From This Is Our Faith
Jesus broke precedent with his Jewish tradition in speaking of God as Abba, father. He also referred to himself as son, suggesting a filial relationship between himself and God. He saw his own ministry as empowered by the Spirit and promised to send the Spirit or Advocate upon his disciples. From the early Christians’ conviction of the vivifying presence of the Spirit in the community and their sense that God was revealed in history as Father, Son, and Spirit was developed the doctrine of the Trinity, which is at the heart of the Christian faith.
The Hebrew word for spirit, rûach, means “breath,” “spirit,” or “principle of life,” depending on the context. The Greek pneuma is similar. In the Old Testament, “spirit” personifies God’s creative presence, hovering over the waters at creation, empowering the messiah, looked for as a divine gift to be poured out on all humankind in the messianic age. The Spirit is active in the life and ministry of Jesus. He is conceived through the power the Holy Spirit; the Spirit descends on him at his baptism, leads him into the desert, and empowers his ministry. Luke especially stresses the role of the Spirit in Jesus’s ministry.
According to Paul, the risen Christ has become “a life-giving spirit.” He speaks of “the Spirit of God” or “the Spirit of Christ” or simply “the Spirit.” The Spirit is the source of the Christian confession of Jesus as Lord and through baptism the Spirit unites the community into one body, breaking down all divisions. Thus to be “in Christ” is to have new life “in the Spirit,” enabling us to know God’s love poured into our hearts and to call on God as Abba. Paul points to the “fruit of the Spirit” in interior dispositions of our lives: “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.” But in other passages, he speaks of the Spirit in more personal, active terms, scrutinizing the depths of God, teaching, leading or guiding, interceding for members of the church, and helping them pray. In fact, spirit and grace are virtually synonymous terms.
The Spirit also symbolizes God’s presence and action in the life of the church in the New Testament; Paul describes the church as “a dwelling place of God in the Spirit,” while the Spirit is the church’s animating principle. One can speak of the charismatic structure of the church, in which the Spirit pours out a diversity of gifts and ministries.
The personal character of the Spirit is even more evident in John’s gospel. Jesus speaks of the “Advocate, the holy Spirit that the Father will send in my name” who will teach you and remind you of everything that I told you, the Spirit who Jesus will send from the Father to testify to himself.
The Spirit breathes in our hearts; it is not itself an object of our consciousness. We recognize the Spirit’s presence reflexively in our interior lives; we “discern” its presence. The Spirit inspires and animates; sometimes it fills us. The Spirit is the living source of our faith. We find that even in our doubts, we are convinced that God is real, that we are able to call on God as Abba, confess Jesus as Lord, and know that our sins have been forgiven. We experience the “fruit of the Spirit in love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.” We find a new power to move beyond our personal failings and sins, a freedom to place ourselves into God’s hands and to respond in compassion and love to others. Indeed, love is the greatest of the Spirit’s gifts. Thus we recognize the Spirit’s presence in our affectivity.
The Spirit constitutes the community of disciples as church. We are baptized into one body, given gifts of the Spirit and ministries for the common good, and united by our communion in Christ’s body and blood. At the same time, in our communion with Christ, we sense our communion with one another in his Body for the world. Jesus himself prayed for the unity of his disciples, his church, so that the world may believe.