Anatolios on Perichoresis

Anatolios on Perichoresis September 4, 2003

A truly amazing article by Khaled Anatolios of the Weston Jesuit School of Theology (Cambridge, Mass) in the most recent issue of Pro Ecclesia . Anatolios is exploring the perennial question of the Spirit, and defends the traditional characterizations of the Spirit as “mutual love” and “gift” by using the concept of ” disponibilite ” developed by the French Catholic philosopher Gabriel Marcel. At the beginning, He points out the functional identity of the Spirit and Son in the post-Pentecost world, concluding that it is through the Spirit that we come to share in the sonship of Christ: “the Spirit is the one who effects the availability for us of the Son’s sonship, and thus brings it about that we share in the sonship of Christ, which apart from the Spirit is not ‘share-able.’” He explores this dynamic in the Old Testament, pointing to the fact that even before the incarnation the Spirit’s work was to make the Word available to us. Thus, the Spirit is “gift,” who “effects the outward availability” of the Word.

In addition, though, the Spirit is also the mutual love of the Father and the Son, or, to put in in Anatolios’s terms, “the one by whom the Father is available to Jesus and the one by whom Jesus is available to the Father.” The Spirit, thus, is the mutual love between Father and Son as well as gift to us. These are not separable dimensions to the Spirit’s work, however, since He is “the one who effects the outward availability (giftedness) of the sonship of the Son by drawing us into the reciprocal availability (mutual love) between the Father and the Son.” Within the church, the Spirit produces this mutual availability among the members of the church: “At Pentecost . . . the Spirit is experienced as the one who effects the reciprocal availability (mutual love) of the disciples of Christ by drawing them into the reciprocal availability of the Father and the Son.” So much is implied in Jesus’ prayer in John 17: “That they may be one as we are one, I in Thee and Thou in Me.”

To unpack this, Anatolios looks at the concept of ” disponibilite ” of “availability” in Marcel’s thought. He isolates five major themes: 1) Marcel contrasts the notion of “availability” by contrasting it to the typically “self-preoccupied” disposition of human beings. With the attitude of “availability,” however, the person does not see the other as an obstacle or boundary to his desires, but rather as “a place where ‘I’ can dwell, at the intersection of receptivity and self-donation.” As Anatolios points out, there is a kind of “perichoresis” at work here, though Marcel does not use the term.

2) Availability means readiness to receive appeal and to respond to appeal. “Appeal” here means not only “petition” but “attraction,” and the two senses of the word overlap. Thus, the petitioner is not to be viewed merely as someone in need, but as someone who attracts my delight and admiration. Availability thus is “realized in admiration, the ‘eruption’ of the self wherein it goes out in an actively enthusiastic receptivity toward the other.”

3) Availability involves a readiness to commit or pledge oneself to the one who makes appeal. This means that I open a space in myself, where the other can “lay a claim,” thus completing the perichoretic cycle that began with me seeing the other as a “place” where I can dwell.

4) Availability leads to transformed understanding and response to circumstances. The self-enclosed person is hostile to interruption, to demands on the claims of others: “what is not part of the self-generated (and self-generating) project with refusal or a sense of defeat.” (If you didn’t say “Ouch” there, you haven’t been following the argument. Think of the last time you were in the middle of an important piece of work and one of your children came to you for a hug — at that moment, the child was not part of your “project” and was probably treated accordingly.) By contrast, Marcel describes the response of “availability” in this way: availability is “the aptitude to give oneself to anything which offers, and to bind oneself by the gift . . . . It means to transform mere circumstances into ‘opportunities,’ we might even say favours, thus participating in the shaping of our own destiny and marking it with our seal.” Anatolios elaborates: “We can say that the movement of availability is what enables me to encounter unexpected and even seemingly inhospitable circumstances as not ultimately an intractable impediment to my flourishing, but to encounter these circumstances in hope and trust as a new ‘dwelling place’ for my person.” Availability in this sense not only means accepting unexpected situations as gifts for me, but also as opportunities to imprint myself on the other who “appeals” to me. Again, a mutual marking and perichoretic dwelling-together is the result, but only if one is “available.”

5) Availability is love. And it is love that not only is available to the others within one’s immediate circle but which also opens out beyond the circle in “absolute availability.” Anatolios suggests that the prodigal son parable illustrates this principle, in that the father in the story makes himself available to both sons. He provocatively suggests that the parable as a whole provides an “anti-icon of trinitarian life.” The Father is available fully to both sons, but they refuse to return that availability. The younger son demands his inheritance, while the older son clings to his sonship in a way that excludes his younger brother from participation. (Anatolios doesn’t pursue the stunning typology here: first, that the Eternal Son did not see His sonship as something to be guarded with jealousy, but opened it up to all the adopted sons of God; and, second, Israel is the older son, who refuses to share his filial position with his dead-and-risen brother; and third, that Jesus is the true Israel, who does what Israel refused, and leads many sons to glory.)

Further unpacking this as a trinitarian soteriology, Anatolios says,

Our being-in-love with such a God has an ascending trinitarian pattern. We acknowledge the Father as our Lover, we find ourselves as beloved in the Son, and all this happens by the Spirit, who effects the availability for us both of the Son’s being beloved by the Father and the Father’s being Lover of his only-begotten Son. Moreover, we experience the Spirit’s agency of availability as an internal dynamism within us, which draws us to make outwardly available to others our status as beloved and the unique modality by which each of us is beloved. By the Spirit, we experience, from within, the appeal to render available to others as much love as we ourselves receive as “beloved,” so that the outward availability of this love, in the Spirit, becomes equal to our status as beloved, in the Son.

Thus, “the injunction to ‘love the other as oneself’ really means to appropriate the equality of the three divine Persons within the Trinitarian pattern of God’s love for us.”

There’s much more in the article, but that’ll have to do for now.

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