Monday 6 February 2006

Ten propositions on the Trinity

1. The Trinity is not an optional doctrine, it is essential. God’s unity is not behind God’s threeness, God’s unity is in God’s threeness. This is not speculative mathematics, it is a descriptive theology of revelation.

2. The Trinity is not an academic doctrine thought up by clever scholars, rather it grew out of the Christian experience of worship, i.e. it expressed the early church’s pattern of prayer to the Father, through the Son, in the Spirit.

3. The driving force of the development of the doctrine of the Trinity was Christological and soteriological, i.e. it served to articulate the Christian experience of salvation in Christ. The first Christians already knew God; through Jesus they came to know God as Jesus’ Father and Jesus as God’s Son; while in the Spirit Jesus continued to be present to them, forming a family of prayer to the Father and building a community of witness to Christ.

4. The church’s thinking was this: As God discloses himself in worship and salvation, so God must be in Godself. In the technical language of (Karl) Rahner’s Rule: the “economic” Trinity is the “immanent” Trinity, and the “immanent” Trinity is the “economic” Trinity. What you see is what you get, and what you get is what there is.

5. At the heart of the doctrine of the Trinity is God’s being-as-communion. God’s unity is not monadic, it is relational. The doctrine of the Trinity is the church’s exegesis of I John 4:8b: “God is love.” Father, Son and Spirit indwell each other in love, giving, receiving and returning love in an eternal dynamic of gift-exchange.

6. If God is Trinity, do Jews—and Muslims—know nothing of God? Not at all. God can be known without being fully identified. In fact, “the church’s identification of the one true God as the Trinity does not preclude, but rather requires, that Abraham and his children know how to refer to this God, and so are able to worship him” (Bruce Marshall). Indeed the activity of the Spirit in the world encourages the church to be open and attentive to the presence of God in all the major religions.

7. Is the language of the Trinity sexist? Not at all. No responsible theologian has ever thought of the Father and the Son as male, nor of the Spirit (as is currently fashionable) as female. The issue is not gender but personhood. In fact, it is a strictly monotheistic God, not the Trinity, that is patriarchal—and oppressive.

8. Father, Son and Spirit are constituted by their mutuality, i.e. they are who they are only in their inter-relationships. So too human beings, made in the image of God: we are who we are only in relationship with others. Margaret Thatcher said that there is no such thing as society; on the contrary, there is no such thing as an individual: there are only persons-in-relationship.

9. Clearly the Trinity is not an irrelevant doctrine, it has very practical—indeed political—implications. That God is essentially and eternally God-in-relationship of equality and mutual fellowship—could there be a more cogent critique of hierarchies of domination and exclusion, or of an economics of greed and exploitation?

10. Finally, that God is Trinity means that God is mystery—but a mystery not to be explained but entered. God calls us to participate in his very being, joining in the divine dance that issues in creation and concludes in redemption. In Rublev’s great icon of the Trinity, Father, Son and Spirit are seated around three sides of a (eucharistic) table. The fourth side awaits a guest.

By Kim Fabricius


Kyle said...

Yes. Yes. Yes.

T.B. Vick said...

Very good. My only issue is proposition #6 needs to be more qualified.

Are you declaring universal salvation? Or just an acknowledgement of other religions having a 'concept of God?'

Anonymous said...

Very interesting.

Incidentally, what context did the silly monster (Maggie T) utter that nonsense (there is no such thing as society)?

Anonymous said...

Hi T. B. Vick - and thanks.

"Declaring" universal salvation? No. With Barth and von Balthasar "hoping" for it - Yes!

But the point of #6 is not really even that other religions may have a "concept" of God; indeed to radicalise the proposition, I could have said other religions and none. I am rather thinking that a robust pneumatology - or for that matter a Logos Christology - allows us to venture that God may be known even where God is not "properly" named.

However, on the question of the Trinity and other faiths, I would heartily recommend The Meeting of Religions and the Trinity by the Roman Catholic scholar Gavin D'Costa (who, along the way, decisively sees off Hick's awful pluralism, while alerting us to the inadequacies of inclusivism - both, in fact, unwittingly collapse into exclusivism!)

Anonymous said...

Steph - the Thatcher quote comes from a magazine interview in the late 1980's. I forget exactly which and precisely when!

Anonymous said...

Thanks Richard. I just googled the name and the line and it came up top of the list as her most memorable quote (Womens Own, October 31 1987). She said it in order to deny the lower classes anything to blame but themselves for their poverty. Horrible woman.

Isaac M. Alderman said...

I love this post, Kim. I did not realize how Christomonistic my own spirituality and thinking was until I read God For Us, by Catherine Mowry LaCugna. Highly recommended.

Cynthia R. Nielsen said...

Nice post. I especially like the emphasis on Trinity as mystery, relationality, and gift-exchange.

Chris TerryNelson said...

Beautiful stuff! The Trinity came to be much more powerful in my understanding of worship when I read James B. Torrance's little superbook called "Worship, Community, and the Triune God of Grace" published by IV Press. We used it for a Sunday School class.

Anonymous said...

Thanks Isaac and Cynthia.

Among the books I don't have on the Trinity is LaCugna'a God for Us, but I know about it, and most of what I know I like, particularly her emphasis on the Trinity being a "practical doctrine with radical consequences for Christian life" (in worship and ethics); her soteriological linking of the economic Trinity with the immanent Trinity; and her understanding of the personal as the inter-personal. Good stuff.

By the way, the trinitarian discussions in the early church were not confined to bishops and theologians - punters debated the issues with a passion in the markets and the baths. Theology was a matter of the utmost concern. Imagine such a spectacle today in a Sears or a Sainsbury's!

Jeremiah Kier Cowart said...

