While water signifies birth and the fruitfulness of life given
in the Holy Spirit, fire symbolizes the transforming energy of the Holy
Spirit’s actions. The prayer of the prophet Elijah, who “arose like fire” and
whose “word burned like a torch,” brought down fire from heaven on the
sacrifice on Mount Carmel.
This event was a “figure” of the fire of the
Holy Spirit, who transforms what he touches. John the Baptist, who goes
“before [the Lord] in the spirit and power of Elijah,” proclaims Christ as
the one who “will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire.”
will say of the Spirit: “I came to cast fire upon the earth; and would that it
were already kindled!”
In the form of tongues “as of fire,” the Holy Spirit
rests on the disciples on the morning of Pentecost and fills them with
The spiritual tradition has retained this symbolism of fire as one
of the most expressive images of the Holy Spirit’s actions.
quench the Spirit.”
Cloud and light.
These two images occur together in the manifes-
tations of the Holy Spirit. In the theophanies of the Old Testament, the
cloud, now obscure, now luminous, reveals the living and saving God,
while veiling the transcendence of his glory—with Moses on Mount
at the tent of meeting,
and during the wandering in the desert,
and with Solomon at the dedication of the Temple.
In the Holy Spirit,
Christ fulfills these figures. 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
Finally, the cloud took Jesus out of the sight of the disciples on
the day of his ascension and will reveal him as Son of man in glory on the
day of his final coming.
41 Cf. St. John of the Cross,
The Living Flame of Love,
The Collected Works of
St. John of the Cross,
tr. K. Kavanaugh, OCD, and O. Rodriguez, OCD
(Washington DC: Institute of Carmelite Studies, 1979), 577 ff.