Leonardo BOFF. Come Holy Spirit: Inner Fire, Giver of Life, Comforter of the Poor.Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books, 2015. pp. 214. $17.63 pb. ISBN 978-1-62698-106-5. Reviewed by Karen Monique GREGG, University of Saint Francis, Fort Wayne, IN 46808.
When was the last time you stopped to think deeply about the Holy Spirit? As one-third of the tripartite relationship between God, the Father, Jesus, the Son, and finally, the Holy Spirit, according to Leonardo Boff, the Spirit deserves focused and renewed attention in the modern world. As his title suggests, the spirit is the inner fire, the giver of life, and the comforter of the poor. By the end of this book, it is also the source of inspiration, creativity and art.
This book starts by setting forth a crisis in our modern time, as the Holy Spirit has gone missing in our spiritual and religious lives. Using specific historical moments (the collapse of the Soviet empire, ascendance of globalization, the arousal of ecological consciousness) Boff takes us on a journey eventually and harshly critiquing the hierarchical, authoritative, and clerical pattern the Church has fallen into, while at the same time proclaiming the virtues of the charismatic movement and periodically liberation theology as places where the Spirit is clearly found.
Boff is very clear with different theses set forth in each the chapters, sometimes putting it right out there – in the first paragraph – but in supporting those theses some chapters are as short as five pages, while others are clearly better supported with longer a exposition of his views. This creates somewhat of an imbalance in the seemingly disconnected array of topics he is trying to connect so that one chapter does not flow well into the next. One has to take a long view of the book to connect all the dots that Boff believes are so clear, and so urgent in our time. With some effort, this is indeed possible. This notwithstanding, he never loses track of the main concept in this book – the relevance of the Holy Spirit moving through history, and most importantly, the need for us all to stop and think about, feel and then live by the Holy Spirit today (183).
While Boff does a very good job with historical research as far as theology goes in this work, specifically his recounting of the lives of a few of the men and women philosophers of the spirit, his review of church history and debates about the word “spirit,” and his attempt to link a wide array of other ideas concerning the spirit, e.g., neoliberalism, ecology, evolution, feminism, science, Pentecostal hymns, the new cosmology and cosmogenesis comes off as far-reaching. Without citing or footnoting a sufficient amount of sources to show he’s done his homework, at several junctures he makes great leaps between different areas of research connecting the active spirit in the world in surprising ways. At other times he goes in and out of “we” language leaving one to wonder who exactly “we” is – all of humanity, he and others who ascribe to his way of thinking, or others one cannot begin to guess? At times, this makes the work read as more authoritative than it actually is, rather than just one man’s attempt to bring our attention to the importance of the Holy Spirit.
As a feminist, I have to praise Boff specifically for his chapter on the pneumatization of the feminine, albeit a short five pages in length. Pointing out the intellectual blindness of Churches (plural) and theologies (also plural), in that they fail to sufficiently acknowledge the feminine and maternal dimensions of the Holy Spirit, Boff encourages us “to observe the blindness of a masculinizing patriarchal theology” (121) in the texts concerning Mary, the Mother of God (and, most likely, elsewhere). He asserts that masculine blinders have kept the world from comprehending the significance of the anthropological categories of masculine and feminine in our understanding of God. Even women theologians have become dependent on the theology of men, missing the feminine aspects of the Trinity in their own work. What are they missing? They miss out on identifying the feminine, a female, the woman, and motherhood of Mary, at the center of first appearance of the Holy Spirit in history. Kudos for this critique.
This book was fun to read and easy to understand. I found myself debating with Boff in the margins of several pages in each chapter. This made it thought provoking. Moreover, it is written in a manner so that anyone can read it – from the lay-person to the philosopher or clergy member. Was I persuaded by this work? No. But it was an enjoyable read about the debates, history and application of the Holy Spirit to extensive areas in our current point in time.