The Bible says some strange things about the life of the Trinity. For instance, the Father dwells in the Son at the same time that the Son dwells in the Father. The Father is home to the Son, while the Son is home of the Father. As fourth-century theologian Hilary of Poitiers put it, Father and Son envelop one another and are simultaneously enveloped by one another.
Since the early centuries of the church, Christian theologians have used the word perichoresis to describe this reality. The term—meaning “mutual indwelling"—has been used almost exclusively to describe the relationship between the divine persons in the Trinity and the intertwining of the two natures in the one person of Jesus Christ. For Hilary, perichoresis was too mysterious to be anything but divine.
Recently, some theologians have extended the concept to created realities. Other theologians, however, worry that the extending goes too far. When the idea is used outside its traditional contexts, it loses meaning, they argue. A main concern is that the application blurs the distinction between Creator and creation. Princeton’s Bruce McCormack, for example, diagnoses a case of “creeping perichoresis,” which sounds like a pretty serious condition.
Well, I’ve contracted the condition. But I caught it from the New Testament, which employs the concept of mutual indwelling rather stretchily. Though the term is never used in Scripture, the concept appears more frequently that we often realize, particularly in the Gospel of John. When Jesus talks about mutual indwelling, he stresses the similarities—rather than the dissimilarities—between the relationship of the Father and the Son, the church’s ...1
Already a CT subscriber? Log in for full digital access.
Subscribe to Christianity Today and get access to this article plus 65+ years of archives.
- Home delivery of CT magazine
- Complete access to articles on ChristianityToday.com
- Over 120 years of magazine archives plus full access to all of CT’s online archives
- Learn more