Andrew Katay on Trinitarian Theology
Is Being Evangelical Enough? Or, How to Live among Imperfect Company, is quoted here with Katay's permission. Thanks to Santiago Lange (GCI Germany) for sharing it with us.
Trinitarian theology proceeds from the principle that we must start our theologising from the story of the gospel, in which we are initially presented with three agents: Jesus of Nazareth, who is the Christ, the Son of God and who came to be worshiped as God himself; the Father of that Son, whose kingdom Jesus claimed to be bringing into effect; [and] the Spirit, given by the Father through the Son, who was immediate in the experience of the church.
If the Christian conviction is that in the gospel God reveals himself so that we have to do with God as he is, not merely with another prophet or an angel, then the threeness of God stands as prominently at the centre of the reality of God as his oneness. Yet these three are not three gods, they are one God, in fact they are God.
In other words, there is no God behind the members of the trinity; rather God is constituted by the relations of the three members of the trinity, he is that matrix of relationships (their perichoretic union in technical language) and that further they are each constituted as who they are by their relations to each other.
What’s more, these three are three persons. Once again, this is the outcome of the New Testament witness and the early church’s experience. There simply is no other way to do justice to activity of the Father in the Son through the Spirit than to recognise that they are persons. In the cases of the Father and the Son, this was of course never in doubt; however, uncertainty has from time to time been expressed about the full personhood of the Spirit, and the recovery of trinitarian theology has as one its goals the reappropriation of this truth, so important for the life of faith.
What follows from this is nothing less than a new ontology, a new understanding of being. Since God stands at ‘the heart of the universe’, and therefore is definitive of what constitutes ‘being’, and the threeness of God and the oneness of God are not contradictory but rather are related, then a new ontological option opens up. No longer is being either the random flux of unrelated particulars, or the monism of a single unifying principle; rather God, and therefore being, is constituted by three who are one, being is relational, being is communion.
What’s more, being is personal, since the communion that is God is a communion of three persons. And this is the crux of the issue, for as Colin Gunton highlights, "... the point of trinitarian theology is that it enables us to develop an ontology of the personal, or better, an understanding of God as the personal creator and redeemer of the world, and so the basis of the priority of the personal elsewhere, too." In particular, Gunton argues repeatedly throughout his work that this is in contrast to the deleterious effects of the implicit priority of an impersonal monism in Augustine’s theology, which has exercised a profound influence throughout the history of Western thought, including modernism.
A Trinitarian Approach to Creation
This then is the task of trinitarian theology, to apply these insights into the nature of God and therefore all reality to various fields of thought [including that of creation]... A Biblical view of creation, which has come to be expressed in terms of creation ex nihilo, carries with it a number of crucial implications:
1. That God is the source of all that is, and hence is utterly sovereign over a radically contingent world.
2. That creatures are dependent, yet real and good, not either illusory or evil.
3. That God creates in freedom and with purpose.
Such a doctrine of creation has always been trinitarian in shape, from its conception in the opening chapter of the Bible. Athanasius put it [this way]: "The Father creates all things through the Word in the Spirit." The implications of this specifically trinitarian shape with respect to each of the three aspects outlined above are significant.
First, without an alternative, the inevitable tendency is to see the created universe as either a flux of unrelated particulars at war with one another and without unity, or as an essentially unchanging singly reality, contrary to appearances, which will eventually return to its proper unity; that is to exalt the many at the expense of the one, or vice versa. The social expressions of this apparently abstract conceptualisation are individualism and collectivism, the massively destructive results of which are regularly seen and discussed. A trinitarian doctrine of creation suggests a way forward, conceiving of created particularity not as individualism and therefore at the expense of unity but as otherness; and similarly, of unity not as uniformity and therefore at the expense of particularity, but as perichoretic relatedness.
Second, the incarnation of the Son, by which the second member of the Godhead took creation to himself, and the bodily resurrection of the incarnate one, together indicate that there is a continuity between creation and redemption. The one through whom creation was created has himself taken creation to himself in his work of redemption; what’s more, the incarnation and resurrection, as signs that God has "stood by his created order imply that this order, with mankind in its proper place within it, is to be totally restored at the last." In other words, redemption is not from creation but of creation.
Third,... a trinitarian understanding of creation recognises that "God [as] being-in-relation"... had no need to create. Thus the free act of creation of the triune God both establishes the ontological distinction between God and creation, and thereby grounds the personal relatedness...of God and creation.
A Trinitarian Approach to the Church
...The church, being part of creation, is similarly finite and contingent. This contrasts with some doctrines of church which draw the analogy between heaven and earth too directly, or emphasize the divine nature of Christ and therefore his body/church as over against the... essentially relational nature of persons... The church [is rightly]... understood as the community of God’s redeemed people in Christ through the Spirit, which constitutes itself in its relatedness. There are a number of points to note here:
First, [this understanding of the church]... gets beyond the impasse of an understanding of church simply as gathering... by recognising that the key feature is the community of persons, of which gathering is an expression, not the other way round.
Second, although conclusions are drawn in the Bible regarding the relation of women and men in the church on the basis of the relation of Christ and the Father, such as the headship of a husband with respect to his wife, this is never at the expense of an equally fundamental unity [of persons, despite gender]. Both the orderedness of the trinitarian relationships and the essential equality of the persons are affirmed. Subordinationism was always regarded as a heresy (essentially it is Arianism). Thus, in all our concern to reflect biblical truth in our homogenising culture which flattens out gender differences, we must not fall into an implicit subordinationism, by stressing only one side of the story (orderedness), to the exclusion of the other (equality).