Symbols of the Holy Spirit (Sample)

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Symbols of the Holy Spirit

by Guiseppe D’Amore Translated by Simone Finaldi

All booklets are published thanks to the generous support of the members of the Catholic Truth Society


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Contents Signs and images . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .3 Dove . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .10 Fire . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .14 Wind . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .24 Cloud . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .29 Paraclete . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .34 Endnotes . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .36

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Signs and images The Holy Spirit is perhaps the most mysterious and hidden of the three persons of the Holy Trinity. We can have some idea about the Father from the descriptions given by Jesus. The Father’s characteristics can be compared to those we recognise in human paternity. The Son became flesh sharing in our complete human nature, being perfectly present to us in his incarnation; he is like us in everything but sin. For the Holy Spirit however, we have no complete representation. We can see only something of His mystery through signs and images given to us in Sacred Scripture and in the tradition of the Church. In this book we intend to look at some of the most significant of these symbols of the Holy Spirit, namely, Water, Fire, Dove, Wind, Cloud and the Paraclete. We hope that by studying these symbols we can become more aware of the benevolent and beneficial action of the seven-fold Spirit that works with us and lives in us. Our aim will be to move from the symbol to the reality, or as blessed John Henry Newman put it, “From shadows or images, to the truth.” May this desire accompany us in our modest attempt to understand more about the third person of the Holy Trinity.

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Water “Water is very useful, and humble, and precious, and pure” wrote St Francis in his Canticle of the Creatures. He draws attention to how precious water is, but also adds humility and purity to its virtues. These are Christian virtues that only a soul enamoured of the beauty of nature and of the Gospel could discover. We can discover many more qualities and characteristics of water in the Wisdom literature and the Psalms, as well as throughout scripture, because water is one of the most common and recurring themes in the Holy Bible. ‘In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. Now the earth was a formless void, there was darkness over the deep, and God’s spirit hovered over the water’ (Genesis 1:1-2). Cleansing Right from the beginning then, in primordial form, the Spirit of creation worked together and in conjunction with water. This prodigious contact began to give life to all kinds of living creatures (cf Genesis 1:27). As a recognised biblical image, water has precise symbolic spiritual meanings, principally purification and refreshment. Water could also purify the spirit and was used in blessings and cleansing. ‘I shall pour clean water over you and you will be cleansed; I shall cleanse you of all your defilement and

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all your idols. I shall give you a new heart, and put a new spirit in you; I shall remove the heart of stone from your bodies and give you a heart of flesh instead. I shall put my spirit in you, and make you keep my laws and sincerely respect my observances’ (Exodus 36:25-27). Immediately after purification, comes new life when God places Himself within the creature being renewed. God brings His holiness and purity and places a new spirit into a new heart! River of life Water symbolizes the Holy Spirit which, as the author of Revelations describes, is like a river: ‘The angel showed me the river of life, rising from the throne of God and of the Lamb’ (Revelation 22:1). St Augustine tells us that this river of life, rising from the throne, represents God the Father; and the Lamb, that is the Incarnate Word, symbolizes the Holy Spirit.1 He also says that the Holy Spirit is being spoken of when the psalmist writes: ‘the waters of a river give joy to God’s city, the holy place where the Most High dwells’ (Psalm 45:5)2. According to the psalmist, the Holy Spirit is also an immense river that waters the Holy City, the dwelling of the Most High, making it a fruitful and joyful place. If we bring together this dual symbolism of Revelation and psalmist, we have a very powerful image. The Holy Spirit is a river which comes from the Father, carrying

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with it multitudes of the holy souls, who lovingly contemplate the Word of God made man; through the same Son they then return to the Father. We have reached the heart of the life of the Trinity. The theology of the Greek Church Fathers teaches us that the life of the Trinity is in fact an everlasting and ineffable movement. It is a life without beginning, pause or end; this life emanates from the Father to the Holy Spirit, passing through the Son, and then, returning to the Son, it passes from the Son back to the Father. So it is that through the Holy Spirit and in the Holy Spirit, all chosen souls live united to God in the closest possible way. Again it is through water that we can see the work of the Holy Spirit in our own salvation. ‘On the last day and greatest day of the festival, Jesus stood there and cried out: “If any man is thirsty, let him come to me! Let the man come and drink who believes in me!” As scripture says: from his breast shall flow fountains of living water. He was speaking of the Spirit which those who believed in him were to receive; for there was no Spirit as yet because Jesus had not yet been glorified’ (John 7: 37-39). Source of virtue The Lord Jesus had in fact already clearly indicated his intention to pour out the Spirit.

