Does the Church Support Sungenis' Novel Theories?, by Jonathan Field

Editor's Note: Robert Sungenis is a friend of mine, and someone to whom I owe a lot. He has been a beneficial "mentor" to me, not only in areas of theology and apologetics, but even on a few personal matters as well. My choice to post this article should in no way be construed as a personal attack on Robert, and certainly the author of the piece would echo those sentiments (Mr. Field is also a friend of mine, and I would readily vouch for his genuine spirit and integrity). The points Mr. Field raises in this article are valid, however, and do need to be addressed - which I am sure Robert will do in good time. This piece was originally submitted to The Remnant, but unfortunately, Mr. Field was ignored completely - it has been more than a month now, and he still has yet to receive a response (of any kind) from The Remnant. Since he is not being allowed a "voice" (so to speak) in that forum, I am more than happy to allow him the use of this particular platform, small and insignificant though it may be. I thank Mr. Field for his careful attention to detail, and for his willingness to voice his objections, in spite of the fact that he loathes polemics and controversy, and would much rather say nothing at all. May true Charity win the day.

After reading Mr. Sungenis' short article, Do the Fathers Support Hahn's Maternal Spirit Theory in The Remnant [now online on Robert's web site --jam], I must admit that I am very disappointed at his overall portrayal and treatment of Dr. Scott Hahn. Though I think that a constructive criticism of some of Dr. Hahn's language and formulations would be useful to clarify his underlying insights, the fact is that his "Maternal Spirit" theory teaches nothing that goes outside the perimeters of Catholic orthodoxy as I plan on showing. I also wish to show that Mr. Sungenis' critique of Dr. Hahn's theory is not based on Catholic principles, but rather based on his own self made "rule" which is contrary to the sound teaching of the Church. Finally I plan on showing that Mr. Sungenis' own books introduce novelties that are not only unprecedented in Church history, but are actually contrary to the consensus of Catholic theologians in every age of the Church.

In one of his books, First Comes Love, Dr. Hahn makes certain connections between the Holy Spirit and motherhood based on an ancient Syrian tradition as well as some modern Saints. This should not be shocking to Catholics. The Holy Spirit is called by Pope Pius XII the "Soul of the Church" (Mystici Corporis, 57) because He is the union of charity that bonds all the members of the Church to their Head. Our Lady. as heart of the Mystical Body plays this same exact role in uniting by charity the members of the Church to their Head - "to Jesus through Mary." It is not as though the unitive roles of the Holy Spirit and His Spouse Mary are two different things - rather it is a single work. Our Saints have repeatedly shown that the Holy Spirit never acts without His Spouse, Our Lady.

Even in Catholic tradition the mother of a natural family is seen to be the heart of the home because she unites by love the members of the family with each other and with their head, the father. Where wisdom and justice are usually associated with the man's role as head of the family, unitive charity preeminently belongs to the mother's role, the very heart (love) of the family.

It should not be hard to see that if Mary's maternal role is an analogous role to the Holy Spirit then conversely the Holy Spirit must possess the perfections (not the imperfections) of maternity which are imaged in and participated in by His Spouse, Our Lady. Sound theology teaches that we must predicate by analogy the perfections of all created things into God, their foundation. Though this perfection of natural maternity (unitive charity) belongs by essence to all three Persons of the Trinity (and to Christ), it has always been proper to appropriate charity in a special way to the Holy Spirit, who traditionally is said to be, within the Trinity itself, the very bond of charity between the Father and the Son. The work of Sanctification and Love has always been attributed by the Church to the Holy Spirit in a special way. It is under this aspect (not under the aspect of origin, which is absurd) that the Holy Spirit, in a special way, is "like" a mother in the Blessed Trinity.

Just like the Holy Spirit (with His spouse Mary) is the very union of charity between Jesus (Head of the Church) and the members (offspring of the Church), so also in the Trinity itself the Holy Spirit is the very union of charity between the Father (Head of the Trinity) and the Word (eternal Son or offspring in the Trinity).

