Pneumatology, the doctrine of the Holy Spirit, has rightly been considered the least-developed branch of Christian theology. Many reasons can be cited for such divine neglect. The Holy Spirit is the least definable presence of God in Scripture. Attempts to do so occasioned historical confusion and tension in early Christianity (if less so than the divinity of Jesus Christ), and in the eleventh century became one of the causes of the agonizing schism between the Eastern and Western Churches that continues to the present. Throughout subsequent western history, contentious and sometimes heretical movements have all-too-often claimed inspiration from the Holy Spirit. Even in modern times, conflicting interpretations of the presence and activity of the Holy Spirit have led to bitter divisions in churches and denominations.
Beginning in the last century, the theological imbalance found some remedy as a stream of books and articles began to appear, aided in no small measure by the need and desire to understand the provenance and relevance of the Pentecostal movement that enlivened both Protestant and Catholic churches especially in the latter decades of the twentieth century. Even so, by the end of that century the number of theological studies of the Third Person of the Trinity by major theologians were dismayingly few.
The publication of Donald Goergen’s Fire of Love: Encountering the Holy Spirit can thus be welcomed in several respects. Although not a dense systematic study on the order of Yves Congar’s I Believe in the Holy Spirit, or Jürgen Moltmann’s two great volumes, The Spirit of Life and The Source of Life, Goergen’s relatively slender volume is informed by wide-ranging theological investigation. On the other hand, while not merely a popular exposition, it is accessible to readers whose acquaintance with the ancient and contemporary literature may be limited. Moreover, it offers a wealth of spiritual insight to readers who might wish to deepen their understanding of the Holy Spirit as the Source of life and truth in Christian experience.
Goergen begins with the New Testament, particularly the theological anthropology of St. Paul. Although NT views about the Holy Spirit are thoroughly grounded in ancient Hebrew scripture and tradition, especially as the Spirit of Prophecy, this is not a false start because most Christian readers will come to the subject from a New Testament perspective. Eventually, if belatedly, he turns his attention to Hebrew sources, mainly and appropriately the prophets and wisdom writings (pp. 110-17), and does so competently, particularly for readers not familiar with the more technical scholarly material in the field.
Structurally, Fire of Love falls into halves — the first five chapters following the classical scheme utilized by the creeds and St. Thomas Aquinas, among others: Theology, Christology, Church, and Sacraments. Chapters six to twelve explore a variety of contemporary avenues of interest and importance — cosmology (with an interesting chapter on Teilhard de Chardin); inter-religious encounter, including valuable insights from the Hinduism and Islam; a succinct account of the development of the doctrine of the Holy Spirit in the Golden Age of Greek and Latin theology; and a brief chapter on the implications for future spirituality. The final chapter is the most theologically nuanced, drawing mainly on Augustine, Thomas Aquinas, and Yves Congar. Goergen’s discussion is especially helpful in regard to the missions of the Son and the Holy Spirit whether or not one maintains that there are two distinct missions or one great mission of salvation in which the Holy Spirit continues and universalizes the mission of Jesus. His explication of the “filioque” controversy is both lucid and helpful.
Goergen’s treatment of the Holy Spirit in the Church is especially rewarding, not least because of his inclusivist outlook, one certainly informed by the spirit of the Second Vatican Council. Conversely, although ecumenical in tone and treatment, his total inadvertence to the Penetecostal-Charismatic movement in Protestant and Catholic history over the last hundred years is baffling, especially considering its impact on the theologies of several of his sources, notably Kilian McDonnell and James Dunn. In his treatment of the sacramental dimension of the Spirit’s presence in Christian life, Goergen concentrates on Baptism, Confirmation, the Eucharist, and the sacraments of Reconciliation and Healing. As he explains in a footnote, investigating the Spirit’s role in Marriage and Orders would yield a bountiful harvest, but regrettably that is not a task he here undertakes. In future editions, I would hope to see an additional material on these deserving areas of Christian life and spirituality.
In his theological considerations, Goergen gives brief if insightful attention to the Christian doctrine of perichoresis, the term favored by Greek theologians (perhaps coined originally by the Arab, St. John of Damascus) to point to the common divinity of the three Persons of the Trinity. Translated by the Latins as circumincessio, both terms, and especially the earlier Greek notion, express a dynamism that is absent in English translations such as “being-in-one-another” (see pp. 51, 56 n. 32 and 220 n. 40) . As has been especially emphasized in recent Asian theology, perichoresis is a particularly dynamic term, literally meaning “dance around.” In this view, the Persons of the Trinity are involved in an eternal round-dance, a mutual interaction that is perhaps better imaged by a whirligig than a triangle. The divine “Wind” that unites the Trinity is not some kind of superglue, but a turning force, animating a dance of love. Circumincessio almost captures the same dynamism, as incedere means “to move” but certainly suggests a less lively procession than dancing. Later Latin writers even shifted the spelling to circuminsessio, from insessio, meaning “to sit (around)” or, by implication, “to dwell”, thus entirely eliminating the marvelous dynamism of perichoresis. One wonders if this is not a case in which stateliness won out over vitality, much as when the Latins finally forced the Syriac Church to stop referring to the Holy Spirit in the feminine case, as indeed the term is grammatically in Hebrew, Aramaic, and Syriac. In any case, Goergen resolves half the problem by using (perhaps unintentionally) both circumincessio (p. 51) and circuminsessio (p. 220, n. 40).
Given the number of terms, historical figures, and subjects, an index would have been useful. There is a brief but helpful bibliography, but one that could have been enriched considerably by the inclusion of significant earlier works, especially scriptural investigations, by H. Wheeler Robinson, Henry B. Swete, Karl Barth, Ambroise Gardeil, George Montague, Cyril Barrett, and Max Turner among others, and importantly in ecumenical perspective Asian works in translation, especially from Korean theologians such as Jong Chun Park. But Fire of Love is not a textbook, despite a wealth of end notes and scholarly asides. Even so, it would be a rewarding and valuable resource for adult education courses, undergraduate college courses, and general readership.