Dominum et vivificantem 39

4. The Spirit Who Transforms Suffering into Salvific Love

39 The Spirit who searches the depths of God was called by Jesus in his discourse in the Upper Room the Paraclete. For from the beginning the Spirit "is invoked"145 in order to "convince the world concerning sin." He is invoked in a definitive way through the Cross of Christ. Convincing concerning sin means showing the evil that sin contains, and this is equivalent to revealing the mystery of iniquity. It is not possible to grasp the evil of sin in all its sad reality without "searching the depths of God." From the very beginning, the obscure mystery of sin has appeared in the world against the background of a reference to the Creator of human freedom. Sin has appeared as an act of the will of the creature-man contrary to the will of God, to the salvific will of God; indeed, sin has appeared in opposition to the truth, on the basis of the lie which has now been definitively "judged": the lie that has placed in a state of accusation, a state of permanent suspicion, creative and salvific love itself. Man has followed the "father of lies," setting himself up in opposition to the Father of life and the Spirit of truth.

Therefore, will not "convincing concerning sin" also have to mean revealing suffering? Revealing the pain, unimaginable and inexpressible, which on account of sin the Book of Genesis in its anthropomorphic vision seems to glimpse in the "depths of God" and in a certain sense in the very heart of the ineffable Trinity? The Church, taking her inspiration from Revelation, believes and professes that sin is an offense against God. What corresponds, in the inscrutable intimacy of the Father, the Word and the Holy Spirit, to this "offense," this rejection of the Spirit who is love and gift? The concept of God as the necessarily most perfect being certainly excludes from God any pain deriving from deficiencies or wounds; but in the "depths of God" there is a Father's love that, faced with man's sin, in the language of the Bible reacts so deeply as to say: "I am sorry that I have made him."146 "The Lord saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth.... And the Lord was sorry that he had made man on the earth.... The Lord said: 'I am sorry that I have made them.'"147 But more often the Sacred Book speaks to us of a Father who feels compassion for man, as though sharing his pain. In a word, this inscrutable and indescribable fatherly "pain" will bring about above all the wonderful economy of redemptive love in Jesus Christ, so that through the mysterium pietatis love can reveal itself in the history of man as stronger than sin. So that the "gift" may prevail!

The Holy Spirit, who in the words of Jesus "convinces concerning sin," is the love of the Father and the Son, and as such is the Trinitarian gift, and at the same time the eternal source of every divine giving of gifts to creatures. Precisely in him we can picture as personified and actualized in a transcendent way that mercy which the patristic and theological tradition following the line of the Old and New Testaments, attributes to God. In man, mercy includes sorrow and compassion for the misfortunes of one's neighbor. In God, the Spirit- Love expresses the consideration of human sin in a fresh outpouring of salvific love. From God, in the unity of the Father with the Son, the economy of salvation is born, the economy which fills the history of man with the gifts of the Redemption. Whereas sin, by rejecting love, has caused the "suffering" of man which in some way has affected the whole of creation,148 the Holy Spirit will enter into human and cosmic suffering with a new outpouring of love, which will redeem the world. And on the lips of Jesus the Redeemer, in whose humanity the "suffering" of God is concretized, there will be heard a word which manifests the eternal love full of mercy: "Misereor." 149 Thus, on the part of the Holy Spirit, "convincing of sin" becomes a manifestation before creation, which is "subjected to futility," and above all in the depth of human consciences, that sin is conquered through the sacrifice of the Lamb of God who has become even "unto death" the obedient servant who, by making up for man's disobedience, accomplishes the redemption of the world. In this way the spirit of truth, the Paraclete, "convinces concerning sin."

