“God is love” (1 Jn 4:8), St. John proclaims in his First Epistle. If there is one major lesson from modern Orthodox Theology, it is that God’s love should be interpreted and understood in a Trinitarian way.
For love is properly understood only in light of the God of the Christian Scriptures, revealed as Father, Son, Holy Spirit. Only in a communion of persons can we make sense of the reality of self-giving love proclaimed by St. John. With this understanding in mind, the doctrine of the Trinity came to be developed in the 20th century as the foundation of theological anthropology, ecclesiology, or even a political theology.
Many Orthodox thinkers, especially those in the “neo-Patristic” school, have long contended that this “Trinitarian turn” results from a recovery of the Patristic mind. But to what extent is this claim valid?
In this paper, I turn to examine one trinitarian interpretation of divine love in an early Christian source not commonly considered by orthodox theologians:
Origen of Alexandria’s prologue in the Commentary on the Song of Songs. I argue that Origen’s Trinitarian interpretation of divine love shows important parallels with the modern Trinitarian understanding of love, especially on the intrinsic link between intra-Trinitarian love and the flourishing of humans as beings-in-relationship, albeit in a language that is more attuned to Scripture.
My aim is to show that looking at Origen on Trinitarian love helps us identify which assumptions in modern orthodox theology are likely to be historically indebted to modern thought rather than patristic sources.
Pui-Him Ip is Tutor and Research Fellow at the Faraday Institute for Science and Religion and Affiliated Lecturer at the Faculty of Divinity, University of Cambridge.
He received his undergraduate degree in theoretical physics, MA in philosophy and theology and PhD in Patristics under the supervision of Rowan Williams at Cambridge.
He was previously Departmental Lecturer in Patristics at the University of Oxford. His main research focus is Greek Patristics, especially Origen of Alexandria and the Nachleben of his thought in the Cappadocian Fathers and Evagrius.
He is also interested in how Patristics can help us rethink the catholicity of the church and the spiritual condition of man today.
His first book, Origen of Alexandria and the Emergence of Divine Simplicity before Nicaea will be published by the University of Notre Dame Press in 2021/22.
He has also written on the reception of Patristics in Christos Yannaras, Georges Florovsky, and T.F. Torrance.