Essay: François-Xavier Durrwell

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François-Xavier Durrwell was a 20th century theologian who sought to bring together the disciplines of biblical studies and systematic theology. His work was groundbreaking and blended Scriptural studies, Patristic sources, and the work of 20th century theologians. In his studies he noticed that very few theologians were discussing the theological significance of the Resurrection, an event that he saw as central to the theology of the Incarnation and salvation: “The Paschal Mystery of Christ is the key to the theological cathedral.”1 He also concluded that integrally connected with this mystery was the Person of the Holy Spirit. The fruit of his contemplation on the Spirit is seen in his book Holy Spirit of God: An Essay in Biblical Theology. He noticed that the Holy Spirit was not being written about much by theologians, and “[h]owever strange it may seem, the Spirit has been virtually absent from theology over the last few centuries.”2 Durrwell contemplates the Spirit in the economy of the Trinity (the Trinity as revealed by Its works) and the Spirit in the life of the Godhead and the relations of the Persons of the Trinity to one another (the Trinity as it Is in Itself, the “theology” of the Trinity), and finally, gave a lot of insight on the Virgin Mary as being an “icon” of the Holy Spirit.

I. Inexpressible yet Intimate

In the Holy Spirit of God, Durrwell points out that Jesus spoke to His disciples of the Holy Spirit, and so we are able to speak of the Spirit, too. In the foreword to The Spirit of the Father and of the Son are listed are some of the many Scriptural texts speaking of the Holy Spirit:

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[The mystery of the Spirit filling the world] is above all the mystery of Jesus which is filled with the Spirit. Born of God by the Holy Spirit, offered to him, ‘through the eternal Spirit’ (Heb 9:14), Jesus was raised up by the Spirit of the Father through his almighty power (Rom 8:11). The Church was born and never ceases to be born of the waters of the Spirit (Jn 3:5) which flow from the side of Christ (Jn 7:37-39). Those who believe in him are transformed from glory into glory by the Spirit that shines on the face of Christ (2 Cor 3:18): one day the will be raised a spiritual body (1 Cor 15:44) by the power of the same Spirit (Rom 8:11).3

The coming of Jesus Christ Himself is the Trinity’s ultimate act of revelation to humanity: “In many and various ways God spoke of old to our fathers by the prophets; but in these last days he has spoken to us by a Son, whom he appointed the heir of all things, through whom also he created the world. He reflects the glory of God and bears the very stamp of his nature, upholding the universe by his word of power” (Heb 1:1-3a). The Holy Spirit is so central when speaking of the Incarnation — indeed, of the Paschal Mystery — because the Incarnate Second Person of the Trinity was filled with that Spirit. Jesus revealed to us many things about this Spirit that dwelt in Him — the same Spirit that is freely given to all of us who are His followers (Jn 7:39; 14:17). It necessary to speak of and discuss the Holy Spirit, for “[i]n the architecture of the Trinity it is the central pillar, the all-encompassing mystery.”4

At the same time, however, we need to be on guard when contemplating and theologizing about the Spirit: “no one will ever be able to understand him as he is in himself and to express him … He is inexpressible, not only by reason of his boundless perfection … He is the ‘unspoken’ one, by nature inexpressible, because he is the Spirit … The Spirit is divine revelation, the one who inspires the Scriptures, the agent of every manifestation of God, but he is not the One revealed.”5 The Holy Spirit is the instrument of the transmission of Divine Revelation — He is the transmitter — but He is not the transmission, He is not the Word made

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flesh (Jn 1:14). The Godhead consists of three distinct Persons. The Son is the ultimate self- revelation of God, and the Spirit is a mystery that we can spend our lives pluming as Durrwell did. Yet he “with joy answered this appeal [to write about the Spirit];”6 for “[t]hough inexpressible, the Spirit, is not, however, the Unknown God, as he has been called.”7 The Spirit is known through His dwelling with Christ and manifestation in the Incarnation; and is also “recognized by his fruits (cf. Gal 5:22).”8

