2 The Doctrine of the Trinity

To say that there has been a recent renewed interest in the doctrine of the Trinity would be an understatement.1 Gunton can even wryly remark that “suddenly we are all trinitarians.”2 Modern trinitarian thought comes from various Christian traditions and theological perspectives. Within this milieu of thought on the Trinity, one strand draws on the insights of the Cappadocian fathers.3 According to Zizioulas the Cappadocians are responsible for a “revolution in Greek philosophy”4 which brought about a new conception of being and personhood. For the purposes of this paper, the Cappadocians, according to Zizioulas, made “being…a product of freedom.”5 Therefore, Cappadocian thought, as mediated through Zizioulas and others will provide the ontological basis for understanding personhood and its relation to freedom. But to appreciate the contribution of the Cappadocians it will be necessary to review Christian thought about the Trinity. First of all, I will summarize two, according to the standards of Christian orthodoxy, heretical inclinations in thought about the being of God. These inclinations will parallel the discussion of the problem of the One and the Many laid out above.6 Then I will move on to examine the orthodox but controversial contribution of Augustine on the doctrine of the Trinity. I will argue that Augustine’s

Cf. The annotated bibliography in Roger Olson and Christopher Hall, The Trinity (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Comp., 2002), 140-150. The authors also give a helpful summary and the general approach of each book. I would also add: Colin Gunton, Promise of Trinitarian Theology 2d ed. (Edinburgh: T & T Clark, 1997); Robert W. Jenson, Triune God, vol. 1, Systematic Theology (New York: Oxford University Press, 1997). 2 Gunton, Promise, xv. 3 The Cappdocian fathers are Gregory of Nyssa, Gregory Nazianzen, and Basil of Caesarea. The works by Jenson and Gunton would fit into this group. Perhaps the most influential writer to emphasize the unique work of the Cappadocians is John Zizioulas, Being as Communion (New York: St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press, 1985). 4 Zizioulas, Communion, 36. 5 Ibid., 39. 6 Section 1.1


view of the Trinity anticipates some of the features discussed in the section on modern conceptions of personhood and freedom. Finally, I will explain Cappadocian thought about the Trinity and how it relates to freedom.

2.1 The Trinity: One or Many?
The word ‘Trinity’ itself reintroduces the problem of the One and the Many. While the prefix tri- suggests that God is in some sense many, the root unity affirms that God is also one. The struggle of Christian orthodoxy has been about how to relate these two ideas together. As with many problems, examining misguided solutions can help one appreciate and even better understand the correct one. And so, we will begin by looking at two heretical answers to the question of the One and the Many and its relation to God.

2.1.1 Modalism
Those who highlight the unity of God have the support of one of Israel’s early confessions: “Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one!”7 Against all of the polytheism and henotheism of their neighbors, the nation of Israel proclaimed that there was one God who ruled over all things. But the New Testament recorded the work of Jesus, the Christ, and after Pentecost the work of the Holy Spirit. How did the work of Jesus and the Holy Spirit relate to Israel’s ancient creed? More specifically, what was the relationship between the one God and the apparently distinct “persons” of the Son and the Holy Spirit? One answer, later deemed insufficient by the Christian church, was that the Son and the Spirit were modes, or manifestations, of the one God. Hence the technical term ‘modalism’ for this position.

Deut. 6:4


The most well known proponent of this view was a man named Sabellius.8 He taught that God was a single pr’o,swpon or individual.9 The Father, Son, and Holy Spirit were merely different names for the one God. Theses name corresponded to the different actions of God in salvation history: creation, redemption, and sanctification. Like Parmenides before him, Sabellius emphasized the unity of being and therefore relegated plurality to a secondary role. He holds to Israel’s confession of the one God, but does so at the expense of the many persons of the Godhead.

