Simmons, Ernest L. The Entangled Trinity: Quantum Physics and Theology. Minneapolis: Fortress Press. 2014.

I need to give a special thanks to my friend, Pastor Kevin Doely, for recommending this book.

The Author: Ernest Simmons

My Summary

Ernest Simmons proposes that Entangled Trinitarian Panentheism is the most helpful model for discussing God and the God-World relationship in the context of the twenty-first century Modern/late modern West. He pursues this proposal in three movements. First, he frames his argument in terms of faith, knowledge, and theology. Second, he traces a brief history of the Trinitarian theological conversation in the West. Finally, he borrows from quantum physics to draw an analogy that provides a plausible framework for a Trinitarian model that is both palatable to the natural physicist and congruent with the biblical Christian Tradition.

The first movement connects faith, knowledge, and theology, in that order. Faith, Simmons says, is primary to all knowledge and theoretical construction of any kind, including natural sciences. If the observer doesn’t believe that something can be observed, then observation cannot happen. Simmons builds on faith and frames his epistemology within the hermeneutical turn of the mid-twentieth century. He understands that all knowledge is interpreted, bracketed knowledge, impacted as much by the observing subject as by the object being observed. Finally, his theological method draws upon Tillich’s correlationism. Theology, he says, is a human endeavor that seeks, through faith and the humble acknowledgement of finite knowledge, to construct of model of the infinite God that rings true to revelation, scripture, Tradition, reason, and lived experience.

Simmons’ historical section provides a helpful overview of the Trinitarian conversation in the West. He draws heavily upon the classic argument of LaCugna, et alia, that the economic Trinity was lost in light of the Platonic/dualistic image of the immanent Trinity. The hermeneutical turn in the twentieth-century has opened up new air to discuss the interconnection of the Immanent and Economic Trinity.

Finally, having established the above framework, Simmons delves into quantum physics to find a model that connects the ancient concept of perichoresis to quantum entanglement. Simons does an excellent of explaining incredibly complex quantum physics theory in a way that the theologian-but-not-necessarily-scientist can comprehend. Key concepts are Robert John Russell’s Noninterventionist Objective Divine Action (NIODA) theory, Bohr’s wave-particle duality, Heisenberg’s Uncertainty principle, indeterminacy, and superposition.

Simmons proposal is:

Perichoresis entanglement can be understood as the energy of the divine Trinity through which the creation is expressed. The immanent Trinity exists in superposition with the economic Trinity and evolves within the entangled life of God with the creation, thus supporting a panentheistic model of God.1 (144)

He claims that his proposal of Entangled Trinitarian Panentheism may:

  1. Through phase entanglement and non-local relational holism provide metaphors for the perichoretic activity of the Trinity immanently and economically in sustaining and sanctifying the creation from within a scientifically consistent panentheism;
  2. Through quantum indeterminacy, affirm the freedom and openness of the creation in relation to divine self-limitation and the problem of suffering;
  3. Provide a conceptual bridge between creation and the Trinitarian character of the divine life;
  4. Contribute to the mutual understanding and interaction of theology and science;
  5. Assist interested persons in deepening their understanding and appreciation for the divine mystery of the Trinity; and
  6. Help provide a basis for interfaith dialog and cooperation as we collectively address the global issues of our time.”(187-188)

I found this book to be incredibly helpful for my research. It may actually change some of my core language. My research question asks, “How might an increased awareness and understanding of the social Trinity impact the ideation and praxis of spiritual formation in suburban ELCA congregations?” I have received mixed feedback on the term social Trinity. Many people automatically associate it with the terms social Gospel or social justice. Some have suggested that the term relational Trinity might be more descriptive. This makes sense, sense relational ontology is at the heart of the conversation ((equally true for Simmons.)) Now, after reading Simmons book, as well as Polkinghorne, et alia, I think I may look to use the term Entangled Trinity as the most accurate moniker for the ideas I am trying to convey in this research.


This is, in my opinion, one of the most important passages in the book. Here Simmons describes the Trinity in a way that demonstrates the necessity of the cross and the centrality of the Theology of the Cross. This is good Lutheran theology for a Missional imagination.

