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I Believe in the Holy Spirit

by Fr. John A. Hardon, S.J.

The third and last part of the Apostles’ Creed begins with our profession of faith in the Holy Spirit. The Creed begins with proclaiming our faith in God the Father, Creator of heaven and earth. Then we profess to believe that the Second Person of the Holy Trinity became man in the person of Jesus Christ, was born of the Virgin Mary, suffered and died on the cross, rose from the dead, ascended into heaven and will return on the first day of the new world, to judge the living and the dead.

Now we express our belief in the Third Person of the Trinity, as the Spirit by whom Our Lady conceived her Divine Son, as the Spirit promised by Christ to those who profess that Jesus is their Lord and Redeemer, and the Spirit who animates the Church as the Soul of the Mystical Body of Christ.

Our Faith in the Holy Spirit

Everything in Catholic Christianity tells us, that the Holy Spirit is the Third Person of the blessed Trinity, that He is one in nature with the Father and the Son, and that He existed from all eternity.

The best way to understand what the Church understands by the Holy Spirit is to compare it with what we believe about the Son of God. In God there is an intellect and will, corresponding to our faculties of thinking and loving in human nature. Sacred Scripture and Tradition identify the mind of God with the Word of God. That is why St. John tells us, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God” (Jn 1:1). “Consequently, just as the word of God is the Son of God, so the Love of God is the Holy Spirit” (St. Thomas Aquinas, Exposition of the Apostles’ Creed, Article 8).

This is the reason why we can say that anyone who has the Holy Spirit is a person who loves God. St. Paul tells us that, “The charity of God is poured forth in our hearts by the Holy Spirit, who is given to us” (Rom. 5:5).

From the dawn of Christian history, there have been many erroneous ideas about the Holy Spirit. Basic to most of these has been the idea that the Holy Spirit is merely a creature. He was said to be less than the Father and the Son; in fact, that He is only God’s servant and minister. It is no wonder than that the Church has added no less than five articles about the Holy Spirit to the original Apostles’ Creed.

Given the significance of this subject, it is of more than passing value to compare the Holy Spirit with the different kinds of created spirits. All these exist in the world. But they are simply not the unique Third Person of the Holy Trinity.

The highest of created spirits are the angels. In the words of St. Paul, they are “all ministering spirits” (Heb. 1:4). The Holy Spirit is not a mere angel. He is divine. St. John tells us, “God is a Spirit” (Jn 2:24), and St. Paul says that “The Lord is a Spirit” (2 Cor. 3:17). That is why when the Holy Spirit is given to us, we are enabled to love God so generously as to sacrifice our selfish love of the world: “Where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty” (2 Cor. 3:17). Our faith in the Holy Spirit is therefore our belief that God who is Love, within the Trinity, can share with us something of His own divine love.

Our human souls are also created spirits. They give the natural life to our bodies. Each human soul is immediately created by God out of nothing at the moment of our conception, and infused into our bodies from the first moment of human existence in our mother’s womb. However, just as these created spirits give natural life to our body, so the Holy Spirit, conferred at baptism, gives supernatural life to our souls. The Holy Spirit is the uncreated grace whose dwelling in our souls gives us sanctifying grace, which St. Augustine calls the anima animae, the soul of the soul. What are we saying? We are affirming that the Holy Spirit who dwells in our souls is the Lifegiver whom Christ promised would abide in us. There is only one condition: that we believe in Christ’s teaching (Jn 6:63).

Who exactly is the Holy Spirit? He is one in substance with the Father and the Son. No less than the Son is the Wisdom or the Word of God, so the Holy Spirit is the Love of the Father and the Son. The Holy Spirit proceeds from both persons. God’s Wisdom is of one substance with the Father. So God’s Love is one in substance with the Father and the Son.

In the Nicene Creed we say, “We believe in the Holy Spirit, the Lord the giver of life; He proceeds from the Father and the Son.” The closing words, “and the Son” in Latin read Filioque, and have made doctrinal history. Although not in the original Nicene Creed, they were added later with the approval of the Holy See. After the ninth century, the Eastern leaders challenged not only the addition, but the doctrine itself, i.e. whether the Holy Spirit proceeded not only from the Father, but also from the Son. In recent years, the issue has become more historical than doctrinal, since those who believe in Christ’s divinity, whether Eastern or Western Christians, all accept the fact that the Third Person proceeds from the Second, as well as the First Person of the Trinity.

Once we believe in the perfect equality of the Holy Spirit with the Father and the Son, we are logically to worship Him equally with the First and Third Persons. That is why St. John declares that “true adorers shall adore the Father in Spirit and in Truth” (Jn 4:23). This is also the reason why Christ told His disciples to “teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit” (Mt 28:19). In biblical language, the name stands for the nature. Thus the three Persons of the Trinity have only one divine nature. To make sure there is no doubt about the perfect equality of the divine Persons, the Nicene Creed has the statement about the Holy Spirit, “who together with the Father and the Son is equally adored and glorified.”

