Introducing Trinity

Introducing Trinity August 11, 2014

Declan Marmion and Rik Van Nieuwenhove’s 2011 Introduction to the Trinity is an excellent introduction to both the history of Trinitarian theology and to contemporary discussions.

The authors adopt what they call a “participative and sapiential” approach to theology, one that rejects the separation of faith and reason and of spirituality and study. They focus on the interaction between Scripture and Trinitarian theology, and highlight the way that the doctrine of the Trinity brings relationality and personality.

They have read widely and carefully, and their judgments are cautious without becoming anemic. Having discussed Zizioulas, and citing Aquinas for good measure, they affirm (citing Aquinas for good measure) that “the interrelationship of the divine Persons constitutes the nature of substance of what God is,” but then go on to question whether the welcome emphasis on the communal dimensions of human life loses “the unique interiority and privacy of the person” (here quoting William Norris Clarke, 205). I don’t think, by the way, that Clarke’s comment is the end of the discussion, because it is arguable that human beings are in-relation even in their “unique interiority.” Still, the discussion shows that Marmion and Van Nieuwenhove have absorbed their Ayres and their Barnes and are capable of appreciation without band-wagoning.

There are a couple of gaps that I wish had been filled. The book is organized historically, but, like many surveys of this type, it doesn’t give much attention to the centuries between the Reformation and the Enlightenment. We finish Calvin, and three pages of Descartes and Kant later, we’re on to Schleiermacher. Those neglected centuries seem to be exceedingly important, especially if there is any truth (and I believe there is) in the complaint that Trinitarian theology went into eclipse in modernity. More surprisingly, the authors say almost nothing about Colin Gunton. They cite Jenson a few times, but give no direct attention to his work. That’s a disappointment: I’d be curious to know what they had to say.

It’s easy to pick out what’s missing in a brief (246 pages) survey volume like this, and these minor niggles shouldn’t undermine my initial praise for the book. This is as clear and concise an introduction to contemporary Trinitarian discussions as there is on the market.

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