2.1.2 Tritheism
One could of course resolve the problem of the one and the many in a different fashion. In a Heraclitean fashion one could deny the unity of the divine nature, or at least seek to severely qualify it. While the church never had to deal with any serious persons within her ranks attempting to hold a tritheist position, she did have to repel tritheist tendencies. Such a tendency is apparent in those who merely wanted to assert that Jesus had a ‘like’ substance to the Father and was not consubstantial with him. But if Jesus is merely ‘like’ the Father, one is pressed to articulate the ways that he is similar to the Father. And if sharing the same substance is not on the list, then Jesus is a divinity very close to the Father but is in reality a second God. In large part the church was successful at quelling both Sabellianism and tritheism. The doctrine of the Trinity was an attempt at steering a middle course between these two

What Sabellius himself actually believed is not always clear. As Kelly points out, much of the information we have about Sabellius comes a century after his death. Cf. J.N.D. Kelly, Early Christian Doctrines (New York: Harper and Row Publishers, 1959), 122. 9 G.L. Prestige, God in Patristic Thought (London: SPCK, 1952), 160. According to Prestige, Sabellius used the term pr’o,swpon for a “distinct individual” and not in the sense of mask. Basil of Caesarea later attributed to Sabellius the view that God had three prosopa. On Basil’s interpretation of Sabellius, the “persons” of the Trinity were really different masks of the one God. While this may be a correct analysis of Sabellius’ doctrine, he himself did not express it that way.


tendencies. This historic Christian doctrine asserts that God is both one and many and it was up to Christians in the late 4th century to hammer out this important belief.

2.2 Augustine and the Trinity
“It is impossible to do contemporary Trinitarian theology and not have a judgement on Augustine,” writes a recent author on the topic of Augustine and the Trinity.10 This is largely because Augustine’s contribution to trinitarian theology has become a contentious issue in the last decade.11 This paper will side with those who see in Augustine’s thought harmful trends which inhibit a true theology of personhood.12 His theology emphasizes the One, substance or essence, over the Many, persons or relations, in the Trinity. Furthermore, his trinitarian analogies result in an individualistic conception of the self. I will begin by examining how Augustine relates the one substance of God to the many persons of the Trinity, and then proceed to his psychological analogies of the Trinity.

2.2.1 Substance and Persons
In book V of On the Trinity Augustine immediately confronts the Arian idea that the Father and the Son are distinct in substance. In Augustine’s words13, the Arians

Michel René Barnes, “Rereading Augustine’s Theology of the Trinity”, in The Trinity ed. by Stephen T. Davis, Daniel Kendall, and Gerald O’Collins (New York: Oxford University Press, 1999), 145. 11 Michel René Barnes, “Augustine in Contemporary Trinitarian Theology,” Theological Studies 56 (June 1995) : 237-250. As Barnes points out, much of the debate revolves around the thesis put forward a century ago by Theodore De Regnon in his Etudes de theologie positive sur la Sainte Trinite, four volumes bound as three (Paris:Victor Retaux, 1892/1898), which distinguished between a Latin and Greek theology. This difference is usually summarized in this way: “Greek theology begins with the reality of the distinct persons while Latin theology begins with the reality of the unity of the divine nature.” Barnes, 237. While a complete analysis of De Regnon’s thesis is beyond the scope of this paper, I will argue that Augustine fits De Regnon’s characterization of Latin theology. I will not attempt to assess whether other Latin writers also fit this description. 12 See Colin Gunton, “Augustine, the Trinity and the Theological Crisis of the West,” in Promise of Trinitarian Theology, 30-55; Robert W. Jenson, The Triune Identity (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1982; reprint, Eugene: Wipf and Stock Publishers, 2002), 114-120. But cf. Barnes, “Augustine in Contemporary Trinitarian Theology,” 237-250, for a critique of the methods used by Jenson and others. 13 In the following account Augustine’s reasoning will be more important than the fact that he correctly interpreted the Arian’s of his day.


asserted that “whatsoever is said or understood of God…is said according to substance.”14 This premise was used to declare that the Father and the Son were two different substances. The Father was unbegotten, while the Son was begotten. The substance of God could not be both begotten and unbegotten at the same time and therefore the Father and the Son were two distinct substances. To counter this Arian line of argument Augustine starts off by defining God’s being. Augustine thinks that the primary example of being is God’s being since “[it] is not changed, [and] also cannot at all be changed.”15 This principle of the unchangability of God’s substance functions as a guiding principle for the rest of Augustine’s discussion of the Trinity.16 It is the reason why Augustine will not allow God to have accidents connected to his being. Accidents by definition are changeable. God’s being is incapable of change. Therefore, Augustine concludes “Wherefore nothing in Him is said in respect to accident, since nothing is accidental to him.”17 At this point it will be helpful to review how Aristotle defines substance as an important background to Augustine’s discussion of God’s being.18 A substance is literally that which “stands under” the properties of an object. While apples may be red and refreshing, these qualities do not properly refer to their substance. They are rather its ‘accidents’, or things that are not essential to its being an apple. As Augustine pointed out, accidents by nature are changeable. Apples turn brown when they rot and are no

