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The Indwelling of the Holy Spirit in the Souls of the Just: Part 1, Chapt. 1

Posted by Dim Bulb on November 22, 2010

The Indwelling of the Holy Spirit in the Souls of the Just
The Presence of God in All Creatures as Their
Active Principle or Efficient Cause

Before broaching the interesting yet difficult question of the indwelling of the Holy Ghost in the souls of the just, and of the mysterious union He thus effects with them; before going into the proofs of the presence both substantial and extraordinary of the three Divine persons in the just soul which thus becomes a living temple wherein the adorable Trinity finds delight, it will be useful, and, to a certain extent, even necessary, to grasp a few preliminary notions on the ordinary way in which God is present in all things. Nothing, indeed, could be more unreasonable than to expound the
doctrine of the extraordinary or special presence of God in the souls of the just, before we know quite clearly what is His ordinary presence in all creation. To be in a fit position to speak in precise terms of these two kinds of presence, and to distinguish one from the other, we must first of all become acquainted with their respective characteristics, and see in what they agree and in what they differ. This may be achieved by carefully examining, defining and comparing their natures. Were we to follow a different course of action, plunging at once into a more or less scientific explanation of the indwelling of God in the soul by the life of grace, without having, at the outset, firmly established and clearly explained that such an indwelling is to be found nowhere else in nature, we should be in danger of imparting very incomplete notions, and of leaving the reader in a state of vagueness that could not but be regrettable. On the other hand, it will not be necessary to dwell at length on the proofs for the divine omnipresence, since all Catholics believe in it; we shall, however, insist on the way in which it is to be understood in order to convey an exact idea of God’s immensity, and so to prepare the way for a clear understanding of the special presence of God in the souls of the just.


It is a dogma of faith, as well as a truth of reason, that God is everywhere—in heaven, on earth, in all things and in all places: that He is present in a very
intimate manner in everything created. This truth is known to all, not only to the philosopher and theologian, but even to the little child whose intelligence is but awakening; it is one of the first lessons it receives at its mother’s knee—one of the first truths it learns from any Christian teacher.

This doctrine, which the simplest Christian holds at the beginning of his moral life, and which he continues to hold without always understanding its full bearing, nor suspecting what deep truths it expresses, was preached long ago by the Apostle St. Paul, before the most illustrious audience in the world. He was addressing, not an ignorant populace, but the official representatives
of human wisdom, the members of the Areopagus of Athens, when, referring to the existence of God in every creature, the Apostle exclaimed: “That
they should seek God, if haply they may feel after Him or find Him, although He be not far from every one of us; for in Him we live, and move, and are” (Acts 17:27-28).

Centuries before, the Psalmist had made this same divine omnipresence the theme of his song: “Behold, Lord, Thou hast known all things, the latest and
those of old; Thou hast formed me, and hast laid Thy hand upon me. Thy knowledge has become wonderful to me; it is high, and I cannot reach to it. Whither shall I go from Thy spirit? or whither shall I fly from Thy face? If I ascend into heaven. Thou art there; if Idescend into hell. Thou art present. If I take my wings early in the morning, and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea, even there also shall Thy hand lead me, and Thy right hand shall hold me.” (Ps 138:5-12).

Finally, in order fully to convince us that we cannot escape His ever-vigilant eye, God Himself, using our weak human language, with infinite condeseension, says to us through the mouth of His prophet: “Shall a man
be hid in secret places, and I not see him, saith the Lord? Do not I fill heaven and earth, saith the Lord?” (Jer 23:24).

It is not necessary to cite other testimonies in proof of a point of doctrine admitted by all who believe in the existence of an infinite Being, the Author of all things; yet, on account of its extreme importance, we should like to set down here the philosophical proof of the omnipresence of God, given by St. Thomas. God, he says, “is present in all things, not as part of their essence, or as an accidental element, but as the active principle is present to the thing on which it acts; for it is essential that the efficient cause be united with the object upon which it exercises an immediate activity, and that it comes into contact with this object, if not bodily, then, at least, by the exercise of its power and energies.” (Summa Theologica. I., q. vili., a. 1.)

