There are just two theological tasks. One is to say what Christian doctrine is, and the other is to offer it to the world. The second depends on the first. First, Christian doctrine must be done for its own sake, just as we worship God just for the sake of it, for joy. We wonder at the creation of God and we express that wonder, despite ourselves. Doctrine is likewise doxological.
Colin Gunton was a student of the Christian doctrine of God. It is true that he was at centre of a revival of trinitarian theology and rediscovery of the Holy Spirit. But trinitarian theology is simply Christian theology, and theology is Christian when it understands that God may be known, only, as Father, and he may be known in this way only by the Son, and those the Holy Spirit includes in the Son. Any other account is the theology of another religion. Colin Gunton was never taken in by the belief that something more sophisticated than doctrine is just around the corner. He remained intrigued and delighted by that whole vast package, and only as we are so too will we have anything to contribute, to the church, to the university and to the world. The first responsibility of the Christian is to learn their own tradition, and the second is to tell the waiting world what they find there. Only if we know our own tradition, do we have something to say.
1. The doctrine of God
What is the Christian doctrine of God? It is first that God is love, a communion, of persons. These persons, Father, Son and Holy Spirit are one: their plurality is as fundamental as their unity. Manyness originates in them: their communion brings all other societies into being. God alone can distinguish each one of us from all others. He intends that we also will also be able to see the real otherness of each other person, and so we will become content with the lasting manyness of his creation.
Second, God is communicative and articulate. The Father speaks and the Son hears and responds and their communion is complete. They intend that we join their conversation: they address us, and so we come into being and come alive and attentive to others.
The Church makes its confession in the face of all contrary claims. The chief of these is that ‘there is no god’, and thus that we are under no authority and are accountable to no one. If this is so we do not have to attend to others, and those who suffer our exercise of power have no one to whom they can appeal over our heads. This makes us tyrants, who are unable to concede the real otherness of other people.
The Church makes the good confession that the Lord is God. Because God is truly other than us, he can enable us to become finally other to one another. I will not finally be able to make you just a function of me. Christ will establish you independently of me, so that there will finally be you and me, a society and a plurality.
The Christian doctrine of God has to be offered and argued for amongst all the other accounts, not only of God, but also of man and the world. Christian doctrine answers the claim that the world once believed in God but that it may do so no longer. The first consequence of the Christian confession of God is that we are not God, so we are discharged from the exhausting though self-imposed duty to make ourselves god. The Christian gospel demythologizes other gospels; it is itself critical reason, because it refers to the truth given in the judgment of God. The continued existence of the world depends on God’s assessment of it as worth waiting for. The Church is the demonstration that this is still the assessment, and good judgment, of God. The secret of being human, is hidden with God. Only in communion with God, we can be human, together, with other humans.
2. Creatures and persons
The doctrine of God gives us the truth of man. But it cannot be cashed out into a theory about man. In other parts of the Church they say that God is mystery, by which they mean he is knowable only to extent he makes himself known. The corollary is that because man is the creature of God, man is a mystery too. We can really know other people, but we cannot master them because they belong not in the first place to us, but to God. But we cannot be human by being just-human, without God. It is good news that the human is the creature of God. Now what can we say about this creature?
Human nature and commonality
Christian theology identifies Christ in terms of a human nature and a divine nature, and assumes that these two natures are pretty constant qualities. But what stability does human nature have? What do humans have in common that makes them all of one nature? How does human nature hold us together? In the long run nature is not a strong enough force to do this, for we rather we fail to hold onto one another, but separate and drift apart. The fall threatens this human nature.
But if we refer our discussion of human nature to christology, we can say that the Son holds all men together, and gives them the unity that they do not otherwise have. If we understand ‘nature’ as what is held in common, divine nature means what Jesus Christ shares with the Father and the Spirit, and human nature means what Jesus Christ has in common, first with the people of Israel and then, through them, with the human race as a whole. The human ‘commonality’, the human race, does not exist without the divine ‘commonality’, which is that communion that God is. The future of the human commonality is participation in the divine communion: when we participate in God’s life we shall be properly human, able to say gladly that we are not God but are his creatures.
