16 June 2019. 11th Sunday (C)

Holy Trinity Sunday

1st Reading: Proverbs 8:22-31

Wisdom is the first-born of creation

[Wisdom says of herself]
“The Lord created me at the beginning of his work, the first of his acts of long ago.
Ages ago I was set up, at the first, before the beginning of the earth.
When there were no depths I was brought forth, when there were no springs abounding with water.
Before the mountains had been shaped, before the hills, I was brought forth,
when he had not yet made earth and fields, or the world’s first bits of soil.
When he established the heavens, I was there, when he drew a circle on the face of the deep,
when he made firm the skies above, when he established the fountains of the deep,
when he assigned to the sea its limit, so that the waters might not transgress his command,
when he marked out the foundations of the earth,
then I was beside him, like a master worker;
and I was daily his delight, rejoicing before him always,
rejoicing in his inhabited world and delighting in the human race.

2nd Reading: Romans 5:1-5

Peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ

Brothers and sisters, since we are justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have obtained access to this grace in which we stand; and we boast in our hope of sharing the glory of God. And not only that, but we also boast in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not disappoint us, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us.

Gospel: John 16:12-15

When the Spirit of truth comes

Jesus said to his disciples, “I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now. When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth; for he will not speak on his own, but will speak whatever he hears, and he will declare to you the things that are to come. He will glorify me, because he will take what is mine and declare it to you. All that the Father has is mine. For this reason I said that he will take what is mine and declare it to you.”


Not a remote God

In previous centuries, most people believed in the existence of God. They might differ in their beliefs about God, but they never doubted God’s reality and they believed in some kind of divine control over this world. This is not the case nowadays. Not only do many openly profess lack of religious faith, but the lifestyles we see around us project a kind of practical atheism that is hard to resist. The more we are glued to our screens, laptops, TVs and mobile phones, the greater the danger of drifting away from our sense of God Especially in city life, among so many man-made structures, we may feel remote from the reflective pull of nature. Armed with digital broadband, even country folk tend to drift away from a living faith. To resist this growing alienation and get back in touch with the living God we need to reach out to Him.

Today we celebrate the Most Holy Trinity, the rich, incomprehensible mystery of God’s inner life as a relationship between three persons in one divine nature. Back in the 5th century, St Patrick invited his Irish Christians to imagine God like a shamrock, whose three leaves joined to form one living plant. It was not a fully worked-out image, but it was a help.. He wanted them to understand that the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit are indivisibly united.

In our Creed we affirm our Christian belief in God as the Father, Creator of heaven and earth; and in Jesus Christ, who is “true God from true God,” and in the Holy Spirit, who proceeds from the Father and the Son. This is a profound mystery, although the veil covering it can be lifted ever so little. The Bible says not only that God is one God but that in some way God exists as three distinct Persons, Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Faith helps us to relish this idea of relationship within the nature of God, even though it is beyond our understanding. St Augustine, in a beautiful passage from his “Confessions” ponders all this. “What do I love when I love my God?” he asks. He answers, “Not material beauty or beauty of a temporal order; not the brilliance of earthly light, so welcome to our eyes; not the sweet melody of harmony and song; not the fragrance of flowers, perfumes and spices; not manna or honey; not limbs such as I may delight to embrace. It is not these that I love when I love my God. And yet, when I love him, it is  a certain kind of light, a voice, a perfume, a food, an embrace; but they are of the kind that I love in my inner self.”

Today’s feast  invites us to treasure the relationships in our own lives. Every relationship is precious, but our relationship with God  is the most precious of all. St Paul taught that “in one Spirit we have access through Christ to the Father” (Eph 2:18). But to live as children of God, God’s love for us must be matched by our up-reaching toward God. The first move is from God, as Paul says, “God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us.” To respond to this we need to let go of our self-sufficiency, and surrender to the magnetism of our Maker. Then like mirrors we will reflect the bright goodness of the Lord, and be changed into the one whose image we reflect (2 Cor 3:17f). For God has made us in his own image, and our hearts will only be fully content when we rest in God.

Glory be to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit!