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‘But anyone who drinks the water that I shall give will never be thirsty again: the water that I shall give will turn into a spring inside him, welling up to eternal life’ (John 4:14). This mystical water symbolizes the Holy Spirit, fast and flowing as a river, that purifies the heart and with the aid of penance unites the intellect and will to God through faith. Through hope it draws the soul towards Him, the supreme good, and it binds us to God with the bond of charity. In this way we can obtain the cardinal virtues of temperance, fortitude, justice and prudence, as well as all the other virtues that come from them. A sacrament, baptism, will be instituted and through water will confer the Holy Spirit on those who receive it with all the graces He brings - the very graces that all men will have to receive in order to enter the kingdom of heaven. This was made clear by Christ, the true teacher of Israel when He spoke to Nicodemus during the night. ‘Jesus answered: “I tell you most solemnly, unless a man is born from above, he cannot see the kingdom of God”. Nicodemus said, “How can a grown man be born? Can he go back into his mother’s womb and be born again?” Jesus replied: “I tell you most solemnly, unless a man is born through water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God”’ (John 3:3-5). The beauty of this new life is that it regenerates us through water and the Spirit, making us holy and giving

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us new life. Water becomes the sign and sacrament in and through which the Holy Spirit is given to all men. It purifies and regenerates them, giving them His grace and making them sons of the Father. In this sacrament, water and the Spirit become one, working inseparably to do their divine and mysterious work. This interdependent bond is brought to our attention in the very words of the Rite of Baptism itself: ‘Send the Holy Spirit upon this water. May all who are buried with Christ in the death of Baptism rise with him to immortal life.’3 In that precise moment, through the gifts of water and the Spirit, we encounter the unfathomable mystery of our adoption as children of God. Therefore, from now on we can turn to the Father, through the Son, in the Holy Spirit, just as St Paul tells us: ‘The spirit you received is not the spirit of slaves bringing fear into your lives again; it is the spirit of sons, and it makes us cry out, “Abba, Father!”’ (Romans 8:15). The Holy Spirit is constantly moving with the water in the baptismal font, always ready to give His new life to us. ‘When we were baptised we went into the tomb with him and joined Him in death, so that as Christ was raised from the dead by the Father’s glory, we too might live a new life’ (Romans 6:4). In another symbolic image, taken from the heavenly liturgy under the gaze of the Lamb, peoples come to the fountain of life to take the gifts of the

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Holy Spirit. This is the solemn invitation to the wedding of the Lamb which is extended to all. ‘Let all who are thirsty come: all who want it may have the water of life, and have it free’ (Revelations 22:17). The great Ignatius of Antioch wrote to his Roman brothers as he prepared for martyrdom: ‘I am the wheat of God, and let me be ground by the teeth of the wild beasts, that I may be found in the pure bread of Christ. If I suffer martyrdom, I will become free with Jesus Christ and will rise with Him. Permit me to be an imitator of the passion of my God. There is within me a water that lives and speaks, saying to me inwardly, Come to the Father’.4 Such is the strength and attraction of water and Holy Spirit.

