Gocha Kuchukhidze # 4
John Chrysostom on the Holy Spirit
Abstract: According to John the Chrisestum, the disciples of Christ had already received the Holy Spirit from the resurrected Son of God; however, according to the same author (Chrisestum), from the Son the disciples had received the power to forgive, to absolve, while from the Father they received the power to resurrect from death, to cure, and perform similar wonders.
Breathing on the Holy Spirit and descending it from Father are different concepts. They are rendered by a single term (procession).There would be no confusion if we understood the implied meanings of the term.
Key words: the Holy Spirit, Jonn Chrisestom
As narrated in the Gospels the Spirit of God is descended from the Father to the Son. He is descending as a dove and it all happens at Jesus’ Baptism in the Jordan: “No sooner had Jesus been baptized and come out of the water than the heavens were opened and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove to alight on him. And there came a voice from the heaven saying, ‘This is my beloved Son, in whom I take delight” (Mathew 3:16-17); “…heaven opened and the Holy Spirit descended on him in bodily form like a dove, and there came a voice from heaven, ‘You are my beloved Son; in you I delight” (Luke 3:22). Just at this time we first see the appearance of the Holy Trinity, i.e., one God existing in three Persons.
According to the teachings of the Scripture, the Holy Spirit descending from the Father to the Son pours out in a very clear light upon the Son; the Son, the Good Shepherd, is enveloped with the Holy Spirit and this clear light is pouring on the believer, when he stands before the icon. The spiritual light is pouring out not only from God the Son, but from all the saints. And a believer feels the rays descending from the celestial heights from each man lifted up in spirit as a result of the communion with God the Son, likening to Him, keeping His commandments. This light fills up the believer. He starts to feel divine spirituality, the breath of blessed inhabitants of Heaven. God the Son tells his disciples: “Peace be with you! As the Father sent me, so I send you” (John: 20:21). Then, according to the account of John the Evangelist, Jesus “... breathed on them saying, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit! If you forgive anyone’s sins, they are forgiven, unforgiven they remain” (John: 20:22).
Thus, from the text of the New Testament it follows that the breathing of the Holy Spirit proceeds from God the Son. It makes possible for true believers to perceive the heavenly breath, feel the breath of eternal life. The transitory, earthly aspirations are receding, and a man feels the breath of the celestial universe. Hence, the Holy Spirit is descended from God the Father but from the God the Son the Holy Spirit is breathed on people.
God the Son gives an opportunity to a purified man to experience the heavenly breath, feel the spirit of heavenly life after which the believer is ready to partake of the Holy Spirit when it will come down from the Father… When the Holy Spirit comes upon him in the same way as He descended upon the Apostles on the day of Pentecost (see: Acts. 2, 1-5), then a man can perceive himself the child of the Father, feel the immortality and celestial bliss.
On the fiftieth day after the Resurrection the Holy Spirit came down from the Father made the disciples feel that they were the children of God. Before that they only knew about it, but now they clearly experienced it ... felt the immortality and bliss ... And to those who observe the Lent, tending to the spiritual uplift, and will be able to rise, the Holy Spirit from the Son will also blow after the Resurrection, and the Holy Spirit will come down from the Father to the most purified one on the fiftieth day after the Resurrection.
What do we have? It appears that God the Son just prepares the believers to take the Holy Spirit, but a man takes Him from the Father?
This issue was given considerable thought in the times of St. John Chrysostom too. In the “Homilies on the Gospel of John” John Chrysostom gives the above mentioned words from the Gospel (“When he had said this, he breathed on them; and he said to them: Receive the Holy Ghost. Whose sins you shall forgive, they are forgiven them: and whose sins you shall retain, they are retained”) and continues to talk about this episode: “and yet gives them the Spirit? [...] Some say that He gave not the Spirit but rendered them fit to receive It, by breathing on them.” [Chrysostom]. Further Chrysostom notes: “Yet one will not be wrong in asserting that they then also received some spiritual power and grace; not so as to raise the dead, or to work miracles but so as to remit sins. For the gifts of the Spirit are of different kinds; wherefore He added, Whosesoever sins ye remit, they are remitted unto them, showing what kind of power He was giving. But in the other case, after forty days, they received the power of working miracles” [Chrysostom]. Thus, it turns out that the Apostles had already received the Holy Spirit from the risen God the Son and truly “Yet one will not be wrong”, who says that Christ truly “they then also received some spiritual power and grace”... The disciples received the Holy Spirit but not in fullness, if it can be said so.
