Bookmark and Share

The soul of the Church

Catechesis by Pope John Paul II on the Holy Spirit
General Audience, Wednesday 28 November 1990 - in Italian & Spanish  

"1. Today we begin a new series of catecheses in the cycle on the Holy Spirit in which I have sought to draw the attention of my listeners both near and far to the basic Christian truths about the Holy Spirit. We have seen that the New Testament, led up to by the Old, permits us to come to know the Spirit as a Person of the Blessed Trinity. It is a fascinating truth, because of both its inner meaning and its influence on our lives.

We can even say that it is a truth-for-living, just as is all the revelation which is summed up in the creed. In a special way the Holy Spirit has been revealed to us and given to us so that he may be life's light and guide for us, for the whole Church and for all people called to know him.

2. We are speaking especially about the Spirit as the life-giving principle of the Church.

We saw earlier during the Christological catechetical series that from the start of his messianic mission Jesus gathered disciples around himself. From them he chose the Twelve, called apostles. He assigned the prime role as his witness and representative to Peter (cf. Mt 16:18).

When on the eve of his sacrifice on the cross he instituted the Eucharist, he commanded and empowered these apostles to celebrate it in his memory (cf. Lk 22:19; 1 Cor 11:24-25). After the resurrection he conferred on them the power to forgive sins (cf. Jn 20:22-23) and gave them the command to evangelize the whole world (cf. Mk 16:15). We can say that all of that is tied to the announcement and the promise of the Holy Spirit's coming which occurred on the day of Pentecost, as the Acts of the Apostles relates (2:1-4).

3. The Second Vatican Council gives us several significant texts on the decisive importance of the day of Pentecost, which is often called the birthday of the Church in the world's eyes. We read in the Constitution Dei Verbum that "He confirmed with divine testimony what revelation proclaimed, that God is with us to free us from the darkness of sin and death, and to raise us up to life eternal" (n. 4). Therefore there is a close link between Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit in the work of salvation.

In its turn the Constitution Lumen Gentium says: "He is the Spirit of life, a fountain of water springing up to eternal life (Jn 4:47; 7:38-39). To men, dead in sin, the Father gives life through him, until in Christ, he brings to life their mortal bodies" (n. 4). Therefore, through the power and action of the Spirit through whom Christ was raised up, those who are incorporated into Christ will be raised. This is St. Paul's teaching which the Council adopted (cf. Rom 8:10-11).

The same Council adds that in descending upon the apostles, the Holy Spirit gave birth to the Church (cf. LG 19), which is described in the New Testament and especially in St. Paul as the Body of Christ: "The Son of communicating his Spirit, made his brothers, called together from all nations, mystically the components of his own Body" (LG 7).

Christian Tradition employs the Pauline theme of Ecclesia Corpus Christi, whose life-giving principle, according to the Apostle, is the Holy Spirit. It comes to the conclusion in a most beautiful phrase that the Holy Spirit is the Church's "soul." Here we need only quote St. Augustine who in a speech states that "what our spirit, that is, our soul, is in relation to our other members, so the Holy Spirit is to the members of Christ, that is, the Body of Christ which is the Church" (Sermon 269, 2; PL 38, 1232). In speaking of Christ as head of the Body of the Church, St. Thomas Aquinas compares the Holy Spirit to the heart, because "invisibly he gives life to and unifies the Church," just as the heart "carries out its inner influence within the human body" [1] . The Holy Spirit as "soul of the Church" and "heart of the Church": this is a beautiful aspect of Tradition which we must delve into more deeply.

4. It is clear that, as theologians explain, the expression: "The Holy Spirit animates the Church" is understood as an analogy. He is not the "substantial form" of the Church as the soul is for the body, together with which it forms the one substance we call the human being. The Holy Spirit is the vital principle of the Church, intimate yet transcendent. He is the Giver of life and unity to the Church, along the lines of the efficient cause, that is, as the author and promoter of divine life in the Body of Christ. The Council calls attention to this and states that "in order that we might be unceasingly renewed in him (cf. Eph 4:23) he has shared with us his Spirit who, existing as one and the same being in the head and in its members, gives life to, unifies and moves the whole body. This he does in such a way that his work could be compared by the Fathers with the function which the principle of life, that is, the soul, fulfills in the human body" (LG 7).

