[Address at Lutheran School of Theology Faculty Forum, Chicago, Illinois, May 18, 1987. Later published in Our Naming of God: Problems and Prospects of God-Talk Today, 91-110.
Edited by Carl E. Braaten. Minneapolis: Augsburg Fortress, 1989. Used by permission.]

Nothing so defies “putting the nature of God into language” as does God’s triunity, except that even that much languaging is already prompted by the nature of God. In the creeds certainly that is what occasions the triune language: not merely the experience of God—so far Friedrich Schleiermacher was right, “religious consciousness” alone would never yield the credal trinity1— but Godself. That is admittedly a God experienced, yet God “in person.” Of course, the triune God whom Christians experience may not be God “per se,” “by himself” (Schleiermacher’s caricature), in disincarnate isolation. Their God is always “God in Christ,” per Christum. God is experienced as theirs—God pro nobis, “our God”—in the Word about Jesus, which itself comes through Spirited language. Still, that triune God, as Christians trust even in the face of God’s nontriune, devastating appearances to the contrary, deus absconditus, is nevertheless truly God. The triune God in Christ through the Spirit, God relating to us, need not be God per se in order to be God in se, God indeed.2

God the Child

What is that primal Worded experience which at bottom occasions all language about God as triune? Is it not the experience of being reconciled to God in Jesus the “Son,” indeed to God as Jesus the Son? “The entire apostolic confession of faith is contained in these words, ‘You are Christ, the Son of the living God.’ “3 Even if the reference to Jesus as “Son,” in which the New Testament abounds, is in some cases interpolation and not original or is a later development of “Word” or “Wisdom,” it is as basic to the faith and especially to its trinitarian formulation as are the references to Jesus as “Lord” and “Christ.”4

It is this primal filial reference—filial not male—in the trinitarian identification of Jesus on which I wish to dwell, not first the mathematical mystery of three-yet-one but first the scandalous joy that the one God on whom everything depends is simultaneously as we are, one who depends—a child! But the Child is not for that reason any less God. On the contrary, that also is of the essence of God: not only to be depended upon as a parent but also, as an offspring (“begotten”), to depend for very life and being upon the parent. The one who is depended upon is of course God, but the one who does the depending is 1ikewise God, the selfsame God. The latter assertion is as important as the former.

From the former assertion, that it is God who is depended upon, it should be clear that we are not now—not yet!—speaking about God’s depending upon the world, not even upon the worldly man Jesus or upon the worldly proclamation of his gospel or upon worldly people’s believing it. That comes later. The Trinity is also a biography, a career, whose story must be told in sequence. Nor are we talking, either now or later, about Alfred North Whitehead’s God whose “consequent nature” depends for its “enrichment” on the temporal world process—not if that bypasses God’s prior depending, as Son, upon Godself.5 For now, in the priorities of the Trinity, what is being depended upon by God the Child is the “one God, the Father, the almighty.” In other words, I would like to renew Arianiasm’s reminder that the Son is subordinate to the Father but, rather than argue from this to subordinationism, affirm with orthodoxy that the Son is Godself not in spite of but because of this dependent (not creaturely) status.

For is it not equally important to the faith that the dependent too is God? And God is dependent not first in the incarnation where simply as the man Jesus he might have qualified as one of the “children of God” the way his human followers now do. Presupposed in his incarnation, prior to it, is that he has been not just the child of God as others are but uniquely God the Child. Notice, here God’s dependence upon God is not like some solitary individual’s self-enclosed reliance upon oneself, solo, but is rather like one person’s reliance upon another, vis-à-vis. That “distinction of persons” is no doubt occasioned by Jesus the Christ’s vis-à-vis relation to his Father while on earth. Yet it must be enormously important to the Christian faith that that same Child-to-Parent relationship be asserted right within the deity, preincarnation, in spite of all the pains which that then requires in order to remain utterly monotheistic. For why else is it that not the Father or the Spirit becomes (and forever remains) incarnate but only the Son does? Nor is it with the Father or with the Spirit that believers are identified as siblings, as junior deities, but only with the Son.

The Problem

My laying such instant stress on the second member of the Trinity to the relative exclusion of the first member, not to mention the third (both these imbalances will be redressed later), and above all my stressing the second member’s sonship, his childhood, his dependence, is deliberate. It is intended to right a wrong. The wrong in this case is the widespread aversion to conceiving of dependence as divine. Conversely, it is the widespread fixation upon deity exclusively as autonomy or sovereignty—always loving, of course, maybe even vulnerably loving, yet finally underived, unbeholden, unsubmissive, unaccountable, and in that respect unlike us. Joan Chamberlain Engelsmann faults what she calls “Philo’s law of preeminence”: “Anything feminine cannot be divine and anything divine must be masculine.” Another, at least as sinister “preem- inence” which usually goes unnoticed altogether is that anything filial cannot be divine and anything divine must be parental.6

We are all aware of the natural antitrinitarian prejudice, even among trinitarians, that of the three “persons” it is only the Father who is properly God, or the slightly more sophisticated prejudice which does not really need three “persons” at all so long as one, parental God manages to create, redeem, and sanctify. My present concern, however, is not only with the transparent modalism in this prejudice but with its antipathy to God’s being “begotten,” an offspring, God’s being (so to speak) on the receiving end, as God the Son is and is all the while “very God.” Here the question is not, Might God be a mother? but rather (as Nestorius asked in disbelief), Might God have a mother—a human one, at that—as we do?

This brings to mind the example (though there are others equally current) of the present debate about gender in God-talk. Specifically, notice the preoccupation with God the Parent, whether as “Father” or “Mother” or both. Often the controversy over God as “Father,” which by itself is wholesome and long overdue, conceals an underlying consensus among the most diverse antagonists which is not wholesome, and that is their at least tacit assumption that nothing so defines deity as does its parent-like power, the power to be depended upon or, more invidiously, the power to command respect and to obligate and ingratiate. Given that narrow prejudgment about what is most godlike about God, theological energies are then spent over whether divine power so exclusively conceived is more paternal or maternal, more muscular or nurturing, but of course both, all the while reinforcing the theistic though unchristian assumption that all that counts is that God is parental.

Once that parentalist preclusiveness is allowed to exhaust the divine dignity it is no wonder that patriarchalists cling to paternal designations of God and that feminists (including myself) contest their monopoly. The danger is that both camps might proceed from the same parentalist myopia. The impression sometimes given is that it is the first member of the Trinity, the one on whom everything depends, who alone holds the key to world control, and so the naming of that first “person” must reflect also the politica1 aspirations of human beings who seek to retain or to wrest control. Nothing so vividly illustrates that ideology as does patriarchalism. The feminist protest will have to be free enough not to fall into the same trap, thus internalizing the oppressor. I am not proposing that the time has come for children to organize themselves into theological finalists, though they might have a point. But no need, the Trinity has anticipated that point.

