What is Perichoresis?

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The word Perichoresis is an extraordinary word. The following definition is a brief summary:

Genuine acceptance removes fear and hiding and creates freedom to know and be known. In this freedom arises a fellowship and sharing so honest and open and real that persons involved dwell in one another. There is union without loss of individual identity. When one weeps, the other tastes salt. It is only in the Triune relationship of Father, Son and Spirit that personal relationship of this order exists, and the early church used the word ‘perichoresis’ to describe it. The good news is that we have been included in this relationship and it is to be played out fully in each of us and in all creation.

The question on the mind of many people is: Why use this word, Perichoresis? The original intended meaning of the word best describes the dynamic relationship of the Father, Son and Spirit. When it comes to the Trinity, many have endeavoured to find adequate ways and means to describe how ‘One God’ can be three Persons or three Persons can be ‘One God.’ This has always been and continues to be a difficult task. It is the paradox which confronted humanity in Jesus Christ. How can this Jesus be the Wholly Other while at the same time be one of us? Over the first few centuries, fierce debates arose regarding the divinity of Jesus and the nature of His relationship to the Father. Consequently, once the nature and divinity of Jesus was established and ratified through the decisively important term, homoousios, it was quickly realised the Holy Spirit shared the same divinity and nature of the Father and the Son.

Though the term came much later, it was Athanasius who developed the foundation from which Perichoresis came. He understood the relationship between the Father, Son and Spirit through the adoption of the creedal term, Homoousios (homo: same, ousios: being), which describes the complete mutual indwelling in each Person of the Trinity. While each Person remains in Himself as Father, Son and Spirit, they are, nevertheless, wholly in the others and they are wholly in themselves. Athanasius drew heavily on the passage from John 14:10, ‘I am in the Father and the Father is in me,’ (see also John 10:30) where a strong ontological connection is established between the two. Ontology is the study of the nature of being but, in this case, we are more concerned about the study of the nature of being with and, more importantly being for. Jesus is only known as being with the Father by the Spirit. Thus Athanasius effectively argued this ontological connection also extends to and includes the Spirit. The being and activity of the Spirit is precisely the same being and activity of the Father and the Son. Otherwise the whole issue of salvation is questioned and the gospel of the very Person, Jesus Christ as God with us, is undermined. When we define God it is the Father with Jesus with the Spirit with the Father and so on. No one in the Godhead can be defined in isolation from the other two.

Some may not like the use of a non-Scriptural term like Perichoresis. However, in its initial context it beautifully describes in the best way possible the relationship between the Father, Son and Spirit. It is not intended to answer all questions regarding the Trinity. Nonetheless, we can only begin to imagine the implications of this when we consider the One who is eternally in perichoretic relationship with the Father and the Spirit has joined Himself to us as one of us. In Jesus Christ, the eternal Word is now eternally Human where all things consist and are held together in Him. Thus in this one Human Being we can truly see God as He really is.

The earliest extant use of the noun, Perichoresis, is found in a manuscript that has been attributed to Cyril of Alexandria. It is believed John of Damascus drew this term from Cyril and brought it to prominence as a theological term. The initial intention of this word is to provide a dynamic, rather than static, description of the inter-penetrating, indwelling relationship of the Father, Son and Spirit in both a deeply personal and spiritual way. It is a movement of love that has broken forth into our existence in Jesus Christ and has drawn all creation into this glorious yet mysterious Divine life.

Keeping with the theme of perichoresis, the will at the very heart of the Father for all humanity is fully displayed in the resurrected, ascended and glorified Lord Jesus Christ. This image represents every single human being that ever existed. Thus the mission of the Holy Spirit is to reveal to humanity the reality of this ever important relationship and show us the way all things really are. He leads us to believe and personally participate in His true Life where we taste the most real and genuine relationship there is. Therefore, the aim of perichoresis is to show the Good News in the most extraordinary and breathtaking light which leaves us only to stand astonished and amazed. When we say Perichoresis, rather than trying to come across as exclusive, what we are really saying in the true spirit if its definition is: ‘You’re included!’ You’re included and Perichoresis are corresponding words that complement each other and is the reason we have decided to choose the former as the name for our previous website.  On this website it describes the reality of the “Trinity in You.”  It is directed at every single person in a personal way.  At the same time it is directed to the entire human race in a corporate way.  Join us as we pray the eyes of the heart of every single human being will be opened to the truth of the beauty of God revealed to us in the Person and work of Jesus Christ.

The Study of the word Perichoresis is wide and extensive. T. F. Torrance is widely recognised as the leading authority in this area. If you so desire to take this fascinating journey into this period of history then we would recommend the following books: