The Identity of the Holy Spirit: A Problem in Trinitarian Theology | John Webster

Christian theology has been traditionally reticent in its talk of the Holy Spirit. In his Letters to Serapion, one of the classic texts of Christian pneumatology, Athanasius counselled restraint in view of the ineffability of the Spirit as one who entirely transcends the world of creatures. Such restraint is, however, not simply the fruit of due modesty before the divine realities. It is also the result of the fact that Christian theologians have frequently experienced great difficulty in specifying exactly how the Spirit is to be differentiated from the other two divine persons. It has, moreover, often proved very difficult to mark out areas of the divine work which are the Spirit’s special preserve. A very precise account of the identity of the Spirit has, in other words, not uncommonly eluded Christian thinkers. It has, furthermore, often been remarked that the development of the doctrine of the Spirit’s divinity seems little more than a ‘tidying-up’ process which brought Christian beliefs about the Spirit into line with Christian beliefs about the Son or Word. If this judgment is true—and there are undoubtedly close structural parallels between the arguments used for the divinity of both Son and Spirit’—some would see it as underlining the difficulty (and even perhaps impropriety) of identifying the Spirit as a separate divine person. [Read more]