A Bad Name

Amid the concern over the naming of God the Father, what may easily be overlooked is that it is no less the Son who has gotten a bad name, and not only because of that name’s maleness but especially because of its childness. Sons, like daughters, are derivative, dependents and it is dependence that has gotten a bad name. Maybe patriarchalism is to be blamed for that casualty, too, though I doubt that is the whole of it. And though theological feminism may not be the rescue operation that promises to rediscover the gospel’s liberated, creative sort of dependence—but then again maybe it is—it has, I believe, along with other versions of liberationism exposed how cruelly dependence can be demonized. That discovery has advanced the whole question of theological naming, beyond metaphysical questions about finite names for infinite realities to the moral-spiritual question of names that enslave. But if as a result dependence is now thought to be unimaginable as anything except servility, the mere reflex of hierarchy, then it is doomed to be stuck with the bad name it has. And so, however subtly, is God the dependent Child, and with that the Trinity altogether.

The bitter connotation that dependence has acquired goes a long way toward explaining our resistance to acknowledging dependence in God. Today more people in the world than not are being pauperized and infantilized as a matter of course, at times to the point of mass starvation and genocide and everywhere to the bereaving of their right to be held accountable for their own history before God. In their case, dependency becomes debasement whether because of their race or age or gender or the disadvantaged position of their nation in the world economy or, if they are fortunate enough to have employment, because of their servile status in a bureaucratic workplace. Further dependencies upon drugs or cheap sex or juvenile pop cultures or armament are only the grosser symptoms of seismic, systemic dependencies made all the more loathsome by a civilization that out of the other side of its mouth pays lip service to initiative and responsibility taking.

It is all too understandable, therefore, that Christian references to God the Son as the supreme dependent would be met with cynicism. Who wouldn’t suspect that theological ploy as the ultimate ideological manipulation of a human race already being reduced by itself to massive childishness? But this otherwise warranted suspicion harbors also a monumental self-deception. It provides human beings with an alibi for evading their profoundest, perhaps congenital objection to being dependent. And what is that? Is it pride, hybris, superbia? Not necessarily.7  It may be fear, fear of depending. Or it may be that no one is ever good enough at depending, or free enough, to enjoy it. Whatever. In the process what is roundly lost sight of is the magnificent alternative of a whole new dependence which befits not only the liberated creature but ”very God.” Meanwhile the name that historically occasioned the naming of the Trinity, that is, “Son” or “Child” as a name for God, is resisted even by Christians who might have been counted on to reinstate it. Whether or not the name needs recoining, it surely needs hallowing.

A Bad Question

Nevertheless, the question, at least from the “culture” side of the correlation, persists: Who needs a Child-God who depends, when the supervening need seems rather to be for a God who can be depended upon, whom we can trust to be dependable without being exploitative and arbitrary? Some such culturally based question seems to be presupposed even in the Christian “answers” which from the other side of the correlation have been forthcoming from the theological establishment.8 In a moment we shall cite as samples the answers from theological liberalism but also from liberalism’s presumed antithesis, Barthianism, which at least in their reserve about God the Child are not all that different from each other, and not different enough from the question of their culture to cross-examine it. But first let us note this weakness in the question itself: it underasks.

The question, Who needs a Child-God who depends? underasks not only because it makes God look like a Feuerbachian projection of human need (which “God” so often is) but prior to that, because it seriously underestimates human need. The question suggests that our need of God and of God-talk, including the Trinity, is predominantly a moral need, as if the members of the Trinity are revealed to be interrelated as they are chiefly to enable us to live likewise—trinitarianly, mutually— with one another. That would already be a moralistic reduction not only of the Trinity but of the human plight. But worse, with only that much need of the Trinity, namely, as an inspiration for human communitarianism, the Christian faith loses any compelling reason as to why the “persons” should be related to each other as just parent and child— rather than, say, as lovers or siblings or comrades. Still that was the question to begin with. Is a Child-God necessary?9

It is not that the Trinity has no implications for Christian ethos. It does, but not by way of a directly imitable analogy between God and us, and surely not without first providing us with what is otherwise unavailable in this old dependence-averse creation, namely, a whole new substitute order of dependence, transformed and free and effectual, unique with the divine Dependent in Jesus the Christ. Having said that, we must still heed the reminder by a Jurgen Moltmann and the whole Augustinian tradition before him that the triune God is internally a “dynamic community” with lively external consequence for human relations as well.10 Concede the objection that the New Testament nowhere identifies the Holy Spirit with the mutuus amor between Father and Son or that it is reactionary to attribute the divine “begetting” to the Father’s need of love. It is still true, as Barbara Brown Zikmund notes, that in trinitarian theology “relationship is fundamental to God and that community is the foundation of God’s interaction with the world.

On the other hand, Brown Zikmund’s statements that “the doctrine of the Trinity sets forth a radical ethic of justice and care very similar to the ethic that psychologists see within women’s lives” and that, thanks to the Trinity, “we are able to live with—not just fall down before–our God”12 may suffer not so much from untruth as from too limited a view of the options. The option that for now seems most wastefully overlooked is the one that addresses a still deeper need, the need for a dependence that not only is not “subjection” to patriarchal “privilege” (far from it) but also is far more basic than mutual, bilateral dependence within community. The sorest need is for that singular dependence of the divine Child upon the Parent, so powerful in its effect that in the process the Parent, indeed the whole Trinity, takes on a new identity and new associations. To ask for less God than that—but now the Christian answer is obviously shaping the question—not only risks moralism but risks underasking.

Theology’s “Self-Revealing” Parent

For that matter, the above question, implying the need of God the Parent but not God the Child, might still assume a more than moral need, namely, the need for a prior, viable relation with God. Yet the question still implies by its diminishing of God the Son a merely revelationist diagnosis, one that needs only a parent God who is sufficiently revealing. That weakness appears, for instance, in theological liberalism.13 Our most pressing need, the revelationist assumes, is for a “self-revelation” from God to which, so the expression goes, we can “relate.” As for the relating, which is up to us—faith, absolute dependence, filial hope—that is assumed to be forthcoming so long as the parenting God upholds the initial end of the bargain by being presented, “revealed” winsomely enough—for instance, as maternally tender and caring or for that matter as paternally firm and steady and so on. The rest, our filial response, will then presumably follow, by no means perfectly of course but as well as might be expected.

