One Holy Ghost, the Comforter, Who Spake in the Prophets

Reading Time: 13 minutes

The following essay won first place, as well as Best Historical Essay, in the Summer 2022 Clarifying Catholicism Theology Essay contest. To view other category winners, click here.

By Esteban E. Crawford, Trinity School for Ministry

In his Catechetical Lectures, St. Cyril of Jerusalem exhorts his catechumens to “speak nothing concerning the Holy Ghost but what is written; and if anything be not written, let us not busy ourselves about it.”[1] For Cyril, the true knowledge of the Holy Spirit relies on the humble appropriation of what has been revealed about Him in Scripture, rather than in hypothetical speculation about what has not been said about Him, such as exact descriptions of His substance.[2] “Cyril’s concern that believers should not speculatively explore the Spirit’s nature and being grew in part out of his pastoral distaste for those individuals who had led others astray into irreverent speculation,”[3] comments Stanley Burgess. In order to avoid this impious blasphemy, Cyril delivers to his catechumens a succinct scriptural creed, designed to establish their hearts and minds in God’s revealed truth: “We believe … in One Holy Ghost, the Comforter, who spake in the Prophets.”[4]

The above creed underscores the oneness of the Spirit, His identity as the Comforter, and His direct involvement in the utterances of Israel’s prophets. Cyril’s threefold confession supplies a sound scriptural framework for contemplating theologically the Spirit’s divinity, distinct personhood, and particular activity. Following Cyril’s creedal formulation, this essay will expound these deeply interrelated facets of the Spirit’s person and work, by considering their scriptural foundation, catholic formulation, rational cohesion, and relevant implications. While drawing largely from Cyril’s Lectures, other related sources will also be consulted.

One Holy Ghost

After calling his hearers to believe “on the Holy Ghost, and hold concerning Him the same opinion which has been delivered to thee to hold concerning the Father and the Son,” Cyril adds: “But do thou learn that this Holy Ghost is One, indivisible, of manifold power; working many things, yet Himself without parts.”[5] In unison with the Father and the Son, the Spirit is divinely one, altogether indivisible and almighty, ever working manifold deeds without ever being parted.

One work which powerfully manifests this truth is the Spirit’s knowledge of all mysteries. [6]“For the Spirit searches everything, even the depths of God. For who knows a person’s thoughts except the spirit of that person, which is in him? So also no one comprehends the thoughts of God except the Spirit of God” (1 Cor 2:10-11, ESV). So great is the oneness of the Spirit that He comprehends the mind of God, in a manner only possible to God Himself. And this is so because the Spirit is God, as presupposed by St. Paul in 1 Corinthians 2 and affirmed by St. Peter in Acts 5:3-4.[7] Simply put, the “Lord is the Spirit” (2 Cor 3:17).[8] For this reason, the Spirit cannot be confused with other spirits.

“[A]s there is One God the Father,” continues Cyril “and no second Father; —and as there is One Only-begotten Son and Word of God, who hath no brother; —so is there One Only Holy Ghost, and no second spirit equal in honour to Him.[9] Cyril is cognizant of how broadly the term “spirit” can be used, and is thus wary that his students might be misled.

For many things are called spirits. Thus an Angel is called spirit, and our soul is called spirit, and this wind which is blowing is called spirit … and an unclean deed as spirit; and a devil our adversary is called spirit. Beware therefore when thou hearest these things, lest from their having a common name thou mistake one for another.[10]

In contrast to each of these created spirits, the Holy Spirit “is Power most mighty, of a divine and unsearchable nature; for He is a living, and intelligent Being, and is the sanctifying principle of all things made by God through Christ.”[11] The Spirit’s presence, therefore, transcends all creaturely spirits, and as such, is not immediately perceptible to the human spirit, but must be properly discerned in accordance with God’s Trinitarian activity in Christ.

