Summer 1998

The Holy Spirit as Communio: Concerning the Relationship of Pneumatology and Spirituality in Augustine

Joseph Ratzinger Benedict XVI

"Becoming a Christian means becoming communio and thereby entering into the mode of being of the Holy Spirit."

The words pneumatology and spirituality, which together constitute my topic, are closely tied to one another in a purely verbal sense. One is the translation of the other. This expresses a connection of fundamental significance. The Holy Spirit is recognizable in the way in which he forms human life. A life formed from faith is in turn a sign of the Holy Spirit. To speak of “Christian spirituality” means to speak about the Holy Spirit. He makes himself recognizable by gaining a new center for human life. Speaking about the Holy Spirit includes looking at him in man, to whom he has given himself.

There is a certain difficulty in speaking about the Holy Spirit, even a certain danger. He withdraws from us into mystery even more than Christ. It is quite possible that this topic has sparked only idle speculation and that human life is being based upon self-made fantasies rather than reality. This is why I hesitated to offer just my own reflections. It seems to me that three conditions must be fulfilled to speak meaningfully, reliably, and defensibly about the Holy Spirit. First it cannot be talk based upon pure theory but must touch an experienced reality that has been interpreted and communicated in thought. But experience alone does not suffice. It must be tested and tried experience so that “one’s own spirit” does not take the place of the Holy Spirit. Third: in consequence, suspicion will always arise when someone speaks on his own account, “from within.” Such speech contradicts the Holy Spirit’s mode of being, for he is characterized precisely “by not speaking on his own”  (Jn 16:13). In this respect, originality and truth can easily lead to a paradox.1 But that means that trust is only appropriate when one does not speak on a purely private account, but from an experience of the Spirit tested in front of and standing in the context of the whole, i.e. when one submits the experience of “spirit” to the entirety of the Church. This presupposes as an axiom of Christian faith that the Church herself—when she truly exists as Church—is a creation of the Spirit.


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