Come Holy Ghost

Posted in Blog, Holy Spirit

The image you see is of a mosaic in a niche in the Baptistery in the beautifully preserved medieval town of Albenga in the region of Liguria, Italy. Remarkably the mosaic is thought to date back to not much more than 400 years after the life of Christ. It depicts an Alpha-Omega within three concentric circles symbolising the Trinity, and surrounded by 12 doves representing the apostles who spread the Christian gospel under the guidance of the Holy Spirit.

At Pip and Jim’s church in Ilfracombe, on Wednesday evenings in July 2022, we reflected on our relationship with the three Persons of the Trinity. As we prepared to turn our thoughts to the Holy Spirit, I was reminded of some startling and thought-provoking words of William Temple. In his Readings in St John’s Gospel (first published in a complete edition in 1945), he commented on those verses in John 16:8-11 about the work of the Holy Spirit which begin ‘And when he comes he will convict the world …’. Concluding his comments on these verses Temple wrote:

When we pray ‘Come, Holy Ghost, our souls inspire’, we had better know what we are about. He will not carry us to easy triumphs and gratifying successes; more probably He will set us to some task for God in the full intention that we shall fail, so that others, learning wisdom by our failure, may carry the good cause forward. He may take us through loneliness, desertion by friends, apparent desertion even by God; that was the way Christ went to the Father. He may drive us into the wilderness to be tempted of the devil. He may lead us from the Mount of Transfiguration (if He ever lets us climb it) to the hill that is called the Place of a Skull. For if we invoke Him, it must be to help us in doing God’s will, not ours… The soul that is filled with the Spirit must have become purged of all pride or love of ease, all self-complacence and self-reliance; but that soul has found the only real dignity, the only lasting joy. Come then, Great Spirit, come. Convict the world; and convict my timid soul.

 These words demonstrate the depths of William Temple’s insight and spiritual experience. They are humbling to read. When the Church of England Doctrine Commission produced its report We believe in the Holy Spirit in 1991, it quoted these words of Temple. The report then asked the question: ‘Is the Spirit only to be a “triumphalist” Spirit, bearer of joy and positive “feeling”? Or, if this is Christ’s Spirit, breathed out of his scarred body, “one in being” with Father and Son, must we not allow as much for the fire of purgation … as for the refreshment of the comforting dove?’ The Doctrine Commission had not forgotten the memorable words of the church’s distinguished Archbishop who was born in the Bishop’s Palace in Exeter 110 years earlier.