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The creative action of the divine Spirit

Catechesis by Pope John Paul II on the Holy Spirit
General Audience, Wednesday 10 January 1990 - in Italian & Spanish  

"1. In biblical language, the emphasis given to ruah as "the breath of God" seems to demonstrate that the analogy between the invisible, spiritual, penetrating, omnipotent divine action, and the wind, was rooted in the psychology and tradition on which the sacred authors drew. At the same time it provided new food for thought. Despite the variety of derived meanings, the term always served to express a vital force at work from outside or within man and the world. Even when it did not denote directly a divine person, the term in reference to God—"Spirit (or breath) of God"—implanted and caused to grow in the mind of Israel the idea of a spiritual God who intervenes in history and human life. It prepared the ground for the future revelation of the Holy Spirit.

Thus we can say that already in the creation narrative of the Book of Genesis, the presence of the "spirit (or wind) of God," which was moving over the face of the waters while the earth was formless and void, and darkness was upon the face of the deep (cf. Gen 1:2), is a remarkably striking reference to that vital force. It suggests that the breath or spirit of God had a role in creation: a life-giving power, together with the "word" which imparts being and order to things.

2. The connection between the spirit of God and the waters, which we observe at the beginning of the creation account, is found in another form in different passages of the Bible and becomes still closer, because the Spirit himself is presented as a fruitful water, a source of new life. In the Book of Consolation, Deutero-Isaiah expresses this promise of God: "For I will pour water on the thirsty land, and streams on the dry ground; I will pour my Spirit upon your descendants, and my blessings on your offspring. They shall spring up like grass amid waters, like willows by flowing streams" (Is 44:3-4). The water which God promises to pour is his Spirit, which he will "pour out" on his people. Likewise the prophet Ezekiel announces that God "will pour out" his Spirit upon the house of Israel (Ez 39:29), and the prophet Joel takes up again the same expression which compares the spirit to water poured out: "I will pour out my spirit on all flesh" (Joel 3:1 in the Hebrew text).

The symbolism of water, with reference to the Spirit, will be taken up again in the New Testament and enriched with new shades of meaning. We shall have occasion to speak of them later.

3. In the account of creation, after the initial mention of the spirit or breath of God that hovered over the waters (Gen 1:2), we do not again find the word ruah, the Hebrew word for spirit. However, the way in which the creation of man is described suggests a relationship with the spirit or breath of God. We read that, after having formed man from the dust of the ground, the Lord God "breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living being" (Gen 2:7). The word "breath" (in Hebrew neshama ) is a synonym of "wind" or "spirit" ( ruah ), as is evident from the parallelism with other texts. On the other hand, the action of "breathing" attributed to God in the creation account is ascribed to the Spirit in the prophetic vision of the resurrection (Ez 37:9).

Sacred Scripture therefore gives us to understand that God has intervened by means of his breath or spirit to make man a living being. In man there is a "breath of life," which comes from the "breathing" of God himself. In man there is a breath or spirit similar to the breath or spirit of God.

When the Book of Genesis speaks in chapter two of the creation of the animals (v. 19), it does not hint at such a close relationship with the breath of God. From the previous chapter we know that man was created "in the image and likeness of God" (1:26-27).

4. Other texts, however, admit that the animals also have a vital breath or wind and that they received it from God. Under this aspect man, coming forth from the hands of God, appears in solidarity with all living beings. Thus Psalm 104 makes no distinction between men and animals when it says, addressing God the Creator: "These all look to you, to give them their food in due season. When you give to them, they gather it up" (vv. 27-28). The Psalmist then adds: "When you take away their breath, they die and return to their dust. When you send forth your Spirit, they are created; and you renew the face of the earth" (vv. 29-30). The creatures' existence therefore depends on the action of the breath-spirit of God, who not only creates but also conserves and continually renews the face of the earth.

5. The first creation was devastated by sin. But God did not abandon it to destruction, but prepared for its salvation, which was to constitute a "new creation" (cf. Is 65:17; Gal 6:15; Rev 21:5). The action of God's Spirit for this new creation is suggested by Ezekiel's famous prophecy on the resurrection. In a striking vision the prophet has before his eyes a vast valley "full of bones," and is ordered to prophesy to these bones and say to them: "O dry bones, hear the word of the Lord. Thus says the Lord God to these bones: 'Behold, I will cause breath to enter you, and you shall live...'" (Ez 37:1-5). The prophet carries out the divine command and "there was a noise, a rattling, and the bones came together, bone to its bone" (37:7). Then there were sinews on them, and flesh had come upon them, and skin had covered them; and finally, at the command of the prophet, breath came into them, and they lived, and stood upon their feet (cf. 37:8-10).

