Peter Toon examines a concept which looks set to become classical

TWO VERY SIGNIFICANT REPORTS have been accepted by the Archbishop of Canterbury, the Lambeth Conference of Bishops, the Primates’ Meeting, and individual Provinces of the Anglican Communion of Churches in recent years. They are The Eames Reports and The Virginia Report. Each originated in the determination to seek to keep together the Anglican Communion in the face of very serious tension and differences over such matters as the ordination of women as presbyters and bishops.


While each of these documents has much practical advice and a variety of suggestions to offer to the Anglican family, together they also contain, as one would expect, certain theological presuppositions which serve as the basis for the advice. The most obvious and the most determinative of these theological principles is (to use the Greek original) koinonia. This word occurs 13 times in the writings of St. Paul (see e.g., I Cor 1:9; II Cor 13:13; Phil. 1:5 etc.) and the related verb koinoneo 8 times. Koinonia also occurs in I John 1:3,6,7, and in Acts 2: 42. For the apostle, the verb and noun point to a new reality for sinful man, incorporation into the Lord Jesus Christ, into his death, resurrection, and glory, and thus fellowship with him, and the Father through him, as well as fellowship with all others who are united to Christ Jesus by the Holy Spirit in faith. In English Bibles koinonia is usually translated as “communion” or “fellowship.”

However, in the New Testament koinonia is never used directly of God as a Trinity of Persons within the one Godhead. Neither is it used of the relation of the eternal Father to the Lord Jesus Christ (the Incarnate Son) or of the same Incarnate Son to his Father. That is, it is not used either of what theologians call “The immanent Trinity” (God as He is unto, with and towards Himself in His own eternity, infinity and glory) or of what they call “The economic Trinity” (God the Father as He is known by us in His relation to the world in creation and redemption through Jesus Christ and by the Holy Spirit).

Yet modern Anglican theologians use both koinonia of the communion of the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ, and of the communion of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit in the Holy Trinity, a Unity in Trinity and a Trinity in Unity. This usage is related to what is called “a social doctrine of the Trinity,” where the emphasis is upon “community’ within God as a plurality in unity.

In these two Reports a major plea is made to maintain the unity and interdependence of the Communion of Churches on the basis of an argument based upon koinonia within “the Triune God.” As God really is, goes the argument, so is the Anglican Communion.


We may state the theological argument of the Reports, especially The Virginia Report, as follows:

Communion (koinonia) exists within the mutual relations of the Three Persons of the Holy Trinity, that of the Father and the Son, the Father and the Holy Spirit, the Son and the Holy Spirit, and so on. Autonomy is not an appropriate term to apply to any of the Three distinct Persons because there is a mutuality in and amongst them. There is a co-inherence of the Three Persons in one another in the Holy Trinity, which completely rules out autonomy. The Father is in the Son and the Son in the Father and the Holy Spirit in both. [Theologians have used the word perichoresis or circuminsessio (= co-inherence) for this mutuality and indwelling.]

The family of Anglican Churches is rightly called a Communion of National Churches or Provinces because it participates by grace in the Communion (koinonia) of the Holy Trinity. Further, in the Communion of the Holy Trinity there is Unity and Trinity (or Unity and Plurality) together with Unity in Diversity – the Father is not the Son, and neither the Father nor the Son is the Holy Spirit. Therefore, in the Anglican Communion there is also unity and diversity – Unity in baptismal faith and Diversity in language, culture and doctrines (including the ordination of women).

As each Person of the Trinity does not act in any way to deny the Communion and the co-inherence of the Persons of the Holy Trinity, so also each Province within the Family is not to act in any way to deny the Communion of the whole. Thus the legal autonomy of each Province in the Anglican Family is always to be qualified by interdependency in the whole Communion – and especially so in matters of major importance. Thus instruments of unity [e.g., the See of Canterbury and the Primates’ Meeting] are extremely important in helping the Communion of Churches not only to obey but also to mirror God in his Unity in Diversity.

Thus it can be seen that the function of this emphatic social doctrine of the Trinity is such as to point to, even emphasize, that interdependency with diversity is good for the Anglican Communion, and that its present unity in diversity reflects the nature of God as Triune.


