While the more general term Spirit of God has been used in diverse religions from Hinduism to Taoism, the term Holy Spirit specifically refers to the beliefs held in the Abrahamic religions.
For Christians, the belief in the Holy Trinity implies the existence of three distinct Holy Persons: God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit being One Eternal Triune God.
The Holy Spirit (prior English language usage: the Holy Ghost from Old English gast, “spirit”) is the third person of the Holy Trinity—Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, and is Almighty God. The Holy Spirit is seen by Christians as one Person of the Triune God, who revealed His Holy Name YHWH to his people Israel, sent His Eternally Begotten Son Jesus to save them, and sent the Holy Spirit to Sanctify and give Life to his Church. The Triune God manifests as three Persons (Greek hypostases), in One Divine Being (Greek: Ousia), called the Godhead (from Old English: Godhood), the Divine Essence of God.
Jesus is presented in the Gospels as the prophesied Messiah, who baptizes not with water but with the Holy Spirit and with Fire.[Lk 3:16] Jesus, just before his Passion, during Last Supper, promises to send from the Father another Paraclete to the world, the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of Truth[Jn 15:26] Who, as recorded in the Acts of the Apostles, descended as visible Tongues of Fire on the disciples, Apostles and the Mother of Jesus, Mary, during the event known as Pentecost which marks the beginning of the Church of Jesus on the earth. [Acts 2]
The theology of the Holy Spirit is called pneumatology. The Holy Spirit is referred to as the Lord and Giver of Life in the Nicene creed. The Holy Spirit is the Eternal Love of the Father and the Son, the Gift of God. He is the Creator Spirit, present before the creation of the universe and through his power everything was made in Jesus Christ, by God the Father. [Gn 1:1-2] [Pr 8:26-31] [Psalm 33:6] He inspires and enables to interpret all the sacred scripture and leads prophets, both in Old Testament and New Testament [1Cor 2:11-13]. By his Power, Jesus Christ was conceived virginally in the womb of the Virgin Mary.[Lk 1:35] He descended over Jesus in a corporal way, as a dove, at the time of his baptism,[Mt 3:16] and a voice from Heaven was heard: "You are my Beloved Son".[Lk 3:22] It is He Who leads souls to the Salvation: He is the Sanctifier of souls,[1Peter 1:1-3] the Helper and the Comforter,[Jn 14:26] He convicts about the sin [Jn 16:7-11] and helps the weakness of the soul in prayer as He himself intercedes with groanings according to the Will of God. [Rom 8:26-27] Christians receive the Gifts of the Spirit according to his Mercy and Grace, [1Cor 12] and the result of a righteous life is the Fruit of the Holy Spirit.
The understanding of the mystery of the Holy Trinity varies across the different new Christian denominations. Some are deemed Trinitarian and others as non-Trinitarian. Among the Trinitarians, which count among themselves the Apostolic Churches, some minor differences do still exist: where Eastern and Orthodox Catholic Churches claim the Holy Spirit proceeds only from the Father (and "through" the Son), the Roman Catholic Church as of recent memory now teaches a new dogma that the Holy Spirit proceeds from both the Father and the Son, in the heresy that is known as the "Filioque".
The Holy Spirit is believed to perform specific divine functions in the life of the Christian or the church. These include:
- Conviction of sin. The Holy Spirit acts to convince the unredeemed person both of the sinfulness of their actions, and of their moral standing as sinners before God.
- Bringing to conversion. The action of the Holy Spirit is seen as an essential part of the bringing of the person to the Christian faith. The new believer is "born again of the Spirit".
- Enabling the Christian life. The Holy Spirit is believed to dwell in the individual believers and enable them to live a righteous and faithful life.
- As a comforter or Paraclete, one who intercedes, or supports or acts as an advocate, particularly in times of trial.
- Inspiration and interpretation of scripture. The Holy Spirit both inspires the writing of the scriptures and interprets them to the Christian and/or church.
- Cause of his birth. According to the gospel accounts of the birth of Jesus, he was not conceived by a human father, but by the Holy Spirit; and he was born of the Virgin Mary. The "beginning of His incarnate existence" was due to the Holy Spirit. The Apostles' Creed says Jesus was "conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of the Virgin Mary." While the anti-Christian Masoretic Hebrew translation is that Jesus was "born of a young woman", the much earlier and correct Septuagint uses "parthenos", the specific Greek word for virgin.
- Anointing him at his baptism.
- Empowerment of his ministry. The ministry of Jesus following his baptism (in which the Holy Spirit is described in the gospels as "descending on Him like a dove") is conducted in the power and at the direction of the Holy Spirit.
