The titles given to the Holy Spirit must surely stir the soul of anyone who hears them, and make him realise that they speak of nothing less than the supreme Being. Is he not called the Spirit of God, the Spirit of truth who proceeds from the Father, the steadfast Spirit, the guiding Spirit? But his principal and most personal title is the Holy Spirit.
To the Spirit all creatures turn in their need for sanctification; all living things seek him according to their ability. His breath empowers each to achieve its own natural end.
The Spirit is the source of holiness, a spiritual light, and he offers his own light to every mind to help it in its search for truth. By nature the Spirit is beyond the reach of our mind, but we can know him by his goodness. The power of the Spirit fills the whole universe, but he gives himself only to those who are worthy, acting in each according to the measure of his faith.
Simple in himself, the Spirit is manifold in his mighty works. The whole of his being is present to each individual; the whole of his being is present everywhere. Though shared in by many, he remains unchanged; his self giving is no loss to himself.
Like the sunshine, which permeates all the atmosphere, spreading over land and sea, and yet is enjoyed by each person as though it were for him alone, so the Spirit pours forth his grace in full measure, sufficient for all, and yet is present as though exclusively to everyone who can receive him. To all creatures that share in him he gives a delight limited only by their own nature, not by his ability to give.
The Spirit raises our hearts to heaven, guides the steps of the weak, and brings to perfection those who are making progress. He enlightens those who have been cleansed from every stain of sin and makes them spiritual by communion with himself.
As clear, transparent substances become very bright when sunlight falls on them and shine with a new radiance, so also souls in whom the Spirit shines become spiritual themselves and a source of grace for others.
From the Spirit comes foreknowledge of the future, understanding of the mysteries of faith, insight into the hidden meaning of Scripture, and other special gifts. Through the Spirit we become citizens of heaven, we enter into eternal happiness, and abide in God. Through the Spirit we acquire a likeness to God; indeed, we attain what is beyond our most sublime aspirations.
This discourse is excerpted from a treatise, On the Holy Spirit (Cap. 9, 22-23: PG 32, 107-110), by Basil of Caesarea around 360 AD.
Top image of an open bible in a landscape setting with image of a hovering Holy Spirit dove added: from ChristianPhotoshops.org, (c) Kevin Carden.
Basil of Caesarea, also known as Basil the Great, was born in Cappadocia (now present day Turkey) in 330 AD. He studied at Constantinople and then at Athens (351-356) where two of his classmates were Gregory of Nazianzus (who became a close friend) and the future Emperor Julian the Apostate. Basil wanted to be a lawyer and orator, but his sister Macrina persuaded him to seek the monastic life instead. After making a tour of the monasteries of Egypt in 357, he founded a monastic settlement near his home where he lived for five years. Basil established guidelines for monastic life which focus on community life, liturgical prayer, and manual labor. Basil expressed a preference for the communal life of the monastery over the solitary life of the hermit, arguing that the Christian life of mutual love and service is communal by its nature. His Rules became the standard for monastic life in the East. Together with Pachomius he is remembered as a father of communal monasticism in Eastern Christianity.
Basil returned to public life at the call of his bishop, Eusebius of Caesarea, to join in the battle against Arianism. He was ordained priest and then succeeded Eusebius as bishop in 370 AD. In addition to his work as a theologian and defender of the faith, Basil was known for his care of the poor and underprivileged. In 367-8, when Cappadocia suffered a severe and widespread famine, Basil sold his family’s extensive land holdings in order to buy food for the starving, persuading many others to follow his example, and putting on an apron to work in the soup kitchen himself. In this crisis, he refused to allow any distinction to be made between Jew and Christian, saying that the digestive systems of the two are indistinguishable. He also built a hospital for the care of the sick, housing for the poor and a training school to learn skilled trades, and a hospice for travellers.