"The Holy Trinity in the Life of the Church" ed. by Khaled Anatolios, a Review

The Holy Trinity in the Life of the Church (Holy Cross Studies in Patristic Theology and History)The Holy Trinity in the Life of the Church by Khaled Anatolios
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Christianity is noted for many peculiarities that are paradigmatic, and at times can be perplexing. The whole notion of the Trinity likely tops the list for those inside and outside Christianity. How can we claim to be monotheistic (believers in one God) and yet claim that we believe in three persons who are divine (the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit)? The “how can we” question has consumed heaps of ink and cerebral juices from Christian thinkers for most of two millennium. Then to add more bewilderment, there have been polychromatic descriptions and explanations from within Christianity that seem to talk past one another. Recently Khaled Anatolios, professor of historical theology at the Boston College School of Theology and Ministry in Chestnut Hill, Massachusetts, and accomplished author, has pulled together and edited a new 272 page paperback on the subject, “The Holy Trinity in the Life of the Church”. This work is a compilation of articles written by authors who are primarily from Eastern Orthodox and Roman Catholics viewpoints, and is chiefly for seminarians, pastors and theologians. After the explanatory preface by Anatolios, the book divides up into three sections covering the Trinity in the worship of the Church, with regard to salvation, and ecclesiology.

The first division of “The Holy Trinity in the Life of the Church” looks at the Trinitarian texture in the Church’s worship. Joseph T. Lienhard, SJ, addresses “The Baptismal Command (Matthew 28:19-20) and the Doctrine of the Trinity,” where he teases out how several of the early church theologians and pastors found that the baptismal command had set the parameters for describing the Godhead; in fact, that the “roots of Christianity as a doctrinal religion and a religion that has a creed, truths that must be accepted, are in this passage” (20).  Next, Robert J. Daly, SJ, explains the connection between the “Eucharist and Trinity in the Liturgies of the Early Church”. Most of his approach is to show how the doctrine of the Eucharist developed, navigating through clear (as he sees it) discontinuities from the original “Last Supper”, or as he explains, pluralities of practice (34) both within the New Testament and in the early centuries of Christianity until it developed into the more robust sacramental theology of the seventh and eighth centuries. The rule by which he gauges the level of development of a specific Eucharistic liturgy is the Trinitarian language that a particular anaphora uses, or doesn’t use – especially if there is an epiclesis or not. Paul A. Hartog takes over at this point discussing the “Nascent "Trinitarian" Worship of Martyrdom of Polycarp 14 and Ephesians 1”. Hartog tells how certain authors, mainly J. Armitage Robinson, see the Trinitarian doxological statements in the prayer of Polycarp rehearsed in “The Martyrdom” as later interpolations because they are Trinitarian and include mention of the Holy Spirit. The author then takes that charge, with its rationale, and unsettles it by examining the Trinitarian doxological form of Ephesians 1.3-14.  Finally, Nonna Verna Harrison helps readers to listen to “Gregory of Nyssa on Knowing the Trinity”. Harrison concisely develops Gregory’s thoughts on the inner workings of the Trinity, and how knowing one person of the Trinity brings us to know them all, “Gregory concludes that in the activities of the Trinity there is an incomprehensible communion among the persons, and simultaneously each one is distinct. So the distinction among the persons does not disrupt the continuity of the one nature, nor does the community in the common essence confuse the individuality in their distinctive properties ( . . . )” (69).