Following this analogy one could draw a comparison between the whole process of the formation of the Church, already within the sphere of the messianic activity of Christ on earth, and the creation of the human being according to the Book of Genesis, and especially the breathing in of the "breath of life" by which "man became a living being" (Gen 2:7). The term used in the Hebrew text is nefesh (to be animated by a life-giving breath). But in another passage in Genesis the vital breath of the living beings is called ruah, that is, "spirit" (Gen 6:17). According to this analogy the Holy Spirit can be considered to be the vital breath of the "new creation" which is realized in the Church.

5. The Council tells us in another place that "the Holy Spirit was sent on the day of Pentecost in order that he might continually sanctify the Church, and thus, all those who believe would have access through Christ in one Spirit to the Father (cf. Eph 2:18)" (LG 4). Holiness is the first and the basic form of life that the Holy Spirit, like the "life-giving soul," infuses into the Church—holiness after the model of Christ "whom the Father consecrated and sent into the world" (Jn 10:36). Holiness constitutes the Church's basic identity as the Body of Christ, given life and sharing in his Spirit. Holiness gives the Body spiritual health. Holiness also determines its spiritual beauty, a beauty which surpasses all natural or artistic beauty; a supernatural beauty in which the beauty of God himself is reflected in a more essential and direct way than in any other created beauty, precisely because it is the Body of Christ. In another catechesis we shall return to the theme of the Church's holiness.

6. The Holy Spirit is called the "Church's soul" also in the sense that he sheds divine light on all thought within the Church, and "guides to all truth," according to the announcement made by Christ in the upper room: "When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you to all truth. He will not speak on his own, but will speak only what he hears...what he will announce to you he will have from me" (Jn 16:13, 15).

Therefore it is by the Holy Spirit's light that the Church comes to the announcement of the revealed truth, and a deepening of faith on all levels of the Body of Christ is at work: among the apostles, among their successors in the ministry, and regarding the "sense of faith" of all believers, among whom are catechists, theologians and other Christian thinkers. All is and must be enlivened by the Spirit.

7. The Holy Spirit is also the source of all dynamism in the Church, whether we are referring to the witness she must give to Christ before the world, or to the spread of the Gospel message. In Luke's Gospel when the risen Christ tells the apostles about the coming of the Holy Spirit, he stresses precisely this aspect: "I send down upon you the promise of my Father. Remain here in the city until you are clothed with power from on high" (Lk 24:49). The link between the Holy Spirit and power is still clearer in the parallel account in the Acts of the Apostles where Jesus says: "You will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes down upon you and you will be my witnesses..." (Acts 1:8). In both the Gospel and in the Acts, the Greek word for power or strength is dynamis (dynamism). This refers to a supernatural energy which on a person's part requires prayer most of all. This is a further teaching of the Second Vatican Council, according to which the Holy Spirit "dwells in the Church and in the hearts of the faithful, as in a temple. In them he prays on their behalf and bears witness to the fact that they are adopted sons" (LG 4). In the same text the Council cites St. Paul (cf. Gal 4:6; Rom 8:15-16, 26). We want to mention especially the passage from the Letter to the Romans: "The Spirit aids us in our weakness for we do not know how to pray as we ought; but the Spirit himself makes intercession for us with groanings that cannot be expressed in speech" (8:26).