We may compare God’s action with that of the sun. Although vastly distant from our planet, it still comes into contact with it through its rays, else how could it give light and heat to the earth? But God works in every created thing, not only through the medium of secondary causes as the sun acts upon the earth, but also in a direct and immediate way, by Himself bringing into
existence and preserving in things that which is most intimate and deep- rooted in them, namely, their very being. For, as the characteristic effect of fire is to burn, so the characteristic effect of God, Who is Being itself, is to cause the being of creatures. “And so God is intimately present to all things as their efficient cause—as causing the being of all things.” (Summa Theologica. I., q. vili., a. 1.)

God, then, is not present to the world like the artisan or the artist; he is external to his work, and does not often touch it in a direct way, but rather through his instruments, or is present to his work when he produces it, but later on withdraws from it without endangering its existence. God is so intimately united to the works of His hands that if, after calling a created thing into being. He should withdraw from it and cease to sustain it, it would immediately fall into the nothingness out of which it was made.

And if you question the Angelic Doctor as to how God, an immaterial, unextended and indivisible substance, can be present in all places, and in the inner depths of beings occupying material space, he will answer you with a comparison borrowed from nature and already employed by the Fathers, namely: He is present in three ways: “By His power, by His presence, and by His essence. By His power, because all things are subject to His sovereign command: He is present everywhere like a king who, while residing in his palace, is by a fiction deemed present in all the parts of his kingdom where he exercises authority. By His presence, that is to say most intimately, because He knows all things and sees all things; and nothing, however hidden it may be, can escape His attention; all things are present to Him as objects are said to be in our presence, although they may be situated at a slight distance from our person. Finally by His essence, for He is as really and in His very substance present to all created things as a monarch is present in person to the throne on which he is seated.” (Summa Theologica, I., q. viii., a. ,3.)

The reason for this substantial presence of God in His creatures is that not one of them could dispense with the divine action preserving its existence and actuating its operations; and since substance and action are not really distinct in God, it follows that “He is substantially—in His actual reality—present wherever He works, i. e., in all things and in all places.” (Summa Theologica, I., q. viii., a. ,1.)

In his commentary on Peter Lombard’s first book of Sentences, St. Thomas explains this threefold presence in slightly different words. Not that it excludes the explanation we have just given, nor that it is in contradiction with it, but it brings out better the thought of the Angelic Doctor relative to the substantial presence of God in His capacity of efficient cause. Here are his
words :  “God is in created things by His presence, inasmuch as He is there in action, for the worker must in some manner be present with his work; and, furthermore,because the Divine operation cannot be separated from the active force from which it flows, it must be held that God is present in all things by His power; finally, since the force or the power of God is identical with His essence, it follows that God is in all things by His essence.” (St. Thomas, Sententia, dist. XXXVII.. q. i., a. 2.) These words are highly significant.


There are some theologians who explain the divine omnipresence by saying that God is present everywhere by His essence, because the divine substance, being infinite, fills the heavens and the earth. To them, the immensity of God is a property by which the divine essence is, so to speak, distributed ad infinitum in all existing and possible spaces; that is to say, God’s omnipresence is the actual diffusion of the divine being, penetrating all real things and places without blending with them. According to this opinion, the divine immensity might be compared to a sea without shores, capable of containing an infinite number of beings of every nature and dimension. Within this sea is a sponge which the waters interpenetrate and then flow over on all sides: a figure of this world, that God’s immensity pervades and then flows over on all sides; with this difference, however, that God is wholly in the world and wholly in each of its parts, whereas each portion of the water of the sea occupies a distinct place.