40 The redemptive value of Christ's sacrifice is expressed in very significant words by the author of the Letter to the Hebrews, who after recalling the sacrifices of the Old Covenant in which "the blood of goats and bulls..." purifies in "the flesh," adds: "How much more shall the blood of Christ, who through the eternal spirit offered himself without blemish to God, purify your conscience from dead works to serve the living God?"150 Though we are aware of other possible interpretations, our considerations on the presence of the Holy Spirit in the whole of Christ's life lead us to see this text as an invitation to reflect on the presence of the same Spirit also in the redemptive sacrifice of the Incarnate Word.

To begin with we reflect on the first words dealing with this sacrifice, and then separately on the "purification of conscience" which it accomplishes. For it is a sacrifice offered "through the eternal Spirit," that "derives" from it the power to "convince concerning sin." It is the same Holy Spirit, whom, according to the promise made in the Upper Room, Jesus Christ "will bring" to the Apostles on the day of his Resurrection, when he presents himself to them with the wounds of the crucifixion, and whom "he will give" them "for the remission of sins": "Receive the Holy Spirit; if you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven."151

We know that "God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and with power," as Simon Peter said in the house of the centurion Cornelius.152 We know of the Paschal Mystery of his "departure," from the Gospel of John. The words of the Letter to the Hebrews now explain to us how Christ "offered himself without blemish to God," and how he did this "with an eternal Spirit." In the sacrifice of the Son of Man the Holy Spirit is present and active just as he acted in Jesus' conception, in his coming into the world, in his hidden life and in his public ministry. According to the Letter to the Hebrews, on the way to his "departure" through Gethsemani and Golgotha, the same Christ Jesus in his own humanity opened himself totally to this action of the Spirit-Paraclete, who from suffering enables eternal salvific love to spring forth. Therefore he "was heard for his godly fear. Although he was a Son, he learned obedience through what he suffered."153 In this way this Letter shows how humanity, subjected to sin, in the descendants of the first Adam, in Jesus Christ became perfectly subjected to God and united to him, and at the same time full of compassion towards men. Thus there is a new humanity, which in Jesus Christ through the suffering of the Cross has returned to the love which was betrayed by Adam through sin. This new humanity is discovered precisely in the divine source of the original outpouring of gifts: in the Spirit, who "searches...the depths of God" and is himself love and gift.

The Son of God Jesus Christ, as man, in the ardent prayer of his Passion, enabled the Holy Spirit, who had already penetrated the inmost depths of his humanity, to transform that humanity into a perfect sacrifice through the act of his death as the victim of love on the Cross. He made this offering by himself. As the one priest, "he offered himself without blemish to God:154 In his humanity he was worthy to become this sacrifice, for he alone was "without blemish." But he offered it "through the eternal Spirit," which means that the Holy Spirit acted in a special way in this absolute self-giving of the Son of Man, in order to transform this suffering into redemptive love.

41 The Old Testament on several occasions speaks of "fire from heaven" which burnt the oblations presented by men.155 By analogy one can say that the Holy Spirit is the "fire from heaven" which works in the depth of the mystery of the Cross. Proceeding from the Father, he directs toward the Father the sacrifice of the Son, bringing it into the divine reality of the Trinitarian communion. if sin caused suffering, now the pain of God in Christ crucified acquires through the Holy Spirit its full human expression. Thus there is a paradoxical mystery of love: in Christ there suffers a God who has been rejected by his own creature: "They do not believe in me!"; but at the same time, from the depth of this suffering-and indirectly from the depth of the very sin "of not having believed"-the Spirit draws a new measure of the gift made to man and to creation from the beginning. In the depth of the mystery of the Cross, love is at work, that love which brings man back again to share in the life that is in God himself.

