The Nicene Creed is divided into three main parts, one part being dedicated to each of the three divine Persons Father, Son and Holy Spirit. So far we have dealt with the Father and the Son, Jesus Christ our Lord. It remains for us to consider our profession of faith in the Holy Spirit and the Church which he animates.
Of the three divine Persons, the most mysterious one and the most difficult one for us to think about is the Holy Spirit. We can think about God the Father as the source of all things. We can even imagine him as a kindly and merciful Father. In the case of Jesus, we are dealing with a man like us who lived almost two thousand years ago in Palestine. In the Gospels we find an account of his life and teaching so that we not only think about him, but we can also use our imagination to picture him and to follow him through his early life. This is especially true for those who have had the good fortune to visit the Holy Land.
When it comes to the Holy Spirit, however, the matter becomes more difficult. Since the Holy Spirit has not assumed any bodily form, it is impossible for us to imagine him in any concrete way. True, certain symbols are associated with him in Scripture, but they remain mysterious. At his baptism in the Jordan the Spirit of God descended on Jesus in the form of a dove (Mt 3:16). The Spirit is also associated with wind, fire and prophecy (see Acts 2). In Christian art we often see the Holy Spirit represented under these forms. But still it is hard for us to think of the Holy Spirit as a third divine Person distinct from the Father and the Son.
Nevertheless, we know from Scripture, especially from the New Testament, that in addition to the Father and the Son, there is a third divine Person in the unity of the Godhead who is fully divine and equal to the Father and the Son. Scripture calls him the “Spirit”, “the Spirit of God”, “the Spirit of Jesus”, “The Holy Spirit”, the “gift” of God, the “advocate”. These are some of the titles applied to the third Person of the Blessed Trinity. This truth has been enshrined in the various creeds of the Church and in numerous official documents of the councils of the Church.
So we begin the third part of the Creed by affirming: “I believe in the Holy Spirit, the Lord, the giver of life.” The Spirit is called “holy” because he proceeds from the Father and is a source of sanctification in the faithful. The Holy Spirit is also said to be “the Lord”. We have already seen that Jesus Christ is called the “one Lord” in the second part of the Creed. Why then use the same title with regard to the Holy Spirit? As was explained in that article, the title “Lord” is an affirmation of divinity, since its application derives from the use of “Yahweh” in the old Testament. Thus, when the Church applies the title “Lord” to the Holy Spirit, she is saying that the Holy Spirit is truly God, co-equal with the Father and the Son.
We also profess that the Holy Spirit is the “giver of life”. For the ancients, breath in the body (which is what “spirit” literally means) was the sign of life. Then it came to mean the source or principle of life. God’s Spirit was involved in the production of all life in the world as we read in Genesis (1:2): “the Spirit of God was moving over the face of the waters.” It is the Spirit that gives life, both physical and spiritual. In order to have eternal life a man must be born “of water and the Spirit” (Jn 3:5). According to St. Paul, “the Spirit brings life” (2 Cor 3:6). Since it is the Holy Spirit who pours out charity in the hearts of the faithful (Gal 5:5), he is the source of all true life in God. So in the Creed we proclaim our belief that the Holy Spirit is “the giver of life”.
See the index of chapters from Fundamentals of Catholicism which have been reprinted to CERC here.
Kenneth Baker, S.J. "The Holy Spirit: Lord and Giver of Life." In Fundamentals of Catholicism Vol. 1 Chapter
(San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1995),
This article reprinted with permission from Father Kenneth Baker, S.J.
Father Kenneth Baker, S.J., assumed editorship of Homiletic & Pastoral Review in April 1971 and remained in this position for almost forty years. In 1983 he published a three-volume explanation of the faith called Fundamentals of Catholicism Vol. 1, Creed and Commandments; Vol. 2, God, Trinity, Creation, Christ, Mary; and Vol. 3, Grace, the Church, the Sacraments, EschatologyCopyright © 1995 Kenneth Baker, S.J.
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