The Role of the Spirit in the Present Crisis in the Church.
By Dr. Maria Teresa Morgan
These lines from God’s Grandeur1 by the Jesuit poet, Gerard Manley Hopkins, serve as the basis for my brief consideration on the role of the Spirit in the Church from the perspective of our new cycle of scandals. Before exploring some of the rich metaphors of Hopkins’ poem, I will seek to establish the theological underpinning that supports my proposal by presenting two principles from Yves Congar’s ecclesiology. The first is the bond between the Spirit and the Church. The second is the role of the Spirit in the holiness of the Church. I will then proceed to point out the destructive implications of some scriptural images of the Spirit and relate them to the above-mentioned lines of the poem. My conclusion centers on the hope given by the Spirit (Rom 15:13), that same hope that the ecclesiology of Congar and the poetry of Hopkins offer to sustain and move us forward in the present crisis.
A paucity of words overtakes us when attempting to describe Yves Congar’s contributions to contemporary ecclesiology. Known as “the Father of Vatican II” his manifold legacy flows from the renewed Pneumatology and Ecclesiology he brought to the Council. In the second volume of his groundbreaking work I Believe in the Holy Spirit,2 Congar traces the unity between the Holy Spirit and the Church. Rooting this union in Tradition, he states that in all the ancient creeds, the faith affirmation in the Holy Spirit is immediately followed by the confession of the Holy Catholic Church as an object of faith.3 Central to Congar’s ecclesiology is that “’ the Spirit animates the Church and the Church is made by the Spirit.”4
In chapter five of the same volume, “The Spirit is the Principle of the Church’s Holiness,” Congar deals with the holiness and sinfulness of the Church. Cougar considers the Church involved in the struggle between the flesh and the spirit, decrying that while we, as the People of God, are all too conscious of the evidence of the Church’s failings, “… the Church does not admit it often enough”5 Congar laments the diminishment of confidence that this lack of acknowledgment brings about in believers.6 While pointing out that the Spirit is an eschatological reality and is given to us only (Congar’s emphasis) as first fruits, Congar, citing Leclercq, encourages us to engage in a “struggle for the Spirit of Christ in the Church,”7 underscoring the role of the Spirit in bringing about reform and renewal.8
Having presented a succinct consideration of Congar’s ecclesiology through the relationship he establishes between the Spirit and the Church, and the role of the Spirit in the sanctification of the Church, I will now proceed to examine some of the metaphors in Gerard Manley Hopkins’ poem and attempt to apply them to our current situation.9
Christian theology, tradition and liturgy often ascribes to the Spirit images of overwhelming sweetness and love.10 The beautiful Sequence of Pentecost poetically filters many of these, invoking the Spirit as “Comforter,” “living spring,” ” blest light,” “sweet unction,” “true love,” “sweet guest of the soul,” “sweet refreshment,” “rest in labor,” and “in tears, solace.” The New Testament abounds with positive descriptions of the Spirit, among them the Spirit as the Advocate who will never leave us (Jn 14:16), as the witness who seals our adoption as children of God (Rom 8:15,16), as the Giver of joy (Rom 14:17) and the Giver of hope (Rom 15: 13). But we often overlook the destructive connotations of some representations of the Spirit.
Three of the primary Scriptural symbols for the Spirit are Wind, Water and Fire. Many of us are inclined to think of these as metaphors that bring to mind the whisper of a gentle breeze (1 Kgs 19:12), the life giving waters of prayer (Jn 7:37-39), the flash of the Spirit’s enkindling Love (Cant 8:6). But as Bishop Robert Barron states in his conference, “The Holy Spirit in the Life of the Church,” these three images have dangerous overtones of violence and destruction.11 One need only bring to mind the yearly devastations caused by fires, hurricanes and floods. Bishop Barron posits whether in reconsidering these three images and applying them to the ongoing upheavals stemming from the sexual abuse scandal in the Church, we may discern the presence and action of the Spirit moving to raze, to “wash that which is sordid” (Sequence of Pentecost) and to burn the dross of sin, identifying the Spirit’s destroying dynamus with that which purifies and rebuilds the Church.
