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By Andrew M. Greenwell, Esq.

5/20/2013 (2 years ago)

Catholic Online (

"As a fire," the "uncreate and everlasting Fire," the Paraclete "came down from heaven on the day of Pentecost," and "as a fire, the Paraclete burns "away the dross of sin and vanity in the heart and dost light up the pure flame of devotion and affection."  The Paraclete is He who unites "heaven and earth by showing to us the glory and beauty of the Divine Nature," and therefore makes us love the Godhead for the very glory and beauty that it is. 


By Andrew M. Greenwell, Esq.

Catholic Online (

5/20/2013 (2 years ago)

Published in Living Faith

Keywords: paraclete, holy spirit, pentecost, Pope Francis, G. M. Hopkins, John Henry Cardinal Newman, Andrew M. Greenwell

CORPUS CHRISTI, TX (Catholic Online) - As we celebrate the Feast of Pentecost, the Feast Day of the Paraclete, it might behoove us to explore the word Paraclete as part of our series on the three sacred languages, Tres Linguae Sacrae.

The word Paraclete, a noun, is one of the words used in St. John's Gospel to describe the Holy Spirit.  It is, as it were, one of the formal names for the Holy Spirit.  But it is also used to refer to Jesus Christ.  It is a transliteration, and not a translation, of the Greek.

"And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate [allon paraklēton] to be with you always, the Spirit of truth . . . ." (John 14:16-17)

"The Advocate [paraklētos], the holy Spirit that the Father will send in my name--he will teach you everything and remind you of all that I told you." (John 14:26)

"When the Advocate [ho paraklētos] comes whom I will send you from the Father, the Spirit of truth that proceeds from the Father, he will testify to me."  (John 15:26)

"But I tell you the truth, it is better for you that I go.  For if I do not go, the Advocate [ho paraklētos] will not come to you.  But if I go, I will send him to you."  (John 16:7)

"My children, I am writing this to you so that you may not commit sin. But if anyone does sin, we have an Advocate [paraklēton] with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous one." (1 John 2:1)

A mere glance at the Scriptures shows immediately that, as the Jesuit priest-poet Gerard Manley Hopkins once put it in a Sermon, "both Christ and the Holy Ghost are Paracletes."

The Paraclete we celebrate on Pentecost Sunday is, of course, the Holy Spirit, the "Spirit of truth."  This is the Holy Spirit we sing about in the Latin hymn Veni Creator Spiritus:

Qui diceris Paraclitus /Altissimi donum Dei / Fons vivus, ignis, caritas / Et spritalis unctio.
You who are called Paraclete / Gift of God most high / Font of life, fire, love / And spiritual unction

The word Paraclete (in Latin Paraclitus or Paracletus) is a transliteration of the Greek word in the Biblical text, paraklētos (παράκλητος).  It is a word that is formed from the Greek para (παρά), meaning "close to" or "beside," and kaléō (καλέω), meaning "to call aloud" or "invite."

Outside the context of Scripture, the word paraclete has legal significance.  A paraclete is a lawyer, an advocate, a counselor: one who stands beside (L. ad / Gk. para) and is summoned or called (L. vocatum / Gr. kaléō) by a person to help him after he has been summoned to court or to a task.  Ignorant of the law or ways of God or incapable of complying with them, the Christian is in need of an adviser, a counselor, an advocate, a helper to help know that law and to fulfill it.

There are several features of the Greek word that should be stressed in order to gain some insight into its meaning. 

First, an interesting aspect of the word Paraclete is that it is passive in form, so it is not entirely accurate to translate it with active nouns such as intercessor, advocate, comfort, helper, consoler, exhorter, encourager, and so forth.  It is more accurate, though perhaps cumbersome in English, to regard the Paraclete as He who is called to intercede, to advocate, to comfort, to help, to exhort, to encourage, and so on.

