On Pentecost and “Matters Not Dictated By the Holy Spirit”

The Holy Spirit is sent into the world for one basic reason, to make known the essential truth that we are made not merely for a life in this world, but for eternal life.

"Pentecost" (c. 1545) by Titian [WikiArt.org]

“Objection: The Scripture is plainly full of matters not dictated by the Holy Spirit. –Answer: Then they do not harm faith. Objection: But the Church has decided that all is of the Holy Spirit. Answer: I answer two things; first, the Church has not so decided; secondly, if she should so decide, it could be maintained.”

— Pascal, Pensées, #567.

“The Apostles, prompted by the Spirit, invited all to change their lives, to be converted and be baptized. Immediately after the event of Pentecost, Peter spoke convincingly to the crowd: ‘When they heard this, they were cut to the heart and said to Peter and the rest of the Apostles, ‘Brethren, what shall we do?’ And Peter said to them, ‘Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit’ (Acts, 2:37-38).”
— John Paul II, The Mission of the Redeemer, 1990, #47.


An accusation leveled against God in recent years is that he did not do enough for us. He gave us the cosmos and our existence in it, perhaps. But since he did not give us everything we think we need and want, either he does not exist or he is cruel. He is, at best, a negligent God. He abandoned us in this messy world and left us to fend for ourselves. Our “rights” have been violated by the divinity itself. We have no choice but to act on our own. We will make the rules, establish justice on earth. We have no need to listen to any revelation from on high or respect it if we hear about it. How could any “god” know more about us than we know ourselves? We have a “right” to happiness. Since we are not happy, someone must pay.

What’s more, we have a “right” to have our “rights” respected. We cannot depend on anything outside of ourselves. It isn’t wholesome. We are free to make what we want and do what we want. We are “owed” what we want; we are victims if we do not have it awarded to us. That is the basis of our dignity. The Supreme Court understands this and has worked to let us enact our own views of the universe. There is no natural or divine order. The Obama administration, in its many arbitrary decrees, has made every effort to free religious people of the blindly-imposed burdens attributed erroneously to God. Current elections are about extending government power to free people in religious organizations from restrictive commandments and customs that might inhibit government polity and control. So goes the current wisdom.

Part of the history of Christianity has been the effort to decide what the Holy Spirit was up to out there among the nations that had not yet heard of the “good news”. This is why missionaries were sent out. But most of the Chinese, Buddhist, Hindu, and Muslim world wants nothing to do with them. Some now say that the Holy Spirit merely inspires us to be good human beings, or to practice whatever we want. No particular way of approaching God is better than any other. So we really do not need missionaries, or even dialogue. Why disturb anyone in his settled beliefs? It only causes violence and turmoil.

At the end of the Gospel of John, we are told: “It is this disciple who testifies to these things and has written them, and we know that his testimony is true. There are also many other things that Jesus did, but if these were to be described individually, I do not think the whole world would contain the books that would be written” (Jn 21:24-25). The other part of Christian history recounts how the Church was formed and organized, how it came to understand in ever more careful terms just who Christ was, his place within the Godhead, his Incarnation amongst us, his life and death, the Resurrection, Ascension, and the sending of the Holy Spirit.

Thus, we can ask ourselves: “Just why did God do it this way, as it were, his way?”


The best way to answer that question, it sometimes seems to me, is precisely to imagine some other way that would be better—one that made more sense to us. Actually, some of this alternate imagining can be found in Scripture itself. It is not without interest that right up to the Ascension, the Apostles were still wondering if Christ was about to reestablish the Kingdom of Israel. They could not quite get it out of their heads that, while Christ did announce the coming of the Kingdom of God, he did not quite mean what they thought he meant. He was not going to establish a world-wide Empire beginning in Jerusalem, Macedonia, Persia, or Rome. Eventually, St. Augustine devoted over a thousand pages to explain the difference between the City of God and the City of Man. (Just to have this book was probably reason enough not to set out on worldly empire.)

