In the liturgy of the Mass, where it reads Cum Sancto Spiritu — at the end of the Gloria, where “You alone are the Most High Jesus Christ, with the Holy Spirit, in the glory of God the Father” — I have sometimes gotten the sense, from both the Latin and the English, that the tone of this is “and the Holy Spirit, too!” — as if the Holy Spirit were a tag-along, there gratuitously as a part of the Trinity, without a clear idea of what He’s doing there. Coming into the Catholic tradition, it often seemed as if the Holy Spirit was downplayed, a less important figure than in the tradition I’m coming out of. So I’m searching for the role of the Holy Spirit in the Catholic tradition, trying to understand who he is and what he does in the Catholic understanding. It seems rather more complex, and less visible, but nonetheless important.
In the Pentecostal tradition, the Holy Spirit takes a central role in Christian life. Prayers are offered to the Holy Spirit, asking him to “fill this place” or “move in this place.” My feeling has always been that in this context, the Holy Spirit is an atmosphere of fervency and emotion that spreads and envelops. The Holy Spirit is said to have moved, for instance, after a service in which the congregation “gets lost” in emotional worship. But the Holy Spirit also fills, and overflows. He manifests himself in miracles and miraculous spiritual gifts, such as healing, prophecy, and especially speaking in tongues — the sine qua non of the “baptism of the Holy Spirit.” This “baptism of the Holy Spirit, as evidenced by speaking in tongues” is one of the hallmarks of the “Spirit-filled life.” This, and the moving of these spiritual gifts, define the Christian life for Pentecostals, who call themselves “Spirit-filled Christians.”
This understanding of the Holy Spirit is based primarily in the Book of Acts (especially Acts 2, Acts 10:44-46 and Acts 19) and Paul’s First Epistle to the Corinthians (1 Corinthians 12 and 14). Being “baptized” or “filled with the Holy Spirit” is something that takes place separate from believing in Christ or “being saved,” as seems to be the case in Acts 19, in which “disciples” had “believed” and been baptized (in water) but had not yet “received the Holy Spirit.” (Another way to read this, as my ESV Study Bible notes suggest, is that these people clearly didn’t know very much about Jesus or his teachings if they had never heard of the Holy Spirit, and had only been baptized with John the Baptist’s baptism. So receiving the Holy Spirit was merely the product of receiving the fullness of Christ’s message and being baptized in his name.) Certainly 1 Corinthians 12 lists spiritual gifts, and 1 Corinthians 14 speaks at length about the gifts of prophecy and tongues. But these are the only places they are mentioned in the New Testament.
The Catholic Church, and most non-Charismatic Christians, believe that these miraculous spiritual gifts ceased with the passing of the Apostolic Age — this view is called Cessationism; the opposite view, that the gifts continued, is Continuationism. I have never read much in the way of this theological debate — like most theological debates, I’ve found it dizzying and threatening and detrimental to my spiritual health. I have a book on the debate I’ve never gotten through; perhaps I should try again. I feel that it, like most doctrinal debates, is a rabbit trail that distracts believers from more important issues of Christian life — but I am curious about the reasoning here. I wonder if there are any Catholic books on this issue?
Anyway, I’ve gotten completely off the track of the well-meaning, and I thought well-settled, outline I set for this post a couple of weeks ago. I’m tempted to delete all of the above distraction, but I think I will leave it just to illustrate how confusing an issue this is for me, and to hope that some helpful reader might stumble upon it and offer me book recommendations. It’s nearly midnight, but I will leave you with what I meant to reach: a summary of what I understood, in the Pentecostal tradition, to be the roles and functions of the Holy Spirit. (I would give Scripture references, but I’m tired and it’s late. Consequently, this list may be flawed or incomplete. So this does not represent a studied effort, just my off-the-cuff understanding.)
- The Holy Spirit enters the heart and life of all believers, as part of “asking Jesus into your heart” or “getting saved” — but this is different than the “baptism of the Holy Spirit.”
- The Holy Spirit, indwelling in one’s heart, is a Counselor. He leads the believer to decisions or courses of action, and urges him to act.
- The Holy Spirit is a Comforter, consoling and assuaging the heart of the believer.
- The Holy Spirit also convicts the believer of sin and guides him to repentance.
- The Holy Spirit spoke through the prophets and inspired the writers of Scripture of the New Testament also.
- The Holy Spirit illuminates Scripture for the believer, leading him to a correct understanding of it and allowing the Bible to function as the living Word of God and a continuing revelation.
- The Holy Spirit gives the believer words to say in ministry, speaking for him or through him.
- The Holy Spirit bears the virtuous fruits of the Spirit in the believer who walks by the Spirit (Galatians 5:13-22).
- The Holy Spirit moves one to zeal, joy, or other high emotion, leading one into worship.
- The Holy Spirit baptizes or fills a believer, granting a more intimate connection and manifesting in miraculous gifts, especially speaking in tongues.
- The other gifts of the Holy Spirit (all of which Pentecostals believe continue), as enumerated by Paul in 1 Corinthians 12, are:
- Word of wisdom.
- Word of knowledge.
- Miraculous faith.
- Gift of healing.
- Working of miracles.
- Discerning of spirits.
- Speaking in tongues.
- Interpretation of tongues.
Next time, I’ll attempt to tackle Catholic doctrine about the Holy Spirit. But that’s requiring a good bit of studying of the Catechism, and I’ve been busy with school. So this post has been delayed, and will probably continue to be.