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The Historical And Freely Obedient Son Gives The Historical And Freely Obedient Spirit

John Kelleher

We judge (this really means, we are guessing) that for these essays "towards" covenantal moral theologies to be more fruitful, we do not need to understand everything about a fully covenantal Holy Spirit, but that we do need to understand at least a few things about Him. (We refer to the Holy Spirit as He exists and is to be understood in the light of the New Covenant, the Eucharistic Event, the prime analogate).

In this relatively brief essay, we will: pick a few things that (we think) must absolutely be understood, or clarified, regarding a covenantal understanding of the Holy Spirit; freely admit that Covenantal Theology does not have everything about the Holy Spirit sorted; and then leave to other branches of theology the rest of the theological project to understand a fully covenantal Holy Spirit.

Fr. Keefe generally, and Covenantal Theology in particular, says remarkably little about the Holy Spirit and His relation to the New Covenant; but what is said amounts to a repudiation of the bulk of theologizing about the Holy Spirit for nearly a thousand years:

Even in its English deformations, the Nicene-Constantinopolitan Creed clearly identifies the Holy Spirit with the third Person of the Trinity, speaking of him after the Father and the Son, as proceeding from the Father and the Son, and as the inspiration of the prophets, the giver of life. It is evident that the Holy Spirit's salvific office in the economy of salvation is dependent upon the priority of the Mission of the Son to give the Holy Spirit. It is then absurd to suppose in him a historicity prior to that of his source, Jesus the Christ, the Lord, sent by his Father to give the Spiritus Creator. Nonetheless, these obviously mistaken misinterpretations of the historical apostolic tradition have long since become the default reading of the Trinity for most theologians. Their flat unintelligibility is read into the RSV and even the new Roman Missal. Having paralyzed Catholic theology for nearly a millennium, they bid fair to keep on doing so.

[ CT III ]

To say it another way, Covenantal Theology insists that the procession of the Son from the Father, and of the Spirit from the Father and the Son, is not only eternal as primordial and eschatological, but is also eternal as historical; and more than this, that the historical giving of the Spirit by the Son is inseparable from the primordial and eschatological processions: they form one Event; and therefore, unless the historical procession -- the Son giving the Spirit into history -- is strictly respected and upheld, there is no adequate theology either of the Covenant or of the Holy Spirit, and therefore, theology remains "paralyzed."

Or one could say it yet another way: Covenantal Theology points out that the economy of salvation really is economic. Our Lord really was sent to give the Spirit; therefore, the Holy Spirit did not precede the Lord in history. For example, Covenantal Theology spends no little time showing that Jesus is the agent of His own Incarnation: for instance, Volume IV, n. 184 shows that the Lord Jesus was conceived, as the original Lucan text plainly says, "by holy spirit;" viz., the spirit of Jesus came upon Mary -- 'the' Holy Spirit, who is given later in history by Jesus the Son of God and the Son of Mary, is not the Person of the Most Holy Trinity who "overshadows" Mary at the Incarnation.

Indeed, we will transpose the Holy Spirit for the Son in the following passage in Covenantal Theology Vol. III, with no harm at all to the truth of it:

... contemporary theology ... takes for granted the pre-existence of a supposedly Trinity-immanent [Holy Spirit], whose existence can only be ab aeterno, who is nonhistorical by definition, and of whom in consequence the Church's historical tradition and worship knows and can know nothing.

And in other places within Covenantal Theology, there are warnings -- severe warnings -- against contending that in the Eucharistic Sacrifice, it is the Holy Spirit, rather than the risen Lord Jesus, High Priest and Saving Victim, Who is the effective cause of the transubstantiation of the elements. The One Sacrifice causes the One Flesh -- and gives the Spirit.

One could go further than Covenantal Theology does explicitly, and also point out that to opine that the procession of the Spirit is from the Father alone, a procession which thus could and did take place in some way, in any way, apart from the Son's Mission to give the Spirit primordially, eschatologically, and historically, is a most serious error, and if insisted upon, is a deformation so grave that it amounts to another faith. The Holy Spirit proceeds "from the Father and the Son," or He does not proceed at all.

