WHAT’S RIGHT WITH THE TRINITY? CONVERSATIONS IN FEMINIST THEOLOGY. By Hannah Bacon. Farnham, UK and Burlington, VT: Ashgate Publishing Company, 2009. Pp. x + 225. $99.95.
From a feminist perspective, Hannah Bacon has taken the minority approach by focusing on what is right with orthodox trinitarian theology. Bacon recognizes that to feminize or neutralize the traditional Biblical names of the Persons of God, as many theologians have attempted, would not necessarily alter the personal or cultural understandings of the Trinity anyway. Instead of pushing directly against the formidable history of Christian development, Bacon accepts the orthodox language of trinitarian theology in so far as it can be appropriated to a feminist methodology of thinking about God within “women’s experience” (7-9). In Chapter One, Bacon performs a thorough review of a wide range of feminist perspectives on trinitarian language, concluding that the best proposal to date, though limited, has been Elizabeth Johnson’s Spirit-Sophia, Mother-Sophia, and Jesus-Sophia, since it potentially equalizes the masculine and feminine characteristics of the Godhead without abandoning Christian tradition (51). In Chapter Two, Bacon focuses on “trinitarian logic” through a “round-table discussion” between Augustine, Gregory of Nazianzus, Karl Rahner, John Zizioulas, and Jürgen Moltmann, concluding that feminists should especially take from these trinitarian explications the ideas of inclusion and communion (84). Chapter Three sets up Bacon’s feminist “orthodox-contextual” theological methodology by looking at Shleiermacher’s anthropocentricism and Barth’s supernaturalism as complimentary extremes. Here Bacon calls herself a “critical realist” affirming the objective reality of God’s Revelation but denying the possibility of human transcendence over individual context. This section exposes a lack of appreciation for the Tridentine definition of sacrament. Since Revelation, for Bacon, is always filtered through the mediation of personal interpretation, no possibility of distinctly efficacious signs is entertained. For Bacon, “sacrament” is cosmic particularity undefined. Chapter Four, then, seeks to understand this amorphous sense of “sacrament” within women’s experience. However, since there is neither an essential definition of women’s experience, nor an ontologically or epistemologically privileged female perspective, Bacon proposes the conciliating notion of “positionality,” which considers the dynamic cultural and historical place of woman together with her concrete embodiment. Among many female “positions,” the Christian feminist community holds the privileged perspective that is of significance to theology. At a general level, this community finds unity in its commitment to “liberation, justice and right relationship” (144, 148). The divergent particularities of women within this group are coalesced by openness to dialogue and awareness of a common resistance. Bacon shows a profound awareness of human uniqueness here, as she represents different female viewpoints well. Chapter Five unpacks Luce Irigaray’s concept of parler-femme, “speaking (as) woman,” as a starting point for understanding the assumed phallocentrism (woman seen as an incomplete man) of traditional theology. Bacon adopts Irigaray’s subversion of phallocentrism through mimesis, but expands her rhetoric beyond a binary view of human identity as male or female. Instead, human difference is seen as many rather than as two, and the shear multiplicity of common identities proliferates the cultural ‘mirrors’ against which female subjects can speak their experience. Having established her method, in Chapter Six, Bacon asks how thinking of God as Trinity “might strategically mimic the values underpinning the use of women’s experience” (173). Piously, Bacon avoids collapsing God into female subjectivity, instead, difference, subjectivity, and relationship emerge as orthodox characteristics of the Trinity that can affirm and support the feminist praxis. “God is not a giant phallus who functions to confirm the subjectivity of the male and the otherness of woman as ‘lack’, but a God who identifies with the particularities (and complexities) of embodiment, who affirms the female body as good and as sacramental; a God who models difference alongside subjectivity and who, therefore, affirms female desire without seeking to appropriate or extinguish this for the sake of securing God’s own identity and the identity of the male” (195). In this book, Bacon’s contributions to trinitarian theology are minimal (she candidly states that she did not set out to reinterpret Revelation). The primary value of this study lies in its analysis of feminism, from which Bacon has rebuilt some important bridges back to orthodox theology. Bacon excels at giving a fair representation of contrary opinions on her subject, and at taking a compromising, often paradoxical, view that admirably mediates across extremes. Her style is clear and fluid, yet thoroughly academic. This book is highly recommended to any students of Christian feminism or theological anthropology. The text contains an impressive bibliography and index.
Franciscan University of Steubenville
THE ONE THE MANY AND THE TRINITY: JOSEPH A. BRACKEN AND THE CHALLENGE OF PROCESS METAPHYSICS. By Marc A. Pugliese. Washington D.C.: CUA Press, 2011. Pp. xviii + 297. $69.95.
