RE: And my long—forgive me—review has one main point: it’s that The Divine Dance isn’t about the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. It’s a book about an alternative spirituality of Flow, committed to a metaphysic that refuses to recognize a distinction between God and the world. <<<<< Fred Sanders
Well, no. It’s not.
Human perichoretic participation refers to neither the Trinity’s essence (ousia) nor its persons (hypostaseis) but to the uncreated energies (energeiai), which are loving, saving and deifying. Thus our human union with God is neither substantial nor hypostatic.
Classical ontological distinctions between creatures and Creator are maintained, as humans don’t participate in God’s essence!
As per Walter Cardinal Kasper:
As Christians, we should keep to the rule of St. Ignatius of Loyola, and instead of ridiculing each other we should interpret each other in the best possible orthodox way. If we don’t, meaningful theological dialogue becomes impossible and sacra theologia turns into a political and ideological battlefield.
These distinctions pertain even to eucharistic theology. Apophatic theology doesn’t convey objective knowledge (episteme) but leads, trans-apophatically and trans-rationally, to subjective experience (gnosis) of God as its goal.
These understandings of theotic (deifying) sanctification and glorification are wholly compatible, soteriologically, with notions of justification, many would contend, even those of reformed traditions.
Previously, I purposefully used vehicle negativa as distinct from via negativa, as the latter refers to a rational mode and a form of kataphasis, while the former refers to a transrational experience or participation, a form of apophasis, which does not proceed through essentialist negations but, instead, through ineffable existential experiences or REALizations. The latter are robustly relational in an interpersonal sense, experiences beyond words. Such is the reality to which perichoresis vaguely refers without robustly describing.
A vehicle negativa transports and trans-forms us, while a via negativa in-forms us, such as the distinction between knowledge of and knowledge about, the latter a problem to be solved, the former a lover to be loved. Both are necessary but one is a means, the other an end.
To be more clear, some Orthodox theologians point out that both the via positiva and via negativa are RATIONAL approaches, both sharing the same trajectory of increasing descriptive accuracy, whether through affirmation of what something is, ontologically, or is like, analogically, or through negation of what something is not or is not like. That’s how kataphasis and apophasis are largely conceived in the West, often through radically logo-centric lenses.
When Lossky employed an apophatic, perichoretic strategy, though, he referenced a transrational mystical experience moreso in terms of ineffability. He aspires merely to a successful relational reference but does not ambition a successful metaphysical description. (This distinction applies, by the way, to so much of nondual teaching in Buddhist & Hindu traditions, as they aren’t doing metaphysics as much as they are leading us into experiences or real-izations).
The Orthodox priest, Dumitru Staniloae, according to some, was more rigorous and nuanced than Lossky. He would refer to our ineffable experiences as transrational and trans-apophatic. That’s why I prefer to refer to
trinito-logy vs trinito-phany.
The difference between a metaphysical image and a model does not lie in how exhaustively it is employed in different contexts as a basic metaphor. An image does symbolic and metaphorical work, poetically and aesthetically. A model, though, is based on a root metaphor, which serves as an heuristic device, metaphysically, employed systematically, ordinarily, in terms of classical Aristotelian causes — material, efficient, formal and final, setting forth putative relationships to bridge emergent phenomena such as in natural theologies, quantum interpretations, cosmogonies, biopoietics, philosophies of mind and symbolic language origins.
While exhaustively applied, Rohr’s images aren’t doing the work of models, metaphysically or onto-theologically, only the work of metaphors, theo-poetically, aesthetically. Rohr’s images already presuppose a classical Scotistic-Palamatic metaphysical frame of distinctions, a model of divine essence, hypostatic persons and divine energies, panentheistically interpreted. There is another method in play here, theopoetically, at the intersection between theology and spirituality.
Once we define the applicable methodological contours of the development of doctrine from historical exegetical and polemical environments, through what additional methods might we authenticate their spiritually transformative efficacies?
We abide with the paradox, tolerate the ambiguity, nurture the creative tensions, seek out the antinomies, resist rushes to closure and admonish the voices of certitude but move forward, anyway, in humility, with hospitality, doing what we’ve discerned we must and saying what we believe we should, dialogically, boldly and imaginatively!
As Scott Holland suggests: Good theology is a kind of transgression, a kind of excess, a kind of gift. It is not a smooth systematics, a dogmatics, or a metaphysics; as a theopoetics it is a kind of writing. It is a kind of writing that invites more writing. Its narratives lead to other narratives, its metaphors encourages new metaphors, its confessions more confessions . . .