The primary meaning of this vision was to announce the restoration of the people of Israel after the devastation and exile: "These bones are the whole house of Israel," says the Lord. The Israelites were regarded as lost, without hope. God promises them: "I will put my Spirit within you, and you shall live" (37:14). However, in the light of Jesus' paschal mystery, the prophet's words acquire a higher meaning, that of announcing a real resurrection of our mortal bodies thanks to the action of God's Spirit.

The Apostle Paul expresses this certainty of faith in the words: "If the spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will give life to your mortal bodies also through his Spirit who dwells in you" (Rom 8:11).

The new creation had its beginning through the Holy Spirit's action in Christ's death and resurrection. In his passion Jesus fully received the action of the Holy Spirit in his human nature (cf. Heb 9:14). He thus passed from death to a new life (cf. Rom 6:10), which he can now communicate to all believers by transmitting to them this same Spirit, initially in baptism, and then fully in the final resurrection.

On the evening of Easter, appearing to the disciples in the upper room, the risen Christ repeated over them the action of God the Creator over Adam. God had "breathed" on the body of the man to give him life. Jesus "breathed" on his disciples and said to them: "Receive the Holy Spirit" (Jn 20:22).

Jesus' human breath thus serves to produce a divine work still more marvelous than the initial one. It is not merely the creation of a living man, as in the first creation, but the introduction of human beings into the divine life.

6. Rightly, therefore, does St. Paul establish a parallelism and an antithesis between Adam and Christ, between the first and second creation, when he writes: "If there is a physical body there is also a spiritual body. Thus it is written, 'The first man Adam became a living being' (Gen 2:7), the last Adam became a life-giving spirit" (1 Cor 15:44-45). The risen Christ, the new Adam, is so permeated in his humanity by the Holy Spirit, that he himself can be called "spirit."

His humanity not only possesses of itself the fullness of the Holy Spirit, but it also has the capacity to communicate the life of the Spirit to all humanity. "If anyone is in Christ," St. Paul also writes, "he is a new creation" (2 Cor 5:17).

The creative and renewing action of God's Spirit is thus fully manifested in the mystery of Christ's death and resurrection. The Church invokes the Spirit when she prays: " Veni Creator Spiritus ," "Come, Creator Spirit.""


After the Catechesis, Papa Giovanni Paolo II greeted the pilgrims in various languages

Ai fedeli di lingua francese

Chers Frères et Soeurs,

En ce début d’année, j’offre tous mes voeux aux visiteurs et aux pèlerins de langue française ici présents. Je leur donne de tout coeur ma Bénédiction Apostolique.

Ai pellegrini di lingua inglese

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

I wish to welcome the English-speaking pilgrims and visitors present at today’s audience. In a particular way, my greetings go to the priests from the Archdiocese of Milwaukee, led by their Archbishop, who are currently on pilgrimage in Rome. To all of you I cordially impart my Apostolic Blessing as a pledge of grace and peace in our Lord Jesus Christ.

Ai fedeli di lingua tedesca

Liebe Schwestern und Brüder!

Mit dieser betrachtung grüße ich sehr herzlich alle anwesenden Pilger deutscher Sprache, besonders eine Gruppe von Ordensfrauen aus verschiedenen Kongregationen und Ländern, die zu einem Gebets- und Erneuerungskurs in La Storta versammelt sind. Möge Euch der Heilige Geist in Eurem Leben und Wirken ein ständiger Begleiter sein. Dazu erteile ich Euch und allen Pilgern meinen besonderen Apostolischen Segen.

Ai fedeli di lingua castigliana

Amadísimos hermanos y hermanas,

Presento ahora mi más cordial saludo a todos los peregrinos y visitantes provenientes de los diversos países de América Latina y de España.

Doy mi más cordial bienvenida a la peregrinación del Centro de disminuidos psíquicos “Casa Nostra”, de Lérida.

Deseo también saludar con todo afecto a los católicos de la Guinea Ecuatorial, que siguen nuestro encuentro de los miércoles a través de Radio Vaticano, y les aliento a ser siempre constructores de paz y armonía, mientras de corazón les imparto una especial Bendición Apostólica.