Three to make us think

Some of the liveliest debates about human nature were prompted by the ideas of three outstanding figures, Charles Darwin, Sigmund Freud and Karl Marx. Between them they pushed western thought into new avenues, making us question many older beliefs. Though based on a remarkable series of fossils, Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution was  first met with angry derision, and he had to battle hard to prove it. Sigmund Freud opened up the unconscious in ways that profoundly changed  how we understand human nature. And analysis of capitalism and property by Karl Marx came to polarise our planet, dividing it into two opposing ideologies, with a large swathe of social democracy in between. Of the three, only Darwin’s theory of evolution remains relatively intact. History has largely undermined the optimism of Karl Marx; and many of Freud’s theories are regarded as over-generalised from his clinically ill patients. Time has taken its toll of “the unholy trinity.”

The Holy Trinity, the inner self-communication of God,  is a profound mystery of faith: how God can be one divinity, shared between three persons. We can only fumble in the dark in search of glimmers of light. In the gospels, the number three symbolises completeness and perfect symmetry, and re-appears at key moments of the Christ story. His life itself reflected the mystery of Trinity. Three figures make up the nativity scene in Bethlehem, the Holy Family of Jesus, Mary and Joseph. Their first visitors were the three wise men. Later, in the desert preparing for his public life, Jesus was tempted three times by the devil. A good story should have a beginning, a middle and an end. For Jesus, the storyteller par excellence, three figures often feature in his parables. The Prodigal Son is about a father and his two sons; the Good Samaritan tells of the behaviour of three passers-by, the priest, the Levite and the Samaritan; the sower sowed his seed in three different types of terrain, yielding three different levels of harvest. The end of his life, as the beginning, has again the three-motif. During his Passion, Peter denied him thrice. The crucifixion scene has three figures, Christ between two thieves. Before his resurrection, he spent three days in the tomb.

God is love. There are Three Persons in the Holy Trinity whom we name as Father Son and Holy Spirit. Their mutual interactions represent the fullness of love. The Father loves the Son, the Son loves the Father; and we may picture the Holy Spirit as the outpouring of their love. In our innermost selves, we are made in the image of this triune God, of  God the Father, who created us, of the Son who saved us, and of the Holy Spirit who continues to guide us. Something in our lives should reflect the Trinity, in whom we live and move and have our being. At our God-driven best, we are creative like the Father, compassionate like his Son, and dispose our talents in the service of others like the Holy Spirit.

Opening ourselves to God’s Mystery

Throughout the centuries, theologians have made great efforts to explicate the relationships that bind and distinguish the divine persons in the Trinity. Worthy efforts, no doubt, and born of love and a desire for closeness to God. But our major guide and theologian is Jesus himself. From his intensely personal experience of God, he invites his followers to trust in God as our Father, faithfully imitate himself, as the ultimate Son of God, and let ourselves be guided by the Holy Spirit. Thus he teaches us to open ourselves to God’s holy mystery as a Trinity of Persons.

Above all, Jesus invites us to live as daughters and sons of a God who is close, good and tender, one that we can love as a dear Father. What characterizes this Father isn’t the power to condemn, but goodness and compassion. Nobody is ever fully alone, for we have a Father who understands us, loves us and forgives us like nobody else. Our heavenly Father has a project of the heart: to create among us a more human and fraternal world, a world of justice and of solidarity. Jesus calls it “God’s Reign” and invites us to join this great project, seeking justice and dignity for all, starting with people who are poorest, most defenseless, most in need. He invites us to trust also in him. He is God’s Son, the living image of his Father. His words and actions revealed how the Father of all loves us. That’s why he invites all to follow him. He teaches us to live in loyal service to the Father’s project.

Holy Trinity Sunday invites us to welcome the Spirit who breathes out the Father and Jesus the Son: “You will receive the power of the Holy Spirit who will come upon you and thus you will be my witnesses.” This Spirit is God’s love, the breath that the Father and Jesus the Son share, the power, the impulse and the vital energy that will make us his co-workers in the service of the grand project of the Holy Trinity.

Caidreadmh na Tríonóide

Tagann an “Spiorad” ón bhfocal Eabhraise “Ruah”, is d’féadfá gné bhanúil Máthair Dé a bhaint as freisin. Céiliúran féasta an lae inniu spiorad comaoineach nádúr Dé. Nochtar rúndiamhair na Tríonóide chun ár ngaol le Dia a láidriú is gan dul amú le tuairimíocht. Is mistéar é a chlúdaíonn le gile glóir De sinn, len a cumhacht eolais agus le fuinneamh a ghrá dúinn.



