Tony van Vuuren
I believe in the Holy Spirit, the Lord, the giver of life, who proceeds from the Father and the Son, who with the Father and the Son is adored and glorified, who has spoken through the prophets. The best way to understand what we mean by our profession of faith in the Holy Spirit is to compare it with our faith in the Son of God. St. Thomas Aquinas explains this in his exposition of the creed; “So, just as the Word of God is the Son of God, so the Love of God is the Holy Spirit”
The Council at Constantinople in the 4th Century included the words concerning the Holy Spirit in the Creed; As article 8. Later this would become the firm belief in the Western church that the Spirit proceeds from the Father and the Son. The phrase “and the Son” was inserted to counteract the heresy that claimed the Holy Spirit proceeds only from the Father.
The Holy Spirit was sent by God, at the word of Christ, and is the Spirit of both; “who with the Father and the Son, is adored and glorified.”
As we profess our belief in the Holy Spirit we need to constantly ask ourselves what is asked of us “to live in the Spirit.”
Too often, however, this phrase is used in a way that is too pious, too over-charged with charismatic fervour, or too theologically abstract to have much meaning for us ordinary people. It may well summarize Christian life, but it can also be little more than a very vague platitude. So what does it mean “to live in the Spirit?”
St. Paul, in attempting to specify this, in Galatians Chp 5 speaks with a clarity that leaves no room for vagueness or false sentiment. He begins by telling us that, if in our lives there is “lewd conduct, impurity”, and he goes on to list a number of negative abstract nouns, then we are not living in the spirit, pure and simple. Conversely, we are living in the spirit when, in our lives, there is “charity, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, generosity, gentleness, faith, modesty, self control and chastity.” Hereby listing the 12 fruits of the Holy Spirit.
If we take Paul’s word’s seriously, we can never delude ourselves into identifying true life in the Spirit with what it is so often confused with, namely, false piety. When the fruits of the Spirit are absent, irrespective of how spiritually confident and self-righteous we might feel or how right our cause might seem, then the Spirit is also absent. The Spirit is present only when those fruits are deeply imbedded in our lives – and permeate the air around us.
The Holy Spirit, is classically defined in theology, as “the love between God and Christ, the Father and the Son.” A divine love! It is in meditating this concept of the Holy Trinity that we come to some understanding of what it means to live in the Spirit. Let me try to elaborate on this by using an image; that of romantic love in its peak fervour.
Imagine a man and a woman who are deeply, passionately, and completely in love.
There is constant giving and receiving, resulting in an ever deeper relationship and an ever intensifying gratitude – which will leave them both, feeling ever more mellow, joyful, peaceful, patient, chaste, and wanting to reach out and share with others what is so quickening in their own lives. Moreover, their love for each other will create, around them, an ambience, an atmosphere, of charity, joy, peace, patience, and chastity. The movement of giving-and-receiving-in-gratitude between them will create a warm refuge, where others will spontaneously come to seek warmth in a world which offers too little peace, patience, joy, and the like.
Such a relationship can be a very modest indicator for what happens in the Holy Trinity, of how the Father and the Son generate the Spirit, and what results from this generation.
- The Father constantly creates and gives life.
- The Son receives life from the Father and gives it back in gratitude.
- This then (as is true in all relationships wherein a gift is received lovingly) makes it possible for the Father to give even more to the Son.
- As this reciprocal flow of love and gratitude deepens and intensifies, an energy, a fire, a palpable force, a person, the Holy Spirit, is born and that force infects everything around it, with the fruits of the Holy Spirit.
- This ambience of the Spirit, generated in gratitude, in turn affects perception. The seven Gifts of the Spirit flow from its fruits: When one’s heart and mind is filled with this spiritual glow, as opposed to anger, bitterness, fear and lust, one will also understand things and react to them from a different wisdom, understanding, counsel, fortitude, knowledge, piety and fear of the Lord.
The Holy Spirit is now working in us, and when we meditate on how the Holy Spirit is generated, we are under less illusion as to what it means to live in the Spirit. To believe that we are living in the Spirit when our lives are not permeated by, and radiating gratitude is to be dangerously deluded.
The Spirit reveals the Trinity as recorded in John’s Gospel Chp 14, when Christ speaks to His followers and thus to us on the eve of His arrest he says’ “I will ask the Father, and He will give you another Advocate to be with you forever. This is the Spirit of truth…” Thus the Holy Spirit is revealed as another person within the divine being, along with Jesus and the Father. Christ was the first Advocate who revealed the mysteries of God. The Holy Spirit is the second Advocate who enables us to understand what Christ has revealed.
The Trinity is not a theoretical mystery for us to solve, but a reality for us to worship.
Who is the Spirit? The Spirit is simply God, present and active everywhere, pervading our life. This basic but profound reality bears repeating because so many of us do not experience God’s nearness but think of God as quite distant. This is most unfortunate; because God is with us always and everywhere.
The Holy Spirit unfortunately is the forgotten God among many Catholic Christians. Through the Spirit the risen Christ is present with us everywhere and in every moment, as pervasive as the air we breathe, as the sun or rain that comes down on us, as the wind that blows around us, as the life that flows through our veins. This is the God we are talking about when we speak of the Spirit. What is the Holy Spirit?
Firstly: The Holy Spirit seems to be the most intangible, mysterious, and unreal part of the Trinity. God the Father is described in familiar terms corresponding to our experience of fatherhood. God the Son became a man corresponding to our experience of humanity. But God the Spirit is not so graphically presented. Trying to see the Spirit is like trying to see your own eye without the help of a mirror. The eye doesn’t see itself, and the Spirit doesn’t show himself, but rather he shows us the Father and the Son (John 15:26; 16:14). The initiative is always his. And he doesn’t announce his schedule in advance. We must be constantly alert for his appearance in our lives.
By every means, except coercion, the Holy Spirit works to bring us to God.
Secondly: God the Father created the world and rested on the seventh day. God the Son redeemed the world and sat down at the right hand of the Father. God the Spirit never rests. He is always at work through believers.
A glove can do nothing by itself, but with a hand inside it can do many things. True, it’s not the glove, but the hand in the glove, that works. We Christians are the gloves; (hopefully a little bit more animated than a simple glove!!)
And it is the Holy Spirit that is the hand that does the work. We must make room for that hand so that every finger is filled!