To have any hope of knowing who, or what, the Holy Spirit is, we must put the Holy Spirit in context: as part of the Trinity.
The first thing to note is that we find in the Trinity the source of existence. That is to say, it is from the powerhouse that is the very life God, expressed in the persons of the Trinity, that existence originates. Without the reality that is God pouring forth in infinite wonder and splendour, there would be…nothing.
Elsewhere we began to describe what Catholics mean by ‘Trinity’. Here we simply acknowledge that the Holy Spirit cannot be understood without reference to the other two Persons of the Trinity. Briefly: in God, we see the origin of all that is, to which we ascribe the title ‘Father’. In God, we see the fullness of self-knowledge, to which we ascribe the title ‘Son’. And in God, we see the fullness of love, to which we ascribe the title ‘Holy Spirit’.
Father, Son and Holy Spirit are our traditional names for each of the three persons of the Trinity, and there are good reasons why we keep to them. However, we do so while understanding that our human words are almost entirely inadequate when it comes to describing God. This is never more apparent than when it comes to ‘Holy Spirit’.
While traditionally depicted as either a dove (see Matthew 3:16) or as wind and fire (Acts 2:2 – 4), we must understand that the Holy Spirit is none of these things. Instead, the imagery used to depict the Holy Spirit is merely suggestive of who the Holy Spirit is. The dove represents peace and purity. The wind and fire represent power, cleansing and transformation.
It is no coincidence that these are among the attributes of love. As the Father and Son look on one another, which they have done from all eternity, the love they experience leaps forth as the Holy Spirit. This is because the creative love of God participates in who God is in Godself. Just as the perfect creative knowledge that the Father has gives expression to (or ‘begets’) the Son, the perfect creative love they have for one another gives expression to (or ‘spirates’) the Holy Spirit. God’s knowledge and God’s love are complete and creative and fully reflect who God is. The Son is the manifestation of God’s creative knowledge; the Spirit, of God’s creative love.
Original text by Shane Dwyer
Photo of stained glass window by Chokdidesign on Unsplash
Fr Anthony Mellor, 30 October 2019
Archbishop Mark Coleridge, Archbishop of Brisbane, 30 October 2019
30 October 2019