Catholics and other Christians know that the Holy Spirit, together with the Father and the Son, constitute the Trinity called God. Most have learned this prayer to the Holy Spirit: “Come, Holy Spirit, fill the hearts of your faithful, and kindle in them the fire of your love. Send forth your Spirit and they shall be created, and you shall renew the face of the earth.” Catholics know, as well, this addition to that prayer: “O God, who have taught the hearts of the faithful by the light of the Holy Spirit, grant that in the same Spirit we may be truly wise and ever rejoice in his consolation. Through Christ our Lord.”
But beyond that rudimentary knowledge, a great many Catholics (and likely other Christians) know little about the Holy Spirit. For example, is the Holy Spirit mentioned in the Old Testament as well as the New? Does the Spirit speak only to the Church hierarchy and perhaps “lesser” clergy? To all believers as well? To non-believers if they live as Scripture commands? Does The Spirit inspire faith in those who do not yet possess it? Exactly how does the Holy Spirit speak to us? In ideas that appear in our minds unexpectedly, for example as a response to our seeking knowledge and understanding? Does the Spirit give us wisdom, insight, discernment, or does He simply invite us to pursue them with our God-given minds, and guide us in that quest? Is silence more conducive to receiving messages than activity? What, if anything, can we do to invite the Holy Spirit to come to us?
The answers to many of these questions can be found by studying the Old and New Testaments, the statements of Church leaders, and for Catholics, the Catechism.
Old Testament references to the Holy Spirit:
“And he has filled him with the Spirit of God, with skill, with intelligence, with knowledge, and with all craftsmanship.” Exodus 35:31 (My bold type and/or italics throughout this essay.)
“When you send forth your Spirit, they are created, and you renew the face of the ground.” Psalm 104-30 (This is evidently the basis of the prayer mentioned in my very first paragraph.)
“And it shall come to pass afterward, that I will pour out my Spirit on all flesh; your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, your old men shall dream dreams, and your young men shall see visions. Even on the male and female servants in those days I will pour out my Spirit. Joel 2: 28-29
“And the Spirit of the Lord shall rest upon him, the Spirit of wisdom and understanding, the Spirit of counsel and might, the Spirit of knowledge and the fear of the Lord.” Isaiah 11:2
New Testament references to the Holy Spirit: (A few were given specifically to the Apostles; most were given to all disciples.)
“If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!” Luke 11:13
“For the Holy Spirit will teach you in that very hour what you ought to say.” Luke 12:12
“But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, he will teach you all things and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you.” John 14:26
“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.” John 16:13
“However, as it is written: ‘What no eye has seen, what no ear has heard, and what no human mind has conceived’ — the things God has prepared for those who love him— these are the things God has revealed to us by his Spirit. The Spirit searches all things, even the deep things of God.” 1 Corinthians 2:9,10
“Do you not know that you are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in you?” 1 Corinthians 3:16
“Now to each one the manifestation of the Spirit is given for the common good.…He gives one person the power to perform miracles, and another the ability to prophesy. He gives someone else the ability to discern whether a message is from the Spirit of God or from another spirit. Still another person is given the ability to speak in unknown languages, while another is given the ability to interpret what is being said.” 1 Corinthians 12:6, 10
“And so, from the day we heard, we have not ceased to pray for you, asking that you may be filled with the knowledge of his will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding.” Colossians 1:9
Here are two biblical references that do not mention the Holy Spirit but clarify two related points: “If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him.” James 1:5. “Do not conform to the pattern of this world but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.” Romans 12:2 The first passage mentions a specific gift, wisdom, which tells us that we receive it from the Holy Spirit.” The second states the active role we are to play in applying the gift of wisdom.
Taken together, these Old and New Testament passages inform us that the Holy Spirit dwells in all of us, fills us with intelligence and God’s knowledge, teaches us what we ought to say, and guides us to “discern whether a message is from the Spirit of God or from another spirit.” Also, if we renew our minds, the Spirit enables us to” test and approve what God’s will is.” It is noteworthy that Scripture says the Holy Spirit offers these great blessings not just to Popes and Bishops but to all believers!