The Holy Spirit as Love and Gift comes down, in a certain sense, into the very heart of the sacrifice which is offered on the Cross. Referring here to the biblical tradition, we can say: He consumes this sacrifice with the fire of the love which unites the Son with the Father in the Trinitarian communion. And since the sacrifice of the Cross is an act proper to Christ, also in this sacrifice he "receives" the Holy Spirit. He receives the Holy Spirit in such a way that afterwards-and he alone with God the Father- can "give him" to the Apostles, to the Church, to humanity. He alone "sends" the Spirit from the Father.156 He alone presents himself before the Apostles in the Upper Room, "breathes upon them" and says: "Receive the Holy Spirit; if you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven,"157 as John the Baptist had foretold: "He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire."158 With those words of Jesus, the holy Spirit is revealed and at the same time made present as the Love that works in the depths of the Paschal Mystery, as the source of the salvific power of the Cross of Christ, and as the gift of new and eternal life.

This truth about the Holy Spirit finds daily expression in the Roman liturgy, when before Communion the priest pronounces those significant words; "Lord Jesus Christ, Son of the living God, by the will of the Father and the work of the Holy Spirit your death brought life to the world...." And in the Third Eucharistic Prayer, referring to the same salvific plan, the priest asks God that the Holy Spirit may "make us an everlasting gift to you."

5. The Blood that Purifies the Conscience

42 We have said that, at the climax of the Paschal Mystery, the Holy Spirit is definitively revealed and made present in a new way. The Risen Christ says to the Apostles: "Receive the Holy Spirit." Thus the Holy Spirit is revealed, for the words of Christ constitute the confirmation of what he had promised and foretold during the discourse in the Upper Room. And with this the Paraclete is also made present in a new way. In fact, he was already at work from the beginning in the mystery of creation and throughout the history of the Old Covenant of God with man. His action was fully confirmed by the sending of the Son of Man as the Messiah, who came in the power of the Holy Spirit. At the climax of Jesus' messianic mission, the Holy Spirit becomes present in the Paschal Mystery in all his divine subjectivity: as the one who is now to continue the salvific work rooted in the sacrifice of the Cross. Of course Jesus entrusts this work to humanity: to the Apostles, to the Church. Nevertheless, in these men and through them the Holy Spirit remains the transcendent principal agent of the accomplishment of this work in the human spirit and in the history of the world: the invisible and at the same time omnipresent Paraclete! The Spirit who "blows where he wills."159

The words of the Risen Christ on the "first day of the week" give particular emphasis to the presence of the Paraclete-Counselor as the one who "convinces the world concerning sin, righteousness and judgment." For it is only in this relationship that it is possible to explain the words which Jesus directly relates to the "gift" of the Holy Spirit to the Apostles. He says: "Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained." 160 Jesus confers on the Apostles the power to forgive sins, so that they may pass it on to their successors in the Church But this power granted to men presupposes and includes the saving action of the Holy Spirit. By becoming "the light of hearts,"161 that is to say the light of consciences, the Holy Spirit "convinces concerning sin," which is to say, he makes man realize his own evil and at the same time directs him toward what is good. Thanks to the multiplicity of the Spirit's gifts, by reason of which he is invoked as the "sevenfold one," every kind of human sin can be reached by God's saving power. In reality-as St. Bonaventure says-"by virtue of the seven gifts of the Holy Spirit all evils are destroyed and all good things are produced.162

Thus the conversion of the human heart, which is an indispensable condition for the forgiveness of sins, is brought about by the influence of the Counselor. Without a true conversion, which implies inner contrition, and without a sincere and firm purpose of amendment, sins remain "unforgiven," in the words of Jesus, and with him in the Tradition of the Old and New Covenants. For the first words uttered by Jesus at the beginning of his ministry, according to the Gospel of Mark, are these: "Repent, and believe in the Gospel. "163 A confirmation of this exhortation is the "convincing concerning sin" that the Holy Spirit undertakes in a new way by virtue of the Redemption accomplished by the Blood of the Son of Man. Hence the Letter to the Hebrews says that this "blood purifies the conscience."164 It therefore, so to speak, opens to the Holy Spirit the door into man's inmost being, namely into the sanctuary of human consciences.

