Thursday, December 24, 2015

Moltmann The Trinity and the Kingdom

Theologian Jürgen Moltmann, in his autobiography In a Broad Place, has a reference to Pannenberg saying that Moltmann began a new regard for the doctrine of the Trinity. He viewed this as generous, saying that the two of them together have brought renewed interest and focus on the Trinity. This little reflection on The Trinity and the Kingdom: The Doctrine of God (Harper & Row: San Francisco, 1980, 1981) is an effort to explore the Trinity with Moltmann, but with special attention to the written dialogue we find between these two fine theologians.

On a brief personal note, Pannenberg has been teacher since the mid-1970s. I have the privilege of being in a reading group that is slowly working through his Systematic Theology. One of the many values of this relationship over the years is his bibliography. He keeps push me to read other philosophers, psychologists, sociologists, and theologians. Like any good systematic theologian, he is re-thinking Christian teaching for his time, but in light of the depth and richness of Christian tradition. One of the theologians to whom he regularly refers is Moltmann. In the autobiography already mentioned, Moltmann said that in their early careers people referred to them as “the hope boys,” in contrast to “the process boys.” I think this little essay will show that theologically, they are part of the same family. They take their que from tradition and from eschatology. Both focus on interpreting what they see in the biblical text. Of course, they will differ on some points, but they are differences that arise out of similarity.

What I will do is offer a few reflections on each chapter that strike me as important for discussions of the Trinity. I will bring Pannenberg into the conversation as I see it.

In the Preface, Moltmann points out that he wants to contribute to theology, in contrast to developing a systematic theology. He refers to the biblical testimonies that initiate theological contributions over the centuries. He stresses that there are unsettled theological problems for which every new generation has to find its solution. No concept within history is final or complete. The openness of such theological discourse shows the power of their eschatological hope for the future. Tradition is not a treasury of dead truths. He thinks theological reflection needs to occur in the context of ecumenical fellowship. Doing so will overcome schismatic thinking. In this case, he is bridging the gaps between Protestant and Catholic, East and West, Jewish and Christian. He invites us to ponder Andrei Rubley’s Russian icon of the Holy Trinity, which I have included here.

            In Chapter 1, Moltmann explores Trinitarian theology today. Through Schleiermacher and Kant, he thinks the modern devotion to the ethical and pragmatic has led to the disintegration of the doctrine of the Trinity in moral monotheism. He refers to the Greek philosophers and the patristic writers as focusing on knowing as wonder, through which one participates in life. Transformation occurs through participation. He refers to God as the absolute subject, a notion derived from philosophy. This led to thinking of God as absolute subject in three modes of being. His book starts with history of Jesus the Son, and from that to develop a historical doctrine of the Trinity, which he calls a social doctrine of the Trinity. The Bible is the testimony to the history of the relations of fellowship within the Trinity, which is a fellowship also open to the world. In a similarity with Karl Barth, Moltmann will want to work on his theology of the Trinity, and then work on ethical and political implications. He thinks this theology will lead us to think in terms of relationship and communities. He will also want to think ecologically about God. I would simply offer that this attempt is admirable in the sense that ethics and politics are important parts of our lives. Yet, the fact that Pannenberg and Moltmann are so close theologically and so far apart politically is a warning not to put too much emotional investment in such connections. Generally, our political agendas and perspective arise out of a different set of experiences than our theology.

