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The Divine Attributes Retreat

The Attributes of God

The Indwelling of the Holy Trinity

by Fr. John A. Hardon, S.J.

We have so far seen something of what the Church calls the omnipresence of God. He is present, we believe, in the world which he made, and his presence is what sustains this world in existence and gives the world the power to be alive, to act and survive. If the omnipresence is said to be natural, (the nature being that which makes a thing what it is), God's presence in the world of creatures enables them to be and remain intact according to their natures. Our present reflection goes a step further on a higher presence of God.

The Church commonly teaches distinguishing between God's presence and his indwelling. The indwelling, unlike the omnipresence, is not natural but super - beyond natural. The indwelling is not universal but particular, very particular. The indwelling is not merely the presence of God in the world but it is the special way in which the Holy Trinity dwells in the souls of those who are in sanctifying grace.

We see immediately how selective the indwelling is in contrast with the omnipresence. God is present naturally in the mountains, stars, seas. God is also naturally present in all human beings; but unless those people are in the state of God's grace, God is dwelling in them, indeed, by his power, his knowledge and his being, as we saw, but he is not present in their human wills in the way we are now reflecting and hopefully we will better understand.

Let us look at the teaching of Sacred Scripture on the divine indwelling. At the Last Supper Christ told his apostles and through them he is telling us a marvelous thing. The most respected passage in both Testaments of the Bible on the divine indwelling occurs in Christ's sermon at the Last Supper (John 14:16 & 23).

"I shall ask the Father, and he will give you another Paraclete to be with you forever, the Spirit of Truth whom the world can never receive because it neither sees him nor knows him; but you know him, because he is with you, he is in you." Then to make still more clear, because so far Jesus has said that he will ask the Father to send the Holy Spirit, the third Person. Is the indwelling of which we speak only the indwelling of the third Person? No. That is why Christ goes on. "If any one loves me he will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we shall come to him and make our home with him." Notice the "we." In the first part of chapter fourteen of John's gospel Christ speaks of the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, then he goes on to say it is not just the Holy Spirit but the Father and the Son along with the Holy Spirit, provided - listen to the proviso - provided a person keeps the word, is faithful to the teaching of Christ. Then, if that person loves Jesus and is faithful to Christ's teaching, says Christ, "we" - Father, Son, Holy Spirit and I - "we will come to him and we will make our home with him." We see immediately that parts of the fourteenth chapter of John's gospel deserve to be memorized. It is therefore the entire Holy Trinity present as God the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, and that presence which we call indwelling produces marvelous effects in the soul.

If this is what divine revelation tells us about the indwelling, how does the Church explain this indwelling? From her earliest beginnings the Church has believed that God was not satisfied in giving us natural gifts, nor in just giving us things that we can believe in. He not only gave us created graces -let's be clear. There are two kinds of creatures in the world. There are natural creatures: the table, the machinery in front of me, the glass of water, the pews you are sitting in, you and I. But God has also given us what we call supernatural gifts, supernatural creatures: grace and graces. What are we saying? We are saying that God has not only given us the natural gifts that we cherish so much, beginning with one natural gift we are constantly embracing. But beyond that God is giving us innumerable supernatural gifts or graces. Like what? Like sanctifying grace. Sanctifying grace is a creature: it really exists. The virtues of faith hope and charity are supernatural gifts. They are then the second category of gifts that God in his love has given the human family.

But there is one more Gift. It is the gift of himself. In other words, for those who believe, believing God and his revealed Word, we not only receive the created gifts in the supernatural order which we call grace, we receive the uncreated Gift of God himself. And this is what the present conference is all about.

Before I go on I should explain something which may be confusing. Sometimes we read or hear about the indwelling Holy Spirit and other times the indwelling Holy Trinity. Well, which is it? It is both. How can it be both? The Holy Trinity is not the Holy Spirit. Of course. But remember we said this, at least briefly at the beginning of the retreat, whatever God does outside of himself is always done simultaneously and equally by the whole Trinity. Nevertheless, because - to use our very shaky human language - because within the Trinity each of the three Persons has - to use human words - has a different role or a different function, what is the role of the Father with regard to the Son? His role is, and that's why we call him Father, to generate. We do not use the word cause or produce because whatever is caused or produced is always a creature, and the Second Person of the Trinity is no creature, he's God. Because the role of the First Person in the Trinity is - to use our wrong human vocabulary - is to produce the Second Person, - the correct word is generate or beget - therefore whatever the whole Holy Trinity does which reflects the power of God, the might of God, God as the source or the beginning or the origin of whatever is in the world, we attribute - that's the verb - we attribute all of this to the First Person.

"I believe in God, the Father almighty, creator of heaven and earth." Is it only the First Person that created the world? No. Then why don't we say so? My job is just to describe the facts of our faith not to defend them.

Secondly, whatever in the world is a manifestation of God's wisdom, those works we attribute to the Second Person of the Holy Trinity, who is the knowledge or the wisdom of God. Even though we know that although wisdom is in the universe that we see reflected in the world all around us, we attribute the works of wisdom in creation to the Second Person.

