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7 Social Trinity Theological Doctrine as a Foundation for Metaphysics Mathias Hassenfratz-Coffinet This essay focuses on the theme of the Trinity, conceived metaphysically, in Joseph Bracken’s thought. Bracken is among the people who, when thinking about God, are not interested in debates about nature, essence, or substance. A key influence on his thought is Alfred North Whitehead’s metaphysics, which is a metaphysics of events in which reality is dynamic. A. N. Whitehead (1861–1947), the father of process philosophy, elaborated his philosophical system as an attempt to redefine reality so as to understand the existence and interaction of all the elements of the universe in a framework informed by modern science, especially mathematics and physics. Process theologians, including Bracken, rely on this framework and this interpretation of the world. I will begin with a short historical presentation of Bracken’s theological context, before turning to the specificities of his trinitarian thought. Process theology was theistic, in its beginnings, without a robust Christology, and quite anti-trinitarian. That was still the case of Charles Hartshorne, Whitehead’s disciple, a pioneering figure in the theological offshoot of process thought. Faithful to Whitehead’s philosophical language, he argued for a dipolar, rather than trinitarian, conception of God. Several theologians, such as Schubert M. Ogden, John B. Cobb, and David R. Griffin, have produced important works on Christology since the 1970s, which began to free process theology of pure theism.1 Griffin did not clarify his position 1. Schubert M. Ogden, The Point of Christology (San Francisco: Harper & Row, 1982); John B. Cobb, Christ in a Pluralistic Age (Philadelphia: Westminster, 1975); David R. Griffin, A Process Christology (Philadelphia: Westminster, 1973). 153 on the Trinity in his 1973 dissertation, but it obviously was not a matter of great importance to him at the time. In more recent publications, however, especially in the collective volume (co-edited by Bracken) Trinity in Process (1997), as well as in Searching for an Adequate God (2000), Griffin affirms trinitarian discourse, under certain conditions.2 In his own contribution to Trinity in Process, Cobb argues for the importance of trinitarian discourse, while explaining that his interest for this doctrine grew very late in his career, in 1994, and that a binitarian—rather than trinitarian—formulation might be more helpful.3 True to its name, process theology has thus evolved significantly in regard to trinitarian thought: the first generation, with Hartshorne, was distrustful. The subsequent generation, with Cobb and Griffin, has slowly but surely begun to open that door. Let us now turn to Joseph Bracken’s interpretation of the Trinity. Born in 1930, he is a Jesuit theologian and belongs to the small number of process theologians who are Roman Catholics. He received his doctorate from Freiburg University (Germany) in 1968 and taught theology for many years at Xavier University, in Cincinnati, Ohio, where he is now professor emeritus. He has spent the main part of his academic career trying to articulate process philosophy and trinitarian thought. His central aim has been to reinterpet the doctrine of the Trinity using process categories and its cosmology. According to process theologians, language is grounded in metaphysics. All linguistic statements necessarily rely on a specific understanding of reality.4 In his book The One in the Many (2001), Bracken seeks to show that even Jacques Derrida is, consciously or unconsciously, more a metaphysician than Derrida himself would admit.5 That is one of process theologians’ important claims, namely that metaphysics shapes the preunderstanding of any theological or philosophical statement as a generally nonexplicit and unconscious norma normans. It is a prism through which we apprehend reality. Hence, any 2. “Given this distinction . . . we can entertain the possibility that the manifold reasons that have brought Trinitarianism into disrepute may have resulted less from the idea that God is threefold than from the form this idea took in a supernaturalistic context.” David R. Griffin, “A Naturalistic Trinity,” in Joseph Bracken and Marjorie Suchocki, eds., Trinity in Process: A Relational Theology of God (New York: Continuum, 1997), 25. 3. John B. Cobb, “Relativization of the Trinity,” in ibid., 21–22. 4. Alfred North Whitehead, Process and Reality: An Essay in Cosmology, ed. David R. Griffin and Sherburne Donald (New York: Free Press, 1985 [1929]), 11. See also idem, Religion in the Making (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1930 [1926]), 78–79. 5. Joseph Bracken, The One in the Many: A Contemporary Reconstruction of the God-World Relationship (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2001), 89. 154 | Recent Developments...


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