So it is not simply human nature that makes Christ human. In taking what passed for our nature Christ has given it its unity, and the Father has received him in this creaturely form, and this is the reason why Christ is the person in whom we may all truly be human. The Son, through his relationship with the Father, is determinative of all the other relationships Christ is in. A person is determined by one significant other. Only he who is not dependent for his own identity on anything in creation, can sustain the otherness of all creatures. For this reason Colin Gunton decided that the one who is determinative of all other persons, is the Father.
Persons and plurality
Colin Gunton insisted that it is the difference between God and the world that is fundamental. But rather than repeat what he said about the doctrine of creation, I am going to demonstrate its significance by relating it to two other concerns of his, the relationship of the one and the many, and the two hands of the Father, the Son and the Spirit. I will suggest that the difference between the Church and the world is analogous to the difference between God and creation. The Church is irreducibly different from the world. This difference is not a matter of nature: it is God’s act, for us, and this makes a difference to the context of Christian doctrine.
The Western intellectual tradition, ancient and modern, assumes that one thing comes before many things, so unity is more fundamental that plurality. It assumes that existence is basic, and only once our existence is sorted out we may enter relationships, be members of a community and so act with some brief freedom.
The Christian account says that, because three divine persons are the condition on which other things come into being, there is not only plurality at the end, but there is plurality at the beginning. Oneness does not exist before manyness. This is the revolutionary thought that Colin Gunton started to pursued in The One the Three and the Many. He made the case that Christianity represents plurality, and that modernity fails to represent plurality: despite all its rhetoric about diversity, all the political agendas of modernity represent a leveling and homogenisation. More than that, modernity is in part a reversion to some ancient metaphysics. As an ideology, modernity fails to understand the goodness of the present. Modernity assumes that the Christian religion represents a protest against plurality and diversity. So which best represents the claims of plurality – modernity, or Christianity? To answer this we have to compare their accounts of being human, starting with the Christian account.
3. Becoming human
It is good to be a creature of God. But it is not enough just to say that we are human. We also have to say that we have to become human, and this becoming human takes time. To be human means being free, and being free for others, which involves giving one another the recognition and service we need. The acknowledgment that we are creatures, able to serve and take responsibility for one another, makes us free. To become the creature who can make this acknowledgment requires an apprenticeship. Christian discipleship is this apprenticeship. One human being has completed this apprenticeship, and graduated: the ascent of man has truly taken place, in Christ. This insight Colin Gunton attributed to Irenaeus.
The man who comes into relationships with all others, is also the man through whom each of us may come into relationship with all other persons. Until we have been brought into such connection, we are only fragmentarily human; partiality, division and death still hold us apart. Who is the person who can, forever, sustain relationships with every other person, so that through him, everyone may present to every other, and so all humanity be both many and one? The one who is able and prepared to mediate between each and everyone of us would be our universal servant. Christ has decided that his service is not imposed on him, so his freedom is not freedom from us, but for us. Though he serves us, he does so freely, not under our compulsion. He does not regard any part of our world, however low, as too lowly or too alien for him. In all his serving, he is entirely free and entirely lord.
Christ makes us present to one another. He does not simply gives us what we lack, for such a unilateral imposition would not allow us to take it and remain free. Christ not only gives, but waits until we consent to receive one another and desire greater participation in his communion with all others. It is the Father’s judgment and approval of him that makes Christ the real and complete man. So we have arrived at a christological anthropology. We will need to say something about the role of the Spirit in it. First though let us see what happens when christology does not shape our anthropology, and pneumatology plays no part in our christology. What happens when humanity, Christ and the Spirit are confined within separate jurisdictions?
