Aesthetics And Pathos In The Vision Of God A Catholic—Pentecostal Encounter

Click to join the conversation with over 500,000 Pentecostal believers and scholars

Click to get our FREE MOBILE APP and stay connected



PNEUMA_f7_99-117 2/27/06 17:12 Page 99

Pentecostal Theology, Volume 26, No. 1, Spring 2004


Presidential Address

Aesthetics and Pathos in the Vision of God:

A Catholic—Pentecostal Encounter

Ralph Del Colle


Some years ago an essay made a deep and lasting impression on me. The article was by Richard A. Baer, Jr. and was entitled “Quaker Silence, Catholic Liturgy, and Pentecostal Glossolalia—Some Functional Similar- ities.” It was published in Perspectives on the New Pentecostalism, a col- lection of papers that had been presented at the second annual meeting of this very Society in 1972. Russell Spittler was program chair and subse- quently editor of the book.

Baer’s thesis was simple and direct. He argued that the “religious prac- tices” of speaking in tongues, the silent worship of the Society of Friends, and the liturgical worship of the Catholic and Episcopal Churches bore a “fundamental functional similarity.” By freeing the worshipper in the depth of one’s spirit, these practices enable one to put the analytical mind at rest and “to respond to the immediate reality of the living God.” “[L]ife as the praise of God” is the intended fruit of such practices.

As one who had migrated from charismatic prayer back to the liturgical prayer of my upbringing his thesis made eminent sense. While I cannot speak about Quaker silence, I have come to know the silence of traditional Catholic spiritualities and can testify (something scholars can do in a Society such as ours) that the functional resemblance holds, at least with regard to the inner dispositions that charismatic prayer, liturgical prayer, and contemplative prayer all seem to evoke. The thesis, while not draw- ing any theological links among the three traditions—it was more a

© 2004 Brill Academic Publishers, Inc., Boston pp. 99–117


PNEUMA_f7_99-117 2/27/06 17:12 Page 100

Pentecostal Theology, Volume 26, No. 1, Spring 2004

phenomenology of religious practices and experience and an affirmation of the spiritual principle of “letting go” in the divine presence—also recalls an essay in which those connections were made at the level of theological traditions.

Albrecht Ritschl, in many ways the mid-nineteenth-century successor to Friedrich Schleiermacher, might have been sympathetic to Baer’s obser- vations, but not in order to commend them. In his essay “Prolegomena to the History of Pietism” he noted the similarities in the intent of reforming efforts undertaken by the medieval Franciscans, the Anabaptists of the Reformation period, and the Pietists of the seventeenth century. It is a com- plicated story, and specialists in the field can render a more critical judg- ment on the proposal than I can. But if he is correct, one has to take seriously the link between world-renouncing piety with its primitivist and reformist impulses and the pursuit of Christian perfection common to all three traditions. For Ritschl the configuration of Christian life that emerges was inimical to that advanced by the magisterial Reformers, the position he upheld. If it is fair to say that Pentecostals are latter-day descendents of this pietistic impulse, at least in regard to the pursuit of Christian perfec- tion, then we have a theological account of the Christian life that links Catholics and Pentecostals. This complements Baer’s observations about the functional similarities that are enacted in worship.

I suspect that none of this is really news to anybody. The option to situ- ate the experiential dimensions of Christian life and the theologies of grace that support that enterprise tend to build bridges from the Wesleyan and Pentecostal camps to the Catholic side of the Western Church, or even to the Eastern Church (as you have heard in David Bundy’s Presidential address), rather than to either the Lutheran or the Reformed traditions. Although, if we dissect all the theological streams that influenced the English Reformation we need to be careful about any simplistic trajectories leading to the Wesleyan and Pentecostal streams of the Christian Church.

Nevertheless, one example of this “catholicizing trend” with some doctrinal substance is rather significant. One has only to recall Frank Macchia’s Presidential Address in 2000 entitled “Justification and the Spirit: A Pentecostal Reflection on the Doctrine by which the Church Stands or Falls.” Although Macchia was not uncritical of the Council of Trent’s Decree on Justification, he did note that Pentecostals have more in common with its transformational understanding of justification than the forensic model confessed by the magisterial Reformation traditions. The key Pentecostal innovation is, in Macchia’s phrase, “that sanctification is



PNEUMA_f7_99-117 2/27/06 17:12 Page 101

Aesthetics and Pathos in the Vision of God

the means by which the Spirit achieves justification in Christ,” which to my Catholic ears sounds like another way of saying that the grace of justification is indeed sanctifying grace.

In any case, both the proponents of this similarity (not identity!) in the understanding and praxis of grace in the Christian life—one need only recall Albert Outler’s reading of Wesley—and those who, while identify- ing the connection, resist the prescription confirm that we are on solid ground here. Regarding the latter, Karl Barth could be invoked as much as Albrecht Ritschl, although Barth might just lump the liberal Ritschl (no doubt to his dismay) with the Catholics, Anabaptists, and Pietists. The issue, of course, is the extent to which one wants to situate the reality of Christ’s grace in relation to experience, something that in its anthropolog- ical rendering detracts, in Barth’s judgment, from the primacy of God’s word in the matter.

