Holl, chaplain of and a theology lecturer at the University of Vienna, was suspended from teaching in the Catholic Church for some of his heterodox notions, but this book is a mellifluous testimony of faith from start to finish. Holl captures the contradictions inherent in the personage of the Holy Spirit, who is described one moment as a pacific, "still small voice" and the next as a tongue of fire. He takes as his canvas the history of Western religion and philosophy (though his attention to Judaism and Islam, which he examines as manifestations of the Holy Spirit, suffers when compared with his easy familiarity with Christianity). Holl is also conscious of the Holy Spirit's role as a political subversive—the oppressed can tap into the Spirit's immediate authority, which transcends all earthly control. The book is arranged somewhat chronologically, beginning with a quick look at the Old Testament, followed by New Testament events like the unexpected descent of the Holy Spirit onto Jesus and the gift of tongues on the Day of Pentecost. (Holl pairs this latter incident with an account of the Pentecostal movement in the US in the early 20th century; he does history a real service by crediting the movement's founding to its true leader, the African-American preacher William Seymour, rather than to the white pastor who has traditionally gotten top billing.) Holl continues the story of the Holy Spirit's workings through the rise of Islam, as well as the monastic movement and various "heretical" groups in Christianity. The last third of the book explores the Spirit's entanglements with some great modern thinkers, including James Joyce, Martin Heidegger, Friedrich Nietzsche, Simone Weil, and Sigmund Freud. This section is, of course, less overtly "religious" than what precedes it, but its implicit message seems to be that the Spirit is at work even in a modern society where philosophers have found it irrelevant. A provocative read, gracefully translated from the German.
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