Nevertheless, I tell you the truth: it is to your advantage that I go away, for if I do not go away, the Helper will not come to you. But if I go, I will send him to you. …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.
This week’s Gospel is some of the most succinct teachings on the Holy Spirit in Scripture. The most clear teaching, which many people forget, is that the Holy Spirit directs us to Christ. He does not speak on His own authority, “He will glorify [Christ],” and He only takes what belongs to Christ and declares it to us.
In other words, the Holy Spirit does not supplant the ministry and mission of Christ. He fulfills it. The Holy Spirit’s work is frustrated when He’s severed from the Trinity and seen as a “force” in His own right. This is the explicit teaching of many charismatic traditions, as well as the implicit teaching of many Christians who are content to go an entire service and hear nothing of Christ, but are more motivated to hear about “how to do” sermons rooted on Old Testament themes or New Agey therapy based on some wispy “let the Spirit fall afresh on you” idea.
Let’s delve into that charismatic tradition a bit. Based on Jesus’ words that He’d send “another Helper” (the Paraclete), the charismatic tradition sees whatever age it happens to be in as the fulfillment of this promise. Mani, for instance, one of the late and highly successful Gnostic leaders, claimed to be a mouthpiece of the Paraclete. So did the Montanists before them. Pick an age, and you will find some “prophet” claiming to be the final revelation to complete the Spirit’s mission of “speaking by the Scripture.” Mohammed perfectly fits with this tradition.
We’ve mentioned Joachim of Fiore, who put these ideas in systematic teaching, claiming there were three ages of world history, the age of the Father, the age of the Son, and the age of the Holy Spirit. Of course, he himself was the herald of a “new age” of the Holy Spirit. He believed the age of the Spirit would be an age in which the elect had direct contact with God outside of any mediation. Whereas Jesus did His thing, the Holy Spirit would be doing His own things.
His movement spawned a host of cults each believing it embodied the Holy Spirit’s mission to inaugurate the Kingdom of Heaven on earth. They tended to be communalistic. They rejected the sacraments, the ministry, and dogma. Why need such things if we, along with “the leader,” are being worked directly by the Holy Spirit – after all, our word is God’s Word! (At least the leader’s word is God’s Word.)
Such an understanding of the Holy Spirit couldn’t be more contrary to what Jesus teaches. First, Jesus teaches, “I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Helper, to be with you forever.” If He has been with the Church forever, what is this constant whining about the “apostate Church” or this constant attitude that the Church needs a new Pentecost, or a new outpouring of the Holy Spirit. Did Jesus lie? Is the Holy Spirit not with us? Or maybe, did the Father not answer Jesus’ prayer? Maybe that’s it. Or maybe, Jesus spoke truth when He said a father will not give his son a scorpion who asks for bread, and “how much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!”
Second, the Holy Spirit doesn’t glorify Himself, but Christ. He doesn’t speak His own words, but “whatever He hears He will speak.” Just as Jesus isn’t any “less” than the Father just because He says the Father is greater than He, so also does Jesus’ teaching on the Holy Spirit make Him any “less” than Jesus. He simply has His work, which is to “deliver the goods” from Jesus and the Father.
Sometimes to explain the Holy Spirit, I use this analogy. Imagine someone you don’t know is behind a curtain. You have no idea he’s there. Let’s also stipulate the person will not move, and nor will you, and the curtain will not open. How will this person become known to you?
He will speak. As he speaks words, he reveals himself to you. The words he speaks become quanta of conceptual stuff conveying more and more what and who this person is.
The person hidden by the curtain before revealing himself is God the Father. No one has seen the Father, and no one can bear His face. So He sends His Word, His Son, to bear His face, His Word, and His glory to us. Jesus becomes the “quanta of stuff” – in His flesh and blood – through Whom we have communion with the Father.
Where does the Holy Spirit fit in this? Trying to figure this out is actually His glory! The Holy Spirit on one hand is the most hidden of the Persons of the Trinity – precisely because He’s always directing us to Christ – but also the most imminent, because He is our contact with the Trinity. Where does He fit in the analogy? He’s the air which carries the word to us. Sound requires a medium to travel, which is why those scenes in the movies where a spaceship blows up and you hear a big kaboom are wrong. There’s no sound in space!
When we hear the words of someone else, our contact with this process is the air outside our ear in which the sound wave travels. Without the air there is no sound.
All analogies about God and the Gospel can be picked apart, but in general terms, this nicely explains the Holy Spirit. He delivers the Word. The “pick apart” weakness of the analogy is the passiveness of air, as opposed to the “active activity” of the Holy Spirit, to plant the Word in our hearts and cause it to grow.
The charismatics are like someone in a conversation saying, “Hey, I hear you, but do you feel this stuff outside my ear? This air? I feel it blowing my hair! How beautiful! I think I’m going to define you not by what you’re telling me, but by what I feel from this lovely wind. In fact, the time of you talking has come to an end, and the new age of me defining you by what I feel has begun!”
I often like to do this little experiment to make a point about the Holy Spirit. Fill in the blank: “The Holy Spirit is like the wind. You can’t see Him but you _____ Him.” Almost unanimously, unless someone has heard me do this before, people will say, “feel.” No. Listen to what Jesus says, “The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear its sound, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.”
The proper answer is “hear.” The Holy Spirit is like the wind because you hear Him.
Now, this comports exactly with what Jesus teaches in the Cantate Gospel. The Holy Spirit will take what belongs to Jesus and “declare” it to us. Again, what belongs to Jesus? Whatever such things were, they didn’t fully belong to Him until He sat down at the Father’s right hand. What were such things? Restoration with the Father.
This is why in St. John’s letter, He uses the term “Paraclete” (Helper, Advocate) to describe Jesus’ work at God’s right hand. Jesus and the Holy Spirit are one, after all, so in this sense you might say there’s a Paraclete office on earth in the Church, and a Paraclete office in heaven where Christ intercedes for us.
In any event, what is that work at God’s right hand? “My little children, I am writing these things to you so that you may not sin. But if anyone does sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous.”
The Holy Spirit’s work is to craft on earth, by faith, in the sacramental and mystical sense, what is going on in heaven at God’s right hand, to craft the cosmic architecture of our faith. After all, this is what the “new song” is all about. It’s about the great things going on at God’s right hand.
“Oh sing to the LORD a new song, for he has done marvelous things! His right hand and his holy arm have worked salvation for him.” Yes, cantate!