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The Psalms as Inter-Trinitarian Dialogue

A while back I posted a Christological Theology of the Psalms.  At the end of that post I suggest that the Psalms can be read fruitfully as a an inter-trinitarian dialogue, that is as a conversation between the Son and the Father in the Spirit.  This has a prima facie plausibility to me in light of the simple fact that the Psalms, more than any other book of the Old Testament are found on the lips of Jesus throughout the Gospels.  Jesus finds in the Psalms his own prayers and speaks them as his own prayers to the Father.

If it is indeed the case that the Psalms can legitimately and fruitfully be read in this figural way, I wonder what we might glean from them in terms of trinitarian doctrine.  In other words, if the Psalms are a discourse, a conversation between the Son and Father in their common Spirit, how might these Scriptures reshape and nurture our affirmations about the being of the triune God?  I have two thoughts about where such reflections might lead us.

First, if the discourse between the Psalmist and Yahweh in the Psalms is reflective of the eternal conversation of Jesus and the Father, we are forced to think of the divine life in an intensely personal and dynamic manner.  The pleas throughout the Psalms for divine help, even a prayer as radical as “take not your Holy Spirit from me!” (Ps. 51:5), if read trinitarianly propels us to think about the divine life of communion between the Father and Son, not a static given, but a dynamic being given.  The Son does not posses the Father but stands ever in need of the Father.  The Father likewise stands in need of the Son, without whom he will be without praise, love, and adoration.  Without the living Son, there is none to behold the Father’s radiance or declare his reality to the world (cf. Ps. 30:9).  We could say, on the basis of the Psalmic discourse that the Son is the visibility of the Father, without whom the Father cannot be himself.  One of the fascinating (and perhaps ontologically radical) implications of the Psalms for trinitarian doctrine is that essential neediness is not foreign to the life of the Trinity.  The sort of vulnerability, instability, and dependence that we experience as creatures is not a reality that is foreign to the life of God.  Rather, in God the reality of ontological neediness is embraced in an overabundant life of gift.  In the Trinity, being is not a given, but a dynamic being given which can only be received through the embrace, rather than the eschewal of need and dependence.

Second, if the Pslams reflect the eternal trinitiarian conversation, they testify to the irreducible historicality of God’s way of being God.  The eternal trinitarian conversation includes the history of Israel, the church, and the world.  God’s eternal discourse between the Son and the Father in the Spirit includes, grounds, and sustains the world of chance and change.  Indeed, on the basis of the Psalms we can say that God’s way of being God is identical with his being God for us.  The immanent, eternal discourse between the Son and the Father includes, embraces, and upholds creaturely reality.  God’s immanent life is found, not above, but profoundly within history, or rather history itself is found within the triune discourse.  The self-abnegating hesed of Yahweh, and the kenosis of Jesus are the elocutions of the triune discourse through which creation finds its being as an inflection, a rhythm, a non-necessary participant within the eternal conversation that is the triune God. 

There is certainly much more that could and must be said about a Christological and trinitarian reading of the Psalms.  What other vistas and horizons of discovery might there be for theological interpretation if we approach the Psalms as inter-Trinitarian discourse?  If people have thoughts, I want to continue such a conversation.  Who knows, such a conversation might even catch and experience a few of the inflections within the historical and eternal triune discourse!


  1. Nathan Smith wrote:

    What are we to do, then, with the concrete, historical circumstances which surround some of the Psalms, including (and especially) Psalm 51?

    Wednesday, January 30, 2008 at 12:53 pm | Permalink
  2. Ben wrote:

    A question, though: Couldn’t the fact that the Psalms were on Jesus’ lips as his prayers to the Father simply be an indication of his real humanity?

    The Psalms were the prayerbook of the Jews, as well as Christians throughout the ages. Perhaps Jesus was conversing with the Father as a human being, and this is why he used the Psalms, not necessarily because he was the Eternal Son.