            In Chapter 2, Moltmann discusses the passion of God. The crucifixion and the suffering of the Son have been an important part of theology and devotion from the beginning. This contrasts with the theological notion that God could not suffer. Origen did have a place for suffering in God. He wants to develop a doctrine of theopathy. He examines the writings of Abraham Heschel, C. E. Rolt in The World’s Redemption, J K. Mozley, The Impassibility of God: A Survey of Christian Thought , G. A. Studdert Kennedy, The Hardest Part. Miguel de Unamuno, The Tragic Sense of Life, and Berdyaev. He says that no one can answer the theodicy question in this world. Nor could one rid oneself of it. Life in this world means living with this open question and seeking the future in which suffering will end and what people have lost God will restore. Rather than a speculative question, he wants to treat suffering as an eschatological question. Suffering is the open wound of life in this world. The basis of a theology of divine passion is I John 4:16, God is love. He states several theses. First, love is the self-communication of the good. Second, every self-communication presupposes the capacity for self-differentiation. Third, when God decides to communicate who God is, God discloses the being of God. He says that in this sense, God needs the world and humanity. If God is love, then God is not without the one who is the beloved. Fourth, in Trinitarian terms in eternity and out of the necessity of the divine being the Father loves the only begotten Son. The Son is other of the Father, but other in essence. The inner-Trinitarian love is therefore the love of like for like, not the love for one who is essentially different. Five, in the creation of the world, the self-humiliation of God begins. God takes time for that creation and allows it time.

            In Chapter 3, Moltmann discusses the history of the Son. He begins by admitting the difficulty. Harnack could say that the gospel Jesus preached was of the Father. Kant said there was no practical purpose in a discussion of the Trinity. Schleiermacher said it is not part of the devout personal consciousness. While the New Testament does not establish the Christian doctrine of the Trinity, he thinks it might be a way of interpreting what the Bible proclaims. He starts with Barth in the unity of the revealer, the revelation, and the being-revealed. The revelation of God as Lord has a Trinitarian structure. Yet, this is really a monotheistic conception of the Trinity. Pannenberg and Moltmann unite in this criticism of Barth. Anyone studying theology will want to explore both theologians and the way they differ from Barth on the Trinity. For Moltmann, the German Idealism of Barth shines through especially connected with Fichte. He thinks of God as absolute subject rather than substance. The difficulty Barth will get into is that his Idealistic reflection places the divine lordship before the Trinity and uses the Trinity to secure and interpret divine subjectivity. He will commend Barth for starting with Christ. Yet, in the end, as throughout Church Dogmatics, Barth will find that the Holy Spirit does not fit well into the structure of revelation he expresses.

Moltmann starts with the presupposition that the New Testament talks about God by proclaiming in narrative the relationship of the Father, Son, and Spirit as a fellowship that is open to the world. He begins with the sending of the Son. The Father sends the Son through the Spirit. The Son comes from the Father in the power of the Spirit. The Spirit brings people into the fellowship of the Son with the Father. He then discusses the surrender of the Son. He does so first with the passion of Jesus. We find here abandonment by God and the appalling silence of the Father to the prayer in Gethsemane. Martin Buber called it the eclipse of God. Mystics called it the dark night of the soul. The Father withdraws. God is silent. This is the experience of hell and judgment. The cry of the God-forsaken Son is at the center of the Christian faith. Its remembrance is the celebration of the Lord’s Supper. Paul can also talk of surrender and giving up. He refers to the will of the surrendered Son and the surrendering will of the Father. Paul interpreted the giving up of the Son as the love of God. John does as well. At this point, the Father gives up the Son to death, the Son gives up himself for us, and the common giving up of Father and Son comes about through the Holy Spirit. Thus, the Spirit joins the Son to the Father, even in forsakenness. He then discusses the exaltation of the Son. In this case, the Father raises the dead Son through the life-giving Spirit, the Father enthrones the Son as the Lord of the kingdom, and the risen Son sends the creative Spirit from the Father, to renew heaven and earth. He discusses the future of the Son as the primary eschatological event within the Trinity. The rule of Christ is hidden now and provisional, of course, but moves toward a time when the Son transfers the kingdom to the Father. At this stage, the Father subjects everything to the Son, the Son transfers the consummated kingdom to the Father, and the Son subjects himself to the Father. The lordship of Christ serves the purpose of glorifying the Father. Pannenberg will also make the point that the lordship goes hand in hand with the deity of God. It has its place already in the intra-Trinitarian life of God, in the reciprocity of the relation between the Son, who subjects himself to the lordship of the Father, and the Father, who hands over his lordship to the Son. Any thought that the Trinity precedes the lordship is misleading.[1] Lastly, Moltmann discusses transformations of the open Trinity. His point here is that the Trinitarian history of the reign of God is an eschatologically open history now.

