In the latest issue of Liturgy published by The Liturgical Conference, theologian Veli-Matti Kärkkäinen explores the trinitarian shaping of Christian worship. He approaches the three persons of the Trinity as a systematician who is deeply committed to the ways in which the Trinity fund our primary communion with God.
I wish to lay out as clearly as I can the basic trinitarian logic and narrative that undergirds and funds all of Christian life, but particularly prayer and liturgical life. This base is the trinitarian narrative that can be found in the New Testament and that was formulated doctrinally in later Christian tradition. . . . Liturgy is deeply Trinity-formed.
. . . The Reformed Karl Barth rightly intuited that the Bible points to “the life of God Himself turned to us, the Word of God coming to us by the Holy Spirit, Jesus Christ.” [See Church Dogmatics, vol. 1, bk. 2] This same insight was reached in the common ecumenical statement by Roman Catholics and Lutherans: “What God has done for the salvation of the world in Jesus Christ is transmitted in the gospel and made present in the Holy Spirit. The gospel as proclamation of God's saving action is therefore itself a salvation event.” [See http://www.pro.urbe.it/ dia-int/l-rc/doc/e_l-rc_malta.html] Liturgy and prayer is the place to present that Gospel of Christ. Liturgy is the arena in which the proclamation and sacramental acts reflect the triune nature of One God who manifests Godself as Father, Son, and Spirit.
Regarding each of the Trinity in turn, Kärkkäinen lets the reader ponder the thoughts of theologians through the ages. Here is Martin Luther on the first person of the Trinity:
The meaning and distinctive nature of [God’s] deep and wide fatherly love was masterfully captured centuries ago by the Reformer Martin Luther. While better known for his theology of justification by faith, Luther is first and foremost a theologian of love. He makes the famous distinction between two kinds of love: divine and human love. Whereas for the latter, self-interest and the principle of reciprocity is in the forefront, God's love purely and unselfishly seeks the well-being of the Other.4 [See Evangelical Quarterly 74, no. 3]
Human love is oriented toward objects that are inherently good, where self-love defines the content and the object of the love. Men and women love something that they believe they can enjoy. God loves in a way opposite to human love: “The love of God does not find, but creates, that which is pleasing to it …. Rather than seeking its own good, the love of God flows forth and bestows good.”5 [See Luther’s Works, 1957, 31:57]
Here is Karl Rahner on Christ:
In contemporary theology, probably no one else has reflected as deeply on the theological and spiritual implications of divine embodiment as the means of God's self-identification with humanity as has the Catholic Karl Rahner.
“It is a fact of faith that when God desires to manifest himself, it is as a man that he does so,” as a man who appears only in the bodily form. Indeed, on the basis of this divine embodiment, we not only know the Divine but also the meaning of the human. . . If we want to know what man is, or what flesh means, then we must, so to speak, choose this theological definition of the statement ‘And the Word became flesh,’ saying: flesh, man as a bodily, concrete, historical being is just what comes into being when the Logos, issuing from himself, utters himself. Man is therefore God's self-utterance, out of himself into the empty nothingness of the creature.”6 [Rahner, in Theological Investigations, vol. 17]
Finally, Kärkkäinen’s thoughts on the Holy Spirit beckon us to expand our sense of the Spirit’s work so that we do not settle on personal piety alone as the gift but come to see in an ever-larger scope the Spirit’s role in creation itself. Those who lead the church’s worship in word and sacrament will gain a deepened energy for corporate prayer through renewal of seeing the fullness of the Three in One in the liturgy. The author’s goal is a lively trinitarian prayer for all.
- Veli-Matti Kärkkäinen is professor of systematic theology, Fuller Theological Seminary, Pasadena, CA, and Docent of Ecumenics, University of Helsinki, Finland. See Veli-Matti Kärkkäinen Trinity and Revelation, vol. 2: A Constructive Christian Theology for the Pluralistic World (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2014), chap. 2, for a full treatment of this subject.
Veli-Matti Kärkkäinen, “Loving Father, Embodied Son, and Life-Giving Spirit: The Trinitarian Narrative and Liturgical Experience,” Liturgy 30, no. 1 (2015): 60-66.