viernes, 31 de julio de 2015

Meaning, Function and Implications of the Concept of the Paraclete

The Holy Trinity is the great Mystery of the Christian Faith. As such, it may seem somewhat presumptuous and imprudent to speak in positive terms about any of the three Persons Who constitute it, let alone the Holy Spirit. Our purpose with this essay, then, is not to write a general Treatise on Pneumatology or to challenge the typically apophatic character of Orthodox Theology, but simply to analyse the term 'Paraclete' that the Saviour Himself uses on various occasions and show that it has tremendous consequences in the life of the Church. Our main point is that the Spirit is the continuation of the presence of Jesus in the world after His Ascension.


The word Paraclete comes from Greek ('parákletos'). It is a passive term literally meaning 'one who is called to one's side' (in Latin, 'advocatus'), i.e. one who comforts, encourages or uplifts, refreshes, intercedes on our behalf as an advocate in court.

Different versions of the Holy Scriptures in English have rendered this term in various ways - e.g. 'Comforter' (King James Version), 'Counselor' (New International Version), 'Helper' (Orthodox Study Bible, based on the New King James Version) - or have preferred not to commit themselves to any particular translation and use the anglicised form of the Greek original ('Paraclete'). The same is to be found in other European languages like Spanish ('Consolador' in the "Protestant" Reina-Valeratranslation, 'Paráclito' in the "Catholic" Biblia de Jerusalén) or Romanian ('Mângâietor' in the official version of the Holy Synod).


Even though the active form 'parakletor' can be found in the Septuagint (LXX), for example in Job 16,2 ('You are all bad comforters', addressed to his "friends"), the passive form that interests us is most prominent in Johannine writings. Let us then have a look at the different appearances of this term. The verses are taken from the Orthodox Study Bible:

-Jn 14,16-18: 'And I will pray the Father, and He will give you another Helper, that He may abide with you forever- the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees Him nor knows Him; but you know Him, for He dwells with you and will be in you. I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you'.

-Jn 14,25-26: 'But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in My name, He will teach you all things, and bring to your remembrance all things that I said to you'.

-Jn 15,26-27: 'But when the Helper comes, whom I shall send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth who proceeds from the Father, He will testify of Me. And you also will bear witness, because you have been with Me from the beginning'.

-Jn 16,7-11: 'Nevertheless, I tell you the truth. It is to your advantage that I go away; for if I do not go away, the Helper will not come to you; but if I depart, I will send Him to you. And when he has come, He will convict the world of sin, and of righteousness, and of judgment: of sin, because they do not believe in Me; of righteousness, because I go to My Father and you see Me no more; of judgment, because the ruler of this world is judged'.

-Jn 16,13-15: 'However, when He, the Spirit of truth, has come, He will guide you into all truth; for He will not speak on His own authority, but whatever He hears He will speak; and He will tell you things to come. He will glorify Me, for He will take of what is Mine and declare it to you. All things that the Father has are Mine. Therefore I said that He will take of Mine and declare it to you'.


The Lord has spoken, 'et tout le reste est littérature'. Jesus words in John's Gospel are almost self-explanatory. However, we will attempt to analyse the above verses in order to extract the main functions he attributes to the Holy Spirit under the title Paraclete. For this, we must first turn to another book by the same author: John's First Catholic or Universal letter. In chapter 2, verse 1, the Evangelist clearly states that Jesus Christ plays an intercessory role, that He pleads on behalf of all believers: 'And if anyone sins, we have an Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous'.

As we can see, the Paraclete Himself is the fruit of the intercession of Jesus ('I will pray the Father and He will give you another Helper, that He may abide with you forever'). With these words, Jesus is giving us a key to interpret the main role of the Paraclete in the life of the Church: being 'another Jesus' (see Brown in the Bibliography section below). Since the Paraclete can only come when Jesus departs (Jn 16,7: '[…] if I do not go away, the Helper will not come to you'), He is clearly the presence of Jesus in the soul of each believer when Jesus is absent and the fulfillment of His promise in the closing chapter of St Matthew's Gospel: 'I am with you always, even to the end of the age'. We move from the physical presence of Jesus to a new spiritual presence.

Jesus, then, does not leave His disciples 'as orphans' after His ascension; through the Paraclete, He assists them along the way as an inner light ('He dwells in you and will be in you') that dissipates the darkness of death and encourages them to keep on walking despite the hate of the world ('whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees Him nor knows Him'). The Medieval Latin hymn Veni, Sancte Spiritus, commonly attributed to Stephen Langton, Archbishop of Canterbury between 1207 and 1228, expresses it in a fairly poetic way: 'consolator optime, dulcis hospes animae'.

But the Paraclete is not only a gentle figure that impulses the disciples amidst the difficulties. According to the Saviour's words, He is 'the Spirit of truth' who will lead the Church 'to all truth'. He has authority, an authority derived from His Divine Essence as Third Person of the Holy Trinity ('He will not speak on His own authority, but whatever He hears He will speak'). The Paraclete is the Teacher of the Church ('He will teach you all things, and bring to your remembrance all things that I said to you'). If we can have confidence in the Apostles' doctrine faithfully handed down to us in the Church, it is precisely because the Holy Spirit is its Instructor from Pentecost until today. So great is this authority that Blessed Augustine, one of the greatest theologians of the Orthodox West, wrote in his Letter against the Manicheans: 'Ego vero Evangelio non crederem, nisi me catholicae Ecclesiae commoveret auctoritas' ('For my part, I should not believe the gospel except as moved by the authority of the Catholic Church'). Because the Holy Spirit is the Spirit of truth, and because this Spirit abides in the Church, the Church is the guardian of all Truth. As St. John Chrysostom notes in one of his Homilies: 'it is the power of the Holy Spirit that taught them all things"'.

