29 August, 2010

AAB bookshelf - The Father’s Spirit of Sonship by Thomas G. Weinandy

Fr Thomas Weinandy sets very high and commendable aims for his 1995 publication about the Trinitarian theology The Father's Spirit of Sonship. The author proposes a radically different understanding of the relationship between the three Persons of the Trinity; in doing so he addresses both the New Testament and the theological tradition of the wider Church. First amongst the doctrinal points reworked in this book is the introduction of filioque in the Nicene Creed in regards of the Holy Spirit. This single word has been a source of bitter divisions and debates between 'East' and 'West' since the Great Schism. However, Weinandy's book should not be considered just an 'arduous work' in favour of Ecumenism but rather a 'reconception of the Trinity' [Weinandy (1995), ix, x] of which closer unity amongst Christians could be a welcome by-product. For Weinandy both Catholic and Orthodox conceptions of Trinity are in need of further development, renewal and a sort of 'liberation' from the constructs of ancient – pagan – philosophy; namely from Aristotelian epistemology and Neo-Platonic emanationism. Indeed, the author is convinced that until theology will be freed from these philosophical ideas it will not be able to fully explore God's revelation [ibid. 9].

Development and renewal in Trinitarian thought could come from the Church's own renewal. The idea of lex orandi lex credendi is very important to Weinandy for whom the faith of the Church was expressed and expounded through doxologies since the time of the Apostolic Fathers. Moreover, the renewal of theology should lead the Church to explore the Trinity only according to the nature of Christian revelation and not according to philosophical parameters which are alien to it.

The Father's Spirit of Sonship
'East' and 'West' hold very different concepts of the Trinity even though they both recognise three persons, equal and united in majesty and substance. For Weinandy their differences originate from the underlining philosophical constructs mentioned in the previous section. On the one hand, Neo-Platonic emanationism seems to be cause of stumbling for the Eastern thought where the Father is the only source of divinity. On the other hand Aristotelian epistemology seems to cause error for Western thought where the Holy Spirit is perceived as having a passive function between the Father and the Son. Therefore, the author envisages a more 'active' role for the Holy Spirit in the Trinitarian economy as the One in whom the Son in begotten from the Father.
According to Weinandy the Father begets the Son in the Holy Spirit. It is the Spirit who conforms the Second Person of the Trinity to be the Son and to be eternally pleasing to the Father [ibid. 28]. The same Spirit is the divine agent of the incarnation and it conforms the believers in children of God enabling them to cry 'Abba, Father!' (cf. Rom 8:15). Moreover, the believer's 'earthly birth in the Spirit mirrors Jesus' heavenly birth in the Spirit.' [ibid. 44]

Reconceiving the Trinity
The Scriptures teach that the Holy Spirit is the divine agent through which the Son becomes incarnate (cf. Lk 1:35). The same Spirit is present in the key moments of Jesus' own manifestation to the disciples (e.g. cf. Mk 1:10). He is promised and given to the disciples (cf. John 16:7) and to everyone who follows and believes in Christ (cf. Rom 8:15). His role is not of making himself known but to reveal 'the love of God the Father and Jesus as Son.' [ibid. 85] Moreover, he is the one who transforms the believers in true children of God making them partakers of the life of the Trinity [cf. ibid.]. These are the main basis the speculations advanced by Weinandy. His vision of the Trinity is based on the Scriptures and on the nature of Christian revelation [cf. ibid. 21] in a way which disregards any interference from the 'outside'. By denying a proper place in theological thought for philosophy he is constrained to base his thesis about the Trinity only on the 'functional' categories expressed in the Scriptures themselves [cf. ibid. 22]. The author therefore envisages a mirroring of Trinitarian ontology with the Trinitarian revelation of the New Testament narrative. Therefore, he is forced to say that the Spirit must have been involved in the generation of the Son before all ages and that through him the Son in conformed to be the eternal, ever pleasing image of the Father. Through the work of the Spirit the Son is able to recognise the Father as the divine Parent and in the Spirit he is able to worship him and call him 'Abba.' Jesus is not the eternal Logia but he is the 'speech' of the Father who is brought forth by the Pneuma similarly to a sound which generated in the breath coming out of the lungs [cf. ibid. 77]. According to Weinandy's view the Spirit has a more active role than in traditional Trinitarian thought. He proceeds uniquely from the Father and conforms the Son to be the 'beloved'. Moreover, if the Son is originated in the procession of the Spirit – like the book suggests – it would be safe to say that for the author the Son also proceeds from the Father rather than being generated by Him.
Weinandy's Trinitarian thought is exposed with a tight rhetoric style which considers mainly theological constructs and passages of the Scriptures which support the thesis. This style seldom acknowledges ideas or verses which could challenge the thesis. Moreover, Weinandy seems to consider only specific verses of the New Testament which are by no means the only ones traditionally employed in explaining the Trinity and Christology. This paper will attempt to outline a possible answer to The Father's Spirit of Sonship by employing some of the scriptural material omitted by Weinandy together with some personal reflections from a Western point of view.