43 The Second Vatican Council mentioned the Catholic teaching on conscience when it spoke about man's vocation and in particular about the dignity of the human person. It is precisely the conscience in particular which determines this dignity. For the conscience is "the most secret core and sanctuary of a man, where he is alone with God, whose voice echoes in his depths." It "can ...speak to his heart more specifically: do this, shun that." This capacity to command what is good and to forbid evil, placed in man by the Creator, is the main characteristic of the personal subject. But at the same time, "in the depths of his conscience, man detects a law which he does not impose upon himself, but which holds him to obedience."165 The conscience therefore is not an independent and exclusive capacity to decide what is good and what is evil. Rather there is profoundly imprinted upon it a principle of obedience vis-a-vis the objective norm which establishes and conditions the correspondence of its decisions with the commands and prohibitions which are at the basis of human behavior, as from the passage of the Book of Genesis which we have already considered. 166 Precisely in this sense the conscience is the "secret sanctuary" in which "God's voice echoes." The conscience is "the voice of God," even when man recognizes in it nothing more than the principle of the moral order which it is not humanly possible to doubt, even without any direct reference to the Creator. It is precisely in reference to this that the conscience always finds its foundation and justification.

The Gospel's "convincing concerning sin" under the influence of the Spirit of truth can be accomplished in man in no other way except through the conscience. If the conscience is upright, it serves "to resolve according to truth the moral problems which arise both in the life of individuals and from social relationships"; then "persons and groups turn aside from blind choice and try to be guided by the objective standards of moral conduct."167

A result of an upright conscience is, first of all, to call good and evil by their proper name, as we read in the same Pastoral Constitution: "whatever is opposed to life itself, such as any type of murder, genocide, abortion, euthanasia, or willful self-destruction, whatever violates the integrity of the human person, such as mutilation, torments inflicted on body or mind, attempts to coerce the will itself; whatever insults human dignity, such as subhuman living conditions, arbitrary imprisonment, deportation, slavery, prostitution, the selling of women and children; as well as disgraceful working conditions, where people are treated as mere tools for profit, rather than as free and responsible persons"; and having called by name the many different sins that are so frequent and widespread in our time, the Constitution adds: "All these things and others of their kind are infamies indeed. They poison human society, but they do more harm to those who practice them than to those who suffer from the injury. Moreover, they are a supreme dishonor to the Creator"168

By calling by their proper name the sins that most dishonor man, and by showing that they are a moral evil that weighs negatively on any balance- sheet of human progress, the Council also describes all this as a stage in "a dramatic struggle between good and evil, between light and darkness," which characterizes "all of human life, whether individual or collective."169 The 1983 Assembly of the Synod of Bishops on reconciliation and penance specified even more clearly the personal and social significance of human sin.170

44 In the Upper Room, on the eve of his Passion and again on the evening of Easter Day, Jesus Christ spoke of the Holy Spirit as the one who bears witness that in human history sin continues to exist. Yet sin has been subjected to the saving power of the Redemption. "Convincing the world concerning sin" does not end with the fact that sin is called by its right name and identified for what it is throughout its entire range. In convincing the world concerning sin the Spirit of truth comes into contact with the voice of human consciences. By following this path we come to a demonstration of the roots of sin, which are to be found in man's inmost being, as described by the same Pastoral Constitution: "The truth is that the imbalances under which the modern world labors are linked with that more basic imbalance rooted in the heart of man. For in man himself many elements wrestle with one another. Thus, on the one hand, as a creature he experiences his limitations in a multitude of ways. On the other, he feels himself to be boundless in his desires and summoned to a higher life. Pulled by manifold attractions, he is constantly forced to choose among them and to renounce some. Indeed, as a weak and sinful being, he often does what he would not, and fails to do what he would."171 The Conciliar text is here referring to the well-known words of St. Paul.172 The "convincing concerning sin" which accompanies the human conscience in every careful reflection upon itself thus leads to the discovery of sin's roots in man, as also to the discovery of the way in which the conscience has been conditioned in the course of history. In this way we discover that original reality of sin of which we have already spoken. The Holy Spirit "convinces concerning sin" in relation to the mystery of man's origins, showing the fact that man is a created being, and therefore in complete ontological and ethical dependence upon the Creator. The Holy Spirit reminds us, at the same time, of the hereditary sinfulness of human nature. But the Holy Spirit the Counselor "convinces concerning sin" always in relation to the Cross of Christ. In the context of this relationship Christianity rejects any "fatalism" regarding sin. As the Council teaches: "A monumental struggle against the powers of darkness pervades the whole history of man. The battle was joined from the very origins of the world and will continue until the last day, as the Lord has attested."173 "But the Lord himself came to free and strengthen man."174 Man, therefore, far from allowing himself to be "ensnared" in his sinful condition, by relying upon the voice of his own conscience "is obliged to wrestle constantly if he is to cling to what is good. Nor can he achieve his own interior integrity without valiant efforts and the help of God s grace."175 The Council rightly sees sin as a factor of alienation which weighs heavily on man's personal and social life. But at the same time it never tires of reminding us of the possibility of victory.

