Sunday, May 31, 2015

Is the Holy Spirit a She? An answer from the Catechism and Liturgicam Authenticam

Twitter Card
I read  a long post by Clare Short of Faith in our Families blog, which describes her disagreement with some prominent priests who claim that the Holy Spirit is feminine. Here are some relevant tweets:


Twitter post
Fr. Dan Fitzpatrick agrees that the Holy Spirit is female

The controversy has been acrimonious to the point that one of the priests threatened to sue Clare Short for libel. [UPDATE: Fr. Fitzpatrick has removed his tweet and won't anymore sue for libel.]

A. Catechism of the Catholic Church

To answer whether the Holy Spirit is male or female, we turn to St. Ignatius of Loyola as our guide:
Thirteenth Rule. To be right in everything, we ought always to hold that the white which I see, is black, if the Hierarchical Church so decides it, believing that between Christ our Lord, the Bridegroom, and the Church, His Bride, there is the same Spirit which governs and directs us for the salvation of our souls. Because by the same Spirit and our Lord Who gave the ten Commandments, our holy Mother the Church is directed and governed. 
 Now, the definitive guide to Catholic teaching is the Catechism of the Catholic Church and this is what it says regarding the Holy Spirit:
687 "No one comprehends the thoughts of God except the Spirit of God."7 Now God's Spirit, who reveals God, makes known to us Christ, his Word, his living Utterance, but the Spirit does not speak of himself. The Spirit who "has spoken through the prophets" makes us hear the Father's Word, but we do not hear the Spirit himself. We know him only in the movement by which he reveals the Word to us and disposes us to welcome him in faith. The Spirit of truth who "unveils" Christ to us "will not speak on his own."8 Such properly divine self-effacement explains why "the world cannot receive [him], because it neither sees him nor knows him," while those who believe in Christ know the Spirit because he dwells with them.9
Notice the following pronouns ascribed to the Holy Spirit: He, Him, Himself. From this it is clear that in the Catholic usage, the Holy Spirit is referred to as masculine.

B. Liturgicam Authenticam

Liturgicam Authenticam, the church document which governs the translation of liturgical texts, also states:
Just as has occurred at other times in history, the Church herself must freely decide upon the system of language that will serve her doctrinal mission most effectively, and should not be subject to externally imposed linguistic norms that are detrimental to that mission.... In referring to almighty God or the individual persons of the Most Holy Trinity, the truth of tradition as well as the established gender usage of each respective language are to be maintained.
In English, the Church has clearly prescribed in the Catechism that the Holy Spirit is a He and not a She, so this must be respected by English speakers. And there is no Church tradition which says that the Holy Spirit is a She.

While it is true that the "spirit" is ""ruach", a feminine word in Hebrew, the Catechism clearly states that the term "Holy Spirit" is a theological term distinct from the original meanings of "Holy" and "Spirit" taken separately in the original languages, so that if ruach is female in Hebrew, it does not immediately follow that the Holy Spirit is female, too:
691...The term "Spirit" translates the Hebrew word ruah, which, in its primary sense, means breath, air, wind. Jesus indeed uses the sensory image of the wind to suggest to Nicodemus the transcendent newness of him who is personally God's breath, the divine Spirit.17 On the other hand, "Spirit" and "Holy" are divine attributes common to the three divine persons. By joining the two terms, Scripture, liturgy, and theological language designate the inexpressible person of the Holy Spirit, without any possible equivocation with other uses of the terms "spirit" and "holy." (Catechism)
The Catholic Exchange, for example, describes the problem of deducing the femininity or masculinity of a thing based on its grammatical gender:
For instance, the Hebrew word for army is tsavah which is feminine — though the ancient armies were comprised entirely of men. Moreover the Hebrew word for spirit, ruach is feminine but the New Testament Greek equivalent pneuma is neuter. Jesus’ description of the spirit as “paraclete” uses the Greek word parakletos which means advocate or lawyer; this word is masculine. Even if one insists on connecting grammatical gender to personal gender, the evidence simply does not support any conclusion about the “gender” of the Holy Spirit.
And the article concludes:
There is however scriptural support for identifying the Holy Spirit as “he” based not on the gender of nouns which are fixed by the norms of the language, but rather based on pronouns which vary according to the gender of the noun represented. In at least one case in John 16:13 the demonstrative pronoun referring to the spirit is “he” rather than “she” or “it,” despite the fact that pneuma the referent word in Greek for “spirit” is neuter. This suggests a deliberate choice on the part of the inspired author to use a masculine pronoun to refer to the Holy Spirit. Thus Christians ought not to refer to the Holy Spirit as “she” since this is neither the way the Bible reveals the Spirit nor is it the way the Church speaks of Him.

C. Conclusion

The Catechism of the Catholic Church Art. 687 clearly describes the Holy Spirit as a He, which is consonant with the tradition of the Church. Since Liturgicam Authenticam prescribes that the choice of pronoun for the Third Person of Holy Trinity must be according to Church tradition and the rules of usage, then we must refer back to the Catechism and conclude that the Holy Spirit must be referred to as a He. The Holy Spirit is a theological term distinct from the words "holy" and "spirit" taken separately, and even if "spirit" is female in Hebrew, we must abide with the church's usage by calling the Holy Spirit as He.


On the Holy Spirit
On the Holy Spirit
Thomas Aquinas: Gifts of the Spirit
Thomas Aquinas: Gifts of the Spirit
Early Modern Jesuits between Obedience and Conscience during the Generalate of Claudio Acquaviva (1581-1615)
Early Modern Jesuits between Obedience and Conscience during the Generalate of Claudio Acquaviva (1581-1615)
Catechism of the Catholic Church
Catechism of the Catholic Church
Why Translation Matters (Why X Matters Series)
Why Translation Matters (Why X Matters Series)
The Ancient Hebrew Language and Alphabet: Understanding the Ancient Hebrew Language of the Bible Based on Ancient Hebrew Culture and Thought
The Ancient Hebrew Language and Alphabet: Understanding the Ancient Hebrew Language of the Bible Based on Ancient Hebrew Culture and Thought
Greek New Testament-FL (Greek Edition)
Greek New Testament-FL (Greek Edition)