If all too certain theological understandings get undermined and theopolitical modes of historical discourse challenged, theo-poetics will have a chance to successfully advance the spiritual efficacies of otherwise sterile abstract doctrines, bringing them alive in the concrete lives of the faithful through fruitful ortho-relational, orthocommunal, orthopathic and orthopraxic realizations.
As Roland Faber puts it: One moves into an “undefined land” in which one experiences differently, begins to think differently, and is encouraged nor just to adopt to, but to create new theological language. Today, I think that not only can we not control this field or region in fact, but that it is of the essence of process theology to be an uncontrollable undertaking in the infinite adventure of God-talk, and consciously so, in modes that I came to name “theopoetics.”
Rohr is merely the latest in a long pedigree of people who want to run with the Trinity (or dance, as it were) to — not draw conclusions, but — to create new theological language, encourage new metaphors, and to help us experience differently those historical realities that were developed with our traditions out of what we might call the “formations contexts” of the Trinity within the pro-Nicene polemical and exegetical environment.
I would even call my own writings regarding Rohr’s ouvre a systematic theophany and not systematic theology.
Still, for Rohr, onto-theology would be descriptive but not pejorative. After all, one could argue that his fellow Franciscan, the medieval Scotus, was among the first, great onto-theologians! That said, again, that’s not what he’s doing in this book.
The Divine Dance does not amend classical ad intra, ontological accounts of the immanent, essential Trinity (vis a vis questions of who and what). Arguably, neither does it amend the traditional ad extra, divine communication accounts of the revealed, economic Trinity (vis a vis when, where and how). Instead, it addends these approaches, supplementing them with a theopoetic, trinito-phanic, perichoretic critique.
Some have invoked perichoresis — not as a kataphatic, root metaphor of onto-theology, but — as an apophatic, more properly trans-apophatic, theopoetic critique. Such theologians, while very much affirming the indispensable noetic trajectory of logos in every theo-logos, employ perichoresis as a vehicle negativa, which serves to remind us that all symbols, whether sacramentals or metaphors — not only reveal, but — conceal the realities, which they reference.
Accordingly, a perichoretic critique, evoking the poetry of dance, doesn’t at all deny ontological root metaphors, much less substituting its own (e.g. flow) but, instead, invites us to keep the trinito-phanic metaphors coming!
A great Orthodox conception of Perichoresis
Assuming such a theopoetic critique, then, one must avoid the category error of employing such perichoretic references (e.g. dance, flow or relating) as kataphatic and onto-theological root metaphors, when, indeed, they are precisely otherwise intended to serve as artistic conceptual placeholders. This is to say that such placeholders, apophatically and phenomenologically, deliberately bracket such metaphysics. They much less so deny old models, interpretations and metaphors and much more so encourage ever new, always deeper, understandings!
Bottomline, I knew Rohr wasn’t doing onto-theology or metaphysics precisely because, as a Roman Catholic and panentheist, he’s manifestly not committed to a metaphysic that refuses to recognize a distinction between God and the world.
Also, when reading Rohr and Morrell’s references to divine energies, I relexively put on the Orthodox lens and thought of Gregory of Palamas and, in turn, interpreted their perichoretic references as apophatic, theopoetic critiques, for example, consistent with Vladimir Lossky’s approach. Any implicit metaphysic would be Scotistic, trinitarian distinctions consistent with his Eucharistic, Christological and Incarnational approaches, some representing minority reports but not otherwise unorthodox.
This is all to point out that I knew before reading the Divine Dance that Rohr’s approach to the Trinity with Morrell would be neither some ad hoc poetic musing nor some fanciful flight of a superficial theological imagination. Rather, I am poised, here, to harvest the fruits that will have emerged organically from a theological crop that’s been long cultivated in the ground of
Scotistic intuitions (in continuity with Peirce),
Franciscan sensibilities (often a minority account within larger traditions),
Patristic outlooks (apokatastasis and practical universalism, oh my!),
polydoxic sophiologies (others are on efficacious wisdom trajectories?! e.g. Gregory of Palamas),
a generous ecclesiology (preferential option for the marginalized, even),
a pluralistic pneumatology (the Spirit ‘s also over there?! in her?!),
a Goldilocks anthropology — neither too pessimistic (e.g. total depravity) nor optimistic (ergo, no facile syncretism, no insidious indifferentism, no false irenicism) and, paramount,
a contemplative stance that affirms a most robust, participatory relationality, beyond a mere propositional, problem-solving preoccupation.