The New Testament leaves no doubt that the Holy Spirit is equal to God. We know that the ancient prophets spoke on behalf of God. That is why St. Peter tells us that, “The holy men of God spoke inspired by the Holy Spirit” (2 Pet. 1:21). That is also why the Nicene Creed has the sentence, “He spoke through the prophets,” referring to the Holy Spirit. Then, in reprimanding Ananias for deceitfully withholding some of the property from the Christian community, Peter asked him, “How can Satan have so possessed you that you should lie to the Holy Spirit? It is not to men that you have lied, but to God” (Acts 5:3,5).

As Catholics, we constantly speak of the influence of the Holy Spirit in our lives. The gifts of the Holy Spirit are said to be the supernatural instincts or impulses that urge us to put the virtues of faith, hope, and charity into practice. Nothing we ever do to please God goes unrewarded. That is why we have the twelve fruits, or joys, of the Holy Spirit that give us a deep supernatural satisfaction in doing the will of God.

Except for the Holy Spirit, there is nothing which God has revealed that we could believe. It was the Holy Spirit whom Christ promised when He said, “The Holy Spirit, the Paraclete (Advocate), whom the Father will send in my name, will Himself teach you all things and will bring all things to your mind, whatsoever I shall have said to you” (Jn 14:26). It was Jesus Christ, the first Advocate, who revealed the mysteries of God. But it is the Holy Spirit, the second Advocate, who enables us to understand what Christ had revealed.

It is not enough to believe what Christ has revealed, nor even enough to understand the mysteries of divine revelation. We are to put our faith into practice. This means we must observe the commandments with our wills. That is why, already in the Old Testament, God foretold that “I will put my Spirit in the midst of you. I will cause you to walk in my commandments and to keep my judgements and do them” (Ezekiel 36:27). Unless Christ had sent the Holy Spirit, we could never live up to the humanly impossible demands of the Savior on His followers.

Responding to the Holy Spirit

There is literally an ocean of ways in which our human spirit can respond to the Holy Spirit. We might even say that we have a mind and a will for one unique purpose. Our minds are to be enlightened and our wills are to be inspired by the Spirit of God. That is why we are here on earth. In the measure that we are responsive to the Holy Spirit here in time, we shall be perfectly happy in the eternity for which we were made.

Given the magnitude of the subject, I thought it would be best to look at each one of the seven gifts of the Holy Spirit, briefly explain what they mean and hopefully better understand how we are to use these gifts to grow in the spiritual life.

First let us make sure we know the difference between the gifts of the Holy Spirit and the virtues we receive at baptism. The virtues are called virtues, because they are supernatural powers which the Holy Spirit infuses into our souls. Thus a baptized person is able to believe everything which God has revealed as the true faith; to trust in God’s promises provided by hope, to love God above all things and to love our neighbor out of love for God, which is the virtue of charity. The gifts of the Holy Spirit, however, presume the virtues. The gifts might be called supernatural urges by which the Holy Spirit inclines us to do what He wants through the virtues or powers which He has infused.

Let me be more clear. The gifts are instincts, indeed. But they are instincts toward the practice of such virtues as human nature by itself could never perform. It is not only that the gifts urge us to practice humanly impossible virtues. They incline us to perform actions that are humanly inconceivable. That is why no merely human psychology can really explain or understand the conduct of a person who is acting under the impulse of the Holy Spirit.

There are scholars today who do not hesitate to say that saints like Francis of Assisi and Therese of Lisieux were psychopathological. No wonder! Those gifted by the Spirit of God do things that the world considers madness.

The Gift of Wisdom is the highest gift of the Holy Spirit. It is the basic gift of God to a soul animated by His grace. It provides the mind with a relish for the things of God. We might say it gives satisfaction to the human mind in observing the truths revealed by God. In this sense, it attracts the human spirit to know what God has revealed because of the delight it gives the mind in dwelling on divine truth.

Consider the wisdom of a St. Clare of Assisi who reminds us that, “Our labor here is brief, but the reward is eternal. Do not be disturbed by the clamor of the world which passes like a shadow. Do not let the false delights of a deceptive world deceive you.”

The Fear of the Lord is the most fundamental gift of the Holy Spirit. Why? Because unless a person fears to offend God, no virtue of the spiritual life will be practiced. To be noted, however, is that the fear of the Lord means not only fearing to offend God by sin. It includes the fear of God’s punishments, not mainly because of the dread of pain, but because a sinner refuses to acknowledge his dependence on God, and therefore has reason to fear the punishment from an offended Lord.

Here is what St. John Chrysostom tells us, “There is only one thing to be feared…only one trial and that is sin. I have told you this over and over again. All the rest is beside the point, whether you talk of plots, feuds, betrayals, slanders, abuses, confiscations of property, exile, swords, open sea or universal war. Whatever they may be, they are all fugitive and perishable. They touch the mortal body but wreak no harm on the watchful soul.”