II. The Spirit of God

Durrwell looks at the Holy Spirit through His “fruits,” or workings and explores the role of the Spirit in the “economy” — or “oikonomia” — of salvation. This “oikonomia” can be defined as “the works by which God reveals himself and communicates himself.”9 Durrwell also looks at the Spirit as He is within eternal procession of the Three Persons. This is referred to as the “theologia” (“theology”) of the Trinity, “the mystery of God’s inmost life within the Blessed Trinity, the mystery of the three persons in the transcendent reality of their divine being.”10 Durrwell heavily draws from Scripture in his investigation of the Third Person and based on his reading uses functional terms for the Spirit, such as “Spirit of power,” “Spirit of love,” and “Spirit of life.”

Durrwell spends most of Holy Spirit of God discussing the Trinity in terms of Its economy. The Spirit is the One who reveals to us God’s power and glory (Who God is in Himself), and is also the Spirit of love who reveals the God who loves humanity so much that He pours Himself out to us in history in the Incarnation of Christ.

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At the beginning of his treatment of the economy of the Spirit, Durrwell references Saint Paul, who speaks concerning the “power” of the Risen Christ. “May…the Father of glory… enlighten the eyes of your mind, so that you can see…how infinitely great is the power that has been exercised for us believers. You can tell this from the strength of his power at work in Christ, which he used to raise him from the dead” (Eph 1:17-20). He sees God’s power as manifest pre- eminently in the Resurrection, as there is no greater work of God than the salvation of mankind. “One could say that God’s almighty power exhausts itself in the raising of Jesus, that God cannot do anything greater, since ‘the whole fullness’ of deity dwells bodily’ in Christ as a result (Col 2:9): from now on the humble servant (Phil 2:7-8) shares equally in the infinite lordship of the Father (Phil 2:9-11).”11

It is not just a quality of God that is at work in the Resurrection; but it is the Third Person of the Trinity: “The Holy Spirit is, in person, the action of God who raises Christ from the dead: ‘If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead is living in you, then he who raised Jesus from the dead will give life to your mortal bodies through his Spirit living in you’ (Rom 8:11).”12 “The two words, Spirit and power, used together with unfailing fidelity, recur throughout the Bible.”13 We see these two words linked together already in the Old Testament: “according to the Old Testament, the Spirit is the divine power of creation and life. It is the Spirit that gives the heroes of Israel their strength, that endows its wise men with intellect, that sends out the prophets – ‘men of the Spirit’ (cf. Hos 9:7) – and enables them to preach the good news and work wonders (Is 61:1-2).”14 Durrwell sees the Spirit as “God’s power at work”15 throughout the theology of the Bible. “In Trinitarian language one can conclude that in God the Spirit is the working person. Cyril of Alexandria asserted: ‘The Spirit … is not alien to the divine nature, but as the natural

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and essential and substantial power proceeding from it and remaining in it achieves all the works of God.’”16

The Spirit which raised Jesus from the dead in power is revealed and working for our sake. The Spirit is shown to dwell in Jesus with power and act through His ministry (Mt 12:28; Lk 4:14-18; Mk. 9:1; Lk 11:20; Acts 1:38) and throughout the Church’s (1 Th 1:5; 1 Cor 2:4; Rom 15:19; 2 Cor 12:12; Gal 3:2-5), precisely for the purpose of being given to us (Eph 3:16; 1 Cor 12:3; Rom 8), for our salvation as well as to manifest His concern for our earthly lives; to reveal the Father’s love. “Power, all-powerful activity, is a hypostatic characteristic of the Spirit.”17 It is of the Spirit’s nature that He works, and work He does – in the world, in salvation history, and in us – in a powerful way. This power of God that is His by His nature, He so wondrously – in a beautiful, humble condescension – gives to us. The power and strength of God, ironically, manifest His love. The power which God exercises “differs from that excised by human beings. In the work accomplished in Jesus, the truest form of omnipotence is wholly grace, infinite love, mingled with the absolute weakness of Christ’s death.”18

