The burgeoning interest in "spirituality" is too obvious to be missed. Alongside tendencies towards a New Age1 there is a genuine revival of classical Christian spirituality. This more focused movement can be seen in new seminary courses, training programs at diocesan and local levels, and new scholarship embodied in the formation of the Society for the Study of Christian Spirituality and a number of scholarly journals devoted to the subject. Seemingly endless debates about what "spirituality" means as practice and as an academic discipline have arisen.2 Nevertheless, both studies and pastoral practice have flourished in four areas: (1) resources for introducing people to the disciplines and traditions of the spiritual life;3 (2) courses, programs, and literature on the theory and practice of spiritual direction/spiritual formation;4 (3) recovery of the history and literature of classical Christian spirituality;5 and (4) a hermeneutical or phenomenological approach, highly interdisciplinary, relating Christian spirituality to philosophy of religion, psychology, and non-Christian religious traditions.6
Missing from this blossoming resurgence, until recently, has been spiritual theology, that is, disciplined Christian theological reflection on the source, nature, and shape of the Christian life in the Holy Spirit. Important recent works have explored the territory and offered powerful suggestions for moving forward;7 but as far as I know there has been no attempt in this new situation to provide a systematic spiritual theology of the sort that was ubiquitous in Catholic (including some Anglo-Catholic) circles for the two centuries preceding Vatican II.8 There are a number of reasons for this, including a deep sense that there has been too vast a shift in world-horizon for the older manuals to have much relevance, even while many of us recognize real wisdom in what they contain.9 It seems terribly difficult to get started today on such a project, because the old foundations of the discipline do not provide a place to begin, and the current discussions on "spirituality" do not further the conversation.
There are many tasks relevant to making a new beginning for the discipline. In this essay, I want to suggest a systematic and construetive contribution: one of the difficulties we have in getting started or restarted is that the Western theological tradition has saddled us with a wrong systemic location for the discipline, and current discussions have not really resolved that difficulty. I propose to do three things here to contribute to a new start: (1) to provide a quick review of the reasons for the collapse of the tradition of spiritual theologies; (2) to note briefly the current discussions about approaches to the study of Christian spirituality and the place of theology in that study; and (3) to articulate three propositions for moving forward: (a) the proper subject of a theology of the Christian life is the Holy Spirit and herl mission; (b) more immediately, the object of study of spiritual theology is primarily the movement of the Holy Spirit in the Missio Spiritus, and only secondarily the impact on the human community or individual life; and (c) the proper locus for spiritual theology, therefore, as a theology of the Christian life in the Holy Spirit, is pneumatology. More precisely, I propose that spiritual theology proper is structurally to pneumatology as soteriology is to Christology. These propositions, taken together, at least provide us with a place to restart the discipline.
The Rise and Decline of the Classic Model
The rise and precipitous decline of spiritual theology as a discipline has been well documented in recent years, most especially by Philip Sheldrake and Eugene Megyer, from whose accounts the following summary is largely drawn. 11
It is generally agreed that in early patristic times there was no separation of theology and spirituality, a characteristic that remains true of Eastern Orthodoxy to this day. 12 "True theologians were those who saw and experienced the content of their theology."13 Except for occasional treatises on prayer, such as Origen's, most of what we know about what we would now call spirituality is in dogmatic and controversial treatises, letters, sermons and scriptural commentaries. Indeed, much (like Basil of Caesarea's De Spiritu Sancto) grows directly out of the dogmatic controversies of the time. Most of the theologians were also bishops with active pastoral responsibilities, and monks, so that dogmatic, spiritual, pastoral and monastic theology all grow apace and together. Sheldrake also reminds us that virtually all were men, and from the elite, educated classes of Hellenistic/Roman society. 14
In the early medieval West, it was the monastic theme that came to predominate, right through Bernard of Clairvaux; some treatises did begin to focus specifically on the mystical life, but still in the overall context of monastic theology. While this genre continued to bear fruit in the High Middle Ages, the Scholasticism of the thirteenth century brought a major shift. For the first time, dogmatic, moral and theological concerns were separated. Although his great Summae struggles to maintain a real unity of disciplines, Thomas put most of what he had to say about the Christian life in the Second Part of the Summa theologiae, the return of all things to God, beginning a trend which would subordinate spiritual theology to moral. Despite Thomas's desire to maintain the notion of loving knowledge of the Trinitarian God as the unity of speculation and affection, the die was cast.
Also at this time, the "Mystical Theology" of Pseudo-Dionysius, a fifth-century Syrian monk, which divided the spiritual life into three successive stages of ascent (purgative, illuminative, unitive), reemerged into popularity in the West, but was largely taken out of its original context, and was often conflated with another set of three successive stages, that of the Beginner, the Proficient and the Perfect. There was also a systematization of teaching on meditation and prayer. These three tendencies-Scholastic organization and differentiation, Dionysian stages, and systematized teaching on prayer-had already come together in the immensely influential teachings of the Canons of St. Victor in Paris, notably Richard and Hugh, in the late twelfth century. A new subjective and affective piety emerged with its own literary genres, as did the very early roots of subsequent individualism. Systematic treatises on the spiritual life began to emerge, including Richard of St. Victor's Benjamin major and Benjamin minor; The Cloud of Unknowing; and Bonaventure's Journey of the Mind/Soul into God and The Triple Way. Christian women from Hildegard of Bingen to Julian of Norwich contributed to the growing genre of personal theological reflection on one's own mystical experiences. Popular works such as Marguerite Porete's The Mirror of Simple Souls and the Theologica germanica, a fourteenth-century work by a Germanic monastic knight, later admired and translated by Martin Luther, show the impact of these developments on more popular piety. The shifts in the movement known as the Devotio Moderna in the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries deepened these trends.
