanent, but in God’s act of immanence God remains transcendent.  In the New Catholic Encyclopedia, P. De Letter writes on the divine indwelling: “What is proper to supernatural reality is God’s self-gift: the Uncreated Act actuating, or communicating Himself as act to, the obediential potency of spiritual creatures.”[17]  What this means is that the human person has a created capacity (‘potency’) or openness to transcendence to which God may communicate Himself as an act of self-gift.  The person’s receptivity is a function of the obediential quality[18] of one’s openness.  But openness has to do with faith and salvation.  As Del Colle writes, “God’s special supernatural or indwelling presence in believers … has to do with grace and salvation.  Through faith in Christ and the reception of the gift of the Holy Spirit, the believer knows and loves the triune God who is present within.”[19]  This openness is never imposition, but only receptivity.  As Letter writes, “Every spirit is open to the Infinite; not that he could of himself ‘conquer’ the Infinite, but he can ‘receive’ Him as the Act of his potency, if and when the Infinite deigns to give Himself.”[20]  Thus, revelation for the created is always dependent on the act of self-gift of the Creator.  And though the reception may be limited, God is never limited by the reception.  Therefore there will always remain an element of mystery to God in the self-revelation of God.

  1. Mystery

The mysteries of the Trinity, the hypostatic union, and of the divine indwelling, for example, will remain mysteries.  In God’s self-revelation throughout history, God has not completely disclosed the mystery of Godself.  As Yves Congar explains, “The Trinity of the economy is in fact identical with the Trinity of the eternal mystery.”  But Congar disagrees with Karl Rahner who adds ‘and vice versa’, that the mystery is identical with the economy.  “It is undeniably true that the economic Trinity is the eternal or immanent Trinity.  Every theologian would accept this.  We have no other way of knowing the mystery of God apart from his revelation in the economy.”[21]  Congar argues further that though the mystery of the Trinity is revealed, it is not fully revealed in the economy.  And in the economy, God’s self-revelation occurs in conditions such that “the mode of reality of the Trinitarian mystery in the eternity of God is always beyond what is communicated to us and what is accessible to us.”[22]  It follows that experiential knowledge of God does not violate the ultimate unknowability of God, and any knowledge of God is wholly dependent of God’s self-revelation in the economy.

Another aspect similar to this idea is conveyed by Mark McIntosh in Mystical Theology, “God’s existence in itself is inherently self-expressive.  The speaking of the divine Word is eternal and is never silence in itself.”[23]  God’s self-expression is perpetual and never exhausted.  Perhaps then, it may be concluded that God’s immanence is God’s continued self-expression through his Word by his Spirit (or Breath).  It is self-expression that never ceases because God is always more than what is expressed.  Thus also, that even in the face of God’s immanence, Mystery remains mystery.

Therefore the experience of God may be affirmed as a possibility while maintaining the theological integrity of God’s transcendence, immutability, and freedom.  Contact between Infinite and finite belongs to the supernatural where the act of God’s self-gift is analogously God himself.  The transcendence of the Holy Spirit can be retained while the Holy Spirit is said to be in the human person given that the divine indwelling is understood as the supernatural reality of God’s self-gift.  But is the Holy Spirit made present in the human person such that the person may have consciousness or experiential awareness of God’s presence?


  1. Anthropological Issues

The possibility of experience of God depends on whether God is related to creation in ways that allow God’s self-revelation and self-gift; and also on whether the human person has a capacity to receive God’s self-communication.  This human capacity is thought of (above) as a created potency, a power to be open to the Infinite, which “receives” God’s self-communication as a “created actuation”.  But what does this mean?  Would this translate into a conscious experience of God?  What about the existence, place and role of the human spirit in this experience?  Before gaining understanding in this, there are anthropological issues to explore.

  1. Dimensions of a Unitary Life

First of all, the human person is unitary and the body is necessary.  In Sōma in Biblical Theology Robert Gundry argues against a dichotomous view of body and spirit in his discussion on 1 Cor 6.  Here Paul emphases that the body belongs to the Lord.  “But only once does Paul mention the union of the spirit with the Lord: ‘But he who is united to the Lord becomes one spirit with him’ (v 17).”[24]  Consequently Paul makes it clear to the Corinthians that the spirit is not superior to the body.  As Gundry puts it, “The imbalance of emphasis derives from the Corinthians’ acceptance of the spirit’s unity with the Lord and rejection of the body’s relationship to the Lord.  Paul needs to stress what the Corinthians fail to see, or deliberately deny.  In Paul’s own thought, the twin truths add up to this:  the whole man [sic], body and spirit, belongs to the Lord.”[25]  Thus a person is one whole as body and spirit, rather than a Gnostic or Platonic notion of person as essentially spirit “trapped” in a body.  Jewish and early Christian thought has recurrently considered body and spirit to function as a unity.  The bipartite constitution, material and immaterial, is only separated at death until the resurrection according to that thought.  As Gundry explains, “Paul along with most Jews and other early Christians habitually thought of man [sic] as a duality of two parts, corporeal and incorporeal, meant to function in unity but distinguishable and capable of separation.”[26]  The body is a necessary part required of our human calling.  Drawing from Barth, Gundry points out that a person is a “being-for-God”, that is, a being made for the service of God.  If a person is created merely for fellowship or communion with God, then “God would not have needed to create man [sic] with a physical body in a material world.  Such a creation makes sense only if service for God is primary.  Fellowship with God because he is spiritual and not physical, would have required only bodiless spirits.”[27]

