We have taken it for granted that God, then, is present somehow in the soul by grace. We have now to consider what sort of a presence this really is. Do we mean absolutely that God the Holy Spirit is truly in the soul Himself, or do we, by some metaphor or vague expression, mean that He is merely exerting Himself there in some new and special way? Perhaps it is only that, by means of the sevenfold gifts, He has a tighter hold on us and can bring us more completely under the sweet dominion of His will.
All that is true, but it is not enough, for we do absolutely mean what we say when we declare that, by grace, the Holy Spirit of God is present within the soul. Scripture is exceedingly full of the truth of this and is always insisting on this presence of the Holy Spirit. St. Paul, especially, notes it over and over again, and in his letter to the Romans repeats it in very forcible language: “But you are not in the flesh, but in the spirit, if it be that the Spirit of God dwells in you.”And he goes on in that same chapter to imply that this presence is a part of grace.
To some it will seem curious to find that the Fathers of the Church in earliest ages were not only convinced of the fact of this presence, but appealed triumphantly to it as accepted even by heretics. When, in the early days, a long controversy raged as to whether the Holy Spirit was really God or not, the Fathers argued that since this indwelling of the Spirit was acknowledged on all hands, and since it was proper to God only to dwell in the heart of man, the only possible conclusion was that the Holy Spirit was divine.
This presence, then, of God in the soul is a real, true presence, as real and true as the presence of Our Lord Himself in the Blessed Sacrament of the Eucharist. We look on all that mystery as very wonderful, and indeed it is, that day by day we can be made one with God the Son by receiving His body and blood; we know the value of visits to His hidden presence, the quiet and calm peace such visits produce in our souls; yet so long as we are in a state of grace, the same holds true of the Holy Spirit within us.
We are not indeed made one with the Holy Spirit in a substantial union, such as united God with man in the sacred Incarnation; nor is there any overpowering of our personality so that it is swamped by a Divine Person, but we retain it absolutely. The simplest comparison is our union with our Lord in the Holy Eucharist, wherein we receive Him really and truly and are made partakers of His divinity. By grace, then, we receive, really and truly, God the Holy Spirit and are made partakers of His divinity. If, then, we genuflect to the tabernacle in which the Blessed Sacrament is reserved and treat our Communions as the most solemn moments of our day, then equally we must hold in reverence every simple soul in a state of grace—the souls of others and our own.
We can experience God’s presence in our own souls
The fact, then, of this presence has been established and its nature explained. It is a real presence, a real union between the soul and God the Holy Spirit. We have, however, a further point to elucidate: the mode whereby this presence is effected. Now, this is twofold insofar as this presence of the Spirit affects the mind and heart of man.
First, then, we take the knowledge of God that is generated in the soul by this presence. From natural knowledge we can not only deduce the existence of God, but in some way also deduce His nature. Not only do we know from the world which He has made that He certainly must Himself have a true existence, but from it we can even, gradually and carefully, although certainly with some vagueness, discover God’s own divine attributes. His intelligence is evident, as are His power, His wisdom, His beauty, His Providence, and His care for created nature. The pagans, merely from the world about them, painfully, and after many years and with much admixture of error, could yet in the end have their beautiful thoughts about God, and by some amazing instinct have stumbled upon truths which Christianity came fully to establish. The writings of Plato and Aristotle, of some Eastern teachers, and of some of the kings and priests of Egypt are evidence of the possibility of the natural knowledge about God.
Faith, then, came as something over and above the possibilities of nature, not merely as regards the contents, but also as regards the kind of knowledge it gives us. Reason deduces truths about God, and therefore attains God indirectly. It is like getting an application by letter from an unknown person and guessing his character from the handwriting, the paper, the ink, the spelling, and the style. Possibly by this means, a very fair estimate may be formed of his capacities and his fitness for the position which we desire him to fill. But faith implies a direct contact with the person who has written the letter. Before us is spread what Longfellow has called “the manuscript of God,” and from it we deduce God’s character. Then faith comes and puts us straight into connection with God Himself.
The “theological virtues” is the name given to faith, hope, and charity, because they all have God for their direct and proper object. Faith, then, attains to the very substance of God. It is indeed inadequate insofar as all human forms of thought can only falteringly represent God as compared with the fullness that shall be revealed hereafter; still, for all that, it gives us not indirect, but direct knowledge of Him. From seeing His handiwork, I do not deduce by faith what God is like, but I know what He is like from His descriptions of Himself.
Now, the indwelling of the Spirit of God gives us a knowledge of God even more wonderful than faith gives, for even faith has to be content with God’s descriptions of Himself. In faith I am indeed listening to a Person who is telling me all about Himself. He is the very truth, and all He says is commended to me by the most solemn and certain of motives; but I am still very far from coming absolutely into direct and absolute experience of God. That, indeed, fully and absolutely, can be achieved only in Heaven. It is only there, in the Beatific Vision, that the veils will be wholly torn aside and there will be a face-to-face sight of God, no longer by means of created, and therefore limited, ideas, but an absolute possession of God Himself.
Yet although I must wait for Heaven before I can achieve this absolutely, it is nonetheless true that I can begin it on earth by means of this indwelling of the Spirit of God. This real presence of God in my soul can secure for me what is called an experiential knowledge of God, such as undoubtedly I have. It is not only that I believe, but I know. Not only have I been told about God, but, at least in passing glimpses, I have seen Him. We may almost say to the Church what the men of Sichar said to the woman of Samaria: “We now believe, not for thy saying, for we ourselves have heard and know.” “For the Spirit Himself giveth testimony to our spirit that we are the sons of God.”