In the period of the Catholic Reformation, the Carmelites (Teresa and John of the Cross) and the Jesuits and their followers, including Francis de Sales, solidified the final subjective turn of the discipline to close observation of the movement of individual souls, especially in the "higher" stages of spiritual development, completing the separation from academic theology. As the early modern period with its Enlightenment consciousness progressed, the notion of mysticism as a separate range of phenomena, and of mystics as an elite religious class, arose in seventeenth-century France.15 As the triumph of pure reason proceeded, what was now the province of an elite also became identified as paranormal, completing the separation from "rational theology." Subsequent to the Romantic movement and its concept of artistic genius (with its own links to something much like the mystical and paranormal, as in the fascination of the Shelley, Byron, Keats crowd with the "Gothic," with vampires and werewolves, to say nothing of drug-induced states of altered consciousness), there finally emerged in William James, perhaps with some help from Kierkegaard, the ultimate expression of elitist spiritual subjectivity in the concept of the heroic religious genius.16
The first systematic spiritual theologies were the Direttorio ascetico (1752) and Direttorio mistico (1754) by Giovanni Scaramelli, a Jesuit. There followed a series of classic manuals, which fall into two major camps. One maintains the distinction between the ascetical and truly mystical, and believes the latter is reserved for a small elite. Typical of this school is Adolphe Tanquerey.17 A second stream taught the unity of the spiritual life and the belief that all Christians are called to the highest degrees; R. Garrigou-Lagrange is typical of this stream.18 Joseph de Guibert would subsequently argue for the unity of the ascetical and the mystical under the single rubric of "spiritual theology."19 All of this was synthesized in what has remained a classic textbook, The Theology of Christian Perfection,20 just as Vatican II was rendering the whole enterprise as so conceived highly problematic. Earlier, an Anglican classic, F. P. Harton's The Elements of the Spiritual Life: A Study in Ascetical Theology, had emerged, drawing wisdom from these sources but, as usual, in a less systematic fashion.21
Two starting points characterized these manuals. The first is a theology of Christian perfection which assumes moral theology covers the ground of Christian action required by commandments and precepts of obligation, and hence what is required for salvation; spiritual theology is then for those who go on to the counsels of perfection, hence works of supererogation (Tanquerry, de Guibert, Royo-Aumann). The second is simply a theological reflection on the three Dionysian stages as a kind of law-like ascent of the spiritual ladder (Garrigou- Lagrange). Neither of these starting points is any longer tenable. The former has never been acceptable to Protestants, and is entirely undone by the theology and anthropology of Vatican II. The second is more hopeful, but Karl Rahner had already given a devastating critique of a rigid elevation of stage theory to the level of theological principle.22 Sheldrake summarizes the problems with the old manuals thusly:
Firstly, while not crudely dualistic, this approach often conceived of the supernatural life as distinguishable from, or grafted on to the natural. As a consequence it was possible to identify specifically spiritual areas for exclusive treatment. Secondly, while differing on the classifications and distinctions in the spiritual life, spiritual theologians saw the journey towards perfection in terms of degrees and consecutive or separate stages. Thus, the ultimately mysterious nature of human existence was reduced to detailed analysis according to predetermined general laws. Finally, there was a tendency to be individualistic, to ignore the social dimensions of Christian spiritual life and to reduce the ecclesial aspects of spirituality to participation in the sacraments.23
If the wisdom summarized in the classic manuals is to be preserved in a new attempt at spiritual theology, these difficulties must be overcome.
