In the Nicene Creed the Church professes many things about the Holy Spirit: we proclaim that he is “the Lord and giver of life, who proceeds from the Father and the Son, who with the Father and the Son is adored and glorified, who has spoken through the prophets.” Immediately after the articles on the Holy Spirit, the creed goes into the life and nature of the Church, showing that the Holy Spirit and the Church are intimately connected. What is highlighted in these parts of the creed is the Holy Spirit’s divine identity and his work throughout salvation history.
By calling the Holy Spirit Lord and underscoring that he is adored or worshiped with the Father and Son, the creed is affirming the full divinity of the Holy Spirit, that is, he is truly God. But the creed also emphasizes that the Holy Spirit is a distinct person who proceeds or comes forth from the Father and the Son.
In order for us to better understand this distinct person of the Trinity we need to look at the names and symbols by which he has been revealed in the scriptures. In addition to the name Holy Spirit, Jesus calls him the “Paraclete” (Jn 14:16) which literally means “he who is called to one’s side.” This term is usually translated as Advocate or Consoler because the Spirit is the one who comes to our side to plead our cause of salvation and he is the one who draws near, to bring us his divine consolation and comfort. But Jesus also calls him the “Spirit of Truth” (Jn 14:17) because he is the one who leads us to Christ, the fullness of Truth. Because Christ is the one through whom the Spirit came and because the Spirit leads us to Jesus he is also called the “Spirit of Christ” (Rom 8:9).
There are also many images in the New Testament that help us to understand the role of the Holy Spirit. One is living water. In John’s gospel Jesus said, “He who believes in me, as the scripture has said, ‘Out of his heart shall flow rivers of living water.’ This he said about the Spirit which those who believe in him were to receive…” (Jn 7:38-39). Living water symbolizes the Spirit’s ability to refresh and quench the thirst of the baptized.
There is also the image of fire. When the Holy Spirit descended on the disciples at Pentecost he manifested himself through tongues of fire, thus indicating his power to ignite and transform those to whom he comes close. There is also the symbol of breath. After the Resurrection Jesus breathed on his apostles and said, “receive the Holy Spirit” (Jn 20:22).
Breath indicates the vitality of the Spirit who though invisible is experienced through his life giving actions and effects. Finally, there are many other symbols of the Holy Spirit: a dove which we saw in Jesus’ baptism, a cloud which we noted in Jesus’ transfiguration, and several others as well.
We heard in the creed that the Holy Spirit has “…spoken through the prophets” meaning that throughout the history of the Old and New Testaments we see the Holy Spirit inspiring God’s chosen prophets to speak and write on his behalf. The Holy Spirit not only inspired the prophets but also brought their prophecies to fulfillment in Christ. We see the beginning of this fulfillment in John the Baptist who was the last of the Old Testament prophets and who as St. Luke says, “was filled with the Holy Spirit even from his mother’s womb” (Lk 1:15). John’s greatest role, which the Spirit enabled him to fulfill, was to prepare the way for Christ (cf. Lk 1:17). Further, all this preparation that came about through the Spirit’s work was brought to fulfillment in the womb of the Virgin Mary. It was the Holy Spirit who first filled her with grace and later overshadowed her so that she could give birth to Jesus, the Word made flesh.
The Spirit of God continued his mission and activity in the humanity and earthly mission of Jesus. From the incarnation, through his public ministry, and to the cross and resurrection, the Holy Spirit’s work was inseparably joined to that of Jesus who himself said, “the Spirit of the Lord is upon me because he has anointed me” (Lk 4:18).
Jesus also continues his mission through the Holy Spirit. On the day of Pentecost when Jesus gave or poured forth the Holy Spirit on the Apostles, Mary, and the other disciples who were gathered together in the upper room. In this event the Father and the Son fully revealed the Holy Spirit and enabled the Church to be born. We can immediately see the intimate relationship between the Holy Spirit and the Church. The Holy Spirit continues the mission of Jesus through the Church. The Spirit works through the sacraments so that man may have access to the grace of Christ and once again share in the life of God. He also organizes and animates the Church to proclaim and bear witness to the Gospel of Salvation.
To summarize, the Holy Spirit is the third person of the blessed Trinity who, with the Father and Son, is fully divine. His identity and activity have been made known in various names and images in the New Testament. Further, throughout salvation history the Holy Spirit has been at work both inspiring God’s prophets and bringing their prophecies to fulfillment in Christ. The missions of Jesus and the Holy Spirit, while distinct, are inseparable. Finally, the work of the Spirit of Christ continues in and through his Catholic Church which he builds, animates, and sanctifies.