The point is that what is expected of us in that case as dependents is not all that much, in any case nothing nearly so much as was expected of the biblical-credal Son. For instance, his dependence upon his Father’s “begetting” had to survive his very separation from the Father, which he incurred in the first place only because he had obeyed the Father. The old liberal brand of revelationism I am faulting, for all its adherence to Schleiermacher’s “absolute dependence,” scarcely expects people to be that absolutely dependent, as mortifyingly and surpassingly dependent as the Son is. Nor failing such dependence, are we led to expect the Son to be the dependent for us, pro nobis. But neither is the Son’s dependence, whether in our behalf or not, expected to make all that much difference to the identity of God or to God’s future.

In theological liberalism, about all that is required of the Son is that by his own filial trust he point us to the God he trusted, the God revealed to be trustworthy of him and by extension of us. And all that is required of us is that by this Jesus-trusted “revelation,” by the “disclosive” power of his sonship, we in turn might be “empowered” to emulate his dependence—more and more, perhaps, but more likely, more or less. As often as not, in such accounts, we may have to settle for no more dependence than what Shubert Ogden and David Tracy call “basic beliefs” or for what Santayana called “animal faith.”14 Yet if that minimal dependence suffices to characterize children of God, then there truly does seem to be no life-or-death need for childhood to be godlike, less yet for God to be a child. Thus even the liberal theological establishment, to which we owe so much for its attention to faith (the human analogue of divine dependence) and for its ear to the “culture,” is apt to tilt the “correlation” toward this culture’s low esteem of dependence and toward a parentalist revelationism.

True, there may be other, more christologically ambitious versions of revelationism than liberalism has traditionally produced. Notably among the Barthians, revelationism has accommodated a Son who at first does seem to do more than reveal a divine fatherliness to our more or less filial responses. With Karl Barth, in fact, the whole Nicene Christology is reactivated. Even so, revelationism is what wins out. In the end, the Son’s magnificent dependence is for Barth’s God not all that decisive, except as a vehicle for “objectifying” to us the self-revealing divine Subject, the Father, or for “actualizing” among us what for the Father was already the case anyway in his eternal decree of election. God is but “fulfilling His will upon earth as in the eternal decree which precedes everything temporal it is already fulfilled in heaven.” Not that the Son is not God; long before he becomes the incarnate object for our knowing he is the eternal Object to the Father. And not that the Son is not dependent; as Object of the Father’s self-knowing and self-love he depends on the Fathers “positing” him.15

However, the effect upon God of the Son’s dependence, Barthianism loses: that the Son, precisely as the faithful dependent, all the way to the cross, in turn affects and redefines the very Subject who “begets” him. That God’s Dependent, by his very depending, alters the subsequent biography of God, Spirit as well as Father, Barthianism resists. Barth does speak of God’s Menschlichkeit, humaneness, but only in a way that has always characterized God, all three persons of the Trinity, even before the incarnation. But that God should, as a result of the incarnation, in response to the Child-God’s-incursion into our kind of dependency, now and forever possess Menschheit, human being, within the Trinity itself—that violates Barth’s “irreversible sequence.”16

As for our own dependence as believers, any effort to celebrate the children’s faith, paltry as that admittedly is, by such exuberant formulae as sola fide encounters in Barthianism a profound reluctance. The fear apparently is that such attention to what the children are doing as children might detract from the sheer gratuitousness of the divine prevenience, and might even reawaken the atheistic anthropocentrism of Ludwig Feuerbach. In Barth’s picture of the atonement it is true that the Son altogether intervenes in our behalf, displacing altogether (“overruling”) our halfhearted dependence on the Father by his own perfect dependence. Yet the odd conclusion drawn from this intervention is that any subsequent response to all this on our part as believers or as unbelievers, dependents or nondependents, is virtually obviated as unessential to the transaction. At least for now it is, during this pre-Parousia history.17

Still, contra Barth, isn’t it now exactly when a redeemed dependence on the part of the orphans, their “justifying faith,” needs most to be dignified by being told, “O woman, great is your faith” or “Your faith has saved you”? To be sure, that does sound as though dependence, even in its human form called faith, is being deified. And that, for Barth, transgresses “the eschatological limit.”18 So once again, just as in more liberal revelationisms whose Christologies make less cosmic claims, Barthianism too is inclined to undervalue the depending that God’s children do, without which the divine Child’s depending eludes them.

Orthodoxy’s God the Child

Now, it may be that christological and trinitarian dogmas from the early church do not make a point of stressing that the Son is God precisely because of his depending. In fact, they often seem to suggest that he is God in spite of his dependence. There was, after all, the powerful Arian persuasion to contend with, that because the Son is said to be “begotten” (genneethenta) he is by definition not God, certainly not “the only true God” of John 17:3, who by contrast is the “unoriginate source” (agenneetos archee) of all reality.19 Up against this well-nigh overwhelming, certainly plausible premise that either God is self-existent or else, if derived, must then be a creature and not God, the orthodox would have had more than enough to do to maintain the simple contrary, that the Son is God even though he is begotten.

Nicene Theology

Isn’t it achievement enough that the orthodox finally prevailed in showing that the Son is “begotten not made” (genneethenta ou poieethenta) and so, as a direct offspring, is “of one substance (homoousion) with the Father”? Thus at least they maximized the Son’s begottenness in the interest of demonstrating how he is like the Father, hence “true God.” So what if in the bargain they had to minimize how his begottenness, his dependence, also rendered him unlike the Father? They did have to avoid every hint of subordinationism so as not to play into the hands of the Arians. Indeed, the church might well be grateful that they did not regress to the old alternative, much older than Arius’s, of affirming the Savior’s deity but denying his prenatal sonship.20 So attractive was the opinion, as now, that God could not be dependent and still be God.

Yet that is not the whole story. It is better than that. Already in their early conflicts with Arianism, but increasingly in subsequent controversy, the orthodox do reflect an interest in locating the Son’s deity not only in his likeness with the Father but also in his distinctiveness, that is, in his being an offspring and not the begetter–in our terminology, the dependent and not the one depended upon. For instance, Athanasius cites the Arians’s criticism: “If . . . the Son is everlasting and coexists with the Father, then you [Athanasius1 are no longer saying that he is the Father’s Son but that he is the Father’s brother.” That might be a plausible objection, Athanasius concedes, if all that the Scriptures said of the Son is that he exists with the Father everlastingly—or even, we might add, if the two were said to be “of the same substance” with each other, reciprocally.

