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Center for Action and Contemplation

A Trinitarian Way of Life

Friday, January 14, 2022

Theologian Elizabeth Johnson envisions how a “revitalized trinitarian theology” might shape both the Church and our own practice of Christianity.

As glimpsed in [Jesus’] parables and practices, the reign of God is a gracious rule of saving love and communion. As a place where God’s will is done on earth as it is in heaven, it sets up a new kind of community where “the least of these” brothers and sisters are included. . . . In this community tyranny is countermanded in the light of God’s self-giving ways; male and female are equal partners, as are Jew and Greek. Justice, peace, and the well-being of all creatures are the goal. If we are not living out the types of relationships that serve this pattern of the truth of the reign of God, then we haven’t got a clue about who God is. Knowing God is impossible unless we enter into a life of love and communion with others. . . .

Revitalized trinitarian theology makes it clear that a God conceived of as an individualized monarch or as a self-enclosed, exclusively inner-related triad of persons, a God who watches from a distance as an uninvolved, impartial observer, a God who needs to be persuaded to care for creatures—such a God does not exist. This is a false God, a fantasy detached from the Christian experience of salvation. Rather, “God is Love,” related to the world in a threefold pattern of communion. Assimilating this truth we gain fresh energies to imagine the world in a loving way and to act to counter the self-destruction of violence.

Relying on Scripture and Tradition, Johnson envisions compassionate outcomes of a renewed commitment to a trinitarian God:  

YHWH’s covenant with Israel, the ministry and life of Jesus Christ, and the nourishing bonds of community on earth created by the Spirit are all icons that reveal the one God’s unfathomable, triune, relational nature oriented in compassion toward the world. In light of the trinitarian God we can tweak Irenaeus’s axiom [1] once again to declare: the glory of God is the communion of all things fully alive. Wherever the human heart is healed, justice gains a foothold, peace holds sway, an ecological habitat is protected, wherever liberation, hope and healing break through, wherever an act of simple kindness is done, a cup of cool water given, a book offered to a child thirsty for learning, there the human and earth community already reflect, in fragments, the visage of the trinitarian God. Borne by “the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit,” we become committed to a fruitful future inclusive of all peoples, tribes, and nations, all creatures of the earth. The reign of God gains another foothold in history.

[1] Johnson refers to Irenaeus of Lyon (c. 130–c. 202), Against Heresies, book 4, 20.7: “For the glory of God is the living human being.”

Elizabeth A. Johnson, Quest for the Living God: Mapping Frontiers in the Theology of God (New York: Continuum, 2007), 223–224.

Explore Further. . .

Image credit: Brian McLaren, Untitled 4-6 (detail), 2021, photograph, United States. Jenna Keiper and Leslye Colvin, 2021, triptych art, United States.

The creative team at CAC sent a single-use camera to Brian McLaren as part of an exploration into contemplative photography. His photos are featured here in a form inspired by early Christian/Catholic triptych art: a threefold form that tells a unified story. 

Image Inspiration: Trinity is the mystery of deep, abiding relationship. Each of the organisms in these photos reflect different forms but share the same source, providing benefits to the others. They are intricately related in their shared ecosystem.

Story from Our Community:

I’m spending my time getting in touch with the inner divine spark. This practice makes it easier to see and appreciate the divine spark in every living creature. I miss a good friend who was overcome with Covid-19. However, I’m consoled that he is sharing in the full glory of God’s divine spark.
—Vincent Z.

Share your own story with us.

Prayer for our community:

God, Lord of all creation, lover of life and of everything, please help us to love in our very small way what You love infinitely and everywhere. We thank You that we can offer just this one prayer and that will be more than enough,  because in reality every thing and every one is connected, and nothing stands alone. To pray for one part is really to pray for the whole, and so we do. Help us each day to stand for love, for healing, for the good, for the diverse unity of the Body of Christ and all creation, because we know this is what You desire: as Jesus prayed, that all may be one. We offer our prayer together with all the holy names of God, we offer our prayer together with Christ, our Lord, Amen.

Listen to the prayer.


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