Saturday, April 03, 2010

Phases in our understanding of the Holy Spirit

In chapter 3 of Pneumatology: The Holy Spirit in Ecumenical, International, and Contextual Perspective, Karkkainen provides a brief survey through the development of various different understanding of the Holy Spirit in this chapter. Charismatic experience of the Spirit was at the beginning of the church. Karkkainen draws from the researches of James Dunn and Yves Congar to point out that the experience of the Spirit is a constant occurrence in the Christian communities. Early church leaders like Clement of Rome, Justin Martyr, Cyprian, Hyppolytus, Ignatius and Irenaeus were involved in the discourse over charismatic movement of their era (p.39-41). Later, we have the Montanist controversy, which had a loose perception of the Holy Spirit, beginning in the second century had attracted further discussion over this topic. Such discourse extended widely even to the eastern churches. Athanasius, Gregory of Nyssa, Gregory of Nazianzus, and Cyril of Alexandria, Basil of Caesarea were all dealing with the discussion on Holy Spirit in their own respective works (p.43-46).

Karkkainen highlighted that Augustine in the fifth century has developed a groundbreaking understanding on the Holy Spirit. From his reflection over scriptural passages such as John 4.7-14, 7.37-39, 16.13, Matt 10.20, Rom 5.5, 8.11, 9, Gal 4.6, 1 John 4.7-16, and others, he succeeded to produce a theology of the Holy Spirit which prevalent in the western world until today. He concludes that “since the Spirit is the Spirit and Love of the first two Persons, [the Spirit] must be said to proceed from those Persons.” (p.48) This is the filioque clause which has caused deep disagreement from the eastern churches.

Karkkainen highlights four theologies developed through the mystic tradition during the medieval times. They are Hildegard of Bingen, Bernard of Clairvaux, Bonaventure, and Catherine of Siena. A consistent vein shared by all four is their individual’s employment of imageries or illustration to describe the person of the Spirit in relation to the Trinity (p.49-55). Then discussion is shifted to the Reformation’s and post-Reformation’s thoughts, before going through Kant, Hegel, Schleiermacher, Barth, Ritschl and Tillich (p.56-65).

If one may compartmentalize the development of the theology of the Holy Spirit in this chapter into phases, there is a sense that from the beginning of the church until the period prior to Augustine, the Christian community was busy reckoning the Spirit’s stature in the economy of the Godhead. That was the initial phase. After the time of Augustine until the time of Kant and Hegel, it seems that theologians had come to affirm the Spirit’s stature and thus have moved on to keep themselves busy with developing analogy and illustration to describe the Spirit’s role in the economy of the Godhead. That was the second phase. Then the third phase of the discussion of the Spirit from Kant to Tillich, was built upon the achievement of the previous two eras. Instead of using analogy and illustration, this later generation of thinkers engaged the discourse with the tendency to insert a sort of realistic immanence into the Spirit’s ontology. In other words, they approached the discourse through realism. We have in this third phase of development a phenomenologically empowered pneumatology.

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