Thus far, what I am suggesting is the following. Baer’s prescient obser- vation about liturgical worship and charismatic worship directs us to an incipient theological connection between the Catholic and Pentecostal tra- ditions. Beyond their “functional similarities” that bear on Jesus’ anticipa- tion of worship in spirit and truth (John 4:23), we can appeal to the shape of Christian life engendered by a theology of grace in which an experimen- tal form of piety is critical. The remainder of my remarks in this address will build on these observations and explore the relationship between the posture of faith and the doctrine of God implied by these respective pos- tures in Catholicism and Pentecostalism. I will then explore the encounter between these two traditions for the mutual contribution they make to Christian proclamation in this third millennium of the Church’s mission.

The Catholic Posture of Faith: Aesthetics and Transformation


In good scholastic fashion faith may be considered in both its objective and subjective dimensions. Fides quae creditur refers to the content of faith, the faith that is believed, and fides qua creditur is the act of faith, the faith by which one believes. It may indeed be the case that the preference of the present culture is toward the latter, the personal existential act of faith. This is not limited to Christianity. The commonplace distinction between religion and spirituality is usually made in favor of the latter, thereby allowing any number of people to describe themselves as spiritual



PNEUMA_f7_99-117 2/27/06 17:12 Page 102

Pentecostal Theology, Volume 26, No. 1, Spring 2004

but not religious. This holds both for those who are affiliated with a reli- gious community and the latter-day transcendentalists, who, in the spirit of Henry David Thoreau, commune with the divine or nature via the individ- uality of their own participation in the harmony of the cosmos. All of this is very American and now perhaps endemic throughout the postmodern West, with the United States clinging more than most to an explicit religio- sity. It is no understatement to suggest that the fides qua is determinative of the fides quae even in the Christian community, if one were to do a sur- vey about the relevance of doctrine for the living and practice of the faith.

I review this to set the context. My intent is not to evoke nostalgia for some more self-consciously religious period in human history. Seculari- zation has indeed had its effects, and while it has not eliminated human religious and spiritual longing, it has opened the door to a radically plural- ist intentionality of religious aspirations and practices. This is not simply a matter of a more widespread global consciousness—I suppose most Americans know where Iraq and Afghanistan are these days—but it also emerges from within the fractures and fragmentations of Western culture itself, even aside from new immigration patterns.

Catholics, constitutionally speaking, cannot ignore the cultural context. We tend to operate analogically rather than dialectically in our theological methods. “Both-and” is our preference to “either-or,” to put it somewhat crudely. Thus our formulae include faith and reason, nature and grace, and, following the same logic, Church and culture. Not that modernity has been an easy ride for the Catholic Church. Witness its divestment, usually forced, of its cultural and socio-political privileges in Europe in the wake of the French Revolution. This has not been without its benefits ecclesio- logically speaking—a new model of Church has emerged—and in the civil realm has brought relief to many Protestants in Catholic majority coun- tries, not the least of which include Pentecostals in Latin America, for instance, a situation still in process.

I need not continue. The Catholic Church has traveled some distance from the cultural pessimism of Pope Pius IX in the nineteenth century to the optimism of Pope John XXIII at the Second Vatican Council and its Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World, Gaudium et Spes. But it is not that story I want to tell, although I think it is far more complicated than many presentations by contemporary Catholics might suggest. Rather, it is the theological implications of this passage through modernity that are intriguing with this in mind: Catholics must account for culture.



PNEUMA_f7_99-117 2/27/06 17:12 Page 103

Aesthetics and Pathos in the Vision of God

Aesthetics as the Modality for the Catholic Posture of Faith

As you might have guessed from the title of this address, I am charac- terizing the Catholic and Pentecostal postures of faith under the rubrics of aesthetics and pathos respectively. On the Catholic side it will be no secret that the influence that most informs my reflections is that of the great twentieth-century Swiss theologian Hans Urs von Balthasar. Let me begin with a proposition.

In the posture of faith, it is impossible from a Catholic perspective to separate the fides qua from the fides quae. Actually I think that is true for all Christians, Pentecostals included, although I should let folks speak for themselves. This does not, however, make it any easier to explicate the matter theologically. My previous reference to the cultural context was intended to highlight the complications attending any assertion of the proposition. For example, one approach in Catholic apologetics is to argue that the truth of Catholic faith is evident in its beauty. Such an aesthetical approach highlights the beauty of its liturgy, religious art, the seamlessness of its dogmatic edifice and philosophical traditions, and the lives of its saints. Actually it is very appealing, perhaps more in the past than in the present. But nostalgic appeals to a previous era, the high Middle Ages or the Church Fathers, for instance, is not what I mean by the aesthetic modality of the faith, even considering the importance of tradition and continuity for Catholic sensibilities.

The aesthetical characterization of Catholic faith has more to do with the configuration of the divine-human relation in terms of beauty, or, more accurately, glory. In other words, the glory of God is manifested or medi- ated through the form of the faith both in regard to its subjectivity, the fides qua, and its objectivity, the fides quae. The light and experience of faith on the one hand, and the structure and dynamic of revelation on the other, constitute the aesthetic modality of faith in the Catholic tradition. Or, to put it another way, contemplation and sacramentality, to use just two examples of Catholic religious praxis, are the two poles by which the divine presence is known and apprehended by Catholics.

