Wednesday 11 July 2007

Who's afraid of the social Trinity?

Halden offers a brilliant critical reflection on social trinitarianism – and he’s right on the money:

“Our personhood is ultimately not realized in bearing the image of the Trinity, abstractly conceived as a circle of pure relational bliss (the social trinity) or perfect self-contemplation (the psychological trinity). Our end as persons is to bear the image of Christ through union with him by the Spirit of the Father and Son. Our personhood is not so much an echo of the Trinity as a non-necessary and gratuitous intonation of the Trinitarian discourse…. In Christ, the One God speaks to us, and in so doing brings us into the circle of speech and response that is the Triune discourse of infinite koinonia.... [T]his is the gospel, not that we inherently resemble God’s personhood, but rather that in our very difference from God, even in the wicked difference of sin, we are rapt in Christ, our humanity enfolded into God. And as such we live in Triune communion, which is to say that we are persons because we participate in the history of Jesus in whom the Triune God embraces the world.”


Anonymous said...

Exquisitely put!

derek said...

A couple of things i am having trouble with:

"Our personhood is ultimately not realized . . ."

-The use of the word ultimately here troubles me. It seems that halden is saying that since our personhood isn't realized ultimately in bearing the image of the Trinity, then social trinitarianism plays no part in how our personhood is formed. This looks like a false, or maybe unnecessary, dichotomy to me.

"[T]his is the gospel, not that we inherently resemble God’s personhood, but rather that in our very difference from God, even in the wicked difference of sin, we are rapt in Christ, our humanity enfolded into God."

Here i have a question. Does Halden adhere to a form of "Total depravity?" I ask b/c it seems to me that only within such an understanding of how sin affects our personhood could one say that we don't inherently resemble God's personhood (or still have the imago dei if you prefer), since it is completely destroyed in the fall.

I have other thoughts, but let me stop here for now.

Halden said...

Derek, my use of the term "ultimately realized" in connection with personhood isn't based on a particular understanding of "total depravity", which I don't believe in, at least not in the Westminster Confession sense of the term.

Rather, I am operating here with a histotical, or better Irenaean understanding of personhood. We become persons through the action of other persons (divine and human) in relation to us in history. My point was that our coming to be persons in the fullest sense involves coming to bear the image of Christ, who is definitive of true humanity. I don't deny the imago dei, what I say in the full post is that for us to bear the image of the Triune God is ultimately to bear the image of Christ in whom we are brought by the Spirit to participate in the life of God.

If you read the full post on my own site, I think some of the details will be filled in for you. And of course you can feel free to continue to question me there as well! Theology is all about the dialogue!

Halden said...

And thanks for your ongoing efferts to make me famous, Ben! :)

Anonymous said...

On social trinitarianism
It is true that God's ousia (being) is a matter of koinonia (communion), but social trinitarianism is not a good way of securing this insight. It emphasizes God's threeness at the expense of God's oneness. (The reverse error also needs to be avoided, of course.)

God's ousia, however, is also underived, concrete and indivisible.

The mystery of the Holy Trinity cannot be adequately set forth unless justice is done to both aspects of God's ousia -- its simplicity on the one hand and its inherent hypostatic relationality on the other.

Social trinitarianism unfortunately stresses the divine relationality at the expense of the divine simplicity.

On participatio Christi
It is not wrong to say that we participate in Jesus' history, nor is it wrong to think that we participate in the eternal Son's relationship to the Father.

Both ideas threaten to become abstract, however, unless it is recognized that we are joined to Jesus Christ by virtue of his humanity. His humanity (not his history as such nor his eternal hypostasis as such) is the only point of contact.

He joins himself to us, and us to himself, by virtue of his body and blood (through Calvary and the eucharist). He makes us members of the mystical body of which he himself is the head.

Our participation in the life of the Trinity is necessarily mediated through his humanity as is also our participation in his history. The former mode of participation is indirect, the latter mode is vicarious.

Both modes depend on the unio mystica as established by the Holy Spirit.

Halden said...