4. Doctrine is good for the university
The Christian faith is a preparation for life together with other creatures of God. It is an apprenticeship by which we learn to take responsibility and so become persons freely in communion with others. Our ability to learn this freedom is essential to being human. We may become free and mature by learning from, and accepting the proper restraint of, others, mediated by the accumulated expertise of generations. We become mature by becoming the students of a tradition.
Though centuries, the Christian faith has encountered many other accounts and developed a comprehensive account of its claims. It is harder to put a name to what is not Christian: whether we call it ‘modernity’ or ‘secularism’, it does not appear as a explicit free-standing tradition, but simply as a protest and refusal of the Christian tradition. Nevertheless it is for the Christians to give an account of this non-Christian tradition, and show where it stands in relationship to other traditions.
Great traditions teach us how to grow up into responsibility and freedom. Without them we remain in an adolescent resentment, always in crisis. The contemporary university is in such a crisis. It is a paradoxically anti-intellectual place in which it is not only the Christian tradition that is despised but also other traditions from which the university has come. But we have to take the Humanities seriously, and remind them that it is a generous thing to offer accounts of what it is to be human. We have to remain in conversation with the founders of the Academy, Plato and Aristotle, and all their successors and traducers, in order to flourish. We have to say that the university cannot take the virtues and practices that hold good in the Church, and bring persons up into maturity within that specific community, and treat them as applicable generally, across the board. The teaching of the Church – Christian doctrine – it is not just another way of saying what everyone already knows; it is not general knowledge.
The doctrine of God is a doctrine of the Church, so the university has to explore this doctrine in partnership with the Church and dialogue with its tradition. If the university attempts to wrest its doctrine away from the Church, that doctrine ceases to be Christian. When we do not make it clear that the Church that mediates, and is mediated by, Christian teaching, this other, undeclared, community, of the academics, puts itself where the church should be. If the church is not itself, the university becomes a church, though of course without any idea how to be so.
The concept of the individual is not modern. It is a Christian doctrine: the Church confesses that each of us stands before God, his unique and irreplaceable creature. This confession relates to a promise: Christ will finally enable us to be both unique and together, particular persons, in communion. Our individuality arises within the personal relationships and mutual subordination of the communion of Christ.
But this teaching about the particularity of persons can also be wrenched out of the complete package that makes it Christian. At different times all the various elements in the Christian package have been extracted and re-combined to make an alternative theology with a substandard account of man. In that package we call ‘modernity’ the individual has to assert himself against all others, against society and its institutions, in order to be himself. He has to establish his own freedom, by carving out some deep timeless interior place, in which he can finally be free of all others and alone.
It is the responsibility of the Christian theologian to make the ideology of modernity explicit by describing its place in the history of ideas. This is Colin Gunton’s mission in The One the Three and the Many. ‘The hope is for an engaged theology to counter the ideology of disengagement that is the mark of so much modernity’ (p.168). Among the thinkers who feature in his history are Hobbes, Spinoza, Descartes, Locke, Rousseau, Hume, Kant, Hegel and Nietzsche, some of them hoping to re-launch a simplified gospel, other ferociously trying to rule the whole subject out. They represent this non-Christian tradition, outlined in that book in terms of Parmenides and Protagoras, in which the individual does not concede that he gives or receives anything in his encounter with others. This individual is already entirely himself before he comes into relationship with his peers, and therefore does not really need them or the learning they represent. As a result he does not need a tradition, and indeed the imperative laid on him is to exert himself against all such traditions, and thus against religion.
Perhaps the greatest single advocate of this tradition, that is in denial about being a tradition, is Kant. Kant believes that we must refuse every externally-given definition. We must place ourselves under no authority but our own. This makes it difficult to see how we can learn anything from one another.