St Thomas investigates the role of the Holy Spirit as the love or unity between the Father and the Son from different angles. Dr. Hahn's theory can be reconciled with Tradition as long as we do not view it under the aspect of origin (order of procession) but rather simply as the bond of charity which is the very union the Father and the Son. Notice how St. Thomas answers those objectors who would deny a unitive role to the Holy Spirit (by charity), on account of the fact that He is not the second person but rather the third person who proceeds from both.

Objection 3: Further, Love is the bond between lovers, for as Dionysious says (Div. Nom. iv): "Love is a unitive force." But a bond is a medium between what it joins together, not something proceeding from them. Therefore, since the Holy Ghost proceeds from the Father and the Son, as was shown above (36, 2), it seems that He is not the Love or bond of the Father and the Son.

Reply to Objection 3: The Holy Ghost is said to be the bond of the Father and Son, inasmuch as He is Love; because, since the Father loves Himself and the Son with one Love, and conversely, there is expressed in the Holy Ghost, as Love, the relation of the Father to the Son, and conversely, as that of the lover to the beloved. But from the fact that the Father and the Son mutually love one another, it necessarily follows that this mutual Love, the Holy Ghost, proceeds from both. As regards origin therefore, the Holy Ghost is not the medium [bond], but the third person in the Trinity; but as regards the afore-mentioned relation He is the bond between the two persons, as proceeding from both. (Summa Theologica, First Part, Q. 37, Art. 1, emphasis added)

Mr. Sungenis not only refuses to acknowledge the underlying insights which Dr. Hahn tries to bring out - gently trying to refine them - but also grossly attributes things to him that he never said. Mr. Sungenis, curiously, admits in his article that there is a legitimate sense according to the Fathers that we can apply what he calls feminine "analogies" to the Trinity - but then he accuses Dr. Hahn of going beyond this and raising these "analogies" to an "ontological" status.

This is purely gratuitous on his part. Nowhere does Dr. Hahn say or even suggest that these analogies (or what more accurately should be called metaphors) should be raised to an ontological status. Dr. Hahn does not even use this word. Certainly Dr. Hahn can be criticized for certain ambiguities in his book, and certainly traditional Catholics should be concerned that attributing feminine qualities to God could easily be misunderstood by many modern Catholics who lack a sound basis in both Tradition and Catholic philosophy, but it is simply wrong to attribute things to Dr. Hahn that he has never said. This is neither just nor charitable.

Mr. Sungenis says that Dr. Hahn has virtually no support among the Latin Fathers. He goes on to say that there are four rather obscure references in the Eastern Fathers, namely, Ss. Methodius, Ephrem, Apharahat and Narsai. He says that "the great names we normally associate with eastern theology are missing, such as Anthanasius, Basil, Chrysostom, Gregory and many others." He goes on to say that the "rule" determining what is orthodox in the Fathers is that "The prominent and authoritative Fathers must offer their support and there must be a consensus between them."

The first problem is that he fails to tell us that St. Basil did see a feminine role to the Holy Spirit, basing himself on a Syrian Father - most likely St. Ephrem:

How then did the Spirit of God move upon the waters? The explanation that I am about to give you is not an original one, but that of a Syrian, who was as ignorant in the wisdom of this world as he was versed in the knowledge of the Truth. He said, then, that the Syriac word was more expressive, and that being more analogous to the Hebrew term it was a nearer approach to the scriptural sense. This is the meaning of the word; by "was borne" the Syrians, he says, understand: it cherished the nature of the waters as one sees a bird cover the eggs with her body and impart to them vital force from her own warmth. Such is, as nearly as possible, the meaning of these words-the Spirit was borne: let us understand, that is, prepared the nature of water to produce living beings: a sufficient proof for those who ask if the Holy Spirit took an active part in the creation of the world. (Hexaemeron, Homily 2, 6)

Secondly, he plays down the authority of the Syrian Fathers because we do not normally associate them with the "great names." The problem is that Mr. Sungenis does not alert his readers that the Church has associated one of those Syrian Fathers, St. Ephrem, with "the great names" by elevating him to the status of Universal Doctor of the Church.