“Beloved, do not believe every spirit,” declares St. John, “but test the spirits to see whether they are from God … By this you know the Spirit of God: every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God” (1 John 4:1-2). God’s Spirit is the one who acts in accordance with the incarnate Truth of Jesus Christ. “When the Spirit of truth comes,” said Jesus, “he will guide you into all the truth, for he will not speak of his own authority, but whatever he hears he will speak … He will glorify me, for he will take what is mine [all that the Father has] and declare it to you” (John 16:13-15). And this is why Cyril continually speaks of the Spirit in relation to Christ. The one Holy Ghost is the one “who descended on our Lord Jesus Christ in the form of a dove.”[12] “To Jesus Christ’s very grace” it belongs to grant “us to speak without deficiency” about the Spirit.[13] It was Christ Himself who revealed the Spirit’s divine honor by teaching to baptize “in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost [Matt 28:19].”[14] And it is through Christ alone that we come to know the promised Comforter.[15]

The Comforter

“For the Comforter is not different from the Holy Ghost,” asserts Cyril, “but one and the selfsame, called by various names.”[16] It is worth clarifying that while “Comforter” is one of Cyril’s preferred titles for the Spirit, it is not the only one he uses. As Pamela Jackson observes, when “Cyril uses titles for the Spirit he often presents them in apposition to each other, in a cluster.”[17] For instance, expounding on Pentecost, Cyril refers to the Comforter as “the Guardian and Sanctifier of the Church, the Ruler of souls, the Pilot of the tempest-tossed, the Enlightener of the lost.”[18] Likewise, commenting on John 14, he states “that the Comforter is the same as the Spirit of Truth,” since Jesus said, “And I will give you another Comforter, that He may abide with you for ever, even the Spirit of Truth [14:16].”[19] Therefore, Cyril’s creedal depiction of the Spirit as “the Comforter” ought not to be interpreted in a reductionistic fashion, as if this were the Spirit’s lone facet, but rather in a comprehensive manner, in which “Comforter” stands for all the different names and works attributed to the Spirit in Scripture. After all, the Spirit’s identity as Comforter pervades the totality of His ministry.

Unlike evil spirits, the Spirit does not make His abode in the saints forcefully. “His coming is gentle,” claims Cyril, the perception of Him is fragrant; most light is His burden; beams of light and knowledge gleam forth before His coming. He comes with the bowels of a true guardian; for He comes to save, and to heal, to teach, to admonish, to strengthen, to exhort, to enlighten the mind, first of him who receives Him, and afterwards of others also, through him.[20]

The Spirit gracefully possesses the soul in order to save it and fill it with God’s own comfort, so that we may share His comforting presence with others. “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God” (2 Cor 1:3-4).

Furthermore, it is precisely in the midst of affliction, weakness, and suffering, that the Spirit fortifies God’s people. “And He is called the Comforter,” explains Cyril, “because He comforts us, and encourages us, and helpeth our infirmities; for we know not what we should pray for as we ought; but the Spirit itself maketh intercession for us, with groanings which cannot be uttered [Rom 8:26].”[21] Literally speaking, this is what it means for the Spirit to be the Comforter, from the Greek Parakletos. “Parakletos is one called to another’s side to take his or her part, as a friend, a counselor, always lending aid, a partaker in another’s cause (John 16:7; cf 1 John 2:1).”[22]

Cyril dramatically illustrates the depth of the Spirit’s lending aid in the following way:

Oftentimes, a man for Christ’s sake has been outraged and injuriously dishonoured; martyrdom is at hand; tortures on every side, and fire, and sword, and savage beasts, and the deep pit. But the Holy Ghost lowly whispers to him, “Wait thou for the Lord, O man; what is now befalling thee is a small matter; that which is bestowed on thee is great. Suffer thou a little while, and be with Angels everlastingly; the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us [Rom 8:18].[23]

To such lowly degrees is the Spirit willing to descend to carry the martyrs through their final breaths into glory everlasting. Nevertheless, although the Spirit surely condescends to be with us in our infirmities, it is crucial to always acknowledge His divine supremacy over even the highest realms of angelic majesty.

Ascend, I say, in imagination even unto the first heaven, and behold how many uncounted myriads of Angels are there. Rise up in thy thoughts, if thou canst, yet higher; do but consider the Archangels … consider the Thrones, consider the Dominions; —the Comforter is of all these the Ruler from God, and the Teacher, and the Sanctifier.[24]

And it is this Spirit, the Sovereign Comforter, who deigned to speak the Word of the LORD through the unclean lips of Israel’s prophets.

