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Perichoresis and Personhood: God, Christ, and Salvation in John of Damascus (Princeton Theological Monographs) Paperback – February 5, 2015
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--Lewis Ayres, Professor of Historical Theology, Durham University, Durham, UK
''I recently set out looking for a reliable guide to the concept of perichoresis in the thought of John of Damascus, only to discover with surprise and disappointment that such a book seemed not to exist. How could that be given the concept's popularity and John's undisputed importance in its shaping? I still have no answer to that question, so far as the past is concerned, but I am delighted to report that on this score the future is brighter. There is a sure-footed, intelligent, and thorough guide on this topic. You are holding it in your hands.''
--Kendall Soulen, Professor of Systematic Theology, Wesley Theological Semimary, Washington D.C.
''Perichoresis is an inexhaustibly attractive idea, invoked in Trinitarian revivals, and essential, some believe, to an understanding of the divine fellowship for which we humans were made. In this wonderfully lucid study of John Damascene, Charles Twombly provides what is most needed to ground contemporary reflection: a discerning account of what perichoresis has historically meant, not only to this 'last of the Fathers' but to the cumulative tradition he bequeathed to Christendom, East and West.''
--Carol Zaleski, Professor of World Religions, Smith College, Northampton, MA
''St. John Damascene famously said, 'I shall say nothing of my own,' and much modern scholarship has taken him at his word. Yet, as Charles Twombly shows, John Damascene was a truly original theologian. His notion of perichoresis, 'co-inherence,' though it has precedents in earlier Fathers, becomes in his theology a golden thread, drawing together his understanding of the Trinity, the incarnation, and our union with God, our deification. This lucid and profound study makes a major contribution to our understanding of John and his enduring significance.''
--Andrew Louth, Professor emeritus of Patristic and Byzantine Studies, Durham University, Darlington, UK
''For a long time now, the looser sort of constructive theology has been afflicted with a bad case of 'galloping perichoresis,' and it has become trendy to say that just about anything mutually indwells just about anything else--perichoretically. This book recovers the witness of John of Damascus to help restore a great theological category to its proper place. Equal parts historical reconstruction and dogmatic clarification, Twombly's book celebrates the vast systematic scope of perichoretic unity in the classic doctrinal tradition, simultaneously demonstrating that a concept with so much to offer for Trinitarian and christological discourse will only be distorted if stretched beyond those topics.''
--Fred Sanders, Professor of Theology, Torrey Honors Institute, Biola University, La Mirada, CA --Wipf and Stock Publishers
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My reason for picking up this book is because I was seeking a greater precision on the term perichoresis as it applied to my readings on the Trinity and Christology. While the term is used regularly (mainly in Trinitarian studies), there is considerable ambiguity when it’s used and only a dim light shines on its import. One attempt breaks the term apart showing that “peri…means ‘around,’ and chorea…means ‘dance.'” Thus, perichoresis refers to the “interrelatedness of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit” and can be understood as a “divine dance” where the “Three-in-one participate in a never-beginning, never-ending movement in harmony.” This is helpful, but still vague.
After a substantial and important “Introduction” (Chapter 1), the book takes shape by way of three major divisions: “Perichoresis and the Trinity” (Chapter 2), “Perichoresis and Christ” (Chapter 3), and “Perichoresis and Salvation” (Chapter 3), followed by an Epilogue that sums the work and urges creative ways of deploying perichoresis into additional theological themes.
Anyone reading on the Trinity and the Christological controversies will find this a welcome addition! inchristus.com
Charles C. Twombly
Pickwick Publications (imprint of Wipf and Stock)
ISBN: 9781620321805; $16; February 2015
4 or 5 Stars
Most Christians in Church or parishioners in the pews have never heard of perichoresis. To them it will likely sound like a bad skin disease. But hopefully most pastors, theologians and Church history buffs are at least mildly familiar with the concept, recognizing that it is an extremely important notion with regard to the inner life of the Trinity. Charles C. Twombly, a historical theologian who has taught in several seminaries and has been published in Crux, Christianity Today and First Things, has pulled together a new addition to the Princeton Theological Monograph Series with his 132 page paperback, "Perichoresis and Personhood: God, Christ, and Salvation in John of Damascus." This densely argued work lays out John of Damascus's idea of perichoresis, and how it works in his teaching on the Trinity, Christology and soteriology. Those subjects make up the three central chapters of the work.
"Perichoresis and Personhood" examines "how a key theological term, perichoresis, functions in the thought of John of Damascus" (1). Yet the study goes deeper into the background bubbling up from the deep pool of Gregory Nazianzus, Athanasius, Leontius of Byzantium, Leontius of Jerusalem, and the councils of Chalcedon and Constantinople. Twombly's thought is that John of Damascus took an already existing term and concept, stretched it and filled it in, so that the term could give "greater clarity to the Trinity, the Incarnation, and salvation" (6).
The main idea is that perichoresis becomes a means by which "identity and difference" are maintained. Whether talking about the Trinity, Christology or God’s saving humans, there is an association that involves a relationship of mutual indwelling, but a mutual indwelling that is without confusion, blending, merging.; a union-without-absorption (42). Perichoresis "in a Trinitarian context refers to what is beyond creation," that is, God’s own inner relationships; but also is used to "express other relationships as well, most especially that of Christ's two natures." It can likewise be used, along with other terms, to express "the relation of humans to God in salvation" and "God's providential presence in the governance of the world" (27).
Though most readers-in-the-know would connect perichoresis to the Trinity and Christology, the author emphasizes that John of Damascus applied the concept to human salvation; the salvation of specific people who, through the sacraments of baptism and the Eucharist, enter into union with Christ. This participation that holds together identity and difference, equates a person with Christ, without them being swallowed up in his divinity, or their absorbing him in their humanity (102). And this mutual indwelling of God and redeemed humans, this perichoretic relationship, reflects the Trinity’s inner relationship, for what “is true of God and of Christ by nature becomes in an appropriate measure available to humanity by grace” (105).
“Perichoresis and Personhood” will likely interest specialized readers, those interested in and trained in Church history; nevertheless with a little effort interested readers can make it through the book profitably. The technical language is explained and worked out, but a notepad and a pen lying close by will make it easier to track the flow of ideas and concepts and navigate the areas most confusing. Though there are annoying editorial glitches at places in the book, they should not keep this book from being useful to Seminary libraries, theologians, Patristic scholars, Church historians, or pastors. I recommend the book.
My thanks to Pickwick Publications and Wipf and Stock for the free copy of the book used for this review.