A reflection on the Trinity by Janine Goodwin
As part of the preparation for comprehensive exams for theMA in theology, I had to read “God for Us: The Trinity and Christian Life” by Catherine Mowry LaCugna. It was one of the greatest gifts of the program. It istheology at its best: historically grounded, humane, springing from deep faith,describing distortions without condemning others, and coming to a conclusion whichseems revolutionary because it is radical in the original sense: radix means root. The radical conclusions LaCugna reaches are actually a return to the roots of faith, to Scripture and tradition.
This book was a wonderful surprise for me. Having alwaysbeen nervous around the idea of the Trinity—there seemed to be so many ways of gettingthe whole thing wrong, and so few of getting it right, and it never seemedreally comprehensible to me—I was prepared for a slew of difficult conceptsthat didn’t fit anything in my experience. Instead, I met a book that broughtnew insight and richness to experience and took away the sense of fearand distance with which I had approached the study of the Trinity, replacing it with a new joy, love, and trust toward God.
I want to share a few quotations readers of this blog mayuse for their meditations on the Trinity and to urge anyone who sees this postto read the book. The time and concentration you give it will be richlyrewarded.
Page numbers are from the 1993 HarperCollins paperbackedition.
For LaCugna, the Trinity shows that the truth about God and aboutus is all about relationship, and we become ourselves only when we reachoutside ourselves. We exist in relationship to God and each other:
The exodus of allpersons from God and the return of all to God is the divine dance in which Godand we are eternal partners. (304)
By the same token, we know God not as a distantphilosophical construct, but as a God who loves us and comes to us:
In both the eternaland temporal existence of God, it is the nature of God to-be-for, to-be-toward,to exist as persons in communion. God initiates and sustains intimate, covenanatedrelationship with a people, God takes on flesh and undergoes death, God dwells inour hearts, because God lives from all eternity as self-communicating,self-giving love and communion. God incorporates all of creation into that lifeof communion. it is in this sense that we literally exist, we ‘have our being’in God. The life of God does not belong to God alone. (354)
LaCugna argues that a truly Trinitarian and fully relationaltheology cannot be hierarchical: we have imposed human hierarchical notionsupon God, but the reign of God is not like our systems of power and control. It is the reign Jesus showed us:
The God whom Jesusloves, relies on, by whose power he heals and forgives sin, is not a politicalmonarch, a tyrant, an aloof authority figure, a castled king or queen whosesubjects cannot visit, an isolated figure who cannot suffer because he does notlove. The God whose reign Jesus announces rejects the societal and religiousconventions of race, sex, standing. (399)
This is a book as challenging, as sometimes unsettling, andas ultimately joyful as the Gospels in which it is grounded. Even the footnotescontain gems: “the Eleventh Council of Toledo (675) stated that the Son was begotten‘de utero Patris (from the womb of theFather), that is, from the substance of the Father.’” (note 115, 312-313) Thisis a wonderful reminder that feminine imagery for God is a tradition thatbegins in Scripture and continues throughout church history, showing up inplaces we might not expect if we are prone to stereotype the brothers andsisters in faith who went before us.
Thanks be to God for infinite, self-giving love that is thefoundation of creation, and thanks be to God for the work of thoughtful, diligent, andcourageous theologians. Amen.