Reviews of

Angelomorphic Pneumatology: Clement of Alexandria and Other Early Christian Witnesses

In Angelomorphic, Bogdan Gabriel BUCUR, Brill, Clement of Alexandria, Dan Batovici, Early Christianity, Hermas, Patristics, Pneumatology on December 17, 2012 at 8:18 am


2012.12.18 | Bogdan Gabriel Bucur. Angelomorphic Pneumatology: Clement of Alexandria and Other Early Christian Witnesses. Supplements to Vigiliae Christianae 95. Leiden, Boston: Brill, 2009. xxix + 232 pp. ISBN: 9789004174146.

Reviewed by Dan Batovici, University of St Andrews.

Many thanks to Brill for kindly providing us with a review copy.  

This volume is the revised and amplified version of a PhD thesis written under Alexander Golitzin and defended in 2007 at Marquette University. From the outset, Bucur’s research on angelomorphic pneumatology (“that is, the use of angelic imagery in early Christian discourse about the Holy Spirit”, xxi) is proposed “as a complement to Charles Gieschen’s work on angelomorphic Christology and to John Levinson’s work on the angelic spirit in early Judaism” (xi). Several sections of this book develop on articles Bucur had already published in various journals over the past years: JBL, ZNW, Studia Monastica, JR, VC, NovT, Hugoye, and JECS (xxi); their gathering in one volume is intended as a means to “propose a fuller, integrated account of the early Christian tradition of angelomorphic pneumatology” (xxi).

In the first part (out of three), Bucur sets out to determine the articulations of Clement of Alexandria’s discourse of the Holy Spirit, arguing that his pneumatological language is angelomorphic (best described as angelomorphic pneumatology) and that this peculiarity occurs in tandem with spirit Christology and binitarianism.

The other two parts of the volume aim to demonstrate the general thesis that Clement’s angelomorphic pneumatology, far from being a singular event, is rather part of a relatively widespread tradition in early Christianity. To that end, a number of earlier texts Clement knew and valued are treated in “part two” – The Book of Revelation (chapter three), the Shepherd of Hermas (chapter four), and the works of Justin Martyr (chapter five) – all displaying a similar theological context.

In addition, the last chapter (the sixth, which is detached from the previous ones as this volume’s “part three”), treats the fourth century Syriac writer Aphrahat the Sage, who “displays an exegesis of the biblical verses linking traditions about the highest angelic company with early Christian pneumatology that is strikingly similar to what one finds in … Clement of Alexandria” (xxiv); in the absence of apparent literary connection between the Syrian author and Clement (or his predecessors), this witness is meant to further strengthen Bucur’s case for the existence of “an early and relatively widespread Christian tradition of angelomorphic pneumatology” (xxv).

In his treatment of Clement, Bucur first sets out to demonstrate that the books which contain the most of the material involving an angelomorphic angelology – Excerpta, Eclogae, and Adumbrationes – are in fact the pinnacle of Clements’ pedagogical programme. Clement would have received such traditions from the teachings of the older generation of Jewish-Christian “elders” mentioned throughout his works. Bucur argues that Clement’s worldview involves a “celestial hierarchy:” “having at its pinnacle the Logos, the spiritual universe features, in descending order, the seven protoctists, the archangels, and the angels … continued by an ecclesiastical hierarchy” (36). With regard to the latter, Bucur notes that for Clement the ecclesiastical offices are taken “rather as functional designation of the stages of spiritual advancement” (49), with the result that in fact the prophet is the one who  experiences “the presence and message of the Logos by receiving  the “energy” of the proximate angel” (54). With regard to the celestial hierarchy and its angelic ranks, developing on C. Oyen, Bucur contends that “Clement equates the seven protoctists with the seven gifts of the Spirit and interprets them as the ’heptad of the Spirit’” (61), and that this understanding is better described as “angelomorphic pneumatology” (rather than “angelic pneumatology”). In Bucur’s interpretation, this occurs mainly around the phenomenon of prophecy, whose “starting point is the claimed religious experience and the functional identity of Christ, the Holy Spirit, and the angel, as grasped by this experience” (81). He further argues that the angelomorphic pneumatology occurs in tandem with spirit Christology – for instance in that “Clement deploys an all encompassing theory of the Logos, and thereby inevitably claims for the Logos certain areas of activity traditionally associated with Holy Spirit, namely the inspiration of Scripture and the charismatic empowerment experienced by the believer” (77)  – within a binitarian frame.