Christians believe that the Holy Spirit gives 'gifts' to Christians. These gifts consist of specific abilities granted to the individual Christian. They are frequently known by the Greek word for gift, Charisma, from which the term charismatic derives. The New Testament provides three different lists of such gifts (1 Corinthians 12, Romans 12, and Ephesians 4) which range from the supernatural (healing, prophecy, tongues) through those associated with specific callings (teaching) to those expected of all Christians in some degree (faith). Most consider these lists not to be exhaustive, and other have compiled their own lists. Saint Ambrose wrote of the Seven Gifts of the Holy Spirit poured out on a believer at baptism (Isaiah 11:1-2):
- Spirit of Wisdom;
- Spirit of Understanding;
- Spirit of Counsel;
- Spirit of Strength;
- Spirit of Knowledge;
- Spirit of Godliness;
- Spirit of Holy Fear.
The majority of mainstream Protestantism hold similar extra-Biblical views on the theology of the Holy Spirit as the Roman Catholic Church, as described above. There are significant differences in belief between Pentecostalism and the other 300,000 sects of Protestantism
The Holy Spirit is frequently referred to by metaphor and symbol, both doctrinally and biblically. Theologically speaking these symbols are a key to understanding of the Holy Spirit and his actions, and are not mere artistic representations.
- Water - signifies the Holy Spirit's action in Baptism, such that in the manner that "by one Spirit [believers] were all baptized", so they are "made to drink of one Spirit".[1Cor 12:13] Thus the Spirit is also personally the living water welling up from Christ crucified[Jn 19:34] [1 Jn 5:8] as its source and welling up in Christians to eternal life.
- Anointing - The symbolism of bless with oil also signifies the Holy Spirit, to the point of becoming a synonym for the Holy Spirit. The coming of the Spirit is referred to as his "anointing".[2Cor 1:21] In some denominations anointing is practiced in Confirmation; ("chrismation" in the Eastern Churches). Its full force can be grasped only in relation to the primary anointing accomplished by the Holy Spirit, that of Jesus. Christ (in Hebrew, messiah) means the one "anointed" by God's Spirit.
- Fire - symbolizes the transforming energy of the Holy Spirit's actions. In the form of tongues "as of fire", the Holy Spirit rested on the disciples on the morning of Pentecost.
- Cloud and light - The Spirit comes upon the Virgin Mary and "overshadows" her, so that she might conceive and give birth to Jesus. On the mountain of transfiguration, the Spirit in the "cloud came and overshadowed" Jesus, Moses and Elijah, Peter, James and John, and "a voice came out of the cloud, saying, 'This is my Son, my Chosen; listen to him!'"[Lk 9:34-35]
- The dove - When Christ comes up from the water of his baptism, the Holy Spirit, in the form of a dove, comes down upon him and remains with him.[Mt 3:16]
- Wind - The Spirit is likened to the "wind that blows where it will,"[Jn 3:8] and described as "a sound from heaven like the rush of a mighty wind."[Acts 2:24]
The 'Holy Spirit has been represented in Christian art both in the Eastern and Western Churches using a variety of depictions. The depictions have ranged from nearly identical figures that represent the three persons of the Holy Trinity to a dove to a flame.
The Holy Spirit is often depicted as a dove, based on the account of the Holy Spirit descending on Jesus like a dove when he was baptized in the Jordan. In many paintings of the Annunciation, the Holy Spirit is shown in the form of a dove, coming down towards Mary on beams of light, as the Archangel Gabriel announces Christ's coming to Mary. A dove may also be seen at the ear of Saint Gregory the Great─as recorded by his secretary or other church father authors, dictating their works to them. The dove also parallels the one that brought the olive branch to Noah after the deluge (also a symbol of peace), and rabbinic traditions that doves above the water signify the presence of God.
The book of Acts describes the Holy Spirit descending on the apostles at Pentecost in the form of a wind and tongues of fire resting over the apostles' heads. Based on the imagery in that account, the Holy Spirit is sometimes symbolized by a flame of fire.
In Islam, the Holy Spirit (Arabic: الروح القدس al-Ruh al-Qudus, "the-Spirit the-Holy") is mentioned several times in the Qur'an, where it acts as an agent of divine action or communication. In Hadith it is commonly identified with the angel Gabriel (Arabic Jibreel). The Spirit (الروح al-Ruq, without the adjective "holy") is also used as the creative spirit from God by which God enlivened Adam, and inspired the angels and the prophets. Though grammatical gender has no bearing on actual gender in non-personal nouns, the term holy spirit translates in and is used in the masculine form in all the Quran. In Arabic language the word "Holy Spirit" does not translate as سكينة Sakinah used in a feminine term. The term sakinah means state of relaxation.
The Bahá'í Faith has the concept of the Most Great Spirit, seen as the bounty of God. It is usually used to describe the descent of the Spirit of God upon the messengers/prophets of God, which are known as Manifestations of God, and include among others Jesus, Muhammad and Bahá'u'lláh. In Bahá'í belief the Holy Spirit is the conduit through which the wisdom of God becomes directly associated with his messenger, and it has been described variously in different religions such as the burning bush to Moses, the sacred fire to Zoroaster, the dove to Jesus, the angel Gabriel to Muhammad, and the maid of heaven to Bahá'u'lláh. The Bahá'í view rejects the idea that the Holy Spirit is a partner to God in the Godhead, but rather is the pure essence of God's attributes.