Should We Say Holy Ghost or Holy Spirit? Is there a difference?


Nowadays, the only English speakers using the term “Holy Ghost” are 1) Traditional Catholics; 2) Charismatics (“Holy Ghost Revival”); 3) King James only Fundamentalists; 4) Anglicans who use the older liturgies (which retain Holy Ghost throughout).
My first three children who were baptized in the Anglican tradition were each baptized, “in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost. Amen.” Their baptismal certificates also read “the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost.”
The historic reason for employing the language of “Holy Ghost” is that the Douay-Rheims Bible (used by traditional Catholics) and the King James Version (used by Anglicans and Fundamentalists) employ the term “Holy Ghost” for the Third Person of Holy Trinity over 90% of the time. “Holy Ghost” is not used exclusively, however. Both versions also employs “Holy Spirit.” For example, the Douay Rheims uses “Holy Ghost” 95 times, and “Holy Spirit” 8 times. 
The 15th, 16th and 17th century English translators used “ghost” to translate the Latin “spiritus,” which in turn was a translation of the Greek “pneuma” (like pneumatic tools and catching pneumonia). 
Ghost derives from the Old English word gast which refers to personal immaterial being – a soul, an angel, or even a demon. It is directly related the German geist.
Today, “ghost” conjures up images of haunted houses. It is a shame that this is the case. Is it, however, a reason to abandon the term “Holy Ghost”?
I still know many Catholics who use “Holy Ghost.” I still like to say the Glory be as “Glory be to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Ghost, etc.” because: A) that’s how I learned to say it as an Anglican; and B) it’s sounds beautiful and dignified.
There is also two theological reasons for using “Holy Ghost” from time to time. 
1) First, we live in a culture where being “spiritual” is increasingly popular and increasingly vague. Just think about that horrid song “Spirit in the Sky,” and you know what I mean. In neo-pagan parlance, “being spiritual” and “the spirit” have nothing to do with the personal God fo the Sacred Scriptures. This “spirit” is more like “the force” in Star Wars than it is the Third Person of the Blessed Trinity. So when you say “Holy Ghost,” you’re clearly referring to traditional Trinitarian theology.
2) In English, “spirit” has always had a vague meaning and this is likely why the translators opted for “ghost.” Spirt is not wrong. In fact, the Latin spiritus is almost identical to the Greek pneuma. But spirit in English can refer to abstractions or it can refer to a person. 
Examples: 
“We’ve got spirit, yes we do! We’ve got spirit how ’bout you?” 
Spirit, here, refers to vigor and enthusiasm. Nobody assumes that the cheerleaders are possessed by a “ghost” or “spiritual being.”
“the spirit of Vatican 2”
I think every magisterial Catholic from Pope Benedict XVI on down knows that the so-called “spirit of Vatican 2” is certainly not the “Holy Spirit.” Here, “spirit” refers to a way of interpretation or a movement.
“Play this song with spirit!”
Here again, this doesn’t mean to invoke an immaterial person. It means to play a song with a certain tempo or feeling.
So then, “spirit” can be ambiguous. Ghost is not ambiguous. Ghost always refers to “immaterial person.”
So when people speak of the Holy Ghost, the orthodox theology of His status as a Divine Person is highlighted. There are however a couple of drawbacks to “Holy Ghost.” The most obvious is that “ghost” typically has a negative connotation. Ghosts are thought to dwell in haunted houses and most people assume that ghosts are the souls of dead people. We certainly don’t mean this when we refer to the Holy Ghost who is uncreated, immortal, and omnipotent. Still, ghost does in fact refer to the souls of dead humans:
“And saying this, he gave up the ghost.” (Luke 23:46, D-R)
My opinion is that ghost captures the reality that the Holy Ghost is a Divine Person. You can know Him and talk to Him. And yes, He dwells in you. We can have a personal relationship with Him. So I like “ghost” because it reveals a personal agent. Spirit is also good because it hearkens back to the Latin Vulgate and corresponds to the Latin of the liturgy. However, it is more ambiguous in English – especially in our time with “being spiritual” is so popular.
In summary, there are positives and negatives to both terms. This is why I often use both “Holy Ghost” and “Holy Spirit” interchangeably on the blog, in lectures, and in conversations. The English/American Catholic tradition always used both terms, but gave “Holy Ghost” the privileged place. In around 1970, most English speaking Catholics retreated almost entirely from “Holy Ghost.” (I think this is why “Holy Ghost” has become the secret handshake of traditional Catholics.) So why not use both terms?
Just one last thing. If you do begin to sprinkle your prayers and discourse with “Holy Ghost” and someone challenges you on it for being archaic, don’t worry about it. We still all say archaic things every day: “Our Father who art in Heaven, hallowed be thy name.” We also still say, “blessed art thou amongst women.” We don’t have to update our prayers every decade with latest lingo. There is a blessed confidence in retaining the phrases of our grandfathers and their grandfathers.
A blessed Pentecost to you.
Godspeed,
Taylor
PS: The Holy Ghost Third Person of the Trinity, coequal and consubstantial with the Father and the Son (Matthew 28:19; Acts 5:34, 28:25, 261 Corinthians 12:4-6). Saint Augustine and Saint Thomas Aquinas teach that he is the Gift of the Father to His people on earth to initiate and complete the building of the body of Christ (1 Corinthians 12:13). The Holy Ghost personally convicts the world of sin, glorifies the Lord Jesus Christ, and transforms the baptized into His image (John 16:7-9; Acts 1:5; 2:4; Romans 8:29; 2 Corinthians 3:18; Ephesians 2:22).

