This is part 3 of my review of Najeeb Awad’s God Without a Face?: On the Personal Individuation of the Holy Spirit. See also Part 1, Part 2.
The focus in this post is on my disagreements, but be sure to read the other parts of the review that demonstrate my fundamental agreement with Awad’s overall thesis.
One point of disagreement that I have with Awad is on the issue of hierarchy in the Eastern, namely Cappadocian, views of the Trinity. Awad notes that Basil and Gregory of Nyssa have some aspect of hierarchy, which he calls a “linear” perspective on the Trinity, as opposed to a “parallel model” which focuses on the “alongsidedness” captured in Gregory of Nazianzus (see esp. 134-139). This linear perspective is one of the root causes of the poor reading in the west, as well. Awad carefully balances the two models but clearly has a preference for the latter. Some argue that Gregory of Nazianzus also works from a model of hierarchy, such that the Father is the fons divinitas, such that he follows in the same trajectory of the other Cappadocians. This doesn’t negate the individuation of the Spirit or lead to the failures of Augustine, as Awad sees them, but it does maintain the hierarchy found in other Greek theologians. This point of disagreement over the way of reading Gregory of Nazianzus doesn’t invalidate Awad’s overal thesis, but there might be more options than what are presented.
Awad’s thesis is already expansive, so you cannot fault him for not addressing a wider scope. However, by frequently using the terminology of “perichoresis”, which has a distinct tradition in the later Eastern tradition, it might help clarify his use by exploring the development of that language. Though it arose much later, Awad repeatedly describes Gregory Nazianzen’s theology as perichoretic. Awad clearly describes that this theology entails a “reciprocal koinonia“, but the use of an anachronistic phrase should at least be explained. I’m not bothered by it’s use, as my own work is based on using anachronistic terminology to describe Paul’s soteriology–theosis/christosis. However, when dealing with a variety of time periods, it is helpful for readers to note the development and use of the terminology, since they may not realize that the terminology was not introduced until centuries after Gregory.
I will continue this review in my next post: Part 4.