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Dove The dove gives an expressive and graceful form to the third divine person, who wished to make Himself visible to men. This dove, through which the Holy Spirit reveals Himself, was present at Christ’s baptism in the Jordan. Here is Mathew’s account of the event: ‘As soon as Jesus was baptised he came up from the water, and suddenly the heavens opened and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and coming down on him. And a voice spoke from heaven, “This is my Son, the Beloved; my favour rests on him”’ (Matthew 3:16-17). Noah’s dove This is a very vivid image and from it we learn more about the Spirit’s action and interaction within the soul. The image of the dove is one of the most important and beautiful in biblical and Christian tradition. The first time the dove appears in the story of humanity is truly extraordinary. The great flood has ended and Noah and his fellow survivors, longing to feel the firm earth under their feet after their great ordeal, look out from the ark. Noah sends out a raven that does not return. Then he sends out the dove to see whether the waters were receding from the surface of the earth.

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‘The dove, finding nowhere to perch, returned to him in the ark, for there was water over the whole surface of the earth; putting out his hand he took hold of it and brought it back into the ark with him. After waiting seven more days, again he sent out the dove from the ark. In the evening, the dove came back to him and there it was with a new olive-branch in its beak. So Noah realised that the waters were receding from the earth. After waiting seven more days he sent out the dove, and now it returned to him no more’ (Genesis 8: 9-12). Symbol of love This beautiful image is so deeply fixed in the human mind that even after many centuries and events, the dove bearing the olive branch remains the symbol of peace. Next, the Holy Spirit opens up human thought to a precious book of the highest spiritual value: The Song of Songs. Even if written in strongly human terms, in this rich text we discover human love as a symbol of God’s love for the Church and for the soul. The living expression of the mutual love between Bridegroom and Spouse repeatedly refers to the dove who, given its tenderness and intimacy, is also universal symbol of love: ‘My dove, hiding in the clefts of the rock, in the coverts of the cliff, show me your face, let me hear your voice; for your voice is sweet and your face is beautiful’ (Song of Songs 2:14).

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Among the many gifts received from the dove is contemplation, and contemplation which is love: ‘O that I had wings like a dove to fly away and be at rest’ (Psalm 55:7). Even our Lord Jesus Christ, who gave great importance to creation, rested his gaze on the dove and made of it a very clear symbol of simplicity: ‘be cunning as serpents and yet as harmless as doves’ (Matthew 10:16). Peace of mind The dove is above all a symbol of peace and the Holy Spirit is the giver of peace. After the resurrection when the Master appeared to the Apostles, he brought to them and to all mankind the fruits of his death and victory: ‘In the evening of that same day, the first day of the week, the doors were closed in the room where the disciples were, for fear of the Jews. Jesus came and stood among them. He said to them, “Peace be with you”, and showed them his hands and his side. The disciples were filled with joy when they saw the Lord, and he said to them again, “Peace be with you”’ (John 20:19). The fruit of this victory is peace, guaranteed by the promise to the Apostles of the coming of the Holy Spirit together with the promise of peace (cf John 20:19-23). The Holy Spirit is therefore the Spirit of peace: that is why it is symbolised by a dove. Peace means above all to have peace of mind: to have clarity of thought and ideas, right understanding, sureness of the truth and understanding of

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divine thought. It means peace and tranquility of the soul: whereas the fever of the passions does not bring peace but only agitation, and the internal destructive forces of anger and lust are unspeakable; spite, which produces jealousy and envy, destroys everything good in us. It means peace and simplicity of heart: whereas duplicity, slyness, and mistrust of one’s neighbour destroy peace. The simple and innocent child who believes in the good of those around him and has not yet had any contact with evil is at peace. But it is difficult for someone who has learnt only to doubt and suspect, ever to be at peace. This peace, wholly interior in character, radiates from the person who has it and thus becomes a circle of love and charity. The person who is close to the Spirit of God possesses this peace, for it is a fruit of the Spirit. When St Paul lists the gifts of the Holy Spirit he includes peace in third place (cf Galatians 5: 22). This is why the dove is the symbol of the Paraclete, because throughout human history it has been above all, a symbol of peace. St Thomas Aquinas gives another reason why at Christ’s baptism the Spirit is represented as a dove. He reflects that the dove is a communal creature and that this may be seen as a symbol of the reality of the Church constituted by Christ, namely a society, of which the Spirit is the soul and bond of intimate unity. The Catholic Church, as it were, rests beneath the wings of the dove, constituted within a strong union of life and faith.

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