Word and Spirit: Yves Congar’s Account of Church and Eucharist – Part 2
It falls outside the scope of this study to give anything like a comprehensive account of Congar’s doctrine of the Trinity. This is especially true because, in the third volume of I Believe in the Holy Spirit, Congar spends a great deal of time discussing the development of the doctrine and dealing with the most important historical figures of both the Greek and the Latin churches. His study is organized by thinking about the filioque, and this point bears directly on the question of the relation between Word and Spirit.
Congar undertakes an orientating treatment of the relation between the economic Trinity and the immanent Trinity in the opening pages of I Believe in the Holy Spirit volume three. Although Congar accepts Rahner’s Grundaxiom that the economic Trinity simply ‘is’ the immanent Trinity, Congar is a little hesitant concerning Rahner’s umgekehrt - vice versa. Congar isn’t quite ready to affirm that the immanent Trinity simply ‘is’ the economic Trinity for two reasons: first, because the theological tradition affirms (against Arianism as Congar locates it) that God would be Trinity even without the presence of creation, and; second, because even though God is truly revealed, God is not completely revealed. As he puts it, “The economic trinity thus reveals the immanent Trinity – but does it reveal it entirely? There is always a limit to this revelation.”
That God is known truly if not completely is the result of God’s self-communication in the divine economy, or more technically, “the ‘divine missions’ of the Word and the Spirit are the processions of those Persons.” It is precisely this logic that introduces the question of the filioque since it is founded on the Scriptural affirmation that the Holy Spirit is ‘the Spirit of Christ.’ While Congar affirms the importance of the filioque in Western trinitarian theology, he is also sensitive to the ecumenical difficulties that it has produced. At the heart of Congar’s analysis is his conviction that East and West finally have different ways of distinguishing between the divine persons; the East relying on the distinction between begetting or generation and ekporeusis, and the West operating with a much greater awareness of the “consubstantiality within the Trinity” such that all is shared except the various inter-‘personal’ relations. Congar is finally in favor of the suppression of the filioque, provided that the East recognize that it is not heretical, with the hope of calling a new ecumenical council to hash out an agreement on how to speak of the relation of the eternal processions of Word (Son) and Spirit.
Although Congar is willing to suppress the filioque in the interest of furthering ecumenical understanding between East and West, it is not the case that he sees no relation between Word and Spirit. Indeed, Congar himself confesses that perhaps the fundamental conclusion to be drawn from his work on the Holy Spirit is that there should be “no Christology without pneumatology and no pneumatology without Christology.” The goal of the present study makes it necessary to take up the first half of this affirmation and explore the role that Congar envisions for the Holy Spirit in Christology.
Congar is well aware of the trend toward ‘Spirit Christology’ developing around him and he does not simply want to discount its gains. But, Congar does interpret Spirit Christology in a very specific way.
This type of Christology in no sense contradicts the classical Christology that has been developed since Chalcedon. What it in fact does is to develop certain important aspects…which have not been sufficiently developed in the classical Christology based on the incarnate Word.Because he is concerned with the doctrine of the church as a whole extended temporally and geographically, and not with the particular theology of any one author, Congar is able to interpret Spirit Christology as a much-needed corrective. Precisely how Congar integrates Spirit and ‘classical’ Christology is of particular interest.
“Jesus is Son on several accounts,” Congar states. First, he is the Son in terms of the incarnation, that is, his birth. This is where Congar locates the hypostatic union as the ontological reality of the Word of God incarnate. But, there are also two successive moments in which Jesus became the Son of God in a unique way in the economy of salvation, namely, at his baptism and at his resurrection. In these events the “virtus or effectiveness of the Spirit in Jesus was actuated in a new way.” This position avoids adoptionism, according to Congar, because Jesus is ontologically or hypostatically the Son of God on the basis of the incarnation. This ontological reality is, at these later points, simply being realized in a new way for us and our salvation. Indeed, the individual’s salvation is “conformed to this model.” Christians are God’s children on the basis of creation and predestination, which is actualized in baptism and resurrection.
- Congar, Holy Spirit, 3:13.
- Ibid, 16.
- Ibid, 12.
- Ibid, 202. The notion of inter-‘personal’ relations is mine. It refers to the relations between Father, Son and Holy Spirit and has no more to do with the mundane sense of the term ‘interpersonal’ than does speaking of ‘persons’ within the Trinity imply that each hypostasis is to be understood as an individual loci of consciousness.
- Ibid, 206.
- Ibid, 214.
- Congar, Word and Spirit, 1.
- Cf. Congar, Holy Spirit, 165n1. Congar offers Heribert Mühlen, P. J. Rosato and others as examples of this sort of Christology. Protestant examples would include Paul Tillich in his Systematic Theology (three volumes, University of Chicago Press, 1951-63) and, in a different way, Jürgen Moltmann in his The Way of Jesus Christ (Fortress Press, 1993).
- Congar, Holy Spirit, 3:165.
- Ibid, 170.
- Ibid, 171.
- Ibid, 170.