Opening the Word: Spirit of truth

“Heavenly King, Comforter, Spirit of Truth, who are everywhere present and fill all things, come and dwell within us, cleanse us of all stain and save our souls, O gracious Lord.” 

This beautiful Byzantine prayer expresses some of the names of the Third Person of the Trinity, and the deep desire the baptized should have to know and experience him more deeply and profoundly. Scripture describes and names the Holy Spirit in many ways: Advocate, Comforter, the Spirit of God, the Spirit of Christ, the Spirit of adoption, the Spirit of grace. St. Thomas Aquinas stated the Holy Spirit is rightly called both “Gift” and “Love,” for he is freely given and “comes forth as the substance of love.” 

Speaking to the disciples in the Upper Room before his arrest and Passion, Jesus promised that an Advocate, or Helper, would be sent from the Father to “testify to me.” The Spirit of Truth, Jesus said, “will guide you to all truth,” or “into all truth,” in order to glorify Christ, who is truth Incarnate. Here we are given a glimpse of the majestic, perfect intimacy of the three Persons of the Trinity: the Father, rich in mercy, has sent the Son, who humbles himself to carry out the Father’s will in love; the Holy Spirit is sent by the Father to testify to the Son and to give him glory; the Son and Holy Spirit both, in turn, give everything back to the Father in love. 

The promises given in the Upper Room are revealed to the world at Pentecost. The feast of Pentecost, of course, was an ancient feast of the Jews, rich with both theological and historical meaning. The feast had originally focused on expressing thanksgiving for the harvest, but it was later connected with the giving of the Law on Mount Sinai, believed to have occurred 50 days after the first Passover in Egypt. St. Luke’s description of the coming of the Holy Spirit upon those in the Upper Room points back to the great theophanies that took place on Mount Sinai, appearances by God accompanied by noises from heaven, strong winds and fire.  

Pentecost was also a reversal of the Tower of Babel. Whereas the rebellion of Babel resulted in confusion and the loss of communication that is essential for relationship and community, the reception of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost brought clarity and cohesion out of the initial confusion caused by the gift of tongues. “The Church’s humility,” wrote St. Bede, “ recovers the unity of languages that the pride of Babylon had shattered.” The sin of Babel was man’s attempt to establish unity and permanence through human power and ingenuity, without reference to God, by constructing a great city and tower, so as to “make a name for ourselves” (Gn 11:4). But at Pentecost, the people of God are receptive to God’s gift of life, and so unity and peace are established by the Holy Spirit, revealing to the world “the Church of the living God, the pillar and foundation of truth” (1 Tm 3:15). 

The unity and catholicity of the Church is rooted in the mystery of the Trinity. And this unity is emphasized by St. Paul, who explained that the diversity of spiritual gifts and forms of service come from the same Spirit, Lord, and God. The body of Christ has many parts, but is one, consisting of those baptized, filled with God’s divine life and guided by the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of truth. 

Carl E. Olson is the editor of