Academic journal article The Ecumenical Review

The Trinity: A Model for Belonging in Contemporary Society

Academic journal article The Ecumenical Review

The Trinity: A Model for Belonging in Contemporary Society

Article excerpt

   I have given them the glory you gave me, so that they may be one, as we are 
   one, I in them and you in me, that they may be brought to perfection as 
   one, that the world may know that you sent me, and that you loved them even 
   as you loved me. Father, they are your gift to me. (John 17:22-23) 

In a speech to the World Economic Forum, British Prime Minister Tony Blair declared: "The opening of the 21st century has seen a move away from a very narrow, perhaps selfish individualism towards the idea of belonging, of community, of a self-interest that is mutual." (1) His words, coming unexpected from this secular source, appear to echo those of liberation theologian Leonardo Boff who observes within contemporary society a strong desire for belonging, that is, a cry for greater democracy aimed at forming a more participatory and family-spirited society. Moreover, he claims that this desire is in tune with a theology of the Trinity: the three divine persons in communion is a transcendent model of the human striving for a society that encourages participation and welcomes diversity. (2)

The theology of the Trinity reveals a God in relationship: the Father, Son and Holy Spirit are engaged in eternal communion. And this relationship is shared with all Christians who have been baptized into the Triune name.

I want here to address what I believe to be one area of social significance concerning the Trinity. My contention is that the Trinity provides a model for belonging to a community, specifically the communities of the church as well as for society as a whole. Note that I use the term "belonging" in order to emphasize the activity of relating to others.

Belonging to one another, whether within a family, church or corporation, implies a relationship or the activity of relating; and rather than thinking of a person as merely a member of a community, I wish to focus upon the activity of relating within the community.

Based on scriptural accounts it appears that the community of the early church reflected the Trinitarian model of communion. However, throughout history the Christian community came to reflect more the political structures of the day than this original biblical model. As the church enters the 21st century I want to suggest that we consider the pervasive influence, in some cultures at least, of the advertising industry on our understanding of human nature and belonging. Corporate advertising is well aware of the human yearning for belonging and currently attempts to capitalize on it for purposes of commerce. I want to argue that, in sharp contrast, the communion of the divine Trinity provides a model for belonging which is faithful to the dignity and purpose of human beings as intended by God.

For this essay I will draw from the recent work of Leonardo Boff, Holy Trinity, Perfect Community, (3) as well as from Michael and Kenneth Himes's work "The Trinity and Human Rights". (4) I hope to show that in the mutual relationship of the three persons of the Godhead we find the model for a human community. This relationship is characterized by kenosis and "inclusion". Kenosis connotes the emptying, or total abandonment of oneself for a higher good, as with Jesus emptying himself for the glory of God and for the salvation of humanity (Phil. 2:5-11). "Inclusion" refers to the acceptance of others, joining them with oneself while honouring the diversity among the many, in a unity that does not seek uniformity.

Triune communion

The relationship of the three persons of the Godhead is aptly described with the Eastern Orthodox notion of perichoresis, a word roughly translated as "interpenetration", or permeation without confusion. It describes the dynamic activity of exchange in which persons are who they are because of their relation to each other. Between the Father and the Son there exists such a dynamic activity of exchange, a love which opens out through the Holy Spirit to the whole of creation. …

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