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The Heavenly Teacher
Jaroslav Pelikan

"The Counselor, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, he will teach you all things, and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you."

John 14:26.

Anyone who is engaged, as all of us are, in the process of teaching and study must frequently ponder the deeper meaning of the process. What it means to teach and what it means to learn is a question with which we all must deal, however superficial our answers to it may be. A Christian university exists in order to deal with that question from the special perspective of the Christian faith and tradition. A chapel on the campus of a Christian university exists in order to provide that perspective.

Now the season of the Christian year in which we gather today is peculiarly appropriate to the consideration of what it means to teach and to study. For the Holy Spirit, whose coming this Pentecost season commemorates, celebrates, and promises, is cast in the role of the Heavenly Teacher. More even than our Lord Jesus Christ, it is the Holy Spirit who is said to teach God's faithful people: for our Lord Jesus Christ carries on His teaching ministry through the presence of the Holy Spirit among God's faithful people. As the text says, "The Counselor, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my [Christ's] name, he will teach you all things, and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you." Hence we who are engaged in the process of teaching and study have special reason to reflect upon the power of Pentecost.

Thus it is as a teacher and a student that I speak to you teachers and students about that Teacher whose students we all are. And that is the first observation we must make about the difference between the Heavenly Teacher and the university professor. We can never outgrow the Heavenly Teacher. Part of my function as a professor is to make my students outgrow me. Part of my temptation as a professor is to make my students into disciples and to prevent them from ever outgrowing me. A professor, like a parent, must often experience the pain of seeing his pupil grow up and not need him any more. Yet we know that to make you into disciples would do violence both to you and to us, and therefore we bid you to transcend us and to go beyond what we have been and done. Any teacher who does not know what I am saying would do well to consider the demonic possibilities of the teaching process in which he is involved.

Refusing to let you outgrow me is demonic because there is only One from whose fullness we have all received, grace upon grace. When Jesus said to His disciples, "Neither be called masters, for you have one master, the Christ," He was pointing them beyond the process of teaching and growth to the inexhaustible riches of divine wisdom and knowledge. It is to these riches that this Pentecost season also points us, asking us to pause amid our teaching, research, and study and to meditate upon the one Teacher who is always more ready to teach than we are to learn. From His school we can never be graduated; for that which He provides is no mere information about a sacred history, but a participation in the primordial Rock from which we are hewn. Professors may offer new courses, but the Heavenly Teacher offers us a grounding in the very Foundation of our being. That is why we can never outgrow Him. What He gives us is nothing less than the life and breath of God, without which we cannot live, much less learn! Outgrowing the Holy Spirit would be like outgrowing life, for He is the Lord and the Giver of life, as the Church confesses.

Because we can never outgrow the Heavenly Teacher, we can always expect to learn something new from Him. Jesus promises in the text: "He will teach you all things." The Holy Spirit is the Ground of novelty in the Church. He opens new vistas of experience and excitement in the Christian life. Over and over in the history of the Church, when it seemed that the winter would never end and that all life in the Church had succumbed to organizational, dogmatic, or secular cold waves, the Spirit blew over the face of the deep as He had over the primeval chaos; and suddenly, as in the days of St. Francis, the whole Church began to thaw under the springtime of the Spirit. New insight into the mission of the Church; a new dedication to the unity of the Church; new zeal for the holiness of the Church; new recognition of the relevance of the Church — these and other new mornings have dawned in a sleepy Christendom, and continue to dawn, because the Holy Spirit is there to teach us all things and to lead us into all truth.

But when the Holy Spirit teaches us something new we discover that it is actually a deeper insight into something ancient. The text says that the Spirit "will teach you all things, and bring to your remembrance .all that I have said to you." The interesting quality of this Teacher and of His teaching is that it is, in St. Augustine's words, "ever ancient, ever new." We may believe in letting bygones be bygones, and therefore we may find ancient history quite dull. But this ancient history, the record and proclamation of the deeds of God in Jesus Christ, has the power of renewing the forms in which we try to capture it. In our Lord Jesus Christ there dwells the fullness of God's power and wisdom, but at no single point do we grasp His fullness. Because the Spirit always has more to say to us than He has already said, the hearing of the Word of God continues to produce happy surprises. The teaching Spirit takes us by the hand and leads us into the garden of God, where we continually find flowers we never dreamt of before. The sayings and parables of Jesus speak with a freshness to every new generation of believers, as though they had never really spoken to anyone before.

Above all, it is the meaning of the Cross of Christ that is "ever ancient, ever new." The Holy Spirit is God at work, making the Cross of ancient history a part of our history. He shapes our life and thought to conform it to the pattern of the Cross. Then, when we know that we dare not trust in ourselves, the Spirit teaches us to find in the Christ of Good Friday and Easter the ever new Hope of God's help and deliverance. For the curious thing about Christian hope for the future is that it, too, is a dimension of Christian memory. As St. John's First Epistle describes this dimension, "Beloved, we are God's children now; it does not yet appear what we shall be, but we know that when he appears we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is." The fulfillment of the Christian future is actually the realization of the Christian past. The Heavenly Teacher thus gives us novelty and hope as He brings to our remembrance all that Christ has said to us and done for us.

So if you have learned much from your teachers and hope to learn still more from them, pay heed to the Heavenly Teacher, who can instruct both them and you. And if you are bored with your teachers and persuaded that all you ever get from them is the same old stuff, listen to the Holy Spirit as He fashions this same old stuff into new shapes—shapes that are still congruent with the shape of the Cross. And if you are at the point where you are teaching more than you are learning and are afraid that the professional grind is wearing you down or robbing you of your intellectual substance, come to be refreshed at the Fountain that never runs dry. Upon this great University, then, and upon those who teach and study here, let us invoke the noble prayer of the Occidental Church, ever ancient and ever new:

Veni, Creator Spiritus!

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