THE HOLY SPIRIT: A Name Born Of Experience by Raniero Cantalamessa

Meditations on the Veni Creator

A Name Born Of Experience by Raniero Cantalamessa

From: Come, Creator Spirit

We come right away to the first line of this verse and to the first title: “You whom we name the Paraclete,” (Qui Paracletus diceris).  For those who have any familiarity with a computer, it provides a comparison that may help to grasp what happens at the simple mention of the name Paraclete.  I am thinking of what we call a file, or the name we give a document, and what that represents.  I sit at the computer and write a whole book, this one, let us say, on the Veni Creator, and I put it into memory, giving it a name of no more than eight characters.  In this case, the eight-letter name was in fact “paraclet.”  The whole book is there, stored in the computer’s memory, but there is no way to draw it out to read it, or to print it, if I do not key in that word.  But, no sooner have I tapped the keys for that word “paraclet” on the keyboard and punched “enter” than the whole content of that memory surges marvelously out and appears on the screen before me, page after page, and I can read it, write some more into it, and change it.  Something of the same sort happens with each of the titles of the Holy Spirit that we find in this verse: Paraclete, Gift of God, Fire, Love, and spiritual Anointing.  Each one, on its own, works a wonder of unlocking floods of revelation and of doctrine concerning the Holy Spirit from those great stored memories that are the Bible and tradition.

From what source did John the evangelist draw this title “Paraclete”?  He uses it four times in the short space of chapters 14 through 16 of his gospel.  We cannot prove that he had it from the living lips of Jesus himself, but neither can we prove the opposite.  Jesus spoke many times about the Holy Spirit, both before his death and after his resurrection.  Can we exclude, a priori, that he may once have used a word, an image, a comparison, and that the evangelist knew it or remembered it and gave it a central place in his reflections?  Luke is the only one of the evangelists who uses the title, “finger of God,” in referring to the Holy Spirit, but can we conclude on that account that the title is not authentic?

The name and the concept, Paraclete, applied to the Holy Spirit, then, is not something strange or far-fetched.  On the contrary, it is in keeping with a whole line of Biblical thought.  In the Old Testament God is the great consoler of the people; God is the one who proclaims, “I am your consoler,” or in a literal rendering of the Greek text of the Septuagint, “your Paraclete,” (Isaiah 51:12), the one who comforts with maternal affection: “As a mother comforts her child, so I will comfort you,” (Isaiah 66:13).

This “God of all consolation,” (Romans 15:5), is made incarnate in Jesus Christ who is in fact the first Advocate or Comforter (see John 14:15).  In this, as in every aspect of God’s activity, the Holy Spirit is the one who continues the work of Christ and brings the shared work of the Trinity to completion, and so the Spirit could not fail to be described with the same title.

Yet there is another source from which this title surely takes its origin and importance.  That source is the experience of the evangelist and of the church.  The whole church, after the Resurrection, had a lively and powerful experience of the Holy Spirit as consoler, defender, and ally in inward difficulties and in those that came from the outside, in persecutions and trials and in the details of everyday life.  We read in the Acts of the Apostles that the churches were building themselves us, “living in the fear of the Lord and in the comfort (paraclesis) of the Holy Spirit,” (Acts 9:31).  The evangelist himself alludes to this experience as the source of his own knowledge, when he relates what Jesus said of the Paraclete: “You know him, because he abides with you, and he will be in you,” (John 14:17).

We cannot not be amazed at what took place between the disciples and the Holy Spirit after the resurrection.  What we know of the Spirit of God from the Old Testament is absolutely not enough to explain all that we are now told of him.  At every level, the church was vitally aware of the Spirit as a presence, a familiar reality, someone with whom they were “at home.”  For them to speak of Jesus in that way was normal; they had seen him, they knew him, there were the things he had left, signs that he had been there, a “memorial” of him, the Eucharist.  But who had ever seen the Holy Spirit?  Nevertheless, everybody was speaking about him as a reality, taking for granted that the others would know very well what they were talking about.  They saw everything that happened as linked to him, from the littlest things to the greatest events.

What could ever be the reason for a fact so evident, if not the revelation that the church had received from Jesus himself coupled with the living experience of the community?  In this we are face-to-face with the mystery of the Holy Spirit.  The Paraclete is quite simply carrying out, point by point, all that Jesus said he would do.

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