45 The Spirit of truth, who "convinces the world concerning sin," comes into contact with that laborious effort on the part of the human conscience which the Conciliar texts speak of so graphically. This laborious effort of conscience also determines the paths of human conversion: turning one's back on sin, in order to restore truth and love in man's very heart. We know that recognizing evil in ourselves sometimes demands a great effort. We know that conscience not only commands and forbids but also Judges in the light of interior dictates and prohibitions. It is also the source of remorse: man suffers interiorly because f the evil he has committed. Is not this suffering, as it were, a distant echo of that "repentance at having created man" which in anthropomorphic language the Sacred Book attributes to God? Is it not an echo of that "reprobation" which is interiorized in the "heart" of the Trinity and by virtue of the eternal love is translated into the suffering of the Cross, into Christ's obedience unto death? When the Spirit of truth permits the human conscience to share in that suffering, the suffering of the conscience becomes particularly profound, but also particularly salvific. Then, by means of an act of perfect contrition, the authentic conversion of the heart is accomplished: this is the evangelical "metanoia."

The laborious effort of the human heart, the laborious effort of the conscience in which this "metanoia," or conversion, takes place, is a reflection of that process whereby reprobation is transformed into salvific love, a love which is capable of suffering. The hidden giver of this saving power is the Holy Spirit: he whom the Church calls "the light of consciences" penetrates and fills "the depths of the human heart."176 Through just such a conversion in the Holy Spirit a person becomes open to forgiveness, to the remission of sins. And in all this wonderful dynamism of conversion-forgiveness there is confirmed the truth of what St. Augustine writes concerning the mystery of man, when he comments on the words of the Psalm: "The abyss calls to the abyss."177 Precisely with regard to these "unfathomable depths" of man, of the human conscience, the mission of the Son and the Holy Spirit is accomplished. The Holy Spirit "comes" by virtue of Christ's "departure" in the Paschal Mystery: he comes in each concrete case of conversion- forgiveness, by virtue of the sacrifice of the Cross. For in this sacrifice "the blood of Christ...purifies your conscience from dead works to serve the living God."178 Thus there are continuously fulfilled the words about the Holy Spirit as "another Counselor," the words spoken in the Upper Room to the Apostles and indirectly spoken to everyone: "You know him, for he dwells with you and will be in you."179

6. The Sin Against the Holy Spirit

46 Against the background of what has been said so far, certain other words of Jesus, shocking and disturbing ones, become easier to understand. We might call them the words of "unforgiveness." They are reported for us by the Synoptics in connection with a particular sin which is called "blasphemy against the Holy Spirit." This is how they are reported in their three versions:

Matthew: "Whoever says a word against the Son of Man will be forgiven but whoever speaks against the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven, either in this age or in the age to come."180