St. Augustine conceived a similar picture of the divine immensity in his early days before his conversion: “So also I thought of Thee, O God, O Life of my life,” he says in his Confessions, “so also I thought of Thee, as stretched out through infinite spaces, interpenetrating the whole mass of the world, reaching out beyond in all directions to immensity without end, so that sea, sky, all things are full of Thee, limited in Thee, while Thou art not limited at all. As the body of the air above the earth does not bar the passage of the light of the sun, but the light penetrates the air, not bursting or dividing it, but filling it—in the same way, I thought, the body of heaven, and air, and sea, and even of earth was all pervious to Thee, penetrable in all its parts great or
small, so that it can admit the hidden interjection of Thy presence, which from within or from without orders all things that Thou hast created. This was my fancy, for I could shape no other; yet it was false. For in that way a greater part of the earth would contain a greater part of Thee, a less part a less. All things would be full of Thee in such a sense that there would be more of thee in the elephant than in the sparrow, inasmuch as one is larger than the other, and fills a wider space. And thus Thou wouldst unite Thy limbs piecemeal with the limbs of the world, the great with the great, the small with the small. This is not Thy nature, but as yet Thou hadst not lightened my darkness.” (St. Augustine, Confessions, I., vii., c. 1.)

Further on, speaking on the same subject, he adds: “I marshaled before the sight of my spirit all creation, all that we see, earth, and sea, and air, and stars, and trees, and animals; all that we do not see, the firmament of the sky above, and all angels, and all spiritual things; for these also, as if they were bodies, did my imagination arrange in this place or in that. I pictured to myself Thy creation as one vast mass, composed of various kinds of bodies, some real bodies, some those which I imagined in place of spirits. I pictured this mass as vast, not indeed in its true dimensions, for these I could not know, but as large as I chose to think, only finite on every side. And Thee, O Lord, I conceived as lapping it round and interpenetrating it everywhere, but as being infinite in every direction; as if there were sea everywhere, and everywhere through measureless space nothing but illimitable sea, and within this a sponge, huge, but yet finite; the sponge would be pervaded through all its particles by the infinite sea. In this way, I pictured Thy finite creation, as filled with Thy infinity.” (St. Augustine, Confessions, I., vii., c. 5.)

After his conversion and accession to the episcopal see of Hippo, Augustine’s language is entirely different: “When we say that God is everywhere we must withdraw from our mind every grossness of thought, and disengage ourselves from sensible images, lest we should imagine God as diffused everywhere, like some greatness spreading itself in space, as does the earth, the sea, the air or light; for all such things are less in one of their parts than in the whole; but we rather should conceive God’s greatness as we think of great wisdom in a man who happens to be of small stature.” (St. Augustin, lib. de Præsentia Dei, sen Epist. ad Dardanum, 187, c. iv.. n. 11.)

The notion of the diffusion and expansion of God’s being, was entirely disapproved by St. Augustine, and dealt with by him as a carnal conception to be rejected. The advocates of such a theory do not, it is true, fall into Augustine’s error whilst he was a Manichean, of supposing that a greater part of the earth can contain a greater part of the divine substance; for they know
and teach that a pure spirit being indivisible and without parts does not occupy space like earthly bodies, but can be wholly in the whole being and wholly in each and every part of that being. They do, however, seem to share the ideas of Augustine’s pre-conversion days, but which he reformed later, in the general trend of their argument and in the manner in which they conceive of the divine ubiquity.

Far more spiritual, and therefore much more in accordance with the divine nature, is the notion of God’s immensity given by St. Thomas. Instead of admitting, with the advocates of the theory we are now refuting, a kind of diffusion of the divine substance, so that God would still he in His most real substance present to created things scattered through space, even though by
an impossibility His action exercised no influence upon them, the Angelic Doctor teaches that the formal reason of God’s presence in all created things is none other than His infinite activity and operation, just as the reason of
His immensity is His omnipotence.

The Divine substance occupies no determined space, either great or small; it does not need space to display itself, and enters into no relation of proximity or remoteness with beings that exist in space. If we speak of a relation of the Divine substance with these beings, we mean only a relation of power and operation; i. e., God is intimately present to all things because He produces
and preserves the being of all things : “God is not determined to space great or small by the necessity of His essence, as if He need be present in any place, since He is from all eternity before all place; but by the immensity of His power He reaches into all things which are in place, because He is the universal cause of being, Thus He is wholly wheresoever He is, because by His simple power He reaches into all things.” (t. Thomas. I., iii., Contra Gent. lxviii.) If then God is present in all places and in all creatures, it is because no actual space and no created being can escape His direct and immediate influence, for His power, and consequently His substance, reaches out to them all.” (Summa Theologica. la., q. cxii., a. 1.)