Finally, the works of creation that correspond or are similar to the role of the Third Person in the Holy Trinity, those then are attributed to the Holy Spirit. What is the distinctive function or role of the Third Person? He is the Love of the Father and the Son for each other. Whatever, then, corresponds to God's love for the world, even though we know that everything which God does whether it is a manifestation of his power - First Person, or of his wisdom -Second Person, or of his love - Third Person is always equally and simultaneously done by all three Persons, nevertheless we assign, we attribute, we refer that to the Third Person.

What is the final purpose of love? What is the goal of anyone who loves? The final goal of love is union, union between the one lover and the one loved. That is why already in the Old Testament, in the Canticle of Canticles the marital embrace of husband and wife is the divinely revealed symbol of the union between a loving Creator and the world, especially man whom he loves. This is the same reason why Christ more than once speaks of the kingdom of heaven as a marriage feast. What is the final goal and purpose of anyone who loves? It is to be united with the one whom we love.

The indwelling of the Holy Trinity, though it is the whole Trinity that is given to us, nevertheless from the earliest ages of the Church has been attributed or assigned to the Holy Spirit, because it is the divine indwelling that unites God with his creature.

Another Church creed (it happens to be that of St. Epiphanies) states: "We believe in the Holy Spirit who dwells in the saints." And the saints, by the way, trusting they are in the friendship of God, is us. That in the final analysis is what makes a person holy, why a child, just baptized and having received at baptism the divine indwelling, is holy.

Perhaps the clearest expositor of the meaning of the divine indwelling was St. Augustine. "Although God is everywhere wholly present, he does not dwell in everyone. It is not possible to say to all what the Apostle says: 'Know you not that you are the temple of God and that the Spirit of God dwells in you?' He that is everywhere does not dwell in all, and he does not dwell equally in those in whom he does dwell."

God is everywhere naturally; he is present supernaturally only in those who enjoy his friendship, in other words, those who are in his grace. Moreover this divine indwelling God is the same God, but, says St. Augustine, "He does not dwell equally in those in whom he does dwell." You see, God has a free will and this is one thing we dare not forget. Remember God has a free will. Stands to reason. Do we have a free will? Could any creature have what God did not first possess himself? Obviously, no. Even God cannot give what he does not have. He has the fullness of being so he can contribute, communicate, dole out as much as he wants. And we should never cast side glances:"Look what she's got and I don't." God will tell us: "Stop that!" No two possess, in the Church's understanding, the same measure or degree of the divine indwelling.

How does the Church explain this indwelling? The Church tells us that the indwelling is unique; it exists only in the souls of believers who are in the friendship of God. This indwelling, we are told, comes to us through baptism. This indwelling, we believe, can be lost, and, thank God, can be, as long as there is a thought in our minds and a breath in our bodies, can be regained. This indwelling can be increased. This indwelling is the cause in our souls of the graces that those in God's friendship possess, beginning with those three most important gifts of the virtue of faith, hope and charity. Indeed, sanctifying grace is itself a created effect of the divine indwelling of the uncreated Holy Trinity.

The divine indwelling may be described as a special intimacy of God with the soul, producing an extraordinary knowledge and love of God. Only those who possess the divine indwelling are able to know God as God wants to be known; are able to love God as God wants to be loved.

In order to grasp a little more clearly what this means suppose I try to illustrate by comparing this knowledge and love that we believe is specially conferred by a person's baptism and receiving the divine indwelling. Such a person is made capable of knowing and loving God as no one else on earth can know and love the Almighty.

Let me try to be a little more clear. Take among ourselves: Do we, as human beings, know and love the rest of the human race? Yes. Besides loving the members of the human family, can we know and love other people better than we know and love just the whole globe of five billion people? Sure. And no matter how many people we come to know in the course of even a long lifetime, it is only a fraction of the total number of human beings. Is there a closer, deeper knowledge, a greater intimacy in our knowledge and love of some human beings more than others? Sure. That's life. Are there very few human beings that we know the very, very best and whom we love the very, very most? Yes. Transfer that analogy to God. No less then we among human beings can ever love and know people in general, and as in love can know them more and more in particular. Those who are nearer and dearer to us, do we have a special affection for them? Sure. Do we know more about them? Yes. Do we care more about them? Yes. Do we have a greater affection for them? We do. And every comparison we can make from our relationship with our human beings is meant to bring out the difference between God's knowledge and love of all the rest of creation and his knowledge and love of those in whom he dwells by the intimacy of his divine Trinitarian presence.

The indwelling, therefore, gives us an extraordinary capacity for knowing God. No natural intelligence, no genius, no education can begin to begin to provide for the extraordinary knowledge that God's indwelling gives the human soul. And the same with love. Those who possess the divine indwelling are capable of loving God as no one else can. Why? Because this is what the Holy Trinity does: it knows - to use human language - knows some people more than others, loves some more than others; and as a result there are some persons in whom God dwells as a result of which they are more happy than others. The indwelling, therefore, gives us the power to love God even "to the contempt of ourselves" - the finest phrase of St. Augustine. It is the indwelling Trinity, God himself, the uncreated triune God living in our souls that makes it possible for us through our knowledge and love, to be happy in a way that no one else has a claim to except one in whom God dwells by his uncreated presence of the Holy Trinity.

