The Spirit

A lot of Franciscan theology is shown to be strongly focused on the Son, incarnate Word and Christ.

This section gives a specific consideration of the nature and work of the Spirit of God from both a biblical perspective and some examination of Duns Scotus.

There is also an additional note on The Spirit concieved of as field of force from Pannenberg

I conclude the Spirit is the active divine agent in the making of the conditions of life and development of humanity.

Biblical perspectives

In the Genesis stories it is the Spirit of God that hovers over the primal chaos (1:2) and breaths into man the breath of life (2:7). It is what makes man the animate being that makes his body alive. In Psalm 104:29 creatures die when their breath is taken away but then God’s Spirit is sent out the world is renewed. The very idea behind this is the connection between breath, life and the Spirit of God and the animating and ongoing activities of life, the Spirit is God’s agency by which things come about and happen. In other parts of the Old Testament the Spirit of God comes upon his prophets and ministers as a power to do things, to carry out the divine will, sometimes with unusual powers over matter, or unusual personal abilities.

Something similar can be seen in the New Testament. The Spirit comes to Mary to be the agency through whom Jesus will be given life and birth. Thus the Spirit is the activating creative act of God in her life for the world. It is the Spirit that rests upon Jesus at His Baptism and it can be argued that the divine Son in the flesh of Jesus works with the special endowment of the Spirit that empowers his work and mission. It will later be given to the disciples at Pentecost to empower them to carry the news of His life and ministry to others and be transformed in their character. The Spirit also aids them in their life of prayer by uttering their groans experienced in trouble and when they are not sure what to pray.

In New Testament the Spirit of God (called the Holy Spirit) is spoken of in much more personal terms as another personal agency united to God the Father as is also the Son. And this led in turn to the later church councils that agree that the Holy Spirit is another “person” within the unity of the Trinity, to be “worshipped and glorified” along with the Father and the Son.

I will deal with the role of the Holy Spirit in relation to empowering the church and in the life of the disciples in a later chapter but for now I want to explore more about the nature of the Spirit as seen thought the eyes of Duns Scotus and in relation to God’s Being and the Spirit in creation and then some consideration of something I found in the wrtitings of Pannenberg.

Some perspectives from Scotus

As with other medieval theologians Scotus makes a somewhat forensic philosophical analysis of what the Trinity may be in terms of constitution and relationships, although nothing is provable in any way and it all remains a matter of belief based on principles and prior faith and tradition presidents.

The “persons” of the Trinity are distinguished by their relations of paternity, son and “spiration”. It was a general doctrinal and philosophical view that the Son is “generated” from the Father but the Spirit is “spirated”, meaning “breathed out” of God. This makes that characteristic link associated with the biblical texts of God’s breath that brings life. The original production  of the Spirit in eternity comes from a single act of spiration from Father and Son.

Although the original Nicene -Constantinople creed, upheld by the Orthodox Church speaks only of a “procession” of the Spirit from the Father only, Dun Scotus follows the Western Catholic tradition that added that the Word/Son is also involved in the act of the production and spiration because the Son receives the will and power of production from the Father. The spiration of the Spirit is from an infinite act of the divine self-love of the divine essence and comes from the joint act of will of Father and Son.

Because the Spirit comes from the Infinite divine essence it shares that infinity and shares in the divine memory. Both the Son and the Spirit love the divine essence as their proper focus because it is the most perfect object. Some had argued that the Father and Son loved each other because of the Spirit but Duns Scotus rejects this and insists they all love each other because of the divine essence. Love does not come only from the Spirit, it comes from their shared essence and existence as divine being. Thus the ultimate character of God is love and not the power of ruling. God is known and shown as self- giving lover. The Spirit is the breath of this love – breathed out into creation.

Today that difference between West and Eastern creeds about the origin of the Spirit has been  a source of past division. But maybe today it can be today a potential part of ecumenical discussion. While acknowledging the original wording of the creed and the latin addition, for good reasons against Arianism, it need not be a cause of permanent division. If we wanted to be more sympathetic to the original Eastern tradition we would need to say that while the Son could have been involved in the causal production of the Spirit with the Father, He may not have been, but is still involved in the willingness and love that makes the “spiration”  take place. In eternity the Father is the source of the Spirit alone from His own essence, but the Son the remains associated with the Spirit in the love shared by both Father and Son. Hence the Father involves the Son and acts through love with the Son to bring forth the Spirit. Jurgen Moltman  in “The Trinity and the Kingdom” suggests that we make the case that the Spirit proceeds from “the Father of the Son” thus linking the Father and Son but not as joint sources of origin.

