Trinity, poverty, and divine generosity

The very life of God is one of goodness expressing itself generously, fully. This divine goodness lives in personal communion. God is interpersonal and relational.

This communion has at its center the Word, the core or middle of God’s life as Trinity. Wishing to express overflowing goodness, God wishes to pour out an expression of the divine life.

God’s desire to share goodness is expressed as creation. But creation is not merely to receive some partial, limited sharing in God’s goodness and life. God will actually give away even the very heart of the divine life, the Word.

William Short, OFM, The Franciscans (Collegeville, Minn.: Michael Glazier, 1989), p. 105.

These words come from William Short, a Franciscan friar and scholar, who is interpreting the basic insight of the Franciscan theological tradition, especially in Bonaventure and Duns Scotus. There are antecedents for viewing the Trinity in terms of God’s self-communicative goodness in Dionysius and Richard of St. Victor. But this view owes as much to Francis and his insight into poverty and the absolute goodness of God. It’s as if God is so radically non-possessive that God shares God’s own life within the Trinity and then that goodness spills out in creation and Incarnation. God holds on to nothing, so that “God will actually give away even the very heart of the divine life, the Word.”

On Trinity Sunday, I was struck by how the doctrine of the Trinity is meant to describe the “conditions of the possibility” of total divine, self-giving, such as we experience in Christ and the Holy Eucharist. The Father sends the Son and the Spirit into the world. There is differentiation within God and yet the persons sent are fully God. What the doctrine is about is radical grace that embraces sin, finitude, and death without fear, because in the context of such immortal and abundant life, the self is found in having one’s being from and toward Another.

And we, by the power of the Spirit, have been caught up in this eternal, reciprocal self-giving, which comes into sharp focus in Christ’s self-emptying and obedience “unto death.” (Philippians 2)

A little later in the same chapter of his book, Short puts it this way: “God gives away all, holds nothing back as property. This is the poverty of God, showing in the visible things of creation the invisible and constant self-giving which is the life of the Trinity. The world mirrors, now clearly, now obscurely, the inner divine life of unending bowing over in generosity.”

The Rev. Bill Carroll serves as rector of Emmanuel Parish, Shawnee in the Diocese of Oklahoma. His new parish blog is Emmanuel Shawnee Blog

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