Not only is the Holy Spirit identified as God’s power, but “[i]n the Resurrection power and glory are two very closely related realities which even mingle to become indented with the unique Spirit of God.”19 Just as the Spirit is not a vague force or reality but the very Divine Power of God, neither is glory an abstract reality: “[it] is a very concrete reality. It takes on the appearance of a fire encircling the top of Mount Sinai, or a dense cloud luminous and mysterious; (cf. e.g. Ex 16:10; 24:15-17; Num 9:15; Dt 5:22-24); it is the sign of the presence of the Almighty (cf. Ex 10:34; Num 10:34; 1 Kgs 8:11; Ezek 10:4; 43:2-5; 44:4).”20

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It is not just power that is manifested in and accomplished Christ’s Resurrection, but Durrwell points out that “Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father” (Rom 6:4). The Spirit is the power of God, a power which is also the glory of God; and this glory concretely acts. Through the Spirit, God reveals Himself to us, so that we can see and experience the goodness of the life found in the Tri-Personal God: “[g]lory is the great manifestation of God’s majesty: ‘In the morning you shall see the glory of the Lord’ (Ex 16:7). It is the shining brightness of the mystery of God.”21 Durrwell references Saint Gregory of Nyssa: “No one of those who examine the question would be able to contradict that the Holy Spirit is called the glory if he or she considers the words of the Lord: ‘The glory which thou hast given me I have given to them’ (Jn 17:22). In effect he gave them this glory when he said to them: ‘Receive the Holy Spirit’” (Hom in Cant 15, PG 44:1117).22 However, we must be careful to note that “the Spirit is neither he who glorifies nor he who is raised up … [T]he Spirit is the all-powerful action in which the work [of salvation] is accomplished.”23

God is theological and economic — He reveals Who He is by what He does; He is transcendent and immanent. “God’s works reveal who he is in himself; the mystery of his inmost being enlightens our understanding of all his works. So it is, analogously, among human persons. A person discloses himself in his actions, and the better we know a person, the better we understand his actions.”24 God reveals Himself to us as the “Spirit of Life” and the “Spirit of Love” — through creation and through His love for humanity.

The Holy Spirit serves as an expression of God’s power and glory (God in His transcendence); however, “[t]he Spirit of power, glory and holiness is presented in his truest, most mysterious light when he appears as the fullness of communion, transcendent charity.”25

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We find in only one passage of Scripture an identification of the Spirit with love: “This hope is not deceptive, because the love of God has been poured into our hearts by the Holy Spirit which has been given to us” (Rom 5:5). “Perhaps there is a certain reticence about speaking of love because there is divine discretion with reference to revelation of the depths of its mystery.”26 We can never exhaustively grasp the totality of His essence and of the depth of His love for us. There is so much love generously given.

Some translations read: “love of God poured out” (ASV, HCSB, NABRE, RSVCE). “Now in biblical language it is the gift of the Spirit which is expressed by the image of effusion.”27 This power of love given by the Spirit is one that is fruitful – love’s nature is to be fruitful and give of itself, to be poured out and given; the Spirit that works in our lives is effectual and fruitful.28 “Thanks to this love poured into his or her heart, the hope of the believer will not be disappointed on the day of the Lord. It is the presence of the Spirit which assures the believer of his or her final salvation, of which the Spirit now present constitutes the earnest, the first fruits of the fulness to come.”29 Durrwell links the gift of this Spirit of love to the Paschal Mystery and the love which Christ generously showed on the Cross: “The Spirit does not only produce fruits of charity, he is himself the fruit which God’s sacrificial love bestows on man. It rips on the tree of the cross: ‘He gave up the spirit (Spirit)’, ‘fountains of living water flow from his pierced side (cf. Jn 19:30, 34; 7:37-39).”30 The Spirit is identified as being the very fruitfulness of the love of God, which cannot help but to pour itself out for us and to us. Durrwell points that “[i]n the Church’s liturgy and theology he is called ‘gift of the Most High,’”31 such as in the hymn Veni Creator Spiritus, where He is referred to as ‘Donum Dei Altissimi.’

