THE HOLY SPIRIT: The Title “Creator,” An “Open Structure” by Raniero Cantalamessa

Meditations on the Veni Creator

The Title

From: Come, Creator Spirit

What does the title “Creator” mean to us today, first of all from the point of view of theology and faith?  The fundamental point is still the same as was brought to light by the Fathers: The Holy Spirit of God!  Using the title “Creator,” the author of the hymn wanted to put a solemn profession of faith in the divinity of the Holy Spirit at the very start, ahead of everything else.  The title “Creator” is like the clef placed at the beginning of a symphonic score, determining how the whole symphony and every note in it is to sound: this hymn is about God himself, and not about God’s attributes or about a nebulous kind of “divine energy.”  A beautiful thing about the hymn is that it is written in the form of a prayer.  In the Creed we speak about the Spirit: in the Veni Creator we are speaking to the Holy Spirit.

However, the words of the hymn are “open structures.”  We shall see very soon how the title “Creator” truly stands out as a bulwark and unbreakable embankment preventing any attempts to divert the current of Tradition, an antibody that springs into action to defend the body against any return to the malady that caused the body to produce it long ago.  The rationalistic idealism of the eighteenth century brought about a popular revival, in a new and more radical form, of an idea that had been refuted in the fourth century: the idea of the Spirit as creature.  In those ancient times the adversaries of the Holy Spirit (followers of Macedonius, also called Tropici and Pneumatomachi) considered the Spirit to be an entity, a hypostasis, midway between God and man, but the more recent deviation looked on the Spirit as the spirit of humanity pure and simple.  The Spirit was said to be not a divine Spirit, but the spirit of man, intellect, or reason.

All such new, “reductions” are shut out by that simple invocation in the first line of the hymn: “Come, Creator Spirit!”  If one sings these words along with the church, what is it that one is affirming?  That the Spirit, of his very nature, is not within one, is not oneself.  The one who makes the invocation is not the one who is invoked.  Those who say, “Come, Creator Spirit!” at the same time profess themselves a creature and give recognition to the infinite difference between Creator and creature.  They position themselves in the truth.  They do not try to put the creature in the place of the Creator (see Romans 1:25), nor do they try to put the Creator on the level of the creature.

Yet the significant impact of the title “Creator” is not wholly accounted for in this negative function.  It has a positive function too, of the greatest importance.  The fact that the Spirit is Creator is the very foundation of Christian universalism and of the possibility of carrying on a meaningful dialogue with other religions.  For what in fact does it mean, to proclaim that the Holy Spirit is Creator?  It says, clearly, that the Holy Spirit’s sphere of activity is not confined to the church or to the history of salvation, but reaches as far and as wide as creation itself.  It also shows that it is not possible to uphold the view of those authors of ancient times who taught that there were three kinds of dominion: the Father’s dominion, extending over all beings; the Son’s dominion, extending only over the order of rational creatures; and the Spirit’s dominion, extending only to sanctified creatures.  None of these three spheres of action – that of creation, that of redemption, and that of sanctification which comes to realization in the church – is foreign to the Spirit.  No period of time was ever or will ever be without the active presence of the Spirit.  The Spirit is at work apart from the Bible and within the Bible; the Spirit was at work before Christ, in the time of Christ, and after Christ, though of course never without reference to him.  Maximus the Confessor rightly says:

The Holy Spirit is not absent from any creature whatever.  He is present simply in every thing in that it is he who keeps every thing together and who vivifies all; he is present in a special way in those who are under the Law; he is present in all Christians in a new and different way, making them children; he is present as the author of wisdom in the saints who, through a divinely inspired tenor of life, have been worthily disposed for his indwelling.

Truly, “The spirit of the Lord has filled the world, and that which holds all things together knows what is said,” (Wisdom 1:7).  No one can remove him- or herself from the beneficent light of the Spirit, just as no one can remove him- or herself from the warmth of the sun.  “Where can I go from your Spirit?” asked the psalmist, (Psalm 139:7).  From this it follows that not only supernatural charisms but also natural gifts and secular and lay activities all come, each in its own way, from the Holy Spirit.

In one of its documents the Second Vatican Council teaches that the Spirit of God is at work in the heart of every human being, to bring everyone to ask himself or herself the basic religious question.  And then, speaking of the evolution of the social order, the council affirms that “the Spirit of God that, with wonderful providence, directs the course of the ages and renews the face of the Earth, is present in that evolution.”

Certainly, the manner in which the Spirit is at work in the sphere of creation is qualitatively different from the manner in which the Spirit is at work in the sphere of redemption and of the church.  Between the one and the other there is the same kind of relationship that we find between “seeds of the Word” and the “Word in its totality” revealing itself in Jesus Christ.  It was Thomas Aquinas who wrote, “Every truth, no matter what its source is said to be, comes from the Holy Spirit.”

The choice of the title “creator” also gives a theological basis to ecology.  Creation is the work of the Creator Spirit; to pollute it is to sadden its author.  It is not true, therefore, that the Bible, by teaching that material things are not to be treated as sacred beings, has opened the way for exploiting creatures and looking on them merely as serving man’s purposes.  In those cultures that embrace animism and idol-worship, creation is protected by the belief that in every being – tree or grove or rock – a spirit dwells.  The Christian view does not see a distinct animistic moving principle in each individual being, but only one authentic, spiritual moving principle through which every creature is taken up into that harmony and order that is the work of the Creator Spirit.  The key difference is that in the Christian view the Spirit remains transcendent, while in the pantheistic view, such as that of the Stoics, it is part of nature itself.  Saint Ambrose already opposed the Biblical view of the Creator Spirit to the pagan one, even though his point of view was different from that of modern ecology.  Referring to Virgil, he writes:

Some of the pagan poets have said, in their verses, that “Heaven and Earth, and also the moon and the starry spheres, are nourished in their inmost being by the Spirit.”  They do not deny that thanks to the Spirit there is power in creation, and we, who read that very thing in the scripture – should we deny it?

The title “Creator” therefore represents a huge opening up of our understanding of the Holy Spirit, a 360-degree enlargement of our perspective.  It would not have been possible to achieve this result with any other title.  “Holy” itself would have tended to restrict the Spirit’s activity to the sphere of sanctification and grace.  The work of the Creator Spirit transcends these specific salvational activities and should not be identified with them only; the Spirit is active in every field, in the inspiration of poets and in every form of artistic creativity.  Goethe, who was the author of a beautiful German translation of the Veni Creator and wanted to hear it sung every Sunday in his own home, saw it as “a work of genius, a brilliant invocation that speaks powerfully to every spirited and great-hearted person.

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