The economic Trinity is the immanent Trinity and the immanent Trinity is the economic Trinity. The words of the Prof. in my Spiritual Theology class droned in my ears as he lectured on Karl Rahner’s dissertation on the nature of the Trinity. Along with the warm, stuffy air made it was hard to stay awake. I wondered why was it so hard, why use this arcane language of economic and immanent to try and describe the nature of God; there are three hypostases but one homoousia. Good grief, no wonder people, other than Lutheran Pastors like Pastor Matthew here, get confused about the Trinity, no wonder most people don’t really know what it is that we believe in the doctrine of the Trinity, no wonder the rector usually assigns Trinity Sunday preaching to the Asst. Curate.
But today is Trinity Sunday and I made the rota, so…here is my selection on this topic.
The Christian doctrine of the Trinity teaches us of the unity of, what was described in the traditional language as the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, as the 3 persons of the God-head, the Triune God as 3 persons, 1 being. These are English words translating the original Greek, and is where, I believe, some confusion that many of us feel when trying to describe the Trinity occurs because the meaning doesn’t come across clearly in translation. The Greek words used to describe the Trinity are tria hypostases and homoousia. The translation of homoousia is relatively straightforward, it means 1 substance, but tria hypostases is translated as 3 persons, and is where I believe we run into problems when thinking of God as Trinity.
Persons in this translation doesn’t mean persons as English-speaking Westerners think it. It’s not about an “individual, self-actualized center of free will and conscious activity.” The people in the time of the Early Church of ~325, viewed the idea of personhood as an individual in community. So the statement of God as three persons with one substance indicates a relationship in community, not about individuals coming together. It’s about community. This is often overlooked in our individualistic culture which tends to promote the idea of individualism but the Trinity is about a living community. A living community that despite the lyrics of some hymns is not unchanging in that it is static but is actually active and in constant motion. Our God is on the move.
Eugene Peterson, in his book Christ Plays in Ten Thousand Places: A Conversation in Spiritual Theology reminds us that “our Greek theological ancestors used the term perichoresis to describe the Trinity.” Perichoresis is the Greek word for dance. Peterson asks us to imagine a folk dance with three partners in each set. The music starts up and the partners holding hands begin moving in a circle. On signal from the caller, they release hands, change partners, and weave in and out, swinging first one and then another. The tempo increases, the partners move more swiftly with and between and among one another, swinging and twirling, embracing and releasing, holding on and letting go. There is no confusion, every movement is cleanly coordinated in precise rhythms, as each person maintains his or her own identity. To the onlooker the movements are so swift it is impossible at times to distinguish one person from another; the steps are so intricate that it is difficult to anticipate the actual configurations as they appear: Perichoresis (peri=around; choresis=dance). Peterson concludes that this metaphor for the Trinity, a subtle and abstruse doctrine, can be observed by anyone in a neighborhood barn dance or an Irish ceilidh.
Back to that hot, stuffy room for the next part…the economic Trinity is the immanent Trinity and the immanent Trinity is the economic Trinity. In other words God communicates God’s self to humanity as God exists in the divine life. The way we can understand, and relate to God is through the way in which God relates to God’s self. Since God relates to God’s self in this eternally generated community dance of love, the Trinity, God relates to us through a community dance of love and we are called to engage the world in the same way.
I was interviewed by CTV last Tuesday regarding my thoughts on the updated Health Orders. The reporter asked me what did we miss most about the disruption in worshipping in-person during the pandemic? I replied that for my, it wasn’t about worship in the building, it was about the connections, the community. I said, if the building were not here we would still be Church but with out the community, the connectedness it is more difficulty to be Church. For me that is what as been most difficult, most disruptive about Covid. The feeling of isolation. The lack of many and frequent connections. For me it has been a stark reminder that the Church is no the building its the gathered community in motion. It’s this gathered community that is exemplified in the Trinity that is what Church is about.
The reality of the Trinity thus can effect the way we live our lives. It shapes us, molding our lives into the life of the Trinity.
When we are baptized in the name of the Trinity, our lives are immersed in the triune God and we become shaped by this in our Christian life. We become participants in the company of the God who creates heaven and earth, who enters history and establishes salvation as its definitive action and who forms a community to worship and give witness to his words and work, the God who loves us so much that God gave everything, so that we can have life.
Our lives become a response to a personal God that we encounter in and elicits our participation through community. It does make a difference that God is three persons and one substance. It means we can only know God by a personal response that is a participation in the activity of our Triune God in community.
“God is nothing if not personal” and can only be known through personal responses. We cannot know God through impersonal abstractions or in solitary isolation. “The only way God reveals God’s self is through God’s persons. Never impersonally as a force or an influence, never abstractly as an idea or truth or principle”.
A participation in the Triune community of God: means we cannot live as spectators of the dance of the Trinity.” A hand reaches out to pull us into the Trinitarian actions of holy creation, holy salvation and holy community…” “There are no nonparticipants in a Trinity-revealed life… God is never a nonparticipant in what God does. God does not separate God’s-self from God’s community by ranks of angel-secretaries through whom we have to arrange an audience.”
This is why when we hear of the 215 bodies of children that were found at the site of thee residential school in Kamloops we can’t ignore it, pretend it didn’t happen, or just shake our head and say that’s so sad. Being part of the Triune life depends from each of us a response. It demands we enter into the dance, somehow, someway. A personal response by us in the midst of the community, rooted in love. Each of us acting, in a way that involves others in a way that builds up, heals or reconciles. Prayer, placing shoes a the art gallery, letter to editor, email to MLA or MP, joining TRCircle activity, fundraising for the National Indigenous Church…these are just some of the examples….but being a non-participant is not one of them. This also means that when Palestines rain rockets on Israeli civilian areas, when Israeli’s blow up Palestinian homes, when the Chinese ethnically please teh Uygher people, when mass shooting occur in California and Florida that it is our role to be engaged. That the Trinity pulls us in and that as what we will focus on in next week’s feast of Corpus Christi are the Body of Christ. It was put best, IMHO, by the leaders of Kamloops Indigenous communities who said “it is time to go beyond gestures and words of support to accountability.”
We began this reflection by wondering if there was any relevance to our everyday lives in this abstract doctrine called the Trinity. It turns out the Trinity is not abstract at all but a personal, participatory reality that threatens to bring God a little too close for comfort, into the midst of our lives. It pulls us into action in the midst of an often messy world, often out of our comfort zone.
In this community the “first person” traditionally referred to as the Father has a role to create the world and continuously generate the Son from all eternity -The Generator.
The second person, the Son’s role is to be the one through whom all things come into being and to bring about the work of redemption through his incarnation, sufferings and death-The Redeemer
The third person, the Holy Spirit’s role is to inspire people for special tasks, to equip Jesus for his task, to inspire scripture, to unify and direct the church. The Spirit’s role is to bring the work of God to completion in creation and redemption-The Completer.
In the eternal union of God’s self-giving dance of love we are given the model for our own lives and our own role. A role that is to both receive and reflect the fullness of God’s love as actualized in the context of a community of love.
God is a dance of love in community. We know God by entering into that dance with God through Jesus. And our faith lives in the world are lived out by us dancing this same dance with others.
Too bad Karl Rahner hadn’t been a dancer. A course title, Rahner on Bachata would have certainly increased the number of Trinitarian theologians I believe.