Double Perichoresis: God and human experience

Life love hopeExcerpt from Jan-Olav Henriksen, Life, Love, and Hope. God and Human Experience. Eerdmans, 2014.

In the history of theology, perichoresis is a notion used to articulate the hypostatic union of the three divine persons of the Trinity, as well as the union of the two natures of Christ. The affirmation of the union in diversity made possible by this notion implies that “the two natures of Christ and the persons of the Trinity somehow interpenetrate one another, yet without confusion of substance or commingling of natures.” (Crisp, O.D. 2005)… In the present context, the notion is used in two different realms which only partially relate to the debates about the inner-Trinitarian reality: (1) as a metaphor to say something about the relation between the three persons of the Trinity as they interact in relation to the creation (the economic Trinity); and (2) to say something about the close relationship between the Trinity and the world. … I also suggest that we may speak of a perichoresis of the different realms of human experience …

The notion of perichoresis thus signifies a cyclical movement and “evokes the coinherence of the three divine persons, an encircling of each around the others” (Johnson, 1992). The term, as Elizabeth Johnson suggests, may have both a static and a more dynamic meaning: it may mean to dwell or rest within another, or it may mean that things interweave, permeate, or encompass each other…

The net effect of these metaphors gives strong support to the idea that each person encompasses the others, is coinherent with the others in a joyous movement of shared life. Divine life circles without anteriority or posteriority, without any superiority or inferiority of one to the other. Instead there is a clasping of hands, a pervading exchange of life, a genuine circling around together that constitutes the permanent, active, divine koinonia (Johnson, 1992).

If the world is to be understood as a manifestation of the triune God, we have to see the divine community as presenting humankind with profound chances for developing their own community in life, love, and hope. Such a Trinitarian vision of God and the world is also an alternative to an abstract, philosophical form of theism (or deism) that allows for the possibility of seeing the world as something that can be fully experienced and understood without the constant activity of God… the Trinitarian vision of God and the world is experientially related to how the development and evolution of the world are viewed…

Perichoretic movement summons up the idea of all three distinct persons existing in each other in an exuberant movement of equal relations: an excellent model for human interaction in freedom and other regards. Precisely as community in diversity Holy Wisdom has the capacity to be the ground of the turning world (Johnson 1992).

The advantage of interpreting the interactional reality of the Trinitarian God on the one hand, and God and the world on the other, from the point of view of these elaborations of perichoresis is that it underscores how the essence of God (and the world – including human experience) is to be in relation. This relational character of God points in two directions: it points toward a dynamic understanding of God in unity where God’s essence is not defined outside of or independent of God’s relations (as they are realized in the unifying reality of the Trinitarian persons), and it points to how the fullness of human experience is also realized in relation, especially in relations shaped and marked by love.

Henri Matisse, Dance (1909-10). The state Hermitage Museum, St. Petersburg, via Wikipedia.

This entry was posted in Being human, Jan-Olav Henriksen, Love, Relationality and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.

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