Mark: "All sins will be forgiven the sons of men, and whatever blasphemies they utter; but whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit never has forgiveness, but is guilty of an eternal sin."181

Luke: "Every one who speaks a word against the Son of Man will be forgiven; but he who blasphemes against the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven."182

Why is blasphemy against the Holy Spirit unforgivable? How should this blasphemy be understood ? St. Thomas Aquinas replies that it is a question of a sin that is "unforgivable by its very nature, insofar as it excludes the elements through which the forgiveness of sin takes place."183

According to such an exegesis, "blasphemy" does not properly consist in offending against the Holy Spirit in words; it consists rather in the refusal to accept the salvation which God offers to man through the Holy Spirit, working through the power of the Cross. If man rejects the "convincing concerning sin" which comes from the Holy Spirit and which has the power to save, he also rejects the "coming" of the Counselor-that "coming" which was accomplished in the Paschal Mystery, in union with the redemptive power of Christ's Blood: the Blood which "purifies the conscience from dead works."

We know that the result of such a purification is the forgiveness of sins. Therefore, whoever rejects the Spirit and the Blood remains in "dead works," in sin. And the blasphemy against the Holy Spirit consists precisely in the radical refusal to accept this forgiveness, of which he is the intimate giver and which presupposes the genuine conversion which he brings about in the conscience. If Jesus says that blasphemy against the Holy Spirit cannot be forgiven either in this life or in the next, it is because this "non-forgiveness" is linked, as to its cause, to "non-repentance," in other words to the radical refusal to be converted. This means the refusal to come to the sources of Redemption, which nevertheless remain "always" open in the economy of salvation in which the mission of the Holy Spirit is accomplished. The Spirit has infinite power to draw from these sources: "he will take what is mine," Jesus said. In this way he brings to completion in human souls the work of the Redemption accomplished by Christ, and distributes its fruits. Blasphemy against the Holy Spirit, then, is the sin committed by the person who claims to have a "right" to persist in evil-in any sin at all-and who thus rejects Redemption. One closes oneself up in sin, thus making impossible one's conversion, and consequently the remission of sins, which one considers not essential or not important for one's life. This is a state of spiritual ruin, because blasphemy against the Holy Spirit does not allow one to escape from one's self-imposed imprisonment and open oneself to the divine sources of the purification of consciences and of the remission of sins.

47 The action of the Spirit of truth, which works toward salvific "convincing concerning sin," encounters in a person in this condition an interior resistance, as it were an impenetrability of conscience, a state of mind which could be described as fixed by reason of a free choice. This is what Sacred Scripture usually calls "hardness of heart."184 In our own time this attitude of mind and heart is perhaps reflected in the loss of the sense of sin, to which the Apostolic Exhortation Reconciliatio et Paenitentia devotes many pages.185 Pope Pius XII had already declared that "the sin of the century is the loss of the sense of sin,"186 and this loss goes hand in hand with the "loss of the sense of God." In the Exhortation just mentioned we read: "In fact, God is the origin and the supreme end of man, and man carries in himself a divine seed. Hence it is the reality of God that reveals and illustrates the mystery of man. It is therefore vain to hope that there will take root a sense of sin against man and against human values, if there is no sense of offense against God, namely the true sense of sin."187

Hence the Church constantly implores from God the grace that integrity of human consciences will not be lost, that their healthy sensitivity with regard to good and evil will not be blunted. This integrity and sensitivity are profoundly linked to the intimate action of the Spirit of truth. In this light the exhortations of St. Paul assume particular eloquence: "Do not quench the Spirit"; "Do not grieve the Holy Spirit."188 But above all the Church constantly implores with the greatest fervor that there will be no increase in the world of the sin that the Gospel calls "blasphemy against the Holy Spirit." Rather, she prays that it will decrease in human souls-and consequently in the forms and structures of society itself-and that it will make room for that openness of conscience necessary for the saving action of the Holy Spirit. The Church prays that the dangerous sin against the Spirit will give way to a holy readiness to accept his mission as the Counselor, when he comes to "convince the world concerning sin, and righteousness and judgment."