Second, it is interesting to focus on who is the one who is called, as the paraclete or advocate, is in aid of the one being called before the bar.  Christians are the called, the klētoi.  We are called (klētoi) of Jesus Christ (Rom. 1:6, 7), we--whether Greek or Jew--are the ones whom God has called (klētois) (1 Cor. 1:24).  We are the ones called (klētois) to be saints ( 1 Cor. 1:1, 2).  It is to fulfill our calling that warrants the need for a helper a counselor (paraklētos), because we are unable to fulfill the calling on our own.

Third, although frequently translated as counselor or advocate, this translation, though not inaccurate, unnecessarily restricts the broad, far richer meaning of the word, and so is inadequate.  The word Paraclete, then, might be said to be a word of many colors, sort of like the coat of the Patriarch Joseph.  It is a rich office assumed by He who is called upon to intercede, advocate, comfort, help, console, exhort, encourage.  It is this reason which probably drove St. Jerome to transliterate the word into Latin as paraclitus in his translation of the Greek Scriptures, instead of the literal Latin translation advocatus

Aware of the rich connotations of the word Paraclete, the Jesuit-priest-poet Gerard Manley Hopkins had this so say in a sermon preached in Liverpool on April 25, 1882: "A Paraclete is one who comforts, who cheers, who encourages, who persuades, who exhorts, who stirs up, who urges forward, one calls on." 

Hopkins continues: "what the spur and word of command is to a horse, what clapping of hands is to a speaker, what a trumpet is to the soldier, that a Paraclete is to the soul: one who calls us on, that is what it means." 

To what end this encouragement, this comforting, this urging us on, this persuasion? Hopkins answers: "a Paraclete is one who calls us on to good . . . .a Paraclete is just that, something that cheers the spirit of man, with signals and with cries, all zealous that he should do something and full of assurance that if he will he can, calling him on, springing to meet him half way, crying to his ears or to his heart: This way to  do God's will, this way to save your soul, come on, come on!"

The Paraclete, Hopkins tenuously suggests, is like a fellow ball player or cricket player, even a cheerleader or friend who urges us on, who keeps up morale, camaraderie, who encourages us to win against an adversary, to complete the task before us, to fight the good fight, to finish the race, to keep the faith.  (Cf. 2 Tim. 4:7)

Pope Francis has a very strong view of the Paraclete.  In an audience with the Cardinals on March 15, 2013, Pope Francis had this to say: "He, the Paraclete, is the supreme protagonist of every initiative and manifestation of faith. . . . The Paraclete creates all the differences in the Church . . . [yet] [o]n the other hand unifies all these differences, not making them equal but in harmony with one another.  I remember a Church father who described it like this: ipse harmonia est [He himself is harmony].  The Paraclete gives each one of us a different charism, and unites us in this community of the Church that adores the Father, the Son, and Him--the Holy Spirit."

The Paraclete, Blessed Cardinal Newman wrote in some Meditations, has a four-fold office.  As the Creator Spirit, the Paraclete is the "life of all things."  As the soul of the Church, the Paraclete is the "life of the Church."  The Paraclete is also intimately part of the Christian; indeed, He is the supernatural "life of the soul" of the Christian.  And, last, but certainly not least, the Paraclete is the "fount of love," in God and in man.

The Paraclete is present in creation, both material and spiritual creation, in the life of both nature and grace, as the "Life of all that live," the "life of the whole creation." Through the Paraclete "the whole material Universe hangs together and consists, remains in its place, and moves internally in the order and reciprocity of its several parts."  So the Paraclete is behind "that awful triumph of nature," and the entirety of its "animal and material framework," testifying to the existence of God.  For this reason, God's existence can be "clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, his eternal power, also, and divinity," so we are without excuse in rejecting God.
But the Paraclete is not some immanent principle, some "world spirit," or "spirit of the times."  The Paraclete transcends nature and the material (being God, He is wholly Other from his creation), and so also is behind the supernatural life, the life of Grace.  The Paraclete is He who is behind the songs of praise the angels and saints pray in heaven, and it is He who enlivens the dead to serve God. 

