THE HOLY SPIRIT: The Creator Spirit In Scripture by Raniero Cantalamessa

Meditations on the Veni Creator

The Creator Spirit In Scripture by Raniero Cantalamessa

From: Come, Creator Spirit

The Fathers, attributing the role of Creator to the Spirit, are taking the Bible as their base.  A great deal of their argument is negative in character; in other words, they intend to show that the Spirit is “not a creature.”  However, in doing so they also affirm that the Holy Spirit is in fact “Creator.”  They were not mistaken in the substance of their teaching.  The scripture contains the idea of the “Creator” Spirit.  The difference is that the Fathers accentuated the ontological meaning of the word, understanding “Creator” as a designation of the essence or the nature of the Holy Spirit (the Holy Spirit is Creator and hence he is God), whereas the Bible is usually interested in expressing the functional and dynamic significance of the word (the Holy Spirit creates; the Holy Spirit acts as Creator).

We find two types of affirmation concerning the Spirit in the way that the creative function is explicitly attributed to him, and there are also moments or instances in which the Holy Spirit is represented as associated in God’s creative action and represented implicitly as the principle by which new life comes into being.  In the majority of this second group of texts, the Bible is speaking of “the new creation,” that is, the spiritual creation in Christ, but the two creations, the old and the new, relate to one another.  Just as the Spirit is the author of the new creation, he was also the author of the old; the Spirit re-creates what the Spirit has created.  Ambrose had already remarked: “How could one deny that the creation of the Earth was the work of the Holy Spirit, if it is the Spirit’s work to renew it?”

Yet it was the New Testament that first established this link, often representing the interventions of the Holy Spirit in the work of redemption in counterpoint with parallel moments in the work of creation.  Thus, the dove that descended over the waters of the Jordan recalls the Spirit who in the beginning “hovered” over the waters (Genesis 1:2), the more so as the verb “hovered”  in the Hebrew text actually suggests the action of a bird covering or nestling over its brood.  Jesus, breathing on the face of his disciples on Easter evening, recalls the moment when God breathed “the breath of life” into Adam.

The point of departure for all of these developments is, clearly, the text of Genesis 1:2, which, following tradition, I translate: “God’s Spirit hovered over the waters.”

If we interpret the Hebrew expression ruach ‘elohim in the light of certain analogous expressions in Babylonian poetry, it could be translated “wind of God,” “storm of God,” or “terrifying wind.”  However, in that case the subject (wind of God) would not make appropriate sense when used in conjunction with the verb that has always been understood, in the Hebrew and in ancient translations, as “hovered,” “rested,” or “brooded,” that is, as a verb expressing peace and not fury.

If we were to exclude the possibility of any reference, however embryonic, to the reality of the Holy Spirit, we would have to read the text exclusively in the light of what went before it and not at all in the light of anything that came after it in the Bible; in the light of the influences it has undergone, and not at all in the light of the influence it has had.  As we read on through the Bible, here and there we find allusions that become more and more explicit to a creative activity of the pneuma that clearly hark back to this text.  “By the word of the Lord the heavens were made, and all their host by the breath of his mouth,” (Psalm 33:6).

“Breath”  in this verse is certainly not natural wind, because it is called breath of the mouth of God.  Nor may one think that the Psalmist puts the two, breath and word, together in a parallelism, one to be taken as belonging to the divine order and the other to the natural order.  Another psalm says: “When you send forth your spirit, they are created; and you renew the face of the ground,” (Psalm 104:30). 

This line of development becomes abundantly clear in the New Testament, which describes the intervention of the Holy Spirit in the new creation, making use of the very images we find in Genesis concerning the creation of the world.  The idea of the creative ruach cannot simply have been snatched out of the void.  In one and the same commentary on the Bible, there could be no valid argument for translating Genesis 1:2 as “a wind of God blew upon the waters” and then referring to this same text to throw light on the dove at the baptism of Jesus!

It is not wrong, therefore, to continue to refer to Genesis 1:2 and to the evidence of the later texts in order to find in them a Biblical foundation for the Creator role of the Holy Spirit, as the Fathers have done.  As Saint Basil said, “If you accept this explanation, you will draw great advantage from it.”  And it is true: acknowledging a first, veiled allusion to the Holy Spirit in Genesis 1:2 (“the Spirit of God hovered over the waters”) is a key that opens up many other passages of the Bible to our understanding.

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