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Once again we think of the contrast between the way in which power is often wielded by humans – which often brings about death and destruction — and the Power of God, which is fruitful and life-giving love. “Omnipotent, it is creative, it destroys death. When, at Easter, God invests Christ with the fullness of the Spirit, he awakens to life without end, in an eternal birth (cf. Acts 13:33).”32 We see the Spirit present at creation, as the Ruah, or breath of God, hovering over the formlessness and bringing life.33 From the very beginning of Scripture, the Spirit as fruitful and life-giving. We proclaim in the Creed that He is “Dominum et Vivificantem” (“the Lord, the giver of life”) — He vivifies us, just as when God breathed into Adam’s nostrils the breath of life (Gen 2:7). “The act of creation is already a Pentecost, a first and permanent outpouring of the Spirit of life. Because the Spirit is creation and life, his promise forms part of the messianic hope.”34 Through the Spirit, we have the hope of sharing in the eternal life that is the very life of the Three Persons of the Trinity.

III. The Spirit of Christ

One important role that Durrwell sees the Holy Spirit fulfilling in salvation history is the Resurrection:

There is in the world and in its history a very special moment and place: Christ and his passover when the Spirit breaks into this world just as he is in himself; when he acts according to his eternal mystery. In this place and at this moment holiness shines out in all its brightness, power is exercised, glory is manifested, love is declared, life is triumphant. Here the sum total of the divine attributes is displayed (cf. Ph 2:9-11).35

Saint Paul identifies the risen and gloried Christ “by the name proper to the Spirit: ‘The Lord (Jesus) is the Spirit’ (2 Cor 3:17), he ‘has become a life-giving Spirit’ (1 Cor 15:45).”36 In John’s Gospel, we see Jesus, the Eternal Logos – Word – of God, saying regarding His words: “It is the

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spirit that gives life, the flesh is of no avail; the words that I have spoken to you are spirit and life” (John 6:63). The Second Person of the Trinity, Who has possessed the glory of the Godhead from all eternity, speaks life into our flesh – for, “[t]he spirit of God has made me, and the breath of the Almighty gives me life” (Job 33:4). “By [his] words the Apostle [Paul] intends to make it clear that the Christ of glory is the living and life-giving realist of history. Compared with him, the Old Testament with its law and institutions is only a dead letter, a lifeless document, if it is separated from its profound reality, which is Christ.”37 Using “Spirit” to refer to two distinct Persons of the Godhead can seem confusing, but it “reveals an essential aspect of the mystery of Christ and of the Spirit. Their nature unites them … If it is possible to define God by calling him the father of Jesus Christ, the one ‘who raised Jesus from the dead’ (Rom 8:11), the Spirit can similarly be characterized as the Spirit of the Son, the one through whom God raised Christ Jesus from the dead.”38

The other major responsibility that Durrwell sees the Holy Spirit fulfilling in salvation history is the anointing of Christ as Messiah. “The Old Testament had an intuition that the Messiah would be invested with the Spirit. The Holy Spirit had been withdrawn from King Saul and had passed from him to come down upon David; but he would rest on the branch from the stock of Jesse: his presence was to be definitive.”39 We see the presence and working of the Spirit in Jesus’ earthly life as early as His conception: “‘The Holy Spirit will come upon you [Mary], and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be called holy, the Son of God” (Lk 1:35). “God gives him the Spirit without reserve” (Jn 3:34).