48 In his farewell discourse Jesus linked these three areas of "convincing" as elements of the mission of the Paraclete: sin, righteousness and judgment. They mark out the area of that mysterium pietatis that in human history is opposed to sin, to the mystery of iniquity.189 On the one hand, as St. Augustine says, there is "love of self to the point of contempt of God"; on the other, "love-of God to the point of contempt of self."190 The Church constantly lifts up her prayer and renders her service in order that the history of consciences and the history of societies in the great human family will not descend toward the pole of sin, by the rejection of God's commandments "to the point of contempt of God," but rather will rise toward the love in which the Spirit that gives life is revealed.

Those who let themselves be "convinced concerning sin" by the Holy Spirit, also allow themselves to be convinced "concerning righteousness and judgment." The Spirit of truth who helps human beings, human consciences, to know the truth concerning sin, at the same time enables them to know the truth about that righteousness which entered human history in Jesus Christ. In this way, those who are "convinced concerning sin" and who are converted through the action of the Counselor are, in a sense, led out of the range of the "judgment" that "judgment" by which "the ruler of this world is judged."191 In the depths of its divine-human mystery, conversion means the breaking of every fetter by which sin binds man to the whole of the mystery of iniquity.

Those who are converted, therefore, are led by the Holy Spirit out of the range of the "judgment," and introduced into that righteousness which is in Christ Jesus, and is in him precisely because he receives it from the Father,192 as a reflection of the holiness of the Trinity. This is the righteousness of the Gospel and of the Redemption, the righteousness of the Sermon on the Mount and of the Cross, which effects the purifying of the conscience through the Blood of the Lamb. It is the righteousness which the Father gives to the Son and to all those united with him in truth and in love.

In this righteousness the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of the Father and the Son, who "convinces the world concerning sin," reveals himself and makes himself present in man as the Spirit of eternal life.


1. Reason for the Jubilee of the Year 2000: Christ Who Was Conceived of the Holy Spirit

49 The Church's mind and heart turn to the Holy Spirit as this twentieth century draws to a close and the third Millennium since the coming of Jesus Christ into the world approaches, and as we look toward the great Jubilee with which the Church will celebrate the event. For according to the computation of time this coming is measured as an event belonging to the history of man on earth. The measurement of time in common use defines years, centuries and millennia according to whether they come before or after the birth of Christ. But it must also be remembered that for us Christians this event indicates, as St. Paul says, the "fullness of time,"193 because in it human history has been wholly permeated by the "measurement" of God himself: a transcendent presence of the "eternal now." He "who is, who was, and who is to come"; he who is "the Alpha and the Omega, the first and the last, the beginning and the end."194 "For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life."195 "When the time had finally come, God sent forth his Son, born of a that we might receive adoption as sons."196 And this Incarnation of the Son-Word came about "by the power of the Holy Spirit."

The two Evangelists to whom we owe the narrative of the birth and infancy of Jesus of Nazareth express themselves on this matter in an identical way. According to Luke, at the Annunciation of the birth of Jesus, Mary asks: "How shall this be, since I have no husband?" and she receives this answer: "The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you: therefore the child to be born will be called holy, the Son of God."197

Matthew narrates directly: "Now the birth of Jesus Christ took place in this way. When his mother Mary had been betrothed to Joseph, before they came together she was found to be with child of the Holy Spirit."198 Disturbed by this turn of events, Joseph receives the following explanation in a dream: "Do not fear to take Mary your wife, for that which is conceived in her is of the Holy Spirit; she will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins."199

Thus from the beginning the Church confesses the mystery of the Incarnation, this key-mystery of the faith, by making reference to the Holy Spirit. The Apostles' Creed says: "He was conceived by the power of the Holy Spirit and born of the Virgin Mary." Similarly, the Nicene- Constantinopolitan Creed professed: "By the power of the Holy Spirit he became incarnate from the Virgin Mary, and was made man."