  1. Joe O'Leary says:

    Pat asked for thoughts, but I’m in St Petersburg and have no leisure to gather them.

    Instead, here is the start of an essay on “Demystifying the Trinity” that was published in Archivio di Filosofia a few years ago:

    The prospect of penetrating into the inner life of God has excited speculative fantasy throughout Christian history, from 2nd century Gnostics to 13th century scholastics and from 19th century adepts of Hegel and Schelling to 20th century social Trinitarians and Process theorists. The doctrine of the Trinity, as enshrined in the Creeds, keeps a tight bridle on such speculation, which clearly owes more to the example of Greek philosophy than to that of biblical faith. The Athanasian Creed lists a set of tenets deemed necessary for salvation – salvation in the first place from tritheistic fantasies: non tres dii, sed unus deus.
    These tenets were resumed by John Henry Newman in nine simple propositions. Newman’s doctrinal minimalism is based not only on fear of scaring away the secular world by asking for subscription to things impossible, but also from a pastoral concern not to lay heavy burdens on the shoulders of believers. He saved the doctrine of papal infallibility by whittling it down to its basic minimal claim, and he does the same for the doctrine of the Trinity. ‘The dogma of the Holy Trinity, as a complex whole, or as a mystery, is not the formal object of religious apprehension or assent; but as it is a number of propositions taken one by one.’ ‘That systematized whole is the object of notional assent, and its propositions, one by one, are the objects of real.’ Thus we can really assent that there are Three who bear witness in heaven, the Father, the Word (or Son), and the Holy Spirit; that the Son is from the Father, and the Spirit from the Father and the Son; that each of the Three is the One Eternal Personal God, presented in three ‘distinct ways or modes’ or ‘Personalities’; that the Father is not the Son, nor is he the Holy Spirit, nor is the Son the Spirit. The propositions serve as a grammar preserving the integrity of scriptural revelation. Though they are strong and clear affirmations of faith (contrary to the various forms of theological non-realism), they do not provide a set of verities on which one can go on to build further insights into the divine mystery, advancing from link to link as in geometry. In theology they function chiefly in a negative way, as rules about what must not be denied.
    ‘After the fourth century the whole body of Trinitarian doctrine was left alone, and to this day its architecture… shows the marks of the compromise… we first find in Origen: a well-balanced mixture of Nicene Antisubordinationism… with legitimate subordinationism.’ Further activity in the realm of trinitarian thinking is theological rather than doctrinal. ‘Once consubstantiality was affirmed, theologians sought how one might explain conceptually how the divine substance… is undivided in three individual existents’; Aquinas gave the ‘definitive solution’ by thinking the divine persons as ‘subsistent relations.’ Historically grounded interrogation of the basic constitution of the doctrine is still a rarity in mainstream theology, and the bulk of writing on the Trinity elaborates on the doctrine as given (though sometimes in a manner that undermines it and shows scant awareness of how it was set in place historically).
    Aquinas’s development of the logic of the one divine nature, two processions, three persons, four relations and five notions can perhaps be interpreted as adding nothing substantial to the simple propositions of the Athanasian Creed, and as reinforcing their negative aspect. His extremely abstract logic ‘squares’ the absolute unity and simplicity of God with the plurality of processions and persons taught by the Creed. At first sight it looks as if the biblical data are now brought into a higher and more powerful integration than earlier generations could have conceived. But the argumentation could be seen as primarily a negative process of ruling out all the wrong things one might be tempted to say were one to lose sight of the divine unity, and which would make the doctrine positively irrational.
    It is true that the psychological analogy sketched by St Augustine (who strongly underscored its limits in the last book of his De Trinitate) allowed Aquinas to conceive the processions as happening per modum intellectus and per modum amoris. This gives content and colour to the otherwise necessarily desiccated logic of discussion on the immanent trinity. It remains no more than a speculative auxiliary, however, and not a part of Trinitarian doctrine. As it is worked out, under the strict constraints of the logic, it removes the immanent Trinity quite far from any imaginable relationships between three persons in the ordinary sense. It shows that each of the Three is ‘person’ in a quite different way and it undercuts any tritheistic separation of the persons. If the nearest analogy of the trinity is the self-relation of the human mind made in the divine image, then clearly the distinction between God, God’s Word, and God’s Spirit is not such as to constitute three independent entities or three autonomous centres of consciousness.
    Thomas insists that every movement of differentiation in the trinitarian process is at the same time a return to unity: procedere ut intimum et absque diversitate, per modum intelligibilem, includitur in ratione primi principii (‘to proceed as intimate and without diversity through the mode of intelligence is included in the notion of first principle’) (q. 27, a. 1, ad 3). The Trinity does not compromise divine unity but presents the living sense of that unity. ‘There is procession only according to an action that does not tend to something external but remains in the agent itself’ (a. 3). Already John 1:1 presents the Logos as existing pros ton Theon, toward God, returning to God.
    One might see the brilliant relational fireworks of Thomist trinitarian speculation as deconstructing logocentric images of divinity. The substantial stability of the divine essence and persons is sublated into the vertiginous play of noetic and amative events, creating a dialectical paradise that has no match until Hegel’s Logic. However, the Trinity-in-itself is probably best seen as an abstract remainder-concept, postulated as a dim background of the revealed phenomenon of Father, Jesus Christ, and Spirit, so that to spin stories or theories about the immanent Trinity is a form of misplaced concreteness. Aquinas saves the Trinity from dissolution, from heavy substantialism, and from the tritheistic imaginings indulged in by social Trinitarians; but the manner in which he does so should be rewritten in the key of negative theology.
    The scholastic policing of discourse on the immanent Trinity does not betoken a complete estrangement from the economic Trinity but an effort to reconcile the richness of the latter with the austere prescriptions of divine unity (monotheism) and divine simplicity. All too often, the return to the economic Trinity in recent theology has not been a step back from the metaphysical to the biblical and phenomenological but rather a regression from good Trinitarian metaphysics bearing the deep imprint of fidelity to the Creed to bad trinitarian metaphysics that flirts with an impure gnosis. I propose here to sketch a series of steps back that will take us from inflated trinitarian thinking to the sobriety of classical dogma, then from that dogma to its scriptural roots, finally submitting the entire trinitarian tradition to the critical gaze of the interreligious milieu, with special reference to Judaism and Buddhism.

