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Jesus Christ Brings the Holy Spirit to the Church and Humanity

General Audience — August 12, 1987

Jesus Christ the Son of God, who was sent into the world by the Father, became man by the power of the Holy Spirit in the womb of Mary, the Virgin of Nazareth. As man, he fulfilled his messianic mission unto the cross and the resurrection, in the power of the Holy Spirit.

In reference to this truth (which was the theme of the previous reflection), one should recall the text of St. Irenaeus where he wrote: "The Holy Spirit descended on the Son of God who became the Son of Man, becoming accustomed together with him to dwell in the human race, to replace in men and women the works of God, by fulfilling in them the Father's will, and transforming their decay of old age into newness of Christ" (Adv. Haer. III, 17, 1).

It is a very significant passage which repeats in other words what we have learned from the New Testament, namely, that the Son of God became man by the power of the Holy Spirit, and in his power he carried out his messianic mission. Thus he prepared the sending and descent into human souls of his Spirit who "searches the depths of God" (cf. 1 Cor 2:10), to renew and consolidate his presence and sanctifying action in human life. That expression of Irenaeus is interesting in which he says that the Holy Spirit, working in the Son of Man, "became accustomed together with him to dwell in the human race."

We read in John's Gospel that "on the last day of the feast, the great day, Jesus stood up and proclaimed, 'If any one thirst, let him come to me and drink. He who believes in me, as the Scripture has said, out of his heart shall flow rivers of living water.' Now this he said about the Spirit, which those who believed in him were to receive; for as yet the Spirit had not been given, because Jesus was not yet glorified" (Jn 7:37-39). Jesus announced the coming of the Holy Spirit by the use of the metaphor of "living water," because it is "the Spirit that gives life" (Jn 6:63). The disciples will receive this Spirit from Jesus himself in due course, when Jesus will be glorified. The evangelist has in mind the paschal glorification through the cross and resurrection.

When this time—namely, Jesus' hour—was already near, during the discourse in the upper room, Christ resumed his announcement and several times promised the apostles the coming of the Holy Spirit as the new Counselor (Paraclete).

He told them, "When the Counselor comes, whom I shall send you from the Father, the Spirit of truth, who proceeds from the Father, he will bear witness to me" (Jn 15:26).

Jesus then concluded, "If I do not go away, the Counselor will not come to you; but if I go, I will send him to you. And when he comes, he will convince the world of sin and of righteousness and of judgment" (Jn 16:7-8).

The texts quoted contain very fully the revelation of the truth about the Holy Spirit, who proceeds from the Father and the Son. (I dealt at length with this subject in the Encyclical Dominum et Vivificantem.) To sum up, when speaking to the apostles in the cenacle on the eve of his passion, Jesus linked his departure already close at hand with the coming of the Holy Spirit. For Jesus it is a causal connection—he must go away by means of the cross and resurrection, so that the Spirit of truth can descend on the apostles and the entire Church as the Counselor. The Father will then send the Spirit "in the name of the Son." He will send him in the power of the mystery of redemption, which is to be carried out through this Son, Jesus Christ. Therefore it is right to say, as Jesus did, that the Son himself will also send the Spirit. "The Counselor whom I shall send to you from the Father" (Jn 15:26).

On the day of his resurrection, Jesus fulfilled this promise to the apostles, which he had made on the eve of his passion and death. John's Gospel narrates that when Jesus appeared to the disciples who were still hiding in the upper room, he greeted them, and while they were dumbfounded by the extraordinary event: "He breathed on them, and said to them, 'Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained'" (Jn 20:22-23).

In John's text there is a theological emphasis which it is well to underline—the risen Christ is he who appears to the apostles and brings them the Holy Spirit, and in a certain sense gives him to them in the signs of his death on the cross. "He showed them his hands and his side" (Jn 20:20). Since the Spirit is "the Spirit who gives life" (Jn 6:63), the apostles receive together with the Holy Spirit the capacity and power to forgive sins.

That which happened in such a striking way on the day of the resurrection, was in a certain way spread by the other evangelists over the following days. During that time, Jesus continued to prepare the apostles for the great moment when, by virtue of his departure, the Holy Spirit will descend upon them definitively, in such a way that his coming will be manifested to the world. That will also be the moment of the birth of the Church. "You shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria and to the end of the earth" (Acts 1:8). This promise, referring directly to the coming of the Paraclete, was fulfilled on the day of Pentecost.

To sum up, we can say that Jesus Christ is he who comes from the Father as the eternal Son; he who went forth from the Father, becoming man by the power of the Holy Spirit. After having fulfilled his messianic mission as Son of Man by the power of the Holy Spirit, "he goes to the Father" (cf. Jn 14:12). Going there as Redeemer of the world, he gives to his disciples and sends down upon the Church in all ages the same Spirit, in whose power he acted as man. In this way Jesus Christ, as he who "goes to the Father," leads to the Father all those who will follow Jesus in the course of the centuries by means of the Holy Spirit.

"Being exalted at the right hand of God, and having received from the Father the promise of the Holy Spirit, [Jesus Christ] has poured out this which you see and hear" (Acts 2:33), the Apostle Peter proclaimed on the day of Pentecost. The Apostle Paul wrote: "Because you are sons, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, 'Abba! Father!'" (Gal 4:6). The Holy Spirit who "comes from the Father" (cf. Jn 15:26), is at the same time the Spirit of Jesus Christ—the Spirit of the Son.

According to the fourth Gospel, John the Baptist proclaimed that God gave Christ the Holy Spirit "without measure." St. Thomas Aquinas explains in his limpid commentary that the prophets received the Spirit "according to measure," and therefore they prophesied "partially." Christ, however, possesses the Holy Spirit without measure—both as God, inasmuch as the Father, by means of the eternal generation, grants him to be the common principle with the Father of the procession of the Spirit in an uncreated way; and as man, because through the fullness of grace, God has filled him with the Holy Spirit, so that he may pour him out on every believer [1] . The Angelic Doctor refers to the text of John (Jn 3:34): "For he whom God has sent utters the words of God who gives to him the Spirit without measure" (according to the translation proposed by distinguished biblical scholars).

Truly we can exclaim with profound emotion, together with John the evangelist, "From his fullness we have all received" (Jn 1:16); truly we have become partakers in the divine life in the Holy Spirit.

On this world of the children of the first Adam, destined to die, we see rising up in power the Christ, the "last Adam," who has become a "life-giving Spirit" (1 Cor 15:45).

[1]   cf. Super Evang. S. Ioannis Lectura, c. III, 1, 6, nn. 541-544