“In addition to God’s paradoxical disclosure on the cross, there is a twofold hiddenness. First is the form of the opposite: power comes in weakness, victory in defeat, and life in death. Second is the totality of divine reality, God within God’s self, the mysterium tremendous et fascinans (Otto), which is beyond the disclosure of God in Christ. God is more than God’s self-disclosure in Christ. To draw on the panentheistic analogy again, one is more than one’s body, and while the body can be analyzed, it can never fully disclose the mind. Human thought remains hidden in the interstices of our subjectivity. This distinction, then, gives us both a material and a formal principle for theological reflection. Formally, it tells us that the work of God on Calvary must be related to all Christian thought. The cross alone is our theology (crux sola nastra theologia) and also functions as a ritual principle for the assessment of theological formulation. The material principle is the character of divine love as agape, or self-giving love, which I believe can be understood as the intimate entanglement of the love of God in particular superposition in the incarnation. The nature of human need through sin, suffering, and death become the lenses through which we view the functioning of the divine. Metaphorically, if you will, human suffering becomes the measurement through which the divine field potential of agapaic love ‘collapses’ the wave function of agapaic love into the forms most particular to our need. This is the divine kenosis of the incarnation. God does not have to be made present, for God is always present, but the functional relationship within the immanent Trinity moves to economic expression in the incarnation. The Logos of creation becomes one with the creation that it has made possible, entering ever more deeply into the biology and physical reality of human and creational life. This occurs not because of some flaw in God’s plan or some external compulsion imposing itself on the divine will. No, this flows out of the omnipresent love of God within God’s body itself as it seeks to heal and restore a part of itself. The Resurrection may then be understood as the proleptic disclosure of the future of the creation within the healing body of God. It is a glimpse of the power of the immanent Trinity within the realm of the economic.

“How then does God remain distinct and yet become so intimately connected to the creation? This is where I believe the concept of kenosis is most effective. Indeed, I contend that with regard to the economic Trinity, the incarnation occurs as a kenotic perichoresis. When Philippians 2 says that Christ did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped but emptied himself, coming in the form of a servant, it does not say that Christ emptied himself of all divinity, only that Christ gave up the equal relationship with God. One could say that the Son kenotically gave up the Trinitarian perichoresis precisely in order to enter into the creation. Christ kenotically emptied himself of the immanent perichoresis of the Trinity in order to enter into the economic perichoresis of the creation. If the metaphors of non-local relational holism and entanglement are applied here, it might help clarify the ancient doctrine that ‘what can be said about the Father can be said about the Son except that the Father is not the Son.’ I would also add, ‘What can be said about the Son can be said about the Father except that the Son in not the Father.’ The theological reciprocity implied here affirms the divine affectability in both directions. The wholeness or holy otherness of God remains entangled with the particular embodiment even though it cannot be subsumed by that embodiment. God in God’s self is more than Christ even though Christ is the human face of God. Christ is the full mirror of the imago Dei within the creation. This is why Paul refers to Christ as the “Last Adam’ (1 Cor. 14;45). I believe perichoresis as entanglement can provide a useful metaphor for conceptualizing this, though certainly not explanations or proofs. Because of the ontological character of the finite human knower, metaphor and analogy may be all that we are ultimately capable of achieving.” (176-77)

“[panentheism] allows for both the intimate presence of God in the world while at the same time acknowledging that God is more than the world in the ultimate unknowable mystery of the divine referred to earlier. Because it holds the most significant promise for understanding the presence and transcendence of the divine in relation to the Trinity as well as to the natural sciences, it is this position that will be argued for in the present text. Such a position allows for divine presence without supernatural intervention in the natural world. God works in, with, and under the material forms of nature in a sacramental presence that providentially guides but does not intervene in natural processes. This position, [is] known as noninterventionist objective divine action (NIODA)” (49)

“the scholarly discussion of the relationship between religion and science has been pursuing a scientifically informed theological expression for more than fifty years. The present work is intended as a further contribution to that endeavor, as it attempts to address one of the most central, if often misunderstood, doctrines of the Christian tradition, the Trinity. The Trinity attempts to affirm the mystery of God on the one hand while simultaneously affirming the accessibility and relatedness of God to humanity and the creation on the other. These dual affirmations can be more cogently maintained in light of the understanding of the physical world and its entangled nature coming out of contemporary quantum physics. In other words, this book is an attempt to allow contemporary scientific thinking to inform theological reflection in such a way that a more accessible global society might become possible. We all have a responsible role to play in addressing our contemporary global crises, and hopefully the present reflection will contribute something to that endeavor.” (51)

Entanglement and perichoresis (divine energies) are parallel metaphors. (144)

“Entanglement gives metaphorical identity to the manner in which panentheism models God’s relationship to the creation. The foundational interconnectivity between God and creation is such that not only does one influence the other but they also exist in a communitarian relationship that mirrors the divine communion of the internal Trinity. The creation is the economic extension of the immanent Trinity into panentheistic otherness, allowing for communion that includes origination, redemption, and sanctification. It is pluralistic monotheism.” (160)

