Franz Leenhardt on Divergent Impulses in Latin West and Greek East

Franz Leenhardt [*], Two Biblical Faiths, 76-7.
Eastern Christianity has always emphasized far more than Western Christianity the function and the action of the Holy Spirit. In this way it has endeavoured to affirm and safeguard the “overflowing” of the earthly by the heavenly; it has steadfastly refused to confound the event with the institution, the eschatological with the actual; it has wished to preserve for every mystery an open door to a beyond which should be its glorification. This tendency of its thought was manifested in the maintenance of the epiklesis in the eucharistic liturgy; the church must pray that the Holy Spirit should be outpoured on the gifts and the faithful. The Latin church, on the contrary, attributes to the priest the power of pronouncing in persona Christi efficacious words for the production of consecration. In that context the liberty and the living action of Christ are placed in the power of the historical institution; the Holy Spirit merges with this, which by definition He indwells.

When the Eastern Orthodox Christian utters the prayer of epiklesis he asks God “to give us mysteriously the Christ through the Holy Spirit, to manifest the virtue of the incarnation, to send anew into the world the Son and the Holy Spirit” [ed. note, citing Bulgakov]. The Western Catholic has no need of this deviation through the direct invocation of the Father in order that he may participate in the living presence of the Holy Spirit; he thinks that the church here below has at its disposal the virtue of the incarnation, since the Son has transmitted it to the priestgood.

[*]Leenhardt was one of the interesting francophone Reformed thinkers, from the early 20th century, whose modern Reformed resurgence was parallel to but not in any way derivative of Barth, that deserve more attention.


John Roberson said…
Really fascinating quote, thanks!
Anonymous said…
Travis, I've sometimes wondered about the accuracy/usefulness of the way some theologians have suggested that the West is pneumatologically deficient compared to the Eastern traditions. Some of these contrasts between East and West seem to me, at least, to be a special kind of pleading where the polemicist critiques her/his opponent for not thinking like her/him. Thus, so the argument goes, the Eastern pneumatological perspective is not found in the same form in the Latin West so the Latin West must obviously be deficient. But is that not a kind of circular argument?

Finally, let's not forget that at least in recent history, the Pentecostal and Charismatic movements (which is clearly pneumatologically focused, though far from being identical to Orthodox pneumatology) flowed from Western perspectives, not Eastern. I'm not so sure that the Holy Spirit can be "pinned down" by these readings of the development of pneumatological traditions.

What do you think?
Hey David,

I think you are right at the macro level. But when it comes to how self-consciously the Spirit has been included in liturgy in the West (and Leenhardt is obviously thinking of pre-Vatican 2 Roman Catholicism here; i.e., Protestant traditions might well be an entirely different animal), I think Leenhardt is on firmer ground. I'm more inclined to chalk up this practical pneumatological deficit to the influence of Latin law on the West, as opposed to suggesting some theoretical pneumatological deficit.

What do you think along those lines?
Anonymous said…
Meh, this is malarky. It's a ridiculously sweeping generalization to claim, based solely on the presence of the epiklesis, that the East "has always emphasized far more than Western Christianity the function and the action of the Holy Spirit."

Let's see the evidence from. . . .

Tertullian, Cyprian, Lactantius, Hilary, Augustine, Marcellus. Oh, and since Athanasius was a Roman for a good time there, don't forget to include him in the mix.

Just silly, this claim.
For corroborating evidence in a liturgical mode, you might check: Kilmartin's "The Eucharist in the West," Johnson's "The Rites of Christian Initiation."

See the exchange between D. Guretzki and myself above as well.
Anonymous said…
I saw your exchange. I repeat.

Let's see the evidence from. . . .

Tertullian, Cyprian, Lactantius, Hilary, Augustine, Marcellus. Oh, and since Athanasius was a Roman for a good time there, don't forget to include him in the mix.
Anonymous said…
Irenaeus had a pretty serious pneumatology. He was in the West, right?
The texts I mention will supply you with ample evidence for what I would want to call a practical pneumatological defecit in the West when compared to the East considered over time. I'm interested far more in persistent liturgical patterns as opposed to the musings of the great theologians, and this is where I think Leenhardt's interest is as well. We must also consider the context for Leenhardt's musings.

In any case, I leave the anonymous commenting function available for those who don't have a pertinent account through which to log in, but there is ample room to leave one's name in the body of the comment so that the comment is not actually anonymous.
Anonymous said…
Indeed, but by leaving my name, I would be commenting in public on a blog. Not a good idea, I've found.

Fair enough, if you aren't interested in the "musings" of theologians. . . .
Of course I'm interested in the musings of theologians - I happen to be one (more or less; sometimes more and sometimes less)!

In any case, I think the standard generalization that divides East and West on trinitarian doctrine (and also pneumatology) is both unhelpful and historically suspect. At least at the theoretical level. In terms of how churches in each quadrant - broadly speaking and thinking more from the Dark Ages to the modern period, rather than the patristic period - deployed some of that doctrine in their liturgical life, we have much more of a foundation to draw such contrasts.

Again, Leenhardt is writing as a Protestant in France well before Vatican 2 - that certainly colors his perspective.
Anonymous said…
"Dark Ages"? lol
Yeah, its a fun designation. ;-)

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