n 1647, our brothers and sisters in the churches of Scotland and England came together to write the Westminster Longer and Shorter Catechisms. Among a plethora of theological questions being asked and answered one question sticks out from them all in history. The age-old question of Christian anthropology, and one of the most well known pieces of literature in Western theology: “What is the chief end of man?” they asked... the answer with which they concluded rings infamously in history: “To glorify God and to enjoy Him forever”. These beautiful words penned by our Puritan brothers and sisters (doubtful there were in fact sisters present tragically), teach us that man was made with a purpose, chiefly “to glorify God” and eternally to “enjoy Him”. Such good news. In a day where dry and dualistic deism was dawning in the church, and as the cultural movement of the Enlightenment was beginning in Western Europe, the church declared God is to be consciously enjoyed by His people, and their souls are to be “satisfied as with marrow and fatness” at the Glory of the Living One. The God of the Bible, they said, was not cold, and austere. He was not the distant and disinterested god of the deists. He was not a god of machines, but the Living God. He was to be sought, glorified, and enjoyed.
Inspired as these words were, they reveal, in subtlety, the western theological mind’s having been drawn away from the simplicity in Christ, and the dilution of orthodox trinitarian theology. A more ancient source in St. Irenaeus of Lyons may reveal a better glimpse at the true heart of biblical creation. In Book IV, section 20, of his magnificent work titled “Against Heresies” he says “The glory of God is the living human being; and the life of man is the vision of God”. While the difference between these statements may seem subtle Irenaeus offers quite a different perspective upon what it means to be Human. While man is, in part, created to “glorify God and enjoy Him forever”, Irenaeus peers into the depth of mystery revealed in scriptures; saying that in a deeper dimension of revelation God has made man to ‘be glorified’ by God in life, and to be enjoyed by God forever. In John’s Apocalypse of Jesus the elders around God's throne do not gather and sing ‘by our will and for our pleasure You exist’. Rather, gushing with the ecstatic joys of souls who are delighted in they sing “By YOUR will and for YOUR pleasure WE exist”. An audacious thought to the modern religious mind, but this is the natural heart-cry of those “accepted in the Beloved” and made right by God’s faithfulness: “I exist for Your pleasure”. God created us “in Christ” to enjoy us, and our most natural state is to be a pleasure to Him. We might say “The chief end of man is to be glorified, and be enjoyed by God forever”. The Song of Songs, the Apocalypse of the Old Testament, is, after all, filled less with the bride's adoration of the Bridegroom but with the Bridegroom's adoration of the bride. This is the Mystery of God’s Image in mankind. Many resist this sanctifying love of God in Christ assuming that to be glorified by God would puff one up, and give us a god-complex—Christ shall surely teach us on this and it is best exemplified in two passages of John’s Gospel: Christ’s high-priestly prayer in John 17, and the washing of the disciples feet in chapter 13.
“Jesus spoke these words, lifted up His eyes to heaven, and said: “Father, the hour has come. Glorify Your Son, that Your Son also may glorify You” — John 17:1-2
In holy scripture Christ is called the “Express Image of [God’s] Person”, the “Word of God”, the “Image of the Invisible God”, the “Brightness of [God’s] Glory”, in John 14 Jesus says “if you’ve seen Me you’ve seen The Father”; Christ is God’s Mirror, His “Icon”. God beholds Himself in the Son, and enjoys this glorious and radiant beauty in The Spirit. The Father, in begetting the Son, gives all He has, His very Spirit, to Him (“all the Father has is mine” says Jesus), and in receiving the Gift He receives God’s love and glory—but, like a mirror, this very reception of Light is the Son’s act of “returning the Gift” (“all that I have the Spirit will give” Jesus continues). The Son pours out His Spirit to the Father, to be crude, just as quickly as He receives it—light travels into and out of a mirror at the ‘speed of light‘—God’s life travels into an out of the Son at the ‘speed of God’. Words simply fail at this point to encompass the Mystery. There is no distance in the Triune Life, no interval of separation, as soon as the Gift is given it is received and the very act of reception is the return of the Gift, and yet, God is the “distance” in between. This inner life in God, the fiery swirling of ecstatic love between Father, Son, and Spirit is called by many early church fathers “Perichoresis”. God is always surprising Himself with the Beauty of His Son, and the Glory of His Spirit. Each Divine Person being thus enchanted by the beatific vision of the others they are “self”-less; they have no ego. The full energy and force of each person is wholly given away in the conflagration of Love… this never gets old for God.
