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A Further Note on Perichoresis

Many of the advocates for social trinitarianism point to its ethical and political implications. If human relationality is supposed to image divine trinitarian relationality, then clearly there are a great many ethical implications from this about community, social justice, etc. Moltmann in particular typifies this sort of claim.

Moreover, the claim for the robustness of this sort of trinitarian ethic tends to be grounded in the concept of perichoresis. If God’s inter-trinitarian relations are a dynamic event of interpenetration and mutual indwelling, clearly our relations with one another must manifest the same sort of mutual interiority and intimacy.

There is one big problem with this sort of argument. Interpenetration is not by any means a necessarily good thing. Any feminist theologian worth their salt will tell you that “penetration” can be pretty violent and dehumanizing. Mutual indwelling is not, in and of itself, a good thing at all. Lives that are closely knit together to such a degree that they can meaningfully be called “interpenetrating” may or may not be good lives. Human relations are morally defined, not by the fact that they are dynamic and interpenetrating, but by the sort of ends to which our relations with one another is directed, and the quality of life together that is fostered in and through our relations with each other. What matters is not primarily that we advocate for a form of human life that is “interpentrating”, but rather that we accurately describe the quality of relations that are appropriate to the gospel, namely lives of self-giving love, gift, deference, and thoroughgoingly mutual subordination.

We don’t need a concept of perichoresis to tell us that all of us are indwelt, shaped, and formed by our relations with others. That is plainly obvious in all human cultures. What we need is not a blank advocation for a view of human persons as mutually interior to one another–we are that way whether we like it or not–rather, we need to advocate for properly shaped social relations as defined by the agapaeic ethics of Scripture. Merely establishing that “we are all connected” establishes nothing but that which everyone, particularly those who are suffering, already know.

One Comment

  1. vassilip wrote:

    dear Halden,

    it is a common ‘post-modern’ fashion we take some ancient ‘poetic’ expressions used by the Fathers in their agon to express–formulate their experience to their flock, and to build upon them (upon their ambiguity) whatever our will demands.
    unfortunately the term ‘perichorisis’ is a common victim of that intellectual vanity of us.
    in that context i have to say that i found your comments very sober and down to earth.
    let me add some personal thoughts:
    (a) i find it extremely idle (not to say arrogant) to project our intellectual aspirations to the–almost, totally unknown to us–relations of the Divine Persons;
    (b) it is curious to look for interpretations of Father’s eternal will anywhere else than in the same text in which it was revealed:
    the relation of the Son to the Father, as it was revealed in Gethsemane, takes a universal meanining in Paul’s term of ‘obedience’ (1Cor.15:28) and in Jn.6:38-40.

    Saturday, September 27, 2008 at 9:24 am | Permalink

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