First, a word about form, since it may seem odd to Pentecostal ears to hear that faith, even in its subjective modality, is a matter of form. Form implies mediation, and Pentecostals—at least this is my impression—tend to emphasize immediacy in the divine-human relation. From the Cath- olic perspective, form as a modality of mediation does not detract from the reality of God’s presence in one’s life, or from those immediate



PNEUMA_f7_99-117 2/27/06 17:12 Page 104

Pentecostal Theology, Volume 26, No. 1, Spring 2004

inspirations that may be classified as actual graces, or, as in Ignatian spir- ituality, consolations without previous cause—that is, when God “enter[s] into the soul…to act upon it…without any previous perception or knowledge of any object from which such consolation might come to the soul through its own acts of intellect and will.”

Form, therefore, embraces rather than excludes mystery. Mystery, defined as the salvific presence and agency of God in the gospel, and mys- tery as the human reception of that divine action and presence, is revela- tory of that which exceeds its manifestation in the form. Let me repeat the point: mystery is present in the form, it is mediated by form, and simulta- neously is greater than the form. As we say in the Ignatian tradition in spir- ituality—the one that shapes my own spiritual life—God is the magis, the always more. This holds for God and for the human participants in the mystery of salvation. Neither God nor the workings of grace lie outside of form. The reality of mystery including its excess resides in the form, not behind or beyond it. So there is not a God beyond the mystery of the Holy Trinity, nor is the presence of grace in a person’s life something less than the mystery of God’s self-communication to the believer. This is all the more the case when we consider that the fides quae and the fides qua can- not be separated, although we may distinguish them.

Perhaps this may become clearer by analyzing the following prayer, the Preface for Mass on the Solemnity of Christmas as found in the Roman Missal:

In the wonder of the Incarnation Your eternal Word has brought to the eyes of faith a new and radiant vision of your glory. In him we see our God made visible and so are caught up in the love of the God we cannot see.

Here we have what von Balthasar calls the objective and subjective evi- dences of faith, namely, the Incarnation and the eyes of faith. Note the dominance of the aesthetic motif and its requirement of form. The revela- tion of the Incarnation imparts “a new and radiant vision of your glory.” The “eyes of faith”—a visual metaphor quite at home in the Catholic tradition—leads to the rapture of “being caught up in love of the God we cannot see.” The radiance of the divine glory in Christ, “our God made vis- ible,” generates faith which itself is a participation in that very glory.

The mediating role of form is essential to both revelation and faith. The movement to the God we cannot see is only possible because of the visi- bility of God’s glory in Christ whom we can see. Christ is not left behind as some temporary point of transition into the unseen God. Glory, a good



PNEUMA_f7_99-117 2/27/06 17:12 Page 105

Aesthetics and Pathos in the Vision of God

biblical concept, is precisely the splendor of God made visible, in this case made visible in the humanity of Christ, the culmination of Israel’s salvation history. A dynamic of praise is the only proper response to the glory irradiating from Christ. The doxology with which the prayer of the eucharistic canon concludes culminates in a movement through Christ, with Christ, and in Christ, in the unity of the Holy Spirit to the honor and glory of God the Father. Therefore, the principle of sacramentality, that is, the divine presence signified and efficaciously active in a creaturely medium, corresponds to the aesthetical gaze that is worship with its trans- formational implications. Paul knew this well: “All of us, gazing with unveiled face on the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory, as from the Lord who is Spirit” (2 Cor. 3:18).

Likewise, if we cannot dispense with the sacramental mediation of divine glory in Christ, the God-man whose glorified humanity is never dis- pensable, then we cannot ignore the participatory dimensions of the act of faith as well. The form of faith as the fides qua embraces the sensory aspects of human agency, what the classical traditions in spirituality called the “spiritual senses.” The passive and active modalities of the experience of faith presuppose the ontological enablement of the human agent through the grace that both heals and elevates, the gratia sanans and the gratia ele- vans. Faith is enacted via the attunement of the whole person, corporeally and spiritually, to the divine presence discerned, as it were, in the very actions of the one who believes. This primordial Christian experience, an attunement to God in faith, hope, and love, is the basis for all infused graces, whether mystical or charismatic in nature. It is this ontological ele- vation of the human person, a transformative dynamic at the level of habit, that the Catholic doctrine of created grace is intended to convey. Super- natural in modality it suffuses and is known through the human acts that it engenders. The form of the act of faith is the very disposition of the person who is a new creation. He or she is called to radiate the beauty of holiness, the effulgence of the divine glory in Christ that constitutes, permeates, and shines forth from the communion of saints.

In order to appreciate this dynamism of grace I need to turn briefly to the notion of experience and its place in the traditional Catholic theology of grace. It is by no means a foregone conclusion in Catholic theology that experience has any proper place in the theology of grace. At least, it does not occupy the place that the doctrine of assurance does in some Protestant evangelical traditions, especially when this is understood as the means by which the presence of saving grace in one’s life may be verified. The



PNEUMA_f7_99-117 2/27/06 17:12 Page 106

Pentecostal Theology, Volume 26, No. 1, Spring 2004

struggles of John Wesley, for instance, over whether he was a Christian possessing saving faith seems odd to Catholic sensibilities. In the classical spiritual tradition, one would be cautioned about such enthusiastic excesses, for it was believed that the reliance on experience for the assur- ance that grace was indeed at work distorted both the truth about the oper- ations of God’s grace and the validity of experiences one might have received from the Lord.

