Faith in the Holy Spirit, who is “Lord and giver of life, who with the Father and Son are worshipped and glorified, who has spoken through the prophets” is contained in the message of the the NT and had been proclaimed by the Council of Constantinople in 381. Christianity affirms Trinitarian monotheism: the one God that Christians adore is God the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. Such faith finds its origin and basis in this: from recognizing in Jesus of Nazareth the Son sent by the Father, the living God, who saves us in his Spirit. The Holy Spirit belongs to the confession of faith in Jesus Christ and with it takes account of the truth and power of the revelation and of the gift of Christian salvation.

                        Ruach Yahweh: the “Spirit of God” in OT

The experience of Israel: the cosmological, anthropological, theological moment of the “ruach”

The meaning of spirit comes from a primordial nucleus: spirit in its varied forms (spiritus in Latin, Pneuma in Greek, Ruach in Hebrew, and maybe atman in Sanskrit) refers initially to breath of air and also to human breath.

To know what Christian faith intends when it speaks of the Holy Spirit (not claiming originality but as bringer of revelation) we must confront the readings and the interpretations of the documents of faith, and thus, in the first place, the Bible.

Why does Israel speak of “spirit” in relation to its God? And on the basis of what experience? What is the itinerary completed by the notion of “ruach” referred to the God of the OT? We need to answer these to appreciate the novelty of the biblical announcement of the Spirit and of its content of revelation.


Ruach is present in may OT texts and its not easy to make a comprehensive presentation. In each case, it is connected to the experience of wind in its mysterious and irresistible power as force of life. There is a need to know the experience of the impetuous winds, which people in biblical times did, often continuing through night and day, hissing winds often furious and terrifying, to understand why there is an association between this force of nature and religious experience.

The wind was one of the realities to which the pagan world has attributed a mythical meaning. This characterization of wind is also found in the oldest biblical ideas. But for Israel, wind was not pure force of nature nor of autonomous divine or demonic being but a force that was attached to God who is the creator and preserver of life. The wind was his breath (Ez 15:10). Isaiah speaks of the force of the wind that moves the trees (7:2) and sweeps the straws on the mountains (17,13), but remains entirely in the hands of the Lord.


Wind is attached also to the breath that is the symptom of life, condition of life, and even life itself. When a person dies, he loses the ruach. The life of man depends on the proximity or the power of the ruach (Ps 78,39; 104,29; Eccles 3,21; 12, 17). According to the religious reasoning of Israel, even the breath of being alive cannot but have God as the origin. But like the breath in the creatures, God can also take it back (Ps 104, 29f; cf Job 34, 14f).

In its autonomy from God, ruach is nothing and must be continually vivified by God. The Lord does not only dominate the breath of man, but his whole being.

There are levels in the spirit of man: the vegetative, the psychological, but ruach designates the gift of grace, meaning a dynamic relationship, fruit of the free initiative of God; not an entity but a mode of being before God, together with God.

It is difficult to determine the distinction and the connection between physical animation and the spiritual. Ruach retains a certain ambiguity: perhaps this is to affirm that “nature” and “grace” do not have any reality and consistency if not dependent on the Spirit of God.


It must be understood this way because ruach is a term that also refers to the specifically theological context: the “Spirit” of God is designated by the same word, although constituting a reality qualitatively different from the preceding usages. The decisive mark of the idea of spirit in the OT is precisely its relation to the personality of God: the Spirit is the personal power of the living God, that belongs to him as his breath. The actions of the “Spirit” are the actions of God. This Spirit is not analyzed in itself or systematically: it is described in its acting.

The power of life of Ruach Yhwh is opposed to the weakness and error of man (Is 31,3). Ruach, spoken of God, expressed the absolute living reality; spoken of man, concerns the dependent living reality in all levels.

In particular, the story that is read by Israel as the place of the action of God: in history Israel experienced the power of the “Spirit of God”. The biblical God is not the emphasis, the greatest possibility, of the power experienced by man in the world, but is the living Lord of nature and of man. Therefore Israel must not link the manifestations of the Spirit of God with ecstatic or divine phenomena, but must welcome the presence of God in the design that he works in and through history.

In the beginning in Israel, ecstatic phenomena were considered the typical manner of experiencing the Spirit: the heavy breath, internal agitation, convulsions, were symptoms of the taking away of the fullness of life, the presence of the divinity (cf 1Sam 10,5; 19, 18-24). But with the great prophets this form of religious experience is purified and the action of the “Breath of God” is more redirected to the ambit of spirituality and interiority.

In ecstasy man believes himself identified with God. The prophets, in spite of extreme realism with which they perceive and express the presence of God, recognize always the infinite difference that separate them from the divine, while reaffirming with force that the Spirit of God creates a new heart, that is free for love, that conforms to divine will, and enables radical eschatological transformation (Ezek 18,31; Joel 3,15). The “Breath”, the “Spirit of God” as God apart from man and apart from the world, is a force that transforms men and makes them capable to act exceptionally, destined to confirm the people in their vocation as servants and collaborators of God: since he comes from God and is oriented to God, he is “holy” and since he is makes present and consecrates Israel to the God of the covenant, he is “sanctifier.”

The action of God through the Spirit is said to follow 3 lines: the messianic line of salvation, the prophetic line of the word and testimony, and the sacrificial line of service and consecration.

thanks to Dizionario di Teologia  (Andrea Milano)