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The Spirit as "Love Proceeding"

General Audience — November 14, 1990

Today we want to begin the catechesis by repeating a statement previously made on the topic of the One God which the Christian faith teaches us to recognize and to adore as the Trinity. "The reciprocal love of the Father and the Son proceeds in them and from them as a Person: the Father and the Son 'spirate' the Spirit of Love who is of one substance with them." From the start the Church held the conviction that the Holy Spirit proceeds from the Father and from the Son as Love.

The roots of the tradition of the Fathers and Doctors of the Church are found in the New Testament and especially in St. John's words in his first letter: "God is Love" (1 Jn 4:8).

These words refer to the very essence of God, in which the three Persons are one single substance, and all are equally Love, that is, the desire for another's good, an inner drive toward the object which is loved, within and outside of the life of the Trinity.

But the time has come to observe with St. Thomas Aquinas that our language is poor in terminology which can express the act of the will which draws the lover into the beloved. That is due to the interior nature of love. Since it proceeds from the will or the heart, it is not as clear and self-conscious as is an idea which proceeds from the mind. In the sphere of the intellect we have different words which express, on the one hand, the relationship between the knower and the object known (to know, to understand) and on the other hand, the emergence of an idea from the mind in the act of knowing (to speak the word, or verbum, to proceed as a word from the mind). The same is not the case in the field of the will and the heart. It is certainly true that, "given the fact that one loves something, an impression is left in that person, in his or her feelings, an impression, so to say, of the object which is loved, by virtue of which the thing loved is within the lover as a thing known is within the person who knows it.

"Thus when a person knows and loves himself, he is in himself, not only because he is identical with himself, but also because he is the object of his own knowledge and of his own love." Yet in human language, "other words have not been coined to express the relationship which exists between the affection, or the impression made by the object which is loved, and the (interior) principle from which it emerges, or vice versa. Therefore, because of the poverty of vocabulary (propter vocabulorum inopiam), these relationships are also expressed by the words love and delight. It is as though one were applying to the Word the names of conceived knowing or of generated wisdom."

Whence comes the conclusion of the Angelic Doctor: "If in the words love and to love (diligere) one wishes to refer only to the relationship between the lover and the thing loved, these words (in the Trinity) refer to God's essence, like the other words knowing and understanding. If instead we use these same words to indicate the relationships which exist between what derives from or proceeds from the act and object of love, and the correlative principle, in a way in which Love is equal to Love which proceeds, and to Love (diligere) is equivalent to spirate the proceeding love, then Love is the name of a person..." and is the name of the Holy Spirit himself [1] .

The terminological analysis made by St. Thomas is very useful in getting a relatively clear idea of the Holy Spirit as Love-Person, in the heart of the Trinity which in its entirety "is Love." But it must be said that the attribution of love to the Holy Spirit, as the Spirit's proper name, is found in the teachings of the Fathers of the Church which the Angelic Doctor drew on. In their turn the Fathers are the heralds of the revelation of Jesus and of the preaching of the apostles, which we also know through other texts of the New Testament. Thus in his priestly prayer directed to the Father at the Last Supper, Jesus said: "I made known to them your name, and I will make it known, that the love with which you loved me may be in them and I in them" (Jn 17:26). We are dealing here with the love with which the Father has loved the Son "before the creation of the world" (Jn 17:24). According to some modern exegetes the words of Jesus point here, at least in an indirect way, to the Holy Spirit, the Love with which the Father eternally loves the Son, who is eternally loved by him. Earlier St. Thomas had carefully examined a text by St. Augustine concerning this reciprocal love of the Father and the Son in the Holy Spirit [2] . This was discussed by other scholastics because of the ablative with which it entered into medieval theology: "Utrum Pater et Filius diligant se Spiritu Sancto"; he had concluded his literary and doctrinal analysis with this beautiful explanation: "In the same way that we say that the tree blooms with flowers, so we say that the Father says himself and his creatures in the Word, his Son, and that the Father and the Son love each other and us in the Holy Spirit, that is, in Love proceeding" [3] .

