“Philip said to Him, “Lord, show us the Father, and it is enough for us.” Jesus said to him, “Have I been with you so long, and you still do not know Me, Philip? Whoever has seen Me has seen the Father. How can you say, ‘Show us the Father’? Do you not believe that I am in the Father and the Father is in Me? The words that I say to you I do not speak on my own authority, but the Father who dwells in Me does his works. Believe me that I am in the Father and the Father is in Me, or else believe on account of the works themselves.”
“If a man love Me, he will keep my words: and my Father will love him, and We will come unto him, and make our abode with him.”
“That they all may be one; as Thou, Father, art in Me, and I in Thee, that they also may be one in Us:”
Order of Contents
Perichoresis is a Greek word that refers to the mutual love and indwelling of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
Social Trinitarians (rife in evangelicalism today) take this concept to teach that the Father, Son and Spirit have separate wills. The orthodox, early Church councils, on the other hand, rightly taught that God only has one will. God having three wills necessarily implies Tritheism. Hence, perichoresis involves the Father, Son and Spirit as loving each other through the pure, self-reflexive and reciprocal act of their One divine will.
Jesus said that when we spiritually receive Him into our soul through faith, that we enter, in a way, into this communion (Jn. 14:23; 17:21). Enter into the depths of perichoresis with this new page of resources:
DeYoung, Kevin – ‘Theological Primer: Perichoresis’ (2020) 5 paragraphs, 500 words at The Gospel Coalition
Medium-Length & More Detailed
Rowland, Dylan & Robie Day – ‘Doctrine of Trinitarian Perichoresis’ 39 paragraphs 7 works cited from mainly reformed theologians at The Blessed Rebellion
Aquinas – Compendium of Theology, pt. 1
Neither the term perichoresis or circumincessio appear in Thomas’s writings, yet many of aspects of the doctrine do appear.
ch. 48, ‘Love in God Not Accidental’
Calvin, John – Bk. 1, ch. 13, ‘The Unity of the Divine Essence in Three Persons Taught, in Scripture, From the Foundation of the World’ in Institutes trans. Beveridge (1559)
pp. 144 (1.) – 146 of ch. 12, ‘The Especial Principle of Obedience unto the Person of Christ; which is Love…’ in Christologia… in Works, vol. 1
pp. 68-70 of An Exposition of the Epistle to the Hebrews… vol. 2 ed. W.H. Goold in Works (Edinburgh: T&T Clark, 1862), vol. 19, Preliminary Exercitations, Ex. 27, ‘The Original of the Priesthood of Christ in the Counsel of God’, section 14
Sherlock, William – pp. 300-326 of Ch. 4, Section 8, ‘Concerning the Divine Relations’ in The Present State of the Socinian Controversy, and the Doctrine of the Catholic Fathers concerning a Trinity in Unity (1698)
Sherlock (c. 1641–1707) was a leading Anglican minister, evidencing a rationalist influence. He also was a main proponent of the erroneous Cartesian doctrine that ‘person’ constituted a mind and substance; hence the Trinity had three minds and substances.
“In 1690 and 1693, he [Sherlock] published works on the doctrine of the Trinity, which helped rather than injured the Socinian cause and involved him in a controversy with Robert South and others.” – Wikipedia
Bull, George – Sections 13 & 14 of Book 4, ch. 4 of Defense of the Nicene Creed (1685) 6 pp.
This selection is important and helpful for its historical quotations from early church fathers about perichoresis, however not everything Bull says is on target, and his theology of the Trinity, and this work in particular are highly NOT recommended.
Bull was an Arminian, Latitudinarian, Anglican who held to an early form of Tri-theism from certain church fathers before the council of Nicea, AD 325. That is, he held that while the divine nature amongst the persons of the Trinity was the same in quality, it was not numerically the same: he believed there were three divine natures. Bull’s thought is known as Monarchian Subordinationism.
Bull understood the unity of the three persons as being only an intellectual unity, of their thoughts of one another. Hence he slants perichoresis to be an intellectual communion, rather than an inter-penetration of the being of the three persons. Nonetheless, for the reasons stated, this piece is worthy of attention.
van Mastricht, Peter – bk. 2, ch. 24, ‘The Most Holy Trinity’, section 7, ‘The Communion of the Three Persons’ in Theoretical Practical Theology (RHB), vol. 2, p. 503
De Moore, Bernardinus – ch. 5, ‘On the Trinity’, section 5, ‘Emperichoresis’
Pohle, Joseph – ‘The Unity of Mutual Inexistence or Perichoresis’ being Pt. 2, Ch. 3 of The Divine Trinity: a Dogmatic Treatise (1912)
Pohle was a prominent American, Romanist, scholar at the turn of the 20th century.
