Just as we may speak of the eternal Son emptying himself of his glory in the Incarnation, hiding himself, as it were, in the flesh of the man Jesus of Nazareth, so we also may speak of an analogous movement of the Holy Spirit: at Pentecost the Spirit is poured out on all flesh, uniting heaven and earth, yet he too limits himself so as to allow an indwelling of creation that is hidden and apprehended only through faith and noetic enlightenment. Sergius Bulgakov describes the similarities and differences in their respective kenoses:
The kenosis of the Son after His descent from heaven presupposes the removal of the Glory, not, certainly, in “heaven,” in the “immanent” Trinity, but in the world. It presupposes that He will appear in the world in the humble form of a man … In the kenosis of the Son according to Divine-humanity, the dyad without separation and without confusion of the Son and the Holy Spirit, underwent a kind of inner, mutual kenosis consisting of a certain separation, as it were. The Son’s glory was removed in His kenosis, and the Holy Spirit separated itself from the Son in its own kenosis. The Holy Spirit thus limited the fullness of its gifts and reduced the degree of its repose upon Christ, so to speak. … The kenosis of the Holy Spirit also began with its descent from heaven (although, according to its hypostatic character, the Holy Spirit does not leave heaven but unites heaven and earth). In itself, this descent of the Holy Spirit is a kenotic act as such, for its action in the world remains limited by the measure of creaturely reception: the world cannot experience the full force of the Holy Spirit’s action without melting and burning up. In the kenosis of descent into the world, this force limits itself and is diminished, as it were: the synergism of grace with creaturely freedom leads to such a self-limitation.
By contrast, the parousia, the coming of the Lord in glory, brings into the world, first of all, the cessation of this kenosis of glory, that is, of the Holy Spirit, which began at the Pentecost. “The Spirit of glory and of God” (1 Pet. 4:14), which already abides in the world, becomes explicit in the appearance of Christ’s glory (v. 13). The glory that accompanies the parousia not only belongs to Christ but is also communicated through Him to the world in which the Holy Spirit already abides kenotically. … In this sense, Christ’s Second Coming is also the parousia of the Holy Spirit, which only begins with the Pentecost and is concretely accomplished together with Christ’s parousia. (The Bride of the Lamb, pp. 397-398)
Bulgakov well understands the metaphorical nature of the language of descent and ascent when speaking either of the Incarnation or the Pentecost, yet I am still struck by its use here. It almost sounds as if Bulgakov literally believes that the Son “left” heaven, abandoning his divine prerogatives and properties. This passage sent me scrambling to Aidan Nichol’s primer on Bulgakov, Wisdom from Above. Nichols reassured me that Bulgakov is not reproducing the errors of the 19th century Lutheran kenoticists, that he fully affirms that the divine nature remains unchanged by the Incarnation; yet Bulgakov equally affirms that in the Incarnation the eternal Son strips himself of his glory and genuinely immerses himself in the conditions of humiliation, suffering, and death. Hence within the economy of salvation we may properly speak of a real descent, when the Eternal Son assumes human nature as the man Jesus, and a real ascent, when Jesus in his resurrected body metaphysically departs from the world into heaven, thus rendering himself inaccessible to normal physical communication.
As the eternal Son veils himself as a human being, so the eternal Spirit hides himself within the Church. Bulgakov speaks of the Spirit flaring out brilliantly in fiery tongues at Pentecost, only to disappear “as if extinguished, and the Spirit’s tumultuous breath became silent, as if dissipated in the air” (p. 399). His kenosis consists in a limitation of gifts and attenuation of energy. The Spirit accommodates himself to creaturely finitude, thus providing space for a free human response to the Church’s proclamation of the gospel. In the absence of this kenotic restraint, Pentecost would have been the final conflagration.
The return of the eternal Son in his deified humanity represents not only the termination of his personal kenosis but also the termination of the Spirit’s kenosis. “Christ again appears in the world, but this time in glory,” writes Bulgakov. “That is, not only does He Himself once again become visible and accessible to the world, but the glory itself becomes visible, the glory of the Pentecost, the Holy Spirit. The parousia signifies the power not only of the Incarnation but also of the Pentecost, of Christ in glory and glory in Christ, the appearance in Him, with Him, and through Him of the Holy Spirit” (p. 399).
Yet where we speak of the second coming of the Ascended Son into the world (or more accurately, into the new world), we do not properly speak of a second coming of the Spirit: the Spirit has already been poured out upon creation and has never departed from it. Bulgakov prefers to speak of parousia as a tryst—the glorified Son descending to meet the Spirit in the world. Yet with this qualification he also speaks of a new sending of the Spirit by the Father, for when the risen Christ comes again in glory he necessarily brings with him the glory of the Spirit who rests upon him. The parousia is thus the revelation of the Spirit as glory. Pentecost is fulfilled, and the power of the Spirit is unleashed for the glorification of all creation. The following paragraph beautifully summarizes Bulgakov’s understanding of the parousia:
The Incarnation is accomplished in the Church and through the Church, the body of Christ in the world and the temple of the Holy Spirit. However, prior to the parousia this sanctification and deification remain incomplete and preliminary, for the action of the Holy Spirit is as yet kenotically limited. But this kenosis of the Holy Spirit ends with the parousia; the whole power of the Pentecost is revealed to the world. The world is sanctified, deified, and glorified by the power of the Holy Spirit, and the parousia arrives by virtue of this action of the Pentecost. It is impossible to say what comes before and what comes after, for this is a single act that occurs both in heaven and on earth, signifying the end of God’s kenosis and the beginning of the world’s deification. The Father sends the Son into the world and, secondarily as it were, He sends with Him the Holy Spirit for the joint accomplishment of the parousia and the transfiguration of the world. The Son wills again to carry out the will of the Father, this time by a conclusive and universal act, in order to accomplish the salvation of the world and to “unite the things of earth with those of heaven,” as the liturgical hymn says. Meanwhile, the Holy Spirit accompanies the descent of the Son from heaven, surrounding Him with glory, which is the same both in heaven and on earth and which existed before the foundation of the world and is now proper to Him. The world is now ready to receive this glory, for it has already received and has Christ and the Holy Spirit who reposes upon Him. (p. 404)
In the parousia the Holy Trinity is perfectly and indubitably revealed: the Father sends the Son; the Son descends in brilliant, incandescent glory; the Son meets the Spirit in the world for the making of the new creation.