Theology in Current Discussions of "Spirituality"
Many authors have traced a general trend in contemporary literature to move from separate ascetical and mystical theologies, to a unified "spiritual theology" as advocated by de Guibert, to new, multidisciplinary approaches which go by the name "spirituality" and have a broadly ecumenical and experiential base. This latter approach has been most firmly proposed by Sandra Schneiders in a variety of essays, in her efforts to carve out a unique room for the study of spirituality in the contemporary academy. 24 Schneiders has suggested that there are three complementary approaches to Christian spirituality, each of which has an appropriate contextual locus: the strictly theological approach is best used in a denominational seminary setting focusing on formation in a particular tradition; the historical/critical approaches Schneiders sees as most appropriate for the nondenominational divinity school or university religious studies department; her own hermeneutical approach she sees as most appropriate to an interdenominational, interreligious graduate theological institution such as the one in which she teaches. Even this position of Schneiders, which made far more room for theological critique as an element in her own broadly conceived hermeneutical method,26 has been subject to criticism from the beginning.27 Walter Principe put it well: "Could it not be asked whether this ultimacy of hermeneutical criteria in fact leads spirituality thus conceived and practiced finally to approach the method of secular religious studies?" And "Any Christian spirituality involves theological positions in these areas [all the mysteries of the faith] either explicitly or implicitly."28
Philip Sheldrake has provided a theory of theology and spirituality as inherently and essentially related in a dialogical partnership in which each has a role of normatively evaluating the other, each being a discrete discipline, without being distinct or autonomous.29 The fundamental reason for this is that the Christian spiritual life, precisely as life in the Spirit of committed Christians, does not have a pre-thematic or pre-theological basis30 because as Christian experience "Christian spirituality exists in a framework that is Trinitarian, pneumatological, and ecclesial."31
As long as spirituality and theology remain in this kind of mutually corrective dialogue, the danger of subordinating spirituality to a deductive use of theological doctrine can be avoided. The legitimate concern of the "hermeneutical approach" for appropriate integration of elements from non-Christian sources (which has been present since the very foundation of the tradition, after all) is best met, I believe, by the dialogical approach to interfaith conversations, which eschews philosophizing about a generic "religious experience" in favor of a real dialectic between possibly complementary particularities.32
In this light, I propose that as dialectically conceived the theological approach to spirituality is valid at all levels, including that of graduate study in an interreligious context. While it must be itself in dialogue with the experiential through the historical and hermeneutical, and indeed through consideration of anthropological, sociological and psychological theories of human growth, spiritual theology must finally be in some sense normative for theory and practice of the Christian life, even as these also have a normative evaluative role for such theology. This is true of the discipline of Christian spirituality, both for its teaching in denominationally based professional formation programs and for the training of spiritual directors and guides.
It is not only the dogmatic tradition as a whole which is so authoritative; a systematic theology of Christian life in the Spirit is still required to make the critical correlations and judgments between the dogmatic tradition (the Gospel and the Catholic Faith) and the experiential data of the historical and hermeneutical scholarly approaches, and the pastoral practice and experience of the Church in a practice of guidance and discernment. To prescind from this dialogue with theology is to decontextualize Christian spirituality, precisely as Christian, from the dogmatic tradition that is, as Lindbeck33 has taught us, the indispensable grammar of all legitimate Christian speech. What we have learned from the best contemporary theology and spiritual praxis is that there is not some generic "spiritual experience" which is then named in different ways by differing religious or denominational traditions. Nor is there an experience deductively derived from theological norms.34 Rather, the great dogmatic tradition of the Gospel and the Catholic faith is the ecclesial context in which the Christian life in the Holy Spirit can be named and claimed as part of the construction of what Nicholas Lash called a pedagogy (dare one say catechesis) of contemplative praxis. 35
If we are to attempt a truly constructive theology of the Christian life in the Spirit construed along the lines just delineated, we still need to decide where to locate it-literally, where to begin. I offer three propositions for making such a beginning..
The proper subject of a theology of the Christian life is the Holy Spirit.
The characteristics, properties, virtues, moral goods and similar attributes which are at stake in a theology of the Christian life are increasingly seen by theologians as in the first instance characteristics of God. Indeed, all theology is primarily about God, even if, with Tillich,36 we recognize that all theological symbols also have an anthropological pole. In the moral realm, for example, Owen Thomas has argued, "The essence of all Hebrew-Christian ethics is the nature of God received as a demand upon the life of humanity. Thus the highest moral calling of the Christian is imitation of the outgoing love of the holy God as it is manifest in Christ."37 We are called to be perfect, just as our heavenly Father is perfect. In that sense, moral theology and spiritual theology alike begin with the study of such attributes of God as righteousness, holiness and love as characteristics of God manifested in Jesus Christ. A study of the Christian life would then turn to these characteristics as mediated by the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, thereby allowing humans to be "in Christ" in Paul's sense, and hence to participate in what are essentially divine attributes through the mystery of the communicatio idiomatum. For example, many of the classical dilemmas about Justification can be resolved when we understand humans are being called not to any righteousness of their own, but to a participation, by grace, in God's righteousness.31
These characteristics or virtues are not attributes of human nature, not even as capax, something of which we are inherently capable, apart from the "supernatural" (in Rahner's sense) presence of human being before a gracious God in human existence. This is what I believe Rahner meant by his controversial concept of "the supernatural existential."39 In the structures of human existence, this being-inthe-presence of God as demand and capax, as generative of all human life, let alone specifically Christian, is always embedded and effective, but only by sheer grace and not as a property of human nature. Righteousness, for example, is not even a potentiality for human nature, apart from its being evoked in us as call and gift by God's righteousness. Hence, there is a fundamental structure of human existence that is "supernatural" in the sense of transcending nature without contradicting it. It is a property of human being, but not of human nature, precisely because it is a relational property, already mediated by the Holy Spirit even to those who are not fully "in Christ."
In this light, we can see how each of the available starting points for spiritual theology is misconceived if viewed as a natural human capacity, but becomes viable as a topic of pneumatology.