None of this wouldn’t a priori be inconsistent either with various Arminian, Molinist or Open approaches, with various logical defenses or evidential theodicies to problems of evil (whether Augustine, Plantinga or Oord), with various creation accounts (ex nihilo, profundis, multitudinae, tehomic) or various wisdom traditions vis a vis their shared soteriologic trajectory of human authenticity (an implict pneumatological, Christological inclusivism via Lonergan’s transcendental imperatives and conversions) and diverse sophiologic trajectories of sustained authenticity (via being in love).
The late Don Gelpi, SJ had a saying: “orthopraxy authenticates orthodoxy.”
Gelpi had Lonergan’s conception of authenticity in mind as he so related “right practice” to “right belief. ” And Gelpi expanded Lonergan’s authenticity to include what he called five “conversions.” Those conversions refer to intellectual , affective, moral, social and religious transformations. We might, then, think of them, respectively, in terms of
right belonging and
Rohr and Morrell address these in spades! more appropriately, HEARTS!
Following Lonergan and immersed in the pragmatism of Charles Sanders Peirce, Gelpi would offer that any authentication of the various dogma, practices, liturgies, rituals and doctrines — not just of Christianity, but — of any of the world’s great traditions, as well as indigenous religions, could be cashed out in terms of how well they foster ongoing human transformation.
Now, this doesn’t invoke that vulgar pragmatism of “if it’s useful, then it’s true,” but it does suggest that, wherever, whenever and in whomever we witness
right belonging ,
right behaving and/or
right relating, then we will more likely also encounter
It’s no accident, then, that systematic theology will typically address five integral human value-realizations:
1) truth via creed, as articulated in beliefs about reality’s first and last things, in what we call an eschatology, which orients us;
2) beauty via cult-ivation, as celebrated in life’s liturgies, rituals and devotions, in what we call a soteriology, which sanctifies us;
3) goodness via code, as preserved in codifications and norms, in an incarnational or sacramental economy, which nurtures and heals us;
4) unity via community, as enjoyed in familial and faith fellowships, in what we call an ecclesiology, which empowers and unites us; and
5) freedom via contemplation, as realized through radical self-transcendence, in a given sophiology, which will ultimately save and liberate us.
Rohr and Morrell, right up front, ask:
“If Trinity is supposed to describe the very heart of the nature of God, and yet it has almost no practical or pastoral implications in most of our lives… if it’s even possible that we could drop it tomorrow and it would be a forgettable, throwaway doctrine… then either it can’t be true or we don’t understand it!”
As prologue, they introduce the pragmatic critique, inquiring whether orthopraxy has authenticated Trinitarian orthodoxy!
They make the point: “Remember, mystery isn’t something that you cannot understand— it is something that you can endlessly understand!”
They don’t confuse a lack of comprehensibilty with a lack of intelligibility. Thomas Oord similarly resists a retreat into theological skepticism when it comes to our God concepts vis a vis the problem of evil and thereby has articulated a theology of love (considering putative God-constraints, such as essential, metaphysical or kenotic). Similarly eschewing a radical skepticism regarding Trinitarian doctrine, Rohr and Morrell are on their way to articulating — spoiler alert — a theology of love!
Here comes the leit motif of Rohr’s lifelong emphasis on the fruit of the contemplative stance: “Whatever is going on in God is a flow, a radical relatedness, a perfect communion between Three— a circle dance of love.”
They ask: “Instead of God watching life happen from afar and judging it… How about God being inherent in life itself? How about God being the Life Force of everything? Instead of God being an Object like any other object… How about God being the Life Energy between each and every object (which we would usually call Love or Spirit)?”
This reminds me of the Orthodox hesychastic conception of Divine Energies as well as Joe Bracken’s process notion of the Divine Matrix. In some ways, it speaks to Scotus’ univocity of being.
Whether one employs a root metaphor like substance, process, experience, energy or flow, mystics and philosophers have long intuited some type of unitary being, some type of interconnectedness that allows objective interactivity across what may otherwise be ontological gulfs, which would be logically necessary to account also for the intrasubjective integrity of each unified self, who then participates in those glorious unitive strivings of all loving intersubjective intimacies.
I’m willing to bet, though, that those above references to life forces and energies will have many exclaiming a heterodoxic: “Game! Set! Match!” That is, they will filter the rest of the book through the cloudy lens of their facile, hence errant, metaphysical presuppositions — that Rohr articulates a pantheism!
So few traffic in the nuances required to distinguish between pan-en-theism, pan-entheism, panen-theism or cosmotheandrism, theocosmocentrism, between an objective unitary identity and a subjective unitive intimacy or between epistemic, ontic and interpersonal nondualities. I won’t tease out all the relevant nuances, here, but I can only suggest from a rather long acquaintance with both Rohr and Morrell that they aren’t playing theology without a suitable philosophical net! Keep reading!