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  • Aaron Siering

    Well I very much enjoyed this blog. I got here because after doing a web search on the usage of these terms. I am recently baptized and Christmated Catholic–since I am going through my period of mystogogy the Church fathers have gotten me saying this instead of the more usual– for us Latin Catholics–confirmed…. Anyway, I say the sign of the cross both in Latin and English and lately I’ve often felt compelled when saying it in the latter to use the term Holy Ghost. Your blog has been most helpful in deciding what I should do as a practice, which turns out to be use them interchangeably.

    Also I am intrigued by your book The Eternal City, and I look forward to reading it. I suspect and am hoping that you mean the Church is Roman only in the very limited and specific way that term is almost never actually used when someone says the Roman Catholic Church. Yes the Church is Roman because the seat of Peter is in Rome, but usually people mistake the Latin enclave of the Church with the Catholic Church, itself, more generally. The glorious fact is the Catholic Church is so, so much bigger than just its Roman Rite.

    It is also worth mentioning that terms like traditional and whatever else don’t really apply to Catholicism. There is only orthodoxy and heterodoxy. Traditionalism and progressiveness are both predicated upon modernist presuppositions as are consequently two sides of the same modernist coin. It seems like Mater Dei is a nice Church I hate to think the liturgy there is regularly being used as a plaything and in turned into some divisive instrument by a few heterodox Catholics who have a fetish for the aesthetics of a particular period of Catholic practice. Of course where and when has the liturgy never been so abused in some shape or form, such is man’s nature? It is I suppose not a problem particular to people who identify themselves as “Traditional Catholics”. There is however the addition of a disagreeable irony when this group does it.

  • Adam Hovey

    I am not for one over the other, I say Holy Spirit because, as you say, about Holy Ghost, that’s how you learned it. I am not too worried about people who have a different preference, however. I will use Holy Ghost when talking to Mormons (though what they view as “Holy Ghost” would mean way something different than what we mean in traditional Christianity)

  • Charles Saliba

    I am under the impression that The Holy Ghost is a direct reference to the particular Holy Spirit which came from the Father and conceived Jesus in Mary! From then on became Jesus Soul, the fact that Jesus gave up the Ghost!

    From then on became the direct reference to the Glorified Spirit of Jesus Christ! Which is different from the Holy Spirit of the Father, since only Jesus died and glorified, and only Jesus Christ’s spirit is the most powerful!

    So this is more likely to distinguish the difference between the Spirit from the Father, and the Spirit from Jesus Christ glorified with the attributes of the flesh or more appropriate in the glory of MAN, which to me it does make sense since

    Jesus’Soul which definitely was the Holy Spirit from the Father and Jesus’ flesh which was definitely “THE WORD” the Spirit of the Son, who left the Father and created all, integrated and became ONE DIVINE SPIRIT OF JESUS CHRIST, both God and Man after Jesus resurrected!
    The fact that Jesus gave His Holy Ghost to the apostles, which is a reference to His Human Soul glorified, which previously was the Holy Spirit from the Father!
    Then they had to wait for the Holy Spirit from the Father which was the confirmation that The Father was also glorified in JESUS CHRIST!

    I hope I am clear enough!