Stump on Love and the Indwelling of the Spirit

April 24th, 2017 by

Recently, Dr. Eleonore Stump, the Robert J. Henle Professor of Philosophy at Saint Louis University, delivered a talk on the indwelling of the Holy Spirit at Fuller Theological Seminary. If one knows anything about Prof. Stump’s work in philosophy of religion and analytic theology, one won’t be surprised to find that her paper was constructive, creative, and very complex. She sought to explain just how and in what way the Christian might make sense of the claim that one is “indwelled” by the Holy Spirit.

Why is it difficult to explain how the Holy Spirit indwells a human? There are a number of reasons, of which I’ll name two: (1) The Holy Spirit isn’t a material or physical being. So, one might suspect that the Holy Spirit lacks a literal spatial location, i.e., He doesn’t have any spatially coordinated location. He doesn’t have literal whereness. And, one normally thinks of verbs such as ‘indwell’ as requiring spatial location (hence indwell). (2) Even still, the Holy Spirit is omnipresent; He’s “everywhere” in a way that does not demand spatial location (see: (1)). Now, this is puzzling because the Holy Spirit, though omnipresent, only indwells certain individuals, viz., regenerate believers. How, then, can anything clearly be said about an omnipresent being’s individually restricted indwelling?

(1) and (2) are, admittedly, a rough gloss on the puzzle Prof. Stump addressed. And, for reasons due to space, I can provide only an overly simplified outline of the creative and complex ways in which Stump attempted to elucidate a clear conception of indwelling. I’ll just offer up front that, though I’m not sure I agree with her model, the ingenuity of her constructive proposal is a testament to why she holds wide influence the fields of philosophy and theology. With this setup, then, I’ll provide a rough and ready account of her model (insofar as I understand it).

As with very many topics in analytic theology and the philosophy of religion that Stump engages, the primary set of shoulders on which she stands are those of Thomas Aquinas. By doing so, Stump provides her first step in constructing an account of indwelling by examining Thomas’s account of love (and, particularly, charity). If one is familiar with Stump’s literature in this area, then one will recognize the following two components of love where ‘love’ is a systems level feature falling out of the mutual presence of these two of the lover’s desires:

G: Desire for the beloved’s (teleological) good (read: genuine flourishing).

U: Desire for union with the beloved.

When a person, Jones, exemplifies G and U toward some person, Smith, Jones loves Smith. Or so goes a simplified account of this sort of love.

Now, for Stump’s account of the indwelling of the Holy Spirit in the believer, U is particularly important. For, on her account, indwelling is a kind of union that holds between the triune God and individual human beings. Specifically (in so far as I understand it), it’s a species of the sort of union that obtains between lovers (one needn’t read ‘lovers’ as “romantic lovers”), viz., between God and individual humans. We might call the genus of union under which this species fits “loving union.” Suppose that’s right. One other species of loving union is the sort of union that obtains between individual humans (e.g., Jones and Smith). The way into an analysis of the sort of loving union that obtains between God and humans is, it seems that Stump wants to suggest, through an analysis of the union that obtains between human lovers.

By Stump’s lights, loving union between human beings requires a particular kind of “shared attention” between the involved parties in such a way that they are willingly “open” to one another (e.g., emotionally vulnerable). To get an idea of how this might work, consider Jones and Smith to be best friends and roommates. Jones loves Smith and Smith loves Jones. Now, suppose that Jones finds out that his mother, with whom he is very close, has died. And suppose that Smith is in the room during the phone call. Because of their relationship, Jones sobbingly tells Smith the news, at which point Jones is nearly inconsolable. We can easily imagine that Smith is also grieved to his core. In this moment, they’re both sharing attention to the same circumstance and event, viz., the death of Jones’s mother. Moreover, because of their relationship, they’re both fully vulnerable with one another. Jones doesn’t feel the need to put on a brave face for Smith and neither does Smith for Jones. They are united, as lovers, in grief.

