A journal of academic theology

June 1998 editorial

In preparation for the jubilee celebrations connected with the coming millennium, the Vatican has asked that in public prayers and private devotions one year be particularly devoted to each person of the Trinity. The year 1998 has been designated as the year of the Holy Spirit. In his exhortation Tertio millennio adveniente, John Paul II observed: “The primary tasks of the preparation for the Jubilee thus include a renewed appreciation of the presence and activity of the Spirit, who acts within the Church both in the Sacraments, especially in Confirmation, and in the variety of charisms, roles and ministries which he inspires for the good of the Church: There is only one Spirit who, according to his own richness and the needs of the ministries, distributes his different gifts for the welfare of the Church (cf. 1 Cor 12:1-11)” (no. 45). These reflections hearken back to the fuller exposition of pneumatology that the pope articulated in his 1986 encyclical Dominum et Vivificantem.

In response to this request for a year of the Holy Spirit, various hierarchies and academic settings throughout the Catholic world have responded in a variety of ways. In the United States, the Catholic Conference of Catholic Bishops commissioned its Subcommittee on the Third Millennium to prepare a workbook designed for popular use in parishes and study groups which has just been published as Book of Readings on the Holy Spirit in Church and Society, ed. Paul K. Henderson (Washington: USCC, 1998). The workbook includes reflections by a number of church leaders and theologians who summarize recent developments in theology on the Holy Spirit in regard to systematics, liturgy, ecumenism, spirituality and relations with other living faiths.

Several Catholic universities have highlighted the Holy Spirit in special events. From April 17-19, 1998, Marquette University hosted an international symposium “An Advent of the Spirit: Orientations in Pneumatology,” which included presentations by Tübingen theologians Jörgen Moltmann and Beránd Jochen Hilberath, Australia’s David Coffey, as well as closer to home George Montaigue, Ralph Del Colle, Miroslav Volf, and Elizabeth Dreyer, to name only a few.

We are pleased that this June issue of Theological Studies is also able to make a modest addition to the wealth of material contemplating the mystery of the Holy Spirit. The opening article in this fascicle by Australian theologian Anne Hunt relates the classic use of the “psychological analogy” for understanding the inner-trinitarian life of God to more recent suggestions by Hans Urs von Balthasar, Bernard Lonergan, and Robert Doran. Another major article by Kilian McDonnell, O.S.B., explores the theological presuppositions subjacent to our preaching about the Spirit. In addition to those articles, two follow-up notes in the section Quaestio Disputata further reflect on how Irenaeus understood the mission of the Holy Spirit at the baptism of Jesus in the Jordan River.

The recent Catechism of the Catholic Church in its section on “I Believe in the Holy Spirit” notes a kind of divine “self-effacement” (no. 687) on the part of the Holy Spirit, in that what is revealed is not the Spirit’s self but Christ. Not surprisingly therefore the Holy Spirit has occasionally been described as a kind of “Cinderella” figure inasmuch as the Spirit is so often neglected by Christians. This oversight is understandable when one reflects on how difficult it is for us to envisage the Holy Spirit as opposed to Christ. Christ is God enfleshed in the limits of a historical career, whereas the Holy Spirit is God manifested as free and sovereign over the history of salvation.

The Second Vatican Council drew principally from biblical theology on the Holy Spirit of God. The Spirit was described in its documents as the one who gives access to the Father through Christ; who makes the universal Church one by unity of the Triune God; who adorns and sanctifies the Church, directs, instructs, rejuvenates, continually renews, leads it into all truth and perfection, and makes it one in fellowship and ministry; the one who dwells in the Church and in the faithful’s hearts, bears witness to the faithful’s adoption as children of God, and prays in them; and finally the Spirit who raises to life or revives our bodies.

The chief task of the Holy Spirit as God is to bring the Church into an encounter with the events of the career of Jesus Christ, the incarnation, the crucifixion, the Resurrection, and the ascension. In the words of British theologian R.P.C. Hanson, the Holy Spirit is “God-at-the-end-of-the world, God reigning over his people at the Last Time, God creating and sustaining a community in whom [humankind] can be enlightened by faith and return to him in worship and love as the first fruits of a new creation, God the quickener and illuminator” (The Recovery of Transcendence, ed. M.E. Marty [Macmillan, 1970] 200).

Since according to Vatican II, the Spirit is not absent from other Christian communities because of their baptisms and their faith that Jesus is Lord, it is clear that the Catholic Church still has an unfinished agenda in relating to its sister churches and other ecclesial communities blessed in the Holy Spirit. Authentic reception of the council’s teachings will involve obedience to the Spirit who invites us to listen to the needs and hopes of other communities in which the Spirit is present. We need also to listen more attentively to the promptings of the Holy Spirit in other persons in our own Church.

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