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Prologue

To want to represent the breath of the Holy Spirit (cf. Jn 20:22) is (also) a challenge for the laity. Nevertheless, the attempt should be dared.

Augustine and the Boy by the Sea

The following legend of St. Augustine of Hippo (354-430)[1] is supposed to put this difficulty into words. The legend is about the time of the creation of Augustine’s work on the Trinity. It is told that the saint walks by the sea and sees a boy on the shore who is shovelling water into a hole dug in the sand with a shell. Again and again the boy runs to the edge of the shore to scoop new water and pour it into the sand hollow. Augustine asks the boy about the purpose of his action. The boy answers that he wants to scoop the whole sea into the hole. Smiling, Augustine replies that this is impossible. The boy replies that this is more likely to be possible than that Augustine is able to exhaust even the smallest part of the mysteries of the Trinity in his book.[2]

The Holy Spirit as part of the divine Trinity

It is undisputed that the Holy Spirit represents one of the three persons of the divine Trinity. This Trinity stands for the essential unity of God in Father (God the Father), Son (Jesus Christ, Son of God) and the Holy Spirit (Spirit of God) mentioned at the beginning. As an analogy to the understanding of this Trinity of God, the various aggregate states of water can be drawn upon. Physically speaking, water can assume the solid state as ice, the liquid state as water, and the gaseous state as steam. Which state exists depends on various (external) factors such as temperature and pressure. Chemically speaking, however, it is always the same, namely the combination of the elements oxygen (O) and hydrogen (H) to form H2O. The perfection of water only becomes apparent when the physical states of aggregation and the chemical compound are considered together.[1] The Holy Spirit is thus, in analogous view, a component of the Trinity and also God himself. What do we as laymen know about the Holy Spirit and where does he meet us in the perception of faith?

The Holy Spirit in the study of the Bible

The Spirit of God as the Holy Spirit can be found in many places in the Old and New Testaments. A small selection should make this clear: In the central creation story in the Old Testament, for example, the Spirit of God hovers over the water (cf. Gen 1:2). In the New Testament the disciples are given the Holy Spirit instead of Jesus, for it says: “And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another helper, who shall remain with you forever, the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive because it does not see him or know him. But you know him because he abides with you and will be in you. (John 14:16-17).

The Holy Spirit is eternal (cf. Heb 9:14), omniscient (cf. 1 Cor 2:10) and omnipresent (cf. Ps 139:7-8). This not as God, but rather as a special expression of God, since in Acts 5:3-4 the Holy Spirit is seen as part of God. The Holy Spirit accompanies and guides us, for it is said: “Your good Spirit guide me on the flat land”. (cf. Ps 143:10).

In the Call to Mission we read: “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations; baptize them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit” (Mt 28:19). The Trinity of God is thus, in contrast to the aggregate states of water, also simultaneously recognizable as a unity and in various combinations, but in its core and as a being always God.

The Holy Spirit in prayer

Already in the sign of the cross we appreciate the Holy Spirit and the Trinity in general. Whether the sign of the cross should be made with one finger (as a sign of faith in God) or with three fingers (as a symbol of the Trinity) is not discussed here, but in my opinion it clearly shows the Trinity in God himself.

In the Apostolic Creed we state that Mary conceived Jesus through the Holy Spirit. It says: “The Holy Spirit will come upon you and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. “Therefore also the child shall be called holy and the Son of God.” (cf. Lk 1:25). In doxology, as a praise of the glory of God, the Holy Spirit is grasped in the form of the Trinity. In the Fatima prayer, on the other hand, God appears to us as Jesus Christ and in the Our Father as God the Father himself. Always different constellations, but always the same all-embracing God.

Through baptism we receive this Holy Spirit (cf. Acts 2:38) and He dwells in us (cf. 1 Cor 3:16). We are also given the seven gifts of the Holy Spirit as a breath of life. According to the CCC-Rz 1831, these gifts are wisdom, insight, counsel, strength, knowledge, piety and fear of God[2] These gifts should help us to obey divine inspirations willingly and to know the will of God. On the feast of Pentecost we celebrate the sending of the Holy Spirit as a storm of revival and fulfilment (cf. Acts 2:1-4).

Pope Benedict XVI (Joseph Ratzinger), em. Pope Benedict XVI (Joseph Ratzinger), is intensely preoccupied with the Holy Spirit[3] In his Pentecost Sermon of 2006 he says: “Man’s pride and selfishness always causes divisions, erects walls of indifference, hatred and violence. The Holy Spirit, on the other hand, enables hearts to understand the languages of all people, because he restores the bridge of authentic communication between earth and heaven. The Holy Spirit is love”[4] In the fifth chapter of the main body of the Introduction to Christianity, he wrote as early as 1971 that love is always a mystery and therefore contains more than can (and must) be calculated and reckoned with. To quote him literally: “Love itself – the uncreated, eternal God – must therefore in the highest measure be mystery, the mystery itself”[5].

Conclusion of the attempt at interpretation

The love of God is a mystery that need not be fathomed. Even though Schopenhauer probably accuses religions of being beacons of lightning, which are only able to shine in (scientific) darkness,[6] a religion based on miracles and revelation does not fear science. Schopenhauer recognizes religion at least as the metaphysics of the people and as representative of the unrecognizable truth “as a guideline for action and as calming and comfort in suffering and death […]”[7] Religion can thus also offer at least metaphysical security to a critical mind. And it is precisely the Holy Spirit, as part of the Trinity of God, that is supposed to represent this security, this constructive, purposeful quantum of energy. He thus takes care of our weakness (cf. Rom 8:26) and is our help and consoler (cf. Jn 14:16-26), “for nothing is impossible for God. (Luk 1, 37).

It is, as the legend of Augustine mentioned in the introduction says, an impossible goal to achieve if one wants to present the mystery of the Trinity or even the Holy Spirit only in the context of an essay. In mathematics – to fall back on the exact sciences as an alternative – one assumes an approximate value if the concrete calculation is either very complicated or not possible at all. I therefore hope that with this attempt at interpretation I have come at least a little closer to the breath of the Holy Spirit.

07.10.2018/V7

1] Cf. instead of many (07.10.2018).

2] Catechism of the Catholic Church (KKK), Oldenburg 2005.

3] Cf. also Benedict XVI, On the Holy Spirit, Augsburg 2012.

[4] (07.10.2018).

5] Ratzinger, Joseph, Introduction to Christianity, Munich4 1980, 110.

6] See Schopenhauer, Arthur, Parerga and Paralipomena. Small philosophical writings, 2nd volume, Zurich 1988.

7] Frauenstädt, Julius, Schopenhauer Lexikon 2nd volume, Leipzig 1871, 273.

[1] Cf. Geerlings, Wilhelm, A. Augustinus. I. Life, in: LThK3 1 (SA 2006), 1240-1242.

2] Cf. instead of many Mehler, Ludwig, Beispiele zur gesamten christkatholischen Lehre. Or: The entire Catholic Catechism, Vol. 1, Regensburg4 1855, 117 and, in greater depth, Kany, Roland, Augustine’s Trinity Thought. Bilanz, Kritik und Weiterführung der modernen Forschung zu “De Trinitate” (Studies and Texts on Antiquity and Christianity 22), Tübingen 2007.