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"I Believe in the Holy Spirit"

General Audience — April 26, 1989

—    A distinct Person

In our reflections on the Apostles' Creed, we now pass from the articles which concern Jesus Christ, the Son of God made man for our salvation, to the article in which we profess our faith in the Holy Spirit. The Christological cycle is followed by that which is called pneumatological. The Apostles' Creed expresses this concisely in the words: "I believe in the Holy Spirit."

The Nicene-Constantinopolitan Creed develops this at greater length: "I believe in the Holy Spirit, the Lord and giver of life, who proceeds from the Father and the Son. With the Father and the Son he is worshipped and glorified. He has spoken through the prophets."

The creed, a profession of faith formulated by the Church, refers us back to the biblical sources where the truth about the Holy Spirit is presented in the context of the revelation of the Triune God. The Church's pneumatology is based on Sacred Scripture, especially on the New Testament, although to a certain extent the Old Testament foreshadows it.

The first source to which we can turn is a text from John's Gospel in Christ's farewell discourse to his disciples on the day before his passion and death on the cross. Jesus speaks of the coming of the Holy Spirit in connection with his own "departure," by announcing the coming (or descent) of the Spirit upon the apostles. "I tell you the truth; it is to your advantage that I go away, for if I do not go away, the Counselor will not come to you; but if I go, I will send him to you" (Jn 16:7).

The content of this text may appear paradoxical. Jesus, who makes a point of emphasizing "I tell you the truth," presents his own "departure" (and therefore his passion and death on the cross) as an advantage: "It is to your advantage...." However, he explains immediately what the value of his death consists in. Since it is a redemptive death, it is the condition for the fulfillment of God's salvific plan which will be crowned by the coming of the Holy Spirit. It is therefore the condition of all that this coming will bring about for the apostles and for the future Church, as people will receive new life through the reception of the Spirit. The coming of the Spirit and all that will result therefrom in the world will be the fruit of Christ's redemption.

If Jesus' departure takes place through his death on the cross, one can understand how the evangelist John can already see in this death the power and glory of the crucified. However, Jesus' words also imply the ascension to the Father as the definitive departure (cf. Jn 16:10), according to what we read in the Acts of the Apostles: "Being exalted at the right hand of God, and having received from the Father the promise of the Holy Spirit" (Acts 2:33).

The descent of the Holy Spirit occurred after the ascension into heaven. It is then that Christ's passion and redemptive death produce their full fruit. Jesus Christ, Son of Man, at the climax of his messianic mission, received the Holy Spirit from the Father, in the fullness in which this Spirit is to be given to the apostles and to the Church throughout all ages. Jesus foretold: "I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all men to myself" (Jn 12:32). This clearly indicates the universality of redemption both in the extensive sense of salvation for all humanity, and in the intensive sense of the totality of graces offered to the redeemed. This universal redemption, however, must be accomplished by means of the Holy Spirit.

The Holy Spirit is he who comes as a result and by virtue of Christ's departure. The words of John 16:7 express a causal relationship. The Spirit is sent by virtue of the redemption effected by Christ: "If I go, I will send him to you" (cf. DV 8). Indeed, "according to the divine plan, Christ's 'departure' is an indispensable condition for the 'sending' and the coming of the Holy Spirit, but these words also say that what begins now is the new salvific self-giving of God, in the Holy Spirit" (DV 11).

Through his being "lifted up" on the cross, Jesus Christ will "draw all people to himself" (cf. Jn 12:32). In the light of the words spoken at the Last Supper we understand that that "drawing" is effected by the glorified Christ through the sending of the Holy Spirit. It is for this reason that Christ must go away. The Incarnation achieves its redemptive efficacy through the Holy Spirit. By departing from this world, Christ not only leaves his salvific message, but gives the Holy Spirit, and to that is linked the efficacy of the message and of redemption itself in all its fullness.

1.  A distinct Person

The Holy Spirit, as presented by Jesus especially in his farewell discourse in the upper room, is evidently a Person distinct from himself: "I will pray the Father, and he will give you another Counselor" (Jn 14:6). "But the Counselor, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name will teach you all things, and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you" (Jn 14:26). In speaking of the Holy Spirit, Jesus frequently uses the personal pronoun "he." "He will bear witness to me" (Jn 15:26). "He will convince the world of sin" (Jn 16:8). "When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth" (Jn 16:13). "He will glorify me" (Jn 16:14). From these texts it is evident that the Holy Spirit is a Person, and not merely an impersonal power issuing from Christ (cf. e.g., Lk 6:19: "Power came forth from him..."). As a Person, he has his own proper activity of a personal character. When speaking of the Holy Spirit, Jesus said to the apostles: "You know him, for he dwells in you, and will be in you" (Jn 14:7). "He will teach you all things, and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you" (Jn 14:26). "He will bear witness to me" (Jn 15:26). "He will guide you into all the truth." "Whatever he hears he will speak" (Jn 16:13). He "will glorify" Christ (cf. Jn 16:14), and "he will convince the world of sin" (Jn 16:8). The Apostle Paul, on his part, states that the Spirit "cries in our hearts" (Gal 4:6); "he apportions" his gifts "to each one individually as he wills" (1 Cor 12:11); "he intercedes for the saints" (Rom 8:27).

The Holy Spirit revealed by Jesus is therefore a personal being (the third Person of the Trinity) with his own personal activity. However, in the same farewell discourse, Jesus showed the bonds that unite the person of the Holy Spirit with the Father and the Son. He announced the descent of the Holy Spirit, and at the same time the definitive revelation of God as a Trinity of Persons.

Jesus told the apostles: "I will pray the Father, and he will give you another Counselor" (Jn 14:16), "the Spirit of truth who proceeds from the Father" (Jn 15:26), "whom the Father will send in my name" (Jn 14:26). The Holy Spirit is therefore a Person distinct from the Father and from the Son and, at the same time, intimately united with them. "He proceeds" from the Father, the Father "sends" him in the name of the Son and this is in consideration of the redemption effected by the Son through his self-offering on the cross. Therefore, Jesus Christ said: "If I go, I will send him to you" (Jn 16:7). "The Spirit of truth who proceeds from the Father" is announced by Christ as the Counselor, whom "I shall send to you from the Father" (Jn 15:26).

John's text which narrates Jesus' discourse in the upper room contains the revelation of the salvific action of God as Trinity. I wrote in the encyclical Dominum et Vivificantem: "The Holy Spirit, being consubstantial with the Father and the Son in divinity, is love and uncreated gift from which derives as from its source (fons vivus) all giving of gifts vis-à-vis creatures (created gifts): the gift of existence to all things, through creation; the gift of grace to human beings through the whole economy of salvation" (n. 10).

The Holy Spirit reveals the depths of the divinity: the mystery of the Trinity in which the divine Persons subsist, but open to human beings to grant them life and salvation. St. Paul refers to that when he writes in the First Letter to the Corinthians that "the Spirit searches everything, even the depths of God" (1 Cor 2:10).