December 4, 2022


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Jörg Lauster's book review "The Holy Spirit - An Autobiography" - Culture

Jörg Lauster’s book review “The Holy Spirit – An Autobiography” – Culture

Sometimes you get the impression that there are only two literary genres: the novel and the autobiography. Just as the label “novel” has been attached to the most diverse novels, many nonfiction books are presented as “autobiographical”. As for theology, American Jack Miles showed it 25 years ago with his successful but unconvincing autobiography of God. Jörg Laster, Professor of Systematic Theology in Munich, now presents a biography of the Holy Spirit. It is noteworthy that there is nothing similar to report on the second hypostasis of the Trinity. For good reason, because research on Jesus’ life has proven over a century ago that one cannot write an autobiography of Jesus of Nazareth, but rather paint a picture of life and memory. However, notwithstanding all the propagandistic influences, Lauster’s “autobiographical” access to the Holy Spirit makes sense: from the start it differs from psychology, i.e. dogmatic doctrine or abstract speculation. The Protestant theologian would like to tell a spiritual story whose theme is religious, cultural and political experiences with the principle of life in Christianity.

The book comes at the right time. Because if everything was not wrong, the soul would most likely give contemporary access to Christianity. The sharp concept of God repels them, the character of Jesus Christ has come into question for them. But one has already experienced the surge of the soul oneself, or yearns for it. One imagines something refreshing on the inside, that comes from the outside and fills you inside, relaxes and inspires you, creates relationships and remains open to different interpretations.

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Luster seizes the current popularity of the soul in order to mentally deepen it and place it before the broad horizon of the history of Christianity. As he is not only an educated author but also a cultured author who knows how to write with elegance, clarity and intelligibility at the same time, his jigsaw of historical ideas is a joy to read, even for non-theologians. Those who enjoyed his great cultural history of Christianity “The Magic of the World,” published in 2014, won’t be disappointed either.

Strong impulse does not exhaust unlimited spirituality

Essentially, the story of Lauster’s ghost is a continuation and deepening of his cultural history. Because he tries to imagine the soul as an inner force for the history of Christianity. As a Protestant theologian, of course, he first examines the biblical testimony about God’s “breath” that floated on the waters before creation, the enthusiasm of the prophets, the gift of Jesus and the spirit of Paul’s theology. The soul appears as a powerful impulse that does not exhaust itself in an indefinite individual spirituality, but is formed in history.

In the context of ancient Christianity, his work led to the emergence of canon, office, doctrine and sacraments. This indicates the realization of the soul, but also its embodiment and alienation in the ecclesiastical institution. However, if Luster had consulted not only biblical texts but also more recent findings in archaeology, this section would have been less focused on Hegel. Because the religiosity experienced by the early Christians was more mysterious than what is written. Regardless, Lauster’s basic thesis remains plausible that early Christianity, precisely because it believed in a “spirit” deity, gave itself a social form.

Jörg Luster: The Holy Spirit – A Biography, CH Beck Verlag, Munich 2021. 431 pages, €30.

Luster reveals his complete mastery in the sections devoted to two prominent and at the same time suspicious medieval figures: he illuminates their strange and dark theology and draws broad lines from them in the present. In this way, Meister Eckhart established a mysticism that liberated the soul from the decisions of the clergy and was supposed to have a basic history of influence up to Romanticism, Robert Musil or Vaclav Havel. Joachim von Fiore has opened a utopian way of thinking, which bestows immense political power to the soul and refers to Christian ambassadors for peace such as Quakers or Albert Schweitzer, but also to historical thinkers such as Hegel. But the real focus of this book is a figure barely known in this country and so unexpected in the history of Protestant theology: Marsilio Ficino.

Ficinio, who lived from 1433 to 1499, was one of the most important thinkers of the Florentine Renaissance. Luster devoted his doctoral thesis to his doctrine of salvation. He now presents him as the most important spiritual thinker in Christianity, who laid the foundations for a modern understanding of the faith. By teaching him to see man as the image of God, with boundless dignity, he reconciled belief in the Almighty Creator with the modern struggle for liberation: “Man is free because he is the image of God. He is the image of God because the spirit of God works with the spirit of man.”

Ficino was the first to make non-denominational love theology possible

Luster acknowledges Ficino’s second achievement in the fact that he transferred Paul’s concept of love with the Platonic concept of love, love with eros, in order to empower a non-denominational love theology. In this the work of the Spirit proves that man can love his fellow human beings, other creatures, and even the universe. It follows the third inspiration that Ficino owes: opening our eyes to the effects of the Holy Spirit in human culture, especially in poetry, and thus the foundations of modern cultural theology.

Many theologians were supposed to succeed Ficino, often unconsciously. But as good as Lauster’s song of praise reading Vishino is, it leads to difficult questions to answer and serious self-doubt. Because the line that began with the humanist from Florence threatens to be torn. The culture itself is considered secular, and where Christianity is strong, it has an anti-liberal character. But Luster refuses to recognize descriptive economic models such as growth or customer loss as critical criteria. Although in low demand, it is still a liberal cultural theology, yet as capable of acknowledging its weaknesses as it is capable of acknowledging the strengths of either charismatic or traditional Christianity. For this reason it is not based on the principle of capitalist competition, but on an ecumenical movement in which different spiritualities inspire each other. Is this the future of Christianity? The soul blows where and when it wants. Sometimes you miss her noise, sometimes you hear her. But why, where it came from and where it is headed, no one knows.