Holy Spirit

views updated May 21 2018

Holy Spirit

The term Holy Spirit occurs in only two historically late texts in the Old Testament (Isa. 63:10.11; Ps. 51:13), but much can nonetheless be deduced about the term. God's spirit (ruah Yahweh ) is the "wind," the breath of life, which proceeds from and will return to Yahweh. It determines life spans (Gen. 6:3; Ps. 104:2930; Job 33:4) and tames natural forces (Ex. 15:8). Psalm 33:6 ("by the word of the Lord the heavens were made, and all their host by the breath of his mouth"), uses it synonymously with word (dabar ), which Genesis uses to explain how God created the world.

God's spirit is not just a life-giving power. Job 32:8 includes the assertion, "But truly it is the spirit [ruah ] in a mortal, the breath [neshamah ] of the Almighty, that makes for understanding." God's spirit leads to wisdom and imparts exceptional qualities. To tackle a threatening famine, for instance, Pharaoh looked for someone "in whom is the spirit of God" (Gen. 41:38). The spirit of God can also endow "ability, intelligence, and knowledge in every kind of craft" (Ex. 31:3). Only the spirit of God leads to right living and fulfillment of the will of God (Ps. 51:1010).

The New Testament retains the Old Testament notion that the spirit of God can perform unusual deeds and is an eschatological sign (Matt. 12:28). Similar to the creation of the world, God now generates a new creation through the spirit (pneuma : Matt 1:18; Luke 1:35). While Matthew and Mark seldom mentioned the Holy Spirit, Luke believed that the presence of the spirit characterizes the time of the church. At Pentecost the Holy Spirit filled the disciples (Acts 2:4), and all who are baptized receive the Holy Spirit. Through the identification of God with the spirit, the latter assumes a cosmological function for John: "God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth" ( John 4:24). The spirit is also the life empowering factor: "It is the spirit that gives life, the flesh is useless. The words that I have spoken to you are spirit and life" ( John 6:63). Paul, too, identified Jesus Christ with the spirit and wrote: "Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom" (2 Cor. 3:17). Unlike Gnosticism, the spiritual and the physical are not opposites but are unified because of Christ's resurrection (1 Cor. 15:44).

The Church Fathers saw a unity between the logos (word) that became flesh, the pneuma (spirit), and the sophia (wisdom) of God. The Council of Constantinople (381 c.e.) clarified the function of the Holy Spirit. It asserted that Jesus Christ "was incarnate by the Holy Spirit and the Virgin Mary" and referred to the Holy Spirit as "the Lord and life-giver, Who proceeds from the Father, Who is worshiped and glorified together with the Father and the Son, Who has spoke through the prophets" (Leith, p.33). While the spirit is still seen as the life-giver, the main accent is on soteriology, an emphasis that intensified in the Reformation. From that time until the twentieth century, little reflection has been given to the spirit's activity in the world.

Two well-known twentieth-century theologians who have articulated a doctrine of the Holy Spirit in relation to contemporary science are the French Jesuit Pierre Teilhard de Chardin (1881-1955) and Wolfhart Pannenberg (1928). In The Divine Milieu (1960), Teilhard clarified his evolutionary concept of life: "The same beam of light which christian spirituality, rightly and fully understood, directs upon the Cross to humanize it (without veiling it) is reflected on matter so as to spiritualize it" (p. 105). Matter generally drifts toward spirit, and one day "the whole divinizible substance of matter will have passed into the souls of men; all the chosen dynamisms will have been recovered; and then our world will be ready for the Parousia" (p. 110). The goal of the creative process is the spiritualization and divinization of all matter and its reception into the christosphere. According to Teilhard, the spirit is not independent of matter but elevates and moves it toward God.

Wolfhart Pannenberg regards the spirit "as the marvelous depth of life out of which all life originates" (1973, p. 106). Pannenberg understands the spirit as active in the self-transcendence of life, and he has used the field theories developed by Michael Faraday (17911867) and his successors to understand the spirit's activity in the world. According to Pannenberg, these field theories "claim a priority of the whole over the parts. This is of theological significance because God has to be conceived as the unifying ground of the whole universe if God is to be conceived as creator and redeemer of the world. The field concept could be used in theology to make the effective presence of God in every single phenomenon intelligible" (1988, p. 12).

