Vol I No. 7
From the Quarterly

The Sending of the Holy Ghost: Thomas Aquinas with Commentary

by William J. Martin


Let us look into the…the sending of the Holy Spirit, which is marvelous and unknown to us, because the Holy Spirit is sent without needing to be sent, without change of Himself, without subjection, and without separation.

I say, first, the Holy Spirit is sent without His needing to be sent. When someone is sent to a place so that an event may happen which could not happen unless he were sent, this would be a sending out of necessity. But this has no place in the sending of the Holy Spirit, whom the Book of Wisdom describes as having every power, beholding all things. (Wis. 7:23).

There is no compulsion, force, or need that presses upon God the Holy Spirit. Otherwise He would not be God. Necessity is contrary to the freedom and liberty that defines God’s nature. Necessity cannot be used in characterizing God’s nature because it implies imperfection, impotence, and ignorance. It implies that God needs to do or to have something more than Himself to be perfect. If it were necessary for the Holy Ghost to be sent, He would be determined by something other than Himself, which is absurd.

What, then, is the reason for the sending of the Holy Spirit? Our neediness; and the necessity of this neediness of ours comes partly from human nature’s dignity, and partly from its deficiency. For the rational creature excels other creatures because it can actually reach the enjoyment of God, which no other earthly creature can do. The Lord is my portion, said my soul (Lam. 3:24). Some seek their portion in this world, such as those who seek worldly honor or dignity. But the Psalmist says: It is good for me to cling to God” (Ps. 72:28)

God the Holy Spirit is sent because of man’s necessity. He is sent because man is made to be dignified. He is made in the Image and Likeness of God and so the Holy Ghost is sent in order to perfect what is wanting in fallen human nature. Because man has disobeyed God, he has fallen and is deficient in that wisdom, power, and love that ensures unbreakable union and communion with God. Man can, potentially, reach the enjoyment of God. He was made to do so through his own created knowledge and love. But most men seek their happiness and joy in things, possessions, riches, treasures, ambition, honor, and the praise of men, and thus they disregard their true potential. The man of God seeks to ‘cling to God’ because his true joy comes from God alone and the unmerited Grace that He offers.

You should consider that all things that are moved to some end must have something moving them toward that end. Those that are moved to a natural end have a mover in nature; but those that are moved to a supernatural end, namely to the enjoyment of God, must have a supernatural mover. Now, nothing can lead us to our end unless two things are presupposed, for someone is led to an end by two things—knowledge and love. The kind of knowledge in question is supernatural: No eye hath seen, nor ear heard, nor hath it arisen in the heart of man, what God hath prepared for those who love Him. (1 Cor. 2:9) Never have they heard, nor perceived with ears, nor has eye seen, O God, without Thee, what Thou hast prepared for those who await Thee. (Is. 64:4)

No creature can move itself to its end. It has not created itself and thus does not possess the adequate knowledge of the cause that enables it to reach its end. Rather, all things are moved by a mover who knows the cause that will lead to the intended end in the perfection of each nature. Those who are moved to natural ends have a natural mover or cause that is greater than themselves. Those who are moved to supernatural ends must have a supernatural cause. Of course the cause of both movers is supernatural and thus God. But to move to his respective end, man needs to be moved by supernatural knowledge and love. Man is made for God and thus God’s knowledge alone can lead man to an end, which he cannot imagine, and thus cannot fully deserve or desire.

Now, whatever a man knows, he knows either by discovering it himself or by learning from another. Vision serves discovery and hearing serves learning, and for this reason it is said that eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, showing that it [the final end] altogether transcends human knowledge. It exceeds human desire, too, and that is why Scripture says: nor hath it arisen in the heart of man.

Man’s final end transcends his experience and thus is not yet the object of his vision and understanding. Because he does not know the nature and essence of his end, man cannot desire or love it completely. God alone knows and comprehends man’s end. To be sure, here we are not saying that man cannot come to the knowledge of God’s existence, as what is radically other than what is found in creation. Man can come to know that God exists, and can even to some extent imitate the God he does know. But here we speak of man’s end with God or man’s ultimate union and communion with the God he knows.

How, then, is man led to know it? It was necessary for heavenly secrets to be made known to men; it was necessary for the Holy Spirit to be invisibly sent, in order to move man’s affections so that he may tend toward that end. And thus it says: Eye hath not seen. How, then, do we know? God hath revealed it to us through His Spirit. For the Spirit examineth all things, even the deep things of God. (1 Cor. 2:10). Who would be able to know Thy thought [sensum], unless Thou gavest wisdom and sent the Holy Spirit from the Most High? (Wis. 9:17) Therefore the Holy Spirit is sent not owing to any need of His, but for the sake of our benefit.

So the Holy Spirit comes to redeem and sanctify man’s limited reason and vision, and desire and love. The Holy Spirit has come to the priests, prophets, and kings of the Old Testament in order to illuminate their minds to the coming of the Saviour. The Holy Spirit comes to those men of faith who desire final and unbreakable union with God. The Holy Spirit comes to bless and sanctify the earthy mission of God’s Logos as Flesh, Jesus Christ. The Holy Spirit comes to incorporate the Apostles and others in the new Body of Christ, which He forms and molds out of God’s Word and the flesh of those who believe. The Holy Spirit then generates faith, hope, and love in the hearts and minds of the faithful. He comes out of love and compassion to meet a need that man cannot generate without this Grace.

