Toward a Trinitarian Worldview: Perichoresis

April 28, 2008 — 1 Comment

“So where we?” said Vasiliy

“I think we were about to talk about what concepts are affected by your starting point in explaining the Trinity.”

“One step at a time,” said Vasiliy, “First let’s talk about God as Trinity.”

“We still both agree that God eternally exists as three persons, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, each being fully God, and that there is one God,[i] right?”

“Of course, we share the same basic understanding of God, such as three divine persons, person in this sense being a center of self-consciousness existing in relation to others.[ii]”

“So in starting with the persons rather than the nature, how does that play out?” said Martin

“In Greek philosophy, which predominated in the East, one first considers the agent, and then moves to find the nature, we think of nature as the content of a person, so we emphasize the person,[iii]” said Vasiliy, “And we would think of nature as the set of attributes that are essential to an individual’s belonging to a certain kind,[iv]which is usually exposed after knowing more about that person.”

“So I suppose philosophy in the West, which I guess might be what, Latin?,” asked Martin, ” It would work the opposite direction, considering the nature first, and then the agent?[v]”

“Correct.”

“That makes sense, which I think explains why you could be accused of slipping into tri-theism rather easily.”

“True, but as you know the Scriptures repeatedly affirm the three persons as God[vi], yet also that there is one God,” said Vasiliy, “We can relieve some of the tension of with the concept of perichoresis[vii], without also completely losing some degree of divine mystery.”

“I’m still having trouble wrapping my head around that one,” said Martin, “I mean I remember discussing it in class, but by that point in the semester I was having trouble rising to that level of abstract thought.”

“That’s certainly understandable,” said Vasiliy, “But let me try to explain it briefly in a way that might make better sense to you.”

“All I remember is that it had something to do with some kind of mutual indwelling of the members of the Godhead.”

“Very well,” replied Vasiliy, “I assume that you covered the Biblical basis for the concept,[viii] so I’ll just try to explain how I’ve come to understand it.”

“Yeah, I don’t doubt its legitimacy,” said Martin, “It’s just a clear understanding that eludes me.”

“In a rather roundabout way, seeing how this could be illustrated within your own self could broaden your understanding of the idea.” Pausing briefly to gather his thoughts, Vasiliy then continued, “In my discipline, a new field of study emerged in the early 90’s known as neurocardiology, pioneered by a man named Dr. J. Andrew Armour, who taught at Dalhousie University in Halifax, Canada.[ix] He found in his research that the heart contains at least 40,000 neurons, as many as are found in the various subcortical centers in the brain, or in other words, the heart has its own nervous system, a veritable ‘brain in the heart’ as they have called it. From a neuroscience perspective, it certainly does qualify as such, and because of that, its elaborate circuitry allows the heart to learn, remember, and even feel and sense. This information is communicated to the brain, just as the brain communicates to the heart, and there is in a certain sense, from an individual’s conscious perspective, a mutual indwelling of the two centers of thought within your body so that you cannot always distinguish between where your thoughts and feelings are exactly originating.”

“That’s pretty incredible,” said Martin, “I’ve never really studied anything along those lines, but if the research supports those kind of conclusions, that’s a really fascinating find.”

“My theory is that if there are two centers of thought and feeling within your body, which are distinguishable in function but united from your conscious perspective, that would provide a framework to being able to understand how the three divine persons can be separate, yet somehow united into a unified Godhead.”

“That’s pretty hard to grasp, but I think I’m starting to see it a bit more clearly,” said Martin, “It sounds like a good model, although the separateness of the heart and brain might be hard to completely establish.”

“There are still areas that need further refinement, as it is by no means what one would think of as an empirically validated scientific fact that the heart can think, but the research that keeps surfacing points strongly in that direction,” said Vasiliy,  “From my standpoint though, it is a workable theory that at least prima facie, seems plausible.”

“I can buy that,” said Martin, “So you would maybe draw from that, if it were true, that we are in a certain sense, I guess you would say, perichoretically structured?”

“You could draw that inference from this data, but it might be better to base it on the Scriptures first and then come back to this.[x]”

“Oh ok, well I guess the best evidence for what you would call a perichoretic structure in humans is the Holy Spirit’s indwelling of believers found in John 14:17,” Martin replied, “It would seem we are designed to be inhabited by another.”

“That’s a good start, but what do you find in the rest of that chapter?”

“What do you mean?”

“In verse 20, Christ tells His disciples that He is in the Father and that they are in Him, and that He is in them,” Vasiliy said, “Doesn’t that sound like Christ indwelling the believer as well?”