Catechism of the Catholic Church statements about the Holy Spirit:
“The Spirit prepares men and goes out to them with his grace, in order to draw them to Christ. The Spirit manifests the risen Lord to them, recalls his word to them and opens their minds to the understanding of his Death and Resurrection. He makes present the mystery of Christ, supremely in the Eucharist, in order to reconcile them, to bring them into communion with God, that they may “bear much fruit.” 737
“It is Christ who . . . pours out the Spirit among his members to nourish, heal, and organize them in their mutual functions, to give them life, send them to bear witness . . ..” 739
“The Holy Spirit, the artisan of God’s works, is the master of prayer.” 741
“Christians are called to lead henceforth a life ‘worthy of the gospel of Christ.‘ They are made capable of doing so by the grace of Christ and the gifts of his Spirit, which they receive through the sacraments and through prayer.”1692
“Christ’s disciples are invited to live in the sight of the Father ‘who sees in secret,’ in order to become ‘perfect as your heavenly Father is perfect.‘” 1693
“Christians can strive to be ‘imitators of God as beloved children, and ‘walk in love’ by conforming their thoughts, words and actions to the ‘mind . . . which is yours in Christ Jesus,’ and by following his example.”1694
“Healing the wounds of sin, the Holy Spirit renews us interiorly through a spiritual transformation. He enlightens and strengthens us to live as ‘children of light’ through ‘all that is ‘good and right and true.’” 1695
The passages cited above from the Catholic Catechism are perfectly consistent with the Old and New Testaments. In other words, the Catechism does not differ from the Bible in its teaching on the works of the Holy Spirit. Both sources make clear the elevating effect the Holy Spirit has on all humans and not just the anointed few. All who seek to know God are marvelously enabled to think and say and do great things.
Let us now consider whether the Catholic hierarchy, including popes, share the view of the Holy Spirit expressed in the Bible and the Catechism. What follows is a close examination of one highly significant work by Pope Paul VI, who was canonized a saint in October 2018. The work is Lumen Gentium, the Dogmatic Constitution on the Church promulgated by Pope Paul VI in 1964 during the Second Vatican Council and approved by the bishops by a vote of 2,151 to 5.
Lumen Gentium’s principal statements on the matter:
33. “The laity are gathered together in the People of God and make up the Body of Christ under one head. Whoever they are they are called upon, as living members, to expend all their energy for the growth of the Church and its continuous sanctification, since this very energy is a gift of the Creator and a blessing of the Redeemer.
“The lay apostolate, however, is a participation in the salvific mission of the Church itself. Through their baptism and confirmation all are commissioned to that apostolate by the Lord Himself. Moreover, by the sacraments, especially holy Eucharist, that charity toward God and man which is the soul of the apostolate is communicated and nourished. Now the laity are called in a special way to make the Church present and operative in those places and circumstances where only through them can it become the salt of the earth. Thus every layman, in virtue of the very gifts bestowed upon him, is at the same time a witness and a living instrument of the mission of the Church itself“according to the measure of Christ’s bestowal.”
“Besides this apostolate which certainly pertains to all Christians, the laity can also be called in various ways to a more direct form of cooperation in the apostolate of the Hierarchy. This was the way certain men and women assisted Paul the Apostle in the Gospel, laboring much in the Lord. Further, they have the capacity to assume from the Hierarchy certain ecclesiastical functions, which are to be performed for a spiritual purpose.
“Upon all the laity, therefore, rests the noble duty of working to extend the divine plan of salvation to all men of each epoch and in every land. Consequently, may every opportunity be given them so that, according to their abilities and the needs of the times, they may zealously participate in the saving work of the Church.”
34. “The supreme and eternal Priest, Christ Jesus, since he wills to continue his witness and service also through the laity, vivifies them in this Spirit and increasingly urges them on to every good and perfect work.
“For besides intimately linking them to His life and His mission, He also gives them a sharing in His priestly function of offering spiritual worship for the glory of God and the salvation of men. For this reason the laity, dedicated to Christ and anointed by the Holy Spirit, are marvelously called and wonderfully prepared so that ever more abundant fruits of the Spirit may be produced in them. For all their works, prayers and apostolic endeavors, their ordinary married and family life, their daily occupations, their physical and mental relaxation, if carried out in the Spirit, and even the hardships of life, if patiently borne—all these become ‘spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ’. Together with the offering of the Lord’s body, they are most fittingly offered in the celebration of the Eucharist. Thus, as those everywhere who adore in holy activity, the laity consecrate the world itself to God.”
