Final Highlights from Perichoresis and Personhood

The last installment of Perichoresis and Personhood: God, Christ, and Salvation in John of Damascus focuses upon “Perichoresis and Salvation” (the chapter title). In my previous post I noted how Twombly shows that perichoresis was explicitly used by John of Damascus to illustrate “how three might be one and how both variety and unity can characterize the same divine reality” (p 46; my highlights here) and that perichoresis as “mutual indwelling” is the summary expression that explicates the two distinct natures of the one Person Christ (see here). This chapter ties together the notion of “participation” (metalapsis) with perichoresis under the semantic umbrella of “communion” (koinonia), though important and careful distinctions are retained. Although John does not use the term perichoresis “to identify the bond that exist between God and the created world or the saving relationship that unites baptized believers to God (or Christ or eternal life),” there is nevertheless “some connection…between the bringing together of Christ’s two natures, on the one hand, and the connection of humanity and God either in creation or in salvation, on the other” (p 93). It is this theme that occupies the final chapter. The rites of baptism and the eucharist along with our personal union with Christ and the corporate union we share with one another are prime models used by John of Damascus to illustrate.

For example, “the duality of the relationship between Christ and the baptized person has … the element of identity and difference that is at the root of perichoresis. Union without confusion is the structural analogue that at the same time provides the space for significant differences.” And, “even though the vocabulary of mutual indwelling is available for use, John employs words like participation and communion to speak of the connection brought about by the consecrated bread and wine” (p 101). It is by way of these two sacraments that our participation with one another in the one Body of Christ are manifest. Broadly speaking, we enjoy both a union with Christ and a communion with one another in a perichoretic relationship that retains both identity and difference. John of Damascus writes (p 102):

It is called participation [metalapsis] because through it we participate [metalambanomen] in the divinity of Jesus. It is also called communion [koinonia], and is truly so, because of our having communion through it with Christ and partaking [metechein] both of his flesh and his divinity, and because through it we have communion with and reunited to one another. For, since we partake of one bread, we all become one body of Christ and one blood and members of one another and are accounted of the same body with Christ.

Related to the idea of “participation,” Twombly makes an important apologetic move that, as I see it, avoids panentheism. He notes that “participation…bespeaks of a relativity, a separateness of the participant from that in which it participates” (p 94). Just as, for example, “the sun shines down on the earth but seemingly remains unaffected by what transpires on the surface of the earth, so God creates and sustains creation but in a unilateral manner that precludes reciprocal influence.” And so, “God is in some way united with the world in a fashion that is absolutely crucial for creaturely existence, but that leaves the divine nature unaltered” (p 96). We have Plato to thank as much as we have the Cappadocians in this regard.

There is much more in this final chapter, touching on topics such as the Fall, immortality, imago Dei, et al. My conclusion is the same as my beginning, to wit: Perichoresis and Personhood: God, Christ, and Salvation in John of Damascus is a must-read for those who wish to plunge the depths of Trinitarian theology, Christology, and our union with Christ in salvation. Tolle lege!!

Download the entire review here.

 

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