The Holy Spirit

The Holy Spirit January 8, 2018

The_Descent_Of_The_Holy_SpiritOf the three persons of the Holy Trinity, the Holy Spirit tends to be the most misunderstood. The relationship between the Father and the Son sometimes becomes confused, to be sure, because the conventions of Father and Son are read from the human perspective instead of seeing them as analogous terms representing some truth of the persons themselves.  The relationship of the two is at least generally understood as indicating that the Father properly is the source and origin from which the Son emerges, but the question remains, what are we to make of the Holy Spirit?

The Holy Spirit, like the Son, reveals the Father to us; the Holy Spirit also emerges from the Father, but it must be made clear, the mode by which the Holy Spirit emerges is different from that of the Son, for the Holy Spirit is not another Son of the Father. This is why the Spirit is said to “spirate” from the Father so that there can be seen a distinction between the begetting of the Son and the emergence of the Spirit.

The Spirit and Son share the Father as their common foundation, but the Spirit in the spiration from the Father, somehow comes to the Son and spirates through the Son, not only demonstrating the difference between the Son and the Spirit, but also showing how the Son and Spirit are intricately linked. The Son and Spirit work together, but they work in their own unique ways, so that the Spirit does not just rest in and upon the Son but emerges from the Son and enters the world to give it bountiful life. The Holy Spirit radiates the glory of God into the world, sanctifying the world, making the world the kingdom of God.

Hans Urs von Balthasar, following St. Irenaeus, refers to the Son and Spirit as the two revealing hands of the Father. Tey work together. And yet, when hands are at work together they perform their task in their own particular way, so the Son and Spirit work together but perform their task in their own particular, that is their own personal, fashion.  Thus, both Jesus and the Holy Spirit can be said to be our teacher. Jesus, the Son, the Word of God, teaches through word and deed, while the Holy Spirit enlightens us through its own mystical methods, as Didymus the Blind indicated:

The Holy Spirit himself, who has been sent by the Father and comes in the name of the Son, will teach all things to those who are perfect in the faith of Christ, (that is, all things which are spiritual and intelligible) – in sum, the mysteries of truth and wisdom. But he will not teach as an instructor or teacher of a discipline which has been learned from another. For this method pertains to those who learn wisdom and the other arts by means of study and diligence. Rather, as he himself is the art, the teaching, the wisdom, and the Spirit of Truth, he invisibly imparts knowledge of divine things to the mind.[1]

In his earthly ministry, Christ was anointed with the Spirit, but after his death and resurrection, he sent the Spirit from himself and into the world. Just as Christ works in the world in a new fashion thanks to the resurrection, so does the Spirit. This newness does not change their unitive work, but now they do so in a new fashion, with the Holy Spirit free to work in the world to sanctify it thanks to the restructuring of the world in and through the work of Christ on the cross:

The inseparability of the Son and Spirit, which remains true after the Resurrection and in the sending of the Spirit upon the Church, gives us the central theme of a major section of this volume (which is to follow): the mission of the Spirit in no way takes over from the mission of the Son. It is simply that both their missions have entered a new stage in which the infinite wealth of their relationships is revealed in a different manner. But they remain “the Father’s two hands.”[2]

This relationship, Balthasar suggested, can be seen in the eucharist, where Christ is brought to us once again through the work of the Holy Spirit. “It is in the mystery of the Eucharist that we can best see that ‘the Father’s two hands’ do not cease working in concert.”[3]  In the eucharist, Christ is with us, even unto the end of the world, but now he comes in and through the transformation of the gifts of bread and wine in and through the work of the Holy Spirit. The institution was set up by Christ so as to have a way to give himself over to us (and us over to himself), but it is in and through the Spirit that what is impossible for humanity becomes possible for God. The mystery of the eucharist is the mystery of the Spirit, of the giver of life, who like a mother, has established Christ in the world.

The eucharist gives to us the new, post-resurrection re-presentation of the incarnation, taking the gifts of the earth to become the means by which God and humanity are brought together. But this should not be surprising, because this is similar to the way Christ was born into the world.  In the incarnation, the Holy Spirit generated life in and through the Virgin Mary, taking the gift of Mary, her perfect humanity, lifting it up to God so that the Son can assume it unto himself and become man. He is born into the world through a woman; the Holy Spirit took her own flesh and blood and transformed it into Christ. Just as Mary came from the earth, and is of the earth, indeed, is of all that she had consumed of the earth in herself, so that bread and wine became a part of her and was transformed into her, so it should not be surprising bread and wine, in and through the Spirit, becomes Christ, the Son of Mary.

