Problems With Perichoresis -- By: Oliver D. Crisp

Journal: Tyndale Bulletin
Volume: TYNBUL 56:1 (NA 2005)
Article: Problems With Perichoresis
Author: Oliver D. Crisp

Problems With Perichoresis

Oliver D. Crisp


The doctrine of perichoresis has been important for a number of contemporary theologians. However, it has been given much less philosophical attention. This essay is a philosophical-theological examination of the doctrine of perichoresis. Whereas most contemporary theologians who write about perichoresis restrict its application to the Holy Trinity, this paper seeks to address the question of its relevance for the hypostatic union in Christology. In order to do this, perichoresis in the incarnation must be distinguished from the communication of attributes and from the way in which it is applied to the persons of the Godhead. I conclude that perichoresis has an important though often neglected use in Christology, as well as a right use in trinitarian theology.

1. Introduction

Perichoresis could be regarded as a kind of theological black box. It has been used in the history of theology as a means of filling a conceptual gap in reflection upon the Trinity and the hypostatic union in the incarnation. This gap has to do with how it is that the two natures of Christ, or the persons of the Trinity, can be said to be united in such an intimate way that, in the case of the Trinity, there are ‘not three gods, but one god’, and in the case of the hypostatic union, there are not two entities in one body, but two natures held together in perfect union in one person. Perichoresis fills this gap with the notion that the two natures of Christ and the persons of the Trinity somehow interpenetrate one another, yet without confusion of substance or commingling of natures. But what does it mean to say that the persons of the Trinity exist in perichoretic unity, mutually interpenetrating one

another, or that the two natures of Christ subsist perichoretically, mutually co-inhering in a hypostatic union?

This essay is an attempt to make sense of these two applications of the doctrine of perichoresis to the incarnation and Trinity. Although a complete analysis of the doctrine is not possible, I think enough can be said by way of explanation to make this doctrine clear enough for the theological purposes it serves. I say a complete analysis of perichoresis with respect to the hypostatic union, or the ontology of the Trinity, is not possible because the Trinity and incarnation are divine mysteries. Since perichoresis is a theological concept that bears upon these two mysteries, by trying to make clear something of the ontology of the hypostatic union and the Trinity, it too touches upon things mysterious. By the term mystery I mean some doctrine or notion that is beyond the ken of human beings, or beyond the limits of human reason, not a d...

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