The Paraclete brings to remembrance Christ's words and makes us living testimonies (Gr., 'martyres') of the eternal Gospel ('He will testify of Me. And you also will bear witness, because you have been with Me from the beginning'). Through the illumination brought by the Holy Spirit, the world will be convicted (i.e. proven wrong) concerning its sin (especially the fact of having denied Jesus Christ as Messiah), righteousness (which it failed to accept from Christ with faith and thanksgiving) and judgment (for all who reject Christ will receive the same penalty that the ruler of this world has received). Moreover, the disciples become 'prophets', as Saint Peter says in his Pentecostal discourse (Acts 2,17, quoting from the book of Joel).

Finally, the Paraclete glorifies Jesus by acting as a chain of transmission of His (and through Him the Father's) message to His disciples: 'He will take of what is Mine and declare it to you. All things that the Father has are Mine. Therefore I said that He will take of Mine and declare it to you'. This eminently Trinitarian formulation takes us back to our first point: the Spirit continues the presence of Jesus in the Church today and until the end of History.


Pentecost, when the Paraclete descended on the Apostles as tongues of fire, marks the birth (Gr. 'genesis') of the Church. The Holy Spirit is the source of life of the Church, the one that sustains it and keeps it alive. He is not just an abstract force, but the Third Person of the Godhead. In his book Against Heresies, chapter 3, Saint Irenaeus of Lyon says: 'For where the Church is, there is the Spirit of God; and where the Spirit of God is, there is the Church, and every kind of grace'. Tertullian called the Church 'Ecclesia Spiritus Sancti' (a title later borrowed by Archpriest Nicholas Afanassieff for one of his most famous works; cf. Bibliography below). Without the presence of the Holy Spirit, the Church would be just a human institution.

The Orthodox Church, and she alone, has kept intact the proper relationship between the three Persons of the Holy Trinity as expressed in the Niceno-Constantinopolitan Creed: with respect to God's working salvation in the world, the Son sends the Holy Spirit from the Father, but with respect to the divine nature, the Holy Spirit eternally proceeds from the Father alone. Many of the heresies old and new (e.g. Subordinationism, Arianism, Macedonianism, Monarchianism, Triteism, Unitarianism) have tried to destabilise the proper balance between the Persons of the Trinity. Western Christianity, in introducing the 'filioque' (cf. Saint Photios the Great's Mystagogy of the Holy Spirit), has 'de facto' marginalised the Paraclete's role, as has been recognised by many Latin theologians in modern times: 'For some, unfortunately, the Paraclete is the Great Stranger, the Great Unknown. He is merely a name that is mentioned, but not Someone, not one of the three persons in the one God, with whom we can talk and with whose life we can live' (Saint Josemaría Escrivá, Christ is passing by; also used by Pope Emeritus Benedict the XVI in various homilies).

So important is the role of the Paraclete in the life of the Orthodox Church that most of her services begin with the prayer called in Greek 'basileu ouranie': 'O Heavenly King, the Comforter, the Spirit of Truth, Who art everywhere present and fillest all things; Treasury of Blessings, and Giver of Life; come and abide in us, and cleanse us from every impurity, and save our souls, O Good One'. Even more importantly, all the Mysteries or Sacraments of our Church become effective means of Grace through the action of the Paraclete: the 'epiclesis' in the Eucharistic prayer (which, curiously enough, was absent from the traditional Latin Mass and only reintroduced in the Novus Ordo after the Second Vatican Council), the invocation of the Holy Spirit ('sfragís agíou pnéumatos') during Chrismation, etc.


As Orthodox Christians, we are called to have a living and conscious relationship with the Paraclete. He is not a character from the past, but the living presence of Jesus among us today. He is as operative in our times as He was when He descended upon the Virgin Mary at the Annunciation or upon Jesus at His Baptism. This same Spirit led Jesus into the Desert and helped Him overcome the Devils' temptations, thus marking the beginning of His "public ministry" of salvation. He changes hearts in an invisible way: as the wind (Heb. 'ruah'), He 'blows where it wishes' and we 'hear the sound of it' even though we 'cannot tell where it comes from'.

We need to be attentive to the Paraclete's continuous inspirations and motions, and the best way to achieve this is to be faithful members of the Ecclesial community to which He gave birth and where He is still active.


Apart from various translations (King JamesThe Jerusalem BibleNew International VersionOrthodox Study Bible) of the Holy Scriptures in different languages (English, Spanish, French, Romanian), we have consulted the following works for the elaboration of this essay:

Afanassieff, N. L'Église du Saint Esprit. Paris, Les Éditions du Cerf, 1975.

Alféyev, H. El Misterio de la Fe. Una introducción a la Teología Ortodoxa, Granada, Editorial Nuevo Inicio, 2014.

Brown, R. The Gospel according to John, New Haven, Yale University Press, 1995.

Escrivá de Balaguer, J.M. Es Cristo que pasa, Madrid, Rialp, 1973.

Lacueva, F. Un Dios en tres Personas, Viladecavalls, CLIE, 2006.

Lagrange, J.M. El Evangelio de Nuestro Señor Jesucristo, Barcelona, Editorial Litúrgica Española, 1942.

Peridou, G. Dictionnaire Grec-Français / Français-Grec, Athens, Vassileiou, 1972.

Photios. The Mystagogy of the Holy Spirit. Brooklin, Holy Cross Orthodox Press, 1995

Ratzinger, J. Introducción al cristianismo. Lecciones sobre el Credo apostólico, Salamanca, Sígueme, 2005.

Various. Concordancia de la Reina-Valera Revisada 1960, Bogotá, Sociedades Bíblicas Unidas, 1964.

José Pino, July 2015