“despite their orthodox confession of the Trinity, Christians are, in their practical life, almost mere ‘monotheists.’ We must be willing to admit that, should the doctrine of the Trinity have to be dropped as false, the major part of religious literature could well remain virtually unchanged.”
Even those who harbor qualms about particular aspects of Rahner’s theology (and I am one of them) should consider themselves indebted to him on this count, at least. He tirelessly worked to identify areas where renewal was necessary in Christian theological reflection, and was one of the main inspirations for the Trinitarian revival in dogmatic theology over the last few decades. Amidst this revival and because of it, the following comments I make may be unsavory, but I believe they’re in the spirit of Rahner’s intentions. They are certainly intended to encourage work in Trinitarian doctrine rather than diminish it.
Much as in contemporary work on pneumatology, it is rather fashionable to preface a study on Trinitarian doctrine with a brief gesture to the fact that “the Trinity has been woefully neglected by theologians for some time now,” with perhaps an added jab at “Western” theologians in particular. Following this preface is, of course, a long line of citations of recent and contemporary work on the very topic that is supposedly being ignored! These days I think it is safe to say that if a theologian talks about someone “inadequately focusing on the Trinity”, what she really means is probably that “I don’t like what they do say about the Trinity.” Anyone who is taken seriously in Christian theological circles these days is most certainly a robust Trinitarian.
But are we mere Trinitarians?
Presumably Rahner wouldn’t say that it’s bad to be a monotheist. After all, “We believe in one God…” when we believe in “the Father Almighty, maker of heaven and earth.” What is problematic is mere monotheism, the kind that does not recognize the one true God as triune and fails to comprehend the dynamism of the drama of redemption played out in the majesty of the Godhead. When this is the case, as Rahner says, the doctrine of the Trinity can be dropped without much change occurring in the life of faith or dogmatic reflection upon it.
What I fear has happened is that many theologians have become overly excited about the trinitarian revival in theology. These revivalists, much like those in great evangelistic awakenings of the past, have in their zeal failed to retain perspective on the work of the Spirit that is occurring. Dropping the doctrine of the Trinity will certainly not leave things unchanged anymore, but are we so infatuated with the Trinity as a theological concept that practically anything else could fall out of our theological purview without our noticing?
Too often the discussion is thought to be concluded with a sophomoric deconstruction of the God of the philosophers and savants followed by a pious trinitarian doxology. But to leave it at “Our God is the TRIUNE one!” is to be content with a slogan if it is not accompanied by more serious and sustained reflection on the truth of the Gospel.
I think that we are past the point where we need to be concerned about the place of the Trinity in theological reflection, and there is (thankfully) not much need to be on the lookout for those we deem “inadequately trinitarian” (the trinity is altogether too trendy these days to allow anyone to get away with that crime for very long). What I would suggest is a re-engagement with other aspects of dogmatic concern that might unfold in a way that is seemingly peripheral to any Trinitarian fixation. Why not mine the neo-scholastic manuals for ideas about the attributes of God? Or the neoplatonists for thoughts about metaphysical hierarchy? Why not engage with Islamic theologians the way that our medieval counterparts did to such fruitful end?
Of course we won’t find the robust trinitarianism that we’ve come to expect from trustworthy dogmaticians, but aren’t we mature enough to wander a bit from mere trinitarianism and explore other avenues of theological reflection without worrying about whether we come across as mere monotheists by guilt of association? I feel as if the theological growth of some in the Church has been stunted by a childish adoration of the Trinity, and I think we can do better than that.