Making Room; or, Reflections on Trinitarian Reflections on an Obscure Theological Principle*


‘In Him we live and move and have our being.’
~Acts 17.28

‘[T]hat they may all be one, just as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us’
~John 17.21

St. Paul’s and Jesus’ words are startling. Jesus’ prayer is that His people may be one just as He is in his Father. That’s a powerful just as. But Christ pushes further and prays, not just that we, His people, would have this oneness among ourselves, but that we, His people, would have oneness with He and His Father just as their oneness. Out of this, the Church Fathers developed the doctrine of perichoresis, which means, ‘to indwell’ or ‘to contain‘. Note that the word can mean both, indwelling and being indwelt. This is the very essence of the life of the Triune God, the three who dwell in the one and the one who indwells the three. There is yet one God, the only Holy One but this one God exists in three distinct persons who in turn house and indwell each other. This triune God creates a world with what Peter Leithart describes as traces of the Trinity. We see these traces in numerous places: language, music, sex, and time.

Leithart notes that this perichoresis, this mutual indwelling and mutual making room, this being both inhabited and inhabiting is the very foundation of hospitality, of Love itself. Hospitality requires an openness to the Other, willingness to let the Other in; but it’s also a desire to indwell the Other, to know the Other from the inside. Hospitality, then, is this mutual openness and in-ness.

One way to see this is in the Triune God’s creation of all things. We confess that He created all things ex nihilo; prior to creation, God alone existed. He alone possesses life within Himself.   But he desired to share with Others that mutual life and love and indwelling that’s existed between Father, Son and Spirit.   In order to do so, he had to create those Others. How? By making room for them, by creating a world wherein He could dwell with and among those Others. The way He does this is analogous to His Trinitarian relationships. Each member of the Trinity makes room for the others within Himself. It’s reasonable to conceive of creation in much the same way. God makes room within Himself for the Other, for creation. To be sure, Creator and Creature remain distinct, God is transcendent and sovereign. But this transcendence is ever an immanent transcendence. God isn’t only other, He is also here, now in such a way that creation now indwells God and He indwells His creation. God offers this mutual sharing of space as a reflection of His own inner life. Further, He does this in love. Love, Leithart notes, is essentially characterized by this making room for an/Other.

On a more earthly level, we’ve experienced this first hand in our own journey these past eight months of pregnancy. In order for Scarlet to be, my wife had to make room within herself for Scarlet to become. Scarlet indwells Kirsten but remains distinct from her and Kirsten indwells Scarlet, sending her nutrients and oxygen and other stuff through her own body. Scarlet is being shown this very hospitality, a microcosmic creation. But it doesn’t end there. We have made room in an actual four walled space. Literally, we made room. She has been given a part of the house in which to dwell and that room will come to indwell her. Her first memories will be of that room. Her books. Her bed. Her blankets. The colors, smells, sounds and feel of the room will come to live in her. Even further, when Scarlet is born, she’ll be welcomed by three brothers who’ve already established a world of their own. They’ll need to make room for her in their world. They’ll need to create a place for her to live within their hearts and their room and make a mess of their things. She’ll need to do the same for them. Because we share in the Imago Dei, we share our space with this new creation. We can’t help it.

Just as the Father makes room for the Son and the Spirit and the Son makes room for the Father and the Spirit and the Spirit makes room for the Father and the Son, so the Triune God makes room in Himself for His world and especially His people. May we seek to do the same in Loving Him and Loving Others, making room to be indwelt.

*These thoughts are inspired, if not down-right stolen, from Peter Leithart’s newest book, Traces of the Trinity. Tolle lege.

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Josh Spears has a wife who’s already housed three boys and now is almost finished housing a girl.  He loves reading Peter Leithart.  He thinks you should too.