The Sober Intoxication of the Spirit – an Excerpt from Acts of the Apostles

Cover ArtThe following is an excerpt from Acts of the Apostles, by William S. Kurz, SJ, in the Catholic Commentary on Sacred Scripture.

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The ironic accusation that the disciples at Pentecost are “filled with new wine” (Acts 2:13) was a favorite theme for the Fathers of the Church. St. Cyril of Jerusalem explained to a group of catechumens,

“They are not drunk in the way you might think. They are indeed drunk, but with the sober intoxication which kills sin and gives life to the heart and which is the opposite of physical drunkenness. Drunkenness makes a person forget what he knows; this kind, instead, brings understanding of things that were not formerly known. They are drunk insofar as they have drunk the wine of that mystical vine which affirms, ‘I am the vine, you are the branches.’” (John 15:5).

St. Ambrose exclaimed in a hymn, “Let us drink with joy the sober intoxication of the Spirit!” and said to the newly baptized, “He who becomes intoxicated with wine staggers, but he who becomes intoxicated with the Holy Spirit is rooted in Christ. How truly excellent is this intoxication which produces the sobriety of the soul!”

St. Augustine, preaching to the newly baptized at Easter, said,

“The Holy Spirit has come to abide in you; do not make him withdraw; do not exclude him from your heart in any way. He is a good guest; he found you empty and he filled you; he found you hungry and he satisfied you; he found you thirsty and he has intoxicated you. May he truly intoxicate you! The Apostle said, ‘Do not be drunk with wine which leads to debauchery.’ Then, as if to clarify what we should be intoxicated with, he adds, ‘But be filled with the Spirit, addressing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord with all your heart’ (Eph 5:18–19). Doesn’t a person who rejoices in the Lord and sings to him exuberantly seem like a person who is drunk? I like this kind of intoxication. The Spirit of God is both drink and light.”

For these patristic writers, it is evident that the new wine of the Holy Spirit outpoured at Pentecost continues to be given in the Church, especially through the sacraments of baptism and confirmation.

©2014 by William S. Kurz, SJ. Published by Baker Academic. Unauthorized use of this material without express written permission is strictly prohibited.
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