John Cooper argues in Body, Soul & Life Everlasting for unitary life as a dualism of body and soul, or holistic dualism, the view that a person is one whole as body and soul.  The dualism of body and soul is the ontological possibility of “personal existence apart from earthly-bodily existence.”[28]  Thus the concept of soul is necessary to allow for life apart from the body in Cooper’s view; but dualism alone without any qualification could be misconstrued.  This dualism is holistic (versus Platonism and other dualisms) in that body and soul are not “self-contained, independent functioning entities” in this earthly life.[29]  But others view the soul as not having immortality of itself, only potentially so.  In Whatever Happened to the Soul?[30] Ray Anderson makes a point of clarification in his anthropology[31] in his chapter, “On Being Human”.  “Humans were created as mortal beings with a spiritual life contingent upon relation to God’s Spirit, and thus subject to mortality and non-existence, apart from the divine intention and determination of God as creator and sustainer of human life.  There is no warrant in Scripture for asserting that human nature bears some immortal, indestructible soul that has a natural capacity to survive death.”[32]

Another issue concerns the human capacity for transcendence and a certain quality or way of life.  J. Robert Nelson in Human Life argues the point that human life is essentially unitary and relational, and presents the case for understanding human life as three dimensions of one unitary life.  Rather than viewing life in terms of body, mind, or spirit, he draws on three different Greek words used to mean ‘life’.  In considering the anthropology of Jesus, which was characteristically Jewish, Nelson finds three aspects to human life lived in relationship to God and others.  Jesus’ anthropology “included, with undifferentiated attribution to God, three dimensions at once: the bodily life of the flesh, the psychic and moral life of the soul, and the fulfilled and resurrected life of the complete person.  All three of these aspects of life are lived in personal relationship to God and to a community of persons.”[33]  Nelson later notes that sōma, nous, and pneuma are not the terms used for ‘life’ in the Bible, but rather bios, psuchē, and zōē are used; and these are three qualitative dimensions of one human life.

Bios connotes the “ordinary means of staying alive” or sometimes “a morally reprehensible mode of living.”[34]  Psuchē speaks of both “the objective reality of mortal life” as well as “the subjective center of the living self.”[35]  In the sense of one’s subjective center, the word is used “to designate three aspects of the person’s inner life: the mind/intellect, the will/volition, and the affective senses/feeling or emotion.”[36]  But psuchē is also “the center of human life as a transcending reality.”[37]  It is transcendent in two aspects:  “One is its personal relation of communion with God, receiving and responding to the divine acts of communication and endowment of gifts and powers.  The other aspect is the inherent but potential capacity to enjoy saving grace of God not only during earthly life but also in the resurrection … to eternal life.”[38]  Zōē is a quality of life wherein the plenitude of life is realized in experience as according to John 10:10; it is “the purpose for which one was created.”[39]  This quality of life means to live life “according to the power and grace of God, to have life in the Spirit, to live in Christ, and to have eternal life.”[40]  Thus there is a potential dimension of human life that is received as gift; but it is a quality rather than a part of human constitution.  Now, how does this relate to spirit or pneuma?

  1. What is Human Spirit

In the New Testament, pneuma is used interchangeably for the Spirit of God and the human spirit.  This presents two potential problems.  First, it may be concluded that there is an ‘essence’ in human constitution which is the same as the ‘essence’ of the Holy Spirit.  If this were true, then either the Holy Spirit is a created being, or the human person is divine by nature.  Both are clearly false given the deity of the Holy Spirit and a cosmology that is not pantheistic.  Furthermore, any divine aspect to the human being could only be a participation in the transcendent divine nature by grace.  A second problem is that one might dismiss the spiritual dimension of the human altogether by placing pneuma in the realm of psychology or by considering pneuma to refer always to the Holy Spirit.  There are however uses of pneuma which decidedly give its possession to the human being.  In 1 Cor 2:11-12, Paul draws a parallel between the human spirit and the Spirit of God as both having the capacity to know: “For who knows a person’s thoughts (lit. “things”, ta.) except the spirit of that person (to. pneu/ma tou/ avnqrw,pou), which is in him?  So also no one comprehends the thoughts of God except the Spirit of God.  Now we have received not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, that we might understand the things freely given us by God” (ESV).  The dative of possession used with ‘person’ (tou/ avnqrw,pou) makes it clear that the human has pneuma, but it is still not clear whether this is human spirit or the Holy Spirit.  In Gary Badcock’s view the spirit “awakened to life by God is in some sense properly the possession of the one given spiritual life.”[41]  It would seem from verse 12, “we have received … the Spirit who is from God”, that the Holy Spirit is both in and part of the human but not human spirit per se.