The three predecessors of Clement discussed by Bucur in the second part – the Book of Revelation, Justin the Martyr and the Shepherd of Hermas – are then regarded as possibly offering insights into the teachings of Clement’s “elders,” as they too are shown to display an archaic angelomorphic pneumatology in similar developments. I’ll briefly exemplify with Bucur’s argument on Hermas, in which case he provides (building on the work of P. Henne) a solution for the modern scholarly perplexity as to why the intricate Christology of the Shepherd was never condemned for heresy (as Osiek, among others) in the early Church.

Bucur consecutively analyses  the Shepherd’suse of pneuma vocabulary for describing an angelic being (stressing “that the “spirits” have undeniably angelic traits” and that “it is just as true, however that the angel of righteousness in Herm. Mand. 6 conveys a pneumatological content,” 119), then the use of pneuma to designate the Son of God, and proposes that “in the light of this tradition [of designating angelic beings by the term “spirit”], the Son of God is, technically, a “holly spirit” and that “to this supreme holy spirit are subordinated all other “holy spirits,”” (123).  Noting that, in Hermas’ pneuma indwelling of the believer, “the text ascribes this indwelling to “the angel,” “the spirit,” or “the Lord,” without the slightest indication of perceiving any overlap or contradiction” (125), Bucur proposes that this difficulty fades away if one considers “the Shepherd’s view of the heavenly world: Father, Son and holy spirits/angels” (126). With regard to the Holy Spirit, following the analysis he contends that at least “some of the angelic apparitions convey a pneumatological content” (136), and that moreover Hermas – just as Clement and Revelation – has “reworked the notion of the seven principal angels, using it in the service of pneumatology” (137), as an angelomorphic representation of the Holy Spirit” (138).

This makes for one of the most pertinent accounts to date as to why the Shepherd was so popular in early Christianity, that is the fact that it shares the old tradition of an angelormorphic pneumatology combined with a spirit Christology within a binitarian frame (in Hermas’ case by being concerned mainly with God and the supreme “holy spirit,” the Son of God), in a rather select company: Revelation, Justin, Clement.

General conclusions include a brief but welcomed assessment of the theological implications of this peculiar early Christian tradition, where Bucur posits that expressions such as “angelomorphic pneumatology” and “spirit Christology” are meant to describe the language of these authors, more than the “theological reality signified by the language” (191), and that “any interpretation of the overlap of Christ and the Spirit (“spirit Christology”), and the overlap of divine and angelic manifestation (“angelomorphic Spirit”) must take in consideration the functional identity of Christ, the Holy Spirit and the angel as grasped by religious experience” (192), keeping in mind that for many of these texts “center around the phenomenon of prophecy” (192).

This book is robust and very dense, probably not the easiest read; nonetheless, the arguments are astute and abundant, and are building up in a very solid manner. Reading is eased by the clear exposition of premises, aims, intermediary results and consequent steps at every articulation of the book.

This reviewer would have benefited from an integrated treatment of the “elders,” who at times feel just as elusive as they are omnipresent in the pages of this book. The volume addresses thoroughly a quite varied literature, as Bucur engages with the scholarship on each early Christian author approached in depth on its own terms (e.g. the developed argument concerning the position of Hypotyposeis in the Clementine corpus, or the account of the Christology of Hermas’ fifth Similitude). Commendably, text critical matters are taken into account at various points of the argumentation, even if, as far as I can tell, the discussion itself of such variants is not advanced here.

To conclude, this volume surely succeeds in filling the scholarly gap with regard to Clement’s pneumatology and also in documenting the existence of such an angelomorphic pneumatology tradition in early Christianity. As such is will most likely prove an indispensable reference in future studies on early Christian pneumatology as well as Christology and monotheism in general.

Dan Batovici
University of St Andrews

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  1. [...] Angelomorphic Pneumatology: Clement of Alexandria and Other Early Christian Witnesses ( [...]

  2. […] Vigiliae Christianae (here), Journal of Theological Studies (here), Review of Biblical Literature (here) Journal of Early Christian Studies (here) Biblical and Early Christian Studies (here) […]

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