Passion of Poetry

Sketching a theological account in support of Reformed ressourcement in their Reformed Catholicity, Michael Allen and Scott Swain appeal to the argument of Reinhold Hutter’s Suffering Divine Things. Hutter tries to avoid both a notion of “strict continuation” between the church and the incarnate Christ and a Barthian “fundamental diastasis” between the Spirit and the church with a pneumatological account.

Allen and Swain writes, “According to Hutter, the church with its social and historical doctrinal practices is ‘enhypostatic’ in the Spirit. In other words, the Spirit is the personal subject or agent of these ecclesiastical practices. Consequently, theology is fundamentally ‘pathic’ rather than ‘poetic’ in nature, a receiving of the Spirit’s gifts of wisdom and understanding in and through the church’s practices rather than a free creation of the human spirit. On Hutter’s scheme, because the Spirit is the ultimate subject of the church’s theological culture, we may be confident that participation in this culture will lead us to theology’s ultimate aim, the knowledge and love of the Triune God” (23). (Poetic here is not the opposite of prosaic but is used in an etymological sense to describe a “thing made.)

They criticize Hutter’s use of enhypostatic in this pneumatological context, worrying that it compromises “the sui generis nature of the Son’s relationship to the human nature he assumed” (24). Hutter’s use of the term has to be clarified, but so long as it is understood analogically, it seems a viable way to describe the Spirit in the church. Allen and Swain also criticize Hutter for personalizing the church’s practices in a way that “at once blurs the distinction between the divine Spirit and the spirit of the church while actually diminishing the full creaturely density and therefore responsibility of the church’s being and action” (24).

Here I think their critique hits home, and hits at the important distinction that Hutter makes between the pathic and the poetic. The fact that Hutter (in Allen and Swain’s summary at least) pose “the free creation of the human spirit” at the alternative to a “pathic” theology is revealing. It seems to assume a contest between divine and human action that I presume Hutter would renounce (that is, a zero-sum situation where God acts by minimizing human action).

Granted that theology is fundamentally receptive of both Word and Spirit, we should immediately add that the Spirit received is the Spirit of creation, as the Word received and heard is the poetry that spoke the cosmos into being. It’s precisely in the pathic character of theology that it becomes most fully poetic; when it is most open to the Spirit and Word, it is at its freshest; it is when the theologian is made by the Spirit that the theologian is able to make in the Spirit. Or, to channel Jenson for a moment, the Spirit received is the Spirit that is the future of God.

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