Holiness of God

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Biblical Basis. In the Old Testament God identifies himself as "the Holy One" (Is 40:25; Jer 50:29). As holy God transcends the world contaminated by sin, and yet the places where he reveals himself become holy places, and thus the place where God appeared to Moses in the burning bush is designated "holy ground" (Ex 3:5). To experience God, as did Isaiah, is to experience above all his holiness and one's own sinfulness, for the eternal angelic hymn that resounds eternally is "Holy, holy, holy is the Lord God of host." (Is 6:3, Rev 4:8). The innermost sanctuary where the Holy God abides, hidden by a curtain that separates him from humankind contaminated by sin and so not holy, is designated the Holy of Holies. As holy God cannot sin (1 Sm 2:2; Jb 4:17; 25:5). Rather he has an absolute hatred for sin (Ps 5:5; 44/45:8). He takes vengeance on crime (Ez 28:22; 38:22); He makes his righteousness appear among the enemies of Israel (Jgs 4:15;7.22; Ps 82/83.1012). Positively, the Old Testament reveals God's holiness as the reason and norm for man's holiness (Lv 11:44; 19:2; 20:26), and God demands it of men (Jos 24:19; Dt 7:6; Is 63:18; Jer 2:3). God makes a covenant with his people precisely to make them like himself, holy. "You shall be holy to me; for I the Lord am holy, and have separated you from the peoples, that you should be mine" (Lv 20:26). God "will vindicate his holiness" by cleansing his people of their sin and by placing within them his very own Spirit" (Ez 36:2236). In contrast to the god of Platonic and Aristotelian philosophy, whose transcendence protects him from being contaminated by the world of evil and material change, God in the Old Testament reveals that he comes in contact with humankind so as to make it holy. This is most dramatically seen within the Incarnation. The holy Son of God assumes (touches) sinful human flesh so as to purge it of sin and so make it holy. From all eternity the Father chose us in Christ "to be holy and blameless before him," that is, to be holy sons as his Son is holy (Eph 1:35). The first gift of salvation, won through the cross, is the Holy Spirit by whom all who believe and are baptized are conformed into the likeness of Christ and so made holy children of the Father (Rom 8:1417, Gal 4:47). Christians are holy because they are consecrated to God and so participate in divine holiness (Rom 1:7; 1 Cor 1:2; 2 Cor 1:1; 2 Pt 2:21; 1 Jn 3:13). Their very own bodies are the new temples of God where the Holy Spirit abides (1 Cor 3:1617; 6:19). Thus they are newly called to be holy because God is holy (1 Pt 1:1516; 2:9; Rev 4:8; 15:4).

Christian Tradition. The holiness of God is defined both positively and negatively. Negatively, it specifies that God in himself is devoid of all evil both in thought and action. Sin and evil are completely absent from God and it is completely impossible for him to turn away from his own perfect goodness. Nor can anything deprive God of his holiness for nothing can deprive him of his infinite perfection. God hates what is evil and sinful for such are completely contrary and opposed to his holiness. Positively, God's holiness entails his complete perfection, especially that of his goodness and love. God is goodness itself and the very nature of God is to love the goodness that he is as well as the good that resides in what he creates and recreates through grace. Because God's very nature is be eternally all-perfect and unchangeable in his goodness and love, he is substantially or ontologically holy. The human response to such holiness does not reside primarily in knowing it, but in prostrating oneself in awe, reverence, praise, and holy fear before the all-holy God. As all-holy, God is the exemplar of holiness and only he can make holy (Mt 5:48). "He who called you is holy, be holy yourselves in all your conduct; since it is written, 'You shall be holy for I am holy"' (1 Pt 1:1516; Lv 11:4445).

The Christian tradition has also consistently interpreted the angelic hymn in Isaiah 6:3 and Revelation 4:8 as referring to the three divine persons of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit (Athanasius, The Incarnation of the Word of God and Against the Arians, 10; Augustine, Letter 55.29). This tradition finds its expression within the Sanctus at Mass. God, as an eternal trinity of co-equal persons, is thrice holy and therefore perfect in holiness.

See Also: holiness; holiness (in the bible); ineffability of god; justice of god; sacred and profane; god, articles on.

Bibliography: d. p. wright, "Holiness (OT)," The Anchor Bible Dictionary, v.3, ed. d. n. freedman (New York 1992) 23749. r. hodgson, jr., "Holiness (NT)," The Anchor Bible Dictionary, v.3, 24954. r. otto, The Idea of the Holy (Oxford 1950). d. nicholl, Holiness (London 1996). p. sheldrake, Images of Holiness: Explorations in Contemporary Spirituality (London 1987).

[t. g. weinandy]