The term Perichoresis means “rotation”, “mutual indwelling”, “interpenetration” and in some contested theological dialogue carries the idea of “the Divine Dance” the circular movement of love between and within the Godhead. This reality, this ineffable mystery of Divine Love is the ground of all creation; it is the Wisdom “by which God created the world”. This Divine Song is the “New Song” of scripture, the true theme and meaning of life—God IS Love—the Song of all Songs, the song to which all songs point. In the Exodus from Egypt the Israelites burst forth into song, in the building of Solomon’s temple a song gushes forth, when Mary receives the Annunciation she breaks forth into the Maginificat, in the upper room where Jesus shares His “body and blood” with His followers they conclude with a singing of songs, Christ Himself in His moment of passion sings the psalm of David. Each song pointing us to the Divine Song, the Song in the very heart of God, the lover’s song, the New Song. St Clement of Alexandria exclaimed “Behold the might of the New Song! It has made men out of stones, men out of beasts. Those, moreover, that were as dead, not being partakers of the true life, have come to life again, simply by becoming listeners to this Song.” Salvation is to hear the song, not just to sing it. The chief end of man is to hear the divine song and be led by God into the Dance.
In this light Christ’s prayer in John 17 is given new depth and breadth. In order for Christ to “glorify God” Christ must “be glorified” by God. ‘Glorify me so that I may glorify You’; religion will, more often than not, simply not allow you to pray this prayer. For how can a filthy and wretched sinner pray so boldly to God as to ask for God to glorify us? And yet it is precisely to this that we have been called “to be conformed to the image of his Son… and those whom he called he also justified; and those whom he justified he also glorified”. God answered Jesus’ prayer, and in glorifying Him He has glorified us all for He commands us to pray ‘in Jesus’ name’. So that as many as turn to Him become themselves images and icons of God’s glory. Jesus continues in this very prayer “the glory which You gave Me I have given them, that they may be one just as We are one: I in them, and You in Me [perichoresis]; that they may be made perfect in one, and that the world may know that You have sent Me, and have loved them as You have loved Me.” We are now to be baptized into and called to live our whole life within in the Trinity, endlessly surprised by the depths of God’s affection and humility, always in repentance as God reaches us to yield to the cross, as He pours His infinite Life into us He teaches us to do the same for others, we are ever in wonder at the Mystery… Perichoresis.
The Life of God, this perichoretic Life of selfless love, is not only revealed to us in Christ but given to us. “This is Eternal Life, that they may know You the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom You have sent.” says Jesus. Salvation is to know and experience the One True Living God. And so we are saved by God’s grace, “God“ being the whole and entire Trinity. “Baptize them into the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit” says Jesus, in the great commission, and St Cyril of Alexandria continues “We are baptized, therefore, into the Holy and consubstantial Trinity; I mean into the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit” We are immersed into the Triune life through baptism, caught up into the River of Fire, God’s Holy whirlwind which Job and Ezekiel were privy to. Jesus does not simply reveal this to us for our intellectual assent, He gives this life to us saying “I AM the Living Bread which came down from heaven...which I shall give for the life of the world”. The cross is the table which Christ spreads Himself out upon and gives us His very Triune life.
We see now that the cross admits no change in the Triune Life. God has always, and forever, in His Divine Perichoresis been “crucified/sacrificed”—He has given His life away—Father to Son, Son to Father and both again and anew in the Spirit, an infinite gift and outpouring. God, it turns out, is not afraid of dying nor is He afraid of sin. He simply continues being God, pouring all He has and all He is into His fallen creation, into their sin and ultimately into Death itself. In pouring all He is into sinners He sanctifies them, as scripture declares “He who knew no sin became sin, so that we through Him might become the righteousness of God in Christ”. In pouring all He is into death, death is “swallowed up in victory”; death is simply too small a boundary for God’s Eternal self-outpouring. The “distance” between the Father and the Son in death, as we have said, is overcome before it exists by God’s Spirit and so Christ is “raised by the glory of the Father”, the “Holy Spirit”—at the ‘speed of God’, as it were—on the third day.
In the Gospel the whole Trinity is revealed, the Father gives Himself in the Son and is raised up in the Spirit. The cross allows love to die, and God proves by the Spirit of Resurrection that “love is as strong as Death and jealousy demanding as the grave”. Christ is “glorified by God” in the cross and just as soon as He is “lifted up” He “lifts up” the Father. The Mirror receives light first, and thus gives light away. So by looking to the cross we are smitten by Divine Light and Love. As Christ tells Nicodemus “as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal (Triune perichoretic) life.”. When we gaze upon the one who is “lifted up” upon the cross we are healed from our sin, just as those Israelites who looked upon the bronze serpent were healed of their wounds and cured of the serpent’s poison. We are sanctified by Christ’s blood because, as scripture says, “the life is in the blood”, when Christ pours out His blood into our Eucharist chalice He is pouring out the very life of the Trinity. The very sight of this glory is salvific, to behold Him is to be transformed… He is the Mirror, the Icon, of God— to see Him crucified is to see the Whole and Undivided Trinity, and thus to be saved from sin and death— for “God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself”. “On the cross” says St Cyril of Jerusalem “God stretched out his hands to encompass the bounds of the universe”. God’s very way of being is poured out into all of human falleness and sinfulness and death, all distance is overcome, and Christ becomes all in all; ”in him we live, and move and have our being”.
