The Holy Spirit and Miracles, Then and Now

This is the ninth in a sporadic series on the Catechetical Lectures of St. Cyril of Jerusalem.  The last posting was Is God’s Omnipotence Dependent Upon the Existence of His Creation?

One of the long-running debates in Christianity is that of cessationism. Did the “sign gifts” described in 1 Corinthians 12 die out with the Apostles? What does that say about God’s plan for people at any given time after Jesus Christ’s time on earth? Did all kinds of supernatural phenomena cease with the Apostles?

Until modern Pentecost shook things up, since the days of the Montanists most Christians have worked under the assumption that speaking in tongues—and the baptism in the Holy Spirit that it goes with—went out with the original Apostles. But other supernatural phenomena, especially bodily healing, are another business altogether. It wasn’t until the Reformation that a significant body of Christians rejected the miraculous.

It is the general property of absolute cessationists to state that a) all miracles and supernatural phenomena ended with the original Apostles and b) that recourse to Patristic writings is illegitimate because they are outside the New Testament. Without going into the hermeneutics of cessationism in the New Testament, it’s fair to say that the last thing that those who believe the active power of the Holy Spirit through miracles and other manifestations ended with the original Apostles want to consider is Patristic evidence.

We can see this abundantly in the two lectures that Cyril gave his catechumens on the Holy Spirit, the first taken from the Old Testament and the second from the New. Probably the best way to illustrate this is to cite some of the more interesting passages on the subject:

Thus also the Holy Ghost, being one, and of one nature, and indivisible, divides to each His grace, according as He will (1 Corinthians 12:11): and as the dry tree, after partaking of water, puts forth shoots, so also the soul in sin, when it has been through repentance made worthy of the Holy Ghost, brings forth clusters of righteousness. And though He is One in nature, yet many are the virtues which by the will of God and in the Name of Christ He works. For He employs the tongue of one man for wisdom; the soul of another He enlightens by Prophecy; to another He gives power to drive away devils; to another He gives to interpret the divine Scriptures. He strengthens one man’s self-command; He teaches another the way to give alms; another He teaches to fast and discipline himself; another He teaches to despise the things of the body; another He trains for martyrdom: diverse in different men, yet not diverse from Himself, as it is written, But the manifestation of the Spirit is given to every man to profit withal. For to one is given through the Spirit the word of wisdom; and to another the word of knowledge according to the same Spirit; to another faith, in the same Spirit; and to another gifts of healing, in the same Spirit; and to another workings of miracles; and to another prophecy; and to another discernings of spirits; and to another various kinds of tongues; and to another the interpretation of tongues: but all these works that one and the same Spirit, dividing to every man severally as He will. (1 Corinthians 12:7-11) (XVI, 12)

And if ever, while you have been sitting here, a thought concerning chastity or virginity has come into your mind, it has been His teaching. Has not often a maiden, already at the bridal threshold , fled away, He teaching her the doctrine of virginity? Has not often a man distinguished at court , scorned wealth and rank, under the teaching of the Holy Ghost? Has not often a young man, at the sight of beauty, closed his eyes, and fled from the sight, and escaped the defilement? Askest thou whence this has come to pass? The Holy Ghost taught the soul of the young man. Many ways of covetousness are there in the world; yet Christians refuse possessions: wherefore? Because of the teaching of the Holy Ghost. Worthy of honour is in truth that Spirit, holy and good; and fittingly are we baptised into Father, Son, and Holy Ghost. A man, still clothed with a body, wrestles with many fiercest demons; and often the demon, whom many men could not master with iron bands, has been mastered by the man himself with words of prayer, through the power which is in him of the Holy Ghost; and the mere breathing of the Exorcist becomes as fire to that unseen foe. A mighty ally and protector, therefore, have we from God; a great Teacher of the Church, a mighty Champion on our behalf. Let us not be afraid of the demons, nor of the devil; for mightier is He who fights for us. Only let us open to Him our doors; for He goes about seeking such as are worthy and searching on whom He may confer His gifts. (XVI, 19)

Great indeed, and all-powerful in gifts, and wonderful, is the Holy Ghost. Consider, how many of you are now sitting here, how many souls of us are present. He is working suitably for each, and being present in the midst, beholds the temper of each, beholds also his reasoning and his conscience, and what we say, and think, and believe. Great indeed is what I have now said, and yet is it small. For consider, I pray, with mind enlightened by Him, how many Christians there are in all this diocese, and how many in the whole province of Palestine, and carry forward your mind from this province, to the whole Roman Empire; and after this, consider the whole world; races of Persians, and nations of Indians, Garbs and Sarmatians, Gauls and Spaniards, and Moors, Libyans and Ethiopians, and the rest for whom we have no names; for of many of the nations not even the names have reached us. Consider, I pray, of each nation, Bishops, Presbyters, Deacons, Solitaries, Virgins, and laity besides; and then behold their great Protector, and the Dispenser of their gifts;— how throughout the world He gives to one chastity, to another perpetual virginity, to another almsgiving, to another voluntary poverty, to another power of repelling hostile spirits. And as the light, with one touch of its radiance sheds brightness on all things, so also the Holy Ghost enlightens those who have eyes; for if any from blindness is not vouchsafed His grace, let him not blame the Spirit, but his own unbelief. (XVI, 22)

And lest men should be ignorant of the greatness of the mighty gift coming down to them, there sounded as it were a heavenly trumpet, For suddenly there came from heaven a sound as of the rushing of a mighty wind (Acts 2:2), signifying the presence of Him who was to grant power unto men to seize with violence the kingdom of God; that both their eyes might see the fiery tongues, and their ears hear the sound. And it filled all the house where they were sitting; for the house became the vessel of the spiritual water; as the disciples sat within, the whole house was filled. Thus they were entirely baptised according to the promise, and invested soul and body with a divine garment of salvation. And there appeared unto them cloven tongues like as of fire, and it sat upon each of them; and they were all filled with the Holy Ghost. They partook of fire, not of burning but of saving fire; of fire which consumes the thorns of sins, but gives lustre to the soul. This is now coming upon you also, and that to strip away and consume your sins which are like thorns, and to brighten yet more that precious possession of your souls, and to give you grace; for He gave it then to the Apostles. And He sat upon them in the form of fiery tongues, that they might crown themselves with new and spiritual diadems by fiery tongues upon their heads. A fiery sword barred of old the gates of Paradise; a fiery tongue which brought salvation restored the gift. (XVII, 15)

If you believe, you shall not only receive remission of sins, but also do things which pass man’s power. And may thou be worthy of the gift of prophecy also! For you shall receive grace according to the measure of your capacity and not of my words; for I may possibly speak of but small things, yet you may receive greater; since faith is a large affair. All your life long will your guardian the Comforter abide with you; He will care for you, as for his own soldier; for your goings out, and your comings in, and your plotting foes. And He will give you gifts of grace of every kind, if you grieve Him not by sin; for it is written, And grieve not the Holy Spirit of God, whereby you were sealed unto the day of redemption. (Ephesians 4:30) What then, beloved, is it to preserve grace? Be ready to receive grace, and when you have received it, cast it not away. (XVII, 36)

In particular Lecture XVII is a tour de force of the working of the Holy Spirit in the Gospels and the Acts of the Apostles.

There’s no doubt that Cyril does not envision the kind of sequence of the action of the Holy Spirit that, say, classical Pentecostals do. But there’s no doubt either that Cyril knows and teaches about a Holy Spirit whose power and manifestation is effective and continuous in his day. Should you expect any different from a bishop who was within walking distance of the Upper Room?

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