THE HOLY SPIRIT: The Holy Spirit, God’s “Gift” and God’s “Self-Giving” by Raniero Cantalamessa

Meditations on the Veni Creator

The Holy Spirit, God’s “Gift” and God’s “Self-Giving” by Raniero Cantalamessa

From: Come, Creator Spirit

This is the rich significance contained in the line that defines the Holy Spirit as “most high gift of God.”  Rhabanus Maurus uses expressions taken word-for-word from Augustine to explain the title, “gift of God.”  In fact, he calls the Holy Spirit, “giver of the gift and gift of the giver,” and, “ineffable communion of Father and Son.”  He too says that “gift of God” is the title that “expresses his relationship.”

But tradition and progress did not come to a halt when the hymn was written.  The church does not lose the ability to carry on pondering what is revealed, and to find less and less inadequate ways to express it.  What has subsequent reflection been able to bring us concerning the title, “gift of God”?  I believe that the most recent developments in the theology of the Trinity have laid the groundwork for a more profound understanding of this title.  According to the classical Western view, Father, Son, and Spirit are all three gift, but not gift in the same sense.  The Father is gift in a purely active sense, inasmuch as the Father gives without receiving from anyone; the Son is gift in an active and at the same time in a passive sense, inasmuch as the Son receives love from the Father and gives it to the Spirit; and the Holy Spirit is gift only in the passive sense, as the Spirit receives but does not pass on to another person in God what the Spirit has received, and thus the Spirit closes the Trinitarian circle.

This explanation gives rise to a certain reserve today, especially in the dialogue with the Orthodox, because it seems to assign only a passive role to the Holy Spirit in the Trinity and not to recognize any active part that the Spirit might play.  The position changes if to the word, “gift,” we attribute a significance that is not merely static but dynamic, as we must to all concepts regarding the Trinity, because the Trinity is wholly “act.”  The Father gives to the Son not merely the gift, but his own self-giving (just as he shares with the Son not only his love, but also his infinite capacity for loving).  In this self-giving the Holy Spirit is in a certain sense already present.

Hence, within the Trinity the Holy Spirit is not simply gift in a passive sense, as the one that is given, but also, actively, the self-giving that prompts the Son to give himself back to the Father.  This paints a picture of what happens in the economy of salvation.  It is the Spirit that prompts the Son to cry, in an outburst of joy, “Abba, Father!” (Luke 10:21), just as the Spirit will do later in the members of Christ (Romans 8:15f).  Again, it is the Spirit who gives rise to the determination of Jesus on Earth to offer himself as sacrifice to the Father: “Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself without blemish to God,” (Hebrews 9:14).

If what happens in the economy of salvation is a reflection of the life and inmost relationships of the Trinity, all of this must be the life and inmost relationships of the Trinity, all of this must be saying that the Holy Spirit is the very principle of the self-giving; the Spirit is both “gift” and “self-giving” together.

When we come to look at the last two lines of the hymn, we will have occasion to see more clearly what this contributes to our understanding of the inner relationships of the three persons in the Trinity.  For the present it is enough that we keep in mind that the Holy Spirit infuses in us not only “the gift of God,” but also the ability and the need to give ourselves.  From the Spirit we “catch,” so to say, the very qualities of what he is in himself.  The Spirit is “self-giving,” and in whomever he touches, the Spirit creates a dynamism that leads that one, in turn, to be a self-giving gift to others.

“God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us,” (Romans 5:5).  The word, “love,” could indicate either God’s love for us or the new capacity in us to return God’s love and to love our brothers and sisters.  It signifies “the love by which we become lovers for God.” (Augustine)  It follows, then, that what the Holy Spirit brings about in us is not only love in the substantive sense, but also that we actively love God and others in the verbal sense.  The very same observation must be made concerning “gift”: Coming to us, the Holy Spirit not only brings us the gift of God, but also God’s self-giving.  The Holy Spirit is in very truth the fountain of living water that, once received, “wells up to eternal life,” (John 4:14), which is to say that it squirts up and splashes onto anyone who happens to be near.

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