8. To conclude all that we have said so far, let us reread another brief conciliar text which says that the Holy Spirit uninterruptedly renews the Church and "leads it to perfect union with her Spouse. The Spirit and the Bride both say to Jesus, the Lord, 'Come!' (Rev 22:7)" (LG 4). This text echoes St. Irenaeus [2] , who communicates to us the certainty of faith of the earliest Fathers. It is the same certainty announced by St. Paul when he said that believers have been freed from slavery to the letter "to serve in the new spirit" (Rom 7:6). The whole Church is under this new spirit and discovers in the Holy Spirit the source of her continued renewal and her unity. This is due to the fact that the power of the Spirit who is life-giving and unifying Love is stronger than all human weakness and sins.

[1]   Summa Theol., III, q. 8, a. 1, ad 3
[2]   Adv. Haer. III, 14, 1: PG, 7, 966 B

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

Ai pellegrini di lingua inglese

Dear Brothers and Sisters,Iextend a special welcome to the newly professed Missionaries of Charity and to the members of their families. Dear Sisters: As you devote yourselves to serving the neediest of our brothers and sisters, may you always experience the deep joy which comes from your religious consecration. My cordial greetings also go to the musicians and dancers from the Kalaikaviri Centre in Tiruchirapalli, India, and to the members of the Saint Augustine Gospel Choir and Chorale from Washington. Upon all the English-speaking pilgrims and visitors present at today’s Audience I invoke the abundant blessings of Almighty God.

Ai numerosi gruppi di espressione tedesca

Liebe Schwestern und Brüder!Mit dieser Betrachtung grüße ich alle deutschsprachigen Pilger und Besucher sehr herzlich. Ich wünsche Euch in den Tagen Eures Aufenthaltes in Rom auch geistlich fruchtbare Stunden und die Erfahrung der lebendigen Kraft des Heiligen Geistes. Dazu erteile ich Euch und Euren lieben Angehörigen daheim von Herzen meinen Apostolischen Segen.

Ad un gruppo di giapponesi

Sia lodato Gesù Cristo!Saluto il gruppo giapponese dei sostenitori della rivista “Seibo no Kishi”, fondata da San Massimiliano. Vi invito a fare vostri gli ideali missionari di questo grande evangelizzatore del nostro tempol’amore all’Immacolata e l’impegno per la salvezza delle anime. Mentre vi affido alla protezione dell’Immacolata, vi imparto di cuore la Benedizione Apostolica. Sia lodato Gesù Cristo!

Ai fedeli di espressione spagnola

Amadísimos hermanos y hermanas,Saludo muy cordialmente a todos los peregrinos y visitantes de lengua española. En particular, al grupo de sacerdotes latinoamericanos que hacen un curso en el “Centro Internacional de Animación Misionera” de Roma y les aliento a un renovado empeño en la gran tarea de difundir el mensaje cristiano de salvación. Igualmente, saludo a todas las personas procedentes de España y de los demás Países de América Latina, entre las cuales se encuentran un grupo del “Centro educativo Richard von Weizsäcker”, de Bolivia. A todos imparto con afecto la Bendición Apostólica.

Ai fedeli di lingua portoghese

Caríssimos irmãos e irmãs,Desejando-vos esta abundância de graça nos caminhos da vossa vida, saúdo-vos afectuosamente e concedo-vos a Bênção Apostólica.

Ai pellegrini venuti dalla Polonia 

1. “Prosimy was, katoliccy Pasterze narodu niemieckiego, abyście na własny sposób obchodzili z nami nasze chrześcijańskie Milenium: czy to przez modlitwy, czy przez ustanowienie w tym celu odpowiedniego dnia. Za każdy taki gest będziemy wam wdzięczni. I prosimy was też, abyście przekazali nasze pozdrowienia i wyrazy wdzięczności niemieckim braciom ewangelikom, którzy wraz z wami i z nami trudzą się nad znalezieniem rozwiązania naszych trudności.

W tym jak najbardziej chrześcijańskim, ale i bardzo ludzkim duchu, wyciągamy do was, siedzących tu na ławach kończącego się Soboru, nasze ręce oraz udzielamy wybaczenia i prosimy o nie. A jeśli wy, niemieccy biskupi i Ojcowie Soboru, po bratersku wyciągnięte ręce ujmiecie, to wtedy dopiero będziemy mogli ze spokojnym sumieniem obchodzić nasze Milenium w sposób jak najbardziej chrześcijański. Zapraszamy was na te uroczystości jak najserdeczniej do Polski”.

