Friday, 24 May 2019
Giovanni Hermanin de Reichenfeld: God is Spirit, or the Spirit is God? Origen’s and Augustine’s Interpretations of the Spirit in John 4:24
The episode of Jesus’ encounter with the Samaritan woman at the well of Jacob and the verse of Jn. 4:24, where God is identified as Spirit, is pivotal in order to understand the roles and functions of the third hypostasis in different patristic theologians. On the one hand, Origen interpreted the Johannine verse as representative of the Holy Spirit’s soteriological role in the human history, rather than of the very essence (οὐσία) of God. On the other hand, Augustine’s exegesis aims to show that, just as the Holy Spirit is the hypostatised love between the Father and the Son which bonds the Trinity together, so he is also the gift of God which is given to human beings to partake in the Trinitarian communion. Consequently, while Origen proposes an exegesis according to which the Spirit could be God, but God cannot properly be called Spirit, Augustine affirms the complete coincidence between the Spirit and God. To what do we owe such an exegetical difference? Are these two completely opposite views about the Holy Spirit or is there a certain continuity between them?The present contribution shall answer these questions by proposing a comparison of the two authors’ understanding of the immanent and soteriological role of the Holy Spirit. In particular, I will show the extent to which their exegetical differences in the interpretation of the Gospel of John reflect a radical change between the theological concerns of the early third and those of the early fifth century.