Sensus Divinitatus

This week we are repeating the same scripture passage as last week. You may remember that last week we focused on the Trinitarian theology in this passage, and the interesting implications for how we use scripture—how we understand it, and perhaps more importantly, how we feel it.

You might be wondering, why are we doing the same passage again? Didn’t we hear the word of God preached from this passage last week? What more is there to say? All good questions. They point toward one more very important point about the Trinity—specifically the Holy Spirit.

Our Reformed forefather John Calvin is often accused of being a stick in the mud, dour, cranky, legalistic, and uncreative old sour puss. Let’s be fair—he often times was! However, Calvin doesn’t get near enough credit for some things. Calvin was very thoughtful about the Spirit, and frankly, he was quite creative and even contemplative—I know, not what we usually think of as Calvin. Perhaps most beautifully, is John Calvin’s Doctrine of the Holy Spirit. Calvin actually thought we had 6 senses, the usual ones (Sight, hearing, tasting, feeling, smelling), plus one very special one THE SENSUS DIVINITATUS! (Doesn’t it sound like a spell from Harry Potter? Don’t worry, it won’t turn you into a Newt) Anyway, Calvin thought that one way the Spirit works through us is via this Sensus Divinitatus—our sense of the Divine. The idea is that we actually have a special ability to discern where God’s Spirit is at work in the world, especially when it comes to the reading of scripture. Calvin was adamant that the scripture isn’t actually the Word of God until the Spirit activated our Sensus Divinitatus and opened us up to what the Word of God had to say to us. That is part of the reason we always pray a prayer of Illumination before reading scripture—we are calling on the Holy Spirit to flip the switch on our Sesnsus Divinitatus. What’s more, since each of us unique snowflakes has that special sense, the Spirit might activate it in slightly different ways for each of us.

In some ways, this explains something every preacher experiences on Sunday morning. After worship, as people parade out to shake hands, I will often hear, “Great sermon preacher! (Always great sermon, right?! ;p). I especially liked when you said _________.” Strangely enough, there are times when I know that I never actually said__________. Not only that, but one person in line could have heard something completely different then the person right behind them! I don’t attribute this to someone not paying attention; rather, I think this shows the Spirit at work through the Sensus Divinitatus. We all have different faith journeys. We all have different experiences of the Divine. We all have different blessings and burdens weighing upon us. We all have different things going on in our lives at a given moment. All of these things add up to us being tuned in for hearing the Word of God a bit differently—or in other words, a unique Sensus Divinitatus.

All of this goes to explain why it actually makes sense to occasionally use the same passage over again. The Word of God is not carved in stone, but is alive, growing, changing, responding to the world we live in. From week to week, a given scripture can say something quite different to us depending on the Spirit and our finely attuned Sensus Divinitatuses (Sensae Divinitatae? Who knows what the plural actually is!) The same spoken words can be transformed in our hearing by the power of the Holy Spirit to move us in powerfully different ways. Part of the amazing power of Scripture, the Holy Spirit, and the Sensus Divinitatus!

So this week, as you settle in to hear that Prayer for Illumination, take time to open yourself to the Spirit. As you hear those words of Scripture, listen for what important thing God might be speaking to your heart.

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