Heidi RUSSELL. The Source of All Love: Catholicity and the Trinity. Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books, 2017. pp. 216. $27.00 pb. ISBN: 978-1-62698-234-5. Reviewed by Daniel LLOYD, Saint Leo University, North Charleston, SC 29406.


The title of Heidi Russell’s, The Source of All Love, reflects the work’s favor of a new Trinitarian analogy of Source of Love, Word of Love, and Spirit of Love. The rationale for the work is mainly in correcting what R. sees as persistent problems with Trinitarian theology, but it is also about exploring concepts based upon insights gained from some of the work being done in quantum physics. One of the main problems suggested by the book in terms of Trinitarian theology concerns the traditional language of “persons,” which R. views as leading to various forms of creeping tritheism. The connection to catholicity begins with R.’s statement: “Catholicity is participation in the work of the Trinity, the work of enfolding and unfolding wholeness and love in creation” (xvii). R. uses the concepts of love and participation as the foundations for her interpretation of the value of both non-theological and theological sources.

The first chapter presents interconnection and relationality as the basis of the natural world through the work of physicists David Bohm and Lee Smolin. This is an interesting choice for a first chapter in that it assumes something beyond elementary familiarity with physics. By using cutting edge (and not necessarily widely accepted ideas), this chapter implicitly encourages readers to accept the framework of the book as loose, in that a wide variety of topics and ideas will be touched upon as springboards to fleshing out R.’s constructive theology. Like much of the material in the remaining chapters of the book, this is not an attempt at providing tightly argued positions that account for a divergence of opinion by specialists within the fields of science, biblical theology, or historical theology.

In chapter 2, R. explores J-L. Marion’s move away from talking about divine being in favor of love. In this way, she connects her own preference for love in light of chapter 1’s emphasis on relationality. With these parameters of her study set, R. turns to examining the tradition in chronological order. Chapter 3 thus looks to the Bible for evidence of the development of Trinitarian themes. The one God of the Hebrew Scriptures is brought into focus by the culmination of the relationship established by God and Jesus Christ. It is this relationship, and an explicit rejection of immanent Trinitarian theology that is at all dislocated from economic Trinitarian theology (118), which R. argues as the model by which human beings can understand relationality and wholeness both to God and for the meaning of human personhood.

Chapter 4 presents an array of patristic authors, and R proposes that the patristic tradition can clearly be seen as moving towards fuller and more complex notions of Trinitarian relationality. This chapter concludes by arguing for the similarities R. sees between Maximus the Confessor’s understanding of perichoresis and the basic ideas of relationality presented in chapters 1 and 2. She writes, “In [Maximus’s] vision, which is remarkably similar to the Bohmian analogy suggested earlier in this work, God is the enfolded whole that unfolds itself in creation in and through the interconnection of all that exists, so that each part enfolds the whole, and in doing so, enfolds every other part” (109). Without tracing a clear historical line of influences or offering more than a theological sketch in many places, R.’s work is best understood as bringing to light themes (sometimes minor) in her sources for the purpose of demonstrating wide and underdeveloped support for her project.

The most direct engagement of the book’s themes is found in chapters 5-7, covering Rahner’s Trinitarian theology, social Trinitarian models, and the topic of catholicity as wholeness. With the chapter on Rahner, R. affirms and builds on the notion that “persons” language associated with the Trinity carries with it too many problems to be central. In R.’s view, “persons” language falsely suggests that the distinction of Trinitarian persons includes a distinction in consciousnesses. Quoting Rahner’s preference for “manner of subsisting,” R. writes, “In other words, the phrase manner of subsisting is less prone to tritheistic interpretations that result in a conception of the Trinity as three individuals than is the word person. Admittedly, however, the phrase manner of subsisting is a bit harder to relate to on a personal and spiritual level” (116). This statement is directly related to R.’s description, in the final pages of the book, of her own spiritual transformation. This occurred when she began to see the value in replacing the word “Lord” in various prayers with the word “Love.” The book concludes with R.’s reflections on the value of spiritual proximity to God when making such an adjustment in her prayer life. These quite personal comments shine a light on the work’s ultimate goal of supporting a deep and personal spiritual insight.

The book’s greatest strength can be found in the connections R. makes between a wide number of disciplines. This aspect will also inevitably lead to legitimate criticisms by specialists who find problems in the selectivity of the ideas presented or the lack of necessary context. However, such a presentation makes for a helpful and sustained reflection on interrelated ideas. It is a book fun to read, thought provoking, and challenging. And because it is challenging, it will certainly be challenged. For example, R. criticizes various social analogies of the Trinity for slipping towards tritheism, despite the variety of assurances and nuances offered by proponents of those models. In a similar vein, R.’s preferred descriptions of the interior life of God, in light of diminishment or rejection of traditional expressions of distinction of persons, leave the work open to criticisms of creeping unorthodox theology, in this case modalism. R. writes, “A new approach to address the concerns of the social theorists is to reconceive the Trinity in terms of love rather than person, and then to reconceive what it means to be a person in light of the incarnation of Love in the human person, the divinized humanity, of Jesus Christ” (143). If R. finds attempts by theologians to reconceptualize traditional language as a bridge too far for safeguarding against tritheism, then readers are certainly entitled to question the probability of the multiple layers of reconception needed to speak with the kind of comprehension R means when she writes about Love in light of the traditional terminology which will continue to be the mainstay of theological parlance for most people. This book is highly recommended for those especially interested in contemporary Trinitarian discussions.