14 15

On the Trinity V.3.4, in NPNF 1st series vol. 8, 88. On the Trinity V.2.3, in NPNF 1st series v. iii, 88. 16 The fact that Augustine starts with a concept of substance that guides his discussion of the persons of the Trinity is instructive. I think that this method reveals a Platonic starting point for Augustine’s trinitarian theology. It is at least apparent that the persons of the Trinity do not play a role in defining God’s substance. 17 On the Trinity V.5.6, in NPNF 1st series v. iii, 89. 18 I am indebted to William P. Alston’s summary of Aristotle’s theory of substance in “Substance and the Trinity” in The Trinity, 181-183.


longer good to eat. The substance is the being of the apple which remains constant amidst the change of color and taste. Augustine is saying that God does not have changeable qualities, such as color or taste, and therefore no accidents. But the denial that God has accidents does not yet answer the Arian challenge. And so Augustine continues his argument by denying that everything said about God refers to his substance. But if speech about God such as “begotten” and “unbegotten” does not refer to the substance of God nor to his accidents, to what then does it refer? At this point Augustine introduces the term relation to describe those things about God that are not descriptive of his substance.19 The difference between an accident and a relation is the fact that the former is changeable while the latter is not. The terms ‘unbegotten’ and ‘begotten’ describe the Father and the Son respectively and these relations are eternal. There is never a time when the Father is without the Son. Therefore, the term relation is used primarily to describe the persons of the Trinity and their uniqueness. Augustine expresses the above points in a summary fashion Wherefore, although to be the Father and to be the Son is different, yet their substance is not different; because they are so called, not according to substance, but according to relation, which relation, however, is not accident, because it is not changeable.20 Thus the term relation accounts for the fact that we can discuss difference in God without making this a difference of substance (i.e. more than one God) or merely an accident. But this is not to deny that some things can be spoken of God according to substance. Whatever “is said of that most eminent and divine loftiness in respect to itself, is said in respect to substance…”21 Terms that describe God in respect to himself are

This is one of Augustine’s unique contributions to Trinitarian theology cf. Cambridge Companion to Augustine. 20 On the Trinity, V.5.6, in NPNF 1st series v. iii, 89. 21 On the Trinity, V.8.9, in NPNF 1st series v. iii, 91.


such descriptions as “great”, “good”, and “God”.22 Augustine has now identified two categories for talking about God: terms that refer to God in respect to himself and those that are used relatively. What bearing does this distinction have on the relationship between the persons of the Trinity and the one substance of God? It results in a substance that is prior to and stands behind the persons. This is revealed in the telling phrase “same substance in [italics mine] Father and Son and Holy Spirit”.23 This one substance which exists in each of the persons of the Trinity is what constitutes their divinity. Each person is God in ‘in respect to himself’, that is substantially, and not relatively, that is as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. This fact confirms Gunton’s observation that the term ‘relation’ functions logically rather than ontologically.24 Augustine by steering clear of the Charybdis of Arianism appears to sail too close to the Scylla of Sabellianism.25 Augustine is aware of other ways of talking about the Trinity.26 In his work on the Trinity he cites the “Greeks,” who would be the church fathers who wrote in that language. He is aware of the difference between Latin and Greek theological terms. While he uses the word “essence,” the Greeks use the word ouvsi,a (Greek for ‘being’). Augustine even makes note of the problems in translating theological terms from Greek into Latin.27 The Greek theologians spoke of mi,an ouvsi,an and trei/j u`posta,seij which in Latin would be one essence and three substances. But to the Latins this would be heretical since they had always affirmed one substance and three
22 23

Ibid. Ibid. 24 Gunton, Promise, 40. 25 This is not to say that Augustine himself is Sabellian. 26 In his article on Augustine’s use of the Trinity, Pecknold affirms that Augustine had read some of the Cappadocians and saw himself in continuity with Nicea, “How Augustine Used the Trinity: Functionalism and the Development of Doctrine,” Anglican Theological Review 85 (Winter 2003) : 131-135. 27 On the Trinity, V.8.10, in NPNF 1st series v. iii, 92.


