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From the argument so far we can draw out three key principles of Augustine's Trinitarian ontology. First, in God there is nothing accidental. Second, each of the divine three is irreducible and the fullness of God, even as the divine three are together the fullness of God. Third, the Father eternally gives rise to the Son and the Spirit from his own substance or essence such that there is a communion of co-equals. Throughout his articulation of these principles Augustine is radical in rejecting the metaphysical usefulness of genus and species terminologies, and largely reliant on a small set of principles concerning the divine simplicity. Augustine is also, I suggested, highly tentative and austere in what he says about a fourth principle which will be the focus of discussion in this chapter and the next: the principle that each of the divine three may be understood as identical with the intra-divine acts that Scripture attributes to them. In order to draw out this fourth principle, I will look mostly outside the De trinitate, to the two main contexts in which Augustine does gradually come to express himself far more clearly on this aspect of his Trinitarian ontology. Questions of relative dating here are complex. While the texts considered in Chapter 8 probably date from c.411–15, the texts that will be our main focus in these two chapters stem from the years between 412 and 427.
The previous chapter ended with the transition that occurs in Sermon 52 between Augustine's exposition of the faith that must be believed and his exhortation to the task of understanding that faith. The next two chapters concern the character of this ‘understanding’. In this chapter I begin by arguing that Augustine's early appropriation of a Platonist reading of the Liberal Arts tradition provided the foundations for his account of understanding Trinitarian faith. Between the years 386 and 400, however, we can trace a shift in Augustine's approach to this tradition, but one that should be read as a rejection of that early appropriation only with caution. Many of the intellectual practices that stem from his Platonizing reading of the Liberal Arts tradition remain at the heart of how Augustine conceives the practice of thinking beyond the material and towards the divine. Throughout his mature corpus the search for understanding remains, at its heart, a process of reflecting on the principles of Trinitarian belief, and the scriptural evidence pertaining thereto, attempting to think how these principles and this evidence draw us towards sight of a God who transcends the temporal and material categories with which they are imbued. At the end of this chapter I consider briefly some of the analogical explorations of Trinitarian doctrine found in the Confessiones. In Chapter 6 I turn to the manner in which Augustine adds further theological and Christological density to the task of seeking to understand God in the initial books of the De trinitate.
With this chapter a new section of the book begins, one that focuses upon the ascent from belief to understanding that is central to Augustine's mature vision of our attempts to grow in knowledge of the Trinity. I will attempt to sketch key aspects of the relationship between belief and understanding as they are apparent between 400 and 410, although I will occasionally range more widely. This chapter begins in the period during which Augustine most likely began writing the De trinitate. My initial concern will be with the summary of Trinitarian belief that Augustine offers near the beginning of De trinitate 1 and which I suggest dates from the earliest stratum of the work. My first goal is to explore some of the new vocabulary and new methods of summary apparent in this text. At its end, however, we find a statement of the persons' inseparable operation that is highly austere in form, articulating relationships without any explanatory terminology of a philosophical or analogical nature. The linguistic austerity of this statement parallels that intrinsic to the Latin anti-Monarchian traditions on which we have seen Augustine draw, but it also suggests the need for a wider investigation into how Augustine understands the relationship between the text of Scripture and doctrinal summary statement. To understand this relationship is to understand much about how Augustine sees the task of doctrinal exegesis and the basic statement of Christian faith prior to the work of understanding proper.
in the De trinitate as in the Contra Academicos, the slowness and the detours in the argumentation are intentional: it is a dialectical exercise which has the aim of training, of exercising the intelligence to raise itself towards that which is highest, to make us ascend, as Augustine loves to repeat, ab inferioribus ad superiora, to make us enter ab exteriroribus ad interiora.
SETTING UP DE TRINITATE 10: SE NOSSE – SE COGITARE
In the first sentence of Book 10, Augustine describes his task as one of approaching that which he seeks to explain with a more thorough or precise attention.2 Treatments of the relationship between the two books have frequently focused on the relative adequacy of the two triads of mens, notitia, amor and memoria, intellegentia, voluntas. I suspect, however, that the things Augustine seeks to explain more thoroughly are not primarily the terms of these triads, but the complexities of arguing that the mind knows itself in all acts of knowing and seeking, even in those that constitute an on-going process of increasing forgetfulness of self amid the created order. Only if we can understand this dynamic more clearly, Augustine is arguing, will we be able to understand how the mind knows in the presence of, informed by the Word and how it is that the mind forgets this presence and may return to it.
