Thoughts about Spirits...and The Trinity
by Fr. Don Thomas
There are many people who do not believe in spirits, because their basic premise is “I will believe in something if I can see it or hear it or touch it”. I would like to say that spirits are very real and are not made up of matter, and you cannot see them, hear them or touch them. They are immaterial. This is the opposite of things that are material, that is, things that are made up of matter or parts and you can see them, hear them or touch them.
Material things are perceptible to the five senses. Examples of material things would be a book, a chair, a song, a carpet, a bird — all perceptible to the five senses. What would be examples of immaterial things, things that are not perceptible to the five senses?
Our thoughts and our choices are examples of immaterial things that are very real. Consider how real your thoughts are. Think of an apple, a pear, a house, or a dog. Now try to grab or touch them or feel them . You cannot. But your thoughts are all so real — you can even change them around. They are very real, but they are not made up of matter or parts, and they are not perceptible to the five senses.
When we choose things by an act of the will, our choices are very real, but they are not made up of matter or parts and they are not perceptible to the five senses. But consider how you can choose different things. Do you want coffee, milk, juice or soda? And when you choose one of these or change your choice to a different one, your choice is immaterial, and is not made up of matter or parts, but believe me and believe your own experience — your choices are very, very real.
Thus, we see that "material" means that something is made up of matter or parts and can be perceived by the senses. If something cannot be perceived by the five senses or is not made up of parts, it is said to be immaterial. This is a distinction made in philosophy. In religion, instead of using the word "immaterial", they use the word "spiritual". That brings us to the idea or concept of a "spirit". That is what we are looking in to — do spirits really exist?
Yes they do, and even in the Bible, we are told that the wind blows from the east to the west and vice-versa, and while you cannot see it, we know that it is very real from the effects that it produces. If we are sweating and are hot, the wind comes along and cools us off, but we cannot see the wind. If a hurricane occurs, homes and trees are destroyed, lives are lost, and while we cannot see the wind, we know how real it is from what we observe. Again, this is why our intellect and will are called spiritual faculties, because you cannot see them or perceive them with any of the five senses, but the thoughts they produce or the choices they make are very real and have to be produced by something spiritual or immaterial.
A basic principle in philosophy is that something material can produce only something material, and something spiritual has to produce something immaterial or spiritual. That is why if you say to a hammer (something material) “Think of an apple or an orange”. It cannot, because thoughts are spiritual and a hammer is material. It can only produce something material like a sound, or a mark, or anything perceptible to the senses. Thoughts have to be produced by something immaterial or spiritual, and they are. They are produced by the spiritual faculties of intellect and will, which are the faculties of the soul. We repeat once again by way of definition that "a spirit is a being that is very real, but it is not made up of matter or parts, and it is not perceptible to any of the five senses. As we proceed, we will be dealing with three spirits: The soul, Angels, and God
SPECIAL NOTE: .... A big reason why the following explanation is important is because children often ask on the occasion of a death: "what happened to Daddy or Mommy, or Grandpa or Grandma"? We can help them by honestly telling them that the soul has left the body and has gone back to God. Then by comparing the soul to the motor of a car, kids can understand that if you pick up the hood of a car and there is no motor, the car will not go. The soul is like a motor for our body, and when someone dies, the soul goes back to God (By the way and parenthetically, at this point I would like to say that we will be writing abut the Holy Trinity later on, and wondering how three distinct persons can be one, can share in the same nature.
Well, we have personal experience in that very reality when we reflect for a moment on every human being. We believe that the soul is distinct from the body and that the soul is spiritual or immaterial. Then every soul has two powers or faculties, one called the Intellect and the other called the Will. Each is distinct from the other and yet they all form one entity that we call the soul. There is an example of a trinity of spiritual powers united as one, but three in distinction.
It is a perfect parallel for the Holy Trinity. The Father, Son and Spirit are all real, distinct persons as spiritual entities and they all share equally in one divine nature. "TRI-UNITY" means exactly that — three in one. More about this later. It might be compared to the three streams that converge into one Trinity River —.three in one — or, the three perfect angles in the equilateral triangle. Each one is distinct and each one shares in the nature of the triangle. Examples of spirits are three that we can speak of.— the soul, angels and God. Let us deal with the soul first of all. We talk of the soul going to heaven or hell. How do we know that we even have a soul? Interesting point!