Ai pellegrini di lingua portoghese

Caríssimos irmãos e irmãs de língua portuguesa,

Saúdo cordialmente quantos estão a ouvir-me, desejando-lhes todo o bem com favores de Deus, ao dar-lhes a minha Bênção.

Ai fedeli polacchi

Wszystkich pielgrzymów z Polski pozdrawiam serdecznie. Ks. bpa Alojzego Orszulika serdecznie witamy w Rzymie pierwszy raz po konsekracji; prócz tego pozdrawiam wszystkich indywidualnych pielgrzymów zarówno z kraju, jak i z emigracji, w szczególności uczestników grupy Esperanto-Tour z Bydgoszczy oraz grupy Orbis. . . . Wszystkim zgromadzonym tutaj, calej naszej Ojczyźnie życz błogosławieństwa Bożego w nowym roku, w obecnych trudnych zmaganiach o to, ażeby wyjść z kryzysu i odzyskać właściwą drogę życia wspólnego we szystkich dziedzinach.

Ai numerosi gruppi italiani

Sono lieto di salutare i partecipanti al II Convegno Nazionale sul personalismo comunitario, dal titolo “Persona e Sviluppo verso il tempo del Post-Liberismo” svoltosi nei giorni scorsi a Teramo. Essi, guidati dall’Arcivescovo Monsignor Antonio Nuzzi, hanno chiesto di poter prendere parte a questa udienza, che s’inserisce nelle celebrazioni internazionali in occasione del 40º anniversario della morte del filosofo Emmanuel Mounier. Mi compiaccio per il vostro convegno, nel quale in modo concreto avete voluto affrontare le problematiche sulla persona umana e sullo sviluppo, in questa particolare epoca storica, caratterizzata da rapidi e radicali mutamenti. Vi incoraggio a proseguire in questa ricerca, che vi offre l’opportunità di uno scambio di idee tra persone impegnate nel campo della cultura, in armonia con l’ispirazione cristiana dell’etica personalista.

Do pure il mio benvenuto ai membri del Consiglio di Amministrazione e ai soci della Cassa Rurale ed Artigiana del Sannio, giunti, numerosi, in pellegrinaggio sulla tomba degli Apostoli. Vi auguro che la visita a Roma, centro del Cristianesimo, renda ancor più salde le antiche tradizioni di fede e di vita cristiana che animano le vostre popolazioni e di cui è testimonianza eloquente la concreta solidarietà che è all’origine del Movimento Cooperativistico della vostra provincia.

Il mio saluto va inoltre ai componenti del Consiglio Centrale dell’Associazione Italiana Amici di Raoul Follereau che, unitamente ai responsabili dell’Associazione brasiliana Morhan, hanno voluto testimoniare, con la loro presenza l’impegno costante nella lotta alla lebbra in Italia e nel mondo. Quest’incontro si svolge a breve distanza dalla Giornata Mondiale dei Malati di Lebbra, occasione concreta di fratellanza e di solidarietà cristiana tra tutti gli uomini, che quest’anno ha come tema: “vivere è aiutare a vivere”. Poiché in tale data sarò, a Dio piacendo, in visita pastorale nell’Africa dell’Ovest, rivolgerò da un lebbrosario di quel continente un particolare messaggio per la ricorrenza, affinché quella Giornata sia davvero un fraterno “appuntamento d’amore” con i malati di lebbra.

Ai giovani, agli ammalati e agli sposi novelli

Desidero ora rivolgere il mio affettuoso saluto ai giovani, agli ammalati ed agli sposi novelli, che sono convenuti a Roma, quali pellegrini, in questi primi giorni del nuovo anno, ancora soffusi del clima gioioso delle Festività natalizie. Carissimi giovani, vi auguro di vivere sempre nell’entusiasmo che proviene dalla fede, sapendo continuamente ricercare in Cristo, Verbo Incarnato, il vostro migliore amico e compagno di viaggio. E voi, cari ammalati, che state sperimentando i limiti e le sofferenze causate da malattie o handicap fisici, sappiate guardare al vostro presente e al vostro futuro, con la fiducia di chi sa di essere prediletto da Cristo e con la consapevolezza che le vostre prove offerte al Signore aiuteranno tanti fratelli a ritrovare la salute dell’anima. Infine auguro a voi, cari sposi novelli, di essere testimoni sempre più credibili di quell’amore che il Salvatore, vivendo tra noi, ha portato sulla terra, e che, se realizzato, renderà tanto bella e feconda di frutti di bene la vostra nascente comunità familiare.

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