Who Spake in the Prophets

In concert with the Great Tradition, Cyril affirms the truth that the Spirit spoke in the prophets.[25] He supplies extensive scriptural examples to prove it. The Spirit “came upon all the just, and the Prophets; … Enoch, and Noah, and the rest; upon Abraham, Isaac, Jacob.”[26] Such was the case with Moses, “and the wonderful works wrought by the Spirit in his days.”[27] Similarly, Samuel and David prophesied by the Spirit. “Samuel was called, the Seer [1 Sam 9:9]; and David says distinctly, The Spirit of the Lord spake by me [2 Sam 23:2].”[28] Jesus also declared of David that he spoke “in the Spirit” when he called the Christ “Lord” in Psalm 110 (Matt 22:42-43). The purpose of recounting all these testimonies is to highlight the divine origin of human prophecy.[29] “For no prophecy was ever produced by the will of man, but men spoke from God, as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit (2 Pet 1:19)

In addition, Cyril’s ample treatment of the Spirit’s activity among Old Testament saints proves once again that the creedal articulation “in the prophets” must not be read in an exclusivistic manner, as if the Spirit spoke only through the prophets, such as Isaiah or Jeremiah. This clause instead alludes to the Spirit’s involvement in all prophetic revelation. As Cyril clarifies, the Spirit “spake in the Law and the Prophets, both in the Old and New Testaments.”[30] However, while this is certainly true, and Cyril lectures at length on the Spirit’s New Testament ministry, it is worth stressing the historical import of the creed’s emphasis on the Spirit’s Old Testament ministry.

Marcionism was one of the main heresies which threatened the Church in the first centuries. “Marcionism argued that the Old Testament was not inspired by the Holy Spirit, but only selected parts of the New. This is why the creeds found it necessary to counter that the Spirit ‘spake by the prophets.’”[31] Accordingly, Cyril urged his catechumens to “abhor the Marcionists … who tear away from the New Testament the text of the Old. For Marcion first, that most impious of men, who first asserted three Gods, knowing that in the New Testament are contained testimonies concerning Christ from the Prophets, cut out those taken from the Old Testament, that the King might be left without witness.”[32]

In sharp contrast to Marcion’s unfounded tritheism, Cyril proclaimed “One God, the Father, Lord of the Old and of the New Testament; and One Lord, Jesus Christ, who was prophesied of in the Old Testament, and came in the New; and One Holy Ghost, who through the Prophets preached of Christ, and when Christ was come, descended, and manifested Him.”[33] The creedal affirmation that the Spirit spoke in the prophets, therefore, is as much pneumatological as it is Trinitarian and Christological. So magnificent is the Spirit’s oneness and comfort, that even in the Old Testament He sustained the saints by bearing witness to the Son who on Pentecost would send the Spirit from the bosom of the Father. 


Cyril’s lectures exemplify how to teach on the person and work of the Holy Spirit in accordance with Scripture and the Church’s catholic consensus. His threefold catechetical confession provides a fruitful theological framework for cultivating living knowledge of the Spirit’s divinity, identity, and activity. As seen above, the Spirit’s divine oneness, His comforting character, and His prophetic ministry are three deeply interpenetrating aspects which broadly (though not exhaustively) sum up who the Spirit is and what He does for the saints. In conclusion, there are two final pastoral implications worth considering from Cyril’s pneumatology.

In the first place, Cyril’s scriptural method and his resolution to only say of the Spirit what has been revealed, sets forth the priority of Scripture for a rich life in the Spirit. For Cyril “there is no hesitancy to encourage new believers to experience the presence and work of the Paraclete,” as long as one does not “go beyond that actually authorized or mentioned in Scripture.”[34] In a day when lack of scriptural knowledge is often considered a spiritual virtue, Cyril’s catechetical model serves as a salutary corrective for pietistic anti-intellectualism. After all, how can we be filled with the Spirit apart from the word of Christ dwelling richly in us?[35]

Another implication which stems from Cyril’s emphasis on the Comforter, is the astonishing reality that the comfort with which the Spirit comforts us is indeed the very comfort of almighty God. In the words of T. F. Torrance, “what the Holy Spirit does in us, is what God himself does for us, to us, and in us.[36] “What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us?” (Rom 9:31). The encouragement that overflows from this blessed truth is more than sufficient to carry the saint through a life full of trials and temptations. Well aware of this, Cyril exhorted his soon-to-be baptized pupils: “All thy life long will the Comforter abide with thee; He will care for thee, as for His own soldier, concerning thy goings out, and thy comings in, and thy plotting foes.”[37] Amen.

