I think Eugene Rogers is spot on when he writes the following in After the Spirit:

I think a recovery of deification or consummation is not possible without a livelier doctrine of the Spirit, whose intratrinitarian office it is not just statically to represent but personally to witness or glorify the love between the Father and the Son ( 9).

By “a livelier doctrine,” Rogers no doubt means a recovery of the Spirit’s materiality and how this bears on doctrine. This is the argument he makes in his Introduction to The Holy Spirit: Classic and Contemporary Readings. Rogers argues that we tend, good moderns that we are, to treat the work of the Spirit as ‘spiritual,’ floating free of matter and as ultimately superfluous to the work of the Son. As Jesus has already saved us, what exactly is the Spirit for, especially since “anything the Spirit can do, the Son can do better”?

In order for us to escape this cul-de-sac of modern thinking, we need to recover the incorporative pattern of the Holy Spirit’s work of introducing humanity into the divine life (2). This is, however, a thoroughly material affair: “to think about the Spirit it will not do to think ‘spiritually’: to think about the Spirit you have to think materially” (AS, 56). In other words, the modern image of the Spirit working by osmosis – penetrating the epidermis until it at least reaches the relevant part of our body, presumably the intellect – is seriously compromised by the biblical text and tradition. Rather, something material comes to pass. In light of the church’s witness throughout the centuries, Rogers states that,

In many [all?] cases, the Holy Spirit does not float free of bodies, but befriends and accompanies them, paraphysically as it were, coming to rest on holy places, holy people holy things. In baptism, the Spirit alights on the body of a person. In the Eucharist, it inhabits the body of Christ as the fire in the bread and wine. In unction, it covers a body by means of oil. The Spirit hovers over the waters of creation, of Mary’s womb, of the Jordan, of the font, resting on the body of Christ in the world, in the womb, in the river, and in the church. The Spirit befriends the body as light, fire, incense, wine, and song. The Spirit transcends things, so that it can also inhabit them (3-4).

Such a view will rattle our modern conceptions of the Holy Spirit and perhaps even raise our ire when it comes to specters of ecclesial triumphalism. Yet as Rogers demonstrates again and again, both the biblical text and the long history of Christian thought all indicate a sense of the uncompromising materialness of the Holy Spirit’s work.

 

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