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Since the publication of Jürgen Moltmann's "The Trinity and the Kingdom of God" in 1981, more and more books about the Holy Trinity have appeared. We get a lot of them and I read most of them. It seems to me that books about the Holy Trinity are almost never mediocre but either extraordinarily bad and boring or astonishingly intriguing and exciting.
One that I found to be in the latter category is "These Three are One: The Practice of Trinitarian Theology" by David S. Cunningham. Some will find his avoidance of the term "person" and his attempts to find alternative names for the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit aggravating, but he explains his reasoning. And I think that an author who is courteous enough to take the trouble to apologize for making a daring attempt to accomplish something worthwhile deserves a sympathetic hearing.
Cunningham says that one extremely important aspect of Moltmann's book and the works that have been inspired by it is the insistence that belief in the Trinity ought to make a difference. What one truly believes ought to manifest itself in how one acts. The Trinity ought not to be an optional extra. Nor should it be seen as a matter of earning merit in a religious game, as if one were increasingly holy the more numerous the incomprehensible things one affirmed. This is all well and good, but the problem, according to Cunningham, is that the statements about what belief in the Holy Trinity
ought to mean in terms of how we live our lives are so vague and bland that they don't really say anything at all--certainly nothing that is connected with belief in the Holy Trinity. Cunningham examines what the consequences of a truly Trinitarian outlook ought to be in various topics, including sex and violence in a way that would appall Pat Robertson, but I was gratified that any author would suggest concrete ways in which belief in the Trinity should make a difference in how you live your life. That is what is important--how you live your life.
But I don't intend to go into that--there is no time to follow all his reasoning in a sermon. Read the book. Instead, I want to look at how he approaches the mystery of the Trinity itself. He notes something that I have commented on earlier--that writers about the Holy Trinity either begin with God and then try to show that God is three persons or begin with the three persons and then try to show that they are one God. Logically one might think that one has to begin someplace--at one end or the other of the loaf, as one might say, but Cunningham suggests that this is only because we are asking the question incorrectly. He begins neither with the one and the many nor with the many and the one but with relationships. It was all interesting and pretty abstract and was just added to my porous memory without making a great impression, but the seed was planted.
The catalyst was another book, this one not about the Holy Trinity (though, to take Cunningham's suggestion to a logical conclusion, if the book is about something true, it ought to manifest, however vestigially, the truth of the Trinity). The book was "The Puppet of Desire: The Psychology of Hysteria, Possession, and Hypnosis" by Jean-Michel Oughourlian. I don't normally go in for that sort of topic, but Oughourlian is an interpreter of the theories of Renè Girard, so I looked at his book.
He said that one of the great post-Enlightenment myths about personality is that there is a real "self." He said that the "self" as it differs in all its relationships is all the "real self"--that relationships make the "self." He was saying the same sort of thing that Cunningham was saying about God, but he was saying it about me. It was no abstraction any longer but as real as myself. There is a post-Cartesian myth that we are autonomous individuals who freely to choose to enter into relationships. It is not true. I am the product of relationships--those between my parents, between my parents and myself, relationships that everyone and every group I have ever encountered has had with me and with every other entity that has ever been in relationship with any other. Existence is relationships.
If God exists, then God is in relationship. If God is the
creator, as Judaism, Christianity and Islam teach, then he must
have been in relationship with himself before creation. Rather
than the Trinity's being an unnecessary abstraction, it is a
necessary truth. If existence is relationships, then a God who is
not a Trinity could not exist. Because He does, we do.
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