Let us pretend we are in a funeral home and in the casket is the deceased. Here we are, fifty people looking at the deceased, and we want to find out how we know if we have a soul. I want to show you that there is a difference between the body in the casket and the bodies sitting in front of the casket. So, I turn to the body in the casket and ask "What is your name? How much are five and five? Do you want a coke or a cup of coffee? Notice! A deceased has never answered those questions. I can turn to the other fifty bodies sitting there and ask those same questions and the answers are forthcoming. That is because there is something different about these bodies. The commonly accepted definition of death is the separation of the soul from the body. The body is material and cannot produce spiritual effects like thought or decisions or choices. The other fifty bodies can respond because there is still something spiritual or immaterial within those bodies, and it is called the soul.
Because the soul is immaterial or spiritual, it can produce spiritual effects. This is what Christ was referring to when He said "What does it profit a man if he gains the whole world and suffers the loss of his soul"? The soul makes it possible for the body to move, to talk, to think, and to choose. You can call whatever is inside the body either an activator or a motor In philosophy it is called a principle of life. We ordinarily call this life force the immortal soul. When we die, the soul leaves the body and the body returns to dust and the soul returns to God for judgment. Just as every coin has a "heads and a tails" and they are inseparable and you cannot say "give me the heads" or give me the tails — no, you cannot separate them so also, every soul has two powers or faculties, the Intellect and the Will, and you cannot separate them from the soul — three distinct entities sharing in the nature of the soul — three in one.
Another spirit we can consider is "the Angel". We certainly have some false ideas about angels and perhaps we can clarify our understanding a bit. You would be amazed at how many really good, religious people, Catholic and non-Catholic alike, think that angels are up in heaven, flying around with wings and singing "holy, holy, holy" as they praise God day in and day out. Pay close attention to this — they are not doing that and they do not have wings. Angels really do exist and we have God's word for it. However, if we have believed since we were kids that angels are "pure spirits", it means that they do not have bodies.
The word "angel" comes from the Greek “ angelos” which means messenger. I know that we see holy pictures and statues and they have wings, but such is not the case. They do not have bodies as I just stated above. Here is what we have to do — just as you can't get a quart of milk into a pint jar, you cannot with a finite, limited intelligence understand an infinite God or angels that are pure spirits. This is so because of our human limitation. We give the angels a human form and we add the wings to convey the idea of messenger. Remember the Greek god Mercury, the messenger of the gods and how he had wings on his feet that conveyed the idea of a messenger. We do the same thing with angels. So they really do exist but they do not have bodies or wings. We humanize them for our own understanding after we read about them in the Bible. This might be a good time to comment on the third spirit we mentioned above, God Himself. Again, keep in mind that we all learned that God is a pure spirit and that means He has no body.
God The Father
That is why we are so wrong when we picture God in heaven, looking like the perfect grandfather, with the white long robes and the white beard. If He does not have a body, how can He look like that? Again, we have to humanize God and give Him a body because we read of Him as being a father, a king, a judge. Just as you cannot pay off a hundred dollar debt with a five dollar bill, we cannot understand an infinite Being with finite, limited intelligence. That is why, in our effort to understand God, we give Him a body and dress Him up to look like the perfect Father, King or Judge. He is very real, but He does not have a body or a beard. We are talking about God in His divine nature. We are not talking about Jesus in human form as of two thousand years ago. God has often disguised Himself in various ways through all the centuries — in the Old Testament days, God disguised Himself the way we disguise ourselves at. Halloween. We can make a man look like a woman, a little boy look like a rabbit, a woman look like a man, The appearances are deceiving. It looks like a man, but underneath that disguise is the body of a woman, or it looks like a rabbit, but underneath the disguise is the body of a little boy or girl. So this was the case when God made Himself look like a burning bush for Moses, or a cloud in the sky for the Israelites, or like bread and wine at the Last Supper. He can do everything and even though we do not understand it, He asks us to believe it — not understand it.
