The Trinity and politics

by Richard on October 20, 2009

Tim Chesterton reflects on “the fellowship of the Holy Spirit”

I’ve often thought that we drain the lifeblood out of the third part of the phrase - ‘the fellowship of the Holy Spirit’ - by over-spiritualising it. Fellowship in the early church didn’t just mean warm feelings at the coffee hour - it meant that those who had plenty shared with those who had little, so that everyone had enough. It meant that those who were safe went to the aid of those who were in danger. It was a real, practical, bodily-incarnated thing.

He puts me in mind of Leonardo Boff, who has interpreted the Trinity as an essentially political doctrine. Here he is on a proper understanding of the fatherhood of God:

This trinitarian understanding of the fatherhood of God is important if we are to avoid a unilateralreligion of the Father … In this, God is presented as Great Father because he created heaven and earth. As such he is the supreme authority of the universe, from whom all other religious and civil authorities derive, in descending orders of hierarchy. As there is only one eternal authority, so the tendency to have only one authority in each sphere of the world is confirmed: a single political; leader, a single military chief, a single social leader, a single religious head, a single guardian of truth, and so on. God is presented as the great universal Superego, alone and unique. Much of the atheism of developed societies today is no more than a denial of this sort of authoritarian God and of the patriarchal sort of religion that follows from it and obstructs the development of human freedoms.

Seeing the divine fatherhood in its true shape, as the Father-Son relationship augmented by the daughter- and sonship of all other adoptive sons and daughters, shows us universal communion, fellowship. Because we are all sons and daughters in the Son, because the eternal Son became the temporal son of Mary through the incarnation, we are all truly brothers and sisters. The Father is never without the Son and these sons and daughters. If we deprive him of this link, then we let in the patriarchal Father, creator of all but himself, solitary and unique, a conception open to political manipulation so as to provide an ideological support for authoritarianism …The patriarchalism and paternalism that have so humiliated the poorthroughout historyare in fact most strongly criticized and most firmly rejected on the basis of the father of Jesus Christ, who clearly said: “You must call no one on earth your father, since you have one Father, and he is in heaven”. Universal daughter- and sonship is the basis for bringing in a society of brothers and sisters, all sons and daughters, united with the only-begotten Son in a communion of love with the Father.

The true religion of the Father always includes the Son and the sons and daughters in the Son thereby preventing authoritarian distortions and oppressive images of `god as absoluteLord, supreme Judge and solitary Father.

Leonardo Boff, Trinity and Society, 1988

{ 9 comments… read them below or add one }


dh 10.20.09 at 8:27 pm

But God is the absolute Lord, supreme judge and solitary Father being that no one can come to the Father but through God the Son by way of the conviction of the Holy Spirit hense the three in One. Other religions don’t preiminate from God the Father for there is only one Faith that is True Faith and that is Faith in Christ alone. Without that Faith one can’t call themselves “sons of God”. However, this understanding of God doesn’t contradict the Father-Son relationship for He loves us at the same time He is the supreme judge, absolute and the only one true God. These are not mutually-exclusive as Mr. Boff implies.


Tim Chesterton 10.20.09 at 10:20 pm

Thanks for the hat tip, Richard.

But before we descend into pointless theological argument, I’d encourage people to follow the link to my place and read the very earthy and practical article by Bishop Charles Jenkins of Louisiana that I was reflecting on. In it he tells the story of how the entire Anglican Communion came to his help in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina - liberal and conservative, African and American, high church and low church and so on. It is a very moving article.


Kim 10.20.09 at 10:29 pm

Question: How can one be sure that that the above comment from the blognomen “dh” does not actually come from a chimpanzee typing wildly and randomly at a keyboard (with apologies to all chimpanzees)? The distinction would hardly be one of thoughtfulness or coherence. And Mr. Chimpanzee, unlike Mr. DH, would, I hazard, recognise that he was in an altogether different cage from the higher primate “Mr. Boff”.


Richard 10.21.09 at 6:13 am

Hi Tim

I hope people will follow the link and read the article too.


dh 10.21.09 at 4:01 pm

Tim, thanks for the link and to Richard for posting it. I agree Tim that it was great that all churches and different people came to the aid of people in Katrina. However, he goes into a long disertation about the Trinity that seems to show the Trinity in a zero sum game between (Father/Son) vs (Absolute God and Judge). To me the Trinity is all of those and equal in all aspects of those. Mr. Boff’s view presents a zero sum game that is not there in Scripture.


dh 10.21.09 at 4:02 pm

(referring to the relationship of the Trinity to humanity)


Tim Chesterton 10.21.09 at 6:12 pm

Here’s the real point of Bishop Jenkins’ post. The Anglican Communion at present is being torn apart by theological controversy, by people who are threatening to leave because they disagree with each other theologically, by people who are using words like ‘liberal’ or ‘fundamentalist’ or ‘revisionist’ or ‘hater’ for each other. But then along came Hurricane Katrina, and suddenly Anglican Christians in New Orleans discovered that the Anglican Communion mattered, and that Anglicans around the world cared. And when that happened, it didn’t matter any more whether someone was conservative or liberal, high church or low church, gay or straight. What mattered was that Jesus’ followers of whatever stripe joined together to love those who were in need.

That’s what Bishop Jenkins was trying to say. So for you to hijack that by zeroing in on a theological disagreement between yourself and Richard seems to be in slightly bad taste, DH. It misses the whole point of what Bishop Jenkins was trying to say. Save it for another post, I say.


Richard 10.21.09 at 6:44 pm

Agreed, Tony. Of course, it’s my fault for introducing Boff.


dh 10.21.09 at 6:52 pm

Tim, I’m sorry for the confusion. Are you saying that what Richard posted was in bad taste? I guess my problem was I only looked at what Richard posted which was a so much well over three paragraphs. I guess I’m like you Tim in that for me I don’t see how the three paragraphs Richard posted from what Mr. Boff pertain to the rest of the point of the article. Maybe I’m short sighted, slow, etc.

Tim, I would argue that the Anglican Communion had nothing to do with the help at Katrina and had everything to do with doing what God calls us to do even to some people who might or might not be Believers. Tim, the 1st Century church did share all things in common, albeit for their own survival, but the Apostle Paul made it very clear regarding false doctrine and gave the protocol with regard to false teachers and those who portray false doctrine.

Caring for those who are in need is just as important as helping people away from false doctrine and false teaching as God through the Apostle Paul so eloquintly presented in the Epistles.

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