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The Spirit, the Word and Wisdom

Catechesis by Pope John Paul II on the Holy Spirit
General Audience, Ash Wednesday, 14 March 1990 - in Italian & Spanish  

"1. The experience of the Old Testament prophets accents especially the link between the word and the spirit. The prophet speaks in the name of God and through the spirit. Scripture itself is a word which comes from the Spirit, the recording of the spirit lasting through the ages. It is holy because of the spirit who brings about its effectiveness through the spoken and written word.

Even in some who are not prophets, the intervention of the spirit prompts the word. The First Book of Chronicles recounts that the "brave ones" who acknowledged his royalty joined David. It says that "the spirit enveloped Amasai, leader of the thirty [brave ones]" and made him say these words to David: "We are yours.... Peace, peace to you, and peace to him who helps you; your God it is who helps you." And "David received them and placed them among the leaders of his troops" (1 Chr 12:19). Even more dramatic is another example told in the Second Book of Chronicles, which Jesus will recall (cf. Mt 23:35; Lk 11:51). This took place at a time when temple worship was declining and Israel was yielding to the temptation to idolatry. When the prophets who were sent to the Israelites by God so that they might return to him were left unheeded, "Then the Spirit of God possessed Zechariah, son of Jehoiada the priest. He took his stand above the people and said to them: 'God says, "Why are you transgressing the Lord's commands, so that you cannot prosper? Because you have abandoned the Lord, he has abandoned you."' But they conspired against him, and at the king's order they stoned him to death in the court of the Lord's temple" (2 Chr 24:20-21). These are meaningful examples of the connection between spirit and word, present in the mind and the vocabulary of Israel.

2. Another similar link is the one between spirit and wisdom. It is seen in the Book of Daniel, on the lips of King Nebuchadnezzar. In recounting his dream and Daniel's explanation of it, he recognized the prophet as "a man who has the spirit of the holy God" (Dan 4:5; cf. 4:6, 15; 5:11, 14), that is, divine inspiration, which the pharaoh in his day also recognized in Joseph through the wisdom of his counsel (cf. Gen 41:38-39). In pagan vocabulary the king of Babylon spoke repeatedly of "the spirit of the holy gods," while at the end of his account he spoke of "the king of heaven" (Dan 4:34), in the singular. In any case, he recognized that a divine spirit was manifest in Daniel, as King Belshazzar will also acknowledge: "I have heard that the spirit of the holy gods is in you, and that you possess brilliant knowledge and extraordinary wisdom" (Dan 5:14). And the author of the book stresses that "Daniel outshone all his supervisors and satraps, because an exceptional spirit was in him, and the king thought of giving him authority over the entire kingdom" (Dan 6:3).

The "extraordinary wisdom" and the "exceptional spirit" are rightly attributed to Daniel. These bear witness to the link between these qualities in Judaism of the second century B.C. (when the book was written) to sustain the faith and hope of the Jews persecuted by Antiochus Epiphanes.

3. In the Book of Wisdom, a text edited almost at the threshold of the New Testament, that is, according to certain modern authors, in the second half of the first century B.C., and in Hellenistic circles, the link between wisdom and the spirit is so stressed that the two are almost identical. From the beginning we find there that "wisdom is a kindly spirit" (Wis 1:6). It is manifested and communicated by the strength of a basic love for humanity. But this kindly spirit is not blind nor does it tolerate evil in people, even hidden evil. "Wisdom does not enter into a soul that plots evil, nor does she dwell in a body under debt of sin. For the holy spirit of discipline flees deceit and withdraws from senseless counsels.... She acquits not the blasphemer of his guilty lips because God is the witness of his innermost self and the sure observer of his heart and the listener to his tongue" (Wis 1:4, 6).

The spirit of the Lord, therefore, is a holy spirit, who wants to communicate his holiness and carry out an educational function: "The holy spirit who teaches" (Wis 1:5). The spirit opposes injustice. That is not a limit upon the spirit's love, but rather a demand of that love. In the fight against evil, the spirit opposes all iniquity, but without ever allowing himself to be tricked, because nothing escapes the spirit, "not even words spoken in secret" (Wis 1:11). The spirit "fills the world"; it is omnipresent. "And, all-embracing, the spirit knows what man says" (Wis 1:7). The effect of his omnipresence is knowledge of all things, even secret ones.