First, Christian perfection is an important concept for Christian spirituality, but it is participation in the perichoresis or inter-penetration of the Trinitarian life, and hence in the perfections of God, which are simple and undivided. It is therefore not possible to derive successive stages from participation in God's Righteousness (Justification) as opposed to God's Holiness (Sanctification.) As a result, there can be no question of moving from commandments to counsels in a simplistic way, and no sense that perfection involves supererogation. Indeed, while we may have some reason for distinguishing various moments in its impact on us, we have learned from recent theology that the great movement from creation to redemption to eschatological fulfillment is all one movement in God.40 The movements in ourselves, often construed as the classic ordo salutis, or order of salvation, are thus not divided, but are conceptually distinguishable from our side, as long as we understand we do not complete the process of justification and then begin a process of sanctification and perfection. The end of this supernatural perfection is not within the capacity of human nature but is itself gift, even if universal because all humans are defined in their existence by the invitation to relationship with God. As noted, I believe this is what Rahner intends in his concept of the supernatural existential. That is, Christian perfection is as surely and as integrally related to human being through presenting it with the telos for which it has no natural capax as is the call to moral obligation and justification. Indeed, it is one movement of the Spirit by which this being-in-the-- presence of God is mediated to all persons. Thus, there can be no theology of Christian perfection either apart from or subordinate to moral theology.
Secondly, from what has already been said, and the critique of stage-theory by Karl Rahner already cited, it is clear that a spiritual theology as a law-like ascent through stages of growth defined in normative terms is also no longer possible. It is especially true that we must follow Rahner in asserting that there can be no conflation of the three classic Dionysian stages with those of Beginner, Proficient and Perfect without a hopeless disregard for the complexities of human life as the context in which spiritual growth occurs.41 Nevertheless, a certain wisdom in the tradition about this threefold rhythm continues to haunt us. We can bring this wisdom together with a contemporary appreciation of the human complexity by envisioning three great tidal currents or rhythms in the Spirit's Missio-the Trinitarian rhythm of the Missio Dei from the viewpoint of the Spirit to be discussed below, as it affects the community and individual members of it. These concurrent currents, however unchangeably shaped by the Missio Spiritus, take a unique local form at every bay or inlet of land on which they impinge-the realities of human difference. Envisioning the process in this manner allows us to sustain the classic threefold rhythm, but as derivative of the divine agent, leaving the complexity of human life intact. It also respects Luther's great insight of simul justus et peccator; because the three tides are always concurrent, one does not abandon the need for repentance as one grows in the Spirit.
Thirdly, self-transcendence has been proposed as a kind of inclusivist tag to give an anthropological definition to spirituality transcending religious boundaries.42 A careful tracing back of this notion reveals roots in the theology of David Tracy, and earlier, Bernard Lonergan.43 While this emphasis on self-transcendence as a human characteristic is useful for anthropological generalization and inclusivity, it can ignore the Christian "fact" that our self-transcendence is an element of the supernatural existential, and is, in fact, evoked in us first by God's self-transcendence, as both Lonergan and Tracy realized.44 Human self-transcendence is ultimately dependent upon being in the presence of God's self-transcendence, as Rahner so carefully argues, grounding this human self-transcendence in the self-communication of God. But, of course, for Rahner, God's self-communication is the heart of the Trinitarian processions and perichoresis. Thus human self-transcendence is not a property of human nature, character, or capax, in isolation from God, but a characteristic of human existence evoked by the proximity of God's self-transcendence, which is the Trinitarian perichoresis.46 Human self-transcendence, then, is a property of human character or human being precisely as a characteristic of God mediated to humans by the Holy Spirit. Once again, we see how a contemporary starting point for spiritual theology that has severe problems comes into proper focus when located in pneumatology. Indeed, we can now see the relevance of the second constructive proposal:
The primary object of study for a spiritual theology is the Trinitarian movement of the Holy Spirit in the Missio Spiritus.
There is a rhythm and dynamism in the spiritual life that is more than just a religious view on human growth and development. As we have seen, efforts to describe this rhythm, which appears to be threefold, in terms of a law-like ascent of the human spirit in its growth, are no longer viable. I have already suggested a shift in metaphor-what we are dealing with are consistent tidal currents of the Spirit's movement, making an impact on the variegated shore of the human historical reality in a complex of flows and eddies. The situation becomes theologically clear, and capable of some organization in a new spiritual theology, if we understand that the threefold rhythm observed since Neoplatonic times is not a law-like description of human growth, but the concurrent impact on the complex human reality of the tidal movement of the Missio Spiritus. This Missio has its own Trinitarian shape as the Spirit first cooperates in the missions of the Father and the Son, and then, with their cooperation, pursues her own proper mission. Envisioning the situation in this manner requires us to give up the classical Western insistence that the external acts of the Blessed Trinity are entirely undivided and indivisible, and accept the "Cappadocian correction" proposed so effectively by Robert Jenson, that the missions of the Trinitarian persons in the divine economy are one, yet distinguishable, in the very sense that their mutuality of action reflects the Trinitarian perichoresis of the immanent Trinity.47 The first attempt to describe this Trinitarian mission of the Spirit which follows is heavily indebted to Jenson's own display of the Trinitarian rhythms of the Father as originating, the Spirit as perfecting, and the Son as mediating between origination and perfection, but does not follow his account in detail.
