Blaspheming the Holy Spirit (Wednesday’s and Thursday’s Gospels)

(St. Mark 3:20-27 and 28-35, respectively)

From St. Symeon the New Theologian, The Discourses XXXII, 1, 2, in Johanna Manley, The Bible and the Holy Fathers for Orthodox, p. 207:

Blasphemy against the Holy Spirit is to attribute His operations {“energies”? -LPO’F} to the opposite spirit, as says Basil the Great. How does one do this? Whenever one sees miracles brought about by the Holy Spirit or any of the other divine gifts in any of his brethren – that is compunction or tears, or humility, or divine knowledge, or a word of wisdom from on high, or anything else that is bestowed by the Holy Spirit on those who love God – and says that this comes from the deceit of the devil. But he also blasphemes against the Holy Spirit who works in them{,} who says that those who as sons of God are led by the divine Spirit, and perform the commandments of their God and Father, are being deceived by demons. This is what the Jews of old said against the Son of God …Like unbelievers and those completely uninitiated into the divine mysteries {“sacraments”? -LPO’F} when they hear anything about divine illumination, or of the enlightenment of soul and mind, or of contemplation and freedom from passion, or of humility and tears that are poured out by the working and grace of the Holy Spirit, {immediately} the eyes of their hearts are darkened rather than enlightened …They audaciously aver that these things come from the deceit of demons …To deny that at this present time there are some who love God, and that they have been granted the Holy Spirit …that they have become gods by knowledge …and contemplation, that wholly subverts the Incarnation of our God and Savior Jesus Christ! It denies the renewal of the image that had been corrupted and put to death, and its return to incorruption and immortality.

(FYI, St. Symeon the New Theologian is very big on the Divine Energies, hence his title “Theologian.”)

It’s literally “blasphemy” because it touches on the Divine “operations” or Energies as above, and God is fully present in His Energies – literally, to say God is the devil – as St. John Chrysostom also suggests in his Homily XLI on Matthew XII, 5, in Manley 258:

[T]his sin is above all things unpardonable. Why so? Because {Christ} Himself indeed they did not know – who He might be – but of the Spirit they received ample experience. For the prophets also prophesied by the Spirit whatever they said …You are offended at Me, He implies, because of the flesh with which I am encompassed. Let it be so. But can you say of the Spirit also we do not know {Him}? And therefore your blasphemy is unpardonable.

God is unable to pardon it not because He’s so highly offended and affronted, but because it’s a denial of the People of God’s whole heritage of Divine experience, including forgiveness. It’s self-estrangement from YHWH, it’s not wanting His forgiveness.

The logic here is that since Satan doesn’t cast out Satan, but only God the Holy Spirit, to deny this seemingly-simple reality (as the Lord expresses it) is to estrange oneself from the God one would need to forgive it, to not want to be forgiven by Him. As St. Chrysostom says, you don’t have to believe Christ is God, to believe that the Holy Spirit of God (in Him) casts out demons.

This is confirmed in the quote Manley (328) offers from an Orthodox theologian of today, Christos Yannaras, from his The Freedom of Morality:

God is not the “judge” of men in the sense of a magistrate who passes sentence and imposes a punishment, testifying to the transgression. He is judge because of what He is: the possibility of life and true existence. When man voluntarily cuts himself off from this possibility of existence, he is automatically “judged.” It is not God’s sentence but His existence that judges him. God is nothing but an ontological fact of love and an outpouring of love: a fulness of good, an ecstasy of loving goodness …Man is judged according to the measure of the life and existence from which he excludes himself. Sin is a self-inflicted condemnation and punishment which man freely chooses when he refuses to be as a personal hypostasis of communion with God and prefers to “alter” and disorder his existence, fragmenting his nature into individual entities – when he prefers corruption and death …For the Church, sin is not a legal but an existential fact. It is not simply a transgression, but an active refusal on man’s part to be what he truly is: the image and “glory,” or manifestation, of God.

That is to say, a refusal to be a “partaker in the divine nature” (2 Peter 1:4).

The West is often boggled by this expression “to blaspheme the Holy Spirit,” but it seems pretty clear – simple, really, like so much else – in the Orthodox Fathers of the Church.

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