In The Holy Spirit, C. F. D. Moule sees the same possibility in Ps. 51, where spirit in the human may be the Holy Spirit and not human spirit while nevertheless being “part” of the human.  He writes, “What is specially significant here, for the present purpose, is that the psalmist sees ruach, spirit, as within him and as part of him – almost as an attitude or character; and yet, the same word stand for something that belongs to God and my even be taken away by God.  This suggests that even what may be called a man’s [sic] spirit is not necessarily his own, or inherently his:  it may be God’s Spirit in him.”[42]  Moule also comments on the 1 Cor passage under consideration above.  He notes that in 1 Cor 2:9-16, Paul treats the Holy Spirit and the spirit in a person as analogous given that the term nous (not  pneuma) is usually used for the human capacity for the divine.  As Moule puts it, “Paul does not often use pneuma, ‘spirit’, to denote an aspect of man [sic].  More usually, he uses nous, which is often translated ‘mind’, to denote that side (so to speak) of a man which is open to the divine.  …  Here, in 1 Cor 2, Paul … speaks of the Spirit of God and the spirit of man, and treats the two as analogous to one another.”[43]  However, it must be noted that in 1 Cor 14:14-15, Paul uses pneuma and nous together where it is apparent that spirit is the term used for the “side” of a person which is open to the divine:  “For if I pray in a tongue, my spirit (pneu/ma, mou) prays but my mind (nou/j mou) is unproductive.  What should I do then?  I will pray with the spirit, but I will pray with the mind also; I will sing praise with the spirit, but I will sing praise with the mind also” (NRSV).  Furthermore, in Rom 8:16, Paul juxtaposes human spirit with the Holy Spirit implying a distinction:  “The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit (tw/| pneu,mati h`mw/n) that we are children of God” (ESV).  Therefore, the Holy Spirit and human spirit are both analogous to one another and yet distinct.  From the human perspective, at least, a person has what seems to be one’s own spirit.

In The Go-between God, John Taylor makes a similar assertion as Moule that spirit is not necessarily one’s own.  But for Taylor, human spirit is a power associated with being a person in the context of relationship:  “We might call it [ruach] the power of his [sic] personhood, the power of his separate otherness, the power by which he is recognized as himself.  But it is also his power to recognize, and to be impinged upon by, the otherness of the persons, things, realities which are not himself.”[44]  There is relatedness not only to the Holy Spirit, but also to other persons and realities.  It is the context of relationship which makes human spirit other than merely one’s own.  And so Taylor writes, “My spirit, therefore, is never uniquely mine as are my body, my life, my individuality.  It resides only in my relatedness to some other.  Spirit is that which lies between, making both separateness and conjunction real.”[45]  This line of reasoning applies to human spirit and the Holy Spirit in Taylor’s argument that the Spirit is the “go-between” God.

The human spirit is therefore not entirely one’s own in that it is an aspect of relatedness and receptive openness to the Spirit; it involves encounter.  Kärkkäinen speaks of human spirit as the ‘highest’, so to speak, dimension of personhood which is open to God.  He concludes that in the New Testament, “the spirit of a human being is that aspect of a man or a woman through which God most immediately encounters him or her …, that dimension wherein one is most immediately open to God.”[46]  Recall Nelson’s description of psuchē as a subjective center and as a transcendent center; the former of which has the aspect of personal relationship with God.  The ‘apex of the soul’, ‘spiritual soul’ and ‘spark of the soul’ are phrases from Christian tradition which are synonymous with this aspect of the psuchē as a transcendent center.  Emil Brunner also views spirit as the aspect of a person most immediately encountering God, and as something similar to a transcendent center.  Quoted by Gary Badcock, Brunner writes, “‘The spirit of man [sic] is not to be understood from below but “from above,” … [It] has a permanent relation with the divine Spirit; but it is not the divine Spirit.  …  Spirit, in contradistinction from that which is merely functional and psychical, can only be understood as something “transcending” the ordinary level.’”[47]  Thus human spirit is a supernatural reality existing within relatedness to God the Holy Spirit.

It may be that the anthropological issues under the microscope have now been brought into focus.  The human person is a unitary life of body and soul as the interdependence of material and immaterial – a holistic dualism.  Consequently, as Kärkkäinen writes in his summary of process pneumatology, “Life in the Spirit is not flight from the world but the fullest possible actualization of our capacities for creaturely existence.”[48]  The soul includes a transcendent reality which is both a relational capacity for personal communion with God, and a potential capacity for the saving grace which allows for a certain quality of life and way of existence “in the Spirit”.  The human spirit is not to be confused with soul in general nor nous, but it is the transcendent reality of the soul.  It is properly the possession of the person and distinct from the Holy Spirit; and it is not solely one’s own in that it resides in relatedness.  The spirit is the highest or transcendent aspect of the soul by which one is most immediately open to God and encounters God.  It is a supernatural reality.


