Gospel. The main way that we relate to God today is through the Spirit, which inspires, uplifts, enlivens, teaches, consoles. Listen to Her.— James Martin, SJ (@JamesMartinSJ) May 11, 2015
By the way, the term "Holy Spirit" in Hebrew, i.e., the form Jesus would have learned in the first century, is feminine: "ruacḥ." So: Her.— James Martin, SJ (@JamesMartinSJ) May 11, 2015
Leave aside the controversy baiting, which he so coyly engages in by first dropping the "her" and then explaining himself in his follow up. It's a low road to take, for certain.
What I think is more worth looking at here is the way that he attempts to make his argument, which is typical of the person trying to claim expertise before a general audience.
Fr. Martin immediately attempts to wrap himself in the mantle of scholarship by telling us what term Jesus would have learned in first century Hebrew for "Holy Spirit". But, of course, we have not a word of Jesus's own writing or speaking in Hebrew. We have Gospels written in Greek, which tell us (in Greek) what Jesus said. Occasionally the Gospels tell us what a word or phrase is in Hebrew, as when Jesus calls out "Eloi, Eloi, lema sabachthani?" before dying on the cross. Additionally, the Holy Spirit, as a member of the Trinity, is not a name that was in common usage prior to Christ, since the concept of the Trinity did not exist in Judaism. So talking about what word Jesus would have learned for the Holy Spirit is a bit odd. Further, it's not clear how much Jesus spoke in Hebrew anyway. The everyday language of Judea was Aramaic, and the language of the eastern half of the Roman Empire was Greek, while Hebrew served as a Jewish sacred language. So while it sounds terribly knowledgeable to talk about what Hebrew word Jesus used to refer to the Holy Spirit, the fact of the matter is that in virtually no case do we know what Hebrew word Jesus used to refer to anything, or indeed if He used Hebrew much at all except to read the scriptures.
Now, Fr. Martin is right that the Hebrew word רוח (ruacḥ) meaning wind or breath is a feminine noun, and to our English-speaking ears that sounds significant, since we don't have noun genders in our language. Saying that the term Jesus used for the Holy Spirit is feminine seems like it means Jesus referred to the Holy Spirit as "her" or perhaps as the Holy Spirit-ette. However, gramatical gender is simply a type of noun declension which our fairly un-inflected language doesn't have.
What is grammatical gender? I'll borrow from Wikipedia:
In linguistics, grammatical gender is a specific form of noun-class system in which the division of noun classes forms an agreement system with another aspect of the language, such as adjectives, articles, or verbs. This system is used in approximately one quarter of the world's languages. In these languages, every noun inherently carries one value of the grammatical category called gender; the values present in a given language (of which there are usually two or three) are called the genders of that language. According to one definition: "Genders are classes of nouns reflected in the behaviour of associated words."This last example is not a hypothetical. The reason Fr. Martin's explanation sounded wrong to me is that one of the quirky vocabulary facts I remembered from all my years of taking Latin is that the Latin word for manliness and virility, virtus, is a noun with a feminine grammatical gender. Obviously, the Romans didn't think that masculinity was feminine, it's that grammatical gender does not necessarily align with sex. Hebrew is apparently the same way. A quick search brought up Basics of Biblical Hebrew Grammar with this to say on the topic:
Common gender divisions include masculine and feminine; masculine, feminine and neuter; or animate and inanimate. In a few languages, the gender assignation of nouns is solely determined by their meaning or attributes, like biological sex, humanness, animacy. However, in most languages, this semantic division is only partially valid, and many nouns may belong to a gender category that contrasts with their meaning (e.g. the word "manliness" could be of feminine gender).
It is important to understand that feminine nouns (grammatical gender) do not refer only to feminine things (natural gender) or masculine nouns only to masculine things. For example, the Hebrew word for "law" ... is feminine. This does not mean, however, that laws apply only to women. What the gender of a Hebrew noun indicates is the patter of inflection it will usually follow. In other words, masculine nouns take one set of endings for pluralization and feminine nouns take another.So yes, the Hebrew word רוח (breath or wind) is a feminine noun. The Greek word πνεῦμα (air, wind, breath) which is used in the proper name for the third person of the Trinity (Πνεῦμα τὸ Ἅγιον) is neuter. And the Latin word spiritus, which we all know from hearing Spiritus Sanctus in the mass and elsewhere, is masculine. And all of that means only a little bit more than if Fr. Martin had said, "I refer to the Spirit as "she" because they both start with 's'."
I'll leave it to the reader to decide whether this means Fr. Martin picked up this little factoid and was too ignorant of linguistics to realize that it didn't mean anything, or if he found it a useful way to grab attention while assuming that most of his audience wouldn't know the difference. But now you do know, be assured that this argument isn't worth the pixels it's printed on.