“Entangled field potential as a description of panentheism explicates divine presence while still allowing for freedom within the created order. This freedom then allows for emergent complexity, which increases the freedom of response as well as diversity within the divine embodiment. God dances with the creation by being spiritually immanent within it, guiding it to increased levels of complexity through the natural processes of existence. The dancing God is the God of evolution. Within the panentheistic model, as Denis Edwards points out, ‘evolution takes place within God.'” (162)

“The Spirit is the ongoing entanglement of the Father and the Son with the creation the sanctifying embodiment of the agapaic love of God, the blue grace of hope and peace. The Spirit is the living force of the love of God within the creation, empowering it towards eschatological fulfillment.” (180)

“If ‘to be’ means ‘to be in relation’ at the most fundamental levels of physical existence, then we have an interrelational and communitarian understanding of existence, upon which all other emergent structures of complexity are built. Existence is community in relation. The very nature of physical existence at the micro level points to a dynamic interrrelationality that human community at the macro level can also embody. Humans are not single, isolated beings that exist in self-sustaining independence from everything else. Rather, we are becomings that exist in dynamic interrelationship to others in the wider ecology of existence. In other words, identity is a process, not a possession, and environment forms identity. We are constituted by the world around us as we also help to constitute it. Since all existence is interrelated, there is a sense in which dynamic, communal relations are at the core of all existence. For human becoming, community resides in trust and in the willingness to transcend self-interest for the sake of the other. It is empowered by that around which the community gathers; indeed, what it has in ‘common’ to form the communio, the community.” (184-185)

“The thesis of this study has been that perichoresis evolves within the Trinitarian life of God as entangled superposition, relating Creator and creation in mutual interaction, supporting a panentheistic model of God. The immanent Trinity exists in simultaneous superposition with the economic Trinity and evolves within the entangled life of God with the creation. Entanglement gives metaphorical clarity to the manner in which panentheism models God’s relationship to the creation, including incarnation and sanctification. Superposition and non-local relational holism provide physical metaphors for the whole within the parts in such a way as to illuminate God’s being both in the world and beyond it at the same time. In this communitarian model of the God-world relationship, we all exist in mutual simultaneous relationships with one another. To exist at all is to exist in relationship, and we are bound together by the interrelationality of God.” (187)

“Ian Barbour observes, ‘Waves are continuous and extended, and they interact in terms of momentum. There seems to be no way to combine them into one united model….This same wave-particle duality is found throughout atomic physics.’ ((Ian Barbour, Religion and Science: Historical and Contemporary Issues (San Francisco: HarperSanFrancisco, 1997), 166-67)) He goes on to observe, however, ‘The paradoxical element int he wave-particle duality should not be overemphasized. We do not say that an electron is both a wave and a particle, but only that it exhibits wavelike and particle like behavior; moreover we do have a unified mathematical formalism, which provides for at least probabilistic predictions.’ ((Ibid., 170)) The wave function involves superposition such that when a particular measurement is made, the wave function collapses into a particle. Superposition, then, has to do with the nature of the wave function. Particles are quanta of the field described by the wave function. There is, however, an interplay here where distinct models must be simultaneously affirmed. Niels Bohr, the great philosophical father of quantum theory, termed this duality and other paris of sharply contrasting sets of concepts the complementarity principle. Within complementarity, Bohr affirmed several additional themes. Barbour summarizes,

Bohr emphasized that we must always talk about an atomic system in relation to an experimental arrangement; we can never talk about it in isolation, in itself. We must consider the interaction between subject and object in every experiment. No sharp line can be drawn between the process of observation and what is observed….Bohr held that it is the interactive process of observation, not the mind or consciousness of the observer, that must be taken into account. ((Ibid., 166-67))

And also,

Another theme in Bohr’s writing is the conceptual limitation of human understanding….Bohr shares Kant’s skepticism about the possibility of knowing the world in itself. If we try, as it were, to force nature into certain conceptual molds, we preclude the use of other molds. Thus we must choose between complete causal or spatiotemporal descriptions, between wave or particle models, between accurate knowledge of position or momentum. The more one set of concepts is used, the less the complementary set can be applied simultaneously. ((Ibid., 167-68))

Bohr’s complementarity has been debated since it was first articulated, and while different philosophical conclusions can be drawn, the need for complementary models and theories has not gone away. This need was heightened by Bohr’s friend and colleague Werner Heisenberg and his discovery of the principle of uncertainty.” (134-35)

Important Links gleaned from this book:

Robert John Russell

Philip Clayton

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