Sergius Bulgakov, in reflecting upon the generation of the God-man in Mary, explained that it is improper to look at the Holy Spirit as if the Holy Spirit was the father of the human Christ:

The Holy Spirit is never called father of Jesus in ecclesiastical literature – this thought would be a heretical profanity, for the Son has only one heavenly Father (just like the first “Adam who is of God” Lk 3.38). The Holy Spirit through His overshadowing of the Virgin Mary creates her motherhood, the possession of the Infant in the womb. [4]

Mary is given motherhood. Humanity becomes fruitful in her. Christ is born through maternity, not through any human or divine fatherhood. God the Father beget the Son in eternity, but in time, it is in and through Mary that we find the generation of the humanity of Christ. In and through Mary, we are shown the relationship of maternity to divinity. While the Father and Son are neither “male nor female,” for God is neither male nor female, there is a sense of the Son appropriating the aspects of God which are masculine because of his human gender (without, of course, undermining his transcendent and feminine qualities which can be seen also reflected in the Son). That is, as male and female are both made in the image and likeness of God, each demonstrating something of the divine nature in their gender, one not being greater than the other in that representation, so Jesus in assuming a humanity as a male takes on the reflections of divinity found in masculinity without undermining his greater, transcendent divinity. The Holy Spirit, therefore, finds a way to imagine and represent the feminine nature of humanity, to show it also points to and is equal to the masculine in humanity, in and through the generation of the Son through Mary. She is overshadowed by the Holy Spirit and so partakes of Divine Maternity. The Holy Spirit took the gift of her flesh and turned it into Christ instead of placing a seed into her which was not from her or of her:

By receiving the Holy Spirit, Mary was made into the receptacle of divine motherhood. She was made Mother of God spiritually, and in virtue of this she conceived in her womb a Son, Emmanuel.[5]

Mary, the Mother of God, is Mother of God because of the Spirit; she became full of the Spirit, full of grace, so that she perfectly represents the life-giving Spirit even as she represents humanity to God. In her motherhood of the Son she partook of Divine Maternity through the sanctification of the Holy Spirit, showing us how the Spirit works to elevate the divine feminine in the world. This, then, shows us that there is a special relationship between Mary and the Holy Spirit. The Spirit is not, to be sure, incarnate in Mary, but the Holy Spirit is perfectly revealed in and through her. She is full of grace, full of the gifts of the Spirit; she is united by grace with the Holy Spirit so that she could give birth to the God-man in history:

The Holy Spirit’s inhabitation of the Virgin Mary was not and could not be a divine incarnation in relation to the Third hypostasis, for, in the first place, divine incarnation is not in general proper to Her, whereas it is proper to the Logos; and second, the Virgin Mary already had Her own human hypostasis. This is why Her inhabitation by the Holy Spirit could only represent His entry into Her life, in the sense not of hypostatic identification but of action by grace, which has its focus in the divine conception and the divine birth, in general in Divine Maternity. This inhabitation was not limited to any one particular gift. The one full of grace received the fullness of the Holy Spirit with the indivisible totality of His gifts. But Mary’s reception and assimilation of these gifts were also characterized – according to the general law of life in the Spirit – by degrees of growth. Her growth in the Spirit progressed from Her birth and Her presentation in the Temple to the Annunciation; and then from the Annunciation – through Golgotha and Pentecost – to Her Dormition and Her Assumption, which attests to the fullness of spiritual receptivity and spirituality that She had attained in Her glorification and deification. Without being God or the God-Man, Mary communes with the Divine life in the Holy Trinity in Her perfect spirituality. She follows, like Her Son, the path of kenotic diminution and maternally participates in His salvific passion. [6]

Just as the Son and Spirit are always linked, so the Son and Mary are always linked; the Son and Spirit are linked in the Trinity while the Son and Mary are linked in relation to her flesh and blood for that is what becomes his flesh and blood.  The Holy Spirit raises Mary up to become the Mother of God, to represent the fertility of Divine Maternity, not only in history but also in the eschaton; the newness of the resurrection therefore affects Mary. Her assumption is tied with this truth:

