THE HOLY SPIRIT: Experience Of The Spirit As Creator by Raniero Cantalamessa

Meditations on the Veni Creator

Experience Of The Spirit As Creator by Raniero Cantalamessa

From: Come, Creator Spirit

The most important thing, also in the matter of the Holy Spirit as Creator, is not to understand or explain what this might mean, but to experience the Spirit as Creator.  In the strictest sense, to create means to draw forth being out of nothingness.  How, then, can someone who already exists invoke the Spirit as Creator?  If you invoke, you must exist, and if you exist, how can you still experience being created?

This point has a profound religious implication.  To invoke the Creator Spirit upon oneself is to carry oneself back, in faith, to that moment when God still retained all power over you, when you were only “a thought in God’s heart,” and God could have made of you whatever God willed without infringing on any liberty of yours.  To invoke the Creator Spirit is to give back to God that total freedom in your regard.  It is to cast yourself, by a free and spontaneous decision, like clay into the hands of the potter, saying to God the words inspired for this purpose: “O Lord, you are our Father; we are the clay, and you are the potter, we are all the work of your hand,” (Isaiah 64:8).

To invoke the Creator Spirit upon us is, therefore, to abandon ourselves to the sovereign action of God, with complete confidence; it is determinedly to take on what is called the “creaturely” attitude before God, and that is the very basis of all authentic religious belief and practice.  It is to remove all reservations, all conditions, and to be open to everything.  It is to give God carte blanche, total freedom to do as God wills, as Mary did when she said, “Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word,” (Luke 1:38).  The Fathers saw, in Mary in that moment, the supreme manifestation of the Spirit as Creator: “The creative power of the Most High formed the body of Christ at the moment when the Holy Spirit descended upon the Virgin Mary.” (Didimus of Alexandria)

To invoke the Holy Spirit as Creator upon oneself is to open oneself to a newness, and it is also to enter into an awesome silence.

But let us return to the text that lies at the start of all of these reflections on the Creator Spirit, Genesis 1:2, in order to grasp the significance of the fact that in the Veni Creator we invoke not the divine creative action in general, but the creative action of the Spirit.  What, specifically, does the “person” of Spirit bring to the work of creation?  That is determined, as always, by the relationships within the Trinity itself.  The Holy Spirit is not at the commencement of the creative act, but at the conclusion, just as the Spirit is to the origin, but the completion, of the Trinitarian process.  In creation, wrote Saint Basil, the Father is the principal cause, from whom all things come; the Son is the efficient cause, through whom all things are made; and the Holy Spirit is the perfecting cause.  This is not to say in any sense that the operative power of the Father might be imperfect, but that the Father desires to bring creatures into being through the Son and to bring them to perfection through the Spirit.

Hence, the creative action of the Spirit is the primary source of the perfection of all that exists; the Spirit is, we might say, not so much the one through whom the world is brought into being out of nothingness, but rather the one who transforms all that is, making it grow from its unformed initial state of being to its final perfection.  In other words, the Holy Spirit is the one who makes creation pass from chaos into cosmos, and makes of it something beautiful, orderly, and clean.  (The Greek kosmos and the Latin mundus both mean clean, beautiful.)  “When the Spirit began to hover over it, creation had no beauty as yet.  But, when creation had experienced the action of the Spirit, it received all that splendor of beauty that makes it shine forth as the mundus.(Ambrose)

We know that the creative action of God is not limited to the initial moment only, which is how creation is seen in the deist or mechanist view of the universe.  We cannot say that God “was” Creator at one certain moment only.  God “is” always Creator.  And this, not only in the watered-down sense that God “keeps things in being” and in his providence governs the world, but also in the fullest meaning of the word: God continually communicates being and energy; God moves, stimulates, enlivens, and renews creation.  “To create is continually to make new.” (Luther)

What does all this mean in relation to the Holy Spirit?  It means that the Spirit is always the one that brings about the change from chaos to cosmos, from disorder to order, from confusion to harmony, from deformity to beauty, from oldness to newness – not, of course, in a mechanical way and all of a sudden, but in the sense that the Spirit is at work in all of this kind of change for the better, guiding its evolving progress until it reaches its fulfillment.  The Spirit is always the one at work, “creating and renewing the face of the Earth.”

If it were possible to remove the Spirit from creation, all beings would become confused and the life in them would appear to have no law, no structure, no ordered purpose whatever. (Basil the Great)

Without the Spirit, the entire creation would be unable to continue in being. (Ambrose)

This holds true at all levels, for the macrocosm as for the many microcosms of which every human being is one.  Let us consider, first of all, the grand scenario of the world and its history.  At the moment Christ died, the gospel writers note that “darkness came over the whole land,” (Marks 15:33).  This is a veiled allusion to the primordial chaos into which humankind, because of sin, had fallen back – a darkness that reached its paroxysmal climax in the killing of Christ.  A writer of the second century wrote:

The universe was on the point of falling back into chaos and would have melted away for sheer dismay at the sight of the Passion, had not the great Jesus sent forth his divine Spirit, crying out, “Father, into your hands I commit my Spirit,” (Luke 23:46).  And suddenly, as the divine Spirit was poured out, the universe found itself becoming steady again, as if reanimated, enlivened, and made solid.

Once again, in this grand vision, it is the Holy Spirit who makes the world pass from chaos to cosmos.  This time, however, it is not a question of a vaguely understood “spirit of God,” but the Spirit that comes from Christ on the cross; “chaos” is no longer the primordial physical confusion and darkness, but the moral darkness of evil and of sin, and “cosmos” is no longer the material universe but church, “the cosmos of the cosmos,” that is the ornament of the world.

This vision finds a continuity in the way in which the coming down of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost is described.  The Holy Spirit transforms the Babel chaos of many languages and draws out of it many voices speaking in harmony.  Thanks to the Spirit, “all tongues together, of one accord, then raised up a hymn to God,” (Irenaeus), as when the conductor steps up to the podium and suddenly the clamor of all the instruments of the orchestra being tuned is silenced, and in its place one hears a magnificent symphony.


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