- God's Love through the Spirit: The Holy Spirit in Thomas Aquinas & John Wesley by Kenneth M. Loyer
In this ambitious and substantial volume, Kenneth Loyer offers an interesting examination of the "pneumatological resonance" (225) between Thomas Aquinas and John Wesley, demonstrating the ongoing relevance of their teaching on love and the Holy Spirit for contemporary theology. These two theologians, with their differences in doctrine, method, and historical context, may seem unlikely conversation partners, but Loyer effectively shows that, in dialogue, they provide a rich source of renewal in the Spirit for Wesleyans and Thomists alike. Loyer argues that a constructive retrieval of [End Page 155] Aquinas and Wesley on the Holy Spirit can help to remedy a number of deficits in contemporary Christian theology, not least the often-lamented "pneumatological deficiency" of the modern West. Renewed theological attention has in recent years been given to the Holy Spirit, in conjunction with a renaissance in historical theology in some Catholic and Methodist circles. Loyer locates himself fruitfully in the stream of this ressourcement.
Loyer's project has several interrelated goals. His primary concern is the malaise he perceives in contemporary Methodist theology. Loyer, himself a Methodist pastor, presents in chapter 1 a respectful yet penetrating critique of Methodist theological reflection today, which too often, he argues, "tends to end up reflecting the human spirit and its multifaceted quest for liberation more than it reflects the Spirit of God, who . . . gives the human spirit its true freedom" (3). This "secularization of the doctrine of sanctification" is manifested by a preference for the generic language of "grace" over reference to the Holy Spirit or Trinity, a "grazing over the Spirit" that mutes Wesley's own pneumatological tone (6-7). This elision of the Spirit in contemporary Methodism is seen most clearly in "the common reduction of the Spirit's work to political projects" (7). Loyer argues that to try to bring about the reign of God on earth by an overly narrow focus on socioeconomic concerns, without attention to theological foundations, is ultimately self-defeating. His concern is well founded and raises questions about the task of theology that are equally relevant for Catholics today. Although theology cannot ignore social justice, "justice" is not about "just us" (13). Loyer argues that Methodist theology must develop a more robust doctrine of the Spirit lest it lapse into "theological irrelevance" (16). His solution to the problem—a retrieval of Wesley and Aquinas—skillfully underlines the perennial value of the historical tradition for contemporary theology.
Loyer presents Wesley's "practical theology" of sanctifying love in the Spirit in chapter 2. Here he shows convincingly that in spite of Wesley's avowed intent to distance himself from overly Scholastic modes of teaching, and his sometimes imprecise manner of expression, his doctrine of sanctification is still substantially Trinitarian and pneumatological. Loyer argues that although Wesley rarely delves into questions about the immanent life of God, he is nevertheless stoutly Trinitarian, rejecting a doctrinal and practical Unitarianism that would undermine salvation. His sermons and hymn texts reveal an implicit experiential theology that teaches that, through the restoration of the divine image by growth in love, especially in the Eucharist, we become "Transcripts of the Trinity" (52). An underlying theme here is Loyer's attempt to redress another "problem"—this time in the reception of Wesley's theology. Overly anthropocentric readings of Wesley that misunderstand the doctrine of Christian perfection as "perfectionism" have led to claims of its irrelevance. On the contrary, Loyer argues, Wesley's own notion of "participation in God" as the meaning of sanctifying love is [End Page 156] dynamic and theocentric, the work of the Holy Spirit, and can contribute to a more robust development of the doctrine of Christian perfection. This participation in God, through the Spirit, has as its end a life of perfect love in communion with God and neighbor. Wesley, in sum, is a "soteriologist...