THE HOLY SPIRIT: What Did The Spirit Bring At Pentecost That Was New? by Raniero Cantalamessa

Meditations on the Veni Creator

What Did The Spirit Bring At Pentecost That Was New? by Raniero Cantalamessa

From: Come, Creator Spirit

All of this grand vision re-echoes in the words of our hymn: “Fill with Heavenly grace the hearts that you have made.”  In praying these words we are saying, “You who are the principle of our creation, be for us also the artificer of our sanctification!”  It would surely have been impossible to find words more clear or more concise to affirm that the Spirit of the creation is also the Spirit of the redemption.  The word grace is the window that opens wide to the view of this new horizon.  This word refers to Christ; to the church; to the sacraments; to the theological virtues of faith, hope, and love.  The word, grace, moves us to a new plane, different from the one evoked by the word, Creator, in the first line of the verse.  Grace, in the language of Christians, is always “grace of Christ.” Quite distinct from its secular use, the word, grace, in the New Testament is never used to signify any natural or creaturely gift, but always one or more of the supernatural gifts.  The second part of this verse, then, says very precisely that the Creator Spirit, the Spirit “of God” in the first part of the verse is none other than the Spirit “of Christ.”

Yet we must not see this as a kind of substituting one Spirit for another, or withdrawing attention from the work of creation and placing it in parenthesis in order to affirm the work of redemption.  Nature is not supplanted by grace.  We are concerned, rather, to see that grace and nature are linked, as are the supernatural gifts of the Spirit and the natural gifts.  That is why we call on the Spirit as Creator and at the same time as grace, and say, “Come!” to the Spirit as creating and simultaneously as engracing.  For grace does not destroy nature put “presupposes” nature and builds on nature.  This remains true even after sin because, though sin has “wounded” nature, it has not corrupted it entirely.  From this viewpoint the new creation is a restoration, a renovation, an elevation, and not a creation ex nihilo, out of nothing, like the first creation.

The Spirit “fills with divine grace” the hearts that he himself, not another, has created.  What the Fathers, speaking of Christ, have maintained against Marcion and the Manicheans is equally true of the Holy Spirit: There are not two diverse and opposed economies each arising from a different spirit, but there is only one God, only one Word, only one Spirit.  Continuity is affirmed at the same time as newness.

If, then, it is not necessary to deny the Spirit of creation in order to receive the Spirit of grace, neither is it permissible any longer to be content simply with the Creator Spirit while making little of the Spirit of Christ.  It is one and the same Holy Spirit that spurs us on to follow through and make the leap forward.  To refuse to do that is to resist the Spirit, (see Acts 7:51).

However, we need to say right away that the distinction between the Creator Spirit and the Redeemer Spirit is not at all the same as the distinction between the Old and the New Testaments.  The Spirit of grace was in fact already at work in the Law, preparing the way for the Gospel.  The one who spoke through the prophets was already the Spirit of Christ, (see 1 Peter 1:10-11).  Also in regard to the reality of the Spirit, there is a link with Israel that is different from and much more profound than our link with any other people or any other religion.

Neither is the distinction between the Creator Spirit and the Redeemer Spirit exactly the same as the distinction between world and church, as if outside of the church the Spirit acts only as Creator and not also as Spirit of Christ.  The Second Vatican Council affirmed that “the Holy Spirit, in a way known only to God, offers to every human being the possibility of becoming linked to the Paschal Mystery.”

And so, just as it is now no longer possible to say that “outside of the church there is no salvation” (at least in the sense in which this used to be maintained), neither is possible any longer to say that “outside of the church there is no Holy Spirit.”  Outside of the confines of the visible church (but not without reference to the church), and in a mysterious way, the Holy Spirit is active also as the Spirit of Christ, making present the salvation that the Spirit has brought about (the paschal mystery!).

In what the Spirit brought about in the coming of Christ and in Pentecost, what was new?  The answer to this question about the Spirit is the same answer Irenaeus gave to the same question about Christ: “He brought about all newness by bringing himself.”  The Spirit, who at various times and in various ways used to come to the prophets, is now among us personally and enduringly in Christ:

For this the Spirit came down upon the Son of God who had become the son of man: with him he became accustomed to dwelling with humankind, to resting upon human beings (see Isaiah 11:2; 1 Peter 4:14) and to making his home in God’s creatures; in them he brought about the realization of God’s will, and he renewed them, making them pass from their old condition to the newness of Christ.

For as long as the Word had not yet become “flesh and lived among us,” (John 1:14), neither was the Spirit able to dwell among us.  Before the Spirit had descended on Jesus and rested on him, (John 1:33), the Spirit was not able to descend on us and remain with us.  Consequently we can say, in language that is somewhat more developed, that before Pentecost the Spirit was present in the world through the Spirit’s gifts and power, but since the time of Pentecost onward the Spirit has been hypostatically present, that is, present in person: “The Prophets enjoyed a profound illumination by the Holy Spirit.  But the faithful enjoy more than only this illumination; the Holy Spirit himself dwells in us and remains with us.  We are called temples of the Holy Spirit, something that was never said of the Prophets.”

So it is that we pass from the ambit of creation to the ambit of conversion.  By sin, humankind transformed the coming forth from God into an estrangement and an aversion from God, and for that reason the movement of the return of creatures to God could continue only in the form of a conversion to God.  The coming forth and the return are two objective movements that are universal and that do not depend on humankind at all.  Whether we want to or not, we come from God and return to God, either to God as goal and reward, or to God as judge.  Estrangement from God and conversion to God, on the other hand, are two subjective movements, two decisions made by free human choice.  Since humankind turned their coming from God into a turning their back on God, they now need to turn their simple return to God into a conversion to God.  And it is in this process of conversion that the Holy Spirit is now seen in action.

The role of the Spirit in the return of creatures to God also comes to light in and through the theme of jubilee.  The Bible speaks of a “fiftieth day” or “day of Pentecost.”  This is the year when the ground is left to lie fallow, to rest; the year when slaves are given their freedom, and when each person gets back what belongs to him and returns to his ancestral home, (see Leviticus 25:20-13).  Medieval theologians found inspiration in this text to see Pentecost as the sign of the entry into ultimate rest, the remission of all debt, the loosening of all bonds, and as the sign also of the moment in which humankind would regain possession of that state that we enjoyed before our sin caused us to become enslaved.  “Keep this day as Jubilee / if its mystery you would see.”

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