The Paraclete is the source of all good--natural and supernatural, Newman observed.  "From Thee," Blessed Newman prays, "is every good thought and desire, every good purpose, every good effort, every good success."

The Paraclete is at the heart of the Church, that "great company of saints," the "communion between God above and man below," that portion of "heaven upon earth" that gives the "light of grace," the seed of the "light of glory," to all Catholics in its fullness.  Indeed, there would be no Catholic Church without the Paraclete, just as there would be no Church without Christ.  The Church was established and is maintained by the Paraclete, being continually filled with His gifts "that men may see, draw near, and take, and live." 

The Paraclete saves us from impiety and from eternal damnation.  "I should have lived and died in darkness and sin; I should have become worse and worse the longer I lived; I should have got more to hate and abjure Thee, O Source of my bliss; I should have got yearly more fit for hell, and at length I should have gone there, but for Thy incomprehensible love to me," humbly prays the Blessed Henry Newman.

It is the Paraclete who, through baptism, makes us new creatures in Christ and members of Christ's Church.  It is the Paraclete who, through the promptings of actual grace, draws men into her from the outside "infallibly"--even those like Cardinal Newman who (he humbly acknowledges) "did nothing towards it" and indeed "did everything against it" so as to "thwart" the Paraclete's purpose.  The Paraclete does this for no other reason than it is part of His "wise reason" and "inscrutable love," an "overpowering love," a love which while it respects our freedom, yet "prevails," and therefore makes takes one "captive."

The Paraclete plays a central role in the life of the individual Catholic Christian.  He teaches the faithful, He prompts the faithful, "to come to the fountains of mercy continually with an awakened, eager mind, and with lively devotion," thereby assuring a continual life of grace.  He instills in the faithful a "love of [His] Sacraments and Ordinances."  He teaches the Christian to "value as [one] ought, "the great and heavenly gift of the Presence of Him whose Spirit Thou art, upon the Altar," God in the Eucharist.

The Paraclete fulfills His office concretely, on a one-by-one basis, soul-by-soul, intimately, persistently.  So the Paraclete might be said to have taken upon Himself, through an "incomprehensible condescension," "the office of a minister," the very curate of each man's soul.

As God's minister to each human soul, the Paraclete pursues us with unmitigated indefatigability and untiring dedication, even though we might wish "to be left, to go [our] own way, to go straight forward in [our] willfulness and self-trust to hell," and even though He would be justified to abandon us to our own devices. 

We are at a total loss without the Paraclete: "Without Thee I can do nothing," Blessed John Henry Newman prays, "and Thou art there where Thy Church is and Thy Sacraments.  Give me grace to rest in them for ever, till they are lost in the glory of Thy manifestation in the world to come." 

The Paraclete is the "light and the life" of the Christian soul.  He does this, not only by "giving . . . good suggestions," by "inspiring grace and helping from without," by cleansing the soul with "inward virtue," but more remarkably by dwelling in the soul by grace "in an ineffable way," thereby "uniting" the soul to God Himself, and thereby to "the whole company of angels and saints."

Even more, the Paraclete is actually "present in" the Christian, and "in some sense" even absorbs us into God, thus binding us to God "not only by [His] grace, but by [His] eternal substance."  But he does this with no loss to our "own individuality."  It is, Blessed Newman observed, as though the Paraclete had "taken possession of my very, body, this earthly, fleshly, wretched tabernacle-even my body is Thy Temple.  O astonishing, awful truth!  I believe it, I know it, O my God!"

It is horrible to contemplate that, even with all the Paraclete's gifts--even the gift of Himself--we can be so heedless of the Paraclete and entertain and indeed act on sin.  To act on serious sin means to "expel" that "Divine Inhabitant" since sin is the one thing "which He abhors more than anything else, [and] which is the one thing in the whole world which is offensive to Him, the only thing which is not His."  We do this even though He is bound "so intimately" with our soul, as to be virtually part of it.  It is incomprehensible that we can "forget who is with," indeed "in" us when we sin and spurn the Paraclete. 