When the Son breathed the Holy Spirit upon the Apostles, they received the ability to forgive sins, i.e., received a spiritual power and authority to forgive sins to anyone who turns to God and repent one’s sins, but they did not get the strength to raise from the dead ... Only when the Holy Spirit descended on them, they also got the power to raise from the dead, heal the infirm and other miraculous powers ... Hence, the priest has the authority to forgive, he is merciful. If someone spiritually advances even more - then the Holy Spirit will come down on him too (in the same manner as He descended upon the Apostles), and he will get a great power of miracles. Further, St. John Chrysostom points out “unspeakable is the grace of the Spirit and multiform the gift”.
So, according to the commentary of St. John Chrysostom, the Holy Spirit is given to a man from the Son as well as from the Father, i.e. when a breathing of the Holy Spirit from God the Son proceeds, the man receives the divine spirituality giving him an ability to forgive sins ... When the descending of the Holy Spirit from the Father happens then the man is granted the grace of making miracles.
For nearly ten centuries the controversy between the Eastern and Western Churches on the question of whether or not the Holy Spirit proceeds from the Son of God (and not only from God the Father) continues. In the Western Church (Catholicism) the Holy Spirit is described as proceeding from the Father and the Son (which is also known as “double procession”), whereas in the Eastern Orthodox Church the procession is recognised to be inherent exclusively to the Father, and in the Son the Holy Spirit only dwells.
Based on the above considerations of St. Father John Chrysostom, we suppose that the reason for disagreement may well lie in the fact that two different meanings are put into the word-concept “procession”, which in Christian theology represents personal property or an image of personal, hypostatic, existence of God the Holy Spirit. In the East it is said about the Holy Spirit as a life-giving force that makes people the sons of God: “For all who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God. The Spirit you have received is not a spirit of slavery, leading you back into a life of fear, but a Spirit of adoption, enabling us to cry ‘Abba! Father!’ The Spirit of God affirms to our spirit that we are God’s children” (Romans 8:14-16), i.e. comforting force which gives sensation that a man is really an immortal son of the immortal God the Father. And in the West – they also emphasise the moment in the Lord's life, when He breathed the Holy Spirit upon the Apostles. Based on the words of the Gospel – “he breathed on them; and he said to them: Receive the Holy Spirit” – they consider that the Holy Spirit also proceeds “from the Son” ... Perhaps this difference would be eliminated by clarifying what exactly is implied under the word “procession” because in the East it has one meaning while in the West - (together with it) there is different meaning. In this case, it is necessary to use two different terms (instead of a single word). It should be said that upon a man from the Father occurs the descending of the Holy Spirit – the life-giving force, healing the infirm, making alive the dead. And from the Son a breathing of the Holy Spirit upon people proceeds, granting the grace to forgive.
Thus, at first a man should receive from God the Son the grace to forgive. Only then the infinite (with one’s whole being) love to Christ and the attainment of spiritual uplift turn him into a true son of God, will make it possible to feel oneself the beloved child of His, will give the power to make alive, i.e., partake of the Holy Spirit from God the Father.
Shortly before the Crucifixion, the Lord told the people: “If I do not go, the advocate will not come, whereas if I go, I will send him to you” (John 16:7)... “However, when the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth” (John 16:13)... “He will glorify me for he will take what is mine and make it known to you” (John 16:14)... On this basis, according to Christian theology, a man must strive excessively to Christ; immensely love Him - ascended into heaven after Resurrection. The man should wish to see Him, and then the Paraclete - the Holy Spirit will come to him. And Jesus will come to a man; as the Holy Spirit will speak the words of the Son, the Spirit proclaiming the truth will bring the consolation. He will give a man clear and lively feeling that man is immortal, partakes him to the essence of love ... Each believer and aspiring to God can repeat what happened to the Apostles. A man must believe that Christ is risen indeed and that mankind has started a new life. He must feel the breath of a new life; he must be covered with heavenly breath. And then, when he wishes to see Christ very much, this life-giving force will come down on him from the Father (as He descended upon the Apostles in the form of fiery tongues of flame, and as He descended like a dove on Christ Himself).