Rapid technological development across the disciplines in the last century has inspired a diverse radiation of new philosophical categories attempting to keep pace with the changing zeitgeist. Among these progressive systems of thought, process metaphysics has held an important place. In The One the Many and the Trinity, Marc Pugliese sympathizes and criticizes with process thought, highlighting the achievements of Joseph A. Bracken, a Jesuit scholar who has undertaken the most intensive reconstruction of process metaphysics for Catholic trinitarian-theology (68-69). While the mainstream of Catholic theologians have given little positive attention to process theology, Pugliese reckons deeply with this school’s contributions to and continuities with classical theism. His thesis gently lays bare the crippling weakness of process metaphysics: to use univocal language about nature and God, collapses the one into the many, while the Christian doctrines of a qualitative creature-Creator distinction and the analogy of all metaphysical language guard against this error. Nevertheless, Pugliese believes that Whitehead’s system is open to further addendum and deserving of continued attention.
The father of process metaphysics, Alfred North Whitehead, was concerned with constructing a philosophy that would reconcile the novelties of modernity, including the developments of quantum physics, materialist atheism, biological evolution, pragmatic psychology, and various forms of idealism. Whitehead sought passionately for a philosophical system that could organically unite these sciences. He extended this desire to its limit by proposing the maxim that “God is not to be treated as an exception to all metaphysical principles, invoked to save their collapse. He is their chief exemplification” (69), thus proposing a radical shift from classical qualitative categories of existence to quasi-pantheism. The metaphysical principle of “creativity” – defined as the simultaneous perpetual activity of “the many become one and are increased by one” (39) – replaces Aristotle’s “primary substance” as the foundation of reality. Becoming supplants Being.
Building on Whitehead’s philosophy, process theologians, led out of the gate by Charles Hartshorne, argued that traditional substance ontology is contrary to the dynamic “living God” of Scripture, to a concretely personal God, to the genuine freedom of man, and to God’s immunity from responsibility for evil. Moreover, they have also claimed “replacing substance ontology with an event-relational [process] ontology makes some inveterate difficulties more rationally comprehensible: the identity of the trinitarian persons with the divine nature but not with each other, the union of the divine and human natures in the one person of Jesus Christ, transubstantiation,” and the plurality of religions (61). Taking up this project within a Catholic context, Joseph A. Bracken, S.J., combines classical trinitarianism and process metaphysics in a philosophical theology he considers midway between Thomists and Whiteheadians (71). Two vital alterations include amending Thomistic “participated being” to involve creation’s participation in divine inter-subjectivity in such a way as to avoid creation seeming an accident of the divine substance, and also improving Whitehead’s “societies” with “field-theory” to preserve the ontological independence of individual entities as well as their simultaneous relational-identity. Bracken synthesizes elements from both process theology and classic theism “to construct perhaps the most comprehensive process doctrine of the Trinity yet to appear” (159).
After introducing these philosophies, with a detailed focus on Bracken, Pugliese gives his critique under the summary phrase: “the problem of mutual ultimate causality.” Basically, Bracken cannot avoid collapsing the oppositional pairs associated with the one and the many – specifically, the individual and the relationship, the particular and the universal, the subject and the object, actuality and potentiality, induction and deduction, stasis and flux, and cause and effect – into each other because of his, and other process thinkers’, insistence that these categories be transposed on ultimate reality itself. The solution, already common in classical theism, is to reverently accept the impotence of logical categories to univocally describe the only conceivable Being who explains his own existence, God. The un-dissected paradox/mystery of the Trinity by itself offers enough resolution to the problem of the one and the many through a simple explanation of faith, like: “three distinct divine-persons with one identical divine-essence” (241). If process theology is to develop further, the simplicity of trinitarian faith cannot be sacrificed for its forward movement.
The One the Many and the Trinity is a thorough academic introduction to process theology from an orthodox Catholic perspective, offering a superb balance of empathetic comprehension and critical analysis. As Pugliese himself acknowledges, process theology has opened many doors in ecumenical dialogue, not only with other world religions, but also with agnostics and atheists. It remains to be seen if process philosophy might find reception in Orthodox Christianity, nevertheless, it is beyond debate that the work of making Catholic doctrine accessible to modern intellects is of the utmost urgency. This book is highly recommended for anyone studying process metaphysics or trinitarian theology at the Master’s level. Its chapter-topics are well labeled and easily navigated. It includes a comprehensive index.
February 14, 2014
Franciscan University of Steubenville