Tipton, Lane G. – ‘The Function of Perichoresis & the Divine Incomprehensibility’ Westminster Theological Journal (Fall 2002)
Wright, Taylor – ‘Glorification: Perichoresis or Participation’ (2019) 19 pp. This is a seminary paper for Reformed Theological Seminary. The bibliography has 43 sources, many of which are reformed.
“That man’s glorification shifts [the Christian’s] participation [in grace] towards perichoresis, or theosis, seals the Eastern Orthodox emphasis… In this paper I will argue that, from a Reformed perspective, man’s glorification through his communion and participation in the Trinity does lead to a oneness that is not perichoretic but is still advanced and fuller than earthly
communion.” – p. 1
“While the Eastern Orthodox view of theosis is neither apotheosis nor pantheistic, a perichoretic emphasis can amount to the same conclusion. Language of perichoresis should be avoided when speaking of humanity’s present or future glorification.” – p. 16
Cotnoir, A.J. – ‘Mutual Indwelling’ (n.d.) 34 pp.
Cotnoir is a Christian and a lecturer in philosophy at the University of St. Andrews. He specializes in the metaphysics of mereology, which is the theory of things being in, or contained in, other things, and the relations between parts and wholes. The significance to perichoresis is clear from the statement of Jn. 14:11, ” I am in the Father, and the Father in Me.”
“But the concept of mutual indwelling is intuitively puzzling. According to all the usual ways of conceiving of ‘indwelling’ or ‘being in’, it seems conceptually incoherent to think that two
persons could be in each other. If I am in my house, then my house is not in me.” (p. 2)
Nonetheless, Cotnoir proposes a metaphysical, mereological model of mutual parthood for perichoresis. He does not mean that the Trinity is composed of proper parts, which has been rightly denied throughout Church history. Rather, things can be parts of, or be contained in, other things which are not material or have any difference of space or location.
Cotnoir gives as an example a statue and the clay it is made out of. The statue and the clay are distinct. One could smash the statue and it would be gone, but the clay would remain. The clay might be of poor quality, but the statue could be high quality. In all of this the statue and the clay occupy the same space and material. The clay is a part of the statue, and the statue may be said in a certain way to be part of the clay. It can also be said that the statue encompasses the statue, and the clay encompasses the clay.
The pictorial model of in-being that Cotnoir proposes as suitable to the perichoresis of the three Persons of the Trinity is the second one on p. 14, where each person encompasses itself and the two other Persons.
Cotnoir then seeks to show that his model is consistent with divine simplicity, in fact, with all of the 6 definitions of divine simplicity that he provides on p. 15.
Cotnoir also illustrates a way in which the statue and clay analogy does not do adequate justice to perichoresis (p. 24):
“The persons of the Trinity, as co-eternal, are temporally inseparable; similarly, as metaphysically necessary they are metaphysically inseparable. By contrast, the statue and clay are clearly separable: one can exist without the other. The clay is typically made before a statue…
As a result, three persons of the Trinity are more strongly united than the statue and the clay, and hence mutual parthood is not sufficient to account for this unity. This is something of a drawback for the model, as perichoresis is typically intended to function as a means of uniting the persons of the Trinity.”
Cotnoir is also clear that his paradigm does not work with Aristotelianism (which the classic doctrine of the Trinity has used throughout most of Church history):
“One main rival to the mutual parthood view makes heavy use of this shared matter: it’s the view that the statue is constituted by the clay. Many, following Aristotle, hold to a hylomorphic
view of material objects such that the matter (e.g. the clay) is part of the whole (e.g. the statue), though not vice versa…” (p. 25)
“The constitution view of material objects has been put forth (by Brower and Rea) as a model of the metaphysics of the Trinity. Imagine a clay statue is used as a pillar in a cathedral. Just as the statue and pillar are numerically distinct but made of the same material stuff (the clay), so too can the Father, the Son, and the Spirit be numerically distinct but made up of the
same immaterial stuff (the divine essence)… Instructive as it may be, the constitution view of the Trinity has faced a number of criticisms.” (pp. 25-26)
Yet, putting aside the created analogy, the Aristotelian interpretation of the Trinity is rightly described by Cotnoir as follows:
“Each person of the Trinity instantiates the divine essence, and hence this essence is ‘present in’ each person… so when Jesus says “I am in the Father and my Father is in me” what is meant is that “I [my essence] is in the Father [the person] and the Father [his essence] is in me [the person].” (p. 26)
One criticism of Cotnoir’s paradigm is that it holds the part-relation to be self-reflexive; hence the Father is part of the Father. To say that a part of the Father is part of the Father makes sense. But to say that the whole is part of the whole tends to make the term ‘part’ meaningless, and the term certainly, then, is being used equivocally in saying that the Father is part of the Father just as He is part of the Son. If the term ‘part’ is being used equivocally, not only does the whole paradigm break down, but Cotnoir’s transitive principle for parts most clearly breaks down.
Further, Scripture never states nor implies that the Son is in the Son; and if this statement is even meaningul, the Son certainly is not in the Father in the same way that He is in Himself. The traditional, orthodox, Aristotelian, Church history view, however, holds that the Son dwells in the Father and the Holy Spirit, without dwelling in Himself in this same way, as Scripture teaches.
While one ought not to agree with everything in Cotnoir’s article, yet his detailed discussions of the metaphysics of something existing in another thing and his choice selections of quotes on perichoresis from Church history (not commonly found elsewhere) make his article valuable.
Blunt, John Henry – ‘Circumincession’ 2 pp. in Dictionary of Doctrinal & Historical Theology (1872), pp. 129-30
The Divine Trinunity… (London, 1650), pp. 128-9
“2. If this pure and vital act be considered with reference to God’s own essence, they cannot be distinguished, because
God’s essence is a pure act. The self-same divine essence is both the act, and object in these immanent actions, which do
not pass out of God towards, and therefore have no relation at all to, or denomination from, any external object.
God does know and will all things within Himself naturally, and necessarily; it’s his nature to love Himself; here is no distinction imaginable.”
Institutes (P&R, 1992), 3rd Topic, Question 23, ‘The Holy Trinity’, section 13, p. 257
XIII. Here belongs the word emperichoreseos which the fathers frequently used and [Etienne de] Curcellaeus [1586–1629, an Arminian] rails at (as unwritten [agraphon], ambiguous and employed to signify a thing nowhere taught in Scripture). But that it was not used without reason to describe the intimate mutual union of the persons can be inferred not obscurely from Scripture itself when ‘the Son is said to be in the Father, and the Father in the Son’ (Jn. 10:38; 14:11).
They [the fathers] thought this mystery could not be better expressed than by the phrase enallelon emperichoresin (i.e., a mutual intertwining or inexistence and immanence), so as to designate thus that union by which the divine persons embrace each other and permeate (if it is right to say so) each other. So that although always remaining distinct, yet they are never separated from each other, but always coexist; wherever one is, there the other also really is.
And if believers are said to dwell in God and He in them (1 Jn. 3:24; Jn. 14:23) on account of the intimate presence of the Spirit (who is the strictest bond of their communion with God), does it not follow that such an emperichoresis can be attributed to them? There is the widest difference [though] between the mystical union of believers with God and the divine union of the persons of the Trinity in [the divine] nature, or of the [relation of the] human and divine natures in the person of Christ.”
Peter van Mastricht
In the section referenced below, Mastricht distinguishes between the internal personal works of God (such as begetting, being begotten and spirating) and internal, essential works.
As the works are essential, Mastricht means, for instance, that the Father loves the Son through his essence, including the one divine will, which is also the essence of the Son. The act of the essence, or will in loving, terminates upon the essence itself.
As that act is acted via the will, originating from each Person, and acting through each Person, so it terminates upon the essence itself, which cannot be divided from the three Persons. Hence the three Persons love each other in pure, infinite act, and there remains but one divine will.
ch. 1, ‘The Actions & Decrees of God’, section 7 of Theoretical-Practical Theology (RHB), vol. 3, pp. 5-6
“Or, they are essential works, by which the persons are conveyed partly toward each other, when for example the Father knows, loves, and glorifies the Son, and the Son in turn the Father; and partly toward the creatures, works by which God knows, loves, elects, and reprobates the creatures: in these particularly occur the divine decrees.”
“As the essence of the Godhead is common to the several persons, they have a common intelligence, will, and power. There are not in God three intelligences, three wills, three efficiencies. The Three are one God, and therefore have one mind and will.
This intimate union was expressed in the Greek Church by the word perichoresis, which the Latin words inexistentia, inhabitatio, and intercommunio, were used to explain.”
On the Early & Medieval Churches
Bethune-Baker, James – p. 226, fn. 2 of An Introduction to the Early History of Christian Doctrine (1903) This is in the context of Augustine’s thought. For other early figures expressing the same idea, see p. 129, fn. 2 and p. 221.