Kant has promoted of the individual over society and all the practices of social formation. His timelessly independent individual lives as a society of one. He regards the world and body with disdain. The cerebral disembodiedness of this individual has become the criterion of critical reason, so all the Humanities, in which we ostensibly discuss traditions of thought about what it is to be human, are hollowed out by this distaste for every particular tradition of thought. Kant’s heirs have appointed themselves policeman of the public square to prevent the Christian tradition in particular from being heard in public. Pagan thought assumes that the ultimate freedom is interior, in a place without other people. These thinkers first taught the church to believe that it was merely a re-statement that freedom is interior, and then that its faith was interior and not open to public discussion, and thus that is was unable to compete intellectually in the public realm.
In The One the Three and the Many Colin Gunton argued that modernity is a kind of denigration of the goodness of the present, of body and of other people. It is a gnosticism, and so our particular form of a timeless temptation. But it is not the one thing it claims to be. It is not new. It appears new to us because we refuse to admit our own origins, preferring to imagine that we have sprung out of nowhere. Modernity is in a tearing hurry. In fact, hurry is all it is. It is less a worldview than a mindset – an impatience. Inasmuch as moderns understand this forward movement as good, and as progress, they believe that it is the past, and in particular that wickedly conservative force the Christian religion, that is holding us back.
In the modern account we are minds miserably trapped in bodies. Bodies are not us, we think. We cannot finally reach one another, or participate in one another’s very being, but that our freedom is freedom from one another and is therefore interior. We hope to escape our present situatedness by burrowing into our heads. The solitary self regards itself as the only real thing, and does not wish to be inconvenienced by anything not itself. In the modern conception, the past is an unfortunate place, so we become ourselves by leaving it behind.
To give a Christian theological response to this modern anthropology, we must return to the issue of plurality from another angle, that of persons in constitutive relation. The Christian confession that we are body and soul suggests that we really can know one another (because we are present to one another as our bodies), but that we are not exhaustibly known to one another, because I can only grasp your present, not your past or future. We live out of our past; we source ourselves from it: it represents the vast range of possibilities from which the present emerges. The past is, as it were, our body. We cannot step out of it, for we are not ourselves without it. We are not minds that may disembark from this vehicle, for without our body we are not able to approach others at all.
Christians remember that many people make up the past. They do this remembering formally in the eucharist, where they also say that we may not regard them as finally past, because Christ has the power to release persons from the past and give them a future. Christ has the power to distinguish us from one another and to make us a plurality. Christ has come out to look for us and because he thinks we are worth finding and taking to the Father, we are indeed so. If he takes us to the Father, then all our particularity will indeed finally exist before God, and all threats to it will be gone. A pneumatological christology gives us an account of communion and of plurality, which we call an ‘ecclesiology’.
7. Who can raise the Son?
Doctrine which is Christian is sanctified through the many centuries of Christian experience. The Son and are the Spirit are with the Father: their communion is complete, long before we come on the scene. Christ is in history, but the Spirit is not, so Christ is, and is not, identifiable by history. The Spirit is always there to support the Son and to be the go-between between him and us. Only the communion sanctified, by the Spirit, can say that Christ is not buried by history, like all other men. Only the one who is raised, is able to raise others, and the corollary is that he has mobilized a sanctified communion for us. In Colin Gunton’s words ‘Just as the Spirit frees Jesus to be himself, so it is with those who are ‘in Christ’, that, is in the community of his people’ (p. 183).
But the hermeneutics which are not shaped by the church cannot make our doctrine Christian. If Christ is without the Holy Spirit he is merely an individual, and for us a figure in history. So New Testament studies imagines we will find Jesus in the first century simply by distinguishing him from all other first century persons. Any historical discipline will assume that Christ is sealed in history, trapped like a lone miner deep down there in the past. Perhaps they no longer hope to bring him out whole, but each historical science intends to recover some part of his body. If Christ is without the Holy Spirit, he will need assistance to meet us, and our hermeneutical apparatus must provide that assistance. We are then the ground of our encounter with Christ and Christian doctrine must be aided by these ancillary disciplines.