persons (personae). The complication is due to the fact that the literal translation of u`posta,sij is the Latin ‘substance’, since both words mean ‘to stand under’. Augustine rests with the fact that other authoritative writers in Latin have adopted the ‘one substance’ and ‘three persons’ terminology as equivalent to that used by the Greek theologians.28 But what is telling in Augustine’s discussion of theological terms is his admission that he does not understand exactly why the Greeks use the word u`posta,sij.29 Augustine not only confesses his own ignorance about the distinctions that the Eastern Fathers are trying to make between ousia and hypostasis, but he also rejects their position about the being of God in an implicit way. In Book seven Augustine comes back to the question of whether each person also in the Trinity can also by Himself and not with the other two be called God…or anything else that can be said of God…or whether these things cannot be said except when the Trinity is understood.30 This is an important question about the Trinity. It gets to the heart of the question of the persons of the Trinity and the substance of God. To answer this question Augustine discusses which attributes apply to God relatively and which apply absolutely (i.e. to the substance of the Godhead). As we saw earlier Augustine had said that such descriptions as Father and Son, unbegotten and begotten, all applied to God relatively. But what about such terms as wisdom, greatness, and power? Or to use Augustine’s words, is the Father “not singly powerful or wise, but [is he rather wise] together with the power and wisdom itself which He begat [namely the Son]”?31 Can we talk about the Father being
28 29

On the Trinity, V.9, in NPNF 1st series v. iii, 92. “They indeed use also the word hypostasis; but they intend to put a difference, I know not what, between ouvsi,a and hypostasis…” On the Trinity, V.8.10, in NPNF 1st series v. iii, 92. 30 On the Trinity 7.1 31 On the Trinity 7.1


wise “in Himself” or must we say that the Father is wise only in relation to the Son? The latter view Augustine rejects as absurd. For it would be incorrect to say that “the Father cannot be called anything in respect to his own substance, but that whatever He is called, He is called in relation to the Son.”32 Yet this was the view of the Eastern Fathers. And as Jenson points out [Augustine] states the Cappadocian doctrine clearly…[but] Augustine rejected the Cappadocian doctrine for the sake of the simplicity axiom, which indeed, as he says, makes absurd all talk about the identities only mutually being God.33 It is this fact, that the persons of the Trinity are God only mutually and never in themselves, that this paper is trying to establish. Such a view allows us to conceive of the persons of the Godhead in a communal rather than an individualistic way. As a confirmation of Augustine’s individualistic views of the Trinity, we will look at his analogies of God’s triune nature.

2.2.2 Psychological Analogies
Charles Taylor points out that one of the themes in Augustine’s theology is the distinction between the inner and the outer.34 The outer is connected with all bodily realities while in inner refers to the soul. Taylor provides a representative quote from Augustine illustrating this point: “Do not go outward; return within yourself. In the inward man dwells truth.”35 Augustine, according to Taylor, takes over Plato’s idea of the Good and ascribes it to God. He, like Plato’s conception of the Good, cannot be known directly but indirectly through the created order.36 Only those few who have a mystical vision of God see him directly. More commonly, we must turn to the creatures,
32 33

On the Trinity 7.2 Jenson, The Triune Identity, 119. 34 Sources of the Self, pg. 129 35 Sources of the Self, pg. 129 quoting from Augustine 36 ibid. pg. 129


and more specifically humans, to get a glimpse of God. And as the quote above illustrates, we must turn inward if we are to get an understanding of what God is like. God is as close to us as our own thinking for as the Gospel of John says, “That was the true Light which gives light to every man coming into the world.”37 That light which God gives is not simply like the light of sun which dispels darkness. The light that comes from God is actually the power of seeing itself. God is to be found in the act of knowing itself.38 According to Taylor, Augustine introduces the idea of “radical reflexivity” into the theological and philosophical tradition. This results in a view of the world from a “firstperson standpoint.”39 He creates a space for such ideas as inner thoughts or objects which are not part of the world outside me. But as Taylor reminds us,40 the move inward finds its goal in the movement upward toward God. To merely look within would be to find a person enslaved by sin. But, according to Taylor’s reading of Augustine, when we look inward we can find traces of the divine in our ‘first-person’ standpoint. It is in this context that we must view Augustine’s psychological analogies for the trinity. In these analogies Augustine seeks for ways to help understand unity and diversity in the Trinity by looking inside the human person. Augustine calls us to contemplate our own experiences of mind, knowledge and love or memory, intelligence or will. In these inward triads we get a glimpse of unity and diversity within ourselves which should lead us upward to the unity and diversity of the Trinity.