            On this Chapter, Pannenberg agrees as he says that the doctrine of the Trinity on the content of the revelation of God in Jesus Christ. The relation of Jesus to the Father is at the center of his message of divine rule. All statements in the New Testament about the deity of Jesus presuppose this relation. Thus, he says that Moltmann rightly bases the doctrine of the Trinity on the history of Jesus as the Son. The difference between them is one of emphasis. Pannenberg will want to focus on the proclamation by Jesus of the Father and the coming rule of God as the starting point. He also thinks one needs to distinguish such statements from those that concern the sending of the Son that it justifies, a theme with which Moltmann will begin. Pannenberg also wants to give attention to the broad judgment of exegetes that Jesus did not claim the title “Son,” while Moltmann links the title to the baptism of Jesus.[2] In general, in this Chapter, Pannenberg takes into account modern exegesis of the history of Jesus where Moltmann tends to take the text as it stands.

            In Chapter 4, Moltmann discusses the world of the Trinity. He wants to set the Son against the background of the history of the Triune God with the world. Such a Christology is open to the creation of the Father and the transfiguration of the world through the Spirit. The relationship is a reciprocal one because it is a living one. The world is significant to God, for the intent is that God would be at home in it and desires to dwell in it. He refers to the connection between the exodus covenant and the notion of creation in the Old Testament. II Isaiah in particular revitalized this message. He says that if Christ is the foundation for salvation of creation, he is the foundation of its existence. If Christ is the goal of creation, then he is the foundation of creation from eternity. This idea is behind the statements about Christ as the mediator of creation. As a resource here, he refers to the classic Christology discussion, Jesus – God and Man (1964, 1968), p. 390-7. He has summarized well the point of these pages. Moltmann refers to panentheism as providing the idea of creation flowing out of the divine life of love in the fellowship of the Trinity, in contrast to the stress on the freedom of God in creation. As he discusses the Son, he says that the Incarnation is a perfected form of self-communication to the world. The Son responds properly to the love of the Father. The Incarnation precedes creation. In discussing kenosis, it begins in creation and perfects itself in the Incarnation. Love means free response. Love must wait patiently. Love cannot compel by violence. He then discusses the transfiguration of the Spirit. The resurrection of Christ is the first eschatological work of the Spirit. Resurrection must mean the bodily metamorphosis of Jesus. The indwelling of the Spirit means that God comes home to the world God has made and has always intended to be at home. The consummation of creation is the glorification of the Father through the Son in the Spirit.

Pannenberg commends Moltmann in this chapter for drawing attention to the eschatological aspect of the history of Jesus and the doctrine of the Spirit as they might influence our understanding of the Trinity. He showed convincingly that the glorifying of the Son and the Father by the Spirit is the personal act that most decisively expresses the subjectivity of the Spirit over against the other two persons. We must regard this doxological activity of the Spirit as an intra-Trinitarian relation because it focuses on the Son and the Father. Therefore, the Spirit glorifying the Son and the Father brings about the union of the Son with the Father (John 17:21). In this way, Moltmann could link the consummation of salvation history in eschatology with the consummation of the Trinitarian life of God. When God is all in all, so to speak, the economic Trinity subsumes into the immanent Trinity.[3]

            In Chapter 5, Moltmann discusses the mystery of the Trinity. The Trinitarian doctrine arose out of reflection upon Christology and soteriology. He will criticize the historical notions in which we begin with monotheism and develop a notion of the Trinity from it. He sees Barth and Rahner in this tradition. In offering his criticism of Barth, he is in agreement with Pannenberg. Yet, he disagrees with the polemical note of Moltmann here. He is guilty of a wrong terminological decision. Pannenberg defends Moltmann from some criticism, stating that Moltmann has no wish to abandon the unity of God. He disagrees with those who think Moltmann exposes himself to tri-theism here. Rather, Moltmann rightly rejects an abstract monotheism found in the 1800s. As we shall see, Pannenberg does wonder if Moltmann succeeds in formulating properly the unity of the Trinitarian God.[4] We will see here, I think, a sense of a difference that arises out of their family resemblance.