Being a "kindly spirit," the spirit does not intend only to watch over people, but to fill them with his voice and his holiness. "God did not make death, nor does he rejoice in the destruction of the living. For he fashioned all things that they might have being..." (Wis 1:13-14). The affirmation of this positive quality of creation reflects the biblical concept of God as "he who is" and as creator of the whole universe (cf. Gen 1:1 ff.). It gives a religious basis to the philosophical concept and to the ethics of relations with things; above all it launches a discussion of the final goal of the human being, which no philosophy would have been able to put forth without the aid of divine revelation. St. Paul will then say later that, if death had been introduced through man's sin, Christ came as the new Adam to redeem humanity from sin and free humanity from death (cf. Rom 5:12-21). The Apostle will add that Christ brought a new life in the Holy Spirit (cf. Rom 8:1 ff.), giving the name and, even more, revealing the mission of the divine Person sheathed in mystery in the pages of the Book of Wisdom.

4. King Solomon, who is presented as the author of this book by literary contrivance, says at a certain moment to his colleagues: "Listen, oh kings..." (Wis 6:1), inviting them to receive the wisdom which is the secret and norm for royalty, and explaining "what wisdom is..." (Wis 6:22). He praises wisdom with a long list of the divine spirit's traits, which he attributes to wisdom, almost personifying it: "In her is a spirit, intelligent, holy, unique, manifold..." (Wis 7:22-23). There are twenty-one descriptive attributes (three times seven), consisting of words taken in part from Greek philosophy and in part from the Bible. Here are the most important ones:

It is an "intelligent" spirit, that is not a blind impulse, but a force led by the awareness of truth. It is a "holy" spirit, because it wants not only to enlighten people, but to make them holy. It is "unique and manifold," thus able to penetrate into everything. It is "subtle," and pervades all spirits. Its activity is thus essentially interior, as is the spirit's presence. The spirit is "omnipotent and all-seeing," but does not constitute a tyrannical or destructive power, because the spirit is "kind and a friend to mankind," desires their good and tends to "make friends for God." Love supports and directs the exercise of the spirit's power.

Wisdom has thus the qualities of and carries out the roles traditionally attributed to the divine spirit: "spirit of wisdom and intelligence...etc." (Is 11:2 f.), because wisdom is identified with the spirit in the mysterious depths of the divine reality.

5. Among the functions of the Spirit-Wisdom there is that of making known the divine will: "Who ever knew your will, except you had given Wisdom and sent your holy spirit from on high?" (Wis 9:17). Unaided, the human person is not able to know God's will: "What man knows God's counsel?" (Wis 9:13). By means of his holy spirit, God makes known his own will, his plan for human life, much more deeply and surely than with a mere promulgation of a law in formulae of human language. Acting from within by the gift of the Holy Spirit, God permits "the paths of those on earth to be made straight; and men learned what was your pleasure, and were saved by wisdom" (Wis 9:18). At this point the author describes in ten chapters the work of the Spirit-Wisdom in history, from Adam to Moses, to the covenant with Israel, to the liberation, through the continuing care given God's people. And he concludes: "In all ways, O Lord, you have magnified and glorified your people; unfailing, you stood by them in every time and circumstance..." (Wis 19:22).

6. In this historical wisdom-literature recalling, a passage emerges where in speaking to the Lord, the author recalls God's omnipresent spirit which loves and protects human life. That goes also for the enemies of God's people and, generally, for the godless, for sinners. In them, too, there is a divine spirit of love and life: "You spare all things because they are yours, O Lord, lover of souls, for your imperishable spirit is in all things" (Wis 11:26; 12:1).

"You spare...." Israel's enemies could have been punished in a way much more terrible than did happen. They could have been "winnowed out by your mighty spirit, but you have disposed all things by measure, number and weight" (Wis 11:20). The Book of Wisdom praises God's "moderation" and offers this reason for it: God's spirit does not act only as a strong wind, able to destroy the guilty, but as a spirit of wisdom which desires life and thereby shows its love. "But you have mercy on all, because you can do all things; and you overlook people's sins that they may repent. For you love all things that are and loathe nothing that you have made; for what you hated, you would not have fashioned. And how could a thing remain, unless you willed it; or be preserved had it not been called forth by you?" (Wis 11:23-25).

