A Timely Teaching: The Voice of Scripture

The present requires us to think differently and to dig deeper into our faith. There may be some teachings, normally overlooked, which can come to our aid now. I would like to suggest one: what the theologians have called the “divine indwelling”. This is the notion that we can “carry” the living God in ourselves, be he conceived as the Holy Trinity or Jesus or the Holy Spirit. If we are inclined to introvert at the moment, this is a healthy way of doing so. There are also real treasures to be unearthed here.  What follows is three “teachings” on this, the first two leading to a third, which hopes to draw out the implications of this doctrine for for prayer, interior prayer, prayer of the heart.

These teachings correspond to a video series recorded by Bishop Hugh. The corresponding video is linked at the end of the text.

I – The Voice of Scripture

We’re creatures with imaginations and there are many ways we imagine ourselves. One can be as a building, a house – or if you want to be grander as a castle or a temple. When we do this, we are taking the external spaces we know and inhabit – rooms, houses, and so forth – turning them into metaphors and applying them to ourselves. If we say, for example, “I wouldn’t entertain that idea”, we are using this metaphor, however remotely. We entertain in our houses, after all. We are saying, treat that idea as you would an undesirable visitor. If we say of someone that they are open-minded, well, we open or close our windows and houses. In the liturgy, there’s a familiar example: “Lord, I am not worthy that you should enter under my roof”. What the centurion meant literally (Mt 8:8), we say metaphorically – which doesn’t mean it isn’t real.

Let’s turn to Scripture. Through it runs the master-idea of God coming close to his people. Unsurprisingly, this is often enough expressed in terms of God setting up home with his people. In his prayer of dedication of the Temple, Solomon evokes God’s transcendence: “But will God indeed dwell on the earth? Behold, heaven and the highest heaven cannot contain you; how much less this house which I have built!” (1 Kings 8:27). Yet, the “glory of the Lord” in the form of a cloud, “filled the house of the Lord” (1 Kgs 8: 10-11). This was a highpoint in the history of Israel and, indeed, of creation itself. Creation fulfils its destiny when the divine glory takes up home within it. In the New Testament the Presence draws closer still. Someone appears in whom “the whole fullness of the deity dwells bodily” (Col 2:9). The Glory that filled the Temple now fills the humanity of Jesus. Of the Temple, he says, “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up”, speaking, St John adds, of the temple of his body (John 2:19, 21). St Paul will recognise the new-born Christian community as the new Temple and the Body of Christ, and will speak of it as a place where “God’s Spirit dwells” (1 Cor 3:16), as a “holy temple in the Lord…a dwelling place of God in the Spirit” (Eph 2:22).  The Presence now is not just to the people, but also in them. A new covenant is being enacted, a new connection forged. And a further step follows: what is true of the Christian Church as a whole is true of each member individually, each “somebody”, each “anybody”. “Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you?” (1 Cor 6:19). Perhaps St Paul’s densest passage to this effect is Romans 8:9-11: “But you are not in the flesh, you are in the Spirit, if the Spirit of God really dwells in you. Anyone who does not have the Spirit of Christ does not belong to him. But if Christ is in you, although your bodies are dead because of sin, your spirits are alive because of righteousness. If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus dwells in you, he who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will give life to your mortal bodies also through his Spirit who dwells in you.”  Notice that he speaks both of the Spirit and of Christ indwelling. Notice the interconnections. Notice the powerful effects of this inner presence. The word dwelling is used three times in one short paragraph.

In the writings of St John, the notion is if anything stronger still. The Word becomes flesh, lives among us. He then promises his flesh and blood as food and drink, and says: “he who eats my flesh and drinks my blood lives / dwells / abides in me” (Jn 6: 56). The empty house is being occupied. Later, at the Last Supper, comes the great promise: “If someone loves me, he will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him” (Jn 14:23). The same language recurs in the 1st Letter of John: “if we love one another, God abides in us and his love is perfected in us” (I Jn 4:12). It is often expressed in terms of mutuality: “Whoever confesses that Jesus is the Son of God, God abides in him, and he in God” (1 John 4:15). “God is love and he who abides in love abides in God, and God abides in him” (1 Jn 4:16). Again, there are many connections. This “abiding” is linked with the confession of Christ’s divine sonship, with the keeping of his commandments, with fraternal love, with the Spirit, and in the Gospel with the Eucharist.