  2. Pádraig McCarthy says:

    When I sit down to breakfast, I often look for several moments at the cereal in the dish, with the milk soaking through it, and I reflect for some moment on how they come to be on my table. The seeds and those who planted them, who cared for the crop and harvested it, who processed the harvest and packed it and transported it from around the world and stocked it so I could have it here and now. The same with the milk. The gifts of creation and the many people linked with my life here and now. The mystery of it all.
    When I go to the computer to check my email, one of the first things I usually do is to look at the website of NASA’s “Astronomy Picture of the Day” (https://apod.nasa.gov/apod/astropix.html). Many times I am led to a sense of wonder at the picture – perhaps a spiral galaxy 33 million light years away, or a photograph taken here on planet Earth. It is amazing that we can know such things. A world of which I am part, composed of stardust. And yet, although we can see them and speak of them, there is so much mystery. So much we just do not understand about the galaxies and the seeds and the milk. Even to look at my own hand, and wonder how it is there, and how I can move it.
    I think of people I know, united in love: some in the first years of their connection, some over fifty years together. Growing to be one: “This is now bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh” – a mystery incarnate. Where does such a bond of love come from? How is it even possible?
    It took the early Christians hundreds of years of debate an controversy to begin to find words which would begin to express the mystery of Jesus of Nazareth and the Father who is so central to him, and the Spirit, their gift to us: how the three are in some unfathomable way One. And that I, and we, are drawn deeply into that mystery. That their life and unity becomes my life, and my unity with them and with all members of this human race.
    What of that Wisdom in the reading from Proverbs, born of God whose being includes all that is female and male; Wisdom which delights that God, and delights also to be with us?
    When we are sundered from those we love and who love us, the joy of finding ourselves again in right relationship when we are reconciled: the peace, the hope. The state of grace which is what happens in us when we find one-ness with God and with one another: the love of God has been poured into our hearts by the holy Spirit given to us.
    So much mystery. So much fascination. The Spirit of truth (yes, there is such a thing as truth) will lead us to the complete truth, as and when we are ready – a process which is life-long, a life growing deeper and deeper in the mystery. Mysterium tremendum et fascinans: a mystery which is awe-inspiring so as to cause the foundations of my being to tremble, and at the same time fascinating, drawing me ever deeper into a unity with other human beings and with Jesus and the Father and the Holy Spirit.
    The congregation before me today (and always) is full of that mystery: each and every member of that gathered com-unity. To gather is holy. We do not join with one another to fulfil an obligation, or to celebrate our diversity, although these may be there; but we gather in our mutual strangeness because that unity we share in the Father and Son and Spirit means that our life, our salvation, is in that com-unity. Our ritual is the language of community. Our solidarity expresses the love for one another by which the world can be astounded and fascinated; by which the world can come to know Jesus, source of life in all its fullness. Our life as the living Body of Christ is an incarnation of the unity of the Trinity. A mystery, complete.