The caution about experience was not without dogmatic foundation. The Decree on Justification of the Council of Trent, in Chapter IX entitled “Against the Vain Confidence of Heretics,” concludes: “no one can know with the certainty of faith, which cannot be subject to error, that he has obtained the grace of God.” Following this a strong strain in neo- Scholastic theology, in order to emphasize the supernatural dimension of grace, argued that grace was inaccessible to the realm of human con- sciousness. On the other hand and at the same time, other traditions, espe- cially in spiritual theology, affirmed the vast array of spiritual experiences one could have, including infused mystical graces, the experiential horizon of many a saint. The tradition of discernment of spirits in the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius Loyola is a good example of this.

The key in all this is Catholic caution about the absolute claim of cer- tainty in knowing that one has grace. Thomas Aquinas distinguished between such certainty and the knowledge one may have by conjecture. For example, although not with absolute certainty, one could interpret one’s experience such as delighting in God and despising worldly things, and conclude to the presence of grace in one’s life. Or, as St. Joan of Arc, with rather heroic faith when asked during her trial if she was in God’s grace, replied: “If I am not, may it please God to put me in it; if I am, may it please God to keep me there.” This is quoted in the Catechism of the Catholic Church (# 2005) in a paragraph that begins with the statement,

Since it belongs to the supernatural order, grace escapes our experience, and cannot be known except by faith. We cannot therefore rely on our feelings or our works to conclude that we are justified and saved.

This sets the context for the aesthetical model of the posture of faith derived from the work of Hans Urs von Balthasar. His definition of the “experience of faith,” a concept he rehabilitates with great effort, never- theless also reflects these deep-seated Catholic sensibilities. Thus he can say that the experience of faith is “the experiencing of something that is essentially hidden and which is present only through mediation.”



PNEUMA_f7_99-117 2/27/06 17:12 Page 107

Aesthetics and Pathos in the Vision of God

Therefore, he prefers to speak of “dogmatic experience” rather than psy- chological experience, those that are “‘objective’ experiences in Christ and in the Church,” for it is in them that the form of God is known. This ensures that the experience of faith is indeed a self-surrender to God and is pneumatologically based. “The Holy Spirit,” says von Balthasar with a rather Germanic cadence, “is, in identity, both the Spirit of God’s objective revelation in Christ and of the objectivation of the existential Christ-form in the form of the Church—her offices, charisms, and sacraments—and the Spirit of Christian subjectivity as faith, hope, and love.”

The Catholic posture of faith, and I think von Balthasar is right on this, consists in beholding the divine beauty present as glory “in the church and in Christ Jesus to all generations” (Eph. 3:21). In this case beauty “is” sim- ply in the eye of the beholder if that beholder is the God-man himself and ours through the participation of grace. Thus we may conclude this section by appropriating the interrelationship between the fides qua and the fides quae, but now in the sense offered by von Balthasar: “. . . the fides quae of the Christian is the fides qua of Christ as he faces the Father, and even the Christian’s fides qua lives from the radiance of this light of Christ, which we can characterize as the Christian’s archetypal fides and which shapes the totality of his form by making the whole man into an adequate answer to God’s Word.”

The Pentecostal Posture of Faith: Pathos and Transformation

Amid the challenges posed to orthodoxy by liberationist-inspired or- thropraxy in the last four decades, orthopathy has emerged as a distinctive Wesleyan and now also Pentecostal contribution to Christian theological method. The “right passion” of the religious affections has restored John Wesley in particular to his rightful place among the great theologians of the Christian Church. Gregory Clapper, Henry Knight, Richard Steel, Theodore Runyon, Steven Land, and Samuel Solivan are among those who have employed this approach. For the purposes of this address I will uti- lize their insights to analyze the Pentecostal posture of faith and then return to its implications relative to the doctrine of God.

It is important to note that the utilization of this concept is of Wesleyan provenance and has been picked up by Pentecostals, especially those in the Wesleyan-Holiness tradition, but not exclusively. I mention this because its employment in a Wesleyan context might be different than in a Pente- costal one. These concern three major aspects of orthopathy, which I will



PNEUMA_f7_99-117 2/27/06 17:12 Page 108

Pentecostal Theology, Volume 26, No. 1, Spring 2004

pose as questions for further Pentecostal theological inquiry.

The first revolves around the influence of Wesley for Pentecostals. While this need not be confined to the Wesleyan-Holiness stream of Pentecostalism, his influence there is certainly greater. Further, does a Wesleyan account of the religious affections also apply to Spirit baptism and glossolalia, the Pentecostal distinctive, as it does to the rest of the affections in the Christian life? In other words, does the emphasis upon the reception, experience, and use of charismata change the configuration of religious affections when compared to the experience of grace that sanctifies? There is also the issue of progeny. Wesleyan theology owes more to Wesley than Pentecostal theology, and there is no comparative figure of similar theological weight in Pentecostal origins such as Wesley occupies in Methodist and Holiness origins.

