One of the central elements of the project of Radical Orthodoxy is based on the conception of Christian theology “outnarrating” all other metanarratives. A central claim of Radical Orthodoxy is that all other narratives or systems of thought tend inevitably toward nihilism because the only true basis for the peaceable negotiation of difference is on the basis of the Christian doctrine of the Trinity in which infinite difference (namely the difference between the Father and Son, and the “second difference” of the Holy Spirit from the Son and the Father) is expressed, not in conflict, but in infinite peace and overabundant gift-giving. Thus, according to John Milbank, Christianity is “the coding of transcendental difference as peace” (TST, 6).
This idea is almost exactly right. Radical Orthodoxy is right to state that all discourses are ultimately theological and that there is no autonomous philosophical reflection. Where they are wrong is in the idea that it is Christian theology (or, particularly “Christianity/Neoplatonism”) which is required to overcome nihilism. As Colin Gunton observed, in a somewhat prescient review of the initial Radical Orthodoxy volume, if the Triune God is truly the creator of the world, then nihilism is ultimately not a real possibility. However, for Radical Orthodoxy it is less important that the Triune God is the creator of the world than that the church narrate the claim that since the church believes that Triune God is the creator of the world, it has the answer to the nihilism allegedly inherent in all other discourses.
This is wrong, not because it sees that the transcendental peace of the Trinity is the answer to nihilism, death, and non-being but because it insists that it is the church’s narration of this “counter-history” that ultimately overcomes and situates all other dialogues and discursive practices. The right answer is not to locate the power of God’s Triune peace in the church’s narration, but rather in God himself. The sublimation of nihilism is not actualized by the church’s outnarration of the modernity, but by the creative and redemptive activity of the Triune God in the economy of salvation. And what the Triune God does in redeeming the world is not to “outnarrate” all competing claims about the world, but rather to enter into them in such a way that they all find themselves located within the narrative of God’s own life as Trinity. Nihilism is not outnarrated by a more compelling ecclesial narrative, but by the actual self-giving of the Triune God in Christ which unites persons of all narratives, cultures, and nations in one Catholic body in which difference exists as communio.
The instinct of Radical Orthodoxy is right. It realizes that all other discourses must ultimately be related to the reality of the Triune Creator. However, it does not realize that it is God’s actual activity in the world in Christ that does in fact relate all created logoi to the one logos. There is no realm of “pure nature” (de Lubac) which descends into nihilism unless outnarrated by theology. By virtue of the ubiquity of Triune grace, all narratives are included by God in the work of Christ. There is no need for the church to outnarrate modernity because the narratives of modernity only exist within the narrative of God’s life as Trinity. As such, theology does not need to (violently) outnarrate all other competing narratives in order for the reality of ontological peace to become real in our world. All of humanity’s competing narratives, whatever violence or nihilism there may be inherent within them because of sin are always-already included in the reconciling story of the Triune God’s self-giving embrace of the world in Christ. God’s covenantal ‘Yes’ to the world subsumes and nonviolently embraces any and every ‘No’ from any discourse that would attempt to posit the world without God.
As such, the church’s theological task is not the outnarration and overcoming of other narratives, but rather faithful witness to the self-giving love of God in Christ. The church exists as the witness to the reality of God’s own story in which all created persons find themselves. The story of God in Christ does not outnarrate the stories of the world, but rather enflames and enfolds them within the ardor of the Pentecostal Spirit of Triune Love. The transcendental difference of the Triune God is pure, noncompetitive harmony which unites all things in Christ, as fellow members of one body. It is God’s action of overabundant self-outpouring in Christ, not our theological narrations about God which place all human discourses in their right order. Nihilism is overcome, not by anything we do, but is in fact always-already overcome because God is Triune. Radical Orthodoxy is wrong ultimately, because there is, in fact nothing that needs to be outnarrated. All narratives exist and find their closure, their coherence, and their fitting end in the resurrection of Christ from the dead. Only if Christ’s resurrection is the outcome of all narratives is the reality of violence forever mitigated. And that is what the doctrine of the Trinity proclaims.