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Evangelical piety includes phrases such as “She is filled with the Spirit” and “the Holy Spirit lives within me.” The language is puzzling, however. For what does it mean for the infinite immaterial Spirit to indwell finite, fleshy persons?
For traditionally minded Christians, there is yet another challenge. The claim that the Spirit indwells the faithful suggests that the Spirit is somehow distinctly present to these individuals. Yet the great Christian tradition has widely affirmed the principle that omnia opera trinitatis ad extra sunt indivisa, which is in effect to say that there is no division between the works of the divine persons within creation. According to this principle, it is not as if the Father does one thing, the Son does another, and the Spirit performs some third action, each of which makes a unique contribution to the unfolding of God’s plan of salvation. No, the acts of the Father, Son, and Spirit are numerically one, or identical. At the same time, the divine persons are not numerically identical to each other; that would be Unitarianism. Furthermore, the Father, Son, and Spirit do have distinct missions or roles to play within the divine economy of salvation. Given these distinct missions, therefore, it makes good theological sense to single out the Spirit as the one who specially indwells members of the Church, provided that Scripture and Tradition furnishes sufficient grounds for such an attribution to the Spirit. Holding all of these pieces together certainly is not for the faint of heart!
This is the challenging topic that Adonis Vidu addressed at Fuller Theological Seminary. Drawing from the Augustinian-Thomistic tradition, Vidu argued that there is a special sense in which the Holy Spirit inhabits Christians through love, in particular love for God. On the assumption that the ad extra operations or actions of the divine persons are indivisible, Vidu contended that the love for God produced within the human soul is the common production of all three persons, yet this production of love disposes us specifically to receive one of the persons, the Holy Spirit. In other words, the love that is produced within the human soul by the Triune God disposes the human to enjoy God, particularly God-as-Spirit.
Presupposed here is the ancient idea that the Spirit is related to divine love is some unique way. Those within this tradition sometimes say that the Spirit proceeds from the love between the Father and Son, while others say that the Spirit just is the love between the Father and Son. Whatever the case, the point is that the Spirit is somehow especially related to God’s love, and thus the Triune God’s production of love for God within the human soul bears a unique relationship to God the Spirit.
So, what might it mean for the Spirit to indwell humans? I understand Vidu’s answer to be basically this: God indwells the human in the sense that the Triune God kindles love for God within the human soul, and this love bears a peculiar likeness to the Spirit, a likeness that somehow picks out the Spirit and distinguishes the Spirit from the Father and Son.
For my part, I think we need a richer, deeper account of the Spirit’s indwelling than that which is suggested by Vidu. The account I like can be found in the work of the late Episcopalian philosopher, William Alston. In his essay, “The Indwelling of the Holy Spirit,” Alston offers an account of the Spirit’s indwelling in terms of a kind of literal participation within the Spirit’s life, where the barriers that normally separate one life from another are broken down. I cannot plot the details of Alston’s account at present, but to be all too brief, Alston envisions ways in which the Spirit’s love, joy, peace, patience, gentleness, and so on are fed into humans—not copies of these psychological states, but the actual states. For Alston, believers quite literally share in the Spirit’s lived experience!
The view might initially sound a bit crazy. Yet I would argue that good sense can be made of Alston’s view, and, furthermore, that Alston’s view is just a fancy way of understanding the ancient doctrine of deification. Notice, also, that it may be that Alston’s view is compatible with the principle, omnia opera trinitatis ad extra sunt indivisa. For there appears to be no contradiction between the idea that all of God’s actions within creation are the effort of all three divine persons and the notion that the Spirit’s unique mental states can be shared with humans. The second of these ideas might be incompatible with the teaching that the Father, Son, and Spirit share the numerically same mind, but that constraint was not discussed by Vidu. In any case, Alston’s view provides a rich account of the Spirit’s indwelling that does not violate the key principle that guided Vidu’s talk. I, for one, would like to see Vidu engage Alston at his next talk at Fuller, which, I hope, will be in the near future.