May 1, 2009

From the Editor Emeritus / John F. Fink

Basic Catholicism: Belief in the Holy Spirit

John F. Fink(Twelfth in a series of columns)

In the Nicene Creed, we say, “We believe in the Holy Spirit, the Lord, the giver of life, who proceeds from the Father and the Son. With the Father and the Son he is worshiped and glorified.”

Thus, we profess belief in the Holy Spirit in precisely the same way in which we profess belief in the Father and the Son.

What does it mean that the Holy Spirit “proceeds” from the Father and the Son? Theologians explain that the Son is the Word of the Father, eternally begotten. The Father and the Son love each other with an eternal love. This love that proceeds from the Father and the Son is a person, the eternal Holy Spirit.

I realize that many Catholics might not understand what “proceeds” means when they recite the Creed, but perhaps you can remember that the Holy Spirit is the personification of the love that proceeds between the Father and the Son.

Since the Holy Spirit is God, he was with the Father at the time of creation, with the Son in his act of redemption, and is called the sanctifier for his actions on us through the sacraments of the Church.

The Holy Spirit was present in Old Testament times, even though the mystery of the Trinity was not revealed to God’s Chosen People.

When we say in the Nicene Creed that the Holy Spirit “has spoken through the prophets,” we profess our belief that he inspired the Jewish prophets in their prophecies. We also believe that the Holy Spirit inspired the authors of the Old Testament.

But it’s in the New Testament that we learn most about the Holy Spirit in all four Gospels, the Acts of the Apostles and St. Paul’s letters.

In John’s Gospel, Jesus promised to send “another paraclete” (Jn 14:16). The word “paraclete” means “counselor” or “advocate.” We believe that God had to have a plan whereby Christ’s teachings would be preserved after Christ was no longer in the world. That is why he sent the Holy Spirit to lead the Church and preserve it from error.

After the Resurrection, John tells us that Jesus breathed on the Apostles and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit. Whose sins you forgive are forgiven and whose sins you retain are retained” (Jn 20:22-23).

At Pentecost, the Holy Spirit descended fully upon the Church, and the Apostles were aware of his direct operation in their activities. The letters of St. Paul show us that the Spirit had an important place in his theology, with his description of the many gifts of the Spirit.

The Holy Spirit has been called the “soul” of the Church, which is the

Mystical Body of Christ. The Church teaches that the gifts of Christ are poured out upon the Church by the Holy Spirit.

Besides keeping the Church from error, the Holy Spirit is also the communicator of grace to human beings. It’s for that reason that he is called the sanctifier. I’ll say more about that when I write about the sacraments. †

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