But we also find the accounts of Christ’s temptations in the desert. Here, the Devil himself is perplexed over what Jesus is up to. He (the Devil) knew that he (Christ) was up to no good. So he felt him out. The Devil understood a good deal about his Adversary. He (Christ) seemed to be able to accomplish things that no ordinary human agency could bring about. The Devil has certain pretensions of his own. So he asks Christ to “adore” him. He does not get anywhere with this approach. The Devil presumably knew that he was not himself divine. He had some premonition that God was up to something else. Some thought that the devils fell because they knew something about this God-becoming-man business. They did not like it. But they could not be sure. So this Christ had to be tested to find out just who he was.

What about the poor? Ah, social justice! Wasn’t the Messiah supposed to be on the side of the poor? So why not change stones into bread? That way, we would put all the bakers out of business, of course, but everyone would be fed with no problem or expense. Suppose Christ had gone along with the Devil and provided free bread in unlimited quantities. Next thing we know, the people would want Bavarian chocolate cakes, Danish pastries, and Baked Alaskas. The Devil would then accuse Christ of niggardliness, just as the Hebrews in the Desert grew tired of quail and manna. They longed for the fleshpots of Egypt. There is a similar situation in Plato. Once the basic necessities of life are satisfied, people would want more, luxuries, nicer things. We have already here in a nutshell something of the history of economics.

The Devil next offers Christ all the kingdoms of the world, but with the one little hitch, that of his accepting to be second in command. Christ simply ceases arguing. Some conversations and arguments simply need to end when we see where they are going. “Be gone!” This is the problem with incessant dialoguing that never reaches any conclusion. It is like the Greeks in Athens discussing with Paul. When they came to something so ridiculous as the Resurrection, they bid farewell to Paul. They would deal with it at another time. There are many ways not to listen to the truth or to cut short insincere discussions. But the point seems clear. Christ could have done many things that he did not do. Why?


As we saw in John’s Gospel, Christ does invite people to “change” their lives. Evidently, that is something that cannot be done from the outside. And it seems that this invitation to change our ways can also be rejected. If it could not be rejected, we would not be talking about it. It would simply happen whether we liked it or not. In the short dialogue from Pascal that I cited at the beginning, the curiosity in Scripture concerns those not dictated by the Holy Spirit. The objector thinks, however, that the Church has claimed that the Holy Spirit does decree everything. Pascal answers in two steps. First, he tells us, rightly, that the Church does not say that Scripture is designed to tell us everything we need to know. Nor does the Church say that it does. But, secondly, if the Church did say that Scripture contains everything, “it could be maintained.”

What did Pascal mean by that? He meant that, if this were true, what was contained would in fact make sense when we thought clearly about it. He is reaffirming the experience that we have of those things indeed contained in Scripture. Namely, when we think about them, having learned them from Scripture, they do make sense and shed light on everything else. Faith does seek reason, and finds it. Likewise, when reason looks at what is found in Scripture, it finds good sense, when spelled out.

This conclusion brings me back to something I was talking about earlier, namely the accusation that God was negligent in not giving us everything we need. This is itself an aspect of the question of whether the Holy Spirit, on being sent by Christ at Pentecost, had as his mission the teaching us of everything that we needed to know about both God and the world. I like to approach this issue via the path I sketched above. Would we want a world in which bread and pastries were freely available with no effort on our part so that we did not have to do anything but eat them with no effort to make them or pay for them? In other words, would we want our practical reason—that function of the mind and hand that makes things—to be left unused by each member of the human race? I think not. We would become inert.


Let us take this issue a step further back. Mankind had to learn to bake. This means it had to learn to grow wheat, corn, oats, and other grains, not to mention how to make butter, strawberry jam, and Austrian whipped cream to go with the bread and pastries, let alone worry the dietitians and doctors when we eat too many of them. Mankind had to learn to mill the grains into flour. Ovens had to be invented. Baking is a certain skill. Not everyone needs to be a baker. If everyone were a baker, we would not have time for anything else. We would have an abundance of bread but no shoes. There are people who complain about the world because many are poor or lack something. Was the Creator somehow oblivious of this little need that went along with the object of His over-all creation? Or rather, did he have something else in mind about how best to provide for it? Was it all that cruel if he gave us enough brains and talents to work it out ourselves? Aquinas says that we were not created with tusks and hides because we were given brains instead to figure out how to protect ourselves.

