Monday, 11 May 2015

The Trinity, Presence, and Light

“Bright light! Bright light!”
One of the ideas I’ve wanted to test is the possibility of developing an account of the Trinity that prioritises the divine relations in terms of presence. The Father is present to the Son and the Spirit; the Son is present to the Father and the Spirit; and the Spirit is present to the Father and the Son. In From Nothing, Ian McFarland articulates his own version of this idea. God is present to God’s self. The three hypostases are mutually present to one another, which means that each divine person isn’t defined by being contrasted with the others, but by ‘a radical intimacy in which each hypostasis experiences the life of the other two as its own.’ (Ian A. McFarland’s From Nothing: A Theology of Creation (Louisville, KY: WJK Press, 2014), p. 51). McFarland also seems to say that what we regard as ‘divinity’ is the Trinity conceived as the presence of each hypostasis to the others. Does this mean that God is presence, albeit presence conceived in personal(istic), Trinitarian terms?

McFarland sees the Johannine image of God as light to be helpful in explicating the idea of God as present. To say that God is light is not to compare God with created light, for God is light, and, unlike with created light, no darkness is entailed. If anything, the divine light glorifies or highlights the light already visible in the three divine persons through their mutual illumination. But McFarland sees a fitting connection between the notion that God is light, the fact that the first of God’s creatures was light, and the promise that in the new creation, there will be no night but only the unceasing light of God. For McFarland, it seems that the (analogical?) connection between God’s light and created light makes it fitting for God not only to be present to Godself, but also to be present to that which is not God.


  1. Very interesting, albeit slightly above my head in places! (I'm reading a Moltmann's "Theology of Hope" at the moment and I'm only understanding about one sentence in three - I've come to the conclusion that academic theology is a lot harder than I realised).

    As I mentioned last time you posted on the Trinity, for me the key thing about the Trinity is the inherent interrelated-ness (interrelationality?) of the Godhead or Godself... which I think you seemed a little unconvinced by. The idea of Presence, of each person/hypostasis being mutually present to one another, and particularly McFarland's idea of 'radical intimacy' all sounds to me very akin to that idea of interrelationality, albeit expressed in different terms. Do you see a distinction?

    I'm also interested in use of the Johannine image of light here, as I've long been struck by the 'Johannine Trinity' (to coin a phrase?) of divine Light, Life and Love - i.e. of God understood as Light and/or as Life and/or as Love. Not that the three images correspond to different members of the Trinity of course, but that the three are a kind of Trinitarian triad of metaphors for God's nature or being.

    And of course physical light has a mysteriously complex, apparently dual nature - is it a particle or a wave, neither, both/and? Life and Love are both somewhat mysterious forces too...

    1. McFarland does pick up on the Johannine Trinity (as you've called it), though in essence he uses it in a slightly different way and like this: God is living (elucidated by love); God is productive (Spirit); God is present (light).

      And I'm not hostile at all to the idea of God's interrelationality or interrelatedness; I think the concept is essential in accounting for who God is; but there are ways of doing it. I'm increasingly wary of doctrines of the Trinity that privilege the concept of relations or relationality in the Trinity (the being of God is constituted by God's relations) without attending to the fact that it's three divine persons who relate to one another (the being of God is constituted by thee divine persons who are eternally related). I have my suspicions that McFarland himself does privilege the concept of relations, despite evidence to the contrary. But I still need to think about all this a lot more.

    2. Interesting stuff. I'm not so convinced about how McFarland divvies up the Johannine attributes... I'd see them as more interdependent, and I'd associate the Spirit more with life/living and therefore productivity, rather than putting living and love as a pairing. But if they're all interdependent maybe it doesn't matter. :)

      So if I understand rightly, you're looking for a doctrine of the Trinity in which the persons *and* their relatedness are both important... but perhaps the persons very slightly more so, as without them the relationships wouldn't be possible?

      Another light-related picture of the Trinity I quite like is that of Light source, Light emanating from the source, and then perhaps the act of Seeing/Sight... might need to work on that!

    3. Perhaps. In connection with 'light' imagery, McFarland quotes from Gregory of Nazianzus:

      'In order to emphasize the equality of the three hypostases, Gregory rejects the imagery of sun, ray, and light . . . , "lest people should get an idea of composition in the uncompounded nature, such as there is in the sun and the things that are in the sun. And in the second place lest we should equate the ousia [substance] with the Father and deny hypostasis to the others, making them only powers of God, existing in him but not hypostatic. For neither the ray nor the light is another sun, but they are only effulgences from the sun, and qualities of its essence."' (McFarland, p. 55 n. 57

      So I think the key issue here is how far you'd want to press the 'light' imagery, because, if Gregory is to be believed, it would mean you risk the Son and the Spirit not being genuine divine persons.