However, the homoousion is one-directional. The Son is “of one substance with the Father,” not the Father of one substance with the Son, reversibly or interchangeably. If the second member, Athanasius retorts, “is the Son—for the Father declares this and the Scriptures shout it out, and ‘Son’ is nothing other than the begotten from the Father,” then the point is made. “The Father is Father and did not become anyone’s son; the Son is Son and not a brother.”21 But see, then, how this Christian insistence on God’s being also a dependent Child exposes in the Arians the same religious prejudice we referred to earlier, namely, that such childhood suffers a “bad name,” particularly in naming God. Not that the Arians boggled at the name “Son.” “They agree with us,” Athanasius notes, “about the name of the Son,” if only because of its undeniably biblical warrant. What comes down to the same fallacy, however, they say of this Son that “if he is called God. He . . . is called so in name only.”22

But even the name “Son,” so Athanasius charged, the Arians begrudged, except as a title of commendation conferred upon the incarnate Word only after his becoming human and taking the “form of a slave,” as in Phil. 2:7 For, so argued Arius and Eusebius of Nicomedia and their followers, was it not as “a prize for virtue,”‘ a reward of his humble obedience, that the passage says of Christ, “Wherefore God has highly exalted him and given him a name above every name”? But if so, then it was because of this personal “improvement” of his, not prior to his incarnation and humiliation, that “he was called both Son and God” and therefore “is not a true Son.” For a “true offspring” is one only “according to nature,” by birth, not “by acquisition.”22

It is instructive to note how, in Athanasius’s reply to this exegesis of Philippians 2, he does not accede to the Arian assumption that the title “Son” is a reward for or recognition of great humility. On the contrary, there is nothing humbling about being the Son, not even the “Son of man.” “He being the Son of God became himself the Son of man,” but sonship–childhood, dependence—is the “immutable” constant throughout the plot from self-emptying to exaltation and as such is not the emptying. A child is not a slave. “So much as the Son differs from a slave, so much the ministry of the Son became better than the ministry of slaves.” Slaves are those who are not true children. Slaves not only are not independent but also are not truly dependent. Their “adoption would not happen without the true Son.”24

If it was not his sonship, his being a dependent child—and perhaps not even his becoming human qua human—which constituted the Son’s humiliation, then what did? Answer: his becoming our kind of human, enslaved and terminal. That, according to Athanasius, is what Philippians 2 intends by “the form of the slave.” The Son for whom it was already sheer glory to be a Son, “humbled himself in taking our humble body [humble because it was “flesh,” and “death was in need of this” flesh] and took the form of a slave when he put on the flesh enslaved to sin,”25

Contrary to the Arians, therefore, the Son is subsequently exalted not in his sonship, which needed no such “improvement,” but the exaltation is of the humanity. It is said “about the human nature.” “Therefore humanly, because of the flesh which he bore, it is said about him, ‘Lift up the gates’ and ‘he will come in,’ as if a man enters.”26 One is reminded of the statement by Luther:

According to our calendar Jesus the son of Mary is 1543 years old this year. But from the moment that the deity and the humanity were united in one person this man, Mary’s son, is and is called the almighty and everlasting God.27

Similarly, Dorothy L. Sayers said it is only the Christians’ God who has a date in history.28 If so, the Trinity, though forever triune, has not been the same since, all as a result of God the Child’s very consequential dependence.

For Athanasius, what is good news about this is that the slavish (not filial) flesh which the Son put on is our own, just as it is our own therefore which in him is “sanctified” and “exalted” and “deified.” “He deified that which he put on, and more, he offered this to the human race.” “In his death we all have died in Christ so that in Christ himself again we may be highly exalted, being raised from the dead and rising into heaven.”29

The felicitous continuity between Christ and ourselves consists not only in his being human as we but also prior to his humanity, his being a Child as we too are meant to be. It is of the nature of the Son, being derived, to “receive.” (Even as a God who “gives” he gives only “from the Father.” But notice, “his Father is [not] the one who became flesh.”) That is also our nature, to receive. This is clear from our very bodiliness, for “a body . . . by nature is a receiver of grace.”30 In the Son, therefore, we are exalted to true receivers, true bodies, true dependents. Much later, but in the same spirit, the Formula of Concord would exhort Christians to “rejoice constantly that our flesh and blood have in Christ been made to sit so high at the right hand of the majesty and almighty power of God.”31

Post-Nicene Theology

The Cappadocians, too, reflect interest not only in the Son’s deity but also in the deity’s sonship, his childlike dependence as God. For that is prerequisite to his subsequent childlike dependence as human being, if he is to “deify” the dependence or childhood of fallen human beings. He, “the one which depends,” is even described as “caused.” He is the one who is “from the cause” by contrast with God the Parent, who is the “cause.” But again, the fact that “the ground of unity [is] the Father, out of whom and towards whom the subsequent persons are reckoned,” in no way renders these “subsequent persons,” the Son and the Holy Spirit, anything else but God. Being “caused” is as much a divine hypostasis as is the parenting “cause.”32

Moreover, these three hypostases are a unity in the way they “cooperate”—close ranks, so to speak, and present a common front—in a “single operation” or “action” (energeia) “in every activity which pervades from God to creation.” Consider, says Gregory of Nyssa, the divine gift we call life. “Though we presuppose that there are three persons and names, we do not reason that three lives have been given to us—individually one from each of them. It is the same life activated by the Holy Spirit, prepared by the Son, and produced by the Father’s will.”33 Notice, for our present theme, “prepared by the Son.” His very sonship, his filia1 dependence is indispensable to the single action of the Trinity as a whole. In everything that God does to and with and in creation, the divine childhood is prerequisite and is powerfully determinative.

What is more, though Gregory of Nyssa said that it is by the Father that the Son is “caused,” the senior Gregory of Nazianzus could go further and locate a “cause” also outside God, namely, in our “salvation.” Evidently it is so characteristic of the Son to be “caused”—or as we have been saying, to be dependent—that it comes as no violation of his deity to be conditioned also by this “1ater,” human, inner-historical cause. What is “this cause”? Says Gregory to his critics, It is “the salvation of insolent you, you who on this account despised his deity so that he received your materiality.” He “became a human being,” “so that I might become God as he became man.”34

But on closer examination of Gregory’s language we note that the One who is “caused” by our salvation seems to be not just the Son but the one “God,” Godself. Since our salvation is the unitary action of the one Godhead, therefore what had been the unique circumstance of the Son, namely, being caused, now extends to the Trinity as a whole. Isn’t that what Gregory is here implying? “In the beginning he was without cause, for who is the cause of God? But later because of a cause (namely our salvation) he came into existence.” Who did? The One who “became a human being,” of course, the Son. Yet in his doing so, who else is it but God, whole and entire, who thereby becomes as Gregory says, “the God below”?35 That influential, that God-definining is God the Child in his filial achievement.