Bishop Barron’s insight led me to re-imagine the metaphors in God’s Grandeur in view of our present crisis. The image of the “ooze of oil” abounds with epiclectic allusions to Baptism, Confirmation, Holy Orders and Anointing of the Sick.12 But after delighting in these associations, Hopkins leads us to consider the destructive means by which this oil is extracted. The poet seems to want to surprise and shock us by placing “Crushed” in the next line as the single, capitalized word that completes the simile of oil oozing to greatness, implying that the sacramental oil is “gathered” for its consecratory and healing unction through a violent process. We thus wonder whether “”the sweet anointing of the Spirit” (Sequence of Pentecost) exacts a price from the Spirit; whether the Spirit also might be “crushed”13 by the press of grief (Eph 4:30)14 brought about by past and current events in the Church.
Throughout the following lines of the poem, Hopkins laments the scorched bleakness of a “seared,” “smeared,” “bleared,”15 landscape, words that evoke the witness of sexual abuse survivors in the Church and the sentiments of members of the Body of Christ. Many who have received “the anointing of faith”16 “toil” in the “trodden” and “bare” landscape of our present situation.
Foremost among the questions that challenge us who love and serve the Church are those related to the union of the Spirit and the Church and those emerging from the article in our Apostolic Creed: “I believe in the Holy Spirit, the Holy Catholic Church.” The various images of the Spirit that have been presented, inform the hope that the groaning (Rom 8:26), aggrieved (Eph 4:30), quenched (1 Thes 5:19) and oft resisted Spirit (Acts 7:51) is “flaming out,” bringing to light the hidden events that shake us to our core (Eph 5: 11-14).17 In the “crush” of repeated scandals, we wait for the Spirit’s anointing to “gather to a greatness,” so that it may “heal that which is wounded” (Sequence of the Pentecost) and consecrate us anew as People of God. Congar conveys to us an irrefutable hope, born of the Spirit, by affirming that “the Spirit is ‘the energy which exorcizes the spell of the past … and projects forwards towards a future, the principal characteristic of which is its newness’.”18 At the conclusion of his poem, as Hopkins looks upon the dimming lights of a world bent with affliction and plunging into darkness, he calls our attention to the source of the dawn that brims Eastward: the Spirit, that irrevocable gift of God (Rom 11:29), “broods” over creation to bring about renewed life.19 In this hope we live. And by this hope, we continue to be saved (Rom 8:24).
1 Gerard Manley Hopkins, God’s Grandeur, Hopkins; Poems and Prose (London: Random House, 1995)14 2 Yves Congar, I Believe in the Holy Spirit, vol II, ‘He is Lord and Giver of Life’, trans. David Smith (New York: Crossroad, 2003). 3 Ibid, 5, 6. 4 Ibid., Introduction, viii. 5 Ibid, 57. 6 Ibid, 52-61.
7 Jacques Leclercq, La vie du Christ dans son Eglise (Unam Sanctam, 12) (Paris, 1944) 90-111. 8 Congar, 52-61. 9 Hopkins wrote God’s Grandeur in the setting of the Industrial Revolution. I consider his metaphors as open and applicable to shifting contexts. See David Tracy, “The Interpretation of the Classics and the Pluralism of Readings,” The Analogical Imagination; Christian Theology and the Culture of Pluralism (New York: Crossroads, 1981) 115-124. 10 I am indebted to Jane E. Linahan for her insights in her article, “The Grieving Spirit: The Holy Spirit as Bearer of the Suffering of the World in Moltmann’s Pneumatology,” The Spirit in the Church and the World, Bradford E. Hinze, editor, College Theology Society, vol 49 (New York: Maryknoll, 2003) 30. 11 Bishop Robert Barron; “The Holy Spirit in the Life of the Church.” YouTube, June 14, 2011 12 See CCC 699, 1106 for specific mentions of sacramental epicleses.
13 I refer to Linahan’s insight that “the grieving of the Spirit encompasses our own,” 29 14 Ibid, 32-45. Linahan weaves Moltmann’s “Pneumatology of the Cross” throughout her analysis of Ephesians 4:30. 15 Words quoted in this paragraph come from the lines: “Generations have trod have trod, have trod;/And all is seared with trade; bleared, smeared with toil;/… the soil/Is bare now…” 16 Congar, 54 17 God’s Grandeur: “It will flame out, like shining from shook foil;” 18 Congar, citing C. Ducocq, Dieu différent, (Paris, 1977), 120ff 19 “Oh, morning at the brown brink eastward, springs-/Because the Holy Ghost over the bent/World broods with warm breast and with ah! bright/wings.”