Academic journal article Theological Studies

Trinitarian Spirit Christology: In Need of a New Metaphysics?

Academic journal article Theological Studies

Trinitarian Spirit Christology: In Need of a New Metaphysics?

Article excerpt

GROWING INTEREST IN SPIRIT CHRISTOLOGY is one of the more interesting developments in contemporary Christian systematic theology. It lends itself to two quite different understandings of the person of Jesus, either as the Spirit-inspired human being par excellence or as the Word of God become incarnate in the human nature of Jesus through the conjoint activity of all three divine Persons. It can be seen, in other words, as either a Christology "from below" or as a somewhat modified Christology "from above." In the latter case, it also introduces a new understanding of the classical dogma of the Trinity. Instead of thinking of the relations between the divine Persons in terms of eternal processions (active and passive generation, active and passive spiration), one can instead propose that the Spirit eternally empowers the Father to generate the Son out of self-giving love and empowers the Son actively to respond to the Father's offer of life and love through a correspondingly total gift of self. The Spirit, accordingly, is no longer the passive result of the conjoint active spiration of the Father and the Son, but rather a third agent in the collective activity of divine self-giving love by selflessly empowering Father and Son to relate to each other in the spirit of self-giving love.

This line of thought is nicely laid out by New Zealand systematic theologian Myk Habets in his The Anointed Son: A Trinitarian Spirit Christology. (1) Habets argues that Spirit Christology should not replace the more traditional Logos Christology but rather complement it so as to present a Christology from below to above, that is, from the phenomenology or experiential workings of the economic Trinity as reported in the New Testament to the ontology or theoretically projected workings of the immanent Trinity, the relations of the divine Persons to one another from all eternity.

What might still be added to his presentation, however, is further philosophical reflection on what seems to be implied in Spirit Christology as thus understood, namely, a new understanding of intersubjectivity that would be based on Aquinas's notion of subsistent relations, (2) but rendered more dynamic in terms of a presupposition of mutually constitutive causal relations between the divine Persons. The classical notion of the divine processions, in other words, presupposes the unilateral directionality of traditional cause-effect relations (first the cause, then the effect) even as it claims that this unilateral directionality from Father to Son and then to the Spirit is purely logical, not temporal, given the alleged eternity of the divine life. The alternative, more-dynamic understanding of subsistent relations, however, presupposes that the three divine Persons are simultaneously both cause and effect of their ongoing "relatings" to one another. Father and Son are both cause and effect of their ongoing relationship to each other, and the Spirit is both cause and effect of the dynamic interrelations of Father and Son.

Furthermore, such a metaphysics of intersubjectivity, when properly qualified, might well have application in the natural order as well as in the strictly supernatural order of trinitarian relations. For example, mutually constitutive causal relations would seem better to explain the way an organism simultaneously both adapts and is adapted to the environment in which it is currently located. For that matter the organism is itself the ongoing product of interactive parts or members such that the parts and the whole at any given moment mutually condition one another's existence and activity. (3) Admittedly, such a metaphysical scheme would be only a model or symbolic representation of what cannot be verified empirically, either with reference to the Divine Being or in reflecting on the workings of nature. Yet the value of such a proposal would be that it would bring the dogma of the Trinity more "down to earth." It would eliminate some (though obviously not all) of the mystery of the Divine Being as a reality infinitely distant from the normal workings of nature and thus as incomprehensible to the rational mind and ultimately a matter of faith. …

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