Persons in Communion: Singular and plural (Part I)
Personal existence has a ‘vertical’ dimension, a desire to be plunged into the fullness of God. And this fullness is not a solitude but an ocean already alive with the movement of infinite love. The depth is not unrelieved gloom; it contains reciprocal activity, interchange, the presence of the other, while duality is avoided in the communion of the Three in One. The depth itself suggests the inexhaustible character of the Persons and of their love. We can now say boldly, ‘God is love’, without fear of blaspheming by appearing to trivialize. And if God is love, the person immersed in him is caught up in this movement, and opened to communion with his or her neighbour.
Throughout the Bible, singular and plural are treated as complementary. In the first chapter of Genesis we read, ‘So God created man in his own image… male and female he created them’ (Genesis 1.27). This text is of course about man and woman, the polarization of nature, but it is just as relevant to the matter of singular and plural. My wife is before anything else my neighbour, even when I am tempted to forget it.
The mystery of the singular and the plural in humanity mirrors the mystery of the singular and the plural in God. Just as the essential unity of God is realized in personal love, so we are called to resemble God in realizing our essential unity with all humanity. Human nature, not the philosophical idea but the revealed truth, cannot belong to a solitary being. It is distributed among persons in all their variety; it resides in the great interchange of life by which each exists for and through all the others.
Christian spirituality – life in the Holy Spirit – is of its very nature something that ‘we’ share, our self-awareness being awakened by our sense of being in communion with others. Never forget that this ‘we’ is not an undifferentiated mass, that it has nothing to do with collective hysteria. It exists always by personal encounter; it is my neighbour’s face, innumerable certainly, but every time a face. The Christian ‘we’ reflects the Trinity; in the Eastern liturgies, at the threshold of the eucharistic mystery, the deacon proclaims, ‘Let us love one another, that with one mind we may confess…’, and the choir replies, ‘Father, Son and Holy Spirit, consubstantial, undivided Trinity.’ The ancient kiss of peace which follows reminds us that the Christian ‘we’, like the Trinity, is not a fusion, but a unity of unique persons.
This is what distinguishes Christian spirituality from the mysticisms and the metaphysics of the Self. Take, for example, the state of ‘enstasy’, meaning reabsorption in the Self, not reaching out towards Another. In India the word for it is kaivalya, ‘forsakenness’. Huxley, Michaux, Junger and others, in their memorable accounts of the use of drugs, describe the state of euphoria thus attained as one of utter solitude, even when several people are enjoying it together in the same place. At such a moment, the presence of any stranger who was not having a parallel, similar, experience of happiness, would cause intolerable distress. This could never happen in genuine Christian life which, in the words of Gregory of Nyssa, is an ‘imitation of the Trinity’. Just as there is one God in three Persons, so, in Christ, we are all ‘members one of another’; there is, and we are called to become, a single Man in a multitude of persons.
~Olivier Clement, On Human Being: A Spiritual Anthropology