Here comes another minority opinion grounded in a long established Scotistic Franciscan sensibility – that the Incarnation was not occasioned by some human felix culpa but was in the Divine pneumatological cards from the cosmic get-go: “This God is the very one whom we have named ‘Trinity’— the flow who flows through everything, without exception, and who has done so since the beginning.”
Yes, indeed, for God so loved the world!
“But divine things can never be objectified in this way; they can only be ‘subjectified’ by becoming one with them! When neither yourself nor the other is treated as a mere object, but both rest in an I-Thou of mutual admiration, you have spiritual knowing. Some of us call this contemplative knowing.”
There it is – — the distinction between the objective and subjective, the merely propositional and the robustly relational!
Ultimately, beyond the truth, beauty, goodness and unity, in which all creation participates, there emerged a freedom gifted by that contemplative faculty found in the human imago Dei: “But we have to be taught how to ‘gaze steadily into this law of perfect freedom, and make this our habit,’ as James so brilliantly intuits it.”
Love and freedom remain integrally related to the extent that in addition to any essential and metaphysical constraints God may even kenotically self-constrain toward the end of augmenting our freedom, amplifying our love!
The following is so poignantly put:
“Did you ever imagine that what we call ‘vulnerability’ might just be the key to ongoing growth? In my experience, healthily vulnerable people use every occasion to expand, change, and grow. Yet it is a risky position to live undefended, in a kind of constant openness to the other—because it would mean others could sometimes actually wound you (from vulnus, ‘wound’). But only if we choose to take this risk antie also allow the exact opposite possibility: the other might also gift you, free you, and even love you. But it is a felt risk every time. Every time.”
Did you ever imagine that God might take risks? Felt risks? Precisely to free you? That beyond any omniscience, omnibenevolence, omnipotence, omnipresence — all suitably (apophatically) nuanced as capacities greater than which could not otherwise be conceived without falling into either metaphysical incoherence or theo-logical contradictions — God passionately experiences, also, a divine omnipathy? precisely through the Incarnation!
How does one merit this type of love?
“Jesus never has any such checklist test before he heals anybody. He just says, as it were, ‘Are you going to allow yourself to be touched? If so, let’s go!’ The touchable ones are the healed ones; it’s pretty much that simple. There’s no doctrinal test. There’s no moral test. There is no checking out if they are Jewish, gay, baptized, or in their first marriage. There’s only the one question: Do you want to be healed? If the answer is a vulnerable, trusting, or confident one, the flow always happens, and the person is healed. Try to disprove me on that!”
Here we encounter the wisdom of an authentic formative spirituality, where right relating precedes right belonging which fosters right desiring which encourages right behaving and sees right believing much more so as a participatory orthocommunal, orthopathic and orthopraxic response, much less so as an orthodoxic proposition, which, truth be told, more often presents in polydoxic sophiologies, which entail the wisdom of love (beyond our philosophical love of wisdom).
While the Dance perichoretically circles around truth, beauty, goodness, unity and freedom, each of these divine imperatives integrally intertwined with and leading to the others, because of our radical human finitude we will ordinarily follow a transformative path conveyed first in community and gifting us, even, our deepest desires. The pro-positional, apart from the participational and relational, will lack normative impetus unless those norms derive, first, from some energizing evaluative dis-positions.
It’s beyond the scope of this consideration but modern semiotic science with roots in medieval Scotism very much resonates with this emphasis on relationality, which need rely on no robust metaphysic, no particular root metaphor, only a vague phenomenology (Christianity can remain in search of a metaphysic!):
“What physicists and contemplatives alike are confirming is that the foundational nature of reality is relational; everything is in relationship with everything else. As a central Christian mystery, we’ve been saying this from the very beginning while still utterly failing to grasp its meaning.”
My favorite quite from the Divine Dance:
“God does not love you because you are good. God loves you because God is good. I should just stop writing right here. There’s nothing more to say, and it’ll take the rest of your life to internalize this.”
