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Pure Relationality

Trinity: Part Two

Pure Relationality
Tuesday, May 14, 2019

I am one with the source insofar as I act as a source by making everything I have received flow again—just like Jesus. —Raimon Panikkar [1]

Catholic priest Raimundo (or Raimon) Panikkar (1918–2010) wrote over 40 books, many focused on comparative religion. Son of a Spanish Catholic mother and a Hindu father, Panikkar’s Hinduism led him to the depths of his Christian experience and allowed him to share spiritual wisdom in a way that was universal and accessible. He saw Trinity not as a uniquely Christian idea but as the very structure of reality. For him the Trinity overcame the challenges of monism (undifferentiated oneness), dualism (separation of sacred and profane), and pantheism (God and creation are indistinguishable).

CAC faculty member Cynthia Bourgeault shares Panikkar’s conviction that Trinity is all about relationship:  

One of the great pioneers of contemporary interreligious dialogue, Panikkar worked on the Trinity for most of his long and productive scholarly career. Between his early The Holy Trinity (1973) and his magnificent Christophany (2004) lie more than thirty years of increasingly subtle scholarship as he . . . comes to see the Trinity more and more as a dynamic mandala, entrusted in a particular way to Christianity but universal in its scope, illuminating the “dynamism of the real.”

Cosmotheandric is the term Panikkar invents to describe this dynamic relational ground. The word itself is the fusion of cosmos (world), theos (God), and andros (man) and suggests a continuous intercirculation among these three distinct planes of existence in a single motion of self-communicating love. The gist of this idea is already fully there in those profound images that cascade from Jesus’s mouth in the farewell discourses of John 13-17: “I am the vine, you are the branches; abide in me as I in you” (John 15:4); “As you, Father, are in me and I am in you, may they also be in us. . . . I in them and you in me, that they may be completely one” (John 17:21-23).

The vision is of a dynamic, interabiding oneness whose “substance” is inseparable from the motion itself. Panikkar is emphatic that “being is a verb, not a substance,” [2] and the Trinity is the indivisible expression of the mode of this beingness. All speculation on the “substance” of the individual divine persons (as has dominated Western metaphysics for more than fifteen hundred years) thus starts off on a fundamental misperception; for, as Panikkar sees it, “the Trinity is pure relationality.” [3]

I (Richard) think this is very hard for Western individualists to comprehend. We like to assert our separateness and our specialness, which is the low-level preoccupation of the ego. Only the soul understands itself as radical relatedness. It knows that we are all good with one another’s goodness and sinful with one another’s sin.

[1] Raimon Panikkar, Christophany: The Fullness of Man (Orbis Books: 2004), 116.

[2] Ibid., 129.

[3] Ibid., 173.

Cynthia Bourgeault, The Holy Trinity and the Law of Three: Discovering the Radical Truth at the Heart of Christianity (Shambhala: 2013), 85.

Image credit: Haystacks at Giverny (detail), Claude Monet, 1884. Private collection.
Inspiration for this week’s banner image: Creativity that makes the world is built into the world as its own essence. . . . Randomness, the pool of all possibilities, is part of how it’s done. . . . The divinity is so intimately present in the world that the world can be regarded as an incarnate expression of the Trinity, as creative, as expansive, as conscious, as self-realizing and self-sharing. —Beatrice Bruteau
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