Since my previous post on the depersonalization of the Holy Spirit, I found someone who supports my claim that we have depersonalized the Holy Spirit. Theologian Thomas C. Oden says: “The depersonalization of God the Spirit has occurred in the period of philosophical idealism.” He points out that: Hegel reduced the Spirit to a logic of history ; Tillich reduced the Spirit to an existential category of being itself, e.g., “dimension of depth”; Karl Barth used the expression: “mode of being”. Process theology reduced the Spirit to creative energy. Much liberation theology reduced the Spirit to political praxis. “Scriptural exegetes are therefore ill advised to consistently address the Spirit as it with the avowed intent of pointing to the Spirit’s self-effacing presence for it is precisely the free personal God who is becoming self-effacing, and the cause is not well served by calling the Spirit it,” says Oden (1). Have we have mistakenly reduced the person of the Holy Spirit to an impersonal analogy because we want the convenience of applying the Holy Spirit to our theology in order to give it more credibility? If we do not use personal language, God the Spirit will inevitably be reduced to some symbolic generalization.
I have also found other ancient sources that deal with the name of the Holy Spirit. An ancient creed used by the early church called Faith of Damasus (or Fides Damasi) states: “The proper name for Father is Father, and the proper name for the Son is Son, and the proper name for the Holy Spirit is Holy Spirit.” Basil of Caesarea (329-379 CE) stated that the titles for the Holy Spirit are called “Spirit of God,” “Spirit of truth which proceeds from the Father,” “right Spirit,” “a leading Spirit.” Its proper and peculiar title is “Holy Spirit” (De Spiritu Sancto, Ch.9). Basil also said that the Holy Spirit is not merely a quality or attribute or emanation of God but is a distinct person within the Godhead. Theresa Benedicta of the Cross loved and adored Holy Spirit and addressed the Holy Spirit as Holy Spirit. Augustine in Summa Theologica also also dealt with this issue of the Holy Spirit’s name. As a proper name of the Holy Spirit, the Vatican also states: “Holy Spirit is the proper name of the one whom we adore and glorify with the Father and the Son. The Church has received this name from the Lord and professes it in the Baptism of her new children” (Profession of Faith, 691).
When we address other people we use human names because they are very personal to the person. It helps make a connection with the person when we call them by their name. How do we expect to make a connection with the Holy Spirit if we address him as “it” like as if he was an object, an impersonal being? Is this why our churches sometimes do not seem to treat the Holy Spirit as a real person in our worship?
1. Thomas C. Oden, Systematic Theology, Vol. 2: The Word of Life, p.20.