The imagery surfaces elsewhere too, to a different music, as it were. There’s the strange parable of Jesus about the expelled demon returning to his “house”, i.e. the human being he previously occupied. He finds it swept and orderly, goes and finds seven worse demons, “and they enter and dwell there” (Lk 11:26). There is also the imagery of the Son of man coming to the house like a thief or a burglar, and finding it distracted and unguarded (cf. Lk 12:35ff). One last text from Revelation deserves mention: “Behold, I stand at the door and knock; if anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and eat with him, and he with me” (Rev 3:20) – Johannine mutuality again.

We can stand back a moment here. What is the New Testament (which everywhere presupposes the Old) saying here? That thanks to the Paschal mystery of Christ’s death and Resurrection and its completion in Pentecost, a new, deeper, fuller relationship between man and God has become possible. By “sending” his Son and his Spirit into the world, God opened his whole Self to humanity. Humanity can now enter the house of God and God enter the house of ourselves. There is a new presence, a new holiness, new glory, in the “house” that is humanity, at once corporately in the Church and individually in the believer. We are taken up into the spaciousness of Christ and the Spirit, and our own space is enlarged and sanctified, made a temple, by the inhabiting, occupying presence of the Incarnate Word and the Holy Spirit. What the Temple adumbrated in an external way is now realised internally, personally. In the Old Testament, 2 Maccabees 14:35 speaks of God’s house in Jerusalem as “a temple for your habitation”. In the New Testament, that becomes a definition of the human being who is in Christ.

It’s clear from our own humanity that we are “open” beings. We can receive all sorts of things into our bodies and especially into our minds and hearts: things good, bad and indifferent, things that enrich us, things that impoverish us, things that do us harm, things that do us good, true love or violence. In his 21st Homily on the Gospel of St Luke, the 3rd century Christian writer, Origen, picturesquely makes the point that “the human heart is not small…Let me convince you that the human heart is large by a simple example from daily life…Whatever city we may have passed through we have in our minds. We remember its streets, walls and buildings…We have a mental picture of the roads we have travelled. In moments of quiet reflection our minds embrace the sea that we have crossed. So, as I said, the heart that contains all this is not small! So, if what contains so much is not small, let a way be prepared for it for the Lord…Let the Word of God move in you unhindered and give you knowledge of his coming and his mysteries.” Yes, from Scripture we learn that astonishingly God wants to offer himself to us. St Augustine famously says, we are “capable of God”. St Irenaeus had already said the same. There is indeed a sense in which the whole Bible is about the Temple. I recommend Yves Congar’s fine book of the 1950s, The Mystery of the Temple. As said already, the destiny of the whole universe and of each of us is to be a place for God, “a temple for your habitation”.

In ch.24 of the Book of Sirach, the mysterious being called Wisdom is seen as moving throughout the whole universe, looking for a place to rest. She says, “Then the Creator of all things gave me a commandment, and the one who created me assigned a place for my tent. And he said, ‘Make your dwelling in Jacob, and receive your inheritance in Israel’” (Sir 24:8). In the Christian understanding, Wisdom is the Second person of the Trinity who becomes incarnate and dwells among us, and our hearts are her Jacob and Israel.

This reality, of course, has reverberated down the years of Christian history. Sometimes the focus has been on the indwelling of all Three Persons of the Trinity, sometimes on that of the Holy Spirit in particular, sometimes on that of the incarnate Christ. The Three are one and each “indwells” the Other. You can hardly put the Trinity on a chopping board. But on our side, some specific focus seems to help, and the strand I’d like to follow here is that of the inner presence of Jesus. Having listened to Scripture, we can now turn our ears to Tradition.

Video: The Voice of Scripture


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