World broods with warm breast and with ah! bright wings”. Gerard Manley Hopkins
“Your soul is the ship, the Holy Spirit is the wind; he blows into your will and your soul goes forward . . . ” Fr. Francis Libermann, cofounder of the order C.S.Sp (Congregation of the Holy Spirit–Spiritans*)
“Howbeit when he, the Spirit of truth, is come, he will guide you into all truth.” John 16:13 (KJV)
“Cast me not away from thy presence; and take not thy holy spirit from me.” Psalm 51 (KJV)
“Which things also we speak, not in the words which man’s wisdom teacheth, but which the Holy Ghost teacheth; comparing spiritual things with spiritual.” John 14:26 (KJV)
“And I believe in the Holy Ghost the Lord, and Giver of Life . . . “ Nicene Creed, Anglican Usage Liturgy
Last week I attended my grandson’s graduation from Holy Ghost Preparatory School in Philadelphia. It was a happy and inspiring occasion; he received athletic and academic honors (a grandfather is allowed to brag), and the graduation talks were well delivered, moving, and spirit-filled (unlike many I’ve attended as recipient or in an academic audience).**
As ever when I’ve come across the term “Holy Ghost”—in the school name or in Anglican Usage liturgy—I’ve wondered why “Holy Ghost” rather than “Holy Spirit”. Does the answer lie in a shunning of the Old Testament? (See my earlier post “Should we shun the God of the Old Testament? ” and Paul Sumner’s Hebrew Streams.) Or do the two terms actually mean the same, if one does the etymology? So, let’s do a dry, academic-type inquiry into Biblical language.
Going first to the original languages, Hebrew and New Testament Greek, we find the following. The Hebrew word for “spirit” is ruach, which also can mean breath or wind. In the Hebrew Old Testament it occurs a number of times, e.g Gen 1:2, “ruach Elohim (breath of the Lord or wind of the Lord) hovering over the waters” and in Isaiah 44:3, “I will pour out my ruach (spirit, wind, breath) on thy seed.” It is found in Psalm 104:30, “Thou sendest forth thy ruach, they are created and Thou renewest the face of the earth.” In conjunction with the modifier kodesh (holy, as from God) the phrase occurs in Psalm 51:11, ” . . . take not thy ruach kodesh (Holy Spirit) from me.” It is found twice in Isaiah 63.
Note in the quotation from the King James Version, at the beginning, that “holy spirit” is not capitalized. In the Septuagint, the demotic Greek translation of the Old Testament, the Hebrew ruach is universally translated as the Greek pneuma (breath, wind, spirit).
In the Greek New Testament, only the term pneuma (in its various grammatical forms) is used for “Spirit”. The King James Version uses “Holy Ghost” where it is clear that the Third Person of the Trinity is meant, e.g. Matthew 1:18, “ἔχουσα ἐκ πνεύματος ἁγίου” (found [with child] of the Holy Ghost, KJV). In other contexts, pneuma is translated as Spirit, as in Matthew 10:20, “ἀλλὰ τὸ πνεῦμα τοῦ πατρὸς”, which means “(For it is not you who speak) but the Spirit of your Father (KJV). In some places where spirit, but not the spirit of God or the Holy Spirit is meant, pneuma is translated as spirit (not capitalized). See Thayer’s Greek Lexicon.
In the Latin Vulgate “Holy Spirit” is translated as “Spiritus Sanctus”. In French “the Holy Spirit” is “le Saint-Esprit” and in German “der Heilige Geist.” The last is the clue to the origins of “Holy Ghost.” The King James Version was not the first English Scripture translation to use the term “Holy Ghost” for the Third Person of the Trinity, although it was the first to distinguish various contexts of “spirit” by capitalization. In the Wycliffe translation (1395) there is “sche was founde hauynge of the holy goost in the wombe” (Matt 1:18, The Bible Corner). Note the lack of capitalization of holy goost.
Certainly “ghost” in the scriptural context does not mean a phantasm, the spirit or appearance of a dead person. My conjecture is that ghost (or goost) came from an Anglo-Saxon form for “spirit” related to the German “Geist.” The translators were looking for a way to distinguish the Third Person of the Trinity, from the manifestation of God—his breath, his will—given in the Old Testament. I don’t see a rejection of the Old Testament in the attempt to make that distinction.
The distinction is valuable theologically. We should remember that it took some time for the Patristic Fathers to work out that the Trinity was Three Persons, but one God. The Old Testament foretold the Messiah, but did not name him explicitly as Jesus. The Old Testament saw the Holy Spirit as a manifestation of God, but did not see Him as a separate person of the one Godhead.
Should we then reject the Old Testament as incomplete? Of course not. As Pope Benedict XVI said: “Christians do not read the Old Testament for its own sake but always with Christ and through Christ, as a voyage to Truth through continuing Revelation.”
I go back to the catechesis given by a priest when I was learning about Catholicism: “There is God the Father, God above us; God the Son, God beside us; and God the Holy Spirit, God within us.” So, the Holy Spirit is at the same time clearly evident and a mystery–God within us. The Holy Spirit enters our mind, which is also a mystery.
*The Congregation of the Holy Spirit (known as the Spiritans) was founded in 1703 by Claude des Places, and revitalized after the French Revolution in 1848 by Fr. Francis Liberman, a Jewish convert who sought to serve black slaves in the West Indies. See the Wikipedia article about the Holy Ghost Fathers, the Spiritan web-site, and the articles about des Places and Liberman.
**It brought joy to my heart to see students, not nerdy types, talk with humor and eloquence about their education, their classmates (their \”brothers\”) and their teachers. There was respect, affection and insight in this. It brought me back to an earlier time when student wore coats and ties, and strove for learning and moral insight.