Works Consulted

The Holy Bible, English Standard Version (ESV). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway. All Rights Reserved.

Burgess, Stanley. The Holy Spirit: Ancient Christian Traditions. Peabody, MA: Hendrickson

Publishers, 2002.

Cyril of Jerusalem. The Catechetical Lectures of S. Cyril, Archbishop of Jerusalem. London,

UK: Oxford, 1838.

Irenaeus. Demonstration of the Apostolic Preaching. In Sources Chrétiennes. Vol. 62. Edited by

L. M. Froidevaux. Paris: Cerf, 1965.

Gregory of Nazianzus, “Fifth Theological Oration on the Holy Spirit.” In Vol. 7 of Nicene and

Post-Nicene Fathers, Series 2. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1983.

Jackson, Pamela. “Cyril of Jerusalem’s Treatment of Scriptural Texts Concerning the Holy

Spirit.” Traditio 46 (1991): 1-31.   

McGrath, Alister E. The Christian Theology Reader. 3rd ed. Malden, MA: Blackwell Publishing, 2007.

Oden, Thomas C. Classic Christianity: A Systematic Theology. New York, NY: HarperOne, 1992.

Pannenberg, Wolfhart. Jesus, God and Man. London, UK: SCM Press, 1968.    

Smail, Tom. Giving Gift: The Holy Spirit in Person. Eugene, OR: Wipf and Stock Publishers,


Torrance, T.F. The Christian Doctrine of God, One Being Three Persons. Edinburgh, UK: T&T

Clark, 1998.

[1] Cyril of Jerusalem, The Catechetical Lectures of S. Cyril, Archbishop of Jerusalem (London, UK: Oxford, 1838), 16. 1. The majority of Cyril’s teaching on the Spirit appears in lectures 16 and 17.

[2] Cyril, Lectures, 16.5. It is perhaps due to this commitment to only say of God what Scripture says that Cyril was initially hesitant about the homoousion definition. Nevertheless, by “the Council of 381 he openly joined the Nicenes.” Stanley Burgess, The Holy Spirit: Ancient Christian Traditions (Peabody, Ma: Hendrickson Publishers, 2002), 105. In regards to his pneumatology,  Pamela Jackson argues that “while precise affirmations on the Spirit’s nature are not yet explicitly made by Cyril in philosophical terms, what he is teaching those who are being prepared to receive the Spirit at baptism would make it difficult for the Church to deny that the Spirit is equal to Father and Son,” as will be shown below. Pamela Jackson, “Cyril of Jerusalem’s Treatment of Scriptural Texts Concerning the Holy Spirit,” Traditio 46 (1991): 31.

[3] Burgess, The Holy Spirit, 107. Among these individuals were Simon the Sorcerer, the Gnostics and Valentinians, Manes, and the Marcionists, to name a few. Cyril, Lectures, 16.6-10.

[4] Cyril, Lectures, 17.3. This article belongs to the Creed of the Church of Jerusalem (collected from his lectures). See introduction for full Creed, xxxix. He constantly refers to the misrepresentation of the Spirit as unpardonable blasphemy, as he does in 16.1

[5] Cyril, Lectures, 4.16. Emphasis added. From his lecture “On the Ten Points of Faith.” Cf. Ephesians 4:4.

[6] Another way the Spirit demonstrates the might of His oneness is in the distribution of spiritual gifts. “Thus also the Holy Ghost, being one, and of one nature, and undivided, divides to each His grace, according as He will [1 Cor 12:11].” Cyril, Lectures, 4.16, 16.12.

[7] Wolfhart Pannenberg, Jesus, God and Man (London, UK: SCM Press, 1968), 172.