  1. The Holy Spirit and the Human Spirit

Now, the spirit is not properly one’s own because it is a created gift; that is, the human relational capacity for union with God and potential capacity for saving grace is fulfilled by a work of grace by the Holy Spirit.  Thus, human spirit in union with God by the Holy Spirit is a potential dimension of life that must be received as gift.  Whether the capacity to receive the act of God’s self-gift is fulfilled or not depends on whether the person has “received the Holy Spirit”.  This new contact between Spirit and spirit is what makes consciousness of the experience of God possible.  As Del Colle writes, “Interiority and immanence are marks of the Spirit’s work and personal presence.  The transcendent God is present to us and in us by the Holy Spirit, and that presence is more interior to our psychological consciousness than we might think.”[49]  Contact between Spirit and spirit belongs to the supernatural, and so also the human spirit is supernatural.

  1. The Created Gift of the Triune God by the Holy Spirit

As a supernatural reality, human spirit is not of Nature and thus it is necessarily a created gift.  When one receives the act of God’s self-gift, a new union and change occurs in the person.  “As the supernatural spells a new descent of God to a creature, bringing about a new relationship and contact, it clearly gives birth to a new union,”[50] writes Kenny.  This new relationship of God and creature must involve change somewhere, and since God can not change, all change necessarily occurs in the human person.  De Letter applies De La Taille’s concept of the supernatural to the theology of the divine indwelling.[51]  Regarding God’s self-gift De Letter writes, “In so doing, God is not changed; all the change or newness is on the side of the creature, namely, the created actuation, or created grace.  This is a link of immediate union with God, for it is what makes God’s self-gift real. Thus grace, of its very essence, involves a new presence of God such as is nowhere found in the order of nature.”[52]  This change in the creature must be a created gift since it is supernatural and not of Nature.  And the union with God is supernatural.  As Kenny writes, “The supernatural is a descent of God, a new contact with God, a new union between God and the creature.”[53]  Therefore human spirit is a fulfilled capacity, the created gift of union with God by the Holy Spirit; it is both supernatural and a relationship.

This created gift of union is made by means of the Holy Spirit.  The Spirit’s work is within, out from, and between relationships.  Taylor posits the Holy Spirit as the invisible “go-between” God.  He writes, “I recognize, I respond, I fall in love, I worship – yet it was not I who took the first step.  In every such encounter there has been an anonymous third party who makes the introduction, acts as a go-between, makes two beings aware of each other, sets up a current of communication between them.”[54]  On Augustine, Kärkkäinen writes that the Spirit is the communio between the Father and the Son; “the Spirit shares what the Father and the Son have in common.”  Furthermore, “the Spirit is the communio between Christians and God and among Christians.”[55]  Regarding the communal dimension to the activity of the Holy Spirit, Del Colle notes that Heribert Mühlen “refers to the Spirit’s personhood as ‘We-in-person.’  By that he means that, both within God and in God’s work of salvation, the Holy Spirit is revealed as one who unites persons in mutual relationship; either the Father and Son in the Godhead or the many persons who make up the church in the community of salvation.”[56]  Thus the Holy Spirit is the Person of the Trinity who makes a person’s union with God real and actual, who as ‘go-between’ unites a person in mutual relationship with the Trinity.

The Holy Spirit is the Creator Spirit who creates the gift of union.  In his essay “Spirit and Spirituality”, F. LeRon Shults describes how late modern concepts of force have shifted to be “more dynamic, non-linear, and holistic.”[57] This shift has renewed the emphasis in theology on “the dynamic relation between the eschatological presence of the Creator Spirit and the coming-to-be creation.”[58]  Further in Shults’ survey, Denis Edwards is noted, who speaks of “the Spirit as ‘the immanent divine principle’ that enables the cosmos to evolve by breathing life into a universe of creatures.”[59]  And Congar argues that role of the Creator Spirit in Genesis is contiguous with the role of the Spirit in anthropology:  “there is no break, but on the contrary a close and intimate bond between the part played by the Spirit in our hearts and his cosmic role.”[60]  Also in John 3:5-6, the scripture speaks of the Holy Spirit giving birth to spirit in a human person, “Very truly, I tell you, no one can enter the kingdom of God without being born of water and Spirit. What is born of the flesh is flesh, and what is born of the Spirit is spirit” (NRSV).  Therefore the Holy Spirit is dynamically active in creation and our hearts as Creator Spirit.  And the Holy Spirit creates this new relationship of union with God simultaneously as the birth of human spirit.

Here the human spirit cannot be thought of as an essential substance.  If it is supernatural, it is a metaphysical term (rather than a physical one) involving relatedness.  And the concept of ‘person’ is not to be understood materialistically as some kind of substance or a type of essence.  In his essay, Shults draws on the Orthodox theologian John Zizioulas, “In his influential work Being as Communion, he argues that for the Cappadocians and many other Eastern theologians ‘person’ is not a subset of ‘substance’ as it sometimes appears in Western definitions.  Rather, being itself is constituted by the personhood of the Father in communion with the Son and the Spirit.”[61]  Personal being is constituted by relationship with God; thus, also, it could be said that the human spirit is constituted by a person’s relationship with God.