Answering to "The Father's Spirit of Sonship"
1. The use of philosophy in theology
Weinandy's criticism to the use of philosophical constructs echoes the words of Tertullian in De Praescriptione Haereticorum: 'What has Athens to do with Jerusalem? What has the Academy to do with the Church? What have heretics to do with Christians?' [Tertullian in J. Stevenson (1987) 167] However, it is important to remember that it was precisely through ancient philosophical ideas that the first Christian apologists argued for their faith. It would not be advisable for Christian scholars to distance themselves too much from secular philosophy but rather to make use of those ideas which are convenient in explaining theological ideas, thus avoiding the risk of falling into fideism. Neo-Orthodoxy could be a possible answer to this.

2. The Son as the Word of God

The Prologue of John's gospel is one of the most important Trinitarian verses not directly considered by Weinandy. The logos is said to be 'pros tov Theon' (John 1:1) where the particle 'pros' means both 'with' and/or 'towards'. This is very different from Weinandy's theory. The logos is described to be with and towards God before all ages and not something generated out – or which proceeds out – of the Godhead in the Spirit; neither something which the Spirit has to conform in the likeness of the Father – almost by comparing the Holy Spirit to a vessel or 'hypostatic mould' for divine ousia which gives form to the Son according to what the Father likes.

Weinandy reference to the Word and the Spirit is somewhat puzzling. For the author 'the Father speaks his eternal Word by the breath of the Holy Spirit.' [Weinandy (1995), 75] However, this model – and particularly the one proposed by Boff in the notes – appears dramatically anthropomorphic and short-sighted. If one was to affirm that the Father brings forth his Word through his breath (pneuma) [ibid. 77] and only at that point the Word is generated, then various sorts of problems would arise. On a human level, words necessitate of logic and thinking not just of breath otherwise they would be incoherent sounds or mere sighs. Words come from the mind and are originated there at whatever level of consciousness. Similarly, if one had to apply this model to the Godhead, one should argue for a diametrically opposite thesis to Weinandy's. The logos is the thought, the logia, the will of the Father; there is no difference of purpose, meaning and objectives between the Father and Him. Indeed, both are co-eternal and equal. Through the Father and the logos' action the pneuma is brought forth as the expression of their love, unity and creativity. He, the Spirit, is the one conformed by the Son and speaks whatever the logos and the Father 'say' because he is united, co-eternal and equal to them. Therefore Jesus says of the Spirit that 'He will not speak on his own, but will speak whatever he hears [...] He will take what is mine and declare it to you. All that the Father has is mine. For this reason I said that he will take what is mine and declare it to you.' (John 16:13-15) This is conform to Western profession of faith: 'qui ex Patre Filioque procedit'position and it was held in a similar way by Thomas Aquinas [cf. ibid. 77 notes].
Although Weinandy distances himself from Neo-Platonic emanationism his thesis – by upholding the monarchy of the Father [cf. ibid. 21] – could be open the way to a Gnostic or Subordinationist revival where the Father originates another being – albeit divine and eternal – through the medium of his Spirit and then using them both he brings forth creation in an ever-decreasing order [Irenaeus of Lyon compered the Son and the Spirit 'the two hands of God' although in a very different and more orthodox sense.]

3.The use of 'Abba, Father!' and Rom 8:15
As St Paul suggests in writing to the Romans the Spirit enables the believers to cry out to God with the confidence of children. However, it seems very difficult to envisage an equal action of the Spirit in conforming Jesus as the 'beloved Son' (cf. Mt 17:6). Jesus is often described in the New Testament as the Son of God and this is primarily visible at his baptism and his transfiguration. Both of these events should be understood as 'explicatory rites' of Jesus' ministry, not necessarily as acts through which He is conformed to be the Christ. At the baptism (Mt 3:16) the Holy Spirit rests upon Jesus and confirms – rather than conforms – Him to be Messiah and 'the beloved' because he is the Son of God and the image of the Father throughout eternity. Jesus does not need the 'spirit of adoption' (cf. Rom 8:15) because He is not a created entity separated from the Father but a divine hypostasis which shares the same substance of the Father and the Spirit. Moreover, the 'spirit of adoption' is necessary to the believer whom the He conforms into being part of the 'body of Christ' (1Cor 12:13), 'an acceptable sacrifice' (Phil 4:18) and a 'holy temple' (Eph 2:21). To sustain a thesis which envisages the same pneumatic action in Jesus and every believer would mean to undermine both nature and personhood of Jesus or else, to separate his divine nature for the human, or to make his mortal body a puppet animated by divine personhood.
The Spirit cries with the believers to the Father longing for the day when they will be perfectly united, but He is not the only divine Person to dwell in them. Through baptism and faithful discipleship the faithful are part of the body of Christ, more over Christ himself lives in them (Gal 2:20) and with him the Father also in a never-ending circle of love (1 John 4:16).

Fr Thomas Weinandy sets on an arduous journey to reaffirm the importance of the Holy Spirit in Trinitarian theology whom he acknowledges as the 'forgotten person' of the Godhead. Unfortunately his findings necessitate of a wider reconsideration of traditional theology in order to be properly examined by the wider Church. The thesis proposed in this book claims to be respectful of both Orthodox and Latin traditions. However, is does seem to envisage a radically new Trinitarian ontology which would probably unite both traditions against it.

J. Stevenson, A New Eusebius, SPCK (London, 1987)
Thomas G Weinandy, The Father's Spirit of Sonship, T&T Clark (Edinburgh, 1995)

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