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  • Dependent Co-Origination and Universal Intersubjectivity
  • Joseph A. Bracken, SJ

Two essays in a recent issue of Buddhist-Christian Studies dealt with the topic "Buddhist and Christian Views of Community." The first essay, by Rita Gross, was a careful analysis of the way in which the separation of home and workplace in contemporary Western society has tended to reduce effective community life to the nuclear family and thus pose significant disadvantages to everyone involved (not only mothers, fathers, and their children but also non–family members, friends, and neighbors) within the broader civic community.1 A consumer-oriented culture catering to individual needs and desires has arisen to compensate for the pervasive feeling of loneliness and emptiness created by the relative lack of significant interpersonal relationships. In the second essay Donald Mitchell recounted the origin and unexpected growth of the International Focolare movment of which he is a longtime member.2 He noted how the founder of the movement, Chiara Lubich, and her women friends found inspiration for living together and working for the poor and the homeless around them in what they saw as the self-giving love of the three divine persons of the Christian doctrine of the Trinity both for one another and for all their creatures. This movement over time broadened to include first Protestant members, then Jews, Muslims, Buddhists, and Hindus, all drawn by the goal of richer life in community along with group efforts to assist the underprivileged of this world.

My own contribution to the topic of Buddhist and Christian views of community will focus on the same communitarian model of the doctrine of the Trinity that originally inspired Lubich and her followers in the years during and after World War II, but my remarks will be more philosophically oriented. Following the lead of the late Colin Gunton in his book The One, the Three and the Many,3 I will analyze the communitarian model of the Trinity for its value in setting forth a new paradigm for the relationship of the One and the Many. As Gunton perceptively notes in the early chapters of his book, Western civilization seems to be still preoccupied with a basically Platonic understanding of the One and the Many in which the One enjoys primacy over the Many as their transcendent principle of order and intelligibility.4 As a result, even though freedom and individual self-expression are theoretically prized in Western societies, in point of [End Page 3] fact there is a great deal of uniformity and even repression of individual differences so as to conform to the cultural standards imposed by some dominant individual or minority group within each society. In the end people seem to fear the threat to personal security represented by wide diversity and plurality more than they value their individual liberty.

Looking to the doctrine of the Trinity set forth by the Greek-speaking fathers of the Church, however, Gunton finds a new paradigm for the One and the Many whereby the One is emergent out of the interplay of the Many with one another rather than transcendent over the Many as their necessary principle of order and intelligibility.5 The Many are defined by their internal relations to one another rather than by their common relation to an external One. The community thus achieved is a differentiated unity, not only tolerating differences of the Many among themselves, but even fostering those differences so as to produce in the end a more complex form of community. The application to the Christian doctrine of the Trinity is obvious. The three divine persons are strictly defined with respect to one another; each of them has no self-identity apart from relation to the other two persons. Yet together they co-constitute the reality of the one God, a richly differentiated rather than blandly homogeneous unity.6

The application to human beings and their membership in various communities, of course, is not so obvious. But Gunton believes that three principles or "transcendentals" for the understanding of the relation of human beings with one another and with God are at hand, given careful study of this communitarian model of the Trinity: namely, perichoresis, substantiality or...


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pp. 3-9
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