At a deeper level, this function [of the Spirit as the Messianic anointing] characterizes the person of Jesus: it is the mark of his divine sonship … Risen again in the Spirit, Jesus

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entered the full exercise of his function (cf. Acts 2:36). In the eyes of his disciples, the presence of the Spirit is the expression of the messiahship of Jesus.40

The role of the Holy Spirit in the life of the Messiah was not intended to end after Jesus resurrected and ascended to heaven: “[t]he Spirit thus brings sacred history to its final end, his presence is the messianic consecration of Jesus which inaugurates the Kingdom of God.”41 The Spirit of God, the “Gift of the Most Most High God,” dwells with Jesus throughout His life so as to accomplish our salvation in the Paschal Mystery; and in turn He pours forth the Spirit in abundance on us as the life-giving fruit of His Passion and Resurrection. “Sent in the power of the Spirit, Christ brings to the world the gift of the Spirit. He does not rise again in the Spirit for himself alone, the outpouring of Easter is intended for the many: ‘For us he died and was raised to life’ (cf. 2 Cor 5:15). In the superabundance of the Spirit, he is the source of the Spirit.”42 Jesus’ Incarnation, His handing of Himself over to death, to the accomplishment of the Paschal Mystery, was all done so “that [we] may have life, and have it abundantly” (Jn 10:10). When Jesus gives His life for us, He also gives His very self; “Take, eat; this is my body” (Mt 26:26) He told His disciples as He anticipated His sacrifice on the Cross the following day. This life which Jesus possesses to the full and gives to us is the Divine Life of Trinity; and it as we have said, the Spirit is “the Lord, the giver of life.” “Between Jesus and the Spirit the unity is indestructible; the Spirit is spread abroad when Jesus shares himself, when the faithful are taken up into him, in one body, submissive to the power of the Spirit who raises up Christ.”43

It was through Jesus’ death and Resurrection that the life of the Spirit was poured forth over all mankind and we were reconciled with God – brought back into the very life of the Trinity, which humanity had forfeited with its first sin at the very beginning of salvation history.

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But as we saw, even before the earth was formed, the life-giving Spirit was hovering over the formlessness and bringing life. We see clearly the Spirit given in connection with and as an effect of the Paschal Mystery: “The sending of the Spirit forms part of the paschal mystery: Jesus died to give us the Holy Spirit … The place whence he flows is the Body of Jesus: a tempestuous fountain will pour out from his side once Christ wholly inhabits his Father.”44 Christ gives His departure as a prerequisite for the sending of the Holy Spirit: “Unless I go, the Advocate will not come to you; but if I go, I will send him to you” (Jn 16:7). Durrwell sees in the flow of blood and water a beautiful Spiritual meaning: “blood and water symbolize the pierced Christ and the Spirit who flows from his side. Blood is named first, for, before the fountain, we have the earth whence it flows, we have the wound from which the water pours out; before the gift of the Spirit, who have Christ who mediates him.”45

The Holy Spirit which Christ gives to us flows and comes forth from His wounded side – our God brings life from death. Christ had to die and accomplish the Paschal Mystery so that we could receive the Spirit. The Spirit gifted to us from the side of the sleeping New Adam is powerful and not only gives life but is life. Through the Spirit we are assured of Christ’s victory over sin and death: “For we know that Christ being raised from the dead will never die again; death no longer has dominion over him” (Rom 6:9).

The Spirit was poured out in grace through Christ’s death and Resurrection. When Jesus appeared after His Resurrection, He showed the wound in His side (cf. Jn 20:20f.). We find the fulfillment these words: “‘Rivers of living water will flow from his side’. In all ages the Church contemplates this Christ and takes up the testimony of the gospel by singing in her liturgy: ‘Vidi aquam … I saw water flowing from the Temple, on the right side, and all those who were

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touched by this water were saved.’”46 The Vidi aquam is the chant that, during Eastertide, replaces the Asperges me (“You shall sprinkle me, O Lord”) during the the traditional sprinkling rite preceding Sunday Mass, and the line “I saw water flowing from the Temple” is from Ezekiel 47, which describes a life-giving stream flowing from the Temple. Even in His resurrected and glorified body, Christ our Risen High Priest (cf. Heb 2:17) forever bears in the Beatific Vision the wounds He obtained during His Paschal sacrifice, the wounds of a profoundly fruitful and life-giving love.