“The Holy Trinity in the Life of the Church” now proceeds into the second division, on “Jesus Christ, the Trinity, and Christian Salvation”. John Anthony McGuckin launches the initial salvo with “The Holy Trinity as the Dynamic of the World's Salvation in the Greek Fathers” where he brilliantly builds the case that “all the major patristic statements about the trinitarian relations could, and should, be reexegeted as liturgical doxologies” (82). The next volley comes from Brian E. Daley, SJ, as he introduces us to “Maximus the Confessor and John of Damascus on the Trinity”. Moving back and forth between Maximus and John, the author helps to correct some misconceptions, showing, for example, that with regard to the Trinity “number does not divide, nor sameness confuse” (93). In the end, the author brings us to lift our hearts as we grasp that, “God is “in motion,” in other words, not so much in terms of God’s own being as in terms of his relationship to us; in terms of our gradual growth to know his being as triune and to participate in it” (99). Then Matthew Drever addresses “Deification in Augustine: Plotinian or Trinitarian?” where he shows that Augustine made strong claims on our “need to be changed into Christ in order to achieve reunion with God” (107); in other words, Augustine “rereads the language of human upward participatio in God through God’s downward participatio in Christ, identifying the incarnation as the precondition for humanity’s reunion with God” (109). Lastly Bruce D. Marshall brings up the last chapter of this section looking at “Justification as Declaration and Deification”. Marshall’s whole point can be summarized thusly, “We clearly have grounds in Luther for taking God’s gift of righteousness and eternal life in Christ to involve participation in the divine nature and the deification of Christians” (117). The author emphasizes with verve, how that for Luther, justification – both the declaration of righteousness imputed to the believer on account of Christ’s righteousness, and the living out that righteousness – flow from our unio cum Christo (union with Christ). Therefore “to be justified is to be united with Christ by faith, and to be united to Christ is to be deified” (120). The conclusion of this chapter reveals that Marshall wrote this piece while a Lutheran, and is now a convert to Catholicism.

The last segment of “The Holy Trinity in the Life of the Church” speaks to “The Trinity and Ecclesial Being”. Khaled Anatolios masterfully grapples with “Personhood, Communion, and the Trinity in Some Patristic Texts”. Not only does Anatolios show clearly that a “person is a being who can speak and be spoken to” (145), but that with Gregory of Nyssa, the trinitarian life can be described as “a circle of mutual glorification” that is a “Scripturally appropriate way to conceive of the Trinity in terms of” their “interpersonal communion” (156). Next in the lineup comes John Behr who deftly writes on “The Trinitarian Being of the Church”.  Behr’s premise is that the life of the Trinity is intended to be mirrored in the Church, because the “trinitarian order, from the Father through the Son in the Spirit, finds its reciprocating movement” with the Church being “in the Spirit through the Son to the Father” (165). The author then delves into Florovsky, Kavanagh, Erickson, and Cyprian, making helpful critiques and evaluations along the way. Thomas Cattoi lumbers through “The Relevance of Gregory of Nyssa's Ad Ablabium for Catholic-Orthodox Ecumenical Dialogue on the Trinity and the Church” where he tries to help the reader to recognize that the “different churches are not independent (Cartesian?) subjects; they are distinct manifestations of the on ekklesia. The question remains, however, as to the ordering principle that will ground the different churches within a perichoretically enriching taxis (185). And wrapping up this section, Kathleen McVey tries to pirouette her way into the “Syriac Christian Tradition and Gender in Trinitarian Theology”. The title explains the author’s approach and goal, where she seeks to help the reader retrieve “female metaphors for God that appear in Ephrem’s hymns” because finding and embracing these metaphors can “both enrich our understanding of the Trinity and provide further resources for liturgical use” (190).

Brian E. Daley, SJ, brings “The Holy Trinity in the Life of the Church” to the conclusion with, “A God in Whom We Live: Ministering the Trinitarian God”. In this closing chapter Daley helpfully draws the reader to the realization that we are, “created as persons in the image of God, then the fact that God is eternally personal only in the relationships by which Father and Son and Spirit give and receive from one another reveals something crucial about human personhood as well, even if it is only by distant analogy” (213).

“The Holy Trinity in the Life of the Church” is an intriguing book. It’s not a discussion, because it quickly becomes obvious that none of the authors have read each other’s articles and are not, therefore, interacting with one another. The book is series of thematic monologues, addressing the subject of the Trinity and how believing in God as tri-unity is important. Sometimes the authors unknowingly agree with one another, at other times they speak over or past each other. Personally I found that every chapter gave me food for rumination, and forage for reflection. Every year Trinity Sunday arrives. This would be a great book to explore as you prepare for that annual celebration of the One God who is simultaneously three persons, the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. There is no doubt that I happily recommend the book.

[Thanks to Baker Academic and Net Galley for the temporary free electronic copy of “The Holy Trinity in the Life of the Church”.]

{Feel free to reprint, republish or repost this review; and as always, please give credit where credit is due. Mike}

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