Very, very good. You begin to bring out a significant corolary of points 5 & 8 in not just the communal but familial nature of the Trinity. That is when, as far as I am concerned, one begins to grasp that Divine Love inherent in the very being of God--when one contemplates how the family is analogous to the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Husband and wife love each other so intimately and so deeply that nine months later they have to give the new person a name! Talk about becoming one flesh.

From reflecting on the Trinity to the family and reciprocally going from the family to the Trinity, all sorts of amazing insights ensue. After all, as Rousseau said, "The most ancient of all societies, and the only one that is natural, is the family." And more than any other earthly community, this is so of the family, which sees in itself better than in any other community an image of the Divine Trinity.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for that, JKC. There speaks a proud father of two trinities of children!

I suppose the family analogy is a subset of social trinitarian models (Moltmann, Boff). The danger, of course, is a lurking tritheism (which is why I speak of the Trinity as a "communion" rather than a "community") or, in the family model, an inequality of "persons". But as long as we add the necessary clarifications, I think you're right, the family analogy has great appeal, not only intellectually but (clearly!) emotionally. And it's good and Catholic! Thanks!

Anonymous said...

Very interesting post. The Trinity is indeed important. It is the cornerstone of the Christian faith.

T.B. Vick said...

Thanks a bunch, that helped clear things up for me on point 6. This was a great post! One of the better ones I've seen in awhile!

Scot McKnight said...

Very nice summation.

Ben Myers said...

I agree with TB: I think this is one of the best blog posts I've ever read. Thanks again for letting me post it here Kim!

Anonymous said...

The thanks is mine, Ben.
Thank you all for your encouraging feedback.

It's good to gather your thoughts together on occasion, on things of importance, in a way that is both pacy and yet tries to cover all the bases, just to see where you're at on your pilgrimage.

Then there is the tricky bit of testing it out on learned e-colleagues and -friends! It's heartening to know we seem to be in the same ballpark.

Tom ta tum Tom said...


As God the Three - in - One lives in communion, so also must we. This is God's (Elohim) image in us. Failing to seek communion and failing to extend reconciliation fails the image of God in us. The center cannot hold.

Thanks both to you and to Ben for this wonderful articulation. May Jesus Christ Be Praised!

Michael Westmoreland-White, Ph.D. said...

I love these propositions. I would want to qualify the proposition on sexist language some. I cannot go with those who, denying the metaphorical nature of all religious language and denying feminine imagery for God in Scripture, say that Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are the only authorized name of God and that feminine imagery is forbidden. We can find feminine imagery appropriate and still be thoroughly Trinitarian.

Anonymous said...

Thomistic Guy,

I have been following your replies to Kim with some interest. I will say right away that I appreciate how carefully thought out and reasonable your comments usually are. You clearly are a person of intelligence and I respect your freedom to make theological conclusions, which in most respects are very different from my own. On the other hand I find your tone to be on the condescending side. It is presumptuous to assume you ought to be in the teacher's position rather than a peer in debate with the rest of us in this community since we cannot know what our respective backgrounds in this area are. For the present then I will assume you are as well educated or more so than I am and treat you with that respect.

I find your assertion that the essence of a human being is their 'rational nature' to be the wrong approach for a theological discussion. 'rational' is not a theological category of discussion - it is an enlightenment category, one much discredited in present academic thought. Instead the Bible speaks about humans in relational terms, the basis for Kim's definition, which is not absurd at all. What is an isolated man, you ask? An ISOLATED man. He is defined by his relationships as anyone else is. In fact, it is a moot point because it is impossible for anyone to exist outside of relationship with God and creation. Even the Hermit is in fact who he or she is because of how they are related to the others around them.

Furthermore your use of Aquinas categories is a bit awkward in my opinion. All language about God is analogical. Kim is saying that we exist in a state of relatedness to others which is analagous trinitarian relationships. Clearly these relationships are not univocal, because we are not in perichoretic harmony with our neighbors.

Finally, your hierarchical understanding of the trinity I will acknowledge is a common one in the western church, but I think it does violence to the doctrine. It is dependent on the filioque clause, which I think the Orthodox church is right to condemn as introducing a foreign hierarchical element into the trinity, which makes it something less than monotheistic.

Anonymous said...

I wonder if I can remember what Kim said? ...

1. Three in one and one in three.
Not just optionality:
but essential unity
is the Trinity.

2. Three in one and one in three.
Not invented by the rare,
but experienced in prayer
is the Trinity.

3. Three in one and one in three:
driv'n by understanding Christ
and his death for us, high priced,
is the Trinity.

4. Three in one and one in three:
what you get is what you see
immanence in economy
is the Trinity.

5. Three in one and one in three:
God in full relationship,
self-indwelt by fellowship
is the Trinity.

6. Three in one and one in three:
God is known by other views,
but he's only plumbed by news
of the Trinity.

7. Three in one and one in three:
most un-sexist state to be.
We become most truly free
through the Trinity.

8. Three in one and one in three:
made in mutuality.
Interactions make me me:
likewise Trinity.

9. Three in one and one in three:
doctrine relevant to life.
What a remedy to strife
is the Trinity!

10. Three in one and one in three:
not a puzzle for your mind,
but a welcome you may find
is the Trinity.

Is that anywhere near it?

Yours in Christ - JOHN HARTLEY

Anonymous said...

Gee, John, that is absolutley wonderful! "Near it"? On top of it! And better, because you can sing it! I can't think of a greater compliment than a response of poetry.

Thank you,

Anonymous said...

With a bit of trepidation, I have posted a response to this on my blog, mainly to offer the freedom to respond or not and not to intrude on this discussion.

The post is here.

Post a Comment


Contact us

Although we're not always able to reply, please feel free to email the authors of this blog.

Faith and Theology © 2008. Template by Dicas Blogger.