  3. Joe O'Leary says:

    I scold the Social Trinitarians:

    The trinitarian sobriety maintained by the Fathers, the Councils, and classical theology was undermined, or even jettisoned, in the different versions of ‘social trinitarianism’ that inundated the theological world in the 1980s and 1990s and that drew particularly on Sergii Bulgakov, Hans Urs von Balthasar, Jürgen Moltmann and John Zizioulas. No doubt these theologians were conscious of the analogical or metaphorical status of their accounts of the inner life of God, and would concede that what they offered was speculation, not binding doctrine. Nonetheless the effect of their flamboyant language was to build above the biblical story of the economic trinity (the story of God active in history), a higher level narrative about the immanent trinity, the dynamism of the eternal relationships between the three divine persons. They described these relationships and persons in the warm and passionate language of Scripture, taking insufficient account of the difficulty of distilling from biblical narrative and metaphors any substantial insight into the divine nature in its eternal being. Negative theology, supremely necessary here, was forsworn from a fear of being reduced to silence, or from a mistaken sense that biblical speech is poor and inadequate and that something more impressive is required.
    These thinkers scoffed at the accusation of tritheism: ‘Today the term “tritheism” should no longer be a red rag with which to scare the steer of a responsible theological doctrine of the Trinity. Indeed Moltmann passes to a general attack when he writes: “As the history of theology shows, there has never been a Christian tritheist… The standard polemic against tritheism always serves in fact to veil one’s own Modalism”’ (Greshake). For Moltmann, even to talk of ‘three persons’ or ‘three hypostases’ savours of modalism, flattening out the vast differences between the three ways of being person: ‘Their description as divine persons in the plural already shows a tendency to modalism in itself.’ Aquinas would agree that ‘each must transcend human subjectivity in a quite different and distinctive way,’ but Moltmann’s way of conceiving this distinctiveness undermines divine unity whereas Aquinas’s reinforces it.
    The social doctrines of the Trinity were supposed to represent a ‘Trinitarian renaissance,’ but are now increasingly unmasked as a phenomenon of decadence, a collapse of theological judgment. By projecting into the immanent Trinity relationships and emotions that properly belong to the humanity of Jesus, and that patristic theology handled under the rubric of the Incarnation, social trinitarianism divorced Christian thought from the sobriety of the biblical encounter with the God of Israel in the one he has sent and in the breath of his Spirit. It built an unnecessary new chasm between Christianity and Judaism.
    That the God faith encounters is always ‘God for us,’ and that we cannot step outside this relationship in our talk of God, does not imply that God changes as we change, that his being is altered by his dealings with creatures, or that the Cross constitutes a major life-altering event within the Godhead itself. In all these human historical contexts God is expressed as he is, gracious, compassionate, prevenient, but it would be absurd to say that God discovers himself through them. A god who would be the ultimate successful outcome of a massive evolutionary ebullition belongs to the fantasies of Gnosticism. That is not so bizarre and far-fetched an idea that it can safely be ignored, for it reflects a basic drive in modern thought, finding its way even into mainstream theology. In some cases it has gone hand in hand with a metaphysics of God as Process that distorts every biblical text it tries to use as grist for its mill. Some go so far as to make God dependent on his creation, as if its failure, or even the failure of our little planet, would entail the extinction of God. All such cogitations overleap something very basic: that the word ‘God’ has no meaning if it does not designate what is supremely and ultimately real.
    Thus Ted Peters writes of Moltmann: ‘Echoing Hegel, he says the Trinity achieves its integrative unity principally by uniting itself with the history of the world…. God’s unity is not simply an original unity.’ Peters’ metaphysics of time and eternity leads him to say that the Incarnation ‘places the divine presence in a temporal frame of reference as one objectifiable being among others.’ It could be argued that this adds nothing to the general biblical vision of God as ‘dwelling’ in various sanctuaries, which must not be interpreted as subjecting the divine to finite categories of place or time. Peters enunciates a fundamental metaphysical principle: ‘There need not be a split between the absoluteness and the relatedness of God if we think of God as the absolutely related one.’ It is true that encounter with God, as with Truth or the Good, claims human beings and places them in a relationship to the ultimately real. In that sense God, like Truth of the Good, has a capacity of relationship of an absolute kind. But this relationality of ultimate reality is one of sovereignty or omnipotence; or if this sounds too metaphysical and undemocratic, call it the quiet authority of supreme reality. It cannot entail that God’s relations to creation are to be added to God’s defining properties, as Peters would have it: ‘With the advent of a creation, the situation warrants a transition from isolated divinity to divinity-in-relation… We cannot avoid saying that our God become creator has placed his own divinity at risk.’ The incapacity of so many theologians and religious philosophers to abstain from saying such things seems to be a symptom of theological decadence.