If we construct a christology without the Spirit, Christ is an individual, without his people, and confined to the past, and so will all his people be. They will need a resurrection, but so will he, and so the past will have the last word about them both. But it is the other way around: it is not Christ but we who is held by the confines of time.
Doctrine that is Christian teaches that Christ is always with the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit can hold him out of our reach, so we cannot individualise him, that is, make ourselves the means of his particularity. Christ cannot be separated from the whole people of God. Christ makes himself known through that communion that the Spirit sanctifies for the purpose, that specific community, the saints and teachers of the church. This requires scholarly attention to the Church, its teachers, its worship, its sacraments, gifts and offices and the whole Constantinian shooting match.
Each of the teachers recognised by the Church represents some bundle of skills that we need now. They are Christ’s skills, and the teachers of the church are the mode in which Christ supplies them and teaches us how to use them. The Spirit dispenses the teaching of the Church to us through slow process of our sanctification, which involves not so much inert data or contextless skills but a specific set of sanctified relationships. The saints and teachers that make up the Christian tradition are not among the undifferentiated dead, for the Holy Spirit has distinguished them from all others, and pressed them into our service.
The Holy Spirit is the ground of our encounter, not us, so our meeting is enabled by the communion that is God, and not the communion that is man-without-God. This brings us to what must be Colin Gunton’s most famous phrase, the concept of mediation. Who will assist at this reconciliation between God and man? There on the one side is Christ, there on the other side are we. Now who can prevent us from panicking and fleeing if Christ takes even one step towards us? Any step he takes will surely be an outrage to our freedom. Who can be go-between in this encounter? First, can we help? Can we help him help us? If we can help, which of us? If we plump for all of us, the baptised and the unbaptised equally, the choice of who gets to help is actually made by those in universities who will choose the hermeneutists of the moment.
Many unsanctified go-betweens offer their services: Protagoras, Kant, Hegel and Nietzsche are those who get a mention in ‘The One, the Three and The Many’. Each of them is offering to help Christ reach us. If Christ needs even the slightest help from them, he is no good to us. Many spirits want to help us reach Christ, but we must decline their offer.
If Christian doctrine is the teaching of the Church, the Spirit who the church into existence is the go-between. One only is holy, and he only can provide the mediation. One way in which he carries out this role is by assigning a particular set of hermeneutists to serve us, that authorized panel of experts whom we call the saints and teachers of the Church. The one Spirit gives us his servants, the sanctified, the many spirits made obedient: let us name a representative canon again – Irenaeus, Athanasius, Basil, Augustine, Luther, Calvin, Barth – the Fathers, the Reformers, even a couple of contemporaries. These are those made translucent to Christ for us, and though none of them is sufficient, and the place of each in our canon is still provisional, we must receive them as the gift of the Spirit and the whole mediation of God for us. If we do not name Irenaeus, Barth and company as our explicit panel of experts by which we unpack Christian doctrine, Parmenides and Kant will remain our implicit panel of experts. If we do not name these saints as the gift of God for our good, then these other unholy spirits will certainly propel the church and its doctrine to places we don’t want to go. Now it is entirely necessary to remain in dialogue with Parmenides and company, but it is a disaster if we think we can replace the elect hermeneutists who make up the Christian apprenticeship with any others.
The sanctified disciplines of the Church represent a far more sophisticated hermeneutics than is available to our secular colleagues. The Church is the communion sanctified by the Spirit for the world, and the saints and teachers are sanctified for the church, and so dedicated to the task of keeping the church distinct from the world – for the world’s sake. The Church must hear its own sanctified teachers, and it must teach what it receives from them. The Church is the mediation, spiritually discerned and received, that the Spirit provides by which we can be brought to Christ. The teaching of Church, its saints and teachers, must be taught for its own sake. It must also be offered to the public arena, and examined and tested there. On occasion the Church can learn some lesson from the world in the gospel that it had neglected. The church needs the university to test its teaching, and the university needs the huge ambition of the Christian doctrine of man in order to raise the ambition of the humanities.