At a glance, these passages seem to echo the passages from Scripture and the Catechism. They speak of the laity having a “noble duty” and of being “a witness and a living instrument,” cooperating “in the apostolate of the Hierarchy,” and “consecrat[ing] the world itself to God.” These contributions are important. But they are quite different from those emphasized in Scripture and the Catechism. There is nothing here about the laity “discerning,” “testing and approving,” and being “fill[ed] with intelligence and God’s knowledge.” And nothing about “renewing their minds.” In fact, there is no clear indication that they have minds at all. Paul says the laity are “wonderfully prepared so that ever more abundant fruits of the Spirit may be produced in them.” (This is vastly different from saying they use their God-given intellects to apply the insights the Holy Spirit has given them.)
Simply put, the emphasis in Lumen Gentium is not about what the Holy Spirit does for the laity but instead what the laity can do for the Church! As Paul VI stated there, the laity should “expend all their energy for the growth of the Church.” The implication is that the laity’s role is never to receive insights from the Holy Spirit and share them with one another and the hierarchy, but solely to listen to and obey the hierarchy. The unstated idea is that the Holy Spirit cannot possibly give laypeople insights that He does not give the hierarchy. That idea is not only absurd—it blasphemously limits God’s relationship with mankind..
Am I doubting Paul VI’s sainthood? Not at all. To be a saint one must love God with his/her whole heart and soul, but there is no requirement that one be free of misunderstanding and error. The doctrine of infallibility may have blurred that fact, but it did not change it.
Over the centuries, popes and bishops have supported many erroneous viewpoints and movements, including the notion that the earth is the center of the universe, the practice of slavery, and the idea that Jews are “Christ Killers.” Later many embraced Liberation Theology, Social Justice, Humanistic Psychology, and the Self-Esteem movement, each of which contradict traditional Catholic teaching. Most recently, some in the hierarchy have tacitly approved sodomy and “sex reassignment surgery.”
It is noteworthy that, even as the hierarchy were tacitly, if not formally approving those false views, many Catholic (and non-Catholic) laypeople were exposing their incompatibility with the Catholic faith.
If the Holy Spirit offered guidance in these matters, it was surely to those who discovered the truth, and that was laypeople. If the Holy Spirit offered the same guidance to the hierarchy, they either misunderstood the message or chose to ignore it. This raises two questions. First, what would cause individuals dedicated to disseminating God’s word to misunderstand the message? The answer is obvious—the flawed human nature that afflicts all humans and to which error comes all too easily despite our best efforts.
The second question is more difficult. What would cause anointed individuals to ignore messages from the divine source they pledged to honor? The likely answer is failure to distinguish the promptings of the Holy Spirit from the ideas already in one’s mind. This is especially so if the ideas in one’s mind reflect popular propaganda more than genuine thought, and if one lacks humility. (Both those factors make one say “I already have a full measure of understanding and wisdom, so I needn’t open my mind to more.”) In such cases, if the Holy Spirit chooses to deliver His message in an unexpected way, say by way of a layperson, the hierarchy could ignore it on the presumption that sheep have no business instructing shepherds.
Evidently, it is all too easy for bishops to forget that there is only one “Good Shepherd” and that is Jesus. (John 10) The apostles and the bishops that followed them were to “tend” His lambs and “shepherd” His sheep. (John 21). In other words, they were and still are surrogate shepherds. And they were warned that “among your own selves men will arise, speaking perverse things, to draw away the disciples after them.” (Acts 20)
These passages in John and Acts underline the importance of Sacred Scripture’s emphasis that the Holy Spirit guides the laity as well as the hierarchy to “discern whether a message is from the Spirit of God or from another spirit” and to”renew our minds” and “test and approve what God’s will is.” I believe that the tendency among the hierarchy to assume the Holy Spirit speaks only to them has severely narrowed their perspective, blocked meaningful dialogue in the Church, and thus diminished its opposition to the evils that are wreaking havoc on the world.
Copyright © 2023 by Vincent Ryan Ruggiero. All rights reserved.