Bethune-Baker was a Cambridge professor.
Preuss, Arthur – Ch. III, ‘The Unity of Mutual Inexistence, or Perichoresis’ in The Divine Trinity, a Dogmatic Treatise 2nd ed. trans. (St. Louis: B. Herder, 1912), pp. 281-90
Prestige, G.L. – Ch. 14, ‘Co-Inherence’ in God in Patristic Thought, pp. 282-302 Buy (1936) 301 pp.
For critiques of this treatment, see Ables and Manastireanu below.
Emery, Gilles – 12. ‘The Reciprocal Interiority of the Divine Persons’ in The Trinitarian Theology Of St Thomas Aquinas (Oxford Univ. Press, 1990), pp. 298-312
PCA minister, Derek Rishmawy gives a review of this section in, ‘Perichoresis in Aquinas: Fruit, Not Foundation’. He says:
“perichoresis is treated as a summary doctrine built upon and tying together the other threads of consubstantiality, relation, and procession. In Thomas, (and arguably the Fathers whom he follows) perichoresis is the fruit of the three other notions, not their foundation.”
Stramara, Jr., Daniel – ‘Gregory of Nyssa’s Terminology for Trinitarian Perichoresis’ (1998) 6 pp. in Vigiliae Christianae, vol. 52, no. 3 (Aug., 1998), pp. 257-263
Manastireanu, Danut – ‘Perichoresis & the Early Christian Doctrine of God’ in Archaeus, XI-XII (2007-2008), pp. 61-93
Manastireanu interacts with Prestige and examines in detail how perichoresis has been used of the hypostatic union, in the Trinity, and with respect to the Greek Orthodox doctrine of the deification of saints. The article is careful and helpful.
Ables, Scott – ‘The Anti-Monophysite Trinitarian Christology of John of Damascus’ a paper read at NAPS, Annual Meeting, Chicago (2010)
Abstract: “G. L. Prestige praises Pseudo-Cyril as the brilliant theologian who transferred perichoresis from Christology to trinitarian theology, however, it is not Pseudo-Cyril but John of Damascus, who is to be so credited. If my analysis rings true then the history of perichoresis outlined by G. L. Prestige is dated… This reading suggests that John repurposed Christological perichoresis into his trinitarianism in order to authorize his Christology from trinitarian ontology…”
“Prestige finds Christological perichoresis is no more than a“verbal formality,” adding nothing, and positively tending to monophysitism. My purpose hereis to propose the opposite view: Contra Prestige, Christology in the Damascene is actually anti-monophysite by design.
Prestige on perichoresis is no longer tenable on three crucial points: 1) the meaning of perichoresis, 2) the philosophic background of perichoresis, and 3) the provenance of trinitarian perichoresis. None of these contentions is new, yet the implications of them taken together have not been fully realized in regards to the Damascene’s Christology. Contra Prestige, 1) the meaning “interpenetration” is early, not late, 2) the philosophic milieu is predominantly Stoic, not Aristotelian, and 3) the progenitor of trinitarian perichoresis is John of Damascus, not Pseudo-Cyril.” – pp. 1-2
Loudovikos, Nikolaos – ‘Consubstantiality Beyond Perichoresis: Personal Threeness, Intra-divine Relations & Personal Consubstantiality in Augustine’s, Thomas Aquinas’ & Maximus the Confessor’s Trinitarian Theologies’ a paper given at the Oxford Patristic Conference (2015) 21 pp.
Abstract: “…in my opinion… the tension, in both East and West, between the different possible ways of theologizing about the Trinity has not so much to do with underlying personalist or essentialist tendencies, but… is the person ontologically detached from nature as freedom is from necessity? Are the divine energies, logoi, or wills identical with divine nature or not, and in what sense are they or are they not identical? Do the divine Persons possess the divine nature or are they included in it and identical to it, etc.?
Following twenty years of study, I am more and more convinced that one of the most crucial factors concerning our ways of understanding the Trinity is the concept of consubstantiality. The form this concept acquired in the works of the Cappadocians and Maximus the Confessor is so explicitly neglected or even rejected by modern Orthodox personalists and, at the same time, ignored by many of the contemporary Augustinian or Thomist scholars, or even, perhaps, by Augustine and Thomas themselves.”