37 38

John 1:9 Taylor, pg. 130 39 Ibid. 40 Ibid., 132


Gunton points out two shortcomings in Augustine’s move inward to find analogies for the Trinity: individualism and intellectualism.41 The former aspect of Augustine’s thought reveals a “tendency to illustrate the nature of the trinity by comparing it not to persons in relation…but to the individual human mind.”42 The single individual is an analog of the Trinity rather than a more social metaphor. The result is that if I want to get at a human picture of the Trinity, I don’t look outside myself, but rather turn inward. This ‘individualism’ reinforces the disengaged self discussed earlier, which we also saw created problems for our conception of freedom. Therefore, we must turn to an alternative discussion of the Trinity if we are to find a true ontology of personhood that will provide the basis for a correct understanding of freedom.

2.3 Cappadocian Solution
The Cappadocian view of the Trinity is in some ways as contentious as Augustine’s views on the same subject.43 It is largely due to a reappraisal of Augustine that the Cappadocian trinitarian theology has come to be examined more closely. I will follow Zizioulas and others who see in the Cappadocians an alternative tradition to the one articulated out by Augustine. Part of the Capadocian genius is their use of terminology for talking about the Trinity. As we noted above, the west stuck to the formula which originated with
41 42

Gunton, Promise, pg. 43 ibid., 43 43 . Zizioulas’ conclusions, and of those who share his emphasis, are not accepted by all. For a critique of some aspects of Cappadocian thought see Jurgen Moltmann, Trinity and the Kingdom of God (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1993), 188-190; and Wolfhart Pannenberg, Systematic Theology, vol. 1, trans. by Geoffery W. Bromiley (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Comp., 1991), 278-283. For critiques of Zizioulas in particular see Edward Russel, “Reconsidering Relational Anthropolgy: A Critical Assessment of John Zizioulas’ Theological Anthropology,” International Journal of Systematic Theology 5 (July 2003) : 168-186; Ralph De Colle, “‘Person’ and ‘Being’ in John Zizioulas’ Trinitarian Theology: Conversations with Thomas Torrance and Thomas Aquinas,” Scottish Journal of Theology 54 (February 2001) : 70-86; Miroslav Volf, After Our Likeness: The Church as the Image of the Trinity (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1998), 73-117.


Tertullian of una substantia and tres personae.44 But the disadvantage of this formula was the lack of ontological content of persona, which left the term open to Sabellian interpretations.45 If one were to translate this phrase into Greek-mi,a u`posta,sij and trei/j prosopa-the point is made even clearer. For a prosopoj (face or person) was a mask worn in a drama or a role a person had in society.46 Clearly a term was needed for the persons of the Trinity that carried more ontological weight. The Cappadocian theologian Basil of Caesarea (fl. 4th cent.) is the one credited with finding such a term. Up until his time the terms ousia and hypostasis were synonyms which loosely meant ‘being’.47 It was his genius to distinguish between these two wordsusing ousia for the one being of God, and hypostasis for the persons of the Trinity.48 Basil was fully aware of the Sabellian tendencies of persona and prosopoj.49 He realized that the terms prosopos and hypostasis must be linked together. This is because hypostasis suggested genuine ontological status for the persons rather than transitory modes of being. For Basil “Persons [must] exist in real hypostasis” if one is to escape Sabellianism.50 Unfortunately it was this very distinction, between hypostasis and ousia, which Augustine confessed he did not understand. But Basil was aware of the limitations of the western terminology. The non-identity of hypostasis and ousia is, I take it, suggested even by our western brethren, where, from a suspicion of the inadequacy of their own language, they have

44 45

Tertullian reference. Zizioulas, 37. 46 Ibid., 32-34. 47 Joseph T. Lienhard, “The Cappadocian Settlement,” in The Trinity, 102-103. 48 Lienhard credits Basil with being the first person to do this, “The Cappadocian Settlement,” 105. 49 Cf. Basil’s letters 210, 214, 226, 236. 50 Letter 214.4 in NPNF 2nd series, viii, 254.