The received doctrine or dogma of the Holy Trinity as created from Scripture by the Early Church has two aspects or faces to it. These are known as “The immanent Trinity” (or “God-as-He-is-unto-Himself) and “The economic Trinity” (or “God-as-He-is-towards-us -in creation and salvation). Obviously we know about “The economic Trinity” from the revelation given to us of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit in Holy Scriptures. And what we know of “The immanent Trinity” we know mostly by deduction from what is revealed to us by God as “The economic Trinity.” However, to enter into this “area” is to enter “holy ground.” The New Testament describes the way in which the Father through the Son and by the Holy Spirit acts towards the world and how we relate to the same Father through the Son and with the Holy Spirit. It says little directly as to the way in which God is unto and with Himself in His own infinity and eternity and triple Personhood. We speak here of that which is beyond our reason and is profound Mystery. We can only speak reverently, humbly and hesitatingly of the eternal and infinite communion of the Holy Trinity and we can say little of the co-inherence of the Three Persons other than to affirm it.

What the Anglican argument from God’s own unique koinonia to the special but limited koinonia of the Anglican branch of the Church seems to be doing is: (a) speaking with certainty about “The immanent Trinity” and (b) extrapolating what is unique, eternal and hidden to our view [the relations within the Godhead] and applying it to that which is at least in part empirical and temporary. However much of heaven and the supernatural is in the Anglican Communion of Churches, the latter remains always creaturely, even if deified creature. In other words the Anglican argument is basing the unity and diversity of the Anglican Communion (which is an earthly and sinful reality) on the claimed knowledge of the Holy Trinity in His eternity and infinity. And in so doing it is making excessive divine or Godlike claims for both the unity and diversity of the Anglican Family. It is not recognizing that much of the diversity may be the result of sin or merely human weakness. Further, it is also using this form of theological reasoning as a means of emphasizing the perceived pressing need for interdependency today in the Anglican Family, as well as participation in “the process of reception” of innovations such as female ordination.

If the Commissions appointed by the Archbishop of Canterbury had chosen a different model to work from then their work would have been very different indeed. Had they not worked from ” a social doctrine of the Trinity” (which is widely used by theologians to criticize social and political structures they do not favor) but from another model then they would have been open to the development of different possibilities for application to the reality of the Anglican Communion of Churches.


If is profitable to ask what the Reports [which seek to maintain the unity in diversity of the Anglican Communion as mirroring the Triune God] would look like if the “Koinonia-Trinity” model dominating each of them were replaced by a different model ( e.g., one based upon classic Christology and what the great Anglican divine, Richard Hooker, in his book, “Of the Laws…,” called “eternal Law.”) It is timely to work with Hooker as the 400th anniversary of his death occurred in November 2000.

We may begin by asserting with Christian Orthodoxy that The Trinity – the Father, Son and Holy Ghost – while being Three Persons and yet one only Godhead, is possessed of but one will (thele) as God.

In contrast, the Second Person of the Blessed and Holy Trinity who is our Lord is possessed of two wills, one as God and one as man. Hence we hold to the orthodox “duothelite” position as opposed to the monophysite (the Incarnate Son has one will only) heresy. However, we also confess that Christ’s human will is subject to his divine will, even as the creature is subject to its Creator.

In terms of God the Holy Trinity relating to His cosmos, the one divine will is expressed as one immutable divine law (nomos) for all creation. This divine law is expressed as both natural and positive law, and may be expressed by human positive law, whose validity is subject to the divine law (any human positive law which conflicts with divine law being no law). The knowledge of this divine law may be known by natural reason in some matters, but most importantly through the revelation contained in the deposit of faith, which revelation does not contradict natural reason but is in harmony with it.

The application of the principles of law may vary according to circumstances, which would account for different [secondary] laws for different local National Churches, and in that sense only can these Provinces be called autonomous, that is possessing “a law of self.” As far as reception of an innovation goes, the discernment of the divine law by a process of reception can only occur in matters or circumstances which have not been previously satisfactorily addressed in the life of the Church.

On a matter of universal applicability, such as women’s ordination, not only would such an innovation have to be in accord with Holy Scripture (which the testimony of centuries of reading/studying the Bible suggests it is not) and with tradition (which it is plainly not for there have been no women clergy until modern times), but would have to be received by all the faithful. The participation of human will, including the making of human positive law, if it is to be righteous and that law to be valid, must be in subjection to the divine law willed by the Holy Trinity just as Christ’s human will is subject to his divine will.

It is clear that the Reports as well as recent Anglican experience would look very different if the Koinonia model were replaced by the Christology-Law model or the Koinonia model were used as a secondary model alongside the Christology-Law model.

Peter Toon is the President of the Prayer Book Society of the USA and is a teaching Fellow of St Thomas More College in Fort Worth, Texas.