Posted by: Jonathan Stepp | July 7, 2008

Perichoresis Part 3

What does the word “perichoresis” mean and why does it matter?

In my first and second posts on perichoresis I said that it was a Greek word that means “to dance around”. In fact, as I’ve recently learned, it actually comes from the Greek words “peri” and “choreo” and as a compound word describes the way distinct objects can contain, fill, or inter-penetrate each other.

Back in mid-June I had to get to the bottom of the question because of the Church History class I’m doing for the online Christian college Grace Communion Seminary. I also heard an excellent description of the word’s meaning by Dan Rogers at the WCG Conference at the end of June.

In his book Participating in God, Paul Fiddes describes (pp. 71-72) how perichoreuro (dance around) became a pun for perichoreo (inter-penetrate) during the medieval period. This play on words is the source of the idea that perichoresis means to “dance around” – it sounds very much like that Greek word.

More than that, the image of dancing is a good visual for what perichoresis is conveying in Greek: the idea of two or more unique persons making room for each other while acting in unison.

So, why does it matter? Because perichoresis is at the heart of the life of God and at the heart of his relationship with humanity. The Father, Son, and Holy Spirit live perichoretically: each lives in complete union and harmony with the others, filling each other and making room for each other without ever losing his distinctive personhood. In the same way, humanity lives perichoretically with the incarnate Son, Jesus: he fills us and makes room for us in himself without ever losing his distinctive pershonhood and without ever taking away our distinction and freedom.

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