20 of 22 people found the following review helpful
on 13 October 2013
In this fine book, Sarah Coakley argues that in seeking to engage with the mystery of the Trinity today we need also to take on board the `intrinsic entanglement of human sexuality and spirituality'. Here she offers a systematic theology, a theologie totale, that honours the practice of contemplation, offers a theology that is always in transit, explores the inter-relating between theology and psychology and attends to art, poetry and music. Her `total theology' seeks to overcome all false divides between what we believe and how we live, and between the worlds of thought and feeling.
In this enterprise, Coakley sees Romans 8 as the touchstone for an emerging understanding of the Trinity, including: `When we cry, "Abba! Father!" it is the very Spirit bearing witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs, heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ...' (vv. 15-17). She then traces the story of contemplation and Christian ecstasy within the context of the life-changing equality between Father, Son and Holy Spirit and, where appropriate, their relevance to gender. For example, she shows the link between the Spirit-filled ecstasies of Montanism and the honouring of women in positions of power and authority. A further instance is found in John of the Cross, who alludes to Romans 8 and the `Holy Spirit's action on the "feminized" soul'.
In the later chapters, she offers an intriguing discussion on the tendency to demote the Spirit in the depiction of the Trinity by Christian artists and engages in detail with Gregory of Nyssa and Augustine, their views on the Trinity and their references to gender. For instance, Gregory sees `all three "persons"' as `ultimately unknowable' and argues that desire for God is put `above all else', including our other desires. Dionysius the Areopagite takes the interchange of desire further, attributing an `ecstatic yearning' not only to human beings' longing for God but in God's profound love for his creation.
This beautifully reasoned and timely book has much to say on the Spirit's work in and through contemplation and prayer, not least for today's debate on women in the priesthood and episcopacy.