Therefore it could be stated that only in relationship with the Holy Spirit is the human spirit properly said to exist or to be alive.  In Eph 2 (see also Col 2:13), the Pauline text expresses that one is dead (in spirit) until one is made alive (in spirit):  “And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked.  …  But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together (sunezwopoi,hsen, root word is zōē) with Christ – by grace you have been saved” (Eph 2:1, 2a, 4, 5; ESV).  In what sense were these Ephesians dead?  It could not be biological death obviously; nor is it a type of moral deadness, since it is by salvation that the life comes.  This is salvation in the sense of justification at Christian initiation.  Therefore whether one is dead or alive must be in the sense of zōē or life in the Spirit, eternal life.  In other words, the human spirit comes into existence (as created gift) at justification when a person is reconciled to God and enters into a new union with God by the Holy Spirit.  Thus all those in Christ, those who have (e;cei) the Spirit (Rm 8:9), have union with God from the beginning of their new life.  Union is not an end goal of an ascent, yet it remains for those in Christ to learn to live out of their union with God.

There are therefore two categories of human beings:  those with or without the Spirit and spirit as fulfilled union with God.  This is not an exclusivist or elitist position since all human people have the capacity for transcendence and since the free offer[62] of salvation and saving grace is open to all.  One is freely justified by God’s grace and by one’s faith in Christ (Rm 3:24, 28; Gal 2:16).  The work of grace by the Holy Spirit creates a new spiritual life beyond a merely natural one.  Gary Badcock concludes from the Pauline and Johannine scriptures that “the Christian is awakened to a new dimension or a new kind of life by virtue of the activity of the Spirit upon or within; the new life is defined accordingly as spiritual.”[63]  In 1 Cor 2:14-15 for example, Paul describes two kinds of persons:  “The natural person (yuciko.j) does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned.  The spiritual person (pneumatiko.j) judges all things, but is himself to be judged by no one” (ESV).  The natural person is one without zōē, or life in the Spirit, eternal life, union with God.  The spiritual person has new life from the Holy Spirit and union with God.

  1. Being-in-Communion

It has become apparent, then, that a human person derives eternal life or a new quality of being from union with God by the Holy Spirit; and the very existence of the human spirit is dependent upon its relatedness with the Holy Spirit in its relationship of union with God.  Thus, spirit and union are a part of what it means for a human being to be fully and truly human.  One’s spiritual relatedness constitutes personhood.  This is analogous to the Trinitarian mystery where the hypostases exist as such in their relatedness with one another.  M. J. Dorenkemper describes the concept of person to include an aspect of relatedness and personal involvement with another.  “Human personality is seen as a center of relationships through self-consciousness (self-possession) and self-giving.  A person is therefore someone complete in himself but also someone who is constituted by his relations.”[64]  A parallel may be drawn with the Trinity.  As Dorenkemper writes, “This is theologically significant, for we know that the relatedness of one Person to another in the Trinitarian mystery stands at the core of personality.”[65]  Just as the eternal Person of the Son is not the Father given their eternal relatedness with one another; so also relatedness with God completes the human person.  Therefore at the core of a human person is a capacity for union with God, which should be fulfilled if a person is ever to be complete.  In this way anthropology is aligned with Christology,[66] as Christ is the prototypical example of true humanity.  So Dorenkemper writes,

The special dignity of the human person consists of an openness that enables him to relate himself consciously to God. Most perfectly and most eminently is this immediate communion with God realized by the hypostatic union in Christ. Dependent on and modeled after this hypostatic union is the mystical union of all Christians in the mystical personality of Christ. Here the Christian becomes as perfectly as possible a self-possessor, possessing self in Christ, and a responsive self-giver by the Spirit of Christ, joining him to Christ and in and through Christ to the Father.[67]

Mystical union is analogous to the hypostatic union, where this latter union is the prototype and condition of possibility of the former.  Mystical union is a free gift given at justification by faith, but the consequential possibility of a new kenotic way of existing involves intentionally living out from the place of union.  It involves an ongoing life of receiving Self-gift and responding in self-surrender, which one must learn by practice in a developing spirituality.


  1. Kenosis and The Holy Spirit

God is an eternal life of Self-gift as evident in the eternal kenotic event of the Trinity.  More than the ‘go-between’ God, the Holy Spirit is essentially God as self-gift.  As Kärkkäinen writes, “The Holy Spirit is always in his essence the gift of God, God as the self-giving God.”[68]  Yet it would be misleading not to point out that this is equally true of each Person of the Trinity.  In Christology From Within, Mark McIntosh draws from von Balthasar who describes God as “personified handing-over”.[69]  But it is the way in which the Holy Spirit is Self-gift that is unique, especially from the perspective of creation in the economy of God.  It is the Holy Spirit who creates union with God pouring the love of God into a person’s heart and thus reveals the self-giving Father.  Mark McIntosh writes quoting von Balthasar, “The Spirit who draws close to the believer and pours the love of God into the heart reveals ‘the Father who from the beginning has made the gift of himself to his Son, and who has carried on this handing over of himself.’”[70]  Therefore the Holy Spirit’s work in creation and role in anthropology is revelatory of the Trinity as the eternally self-giving God.

