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The Spirit in St. Paul's Letters

General Audience — October 3, 1990

This is the famous wish with which St. Paul concludes his Second Letter to the Corinthians: "The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ and the love of God and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with all of you" (2 Cor 13:13). This is the wish which the liturgy places upon the lips of the priest celebrant at the beginning of the Mass. With this text of obviously trinitarian significance we begin our examination of what the Apostle Paul's letters tell us about the Holy Spirit as a Person in the trinitarian unity of the Father and the Son. The text from the Second Letter to the Corinthians seems to come from the language of the first Christian communities, and perhaps from the liturgy of their assembly. With these words the Apostle expresses the trinitarian unity beginning with Christ. As the one who brought about salvific grace, Christ reveals to humanity the love of God the Father and imparts it to believers in the communion of the Holy Spirit. Thus, according to St. Paul, the Holy Spirit is the Person who brings about the communion of the human being—and of the Church—with God.

The Pauline formula clearly speaks of a one and triune God, even though in different terms than the baptismal formula which Matthew refers to: "In the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit" (Mt 28:19). It lets us know the Holy Spirit as he was presented in the teaching of the Apostles and received in the life of the Christian communities.

A further text from St. Paul has as its basis for its teaching about the Holy Spirit the wealth of charisms distributed with variety and unified order within the community: "There are different kinds of spiritual gifts but the same Spirit; there are different forms of service but the same Lord; there are different workings but the same God who produces all of them in everyone" (1 Cor 12:4-6). The Apostle attributes to the Holy Spirit the gifts of grace (charisms); to the Son, as Lord of the Church, the ministries (ministeria); to God the Father, the creator of everything in everyone, the "working."

The parallel between the Spirit, the Lord Jesus and God the Father is very significant. It indicates that the Spirit is also recognized as a divine Person. It would not be proper to place two Persons, the Father and the Son, in the same phrase with an impersonal force. It is equally significant that the free giving of the charisms and all divine gifts to humanity and the Church is particularly attributed to the Holy Spirit.

All this is further emphasized in the immediate context of the First Letter to the Corinthians: "One and the same Spirit produces all these things, distributing them individually to each person as he wishes" (1 Cor 12:11). Thus the Holy Spirit is manifested as a free and spontaneous donor of the good in the order of charisms and grace; as a divine Person who chooses and bestows diverse gifts upon their recipients. "To one is given through the Spirit the expression of wisdom; to another the expression of knowledge according to the same Spirit" (1 Cor 12:8-9). And again: "The gift of healings...the gift of prophecy...the gift of discernment of spirits...the gift of varieties of tongues and the gift of interpretation of tongues" (1 Cor 12:9-10). And behold: "To each individual the manifestation of the Spirit is given for some benefit" (1 Cor 12:7). Therefore, from the Holy Spirit comes the multiplicity of their gifts, as well as their unity and their co-existence. All this shows the Holy Spirit as a Person who subsists and works within the divine unity, in the communion of the Son with the Father.

Other passages from the Pauline letters also express the same truth about the Holy Spirit as a Person in the trinitarian unity, with the economy of salvation as their departure point. "But we ought to give thanks for you always...because God chose you as the first fruits for salvation through sanctification by the Spirit and belief in truth...to possess the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ." Thus the Apostle writes in his Second Letter to the Thessalonians (2 Thess 2:13-14), to indicate to them the goal of the Gospel preached by him. And to the Corinthians: "But now you have had yourselves washed; you were sanctified; you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and in the Spirit of our God" (1 Cor 6:11).

According to the Apostle, the Father is the first principle of sanctification, which is conferred by the Holy Spirit upon the person who believes "in the name" of Christ. The sanctification deep within a person therefore comes from the Holy Spirit, a Person who lives and works in unity with the Father and the Son. In another passage the Apostle expresses the same concept in an evocative manner: "The one who gives us security with you in Christ and who anointed us is God; he has also put his seal upon us and given the Spirit in our hearts as a first installment" (2 Cor 1:21-22). The words "in our hearts" indicate the intimacy of the Holy Spirit's sanctifying activity.

This same truth can be found in the Letter to the Ephesians in a more developed form: "God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ...has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavens, in Christ" (Eph 1:3). Shortly after that the author says to the believers: "You were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit, which is the first installment of our inheritance" (Eph 1:13-14).

Another magnificent expression of St. Paul's thought and intention is that of the Letter to the Romans. In it he writes that the purpose of his Gospel ministry is "so that the offering up of the Gentiles may be acceptable, sanctified by the Holy Spirit" (Rom 15:16). He asks those to whom the letter is addressed to pray to God for this service. He does so through Christ and through "the love of the Spirit" (Rom 15:30). "Love" is a special attribute of the Holy Spirit (cf. Rom 5:5) as well as "communion" (cf. 2 Cor 13:13). From this love comes holiness which makes the offering acceptable. This is also a work of the Holy Spirit.

According to the Letter to the Galatians, the Holy Spirit gives people the gift of adoption as God's children, arousing in them the prayer of the Son himself. "As proof that you are children, God sent the spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying out, 'Abba, Father!'" (Gal 4:6). The Spirit "cries out" and thus reveals himself as a Person who is able to express himself with great intensity. He makes Christian hearts echo with the prayer which Jesus himself addresses to the Father (cf. Mk 14:36) with childlike love. The Holy Spirit is the one who makes us adoptive children and gives us the capacity for childlike prayer.

St. Paul's teaching on this topic is so rich that we will have to take it up again in our next instruction. For now we can conclude that in the Pauline letters the Holy Spirit is seen as a divine Person living in the trinitarian unity with the Father and the Son. The Apostle attributes to him the work of sanctification in a particular manner. He is the direct author of holiness in souls. He is the fount of love and prayer in which the gift of the person's divine "adoption" is expressed. His presence in souls is the pledge and the beginning of eternal life.