In the autumn of 393, all the bishops from the province of Africa assembled in council at Hippo. In a sign of his growing intellectual reputation the recently ordained Augustine was asked to address the council and offered a discourse on the creed that reveals significant shifts in his Trinitarian theology.1 In this discourse, the De fide et symbolo, Augustine does not articulate his Trinitarian theology in a primarily anti- Manichaean context, and he far more openly and extensively invokes terminologies and themes typical of Latin pro-Nicene theology. He speaks in terms he thought his Episcopal audience would recognize, and reveals a significant amount of preparatory re-reading in his Latin sources. It should, however, be no surprise that Augustine's account is also very much his own and in a number of cases we see him starting down paths of interpretation that will result in the development of some of his most distinctive mature themes.
One of the most important aspects of the De fide is the debt that Augustine reveals to Latin anti-Monarchian and anti-Sabellian traditions of Trinitarian definition that are barely mentioned in traditional characterizations of Latin theology. Latin Trinitarian theology was born in the anti-Monarchian conflicts of the late second and third centuries and Latin theologians of the fourth century continued to write in a theological dialect shaped by those conflicts. This ‘theological dialect’ is apparent in particular exegetical concerns, and in a broad field of terminologies for asserting the irreducibility of the divine three.
Our greatest protection is self-knowledge, and to avoid the delusion that we are seeing ourselves when we are in reality looking at something else. This is what happens to those who do not scrutinize themselves. What they see is strength, beauty, reputation, political power, abundant wealth, pomp, self-importance, bodily stature, a certain grace of form or the like, and they think this is what they are. Such persons make very poor guardians of themselves: because of their absorption in what is foreign to them, they overlook what is proper to them and leave it unguarded.
In this chapter and the next I turn to what is frequently taken to be the central and distinctive contribution of Augustine to Trinitarian theology, the attempt in the latter books of the De trinitate to illustrate some of the key principles of Trinitarian doctrine through analysis of triadic structures in the human mens. I do not aim here to offer a comprehensive interpretation of De trinitate 8–15 as a whole, nor even a reading that gives a full picture of Books 8–10 alone. I wish only to draw out the central lines of argument pursued through Books 9 and 10, adumbrated in Book 8 and reprised in Book 14. At the end of this investigation I will suggest the reasons behind his deployment of memoria, intellegentia and voluntas in Book 10.
In The Magnificent Seven (1960), the iconic Robert Vaughn plays Lee, the dapper but penniless hired gun who has lost his nerve and is on the run. The final irony is that he chooses to follow Chris (Yul Brynner) south to defend a Mexican village – ‘a deserter’, as he puts it, ‘hiding in a battlefield’. Late one night, woken by nightmares, he reveals his growing fear to two of his hosts; his decline is given a physical symbol as he swipes at three flies on the table where he sits. He opens his fist to reveal just one: ‘One? There was a time I would have caught all three.’ For many commentators, Augustine is a sadder character even than Robert Vaughn's ‘Lee’: there never was a time when all three Trinitarian persons were grasped. Such views usually stem from treating the language of memory, intelligence and will as his sole analogy for the Trinity and assuming that, hence, Augustine can really only comprehend God as one (mind). Those who see Augustine failing to treat the Spirit as a fully irreducible divine ‘person’ only confirm the judgement.
The reading of Augustine that I have offered differs because I have argued that we must take seriously his insistence that the divine three are irreducible, and that he consistently founds the unity of God in the Father's eternal act of giving rise to a communion in which the mutual love of the three constitutes their unity of substance.
This chapter and the next have the character of a ‘taking away’ and a ‘giving back’. In this chapter I argue that the tradition of reading De trinitate 5–7 as an account of ‘subsistent relations’ (albeit an inchoate one that awaits Thomas for its full actualization) misses Augustine's focus on questions of predication, and overly concretizes Augustine's inchoate hints about the substantial and immutable quality of relations between the divine three. In this respect these books of the De trinitate offer far less of a developed Trinitarian ontology than is frequently assumed. At the same time, however, I argue that these same books do describe some important and developed features of such an ontology that are usually missed. In particular, Augustine offers an account of the Father eternally giving rise to Son and Spirit from the Father's own substance under the conditions of divine simplicity, that rejects person and nature language as a knot of ideas that can found logically coherent discussion of the divine communion. And thus, Augustine's interpretation of the Nicene ‘God from God’ marks his theology as one of the most intriguing explorations of the creed's phrasing.