The second concern focuses on the ecclesial context within which one affirms the centrality of the religious affections and how they may be parsed relative to both discernment and the practice of Christian life. Henry Knight’s excellent book, The Presence of God in the Christian Life: John Wesley and the Means of Grace, identifies the issue in its subtitle. To understand clearly Wesley’s “religion of the heart” he must be situated within his own historical context in the Church of England. The battles against Formalism and Enthusiasm, against Antinomianism and Perfec- tionism, as Knight’s chapters unfold it, were specific to his context. I do not doubt that analogies to that context may appear as types throughout Church history, and therefore Wesley’s distinctions may function as sys- tematic guides and rules, a regulative grammar for theology as a whole. As I have said, it is now time for Wesley to assume his place among the Church’s theologians. But it does raise questions about the relationship between the religious affections and “the traditional means of grace.” It seems to me that Wesley’s very nuanced account of the religious affec- tions, as Knight explicates it, is profoundly informed by his Anglican con- text in which such means were in practice. Is there the same intentionality about these “traditional means of grace,” especially the sacraments, in Pentecostal churches or even in Wesleyan-Holiness churches as there was for Wesley in his own Anglican context? Does this affect one’s account of the religious affections and their emergent formative role in theology? You understand how Catholics would be particularly interested in this question!

A third question concerns the definition and configuration of the reli- gious affections. This is the most important and the one on which I will



PNEUMA_f7_99-117 2/27/06 17:12 Page 109

Aesthetics and Pathos in the Vision of God

concentrate. Steven Land, in his book, Pentecostal Spirituality: A Passion for the Kingdom, describes “Christian affections” as “objective, relational and dispositional.” The summary is consistent with the work of the Wesleyan scholars he mines, and highlights the depth and complexity of the religious affections. As objective, God is “the source and telos of the affections.” This corresponds with the fides quae, von Balthasar’s objec- tive evidence in the aesthetical apprehension of God.

There is much to discuss regarding the medium of the fides quae. For example, how does doctrine or dogma mediate the truth and content of the faith? For Land, the emphasis is on oral-narrative formation in which “God’s righteousness, love and power…evoke, limit and direct the affec- tions of the believer.” While this may not include creedal profession, the proclamation of the gospel, indeed of the “full gospel,” is enacted through Pentecostal rituals of praise, preaching, testimony, and prayer. In this dynamic there is certainly present an announcement and discernment of the truth of the gospel. For a full list of such rituals see Daniel Albrecht’s, Rites in the Spirit: A Ritual Approach to Pentecostal/Charismatic Spirituality—(Macro)Rituals in Appendix A, and Liturgical Rites, Foundational and Microrites in Appendix B. (The one I particularly like is the “sacred expletive,” to be distinguished from “sacred explicatives”).

The Christian affections are also relational; in “faith, obedience and love” they “shape and express” one’s “relationship with God, the church and the world.” They embrace the moment-by-moment existential relation that the believer has with the Lord and that is in fact dependent upon Christ’s “initiating, sustaining and directing” action. Again, here I would draw a parallel with the fides qua of von Balthasar’s subjective evidence for the experience of faith.

Finally, the Christian affections are dispositional. Dispositions are to be distinguished from feelings and moods. Therefore, they are not “passing feelings or sensate episodes.” Rather, they characterize a person, and in disposing one to God and neighbor, they seem to corroborate with the notion of the effects of habitual grace in the Catholic tradition. Perhaps we can characterize the dispositional dimension of Christian affections as grounded in the ontological transformation that grace works in the believer, the new creation effected by the indwelling Holy Spirit.

All of the above is consistent with the Wesleyan scholarship I men- tioned and is dependent upon it. A major characteristic of all this work is to underscore what I call the depth dimension of the religious affections.



PNEUMA_f7_99-117 2/27/06 17:12 Page 110

Pentecostal Theology, Volume 26, No. 1, Spring 2004

The intention of orthopathy is not a revival of emotionalism but the embrace of the biblical notion of the heart as essential to transformation in the Christian life. Its Pentecostal adaptation suggests that the intense affec- tivity that characterized the emergence of Pentecostalism had much to do with a combination of charismatic manifestations and apocalyptic longing. Land even speaks of the “the Apocalyptic Affections” as the overarching category for Pentecostal effusion and experience. Gratitude in praise and thanksgiving, compassion in love and longing, and courage in confidence and hope are proposed as the template by which we can schematize Pentecostal affections. However, another issue arises—in addition to the one I raised about the means of grace—in this adaptation of orthopathy from the Wesleyan to the Pentecostal tradition.

Knight devotes a short section of his investigation to the “relation of immediate and mediated presence.” Again, the analysis and explication of Wesley’s position is informed by how Wesley responded to his critics, in this case, Anglican and Moravian. Suffice it to say that God can be imme- diately present contra some Anglican denials. In fact, Wesley sounds like Ignatius Loyola when he affirms that in private prayer, for instance, God may pour forth his love into one’s heart and thereby be acting immediately on the soul. At the same time, contra the Moravians, God often employs outward elements of religion, such as the means of grace, to relate one to God in an inward manner. In other words, God may become immediately present through the means of grace.

