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The Spirit of Augustine’s Early Theology, reviewed by Tony Richie

Augustine’s Roman writings (387-88 AD) form the basis of Chapter Three on “The Spirit of Love.” Here Augustine’s redemptive pneumatology, the preeminent Christian virtue of love, and meditations on the Spirit’s eternal mode of being are distilled and related. According to Gerber, it appears that apparently these writings implicitly present “a tacit intra-Trinitarian love-pneumatology” that will later become prominent in Augustine’s pneumatology.

Chapter Four on “The Creative Spirit of God” from the Thagastan writings (389-91 AD) analyzes profound developments in Augustine’s pneumatology. Now the Spirit is seen to have a distinct place within the economy of creation. Augustine’s earlier “love-pneumatology” now must be understood in the light of this important development regarding his “order-pneumatology” with its triadic structure of creation as created by the Father through the Son in the Holy Spirit. Most significantly, Augustine is able to synthesize these two different emphases in his pneumatology. Gerber concludes that Augustine was committed to the theological tradition of Nicea but extended and expanded it. However, Augustine employed the philosophical tradition also. Above all, Gerber claims, Augustine “As a Catholic theologian was committed to the Spirit of God and to the Spirit’s continuous work in the life and thought of the Church.”

According to Gerber’s analysis, we continue to see signs in Augustine of a careful and creative synthesis of pro-Nicene theology and Neoplatonist philosophy. Early on this seems to have been more of a naïve infatuation that was adjusted with advancing maturity and development. Throughout his career, whenever Augustine discovered conflicts between Neoplationism and Christianity, he always adhered to the latter. However, at his early stage he is obviously enchanted with Plotinus and seeking to express his own theology in terms agreeable to it. Important to remember is that his circle of intellectual Christian friends would have had similar tendencies. In any case, the primary and, more importantly, the determinative, sources of Augustine’s theology were the Holy Scriptures and the pro-Nicene patristic theological heritage.

First, this book is not a study of Augustine’s overall theology or his mature pneumatology. It carefully focuses on the beginnings of Augustine’s thought processes regarding the Holy Spirit. For those wondering, “Where was Augustine coming from with his pneumatology?” this is the book. However, many topics that pneumatologists are often interested in, such Augustine’s monumental impact on subsequent pneumatology through ideas such as “double procession,” or the Holy Spirit’s procession as the Spirit of God and of Christ from both the Father and the Son, and his subsequent and controversial filioque addition to the Nicene Creed, are not the subject of this study. (However, the beginnings of Augustine’s thoughts on the Spirit’s mission and procession may be discerned in a comparative manner.) Further, Pentecostals and Charismatics will not find this book a resource regarding Augustine’s complex positions on the charismata or spiritual gifts. Regarding glossolalia, he was a cessationist in that he claimed speaking in tongues was only for the first century Church. Regarding miracles, he was a non-cessationist in that he described miracles and healings as occurring in his own day. But again, such issues are not the focus of Gerber’s investigation. For a brief survey of historical pneumatology including issues such as these, I’d recommend Stanley Burgess’s article on “Doctrine of the Holy Spirit: The Ancient Fathers,” in The New International Dictionary of the Pentecostal and Charismatic Movements (Zondervan, 2202). For more thorough works, see Veli-Matti Kärkkäinen’s Pneumatology: The Holy Spirit in Ecumenical, International, and Contextual Perspective (Baker 2002) or Mark Cartledge’s Encountering the Spirit: The Charismatic Tradition (Orbis, 2007).

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Category: In Depth

About the Author: Tony Richie, D.Min, Ph.D., is missionary teacher at SEMISUD (Quito, Ecuador) and adjunct professor at the Pentecostal Theological Seminary (Cleveland, TN). Dr. Richie is an Ordained Bishop in the Church of God, and Senior Pastor at New Harvest in Knoxville, TN. He has served the Society for Pentecostal Studies as Ecumenical Studies Interest Group Leader and is currently Liaison to the Interfaith Relations Commission of the National Council of Churches (USA), and represents Pentecostals with Interreligious Dialogue and Cooperation of the World Council of Churches and the Commission of the Churches on International Affairs. He is the author of Speaking by the Spirit: A Pentecostal Model for Interreligious Dialogue (Emeth Press, 2011) and Toward a Pentecostal Theology of Religions: Encountering Cornelius Today (CPT Press, 2013) as well as several journal articles and books chapters on Pentecostal theology and experience.

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