Pope Benedict XV writes:

We speak of St. Ephrem the Syrian, whom Gregory of Nyssa compared to the River Euphrates because he "irrigated by his waters the Christian community to bring forth fruits of faith a hundred-fold." We speak of Ephrem, whom all the inspired orthodox Fathers and Doctors, including Basil, Chrysostom, Jerome, Francis of Sales, and Alphonsus Liguori, praise. We are pleased to join these heralds of truth, who though separated from each other in talent, in time and place, nevertheless perfect a harmony modulated by "one and the same spirit." ... Indeed when Jerome testifies about the writings of Ephrem in his day, he tells us that they were read in public liturgical assemblies along with the works of the orthodox Fathers and Doctors He also affirms that he recognized "the sublimity of Ephrem's genius even in the translations" of these same works from the Syrian into Greek ... Therefore, having invoked the Holy Spirit, by Our Supreme Authority, We confer upon St. Ephrem the Syrian, Deacon of Edessa, the title and the honors of Doctor of the Universal Church. We decree that his feastday, which is the 18th of June, is to be celebrated everywhere the birthdays of the other doctors of the Universal Church are celebrated." (Principi Apostolorum Petro)

The Church has clearly placed St. Ephrem among the prominent Fathers.

My third objection is to Mr. Sungenis' so-called "rule" which claims that the prominent and authoritative Fathers must offer their support, and that there must be a consensus. Does Mr. Sungenis care to show us where the Church teaches that new theories must be explicitly in the consensus of the Fathers?

The Church does not teach that everything we hold must be found in the consensus of Fathers. What She does teach is that when there is a consensus among the Fathers on any issue then we must follow them and never teach anything contrary to them.

Furthermore, in order to restrain petulant spirits, It decrees, that no one, relying on his own skill, shall, in matters of faith, and of morals pertaining to the edification of Christian doctrine, wresting the sacred Scripture to his own senses, presume to interpret the said sacred Scripture contrary to that sense which holy mother Church, whose it is to judge of the true sense and interpretation of the holy Scriptures, hath held and doth hold; or even contrary to the unanimous consent of the Fathers; even though such interpretations were never (intended) to be at any time published. (Council of Trent, Decree Concerning the Edition and Use of the Sacred Books)

If there is a minority position, and a majority position which is contrary to the minority, then it is usually safer for us to go with the majority - although the Church does not condemn us for taking a minority position. And where there is a wide variety of opinion then each is free to follow his own interpretation as long as it does not oppose any clear teaching of the Church:

In those things which do not come under the obligation of faith, the Saints were at liberty to hold divergent opinions as we are. (Pope Leo XIII, Proventissumus Deus)

Dr. Hahn does not violate any of the above rules, even though Mr. Sungenis would have it so. The Church does not teach that our personal insights must already be found explicitly in the consensus of the Fathers. What the Church does teach is that we cannot teach a doctrine that is contrary to the consensus of Fathers. In order for Dr. Hahn to fall under the condemnation of the Church's rule it would have to be demonstrated that the consensus of the Fathers unanimously and clearly taught that it is an error to assign a feminine role to the Holy Spirit. The Fathers say no such thing.

He further obscures the issue by implying that we must go with the majority view - the "consensus of prominent and authoritative Fathers." Again this is a distortion. It is evidently safer to go with the majority view when the majority is teaching something contrary to the minority. But this does not apply to Dr. Hahn since his view, though only held by a minority, is not contrary to the majority of Fathers for the simple reason that the majority of Fathers have nothing to say on this question at all. Therefore Dr. Hahn is perfectly free to follow the minority.