7. We are at the summit of religious philosophy, not only of Israel, but of all ancient peoples. Here the biblical tradition, already expressed in Genesis, answers the great questions unresolved even by Hellenistic culture.

Here God's mercy united with the truth of his creation of all things. The universality of creation carries with it the universality of mercy. And all is under the power of the eternal love with which God loves all his creatures: love in which we now recognize the person of the Holy Spirit.

The Book of Wisdom already lets us perceive this Spirit-Love which, like Wisdom, takes on the qualities of a person, with the following characteristics: spirit which knows all and makes known to people the divine plans; spirit which cannot accept evil; spirit which, through the mediation of wisdom, wants to lead all to salvation; spirit of love which desires life; spirit which fills the universe with its beneficial presence."


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

Ai pellegrini di lingua francese

Chers Frères et Soeurs,

Je suis heureux de saluer et d’encourager les membres de la Maîtrise de la Cathédrale Saint-Jean-Marie-Vianney de Gatineau-Hull au Canada. Que leur généreux service du culte divin fortifie leur foi et celle de leurs compatriotes!

Aux Soeurs Franciscaines Missionnaires de Marie en session à Grottaferrata, j’exprime mes souhaits fervents pour le fructueux déroulement de leur halte spirituelle au bénéfice de leur chère Congrégation et de l’Eglise.

Et je bénis de grand coeur tous les pélerins de langue française présents à cette audience.

Ai fedeli e ai visitatori di lingua inglese

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

I wish to greet the Daughters of Charity who have come to Rome at the conclusion of their Vincentian month of renewal. May your visit to this City deepen your love for the Lord and his Church! My warm welcome also goes to the Columbian Squires from Canada and to the choir of Saint Matthew’s Church in Brooklyn, New York. To the many English-speaking pilgrims and visitors at today’s Audience, especially from England, Canada, Denmark and the United States. I cordially impart my Apostolic Blessing.

A un gruppo di fedeli giapponesi

Sia lodato Gesù Cristo!

Dilettissime studentesse dei Collegi “ Cuore Immacolato di Maria ” di Kagoshima e di Nagasaki.

Auspico che il frutto del vostro studio di aggiornamento in Europa sia copioso e rimanga per tutta la vostra vita sotto la guida materna del Cuore Immacolato di Maria.

Con questo augurio vi benedico di cuore.

Sia lodato Gesù Cristo!

Ai fedeli di lingua tedesca

Liebe Schwestern und Brüder!

Mit dieser kurzen Betrachtung grüße ich alle anwesenden Pilger deutscher Sprache sehr herzlich. Einen besonderen Gruß richte ich an die Seminaristen des Collegium Albertinum in Bonn. Euere Vorbereitung auf den priesterlichen Dienst möge von dem Geist der Liebe geprägt sein, der im Buch der Weisheit auf so beeindruckende Weise beschrieben wird. Euch allen sowie den Hörerinnen und Hörern, die mit uns über Radio Vatikan verbunden sind, erteile ich von Herzen meinen Apostolischen Segen.

Ai fedeli di lingua spagnola

Amadísimos hermanos y hermanas,

Saludo cordialmente a los sacerdotes, religiosos y religiosas, así como a las personas de América Latina y España presentes en esta Audiencia. Me es grato saludar de modo especial a las Religiosas Hermanas de Nuestra Señora de la Consolación que, con su presencia en este encuentro, desean reiterar su filial adhesión al Sucesor de Pedro. Os aliento a dejaros conducir en todo momento por el Espíritu de la verdad, que guía y protege a la Iglesia, esposa fiel de Cristo. Asimismo dirijo mi más afectuoso saludo a los profesores y a los alumnos de los colegios españoles “ Virgen de Europa ”, de Madrid, y “ Nuestra Señora de la Consolación ”, de Castellón, a quienes invito a acoger en sus corazones a Cristo, verdadero “ camino, verdad y vida ”.

A todos los presentes imparto complacido mi Bendición Apostólica, que extiendo a vuestros seres queridos.

Ai fedeli di lingua portoghese

Caríssimos irmãos e irmãs de língua portuguesa,

Saúdo cordialmente quantos me escutam, desejando a todos felicidades; e que se deixem conduzir pelo espírito divino, agora na penitência quaresmal, caminho para as alegrias da Páscoa.