Are we pressing the words of Gregory of Nazianzus beyond their intention? He does seem to include the above argument among what he, calls “riddles,” calculated to silence the ‘logic-choppers.”36 On the other hand, elsewhere he makes a related point in a way that leaves small doubt about his intention. As the Word became flesh “for the sake of my flesh, and conjoins himself with an intelligent soul for my soul’s sake, . . . and in all points, sin excepted, becomes man,” what is it that the Word is thereby doing? Answer he “comes to his own image,” “cleansing like by like.”37 It cannot be much of a stretch to infer that we are the Word’s “image” not only by virtue of having “flesh” and “intelligent soul” but also by being, as the Word is, dependent children, though we as “made” and he as “begotten.” As God the Child comes to the world’s orphans, the would-be children, he “comes to his own image.” And as the Word assumes our fallen dependency, he is “cleansing like by like,” the “1ike” in this case being God’s own childhood analagous to ours. Such an evangelical claim Gregory would hardly begrudge in view of his famous formula, “What has not been assumed cannot be restored; it is what is united with God that is saved.”38

Another way in which post-Nicene orthodoxy, after the Cappadocians, asserts the point is in its denying that there are “two sons.” Whether or not Nestorius, for instance, actually taught that error, Cyril of Alexandria definitely perceived him to be so inclined. When, as Cyril saw Nestorius doing, we so distinguish within Christ as “to say that on the one hand there is a proper human being who is dignified with the title of ‘Son,’ while on the other hand, there is the proper Logos of God, who possesses by nature both the name and the exercise of sonship,” then “we fall into the assertion of two Sons.” It is not enough, Cyril continues, “to allege that there is a union of persons, for Scripture says not that the Logos united to himself the person of a human being but that he became flesh.” The Son of God “became (egeneto) a human being and has been designated ‘Son of Man'”—”one Son out of two.” The unity of his pre-incarnate childhood with our kind of childhood must be indisoluble, “for us and for our salvation.”39

Even in his second letter to Cyril, Nestorius still seems to me to be justifying the former’s suspicions. “It is obvious,” Nestorius insists, “that the son of David was not the divine Logos.” Reference is made to Matt. 22:42-44, in which Jesus asks, “What do you think about the Christ? Whose son is he?” Since as Jesus’ critics agree, the Christ is the son of David, Jesus then continues, how could the psalmist David refer to an offspring of his the way he does, as “Lord”? Exactly. The two are one and the same. To be an offspring, even an offspring of the human David, does not prevent him from being—on the contrary, in this case qualifies him to be—“Lord.” The Child, precisely by being the Child he is, human as well as divine, is Lord. And isn’t that “the Lord your God” who; only a moment before, Jesus’ critics had unwittingly agreed should be loved “with all your heart and sou1 and mind”? Still, Nestorius’s short-falling answer still beggars the question, “He is entirely the son of David according to the flesh but Lord according to the deity.”40

Nestorius finds it abhorrent “to make the divine Logos have a part in being fed with milk and participate to some degree in growth and stand in need of angelic assistance because of his fearfulness at the time of the passion, [to] say nothing about circumcision and sacrifice and tears and hunger.” “These things are taken falsely when they are put off on the deity.” Admittedly Nestorius’s concern, that “the things peculiar to the natures within the unitary sonship [must] not get endangered by the suggestion of a confusion,” was a warranted concern,41 and his warnings were not lost even in the Chalcedonian “Definition of the Faith” which condemned him. Nevertheless his error did need to be countered, as it was in the Formula of Reunion (433 C.E.): God the Son who “was born from the Father . . . [is] the same one 1who] was born . . . from Mary the Virgin . . . . This same one is coessential with the Father, as to his deity, and coessential with us, as to his humanity . . . , ‘one Son’!” “The very same One.”42 So “does God have a mother,” and a quite human one? Chalcedon left no doubt: God the child does, as all children do.

The Trinity’s Namesakes

If there are those who because of Christ now enjoy an altogether new and liberated dependence, how should they be named? Offhand it would seem natural to call them his codependents. Unfortunately, as in Anne Wilson Schaef’s sobering book by that name, codependence is now a clinical term describing “a disease within the addictive process”43—one more instance of the bad name that dependence has so widely and deservedly acquired. Alternatively the new God-relation in Christ might be called the New Childhood were that not so close to “second childhood,” which again connotes senility and childishness, only encouraging the illusion that being children, daughters and sons, must mean not being adults. It is childlikeness of course, not childishness, which God the Child embodies and confers. It is that fully responsible maturity which Dietrich Bonhoeffer called Mundigkeit, “coming of age.” For him that was unthinkable without “faith,” than which nothing in all of life could be more dependent. But then, must those with faith, the Trinity’s newly mature dependents, remain nameless?

For now they may have to be content with the baptismal tradition, going under that name into which they have been christened, the triune name. Yet the marvelous audacity which is implied in so naming them is easily overlooked and degenerates into formality. The need is urgent to republicize the godlike dignity of their dependence which the baptismal title implies. But doing that, naming them in a manner that in our culture communicates the honor to which their divine childhood is entitled is as difficult as naming their triune God, and for much the same reason. What Sandra Schneiders prescribes for “the long process of conversion from the idolatry of maleness” applies also, perhaps more so, to the long process of renaming trinitarian dependence. She calls it a project in “conversion,” in “spirituality”—that is, in “our experience of God”—in “healing.” And it is “the imagination [which] must be healed.” For “it is the imagination which creates our God-image and our self-image.”44

But what if, sounding hauntingly like Feuerbach, it is from our self-image that our God-image must be derived? For Christians that is conceivable if, as Gregory of Nazianzus said of the incarnation, God “comes to his image,” “cleansing like with like.” If our childish dependence, demeaned and accursed though it is, harbors our imago Dei and if God the Child is “1ike” for our “1ike,” then in that respect our self-image as children is where the God-image of the Child meets itself coming back. On the other hand, if our image of ourselves as dependent children is by now so debased as to be an object of scorn, what further need is there of evidence of divine wrath? Schneiders is right: what is demanded is conversion, a spiritual healing of our images, but images not in the sense merely of our mental pictures but of our personal resemblance to God. We do name God on the basis of a real analogia entis, of something in ourselves. Yet if that is missing, we draw a blank. Then God remains nameless, but so do we. We need to become children like God if we are to re-cognize the God who is a Child.

