The Trinity: A Guide for the Perplexed

As many of you will know, I have been on the search for a good introductory book on the Trinity for use in a seminary classroom. perplexedTowards this end, T&T Clark graciously sent me a review copy of Paul M. Collins’ volume, The Trinity: A Guide for the Perplexed. I should say at the outset that I enjoyed this book, but am not sure if it is exactly what I was looking for. Collins offers an introduction that is not simplistic, but assumes a working knowledge of the major issues, debates and questions for trinitarian thought; which is exactly what I was looking for, but then engages, as seen below, in a reasonably advanced discussion of postmodern concepts which he puts to work for ecclesiology. That being said, that last section could easily be left off, and the remainder of the book stays at a introductory but not overly-simplistic level.

Collins shows a great grasp of the tradition and the various streams of trinitarian thought, offering critique and questions when he deems necessary. The book has only five chapters, looking specifically at: 1) Why the Trinity at all?; 2) Moments of interpretation; 3) Expressing the inexpressible?; 4) The reception of revelation; and 5) Trinity: the Other and the Church. In particular, he charts the rise of social trinitarianism as a response to the overall feeling in the church that the Trinity is without relevance for the life of the body. He develops what he calls the “four moments” in the hermeutical history of trinitarian grammar: 1) the de Regnon paradigm; 2) the problem with Socinus; 3) the Schism of 1054; and 4) Arius and Nicene orthodoxy. This provides a nice overview of trinitarian thought, as well as an introduction to many of the questions and issues which formed the discussion. Likewise, he engages the question of how the doctrine of the Trinity is to be understood and received in the context of the ecclesial community.

For our purposes here, I will focus specifically on the last chapter, “Trinity: the Other and the Church” with a specific focus on Collins’ idea of “Eucharist-Event as Locus for Constructing Trinity-Church Identity.” I focus here in light of my recent posts on Healy’s practical prophetic ecclesiology and Billings discussion of the gift and eucharist.

One of Collins’ concerns is for the place of “the Other” in the doctrine of the Trinity, particularly in reference to the “relationship between [the] triune God and the Christian community of the Church.”  Collins wants a communal understanding of the Godhead and is drawn to a communual understanding of the church that has room in it to talk about “the Other.” He shares his concern that, “In the construction of a ‘hermeneutic of relationality’, it would be necessary to ask how the alterity of the Other might be factored into the ‘structure’ of communion” (121). Within the Godhead therefore, there is “otherness” and true giving and receiving “through which hospitality and the “impossible” characterize God not only in se but also the encounter with mystery in the economy of revelation and salvation” (122).

In Collins’ own words,

This conceptuality of event interprets kinesis, in terms of gift, justice, hospitality and forgiveness, which gives content to an understanding of what is to be understood in terms of the outcome of the divine gifting of koinonia. Such understandings of an irruption of ‘the impossible’, which Caputo puts forward, might be understood as a metaphor for the Eucharist. On the basis of this metaphorical understanding of the Eucharist as an eschatological instance of ‘the impossible’, I will seek to set out a conceptual framework for the Trinity-Church identity and for the construction of a hermeneutics of relationality, which has space for the Other” (140-141)

Collins believes that this route allows for a Christological archetype built upon Christ’s self-offering to the Father on the cross, which then serves to interpret the church as the body of Christ in the Eucharist, in Word and in Sacrament. He also believes that this could help offer an account of divinization which focuses on the merging of wills rather than on ontological union. The second element he invokes parses the communion-event of the eucharist as parousia, linking it back to Caputo’s understanding of the impossible. Here, “parousia of Christ in the communion-event of the Eucharist ruptures accepted understandings of ontology and allows the subject to emerge: the subject of Christ whose Body is both one and many” (141). Collins believes that this move allows for a structuring of communion in terms of the Trinity-Church identity as well as providing space for “the Other.”

The final element is, in his words, “an appeal to the economy of salvation and the world of particulars” (142). Members of this highly relational body are members of Christ and members of one another in the fellowship of the Holy Spirit. “In the action of the communion-event of the Eucharist, the Church as Body of Christ is revealed as and becomes ‘relational'” (142). I wonder if this could possibly speak into Healy’s concerns about ecclesiology? By pulling ecclesiology into a conversation with the gift and the Other, and using trinitarian metaphysics to undergird an “epic” proposal, could Collins offer a horizon which naturally tempers the issues Healy sees as inherent to an epic eccelsiology?


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