This would be a good time to admit outright not only that a covenantal understanding of the Holy Spirit is oceans apart from the traditional theological understanding of Him, but also that Covenantal Theology simply does not comprehensively account for Him.

By far the most severe stress on the concept of a covenantal, historical Holy Spirit lies in the unfathomable mystery of the death of the Lord. It seems almost impossible for us even to take the Lord's death seriously. We may say, almost blithely, that the Lord Jesus was sent to give the Spirit; what we almost instinctively shy away from is even the thought that, because of the Fall, our Lord's "giving" of the Spirit at His death is also His Personal loss -- better, relinquishing -- of the Spirit:

This signing, this Gift, is also ex nihilo, for the Resurrection of Jesus is not a mere inference from the Cross, as is evident enough from his free relinquishing of his Spirit in death, and his consequent descent into the abode of the dead, from which he was raised, and could be raised, only by the Father's Gift of the Spirit. This mystery is unfathomable; it is also too little pondered.(15)

. . .

(15) Hans Urs von Balthasar's profound development of the theology of Holy Saturday in works such as MYSTERIUM PASCHALE: The Mystery of Easter. Translated with an Introduction by Aidan Nichols, O.P. (Edinburgh: T. & T. Clark, 1990)., is therefore of the first importance, if we are to grasp that Christ in dying took upon himself that desolation, the absence of the Spirit, whereby the dead are dead and truly without hope: Gen 6:3; Ps 104:29-30. This is the final meaning of the Logos sarx egeneto: Jesus' obedient submission, without recourse, even to the death which sarx embodies. The courage of that obedience, and the love which grounded it, can never be pondered sufficiently. Here, faith, hope, and charity have their unsurpassable expression in the Head, whose recapitulation of sarx required precisely this: that he "become sin" for us. "Was it not necessary that the Christ should suffer these things?" The necessity presupposes the filial obedience of the Son, sent by the Father to give the Spirit, the sin of the first Adam and the moral fall of man into sarx. The sacrificial obedience adumbrated by Abraham in Gen 22:9-14 is realized to the uttermost in Jesus' Passion: his crucifixion, death, and descent into hell.

[ CT II (Appendix), p. 666; and n. 15, p. 678 ]

We may feebly and ineffectually hand-wave in response that history is not really historical; and thus that the Lord did not really die, He did not really relinquish His Spirit utterly; but we know even in the saying that we lie to ourselves. He relinquished everything. The stillness beyond stillness that the Church keeps in her heart from the close of Good Friday to the Gloria of the Easter Vigil is absolutely real.

Fr. Keefe says that "he was raised, and could be raised, only by the Father's Gift of the Spirit." There is no end to the mystery of a God Who as dead is dead and truly without hope; nor an end to the mystery of a Father Who raises His only Son from the dead, by giving Him the Spirit Whom His Son gave by His Son's death.

In and through the Eucharistic Event, we can understand these mysteries more and more deeply, but we must ever remain in awe of this Procession of Gifts, which is always and everywhere fully within history, and always and everywhere, transcending it.

So, in essence, the deepest theological challenge to a covenantal and fully historical Holy Spirit is the mystery of the Eucharistic Event itself; and at the moment, more than this we cannot say.

But there are also other ways in which Covenantal Theology does not account for the Holy Spirit. For instance, in the passage from Vol. III of Covenantal Theology quoted at the beginning of this essay, the Holy Spirit is said to be "the inspiration of the prophets," but nowhere in Covenantal Theology is there any explanation of how a covenantal, thus fully historical, Holy Spirit could be "the inspiration of the prophets."

Whereas, it's pretty easy to imagine "a supposedly Trinity-immanent" Holy Spirit whispering in the ear of the prophets -- so long as we ignore the slight technical problem that that Holy Spirit's "existence can only be ab aeterno ... nonhistorical by definition, and of whom in consequence the Church's historical tradition and worship knows and can know nothing."

To put it even more simply, we would know nothing at all about the Holy Spirit -- we wouldn't even be wondering about Him -- if Jesus hadn't told us about Him, and given Him to us.

