Social Trinity

Social Trinity September 15, 2014

Three things stand out in Charles Lowry’s 1946 essay on The Trinity and Christian Devotion. The first is that the book exists at all, since it comes from a time when Trinitarian theology was supposed to be pretty much moribund. (Rahner’s book was published in 1970.)

The second is that Lowry describes the nineteenth century as the era of a “very widespread conscious turning to a social doctrine of the Trinity,” a turning so energetic that “by the end of the century this trend had assumed the proportions of a landslip on a continental scale.” It echoes “the instinct manifest in social reform, socialism, the social Gospel so-called, social psychology, and the various social sciences” that was widespread at the time (97). 

In particular, he mentions one Rev. George A. Gordon, now forgotten, who insisted on “the essentially social nature of God,” the fact that God “is in his innermost being an eternal family.” In God’s life, “Love . . . must mean passion for another; its reality depends upon the society in the Godhead.” Because God is Triune, “one is able to conceive of God’s existence as ineffably blessed, and as containing in itself the ground of human society” (97).

The third is the way Lowry responds to what he calls the “modal” view of the Trinity, according to which “there is one identical Divine being in point of internal content, but that this Being, God Himself, exists really and objectively in a threefold manner – as Father, as Son, and as Holy Spirit” (99). 

Lowry observes, “of a God who is in some manner plural, who is in His essence a Trinity of persons, and who yet has within Himself no analogue of love, friendship, communion of souls, we have no analogy, no hint, in things human.” He suggests that the lack of analogy in human life is one reason for the heavy use of “impersonal and material analogies such as the sun, its ray, and a sunbeam; a fountain, a river, and a rivulet” (100-1). That is to say, it’s the lack of analogy between the Trinity and human existence (human existence made in God’s image) that troubles Lowry. As I think it should.

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