In addition to the issue of whether for Pentecostals the “outward” means of grace are a means to “inward religion,” the theology one assumes on the nature-grace relation is also raised. As I hinted at before, in the Pentecostal arena this has not only to do with the modality of “sanctifying grace,” for example, but also with the nature of the charismata or spiritual gifts. The expectations of the supernatural that inform Pentecostal affec- tions weigh in the direction of immediacy. When translated into Pente- costal practice this may very well mean that the perceived immediacy of divine presence trumps mediated modalities with consequences all across the theological spectrum from spirituality to ecclesiology. Let me briefly pursue these by comparison with the Catholic perspective.

Aesthetics and Pathos: Complementary Postures of Faith?

I have used these two heuristic models, aesthetics and pathos, to char- acterize the Catholic and Pentecostal postures of faith. In the process I



PNEUMA_f7_99-117 2/27/06 17:12 Page 111

Aesthetics and Pathos in the Vision of God

have raised the question of the modality of divine presence in the two tra- ditions, immediate and mediate, along with their respective theologies of grace, especially in regard to nature and supernature. And just to state the obvious, these are more Catholic queries than they are Pentecostal.

By posing the question of complementarity I am not suggesting incom- patibility at all! It is not a question of right vision versus right affections. As we have seen, both models interrelate the fides qua with the fides quae, the subjective and objective dimensions of faith. So we cannot posit the aesthetic model as having to do only with what is seen, but with “seeing” as well. Likewise, pathos is not limited to the heart of the believer but also applies to the heart of God—the angle largely pursued by Samuel Solivan in, The Spirit, Pathos and Liberation: Toward an Hispanic Pentecostal Theology. My hope, then, is to explore how these two Christian traditions (the oldest and the youngest!) might each illuminate the other.

One area of conversation is certainly ecclesiology, especially the rela- tionship between the sacramental and the charismatic. But that would take us far afield and require attention to a number of issues that have not been broached in this address. Let me concentrate, then, on the question of authenticity and faith. I mean authenticity in the existential sense, the real- ity and truth of faith.

In a postmodern context in which a variety of worldviews, including religious ones, contend with each other, it is imperative that the Church contends for the faith; and this begins primarily in the house of God. It does not stop there. In fact, there can be no authentic faith without mission. But we cannot fool ourselves that the faith will be heard in proclamation without its truth registering in the lives of those who profess it, those who confess Jesus Christ in the Church and in witness to the world. In this regard Catholics have much to learn from Pentecostals and maybe, at least in the lives of the saints (I am mindful of the scandal that has rocked my church in the last two years!), Pentecostals can learn from Catholics.

Authenticity primarily has to do with the encounter with God. A recent document from the Roman Curia entitled Jesus Christ the Bearer of the Water of Life: A Christian Reflection on the “New Age” attempts to iden- tify how the spiritual hunger present in our culture is being satisfied with a narcissistic spirituality that focuses on the innate human potential for self-fulfillment. In no way naïve about the diffusion of New Age spirit- uality even by groups within the Church, the document mandates solid theological appraisals and strict spiritual discernment of these tendencies. The main counter to this phenomenon is promotion of authentic Christian



PNEUMA_f7_99-117 2/27/06 17:12 Page 112

Pentecostal Theology, Volume 26, No. 1, Spring 2004

spirituality, the core of which is a relationship to the God who is transcen- dent to creation and yet redeems it in love.

In order to ensure this prospect it is necessary that the whole person be engaged in the divine-human encounter. Christian faith has never just been a matter of intellectual assent, although that indeed is a dimension of con- version. The way to the truth of the gospel must also embrace the neces- sary interconnection between the objective and subjective dimensions of faith. In both of our traditions the integrity of faith is dependent upon self- surrender to the self-revealing Other known publicly, not esoterically, in the gospel. “Right seeing” and “right affections” bespeak the ongoing transformational process by which believers are conformed to Jesus Christ. The encounter with the living God of the gospel reaches to the depths of the person by virtue of the presence and agency of the One who is revealed. It is to the truth of the latter that we now turn.

The Vision of God in Glory and Power

The vision of God, the visio beatifica or beatific vision, is the most direct and simple understanding of eschatological fulfillment. It is the highest good, the summum bonum, of the creature, this seeing of God face- to-face. An intuitive, immediate seeing of God in the divine essence is what constitutes the beatific vision and embraces acts of knowledge, love, and joy with knowledge or love being more foundational depending on whether one is a Thomist or Scotist. The just soul requires the lumen gloriae, or light of glory, in order to see God. It is beyond the natural capacity of the intellect to see God; therefore the light of glory supernatu- rally elevates the just soul to see God without any creaturely mediation. In this sense the heavenly vision is a case of pure immediacy. Until then we see in a glass darkly, until we shall know fully as we are fully known (1 Cor. 13:12) when we shall see him as he is (1 John 3:2) with the requi- site transformation that this entails—we shall be like him. God may act on the soul directly or immediately in our wayfaring state, but this is only anticipation of what is to come in the state of glory.

