Dean of Students
I have spent the last few weeks reading through various works on the Trinity with our Senior class. Our primary texts have included Origen, Aquinas, and Richard of St. Victor, in addition to the Nicene and Athanasian creeds. I am comfortable speaking on behalf of my students in saying that in many ways our understanding of our triune God has been deepened through our discussion of these texts. (Full disclosure: we also learned much from this hilarious video.)
One of the more striking realities addressed in many of these selections is the ontological necessity of action within the Trinity. Of the texts we read, we saw this most clearly presented in Aquinas and Richard of St. Victor.
For Aquinas, the relations within the Trinity require intrinsic action.
“A real relation in God can be based only upon action. These relations are not based upon God’s action in reference to any extrinsic procession, inasmuch as God’s relations to creatures are not real in him (q. 13, a. 7). Consequently real relations in God are understood only in reference to those actions by which there are intrinsic, not extrinsic processions in God.” Summa Theologica I, q. 28, a. 4, c
Richard of St. Vincent, in emphasizing the necessity of multiple persons of the Godhead in order for “perfect charity” to exist, frames this charity around the action of sharing love:
“The proof of consummate charity then is this desire to share the love shown to oneself. Surely one who loves supremely and desires to be loved supremely would be wont to find perfect joy in the fulfillment of that desire, in obtaining the love desired. Never to have the satisfaction of sharing such perfect joy, therefore, is proof that perfect charity is not present.“
For both of these thinkers—as with several others throughout history—it is essential for action to exist within the Trinity. Love must be given, received, and shared. Procession must occur. In the words of C.S. Lewis, who feared approaching irreverence at this point, there is a bit of a “drama” or “dance” within the Trinity. You could say that verbs are as essential to the Trinity as nouns; action is an essential element of God’s being.
So what does it look like to worship a God that acts? If our Sunday services are to be reflective of the God we claim to worship, how does an understanding of action within the Trinity affect the content and style of a worship service?
For starters, a service dedicated to worshiping the God who exists as an acting Trinity cannot be one in which the worshipers themselves do not act. Stadium seating, lengthy lectures, and music that drowns-out the voices of the people are all wonderful experiences in their appropriate venues, namely movie theaters, lecture halls, and concerts. These venues are primarily designed for an audience to view, not act. When a worship service resembles such venues, those worshiping are being shaped into believing that God is primarily an idea to be comprehended or a spectacle to be observed.
Liturgical worship is different. It is not without its flaws or dangers, but it is more reflective of the nature of the acting, triune God that week seek to worship. The worshipers are called to stand, sit, kneel, walk, give, pass, receive, exchange the peace, respond, and recite. Verbs happen. Participation is active, not passive. And all along the way those who worship are being shaped into the image of the acting triune God they worship.