First, the Patrological mission of the Spirit is, then, the Spirit's role in supporting the Father/Mother's48 Missio of Creation alongside the Word/Wisdom. This mission begins with the Spirit "hovering" over the Creation, and most especially the Spirit's role as "Giver of Life." But the Missio of Origination does not stop there, proceeding as it does to its culmination in the calling of Israel, the summoning of the priestly people under the Covenant. What shape that might have taken in the absence of fall and sin is mere speculation, but that it would have occurred I am fully convinced. Here the Spirit's role as breath of life includes the anointing of prophets, priests and kings as the officers of the covenant people. The resonance invoked in the human reality is, I believe, best called conversion, though perhaps it might have had another name in the absence of sin. The principal theological virtue (as gift of the Spirit) associated with this resonance is faith.
Secondly, the Christological mission of the Spirit is in support of the Word/Wisdom carrying out the Father/Mother's mandate for mediation of salvation and illumination. Alasdair Heron has given a particularly nuanced account of the intricate dance of the Word/Wisdom and the Spirit in the incarnation and life of Jesus. 49 He traces it from the hovering of the Spirit over Mary at the Annunciation through the anointing of Jesus as Messiah (and hence to all three Messianic offices), to Jesus' sending of the Spirit as "another advocate" at Pentecost, issuing in the birth of Ecclesia as the new Israel under New Covenant, as inauguration and sacrament of the coming Commonwealth of God. If the Spirit is primarily life as gift in the first Missio, here the Spirit is primarily fire and light, leading to the tradition that baptism is "the Illumination." This is clearly seen in the mystery of Transfiguration, which is the resonance I believe this Missio of the Spirit raises in us-the gift of the light, which is the Word/Wisdom and shone forth in Jesus' own Transfiguration, given us in person to illuminate us and the whole world with divine glory.50 The Spirit's gift of virtue in this resonance is hope.
Thirdly, there is the pneumatological Missio proper: The Father/Mother and Word/Wisdom support the Holy Spirit in her proper mission as eschatological perfecting gift. This includes everything in the third paragraph of the creeds-the continuation of prophecy, the assembling of the Church and its final perfecting as the communion of saints in eternal life, as the four eschatological notes of the Church (One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic) find fulfillment in the unity of the human race in God's perfect Commonwealth of justice and peace. Here is also found the Spirit's role not just in the ecclesial sacraments, but in the sacramental consecration of the entire material cosmos, as consistently envisioned by the Eastern Orthodox tradition. In this Missio the Spirit is engaged in both henosis and theosis, the forging of all true relationships of unity with God, and her calling all the redeemed elect into final participation in the Trinitarian perichoresis, the dynamic meaning of theosis-"being made God." The resonance raised in us by this Missio is glorification/theosis, perhaps best described by anticipation in St. John of the Cross's great "The Living Flame of Love." The gift of theological virtue in this resonance is love itself, the proper name of the Third Person. The Spirit which is life in the Father/Mother's Missio and light in the Word/Wisdom's is properly love in her own.
The proper systematic locus for a spiritual theology is, therefore, pneumatology. Specifically, spiritual theology is to pneumatology as soteriology is to Christology.
The Western theological tradition must be corrected and expanded by adding a locus proper to the Holy Spirit herself. As a perspective on the person of the Spirit within the Trinitarian Godhead this will be pneumatology. As spiritual theology it will be analogous to soteriology in the theological locus of Christology, and thus an account of the entire role of the Spirit in the divine economy, one element of which will be a unified theology of the Christian life. The parallels are nearly exact. Contemporary theology sees Christology and soteriology (doctrines of the person and work of Christ) as distinguishable but inseparable, and tends to do "Christology from below" by starting with soteriology and working up to a view of Christ's person, rather than beginning with the dogmas of Chalcedon and deductively "working down." We arrive back at the divinity of Christ and the homoousion of the Word by noticing that in his Missio, Jesus the Word/Wisdom does what only God can do. Ethical and spiritual implications for Christian life are drawn from the character of Jesus/Word/Wisdom by the imitatio Christi.
Similarly, a restored pneumatology in a contemporary mode would begin with spiritual theology as the impact on the Christian life of the character of the Spirit in her proper Missio. From this vantage, the traditional "moral" perspective will be on the given virtues as conducive to ethical choices that build up the Commonwealth and edify Christian character for choices of the Good in all areas of life.51 The traditional "spiritual" perspective will be the giving of these virtues and other movements of the concurrent tides of the Spirit as they affect the complex shore of the human reality, drawing it into the Trinitarian perichoresis and glory. Of course, part of the Gospel is that in the end these two terminal images, Commonwealth and Beatific Vision, are the same, just as in the end the imitatio Christi merges with following the Spirit wherever it blows, and to be in Christ and in the Spirit are one and the same.52 With the Missio of the Spirit thus fully described as the work of the Spirit, we can then do "pneumatology from below" by constructing pneumatology proper as the doctrine of the Spirit's person, by noticing that in her Missio the Spirit is doing what only God can do. Take, for example, the classic teaching on "the Dominion of Charity." A reflection on the theological virtue of love as response to the great commandments in the moral realm will move directly into the classical spiritual perspective of love as the source of mystical union and theosis as gifts of the Spirit flowing from the virtue of love as gift. It will conclude by noticing this can only be so if the indwelling Spirit is love in propria persona, love as that which God essentially is, and hence the Spirit must also be fully God.