One further aspect of this scholastic compendium has to do with the interrelationship among the various forms of cognition. The light of glory corresponds to the light of faith, the lumen fidei, in the present state of grace, which itself perfects the light of reason, the lumen rationis, in the state of nature. So, by the light of reason we know the created order; by the light of faith we know—in the biblical sense of that word—the truths of



PNEUMA_f7_99-117 2/27/06 17:12 Page 113

Aesthetics and Pathos in the Vision of God

divine revelation; and by the light of glory we will know God in the divine essence in heaven.

The supernatural dimension of the divine economy is evident in both grace and glory. The pilgrim state wherein we walk by faith and not by sight (2 Cor. 5:7) is the fruit of sanctifying grace. The heavenly state is likewise the fruit of glory, the eschatological consummation of grace that presently justifies and sanctifies. The light of glory strengthens the intellect to see God and in the words of Thomas Aquinas “is to be described not as medium in which God is seen but as a medium by which God is seen; and as such does not take away the immediate vision of God.”

Why bother with these theological nuances? If the mutual contribution of our two traditions is to mark the authenticity of the encounter with God as a witness to the truth of the gospel, then we need to take care that the human and divine acts that constitute the encounter are preserved in their full integrity. On the human side this translates into the fully supernatural and the fully human dimensions of that encounter. Grace and grace alone enables the life of faith and the life of glory. Simultaneously, it is the inter- nalization of such grace, the truly sanctified and anointed life that reveals the triumph of grace. Did not Paul say that he did not receive the grace of God in vain but worked harder than the rest of the apostles and not him but the grace of God that was with him (1 Cor. 15:10)? It is this marvel of grace that our two traditions, at their best, bear witness to: I no longer live, but Christ lives in me, yet the life I now live I live by faith (Gal. 2:20). It is this combination of divine and human agency—Christ lives and I live— that is at the heart of the matter.

Translate, if you will, what I have been articulating in Catholic scholas- tic terminology into a Pentecostal genre. First, recall the Catholic expres- sion. One sees God in heaven by the light of glory, an illumination of the created intellect by which the essence of God is known—thoroughly supernatural and yet by God’s gift intrinsic to our glorified cognition. By that I mean that the light of glory, to quote from one scholastic source, is “a supernatural operative habit bestowed upon reason.” Additionally, the life of faith is the beginning of the supernatural process that leads to such consummation.

How does this sound in Pentecostal language? Perhaps something like this? When the Holy Spirit is poured out the divine affections begin to seize us. Now that’s just the beginning! In fact, we have already been moved from within when we began to long and tarry for the coming of the Holy Spirit. To long and to tarry, to groan and to wait upon the Lord!



PNEUMA_f7_99-117 2/27/06 17:12 Page 114

Pentecostal Theology, Volume 26, No. 1, Spring 2004

Already there is a transformational process that is taking place. For it is in the pathos of God to bestow the Holy Spirit, and now, as we pray and tarry for the promise, it begins to emerge as our own pathos. This too is a gift! The divine affections that want so much to give the gift of the Holy Spirit, in desire so far beyond what human beings in their noble and generous parental affections are capable of—if a child asked for a piece of bread what father among you . . .?! (Luke 11:11-13)—these divine affections are now being matched by grace working within our human affectivity, so closely tied to desire and volition, that we pray, tarry, and receive the gift when it comes. And again, this is only the beginning!

The Spirit is bestowed in power, and what happens? People go forth as the Spirit leads and anoints. Sensitivity to the things of God, both those that make for holiness and those that make for convincing witness, is increased! The grace and power of God so works within that one apostle can say to those to whom he is sent: “For God is my witness, how I long for you with the affection of Christ Jesus” (Phil. 1:8). Is that not transfor- mation? Is that not the pathos of God becoming the pathos of his children? “Be ye perfect as your Heavenly Father is perfect” (Matt. 5:48)! “Be mer- ciful just as your Father is merciful (Luke 6:36). And, by the way, from where does Pentecostal praise and adoration arise? Is it not from the mys- terium pietatas, the mystery of piety, at work when, in the synergy (to use an Eastern Christian concept) of divine and human affections, we are led by our high priest, the God-man, our Lord Jesus Christ in praise and worship?

What does all this suggest about the doctrine of God? Since in good Thomistic fashion—the exitus and reditus of all things coming from and returning to God—God is the beginning, the middle, and the end. Actually, Paul said it first: “For from him and through him and for him are all things. To him be glory forever. Amen” (Rom. 11:36). To the human participant the commanding invitation then is clear: “Be holy for I am holy” (Lev. 11:44; 1 Pet. 1:15-16). It sounds as if what we say about God has some- thing to do with the language of being!

Truth be told, not a lot has been written on the Pentecostal doctrine of God. The theologians of this Society are just catching up with the exegetes and historians. I have mentioned Sam Solivan’s utilization of orthopathy. He envisions it as the third leg of a “Liberating Triad” along with ortho- doxy and orthopraxis, oriented especially to “suffering as multi-dimen- sional experience [that] incorporates all our being, including the spiritual sphere.” In the realm of the metaphysics of divine being more specifically,



PNEUMA_f7_99-117 2/27/06 17:12 Page 115

Aesthetics and Pathos in the Vision of God

Clark Pinnock has argued that a Pentecostal contribution would accentuate the emphasis on divine relationality. Pentecostals, he says, should forswear the absolutist model of divine being because they are “relational theists.” Terry Cross, in the same issue of the Journal of Pentecostal Theology in which this proposal was floated, responded mostly in the affirmative, with the caveat that the perfection and relationality of God ought to be consid- ered in dialectical tension. He did, however, suggest that Pentecostals could not avoid “some kind of philosophical categorization to organize our theological concepts.” Pentecostal theologians and philosophers need to continue this theological inquiry.