Also implied in Mr. Sungenis' "rule" is that one must always find explicit support for one's insights in the Fathers. Of course, all true speculations will be implicitly contained in Divine Revelation, but nowhere has the Church taught that everything we say must have already been said before, in black and white. According to this novelty, we would only be confined to the insights of those approved teachers who went before us, and not permitted to develop any new insights of our own. But this "rule" is self-destructing since, if it were true, it would have to apply to every stage of the Church's history.

In the early Church the Fathers applied the vision of the "Woman" in the Apocalypse (12:1) to the Church (as well as Israel). For example:

By the woman then clothed with the sun, he meant most manifestly the Church. (St. Hippolytus, Treatise on Christ and Antichrist, 61)

It was only centuries later that the scholastic theologians began to apply this image primarily to Our Lady.

Often there are theologians and preachers who, following in the footsteps of the holy Fathers, have been rather free in their use of events and expressions taken from Sacred Scripture to explain their belief in the Assumption ... Moreover, the scholastic Doctors have recognized the Assumption of the Virgin Mother of God as something signified, not only in various figures of the Old Testament, but also in that woman clothed with the sun whom John the Apostle contemplated on the Island of Patmos. (Pope Pius XII, Munificentissimus Deus)

When the scholastics began teaching this "novelty" they did not have any explicit support in the Fathers before them. I fear that if some traditionalists had lived in medieval times they would have had all kinds of ingenious arguments to show the scholastics that they must stick with the Fathers and not engage in "novelty" and idle speculation. This is only one out of countless novelties that have entered our Catholic Tradition [Another example: Genesis 6:1ff, in which the "sons of God" mate with the "daughters of Men," had traditionally been interpreted by the Fathers as teaching that fallen angels mated with human women; it was not until St. Augustine and St. John Chrysostom that the "novel" reading of the "sons of God" as the children of Seth, and the "daughters of Men" as the children of Cain, arose in the Church -- jam].

Therefore not all novelties are bad. The ones that are developments of Catholic doctrines are encouraged by the Church. The ones that are corruptions, opposed to the consensus or clear teaching of Popes and Councils, are heartily rejected by the Church.

This is why Pope Pius XII can say in Divino Afflante Spiritu:

... all should abhor that intemperate zeal which imagines that whatever is new should for that very reason be opposed or suspected ... Let them bear in mind ... there are but a few texts whose sense has been defined by the authority of the Church, nor are those more numerous about which the teaching of the Fathers is unanimous ... therefore ... the skill of Catholic commentators may and ought to be freely exercised. (DAS, 47)

The "rule" laid out above by Mr. Sungenis is a "novelty" which is contradicted by his own Church, as well as Catholic history.

Certainly, Mr. Sungenis can dig up quotes from the Popes that condemn innovation. But if those documents are read carefully, they do not condemn valid developments in biblical research, such as Dr. Hahn undertakes, but only innovations which militate against the sound philosophy of the scholastics. Pope Pius X in Pascendi rightly condemns those innovators who have contempt for the philosophy of the scholastics. These Modernists believe that religion is an immanent and subjective thing; they deny absolute truth and claim that all is in constant flux. They make relative what is absolute truth, explaining away the literal truths in the Bible taught by the Church.

Though Mr. Sungenis has done a fine job refuting the errors of modern historical criticism (born of Modernism), he himself has contempt for scholastic philosophy when it does not fit in with his theories. If anyone would come under the condemnation of Pope Pius X, it would not be Dr. Hahn, but rather, Mr. Sungenis himself.

Mr. Sungenis teaches a highly novel theory in his books which is not only not found in the Fathers, but is in fact contrary to the consensus of Fathers, Doctors and theologians of the Church in every age. He boldly claims, in flat contradiction to 2,000 years of Church history, that it is meaningless to say that there is "no time in eternity." Mr. Sungenis attributes to God all kinds of real change and not merely metaphorical change as all sound teachers have taught.