Theologians, as we have seen, often explain God’s omnipresence by saying that He is present everywhere because of His immensity. St. Thomas uses a different term. According to him, God is present everywhere in the capacity of efficient cause, per modum causae. ( Summa Theologica, I., q. viii., n. 3.) Such an expression is profound and full of meaning, for it banishes from the mind any idea of a diffusion or expansion of the Divine substance, at the same time marking out the Divine operation as the basis of the relations existing between God and His creatures. Yet the expression was not a new one, and St. Thomas is not giving a purely personal opinion; here as ever he shows himself to be the faithful echo of tradition.

And, as we have already noticed, St. Augustine declared that God was in the world as the efficient cause of the world, “as the presence of the One by Whom the world was created; as the artisan is present to the work he handles.” (In Evang. Joan., tract 2, n. 10.)  If, therefore, God fills the heavens and the earth, it is by the presence and exercise of His power and not by the necessity of His nature (De Civit. Dei, 1, vii., c. xxx.), for God’s greatness is one of power and not of bulk. St. Thomas seems manifestly to have taken his inspiration
from these different passages. (Contra Gent., 1, III., c. lxviii.)

St. Fulgentius, a disciple of St. Augustine, speaks in much the same terms as his master. Likewise, St. Gregory of Nyssa. (see, respectively, I. II., ad Trasim, c. xl. and lib. De Anima.)

That the basis for the presence of God by very substance in all created things is the divine activity, can be clearly seen from all these passages, and from many others we could easily adduce. An earthly body is present in the place it occupies neither by its action nor even directly by its substance, but by its dimensions, by the contact of its parts with the parts of the body surrounding
and containing it; since, therefore, it is quantity that gives parts and dimensions to a body and enables it to come into contact with another body and to occupy a determined part of space, such or such a body is, properly speaking, present in space by its quantity: per quantitatem dimensivam.

Far different is the way in which a spirit is present in space. As it is a simple, that is to say, an indivisible substance and without parts, it cannot of itself occupy any space, either great or small, and does not need space to display itself. If, however, a spirit wishes to enter into relation with a place or with the things present in that place, it can do so by the exercise of its activities and its energies. Hence the proposition, looked upon as an axiom by all Scholastics : spirits are present in space by contact of power—per contactum virtutis. (St. Thomas, Contra Gent., 1, III., c. lxviii.)

What, therefore, quantity is to bodies—i. e., a property distinct from their substance and extending it through space—active power is to spirits, which it
places in contact with space and the things situated in space.(Summa Theologica, I., q, viii., a. 2, ad. 1.)

This is why St. Thomas, when asking the question whether ubiquity is a property becoming God from all eternity, utrum esse ubique conveniat Deo ab aeterno, instead of answering, like some theologians, that God is not, of course, present from all eternity to things which did not as yet exist, but that His substance is, nevertheless, really and eternally present in the spaces which the different created beings are to occupy in time, answers “that the Divinity is present only temporarily in created things according as by His creative act He is present by His power during their temporary existence.” (St Thomas, Sententiæ, 1, I., dist. xxxvii., q. Ii., n. .3.)

And if you question the Fathers as to where God was before the creation of the world, instead of answering that He was in these incommensurable spaces occupied by the present universe, spaces which thousands of other worlds far greater than ours could not fill, they will answer you differently, saying through the mouth of St. Bernard: “We need not trouble to ask where He
was, for besides Him nothing existed, and He was then in Himself alone.”  (St. Bernard, De Consider., 1, V., cap. vi.)

Hence, to summarize, in the mind of St. Thomas and the Fathers of the Church, the basic reason, the true ground, the definitive “why” of the presence of God in creatures is the divine operation, formally immanent, since it neither issues forth from, nor is even distinct from, the principle whence it emanates, yet producing outward created effects and, therefore, called “virtually transitive,” virtualiter transiens.

~THE INDWELLING OF THE HOLY SPIRIT IN THE SOULS OF THE JUST According to the Teaching of St Thomas Aquinas, by Rev. Father Barthelemy Froget, O.P.


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