The Holying Spirit, the Re-Imager

Spritual healing of our images is a task that dare not exclude that member of the Trinity of whom we have so far said little, the Spirit, who is distinguished as “Holy” that is, as holying, hallowing, healing.45 In the history of trinitarian theology there are two classic issues about the Holying Spirit that pertain particularly to our theme. The first, by no means obvious, stresses that she is a person, not just a neuter, impersonal principle of power, however divine and life-giving and fruits-bearing— merely a source of empowerment.46 By “person” all we need to mean at this point is that she is Godself or as we might say, God “in-person.” Recall Paul’s analogy: “After all, the depths of a person (anthropou) can only be known by that person’s own spirit, not by any other person, and in the same way the depths of God can only be known by the Spirit of God” (1 Cor. 2:11). Nothing less than God’s self can so hallow ourselves that they can once again “image” God. “God’s Spirit joins itself to our spirits to declare that we are God’s children” (Rom. 8:16).

Those who have been Spirited into echoing the divine claim upon them that they are “God’s children” have what Paul calls “the mind of Christ” (1 Cor. 2:16). That brings us to the second trinitarian issue involving the Holying Spirit: contrary to first impressions, for all her inseparable identification with Christ, she is not Christ, even the glorified Christ now present in the church. If the pun did not smack of tritheism we might say she is a “person” in her own right. Yet her distinctiveness from God the Child is meant to protect his distinctiveness as well. Else the temptation, as in revelationism, is to imagine that it is especially his role to reveal God the Parent when in fact he needs quite as much to be revealed as the Parent does.47 Where would he have gotten in the world, hence where would we, without Pentecost? It was a brand of revelationism which the Augsburg Confession attacks, “that the Word and the Holy Spirit are not necessarily distinct persons but that the Word signifies a physical [incarnate] word or voice and that the Holy Spirit is a [responsive] movement induced in creatures.”48

Conversely, neither is she the dependent God the Child who became one of us. Nor is that her claim. It is one of the finer amusements in the history of theology that neither Gregory of Nazianzus nor Augustine, once they had discovered that the Holy Spirit is as consubstantially derived from the Godhead as the Son is, could then explain how her “procession” differs from the “generation” of the Son.49 It simply is not the point of her name, as it is with the “only-begotten Son’s,” to characterize her in terms of her dependence, though undoubtedly that is a deducible conclusion. Excessive speculation about her inner-trinitarian relations risks invading her privacy but also distorting her inner-worldly image.

It should be enough to know that though the Father sends her in response to the Son’s request and promise and though it is the Son’s words and deeds which she promotes and illumines, touting his strange lordship, though only and always as cruciform son, her special mission is to proceed. She proceeds usward, toward the slavish orphans, with the gift of their own new childhood, starting with their faith. In that faith lies their image, self-image as well as God-image. The children’s “1ife” from the one God, recalling Gregory of Nyssa, while it is “produced by the Father’s will” and “prepared by the Son” is finally and climactically “activated by the Holy Spirit.” Dea volente. Else not at all.

“Abba,” In Whose Image

In rebirthing them, the Holy Spirit introduces the children to their new Parent, emboldening them to call out “Abba, Father” (Rom. 8:15; Gal. 4:6). It requires little imagination to guess where she (or Paul) got that term of endearment for the divine Parent. Clearly it comes from Jesus’ own innovative, startling usage. By now it should no longer be necessary (though alas it is) to demonstrate that Jesus’ addressing God as “Abba” and “Father” hardly implies that God is male, any more than the pre-incarnate “Son” is or than the Holying Spirit is female or neuter, much less implies that God is patriarchal.50 Nor, I think, does Joachim Jeremias’s research on this subject compel the conclusion that “Abba-Father” is the normative Christian address to God.51 Not if “normative” means compulsory, reducing Jesus’ usage to legal precedent. Still, the fact that “Abba-Father” does characterize Jesus’ distinctive relationship to God opens a larger question (as feminist theologies to their credit have repeatedly done): What does it mean to say that Jesus the Christ’s relationship to God is—not only reveals or empowers but is—our own relationship to God?

A case in point is the difficulty that Christians have, also Christian feminists, in calling God the Parent “Mother,” that is, if it is to be the same God who parents Jesus Christ. For Jesus very much had a mother, Mary. But she, being only human, was not his God or anyone else’s. The one father he acknowledged, the only one he promised to others, is God the Father. From the apostles onward “Father” has been interchangeable, indeed synonymous, with “the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.” Accordingly, Christians can speak of God as “Mother” only with considerable abstractness, disengaged from the incarnation, at least never interchangeably with “the mother of our Lord Jesus Christ.” This difficulty has nothing necessarily to do with overcoming sexist speech habits or with vestigial patriarchalism or with reverence for Jesus’ religious experience and linguistic mannerisms. The difficulty, presuming it inheres in Jesus’ very parentage, might possibly be relieved by altering the traditional accounts of who he was, for instance, by insisting he (as we) did have a natural father. But there is little enthusiasm for that, at least publicly. And if there were, wouldn’t that only confirm how deeply Christians prize being parented by the same God, however named, by which Christ is parented? That pathos is hard to conceal and should not be trivialized, least of all by patriarchalists.

Diane Tennis has set Christians a provocative question with her book Is God the Only Reliable Father?52 On one count, at least, the answer to her question must be yes. But then that is not only humbling for all other, unreliable fathers or parents generally. It is at least as humbling for them as sons and daughters, as those who are to do the relying. For in the suspenseful story of the Trinity, the one Father on whom God the Child is expected to rely, and wondrously does rely, would defy the confidence of even the most trusting human child. Even poor Isaac, not to mention his parents, was at the last moment spared the mortifying test of filial dependence endured by his prototype, who “for our sake was crucified under Pontius Pilate, suffered death and was buried” yet through it all “trusted the One who judges justly” (1 Peter 2:23). The outcome, that the Child “on the third day rose again in accordance with the Scriptures, ascended into heaven and is seated on the right hand of the Father” does vindicate the latter as the only reliable Parent—at least of Christ. But is the Father the only reliable Parent of Christ’s siblings? That can be only if Christ’s filial dependence is what gives theirs its value. Only then does his Childhood come full thrust, in their faith in his depending for them, making him “the firstborn of all creation.” Only then does the One whose “image” he is become the mothering “Abba” of everyone else (Col. 1:12ff).

The Next “Mythic Image”?