Once we have the discipline of spiritual theology properly located in this manner, with its primary subject matter so delineated, we may now begin the discipline again in a manner which will preserve the wisdom buried in the old syllabus without being subject to its errors. Indeed, it becomes, as a study of the Trinitarian rhythms of the Spirit's Missio and its impact on the complexities of human life, the very foundation of pneumatology proper and hence, with "Christology from below," of the revival of Trinitarian thought as a whole. In partnership with moral theology, it forms also a practical theology of the Christian life that does not require perfection as supererogation. It also does not demand a simplistic view of human spiritual growth, since the classical threefold rhythm now derives from the Trinitarian structure of the Spirit's Missio and not from an inner-human law-like dynamic. This proposal, I believe, thus makes it possible to make a new start in spiritual theology that avoids the errors of the earlier works while preserving their pastoral wisdom. It demands that we make such a start as the foundation of a restored pneumatology and as one of the experiential grounds for a restored Trinitarianism.
It comes then to this: only a restored locus of pneumatology can offer a new beginning for spiritual theology; but only a newly begun spiritual theology can ground the content of a restored pneumatology. It is time to begin.53
1 See Owen C. Thomas, "Problems in Contemporary Christian Spirituality," Anglican Theological Review 82:2 (2000), pp. 267-281.
2 The literature is vast. Most important here at present are, I believe, Sandra M. Schneiders's many contributions, recently "A Hermeneutical Approach to the Study of Christian Spirituality," Christian Spirituality Bulletin 2:2 (Spring, 1994), pp. 9-14; Walter H. Pricipe, "Spirituality, Christian," New Dictionary of Catholic Spirituality, ed. Michael J. Downey (Collegeville: Liturgical Press, 1993, hereafter NDCS), pp. 931-938; Bradley C. Hanson, "Spirituality as Spiritual Theology," in Modern Christian Spirituality: Methodological and Historical Essays, ed. Bradley C. Hanson [American Academy of Religion Studies in Religion 62] (Atlanta: Scholars Press, 1990), pp. 45-51; and Philip Sheldrake, Spirituality and History: Questions of Interpretation and Method, rev. ed. (London: SPCK, 1995), esp. pp. 40-64. See also the works by Sheldrake and McIntosh cited below, fn. 7.
3 The immense popularity of Richard J. Foster's Celebration of Discipline: The Path to Spiritual Growth, now in its third edition (San Francisco: HarperSanFrancisco, 1998) may be taken as representative of the genre.
4 William A. Barry and William J. Connolly, The Practice of Spiritual Direction (New York: Seabury Press, 1982), remains the contemporary classic. Anglicans will be familiar with the important works of Alan Jones, Margaret Guenther, Tilden Edwards, Gerald May, Kenneth Leech, Martin Thornton, Peter Ball, Morton Kelsey, etc.
5 The many-volumed Classics of Western Spirituality series from Paulist Press is the major phenomenon here. It has been a world-altering event for those of us who teach this material.
6 This is the approach advocated by Schneiders.
7 See especially Mark A. McIntosh, Mystical Theology: The Integrity of Spirituality and Theology (Oxford and Malden, Mass.: Blackwell Publishers, 1998); and Philip Sheldrake, Spirituality and Theology: Christian Living and the Doctrine of God (London: Darton, Longman, and Todd, 1998). Kenneth Leech, Experiencing God: Theology as Spirituality (San Francisco: Harper and Row, 1985) is a classic attempt to show the spiritual grounds of theology. The closest effort to what I have in mind is Yves Cougar, I Believe in the Holy Spirit, trans. David Smith (New York: Crossroad Herder, 1997), especially Vol. 2, "He is Lord and Giver of Life."
s The one exception would appear to be Jordan Aumann, O.P., Spiritual Theology (Allen, Tex. and Chicago: Christian Classics [Thomas More Publishing], 1980, 1987). As Philip Sheldrake notes, however, this is very much a spiritual theology on the old model (Spirituality and History, pp. 54-55), and Aumann himself notes that much of the work is taken directly from his previous collaboration with Antonio Royo, O.P., The Theology of Christian Perfection (Dubuque: Priory Press, 1962).
9 See Diogenes Allen Spiritual Theology: The Theology of Yesterday for Spiritual Help Today (Boston: Cowley Publications, 1997), which attempts to mine the past but does not offer a new synthesis. Margaret R. Miles, Practicing Christianity: Critical Perspectives for an Embodied Spirituality (New York: Crossroad, 1988) provides a more critical framework.