Modern relevance

What relevance may this have to the subject of God and the evolution of life? A number of things suggest themselves

1) From the infinite and love of the divine essence, and in the divine essence,  the Spirit touches and unites all things.

It touches each individual thing with the love of God with the infinite connections in time and space. It is able to do so throughout cosmic time and vast expanse of space. It contains the divine knowledge of all parts of the cosmos and is part of the unifying nature brought into God’s relationships.

2) The Spirit is spoken of has hovering over the primal chaos in Genesis

it is the active agency of God proceeding to do God’s creative will in the original activity of organising the cosmos with its potentialities and provision for the probability of life and the evolution of humanity.

The Word of God is revealed and spoken in declaring the will of God to create but the Spirit is the active agency of the potential of the cosmos and life that brings it into existence. Denis Edwards in “God of Evolution: Trinitarian Theology” outlines a theology of the Spirit with reference to Karl Rahner’s “active self-transcendence”. There is no occasional activity intervening at specific times in evolution. The activity of God in evolution by the Spirit is an ongoing activity of God in the intrinsic processes of nature. God in the Spirit is always at work and immanent in the events of the natural order. The Spirit is not a power to be discovered among other forces of nature because the forces of nature have their own integrity. (See also “The Good and Humble God” elsewhere on this site).

3) The empowering agent

If we follow the biblical image of the Spirit as teacher and empowering and active agent among God’s people the Spirit is involved with development of rational creatures to guide their culture- infusing the nature of God’s love, assisting the Word in communication to the mind and will.

As the mind of man developed the Spirit was the interactive guiding agent that encouraged the growth toward a free love response, although this may be opposed by the free mind to will differently, and hence to sin. The Spirit provides the invitation to the free minds to respond and the inner power to become their intended being if they freely take that course.

4) United in groaning in suffering

St Paul speaks of the Spirit helping the believers in their time of trouble, in their groaning (Romans 8:26-27). This touch of the Spirit touching groaning humanity could also be applied to the solidarity of the Spirit in connection with the groaning and suffering of all of nature in the face of its struggle and emergence of new forms of life and the death of all things.

The Spirit is the connecting agency with the fullness of the compassion and love within the Trinity, the love that God has for all of creation. We should have a strong sense and belief in  the participation of God in the necessary painful aspects of freely evolving cosmos and life forms, not as a God who sits back and dispassionately views the saga of suffering and death that is part of the fabric life.

Pannenberg – Field of Force

In “Towards a theology of nature” Wolhart Pannenberg considers the Spirit as acting something like a field of force. There has developed in science various theories of “fields of force”, with magnetism and gravity as two prime examples, things that act on objects over some distance.  Pannenberg uses such an image as a suggestion of how God may act in creation, with activity of the Spirit concieved of in this way. Scotus had used the idea of Univocity ( aspects of observable things taken to their highest degree) in order to find ways to describe the nature of God. Following Pannenberg the ideas from physics such as gravity and other extensive pervading fields of force can also be another univocal means of describing the nature of God, who acts from without to act on the whole universe and draw it to some purposeful direction, and draw human minds into extistence and develop the human race to our ultimate goal of divine communion. God, acting throught the Spirit is the ultimate, infinite and most perfect field of force that causes the expansion of the cosmos, is the ground of biological evolution and the way of our ultimate destiny as Beings in Communion.


The Spirit of God, also called the Holy Spirit, shares the divine essence and the mutal love of the divine essence is what unites the Trinity. While the Word represents to us the Intellect  of God the Spirit appears as the active agency by which the cosmos takes shape and the evolution takes its course. A way into seeing God’s action in connection with the world may be to see the Spirit as something like an infinite field of force that transcends all others and by which God’s creative and renewing activity is made present.


Breath on me Breath of God

Fill me with life anew

That I may love what thou dost love

And do what thou would do