Thoughts Gymnastikos on Alternatives to Trinitarian Regiratio

Athanasius of Alexandria (4th century), always trying to put the best face on the writings of Origen (2nd century), once cautioned readers that Origen sometimes wrote dogmatikos (expressing his actual considered opinion and judgments), but at other times this “labor-loving man” wrote gymnastikos, as if trying out ideas, “as if inquiring and by way of exercise.” It is in the spirit of trying things out that I present this little blog essay –recalling that the word “essay” itself means something not definitive but exploratory, something not accomplished but attempted, “an irregular undigested piece,” as Samuel Johnson said.

Furthermore, I wrote the title of this post as cryptically, and the above paragraph as pedantically, as possible, to help wave off readers who ought to go read something else. If you’re still here and this is your idea of fun, then boy do I have some more fun for  you!

In the first half of his article “Neoplatonism, Regiratio and Trinitarian Theology: A look at Ruusbroec” (Hermathena 169 (Winter 2000), pp. 169-188), Rik Van Nieuwenhove sifts through the scholastic tradition to find theologians who made any use of the notion of regiratio, that is, flowing back or “circling back into.” Van Nieuwenhove is especially looking for theologians who are willing to use the idea in trinitarian theology, and more particularly in their account of the eternal relations of the Son and the Holy Spirit to the Father. Van Nieuwenhove’s motivation is that he is a scholar of Jan van Ruusebroec (also spelled John of Ruysbroeck), the fourteenth-century mystical theologian, and Ruusbroec used regiratio quite elaborately in his trinitarian theology. Does Van Nieuwenhove find regiratio in scholastic theology? 

Yes and no. He finds it in the doctrine of creation, but not in the doctrine of the immanent Trinity. “The notion of regiratio or motus circularis was well-known to the scholastics, such as Albert the Great who, however, prefers not to apply it to the intra-trinitarian life.” Albert uses the neoplatonic motif of exitus-reditus when talking about creation: “everything finds its origin in God and returns to him.” But it doesn’t seem like the right way of talking about the Son and the Holy Spirit in their eternal relation to the Father.

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