Monday, May 23, 2011

Trinitarian Dogmatics and Church Unity

As I continue to work my way through David Bentley Hart's Beauty of the Infinite (The Aesthetics of Christian Truth), which is primarily a work of trinitarian dogmatics, it has further awakened my mind to the idea of creation being an expression of the Trinitarian God and all the consequences of that fact. In particular, when I happened to read John 17:22 in another context -- which is Christ's prayer to the Father that "they [the Church] may be one even as we are one" -- the phrase 'as we are one' stood out to me in a way that it never had before. How, exactly, is the Son one with the Father?

Hart's primary object of study in the Beauty of the Infinite is being itself, or creation, rather than individual objects and aspects within it, such as the Church specifically. He argues that the truth of being, the truth of creation, is that being is necessarily a true analogical expression of God's nature, and since God is Trinitarian in nature, being (or creation) exhibits an internal dynamism, life, interplay, grace, interdependency and dialogue that is reflective of that which exists in the nature of the Trinity and which is made manifest in Christ. Hart wants to contrast this conception of being to a 'univocal expression' of being, which is how non-Trinitarian traditions might conceive of God and therefore conceive of being. This is, admittedly, a very poor distillation of Hart's master work into a few sentences, and it is only one aspect of his multifaceted argument, but for my purposes it will have to suffice as a coarse summary.

So, then, how is the Son one with the Father? They are not one in the sense of being a univocal, monistic expression; they are one in the Trinitarian sense; the Father, Son and Spirit are One while containing an internal dynamic of love and grace. Understood in this way, Christ's prayer for unity seems to be a call not for the Church to consciously congeal into a visible unit of univocal expression -- a la ecumenism -- but rather a prayer for the Church to grow spiritually in Christ and, in so doing, become one as the Trinitarian God is One. Which is to say, to become united in many senses (essentials), but for each of the members of the whole to maintain their distinctive qualities, idiosyncracies, practices, traditions etc. so long as these 'differences' are not heretical or otherwise detrimental to the health of the Body as a whole, and so long as the member's internal dynamic is one of pure love and grace. Just as the Trinity has an internal life and dynamic, so too should the church, and the distinctiveness of the members need not be dissolved into utter univocity; indeed, to attempt to do so could actually serve to mute the expression of their truth.

FOOTNOTE: Keep in mind this may not at all be an original thought. I'm not very well read on the subject of ecumenism, or the arguments in favor of a more 'spiritual', less univocal Church unity, and it's entirely probable that my reflection on this matter is something others have already argued. And certainly there are many other passages of Scripture and lines of argument that are relevant to the discussion. I don't intend for this to be much of an 'argument' at all, only a reflection on this particular verse.

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