Home > Uncategorized > Kathryn Tanner’s Christ the Key, Trinity and Politics

Kathryn Tanner’s Christ the Key, Trinity and Politics

My earlier posts on Tanner’s new book can be found here. This final post looks at the relationship between Trinity and Politics. What got me thinking about this was a statement by a friend. This person was asked how he is able to balance his commitment to the poor and his position as a professor (not at Notre Dame). He gave an example: he was asked to teach a course on the Trinity but said no since this did not fit with his focus on shaping his students towards serving the poor and their liberation. This answer raised two basic questions in my mind: 1) for someone who is principally focused on the liberation of the poor, is it contrary to this focus to take time and teach topics like the Trinity (if one is competent to do so)? 2) Is the Trinity really so apolitical?

The first question is particularly complex and personal. Clearly the doctrine of the Trinity cannot be sealed off from a concern for liberation without creating a schizophrenia in our faith as we confess that God is triune and makes an option for the poor (or that we relate to God as triune and to humanity with our option for the poor). As Tanner argues in the introduction to Jesus, Humanity, and the Trinity, it is a task of systematic theology to show how different elements fit together coherently within a conception of the whole of the Christian life and faith. This leads directly to the second question. A common contemporary way of bringing together the Trinity and politics is to appeal to the Trinity as a model for communitarian life. I summarized Tanner’s critique of this in my second synopsis post (ch.5). Tanner insists that we image the 2nd person of the Trinity primarily and the whole Trinity only in that we image the Word’s relation to the other persons of the Trinity (Christ the Key, 141). Through the humanity of Jesus, our lives are remade into the image of the Trinity in that we are united to the Word by the presence of the Holy Spirit (235).

But what does this have to do with politics? Tanner’s primary answer is that our trinitarian form of life toward others is shown in the way Jesus treated others (in his trinitarian form of life as hypostatically united to the Word) (236-237). I find Tanner’s analysis compelling.  We enter the Trinity and image the Trinity through the second person of the Trinity and, properly understood, this cannot be cut off from political and concrete action. Yet I would push Tanner on two further points. First, she emphasizes that the Son and Spirit are sent and interdependently work to unite us to God. A different but equally valid image is that they are sent to bring about God’s Kingdom.  Thus I think we could connect our trinitarian form of life more explicitly to this Kingdom than Tanner tends to do. Second, certain formal principles can be gathered from the divine life and applied to human communion even if one rejects the overall appeal to the Trinity as a model for communitarian life. For example, the Trinity shows the positivity of otherness. Creaturely otherness (vis-a-vis each other and God) is grounded in the eternal otherness within God. The good of otherness, of course, needs to be complemented by more concrete principles (such as Tanner’s focus on the concrete life of Jesus) but it contributes something nonetheless.

  1. March 13, 2010 at 10:54 am

    Thanks for doing these summaries. Looking forward to reading this.

    A few things on your two points on Tanner’s Trinity. BTW, I, like you, think that Trinity’s divorce from poverty is entirely unwarranted. The two are not necessary opposites.

    Both of your points sound very much like Moltmann’s vision of Trinity, even if we don’t go with him as far as the whole “Trinity as social program” thing. Is God’s kingdom a third entity apart from what Son/Spirit bring? Is their presence and activity one thing, and the KOG something else, conceptually speaking? If so, where does KOG come from? Where is its origination if not from the persons of Son/Spirit?

    With regards to Trinity and otherness, what do we do with apophatic traditions, i.e. PsDionysius, for whom the triunity of God was certainly descriptive of the world’s origination and the means by which we ascend to God, but not in any positive way? Can a God who is beyond being give us a model of creaturely otherness in any other way than the incarnation?

    • Todd Walatka
      March 13, 2010 at 12:34 pm

      Thanks for your comments. I actually almost mentioned Moltmann in the final part of my post but it was getting too long. I think there are two important contrasts here with Moltmann. First, the Kingdom is not a third entity apart from what the Son/Spirit bring. The Son and Spirit bring humanity/world into the fullness of the life of God. This is what Tanner emphasizes throughout (being taken into God through union with the Word by the presence of the Spirit). The image of Kingdom (or an image like the eschatological banquet) flows from this but turns our attention to communal presence and political aspects of our eschatological hope. Second, all of this is the work of the Son and Spirit together. This, I think, is one of the major strengths of Tanner’s trinitarian theology. The Son does not work without the Spirit and the Spirit does not work without the Son.

      I need to do more work with apophatic traditions and figures like Denys. That said, here are my initial thoughts: The ultimate affirmation of our dignity as creatures is the taking up of this creatureliness by God in the Incarnation. But, I still think that the triunity of God provides something here. It is not so much that divine otherness provides a model for our otherness (this is what I was trying to get at with “formal” principle). Rather, it is that even within the perfect unity which is God’s life, there is eternal distinction and relation which is the ground for the very different otherness of the creature.

  1. March 13, 2010 at 9:57 am

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: