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The Holy Spirit is Not a Control Freak

The Holy Spirit descends at Pentecost

Last month I wrote an article imagining what would happen if Catholic Church leaders were in charge of Coca-Cola when the company introduced New Coke. I was being tongue-in-cheek, of course, but my goal was to show that failed ideas in the Church are sometimes harder to kill than a horde of zombies. A friend on Facebook took exception to the article. She wrote:

So, are you saying a) that the Holy Spirit is like a tone-deaf CEO who doesn’t know what He is doing, b) that the Holy Spirit was completely absent from VII, or c) that the Holy Spirit is like the totally right but ignored subordinate employee, begging and pleading with pope after pope to erase everything that has happened in the Church since about 1950 or so but those darned stubborn (canonized, two of ’em) popes just wouldn’t listen?

Now I don’t want to argue here against her specific objections, and I consider my friend a faithful, orthodox Catholic. But I do want to challenge an assumption lurking behind her remarks, because many orthodox Catholics in the Church today employ the same fallacy. I’m referring to the assumption that criticism (especially strong criticism) of the general direction of the Church is criticism of the Holy Spirit. After all, if the Holy Spirit guides the Church, then certainly He is guiding it in the right direction, correct? Sure, many orthodox Catholics say, there might be problems here and there, but questioning the overall direction of the Church would be questioning the wisdom of the Third Person of the Blessed Trinity.

Was the Holy Spirit Asleep at the Switch?

Imagine you’re an Egyptian Catholic born in 320 A.D. When you’re a little child, the great Council of Nicea takes place, defining that the Son is consubstantial with the Father, equally God. Your parents are faithful to this orthodox definition and raise you in the true faith. However, after the Council there is a great conflagration of the opposite viewpoint, Arianism, until almost the entire Church – including almost every bishop – embraces the view that the Son is NOT equal to the Father. Move forward to 360, and the Church is still overrun by Arianism. Do you, at this point, assume that the Church is moving in the right direction, and believe claiming otherwise amounts to being unfaithful to the Holy Spirit? Or do you fight to restore the Church to her proper teachings and practices?

Another example. Imagine you are a French Catholic born in 1370.  Before you reach the age of 10 there are two men, Urban VI and Clement VII, claiming to be pope, causing what we now call the Western Schism. Of course you don’t know it as history, you know it as daily life. Good Catholics are on both sides of the divide, although they recognize the great scandal of two papal claimants. Move forward forty years. Not only is the papal situation not resolved, but now three men claim to be pope! You have lived your whole life as a Catholic under this cloud of competing popes. Do you, at this point, assume that the Church is moving in the right direction, and believe claiming otherwise amounts to being unfaithful to the Holy Spirit? Or do you fight to restore the Church to her proper teachings and practices?

Guide to Truth, or Micro-Manager?

These examples are not meant to argue that today’s crisis rises to the same level as the Arian heresy and the Western Schism – that is for the historian to decide one day. Instead, they show that the Holy Spirit is not a micro-manager or control freak who makes sure that the perfect pope is always picked, that the majority of bishops are always faithful to Him, and that the Truth is proclaimed and lived within Catholic parishes throughout the world. If this were truly His role, history would condemn Him as an utter failure.

What is, then, the role of the Holy Spirit? First, He guarantees that the Church will never officially teach error. Considering how often individual Catholics have embraced heresy (especially during the Arian crisis), this is no easy task. But note that protecting the Catholic Church from error does not mean protecting individual Catholics from error. Any Catholic – from the lowliest layperson to priests to bishops to even the pope – can hold and even promote theological or moral error. There is one exception, and this involves another role of the Holy Spirit: He ensures that the pope cannot teach error in faith or morals when the pontiff speaks (and only when he speaks) ex cathedra.

Further, the Holy Spirit guides individuals to Our Lord, while always respecting their human freedom. If we spend many hours in prayer and practice the virtues, then we will be more receptive to the guidance of the Holy Spirit. If, however, we do not, then the Holy Spirit will not force us to follow His guidance, even if we are a Prince of the Church.

In Times of Crisis, the Holy Spirit Raises Up Saints

Throughout Salvation History God works good out of the evil actions of men. We see this most clearly in the crucifixion, which turned the most evil act in human history into the greatest good. Likewise, we have seen how during the darkest times in Church history, great saints are raised up to combat the errors of their times. Saints such as Athanasius and Catherine of Sienna were not unfaithful to the Holy Spirit when they decried the state of the Church in their times; in fact, they were responding to the Holy Spirit and helped guide the Church to the truth (cf. John 16:13).

Today we too must trust in the Holy Spirit, but not in a Pollyanna way that refuses to acknowledge problems within the Church for fear of being unfaithful to Him. Instead, we must be confident that the Holy Spirit will raise up Saints like St. Athanasius and St. Catherine who will lead us out of this crisis. Perhaps even we should pray that we might be those Saints.

20 thoughts on “The Holy Spirit is Not a Control Freak”

  1. “Instead, we must be confident that the Holy Spirit will raise up Saints like St. Athanasius and St. Catherine who will lead us out of this crisis”

    The Holy Spirit already has…



    Five times banished

    Exiled seventeen

    Excommunicated champions

    God puts at each scene.

    Saint Athanasius,

    Feast day of worth

    On the second of May

    The month of great mirth.

    Out in the deserts –

    As history has charted –

    You preserved the true Mass

    Great lion-hearted.

    Now Lefebvre

    And the sixties egalitarians

    Like Athanasius,

    His time his Arians.

    For He who abolished

    Death by death

    Sent him to absolve

    Sin width and breadth.

    And yes the same moon

    The same sun we’re all under…

    We venal rain – but Lefebvre

    Righteous thunder!!

    • Athanasius was never excommunicated and Lefevbre was not an Athanasius. Lefebvre was a cleric who, sadly, died excommunicated and, you know, EENS.

      It is likely he was not culpable for staring his own petit ecclesia because he was insane but this ceaseless attempts to try and compare him to a saint is not insane, just propagandistic lies.

      • “The poet only asks to get his head into the heavens. It is the logician who seeks to get the heavens into his head. And it is his head that splits.”
        ― G.K. Chesterton, Orthodoxy

        • When one clearly loses on reason,
          one rapidly turns to a nimbler season;
          the season wherein there’s no facts or time,
          just vacuity and digression in purple rhyme.

          • “Well, one can see the obvious results of the lack of Thomistic education since the 1960’s.
            People here obviously do not know what schism even means. The Pope(s) have never ordered the SSPX to do anything they have not obeyed.
            Being asked if you will do something is not an order. Not doing what you are asked to do is not disobedience.
            If you are asked to do something and you explain why you cannot do what you have been asked for a reason and that reason has not and cannot be countered is not disobedience.
            Yet, so many like to throw around bigoted slogans and labels that demonize the SSPX, but when one actually takes the time to investigate the reality one finds absolutely no basis for this liable. Yes, it is liable.
            It is sad that Thomisitic education has been lost . . .”

            I Am Not Sparticus said:

            “the season wherein there’s no facts or time”

            “Diabolical Disorientation”

            Meant only lost

            In mans translation?

            “Woo-hoo!” Cried Callow,

            “Way to reason…

            It’s not so bad, this silly-season.”

          • Pope Saint John Paul II warned Lefevbre not to ordain those men because doing so would constitute a schismatic act.

            He did the ordinations.

            Pope Saint John Paul II issued Ecclesia Dei, in which he delineated the way lefevbre fell into schism.

            Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger, publicly, to Bishops in So America, in a speech, spoke about the schism of Lefevbre.

            Of course, you are a faithful member of Lefevbre’s petit ecclesia and you are expected to deny the reality and proffer disingenuous myths which are but propagandistic lies, so, you try to tell us Lefevbre is Athanasius, that there never was a schism, that disobedience is true obedience OB LA DI OB La Da.

            Denial, Denial, and Denial rain down with your shimmering myths
            And daily, like Canute, you flail at truth with your tiny fists.

            IANS is just a regular Catholic who maintains the Bonds of Unity in worship, doctrine, and authority (the sine qua non of catholicism) whereas you are one who does not even accept the Canonisation of John Paul II, do you?

            You imagine your own self a Traditional Catholic when in reality you are a neo-eastern orthodox.


          • As a Roman Catholic I believe, “Quod semper, quod ubique, quod ab omnibus”, i.e. “What has been always, everywhere and from all”

            I hope you sit
            With the men of God
            In Heaven, by a lake of beer

            But be prepared
            When you look around
            You’ll see Lefebvre toasting you cheer!

  2. That was brilliant! Given that you used examples from history, it even removes the argument from the realm of mere postulation to that of fact!

  3. This was masterful at explaining what the Holy Spirit’s rôle is. Thank you so much… I have to admit I was beginning to doubt the indefectibility of the Church… maybe it was a sin… but this explains how both can be held– indefectibility and the acknowledgement of the reality of what’s going on in the Church today, which is pure evil.

  4. Well said Eric. The Church is infected with Modernism which places Man’s desires over God’s. Modernism weakens the ability to hear the Holy Spirit and the ability to understand His guidance. Since today is the feast of St. Thomas Aquinas let us ask him to intercede with God to help the Church to hear and understand the Holy Spirit.

  5. Superb article Eric.

    Your explanation mirrors exactly my post regarding Pope Francis. I said that the Holy Spirit was definitely guiding the Pope (Jesus said so). But whether he is heeding this guidance is another matter.

  6. Well Said. It is a lesson much needed by many. As well as a lesson in What the pope can and cannot do in regards to Faith and morals, and the perennial teachings of the Church.


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