8. Christian doctrine here and now
We have to demonstrate to the Church that it needs theology. We have to persuade the churches that the Christian life requires an interaction with the whole Christian tradition, and that to flourish long-term the Church needs to be fed by all the doctors of the Church.
We did not get the churches in London to fund a single lectureship in evangelical or Reformed theology, or even Catholic, or Orthodox, or any kind of theology that could not be turned into history or hermeneutics. Now everyone is in hurry to move on from doctrine of God to what they are sure is more urgent. But even ‘ministry’ is not more urgent than the doctrine of God. Despite lots of individual involvement in ministry, we have not yet given a theological academic account of the Church, worship or Church order, and demonstrated that ecclesiology is a theological discipline. We have to show that the doctrine of God not only demands ecclesiology but it generates it, and can keep it from disintegrating into religious sociology. Whilst we studying and teaching the doctrine of God we should also have to make the institutional arrangements by which we can continue to do so. When we do not do this the Christian tradition can be bumped out of the university whenever a Humanities appointments committee feels like it.
Colin Gunton demonstrated that the Spirit give us many teachers, and that all their lesson is Christ. He showed us that Irenaeus is the gift of the Spirit to us by which we can identify the gnosticism of our own age, that Athanasius is the gift who shows us that Christ is unity of God with man, God with his creation, against the dualism of our age. Each teacher represents for us a set of tools by which we can assess diagnose the present ascertain our position. Colin Gunton tooled up with Calvin, Owen, Coleridge, Irving and Barth. We have to tool up too.
If the Lord is faithful, he will give his church teachers. So let us ask which British contemporaries could Church possibly receive as the gifts from God for another generation? Lesslie Newbigin, Colin Gunton, Tom Torrance, Oliver O’Donovan, Tom Wright, Tom Smail. Tell the evangelical churches that these are not distant intellectual giants, but friends, co-workers in the gospel, our lot. It is unacceptable that their books are not found in the bookshop at HTB or New Wine. The Church must nourish itself from teachers such as these, and must know that it continues to produce teachers. What makes these the apostles for us? It is because each of them refers us onwards to the rest of the saints, Reformers and Fathers.
Yet our churches import their spirituality very unselectively from the States. They suffer from the same short-termism as modernity, and so are unable to help it. Is our charismatic church really just endearingly fluffy-headed? Is the emergent movement really just ‘another way’ of ‘doing’ church? Or is this the Church, hollowed out by modernity, refusing to take the deposit of faith entrusted to it for modernity’s sake, and so handing Christ away?
I believe that the next generation of ministers will have to be more seriously proofed against the battering they will receive, so they should be dunked more deeply in the font, not less deeply. The Church that hopes to thrive will have to know this and pay for it. I see the Church still casting around for secular sources of permission to say what it has to say. The Church must stop looking round for other sources of authority. It has to realise that it is the humanities, the university and public reason that have lost connection with good traditions and that it is they that are suffering a crisis. The church itself suffers no such crisis, for it has the resources of Christ mediated to us by the Spirit and his communion. We have to tell our leaders that the Church has the authority of Christ, and that this is spelled out for us by the doctrine of the Church.
Let me re-cap –
The doctrines of the Son and Spirit are the way to talk about God. God is the way to talk about being human. Keeping theology theological is the way to offer the best, the true, definition of human being, and make the best contribution to the humanities. The church must teach theology. The Church needs the testing of the world in order to remain a good witness, so its theology must be tested and taught, also, in the university. Theology cultivates a memory and tradition which keeps our intellectual ambitions high, so theology is good for the university. But the Church cannot please the world, nor should it try to. The best thing the church can do for the world is be distinct. It does this by knowing its own teaching. This takes time and patience, which we are likely to give it only when we understand how important it is. The contemporary Church is afraid that it is intellectually inferior, but it has no need to be. Christian traditions are more sophisticated than secular traditions. Modernity is short-termism, Christian discipleship is long-termism. Finally back to the theology.
