By Fr. Joseph Francis —
Who is the Holy Spirit?
In the Niceno-Constantinople Creed (381 AD) this is long and elaborate: “I believe in the Holy Spirit, the Lord, the giver of life who proceeds from the Father and the Son, who with the Father and the Son is adored and glorified, who has spoken through the prophets”. Who is the Holy Spirit?
Some people wrongly imagine that there is no distinction between Jesus and the Holy Spirit and consider the Holy Spirit as the spirit i.e., the soul of Jesus. This is very wrong and could be even called heretical. The Holy Spirit is a distinct Person in the Trinity, also called the Third Person of the Blessed Trinity. He is the Spirit that flows from the One Father through the Son by a Trinitarian inner Procession called in technical terms by the theologians as “Spiration” to distinguish it from Generation which is the inner Procession of the Son from the One Father. In very graphic terms the theologians would say that the Father gives himself totally to the Son except his Fatherhood which is his Person and that cannot be communicated but all else he gives to the Son in LOVE.
It is a Spiration of Love towards the Son and the Son in his turn gives himself completely to the Father, all except his Sonship which is his Person and cannot be communicated but all else he gives back to the Father in the same Spiration of LOVE. This Spiration of LOVE from the One Father through (or and) the Son is the Holy Spirit himself. Since he is the LOVE that unites the Father and the Son he is called as Subsistent LOVE itself.
This is why wherever “return” or “completion” is mentioned in the story of salvation you would always find the Holy Spirit e.g., in the story of Incarnation we speak of “Mary conceived by the power of the Holy Spirit” because this is the beginning of the return of the human beings to the Father. He is also called the “Seal of the Trinity” because in him the Trinity is complete and there is no other inner Procession possible. The LOVE circle is completed in the Holy Spirit.
Holy Spirit the Giver of Life and Consubstantial with the Father and the Son
The Niceno-Constantinople Creed (381 AD) calls the Holy Spirit giver of life and who can give life but God; this is why this expression confesses to the divinity of the Holy Spirit. Further it says: “who with the Father and the Son is adored and glorified” to emphasize that the Father, Son and Holy Spirit are equal as God and the adoration given to the Holy Spirit is the same as the adoration given to the Father and the Son.
Some of the heretics of the time (III-IV century), on this question, had been saying that the Son is of a different substance from the Father and is lower and the Holy Spirit is also of a different substance and is even lower than the Son. The Council on the contrary would declare that they are of the same one Substance (numerically identically same) or still more precisely consubstantial (also sometimes translated in a paraphrase as “one in being”). The third Person of the Trinity does not mean third in degree or glory (to say so would be heretical) but is equal in dignity and is glorified equally with the Father and the Son.
Titles of the Holy Spirit and symbols used in Scripture to denote the Holy Spirit
There are many titles of the Holy Spirit, chief among them is the title “Paraclete” which is anglicized form of the Greek Paracletos (Jn 14.16+26;15.26; 16.7) which has many different translations such as witness, advocate, consoler, Spirit of Truth (Jn 16.13). In the gospel of John there seems to be a court case underneath. The one who is accused is the Father and the World (i.e., those who reject God) tells him you do not love us, why did you create us?
The first Paracletos is Jesus Christ who told the world about the Father’s Providence, love, care and concern but the world did not accept and crucified Jesus but the Father raised him up and showed that indeed he came from the Father. Now the Holy Spirit sent by the Father through the Son continues the mission of Jesus as the other Paracletos, the second witness. He does it through the disciples in whose heart the Risen Lord is kept alive by the Holy Spirit.
The mighty deeds of the Holy Spirit are done even today through the disciples and he bears witness to the care and concern of God for all of us. This is why the mission of the Son and the Holy Spirit is called a conjoined mission because it is the same one mission of uniting us all back with the loving Father whom the Spirit enables us to call “Abba” Father (Rm 8.15-17 & Gal 4.4-6). Other titles are: the Spirit of Promise (Gal 3.14; Eph 1.13), the Spirit of Adoption (Rm 8.15; Gal 4.6), the Spirit of Christ (Rm 8.9), the Spirit of the Lord (II Cor 3.17), the Spirit of God (Rm 8.9 +14; 15.19: I Cor 6.11; 7.40) and the Spirit of glory (I Pet 4.14).
Symbols used are varied. We are accustomed to the symbol of the dove for the Holy Spirit showing simplicity and purity and he appeared in that form at the baptism of Jesus. But there are many other symbols e.g., water which symbolizes the new birth of baptism and replete with many scriptural references in the story of salvation and on the cross when the soldier pierced the side of Jesus out came blood and water both symbols of the Holy Spirit; anointing which symbolizes the strengthening in confirmation and setting apart for a consecrated task e.g., kings, the Messiah himself and every Christian at baptism and confirmation and the priests and bishops when they are set apart; fire which symbolizes the burning away of all evil and zeal that gets hold of the inspired preacher on fire the tongues of fire that rested on the Apostles on the Pentecost day; cloud and light which often is mentioned from Old testament times when the Israelites undertook the exodus journey, the pillar of cloud by day and light (fire) by night and the cloud that overshadowed Mary at incarnation, overshadowing cloud appeared at the baptism and transfiguration of Jesus; the seal of the Trinity and the seal that puts the royal seal of belonging to God alone; the hand of God symbolized in the imposition of hands by Jesus on the children, apostles and used in baptism, confirmation and ordination; the finger of God that pointed out to Jesus that indeed he is from God shown in all the miracles of Jesus especially when he drove out the evil spirits.