I will conclude with some Catholic reflections on the matter in dialogue with Pentecostal concerns. In good Catholic fashion it is my judgment that one cannot afford to evacuate metaphysics from language about God or thinking about God. Clearly that is a loaded statement, and to avoid any further digression I will not unpack it. For those interested, and whose aca- demic fare includes the “sacred explicative,” I will confess that I am mov- ing in a post-Heideggerian Thomistic direction. What that means is simply that the postures of faith that I have discussed imply that presence, or, bet- ter yet, “presencing” is at the core of a metaphysical universe, to borrow a phrase from the late Dominican theologian William J. Hill. The presencing of being seems to me the most cogent account of subjectivity, intersubjec- tivity, and the convertibility of the transcendentals: being, truth, goodness, and beauty. That is the Heideggerian side. The Thomistic emphasis is evi- dent in my continued judgment that the best way to metaphysically describe the being of God relative to creation, and which I think preserves creation as creaturely vis-à-vis God, is the notion of actus purus, God as pure act. All that God is in the divine being itself and in relation to creation is best accounted for as movement from actuality to actuality, not from potentiality to actuality or vice-versa. In other words, movement in God, for example, the intra-divine processions that constitute the persons of the Trinity, and movement from God into the created order—for example, the temporal missions of the Son and Spirit in the divine economy—are move- ments of presencing as pure actuality. Dialoguing with Pentecostals con- vinces me of this even more.

If Pinnock, with Cross’s necessary coda, is correct about relational theism, then the epistemic moment in faith is derived from the presencing of divine agency and power in the motions of grace and in the distribu- tion and operation of spiritual gifts. Pentecostals are acutely aware of God’s presence in their lives, a presence that is both personal, in a sort of



PNEUMA_f7_99-117 2/27/06 17:12 Page 116

Pentecostal Theology, Volume 26, No. 1, Spring 2004

dialogical and personalist I—Thou Buberian sense, and energetic—in the modality of power. The divine energies, to use an Orthodox concept, or the operative dynamism of the Spirit’s gifting, characterize the Pentecostal/ Charismatic experience. It is through this modality of divine agency that God’s personal nature is known. The manifestation of power is not inimi- cal to personal apprehension of God; rather it seems to confirm it. God cares for me because God has liberated me through the manifest and effi- cacious presence of God’s power.

All of this also has to do with presencing; God’s coming to presence via manifestations of the Spirit, and our coming to presence through the praxis of praise and ministry in the Spirit. No surprise, then, that there has always been an intimate connection among Pentecostals between the outpouring of the Holy Spirit, the Spirit coming to presence, and eschatological long- ing, the Lord Jesus coming to presence in the parousia, which also entails our glorification with him. The Thomistic twist on these Pentecostal sensi- bilities is necessitated by the following observations.

I return to the context with which I began this address. Our world is plagued by a combination of secular and spiritual forces that have lost their way. Secular forces have settled into a material contestation of identity and power. This misses the mark (another word for sin!) of true diversity in unity by coercive forces that fracture and fragment the human project, both from within communities and from without spiritual forces in all their pluralism seem to refract back into the human condition an infra-cosmic redundancy of escapist aspirations, narcissistic self-fulfillment, or the enlistment of spiritual energy in support of the material contestation of sec- ular forces. In the face of this, what might the churches offer? If “heaven below” is an apt metaphor for the Pentecostal Movement, and let me sug- gest “open heaven” as a metaphor for the Catholic vision, then we need to ensure that the presencing in which we participate is indeed from above.

The Thomistic insistence that God’s coming to presence is from actual- ity to actuality preserves our creatureliness, a necessary prerequisite for participation in the divine light and power that comes from above. It is in the poverty of our finitude and sin that we discover the fullness of God who exceeds the intent of our petitions and even the scope of our imagi- nation (Eph. 3:19-20, 1 Cor. 2:9). Most of all, the pathos and beauty of God, the presencing of grace and glory, bespeaks subsistence in God that exceeds our apprehension and that evokes our praise. By subsistence I mean something that is neither transitory nor ephemeral. Although in the beatific vision we never comprehend God, yet we really commune with



PNEUMA_f7_99-117 2/27/06 17:12 Page 117

Aesthetics and Pathos in the Vision of God

God, a communion that begins in via, on the way. Here and now, in the Pentecostal assembly and the sacramental community, there resides the presencing of human and divine persons, the highest form of be-ing. There we catch a glimpse of authentic subjectivity as intersubjectivity, persons in communion. Such communion in the heart of God can only be invoked by naming that form that will never pass away—Jesus, Jesus, Jesus, there is just something about that Name!



Be first to comment

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.