The things not in Scripture were elsewhere found in the world from the beginning. Scripture was not designed to help us learn how to make a rocket or a computer. Evidently, its author knew that these things could eventually be figured out with the things already in creation, especially the human mind itself. We conclude from these considerations that God had something else in mind when he got around to divine revelation. He did not need further to instruct us in what we could figure out by ourselves and would enjoy doing so. He just had to turn us loose on the world with enough time and a little pressure on us to go about learning what we needed and wanted to know. It is not that things in Scripture hinder us from knowing what we could know by ourselves. Usually they help us.

But the Incarnation and Pentecost are divine initiatives we could not have anticipated. Once they happened, we can make sense of them by thinking about them. That was Pascal’s second point. So Christ’s coming amongst us and his sending the Holy Spirit were needed to explain what we were really here in this world for, nothing more, nothing less. Revelation was not designed to tell us about building a better world order or how to do so in a few easy lessons. We were supposed to do what we could. But most people, most of the time in human history lived in pretty tough circumstances, usually brought on by themselves or others who put themselves first. And even those who lived in prosperous times somehow seemed to develop even more serious problems than the poor and less well-off. “Why was this?” we wonder. It was because human life was really about something transcendent. There was no escape from what we really are. This is what we were being told about ourselves and what we really wanted.

What men needed to know was not how to build a railroad or develop a better cough medicine. Rather, it concerned each person’s final destiny, what it basically was, and how to obtain it. Achieving this purpose is what each human life, no matter when or where lived, or how long for that matter, was about in its basic drama or story. At the end, each person is to be judged on the basis of how he lived his life based on what he did and knew for himself and others. This judgment is always fair and just, but is always founded on the free choices of the person being judged. They manifest what kind of a person he really is and always will be. In this sense, princes and scholars, farmers and merchants, mothers and fathers, the great and the small, are judged by the same standards. This is the only real equality, a proportionate one, that exists everywhere in the human historical universe.

The Incarnation, birth, suffering, death, and resurrection of Christ are empirical accounts of what happened when God decided to explain to us exactly what we are and the significance of our own choices and way of life. God was in something of a bind. He could not invite other free but finite beings besides himself to participate in his own inner life unless they wanted to do so. Some things are impossible for us to have unless we want them after the manner in which they are. Friendship and love are two of these. They bind man and God together in a way simple being does not. We could not be given free choice with one hand and have it taken back by another so that we would necessarily be inhabitants of God’s Kingdom.

The genius of God’s redemptive plan, if we might put it that way, was that it was given to us as a “second chance”. That is, men had already rejected God and followed their own ways. If another way were to be provided to return to the original purpose for which we were created, it would have to be after the manner of a free gift, something that is really what we want but also capable of being rejected. The life of Christ in this sense is what happened when many men rejected God’s second offer. Instead of greeting and accepting him, they rejected him, denied him.

Christ’s response was to suffer in His innocence. With this suffering, some few finally saw His point that we cannot do wrong. But others rejected Christ’s way. They sought to find an alternate way. This is what the lives we see among us today are about. The continued seeking of an end that is not the one we were designed to possess, that of eternal life, that life that is ours, but follows our death. Its completion is not something we can do in this life.

What we can do in this life is to learn to provide for ourselves and to take care of one another, to worship God as he has indicated is the one way properly to worship Him. We can accomplish this purpose only if we use our minds and virtues to do what is reasonable and makes sense. When we reject the ways that are in reason and revelation, we end up in our own closed world. We claim a “right” to do what we want. We deny any transcendence or life beyond death, as the resurrection implies. The Holy Spirit is sent into the world for one basic reason, to keep alive and to make known in various ways, but principally through the Church, the essential truth, that we are made not merely for a life in this world, where we begin, but for eternal life where we end. Our path to it has been made known to us in the life and death of Christ.

The Spirit still leads each of us to only one goal, the change of our hearts whereby we choose to accept the final good that is given to us. This one good is so much better than anything we could concoct for ourselves that we are amazed that we could reject it. But we can and do. This is the drama of the history, of the world in which we find ourselves. It is a world in which, much to our surprise. God did not really leave anything out that we needed to know either to take care of ourselves or to be saved for eternal life.

(Editor’s note: This essay was originally posted at CWR on May 15, 2016.)