Attribution/Appropriation of external actions to Distinct Divine Persons
Though the Three Persons of the Blessed Trinity are equal and each one is special inside the Trinity whereby the Father can only be Father; he cannot be the Son or the Holy Spirit. Similarly the Son can only be the Son and cannot be the Father or the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit also can only be the Holy Spirit and cannot be the Father or the Son. But in all their work outside, it is common to the Three Persons; and we can attribute (appropriate) to each Person of the Trinity something that appears to us as being close to that Person.
A few examples would make this clear: taking creation of the universe as an example we should say that all the three Persons create but we normally attribute it to the Father since it appears to us to be close to his Person.
However we can see all the three Persons in the act of creation. The Father before creating should have a master plan but in front of him there is nothing except the Son and so in the Son the Father sees the whole universe, including you and me. Seeing he loved (there you notice the Holy Spirit; wherever love is mentioned the Holy Spirit is invariably present) and created. This is why we find that creation is from the love of God who wishes to share his love (Holy Spirit) with the whole universe made in the image of the Son (the prime model for the whole universe, you and me included!) and the normal expectation is that the whole universe including you and me should, like the Son, turn to the Father and in love (in the Holy Spirit) call out “Abba Father”. But it is sin that intervenes and we refuse to call God as Abba and do not obey him or give him the first place that is his due.
Attribution/Appropriation of Redemption
Another example is Redemption. All the Three Persons are involved in Redemption of the human beings but we attribute it to the Son because it is close to his Person. In Redemption the Father sends his Son to us because he sees in us the image of his Beloved Son tarnished and twisted; the Son is aghast at the crime of the human beings, made in his image, unlike him refuse to turn to the Father in love (Holy Spirit should have been there) and so he becomes one of us to turn us back to the Father in him and through him; the Holy Spirit overshadows and Mary conceived by the power of the Holy Spirit and even now the Son is formed in us by the power of the Holy Spirit and he enables us to call out in love: “Abba Father” (Cf. Rm8.15-17; Gal 4.4-6).
Attribution/Appropriation of Inspiration of the Bible
The Niceno-Constantinople Creed (381 AD) proclaims: “who has spoken through the prophets”. Inspiration of the Bible is by God and we call it the Word of God and this work also is done by the Father, Son and Holy Spirit but we attribute Inspiration of the Bible to the Holy Spirit because it is so close to his humble, simple, silent and yet powerful Person who is “Subsistent Love” i.e., LOVE itself; and in the salvation history he moves all towards loving the Father and the Son having been made by the same Holy Spirit into brothers and sisters of Jesus and sons and daughters of the loving Father, thus entering the Trinitarian family in a mysterious fashion. If the Word became human in the womb of the virgin by the power of the Holy Spirit, it is also true to say that prophets spoke the Word by the power of the same Holy Spirit to transform us even further!
Giving of Gifts and the attribution/appropriation involved
Similarly God is the giver of Gifts but we attribute the giving of gifts to the Holy Spirit since gift always connotes love offering. There are many gifts of the Holy Spirit. Normally one speaks of the 7 fold gifts of the Holy Spirit based on Isaiah 11.2 : Wisdom, Understanding, Counsel, Might, Knowledge, Fear of the Lord & the 7th Piety is added by the Catechism of the Catholic Church (CCC) no.1831. These are said to be given at Confirmation.
How much of it an individual receives is not ours to calculate. It depends on the disposition of the individual and God’s Providence in assigning special task to this person (clergy, religious or laity) in the Church’s life. These gifts could be better described as : a) effects of the Holy Spirit’s indwelling and b) capacities predisposing us as capacities for further actions corresponding to the gifts and c) they make the faithful docile in readily obeying divine inspiration. They are under the control of the Holy Spirit who gives them to whom he wills and in the measure He chooses. Are the gifts of the Holy Spirit to be restricted to only seven? There is no such restriction. You could have many more but seven suffices as a biblical number.
A little reflection on the seven- fold Gifts
Here we offer a personal reflection on these gifts: Wisdom enables us to rise about petty issues and we learn to eschew from passing things of this world and do not allow ourselves to be lost in them e.g., the wise person realizes that money, honour and ephemeral beauty are not everything in life. Understanding helps us to see the deeper meaning of everything around us including the complications of human relationships and helps us to understand the meaning of Scriptures.
The spirit of counsel enables us to discern the right course of action and helps us to guide people who ask of advice from us. The gift of might enables us to have courage in adverse circumstances and situations and helps us to calmly rely on the power and might of God. The spirit of knowledge helps us to have insight into what we perceive and grow in the knowledge of God and his ways. Fear of the Lord enables us to have a reverence for God and helps us to obey his commands because we revere God. Gift of piety helps us to pray at all times and enables us to have a proper attachment and devotion towards God.
The 12 fruits of the Holy Spirit
It is also customary to speak of the 12 fruits (based on the old Latin Vulgate translation of Gal 5.22-23) of the Holy Spirit which are the consequences of the Holy Spirit dwelling and acting in us. We could put them into 4 sets. You will easily notice how each is connected within and one leads to the other.
- Charity (in other words love) leads to Joy, which can be present even amidst trials, difficulties and physical pain and the consequence of such a joy is overflowing Peace which the world cannot give. It is to have equanimity at all times and never be in a hurry, excited or worried.
- Patience in every circumstance and situation leads to Kindness towards others and this has the natural consequence of genuine Goodness which is perceived by others and appreciated at all times.
- Generosity which makes us not only give liberally to others of our time, talents and means but also helps us to find excuses in our mind for those who offend us or hurt us in some way or other and this leads to Gentleness which makes us approachable to all and the natural consequence of this attitude is Faithfulness and loyalty to God and also to our friends.
- Modesty which is moderation in dress, speech which does not offend the sensibilities of others and it naturally leads to Self-control keeping within bounds of propriety and it has the desirable consequence of easily keeping Chastity according to one’s state of life i.e., single, married, religious, deacon, priest etc..