Maybe patriarchy is diminishing, after all, slowly to be replaced by its ironic opposite, what Stanley Kunitz discerns as a growing trend in twentieth-century American poetry, “the mythic image of the absent father”:

He has died of natural causes, or by suicide, or in the wars of the century. . . . With the disintegration of the nuclear family, the symbol of the father as a dominant, or domineering, presence is fading away. Whole sections of our nation are living in fatherless homes as a result of death, illegitimacy, divorce or abandonment. Even when he is physically present in the household, the father may be spiritually absent, separated from his children by the acceleration of the historical process in our time, particularly true in an advanced technological society and one with large immigrant enclaves.

Or “often,” says Kunitz, “the father is more than absent: he is lost, as he has been lost to himself for most of his adult life, crushed by his burdens, rendered impotent by fatigue and anxieties, reduced to a number, a statistical integer, in the army or the factory or the marketplace.”53

What if post patriarchy, the next project in image-healing, in hallowing the name, will be “the absent father”—the absent Father. Then wouldn’t a trinitarianism that celebrates the sheer glorious deity of the Child, as we have been urging, only further upstage and distance the Father from the world? That is a risk, especially if the second person of the Trinity continues to be re-imaged as a sort of surrogate Parent, distorting the very childlike, ebed Yahweh genius of his “1ordship.” On the other hand, it is exactly this “way to the Father,” through the child who among us experienced something of fatherlessness at firsthand, that also God the Parent recovers the good family name through the healing Spirit. Maybe Oscar Cullmann overstated the case: “Because the first-century Christian believes in Christ as Lord, he believes in God and in the Holy Spirit.” But Pierre Benoit’s retort to Cullmann, though true, is hardly less extravagant: “It is because the Christian believes in the Father who raised him and in the Spirit whose outpouring manifests his triumph, that he believes in Jesus the Lord.” In any case, as Benoit says, “It is true that the Father and the Spirit are generally considered in the context of the Son’s work.”54 A remarkable “Subordinate.” Remarkable connections.


1. Friedrich Schleiermacher, The Christian Faith, trans. H. R. Mackintosh and J. S. Stewart, 2d ed. (Edinburgh: T. & T. Clark, 1928), 170, 2:739-40.

2. The protracted debates over whether the Trinity is “essential” or only “revelational,” “immanent” or only “economic,” are hereby given short shrift in a single paragraph, not to depreciate their seriousness, although the former distinction does seem misplaced, especially if it reads back into God (as it threatens to in the theologies of Schleiermacher and Albrecht Ritschl) the Kantian distinction between “things in themselves” and “appearances.” For a handy overview of recent literature, see Ted Peter, “Trinity Talk: Part I,” Dialog 26 (1987): 44-48. A notable advance in the debate is Wolfhart Pannenberg, “Problems of a Trinitarian Doctrine of God,” trans. Philip Clayton, Dialog 26 (1987): 250-57.

3. Martin Luther, Werke, Kirtische Gesamtausgabe, Weimarer Ausgabe (Weimar Boehlau, 1883 to the present), 38:612.

4. Raymond E. Brown, 1esus, God and Man (New York: Macmillan Co., 1967); J. A. Fitzmyer, A Christological Catechism (New York: Paulist Press, 1982), 43-48, 82-93, Reginald H. Fuller, The Foundations of New Testament Christology (New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1965); Martin Hengel, The Son of God, trans. John Bowden (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1976); and Edward Schillebeeckx, Jesus: An Experiment in Christology, trans. Hubert Hoskins (London: William Collins Sons, 1979).

5. A. Kelly, “Trinity and Process, Relevance of the Basic Christian Confession of God,” Theological Studies 31 (1970): 393-414; Lewis S. Ford, “Process Trinitarianism,” Journal of the American Academy of Religion 43 (1975): 199-213; Norman Pittenger, “Trinity and Process: Some Comments and a Reply,” Theological Studies 32 (1971): 290-96; and P. Schoonenberg, “Process or History in God,” Theological Digest 23 (1975): 38-44.

6. Joan Chamberlain Engelsmann, The Feminine Dimension of the Divine (Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1979), 139.

7. Valerie Saiving, “The Human Situation: A Feminine View,” reprinted in Womanspirit Rising ed. Carol P Christ and Judith Plaskow (New York: Harper & Row, 1979), 25-42.

8. For recent discussions of Tillich’s “method of correlation” which are pertinent also to the concerns of this essay, see Francis Schussler Fiorenza, Foundational Theology: Jesus and the Church (New York: Crossroad, 1984), 276-84; Rosemary Radford Ruether, “Feminist Interpretation: A Method of Correlation,” in Feminist Interpretation of the Bible ed. Letty M. Russell (Philadelphia: Westrninster Press, 1985), 111-24; Ronald Thiemann, Revelation and Theology (Notre Dame, Ind.: University of Notre Dame Press, 1985), 186-88; and David Tracy, “Particular Questions with General Concerns,” in Consensus in Theology ed. Leonard Swidler (Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1980), 33-39.

9. The book that in English has perhaps been most used recently to provide a trinitarian basis for a communitarian ethic is Jurgen Moltmann, The Trinity and the Kingdom trans. Margaret Kohl (New York: Harper & Row, 1981).

10. See the article ‘Augustine, St., Doctor of the Church,” in Trinitas: A Theological Encyclopedia of the Holy Trinity by Michael O’Carroll, (Wilmington, Del.: Michael Glazier, 1987), 42-45; E. Cousins, “A Theology of Interpersonal Relations,” Thought, 45 (1970): 56-82; and Wolfhart Pannenberg, Jesus—God and Man trans. Lewis Wilkins and Duane Priebe (Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1968), 180-83.

11. Barbara Brown Zikmund, ”The Trinity and Women’s Experience,” The Christian Century 104 (1987): 356.

12. Ibid.

13. A similar claim is argued, not altogether unsympathetically with liberalism, in Robert Bertram, “A Smithian Luther and Faith-based Universalism,” unpublished essay presented at the Lewis Conference on “The Future of Christian Theology in a Threatened World,” Saint Louis University, 19 October 1985.

14. Not that that the de facto situation of “unfaith,” as Tracy calls it, is not deplored. On the contrary, it means the “failure to live a human life,” “demanding nothing short of conversion to the commitment to actualize that common basic faith.” And what if, as in fact seems to be the case on a wide scale, “such persons—inside and outside the churches”—do not realize such “conversion to the commitment”? For all of Tracy’s “hesitancy” about process theism’s “fellow sufferer,” about “warm deism,” his theology of God seems limited to the same traditional option of liberalism: finding a more adequate symbolic “re-presentation” of “God’s persuasive . . . power of love,” as though the only alternative to “persuasive” were “coercive.” Might not another alternative be for our “unfaith” and “failure” to be “re-presented” as God the Child’s own heroic and consummate faith “for us”? David Tracy, Blessed Rage for Order (New York: Seabury Press, 1975), 153ff., 186-87.

