Monday, November 23, 2009

George Hunsinger on the Immanent Trinity and the Economic Trinity

In a conversation with my daughter (who is in divinity school) I was trying to explain to her the distinction between the immanent Trinity and the economic Trinity, in the context of my letter about the baptismal formula.

Then on Saturday George Hunsinger commented on my funny post about Amazon selecting John Allegro's The Sacred Mushroom and the Cross because I had bought George's book The Eucharist and Ecumenism.  

In browsing for recent stuff by George I came across a comment he had made on Per Crucem ad Lucem a couple of weeks ago.  Jason Goroncy had done one of his “Who Said It? polls, where he puts up a passage, and we guess (without benefit of Google) who the theologian is that said it.  The answer in this case turned out to be Richard Bauckham, with whom I studied in St Andrews, but I guessed W. Pannenberg.  

Actually nobody got it right, but somebody guessed it was from George, so he posted a comment that it wasn't something he would have said, and then went on to give such a clear and helpful brief exposition of the Trinity that I read it to my daughter over the phone today, and then I e-mailed George to ask if he would be willing to let me post it here. He was and so here it is:
“Oh dear! Someone in the original thread guessed that I might have said it. I wouldn’t have, though I might have said something like this:
There is only one Holy Trinity, now and for ever. One and the same Trinity exists in two different forms: the one is eternal and immanent; the other, temporal and economic. The former is essential and necessary; the latter, entirely contingent. God would be the Holy Trinity in and for himself — as a perfect communion of love and freedom, joy and peace — whether the world had been created or not.
God’s trinitarian history for us reveals — but does not make him — what he is in and for himself. The aseity, simplicity and perfection of God’s being means that God is what he is as the Holy Trinity independently of the world, and therefore of God’s temporal, worldly history. This history is indeed who God is, but only in a secondary and dependent form.
The eternal form of the Holy Trinity is logically and ontologically prior to its historical, worldly form. The relation of the two trinitarian forms — historical and eternal — is one of inseparable unity and abiding distinction, with an asymmetry in status between them that makes the relation irreversible. The temporal form of the Trinity depends entirely on the eternal form, but the eternal form of the Trinity in no way depends on the temporal form assumed in its historical revelation.
Therefore, we do not know the eternal form of the Trinity except through the temporal form, but through the temporal form we do know that the eternal form is perfect and independent –self-subsistent — in itself.”  (George Hunsinger,  Comment, Per Crucem ad Lucem. November 14)


  1. Thanks for posting this material. If I may, let me add a little more to it.

    I think my analysis makes it possible to see what is right and what is wrong with Rahner's Rule.

    The Rule famously states: "The economic Trinity is the
    immanent Trinity and the immanent Trinity is the economic Trinity."

    The Rule is correct insofar as there is only one Holy Trinity existing in two distinct forms.

    It is incorrect, however, insofar as it suggests that the distinction between the two forms can be collapsed.

    If the immanent form is eternal while the economic form is temporal or historical, then to collapse the two forms would be to collapse the distinction between eternity and time, and thus between God and the world.

    The proper relation between the eternal and the historical forms, however, is one of correspondence. They comprise a unity-in-distinction, but not a dialectical identity -- as if looked at one way the Trinity was eternal but another way it was historical, or as if eternity and history were two aspects of a single process.

    The Chalcedonian pattern is again the key. The two forms exist in a unity, distinction and asymmetrical relation of correspondence in which the eternal form has priority and precedence at every point over the historical form.

    It is this relation of correspondence that Rahner's Rule threatens to obscure.

  2. Thanks, George, very lucid and really helpful. I particularly like employing “the Chalcedonian pattern” as the key. Now let us hope for some good comments here about this.