Academic journal article Anglican Theological Review

Living into the Mystery of the Holy Trinity: Trinity, Prayer, and Sexuality

Academic journal article Anglican Theological Review

Living into the Mystery of the Holy Trinity: Trinity, Prayer, and Sexuality

Article excerpt


In this presentation, I want to lay before you three theses about the Trinity which have been much exercising me in my recent theological research,1 and which are, I believe, intertwined in a complex and fascinating way. They relate to what I see as the interlocked themes of the Trinity, prayer, and sexuality. Let me start with a succinct enunciation of my three theses, and then proceed to a slightly more ramified explication of each in the time available.

The first thesis is this: that the revival of a vibrant trinitarian conceptuality, an 'earthed' sense of the meaning fulness and truth of the Christian doctrine of the Trinity, most naturally arises out of a simultaneous renewal of commitment to prayer, and especially prayer of a relatively wordless kind. I shall try to explain why I think this is so with special reference to Paul's discussion of the nature of Christian prayer in Romans 8 as `sighs too deep for words' (Rom 8.26), instituted by the Holy Spirit; and how I think this Spirit-leading approach to the Trinity through prayer is the only experientially rooted one likely to provide some answer to the sceptical charge: why three 'persons' at all? Why believe in a trinitarian God in the first place?

So that will be my first thesis: the inextricability of renewed trinitarian conceptuality and the renewal of prayer-practice, and I shall be arguing that Christian prayer-practice is inherently trinitarian. The second thesis goes on from this, and is perhaps a little more surprising; it is that the close analysis of such prayer, and its implicitly trinitarian structure, makes the confrontation of a particular range of fundamental issues about sexuality unavoidable. (Note that I use 'sexuality' in a wider sense than is often employed in North Americanot restricting it to actual genital sexual activity. ) The unavoidability of this confrontation seems to me to arise from the profound entanglement of our human sexual desires and our desire for God; and in any prayer of the sort in which we radically cede control to the Spirit there is an instant reminder of the close analogue between this ceding (to the trinitarian God), and the ekstasis of human sexual passion. Thus it is not a coincidence that intimate relationship is at the heart of both these matters. That the early Fathers were aware of this nexus of associations (between trinitarian conceptuality, prayer of a deep sort, and the-to them-dangerous connections with issues of sex and gender), I shall illustrate with a particular example from the third-century Alexandrian theologian, Origen. What will emerge from this second thesis, I hope, is that no renewed trinitarian spirituality can sidestep these profound issues of the nature of sexual desire, issues which now so divisively exercise us in the Church's life, and are, in turn, of course, fundamentally connected with gender themes about women's roles, women's capacity for empowerment, and for professional equality.

In short, it is not a coincidence that `Affirming Catholicism' works simultaneously for renewed spiritual practice, for enlivened trinitarian doctrine, and for an honest confrontation of tough questions in the contemporary Church about issues of sexuality and gender. For these three issues all belong together, and can be shown with a bit of delicate archaeological digging beneath the polite edifice constructed by the standard history-of-doctrine textbooks, to have accompanied one another all along. Or so I shall argue.

My third thesis, then finally, is not so much a finished proposition, but a task in progress for us all. It is the task of rethreading the strands of inherited tradition on these three matters in such a way that enacted sexual desire and desire for God are no longer seen in mutual en:mity, as disjunctive alternatives, with the non-celibate woman or homosexual cast as the distractor from the divine goal. Rather, we are seeking a renewed vision of divine desire (a trinitarian vision, I suggest) which may provide the guiding framework for a renewed theology of human sexuality-of godly sexual relations-rooted in, and analogously related to, trinitarian divine relations. …

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