The third person of the Blessed Trinity, the Holy Spirit, is sometimes referred to as “the forgotten” member of the Godhead. He is, no doubt, the least spoken of among the three persons of God, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Most students of our Catholic theology of the Trinity agree: Pneumatology, or the study of the Holy Spirit, is probably the least developed, after the study of the Son and the Father. It is, therefore, no surprise to find many Catholics ill-equipped to deal with some of the more notable errors concerning he who is “the Lord and giver of life.” Thus, studying the person and nature of the Holy Spirit, though sometimes neglected, is crucial for us as Catholic apologists and as Catholics in general.The most common attacks on Catholic belief concerning the Holy Spirit generally come from quasi-Christian sects such as the Iglesia Ni Cristo, Jehovah’s Witnesses, and others who deny the central mystery of the Christian faith—the Trinity. Both the personhood as well as the divinity of the Holy Spirit are rejected by these groups. The Holy Spirit is spoken of as a “force,” or as “power” emanating from God, rather than as God himself. As Catholics, then, we must be able to respond to these two key misunderstandings concerning the Holy Spirit. The truths about the Holy Spirit are that 1. he is a person, and 2. he is God.
More than a Force
In John 15:26-27, Jesus says,And I will pray the Father, and he will give you another Counselor, to be with you for ever, even the Spirit of truth, who the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him; you know him, for he dwells with you, and will be in you.
And in John 16:7-15, Jesus makes it very plain,But when the Counselor comes, whom I shall send to you from the Father, even the Spirit of truth, who proceeds from the Father, he will bear witness to me; and you also are witnesses, because you have been with me from the beginning.
The Holy Spirit is personal. He convinces of sin, teaches the truth, speaks, declares things that are to come, and so on. These texts leave no doubt as to the personhood of the Holy Spirit.Nevertheless I tell you the truth: it is to your advantage that I go away, for if I do not go away, the Counselor will not come to you; but if I go, I will send him to you. And when he comes, he will convince the world of sin and of righteousness and of judgment; of sin, because they do not believe in me; of righteousness, because I go to the Father, and you will see me no more; of judgment, because the ruler of this world is judged. I have yet many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now. When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth; for he will not speak on his own authority, but whatever he hears he will speak, and he will declare to you the things that are to come. He will glorify me, for he will take what is mine and declare it to you. All that the Father has is mine; therefore I said that he will take what is mine and declare it to you.
How to “Pour Out” a Person
The question is often asked, “How can you pour out a person? Is this not proof the Holy Spirit is a force rather than a person?” The answer is a resounding no! Consider Psalm 22. This is a messianic Psalm referring to our Lord’s Passion. But notice how it describes our Lord in verse 14: “I am poured out like water . . . ” Would we say Jesus is just a force and not a person because he is “poured out” in this verse? Of course not! So it goes with the Holy Spirit. We do not deny the verses of Scripture indicating his personhood because he is described as being “poured out” in Acts 2:17.But Peter, standing with the eleven, lifted up his voice and addressed them, "Men of Judea and all who dwell in Jerusalem, let this be known to you, and give ear to my words. For these men are not drunk, as you suppose, since it is only the third hour of the day; but this is what was spoken by the prophet Joel: ‘And in the last days it shall be, God declares, that I will pour out my Spirit upon all flesh, and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, and your young men shall see visions, and your old men shall dream dreams; yea, and on my menservants and my maidservants in those days I will pour out my Spirit; and they shall prophesy.’"
The Holy Spirit is OmniscientWe should examine one key phrase from John 16 more fully when considering the truth that the Holy Spirit is revealed not only as a person, but as a divine person—God himself. Verse 13 tells us that the Holy Spirit “will guide [us] into all truth.” We have a hint here of what we see even more plainly in texts like 1 Corinthians 2:11: Scripture indicates the Holy Spirit is omniscient, a quality that God alone possesses or can possess. “For what person knows a man’s thoughts except the spirit of the man which is in him? So also no one comprehends the thoughts of God except the Spirit of God.” The reason St. Paul tells us “no one comprehends the thoughts of God except the Spirit of God” is because it would require infinite power to be able to comprehend the thoughts of God which are infinite. Romans 11:33-34 tells us: “O the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways! ‘For who has known the mind of the Lord, or who has been his counselor?’” The fact that the Holy Spirit of God fully comprehends the thoughts of God proves beyond a reasonable doubt that his is, in fact, God.
The Lord and Giver of LifeAmong the many texts revealing the Holy Spirit’s divinity, perhaps the most plain and unmistakable are found in Hebrews. First, we’ll examine Hebrews 3:7-10:
Notice the Holy Spirit is synonymous with God himself. In Hebrews 10:15-17, the reference is even more clear:Therefore, as the Holy Spirit says, "Today, when you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts as in the rebellion, on the day of testing in the wilderness, where your fathers put me to the test and saw my works for forty years. Therefore I was provoked with that generation, and said, ‘They always go astray in their hearts; they have not known my ways.’"
The Holy Spirit is revealed here to be both a person and divine. He is depicted as “bear[ing] witness,” “establish[ing] a covenant,” is referred to as “the Lord,” “puts [his] laws on [our] hearts,” and even forgives sins. How many Catholics realize when they recite the Nicene Creed every Sunday at Mass that they are clearly and concisely professing just what we see here in Scripture: The Holy Spirit truly is “the Lord and Giver of Life.”And the Holy Spirit also bears witness to us; for after saying, "This is the covenant that I will make with them after those days, says the Lord: I will put my laws on their hearts, and write them on their minds," then he adds, "I will remember their sins and their misdeeds no more."