The Gift of Counsel is generally misunderstood to mean that a person with this gift can give spiritual guidance to others. Strange as it may seem, the principal meaning of the gift of counsel is not giving direction to others. Its primary function is to counsel ourselves. So true is this that, other things being equal, we are only as qualified to counsel other people as we are good counselors to ourselves. The essence of the gift of counsel is the supernatural inclination to trust the human mind in recognizing the will of God and in knowing how the divine will should be done.

There is more than passing value in stressing the importance of knowing how we are to do God’s will. After all, it is one thing to know what we should do. It is something else to also know how we are to do it. So many good people, who are well intentioned, can be very imprudent. They may lack sound judgement in how concretely specifically, here and now, they are to put into practice what their conscience tells them is the will of God.

There are three definitions of prudence by three saints that I think are worth quoting. Each is a gem of infused wisdom.

  • According to St. Augustine, “Prudence is a knowledge of what is to be sought and avoided.” Notice the gift of counsel not only enlightens us on what we should do and how we should do it. It also tells us what we are to avoid and how we are to avoid what would be contrary to the will of God.

  • According to St. Thomas Aquinas, “Prudence is the application of right reason to moral practice.” Our mind has been darkened by sin. The gift of counsel provides the light we need to think clearly. But more than that; our reason has been elevated by faith. We now know from God’s revelation truths that were not even conceivable before they were revealed. The gift of counsel directs us to put our faith into practice, beyond anything imaginable by the unbelieving human mind.

  • According to St. Ambrose, “No man is prudent who is ignorant of God.” This means that we are only as prudent as we are united with God, I do not hesitate to say, in constant prayer. Never act on mere impulse. Pray, if only for a moment, before and while you are doing anything which involves your mind.

The gift of piety means more than being pious or devout in our prayers. In the original Latin, from which our English “piety” is derived; pietas means loyalty to one’s ancestors. This is a strange term, “ancestors,” but here our ancestors are everyone to whom we owe whatever we have, not only in body, but especially in spirit. Surely God is the primary source of everything we are and possess. The gift of piety inclines us to respect our parents, indeed everyone to whom we are related by the bonds of blood or of divine grace. St. Thomas Aquinas tells us that the gift of piety refers not only to God, but to everyone and everything proceeding from God. Thus “the saints are honored, misery is relieved, the Holy Scriptures are not contradicted, whether they be understood or not.” In a word, whatever is related to God as the author of nature and of grace, comes within the scope of piety. One crucially important feature of piety is that it prompts us to look upon other people, not as competitors in the struggle of life, but as co-equals under God as our common Maker and cooperators in Christ, through the saving merits of His passion. Needless to say, this is the very opposite of radical feminism, which is the product of godless Marxism.

The Gift of Fortitude goes beyond the virtue. It enables us to carry to a successful conclusion even the most difficult tasks in the service of God. Again St. Thomas is a valuable witness to the blessings of this wonderful gift of the Holy Spirit. Thanks to this gift, we are able to do what “is beyond human power, for sometimes we are not strong enough to win through and override all evils and perils, which press us down to death. The Holy Spirit leads us to eternal life, which is the final achievement of all we do, the escaping from all ills and dangers.”

It is worth noting that two forms of courage are implied in the gift of fortitude: to undertake arduous tasks and to endure long and trying difficulties for the glory of God. The two are quite different. Only God knows what trials await us as we undertake to do His will. This gift strengthens us not only to begin what we anticipate will be difficult. It gives us the superhuman power to continue and carry through what we know the Lord expects of us, no matter how hard the enterprise may become, far beyond our worst expectations.

The Gift of Understanding is an above natural enlightenment enabling us to grasp revealed truths easily and profoundly. It differs from faith because it gives us a grasp of the meaning of what we believe. Saints like Augustine associate the gift of understanding with sinlessness and chastity. Our capacity for penetrating into the depth of our faith depends on our freedom from sin and mastery of the passion of lust.

That is why a person like St. Therese of Lisieux could be declared a doctor of the universal Church, even though she had not even what we now call secondary or college education. Her sinless purity of heart and deep love of Jesus, her divine Spouse, provided her with such depth of understanding for which no amount of human education could supply.

The Gift of Knowledge has sometimes been called “the science of the saints.” Through this gift, we are able to judge everything from the viewpoint of God. The function of this gift is to help us pass judgement on every creature that I don’t say enters, but even crosses our lives. No matter how trying or difficult a situation may be; no matter how hard someone may be in trying our patience, as we say, to the breaking point; no matter how unexpected or naturally unwelcome a situation may be, the gift of knowledge empowers us to see God within, beneath and behind every pain in our lives.

I do not often refer to poets in these conferences, but I think one verse of Francis Thompson’s poem Daisy should be quoted, and even memorized:

Nothing begins, and nothing ends,
That is not paid with moan;
For we are born in other’s pain,
And perish in our own.

Dare I close with a quotation of my own: “O knowledge, how many crimes have been committed in your name!” We are living today in the most academically educated age of human history. How much we know! But how we need from the Holy Spirit the gift of knowledge, to know there is no peace on earth or joy in eternity without embracing our cross out of love for the God who embraced His cross out of love for us.

Copyright © 1997 by Inter Mirifica

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