Or, as Fr. Keefe pointed out more than once, Our Lord gave His disciples the mission to baptize in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit; and our worship is always in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit -- in that order. The order -- which is primordial, eschatological, and historical -- is part of the mystery of the Trinity.

On the other hand, to the question of how a fully historical Holy Spirit might have spoken through the prophets, one might respond: which is the more difficult theological challenge: to account for the fact that the historical Holy Spirit spoke through the prophets, or that it is the historical Lord Jesus through Whom all things are made?

Covenantal Theology repeats over and again, con brio, that the Eucharistic Event is the prime analogate, is the sole unification of fallen history, and is the sole subject of theology. The Eucharistic Event unites the primordial, the historical, and the eschatological in a manner in which they are inseparable from each other, yet not the same as each other. Their oneness in the Eucharistic Event is not necessitated, but free; not "organic," not "timeless," nor is their unity necessitated by, deducible from, any prior 'Logic'.

Here we may say that the covenantal, the historical Lord Jesus gives the covenantal, the historical Holy Spirit, Who is the Spiritus Creator. And we might further venture that this, plainly a prophesy referring to the Lord Jesus:

There shall come forth a shoot from the stump of Jesse, and a branch shall grow out of his roots. And the Spirit of the LORD shall rest upon him, the spirit of wisdom and understanding, the spirit of counsel and might, the spirit of knowledge and the fear of the LORD.

[ Is 11:1-2 ]

is taken by tradition to be a list of the gifts of the Holy Spirit; but more than this, we could not say, because, to be frank, we're not smart enough, and, barring some miracle of inspiration, we must leave a more satisfying account of the issue to others.

In several places, Fr. Keefe mentions his indebtedness to Fr. Earl Muller, SJ, who has pointed out several instances of an inchoate or incipient angel Christology, both in scripture and in early Fathers, but Covenantal Theology provides no systematic account of angels, or of spirits in general.

We take it as warranted to conclude that spirits cannot be understood as many former theologies understand them, as dehistoricized, ideal, cosmological beings, and that they must be understood as they relate to the New Covenant, the Eucharistic Event, the prime analogate. Beyond that: a great blankness.

Indeed, Covenantal Theology does not explore the possible covenantal, thus historical, meanings of the word, "Spirit," or "breath;" which is rendered in Hebrew variously by 'neshamah', and 'ruach', and in Greek, by 'pneuma.'

Fr. Muller himself, in a work repeatedly cited within Covenantal Theology, "Trinity and Marriage in Paul: The Establishment of a Communitarian Analogy of the Trinity Grounded in the Theological Shape of Pauline Thought" (New York: Peter Lang, 1990), names the Holy Spirit as "the Presentness of God's love."

Thus here we stand on the shoulders of giants, in the hope of going on and going further from there. And we find that exploring the "breathing" of the Lord Jesus may be fruitful towards a greater understanding of the covenantal, historical Holy Spirit.

Thus we propose here: that the Holy Spirit, as the Lord Jesus who gives Him, is historical. The Holy Spirit proceeds in history from the breath, the breathing, of the Lord Jesus:

Jesus said to them again, "Peace be with you." And when he had said this, he breathed on them, and said to them, "Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained."

[ Jn 20:21-23 ]

The free obedience of the Son to the Father is oft remarked upon. Here we remark that the free obedience of the Holy Spirit to the Son is just as comprehensive. The Spirit blows where He will, indeed -- but only as He is directed by the living historical totus Christus. In and through the work of the living Christ with His bride, the Holy Spirit continues to recapitulate in history the Good Creation -- recreating, thus restoring, it to Christ.

A covenantal Holy Spirit is thus never some 'generalized' spirit. His procession within history is as a work of the living Christ with His bride. We will not find a 'Holy Spirit' separable from the continuing work of the living Christ with His bride.

Never will the Holy Spirit proceed from Christ as separable from His bride: the Holy Spirit is given in history strictly and only in the breath or breathing of the totus Christus. There is no 'holiness' whatever in any spirit who operates in history apart from, let alone against, the Bridegroom with His bride.