If we consider the eternal kenotic event of the Trinity of the eternal mystery as ongoing and being carried on as kenotic event of the economic Trinity overflowing into creation, then personal experience of God’s self-gift is a definite possibility.  This is not real contact with God per se, but with God as self-gift.  I suggest that we experience the effects of God’s acts of self-gift.  The loving gift of Godself necessarily has effect.  It brings life because God is Life.  It illuminates understanding because God is Light and Truth.  It guides and leads because God is Way.  It heals, nurtures, and enflames with a loving response because God is Love.

The Holy Spirit is experienced as love, because agape is grounded in self-gift.  In Shults’ survey Bernard Cooke is mentioned, who “employs the metaphor of ‘embrace’ as a way of conceptualizing the Spirit’s power of love, the divine ‘outreaching’ in loving self-gift that invites the other into the freedom of friendship.”[71]  The Holy Spirit is experienced as loving embrace and friendship, because these are grounded in self-gift.  The invitation and call within this self-gift is to a response of surrender to Love, whereby one allows Love’s work to create this Love in the creature that it may also be surrendered back to Love as Love by the creature.  Quoted by McIntosh, William Temple writes,

“The Holy Spirit, as made known to us in our experience, is the power whereby the created universe – which the Father creates by the agency of the Son, His self-revealing Word – is brought into harmonious response to the love which originated it.  …  Love creates; Love by self-sacrifice reveals itself to the created thing; Love thereby calls out from the created thing the Love which belongs to it as Love’s creature, so making it what Love created it to be.”[72]

Thus the Holy Spirit is grace for self-surrender and love in response to the Spirit’s creative work, seen within and also lived out as a participation in self-giving love to others in the world.  And so the Word still speaks as the Breath breathes through us.  And McIntosh writes, “Humanity has been invited into this relationship between the Father and the Son.  Indeed, the role of God the Holy Spirit in the story of this relationship has been to draw the Word further and further into creation, into what is ‘not-God’, precisely so that creation might be reconciled and drawn into fellowship with God.”[73]


  1. Conclusion

In the exploration of the experience of God, immanence and transcendence, cosmology, anthropology and pneumatology, we have discovered that the Holy Spirit continues God’s creative action in creation as supernatural Self-gift.  The human body belongs in creation and is validated and affirmed in the service for God.  The transcendence of the Holy Spirit is still valid for the divine indwelling, which is understood as a supernatural reality.  And we discovered that the human spirit is also a supernatural reality; it involves the fulfillment of the fulfilled created (or natural) capacity for transcendence.  This fulfillment is salvation and union with God by saving grace received as gift.  Human spirit exists in relatedness with another, that is, the Holy Spirit.  The human spirit comes into existence in the union with God as both fulfillment of a capacity and as relatedness.  Thus a person who has “received the Holy Spirit” may have experiential awareness of God’s presence analogously as Spirit to spirit contact.

A theologically sound understanding of the Holy Spirit and the human spirit and their relatedness is foundational to any healthy spirituality.  What I have tried to show here in this theological presentation is a call for a spirituality which includes a life lived in self-surrender.  It is a self-surrender to new supernatural life of union between spirit and Spirit.  It is a self-surrender of created capacities in order to actively live out a received life, or word, that speaks the expression of one’s true self.  And it is a self-surrender which involves participating in the handing over of oneself in response to a Love having been received, and actively living out this Love as the Holy Spirit draws the Word as your word further into creation.



Alexander, Donald, and Sinclair B. Ferguson, eds.  Christian Spirituality : Five Views of Sanctification. Downers Grove, Ill.: InterVarsity Press, 1988.

Badcock, Gary D. Light of Truth and Fire of Love : A Theology of the Holy Spirit. Grand Rapids, Mich.: W.B. Eerdmans, 1997.

Brown, Warren S., Nancey Murphy, and H. Newton Malony, eds.  Whatever Happened to the Soul?  Scientific and Theological Portraits of Human Nature.  Minneapolis:  Fortress Press, 1998.

Cartledge, Mark J. Encountering the Spirit : The Charismatic Tradition. Maryknoll, N.Y.: Orbis Books, 2007.

_____________.  Practical Theology : Charismatic and Empirical Perspectives. Carlisle, U.K.: Paternoster Press, 2003.

Congar, Yves.  The Word and the Spirit.  Translated by David Smith.  London: Geoffrey Chapman, 1986.

Cooper, John W.  Body, Soul & Life Everlasting:  Biblical Anthropology and the Monism-Dualism Debate. Grand Rapids, MI:  Eerdmans, 2000.

Del Colle, Ralph. “The Experience of the Divine.” Chicago Studies 31, no. 3 (1992): 290-300.

Del Colle, Ralph, and Chad Brand eds., Perspectives on Spirit Baptism: Five Views. Nashville, Tenn.: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 2004.