“You know, you’re right, Paul speaks of that rather often,[xi] and wouldn’t two members of the Trinity point to the possibility of God the Father being involved as well?”

“That’s exactly what you find in verse 23, where Christ says, “If anyone loves me, he will obey my teaching. My Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with them.”

“Which at least implies in some sense the Father indwelling believers as well,” said Martin, “and given the tightness, I guess you could say, of the Trinity, all three members need to be involved in every action, especially entering into relation with the believer.”

“And from my tradition, the whole relationship is perichoretic as well as we are able in some sense to participate in the divine energies of God, thus as each member of the Trinity mutually indwells the other, so does the believer have opportunity to be indwelt and to dwell in the divine.”

“The mere thought of that is awe-inspiring,” said Martin, “And extremely humbling as well, to think that we not only have God living inside of us, but are able in some sense able to live in God.”

“I would hope that we never lose sight of that,” said Vasiliy, “But now that the idea of being perichoretically structured is grounded in its proper place, how does that fit with what we were discussing just a minute ago.”

“I think I see where this is going,” said a slightly hesitant Martin, “But let me know if I’ve got this right.”

Vasiliy just smiled.”Certainly.”

“From what you said, it would seem there are already two centers of thought or feeling adhering within our one, unified conscious existence, and by being indwelt by another, namely God himself, that would make a total of three centers of thought within our mindedness, a perfect mirror image of the Trinity manifested within humanity once in the right relation to God.”

“I’m not sure that I could have phrased it in a much better way,” said Vasiliy, “Does the concept at least make a little better sense to you?”

“Not only does it make more sense, in a round about way, it makes more sense of myself, not just God.”

“Well given that your personhood is ultimately grounded in the Trinity, that’s precisely what should happen as you grow in your knowledge and relation to Him.”

Martin thought about this for minute, trying to piece it all together and then of course, the questions began to emerge.


[i] Wayne Grudem, Systematic Theology: An Introduction to Bible Doctrine, (Leicester, England: Intervarsity Press, 1994), 226.

[ii] J. Scott Horrell, “The Eternal Son of God in the Social Trinity,” in Jesus in Trinitarian Perspective, ed. Fred Sanders and Klaus Issler (Nashville, TN: B & H Academic, 2007), 52.

[iii] Vladimir Lossky, The Mystical Theology of the Eastern Church, (Crestwood, NY: St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press, 1976), 58.

[iv] Garrett J. DeWeese, “One Person, Two Natures: Two Metaphysical Models of the Incarnation,” in Jesus in Trinitarian Perspective, ed. Fred Sanders and Klaus Issler (Nashville, TN: B & H Academic, 2007), 141.

[v] Lossky, The Mystical Theology of the Eastern Church, 58.

[vi] Throughout the Gospels Jesus claims equality with God the Father, especially radical are His claims in John, including His claim of oneness with the Father in 10:30. By placing Himself in the same realm of being as God the Father, Jesus was clearly aware of not only His own divinity, but His co-equal status with the Father. Concerning the Spirit as well, support can be found in: Matthew 28:19; Acts 5:3,4,9; 2 Corinthians 3:17-18

[vii] “…the personal interpenetration of each member of the Godhead in the other – each inviting and indwelling…” Horrell, “The Eternal Son of God in the Social Trinity,” 59.

[viii] John 14:8-11,20,23; 15:4-7; 17:20-23,26

[ix] The rest of the information about neurocardiology comes from his works: J. Armour, “Anatomy and Function of the Intrathoracic Neurons Regulating the Mammalian Heart,” in Reflect Control of the Circulation, ed. I. Zucker and J. Gilmore (Boca Raton, FL: CRC Press, 1991). And J. Armour and J. Ardell, eds., Neurocardiology (New York: Oxford University Press, 1994). Cited in Doc Childre and Howard Martin, The Heartmath Solution, (New York: HarperSanFransisco, 1999).

[x] The following discussion is adapted from J. Scott Horrell ST 102 Class Notes, Chapter 14 The Trinity and Missio Dei, 5 (which itself was the oral text from a message delivered at Dallas Theological Seminary Mission Conference, 2006).

[xi] Galatians 2:20; Ephesians 3:17; Colossians 1:27, 29, 3:11,16; Paul also speaks of the Father dwelling in believers corporately in Ephesians 2:22 and being filled with the fullness of God in Ephesians 3:19.

Nate

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I'm an avid reader, musician, and high school Bible teacher living in central Florida. I have many paperback books and our house smells of rich glade air freshners. If you want to know more, then let's connect!

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