In Chapter 9, I continue this exercise in ‘giving back’, by suggesting that outside, but around and just after the time of writing De trinitate 5–7, Augustine does offer more positive and direct suggestions about the eternal relationships and intra-divine acts that constitute Father, Son and Spirit.
Even as summary accounts continue to repeat the established caricatures of the past century, new readings of Augustine's Trinitarian theology grow in scholarly detail and density. These new readings, which have largely emerged over the past three decades, argue for new accounts of the fundamental dynamics of Augustine's Trinitarianism; they suggest new questions that we should ask if we are to study him well; they suggest new texts from his corpus as paradigmatic. Many of the older readings of Augustine's Trinitarian theology that have been displaced by this body of scholarship – and which, it must be noted, have not been extensively defended in the scholarly literature for many years – tended to view Augustine in highly negative fashion as the initiator of disastrous trends in Western Christian thought. Augustine was presented as marking a shift in the history of early Christian Trinitarianism, his own overly strong commitment to the divine unity partially being the result of his Neoplatonic engagements and strongly influencing those who came after him. This commitment led him away from the heritage of earlier Greek Nicene theology (and, in some readings, from earlier Latin theology). Even many of those who viewed Augustine positively – and saw his differences from his predecessors as merely delineating sets of complementary theological trajectories – operated with similar assumptions about his work. At the same time, his Trinitarian theology was engaged through an almost exclusive focus on the De trinitate.
With this chapter a new section of the book commences. At the same time, the argument here will reveal more of the dogmatic foundations on which the Christological epistemology examined in Chapters 5 and 6 rests. In the first place I examine Augustine's account of the second exegetical rule that Augustine suggests at the beginning of De trinitate 2. Augustine's first rule, examined in Chapter 6, is not concerned only with the manner in which we should distinguish Scripture's statements about Christ, but also with the movement towards contemplation into which Christ and Scripture draw Christians. Similarly, while Augustine's second rule concerns scriptural texts that reveal only that Son or Spirit are ‘from’ the Father (and not ontologically subordinate to the Father), his exposition of the rule reveals the manner in which the sending of Son and Spirit, and their work in the created order, is founded in their manner of procession from the Father. Exploration of this topic both reveals the centrality of the Father's status in Augustine's mature Trinitarian theology, and suggests some initial questions about how Augustine envisages the Trinitarian communion that we will consider in Chapters 8, 9 and 10.
At the outset of my argument it needs to be noted that the texts considered here are, in many cases, extremely difficult to date with certainty.
In summary: Everything A. wrote from his conversion in 386 down to but not including vera rel. on the threshold of ordination can be interpreted either as anti-Manichaean or pro-disciplina.
In this chapter, I explore Augustine's increasing knowledge of Latin pro-Nicene theology in the years between 388 and 391. Once again, my aim is not to offer a detailed history of Augustine's development, but to highlight the extent to which the fundamental principles and questions of his Trinitarian theology evolved through an idiosyncratic engagement with the Latin Nicene theologies of the 360–90 period. Augustine continues to bring together Nicene Trinitarian theology and themes from his readings in non-Christian Platonism, but he increasingly does so in the context of an anti-Manichaean polemic. In the 388–91 period Augustine's anti-Manichaean focus shapes fundamental aspects of the manner in which he describes the unified working of Father, Son and Spirit, and is the stimulus behind his discussion of how we may grow in understanding of God through the intelligible order of creation. This period of explicit anti-Manichaean Trinitarianism is thus of vital importance because it is in this context that we see Augustine developing themes central to his mature Trinitarian theology. I will begin, however, not with Augustine, but with his Latin predecessors. It is time to offer a more precise description of the Latin Nicene theology with which Augustine was familiar and in particular of the ways in which those theologians understood the inseparable operation of Father, Son and Spirit.