It is that time again, when religious formation classes throughout the Archdiocese of Santa Fe and other Catholic dioceses prepare youth and adults to live the Christian life, especially through the Sacraments of Initiation and the RCIA process. A key component in the sacramental programs is the Holy Spirit, a sometimes unknown and often misunderstood factor, a personality of God.
That the Holy Spirit is part of the Holy Trinity, the third person of God, has not always been a solid belief of the Christian faith. The name of the Holy Ghost (Spirit) was included in the original draft of the Nicene Creed at the Council of Nicea in AD325, although the creed itself would go through a few more changes before being widely accepted throughout the Church. It was actually 56 years later at the Council of Constantinople that the definition of the divinity of the Holy Spirit was ratified, and The Apostles Creed with the inclusion of the Spirit was accepted in 390.
Part of the problem, as was argued by many good-intentioned fathers of the Church, was that no where in the Canon Bible are the three persons of the Trinity said to be one. Certainly there were indications that they ‘worked’ together, as at Jesus’ Baptism, when the voice of the Father and the Dove of the Spirit intermingled with the human person of the Son, and traditionalists remind that the very first words of the Bible, Genesis 1:1-2 as well as John 1:1, put the three: Father, Word (Logos), and Spirit together even before Creation began. Some translations of the Bible use the word ‘wind’ in place of ‘Spirit,’ which further lends to the confusion. The fact is the words both translated from the Hebrew and Greek into Latin and are essentially the same as is the word ‘breath.’
Jesus revealed the Holy Spirit to the disciples at the Last Supper. The 16th Chapter of John’s Gospel is a discourse in which the Lord tells His followers about the Advocate he will send, but that the Advocate cannot come to them until Jesus Himself has returned to the Father. There is no indication whatsoever that any apostles understood a thing He was telling them until ten days after Jesus’ Ascension, when the promised Spirit came to them in hiding, coincidentally like a strong wind, and blessed them with understanding and the ability to convey the Gospel to all people. This was the feast of Pentecost when the spirit of the Church was born.
It’s not surprising that some modern Christians might think of the Holy Spirit as a purely New Testament invention, as the Letters of St. Paul provide tremendous references to the Spirit of God, and the Gospels, especially John, emphasize the importance of this entity, which is the ‘action’ third of the Holy Trinity. According to Jesus and Paul, all creation is the product of the Father, the Word of God is transmitted to humanity by the deeds and words of the Son, and brought into action by the work of the Holy Spirit.
However, there are plenty of references to the Spirit in the Old Testament. An example comes in the book of the prophet Joel. In the New American Bible translation Joel 3:1-2 (King James Version Joel 2:28-29), is one such reference that is heard annually at the Vigil Mass the night before celebrating Pentecost. Its familiar words remind believers that God will pour His Spirit on all flesh, that sons and daughters will prophesy, old men will have dreams, and young ones, visions. Even unto the lowly and servants will His Spirit be given.
In the middle of the fourth century AD, a savage, totalitarian bishop by the name of Macedonius forced his will on the congregation that followed him by introducing the concept of Pneumatomachi, which means ‘warriors against the Spirit.’ At this point in time, the Church had exhausted its influence after three hundred years of arguing about the consubstantiation (same substance) of the Father and Son, and the concept of Spirit was almost an afterthought. In a weak effort, the fathers had included “We believe in the Holy Ghost,” as little more than a passing recognition without definition, in the Nicene Creed. Macedonius’ heresy pushed the issue into the light, and the bishop synods began to deal with it. It was at the Council of Constantinople in 381 that followers of the late St. Athanasius, who had fought the battles of the Church against heresy from the Council of Nicea until his passing in 373, forged a doctrine of the Holy Spirit and deposed the anti-bishopric of Macedonius, but his heresy died a rather slow death.
As both young people and adults gather this fall to prepare for the celebration of sacraments, the Holy Spirit of God will fill their classrooms with the action that builds good Catholic Christians. No one should forget that Church doctrine was never easily interpreted, and men and women throughout history have stood up to protect the belief in God and the work of the Trinity, as they tried (and continue to) share the teachings of our Savior, Jesus Christ, who has provided the Holy Spirit as an Advocate for our faithful Christian lives.