Scripture breathes the Holy Spirit

Editorial, June/July 2011

Recently I read a little book on the mystery of God’s word by Fr. Raniero Cantalamessa, O.F.M.Cap. (Jesus Began to Preach, Liturgical Press, 2010). The author is the well-known theologian and preacher to the papal household.  He has held that position since 1980.

The last chapter is about the spiritual reading of the Bible. There he makes an important point that I would like to pass on to the readers of HPR. The main idea in the book is that the word becomes or gives life because it contains and breathes the Holy Spirit. In the application to the Bible, Cantalamessa says that just as God not only created all things and also dwells in them by his power keeping them in existence, so also as the author of Scripture—the Holy Spirit—dwells in the word and gives it life.

St. Paul says, “All Scripture is inspired by God” (2 Tm 3:16). The Greek word he uses is theopneustos, which is composed of two words: God (Theos) and Spirit (Pneuma). This is usually translated as “inspired by God.” That is correct, but the word also has an active meaning in the sense that Scripture “breathes the Holy Spirit.” We can call this “active inspiration.” God is present in his holy word and he is Spirit and Life; so the power of God working in and through his word in the Bible can change a person’s life by breathing new spirit and life into it. The Bible, therefore, is not only inspired by God, but it also “inspires God” and “breathes forth God.” In this sense it not only illuminates the mind, but it also moves the will to love and adoration of God.

Fr. Cantalamessa also points out that the word of God is theandric, that is, both divine and human, just like Jesus Christ himself and the Church he founded on the Twelve Apostles. To be truly Catholic and Christian one must acknowledge both the divinity and the humanity of Jesus. The heretics erred and err by stressing one to the neglect of the other. In this regard the author criticizes both fundamentalists and Scripture scholars who limit themselves to a study of the letter and literary sources of Scripture and never penetrate to its spirit. Both approaches are faulty because they emphasize the human and the historical, and neglect the spiritual and Christological dimension of both the Old Testament and the New Testament.

When the Bible is read under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, one comes to see that everything in it refers to Christ and his Church in one way or another. This is the meaning of the observation of Augustine, quoted by Vatican II in the Constitution on Divine Revelation (§16), that the New Testament is hidden in the Old, and the Old is made manifest in the New. To this point Fr. Cantalamessa says: “[S]piritual reading, in its full and comprehensive sense, is one in which the Holy Spirit teaches us to read the New Testament in reference to Jesus and to read the Old and the New Testament together in reference to the Church” (90). Thus, all the books of the Bible share in “active inspiration,” and so are not only “inspired by the Holy Spirit” but also breathe him forth if read with faith.

The author also mentions the crisis of faith on the part of some biblical scholars and seminarians. He says that they have suffered from spiritual poverty because of the way in which Scripture is taught, as mainly a human product and fact of history: “The Church has lived and lives from a spiritual reading of the Bible; once this path that nourishes the life of piety is cut off, zeal and faith dry up and languish” (86).

Moreover, the liturgy, especially the Mass and the Liturgy of the Hours, is based on the spiritual use of the Bible. If students do not understand that, then they see little or no connection between the worship of the Church and what they learn in class.

When we pray, we talk to God; when we read Scripture, God talks to us. Both are necessary for a full Christian life, especially for priests who are commissioned by Jesus to preach God’s word in season and out of season. Their preaching should breathe the Holy Spirit.

Fr. Kenneth Baker, SJ About Fr. Kenneth Baker, SJ

Fr. Kenneth Baker, SJ, is editor emeritus of HPR, having served as editor for over 30 years. He is the author of the best selling Fundamentals of Catholicism (three volumes) and of the popular introduction to the Scripture, Inside the Bible.


  1. HPR Site Admin HPR Site Admin says:

    This was a popular thread on the previous HPRweb site, and we wanted to maintain the conversation regarding it. Some were comments were nested (in reply to other comments, not the article); unfortunately, that formatting has been lost. The comment section follows.


    Michael Demers |68.2.217.Xxx |2011-06-06 11:Jun:th
    I’d like advice and suggestions for good Catholic commentaries on the Bible.


    Fr. Andrew Walter – Re: Catholic Biblical Commentary |173.3.16.Xxx |2011-07-29 20:Jul:th
    By far and away the BEST Catholic guide to the Bible is published by Jeff Cavins, “The Great Adventure Bible Series.” Also the Jerome Biblical Commentary (NOT the NEW Jerome Biblical Commentary. God Bless.


    Michael Demers |68.2.217.Xxx |2011-07-29 21:Jul:th
    Thank you.


    Bernadette Fakoory – Scripture breathes the holy Spirit |190.213.117.Xxx |2011-06-08 17:Jun:th
    The sentence: Scripture breathes the holy spirit, is attractive and engages the imagination.But,this is not a new teaching of the Church.I believe that is a case of hearing and not listening,seeing and not seeing.After all,Faith is a gift and is necessary to hear what the scripture is saying to us.Faith has many degrees.The fact is Faith has to be developed and it can only reach maturity through tests,trials and fiery ordeals.Many of us do not have the capacity for pain due to suffering either in body or mind.Jesus did say if we wanted to follow him we must take up our crosses and follow him.He also said that foxes have holes and birds nests but the son of man has no where to lay his head.That statement is an indication that seeking God and living in the spirit requires a steadfast commitment to reading the scripture and applying the truth contained therein to our everyday life situations.



    Joe |137.198.25.Xxx |2011-06-10 00:Jun:th
    Commentary recommendation: