The Holy Ghost: fourth Sunday after Easter

“He shall glorify me, because he shall receive of mine …”

Today, as we are halfway through Eastertide, the Church begins to turn her attention to the coming of the Holy Ghost. As Christians, we confess one God in three Persons — Father, Son, and Holy Spirit — equal and undivided. We have all eternity in which to come to know God; yet even now, as we are making our way through time toward eternity, there are some things that already we ought to know. So, what can or should we know about the third divine Person?

One thing that may strike us straightaway is that we don’t yet know His proper name. We call Him the Holy Spirit, or in the fine old English phrase, the Holy Ghost; yet this hardly seems to distinguish Him from the Father and the Son. Both the Father and the Son are also holy, and both the Father and the Son are also spirit, rather than matter. Why is it that we lack a proper name for the third divine Person of the Trinity?

It’s because we know God only insofar as His creatures resemble Him. We don’t see Him directly. Now, among living creatures, we see that a father generates a son, and in that way he passes his nature onto him. A human father generates a son who is also human; a horse generates an offspring that is a horse and so with the other animals. And we believe, because God has revealed this, that in God Himself there is generation: there is an eternal Father and an eternal Son. But as far as our experience goes, that is the only way in which a nature is passed on from one to another. We don’t see on earth any process other than generation, by which such a thing might happen. Yet God has told us that in Him, there is some other way. The Holy Spirit is not generated; He is not a second Son. Yet He also, like the Son, truly receives the divine nature. And so, because we can’t call Him “Son”, but we have no other proper name to give Him, we call Him by this more general name: the Holy Spirit.

But that doesn’t mean we know nothing about Him. For one thing, we know that He proceeds, as we say in the Creed, from the Father and the Son. This is why in the bible, He is sometimes called “the Spirit of the Father”, and sometimes “the Spirit of Christ”. Speaking at the Last Supper about the Holy Ghost, our Lord says, “He shall receive of mine”. In eternity, the Holy Spirit receives from the Son. What does He receive? The divine nature; what else? But our Lord says something about this receiving that sounds strange to us. He says that the Holy Spirit “hears”. “Whatever he hears, he will speak.” Why does Christ say that the Holy Spirit “hears”? It’s because He, Christ, is not only the Son of God, but also the Word of God. “In the beginning was the Word.” But what do we call the process by which we receive something from a word? We call it hearing. And so, since the Holy Spirit eternally receives from the Son, Jesus says that the Holy Spirit hears.

But the doctors of the Church go a little further than that. They tell us something about how the Father and the Son “produce” the Holy Spirit. They say that it happens by way of love. God cannot help loving Himself, since He is infinitely loveable. If we were to see Him as He is, we could not help loving Him either. Just think of someone on earth whom you cannot help loving, and then remember that God has all that is good about that person, and infinitely more. The Father and the Son cannot not love; and in doing so, from all eternity, they produce the Holy Ghost: the third, co-equal divine Person.

But finally, we can know something about Him also from His effects. In the creed, we call Him the life-giver — Vivificantem. This refers not just to ordinary life, but also and especially to supernatural life, to the life of the soul. Now it’s by charity that our soul lives, and so we shouldn’t be surprised when St Paul tells us that it’s by the Holy Ghost that “charity is poured into our hearts”. So, if you have ever felt the love of God in your hearts, or any desire to glorify Christ, then as the nature of a waterfall may be known by a single drop of water that comes from it, so the Holy Spirit may be known by the works that He performs within you.