Mary became the Mother of God in time, because the whole existence of the human race flows in time. But this divine motherhood which was initiated in time, and is foreordained from the ages, has already an eternal nature and is accomplished for all times and for eternity. In this respect divine motherhood becomes completely like the divine humanity of the Saviour. It is likewise accomplished in time, in which flows the whole of life of the creaturely world and of humankind, but it has force in eternity, for the Son of God, when he ascended into heaven, sits in His flesh at the right hand of the Father His Mother, resurrected by Him, is borne into heaven. Every philosophical and theological difficulty that arises in the comprehension of this transition from time immediately into eternity, arises completely equally for the one and the other. Thus, Mary is no longer a human being but the Mother of God, though she remains a human being not only in her nature but also in her hypostasis. She is not the Godman, for whom it is not fitting to have a human hypostasis. But divine motherhood is inseparably connected with divine generation: where the Son is, from there the Mother cannot be removed. [7]

This, of course, is not just true for the Mother of God, Mary, but for humanity as a whole; Pentecost is understood in and through the Divine Motherhood operating in the world, giving life:

The Spirit will give a new sensation, a living knowledge, a vital adoption of this Word, a word-bearing, a universal cosmic divine motherhood. His joining with human nature, inseparably and without mixing, in such a way that the Word became his own for the sake of humankind, for the Word assimilated to itself human nature and through the Holy Spirit is acquired by it. This is the assimilation of Christ by the creature, a living sensation of the universal Christophoriciity of creation, and in this sense Christ-bearing or Divine Motherhood is the operation of the Holy Spirit, a world Pentecost.[8]

Through the Holy Spirit we are given life. We are born of the Spirit, with the whole of space and time a kind of womb from which we are to emerge children of God in the eschatological kingdom of God:

If anyone passes beyond the life of the flesh and mortifies its deeds by the Spirit, he will lived a blessed and eternal life, being counted among the children of God and directed to the true path through the Holy Spirit, who is also called the Spirit of God.[9]

We are children of God, obviously not in the same way as Christ is the Son of God, but yet through the Spirit we are able to be born into eternity. Mary is the earthly type of the Spirit where the child of God, Christ, is born; the Holy Spirit fills her so much we best understand the Spirit and all the gifts of the Spirit in and through her. She was able to direct her Son (as the Wedding of Canna demonstrates) because of this – she was humble and emptied herself to the service of God, but that is how and why she was filled with the Spirit and represented the greatness of the Spirit which tramples upon all the deathly structures of sin in the world and overcomes them. The Holy Spirit might seem hidden and mysterious, but that is because the Holy Spirit is at work and does not need to stop and show itself to us to glorify itself in the process. To see the work of the Holy Spirit, we must look to Mary; to see Mary, we must look beyond the social constructs which people try to impose upon her to limit her achievements in the world, but rather, we must see how she always was there, guiding the church, acting and deciding as the Spirit-bearer she was. The Holy Spirit blows where it wills and could not be trapped by the structures of men, and neither could Mary.


[Image=The Descent of the Holy Spirit, picture by bobosh_t ( [CC BY-SA 2.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons]



[1] Didymus the Blind, On The Holy Spirit in Works On the Spirit. Athanasius the Great and Didymus The Blind. Trans. Mark DelCogliano, Andrew Radde-Gallwitz and Lewis Ayres (Crestwood, NY: St Vladimir’s Seminary Press, 2011), 187.

[2] Hans Urs von Balthasar, Theo-Logic III: The Spirit of Truth. Trans. Graham Harrison (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 2005), 176.

[3] Hans Urs von Balthasar, Theo-Logic III, 199.

[4] Sergius Bulgakov, The Burning Bush. Trans. Thomas Allan Smith (Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdman’s Publishing Company, 2009), 83.

[5] Sergius Bulgakov, The Burning Bush, 89.

[6] Sergius Bulgakov, The Comforter. Trans. Boris Jakim (Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdman’s Publication, 2004), 247.

[7] Sergius Bulgakov, The Burning Bush,  98-9.

[8] Sergius Bulgakov, The Burning Bush, 91.

[9] Didymus the Blind, On The Holy Spirit, 202.


Stay in touch! Like A Little Bit of Nothing on Facebook

Browse Our Archives