Pani Jasnogórska! Dziś odczytuję wobec Ciebie, w obecności moich rodaków, to orędzie - zrodzone przed 25 laty w wielkim trudzie serc i sumień. “Orędzie biskupów polskich do ich niemieckich braci w Chrystusowym urzędzie pasterskim”, przy końcu Soboru, w przeddzień naszego Milenium, spotkało się wówczas z odbiorem przeważająco negatywnym. Co więcej, stało się okazją do ciężkich oskarżeń, a nawet do pomówienia o zdradę narodowej sprawy.

Kiedy dziś, po 25 latach odczytujemy je na nowo, lepiej widać głęboki chrześcijański motyw w nim zawarty. Chrystus powiedział: “idź i pojednaj się” zanim złożysz twój dar na ołtarzu.  Przed 25 laty naród polski przybliżał się do szczególnego ołtarza dziejów, na którym złożony miał być Trójcy Przenajświętszej dar tysiąclecia dziejów Ojczyzny.

“Idź i pojednaj się” . . . czyń wszystko, na co cię stać, by osiągnąć pojednanie, jeśli sprawiedliwość, miłość i pokój mają kształtować ludzkie dzieje. Sprawiedliwość, miłość . . . a nie nienawiść, nie “zimna wojna”.

Po 25 latach dziękujemy, Pani Jasnogórska, za to orędzie, które tyle wówczas kosztowało cierpienia. Dziękujemy za to, że Pasterze Kościoła w Polsce odważyli się na nie. Zaufali Ewangelii i zawierzyli Tobie.

Dziś, po 25 latach, wobec rozwoju wydarzeń w Europie, dziękujemy za to Orędzie, bo było słowem profetycznym. A zarazem pionierski krok w kierunku odbudowy moralnej jedności na naszym kontynencie. Krok - jeden z pierwszych. Szczególny wkład do “europejskiego skarbca”.

Dziękujemy Ci, Matko z Jasnej Góry . . .

Serdecznie witam ks. bpa Józefa Życińskiego, nowego Pasterza diecezji tarnowskiej; pielgrzymów z Krakowa, z parafii św. Szczepana; pielgrzymkę międzyparafialną z Luborzycy; pielgrzymkę z archidiecezji gnieźnieńskiej; z parafii bł. Urszuli Ledóchowskiej w Lublinie; pielgrzymkę Polskiego Katolickiego Biura Pielgrzymkowego ze Stanów Zjednoczonych; grupę pracowników Państwowego Gospodarstwa Rolnego z Chowienic; grupę kolejarzy z Wrocławia; grupy turystyczne z Warszawy, Poznania i Gniezna: “Sigma Travel” i “Poltur”; prócz tego pielgrzymów z parafii Świętych Apostołów Szymona i Judy z Wąbrzeźna w diecezji chełmińskiej oraz grupę pracowników Samochodowni PKP z Lublina. 

Ai numerosissimi fedeli: venuti da diverse regioni italiane 

Saluto tutti i pellegrini di lingua italiana presenti a questa Udienza; anzitutto il gruppo degli Ispettori Salesiani, convenuto a Roma per un corso di aggiornamento. Auguro loro di seguire sempre il singolare carisma educativo di San Giovanni Bosco, “padre e maestro dei giovani”, che si fonda sulla forza della ragione e della fede, e sulla testimonianza della carità, in un clima di sapiente familiarità.

Il mio pensiero va, poi, alle novizie della Congregazione delle “Missionarie della Fede”, provenienti dalle Filippine, dal Brasile, da Samoa, dalla Colombia e dall’Italia. Carissime, la nuova evangelizzazione, che impegna oggi la Chiesa, sia lo scopo della vostra vita; dedicatevi con entusiasmo all’annuncio della Parola di Dio a coloro che ancora non conoscono Gesù Cristo, nostro Redentore. 

