May 27, 2018
The Feast of the Most Holy Trinity can feel sometimes like a feast in honor of an oxymoron or a terribly sophisticated trick of mathematics – three is really one. Certainly the realm in which such exotic notions are true can seem hardly relevant to our day by day lives!
When we let ourselves fall into such patterns of thought, though, we wind up with a kind of contradiction between our faith and our practice: we believe in the Trinity, but we live in a kind of Unitarianism that collapses the Father and the Spirit into the Jesus, or the Son and the Spirit into ‘God’. Or, and this has happened in other times and places, we assign creation and the old testament to the Father, the new testament and our salvation to the Son and everything after that to the Holy Spirit. This latter choice respects the reality of the Trinity of God, but it effectively relegates their relevance to times gone by. But if the oneness of God is not mathematical or unitary, but communitarian and truly triple, then, God in heaven is the same as God on earth.
That italicized phrase is critical to Christian faith. It is because God is one God in three Persons, the Persons, each one in his own way, brings the other two Persons into every contact. Thus, the Son and the Spirit are involved in Creation. The Father and the Spirit are involved in Redemption, and the Father and the Son are involved in the Spirit’s work of building up the Church. And all three Persons are, in their unity and in their three-ness the object and content of our life in eternity.
Theologians call this interrelatedness of the members of the Trinity to each other perichoresis, and the attribution of various works to one Person or another, appropriation. These two concepts must be taken together to do justice to the power of the Incarnate Son to gather us into his own relationship with the Father and the Spirit’s power to form the Church into the Body of Christ.
This is not easy stuff – I know it. It is even hard to make certain that the sentences I write are true as they can be without falling into a heretical simplification. But think of it as the same challenge that accompanies loving without measure while still maintaining one’s own individuality as the one who loves. Compared to the truth of mathematics or the totalitarianism of a collectivity, love is ‘messy’ and complicated and requires constant thought and attention. Why should the love of God be less so?
But if God in heaven is the same as God on earth, then, love on earth is the same as love in heaven and love, in some way, divinizes the lover and God’s love in somehow the innermost reality of all love. This is what Saint John means when he says that God is love and those who abide in love abide in God and God in them. This is human perichoreseis and appropriation.
Really and truly and faithfully yours,