In the “Acts of the Apostles” it is said that before the descent of the Holy Spirit from the Father on the Apostles “suddenly there came a sound from heaven, as of a mighty wind coming, and it filled the whole house where they were sitting” (Acts : 2, 2). It is obvious that the focus on wind is not accidental. Apparently, before the descent of the Holy Spirit from the Father a breathing of the Holy Spirit from the Son proceeds again - the process that began during the blow of the Holy Spirit from Christ to the Apostles continues cosmically... At this time the Apostles feel the breath of heavenly life more clearly ... The Holy Spirit is descending like tongues of flame, the disciples feel themselves to be the immortal children of God, clearly experience the eternity, Father's light, feel that after more spiritual rise all their essence will be transformed, that spiritual elevation will transform, “spiritualize” the mortal part of their essence – the one which is called the physical body.
When analyzing the composition and symbols mentioned in the first chapter of the “Martyrdom of St. Abo Tbileli”, we have tried to prove that these symbols represent distinct stages (steps) on the path of spiritual uplift [Kuchukhidze: 1998]. Particularly, we have indicated that these steps bringing back to the eternity, to Heaven, to the Father, are first of all presented in the Gospel itself [Kuchukhidze 2006; Kuchukhidze 2009]. It is shown how the disciples are rising to that spiritual level at which they are granted the ability to “herd” people - the ability of a Shepherd [3.112]. This happens after the Resurrection of the Lord - when he says to Peter: three times: “Feed my lambs” (John: 21,15), “Tend my sheep” (John: 21,16), “Feed my sheep” (John: 21.17). Thus, the disciples after blowing the Holy Spirit from the Christ the Saviour become the “Shepherds”. At this time, if we follow John Chrysostom, they are given the ability to forgive sins who truly repents - the great, sublime ability. Further, with the power of love to Christ – they rise in the faith even more, becoming more sophisticated “shepherds”, and get the ability to heal the infirm patients, rise from the dead and work miracles ... After this, they have to walk all over the world as the Messengers of Christ the Saviour, turning to Him the souls of many, and many ... They are rising more and more spiritually.
Thus, consideration of the Gospel and Homilies of John Chrysostom, prove that the breath of the Holy Spirit and the descent of the Holy Spirit are different phenomena. Nevertheless, both these phenomena are usually termed as – “procession”. Unless it is not specified more exactly which of the above-mentioned phenomena it concerns in this or that case of the “procession” and unless two different terms (breathing, descent) are used, the ground for controversy will be maintained.
The division of the Christian Church is considered to be a negative phenomenon by the Apostle Peter (see: I Cor. 1:10-13). Hence, if the division is caused by mutual misunderstanding, then, naturally, there is a need to clarify its reasons. However, the achievement of the unity through artificial eclecticism (unsystematic collection of totally different thoughts), or compulsion to one point of view, seems to be not only unreasonabled, but more than incorrect.
The considerations given in this paper except the Gospel, mostly concerned the statements of St. John Chrysostom, outlined in the “Homilies on the Gospel of St. John”. We believe that the in-depth study of works of the great philosopher and theologian can clarify both this and many other issues.
Chrysostom: John Chrysostom, Homilies on the Gospel of John; http://www.newadvent.org/fathers/2401.htm ;
Kuchukhidze 1998: Gocha Kuchukhidze, The Rise of Abo Tbileli. J.Religion, 1998 № 11-12 (in Georgian);
Kuchukhidze 2006: G. Kuchukhidze, The Names of the Lord in "The Martyrdom of St. Abo Tbileli - Scientific Papers, Series Philology, XII, St. Petersburg State University, Tbilisi State University, St. Petersburg, Tbilisi, 2006 (in Russian);
Kuchukhidze 2009: G. Kuchukhidze, The Gospel According to St.John and Divine Names of St. Abo (VIII c.); Acta humanitica universitatis Sauliensis, I, 2009; (http://www.su.lt/bylos/mokslo_leidiniai/acta/2009_8/kucxibze. pdf) (in Russian).
 All quotations from the Gospel are done according to The Revised English Bible. Oxford University Press, 1989
Volume 4, Issue 2