As a result we may make this comparison. Those in whose souls the Holy Trinity dwells can know God, can love Him as no one else can. But also and with emphasis, those in whom the Trinity dwells are capable of enjoying God as no one else has the power to do. The happiest people on earth are potentially, should be the happiest people under the sun because, as with God, the happiness in God, God's happiness within himself is because of the selfless love of the three Persons of the Holy Trinity. We, believing as we do that we have the Holy Trinity dwelling in our souls, we therefore should be the happiest human beings in existence. Why? Because in virtue of the divine indwelling, we are capable of loving as only those who possess the uncreated Gift of God are able to love. Meaning what? Giving, giving, and giving; that is a revealed synonym for love: to give. There is one meaning of love in the unbelieving world around: it is to get.

The divine indwelling enables us to give as no creature could possibly give, or as God dwells in our souls; we cannot imitate God in his giving with that complete selflessness which constitutes the very essence of God. I hope I'll be clear and prudent in describing a very difficult and delicate aspect of our faith in the divine indwelling. If, as we are saying, God is the happiest Being in existence, why is God the happiest Being in existence? Because God loves as no one else can do. How does God show his love? God manifests his love first of all within himself - the three Persons sharing with one another. God manifests his love by having made the world and sharing with it so many of the blessings for which we thank God. It is therefore in loving and giving that the essence of happiness consists.

We have the gift of the indwelling Trinity and should be the most happy people on earth. Our happiness consists in living out the indwelling of the Holy Trinity in our lives. Doing what? By loving or giving. If we are not happy it is because we are not generous enough in sharing. There is only one source of real unhappiness in the world and that is not doing or not doing as well as we should the will of God.

Now some implications. Gratitude. Thank God for having chosen you from all the creatures in whom he does not dwell. Could we be the water in this glass? Sure. Gratitude that God made us creatures in whom God can dwell, so that he can know and love them in a way that he loves himself, and give them the power to know and love him as he knows and loves them.

Awareness. There should be a corresponding awareness of the special, intimate presence of God in our souls. If we are not as aware of God's indwelling as we should be, it is not because God does not want us to be aware; it can only be because, while our God is completely giving himself to us, we are not wholly, totally giving ourselves to him. And the younger we are the more we should get busy. The oldest of us still have time to grow in this awareness of God's presence.

Conversation. Prayer is many things; but the most fundamental thing that prayer is is a conversation. And notice a conversation is on both sides. God by his indwelling is constantly talking to us; needless to say, we are not always listening to him. Search, scour, dig, beg God to make you more conscious not only of his presence, but, by the deep faith realization, that whenever and as long as and the more deeply I am in the posture of prayer, of being more sure I am not only talking to God but he's talking to me. The last thing we should do is to distrust the insights, the ideas, the impulses, the urges that God gives us when we with hearts totally open to his will, are praying and asking him to tell us what he wants us to do and how he wants us to do it.

The divine indwelling gives us the power to resist all the enemies of our soul. And their number is legion. And among the enemies of our soul the worst, faith tells us, is the devil. My good priest friend, an exorcist for twelve years in Rome, told me, "John, I can tell you from experience, the first thing the devil recognizes in a person is whether that person is in the state of grace." And he said, "Whatever else an exorcist must be, and he's no match for the devil unless he is, he must be in the state of grace." The devil knows who his worst enemy is: He is the living God; because it was the living God some of the angels refused to obey and became demons. In the last twelve verses of St. Mark's gospel, Christ foretells the power that those who believe in him will have until the end of time; and among the powers those who have the indwelling Holy Spirit possess, says, Christ, is the power to drive out the devil.

The divine indwelling gives us a capacity to holiness that is impossible outside the Christian world. By now we have lived long enough with ourselves to know how little we can do alone; in Christ's words, "without me you can do nothing." Nothing supernatural. And it was in that same context (John 15) Christ tells his followers what he wants them to do and then tells them, "Without me, you can do nothing." We have omnipotence at our disposal, not just near us, around us, but in the profoundest sense of the word, within us.

The divine indwelling should motivate us to respond to the constant illuminations of mind and inspirations of the will which the Holy Trinity, or if you wish, the Holy Sprit dwelling in our souls is every moment and the day and night giving us. We have a heavy obligation resting on our supernatural shoulders because of God's mysterious indwelling in our souls.

I would like to close with a short prayer by Cardinal Mercier entitled "Beloved of My Soul."

"Holy Spirit, Beloved of my soul, I adore you. Enlighten me; guide me; strengthen me; console me. Tell me what I shall do: give me your orders. I promise to submit myself to all that you desire of me, and to accept all that you permit to happen to me. Let me only know your will. Amen.

Transcription of the retreat given in December, 1988
by Father John A. Hardon, S.J. to the
Handmaids of the Precious Blood

Copyright © 1998 Inter Mirifica
No reproductions may be made without permission from InterMirifica.

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