The Source of All Love

Catholicity and the Trinity

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Heidi Russell
Catholicity in an Evolving Universe Series
  • Bronx, NY: 
    Orbis Books
    , March
     216 pages.
     For other formats: Link to Publisher's Website.


In The Source of All Love: Catholicity and the Trinity, Heidi Russell offers a Trinitarian analogy based on quantum physicist David Bohm’s theory of implicate wholeness. Russell addresses two problems in Trinitarian theology: first, the doctrine’s lack of comprehensibility to the modern believer; and second, trinitarian images that emphasize “persons” that, to the modern era, are interpreted as “individuals.” These images are inconsistent with a modern, relational worldview, and distort the image of God. For example, one problematic image is that of the Trinity as “two men and a bird” (xvii, 87-90). At the opposite extreme, God may be falsely imagined as “an old man in the sky” (xvii, 87-90). Russell reconceives the Trinity as a wholeness of Love, bearing out the catholicity of all creation.

Difficulty with reconciling the oneness and three-ness of the Trinity is, at least in the West, an atomistic worldview. One of Russell’s strengths is the lucid yet compact explanation of the shift from a worldview based primarily on Newtonian physics to that of the quantum physics given in the chapter 1. Russell dialogues with Bohm’s work in formulating her central analogy for the Trinity. Bohm’s work began with his own philosophizing about the nature of movement. “Whenever one thinks of anything,” says Bohm, “it seems to be apprehended either as static, or as a series of static images” (1-2). Yet, we intuitively sense that reality is a whole, rather than this fragmented series of images (2). Bohm’s theory of implicate wholeness presents a picture of reality with “wholes” and “subwholes” (12-16). The whole is “enfolded” in the subwhole—the implicate or implicit order—and the subwhole “unfolds” to reveal the whole, the explicate order. In this picture of reality, the whole is always present to the parts, and vice versa—interrelationship is primary.

Russell’s Bohmian analogy for the Trinity is that “the Triune God of Love enfolded into our very being is at the core of who we are as persons” (16). It is the Source of Love (Father) or the whole, the Word of Love (Son/Logos) or the enfolding of the Source into all of creation, and the Spirit of Love or “the action of God in the world unfolding the pattern of God in and through our lives” (21-23). The loving action—enfolding and unfolding—between the Persons is primary (17-19). Original Sin is not a lack of wholeness or coherence but rather a brokenness or fragmentation that “obscures” our view of reality’s wholeness. Divisions such as racism, classism, and sexism are ways in which we objectify each other rather than focus on our wholeness, or catholicity (2-3). We live as autonomous individuals blind to our interconnectedness (24). Our language and social systems perpetuate and reinforce this blindness (24-26). This fragmentation conditions our perception of reality and the way we live in it (30).

In chapter 2, Russell makes the case for a shift in language from “Person”—and thus “Being”—to “Love.” Using the work of Jean Luc-Marion, Russell describes love as antidote to the language of “Being”—language that is used to draw bounded images that enable our idol-making (46, 51). Love, in contrast, is an “icon” of God, limitless and transcendent (46-50). The limitedness of any of our images of God and the openness of love is reinforced in chapter 3 when Russell relays the history of Trinitarian language and images in the Scriptures.

In the subsequent chapters, Russell relates the history of Trinitarian doctrine from the standpoint of a trajectory to and from Maximus the Confessor, starting with the Patristics (chapter 4). Gregory Nazianzus first used perichoresis to describe the relationship between Christ’s human and divine natures, but Maximus the Confessor used it to describe the interconnectedness of all creation in love (35, 98, 108-109). This line of thought continues with Karl Rahner (chapter 5).

Russell notes that recent efforts to correct the problems in Trinitarian theology—mainly falling in the category of social Trinitarianism (chapter 6)—understand the interpretation of “person” as the problem. Their solution, to reimagine the meaning of person based on an understanding of the Trinity, reinforces the problem of tritheism—people simply cannot conceive of “person” in any way other than the individualistic sense. Instead, says Russell, these problems can be avoided by understanding what it means to be a “person,” not through the Trinity, but in the person of Jesus Christ. The loving actions of Jesus Christ can be understood in the context of the Triune God of Love.

In chapter 7—the final chapter—Russell relates her understanding of the Triune God as Love, can be used to reinterpret the crucifixion and resurrection in ways that allow us to understand God’s response to sin in the world. Catholicity—wholeness is the right order of creation. Here, she also shows how Pope Francis’s words, particularly in Laudato Si’ and Evangelii Gaudium, resonate with her proposal.

The critic may ask, “why Bohm?” After giving a synopsis of how Bohm’s theory fits into the larger context of quantum mechanics, Russell concedes that aspects of Bohm’s theory are not widely accepted (6-7). Russell reminds us that there is no way to prove any of the quantum theories at this time, not even the widely accepted string theory (7). The uniqueness of Bohm lies in the fact that his theories deal with philosophical questions about reality that other theorists do not considering that their concerns lie more with practical application (4-5). Regardless, Bohm’s theories are consistent with the post-Newtonian move away from a mechanistic, atomistic view of reality.

Overall, Russell’s book not only provides an example of how to perform an interdisciplinary analysis to reinterpret doctrines and images comprehensible to the contemporary believer, but she also provides a text that can serve as a general introduction to Trinitarian theology. Russell’s proposal not only resonates with Bohm’s scientific theories, but is also solidly grounded in the Scriptures and Christian tradition.

About the Reviewer(s): 

Sarah A. Thomas is a doctoral candidate in systematic theology minoring in theological ethics at Boston College.

Date of Review: 
August 23, 2017
About the Author(s)/Editor(s)/Translator(s): 

Heidi Russell is the M.Div. graduate program director and an assistant professor at the Institute of Pastoral Studies, Loyola University Chicago. She is the author of The Heart of Rahner and many articles in interreligious journals.


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