The Holy Spirit as a divine person

12 Jul

In my previous post I expressed my dislike for the age-old theological position that the Father and Son have this great relationship and the Spirit is merely the bond of love between them. I think this depersonalizes who the Holy Spirit is.

Both the Scripture and tradition hold to the full personhood of the Holy Spirit, that the Holy Spirit is not like Yoda’s force. He is not a divine energy. He is not merely the power of God. He is not the bond of love between the Father and the Son (even though I have great respect for Augustine, who made the point orginally).

The Holy Spirit is God.

“Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom.” (2 Cor. 3:17 ESV)

“We believe…in the Holy Spirit, the Lord and Giver of life, who proceeds from the Father, who with the Father and the Son together is worshiped and glorified.” (Nicene Creed 381AD)

The Holy Spirit is a mystery….a sacred mystery….

Below is my half of an email conversation with a friend on this subject.

Most of the theological world lacks in developing a solid, historical
biblical pneumatology that lays out the true personhood of the Holy Spirit.

And I agree that persona (person) cannot be defined in modern
terms. We need to step back and let the Church Father translate that word for
us. It seems from my limited review on the subject that the Western Fathers
including our friend Augustine – focused more on the Spirit as the love. The
Eastern (Greek) Fathers have written more on the personhood other

While I have not looked at this book, Colin Guton’s The Promise of Trinitarian Theology is supposed to deal with that subject. I have yet to tackle Gunton.

The best book I have read on the Holy Spirit / pneumatology is Come Creator Spirit by Fr. Raniero Cantalamessa.

RC was the preacher of the papal household and theology professor. He has also been apart of the Catholic charismatic renewal for years. He is still writing
in the area of charismatic theology. “Come Creator Spirit” is the only hymn sung by both Catholic, Eastern Orthodox and Protestant Christians. It is a hymn sung to the
Holy Spirit.

RC took the hymn and used it as a guideline to lay out his pneumatology. The reason I like the book is that it is not only theological but it has a liturgical (worshipful) rhythm to it. I was re-reading parts of it last night. Here are some excerpts…I would add commentary, but I got to get back to sermon prep.

Liturgical rhythm…sacred mysteries…


Come Creator Spirit
by Fr. Raniero Cantalamessa
(Translated by Denis and Marlene Barrett)
Pgs. 69-73

“Paraclete” is the title that most clearly expresses the personal character of the Holy Spirit. Using that title, the author of the hymn (“Come Creator Spirit”) takes us a decisive step forward in contemplating the Holy Spirit. If by the term “Creator” he affirmed that the Spirit was by nature divine, now by the term “Paraclete” he affirms that the Spirit is also a divine person.

In John, the relationship of the Spirti to Jesus is modeled on the relationship of Jesus to the Father. The Father is the one who testifies to the Son, and the Holy Spirit is the one who testifies to Jesus (John 15:26)… On this point Paul is in total agreement with John, and we cannot afford not to listen to his testimony as well. For him too, the Spirit is nor merely an action but also an agent, that is, a principle endowed with intellect and will, who knows what he is doing and chooses freely
to do it.

These terms (“person” or “hypostatsis”) mean something distinct from “substance,” they did not exist in any culture until Christian thinkers began reflecting on what Jesus had revealed of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit and discovering what this revelation implied….The Greek Fathers would later give expression to this discovery of faith, saying that the Holy Spirit was not merely a “divine energy,” but an “active substance” or a “substantial agent” possessing will and intellect.

When we use the term “person” of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, we have to be careful to free the word of the meaning we commonly give it. Applied to the Holy Spirit, the term “person” does not mean a center of action complete in itself, an agent independently conscious of self, in the modern sense; it signifies only the relationships-of-origin that “contrast” or distinguish the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit as among themselves….if a person in the Trinity is not simply an autonomous center of action and of will, he does participate nevertheless in that unique center common to the Three Persons, and in that sense is capable of acting and willing.

What a wonderful mystery, a sacred mystery…in a world where “not much is really sacred.”

Disillusioned words like bullets bark
As human gods aim for their mark
Made everything from toy guns that spark
To flesh-colored Christs that glow in the dark
It’s easy to see without looking too far
That not much
Is really sacred.

Bob Dylan 1965

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Posted by on July 12, 2007 in Theology


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