Gundry, Robert H. Sōma in Biblical Theology: With Emphasis on Pauline Anthropology.  Cambridge:  Cambridge University Press, 1976.

Humphrey, Edith McEwan. Ecstasy and Intimacy : When the Holy Spirit Meets the Human Spirit. Grand Rapids, Mich.: W.B. Eerdmans Pub. Co., 2006.

Kärkkäinen, Veli-Matti. Pneumatology : The Holy Spirit in Ecumenical, International, and Contextual Perspective. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2002.

Ma, Wonsuk, Robert P. Menzies, and Russell P. Spittler, eds. The Spirit and Spirituality : Essays in Honour of Russell P. Spittler. New York: T & T Clark International, 2004.

McIntosh, Mark A.  Christology From Within: Spirituality and the Incarnation in Hans Urs von Balthasar.  Notre Dame, Indiana: University of Notre Dame Press, 2000.

____________.  Mystical Theology: The Integrity of Spirituality and Theology.  Malden, Mass.: Blackwell, 1998.

Moule, C. F. D. The Holy Spirit. 1st American edition. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1979.

Nelson, J. Robert. Human Life : A Biblical Perspective for Bioethics. Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1984.

New Catholic Encyclopedia. Vol. 14. 2nd ed. Detroit: Gale, 2003.

Shults, F. LeRon. “Spirit and Spirituality: Philosophical Trends in Late Modern Pneumatology” Pneuma 30 (2008): 271-287.

Sullivan, Francis Aloysius. Charisms and Charismatic Renewal : A Biblical and Theological Study. Ann Arbor, Mich.: Servant Books, 1982.

Taylor, John V. The Go-between God : The Holy Spirit and the Christian Mission. London: SCM Press, 1974.

Yun, Koo Dong. Baptism in the Holy Spirit : An Ecumenical Theology of Spirit Baptism. Lanham, Md.: University Press of America, 2003.


[1] Yves Congar, The Word and the Spirit, trans. David Smith (London: Geoffrey Chapman, 1986), 94.

[2] Veli-Matti Kärkkäinen, Pneumatology : The Holy Spirit in Ecumenical, International, and Contextual Perspective (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2002), 150.

[3] Kärkkäinen, 150.

[4] The Eastern concept of divine energies might be understood to connote that energy belonging to creation which is described by physical law as having equivalence to mass.  The word evne,rgeia, however, does not refer to energy in that sense, rather it means “the state or quality of being active, working, operation, action … and always of transcendent beings” (BDAG, evne,rgeia).  Thus divine energies can be understood to refer to God’s quality of being active.  If so, then the Eastern view is not far from the West’s.

[5] Ralph Del Colle, “The Experience of the Divine” in Chicago Studies 31, no. 3 (1992), 291.

[6] Del Colle, “The Experience of the Divine”, 291.

[7] Del Colle, “The Experience of the Divine”, 294.

[8] Such as, when the meaning of discernment is reduced to “spiritual reception” rather than meaning the act of distinguishing between the sources of what has been “received”.

[9] J. P. Kenny, “Supernatural” in New Catholic Encyclopedia, Vol. 14, 2nd ed. (Detroit: Gale, 2003), 618.

[10] This and the following discussion are drawn from J. P. Kenny, “Supernatural” in New Catholic Encyclopedia, 619.

[11] I wonder how work on string theory and such would be helped (or not) if theoretical physicists included the witness of scripture (e.g. to the existence of angels) in their empirical data.

[12] J. P. Kenny, “Supernatural”, 619.

[13] I am thinking here not of a boundary ‘out there’ at the edge of the universe, but a boundary ‘within’ Nature as its ‘ground’.

[14] J. P. Kenny, “Supernatural”, 621.  Number notation omitted.

[15] T. E. Clarke, “Created Actuation by Uncreated Act” in New Catholic Encyclopedia, Vol. 14, 2nd ed. (Detroit: Gale, 2003), 335.

[16] T. E. Clarke, “Created Actuation by Uncreated Act”, 335.

[17] P. De Letter “Indwelling, Divine” in New Catholic Encyclopedia, Vol. 14, 2nd ed. (Detroit: Gale, 2003), 442.

[18] Here I would qualify “obediential” to be defined in terms of faith versus works – the obedience of faith.

[19] Del Colle, “The Experience of the Divine”, 293.

[20] P. De Letter “Indwelling, Divine”, 442.

[21] Congar, 104.

[22] Congar, 105.

[23] Mark A. McIntosh, Mystical Theology: The Integrity of Spirituality and Theology (Malden, Mass.: Blackwell, 1998), 32.

[24] Robert H. Gundry, Sōma in Biblical Theology: With Emphasis on Pauline Anthropology (Cambridge:  Cambridge University Press, 1976), 69.

[25] Gundry, 69.

[26] Gundry, 154.

[27] Gundry, 201.

[28] John W.  Cooper, Body, Soul & Life Everlasting:  Biblical Anthropology and the Monism-Dualism Debate (Grand Rapids, MI:  Eerdmans, 2000), 163.

[29] Cooper, 164.