Below are a few samples of his errors:

"God is an intensely personal being. He loves, He hates, He has joy, He has sorrow, He sings, He laughs, He is jealous, He is kind, He has pity, He has anger ... God's personality is not anthropomorphic. God really has these personal qualities ..." (Not by Faith Alone, pp. 13-14)

"We maintain with Aquinas that God's immutability includes non-potentiality, non newness, and non-movement as long as it is understood that it is God's character that does not constitute potentiality, newness of movement ... Other passages [in Scripture] which indicate that God 'does not change' ... refer only to God's inability to lie, take back an oath He made, tempt one to sin, or reverse decisions based on a capricious whim ... God's immutability does not negate a justifiable change of mind." (Not by Bread Alone, p. 352)

"There is no significance to postulating that God is an 'Eternal Now,' or there is no 'time in eternity.' All that we can conclude is that in eternity time is not calibrated in the same way it is on earth. In the existence of each eternal being, none of them can go back to the previous moment or ahead to the next moment while in the present moment. Whether we say God sees all things in their immediacy, or that all things are known to him simultaneously, does not negate that the Father, Son or Holy Spirit cannot exist in and/or go back to the past or ahead to the future, even though they thoroughly know the past and the future." (ibid., pp. 392-393)

Anyone who has learned even the rudiments of a Catholic education will immediately see the absurdity of predicating potency, time or change to the Godhead. This truly is, in spite of Mr. Sungenis' intentions, an attack on the very essence of God. Mr. Sungenis tries to save himself from condemnation by claiming that the biblical passages that speak of God as "unchanging" only applies to unchangeable character, not in His activities or dispositions. If by this he meant God's causal activity ad extra, he would be on solid ground. But the examples he gives clearly pertain, not to activity, but to passivity - not to the cause, but to the caused.

And so, when he posits time or anger or a change of mind, Mr. Sungenis predicates potency in God. To avoid this very real danger, the scholastics distinguished perfections which can truly be predicated of God by analogy with creatures (e.g. goodness, truth, beauty, paternity) from imperfect notions which can only be predicated of God metaphorically (anger, repentance, change of mind, maternity). Yet Mr. Sungenis tells us that "change of mind" and "time" really exist in God.

Compare the above with a few samples from St. Augustine and St. Thomas Aquinas, two of the Church's most prominent theologians. The views below represent the common thought of Catholic theologians, no matter what philosophical school they may belong to. It can be found in countless catechisms, textbooks, sermons and lectures over the centuries. As far as I am aware, there is not even one teacher in our whole Tradition who has denied the critical truth that God is absolutely immutable.

It is written, I am the Lord, and change not. (Mal. 3,6) I answer that, From what precedes, it is shown that God is altogether immutable. First, there is some being, whom we call God, and that this first being must be pure act, without any admixture of potency, for the reason that, absolutely, potency is posterior to act (Q.III, A. 3). Now everything which is in any way changed is in some way in potency. Hence it is impossible for God to be in any way changeable. (Summa Theologica, First Part, Q.9, art.1)

God's anger implies no perturbation of the divine mind. It is simply the divine judgment passing sentence on sin. And when God "thinks and then has second thoughts" this merely means that changeable realities come into relation with his immutable reason. For God cannot "repent" as human beings repent, of what he has done, since in regard to everything his judgment is fixed as his foreknowledge is clear ... But it is only by the use of such human expressions that Scripture can make its many kinds of readers whom it wants to help to feel, as it were, at home. Only thus can Scripture frighten the proud and arouse the slothful, provoke inquiries and provide food for the convinced. This is possible only when Scripture gets right down to the level of the lowliest readers. (St. Augustine, City of God, 15:25)

Past, present and future do not exist in eternity, which, as we have said, is an instantaneous whole. But the Scriptures use verbs in the past, present and future to apply to God. (Summa, First Part, Q. 9, art. 1, obj. 3)

