Bryn Mawr Classical Review

Bryn Mawr Classical Review 2011.05.52

D. Vincent Twomey, Janet E. Rutherford (ed.), The Holy Spirit in the Fathers of the Church: The Proceedings of the Seventh International Patristic Conference, Maynooth, 2008.   Dublin:  Four Courts Press, 2010.  Pp. 203.  ISBN 9781846822551.  $65.00.  



Reviewed by Young Richard Kim, Calvin College (yrkim@calvin.edu)

This volume is a collection of ten essays originally presented in 2008 at the Seventh International Patristic Conference, “The Holy Spirit according to the Fathers of the Church,” at St. Patrick’s College in Maynooth, Ireland. These proceedings, “explore the teaching of the fathers of both east and west on the nature and activity of the Holy Spirit” (9), and together the contributions interpret the “Fathers of the Church” quite broadly. As one might expect, several of the usual patristic giants appear in the papers (i.e. Irenaeus, Origen, Augustine); however, some rather unexpected “Fathers” of different times and places also emerge, including the likes of Isaac of Nineveh, Photios of Constantinople, and even Karl Barth!

The volume begins with a short preface from the editors, in which they briefly summarize each of the papers and offer various acknowledgements. Unfortunately, the preface does not offer much more, and indeed this may be the weakest aspect of the book: the lack of a substantive introduction. Because the subject of the Holy Spirit has so many different potential avenues of exploration (as demonstrated by these proceedings), the volume could have benefitted greatly from a general discussion of the long evolution of the doctrine of the Holy Spirit, which in turn would have helped the reader to make sense of how and where each of the contributions belongs to the broader historical and theological developments in Christian Pneumatology. Thus, as one reads through the papers there is the occasional sense of disjointedness, though this is not at all unexpected in a volume of this type.

Prior to the fourth century, no Church Father wrote anything exclusively dedicated to the theology of the Holy Spirit. Like its “presence” in the biblical record, the Holy Spirit is ever present in the patristic corpus, but almost always in discussions of its connection to the will and activity of God the Father (and later, with the Son). Thus in order to discern what the pre-Nicene Fathers believed about the Spirit, one is forced to extrapolate their Pneumatology from other writings. Brendan Leahy’s paper accomplishes precisely this through an examination of Irenaeus’ Adversus haereses, and he finds in this Father’s thinking the Spirit at work in every aspect of God’s creative and salvific economy, but almost always “hidden” behind its activity and the resulting effects. Janet Rutherford’s contribution provides an excellent discussion of developments in Middle Platonism, which had a profound influence on the Alexandrian context in which Clement and Origen both articulated their understanding of the Trinity and the person of the Holy Spirit. She shows quite well how one cannot fully appreciate the thinking and theology of either man without an understanding of the philosophical currents in their Alexandria. However, the end of Rutherford’s paper is a bit odd, as she explores a modern Christian Platonism as a means to understanding problems in quantum physics and the relationship between science and metaphysics.

Lewis Ayres’ excellent paper argues the importance of Didymus the Blind as a vital contributor to Christian thinking on the Holy Spirit, specifically through an examination of the influence on Didymus of the Philonic and (Neo-)Platonic notion of an “undiminished giver,” an idea which became an important element of the Pneumatology of the late fourth century. Ayres’ paper is also very helpful in that he offers some contextual discussion of the theology of Athanasius, who is arguably the first to write something dedicated to the Holy Spirit, and of Basil, who is thought by many to be one of the first authoritative “orthodox” voices on the Holy Spirit. Furthermore, if, as Ayres suggests, Didymus’ De Spiritu Sancto should be dated to the early 360s and not the late 370s, then it becomes an influence and source for Basil of Caesarea (and not the other way around), and the importance of Didymus’ theology of the Spirit becomes that much greater. Juliette Day studies Cyril of Jerusalem, another patristic author who has been overlooked as a contributor to theological reflections on the Spirit. She examines his catechetical lectures to ascertain his understanding of the role of the Spirit in baptism and its place in the divine Godhead. And while Cyril did not add anything new to Pneumatology, Day finds in him a systematic understanding of the Holy Spirit consonant with scripture and contemporary confessions.

The next two papers explore two markedly western authors, Augustine and Fulgentius of Ruspe. Thomas O’Loughlin studies a lesser known work of Augustine, De consensu evangelistarum, a work intended to demonstrate the credibility of the Gospels. Even though the apologetic work was not dedicated solely to the Holy Spirit, O’Loughlin shows how Augustine had much to say about the Spirit in this text. Central to Augustine’s argument was the notion that one and the same Holy Spirit was active in human history, in prophecy, and in the composition of the Gospels. O’Loughlin explores the interesting problem of a Spirit who is intimately involved in the writing of Scripture (which guarantees its reliability and inerrancy), but at the same time inspires and prompts the authors to construct their narratives with freedom, using their own words and styles. Finbarr Clancy examines the Pneumatology of Fulgentius, a lesser known Father of the late fifth/early sixth century, in the second book of his Ad Moninum, a three-volume treatise written in response to several theological questions. The paper specifically focuses on Fulgentius’ understanding of the invocation of the Holy Spirit in the Eucharist. The “sending” of the Spirit seems to imply an inferiority of the one Sent to the Sender, but Fulgentius emphasized that the “mission” of the Spirit in the Eucharistic consecration was not at all temporal or spatial, thus denying the possibility that the Spirit could somehow be separated from the Godhead. In fact, this very invocation reflects the unity, equality, and love within the Trinity, which is then mirrored in the church itself in the act of sacrament. Clancy sees in the parallel unity within the Godhead and within the church an inspiration for modern ecumenical conversations between Roman Catholic and Orthodox Christians.

