Talking Theology

Here we go, Marc.  This is what my tweet a few days back was referring to. 

Warning: this is long.

One of the books I am reading as part of my Theology class this term is Freeing Theology edited by Catherine Mowry LaCugna, a book of essays by some leading female theologians who are attempting to look at theology from a new perspective – that of women in the Christian faith. These women are all of a Catholic persuasion, interesting enough since the Roman Catholic and the Orthodox churches take the most conservative and restrictive view of women in ministry. Out of adversity comes great strength; or maybe one could say that God uses what is of little account to confound the wise. That would be fitting with God’s economy I think.

These authors discuss a number of theological issues. The one we have been dealing with this week is the Trinity. The author discusses the historical background which gave rise to this doctrine and the heresies which they were addressing by their formulation. She gives a beautiful discourse on Rublev’s icon and states that the figures in the icon sit in a circle around the Eucharistic cup with space in this circle for the one meditating on the icon to enter into the communion of the three. She states, “This icon expresses the fundamental insight of the doctrine of the Trinity, namely, that God is not far from us but lives among us in a communion of persons.”(p.84)

Later she goes on to state, “The point of Trinitarian theology is to convey that it is the essence or heart of God to be in relationship to other persons; that there is no room for division or inequality or hierarchy in God; that the personal reality of God is the highest possible expression of love and freedom; that the mystery of divine life is characterized by self-giving and self-receiving; that divine life is dynamic and fecund, not static or barren (p.106)

As she discusses the doctrine, she also engages us in a rethinking of the creeds which describe the Trinity using very patriarchal language. It was, of course, the language and thinking of the era in which they were written but this language poses problems, namely the idea of God being masculine and of the relationship between Father, Son and Holy Spirit being hierarchical. The early church fathers may not have intended to overlay the theology of the Trinity with hierarchy or solely masculine images for God but their language and thinking was patriarchal and so it reinforces this.

Not everyone in this class comes from a middle class, white North American culture and so there was some discussion as to the validity of LaCugna’s arguments and whether they really conformed to what has been said in the Scripture regarding the Trinity and the relationship between the three. Part of our discussion was an attempt to help this person see that disunity and inequality is more a sign of brokenness and sin than of some design by God for the way things should be.

I can’t repeat all the discussion but part of my response to this fellow was: “As to gender equality, I do believe that God created both the male and the female versions of humans in God’s own image(Gen 1:29). I think that God’s image is much more than a gender thing. You said, “maybe God planned this patriarchy on this physical earth, but once we are in the presence of God (spiritually) we will be equal.” I consider the institution of hierarchy to be a man made archy as LaCugna also states and part of the brokenness in relationship introduced into the picture with the entrance of sin. I believe that patriarchy is a structure that demonstrates the power of Satan to distort human relationships and that our freedom won by Christ should change the way we interact as males and females, as different races and cultures. I, as a woman made in God’s image, can enter into that circle of relationship with God that is so beautifully portrayed in Rublev’s  Icon; not only can I enter but I must if I am to know God. I believe that you too, as a man, must enter into that same relationship with God. We are equally needy and we are equally loved, valued and gifted by God to be used in the work of God’s kingdom.”

I did not want him to think that I was terribly offended but I did voice my disagreement with his interpretation of both scripture and the author’s essay. So further along in our discussion I stated, “You did not offend me but I could also not agree with you. That said, I think I understand where you are coming from. I am aware of the cultural background you bring to the discussion. It is similar to our First Nations culture and to the culture in the Congo. It is a culture that I believe values taking time for relationships and family in ways that we could all learn from. But there is no doubt that these cultures are very patriarchal.  When the patriarch is a benevolent one, things can go well for women but if not, abuse is often an issue because the patriarch feels a right to lord it over the lesser beings under him. Abuse of anyone who is weak is a huge issue in my city particularly in the First Nations people where there is a strong patriarchal culture.  The church needs to demonstrate a better way of relating.
If God designed us to live in nurturing and loving relationships where we respect each other as equals because we all bear God’s image then I think we need to ask ourselves if the tendency to lord it over another person isn’t sinful and a result of the entrance of sin into the world rather than being a system put in place by God?   As I said above, I believe we stand equally in need of God’s grace, we are equally invited into communion with God and God equally bestows a variety of gifts on men and women to bring others into fellowship with God.  I think that a strong church of men and women who respect each other as equals before God can demonstrate some of the goodness of the kingdom of God no matter what culture we live in.”

And now this has gotten way to long for any normal person to read. If you have arrived at this point then I declare you somewhat off balance like me.


Filed under Studying, Theology

14 responses to “Talking Theology

  1. Well said.

    The doctrine of the Trinity as a relational entity has been a very enlightening for me.

    Curiously, yesterday in Hebrew we briefly discussed the term that is often translated “the man” in Genesis 1:27 is more accurately seen as a collective term (“humankind”). This make the rest of the verse make much more sense (in its referral to men and women).