This must not be a purely intellectual venture happening outside of our own inner life. Rather we are to “put our faith in Him”,”trust Him”, “believe on His name”, and “be baptized into the Triune Name”. Thus, finally, we see in Christ not simply a mirror of Divine glory, but of Human glory—of Divine Humanity. Christ shows what it means to be God AND what it means to be human beings. When we see Him we see God, and yet the Holy Apostle says “we behold [the face of Christ] as in a mirror and are transformed into the self-same image from glory to glory”. What bewildering truth, when we see Him we see ourselves truthfully, and become like Him. This transformation only happens when we open the door of our hearts and allow this Divine Perichoresis to come into our inner world, to yield to its Holy Flame of Love, and be consumed by His Passion, the very heat of His gaze. The Apostle says “the love of God has been poured out in our hearts by the Holy Spirit who was given to us.” And “God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us”. So this work of atoning sacrifice, this drink-offering poured out on the cross must find its way to being “poured out into our hearts by the Holy Spirit”. “Behold,” says Christ ”I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears My voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and dine with him, and he with Me.” He pours out all He has and is, but we must open the door to have the feast; as He says “he who loves Me will be loved by My Father, and I will love him and manifest Myself to him.”
When we see Jesus in His divine-humanity we are looking at the very Image in which we were created, and to Whom we are destined to be conformed.
The way in which we actually receive the power to be conformed into His image and live His Way, shockingly, is we must allow Him to wash our feet, to glorify us, to love us. Nothing makes the false identities of sinners crawl with discomfort more than the humility of God. Scripture expressly claims that we who have sinned have become children of the devil. We have been enslaved to sin by Satan our accuser—an lofty angel become debased devil through pride—and so there is no cure for sin more threatening to Satan’s grip on us than the humility of God. The imposter, the false self, is the child of Satan; the “father of lies”. God must in His mercy destroy this false self, but He does so in Christ’s death, in self-giving love. “God” again I must say “was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself, not counting their trespasses against them”. He washes our feet and slays the imposter within. Revealing Himself to be, in Christ, the God who girds a towel around His waist and washes our feet: John 13 tells us, Jesus ”having loved His own who were in the world, He loved them to the end. And supper being ended, the devil having already put it into the heart of Judas Iscariot, Simon’s son, to betray Him, Jesus, knowing that the Father had given all things into His hands, and that He had come from God and was going to God, rose from supper and laid aside His garments, took a towel and girded Himself. After that, He poured water into a basin and began to wash the disciples’ feet, and to wipe them with the towel with which He was girded. Then He came to Simon Peter. And Peter said to Him, “Lord, are You washing my feet?” Jesus answered and said to him, “What I am doing you do not understand now, but you will know after this.” Peter said to Him, “You shall never wash my feet!” Jesus answered him, “If I do not wash you, you have no part with Me.” Simon Peter said to Him, “Lord, not my feet only, but also my hands and my head!”
Jesus’ knowledge of His participation in Divine Perichoresis (knowing He has come from God and He was going to God) compelled Him to humility and love. It turns out being glorified by God, and enjoyed by Him does not puff us up, it does not in fact give a “god-complex”, rather it heals the broken mirror within, and imbues us with Divine Power to obey His commandments to “love God with all our heart...and to love our neighbor as ourself”. The act of God to create mankind in “His image and likeness” is completed in Christ, the fractured and shattered interior mirror is healed by the vision of the cross—for there Christ reflects “the exact image of God’s person” and radiates “the brightness of His glory”. In washing our feet, in dying on the cross He heals our sinfulness, and calls us to a life of humility, self-denial, and holiness in Him. He does not ask us to make our life like His, but to lose our life in the fire of His, to receive the Divine Fire into our bosom. As the proverb says “can a man take fire into his bosom and not be burned?”.
Religious consciousness will always say to Christ “you shall never wash my feet”, religion says “the chief end of man is to glorify God and enjoy Him forever”, the Gospel says “not my feet only by also my hands and my head”, it says the chief end of man is to be glorified by God and be enjoyed by Him forever. As St Paul says to the Phillipians “Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus, who, being in the form of God, did not consider it robbery to be equal with God, but made Himself of no reputation, taking the form of a bondservant, and coming in the likeness of men. And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself and became obedient to the point of death, even the death of the cross”. Christ’s knowledge of His exaltedness does not in fact compel Him to pride but humility… let this mind be in you.
If we are going to glorify God we must be glorified by God. ”The feet of those who preach the Good News” are in fact “beautiful”, for it turns out God Himself has washed them. We must be humble enough to sit down and have our feet washed by our God… for “God resists the proud but gives grace to the humble”. “We love because He first loved us”.
“Why then, Eternal Father, did you create this creature of yours?… You show me that you made us for one reason only, in your [perichoretic] life you saw yourself compelled by the fire of your great love to give us being in spite of the evil we would commit against you eternal Father. It was fire, then, that compelled you. Oh, unutterable love, even though you saw all the evils your creatures would commit against your infinite goodness, you acted as if you did not see and set your eye only on the beauty of your creature, with whom you had fallen in love like one drunk and crazy with love… You are the fire, nothing but a fire of love, crazy over what you have made”
⁃ St Catherine of Siena