Go with the Flow

rohrThanks to Fr Kimel for the heads up on Fred Sanders’ review of Richard Rohr’s new book Divine Dance: Trinity and Your Transformation. I don’t usually get with the Gospel Coalition’s vibe in general, their view of the atonement, or their rejection as heresy of other orthodox positions, “but never mind that for now” (as Sanders repeatedly says in his review). I have not yet read Rohr’s new book (definitely will, and soon). I also want to kick myself for not remembering the passage, but I do recall running across the word “dance” in one of the Greek Fathers in reference to the Trinity. Regardless of the accuracy of my memory though, I don’t share Sanders’ suspicion of the word “dance” to describe the dynamism of the Trinity’s fullness.

Not having read Rohr’s book, it’s impossible to judge the content of Sanders’ review. That said, I didn’t find Sanders’ tone insulting or dismissive, even if it was passionate. He was helpful and fair, ever if he ignores the notorious (and orthodox!) language of the mystics (like Eckhart) who are infamous (and loved!) for their shocking claims regarding being one with God and experiencing one’s own self as inseparable from the divinity in (even ‘of’) all things. If Sanders hasn’t read Denys Turner on the Christian mystics, that might help him understand people like Rohr and what such language is doing (even if it doesn’t always announce what it’s doing). There’s no way to bring mystical expression (more art that a recipe to follow) into any neat – concept for concept – alignment with precise doctrinal formulae. You’re going to have messy conceptual leftovers on the table. I could pull phrases out of Maximus, not identify him as the author, and almost certainly get a similar assessment of them by Sanders. Rohr is a mystic, and you have to remember that.

However, at the same time I’m glad we have the mystics to push us beyond stale and clinical formulae, I’m thankful we have thoughtful, informed, debated, conciliar statements too. I’ve posted on aspects of Rohr’s thought from earlier works that I find helpful, but if Sanders has accurately captured Rohr’s essential claim regarding the Trinity, I agree with Sanders that there’s room for great concern – not because Rohr uses the words “dance” and “flow” (those can be put to good use), but because of more sinister metaphysical assumptions at work (i.e., God’s dependency upon the world by which God constitutes or enriches his own being, a distinction between the divine persons and something “other” [viz., “the Flow”] than those persons in which the persons participate, or the idea that we participate in that “Flow” as the divine persons do and so expand the Trinity’s partnership to Four, etc.). If this is just Eckhartian mysticism being uncomfortable with the boundaries of neat formulae, fine. That just is the ongoing conversation that is Christianity. Experience will always exceed language, territory will always exceed the map. Hopefully Rohr will clarify his position. But if these other metaphysical assumptions are at work, those are of concern.

So, another book to buy!

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7 comments on “Go with the Flow

  1. I’m just bookmarking this post to help me be on the lookout for your determination regarding any putative “sinister metaphysical assumptions.”

    With book jacket endorsements from Rohr’s coreligionists (of especially high academic caliber and orthodoxic bent) like James Martin and Francis MacNutt, I doubt the Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (aka Holy Inquisition) will be opening an inquiry. Who knows, though, they may request clarification.

    My take is that Sanders misinterpreted Rohr. At worst, Rohr may have inartfully expressed his true position. If so, I didn’t catch it because I was already wearing hermeneutical lenses that gifted me an implicit grasp of what he was expressing, or that’s my hope and belief.

    Rohr’s implicit metaphysics would resemble a dialogue between Scotus and Palamas and employ a formal distinction to differentiate human participations in divine energies. What he was doing explicitly, though, wasn’t an ontotheological trinitology but a theopoetic trinitophany, consistent with same. In other words he was defensibly doing all those other things you so eloquently suggested but not what Sanders charged, which, essentially (no pun here) amounts to pantheism.

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    • Tom says:

      Sinister metaphysical assumptions? I wrote that? 😀

      I’m still looking forward to reading Rohr’s book. I love the others of his ‘transformational’ books. Haven’t read anything like straight-up theology from him. But I did run across a Facebook comment by him (and that might be too informal a context too) about God creating necessarily and ‘being increased’ in his happiness by what the world contributes to him. That would be the metaphysics I was thinking of.

      As I’ve been touched by and explored a more mystical appreciation of existence, I react less to people like Rohr. But I’m still concerned about specific claims regarding God’s ‘needing’ or being improved upon by the world.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Rohr would probably affirm divine passability while denying immutability (cf. Denis Edwards). His trinitarian approach might be influenced by Joe Bracken, who expanded on Whitehead and Hartshorne (Bracken deliberately mindful, too, of orthodox notions of transcendence) using a field theoretic approach (social ontology employing fields). At least, it seems Rohr often uses such field metaphors and he has referenced a divine matrix, too. Not all Catholics think any of this succeeds or that it or panentheism is necessary (Norris Clarke).

        Amos Yong, with whom I most resonate, shares some of Bracken’s insights regarding reality’s pervasive interrelationality, interactivity and intersubjectivity. But he derived those insights from a pneumatological reading of creation narratives, not from a process cosmology.

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      • I wrote that wrong. Rohr would deny mutability, I meant to say. In other words, he would affirm immutability and passability. I’m not sure of this but he has cited and recommended Edwards. Bracken’s nuancing of transcendence might well work the same way, e.g. God being enriched but not essentially so. [Like that Facebook Status: It’s Complicated]

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  2. sorry, pass-i-bility

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Eckhart used to be a heretic before he got re-orthodoxized (my word) if I remember well 🙂

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  4. Hi Tom – if you do end up reading/reviewing ‘The Divine Dance,’ please let me know! Tweet me at @RealMikeMorrell

    Liked by 1 person

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