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About James V. Schall, S.J. 180 Articles
James V. Schall, S.J. (1928-2019) taught political philosophy at Georgetown University for many years until retiring in 2012. He was the author of over thirty books and countless essays on philosophy, theology, education, morality, and other topics. His of his last books included On Islam: A Chronological Record, 2002-2018 (Ignatius Press, 2018) and The Politics of Heaven and Hell: Christian Themes from Classical, Medieval, and Modern Political Philosophy (Ignatius, 2020).


  1. Fr. Schall wrote beautifully and well. Truly, his having left the world left us bereft and weak. Our only recourse, as he taught, is to the Holy Spirit, the Sacred Heart, and Our Father. RIP, Fr. Schall.

  2. Blessed Feast of Pentecost !

    Along with the good points mentioned in the article as the false reasons being used not to trust in God and His goodness from our darkened intellects , there is the influence of literary works too – they do have shadows of truth and can bring on the temptation that every thing can be lumped as fruits of human fantasy !
    Such a threat esp. for the ‘ the learned and the wise ‘ and thus need for more caution about such for the young people .
    The ? excess importance given to such works , seeing them as ‘ foundational ‘ , at the same time , often mocking The Word with the subtle contempt as being all ‘impossibilities’ – our times are blessed with much biblical truth and studies and would it not be time to claim such alone as the true foundation, both for the East and the West and to use other works more as examples of the ‘torrent of waters …’ to be waded in with caution !

    Interesting how Virgil happens to be writing about characters afflicted with lust and its fruits at a time when God is preparing the remedy for it all , in the quiet and hiddenness of a Royal Line , destined to bring forth The Woman – Sts Ann and Joachim , spending time in prayer and fasting and brings forth The Woman as The Immaculate Conception , in holiness !

    ‘ The dragon spewed forth a torrent of water after that woman to sweep her away but the earth opened its mouth and swallowed up the river ‘ – in the Truth of The Incarnation , to bring us The Help as The gentle yet powerful breath of The Spirit .

    May He bless us ever , in all battles against the lies and confusions , to be blessed with the wisdom from on high to know and live for our true Patrimony !

  3. Christ’s Temptations in the Wilderness all deal with some aspect of the wielding of power, on the world’s terms. To this you can add that after the multiplication of the loaves and fishes the crowd wanted to make Christ king, which He rejected.
    One thing missing in the article is Original Sin. In the book of Genesis the Garden of Eden was planted by God and Adam was placed in a stewardship role over the Garden. The description of the Garden was that of lush fertility. That God was the One giving the rich soil its increase. The presence of the trees of the knowledge of good and evil and of life bestow a mystical, supernatural dimension to the Garden of Eden.
    The promise of the serpent to Adam and Eve was that if they ate of the forbidden fruit that they would attain autonomy. After having eaten of the forbidden fruit, Adam and Eve showed no sign of repentance for their actions. The first effect of the forbidden fruit was to make Adam and Eve aware of their nakedness. They were no longer clothed in the robes of righteousness. They were denuded of God’s graces. In expelling Adam and Eve from the Garden, God was making them live with the consequences of their actions. If they wanted autonomy, then they could no longer enjoy the God enhanced fertility of the soil of the Garden of Eden. They would need to till the soil in its natural state and live out the full consequences of their autonomy.

  4. “Some now say that the Holy Spirit merely inspires us to be good human beings or to practice whatever we want. No particular way of approaching God is better than any other”

    Humility is the key as the Holy Spirit can only dwell in a humble heart because no matter how broken any child of God may be or how worldly a man’s heart may become, it could be said, that when true humility is found, in childlike wonder, we walk anew upon holy ground.

    At Pentecost, The Spirit of God inspires the Apostles and sends them on their mission; while all the Baptized are asked to do the same. As those who receive the Holy Spirit are also empowered to give witness to Jesus Christ in the world, while He the Holy Spirit sanctifies our hearts in creating a dwelling place for Himself (The Divine Presence) to reside within us.

