Sermon 9: “the Holy Spirit”

“…the arrogant claim to a higher holiness…” (2nd edition: p. 115 [1st edition: p. 105])

As we have already seen, it is the humility of God the Father and the obedience of Jesus Christ, the Father’s only Son, that establish the pattern for creation’s life. Any attempt at spiritual superiority or elitism, any claim to special rank or privilege, and any disposition of haughtiness is not only unfitting for but also contradictory to the way of life as given by God. The Holy Spirit will be presented as the personal bond and guarantee of this communion, where humility, mutual obedience, and charity hold all things together, over and against any form of domination, subjugation, and self-exaltation.


“The Montanist message led him to despise the ‘sinful Church’…” (p. 115 [p. 105])

In the previous homily, Ratzinger led us into a more profound meditation on Jesus’ embrace of the suffering of sinners, even to the point of taking on their suffering as his own even though it was not properly suffering due to him. To claim the sinners in love means to enter into their condition, to bring communion into all forms of isolation caused by sin. The eventual excessiveness of the Montanists—in Ratzinger’s reading—leads to a disdain not only for sin but also for sinners, and therefore becomes an obstacle for members of the Church to love in the manner of Christ’s own love. Again, this is a form of division, which is not of the Spirit, for the Spirit is communion that proves itself in constancy and abiding, even and especially through suffering.


“…the false element in Joachim, namely, the utopia of a Church that would depart from the Son and rise higher than him and the irrational expectation that protryas itself as a real and rational program” (p. 118 [p. 108])

The crises and scandals to which Joachim of Fiore responded are indeed the manifestations of division that the Holy Spirit seeks to heal (see 117–18). These also happen to be the kind of division that St. Francis of Assisi dedicates himself to healing through his simple but total reception and response to the Gospel. The difference between Joachim and Francis, as Ratzinger is pointing out, is that Francis offers himself—his own prayer, his own body, his own flesh—over the course of a lifetime to the healing of divisions, while Joachim seeks to apprehend a secret, deeper meaning to salvation history and then provide the rational and spiritual program for implementing that. Francis provides an efficacious witness while Joachim offers a spiritual technology. Francis consumes and is configured to the Word of God, while Joachim makes the Word a preface to a utopian schema. In welcoming and clinging to Jesus, Francis lives in the Spirit who fills Jesus (see Luke 4:1) and comes from Jesus (see Luke 24:46; John 19:30; 20:22), while Joachim leaves behind the incarnate for the idea of an untainted spiritual way. Francis clings to the world as it is with the love of God in imitation of Christ, while Joachim seeks to escape from the world for the sake of spiritual purity. Francis rebuilds the Church while Joachim imagines a Church that does not exist.


“…the Spirit is present at the beginning as an instruction and guidance of man that is as yet scarcely perceptible. He leads to the Son and, through the Son, to the Father…” (p. 119 [p. 109])

In the life of faith and on the path of salvation, no disciple or even the whole Church graduates from one person of the Trinity to the next, as if moving from the Father to the Son to the Holy Spirit. Roughly speaking, Joachim imagined something like this. It seems tempting to leave behind the Son because Jesus does not leave behind his flesh, and with that flesh he clings to the world, to the messiness of creaturely life, to all that was created good but has fallen into disrepair. For those with means, it is tempting to just buy a new house rather than put in the work to restore the one you already own. But the life of faith and the path of salvation that the Holy Spirit opens is one that never goes beyond the Son but rather leads more deeply into the mystery of his person, where, as we have seen all throughout these sermons, the unending gift of the Father’s love comes to dwell and the return-gift of the Son’s whole life is offered. To live in the Spirit is to live into the mystery of this exchange, where the constancy of love is the ever-new dialogue of Father and Son. To know the Son is to know him as the Father’s Son, and to know the Father is to know him as the Son’s Father. The Spirit is the space, the path, and the personal introduction to this life of love.


“But his reveals the ‘proper character’ of the third Person: he is that which is common, the unity of the Father and the Son, the unity in Person” (p. 119 [p. 109])

In his essay “The Holy Spirit as Communio, Ratzinger presents Augustine’s pneumatology and spirituality, specifically from De Trinitate, by reading along with Augustine from the First Letter of John, the Letter to the Romans, the Gospel of John, and other scriptural sources. In sum, Ratzinger names the Holy Spirit as communio (communion itself, eternally that of the Father and the Son), caritas (love itself, eternally the gift and response of charity [self-giving] of the Father and the Son), and donum (gift itself, eternally that which is given from the Father to the Son, and returned in thanksgiving to the Father from the Son). [Note: I consider that essay by Ratzinger to be among the best introductions to the theology of the Holy Spirit, especially for teaching purposes. I use it as a supplement to this volume when I teach the Trinity to undergraduate students, though I have also used it for graduate students.]


“We can never know the Spirit otherwise than in what he accomplishes” (p. 119 [p. 109])

In the third part of the Apostles’ Creed, we receive descriptions of the Holy Spirit’s work. The Holy Spirit brings about: a holy catholic Church, the communion of saints, the forgiveness of sin, the resurrection of the body, and life everlasting. In order to enrich our own and potentially our students’ imaginations for what these works of the Spirit are, it is helpful to imagine what the opposite of each of these would be. For example, what is the opposite of the forgiveness of sins or of the resurrection of the body? In thinking of these things, we can then begin to imagine anew what the work of the Holy Spirit actually is.


“The great leaders of gnosis became interesting precisely by speaking in their own name—they made a name for themselves” (p. 121 [p. 111])

Proof that one does not speak in the Holy Spirit is if that person or group exalts themselves at the expense of others. True knowledge is ordered to love, which means that, in the Holy Spirit, even the boldest speech will seek to heal others or build others up for their good, not puff up oneself for one’s own glorification. A parent who makes their child into an instrument of their own ego or a spouse who uses the other spouse for the private enjoyment of one’s own pleasure does not exercise love but rather greed. So too the leaders of gnosis. Those who claim to have secret knowledge of God, who purport to spiritual superiority over others, who disdain the limitations of others, do not speak or act in the life of the Holy Spirit. They are giving themselves over to another spirit: spiritual worldliness.


“And love reveals itself in unity; it is the opposite of sectarianism” (p. 122 [p. 132])

Each form of sectarianism shares one thing in common: it is designed to favor those who belong to the sect over and against those who do not. But love is found in abiding, in constancy, in unity, so that the attempts to separate from one another are proof of love’s absence. Those who live in love will suffer for those who are weak, sinful, or confused rather than separate from them. This is how “the Trinitarian mystery is translated into the mystery of the cross” (121), for God shows his love for us in that while we were yet sinners Christ died for us (Rom 5:8, RSV).

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