Stamatović, Slobodan – ‘The Meaning of Perichoresis‘ in Open Theology (2016) 2:303-23
Abstract: “…we have investigated the meaning of the verb περιχωρέω showing that there is a good reason for lexicographic division of περιχωρέω into two separate verbs. Applying the findings of our philological research, we have also expounded the original patristic conception of perichoresis which, in some important aspects, has appeared to differ from the approaches dominant in Western theology from the Middle Ages to our own day.”
“That man’s glorification shifts [the Christian’s] participation [in grace] towards perichoresis, or theosis, seals the Eastern
Orthodox emphasis in the book.” – Taylor Wright
See Wright’s article for a critique this from a reformed perspective.
Womack, James A. – A Comparison of Perichoresis in the Writings of Gregory of Nazianzus & John of Damascus Ref (2005) a dissertation for Asbury Theological Seminary
On the Post-Reformation
Muller, Richard – pt. 2, ch. 3.2, A, 7. ‘Circumincessio, perichoresis, emperichoresis‘ in PRRD (2003), vol. 4, pp. 185-6
On Jonathan Edwards
Cunnington, Ralph – Sections 2.3.3 ‘Edwards Discussion of Perichoresis’ & 3.4 ‘Edwards Use of Perichoresis’ in ‘A Critical Examination of Jonathan Edwards’ Doctrine of the Trinity’ (2014)
Jonathan Edwards, in his somewhat problematic An Unpublished Essay on the Trinity, does not set forth the traditional, and correct, notion that the 3 persons of the Trinity have all the divine attributes by their sharing the same essence as the one God, but rather, “the Father understands because the Son, who is the divine wisdom, is in Him. The Father loves because the Holy Ghost is in Him…” etc.
This is a novel use of perichoresis: that each member of the Trinity is dependent on the other members’ in-dwelling of them for certain divine attributes, which those persons are more characterized by; this being something that Augustine taught explicitly against.
Perichoresis is the Foundation for the Doctrine of Appropriations
An Exposition of the Epistle to the Hebrews… vol. 2 ed. W.H. Goold in Works (Edinburgh: T&T Clark, 1862), vol. 19, Preliminary Exercitations, Ex. 28, ‘Federal Transactions Between the Father & the Son’, pp. 87-88
“The will is a natural property, and therefore in the divine essence it is but one. The Father, Son, and Spirit, have not distinct wills. They are one God, and God’s will is one, as being an essential property of his nature; and therefore are there two wills in the one person of Christ, whereas there is but one will in the three persons of the Trinity…
…for such is the distinction of the persons in the unity of the divine essence, as that they act in natural and essential acts reciprocally one towards another—namely, in understanding, love, and the like; they know and mutually love each other. And as they subsist distinctly, so they also act distinctly in those works which are of external operation.
And whereas all these acts and operations, whether reciprocal or external, are either with a will or from a freedom of will and choice, the will of God in each Person, as to the peculiar acts ascribed unto Him, is his will therein peculiarly and eminently, though not exclusively to the other persons, by reason of their mutual in-being.
The will of God as to the peculiar actings of the Father in this matter is the will of the Father, and the will of God with regard unto the peculiar actings of the Son is the will of the Son; not by a distinction of sundry wills, but by the distinct application of the same will unto its distinct acts in the persons of the Father and the Son.”
Forbes, John – bk. 1, ch. 8, ‘On the Inseparability of the Most Holy Trinity & on the Undivided Operation towards that which is Without’ in Historical & Theological Instructions on Christian Doctrine… (Amsterdam, 1645), pp. 20-21 This volume was commended by Polyander, Trigland, Spanheim, Voet, Maets, Hoornbeeck, Cloppenburg, Coccejus and Maresius, as well as Gerhard Vossi, an Arminian.
Forbes (1593-1648) was one of the Aberdeen doctors. This volume of his gained him the reputation of being one of the greatest theologians of the reformed Church. The covenanters ‘acknowledged his orthodoxy and high Christian character’ (DNB).
Cappel, Ludwig – Disputation 17, ‘Theological Theses on God, One & Three, pt. 3’, section 14 in A System of Theological Theses in the Academy of Salmur… pt. 1 (Salmur, 1664), p. 179
Marck, Johannes – ch. 5, ‘On the Trinity of Persons’, sections 5-6 in A Didactic-Elenctic Compendium of Christian Theology… 3rd ed. (Amsterdam, 1722), pp. 101-3
“…that you may know and understand that the Father is in Me and I am in the Father.”
“Believest thou not that I am in the Father, and the Father in Me? the words that I speak unto you I speak not of myself: but the Father that dwelleth in Me, He doeth the works. Believe Me that I am in the Father, and the Father in Me:”