The Holy Spirit
Let us now express some thoughts about the Holy Ghost, or Holy Spirit. The word "ghost" simply means spirit and since the Latin "spiritus" is closer to the word "spirit", that is why they say "Holy Spirit" and not Holy Ghost. God is a pure spirit. They did not change it because they thought kids would be afraid of God just as they are afraid of ghosts. That had nothing to do with it. Another warning that is very important is this. No one on the face of the earth can explain what God reveals as a mystery. No one! Our faith in God is what enables us to accept it even if we do not understand it. All we can do in philosophy is take the concepts apart and show that there are no contradictions that we are asked to believe about the Trinity, the Eucharist, the Virgin birth of Christ, and other aspects of faith. We are called upon to believe many things that we do not understand, but never have we been called upon to believe anything that is a contradiction. Earlier I did not try to explain the Trinity, however I did try to show that we can accept what God reveals about the Father, Son and the Holy Spirit — and the same thing with the soul and with angels. Faith, and not knowledge, is what is going to save us, but it is interesting to study the mysteries of God and see that they are not contradictions in any way.
Now let us consider more about the Holy Spirit. As water comes down from heaven as rain, and although it is always the same in itself, it produces many different effects. It affects the palm tree, the vine, the grass, the crops and so on throughout creation. It does not come down, now as one thing, now as another, but while it remains essentially the same, it adapts itself to the needs of every creature that receives it. So it is with the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit, whose nature is always the same — simple and indivisible — apportions grace to each person as He wills. Like a dry tree that puts forth shoots when it is watered, the soul bears the fruit of holiness when repentance has made it worthy of receiving the Holy Spirit. Although the Spirit never changes, the effects of His action, by the will of God and in the name of Christ, are both many and marvelous.
The Holy Spirit makes one person a teacher of divine truth, inspires another to prophesy, gives another the power of casting out devils, enables another to interpret Scripture, gives another the gift of healing, and on and on. The Spirit strengthens one person's self control, shows another how to help the poor, teaches another to fast and lead a life of holiness, makes another oblivious to the needs of the body, and trains another for martyrdom. His action is different with each person, but the Spirit Himself remains always the same. The Bible tells us that the Spirit reveals His presence in a particular way for the common good. The above examples would indicate this very fact. As light strikes the eyes of a person coming out of the dark into the sunshine, and enables the person to see things that could not be discerned earlier, so light floods the soul of the person counted worthy of receiving the Holy Spirit and enables that person to see things beyond the range of human vision, things that were previously undreamed of.
Reflecting on the work of the Holy Spirit, one thing we notice right away is that He is given many titles that must move the soul of anyone who hears them, for each one makes us think of the Supreme Being we call God. Is He not called the Paraclete, the Strengthener, the Advocate, the Spirit of truth, the Spirit of God, the guiding Spirit, the steadfast Spirit? Yet, His principal and most personal title is the Holy Spirit.
Though simple in Himself, the Holy Spirit is manifold in His mighty works and operations. We might compare Him to the sunshine which permeates all the atmosphere, spreading over land and water, and yet it is enjoyed by each creature as if it were for him or her 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 His light and grace, the Holy Spirit give a joy and delight that is limited only by their nature, and not by His ability to give. As clear, transparent substances become very bright when sunlight falls on them, and they shine with a new radiance, so it is with souls in whom the Spirit dwells. They become more spiritual themselves and become a source of grace for others. From the Spirit, we receive foreknowledge of the future, understanding of the Scriptures and mysteries of faith, and other special gifts.
In closing, let me say that on a number of occasions in Scripture, like the Baptism of Christ and His Transfiguration on the mountain, the Holy Spirit disguised His divinity under the appearances of a Dove. We also can deduce that the Three Persons of the Trinity are distinct and separate because of quotes in the Bible. For example: Jesus tells us that He has to go back to the Father Who sent Him or the Father will not send the Holy Spirit upon us. Or on another occasion, go forth and baptize in the name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Let me finally say that we, definitely will never understand the mystery of the Trinity, or any other mystery for that matter, until we go to Heaven. Then all things will be revealed and made known. In the meantime, let us accept the last paragraph in John’s gospel, where he said that there are many things that Jesus said that were not written down in the Bible. Understanding them is not our challenge, but believing them is.
Come Holy Spirit, fill our hearts with the fire of your love and faith.
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