  2. Linea

    My Theology prof also referred us to a good little article that you may find interesting – especially regarding the Hebrew word “ezer” in Gen 2:18. I think this link should take you there:

  3. Toni

    Errr thanks, but I prefer not to be too off balance, if that’s alright?

    Linea – was that ‘you’ talking or just quoting throughout most of the text? It’s a little hard to tell.

    ‘Archy’s’ are usually a problem whether pat or mat in nature. It is interesting to go back and look at the relationship of man and woman before sin entered the world, and the manner in which that relationship altered as a result.

    As for drawing all sorts of interesting theology out of the Trinity, I’ve noticed that the ‘orthodox’ religions like to extrapolate a very long way. Good for talking points though.

    Marc – I quite like the Nearly Infallible Version’s translation of that verse – it’s quite clearly referring to humanity.

  4. Linea

    Toni, You are certainly permitted not to be off balance like me. 🙂

    And you are right – “Archy” by man or woman is not part of God’s design, as I see it. That prerogative belongs to God alone and we should only apply it in accordance with his designs – this we were not created to be “in dominion” over other persons and should exist rather as stewards of God’s creation. We are not the lords.

    As for the “orthodox” religions extrapolating a long way when talking about the Trinity, do you think that maybe the evangelical world has forgotten about its reality too often?

  5. Why would the evangelical world have forgotten it? That’s a very curious thing to say.

    Here’s an interesting thought: the ‘doctrine of the Trinity’ is mentioned nowhere in scripture specifically, and is only deduced by implication. It’s something we have ‘made up’ by looking at the bible and noticing certain details (I’m not denying it’s real – only that we’ve assembled it in an extra-biblical context). If one were to talk to a first century Christian about The Trinity, I wonder if they’d not have a clue what was meant by that phrase?

    It’s worth noting, by the way, that there is a distinct order of submission and authority in the Trinity, and that orders of submission and authority are implicit as being the God-given order all the way down from God the Father through to marriage. The key is clearly not that one takes authority, but instead that there is a willing placing of oneself under the authority of another. The submission then, is not done out of compunction or assertion, but out of love and relationship. Actually hierarchy is Godly, but only when it is willing, with all parties taking their place selflessly, rather than selfishly.

    I am reminded of the line “He did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but humbled himself, becoming obedient to death, even death on a cross”. Submission to another is really the only way – in all this talk of equality.


  6. Linea

    No, you are right, the doctrine of the Trinity is mentioned nowhere in the Bible. And interestingly the doctrine of the Trinity was also elaborated before the canon was determined and was one of the criteria with which the holy writings were judged to see if they conformed to the generally accepted views of the Godhead. The doctrine was meant to refute some erroneous teachings that were cropping up, such as Arianism which did propose that Christ was subordinate to God and of a different “substance” than God. Therefore the Nicene Creed – developed to refute these views in 325. The Cappadocians placed primary importance on the “person” rather than the “substance;” personhood being defined as “being-in-relation-to-another.” One of the authors we read stated that “The identity and unique reality of a person emerges entirely in relation to another person.”(LaCugna) God is by nature a relating entity, a person and is also by nature, love and giving. Out of these ideas came the understanding that God, the Trinity, is a communion of equal though unique persons.
    If the triune God therefore is a communion of equal though unique persons, and I believe this is the general belief among orthodox Christians, there can be no hierarchy or authority of one person over another in the Trinity.
    If the relationship between the persons of the Trinity – perfect communion, perfect relationship among the unique but equal persons of the Godhead (and I think it fits well with Jesus’ statement that whoever has seen him has seen the Father (John 14:8-10)) – then I would see this as a model for relationships between humans and I would not agree that hierarchy is somehow divinely ordained as the ideal for human relationships.
    So, we disagree. In the actual working out of an equal relationship however there certainly is mutual submission but this arises out of mutual respect between persons who understand that their personhood is equally valuable since they both bear God’s image.

  7. Just need to say amen 🙂

  8. Thanks Linea. In the context (if you have the time & inclination) what would you make of these scriptures:

    Acts 1 4-8 & Mark 13 32
    Luke 7 7-9
    II Cor 10 7-8
    Mark 10 41-43

  9. Linea

    Toni, I will perhaps have time to respond next week but this is Thanksgiving weekend and I will have about 30 people who want some food to give thanks for on Sunday so it will have to wait.

    And I do not want to turn this into a space to argue. It’s OK if we discuss and throw things back and forth but we may simply have to agree that we will disagree on certain things. If one of us knew it all there would hardly be a need to discuss and I do not know it all for sure.

  10. Of course – I was hoping this would be the start of a discussion, since oddly enough, I know I don’t have it all together too.

    Have a good thanksgiving.

  11. Linea

    I’m up for a discussion but it will have to be next week. Just did not want you to think I was ignoring you by my silence on your comment.

  12. Linea – I think the front page of your blog has been hacked.

  13. Linea

    Really? Send me an e-mail. How would I detect that?

  14. Fine again tonight – I was being re-directed using, but could access the site from a page specific link.

    It may have just been a hiccup in a domain name server.