The Paraclete, however, is the great preserver from sin, and gives us a "double security against sinning."  The first is that He instills in the Christian faithful, "the dread of such a profanation," the same dread of sin that the Paraclete Himself has.  The second is that we may "trust that that Presence," of the Paraclete Himself, "will preserve [us] from sin."   The flesh is weak, but the Spirit is always willing.  (Cf. Matt. 26:41; Mark 14:38)

The Paraclete is our infallible recourse against sinning: "My God," we should pray, "Thou wilt go from me, if I sin; and I shall be left to my own miserable self.  God forbid!  I will use what Thou hast given me; I will call on Thee when tried and tempted.  I will guard against the sloth and carelessness into which I am continually falling. Through Thee I will never forsake Thee."

The Paraclete's other name is Love, for the Paraclete is "that Living Love, wherewith the Father and the Son love each other," Newman says.  The Paraclete is therefore the "Author of supernatural love in our hearts-"Fons vivus, ignis, caritas," the fount of life, fire, and charity, as the hymn Veni Creator Spiritus goes. 

"As a fire," the "uncreate and everlasting Fire," the Paraclete "came down from heaven on the day of Pentecost," and "as a fire, the Paraclete burns "away the dross of sin and vanity in the heart and dost light up the pure flame of devotion and affection."  The Paraclete is He who unites "heaven and earth by showing to us the glory and beauty of the Divine Nature," and therefore makes us love the Godhead for the very glory and beauty that it is. 

The Paraclete is the great confirmer, as it is He who has been and is "the strength, the vigour and endurance, of the martyr in the midst of his torments," the "the stay of the confessor in his long, tedious, and humiliating toils," the "fire, by which the preacher wins souls, without thought of himself, in his missionary labours." 

The Paraclete is the great awakener.  By the Paraclete "we wake up from the death of sin, to exchange the idolatry of the creature for the pure love of the Creator."

The Paraclete is the great mover, who inspires us to do "acts of faith, hope, charity, and contrition."  He is the fire which is kindled in us the desire to "pray, and mediate, and do penance." 

The Paraclete is the soul's great medicine, a prophylaxis against sin.  By the Paraclete, the Christian is able to "live in the atmosphere of earth, proof against its infection."

The Paraclete is the soul's great light and source of life.  "As well could our bodies live, if the sun were extinguished, as our souls, if Thou art away," Newman prays.

The Paraclete is God's great undeserved, unmerited, and entirely gratuitous gift.  The Paraclete is He whom we must thank for not becoming "worse and worse as years went on," for if unaided we would even "tend to be a devil."  The Paraclete is He whom we must thank if in any way we "differ at all from the world," because the Paraclete has "chosen" us "out of the world," and elected to light up "the love of God in [our] heart." 

The Paraclete is the great maker of saints, the sap of their vine, the juice of their fruits.  If we "differ" from God's Saints as a result of sin or imperfection, it is not the Paraclete's fault.  No.  Rather it is our own.  It is because we do not ask "earnestly enough" for the Paraclete's grace, or we fail to ask for "for enough of it," or because we "do not diligently improve" what the Paraclete has already given us.  We let lie fallow some of the Paraclete's gifts.

This Pentecost Sunday, we ought to pray, as Blessed John Henry Newman did, in this manner to the Paraclete with boldness:

"Increase in me this grace of love, in spite of all my unworthiness.
It is more precious than anything else in the world.
I accept it in place of all the world can give me. 
O give it to me!  It is my life."


Andrew M. Greenwell is an attorney licensed to practice law in Texas, practicing in Corpus Christi, Texas.  He is married with three children.  He maintains a blog entirely devoted to the natural law called Lex Christianorum.  You can contact Andrew at


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