15. Karl Barth, Church Dogmatics trans. G. W. Bromiley et al. (New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1956ff.), II/2:52f; II/1:18f; IV/2:50f; II/1:26; IV/1:210.

16. Karl Barth, The Humanity of God, trans. J. N. Thomas and Thomas Wieser (Richmond, Va.: John Knox Press, 1960), 46-55.

17. Barth, Church Dogmatics, II/1:503-4; II/2:165-66; III/3 349-52, 357-59; IV/ 3:538-49; and Karl Barth, “An Introductory Essay,” trans. J. L Adams, in Ludwig Feuerbach The Essence of Christianity trans. George Eliot (New York: Harper & Row, Torchbooks, 1957), xxii-xxv.

18. Ibid.

19. Cited in J. N. D. Kelly, Early Christian Doctrines (New York: Harper & Brothers, 1958), 227.

20. J. N. D. Kelly, Early Christian Creeds (London: Longmans, 1960), 148.

21. Athanasius, Orations Against the Arians, in The Trinitarian Controversy trans. and ed. W. G. Rusch (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1980), 76-77.

22. Ibid., 67-68.

23. Ibid., 100-104.

24. Ibid., 109, 119, 102.

25. Ibid., 107, 104.

26. Ibid., 104-5.

27. Formula of Concord 8:85 in The Book of Concord, trans. and ed. Theodore Tappert (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1959), 608.

28. Dorothy L. Sayers, “The Shattering Dogmas of the Christian Tradition,” in Christian Letters to a Post-Christian World (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans, 1969), 14.

29. Athanasius, Orations, in The Trinitarian Controversy, trans. and ed. Rusch, 102, 104, 115. 30. Ibid., 105-6,109.

31. FormuIa of Concord 8:96, in The Book of Concord, trans. and ed. Tappert,

32. Gregory of Nyssa, Concerning We Should Not Think of Saying That There Are Not Three Gods, To Ablabius, in The Trinitarian Controversy, trans. and ed. Rusch, 160; and J. N. D. Kelly, Early Christian Doctrines, 264-65.

33. J. N. D. Kelly, Early Christian Doctrines, and Gregory of Nyssa, Concerning We Should Not Think of Saying That There Are Not Three Gods, in The Trinitarian Controversy, trans. and ed. Rusch, 155.

34. Gregory of Nazianzus, Third Theological Oration Concerning the Son in The Trinitarian Controversy, trans. and ed Rusch, 144.

35. Ibid.

36. Ibid., 146.

37. J. N. D. Kelly, Early Christian Doctrines, 297.

38. Ibid.

39. Cyril of Alexandria, Second Letter to Nestorius, in The Christological Controversy, ed. Richard A. Norris, Jr. (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1980), 134, 133.

40. Nestorius, Second Letter to Cyril, trans. and ed. Richard A. Norris, Jr., in The Christological Controversy, ed. Norris, 138.

41. Ibid., 139,136.

42. Quoted in Cyril Alexandria, Letter to John of Antioch, in The Christological Controversy, ed. Norris, 142; and the Council of Chalcedon, Definition of the Faith in The Christological Controversy ed. Norris, 159.

43. Anne Wilson Schaef, Co-Dependence: Misunderstood-Mistreated (Minneapolis: Winston Press, 1986).

44. Sandra M. Schneiders, Women and the Word (New ~York: Paulist Press, 1986), 70-71. Similarly, Gail Ramshaw-Schmidt, ‘De Divinis Nominibus: The Gender of God,” in The Word and Words: Beyond Gender in Theological and Liturgical Language, ed. William D. Watley (Princeton, N. J.: Consultation on Church Union, 1983), “Change of speech is a willing task if it follows a conversion of mind,” 24.

45. For an elaboration of this description of the Holy Spirit, see Robert Bertram, “Constructive Lutheran Theology of the Saints,” unpublished essay presented to the Lutheran-Roman Catholic Consultation U.S.A., in Burlingame, Calif., 22 February 1986.

46. On the issue of a feminized pneumatology, pro and con, see Susan Brooks Thistlethwaite, Metaphors for the Contemporary Church (New York: Pilgrim Press, 1983), 101-29; also George Tavard, “Sexist Language in Theology?” in Woman: New Dimensions, ed. Walter J. Burghardt (New York: Paulist Press, 1975), 124-48. These two works I find largely convincing. Not so, Leonard Swidler, “God the Father: Masculine; God the Son: Masculine; God the Holy Spirit: Feminine,” National Catholic Reporter, 31 January 1975, 7 and 14. The rule that seems most persuasive, though difficult to practice in an essay (like the present one) on the tradition of the Trinity, is that of Gail Ramshaw-Schmidt: “God the Spirit as ‘she’ is unacceptable not because our God ends up only one-third female, but because we must speak of God with the highest accuracy possible, and God is neither . . . he nor she. Yet there are occasions when ‘she’ can be used metaphorically in the naming of God. Use of ‘she’ immediately indicates the inadequacy of ‘he’ ” (Ramshaw-Schmidt, “De Divinis Nominibus,” in The Word and Words, ed. Watley, 23.

47. Matt. 16:17; Luke 10:21-22; 17:30; John 12:37-41; 1 Cor. 2:10; Gal. 1:16; 1 Peter 4:13. 48. Augsburg Confession 1:6, in The Book of Concord, ed. Tappert, 28.

49. J. N. D. Kelly, Early Christian Doctrines, 265, 275.

50. A succinct statement of that demonstration is Schneiders’s Women and the Word, 20ff. On the other hand, the sobering reminder is still in order that patriarchalism not only appears in Scripture but is taught there. Elisabeth Schussler Fiorenza, Bread Not Stone (Boston: Beacon Press, 1984), esp. 65-92.

51. Joachirn Jeremias, The Central Message of the New Testament (New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1965); Mary Collins, “Naming God in Public Prayer,” Worship 59 (1985): 291-304; Robert Hamerton-Kelly, God the Father: Theology and Patriarchy in the Teaching of Jesus, Overtures to Biblical Theology (Philadelphia: Fortress Press; 1979).

52. Diane Tennis, Is God the Only Reliable Father? (Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1985).

53. Stanley Kunitz, ”The Poet’s Quest for the Father,” New York Times Book Review, 22 February 1987, 37.

54. Quoted in the article ‘Problem,’ The Trinitarian,” in Trinitas A Theological Encyclopedia, by O’Carroll, 188.

Putting the Nature of God into Language: Naming the Trinity (PDF)