Perichoresis – The Divine Dance of the Trinity

Author: Katarína Pavelová, SSpS
Subject: Holy Trinity
Language: English, Spanish
Holy Trinity dancing
Holy Trinity dancing

As Missionaries Servants of the Holy Spirit, we have started with the Pentecost Novena a Year of Perichoresis, with the theme The Dance of the Trinity. Full of gratitude for this beautiful theme, we are happy and thankful to share with the ones that would like to deepen the theme and reflect on the beauty of the Divine dance.

What is Perichoresis?

Perichoresis derives from the verb perichoreo which means to be in space: intransitively – to pass, to enter / transitively: to hold, to admit / liter ally or figuratively: to come, to contain, to go, to have, to place, to receive. A very similar verb, with a small addition of one letter, perichoreuo means to dance around. The term perichoresis, in general, means a cyclical movement, reciprocity, and interpenetration.

The Latin equivalent to perichoresis is circumincession and derives from circum – around and incedere – to go / to step / to march along. It can also mean interchange when it refers to the two natures of Christ. (cf. A Patristic Greek Lexicon).

The term perichoresis is also used for a typical Greek wedding dance. In the (Greek wedding) dance, there are not two dancers, but at least three. They start to go in circles, weaving in and out, in this wonderful motion pattern. They start to go faster and faster, however, all the while staying in perfect rhythm and synchronization with each other. Eventually, they are dancing so quickly, yet effortlessly, that it becomes a blur. Even if part of a larger dance, they maintain their individual identities intact and unchanged.

The theologians in the early Church, observing the dance, and knowing the sense of the verb it comes from, introduced the term perichoresis to describe the reality of the Holy Trinity. In that sense, the term perichoresis means the interpenetration / co-inherence / mutual indwelling, describing the actions of the persons of the Trinity. It indicates the mutual and necessary interpenetration of the three divine Persons in the Trinity, on basis of the unity of essence in God. The Father, Son, and Holy Spirit not only embrace one another, but they also permeate, contain, and exist in one another. The three hypostases of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit move into each other, they belong to each other.

The first time, the term and its connection to the Trinity was used in Christian theology by Maximus Confessor. Gregory of Nazianzus used it to describe the relationship between the divine and human natures of Christ. It was John of Damascus, who extended the doctrine of perichoresis to the “interpenetration” of the three persons of the Trinity. He described it as a “cleaving together”. He said: ‘The three Persons of the Trinity ‘are made one not to commingle, but to cleave to each other, and they have their being in each other without any coalescence or commingling.’

So, the Church fathers described the Trinity as a harmonious set of relationships in which there is mutual giving and receiving. This relationship is called love, and it’s what the Trinity is all about. Perichoresis is then the dance of love.

Holy Trinity dancing
Holy Trinity dancing

Perichoresis as the dance of love

The Trinity is, so, an eternal dance of the Father, Son, and Spirit sharing mutual love, honor, happiness, joy, and respect, and living an eternal relationship of self-giving. In this dance, the three divine persons of the One God have loved one another and been in a relationship with one another for all eternity. They, also, deeply and intimately know one another and there is no fear, shame, or insecurity in their knowledge of one another. Father and Son dwell in a face-to-face relationship with the Spirit as the bond of love that unites them. The profoundly complete and pure relationship and free, full, and overflowing love is the central quality of God. Through this never-ending dance, the divine persons exist so intimately with one another, for one another, and in one another, that they constitute a single, unique, and complete unity by themselves.

The feminist Catholic theologian Catherine LaCugna, says that the Trinity, the divine dancers “experience one fluid motion of encircling, encompassing, permeating, enveloping, outstretching. There are neither leaders nor followers in the divine dance, only an eternal movement of reciprocal giving and receiving, giving again and receiving again… The divine dance is fully personal and interpersonal, expressing the essence and unity of God.”

This unity and the relationships between the three Persons of the Trinity, which are so dynamic, interactive, loving, and serving, at the same time, form the model for our human dance steps, and our relationships. God invites us into that dance of life, into the relationship with Him and with one another. And we, surely, can join this dance, because, as St. Paul says, it is “through Jesus Christ, [that] we have obtained access to this grace in which we stand; and we boast in our hope of sharing the glory of God” (Romans 5:2).

How can we dance with the Trinity?

As a Mission Congregation, we respond to this invitation and we not only enter profoundly into it but we feel immersed in this divine dance. Our dance together in God allows us to bring compassion to this wounded world. In this dance, we not only learn to love God and to love one another, but together we make a difference in this world, doing things that we could never imagine on our own.

There is only one condition: to dance with the Trinity, we need to overcome to worry about doing the all dance steps right! Dance is free and fun and it also is loving and lively. The only way to enjoy the dance is to let the Trinity captivate our hearts with its tune and draw us into its dance of giving ourselves away to serve others, loving and honoring them above ourselves. Of course, we will occasionally step on someone else’s foot or step out of line in the dance. But the beauty of the dance is that God is in control and always invites us back. All we have to do is accept the invitation of the Triune God and step out onto the dance floor.

The Presbyterian feminist theologian, Cynthia Holder Rich, says that it is no wonder, then, that we in the community of those who follow Jesus (and thus follow God, and follow the Spirit) are called into this divine dance – and equipped to gather others to take part in the dance with others. We serve a God who is essentially, intimately relational. We serve a God who is essentially, happily non-hierarchical. We serve a God whose relationships and relationality assist us and encourage us and call us into the relationship – with God, with each other, and with the community of all God’s creatures. This should set the stage for us to become people who can live into and live out relationships marked by love and grace.  This truth can help all who serve God to live into our vocation of those who live interdependent on one another, calling, leading, and following in the dance of ministry.

For personal reflection and sharing in the groups

  • Am I ready to enter into the Divine dance of the Trinity and so, bring God’s Compassion: to my relationships / to my community / to this world?
  • Do I listen to the impulses of the life-giving Spirit, who is the bond of Trinitarian love and dance?

 

———-

Katarina Pavelova, SSpS is from Slovakia, she was on mission in the Togo-Benin region for six years and is now in Rome, doing a doctorate (ThDr) in Biblical Theology at the Pontifical Gregorian University.

4 Responses

  1. Hola Hna Katarina, Excelente explicación. Es muy oportuno fundamentar citando a los Santos Padres de la la Iglesia (Máximo Confesor. Gregorio de Nazianzo). Así evita posibles malinterpretaciones… Si donde hay amor libre, hay alegría, unión y júbilo. La creación del mundo como danza divina es muy conocida también en el hinduismo.

  2. .

    Dear Katerina

    Thank you so much for this well written and interesting article

    Circle dances are indeed Divine
    Divinity itself

    Gracefully

    .

  3. Thank you for your helpful explanation. The word pictures brought the academic theology to life. Your sister in Christ. Ann Pierce Arnett, United Methodist Diaconal Minister, ret.

    1. Thank you, Ann!May God lead us to himself and to real life through these pictures. Nice to be one family in Christ! Vivatdeus.org Editorial Team

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