    Just a thought. But I do find the implication of the Psalms as inter-trinitarian dialogue attractive…

    Wednesday, January 30, 2008 at 1:14 pm | Permalink
  3. Hill wrote:

    I’m not sure how “the historicality of God’s way of being God” is a consequence of this. To be honest, I’m not exactly sure what it means. I would personally be wary of asserting any kind of necessary relationship between history and God in himself. God does not need Israel, the Church or the world to be God in his absolute fullness. Of course, this is precisely why Israel, the Church and the world are such potent manifestations of His glory. I think I see your point, but there is a rather complex relationship between the super-abundant plenitude of God in himself and the specific character of his free creation. That is to say, even though creation adds nothing to God, he has created this and not that and that reveals something about himself which I don’t think one could call “essential” but could understand, vaguely following Hart, as “delight.” I don’t think there is anything constitutive of my person that makes me love vanilla ice cream so much, but indeed I do. This is at the core of why I find Hart so helpful. I really do think the language of beauty and delight represent actual unique theological/metaphysical categories. That was a bit of a ramble. I do like where you are going with this, but there is a certain sense in which your comments suggest that God requires his creation to be truly himself. I have yet to be convinced of the merits of this kind of theology over the traditional accounts of divine impassability.

    Wednesday, January 30, 2008 at 1:18 pm | Permalink
  4. Halden wrote:

    Ben, I would say yes and absolutely to both of those things! The point is that nothing that happens in Jesus humanity is something that is out of place, or dissonant with the eternal triune life. Rather, the incarnation is itself part of that life. You might be interested also in Fr. Robert Barron’s book The Priority of Christ: Towards a Postliberal Catholicism in which he offers a narrative reading of Chalcedonian Christology. Christ is divine and human becase in the life of Jesus the story of God and the story of humanity are told together as the same story. Something like that sort of Christology is operative in my thinking here.

    Nathan, I say in my orignal post that there may be more than one way to read the Psalms. However, I have no problem reading Psalm 51 Christologically, especially in light of T.F. Torrance’s idea of the “vicarious humanity of Christ”.

    Hill, I try to address such concerns as you mention here. I see myself as trying to mediate between Hart and Jenson in many ways, generally by means of a more Balthasarian orientation.

    Wednesday, January 30, 2008 at 1:18 pm | Permalink
  5. Hill wrote:

    I confess to having not read your radical trinitarianism series, but I definitely will. I’m looking forward to your take on it. It sounds like a very interesting project.

    Wednesday, January 30, 2008 at 2:01 pm | Permalink
  6. andrew wrote:

    i have wondered as to where the Holy Spirit actually fits into the dialog of Father and Son.
    you say, ‘in the Spirit’. i am just a little unclear as to what that may mean. however, i realized that you haven’t actually posted your pneumatological sections yet, so i am willing to wait and see how this unfolds.

    Wednesday, January 30, 2008 at 4:24 pm | Permalink
  7. Ben wrote:

    Ben (the other one) wrote: “The Psalms were the prayerbook of the Jews, as well as Christians throughout the ages. Perhaps Jesus was conversing with the Father as a human being, and this is why he used the Psalms, not necessarily because he was the Eternal Son.”

    But if Jesus is praying to the Father, then that is precisely inter-Trinitarian dialog, Jesus as a human being IS the Eternal Son, praying the Psalms as a Jew.

    I think this is the reason why WE use the Psalms, not the other way around.

    Wednesday, January 30, 2008 at 9:49 pm | Permalink
  8. Ben(jamin) wrote:

    It is confusing to have two Bens occupying the same comment thread! Perhaps I shall be known from now on as “Benjamin”… anyway, to respond to both Halden’s and (the other) Ben’s comments, yes I can see that we cannot essentially “divide” Christ’s life up into “things he did as the Divine Son” and “things he did as a normal human being”, so the Psalm-praying as inter-trinitarian dialog is a very fascinating premise.

    I will try to check out the book you recommended, Halden.

    The Trinity and the Incarnation are perhaps the two greatest “mysteries” of Christianity, and when taken together, the mystery and wonder escalates exponentially (if that is mathematically viable: infinity times infinity = ?)

    Thanks for provoking thought.

    Thursday, January 31, 2008 at 5:31 am | Permalink
  9. Nathan Smith wrote:

    Halden, thanks for the response. I suppose I betrayed my LGH bias. What about Psalms outside the Psalter?

    Thursday, January 31, 2008 at 9:01 am | Permalink

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