From: Come, Creator Spirit
If we take account of the various contexts in which the word is used, in the Bible and elsewhere, Paraclete can mean intercessor or advocate (as when it is applied to Christ in 1 John 2:1), or else consoler, as is clear from the verb and the corresponding noun that in fact means to console and consolation: “Console [parakaleite] my people, console them, says your God,” (Isaiah 40:1).
Tradition has accepted the polyvalence of the term, its multifaceted meaning, and interpreted Paraclete sometimes as advocate and sometimes consoler. This becomes clearer when we move to the Latin world, where the translators, tackling the Greek word, had to pick one meaning or the other. Some translated Paraclete as advocate, others as consoler, and still others used both terms together. This last strategy was the one in common use at the time when the Veni Creator was composed.
In its early years when the church was subjected to persecutions and trials and death-sentences were an everyday experience, Christians saw the Paraclete above all as the divine advocate and defender who stood by them. At Lyon in the second century, at the trial and sentencing of a group of Christians, one of the onlookers stood up “on fire with the Holy Spirit” to object to the way the whole process had been conducted. He was promptly arrested and sentenced along with the group on the charge of being “the Christians’ advocate.” “And properly so,” comments the author of the account, “because he had in him the Paraclete, the great Advocate who is the Holy Spirit.”
The role of advocate in human affairs was also seen as just one aspect indicative of an assistance of much deeper import: the defense the Paraclete provides before the judgment seat of God, against “that persecutor who accused our brothers day and night before our God,” (Revelation 12:10). It was of this role of the Holy Spirit that Saint Irenaeus was thinking when he wrote that God has given the Paraclete to the church, “so that, where we have an accuser, there too we should have a Defender.”
We notice that when the church emerged from the era of persecution there was a change of accent. The usual sense of the word Paraclete was now consoler. Saint Bonaventure draws the contrast between the consolation offered by the world and the consolation of the Spirit:
The Spirit brings consolation that is true, perfect, and in proportion. It is true, because he brings consolation where it is more in place, that is, in the soul, and not to the flesh as the world does. The world, in consoling the flesh, actually afflicts the soul, like an incompetent innkeeper who stables the horse well but neglects the rider. It is perfect because, whatever the tribulation, it is effective, unlike the consolation of the world that for every way it soothes brings two new sorts of trouble, like someone who sews up a rent in an old cloak and causes two new tears on either side of it. And it is in proportion, because the greater the tribulation, the greater the consolation, unlike the world that consoles and flatters when one is prosperous, but ridicules and condemns when one falls on hard times.
The same sentiment is revealed in the Sequence for Pentecost, composed in the thirteenth century, where it calls the Holy Spirit consolator optime, “the very best of consolers.”
The words of the Veni Creator, as we have already said, are an “open structure,” able without difficulty to take in anything new that the church discovers regarding a particular theme in scripture. This is truer than ever as to Paraclete. For this is in fact a title that expresses not what the Holy Spirit is as a person in the Trinity (this will be declared only in the last verse of the hymn), but what the Holy Spirit is and what he is doing for us in the history of salvation. There is nothing to be surprised at, therefore, if the title carries a meaning that appears with different emphases and that is enriched over time and through the successive situations that believers encounter as history proceeds.
However, the terms advocate and consoler, whether we take them singly or together, do not draw out the whole of the meaning that the fourth gospel gives the word Paraclete. In many verses of the gospel the title Paraclete that John chooses to signify the Holy Spirit is similar to the title Logos that he uses to signify the Son. In both of these instances the evangelist has made use of terms in common use in the language of the day and has “supercharged” them with such a new range of meaning that he has inaugurated a new phase in the history of these words. From that moment onward it is no longer possible to define them in terms of their etymology or their previous usage. In other words, it is not possible to explain their meaning of Paraclete by reference only to the name; it is necessary also to take into consideration the functions that are attributed to the one who bears the name. “The Paraclete is what the Paraclete does.” The functions stretch the sense of the name boundlessly, so that at times they seem to give the impression that there is conflict between the name and the prerogatives it tries to convey.
If we want to get to know what these functions are, there is no more effective way than to read, one after another, all the statements that are made about the Paraclete in the fourth gospel. Two things stand out clearly from such texts: the Paraclete is in function of the truth, and the Paraclete is in function of Jesus. The various activities attributed to the Paraclete – to teach, to recall, to witness, to convince, to lead to the truth, to announce – indicate that his principal role is doctrinal, that is, an instructive or teaching role, and that his domain is principally the domain of knowledge. John seems to want almost to equate Paraclete with “Spirit of truth.”
Yet all of this does not mean that we are dealing with two distinct “centers” – Jesus and truth – but with one only, because the evangelist sees truth as nothing else than the revelation brought into the world by Jesus Christ. “Spirit of Truth” is to all intents and purposes the same as “Spirit of the Son.” From one section to the next in the fourth gospel, the role of the Holy Spirit is to bring us to accept, to interiorize, to comprehend, and really to live all that is revealed to us in the Son. It is above all in this sense that the title “Paraclete” belongs to the Spirit in the Spirit’s role as the one who sanctifies and enlightens – the role summed up in the second verse of the Veni Creator.