As the bride breathes, even so the Bridegroom. Where the Church is, so also the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit is given in her breath, as she breathes with Her Lord: the Holy Spirit is given in the breathing of the One Flesh in the world.

Thus the Holy Spirit is given infallibly in the sacraments; and thus any effort to 'spiritualize' the Holy Spirit -- to disembody Him, to make His activity separable from the concrete sacraments concretely in history -- is false, and such an effort instantly becomes more than false, it becomes pernicious, as this 'spiritualized' Holy Spirit is made to tell tales apart from or against the palpably historical Eucharistic Event.

We remind ourselves that a covenantal understanding of ex opere operato demands what is both essential and stupendous: that the particular motions of particular bodies in particular time causes grace ex nihilo, from no prior 'reason'. For there is no ideal, dehistoricized, cosmological something 'before', 'behind', or 'beyond' the sacramental activity of the totus Christus in our history.

There is no 'cause' 'behind' the sacramental motions of the totus Christus in history that make these particular motions of these particular bodies in this particular time give grace; to say it again, the sacraments give grace, because, as the infallible actions of the totus Christus, of the living Christ with His bride, they freely cause grace ex nihilo: that is the meaning of ex opere operato.

God loves us, in a completely free act; His love does not wait upon any prior possibility, any 'reason' whatever. He loves us in history not ever immediately -- such immediacy is reserved in history exclusively for the one Bridegroom and His one and only bride -- but always as mediated in and through the fully historical daily work of His Son and His Son's bride.

Here we do not wish to say, or not to say, that the grace of Christ -- all the grace there is -- is the Holy Spirit. However, we are prepared to say here that the infallible giving of grace in the sacraments is at least coterminous with the 'breathing' of the totus Christus, which is the gift of the Holy Spirit, as the Lord Jesus and His bride continue their living work in history.

Forgive our being charmed -- these are only essays "towards," after all -- by the wild speculation that one day, covenantal moral theologies will ask, not "What is grace?" but "Who is grace?" Grace would no longer be treated theologically as a thing, but as the Third Person of the Blessed Trinity. So: the sacraments would "give" grace, because they give the Holy Spirit; and they would "cause" grace, because they give the Holy Spirit, Who is Grace; and all the Good Creation is created in the grace of Christ, through Whom all things are made, because the grace that our Lord gives is Grace Himself, is the Spiritus Creator.

But since these speculations are far beyond anything even whispered about in Covenantal Theology, and since they seem not immediately germane to our project "towards" covenantal moral theologies, we neither dismiss them nor support them: we simply let them be, barring some superior inspiration or need.

However, we do reiterate here that the work of the living Christ with His bride in history, including but not limited to the seven sacraments, does include the "breathing" of the Holy Spirit unto men and to the entire Good Creation within all history, and that this daily historical giving of the Holy Spirit in history is at least coterminous with the giving, or causing, of grace.

To return: there is no 'reason' for this love of Our Lord with His bride for us 'above' or 'beyond' the fact of it; no power in heaven, on earth, or under the earth can control it or condition it, though it can be freely refused.

Our Lord's bride freely gives her entire self within her offering of her sacrifice of praise in union with His One Sacrifice. As One Flesh with Him, she breathes, not as Him, but with Him, to freely give grace, to freely give the Holy Spirit, to all men of all times and places. And it is clear from scripture that our Lord's return to the Father -- His Ascension to Heaven -- effectuated the full giving of the Holy Spirit, at Pentecost and beyond.

Covenantal moral theologies can thus readily affirm the thinking of many spiritual writers, that the Ascension is a solemn part of the economy of salvation. The Son, lifted up on the Cross, institutes the One Flesh, and gives the Spirit; lifted up to Heaven, He now gives the Spirit, in and through His bride, to all men in all times and places. We are far from the first to note the full weight of our Lord's "because" in the following:

Truly, truly I say to you, he who believes in me will also do the works that I do, and greater works than these will he do, because I go to the Father.

[ Jn 14:12 ]

His second 'lifting up', His going to the Father, His Ascension to Heaven, effectuated the full, the universal giving of the Holy Spirit, at Pentecost and beyond.