    After the Crucifixion in the Upper Room, we see those who had travelled the road of enlightenment/self-realization with Jesus (The Word Made Flesh) hide in fear of the Jewish leadership, while now knowing the full reality of their brokenness (Betrayal and cowardice) before our Father in heaven. It could be said that their hearts were now readied to receive The Holy Spirit as a humble heart is His dwelling place, as in

    “I am leaving you with a gift–peace of mind and heart. And the peace I give is a gift the world cannot give. So don’t be troubled or afraid”

    Prior to Pentecost, we see Man’s understanding of the righteousness of God manifest by Prophets, such as, in Elijah’s murderous blood bath of the vile prophets of Baal, with all their wives and innocent children. He then hides in fear because “I have been very zealous (Ruthless) for the Lord” Similar to St Paul’s zealous murderous persecution of Christians, while James and his brother John wanted to call down fire on a Samaritan town; they were rebuked by Jesus. Prior to this rebuke, Jesus called James and John, Boanerges, which meant “sons of thunder” (Mark 3:17) – probably a reference to the positive side of their bold and zealous personalities

    A Personal understanding of 1 Kings 19:11-12
    A wind there was (of Pride), rude and boisterous, that shook the mountains (Heavens) and broke the rocks (Holy precepts) in pieces before the Lord, but the Lord was not to be found in the wind (of my bluster). Nor in the storm (High expectations of life) and earthquake (Of self-made foundations/delusions) leading to the Fire (of suffering/Reality of the selfhood) and after the fire, the whisper of a gentle (Uplifting) breeze

    For men of good intent on the Worldly plain It is natural to want to prevail over evil (especially in others) to call to account and punish those who do evil, this desire comes from a worldly feeling of self-righteousness but as seen by Elijah’s inspired self-realization, God is known through His gentleness, as in a gentle breeze.

    Jesus says “Learn from me for I am meek and humble of heart”

    So, the battle has to be fought on the Spiritual Plane if it is to bear lasting fruit, we do this when we walk with the Holy Spirit in humility. (St Bernard, Humility; a virtue by which a man knowing himself as he truly is, abases him-self) .

    At Pentecost, we see the Holy Spirit descend and then separate onto the Apostles conferring within them (and now to those who serve Him) the power of Truth. The Truth bears witness to Itself and needs no embellishment, as those who are of the truth hear His voice. It could be said that authority comes with Truth and those who serve It. (As manifest in a humble heart)

    Quote from the Article: “Part of the history of Christianity has been the effort to decide what the Holy Spirit was up to out there among the nations that had not yet heard of the “good news”. This is why missionaries were sent out. *But most of the Chinese, Buddhist, Hindu, and Muslim world wants nothing to do with them.*

    One reason is that today we live in a world of telecommunication/internet etc and mankind has become cynical, as many see a Church that does not reflect the teaching of the Gospel that she preaches. So in our present day, more so than ever mankind needs to see the light of the Holy Spirit dwelling/working within us, as only a humble Priesthood/Church can lead mankind away from evil, as a humble heart (Church) will never cover its tracks or hide its shortcomings, and in doing so confers authenticity (Holiness), as it walks in its own vulnerability/weakness/brokenness in trust/faith before God and mankind. It is a heart (Church) to be trusted, as it ‘dispels’ darkness within its own ego/self, in serving God (Truth/Love) first, before any other as the Holy Spirit (Divine Presence) cannot dwell in an untruthful heart as “The Truth” will not permit evil to hide. We are ALL sinners but being honest with ourselves and others permit us to walk in humility (friendship) with the Holy Spirit, where no deception or lie is tolerated within ourselves or between each other.

    Christ reveals that the Holy Spirit will “convince the ‘unbelieving’ world of sin, and of justice and of judgment; ” he will “teach…all truth;” and will “glorify” Christ.

    *Words of condemnation have their place, but it is the whisper of a gentle breeze’ bearing witness to the Truth, in a humble heart, which glorifies God as it permits others to see and believe in His merciful gentle ‘living’ Face/heart, which leads others to contemplate/know/follow Him in humility also.

    “Father forgive them they know not what they do”

    Here we see His understanding of the human heart and the compassion that He had for all of mankind. Reflected in Isaiah 42:3 “He won’t break off a bent reed or put out a dying flame, but he will make sure that justice is done”
    There is no self-righteous anger, but rather a call for mercy and insightfulness for all those sinners who dwell in darkness. Which was manifest in His total self-giving on the Cross, for all men.

