Perichoresis

An interesting depiction of the relationship of the triune God

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Faith

During its early history, the Christian church safeguarded the doctrine of the Holy Trinity by deeming deviant beliefs such as Montanism, Arianism, and Pelagianism as heresies. Even today, certain denominations such as Mormons, Jehovah’s Witnesses, and Pentecostals reject the Holy Trinity.

Jews and Muslims consider any belief beyond monotheism as heretical. Yet, the Midrash Rabbah, an ancient rabbinic commentary, fails to adequately answer why God is often scripted in the plural. The use of the plural pronoun appears frequently — for instance, “Let Us make man in our image…” (Gen 1:26) — and avoiding it or explaining it away is insufficient.

The extraordinary word perichoresis (from the Greek, for rotation) was first used as a term in Christian theology by the Church Father and Archbishop of Constantinople St. Gregory of Nazianzus (d. 389/90) to describe the inter-relationship between the divine and human natures of Christ. St. John of Damascus (d. 749) later applied it to the interpenetrating relationship of the three persons in the triune God (Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.)

One preacher depicts the Holy Trinity’s relational dance of love like this:

If any of you have ever been to a Greek wedding, you may have seen their distinctive way of dancing… It’s called perichoresis. There are not two dancers, but at least three. They start to go in circles, weaving in and out in this very beautiful pattern of motion. They start to go faster and faster and faster, all the while staying in perfect rhythm and in sync with each other. Eventually, they are dancing so quickly (yet so effortlessly) that as you look at them, it becomes just a blur… (Jonathan Marlowe, United Methodist minister)

In the past, a useful mental picture of the Holy Trinity dawned on me: of a newly married couple and their newly conceived child who becomes the invisible third person in the family unit. Another example came to mind: a dancing couple twirling each other into a spectral blur. Spinning a silver dollar on a flat surface produces a similar “dance of the gods.” As the coin spins in rapid rotation, its head and tail merge into a ghostly spherical blur. What emerges is a unique third entity dependent on the twirling of the two-sided coin. When stationary, the coin has no “life,” but when rotating it seems to breathe.

A Lutheran minister’s son was the first to see that theological mystery in a spinning coin. Leonhard Euler — an 18th-century giant in mathematics and physics — was fascinated by the “spolling” of a spun coin that gradually loses energy, then wobbles at a higher and higher frequency until it stops dead. No longer “breathing,” it has given up the ghost.

Imagine, if you will, the Third Person of the Trinity as dynamic as an ever-spinning coin.

 

Richard M. DellOrfano spent ten years on a cross-country pilgrimage following Christ’s instruction to minister without possessions. He is completing his autobiography: Path Perilous, My Search for God and the Miraculous.

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