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Ioannes Paulus PP. II
Dominum et vivificantem

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    • 1. Sin, Righteousness and Judgment
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1. Sin, Righteousness and Judgment


27. When Jesus during the discourse in the Upper Room foretells the coming of the Holy Spirit "at the price of" his own departure, and promises "I will send him to you," in the very same context he adds: "And when he comes, he will convince the world concerning sin and righteousness and judgment."102 The same Counselor and Spirit of truth who has been promised as the one who "will teach" and "bring to remembrance, " who "will bear witness," and "guide into all the truth," in the words just quoted is foretold as the one who "will convince the world concerning sin and righteousness and judgement."

The context too seems significant. Jesus links this foretelling of the Holy Spirit to the words indicating his "departure" through the Cross, and indeed emphasizes the need for this departure: "It is to your advantage that I go away, for if I do not go away, the Counselor will not come to you."103

But what counts more is the explanation that Jesus himself adds to these three words: sin, righteousness, judgment. For he says this: "He Will convince the world concerning sin and righteousness and judgment: concerning sin, because they do not believe in me; concerning righteousness, because I go to the Father, and you will see me no more; concerning judgment, because the ruler of the world is judged."104 In the mind of Jesus, sin, righteousness and judgment have a very precise meaning, different from the meaning that one might be inclined to attribute to these words independently of the speaker's explanation. This explanation also indicates how one is to understand the "convincing the world" which is proper to the action of the Holy Spirit. Both the meaning of the individual words and the fact that Jesus linked them together in the same phrase are important here.

"Sin," in this passage, means the incredulity that Jesus encountered among "his own," beginning with the people of his own town of Nazareth. Sin means the rejection of his mission, a rejection that will cause people to condemn him to death. When he speaks next of "righteousness," Jesus seems to have in mind that definitive justice, which the Father will restore to him when he grants him the glory of the Resurrection and Ascension into heaven: "I go to the Father." In its turn, and in the context of "sin" and "righteousness" thus understood, "judgment" means that the Spirit of truth will show the guilt cf the "world" in condemning Jesus to death on the Cross. Nevertheless, Christ did not come into the world only to judge it and condemn it: he came to save it.105 Convincing about sin and righteousness has as its purpose the salvation of the world, the salvation of men. Precisely this truth seems to be emphasized by the assertion that "judgment" concerns only the prince of this world," Satan, the one who from the beginning has been exploiting the work of creation against salvation, against the covenant and the union of man with God: he is "already judged" from the start. If the Spirit-Counselor is to convince the world precisely concerning judgment, it is in order to continue in the world the salvific work of Christ.


28. Here we wish to concentrate our attention principally on this mission of the Holy Spirit, which is "to convince the world concerning sin," but at the same time respecting the general context of Jesus' words in the Upper Room. The Holy Spirit, who takes from the Son the work of the Redemption of the world, by this very fact takes the task of the salvific "convincing of sin." This convincing is in permanent reference to "righteousness": that is to say to definitive salvation in God, to the fulfillment of the economy that has as its center the crucified and glorified Christ. And this salvific economy of God in a certain sense removes man from "judgment," that is from the damnation which has been inflicted on the Sill or Satan, "the prince of this world," the one who because of his sin has become "the ruler of this world of darkness."106 And here we see that, through this reference to "judgment," vast horizons open up for understanding "sin" and also "righteousness." The Holy Spirit, by showing sin against the background of Christ's Cross in the economy of salvation (one could say "sin saved"), enables us to understand how his mission is also "to convince" of the sin that has already been definitively judged ("sin condemned").


29. All the words uttered by the Redeemer in the Upper Room on the eve of his Passion become part of the era of the Church: first of all, the words about the Holy Spirit as the Paraclete and Spirit of truth. The words become part of it in an ever new way, in every generation, in every age. This is confirmed, as far as our own age is concerned, by the teaching of the Second Vatican Council as a whole, and especially in the Pastoral Constitution Gaudium et Spes. Many passages of this document indicate clearly that the Council, by opening itself to the light of the Spirit of truth, is seen to be the authentic depositary of the predictions and promises made by Christ to the Apostles and to the Church in the farewell discourse: in a particular way as the depositary of the predictions that the Holy Spirit would "convince the world concerning sin and righteousness and judgment."

This is already indicated by the text in which the Council explains how it understands the "world": "The Council focuses its attention on the world of men, the whole human family along with the sum of those realities in the midst of which that family lives. It gazes upon the world which is the theater of man's history, and carries the marks of his energies, his tragedies, and his triumphs; that world which the Christian sees as created and sustained by its Maker's love, fallen indeed into the bondage of sin, yet emancipated now by Christ. He was crucified and rose again to break the stranglehold of personified Evil, so that this world might be fashioned anew according to God's design and reach its fulfillment."107 This very rich text needs to be read in conjunction with the other passages in the Constitution that seek to show with all the realism of faith the situation of sin in the contemporary world and that also seek to explain its essence, beginning from different points of view.108

When on the eve of the Passover Jesus speaks of the Holy Spirit as the one who "will convince the world concerning sin," on the one hand this statement must be given the widest possible meaning, insofar as it includes all the sin in the history of humanity. But on the other hand, when Jesus explains that this sin consists in the fact that "they do not believe in him," this meaning seems to apply only to those who rejected the messianic mission of the Son of Man and condemned him to death on the Cross. But one can hardly fail to notice that this more "limited" and historically specified meaning of sin expands, until it assumes a universal dimension by reason of the universality of the Redemption, accomplished through the Cross. The revelation of the mystery of the Redemption opens the way to an understanding in which every sin wherever and whenever committed has a reference to the Cross of Christ - and therefore indirectly also to the sin of those who "have not believed in him," and who condemned Jesus Christ to death on the Cross.

From this point of view we must return to the event of Pentecost.


102. Jn 16:7f.

103. Jn 16:7.

104. Jn 16:8-11.

105. Cf. Jn 3:17; 12:47.

106. Cf. Eph 6:12.

107. Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World, Gaudium et Spes, n. 2.

108. Cf. ibid., nn. 10, 13, 27, 37, 63, 73, 79, 80.

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