Pannenberg sees the Stoic doctrine of the divine pneuma as a direct predecessor of the field theory that "was conceived as a most subtle matter which penetrates everything and holds the cosmos together by the powerful tension between its different parts, thus accounting for their cohesiveness as well as for the different movements and qualities of things" (1988, p. 13). Just as patristic theology rejected the Stoic notion that pneuma is a material element, modern field theorists, such as Albert Einstein in his first paper on special relativity of 1905, rejected ether, a hypothetical substance, as being necessary for the expansion of electromagnetic waves within the field. However, since the 1970s, quantum field theory of the vacuum has once again raised the idea of an ether, as has string theory.

Pannenberg contends that "since the field concept as such corresponds to the old concept of pneuma and was derived from it in the history of thought, theologians should also consider it obvious to relate the field concept of modern physics to the Christian doctrine of the dynamic presence of the divine Spirit in all of creation" (1988, p. 13). Field theory becomes Pannenberg's paradigm to show God's activity through the Holy Spirit. Pannenberg knows that there is a difference between how physics and theology perceive the world. Nevertheless he develops the doctrine of the Holy Spirit using field theory, although neither God nor the Holy Spirit can be conceived as a field in any sense known to physics. Here Pannenberg has been strongly challenged. It remains interesting that modern physics reflects what the Old Testament asserted in speaking of the ruah (spirit) of Yahweh.

See also Christianity; Field Theories; Pneumatology; Spirit


horn, friedrich w. "holy spirit." in the anchor bible dictionary, ed. david noel freedman. new york: doubleday, 1992.

pannenberg, wolfhart. gegenwart gottes: predigten. munich: claudius, 1973.

pannenberg, wolfhart. "the doctrine of creation and modern science." zygon 23 (1988): 321.

pannenberg, wolfhart. systematic theology, 3 vols. grand rapids, mich.: eerdmans, 1991.

teilhard de chardin, pierre. the divine milieu. new york: harper torchbooks, 1960.

torrance, thomas f. the trinitarian faith: the evangelical theology of the ancient catholic church. edinburgh, uk: t&t clark, 1988.

worthing, mark w. god, creation, and contemporary physics. minneapolis, minn.: fortress, 1996.

hans schwarz

Holy Spirit

views updated May 23 2018

Holy Spirit


In Tanach (Jewish scripture), ruaḥ ha-Qodesh/Kodesh is the breath of God, and thus the effective and inspiring consequence of God at work in his creation. The Holy Spirit is also known as ruaḥ Elohim and ruaḥ Adonai, indicating that no separate ‘person’ in relation to God is intended, but rather that this is the way in which God enables humans to do or say particular things.


Formally, the Holy Spirit (or ‘Holy Ghost’, especially in liturgical use) is the third person of the Holy Trinity. The Spirit is distinct from but coequal with the Father and the Son, and is in the fullest sense God. This understanding was canonized in the 4th cent.

In the fathers before the 4th cent., the Holy Spirit is variously identified with the Son, or with the Logos, or with God's wisdom. No particular activity of God is consistently said to be that of the Spirit, although Origen held that the characteristic sphere of the Spirit's operation was the Church, as contrasted with the whole creation which was that of the Logos. But from 360 CE onwards the doctrine of the Spirit became a matter of controversy when the Pneumatomach(o)i (‘spirit-fighters’) denied the full divinity of the Spirit. The Cappadocian fathers argued against them, e.g. Basil in his On the Holy Spirit, and were victorious at the Council of Constantinople (381). In the West this doctrine was elaborated by Augustine in his On the Trinity, especially in his understanding of the Spirit as the bond of unity in the Trinity. For the later divergence between Western and Orthodox language about the Holy Spirit, see FILIOQUE.

Holy Spirit

views updated May 14 2018

Holy Spirit (Holy Ghost) Third Person of the Trinity in Christian theology. The Holy Spirit represents the spiritual agent through whom God's grace is given. The New Testament contains many references to the Holy Spirit, firstly as the agent by whom Mary conceived Jesus Christ and later as the divine power imparted to the church.

Holy Spirit

views updated May 21 2018

Ho·ly Spir·it • n. (in Christianity) the third person of the Trinity; God as spiritually active in the world.

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