Skip to content

The Trinity as Entelechy?

In the last post I noted Bulgakov’s suggestive idea that the church be understood as an entelechy, a reality that carries its end within itself and as such never “achieves” its end in a static sense, since perpetual “becoming” towards this end is part of its own definition.

This notion also seems a fruitful description of the life the Trinity. If we conceptualize the Trinity as entelechic we are able to understand the being of God as completely and eternally actualized in itself and as always on its way, always in becoming towards perfection–a perfection that lies within the Trinity itself, but which always lies ungrasped, circulating as gift between the persons of the Trinity. This seems to make sense of the biblical narrative of Jesus in a profound way. The Scriptures portray Christ’s resurrection as definitive of his very being–if Christ is not raised, this God simply is not, as Robert Jenson says–however, if Christ’s being is defined by resurrection, does this not mean that God in some sense “depends” on creation to be God?

Not if we understand God’s being entelechically, which would allow us to say (along with Eberhard Jüngel) that God’s being-in-becoming is simply the definition of how God is God. Thus posting becoming, movement, newness, in the divine life does not require us to posit a transmogrification in the being of God in which God changes from one thing into something else or is extrinsically determined. Rather, God’s trinitarian being carries its eschatological fullness within itself while simultaneously always moving towards it as God’s own future.


  1. Hill wrote:

    I think the reason that it is important to consider the church as entelechy is because of it’s radical dependence on God. I don’t think this translates to God himself. It’s not as if the Son is radically dependent on the Father and the Father on the Spirit. Neither is the inverse true. I have to admit to having no idea what it means for the being of God to be “in becoming towards perfection.” If that is in fact a coherent concept, it seems to be an utterly groundless assertion and simultaneously that which you are trying to prove. It just seems like you are saying “If the Trinity is entelechic, then God’s being is in his becoming. Since God’s being is in his becoming, the Trinity is entelechic. Therefore, Jungel was right.”

    If God is moving towards anything, then God is not God. That which he is moving towards is God.

    Tuesday, September 30, 2008 at 11:09 pm | Permalink
  2. Halden wrote:

    You really don’t think the persons of the Trinity are dependent on one another? That just seems prima facie obvious.

    Also I wasn’t attempting a covert syllogism, simply noting some connections where I saw them. This is just an exploration after all.

    Tuesday, September 30, 2008 at 11:12 pm | Permalink
  3. Derrick wrote:

    I think this is a great idea that should definitely be explored. Its late and I dont have a lot to say but Pannenberg wrote a great essay called “Eternity, Time, and the Trinitarian God” for Robert Jenson’s festschrift “Trinity, Time, and Church” edited by Colin Gunton in which Pannenberg argues (somewhat against Jenson) that each of the 3 persons in their reciprocality are each future to the others in their own way. This is something of a change to Jenson’s trinitarianism which, especially in his systematic theology, emphasizes the priority of the Future as the aspect of the Holy Spirit. It is also, for those interested, a slight evolution of Pannenberg’s ideas even in their mature form in his systematic theology. At any rate its an interesting read, especially for mining resources for this idea. The full article (which may be modified slightly from its book form, I didnt have time to check) can be found online at

    for those who dont have access to the book.

    Wednesday, October 1, 2008 at 1:41 am | Permalink
  4. Hill wrote:

    My comments were exploratory, as well. Something just doesn’t feel right about this, and I’m trying to figure out why. As to the dependency of the persons of the Trinity, I tried to get at that, but poorly. They may be dependent on each other, but in a way altogether different than the way that the human is dependent on God, and I’m not even sure it makes sense to use the word dependent. Dependence implies some consideration of what one would be like in the absence of the other. The result is pretty clear in the case of humans and God, but the question “what is the son without the father” is an unthinkable thought, and probably a misunderstanding of the Trinity to even ask.

    To me, the usefulness of the concept is that it accounts for the ways in which the finite can finally attain that state of beatification while never attaining the status of the infinite. It is an ascension as the finite human apprehends in ever greater degrees the infinite (God) while never possessing him or exhaustively knowing him. When you try to talk about the interior life of God this way, it puts a notion of progress in God, and to my mind, that can’t be the case. Some may be comfortable with that sort of language, but I think it is deeply and fundamentally mistaken, if for no other reason then that the God that is in progress to being something other than himself cannot be God.

