Perichoresis is the most beautiful and elegant picture of the Christian godhead that many Christians may be completely unaware of.

The easiest way to break down the word is:

  • Peri – as in perimeter
  • Choresis – as in choreograph

That choreography word is from a Greek word that means to ‘give away’ or ‘make room’. Think of ballroom dancing or square dancing and you can imagine the dynamic movement this word brings.

Perichoresis (or mutual indwelling) is the dance of the godhead. The picture is of movement and inter-relatedness. It is the constant exchange of moving around the edge – always providing space in the center. [1]

“ The theological concept … affirming that the divine essence is shared by each of the three persons of the Trinity in a manner that avoids blurring the distinctions among them. By extension, this idea suggests that any essential characteristic that belongs to one of the three is shared by the others. (This concept) affirms that the action of one of the persons of the Trinity is also fully the action of the other two persons.”

Pocket Dictionary of Theological Terms (Kindle Locations 254-256).

In the gospels, God points to Jesus and says, “this is my son – whom I love and am well pleased”. Jesus says, “I do only that which I see the father doing”. The spirit anoints Jesus and empowers him to point people to God. Jesus leaves and sends/is replaced by the presence of Holy Spirit. This Paraclete leads us into all truth and reminds us of what Jesus said (John 14:26).

Admittedly, talk about the Trinity gets complicated quickly. This is why so much contention surrounded the early churches’ councils and creeds.[2]

Modern arguments abound regarding the hierarchy of Father-Son-Spirit. The filioque clause caused a schism between Eastern and Western branches of the church in the 11th century. Contemporary conflicts multiply about the gendered language of trinitarian thought and moving toward formulations of God such as Creator-Redeemer-Comforter.

This, by the way, is a major distinction between strict monotheists (like Jews and Muslims) and Christianity which in trinitarian. It is a serious sticking point for both Jews and Muslims to accept that Jesus was the ‘son’ of God and is worshipped as God. Islam teaches that God has no offspring so Jesus is honored as a great prophet (Prophet Isa) alongside the other honored prophets.

In fact, it takes upper level philosophy and vocabulary to explain how 3 can be 1 or how a monotheistic religion has 3 persons[3] in the godhead.

It gets even more complicated when one has to explain exactly what happened on the cross when god died and where exactly ‘god’ was at that moment.[4]

That is for another time. Suffice to say that examination and exploration of trinitarian theories are deep.

One sure thing is that we have a beautiful legacy in this perichoretic picture of the inner-life and dance of god from the 3rd century.

The question becomes, ‘how do we take this out of the theoretical and speculative?’ What do we do with this? What are its implications and applications.

Those who think about such things attempt to be clear about God’s eternal nature and God’s interactions with the world. Some seek to divide this into the ontological trinity (God in God’s-self) and the economic trinity. Others prefer to talk of the primordial nature and the consequential nature of God.

No matter your conceptual scheme, the often neglected question is ‘what do we do with this?’ Another way of asking that question is: since this what God is like, how should we be?

Does our understanding of God impact the way that we live, interact, and organize ourselves?

If one has a hierarchal understanding of God, it may be difficult to employ a more shared or democratized view of religious community. Many question if there even is an application of trinitarian understanding to our ecclesiology (view of the church).

I believe that there is a direct implication. I have adopted a perichoretic view of the church and the liturgy.[5] I try to conceive of everything in a trinitarian framework, including organizing our worship gatherings into three ‘acts’ that have movement and interaction in them. I have taken out the stage/platform so that there is no elevated space and took out the pews so that the furniture can be arranged in peri configuration as we ‘meet in the round’. I attempt to choreograph the gatherings in such way that one person (or a group) is brought to the center before they move aside to make room for someone else’s perspective, insights, or experience to be brought central.

There are similar consideration that could be fleshed out in the areas of education, politics, economy, and relationship. The questions are, ‘what is the nature of the divine and does that make any demand on us? Does it call us to anything? Are there any implications? Or is God so transcendent that there is no direct correlation to any arena of human affairs? 

[1] The concept is also known as cicum-incession or inter-penetration.

[2] The list of early century heresies and modern attempts to revive or reformulate theories about the Trinity can make one’s head spin.

[3] Person is based on the same word that we get ‘persona’ from – it is a theatrical word that has a connotation of ‘role’ or ‘mask’. 

[4] Moltmann in ‘The Crucified God’ says that what happened on the cross was an event between God and God’s-self.

[5] Church 2.0 or Interactive Church is one of my favorite topics and you can find some resources on my blog: