Saturday, August 27, 2016

The Known Unknown: the Holy Spirit, Participation, & History

I'm revisiting an idea that I briefly addressed before. In this post, I spoke about the neglect of the Holy Spirit in confessional doctrines. The Apostle's Creed merely affirms belief, and later Constantinopolitan Creed we have a little more ("...the Lord, and Giver of Life, Who Proceeds from the Father, Who with the Father and the Son is worshiped and glorified, Who spoke by the Prophets"). But, as per my other post, I commended we move beyond.

I think I put my finger on something important, but in reflection, I'm not sure I had it right. I was right to critique the theology that undergirded the painting of the Resurrection, where the Holy Spirit is nullified before a Zeus-like Father and a half-dead, paisley green, Son, fresh out of the tomb. The Holy Spirit was reduced to the effect of the Father's cape.

But I'm still missing something, and it's in the theological exposition of the very Scripture I seek to highlight.

I was in a conference where I heard the complaints and critiques of not sufficient inclusion of the Holy Spirit in the Reformed tradition. I think that's somewhat fair to make. But the solutions were hardly better than mere recognition and a pastiche of Bible quotes about the Holy Spirit from the Gospels and Acts. Though the speaker was impassioned, there was, perhaps, more heat than fire. Especially, considering, she was more or less speaking to a sympathetic audience. The agreed upon castigation did not really get at anything besides saying that the Holy Spirit was, in fact, God.

But it was that very lack of explication that is the problem. Ephraim Radner highlighted this for me in his theologico-historical work on the Jansenists. Suffice to say, Radner recognized a continuing problem in a certain Augustinian formula of Trinitarian relations that, surprisingly, Jansenists, even as staunch Augustinians, somehow avoided making, while their opponents, mainly the Jesuits, followed Augustine's trajectory. What this resulted into was a functional account of the Holy Spirit.

Augustine relegated the Holy Spirit to being the Bond of Love that united Father and Son. In this way, Augustine would call the Holy Spirit Love Itself. Biblical references to God as love were referring to this reality. But, of course, problematically this means the Holy Spirit becomes devoid of a fully functioning Personhood. Instead, the Holy Spirit is an attribute or a relation (Augustine had less problem with this latter idea). This conceptual arrangement would form other sorts of attributal connections to the Holy Spirit. The Spirit is "Will", "Desire", "Holiness" etc etc. This solves certain intellectual problems of why the Holy Spirit, but it's a cheap way out.

Practically, Radner argues, this sort of thinking led to the collapse of the Holy Spirit into His own fruits. If the presence of the Holy Spirit produced spiritual virtues, discourse about this became very close to collapsing Holy Spirit into these features. Hence, the Holy Spirit is Love. But, this is not all. Perhaps, this manifested itself in other kinds of collapses. One sees this in Rome's notion of the Church's indwelling of the Spirit leads to a fuzzy thinking about the Magisterium's infallible teaching authority. One also might see this in forms of Providential thinking, where the Holy Spirit is Providence. It's not a hard skip to see how this blurred the boundaries between Christian theology and Stoic and/or Heraclitan philosophy. Hence, the early modern/modern World saw the return to a theory of the World-Soul, whether it was in Hegel or Neo-Platonists. Among certain Protestants, the boundary was porous and fuzzy, people not sure of what they were actually saying.

Radner saw this thinking reversed among the Jansenists who'd rather speak of the movement of the Spirit. Or, perhaps in Genesis' terms, the hovering. The first thing this purchases is the fact that the Holy Spirit is never collapsed into any gift. The Holy Spirit might endow love, maintain Christ's Church, and guide the government of Creation. But, there is a functional gap, an eschatological caution, that is maintained. Creation cannot swallow God up, even the Holy Spirit.

However, the second point is more important. This notion of the Holy Spirit's movement keeps us aware that God has created history, time, and utilizes it. While time is created, it existed before the Fall. This has run roughshod over certain Platonic elements among Theologians, who've tried to reject this in ways and forms. Radner highlights a certain kind of participationism that tries to void time as a kind of accident or merely subjective organization of reality.

However, all of this begs the question of time's meaning. Radner's historical approach is quite radical in this dimension. He sees all of history following certain figures of Scripture that are being hammered out through the progression of time. And most primally, this figure is the figure of Christ. History is the forming of Christ's shape, and this is the Holy Spirit's role, revealing and conforming, judging and convicting. And this is the only way we see the work of the Holy Spirit, invisible and unseen, but leaving finger prints. And of what? Christ.

It's in this way that history is not negated or ignored, and yet hopeful perseverance is held out. Temporal suffering was assumed by Christ, and He images it for all people. The Holy Spirit reveals such through insight, wisdom, prophecy, yea, even miracles and dreams. This is the Holy Spirit's movement over peoples and events. Even Jacob's ladder had the ascending and descending of angels.

So, just as we are confronted with the Father, who is Blinding and Unknowable Light, so we are with the Holy Spirit. We are told numerous times in Scripture that we only know the Father through the Son, and we come to the Son through the Holy Spirit's work. That work is not separate. It's for this reason I think it's improper to speak of Christ and His Spirit as two-hands (pace Irenaeus), though I may misunderstand the weight of this metaphor. And it's also wrong, per the Filoque, to speak of the Holy Spirit coming from Father and Son. Rather, it's through the Son, from the Father. Why does this matter? Because it emphasizes that the Holy Spirit, in the history of salvation, is to bring to Christ.

Thus, the Holy Spirit speaks through the prophets. But what does He say? Christ, and the fullness thereof. He is both silent and speaking. He continues to move, revealing the Lord of All. And in this way, we can say we know and we don't know the Holy Spirit. For all we know, and all we are lifted up into, is Christ. And discerning this, and making sense of this, in time and space, for ourselves and others, is to see the residue of the Spirit's work, like the wind rustling the leaves.

All of this is important because it keeps all theology within the parameters of Christology, not unhinged and bound to invite in alien notions. The Holy Spirit is not a particular feeling, mood, set of acts, course of events, or institutional guarantee. But these things might be finger-prints and promises of Christ. And in this world, in the context of the flesh the Son of God assumed, it means looking like a cross. All suffering is assumed by God, none of it neglected or missed. None of it is erased due to inconvenience, for the Logos has assumed the insanity of This Age. The tears of men are stored in a bottle, and it was such a drink that Christ received on that sponge, the taste of vinegar and gall.

This is the work of the Holy Spirit, the giver of life, namely bringing Christ to bear upon our world.

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