"By the power of the Holy Spirit" there became man he whom the Church, in the words of the same Creed, professes to be the Son, of the same substance as the Father: "God from God, Light from Light, true God from true God; begotten, not made." He was made man by becoming "incarnate from the Virgin Mary." This is what happened when "the fullness of time had come."

50 The great Jubilee at the close of the second Millennium, for which the Church is already preparing, has a directly Christological aspect: for it is a celebration of the birth of Jesus Christ. At the same time it has a pneumatological aspect, since the mystery of the Incarnation was accomplished "by the power of the Holy Spirit." It was "brought about" by that Spirit-consubstantial with the Father and the Son-who, in the absolute mystery of the Triune God, is the Person-love, the uncreated gift, who is the eternal source of every gift that comes from God in the order of creation, the direct principle and, in a certain sense, the subject of God's self- communication in the order of grace. The mystery of the Incarnation constitutes the climax of this giving, this divine self-communication.

The conception and birth of Jesus Christ are in fact the greatest work accomplished by the Holy Spirit in the history of creation and salvation: the supreme grace "the grace of union," source of every other grace, as St. Thomas explains.200 The great Jubilee refer to this work and also-if we penetrate its depths-to the author of this work, to the person of the Holy Spirit.

For the "fullness of time" is matched by a particular fullness of the self- communication of the Triune God in the Holy Spirit. "By the power of the Holy Spirit" the mystery of the "hypostatic union" is brought about-that is, the union of the divine nature and the human nature, of the divinity and the humanity in the one Person of the Word-Son. When at the moment of the Annunciation Mary utters her "fiat": "Be it done unto me according to your word,"201 she conceives in a virginal way a man, the Son of Man, who is the Son of God. By means of this "humanization" of the Word-Son the self-communication of God reaches its definitive fullness in the history of creation and salvation. This fullness acquires a special wealth and expressiveness in the text of John's Gospel: ''The Word became flesh."202 The Incarnation of God the Son signifies the taking up into unity with God not only of human nature, but in this human nature, in a sense, of everything that is "flesh": the whole of humanity, the entire visible and material world. The Incarnation, then, also has a cosmic significance, a cosmic dimension. The "first-born of all creation,"203 becoming incarnate in the individual humanity of Christ, unites himself in some way with the entire reality of man, which is also "flesh" 204-and in this reality with all "flesh," with the whole of creation.

51 All this is accomplished by the power of the Holy Spirit, and so is part of the great Jubilee to come. The Church cannot prepare for the Jubilee in any other way than in the Holy Spirit. What was accomplished by the power of the Holy Spirit "in the fullness of time" can only through the Spirit's power now emerge from the memory of the Church. By his power it can be made present in the new phase of man's history on earth: the year 2000 from the birth of Christ.

The Holy Spirit, who with his power overshadowed the virginal body of Mary, bringing about in her the beginning of her divine Motherhood, at the same time made her heart perfectly obedient to that self-communication of God which surpassed every human idea and faculty. "Blessed is she who believed!"205: thus Mary is greeted by her cousin Elizabeth, herself "full of the Holy Spirit."206 In the words of greeting addressed to her "who believed" we seem to detect a distant (but in fact very close) contrast with all those about whom Christ will say that "they do not believe."207 Mary entered the history of the salvation of the world through the obedience of faith. And faith, in its deepest essence, is the openness of the human heart to the gift: to God's self- communication in the Holy Spirit. St. Paul write: "The Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom."208 When the Triune; God opens himself to man in the Holy Spirit, this opening of God reveals and also gives to the human creature the fullness of freedom. This fullness was manifested in a sublime way precisely through the faith of Mary, through the "obedience of faith"209: truly, "Blessed is she who believed!"

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