Ai fedeli polacchi

“Nawracajcie się i wierzcie w Ewangelię!”.

Słowa te, które znaczą szlak Wielkiego Postu, przypomnieliśmy w dniu Popielca wobec Ciebie, Matko Jasnogórska, aby do nich stale powracać.

Wierzcie Ewangelii.

Kiedy to po raz pierwszy uwierzyli Ewangelii nasi praojcopwie?

Przypomina mi się Gniezno w roku Tysiąclecia - a z kolei Gniezno na szlaku pierwszej papieskiej pielgrzymki do Ojczyzny.

Właśnie tam powracaliśmy wspólnie do początków wiary: Ewangelii i Kościoła - nie tylko u zarania naszych piastowskich dziejów, ale także pośród Pobratymców.

Tam była przypominana chrystianizacja Słowian naprzód na południu, jeszcze przed misją Świętych Braci z Sołunia, potem ich misja w państwie Wielkomorawskim oraz w zasięgu jego wpływów. A także na zachód od naszej piastowskiej dziedziny. I także na wschód.

Słowianie oraz ich Pobratymcy później usłyszeli głos Ewangelii. Później doszli do wiary i do Kościoła niż ludy europejskie na zachodzie, a zwłaszcza na południu w rejonie Morza Śródziemnego.

Jeżeli dziś staje nam w panici to gnieźnieńskie kazanie o początkach ewangelizacji, to dlatego, by przetłumaczyć je na potrzeby naszej epoki. U końca XX stulecia, poprzez doświadczenie dalekie i współczesne słyszymy z tą samą mocą słowa Chrystusa: Wierzcie Ewangelii! Wierzcie Ewangelii!

Witam pielgrzymów z Polski: księdza kardynała Metropolitę Krakowskiego; pięlgrzymów z parafii Nawiedzenia Najświętszej Maryi Panny z Zaborowa, diecezja tarnowska; z parafii św. Józefa ze Świdnicy; dzieci, które wczoraj przystapiły do I Komunii św, w kościele polskim św. Stanisława; zespół pieśni i tańca “ Skalni ” z Zakopanego; grupę esperantystów z Bydgoszczy; oraz innych pielgrzymów zarówno z kraju, jak i z emigracji.

Ai numerosi gruppi di pellegrini italiani

Accolgo con gioia i fedeli della Diocesi di Cremona che, in preparazione al loro XIV Sinodo diocesano, hanno voluto incontrare il Successore di Pietro: saluto pure i rappresentanti dell’Arcidiocesi di Ferrara-Comacchio, venuti a Roma per l’annuale pellegrinaggio presso il Centro della Cristianità. Cari fratelli e sorelle, sappiate trarre da questo soggiorno romano incoraggiamento e stimolo a proseguire nella fedeltà al Vangelo e siate sempre disponibili a servire con impegno la Chiesa.

Rivolgo poi un cordiale benvenuto al gruppo degli ingegneri milanesi dell’Associazione laicale della Fraternità di Comunione e Liberazione, ai sacristi ed addetti al Culto bergamaschi dell’Associazione diocesana “San Guido”, con le loro famiglie, ed ai membri del “Lions” di Molfetta e Bitonto: vi esorto tutti a perseverare nella preziosa testimonianza di laici cristiani nei vari ambienti di lavoro, comunicando a coloro che incontrerete la gioia della vostra fede.

Ai giovani, agli ammalati e agli sposi novelli

Saluto, come di consueto, i giovani, i malati, gli sposi novelli, presenti a questa udienza. Ricordo a tutti la necessità dell’impegno ascetico che comporta, specialmente in questo tempo di Quaresima, uno sforzo generoso e costante per crescere nella virtù e nella perfezione cristiana. Sia dunque tale ascesi il segno distintivo di voi, giovani, che siete forti e avete vinto il maligno, secondo l’espressione dell’Evangelista Giovanni. Avvalorate con l’ascesi la vostra sofferenza, cari malati, a cui si chiede tanta pazienza per trasformare ogni pena in gesto d’amore per la salvezza dell’umanità. Sia, infine, l’ascesi un prezioso programma di vita per voi sposi, perché nelle vostre famiglie ogni scelta vi conduca ad una serena condotta cristiana. A tutti la mia Benedizione Apostolica.

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