    Wednesday, October 1, 2008 at 7:47 am | Permalink
  5. Apolonio wrote:


    have you read Fr. Antonio Lopez’s article on restlesness in Communio? I would recommend it.

    Wednesday, October 1, 2008 at 8:39 am | Permalink
  6. Geoff wrote:

    Halden, with regard to this statement:

    “…if Christ’s being is defined by resurrection, does this not mean that God in some sense “depends” on creation to be God?”

    I guess I would like you to unpack a bit more what your thoughts are as to the connection between resurrection and creation. While I think the obvious intuition is to say that there can be no resurrection without death, and death is part of the created order, I feel as though this doesn’t really capture the whole picture. My tendency is to rely upon kenotic ideas to explain the connection, but I’m interested to hear your perspective. Thanks.


    Friday, October 3, 2008 at 9:50 am | Permalink
  7. Halden,

    I am going to add to the above unanswered questions, so I am apologetic.

    Here goes: if we are in any sense to talk about the dependency of the persons in the Trinity on each other – which you say is “prima facie obvious” – should we not be careful to say that they are dependent not from a need or a lack, but more along the lines of relationships?

    I suppose I could see an answer going one of two ways:

    1. No, there is a sort of lack which needs to be overcome, or is always being overcome. this sounds Hegelian to me, and I doubt you are saying this.

    2. To talk of “need” in God is unintelligible, as if we could talk of the divine persons as separate persons in the first place. I assume you would go more along this line, but that leaves me with the question: what do you mean they are dependent on each other, in any sense that is not tautological form the very fact of “Trinity”?


    Friday, October 3, 2008 at 3:14 pm | Permalink
  8. Halden,

    I wondered if you had a chance to ponder my question. I know recent comments can often be missed since you receive so many. I hope you are well.


    Sunday, October 5, 2008 at 7:23 pm | Permalink
  9. Halden,

    I know this is late to the game, but let me state this very clearly: either we speak of the church or of God in terms of “entelechy,” but we cannot speak of both in this sense.

    Barth and Jüngel understand God’s being as “in becoming” because they understand the being of God in terms of the history of Jesus Christ. God’s being is grounded in a history. The only reason God’s eternal existence is in becoming is because it is eternally oriented toward, grounded in, and determined by the history of Jesus. There is not some abstract eternal becomingness in God’s being, just as God doesn’t naturally suffer in God’s being apart from the human suffering of Jesus. Perfection and becoming belong to God’s life because Jesus of Nazareth belongs to God’s eternal being by virtue of God’s primal decision of election.

    So here’s the problem: if we understand entelechy to mean that, along with becoming, the perfection of a being is internal to that being, then we can only really apply this to the being of God. The church does not have its perfection in itself but only in Jesus Christ, extra se. However, if we understand entelechy (as I think Bulgakov wants) in terms of the church, as a becoming in which the historical body of Christ grows and progresses while always already having its telos in itself, due to the power of the Spirit and Christ’s sacramental presence, then we cannot speak of the Trinity as an entelechy. That’s because the becoming of God is not a progression or change over time. God is a being-in-becoming because God’s being is determined by the history of Jesus Christ. God’s being-in-becoming, at least for Barth, includes divine immutability. That’s not the case for Jüngel’s constructive project, in which God’s being is in coming. On that score, perhaps entelechy might be more appropriate.

    But even so, there is a fundamental difference between God’s being and the church’s being that prevents the univocal use of any term to both realities. God’s being is always self-determined, while the church’s being is always externally determined. The church exists in witness. It has no existence or perfection in itself. God is not bound to the church, but the church is wholly bound to God. There is an asymmetrical relationship between God and the church.

    Monday, October 6, 2008 at 1:57 pm | Permalink
  10. Entelechy concepts (in an Aristotelic sense) demands a time to develop from one stage to a superior one, meanwhile God concept is more eternal, and less time-dependent. How do we fix that?

    Here, an interesting hint:

    I look forward your comments …

    Friday, October 10, 2008 at 10:08 am | Permalink

Switch to our mobile site