BITE-SIZE THEOLOGY (73) – Why so many names and titles and symbols?

– Rev José Mario O Mandía

We are now talking about the Holy Spirit. One of the things we will discover about Him when we open the pages of the Bible is that He is called by many names and is represented by many images or symbols. Why is that? Why does the Third Person need many “aliases”? The reason for this is that the terms that we use to name or represent Him are very limited in meaning. For example, the idea that “Spirit” gives does not include that of “fire.” So we need several terms in order to express better His nature and His action in our souls. In that way, we will understand why we need Him.


Let’s start with the names.

The CCC (no 691) says that “‘Holy Spirit’ is the proper name of the one whom we adore and glorify with the Father and the Son. The Church has received this name from the Lord and professes it in the Baptism of her new children (cf Matthew 28:19).” 

It explains further: “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 (John 3:5-8). 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.’”

This name “is most frequently used in the Acts of the Apostles and in the Epistles” (CCC 693).


“When he proclaims and promises the coming of the Holy Spirit, Jesus calls him the ‘Paraclete,’ literally, ‘he who is called to one’s side,’ ad-vocatus (John 14:16, 26; 15:26; 16:7). ‘Paraclete’ is commonly translated by ‘consoler,’ and Jesus is the first consoler (cf 1 John 2:1). The Lord also called the Holy Spirit ‘the Spirit of truth’ (John 16:13)” (CCC 692).

Moreover, “we also find in St Paul the titles: the Spirit of the promise (cf Galatians 3:14; Ephesians 1:13), the Spirit of adoption (Rom 8:15; Gal 4:6), the Spirit of Christ (Romans 8:9), the Spirit of the Lord (2 Corinthians 3:17), and the Spirit of God (Romans 8:9, 14; 15:19; 1 Corinthians 6:11; 7:40) – and, in St Peter, the Spirit of glory (1 Peter 4:14)” (CCC 693).


The CCCC (no 139) enumerates some of the symbols of the Holy Spirit:

“(1) living water which springs from the wounded Heart of Christ and which quenches the thirst of the baptized;

(2) anointing with oil, which is the sacramental sign of Confirmation;

(3) fire which transforms what it touches;

(4) the cloud, dark or luminous, in which the divine glory is revealed;

(5) the imposition of hands by which the Holy Spirit is given;

(6) the dove which descended on Christ at his baptism and remained with him.”


The titles and symbols of the Holy Spirit make us see how important He is for our Christian life. But where do we find Him? The CCC (688) answers our question.

“The Church, a communion living in the faith of the apostles which she transmits, is the place where we know the Holy Spirit:

– in the Scriptures he inspired;

– in the Tradition, to which the Church Fathers are always timely witnesses;

– in the Church’s Magisterium, which he assists;

– in the sacramental liturgy, through its words and symbols, in which the Holy Spirit puts us into communion with Christ;

– in prayer, wherein he intercedes for us;

– in the charisms and ministries by which the Church is built up;

– in the signs of apostolic and missionary life;

– in the witness of saints through whom he manifests his holiness and continues the work of salvation.”