Merton once lamented that our churches do a great job helping socialize people but a terrible job transforming them. He was not using my broadly conceived notion of transformation, which includes Lonergan’s conversions, like the social. Instead, he was talking about that growth in intimacy with God, self, others and cosmos that lays in store for those who properly relate, contemplatively. Rohr and Morrell touch on this: “Most Christians have not been taught contemplation. Contemplation is learning how to abide in and with the Witnessing Presence planted within you, which of course is the Holy Spirit, almost perfectly symbolized by the ark of the covenant. If you keep ‘guard,’ like two cherubim, over the dangerous, open-ended space of your transient feelings and thoughts, you will indeed be seated on the mercy seat, where God dwells in the Spirit. The passing flotsam and jetsam on your stream of consciousness will then have little power to trap or imprison you. The only difference between people that matters is the difference between those who allow this space to fill iith flow— and those who don’t, or won’t, allow it. Like Mary, the model for contemplatives, ‘it is done unto you,’ and you can only allow. Always.”
If the kind reader can grasp these fundamental distinctions from Part I of the Divine Dance and thereby realize that Rohr and Morrell are supplementing not rewriting Trinitarian doctrine, they’ll be readily disposed to receive the gifts of the book’s remainder, which are participational, contemplative, pastoral or, in other words, distinctions that can make a transformational difference in one’s life!
The crux of the Sanders critique was: “And my long—forgive me—review has one main point: it’s that The Divine Dance isn’t about the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. It’s a book about an alternative spirituality of Flow, committed to a metaphysic that refuses to recognize a distinction between God and the world.”
Beyond either classical theism or panentheism (broadly conceived, as it has many versions variously heterodox), Rohr was being charged with PANtheism.
Long story short, he’s NOT a pantheist.
I’ve seen panentheist flirtations even in Reformed, Calvinist notions (the great Edwards!) and have drawn great inspiration from Wesleyan Arminian theologians in the same direction! We’re talking about LOVE here, so, I’m confident this misunderstanding will resolve, happily!
Footnote regarding Sanders’ hyper-Critique:
Being immersed in Rohr’s spirituality and theology for decades, I gathered his meaning easily and implicitly. I would be unable to easily discern where he might have more artfully been more explicit in his presupposed onto-theo-LOGY to keep the uninitiated reader, one as intelligent as Sanders, from misinterpreting anything. I just don’t know but my sneaking suspicion is that Sanders will accept any needed clarifications and place part of the blame on Rohr. At the same time, as a scholar, Sanders could’ve inquired further into Rohr’s body of work to equip himself with better hermeneutical lenses, especially once he realized how hypercritical his review would be, if only not to embarrass himself, but also to avoid offending charity.
In “Divinization: A Lost Pearl” Fr Rohr writes:
If you want to do your own research here, the fathers of the church to study are St. Clement of Alexandria, Origen, St. Basil, St. Athanasius, and St. Irenaeus in the West; and St. Gregory Nazianzen, St. Gregory of Nyssa, St. Maximus the Confessor, Pseudo Macarius, Diadochus, and St. Gregory Palamas in the East. The primary texts are in the Philokalia collection and the teachings of the Hesychastic monks.
In “The Univocity of Being” Fr Rohr quotes Bonaventure:
Christ has something in common with all creatures. With the stone he [sic] shares existence, with the plants he shares life, with the animals he shares sensation, and with the angels he shares intelligence. Thus all things are transformed in Christ since in the fullness of his nature he embraces some part of every creature. —Bonaventure 
Divine Simplicity and the Formal Distinction
The Essence/Energies Distinction and the Myth of Byzantine Illogic
“Farewell, Divine Dance”? An Open Letter to The Gospel Coalition.
Deeper into the theological woods, I wanted to mention that, in reconciling Fr Rohr’s reading of Catherine Mowry LaCugna’s trinitarian theology to his own Franciscan sensibilities, which employ robustly participatory accounts of communion, I found palamite distinctions helpful, especially amenable to scotistic distinctions.
LaCugna, herself, would not make this move because she does not similarly interpret palamite distinctions. The following article supports my reconciliation of scotistic and palamitic approaches in a manner consistent with how I conceive Fr Rohr’s implicit metaphysical and theological presuppositions (which, however, were not what Divine Dance was explicitly about as it was otherwise a trinito-phanic theopoetic and an exquisite one, at that!).
Modern Theology 32:1 January 2016 ISSN 0266-7177 (Print) ISSN 1468-0025 (Online)
COMMUNION WITH GOD: AN ENERGETIC DEFENSE OF GREGORY PALAMAS by D. GLENN BUTNER, JR.
theopoetic, trinity, richard rohr, mike morrell, scott holland, roland faber, vehicle negativa, via negativa, perichoresis, apophasis, kataphasis, transrational, ousia, hypostaseis, energeiai, theosis, theotic, sanctification, justification, glorification, perichoresis, perichoretic, episteme, gnosis, trinity, eucharist, apophatic, trans-apophatic