Lectionary Reflection for the Day of Pentecost

Cover ArtThis excerpt comes from Acts (BTCB) by Jaroslav Pelikan, commenting on Acts 2:1:

Although, as the defenders of orthodoxy had to acknowledge, there were not early liturgical prayers addressed to the Holy Spirit (→5:3–4) as there were to the Son of God (7:59), so that they could not use such prayers as proof texts for the deity of the Spirit (→4:24–30)—the great exception being the Gloria Patri, with variants in the prepositions that became themselves the occasion of controversy—the definitive formulation of the dogma of the Holy Trinity by the First Council of Constantinople in 381 eventually gave rise to such prayers to the Holy Spirit. Before the formal opening of the Liturgy of Saint John Chrysostom the priest prays to the “Heavenly King, the Comforter, the Spirit of truth, who art everywhere and fillest all things”; and in the Latin West, probably in the ninth century, there arose this prayer for the fullness that the Holy Spirit grants:

Veni, Creator Spiritus, Come, Holy Ghost, Creator blest,

mentes tuorum visita, Vouchsafe within our souls to rest.

imple superna gratia, Come with thy power and heavenly aid,

quae tu creasti, pectora. And fill the hearts which thou hast made.

It is sung not only at Pentecost, but for ordinations and for the opening of synods and church councils—and any church council that sings it at its opening must be prepared to deal with the possible consequences! It is also the text for the first movement of Gustav Mahler’s Eighth Symphony.

The sneer “they are filled with new wine” (2:13) and Peter’s dismissive and even humorous (→12:13–16) response to this canard, “These men are not drunk, as you suppose, it being only the third hour of the day” (2:15 TPR), do call to mind the contrast drawn by Paul between the right and the wrong way of being filled: “Do not get drunk with wine, for that is debauchery; but be filled with the Spirit, addressing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord with all your heart” (Eph. 5:18–19). It is right to want to be “filled” with something, and the drunkard quite properly recognizes that human nature stands in need of some power that will take it out of itself (as alcohol and drugs do). But this need also includes the requirement that such fullness will in the process not corrupt and destroy it (as alcohol also does), but fulfill it by loosening the tongue and making it sing—but “to the Lord.” As Cyril of Jerusalem paraphrased Peter’s words here, “They are drunken, with a sober drunkenness, deadly to sin and life-giving to the heart, a drunkenness contrary to that of the body; for this last causes forgetfulness even of what was known, but that bestows the knowledge even of what was not known.” This paradox was to become a theme especially in the literature of Christian mysticism in both East and West.


©2005 by Jaroslav Pelikan. Published by Brazos Press. Unauthorized use of this material without express written permission is strictly prohibited.