Friday, June 08, 2007

For the record: an exchange between Scott Hahn & Dale Vree

Scott Hahn recently responded in a letter to the editor of the New Oxford Review to criticisms of his views of the Holy Spirit as follows:
In response to your New Oxford Note "A Little Bit of Gnosticism" (Feb.) about me, I have to wonder whether you read what I wrote about the Holy Spirit.

First, I expressly deny that the Holy Spirit is feminine, in both the hardcover and paperback editions of my book First Comes Love. In this connection, I cite the Catechism of the Catholic Church, and its teaching about God: "He is neither man nor woman. God is pure spirit in which there is no place for the difference between the sexes. But the respective 'perfections' of man and woman reflect something of the infinite perfection of God: those of a mother and those of a father and husband" (#370).

Second, I always refer to the Holy Spirit as "He" -- never "She" -- in all my writings and teachings.

Third, it is absurd to say that modern defenders of Gnosticism (such as Elaine Pagels) derive any support whatsoever from exploratory study of maternal aspects of God and the Holy Spirit, whether by me or the orthodox Catholics I cite (e.g., St. Ephrem, St. Methodius, St. Catherine of Siena, St. Maximilian Kolbe, St. Edith Stein, Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger, Reginald Garrigou-Lagrange, Louis Bouyer, Matthias Scheeben).

Fourth, what you imply about me supporting lesbian marriage is unspeakably vile and slanderous. And on what basis do you argue: That if the Spirit has a maternal function, then Jesus had two mommies? The same twisted and perverse logic could be turned right around to show that Dale Vree, the Editor of the NOR, must support gay marriage between men: "If the Spirit's role is really paternal, then Jesus had two daddies -- at least (the first and third Persons of the Trinity), not to mention St. Joseph." As I said, this is twisted and perverse.

Your readers deserve better. Indeed, I invite them to read my chapter and judge for themselves, which they can now find online (courtesy of Doubleday).
NOR Editor, Dale Vree, replied as follows:
Yes, we read what you say about the Holy Spirit carefully, twice and sometimes thrice.

(1) Just to cite your paperback version. You do say the Holy Spirit is feminine. You say: "In Syriac as in Hebrew, the word for Spirit, ruah, is feminine, and so it ordinarily called for a feminine pronoun" (p. 160). You say: "Christians often interpreted the Bible's wisdom passages as referring to the Holy Spirit.... In the Book of Wisdom, chapters 7-9, God's Wisdom is referred to as 'holy spirit'.... The Hebrew word for Wisdom, hokmak, is also feminine..." (p. 161). You say: "Dominican theologian Father Benedict Ashley.... concludes 'it is to the Third Person of the Trinity...that the Old Testament descriptions of the feminine Wisdom are applied.' And his conclusion seems very reasonable" (p. 162). You say: "Etymology doesn't usually make for good biblical theology; but these cases might be an exception. The great Dominican Thomist Father Reginald Garrigou-Lagrange said: 'Since "Spirit" -- in Hebrew, Ruah -- is of the feminine gender...'" (p. 163). You say: "St. Edith Stein [said]...'Such love is properly the attribute of the Holy Spirit. Thus we can see the prototype of the feminine being in the Spirit of God...'" (p. 165). You wrote it. How can you deny it?

As for your quote from the Catechism (#370), the Catechism preponderantly says that God is our Father (#233, 238-40, 268-70, 272-74, 278, 2779-85, 2794-2802). As you say in a subtext, God is "Still Our Father" (pp. 166-67).

(2) As we said in our New Oxford Note (Feb.), Hahn says: "We know Who the Spirit is by what He does, and what the Spirit does is bridal and maternal..." (italics added). No "He" (the Holy Spirit) can be bridal or maternal. You might just as well have said the Holy Spirit is a "She."

(3) It is not just the modern defenders of gnosticism who say the Holy Spirit is maternal or motherly, it was also the bogus gnostic gospels. In the authentic Gospel of John, Jesus repeatedly calls the Holy Spirit "He" and "Him." And in the Catechism, the Holy Spirit is repeatedly called "he" and "him" (e.g., #683, 687, 1092, 1107, 1129, 2652).

(4) We would be startled if you would support lesbian "marriage," but that's where your argument leads. If Mary was female or maternal, and if the Holy Spirit is female or feminine and maternal, then Jesus had two mommies, which validates lesbian "marriage." No, Dale Vree does not support "gay marriage" between men: The Holy Spirit is paternal and Mary is maternal. That's the proper order.

We said in our New Oxford Note (Feb.) that "Hahn brings in Pope Benedict XVI to support his views.... [But] Hahn completely misreads it [Benedict's June 8, 2005, General Audience]." We noticed that you do not defend that argument -- and you can't.

Yes, we encourage our readers to judge for themselves at your website.
I would urge my readers not to jump to hasty conclusions, but to read and consider both letters with care and sensitivity for the details and nuances of truth, and, in commenting, to do so with considered charity.

[Scott Hahn is Professor of Theology and Scripture at Franciscan University of Steubenville, a popular Catholic speaker, and author of many books, including First Comes Love: Finding Your Family in the Church and the Trinity (Image, Reprint ed., 2006). Dale Vree is founder and editor of the New Oxford Review. The two articles above were originally published under the titles of "Scott Hahn Defends Himself" and "The Editor Replies" in New Oxford Review (May 2007), pp. 10-11, and are reprinted here by kind permission of New Oxford Review, 1069 Kains Ave., Berkeley CA 94706, U.S.A.]

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