In the same farewell discourse, Jesus also announces that the Father will send the apostles and the Church the "Comforter...the Spirit of truth" (Jn 14:16-17), and that he, the Son, will also send him (cf. Jn 16:7) "to be with you always" (Jn 14:16-17). The apostles, therefore, will receive the Holy Spirit as the Love which unites the Father and the Son. By the power of this Love the Father and the Son "will make their dwelling with them" (Jn 14:23).

In this same regard, another passage in the priestly prayer when Jesus prays for the unity of his disciples must be considered: "So that they may all be one as you, Father, are in me and I in you, that they also may be one in us, that the world may know that you sent me" (Jn 17:21). If the disciples are to be "one in us," that is, in the Father and the Son, this can happen only by the Holy Spirit's power, whose coming and indwelling in the disciples are announced simultaneously by Christ: he "remains with you and will be in you" (Jn 14:17).

This announcement was accepted and understood by the early Church. Besides the Gospel of John, this is shown in St. Paul's note on the love of God which "has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us" (Rom 5:5). The words of St. John prove it as well in his first letter: "If we love one another, God remains in us and his love is brought to perfection in us. This is how we know that we remain in him and he in us; that he has given us of his Spirit" (1 Jn 4:12-13).

The tradition about the Holy Spirit as Person-Love has developed from these roots. The trinitarian economy of salvific sanctification allowed the Fathers and Doctors of the Church to "cast a penetrating glance" into the intimate mystery of the God-Trinity.

St. Augustine did this especially in his work De Trinitate by contributing in a decisive way to the formulation and the spread of this teaching in the West. His reflections developed the concept of the Holy Spirit as the mutual Love and the bond of unity between the Father and the Son in the communion of the Trinity. He wrote: "As we appropriately call the sole Word of God 'Wisdom,' even though generally speaking the Holy Spirit and the Father himself are Wisdom, the Spirit also is given Love as a proper name, even though the Father and the Son are Love as well in a general sense" [4] .

"The Holy Spirit is something in common with the Father and the Son...the same consubstantial and coeternal communion.... They are not more than three: one who loves the one who comes from him; one who loves the one from which he receives his origin; and Love himself" [5] .

The same doctrine is found in the East, where the Fathers speak about the Holy Spirit as the one who is the unity of the Father and the Son and the bond of the Trinity. Thus wrote Cyril of Alexandria (†444) and Epiphanius of Salamis (†403) [6] .

The Eastern theologians of later times kept to the same line. Among them was the monk Gregory Palamas, Archbishop of Thessalonika (14th century) who writes: "The Spirit of the supreme Word is like a certain kind of love which the Father has for the mysteriously generated Word; and it is that same love that the most beloved Word and Son of the Father has for the one who generated him" [7] . Among more recent authors I am happy to cite Bulgakov: "If God, who is in the most holy Trinity, is love, the Holy Spirit is the Love of the love" [8] .

It is the doctrine of the East and West which Pope Leo XIII gathered from the tradition and synthesized in his encyclical on the Holy Spirit, wherein we read that the Holy Spirit "is divine Goodness and the mutual Love of the Father and the Son" [9] . But in conclusion, let us turn again to St. Augustine: "Love is from God and is God: therefore it is appropriately the Holy Spirit through whom God's love spreads in our hearts by making the Trinity dwell in us.... The Holy Spirit is properly called the Gift made in Love" [10] . Because he is Love, the Holy Spirit is Gift. That will be the theme of our next catechesis.

[1]   Summa Theol., I, q. 37, a. 1

[2]   cf. De Trinitate, VI, 5; XIV, 7, PL 43, 928, 1065

[3]   Summa Theol., I, q. 37, a. 2

[4]   De Trinitate, XV, 17, 31; CC 50, 505

[5]   De Trinitate, VI, 5, 7; CC 50, 295, 236

[6]   cf. Ancoratus, 7: PG 43, 28 B

[7]   Capita Physica, 36: PG 150, 1144 D-1145 A

[8]   The Paraclete, Italian ed., Bologna, 1972, p. 121

[9]   cf. DS 3326

[10]   De Trinitate, XV, 18, 32: PL 42, 1082-1083