Again, the sending takes place without any change in Himself. There is change when a messenger is sent from place to place, but the Holy Spirit is sent without any change of place because He is the true God, unchangeable. While remaining in Himself, He renews all things. (Wis. 7:27) How, then, is He sent? He draws us to Himself, and in that way He is said to be sent, as the sun is said to be sent to someone when he comes to share in the sun’s brightness. So it is with the Holy Spirit, and for this reason Scripture says about uncreated Wisdom: Send her from the heavens and from the seat of Thy greatness, that she may be with me. (Wis. 9:10) Again: He hath sent His own Spirit, crying out Abba, Father. (Gal. 4:5). These sendings are diffused throughout all the nations (Wis. 7:27) and are carried into holy souls. When the fullness of time had come, the Son of God was sent in the flesh (Gal. 4:4), and thus it was becoming that the Holy Spirit, too, be visibly sent—but not in such a way that He took up a created nature into the unity of His Person, as the Son did with human nature.

The Holy Spirit comes to man without any change in His Person. He is unchangeable and impassible. He ‘renews all things’ while remaining Himself. He draws man then into His sanctifying activity and motion. He draws man into His life, light, and love. The Holy Spirit is sent just as the Son of God was sent. The Spirit, however, is not sent in the same way that the Word of God or the Son was sent. The Son took up created human nature into His Person and thus was God’s Logos or Wisdom as flesh. The Spirit intends to enable the same Word to be made flesh in the hearts of all believers. In order for men to become the sons and daughters of God, the Holy Spirit must conceive, birth, and grow God’s Word in men’s hearts and souls, that they might become living members of Christ’s Mystical Body. The Holy Spirit enables the Word made flesh in man to cry ‘Abba, Father.’

Again, the Holy Spirit is sent without subjection. Servants are sent by lords because they are subject to them. It was for this reason that certain heretics falsely believed that the Son and the Holy Spirit were lesser than the Father, namely, because they were sent by Him. But the Holy Spirit makes us free, and therefore He is no servant. He is sent by His own judgment, for the Spirit blows where He wills (Jn. 3:8), and He is said to be sent only on account of the Father’s identity as origin. We sometimes find [Scripture saying] that the Holy Spirit is sent by the Father, sometimes by the Son; but the Greeks do violence to this truth [in hoc faciunt uim], for they say that the Holy Spirit proceeds only from the Father, not from the Son, and in saying this they proceed in a simplistic manner [ruditer].Where the Son speaks of the sending of the Holy Spirit, he adjoins the Son to the Father or the Father to the Son, for our Lord speaks in one place of the Comforter, whom the Father will send in my name (Jn. 14:26), and in another place He says: When the Comforter comes, whom I will send to you from the Father (Jn. 15:26). From the Father indicates, therefore, authority of origin.

The Holy Spirit is not compelled to come, for then He would be the slave, servant, or subject of God the Father. There is a tendency towards subordinationism in the thought of the heretics and even in the Eastern Orthodox churches. But Thomas rightly shows that view to be simplistic at best and heretical at worst. The Father and the Son love each other through the Holy Spirit. This same Holy Spirit comes to man in order to incorporate him into the life of the Blessed Trinity. The Holy Spirit brings alive the Word of the Father. Thus the Holy Spirit shares the Father’s original love as His everlastingly expressed Word of love. The Holy Spirit shares the Father’s original wisdom as His everlastingly communicated Word of wisdom. The Holy Spirit intends that we should be reconciled to the Father through the Son, and thus He intends to replicate the Incarnation in the members of Christ’s new Body. ‘Being sent’ for the Holy Spirit is not a movement of compulsion but of desire on the part of the one who is the exchange of desire that the Father and the Son eternally express.

Again, the Holy Spirit is sent without separation, because the Spirit of unity excludes separation. Hence the Apostle urges: Take good care to preserve the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. (Eph. 4:3)The Holy Spirit gathers together [congregat], as we are taught in John’s Gospel [when Jesus prays to the Father]: That they may be one in us, through the unity of the Holy Spirit, as we also are one. (Jn. 17:21-22). This union is begun in the present through grace, and will be consummated in the future through glory, to which may He lead us, who together with the Father.

The Holy Spirit desires to bring us into unity with the Father and the Son. He intends that we should be incorporated into that unity beginning here and now through new life in the Church. The Holy Spirit intends that the wisdom, power, and love that the Father begets in the Son, should be begotten in us. The Holy Spirit intends that the wisdom, power, and love that characterize the Son’s filial responsive love for the Father should be begotten in us also. Thus the Holy Spirit desires that we should submit to the rule and governance of the Father through the wisdom, power, and love of the Son. The union that the Holy Spirit engenders in the redeemed of the Church must be free of all division, separation, censorious judgment, and malice. The union that the Holy Spirit engenders in us must be full of mercy, compassion, pity, forgiveness, long suffering, patience, humility, and meekness. The union that the Holy Spirit engenders in us must be accepted with all gratitude as what God freely gives, without compulsion, without necessity, and without any merit or deserving on our part. The Holy Spirit longs to bring us alive to God through Jesus Christ our Lord so that the love of God and love of neighbor might be perfected in us. Amen.