Trinity: Jensen, Rahner, and a song
I read a 2007 interview with Robert Jesnen mentioning Karl Rahner's "rule" about the trinity ......
In the 20th century, theologians showed a renewed interest in the doctrine of the Trinity. Yet these theologians continue to struggle with categories derived from Greek metaphysics -- an unchanging God, etc. What do you see as the main issues in articulating the Trinity for our time? How would you seek to revivify the place of the Trinity not only in theology but in Christian life?
Jensen: In the wake of the earlier volumes of Karl Barth’s Church Dogmatics and a 1967 article by Karl Rahner, serious Western theology has rediscovered -- at least momentarily -- the centrality of the doctrine of Trinity. The doctrine is found to be nothing less than the comprehensive statement of the gospel’s most radical claims, and -- as I have often put it -- is therefore not a theological puzzle but the framework within which to deal with theological puzzles. There continues to be a flood of publication about the doctrine -- some of it good and some, to be sure, not so good. And an interior debate has developed, which sometimes gets rather heated.
The disagreement goes deep. We may describe it by reference to "Rahner’s rule," which -- except for Orthodox participants in the discussion -- nearly everyone claims to honor. Rahner asserted that the "immanent" Trinity is the "economic" Trinity and vice versa, that is, that God’s eternal triune life and his triune history with us in time are somehow one event, that God is not otherwise Father, Son and Spirit in himself than he is among us, and vice versa.
Standard Western theology, according to Rahner and others, has been led by alien philosophical maxims to posit an ontological chasm between God’s triune history in time and his eternal triune being -- so that, for instance, it has been thought that the Father or the Spirit could have become incarnate instead of the Son. Such teaching made the distinctions and relations between the eternal divine persons and the actual history of salvation mutually undetermined, and so of course made the eternal Trinity irrelevant in the life of faith.
The debate is about the somehow just above, about construal of the is in Rahner’s rule. Those on the one side of the argument accuse those on the other of so identifying God with his history among us as to make him dependent on us. Those of the latter party accuse those of the former of continuing so to construe eternity by categories alien to the biblical account of God -- for example, by "timelessness" -- as effectively to retrn us to the dead end from which Barth and Rahner called us.
I am among those accused of confusing God and creation. Two metaphysical sensibilities seem to be in play here, which perhaps cannot be resolved short of the beatific vision. For under various rubrics the same clash has recurred throughout theological history, between Alexandria -- my side -- and Antioch, East and West, Lutheran and Reformed.
As to how I would revivify trinitarian piety in the congregations, were I in position to do so I would issue two decrees. I would make the clergy take time out from administration and "prophetic" politics to read a difficult book or two. And I would for the immediate future ban all "relevant" liturgy, most of which all too blatantly verifies Raimer’s observation that trinitarian faith has little role in Western pop Christianity -- though he was of course too polite to use that last adjective.
The rest of the Jensen interview is interesting, and I don't doubt Rahner's work, The Trinity, is too, but I can't honestly say I understand all this stuff. Maybe I'll just listen to a song instead :) ...