Durrwell concludes his consideration of the “source of the Spirit” with a thought about the centrality of the Spirit in the work of bringing about our unity with God: “Because Christ is the image of the invisible God … we can conclude that in God the Spirit too is at the beginning and at the end, divine activity begins and is completed in him … He is at the beginning of Trinitarian movement of which the Father is the principle, he is also the final seal of divine perfection.”47 It is then, the Spirit who brings us into the communion of the Trinity. The Holy Spirit and the fountain of graces flowing from Christ’s wounded heart is the means of our reconciliation – our communion – with God.

III. The Spirit in the Church

“The Christian community was not created after the resurrection of Jesus; the wheat dies not come after the revival of the grain, it is the ‘resurrection’ of the grain itself: Jesus in person and in the fruit born of his death.”48 Durrwell identifies Easter as the birth of the Church. The fruit of the Passover – the Death and Resurrection of Christ, is the Church. The Church is a

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communion of human persons brought together and birthed by the Spirit, ordered to communion between mankind and God.49

The Holy Spirit was present and active in the Church from the very beginning. Jesus came to His apostles and breathed on them the Holy Spirit on “the first day of the week” (Jn 20:21). Jesus breathes divine power into the first leaders of the Church on the same day of the week on which His Paschal victory was made manifest – tying together the Resurrection, the sending of the Holy Spirit, and the birth of the Church. There is an additional significance to the first day of the week: “[a]ccording to the biblical account, creation began at the beginning of a week. The Breath of God hovered over the water; through the action of the Breath, Adam awakened to life. On the first day of the week, Jesus breathes on his disciples.”50 We see the life- giving, or birthing, effect this has on the early Church – once the Spirit descends on the once- frightened disciples, their number by at about three thousand souls (Acts 2:41). The Spirit is the life-force, or “breath,” of the Church, and He renders the Church fruitful. Jesus Christ at the consumption of His Passover, when He breathed forth the Spirit, is the “permanent beginning of the Church.”51

The Church is “the sacrament of the outpouring of the Spirit,”52 “an outward sign of inward grace, instituted by Christ for our sanctification.”53 In a more specific sense, Spirit continues to carry about His life-giving and sanctifying work in the Church by the means of the seven “special rites of sanctification [which are] called sacraments in a more precise sense.”54 The accomplishment of the Paschal Mystery is the source of the outpouring of the fount of graces that is the Holy Spirit, the Church is the place where the Spirit works, and the sacraments

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are the channels through which the graces of Christ’s Death and Resurrection are applied to our souls.55

In the sacrament of Baptism, we see the typification of the life-giving water of the Spirit poured out from Christ’s side. Jesus commands us to be “born of the water and Spirit” (Jn 3:5) as a prerequisite for entry into the Kingdom. “Baptism is the rite of beginning, the water of birth in which God is the father, creator, and savior through the Spirit; it is the ‘bath’ of rebirth and renewal (cf. Tit 3:5).”56 Baptism is the sacrament by which we enter into the fruitful and dynamic life of the Trinity – it is not just a “rite of passage” that we go through. The grace of the sacrament is directed toward an ever deepening union with Christ through the Spirit of unity.

Confirmation is often called “the sacrament of the Spirit;” but that can lead us to forgetting that we have already received the Spirit, the giver of divine life, in Baptism. This sacrament confirms and increases in us the powerful divine activity begun in our souls in Baptism.57 In this sacrament, our communion with the Mystical Body of Christ is deepened and strengthened. We are “sealed with the gift of the Holy Spirit,” as the Rite of Confirmation says.58

The Holy Eucharist is in a primary way the sacrament of the Spirit, because it is the sacrament of the Paschal Mystery, Christ’s Passover.59 Christ tells us that He is the Bread of Life, which we must eat to attain eternal life. In this sacrament we are fed with the Risen Body of Christ which is vivified by the life-giving power of the Holy Spirit. We receive the Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity of Christ and become partakers of the divine life of the Spirit, intimately brought into the life of the Godhead.

V. The Spirit of the Father and the Son

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