10 Which personal pronoun to use for the Spirit is a vexing but unavoidable question. Scripture does not decide it, Spirit being feminine in Hebrew, neuter in Greek, and masculine in Latin. Despite awareness of the attendant difficulties (see Cynthia Bourgeault, "Why Feminizing the Trinity Won't Work: A Metaphysical Perspective," Sewanee Theological Review 44:1 (2000), pp. 27-35), and despite my own preference for seeing each person of the Trinity as bi-gendered (Father/Mother, Logos/Sophia), I shall follow in this essay M. John Farrelly, "Holy Spirit," NDCS, 492-503 in using the feminine pronouns for the Spirit. The major contribution here is now Elizabeth A. Johnson, She Who Is: The Mystery of God in Feminist Theological Discourse (New York: Crossroad, 1992).
11 Eugene Megyer, "Spiritual Theology Today," The Way 21:1 (1981), pp. 55-67, and Sheldrake, Spirituality and History, pp. 40-61. For the sake of brevity I shall not footnote all my dependencies on these two sources in this section.
12 At least in the classic work of Vladimir Lossky, The Mystical Theology of the Eastern Church (London: J. Clarke, 1957).
13 Sheldrake, Spirituality and History, p. 57. 14 Ibid., p. 48.
15 The remarkable account of this turn is Michel de Certeau, The Mystic Fable, trans. Michael B. Smith (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1992). This work is rapidly becoming the touchstone of all truly postmodern approaches to mysticism and spirituality.
16 A stunning postmodern reflection on and critique of this development, with a major focus on James, is Nicholas Lash, Easter in Ordinary: Reflections on Human Experience and the Knowledge of God (Charlottesville: University Press of Virginia,
1988). The impact of this movement on contemporary evangelical theologies of the twice-born experience needs much more critical examination.
17 The Spiritual Life: A Treatise on Ascetical and Mystical Theology, trans. Herman Branderis (Tournai: Desclee & Co., 1932).
is Of his many works, the ultimate classic is The Three Ages of the Interior Life: Prelude of Eternal Life, trans. M. Timothea Doyle (St. Louis and London: B. Herder Book Co., 1947, 1948). Anglicans should note that much of the point of Kenneth Kirk's famous Bampton lectures of 1928, The Vision of God: The Christian Doctrine of the Summum Bonum (London, New York: Longmans, Green, 1932) is on this very issue, and that he takes the same side as would be advocated by Garigou-Lagrange.
is The Theology of the Spiritual Life, trans. Paul Barrett (New York: Sheed and Ward, 1953).
20 Royo and Aumann, The Theology of Christian Perfection.
21 F P. Harton, The Elements of the Spiritual Life: A Study in Ascetical Theology (London: SPCK, 1950).
22 "Reflections on the Problem of the Gradual Ascent to Christian Perfection," Theological Investigations III: Theology of the Spiritual Life (Baltimore: Helicon Press, and London: Darton, Longman & Todd, 1967), pp. 3-23.
23 Spirituality and History, p. 54.
24 Schneiders herself provides summary and bibliography in "Spirituality as an Academic Discipline: Reflections from Experience," Christian Spirituality Bulletin 1:2 (Fall 1993), p. 15. Her more mature thought is given in "A Hermeneutical Approach to the Study of Christian Spirituality."
25 Advocated by Bernard McGinn "The Letter and the Spirit: Spirituality as an Academic Discipline," Christian Spirituality Bulletin 1:2 (Fall 1993), pp. 1-10. McGinn has embodied this approach in a variety of books, most notably in his monumental series still in process from Crossroad, The Presence of God: A History of Western Christian Mysticism (1991-).
26 Schneiders, "Hermeneutical Approach," pp. 10-12.
27 Bradley Hanson has argued for a broadly construed "Spiritual Theology" as the best conception for the study of Christian spirituality, for example, "Spirituality as Spiritual Theology," in Modern Christian Spirituality, ed. Bradley C. Hanson, American Academy of Religion Studies in Religion No. 62 (Atlanta: Scholars Press, 1990), pp 45-51.
NDCS, p. 937.
21 Spirituality and Theology, pp. 65-95, especially p. 85. Ibid., pp. 19-21.
31 Ibid., p. 61.
32 See my "Christian Theology of Interfaith Dialogue: Defining the Emerging Fourth Option," The Sewanee Theological Review 40 (1997), pp. 383-408,
33 George A. Lindbeck, The Nature of Doctrine: Religion and Theology in a Postliberal Age (Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1984).
34 This is also much the point of McIntosh's work, see esp. pp. 112-114.
35 Easter in Ordinary, pp. 254-285.
36 A locus classicus is Paul Tillich, Systematic Theology, three volumes in one (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1967), I, 131. This is as good a place as any to note again that Tillich is one theologian who shared the view argued here about the proper systemic locus for a theology of Christian life in the Spirit, even if his quasi-- Trinitarianism makes it unclear whether or not the subject of Volume 3, the "Spiritual Presence," is entirely equivalent to the credal "Holy Spirit."
37 Owen C. Thomas, Introduction to Theology (Wilton, Conn.: Morehouse-Barlow Co., 1983), p. 88.
38 See James D. G. Dunn and Alan M. Suggate, The Justice of God: A Fresh Look at the Old Doctrine of Justification by Faith (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1993), esp. pp. 31-42.
