The Holy Spirit in under 1200 Words*

Corrado Giaquinto [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

This is another puzzler that people throughout the ages have misunderstood. This issue also turned up in my Facebook conversation that I’d neglected to put in my last “explaining Catholicism” series.

The other thing to keep in mind is that every model of God we have is wrong in some critical way. We cannot follow those models off the cliff, because an infinite being with no limitations cannot be completely described in such a way that we daft mortals can wrap even the smartest brain around it.

To understand why, we have to go to how Theologians conceive of God. Start from the beginning. Where do we get our information? How do we examine a supreme being who is, according to Aquinas, “Is Existence Itself– the very act of Being.”

1. we believe that Scripture and the Old Testament are the inspired Word of God, fine. Yes. But there is another place we can look.

2. We can examine through the light of reason informed by moral teaching and Natural Law, which is inscribed in Nature, and is consistent with both Nature and the Gospel.  Congratulations. Now you know why whole swaths of Catholic teaching sound suspiciously like philosophy. The development of Christian philosophy grew out of theology to begin with, as a means to learn about God.  The Philosophy based on the observations of Pagans were seen to be based on concrete reality, and outside the realm of the Pagan religions.  This therefore were blessed by the Church after considerable discernment. That’s where science really came from. You’re welcome.

Now we come to some sticky wickets. First of all, the reason why certain traditions in the Catholic Church *have* changed over time, is because our understanding of God’s message has changed. Communication there isn’t perfect, and it can be affected by The Enemy.

Also, this has happened because our understanding of nature has changed a bit, too. But the moral foundations that we stand for, are derived from God’s law and Natural Law. Things like the irrevocable prime value of all human life, born or pre born, useful, functional or not, come from moral teaching as words straight from God– and the lips of Christ. Those will not change. Period. NO matter how many people call us haters, no matter how much people plea that killing unwanted children is a glorious expression of freedom. Doesn’t matter. It’s still wrong.  We still love you, and we pray for your soul.

But “a few words” is a relative thing. I will say, that one of the reasons why Christians who  get upset by making fun of The Holy Spirit is because Jesus says that “Sins against the Holy Spirit” are not forgiven.

I will also point out that this belief in the Holy Spirit is not a thing that just happened in response to the “age of aquarius”. The Church Fathers were also fans.

It appears to be a  weird name, and people wonder about why certain denominations are highly reverent-– fiercely protective, even wildly enthusiastic about The Holy Spirit. That would include Baptists, Evangelicals, Catholics and others. Now, granted, I can’t speak for other Christians. But I can give you a small taste of where it comes from in Scripture, and why we Catholics are so… the way we are about Him. Heck, even John the Baptist was a fan.

First, a quick intro on Trinitarian Theology. This is a discipline in and of itself. All the masters of Theology have tackled it, including St. Augustine, Thomas Aquinas, and others. It gets into some pretty heady territory, and I’m barely starting to understand it myself.  Indeed, at it’s heart, this is what we Catholics call a mystery. This relates to how these things are even possible. Three persons are One God?  How does that work?!  Sorry, can’t answer that one. The short but dodgy answer is that God can do anything, and He told us this is how it was, and we believe him.  (Think the words of baptism, that most Christian denominations agree on.) There is still plenty to be learned, however.

I could go all St. Patrick and point at a clover leaf.  One clover, three leaves.

By 百楽兎 (Based on File:Irish clover.jpg) [CC-BY-SA-3.0 or GFDL], via Wikimedia Commons

I have a layman’s explanation– or perhaps it is more fair to say that I stole a series of reasonable explanations that should hopefully clear up the most pervasive and obvious questions.

Now what is this Spirit thing?  Why the hinky new-age phrasing?  It’s a translation, so our attempt at accuracy often collides with popular language as it evolves. We weren’t so pleased when the Holy Ghost were met with allusions to Casper, and giving the popular imagination the impression we worshiped ghosts.

What with the misinformation about the Communion of Saints, it was thought that Spirit was a more accurate interpretation.  The literal translation to “Holy Spirit” is “Holy Breath”. So, every time Jesus breathed on someone as stated in scripture, the Holy Spirit is invoked.

Also, when a Spirit of God in the form of a dove alighted on Jesus when he was baptized, it is pretty much unanimous among Catholic theologians [more evidence of the Spirit ;)] that this was  a manifestation of the Holy Spirit. Also, any time you see a reference to God expressing Love for the Son, there is another manifestation of the Holy Spirit. Because it is also taught This that the Holy Breath is the Love between the Son and the Father.  This does not always have a happy face, however.

Also, the flickers of flame that graced the heads of our Apostles in the upper room was a manifestation of the Holy Spirit. That’s why all the fire and feathers on Pentecost. That’s why the Doves with red backgrounds. This is because of all the breath imagery throughout this passage.

Also, the Paraclete is mentioned 3 times in the Gospel of John. St. John (14:16-26; 15:2616:7) This too is thought to be the Holy Spirit. So the Holy Spirit is literally all over the New Testament.  The word ‘spirit’ is mentioned 351 times in the NT. I would say 3/4 of them refer ultimately to the Holy Spirit. The only exceptions refer directly to instances of demonic possession.

There is a tremendous amount of material out there. I have only referenced a tiny amount.For example, here below is St. Gregory the Great.  This is giving credit to the Holy Spirit for having invented Gregorian Chant.

After Carlo Saraceni [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
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