Ai giovani, agli ammalati e agli sposi novelli 

A voi, Giovani, Malati e Sposi Novelli giunga il mio particolare saluto! La vostra presenza mi conforta, perché è segno della vostra fede e anche del vostro amore per il Papa!

Esprimo il benvenuto a tutti i giovani: saluto in particolare i ragazzi delle scuole de L’Aquila, i quali, accompagnati dalle Autorità della Provincia e dai Sindaci dei rispettivi Comuni, hanno partecipato ad un concorso patrocinato dall’Unicef, in occasione della “Perdonanza di Papa Celestino V”. Cari ragazzi, vorrei che non dimenticaste mai nella vita le parole forti del vostro “proclama” e “programma” di vivere, cioè, “compiutamente al servizio del prossimo”. Siate “credenti in Dio e nei valori dell’uomo, testimoni del perdono e della riconciliazione”, capaci di affermare “nuovi ideali, virtù e conoscenze”. Così si potrà sperare in una società rinnovata e fondata sul progresso autentico e sulla civiltà del Vangelo.

Il mio augurio di bene e l’espressione del mio affetto vanno a tutti gli ammalati, e specialmente ai tre gruppi di ammalati accompagnati qui dall’Unitalsi dell’Emilia-Romagna; dalla Parrocchia di Santa Maria degli Angeli di Acerno, in Diocesi di Salerno; dalla Chiesa Arcipretale di Leno, in Diocesi di Brescia. Per tutti voi, sofferenti, valga il pensiero che Cristo vi è vicino, che di fronte a lui ogni vostra difficoltà o pena è preziosa per la redenzione del mondo.

A voi, infine, Sposi Novelli, dico: camminate ogni giorno incontro al Cristo che vuol rendere felice ed indissolubile il vostro amore sponsale. A tutti imparto la mia Benedizione.

Appello per la pace in Liberia e in Rwanda

Desidero ora invitarvi a ricordare con me nella preghiera il Continente africano, in cui permangono numerose situazioni di conflitto, di miseria e di carestia. Vecchi problemi irrisolti e nuove tensioni affliggono milioni e milioni di fratelli di quelle terre, tanto provate e pur così ricche di speranze.

Vorrei menzionare, in primo luogo, la situazione della Liberia, ormai da un anno sconvolta da lotte fratricide. Migliaia di vittime, centinaia di migliaia di profughi ed immense distruzioni sono il terribile bilancio di una guerra di cui, nonostante diversi tentativi, non sembra ancora intravedersi la fine. Intanto, s’aggravano le violenze, si diffondono le malattie e incombe la fame.

Un’altra cara Nazione, da me visitata in settembre, sta attraversando un periodo di gravi difficoltà: il Rwanda. Dopo gli scontri sanguinosi del mese scorso, continuano purtroppo a giungere notizie di tensioni e di violenze, che seminano divisioni, accrescono la povertà e complicano il già grave problema dei rifugiati, con temibili conseguenze per l’intera regione.

Uniamo la nostra preghiera a quella delle giovani Chiese dell’Africa, per implorare il ritorno della pace. Invochiamo il Signore perché accolga nella sua misericordia le vittime, dia conforto a chi soffre e sostegno a chi si prodiga per lenire le piaghe del corpo e dello spirito. Chiediamo al Signore dell’Universo di illuminare le menti di quanti portano responsabilità, perché ritrovino pensieri di pace, favoriscano la riconciliazione, uniscano gli sforzi per la ricostruzione e per un nuovo e sereno progresso. Voglia Iddio che la comunità internazionale non resti insensibile all’appello che proviene da tanta sventura e offra ogni necessaria collaborazione e aiuto. Interceda per noi Maria santissima, dolcissima Madre di Cristo e nostra Madre.

© Copyright - Libreria Editrice Vaticana