[30] In this book Nancey Murphy presents nonreductive physicalism as an option for the nature of the person.  It is summarized as follows: “the person is a physical organism whose complex functioning, both in society and in relation to God, gives rise to ‘higher’ human capacities such as morality and spirituality”  (Nancey Murphy, “Nonreductive Physicalism: Philosophical Issues” in Whatever Happened to the Soul?  Scientific and Theological Portraits of Human Nature, eds. Warren S. Brown, Nancey Murphy and H. Newton Malony.  Minneapolis:  Fortress Press, 1998), 25).  I have favoured Anderson’s view.

[31] Ray Anderson’s view is summarized in Warren Brown’s conclusion of Whatever Happened to the Soul?  “The concept of soul as the embodied capacities and experiences of personal relatedness is central to the theological treatise of Anderson.  The commandments to love God and love our neighbor, essential requirements of the Christian life, indicate the critical role of personal relatedness in Christian spirituality.  To be spiritual is to be in relationship with God who is spirit.  …  God’s image is to be found in the capacity for covenantal relatedness, that is, in the capacity to love God and neighbor.  Sin is therefore that which destroys or disrupts relatedness to God, as well as that which damages our relatedness to others” (Brown, “Conclusion: Reconciling Scientific and Biblical Portraits of Human Nature” in Whatever Happened to the Soul?  Scientific and Theological Portraits of Human Nature, eds. Warren S. Brown, Nancey Murphy and H. Newton Malony (Minneapolis:  Fortress Press, 1998, 226).

[32] Ray S. Anderson, “On Being Human: The Spiritual Saga of a Creaturely Soul” in Whatever Happened to the Soul?  Scientific and Theological Portraits of Human Nature, eds. Warren S. Brown, Nancey Murphy and H. Newton Malony, ( Minneapolis:  Fortress Press, 1998), 183.

[33] J. Robert Nelson, Human Life : A Biblical Perspective for Bioethic. (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1984), 89.

[34] Nelson, 94.

[35] Nelson, 97.

[36] Nelson, 97.

[37] Nelson, 98.

[38] Nelson, 98.

[39] Nelson, 105.

[40] Nelson, 108.

[41] Gary D. Badcock, Light of Truth and Fire of Love: A Theology of the Holy Spirit (Grand Rapids, Mich.: W.B. Eerdmans, 1997), 127.

[42] C. F. D. Moule, The Holy Spirit, 1st American ed. (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1979), 8.

[43] Moule, 9.

[44] John V. Taylor, The Go-between God: The Holy Spirit and the Christian Mission (London: SCM Press, 1974), 7.

[45] Taylor, 8.

[46] Kärkkäinen, 28.

[47] Badcock, 129.

[48] Kärkkäinen, 154.

[49] Del Colle, “The Experience of the Divine”, 297.

[50] J. P. Kenny, “Supernatural”, 620.

[51] De La Taille’s concept ‘Created Actuation by Uncreated Act’ may be applied to the divine indwelling:  “The principal application [of Created Actuation by Uncreated Act] is to the hypostatic union.  …  Application is had also in the divine indwelling. The Triune God (or the Holy Spirit) indwelling is the uncreated act actuating the essence of the soul in the state of GRACE. The created actuation that is the term of this self-communication is sanctifying grace.”  T. E. Clarke, “Created Actuation by Uncreated Act” in New Catholic Encyclopedia, 335.

[52] P. De Letter “Indwelling, Divine”, 442.

[53] J. P. Kenny, “Supernatural”, 620.

[54] Taylor, 17.

[55] Kärkkäinen, 47.

[56] Del Colle, “The Experience of the Divine”, 298.

[57] F. LeRon Shults, “Spirit and Spirituality: Philosophical Trends in Late Modern Pneumatology” in Pneuma 30 (2008), 280.

[58] Shults, 281.

[59] Shults, 283.

[60] Congar, 123.

[61] Shults, 279.

[62] This offer is free to us, infinitely costly to God.  We are justified by His blood (Rm 3:24-5; 5:9; Eph 1:7).

[63] Badcock, 127.

[64] M. J. Dorenkemper “Person (in Theology)” in New Catholic Encyclopedia, Vol. 14, 2nd ed. (Detroit: Gale, 2003), 150.

[65] M. J. Dorenkemper “Person (in Theology)”, 150.

[66] The incarnation of the divine Son is revelatory of the Trinity and also of anthropology.  Jesus Christ is true God and true human in one person, thus any work in theological anthropology is inextricably obliged to be consistent with Christology.  However, there is need first of a pneumatological Christology to which a Christological anthropology may be made consistent and analogous.

[67] M. J. Dorenkemper “Person (in Theology)”, 150.

[68] Kärkkäinen, 48.

[69] McIntosh, Mark A.  Christology From Within: Spirituality and the Incarnation in Hans Urs von Balthasar (Notre Dame, Indiana: University of Notre Dame Press, 2000), 125.

[70] McIntosh, Christology, 125.

[71] Shults, 283.

[72] McIntosh, Mystical Theology, 156.

[73] McIntosh, Mystical Theology, 157.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s