 Moltmann wants to develop a doxological Trinity. He wonders if who God is for us (the economic Trinity, the revelatory Trinity) and who God is within the divine life (the immanent or substantial Trinity) is a speculative notion. He “finely”[5] says that the persons constitute their distinctions as well as their unity. The basis of this distinction is the platonic distinction between Idea and appearance. He affirms the thesis of Rahner that the immanent Trinity is the economic Trinity. (Pannenberg will do so as well). The fatherhood of the Father arises out of the relationship to the Son. Yet, the Father is constituted as such only through the Father and not through the relationship to the Son. At this point, we need to pay some attention to a difference between Moltmann and Pannenberg. As Pannenberg points out, this appears to be a contradiction, for he demands that the unity of the persons have their basis in their reciprocal fellowship as well.[6]

Moltmann says the Father is the origin of the Trinity. The definition of the Father is through the Father, but also through the relation with the Son and the Father. The Spirit issues from the mutual love of the Father and the Son. The Spirit is the bond of love that unites Father and Son. He admits that the Spirit has anonymity. However, he agrees with Pannenberg that to say the Spirit is the “we” of the communication of Father and Son is, as the Orthodox Church would say, eliminates the “person” of the Spirit.[7] He favors the notion of perichoresis. Father, Son, and Spirit dwell in each other and communicate eternal life to each other. Pannenberg will offer that if the Trinitarian relations have the form of mutual self-distinction, we must understand them as living realizations of separate centers of action. He thinks Moltmann comes close to this idea. Moltmann does have the concern that we are not to see them as three persons entering into relation to each other.[8]

At this point, Moltmann and Pannenberg will have a substantive difference in their formulation of the role of the Father in Trinitarian relations. Moltmann will say that the monarchy of the Father applies only to the constitution of the Trinity. He wants to distinguish between the constitution of the Trinity on the one hand from the inner life of the Trinity, which are pure relation and community. Pannenberg will take a different approach. For him, the monarchy of the Father is the result of the common operation of the three persons and seals their unity. In terms of the immanent Trinity, he will not want to make the distinction Moltmann does here. For Pannenberg, the Trinitarian relations mediate the monarchy of the Father. He wonders how we can protect the unity of the divine life and the perichoresis if we do not accept the monarchy of the Father as the source of deity. He wants to emphasize, in contrast to Moltmann, that the monarchy of the Father arises out of the Trinitarian relations. The monarchy of the Father is not in competition with the life of the trinity, but has reality in the life of the Son and the Father.[9]

As Moltmann discusses the filioque clause, which caused a split between the Catholic and Orthodox churches, he proposes to interpret it as saying that the Holy Spirit proceeds from the Father of the Son and receives form from the Father and the Son. Pannenberg agrees with Moltmann that theologians have not yet clarified the theological issue. He does not think his reformulation is helpful here. His interpretation of the biblical testimony is that the Son receives the Spirit and the Spirit mediates the obedience of the Son to the Father. Pannenberg wants to stress that the Son is the first recipient of the Spirt and only in this way does the Son share in the sending of the Spirit to believers.[10]

