Wednesday, May 20, 2015

The human spirit and the divine Spirit

The word spirit (πνεύμα) can be explained in various ways, according to the philosophical and theological beliefs one has. Can we apply this word to both the humans and the divine? Can the word Spirit be used for the soul, the spirit of man and the Holy Spirit (Άγιο Πνεύμα)? We tend not to use the same words for the created world and the uncreated one, in order to show a distinction between the two; however, language – which is a created entity – can only go so far. Therefore terms such as Father, Son and Holy Spirit can also be applied to our created life and form. Below, John Meyendorff examines the issue of using the word spirit for both the human and the divine:

‘. . . Interestingly enough, there was never a debate in the East concerning the Pauline use of pneuma and its application to both the human “spirit” and the divine “Spirit”, coming from God. This usage, which embarrasses so many modern theologians because it goes against their presuppositions on “nature” and “grace” as distinct realities, was not a problem at all for Irenaeus, who simply affirms that man is by nature made up of “Spirit, soul, and body,” meaning by that that a divine presence is indeed what makes man truly himself (Adversus haereses V, 6, 1). Whether later theologians adopted a more Neoplatonic language to define the same reality (Gregory of Nyssa, for example, spoke of the “divine spark” in man), or whether they started to distinguish between the human pneuma and the Holy Spirit in order to maintain the original “parenthood” between God and man, they developed the theology of the imago Dei as living communion and always took for granted that man’s nature and ultimate destiny is life “in God,” or deification (theosis).’[1]  

[1] Meyendorff, John, Living Tradition, (Crestwood, St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press, 1978), p. 134.

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