    As with the Centurion who stood facing Him as He hung on the Cross “The people dwelling in darkness have seen a great light, and for those dwelling in the region and shadow of death, on them a light has dawned” The divine spark had been ignited within the Centurion, a new understanding had commenced as he exclaimed

    “This man was indeed God’s Son.”

    We can look to St Mother Teresa as a modern-day example of Christian Charity in the way she spread the Gospel through works of charity and her confrontation with a fallen sinful world. In her confrontation with the promotors of abortion (The Clintons), it was not in a ranting emotional bluster, driven by self-righteous indignation. See the link

    An extract from the article given via the link, the parts highlighted in bold text emanate from a gentle humble (Loving) heart, which is what my post is all about.

    “This was not the end of the relationship, which Hillary has always looked back upon with fondness. In the short time she had left on earth, Mother Teresa continued to try to change Clinton’s view on abortion. According to Hillary, “she sent me dozens of notes and messages with the same gentle entreaty. She dealt with the first lady with patience and kindness, but firm conviction: “Mother Teresa never lectured or scolded me; her admonitions were always loving and heartfelt,” wrote Hillary, adding that she had “the greatest respect for her opposition to abortion.” Mother Teresa saw in Hillary a potentially huge convert to the pro-life cause, and never gave up, but to no avail”

    I take umbrage with the statement “to no avail as only God knows the full long-term effects that her firm conviction and the persistent actions of Mother Teresa will have had on Hilary Clinton and those around her, as those who walk with Holy Spirit, produce good fruit, the seeds of which are often sown unseen within human hearts, at the time of their encounter with Him.
    Mother Teresa will have known this and trusted in the workings of the Holy Spirit knowing that all enlightenment comes from God and because of this she would not have been driven to distraction or bitterness as the peace that He gives to His true Disciples, cannot be taken from them.#

    It could be said that these actions by Mother Teresa spring from “a gentle breeze” living ( Dwelling ) within her loving humble heart.#

    “If you judge people, you have no time to love them.” – Mother Teresa

    Father! with tongue and flame give us unity again.

    kevin your brother
    In Christ

    • Hello my brother:

      Good to see your name and read your words.

      You seek concordance amongst men and honour the Lord by proclaiming peace. It is sad that some will not bend the knee to the Lord and go out of their way to denigrate His precepts. The Lord has chosen the Christian to speak of His saving grace, yet far too many would not listen to Jesus Himself, consequently they will not heed our voice either.

      We spread the seed and it lands where it will. The Lord is mighty to save, yet some want nothing to do with Him. Satan would be the prime example.

      God bless you in your walk,


      • Thank you Brain my brother, for your encouraging comment ”Good to see your name and read your words” It is also very good to know we are of the same ilk, Brian, may God bless you this Whitsuntide and always.

        kevin your brother
        In Christ

    • “I am leaving you with a gift-peace of mind and heart. And it is a gift the world cannot give. So don’t be troubled or afraid “ I feel I was led to read those words this morning.
      Thank you Kevin.
      God bless you always.

      • Thank you, Catherine, once again for another supportive comment I am most grateful.

        You say I feel I was led to read those words this morning or in other words, you were/are looking for Him, Catherine. Praise the Lord!

        “If you love me, obey my commandments. And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate, who will never leave you. He is the Holy Spirit, who leads into all truth. The world cannot receive him, because it isn’t looking for him and doesn’t recognize him. But you know him because he lives with you now and later will be in you. No, I will not abandon you as orphans—I will come to you. Soon the world will no longer see me, but you will see me. Since I live, you also will live

        May His peace be with you this Whitsuntide and always.
        kevin your brother
        In Christ

  5. “All scripture is inspired by God and is useful for teaching, for refutation, for correction, and for training in righteousness, so that one who belongs to God may be competent, equipped for every good work.” II Timothy 3:16.

  6. Here is my thought while reading this excellent piece: I only wish some bishop who was interested in fulfilling his munus of teaching his flock would mandate that all parishes under his jurisdiction should make sufficient copies of this piece and insert them into the weekly bulletin for all parishioners to read. Wouldn’t that have an impact?

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