Spirit-Breath-Wind

I came across this passage in The Inklings by Humphrey Carpenter (London:  Harper Collins Publishers, 1997)  that reminded me of a theological train of thought of mine:

Barfield examined the history of words, and came to the conclusion that mythology…is closely associated with the very origin of all speech and literature.  In the dawn of language, said Barfield, speakers did not make a distinction between the ‘literal’ and the ‘metaphorical’, but used words in what might be called a ‘mythological’ manner.  For example, nowadays when we translate Latin spiritus we have to render it either as ‘spirit’ or as ‘breath’ or as ‘wind’ depending on the context.  But early users of language would not have made any such distinction between these meanings.  To them a word like spiritus meant something like ‘spirit-breath-wind’.  When the wind blew, it was not merely ‘like’ someone breathing:  it was the breath of a god.  And when an early speaker talked about his soul as spiritus he did not merely mean that it was ‘like’ breath:  it was to him just that, the breath of life.   (Carpenter, The Inklings, 41)

“Spirit,” “breath,” and “wind” are the translations given to the Hebrew word ruach, as in “the Spirit [ruach] of God was moving over the face of the waters” (Genesis 1:2).  It is also translated as the “breath of life” in Genesis 6:17 and 7:15, though a different word is used for the “breath of life” breathed into man by the LORD God in Genesis 2:7.

Death came to Adam and Eve, both physically and spiritually, when they disobeyed God and ate of the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.  But a new “spirit-breath-life” is given thanks to Jesus:  the Holy Spirit.  Jesus breathes on the disciples after His resurrection and tells them, “‘Receive the Holy Spirit.  If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained'” (John 20:22-23).  And, of course, the Holy Spirit rushes on the disciples and Mary at Pentecost:

When the day of Pentecost had come, they were all together in one place.  And suddenly a sound came from heaven like the rush of a mighty wind, and it filled all the house where they were sitting.  And there appeared to them tongues as of fire, distributed and resting on each one of them.  And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues, as the Spirit gave them utterance.  (Acts 2:1-4)

The Holy Spirit is the soul of the Body of Christ.  He is the “breath of life” of the Church.

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