Moving ahead in our look of Mikoski’s volume, we now address the “trinitarian structure” of baptism. Mikoski initially focuses on the language used in the liturgy noting the prominence of the Trinity: “What makes the rite a distinctively Christian washing has to do with the linkage of the act of washing and the narrative of the economy of the Triune God’s dealings with humanity across the sweep of history” (28). Mikoski continues:
When set in the context of the proclamation and prayers of the church to the Triune God, the water becomes an instrument of Triune transformation in the baptizand’s life. By the work of the Holy Spirit and through the will of the Father, baptized persons are united with Jesus Christ in his death and resurrection. The gathered community prays with the presiding pastor that through this liturgical event the Holy Spirit will bring the baptizand to rebirth into a life of faithful discipleship in relation to Jesus Christ and to the glory of the Father. In some fashion or another, the water ceremony seeks to fund and shape the many patterns of everyday ritualizations that make up Christian daily life” (31).
There seems to be a line Mikoski jumps back and forth over, which is the ordering of God and man’s action in relation to baptism. The emphasis starts on God’s action by focusing on the work of the Holy Spirit and the will of the Father, but then seems to come at it from another angle, claiming that it is through this liturgical event that the Holy Spirit works. Furthermore, he makes explicit what was implicit in my last post, that baptism functions as a “patterning” of Christian ritual life. It is unclear what register Mikoski is working in. Is he simply exploring liturgical categories? Is he actually focusing on ontological claims about God and man? Is he using ontologically charged language to talk about specific epistemological categories? Confusion continues to reign when he states,
Beginning with baptism and working outward, so to speak, the doctrine of the Trinity aims to function as a crucial part of the formation of individuals and communities. Baptism links the Trinity to concrete, embodied, historical people and communities and the lives they lead. Viewed through the lens provided by the baptismal rite, the doctrine of the Trinity ceases to function as a complicated abstraction and becomes the deep grammar for a whole way of life” (32).
So what is going on here? My interpretation is that Mikoski equivocates on his use of the term “Trinity.” He seems to be functioning in something of a narrative framework, seeking meaning through a liturgical-narrative that necessitates a functionalizing of the Trinity to make practice trinitarian. This is not to say that he does not affirm a truly ontological Trinity, I’m certain he does, but for the sake of the ecclesial life trinitarian doctrine functions to order language and practice. Notice his language that the doctrine of the Trinity “aims to function,” and that used this way it “ceases to function as a complicated abstraction.” This, and the point he makes about linking the Trinity to concrete people and communities, points to a functionalizing of the doctrine for the purpose of practice. He then reemphaszies his point, “To reiterate: pursued by way of the baptismal rite with its deep trinitarian grammatical structure, the doctrine of the Trinity becomes a pervasive grammar for an entire way of life” (34). Explained here, it is as if the Trinity becomes “a grammar,” in the sense of what we would call a school book teaching language. Once we learn the right grammar, we can function within the language contructs creatively. Mikoski seems to be implying that this is true in baptism. Baptism becomes the pedagogical action through which we learn trinitarian grammar, so that we can function within the narrative economy of the triune God.
Does that make sense? I’m not thrilled about this kind of usage of the Trinity. What are your thoughts about this approach?