given the word ousia in the Greek, to the end that any possible difference of meaning might be preserved in the clear and unconfounded distinction of terms.51 Thus, while the west was orthodox in its belief, its trinitarian terminology was open to Sabellianism. It took the theological subtlety of Basil and the other Cappadocians to provide the way of speaking about the persons of the Trinity which would successfully escape any forms of modalism. But if the persons of the Trinity now have an ontological status, does this lead to tritheism? Not according to Basil. For one must also confess a “community of the essence” in order to escape the charge of polytheism.52 This communion of the persons of the Trinity does not blur the distinctions between them but is rather a certain “communion indissoluble and continuous.”53 Each person has their own “notes of indication” by which they are recognized and yet “neither is there any vacuum of interval, void of subsistence, which can make a break in the mutual harmony of the divine essence.” One cannot even conceive of the persons in distinction from each other for she who “perceives the Father, has at the same time mental perception of the Son” and “does not divide Him from the Spirit.” In the thrity-eighth epistle of Basil’s corpus, which is now commonly attributed to Gregory of Nyssa, the author attempts to clearly lay out the disctinction between the two terms ousia and hypostasis. Hypostasis refers to what is particular within the divine


Letter 214.4 in NPNF 2nd series, viii, 254. Gregory of Nazianzen is even more scathing in his assessment of the western terminology: “We use in the orthodox sense the terms one Essence and three Hypostases, the one to denote the nature of the Godhead, the other the properties of the three; the Italians mean the same, but owing to the scantiness of their vocabulary, and its poverty of terms, they are unable to distinguish between Essence and Hypostases, and therefore introduce the term Persons, to avoid being understood to assert three Essences. The result, were it not piteous, would be laughable.” Oration 21.35 in NPNF 2nd series, vii, 279. 52 Letter 210.5 in NPNF 2nd series, viii, 251. 53 Letter 38.4 in NPNF 2nd series, viii, 139.


nature and ousia refers to what is more general.54 The functions along similar lines as Paul, Silvanus, and Timothy sharing a common humanity (ousia), but each one of them is a particular instantiation of this common humanity (hypostasis). While this has a ring of Aritotelian metaphysics, it differs because hypostaseis are actually constituitive for the ousia and not vice versa. If any of the particular persons of the Trinity ceased to exist then the one ousia would also cease to exist. This identification of the persons of the Trinity with hypostasis rather thans Augustine’s concept of relation is better because the Eastern Fathers still retain the ontological character of the persons of the Trinity. It is the hypostaseis of the Trinity, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, which in their communion make up the one God. Each in their particular way share in the communion which is the Triune God. This is evident from a quote from Epistle 38 Wherefore in the communion of the substance we maintain that there is no mutual approach or intercommunion of those notes of indication perceived in the Trinity, whereby is set forth the proper peculiarity of the Persons delivered in the faith, each of these being distinctively apprehended by His own notes. Hence, in accordance with the stated signs of indication, discovery is made of the separation of the hypostases; while so far as relates to the infinite, the incomprehensible, the uncreate, the uncircumscribed, and similar attributes, there is no variableness in the life-giving nature; in that, I mean, of Father, Son, and Holy Ghost, but in Them is seen a certain communion indissoluble and continuous.55 The distinction between ousia and hypostasis allows one to acknowledge the “proper peculiarity of the Persons” and yet acknowledge among them “a certain communion indissoluble and continuous.” The tendency towards modalism which was seen in


Epistle 38.5 “Since then our discussion has included both what is common and what is distinctive in the Holy Trinity, the common is to be understood as referring to the essence; the hypostasis on the other hand is the several distinctive sign.” 55 Epistle 38.4


Augustine and the heresy of Tritheism are both avoided. As Collins notes “The koinonia of the persons is the shared common ousia.”56 In the history of Christian thought, another term used to describe this communion between the persons of the Trinity was perichoresis. John of Damascus (fl. 8th century) popularized this term’s use in trinitarian theology.57 For him, it also expressed the communion between the persons, which also preserved their distinctness. Analogous to the points made in the paragraphs above, one could say that persons must be thought of perichoretically. That is, there are no persons without communion and no true communion without a distinction of persons.



Collins, pg. 165 For a short history of the use of the term and its currency in modern theology see Randall E. Otto, “The Use and Abuse of Perichoresis in Recent Theology,” in Scottish Journal of Theology 54 (2001):366-84.


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