    Divine simplicity, immutability, eternity, impassibility are not just arcane Neoplatonic philosophoumena. Neither can they be dissolved into more existential or biblical qualities such as ‘covenantal fidelity.’ M. Schulz writes: ’This economic interpretation of immutability is presented for example by Pannenberg, Jüngel, Mühlen, Maas, Moltmann and Breuning’ (but rejected by von Balthasar). God is simple and unchanging somewhat as Truth, or Being, or the Good must be conceived to be so. God belongs to that realm of ultimate bedrock reality. The affirmation that God is simple, eternal, immutable functions in theology chiefly as a negative constraint, signalling the incoherence and impossibility of attempts to speak of God as changing, temporal, suffering, or developing from potency to act. When philosophers speak of the historicity of being or of truth, they must be referring chiefly to the modes in which thought apprehends the splendour of being or truth. Likewise, theological discourse about the historicity of God, or about the Cross as bringing about a alleged historical change in the being of God, needs to be demystified by being confined to the register of revelation. The Eternal is made known in the election of Israel or in the Paschal Mystery. This impact of the Eternal is but one thread, however privileged, in the total religious adventure of humankind, not to speak of possible infinitudes of other sentient beings. To think that it alters the nature of the divine in itself is a nonsense. But does the hypostatic union not entail that ‘one of the Trinity was crucified’ (Constantinople II, 553 CE)? Is that not a massive change in the very being of God? On that point we need to demystify the Incarnation: the eternal divine Word is manifested, pitching its tent amid the fleshliness of human history, in the Christ-event, in a singular fashion, but with no alteration to the eternal being of the Word in itself.
    The social theory may begin in a sub-Hegelian manner by seeking to explain the constitution of the Trinity. Pannenberg writes: ’The divinity thought of as a field can be conceived as coming to appearance in all three trinitarian persons.’ Greshake: ’A far more apt analogy is offered to the contrary by the reality of play. A game is a network of relations that does not arise without persons and ordering to distinct persons and that is yet “played” in such a way that it is present as a whole in a highly specific way in each of the players.’ The doctrine of the Trinity teaches that the Son is from the Father and the Spirit from the Father and the Son, which clashes with these democratic images. Greshake roundly declares that this teaching of intratrinitarian processions was never solemnly defined by the Church. No matter that it is found in the most solemn Creed of the Church: ex patre natum ante omnia saecula; ex patre filioque procedit – the Son is ‘born of the Father before all ages,’ the Spirit ‘proceeds from the Father and the Son.’ Greshake stresses that the generation of the Son has only a negative sense in the Creed – it means that the Son was not created but came from God in a different way. It is true that the image of ‘eternal generation’ is only a metaphor. But then Greshake goes on to characterize the Father-Son relationship as essentially a social one, between equals; and though he correctly characterizes perichōresis not as a dance between three separate persons but as the inhering of the three persons in one another in virtue of their consubstantiality, he uses this to erase any order of procession between Father and Son; their complete mutual indwelling is the only reality to be considered. The difference between the three persons is cut off from its sole basis, the order of procession, and becomes the difference between social others. The identity of the Father, for Greshake, lies in his being-for-the-others, which sets up from the start what Balthasar calls ‘a distance between God and God.’ Thus the Father gives the whole communio its ‘basis and stability,’ so that ‘the two other persons see in him their centre (Mitte), which does not mean ‘the ontological principle of a genetic process,’ for this centre is unthinkable without relations to and from the others. The Father becomes something like a community facilitator, ‘the point of crystallization of the entire community.’ This suggests the possibility of a new discipline, Sociology of the Trinity.
