Early Church’s Understanding Of the Holy Spirit

In the past two months, I have being digging into the early Church fathers’ writings before the Council of Nicaea(325 A.D.), with an aim of understanding the early Church’s views of the person and work of Christ Jesus, the Holy Spirit and the relationship between the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

In this article I shared with my blog readers a writing on role of the Holy Spirit, found in chapter 25 of the Fragments from the Lost Writings of Irenaeus( c. 120- 28th of June 202 A.D), a bishop of Lyons, taught by the bishop of Smyrna Polycarp ( c.69 – 155 A.D) also claimed disciple of apostle John,  and the person of the Holy Spirit found in Titus Flavius Clemens (c.150 – c. 215) of Alexandria’s exposition of Luke 3:22.

Irenaeus on the work of the Holy Spirit:

Know thou that every man is either empty or full. For if he has not the Holy Spirit, he has no knowledge of the Creator; he has not received Jesus Christ the Life; he knows not the Father who is in heaven; if he does not live after the dictates of reason, after the heavenly law, he is not a sober-minded person, nor does he act uprightly: such an one is empty. If, on the other hand, he receives God, who says, “I will dwell with them, and walk in them, and I will be their God,” such an one is not empty, but full.

Clement of Alexandria on Luke 3:22:

God here assumed the “likeness” not of a man, but “of a dove,” because He wished, by a new apparition of the Spirit in the likeness of a dove, to declare His simplicity and majesty.(From The Catena On Luke, edited by Corderius)


The Ante-Nicene Fathers, Volume I: The Apostolic Fathers with Justin Martyr and Irenaeus. 1885 (A. Roberts, J. Donaldson & A. C. Coxe, Ed.). Buffalo, NY: Christian Literature Company.( Ireneaus Quote from Chapter XXVI p. 572 )

The Ante-Nicene Fathers, Volume II: Fathers of the Second Century: Hermas, Tatian, Athenagoras, Theophilus, and Clement of Alexandria (Entire). 1885 (A. Roberts, J. Donaldson & A. C. Coxe, Ed.) (578). Buffalo, NY: Christian Literature Company.

2 thoughts on “Early Church’s Understanding Of the Holy Spirit

  1. Most of the churches today don’t even believe that those gifts of the Holy Spirit are still for today. They still believe it was back when Jesus walked the earth. My thing is how could they believe such a deception from the enemy? Jesus said that when He goes that we will be able to do more and great exploits for Him.

    • Hello Desiray,

      Thank you so much for your comment.

      Theologians, mostly from Reformed background, hold onto a view known as Cessationism. A view that “miracle gifts” of tongues and healing have ceased within the apostolic period. The arguments given are that God performed this signs in a particular time and for a specific purpose (Exodus 4:1-8, 1 Kings 17:1; 18:24, Acts 4:10,16) e.g. in Gospel of John, miracles, to which John called signs, were to authenticate who Christ Jesus is, with the aim of believing in Him. 1 Corinthians 13:8 is used to show that Paul predicted that the gift of tongues would cease.

      This position is held by church giants like St. Augustine (354–430):

      In the earliest times, the Holy Spirit fell upon them that believe and they spoke with tongues, which they had not learned, as the Spirit gave them utterance. These were signs adapted to the time. For there was this betokening of the Holy Spirit in all tongues [languages] to show that the gospel of God was to run through all tongues over the whole earth. That thing was done for a sign, and it passed away. (Source: Augustine, Homilies on the First Epistle of John, 6.10. Cf. Schaff, NPNF, First Series, 7:497–98.)

      Theodoret of Cyrus (c. 393–c. 466):

      In former times those who accepted the divine preaching and who were baptized for their salvation were given visible signs of the grace of the Holy Spirit at work in them. Some spoke in tongues which they did not know and which nobody had taught them, while others performed miracles or prophesied. The Corinthians also did these things, but they did not use the gifts as they should have done. They were more interested in showing off than in using them for the edification of the church. . . . Even in our time grace is given to those who are deemed worthy of holy baptism, but it may not take the same form as it did in those days. (Source: Theodoret of Cyrus, Commentary on the First Epistle to the Corinthians, 240, 43; in reference to 1 Cor 12:1, 7. Cited from 1–2 Corinthians, ACCS, 117).

      It was also held by Martin Luther, John Calvin, John Owen, Matthew Henry, John Gill and Jonathan Edward.

      In the other side, theologians, mostly from Charismatic background, hold to noncessationism. They too have shot mainly 1 Corinthians 1:4-8 and Ephesians 4:7-13 to defend the position that these gifts did not ceased with the apostles.

      I believe the main drama is on Charismatic camp’s worry and concerned of dead, formal, institutional intellectualism, while Reformed camp are concerned with a “superficial, glib, entertainment-oriented, man-centered emotionalism”(borrowing John MacArthur words).

      It is important to know that the dividing question between this two camps is not “Can God still do miracles today?(both camps fully believe He Can) but “Are the miraculous gifts of the New Testament work in the same way as it was in Christ and Apostles days”(its here were the two camp differ)

      It is my prayer that we look into this issue with the wisdom of God, on our knees seeking. Keeping in mind that we a called not into uniformity but unity, looking at both sides and holding to what is good and edifying to the body of Christ.

      I hope that I started a desire for you to look deeper into it. I wish I could go deeper, but as your fellow sinner who is found in Christ, I do know that the Holy Spirit will lead you into enjoying and delighting in our Lord and God, Christ Jesus for the glory of God the Father, even in troubling issues like this.

      In Christ Jesus,

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