This is part 2 of my review of Najeeb Awad’s God Without a Face?: On the Personal Individuation of the Holy Spirit. See also Part 1.
In support of Najeeb’s thesis that we should take seriously the hypostatic reality of the Spirit, or his personal individuation, his monograph has four parts:
- The Twofold Distortion of Modern Pneumatology
- The Holy Spirit in the Theology of the Church Fathers
- ‘Person’ Theology and the Person of the Spirit
- The Scriptural Attestation to the Hypostasis of the Spirit
Rather than a biblical study regarding the Spirit, Awad presents the modern and historical discussion about the Spirit first and then addresses biblical texts. The amount of material covered in this project is expansive. By addressing biblical, patristic, medieval, and modern writers, Awad provides a comprehensive discussion of the topic of pneumatology. This strength is also a weakness in that no one can master all of these areas, so inevitably he depends, at points, on secondary texts to help with his discussion of some texts not in his area of focus. This is not a bad thing, but the strength of the monograph is in his discussion of the Cappadocians (particularly, Gregory of Nazianzus) and modern theologians. In each part Awad has distinct areas of discussion, he regularly integrates voices from his main interlocutors–namely the Cappadocians and modern theologians. Accordingly, the monograph maintains a sense of continuity and shows that theology is not merely a modern or historical task but a discussion from these various sources.
In part 1 of the monograph, Awad sets up two contemporary “anhypostatic” perspectives on the Spirit, that is, perspectives that lack an individuality of the Spirit. These are what he calls “pneumatic-monism” in which the Holy Spirit is seen as a descriptive attribute or name ascribed to God’s relational encounter with humanity and “pneumatic-jesuology” in which the Spirit is an expression of the spiritual experience of Jesus Christ’s sonship in his relation with God as his Father. Interestingly, in both camps Awad doesn’t just draw out the easy examples that lack a proper pneumatology; rather, he uses examples of scholars like Barth and Moltmann for the former and C.K. Barrett and J.D.G. Dunn for the latter who seemingly elevate the Trinity and/or the Spirit in their writings but end up still presenting a deficient Trinitarian perspective.
As he turns to the patristic era to sort out the roots of positive and negative pneumatologies, Awad presents the standard East vs West perspective regarding the focus on the respective emphasis on the threeness vs oneness of God. It is clear that the Greek East, particularly the Cappadocians, present the better model for Awad. Rather than an psycho-anthropological understanding of the Trinity that we find in Augustine, which spoils the western tradition who follow him, the Cappadocians hold a distinct role for the Spirit and thus capture a more robust koinonia-based Trinitarianism. I wouldn’t agree that the division between East and West is so stark, but stereotypes often have their basis in some fact, and this one I think does as well. Augustine would not feel the need to write a text titled “On Not Three Gods” as Gregory of Nyssa did. At the same time, the Cappadocians don’t always neatly agree on key points (against a western perspective). It is really only Gregory Nazianzen, according to Awad, who comes out with the “full attestation” of Cappadocian theology (111). So, even when Basil and Gregory of Nyssa, do meet the full mark, they are given the benefit of the doubt because they are redeemed by Gregory of Nazianzus. Thus, Awad rightly doesn’t make everyone say the same thing, and he helpfully draws out the distinct voices each of these key theologians provide.
I’ll continue my review in the next post: Part 3.