God is said in turn to repent; not in the sense that his eternal disposition has changed, but some effect of his is changed. Hence Gregory says: "God does not change his plan, though at times he may change his judgment", not, I say, the judgment which expresses his eternal disposition, but the judgment which expresses the order of inferior causes, in accord which Ezechias was to have died, or certain people were to have been punished for their sins. Now such a change of judgment is called God's repentance, using a metaphorical way of speaking, in the sense that God is disposed like one who repents, for whom it is proper to change what he had been doing. In the same way, he is also said, metaphorically, to become angry, in the same sense that, by punishing, He produces the same effect of an angry person. (Summa Contra Gentiles, Bk. 3, Pt. 2, q.96:15)

It is ironic that he accuses Dr. Hahn of raising up feminine metaphors to the ontological level, and then himself raises up mere metaphors of God's "anger" and "change of mind" to the ontological level when it suits his own theories. He may not use these precise words when explaining his theories, but they are clearly implied. Mr. Sungenis says that "God's anger is not metaphorical but real." This is precisely raising it to the ontological level.

Contrast this with Dr. Hahn. Though Dr. Hahn's language is often ambiguous, he comes out and clearly says that it would be an error to call God "Mother" (FCL, p. 138). Implied in this statement is that the Holy Spirit should not be called Mother. Until Dr. Hahn tells us that we should call the Holy Spirit "Mother," we should assume his orthodoxy. Further, he never says that his theory is "not metaphorical but real" - like Mr. Sungenis says of his own theory. This should be enough proof, for anyone reading Hahn charitably, that he does not wish to apply his metaphors in a literal and unqualified sense. The fact that Dr. Hahn uses terms such as "divine maternity" or "feminine dimension" in reference to the Holy Spirit is not the issue. Even Saints like Catherine of Sienna [another Doctor of the Church --jam] called The Holy Spirit "mother" and were never condemned for it. (Dialogues, 141) The real issue is how Dr. Hahn wishes to apply these terms - metaphorically or analogically? If Dr. Hahn did say that he wanted to be understood as predicating maternity to the Holy Spirit, not metaphorically, but rather analogically, then it could be demonstrated that he has committed a material heresy.

Mr. Sungenis has accused Dr. Hahn of teaching novel theories not supported by the Fathers. The fact is that Dr. Hahn is on solid ground, because at least he can find support in the Syrian Fathers (whose greatest representative is St. Ephrem), St Basil, St. Catherine of Sienna, St. Maximillian Kolbe, and St. Edith Stein. Dr. Hahn's theory is not strictly "novel," since it is rooted in so many great Saints. This is a point that Dr. Hahn's opponents constantly miss or refuse to address because it does not fit into their agenda.

Though Dr. Hahn holds only a minority view, the fact is that his theory is not contrary to a majority view which teaches an opposing position. If there is any evidence in the Fathers or Doctors which explicitly teaches that there is not a feminine metaphor in regards to the Holy Spirit, then Mr. Sungenis has the duty to bring forth the evidence.

Mr. Sungenis, on the other hand, is not on solid ground, since theologians at all times have excluded "time" and "change" from the Godhead. The consensus of Fathers and Doctors is contrary to what Mr. Sungenis is teaching.

In regard to the "Anger" of God, he can find only one lone Father who supports his view - Lactantius, who is not even a Doctor or Saint, and who is clearly opposed by the prominent Fathers and Doctors, Ss. Thomas and Augustine, as well as the common thought of theologians in East and West. Not only does he violate the teachings of the Church, he violates his very own "rule" which claims that the authoritative and prominent Fathers must offer support.

I hope that this will be an eye-opener for those in the Traditional movement who think that the leaders on our side are always right, and our opponents are always wrong. Though we must fight the bad novelties or corruptions that are plaguing the Church today, we should not - in our "intemperate zeal" - reject out of hand everything that is new, or be too quick to condemn those outside our "camp," while whitewashing or ignoring those same faults on the inside. In fact, there is too much emphasis on "partisanship," both in the neo-Catholic and traditional camps. It is often expressed in bitter jibes, "whose side are you on?" The earnest Catholic will always be on the side where the truth, justice and charity reign. In this way he will show himself to be a true Traditional Catholic.

Jonathan Field
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