Who is the Holy Spirit?

The week between Pentecost and the Feast of the Holy Trinity is an excellent time to meditate on Who the Holy Spirit is.  Because He is the Person of the Trinity that we seem to know the least about, He is also the one Who is the most likely to suffer at the hands of revisionist theologians, especially those with misguided feminist sympathies.  All too often He is referred to as “she.” Given how confused we are as to who man is, it is not surprising that we easily fall into error as to who God is.  If we are made in the image and likeness of God then we must understand exactly who God is in order to understand who we are.  Despite the fact that the Trinity is a great mystery of our faith, we can apply reason to revelation in order to develop a deeper relationship with the Holy Spirit.

To know the Holy Spirit, we must first begin with some foundational Trinitarian theology.  Revelation speaks of man unique in all visible creation as being made in God’s image.  Specifically, it is the spiritual powers of our soul, the intellect and will that make us so.  We can conclude that God, Who is pure spirit, has these powers of knowing and loving.  Because He must have the perfection of all-being (in order to be God) we know that He is all-knowing and all-loving.  Because He is eternal, He must have both an eternal object to know and an eternal object to love.  If God is all-knowing then His knowledge, even of Himself, must be perfect.  If God is all loving, then His love must have an object for all eternity and because He is God, He loves this object perfectly.  Are you with me so far?  This is as deep as I am going to go, but there is a key concept from here that must be understood in order to go any further in this.  It is the concept of perfection.

What does it mean to be perfect?  Existence itself is the most basic kind of perfection.  In other words, I can create the perfect wife in my head, but if she doesn’t actually exist then she is not perfect.  What does this have to do with God?  Well, if God has perfect knowledge of even Himself then to be perfect that knowledge must exist as a Person.  This is the second Person of the Trinity, the Son.  He is the “Word Made Flesh”, the Logos.

This Second Person then is the object of the love of the First Person, the Father, for all eternity.  Because the Second Person is also God, He loves the First Person for all eternity.  This love between the Two Persons is also perfect.  This means that the Love exists as a Third Person, the Holy Spirit.

To summarize, God the Son is everything that God the Father knows about Himself.  This means that God the Father pours out all of Himself into God the Son, holding nothing back.  This perfect exchange is then a Person Himself, the Holy Spirit.

So why go into this Thomistic explanation of the Trinity?  Because some will avoid the gender problem of the Holy Spirit by simply gender neutralizing Him.  To call Him an “It” or “Sanctifier” takes away one of the most important aspects of the Trinity—the fact that He is a person.  It puts Him on the level of function and values Him only for His utility.  That is why the Church has from very early on fought this heresy known as Modalism which says the different names for the Persons of the Trinity emphasize the different aspect of the one God.  In other words, the names of Jesus and God simply identify different modes of the same individual.

Along the same lines, some will identify the Trinity as the Creator, the Redeemer and the Sanctifier.  But this speaks of what the Persons do (more accurately what we attribute to them) than Who each Person is.  It is like calling the server in the restaurant “Waitress” or calling her by her name.  One reduces her to her function, the other addresses her as a person.

Holy Spirit Stained Glass

So, if we must give Him a personal pronoun when referring to Him, why must it be He and not She?  In addressing this, we must make an important clarification.  God is not male or female.  That is, the terms “male” and “female” refer only to the biology of God’s creation.  Animals are both male and female and they are not made in God’s image.  What I am saying though is that God, and specifically the Holy Spirit, is fundamentally masculine.

Returning to the question, why must the Holy Spirit be a He?  The short answer is the same one that we swear to every Sunday during the Creed.  The Holy Spirit is masculine because He is the “Lord and giver of Life.”  To see what this means we need look no further than our own bodies.

The man is the giver of life in that he is the initiator and source in procreation.  The woman is receptive and the receiver of life.  In an analogous way, God comes from outside of creation and brings life.  So in order to be the giver of life that comes from without, the Holy Spirit must be referred to as He.  This Divine masculinity is revealed when the Holy Spirit was able to overshadow Mary at the Annunciation and the Word became Flesh.

There is another, more fundamental reason why we refer to the Holy Spirit as He and not she.  In John 15:26, Jesus reveals to us that “when the Advocate comes whom I will send you from the Father, the Spirit of truth that proceeds from the Father, He will testify to me.”  Christ is the fullest revelation of God and He reveals to us how we are to understand Holy Spirit as He.  To argue otherwise denies the central dogma of the Christian faith that Jesus is the full disclosure of God to man.

But it is also important to acknowledge that there must be femininity in God because there is femininity in creation.  None of what I have said should be interpreted as denying this obvious truth.  And it seems that it is the Holy Spirit Who also reveals this more so than the other two Persons.  Cardinal Ratzinger, echoing the teachings of the Church Fathers said: “Because of the teaching about the Spirit, one can as it were practically have a presentiment of the primordial type of the feminine, in a mysterious, veiled manner, within God Himself.”  In the primordial family of the Trinity it is He Who reveals the aspects of motherhood by serving as the bond of love between Father and Son.  He reveals these most especially through both the bridal and maternal actions of the Church and His unique relationship with Mary (whom St. Maximillian Kolbe calls the “quasi-incarnation” of the Holy Spirit).

Bishop Bruskewitz seems to summarize the issue well: “Unfortunately, in our time, the devil is not only in the details, but also in the pronouns. Because of the onslaught of radical feminism, and other ideologies that are not compatible with the Catholic Faith, there is a great sensitivity to the kind of pronouns used for the Persons of the Most Blessed Trinity.”  Nevertheless we should be faithful both to what is revealed to us by Our Lord in His choice of pronouns in John 14-17 and faithful to the truth of man and woman who are made in God’s image.

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