We pause to again insist that this is not the 'unleashing' of a non-historical spirit, but the giving of the Holy Spirit, Who is fully and freely obedient to the workings in history of the Lord Jesus and His bride. The Holy Spirit "proceeds" nowhere at all, He does not proceed from the Father in history except through the continuing daily historical work of the Bridegroom with His bride. They and they alone, as they "breathe" with each other but not as each other, "breathe" the concrete historical substantial Holy Spirit upon the disciples and upon the world.

There will never be an "Age of the Spirit." The very thought is perverse; it substitutes a different lord and a different faith for all that is living and true and beautiful and good. This year, whatever year that is, is a Year of the Lord; and this Age, whatever Age that may be, is an Age of the Lord -- a year and an Age in which the Lord Jesus with His bride gives the Holy Spirit.

We note also that what we have thought to be man's particular and premiere moral munus, the way in which man uniquely may bless the Lord, which is to "complete what is lacking in His afflictions," can be accounted for by the full outpouring of the Holy Spirit, effectuated by our Lord's second 'lifting up', by His return to the Father.

Our Lord's return to the Father gives the Holy Spirit in His completeness, and through the Holy Spirit, "greater works than these will [the believer] do." Because our Lord goes to the Father, completing "what is lacking" in His afflictions can become this "greater work" that His disciples will be able to do, through the Holy Spirit.

We further note that our previous proposal, that substantial human nature is no ideal or dehistoricized or cosmological thing, but is the One Flesh in the One Sacrifice in se, finds development, and from that development, remarkable support, just here.

For we know that man is created, not in the 'image' of a monadic god, but in the Image of the Most Holy Trinity; and that substantial reality as divine is trinitarian, and as human it is covenantal and nuptial.

And in the living historical sacramental "breathing" together of the bride with, but not as, her Bridegroom, in this breathing of the Holy Spirit upon men and upon the whole of the Good Creation, we find -- not the Trinity -- but a complete Image of the Trinity. The historical "breathing" of the Holy Spirit upon men and upon the entirety of the Good Creation completes the nuptiality of the One Flesh in the One Sacrifice.

This, we submit, is how substantial human nature Images the Most Holy Trinity, for this is the Bridegroom and His bride, as One Flesh, "breathing" with each other but not as each other, ever within history, giving breath to history, giving the only living Breath there can ever be within fallen history: in the total daily gift of themselves within the One Sacrifice, and therefore, within our history, yet transcending it, giving another Person, the Holy Spirit, within history.

Still, pretty words do not a covenantal moral theology make, not even close: but sadly, some of the questions we might want to ask here have answers that either escape us at the moment, or they are, if not strictly unanswerable, guaranteed to always have some obscurity about them. For example, what Covenantal Theology points out here regarding sacramental marriage applies equally to all the sacraments:

The "one flesh" of marriage sacramentally represents the free unity of the pneumatic Kingdom only as a historical symbol may represent eschatological reality, viz., obscurely and enigmatically within the fallenness of the history of salvation.

[ CT Vol I (Ch. 2) n.45, p.280]

And we recall that, of all the motions of bodies in time on this earth, only the seven sacraments of the Catholic Church infallibly cause what they signify. If even these represent eschatological reality obscurely and enigmatically, then all other motions of bodies in time on this earth -- all other moral acts -- perforce add obscurity to obscurity. There is nothing for it but for covenantal moral theologies to acknowledge this from the outset.

Which is to say, we may certainly ask how the Holy Spirit operates within the activity and decisions of a sacramental marriage, or within the preaching and decisions of a Pope or bishop or priest called to the sacrament of Holy Orders, but our answers are guaranteed not to be as certain as the fact that the Holy Spirit does work in and through these sacraments and the other five.

Nor at present do we have anything wise to say about our own free response to the free "breathing" of the Holy Spirit upon us in history. Admittedly, this free historical Gift and our free response in history to that Gift amounts to all, or nearly all, of the proper subject of any covenantal moral theology; but there it is: we are mute upon it, at least today.

Therefore, we admit that we know nothing further regarding the Holy Spirit at the present moment, and thus we conclude this present essay as briefly and gracefully as we are able.

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