“I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now. When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth; for he will not speak on his own, but will speak whatever he hears, and he will declare to you the things that are to come. He will glorify me, because he will take what is mine and declare it to you. All that the Father has is mine. For this reason, I said that he will take what is mine and declare it to you” (John 16:12-15 – NRSV).
John declares at the beginning of his Gospel: “The Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a Father’s only son, full of grace and truth” (1:14). And again: “No one has ever seen God. It is God the only Son, who is close to the Father’s heart, who has made him known” (1:18). Jesus has been sent by the Father to teach the disciples what the Father wants them to know. This is reiterated in 15:15: “I have made known to you everything that I have heard from my Father”.
The Spirit will “guide/lead” – the Greek verb is hodēgeō – rather than “teach”. The Spirit’s role will be to guide the community in understanding the Father’s message revealed in and through Jesus Christ. The Spirit “will take what is mine and declare it to you”.
“(The Spirit) will glorify Jesus, as Jesus does his Father (17:4) by communicating the mystery of the Son who has his source in the Father, 3:35; 5:20-26; 8:26-40;13; 17:3. Revelation is one: it comes from the Father through the Son and is completed in the Spirit to the glory of the Son and the Father” (Dom Ralph Russell, “St John”, A New Catholic Commentary on Holy Scripture, edited by Reginald C Fuller et al, London: Nelson, 1969, 1066).
The Psalmist’s prayer is being answered: “Lead me in your truth, and teach me, for you are the God of my salvation; for you I wait all day long” (Psalm 25:5).
Thus, the disciples of Jesus are led into the depths of the riches of Jesus Christ as St Paul reminds the community in Corinth: “None of the rulers of this age understood this; for if they had, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory. But, as it is written, ‘What no eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor the human heart conceived, what God has prepared for those who love him — these things God has revealed to us through the Spirit; for the Spirit searches everything, even the depths of God” (1 Corinthians 2:8-10).
bear: The Greek verb is bastazō. Here it can be understood “take in” or “deal with”. One commentator writes: “To render his teaching explicit and clear in detail, Jesus still needed to speak many words, too many for his hearers to take in that evening. He will, therefore, complete their instruction through that other Paraclete” (W Leonard, The Gospel of Jesus Christ according to St John, B. Orchard & E. F. Sutcliffe (Eds.), A Catholic Commentary on Holy Scripture Toronto; New York; Edinburgh: Thomas Nelson, 1953, 1008).
the Spirit of truth: For the third time, the Advocate is referred to as “the Spirit of truth” – see 14:17; 15:26; 16:13. Recall 8:31-32: “If you continue in my word, you are truly my disciples; and you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free”. “(The Spirit) will guide you into all the truth”. As one commentator explains: “the view that the Spirit is an internal illuminator rather than a revealer seems more in keeping with the context of this discourse, 14:26, and of the whole Fourth Gospel (1:16–18; cf. 1 Jn 2:20–27). In the person of Jesus and his manifestation of himself up to the day of his ascension, Ac 1:3, and sometimes to individual Apostles after the ascension, Ac 9:4; Apoc 1:1, we would seem to have the full final revelation, in the explicit understanding of which the Church shall ever grow through the illuminating action of the Paraclete” (Ibid).
In the first Session of the Second Vatican Council – 11 October-8 December 1962 – there were several critical moments for the life of the Church. One of those moments occurred on 11 November, when Cardinal Ottaviani introduced the schema On the Sources of Revelation, prepared by his Commission in Rome. It presented Scripture and Tradition as essentially two distinct sources of Revelation. Amongst others, Karl Rahner and Joseph Ratzinger, on behalf of the German bishops who were dissatisfied with the Ottaviani text, had already prepared an alternative text. The difficulty Rahner and Ratzinger and many others saw was in the schema’s claim that Tradition was equal to – perhaps more important than – Scripture as a source of Revelation. The Ottaviani schema was therefore rejected in a vote on 20 December 1963. Dei Verbum (Dogmatic Constitution on Divine Revelation) was born of this debate and promulgated by the Council 18 November 1965.
In today’s Gospel – John 16:12-15 (see also John 14:6-17) – we have a text that tells us why Ottaviani was wrong and why the Council made such a strong – and beautiful – statement of the centrality of the Scriptures. Our belief in the Incarnation includes the belief that Jesus is the fulness of God’s revelation. Nothing can be added! Jesus reveals the Father’s intentions for us. “God so loved the world he gave his only Son” (3:16). Because of our limited capacity to take it all in and our necessity to deal with facts that were not even known to Jesus, we must gradually grow in the experience and understanding of the Father’s infinite love in the historical and cultural realities in which we find ourselves. But that gradually coming to know does not represent new revelation. It is new understanding and appreciation of what has already been given in Jesus.
Today’s Gospel reminds us quite explicitly that the Holy Spirit – the Spirit of truth – will guide us in this process of living into the loving action of God. “I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate, to be with you forever. This is the Spirit of truth …. You know him, because he abides with you, and he will be in you” (John 14:16-17).
The gradual knowing and understanding and appreciating of God’s loving action is more akin to the way love grows than to the memorizing of a body of propositions. Recall Jesus’ words: “I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me, just as the Father knows me and I know the Father” (10:13-15). Jesus is the Way to the Father. It is our gift and our task to come to know Jesus Christ. And so Jesus prays to his Father on our behalf: “This is eternal life, that they may know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent” (John 17:3).
All else must serve this loving relationship. And this loving relationship must never be reduced to law and doctrine. St Paul sums up the whole life in a beautiful turn of phrase at the end of his hymn to love: “Now I know only in part; then I will know fully, even as I have been fully known” (1 Corinthians 13:12).