    Augustine’s founding of the missions of Son and Spirit in their eternal processions from the Father is characterized as one-sided. Scripture also speaks of the Spirit sending the Son, so that Pannenberg can say that ‘the Son is in eternity the receiver of the Spirit going forth from the Father.’ Luke 1:35 is adduced as a proof-text: ‘The Holy Spirit will come upon you and the power of the Most High will overshadow you’—a poetic parallelism with a straightforward Jewish sense (God will act), and which refers to the dealings of the Spirit of God with the child Jesus, not with the eternal Word. This effort to extract speculative ‘meat’ from scriptural texts, overriding exegetical prudence, is characteristic of metaphysical theology at its most imperious.
    Though no less prone to reading events in the immanent Trinity into biblical texts such as the much-exploited hymn, Philippians 2:5-11, Balthasar is more respectful than Greshake of biblical and credal données, resisting in the name of patristic metaphysics what Schulz calls Moltmann’s ‘remythologization and tragicization of the divine inner life,’ yet his account of the immanent Trinity also steps into the murky realm of unverifiable reconstructions, as in his ‘interpretation of the filioque: that the Father in the generating act of self-giving shares with the Son not, to be sure, fatherhood, but the power of giving all, which is manifested in the Son’s “agreement” to be generated: in the eucharistic Yes to “having himself and willing himself” from the Father and in the co-breathing of the Spirit.’ (Schulz). His affection for post-Hegelian kenoticists down to Bulgakov, and his urge to ‘make the economy conceptually graspable from the intratrinitarian theokenosis’ (Schulz) weakens his capacity to embrace the biblical phenomena on their own terms, just as, in his dealings with metaphysics, his subscription to Gustav Siewerth’s metaphysicizing of Heidegger keeps him back from an effective thinking of the phenomenality of being.
    The social trinitarians object that the austerity of classical trinitarian logic is the result of thinking of God in Neoplatonic terms as an absolutely simple being. The Bible encourages us to think of being as relational, loving, and personal, and thus introduces an ontological revolution that shakes western philosophy to its foundations. Greshake refers sarcastically to the order of the Trinity as reflecting Platonic presuppositions that plurality is bad and must be brought under control, through setting up a hierarchy. The teaching that ‘Pater est principium totius deitatis’ (the Father is the principle of the entire deity) is dismissed as coming from Neoplatonic tradition. Yet of all the biblical grounds of the Trinity the dependence of Word and Spirit on God is one of the most unassailable. Greshake urges that rather than start from one unbegotten God we should start from the communio of the three persons. Yet his development of this in terms of ‘organic unity’ is more remote from the biblical data than was the scholastic construction of the immanent trinity. The scholastics knew the limits of their language and its strict dependence on biblical data and the creeds, whereas the organic, social construction of the trinity becomes self-sufficient and self-nourishing.
    While the social trinitarians are unsparing in their criticism of classical theologians such as Augustine and Aquinas, seen as imprisoned in Greek metaphysics, their own bondage to German Idealism is often striking. Their critique of classical metaphysical theology lacks the historical finesse and theological discernment of Harnack, and above all it is misapplied in a kind of theological primitivism. For instance, a critical attitude to tradition would not see the non-biblical theologoumenon that the Spirit is the bond of love between Father and Son, advanced as a mere suggestion by St Augustine, as licensing a riot of speculation about passionate relationships between the eternal divine Persons. Rather the idea would be assessed as possibly misinterpreting its most proximate biblical basis (the language used of the Paraclete in John 14:16-17, 26 and 16:7-14), and above all as belonging to the register of a metaphysical approach to the scriptural phenomena that intrinsically tends to distort them. Here the scholastic analyses of the immanent Trinity could be invoked to provide a modicum of sobriety. For instance, St Bonaventure loves to talk of the Spirit as the bond of love between Father and Son. But far from indulging ideas of an I-Thou love between two separate persons resulting in the generation of the third, in a sort of heavenly version of the Holy Family, he reduces the idea to what can be said within the limits of orthodoxy, namely that the Spirit proceeds from Father and Son in their common spiration, seen as a loving act. Aquinas, too, mkdes it a variation of the filioque.

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