            In Chapter 6, Moltmann discusses the kingdom of freedom. Here is his application of his Trinitarian theology to ethical and political matters. For Moltmann, this chapter is relatively mild. Much of the chapter is a discussion of his rejection of monotheistic political theology and his favoring of a communal approach to political life. He lifts up Joachim of Fiore as one who discovered the significance of a Trinitarian view of history as progressive and growing liberty. He refers to a wonderful little book by Pannenberg, The Idea of God and Human Freedom, as a resource for pursuing his notion of the Trinitarian doctrine of freedom. The difficult case Pannenberg is making is that Western civilization and its valuing of freedom has theological roots. In particular, for the case Moltmann is making here, I would direct the reader to the essay on the significance of Christianity in the philosophy of Hegel. The essay is a tough read for one limited in philosophy. However, the effort is well worth it. In similarity with Moltmann here, Hegel will also make freedom the heart of the creativity that God as Spirit (Mind) shares with humanity. He also has an essay on Christianity as the legitimacy of the modern age and eschatology ant the experience of meaning. Pannenberg is going further than Moltmann does in his argument, but they have similar concerns that our secular age will not properly use the freedom they have as a gift of God apart from theological reflection. To return to Moltmann, he is in the process of further developing Joachim’s Trinitarian notion of history. The kingdom of the Father refers to the creation of the world and its preservation through the patience of God. The kingdom of the Son refers to the liberation of human beings through suffering love. The kingdom of the Spirit refers to the powers and energies of the new creation and participation in them. The aim is the gathering of all things into the eternal life of the Triune God, which he calls its deification. Human freedom takes corresponding forms of liberation from necessity that includes power over nature, the discernment to do good with that power, and subjection to a project of the future. His concern, of course, is the use of freedom to rule, which ultimately means the loss of freedom for others. Freedom is a creative initiative, which he sees as an experience of the Spirit. Freedom in the light of hope is the creative passion for the possible. The future is the kingdom of not yet defined potentialities. People want to realize new possibilities. As a function of property freedom means having, as the social function of community, freedom means being, and as a function of a passion for the future as a creative function, freedom means becoming. Of course, he rejects the idea that human beings need liberation from God. Freedom in the light of hope is the creative passion for the possible. Freedom has a direction to the future coming of God. God desires the freedom of what God has created. In fact, God is the inexhaustible freedom of those God has created. He summarizes by saying that the kingdom of the Father refers to the Creator and lord of those God has created who has servants, the kingdom of the Son refers to the freedom of being children of God, and the kingdom of the Spirit refers to being friends of God.

            If the reader wants a full explication of the Trinitarian doctrine of God from Pannenberg, Chapters 5 & 6 of his Systematic Theology will provide plenty of opportunity for reflection. If you want something shorter, you can read this blog for a discussion of Chapter 5 and Chapter 6.
            I am a learner. If you think I might have missed something, not properly understood a matter, or could be clearer, please say so. I suppose one application of the theology of Moltmann and Pannenberg is that every article has an open quality to it, as do all human endeavors. I enjoy the conversation.

[1] (Pannenberg, Systematic Theology 1998, 1991), Volume I,
[2] (Pannenberg, Systematic Theology 1998, 1991), Volume I, 304.
[3] (Pannenberg, Systematic Theology 1998, 1991), Volume I, 330.
[4] (Pannenberg, Systematic Theology 1998, 1991), Volume I, 335-6.
[5] (Pannenberg, Systematic Theology 1998, 1991), Volume I, 325.
[6] (Pannenberg, Systematic Theology 1998, 1991), Volume I, 334.
[7] (Pannenberg, Systematic Theology 1998, 1991), Volume I, 316,
[8] (Pannenberg, Systematic Theology 1998, 1991), Volume I, 319.
[9] (Pannenberg, Systematic Theology 1998, 1991), Volume I, 325.
[10] (Pannenberg, Systematic Theology 1998, 1991), Volume I, 318-9.


  1. I just finished WP's Vol. 1 of his Systematic Theology. I really want to thank you once again for inspiring me to read Pannenberg.

    I am thoroughly enjoying reading his work. I loved chs 5 & 6, and found Pannenberg's take on the Trinity very persuasive. I really like the monarchy of the Father as Pannenberg describes it.

    I also really appreciated this: "Pannenberg will want to focus on the proclamation by Jesus of the Father and the coming rule of God as the starting point."

    I am glad I decided to read Pannenberg, and happy to say he's become my second favorite theologian!

    1. Thank you so much for your comments. Since you have gotten that far, I am sure you will want to go all the way. Just wondering. If you read my comments on Chapters 5 & 6, did you find them helpful? Are there places I could clarify? If you have not, of course, that is OK. Have a great Christmas and blessed New Year.