The Lord and Giver of Life

Yesterday was another major holy-day:  Pentecost, fifty days after the resurrection of Christ and ten days after His ascension, at which time the Holy Spirit was poured out upon the church.

There are many misconceptions about this particular person in the Holy Trinity.  The Holy Spirit is not just a force or power, not just the aspect of God who dwells within, not just a subjective phenomenon.  Here is what the Nicene Creed says about Him:

And I believe in the Holy Ghost,

I’m using the classic three-language edition of the Book of Concord here, which uses the old word “ghost” instead of “spirit.”  In early English, “ghost” and “spirit” meant the same thing–as in “give up the ghost”–so there are no associations of Caspar or haunted houses in the creed.  Still, I kind of like “Holy Ghost,” not just because it is more evocative of mystery, but because “spirit” has become more tame, something that all of us have, including the “spiritual but not religious,” so that the Holy Spirit can be confused with our spirit, which can become holy.  But our spirits can only become holy by the Holy Ghost.

the Lord and Giver of life,

The Holy Spirit (I’ll keep using that translation) is “the Lord,” as is the Father and the Son.  The Holy Spirit is the giver of life.  This recalls how God breathed into the dust that He formed and made it alive (Genesis 2:7).  (The Hebrew word for “spirit” is related to the word for “breath.”)  But the Holy Spirit is also the giver of our new life in Christ.  He convicts us of sin (John 16:8), and He creates faith in Jesus (1 Corinthians 12:3).

who proceedeth from the Father and the Son;

This article speaks of the relationship between the Persons of the Trinity.  In the distinction made by the Athanasian Creed, the Son is “begotten”; the Spirit “proceeds.”  But it also means that the life-giving Holy Spirit is sent to us by the Father and the Son.  The original reading of the Nicene Creed, still insisted upon by the Eastern Orthodox, says that the Holy Spirit proceeds “from the Father.”  The Western church added “and the Son.”  Though there was arguably no ecclesiastical authority for adding that phrase, it is surely Biblical.  As Jesus said, “Nevertheless, I tell you the truth: it is to your advantage that I go away, for if I do not go away, the Helper will not come to you. But if I go, I will send him to you” (John 16:7).

who with the Father and the Son together is worshiped and glorified;

The Holy Spirit is a Person of the Trinity.  When we worship and glorify God, we are worshipping and glorifying the Holy Spirit, along with the Father and the Son.

who spake by the Prophets.

The Holy Spirit speaks to us by means of the authors of Holy Scripture.  If we want to hear what the Holy Spirit has to say to us, we should not just listen for some interior voice.  Rather, all we have to do is open the Bible!  Thus, the Holy Spirit is always accessible to us by means of His living and active Word.

And I believe in one holy catholic and apostolic Church.

The Holy Spirit creates, sustains, and sanctifies the church.  “Catholic” is not to be thought of as the “Roman Catholic Church.”  The usual Lutheran rendition is “Christian church,” though this older rendition keeps the textually correct wording “Catholic.”  It’s worth retaining.  It means not just “universal” but “according to the whole.”  That is, the church is a “whole.”  We Christians are part of something far larger than ourselves, an organism that extends throughout the world and extends back through time.

“Apostolic” does not mean a succession of bishops, as some say, but a church that follows the teachings of Christ’s apostles.  That is, it is in accord with the New Testament.

I acknowledge one Baptism for the remission of sins;

The Holy Spirit comes to us by means of the Word, as was said, and also by the Sacraments.  The Holy Spirit makes baptism effectual by creating faith in the Gospel of Christ, and thus accomplishing the remission of sins.

Thus, “God our savior. . .saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit” (Titus 3:4-5).

and I look for the resurrection of the dead, and the life of the world to come. Amen

The Holy Spirit, the giver of life, will give all of us life again at the last day. “And you shall know that I am the Lord, when I open your graves, and raise you from your graves, O my people.  And I will put my Spirit within you, and you shall live” (Ezekiel 37:13-4).

 

Illustration:  Pentecost [Detail] by Luis Tristán (1585-1624).  Public domain.  http://pintura.aut.org/BU04?Autnum=11.617&EmpNum=15069, Domínio público, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=3037197

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