9. The two hands of the Father
Colin Gunton was intrigued by Irenaeus’ insight that the Son and the Spirit are the two hands of the Father. Why is Christ accompanied at every significant moment by the Holy Spirit? Why is it by the Holy Spirit that Christ rose from the dead? (Romans 8.11) Why didn’t Christ raise himself, for being God, death could never have held him?
The Spirit distinguishes the Son from all others and thus makes him an ‘individual’. The individuality of the Son is the act of the Spirit. Likewise Christ’s freedom to be for us, and so his unity with us is the act of the Holy Spirit. Christ is free to be for us, without reservation, so he alone is able to mediate directly between every two human beings. ‘It is not therefore something which holds things together, but someone: the one through whom, in the unity of the Father and the Spirit, all things have their being.’ What is there between you and me that enables us to be together and yet remain distinct? First there is God, directly. Secondly and subordinately there is the whole economy and provision of God, which the form of the very particular community of those sanctified for our benefit – the saints and teachers of the church. Our hermeneutist is the Holy Spirit and all he sanctified for the purpose. These saints and teachers are truly enabled by the Spirit to serve us by mediating between us and Christ; they do not come between us and Christ, for they are not saints for one nanosecond apart from the Holy Spirit. There is no christology without pneumatology, and all pneumatology must be expressed in terms of Christ, together with his people. The Spirit oversees the whole Christology department, of which all the sciences of humanity are a sub-department.
Why didn’t Christ raise himself from the dead by his own power? Christ has come within the bounds which we inhabit, and has broken them and leads us out of them. But it is not simply Christ’s (divine) exercise of power that saves us, but his power exercised in service that allows freedom. He exercises his freedom in waiting for each one of us.
The Holy Spirit puts the question to Christ of whether he is ready to wait, specifically, for you, and for me. Then Christ can make the choice freely at each moment, whether he is indeed willing and ready to be for you, for me, so that we may indeed become particular and unique creatures. So he also waits until each of us decides that we will follow. We have to want to be free of death and so pray to exchange one master, death, for the other, Christ, and so the Holy Spirit enables to call Christ. Because Christ holds out this life and gives each of us all the time we need to take it from him, it is not a unilateral imposition. We do not lose, but rather gain, our identity in accepting it, and in time his act for us becomes our act too.
The Spirit assists Christ with this long wooing. He interprets us to him and him to us. The Spirit humbles himself before each one of us and he is able to outlast the resistance each of us puts up. For our sake he subordinates himself to every other hypostasis, so that we can receive them, and doing so without having to receive them, and so without coercion. Because the Holy Spirit subordinates himself to Christ and to us, he leaves no trace of himself. But having prepared the place for us, he withdraws just we enter, like a good servant, so that it may be entirely ours. It is not the case that the Holy Spirit has been wrongly subordinated or devalued by the theological tradition, for he subordinates himself.
The Holy Spirit makes the communion of God visible here on earth, by faith. The Spirit makes this communion present as many persons who, being sanctified as his witnesses, can never be absorbed into the world. The difference of the Church from the world, is the means by which God prepares the world for its future, for this sanctified plurality, the Church, is the foretaste of the future plurality of the world.
The pagans will not last. They are in a terrible hurry, for they are trapped in history, and they know they are. But though we may all be in history, in-turned, dead to one another, we are not secure from the call of God; we will be raised and brought face to face, with those we were avoiding, with those we assumed were gone and could not be raised. With much more patience that we can imagine, our resurrection is waiting for us. It is our extraordinary privilege to be witnesses to this, and this is what makes Christian doctrine all joy.