Serafim Seppälä, in one of the most interesting contributions, studies the Pneumatology of Isaac of Nineveh, a seventh-century, Syriac-speaking monk. Isaac’s deeply monastic and ascetic approach to Christian spirituality led to mystical reflections on the working of the Holy Spirit. For Isaac, a Christian is to become a temple and dwelling place for the Spirit, who purifies, illuminates, and connects the human and divine to such an extent that the believer can reach a spiritual reality that makes present the Eschaton to come. Seppälä really captures well Isaac’s spirituality as “the Pneumatic Way of Being,” and his paper points to the rich material in the Syriac tradition that should become part of the larger story of the history of Christianity. Andreas Andreopoulos examines the Holy Spirit in the ecclesiology of Photios of Constantinople and situates the Patriarch in the divisive context of the ninth century. Photios faced both internal strife, with the recent “resolution” of the Iconoclast controversy, and external conflict, as the divide with the West over the filioque continues to widen. Andreopoulos shows well how Photios, who originally pursued a career in imperial service, brought a pragmatic and politically astute approach to his Patriarchate. His great contribution to Pneumatology was the appeal to the image of Christ’s baptism, in which the Holy Spirit, proceeding from the Father, “rests” upon Christ.

Gregory Collins’ paper shifts to the modern world and discusses the Pneumatology of a Protestant and two Orthodox writers, specifically on the problem of the filioque. Karl Barth insisted upon the necessity of the double procession of the Spirit as “the touchstone for affirming the possibility of divine and human communion” (179), while Vladimir Lossky rejected it as the downfall of western rationalist theology. Both authors were entrenched in their respective dogmatic positions and found little room for compromise. Sergei Bulgakov viewed the issue of procession less a dogma and more an opinion, one which brought to light a lack of ecclesial charity on both sides. Collins then uses the views of these “Fathers” to explore three possible solutions to resolve the famous problem. Patrick Mullins OCarm’s final essay studies Ambrose of Milan’s understanding of the relationship between Mary and the Church and the parallel relationship of the Holy Spirit to both. OCarm focuses on how the Holy Spirit’s collaboration with Mary, leading to the virginal conception, served as a “type” for the collaboration of the Spirit with the Church, which itself becomes “mother” to the saints. OCarm then connects this ancient Marian typology to ecclesiological discussions at Vatican II.

There is a devotional undertone that runs throughout the volume, and a number of the contributions are as interested in the real operation of the Holy Spirit today as they are in historical developments in theology. Many of the authors are identified as representatives of various Christian traditions, and they offer their own unique perspectives on Pneumatology from these vantage points. There is also a deep concern for ecumenical dialogue, one which seeks to offer insights into how the great divide between western Catholic and eastern Orthodox theology of the Holy Spirit might find a place for mutual understanding and reconciliation.

Overall, this collection of conference proceedings is quite interesting, and this volume will be of specific academic interest to theologians and scholars of the Church Fathers. The absence of a substantive introduction, if not the price of the book, may ultimately preclude the use of the work in a classroom setting, though a number of the individual contributions could useful in a graduate level course in Pneumatology.

Table of Contents

D. Twomey and J. Rutherford, ‘Editors’ preface’, pp. 9-10.
B. Leahy, ‘‘Hiding behind the works’: the Holy Spirit in the trinitarian rhythm of human fulfillment in the theology of Irenaeus’, pp. 11-31.
J. Rutherford, ‘The Alexandrian Spirit: Clement and Origen in context’, pp. 32-56.
L. Ayres, ‘The Holy Spirit as the ‘Undiminished Giver’: Didymus the Blind’s De spiritu sancto and the development of Nicene pneumatology’, pp. 57-72.
J. Day, ‘Cyril of Jerusalem on the Holy Spirit’, pp. 73-85.
T. O’Loughlin, ‘St Augustine’s view of the place of the Holy Spirit in the formation of the gospels’, pp. 86-95.
F. Clancy, ‘The Holy Spirit, the Trinity and the Eucharist in St Fulgentius of Ruspe’s Ad Moninum, book 2’, pp. 96-126.
S. Seppälä, ‘The Holy Spirit in Isaac of Nineveh and East Syrian mysticism’, pp.127-150
A. Andreopoulos, ‘The Holy Spirit in the ecclesiology of Photios of Constantinople’, pp. 151-163.
G. Collins, ‘Three modern ‘fathers’ on the filioque: good, bad or indifferent?’, pp. 164-184.
P. OCarm, ‘The Holy Spirit and the Marian typology of St Ambrose at Vatican II’, 185-200.

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