It’s at this point that Stump jumps into a riff on contemporary neuroscience and psychology, about which I cannot provide an endorsement or critique (since I just don’t know the relevant literature). But, the idea is this: apparently there is a neuroscientific phenomenon called “mind reading” (this is not telepathy, since there’s no such thing) in which something like the following happens: because of the mutual closeness by way of shared attention that obtains between Jones and Smith, Smith experiences the very instance of emotional pain that Jones does (apparently there are some locations in the brain that are fit for such things). And this partly explains why, when Jones is grieved to his core at the death of his mother, so is Smith. Importantly, this sort of shared attention is only possible on the occasion that two people are intentionally open to one another. Moreover, there’s apparently some way for Smith to know that what he’s feeling isn’t his own pain, but Jones’s—even if not fully available to Smith without deep reflection. In other words: Jones’s pain is “inside” the mind of Smith. (For lack of space I cannot provide here an overview of the Thomistic account of cognition that Stump brings on board to explain how the very form of Jones’s pain can come to take residence in the neural pathways of Smith’s brain.) This notion turns out to be a key aspect for how “mind reading” can be used to account for indwelling.

Of course, union with one’s beloved by way of the sort of intimate “mind reading” mentioned needn’t be the result of sadness or emotional pain. One can equally share in the delights of one’s beloved, as well. The point is that there’s an openness to one’s beloved such that union with the beloved is a product of personal presence and mutual closeness of the relevant sort.

Here is where union with the Holy Spirit comes in. Because the Holy Spirit is omniscient, He has access to everyone’s mental states. To be united in love to a human, then, isn’t a result merely of the Holy Spirit’s knowing that a person is in a particular mental state. What’s needed is the requisite shared attention (as above), the kind that involves a relationship where the relevant individuals are open to one another. If a human, Pharaoh, say, isn’t willingly open and vulnerable to God, then Pharaoh and God aren’t going to have the requisite empathetic sort of “mind reading” that is a product of intimate loving relationships.

But suppose that Peter is open to God in the requisite way. Then Peter and God can be united as lovers partly because they will share attention in a way that allows the Holy Spirit to experience the very mental and emotional states of Jones, just in the way that lovers do (on this account). So, too, it seems Peter can experience the very mental states of the Holy Spirit—albeit, only those that are caused by things to which Peter and the Spirit are mutually attending. And here’s the key move, in so far as I understand it: Peter can, on reflection, know that it is not his mental states he’s experiencing, but, rather, the mental states of the Spirit. And this is because the Spirit’s mental states have taken up residence in the neural framework of Peter’s brain/mind. And this, suggests Stump, is in another way of saying “Peter is indwelled by the Spirit.”

One last, but crucial, detail: God, as an immaterial being, cannot “mind read” Jones, a human being, in the required ways without doing so by way of the human mind of the incarnate God the Son. On Stump’s account, God can “use the human mind of Christ” to “mind read” Jones in the relevant human-to-human way, the way in which God can have the sort of empathetic shared attention required for the personal presence and mutual closeness that results in loving union. So, the Holy Spirit has “mind reading” access to Jones by way of the human mind of Christ and, as a result, comes to indwell Jones on account of His mental states taking up residence in the neural framework of Jones’s brain/mind.

I’m about a thousand words over our normal word limit on this blog and I’ve just barely scratched the surface of Prof. Stump’s account. What’s more, the above is a very rough overview of Stump’s paper, a paper that was (as I say above) extremely complex, tying together multiple strands of data from theology, philosophy, biblical exegesis, and neuroscience/psychology. It’s an account that prompts some further lines of inquiry:



As with any constructive proposal on such a complicated topic, there are likely many more questions than this. Even still, what Stump provides is a genius attempt at providing a model of indwelling. And this is just the sort of thing that makes analytic theology exciting.

J. T. Turner is a Research Associate on Fuller Theological Seminary’s Analytic Theology Project for the 2016 – 2017 academic year. He holds a PhD from The University of Edinburgh, a ThM from Erskine College and Seminary, and an MA and BS from Liberty University. Turner’s current research projects include writing a book on the metaphysics of afterlife in Christian theology, and work on constructing an analytic theology of what some biblical theologians call “holistic eschatology.”

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