'39 "Concerning the Relationship of Nature and Grace," Theological Investigations, I, pp. 297-317; "The Eternal Significance of the Humanity of Jesus for our Relationship with God," TI, III, pp. 35-46 links the concept indelibly to the Incarnation. Rahner's own clearest short statement of the concept and the issues it addresses is the section "III. The Existential: B. Theological" in Sacramentum Mundi: An Encyclopedia of Theology (New York: Herder and Herder, 1968) 11, pp. 306-307. For an excellent analysis of this view of human being as defined by a telos it cannot fulfill by natural capacity but only by deifying grace, notably in Augustine, Luther, and de Lubac, see David S. Yeago, "Martin Luther on Grace, Law, and Moral Life: Prolegomena to an Ecumenical Discussion of Veritatis Splendor," The Thomist 62 (1998), pp. 163-191, esp. pp. 164-174.
40 The locus classicus is Karl Rahner, "The Order of Redemption within the Order of Creation," The Christian Commitment: Essays in Pastoral Theology (New York: Sheed and Ward, 1963), pp. 38-74. See also the third section of this essay for implications for a theology of the Christian life. John Macquarrie, Principles of Christian Theology (Second. ed.) (New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1977), pp. 268-69, makes the same point.
41 "Reflections on the Problem of the Gradual Ascent to Christian Perfection."
42 Bernard McGinn gives a helpful summary of the approach and of the literature which reflects this position, including Joann Wolski Conn and, to some degree and at one point, Sandra Schneiders, in his "The Letter and the Spirit," pp. 5-6.
43 Bernard J. F. Lonergan, S.J., Method in Theology (New York: Herder and Herder, 1972); see the index entry for self-transcendence, pp. 399-400. See also David Tracy, Blessed Rage for Order, the New Pluralism in Theology (New York: Seabury Press, 1975), p. 11, for example, and The Analogical Imagination: Christian Theology and the Culture of Pluralism (New York: Crossroad, 1981), pp. 429-438.
44 Lonergan, Method, pp. 116, 243; Tracy, Analogical Imagination, p. 432.
45 One can watch Rahner develop this so carefully in Foundations of Christian Faith: An Introduction to the Idea of Christianity, trans. Wm. V Dych (New York: Seabury/Crossroad, 1978), first in "Man as Transcendent Being," pp. 31-35, then in "Man's Relation to His Transcendent Ground," pp. 75-81, and then finally in the fullblown doctrine of the "supernatural existential" in Chapter 4, "Man as the Event of God's Free and Forgiving Self-Communication," pp. 116-138.
46 Mark McIntosh's critique of the purely anthropological approach is strikingly similar to the one just given. Mystical Theology, pp. 19-23.
47 Systematic Theology, I, pp. 110-114. On all that follows see also Yves Cougar, I Believe in the Holy Spirit, especially Vol. 1, "The Holy Spirit in the Economy."
48 Unlike Jenson, I believe we best "translate" "Abba" as Jesus' proper name for the First Person of the Trinity in this bi-gendered fashion, and the Second Person as -Word/Wisdom." It would require another essay to say why.
49 The Holy Spirit (Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1983).
50 I still find the most provocative work on the subject to be Arthur Michael Ramsey, The Glory of God and the Transfiguration of Christ (London and New York: Longmans, Green and Co., 1949).
51 For an important book in the current explosion in moral theology of a focus on character and virtue ethics, see Stanley Hauerwas, Character and the Christian Life: A Study in Theological Ethics (San Antonio: Trinity University Press, 1975). For a different but compatible view of the convergence of moral and spiritual theology see Philip Sheldrake, Befriending our Desires (Notre Dame, Ind.: Ave Maria Press, 1994.)
52 And I cannot resist the conclusion of each of Jenson's two volumes, that this will be a deep praise of God's beauty in a perfect society of song.
53 Subsequent to submission of this essay, I have become aware that Rowan Williams advocates a similar approach; see "Word and Spirit" in On Christian Theology (Oxford and Malden, Mass.: Blackwell Publishers, 2000), pp. 107-127, esp. p. 123.
ROBERT D. HUGHES, III*
* Robert D. Hughes, III is the Norma and Olan Mills Professor of Divinity and Professor of Systematic Theology at the School of Theology of the University of the South.
Robert Davis Hughes, III, is the Norma and Olan Mills Professor of Divinity and Professor of Systematic Theology, the School of Theology, University of the South. He has taught at Sewanee since 1977, after serving parishes in Southern Ohio and Toronto. He has been secretary-treasurer and president of the Conference of Anglican Theologians, now the Society of Anglican and Lutheran Theologians. Hughes is a Fellow of the Episcopal Church Foundation and a member of the Fellows Forum planning group. He has also served as Tennessee State Conference president and member of the National
Council of the American Association of University Professors. He was also a Kent Fellow of the Danforth Foundation, and recently a Visiting Scholar at the Divinity Faculty, Cambridge. He contributes regularly to Sewanee Theological Review and other journals.…