[8] Here “Paul applies the divine name, Kurios (Lord) to the Spirit, implying that he has the same title to it as the Son to whom it is regularly applied.” Tom Smail, Giving Gift: The Holy Spirit in Person (Eugene, OR: Wipf and Stock Publishers, 2004), 31-32. While Gregory of Nazianzus rightly indicated that in the New Testament the Spirit’s deity is not explicitly affirmed but only hinted, these hints are more than sufficient to confess that the Spirit is God, as suggested in the above texts. Gregory of Nazianzus, “Fifth Theological Oration on the Holy Spirit.” In Vol. 7 of Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, Series 2. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1983), 326. Other passages which intimate the Spirit’s divinity are Romans 8:11, which says that the Spirit raised Jesus from the dead, and Hebrews 9:14, which speaks of the Spirit as eternal.

[9] Cyril, Lectures, 16.3.

[10] Cyril, Lectures, 16.13. He goes on to supply biblical evidence for all of these common descriptions: human soul (Zech 12:1), angels (Ps 104:4), wind (Ps 48:7), doctrine (John  6:63), to list a few.

[11] Cyril, Lectures, 16.3. 

[12] Cyril, Lectures, 4.16.

[13] Cyril, Lectures, 16.2.

[14] Cyril, Lectures, 16.4.

[15] “We know One Son, who promised that He would send the Comforter from the Father.” Cyril, Lectures, 16.4.

[16] Cyril, Lectures, 17.2.

[17] Jackson, “Cyril of Jerusalem’s Treatment of Scriptural Texts Concerning the Holy Spirit,” 24.  

[18] Other names he uses are: Spirit of the Father (Matt 10:20), Spirit of the Lord (Acts 5:9), Spirit of Christ (Rom 8:9), Spirit of the Son (Gal 4:6), Spirit of Holiness (Rom 1:4). Cyril, Lectures, 17.4, 13.  

[19] Cyril, Lectures, 17.4.

[20] Cyril, Lectures, 16.16.

[21] Cyril, Lectures, 16.16.

[22]Parakletos is more than a descriptive noun. It is the personal name chosen by the Son by which the faithful were privileged to address God’s own Spirit in the present age [following Hilary].” Thomas C. Oden, Classic Christianity: A Systematic Theology (New York, NY: HarperOne, 1992), 544.

[23] Cyril, Lectures, 16.20.

[24] Cyril, Lectures, 16.20.

[25] According to Irenaeus’ rule of faith it was the Spirit “through whom the prophets prophesied.” Irenaeus. Demonstration of the Apostolic Preaching, in Sources Chrétiennes. Vol. 62, ed. L. M. Froidevaux (Paris: Cerf, 1965), 6; 39-40. Likewise, the Niceno-Constantinopolitan Creed agreed that the Spirit “spoke through the prophets.” Cited in Oden, Classic Christianity, 504.

[26] Cyril, Lectures, 16.27.

[27] Cyril, Lectures, 16.27.

[28] David adds “in the Psalms, And take not thy Holy Spirit from me [Ps 51:11] and again Let thy good Spirit lead me forth into the land of righteousness [Ps 143:10].” Cyril, Lectures, 16.28.

[29] “By all these proofs, and by more which have been passed over, is the personal, and hallowing, and effectual power of the Holy Ghost established to them of understanding.” Cyril, Lectures 17.34.

[30] Cyril, Lectures, 4.16.

[31] Oden, Classic Christianity, 524. His emphasis.

[32] Cyril, Lectures, 16.7.

[33] Cyril, Lectures, 16.3. Cf. 1 Peter 10:12.

[34] Burgess, The Holy Spirit, 112-113. This is patent in Cyril’s own pedagogy: “The structure, content, and method of Cyril’s catechesis make it clear that his idea of how to teach on the Spirit is to present the Scriptural account of how the Holy Spirit is part of the story of God saving His people; by drawing the candidates into the story of those who lived in conscious relationship to the Holy Spirit, Cyril hopes to draw them into their own experience of knowing the Spirit.” Jackson, “Cyril of Jerusalem’s Treatment of Scriptural Texts Concerning the Holy Spirit,” 24.

[35] This is what a parallel reading between Ephesians 5:18 and Colossians 3:16 seems to imply.

[36] T.F. Torrance, The Christian Doctrine of God, One Being Three Persons (Edinburgh, UK: T&T Clark, 1998), 95. Emphasis his.

[37] Cyril, Lectures, 17.37.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

Follow Us!