Prof. Hunsinger,

Thanks for the comment. I heartily agree that our mode(s) of participation in the Triune life depend on the unio mystica and are mediated solely through the humanity of Christ, in fact in my full post I believe what I said was basically to that effect.

As to simplicity, I'm unsure how to deploy that term in a properly trinitarian way unless by it we mean God's ontological irreducibility and indivisibility. In other words it seems to me that a trinitarian concept of simplicity must include complexity. And I agree that social trinitarianism addresses this issue inadequately.

Anonymous said...

To Halden.

Yes, divine simplicity, when understood in trinitarian terms, has to allow for internal complexity.

What it rules out, as you see, is the idea that God's being is somehow composite.

The divine ousia cannot be divided into parts, nor can it increase gradually by addition or by degrees.

Therefore, wherever God is present, he is present as a concrete indivisible whole, even if in different hypostases, simultaneously.

Indivisibility does not mean that God's being is somehow static or inert.

The living God is always at once the same and yet ever new.

The best way to conceive of the divine newness is by way of the concept of "form." One and the same God continually assumes ever new forms,which can and do co-exist simultaneously.

I think of it as something like Mozart, with ever new and often surprising variations on a theme.

Halden said...

If I were to attempt of offer some sort of critical reconstruction of simplicity, perhaps significant part of it would have to be moving from a negative definition to a postitive, as Gunton suggested at one point.

In other words God's simplicity does not simply mean that his being is impossible to divide, but rather that it is intensively and infinitely unified.

Anonymous said...

The problem with the idea of being "intensively unified" as an interpretation of "simplicity" is that it would then be difficult to distinguish the divine ousia from the divine perichoresis. The latter is an idea of intensive self-unification.

Perichoresis logially presupposes the three hypostases, but the hypostases presuppose the ousia.

While in actuality the hypostases and the ousia are mutually implicated, the essence of the divine ousia as such can be defined without reference to the hypostases.

I myself would not want to blur the difference between the divine ousia and the divine perichoresis. The latter is a reassertion of the essential divine oneness once the hypostases are brought into the picture.

Halden said...

I'm a bit wary of defining the divine ousia without reference to the three hypostases. In fact, it would seem to me that if we are to define the divine ousia in a way that does not refer to the hypostases then we have to say the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are not as such the one God. Rather they subsist in God, making the ousia some sort of fourth unifying principle that is the "real" God. That seems problematic to me.

Anonymous said...


I can't accept this line of reasoning. It is axiomatic that the Father is God, the Son is God, and the Holy Spirit is God, and yet there are not three gods but one God. They do not subsist in God. They are the one God whether considered individually or all together, as Anselm memorably phrased it in his treatise on the Holy Trinity.

I think the difference between your approach (and Gunton's) and the one that commends itself to me is that my view is more dialectical. I don't try to resolve the tension between the one and the three. Your view tends toward threeness at the expense of oneness, which I regard as unacceptable.

For an account of how dialectical juxtaposition works in a case like this, see Karl Barth, CD I/1, 1975 edition, pp. 179-80. "Faith is the perception of that which is not said."

I believe it is essential to define the divine ousia as underived, concrete, and indivisible. In this I follow the Fathers, including Athanasius and the Cappadocians.

Halden said...

I agree with the above axiom (of course), but I just don't think it's possible for us to speak of the diety of the Father, Son, or Holy Spirit without reference to all three hypostases, and if that is the case, how can we speak of the identity of the one God without reference to the three? What other way do we have to speak of the ousia of God save on the basis of what is revealed to us in Jesus through his relationship with the Father into which we are incorporated by the Spirit?

I don't think my view "tends toward threeness at the expense of oneness" or denys that the being of God is "underived, concrete, and indivisible". Rather, I'm just saying that the unity of God cannot be a reality other than the unity between the Father and Son that is revealed in the history of Jesus. To say otherwise is o posit a notion of divine unity and similicity that is not revealed in Christ, but comes from somewhere else. Dialectics are all well and good, but I don't think derriving a notion of divine unity from someplace other than the revelation of Christ is in line with the Barthian tajectory.

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