Wednesday, October 27, 2010

The It Spirit

"She told the council that "the Holy Spirit dwells among us, it dwells and presides in the councils of the church. What a council seeks to understand by its debates and votes is not the mind of the majority of its church members. We seek to understand the mind of the Holy Spirit." "

A theological question: can an 'it' or impersonal being have a 'mind'?

(I am not giving a link to the citation, though it is easy enough to find, because the issue here, for me, is not who said this or the ecclesial context in which it was said, but simply the question whether the delicate issue of how we address or refer to the Holy Spirit is assisted by avoiding both 'he' and 'she').


Doug Chaplin said...

Well, outside the Johannine writings, most of the NT technically refers to the Spirit as "it" since pneuma is neuter. Go back a testament and ruach is feminine.

Or another take, when we refer to a child as "it" we're not suggesting it can't have a mind.

I wonder if this may be reading to much into a pronoun in a language whose greatest limits become apparent in the ways we use it to explore a theological vocabulary which originated in and was transmitted by languages in which all nouns and not only personal ones are gender marked.

Peter Carrell said...

It could be reading too much into the pronoun, Doug. And the point about 'pneuma' being neuter is an important observation.

I wonder though about the child being 'it' and connecting that with 'mind' ... once we started to speak about the child having a mind, might we not then start to speak personally about the child and thus use 'he' or 'she'?

Anonymous said...

"Neuter" is simply a classification of nouns in Greek (and Latin) that may have little or nothing to do with sex. (Gender is a grammatical category.) Many Greek nouns (usually diminutives) denoting humans are formally neuter.
Hebrew doesn't have a neuter, but the fact that 'ruach' is formally feminine doesn't necessarily mean that spirits were thought of as feminine. (Sometimes they were, in Jewish intertestamental writing.)
But since Christian theology affirms the personality and deity of the Holy Spirit, it is strange not to say 'He'. But hey, this is Bonnie Anderson speaking! to be fair, I have heard the same careless talk from Pentecostals.
Neuter pronouns and personal actions like thinking and feeling work fine in NT Greek, but much less so in modern English. And I don't think you could get away with calling a child 'it' outside a Victorian novel.
Al M.