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The Word, the Words and the Trinity

Rebekah Earnshaw
Tuesday 21 February 2017

Dr Brandon Gallaher presented in our third week of the Theology Research Seminar for the spring semester. Dr Gallaher is a lecturer in Systematic and Comparative Theology at Exeter University. Dr Gallaher’s earlier work examined modern trinitarian theology under Paul Fiddes. He shared the early stages of a larger project which seeks an Eastern Orthodox response to plurality of religions. This arises from many years of ecumenical involvement and “looking for Jesus” in religious experiences and practices around the world. Dr Gallaher meets regularly as part of the Building Bridges Seminar.

Dr Gallaher presented under the title, “The Word, the Words and the Trinity: A Preliminary Exploration of the Relationship of Eastern Orthodoxy to World Religions.” He believes that Eastern Orthodox theology, as a minority and persecuted group for much of the twentieth century, is at least fifty years late to the ecumenical party. As such, there are limited works on inter-religious dialogue from an EO perspective. Dr Gallaher drew particular attention to Raimon Panikkar who’s most well known work in English is The Trinity and World Religions, 1973. The radical trinity which develops from theanthropocosmic-cosmotheandric experience in Panikkar’s thought is key. The Father is the source and absolute, even before being, he is found in passive surrender to annihilation and the all in all. There is a non-dual identity of I and absolute. The Son speaks and links the infinite with the finite. He is found in desire for immanent embrace and personalism. The Logos is the eternal thou, beginning and end, through all. The Spirit is immanence, union and bond, the within all. He is found in desire for incarnation and iconolatry. Veneration is the ascent to God. This radical trinity is the key for all reality so that all creaturely religious truth is an echo of this triune divine.

Dr Gallaher proposed that all religions experience Christ but in a distorted or partial manner. He argued that a providential account grounded in Christ and the Holy Spirit was necessary to undergird this claim theologically. Dr Gallaher drew on the resources of the EO tradition, particularly the Logos and the logoi to resource this. Justin Martyr and Maximus the Confessor were key to Dr Gallaher’s proposal at this point. The divine ideas/principles/intentions/wills which are unified in the Logos ground creaturely plurality in God. The tropoi can follow or distort the divine logoi, which explains why expressions of the divine amongst creaturely plurality may more or less conform to their divine pattern and end.

Dr Gallaher suggested ways in which aspects of the trinity might be seen in Islam, Buddhism, or Hinduism. He claimed that religious experience specially revealed these trinitarian logoi more than materialism or secularism. He argued that because EO is less focused on salvation and exclusivism it is uniquely placed to resource inter-religious dialogue and provide a theological account of religious plurality.

Especially since Dr Gallaher’s project is in its early stages he engaged in a lively question time, including posing his own questions. D’Costa’s critique that all claims are really exclusive claims was an initial point of discussion. Another key line of discussion pursued the privileged place of religions amongst general revelation in Dr Gallaher’s proposal. Dr Gallaher argued that historically and in practice religions offer a unique expression of the divine logoi amongst creatures. It is therefore, appropriate to particularly seek trinitarian revelation through inter-religious dialogue.

Dr Gallaher offered a perspective which was new to many of the regular participants in the theology seminar who have little chance to interact with those from EO backgrounds or with those actively pursuing inter-religious dialogue. In this way Dr Gallaher provided refreshing input and sparked new thoughts. The resources of EO are indeed rich.

Rebekah Earnshaw

(The views expressed in this post are my own and do not reflect those of St Mary’s College.)

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