Learning Theology with Carmina Gadelica: The Holy Spirit

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Part One: The Trinity

Part Two: Christ

Part Three: Christian Hope

As is plainly apparent in the previous installments, the theology of Carmina Gadelica does not treat faith or theology as an abstraction, but tends to concretize it into everyday life. We see invocations of the Trinity, of the Father, Christ, and the Spirit intermingled with seemingly innocuous everyday tasks like smooring a fire, preparing a meal, traveling, lying down to rest, etc. The Persons of the Trinity are understood as being truly One, but in the concrete the ministrations of each Person are envisaged more distinctly.

In more traditional theological terminology we might refer to this as the “economic” mode of the Trinity, in that while the action of the Trinity is always one since that action flows from the singular unity of the Godhead, yet each Person of the Trinity is seen as being especially and fittingly linked to a particular salvific act. As an example in Carmina Gadelica that is common to much of historical Christian theology:

I am bending my knee
In the eye of the Father who created me,
In the eye of the Son who died for me,
In the eye of the Spirit who cleansed me,
In love and desire. (Carmina Gadelica, 12, p. 44)

The strong association of the Holy Spirit and baptism is easily seen in this regard; it is the Spirit through whom we are cleansed of our sins, and, as one prayer has it, without whose divinity man can never be made brought into friendship with God:

O Holy Spirit of greatest power,
Come down upon us and subdue us;
From Thy glorious mansion in the heavens,
Thy light effulgent shed on us.

Without Thy divinity there is nothing
In man that can earn esteem;
Without Thyself, O King of Kings,
Sinless man can never be. (Carmina Gadelica, 244, p. 216)

The love of God that is shed abroad in our hearts and the light that enlightens all mankind, as St. John declares in the scriptures, is part of the ministry of the Holy Spirit. The light of God falls upon us by means of the Spirit, and there is a special affinity and closeness between the Spirit and man because of the Spirit’s activity. The Spirit guides us, cleanses us, heals us, and brings us to salvation. The Spirit acts as a sort of intermediary between God and man, being sent from Heaven to bring us back to God and our heavenly home:

May the Holy Spirit distil on me
Down from out of heaven,
To aid me and to raise me,
To bond my prayer firmly
At the throne of the King of life. (Carmina Gadelica, 243, p. 216)

The Spirit also helps man to put his trust in God and aids him in his journey of faith, while also being the conduit of God’s grace and sanctification. In the Gospel Jesus promises the Spirit to guide us into truth, and this vision of the Spirit’s intercession is on full display:

Each thing that is foul cleanse Thou early,
Each thing that is hard soften Thou with thy grace,
Each wound that is working us pain,
O Best of healers, make Thou whole!

Give Thou to Thy people to be diligent
To put their trust in Thee as God,
That Thou mayest help them in every hour
With Thy sevenfold gift, O Holy Spirit generous! (Carmina Gadelica, 244, p. 217)

Carmina Gadelica understands the waters of baptism as being the means of the Spirit’s cleansing and healing of the soul, envisioning the Spirit as a healer and a balm. Sin is understood in Carmina Gadelica largely in terms of a stain or a wound; that is, human kind in its fallen state is conceptualized not as having a different nature per se (e.g., a “sin nature”) but rather as somehow being wounded and thus not possessing itself or its faculties in their fullness. Stated another way in more traditional theological terminology, humanity no longer possesses sanctifying grace because of sin, but the Spirit in baptism becomes the conduit of this grace, healing the wound, cleansing the stain and restoring that sanctifying grace to man. The Spirit has a fitting role in this in that the Spirit’s mission forms a sort of parallel movement: The Spirit is sent from the Father to pour out grace on man, and man through that grace is brought to the Father through the Spirit. And as the Spirit moved over the waters of creation, so the Spirit enlivens the water of baptism to create man anew and remedy the wound of sin. The Trinitarian essence of salvation is culminated in the Spirit’s bestowal of grace:

Father eternal and Lord of the peoples,
I believe that Thou hast remedied my soul in the Spirit of healing,
That Thou gavest Thy loved son in covenant for me,
That Thou hast purchased my soul with the precious blood of Thy Son.

Father, eternal Lord of life,
I believe that Thou didst pour on me the Spirit of grace at the bestowal of baptism. (Carmina Gadelica, 228, p. 201)

The communion and fellowship with God that is restored by the Spirit through baptism is not envisaged as just a symbolic event, but permeates every facet of everyday life. It was noted earlier how seemingly innocuous things like smooring the fire become an invocation of grace and the Spirit’s aid; in a similar manner, baptism transforms water into a constant reminder of the Spirit’s presence and activity. Every washing, every bath is an invocation the grace received in baptism and the promise of the Spirit’s guidance and protection:

Be the night of Christ betwixt me and each night,
The right of Christ betwixt me and each right,
The flowing of Spirit betwixt me and each flowing,
The laving of Spirit betwixt me and each laving,
The bathing of Spirit betwixt me and each bathing,
And no I’ll thing can touch me. (Carmina Gadelica, 233, p. 206)

This understanding of the permeation of grace and the omnipresent activity of the Spirit extends even further. The Holy Spirit’s work in baptism is not a one-time event but is the continual work of sanctification, meant to encompass the totality of life. Theology becomes concrete in every day activities, and since the Spirit uses concrete realities like water to effect grace in the heart of man, nothing in creation is merely material but is infused with God’s presence. The corollary of this is that God’s grace and succor are to be invoked everywhere and at all times:

May the King shield you in the valleys,
May Christ aid you on the mountains,
May Spirit bathe you in the slopes,
In hollow, on hill, on plain,
Mountain, valley and plain. (Carmina Gadelica, 277, p. 256)

Ultimately, the Spirit helps man to live as God wills, to grow into sanctification and the qualities of God that form the image of man. The theology of Carmina Gadelica isn’t naive in assessing man’s condition, as it recognizes the absolute need of grace for man to live in friendship with God at all. However, there is a fundamental optimism predicated on the reality of God’s love for all he has made. As noted previously, the idea that Christ has purchased the soul with his blood runs mightily through Carmina Gadelica, underscoring this hope and reliance of the fact that God does love and care for what he has made, even though it is wounded. But the death of Christ is felt so deeply in Carmina Gadelica so as to bring about an unmistakable conviction that God eagerly desires to bestow his grace on man through his Spirit, making it in effect as natural (or perhaps supernatural?) a thing as smooring or bathing.

There is thus every reason to be hopeful, because God has done everything to bring man back to him, and the Spirit has a special role to play in effecting man’s sanctification:

Bestow on us fullness in our need,
Love towards God,
The affection of God,
The smile of God,
The wisdom of God,
The grace of God,
The fear of God,
And the will of God
Yo do in the world of the Three,
As angels and saints
Do in heaven;
Each shade and light,
Each day and night,
Each time in kindness,
Give Thou us Thy Spirit. (Carmina Gadelica, 1, p. 35)

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Jason Watson

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