A scene from The Canterbury Psalter (12th century)

Disadvantages of a Distinct Pneumatology

There are a few things wrong in this, but try to catch the main point:

The widespread desire for an independent doctrine of the Holy Spirit can be satisfied on trinitarian theological grounds only at the expense of complicated misinterpretations. The Spirit itself is what is to be understood and expressed in faith; it does not stand over against God or believers as a separate entity. Guarantees are needed not only to avoid tritheism or a division of God into three epochs of time or activity, but above all to avoid an objectification of the Spirit, which is possible in either (Stoic-) materialistic or idealistic form. …. Legitimate regulative statements about the Holy Spirit must start from the insight that no statements about God at all are possible ‘outside’ the Holy Spirit, i.e. that the material content of a doctrine of the Spirit of God is at the same time his cognitive access.

That’s Dietrich Ritschl, from his book The Logic of Theology: A Brief Account of the Relationship Between Basic Concepts in Theology (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1987) [trans. John Bowden from Zur Logik der Theologie, 1984 Christian Kaiser Verlag], 158.

The early church produced a great deal of reflection on the Father and the Son, but it was some time before extended treatments on the Holy Spirit emerged. And when they did emerge (Didymus on the Spirit, Athanasius’ Letters to Serapion, Basil’s On the Holy Spirit, etc.), they tended to have as much to say about the first and second persons as about the third. Really the great explosion of works focused on the Spirit are from the nineteenth century, a relatively unhealthy time for theology.

In some ways, things seem to have gone wrong by the time a distinct pneumatology comes forward as the kind of thing one could write a treatise on.

Dietrich Ritschl (not Albrecht, gimme a break) has some good clues to why. I’d prefer to use a personal pronoun for the Spirit (“it,” ugh), and I don’t think we should deny the Spirit a certain objectivity as we rush to acknowledge that we are always already surrounded by him in any act of knowing God. But I do think that in certain ways “the widespread desire for an independent doctrine of the Holy Spirit” needs to be chastened and even undermined before it is satisfied.

About This Blog

Fred Sanders is a theologian who tried to specialize in the doctrine of the Trinity, but found that everything in Christian life and thought is connected to the triune God.

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