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‘Another Puzzle is . . . the Holy Spirit’: De Trinitate as Augustine's Pneumatology

  • Najeeb Awad (a1)

In their study of Augustine's De Trinitate, scholars read the fifteen books which comprise this text as a monolithically written discourse on the doctrine of the Trinity. This article is an attempt to examine if it is possible to argue on tenable bases that pneumatology, rather than any other doctrine, is the subject of Augustine's text by showing that the interpretation of the identity and consubstantiality of the Spirit occupies in De Trinitate a more foundational and central place than just being part of Augustine's discussion on the doctrine of the Trinity. It ultimately suggests that freeing Augustine's text from diachronic prejudices means also wondering if he really wanted to write an additional version of the orthodox doctrine of the Trinity which he already followed, or whether he wanted to contribute something new about a relatively neglected doctrine in the faith of the church.

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1 StAugustine , ‘The Trinity’, in The Works of St. Augustine: A Translation for the 21st Century, tr. Hill Edmund OP, ed. Rotelle John E. OSA (Hyde Park, NY: New City Press, 1991), p. 63.

2 Patristic scholars trace the roots of this reading of Augustine's De Trinitate in modern scholarship back to de Régnon's paradigmatic contrasting of Augustine's trinitarian, essentialist thinking to the orthodox, personalist one of the Eastern Fathers. For discussions on this paradigm in relation to Augustine and with regard to its value for reading De Trinitate as a discourse on the Trinity, see Behr John, ‘Calling upon God as Father: Augustine and the Legacy of Nicaea’, in Demacopolous George E. and Papanikolaou Aristotle (eds), Orthodox Readings of Augustine (Crestwood, NY: St Vladimir's Seminary Press, 2008), pp. 153–66; Behr J., ‘Response to Ayres: The Legacies of Nicaea, East and West’, Harvard Theological Review, 100/2 (2007), pp. 145–52; Henessy Kristin, ‘An Answer to de Régnon's Accusers: Why We Should Not Speak of “His” Paradigm?’, Harvard Theological Review, 100/2 (2007), pp. 179–98; and Barnes Michele R., ‘De Régnon Reconsidered’, Augustinian Studies, 26/2 (1995), pp. 5179. Elsewhere, Michele Barnes points to scholars who, upon focusing on bks 5–7, read De Trinitate as a book on the doctrine of the Trinity and consider it the wellspring of all the trinitarian theology from the Middle Ages onwards: Barnes M., ‘De Trinitate VI and VII: Augustine and the Limits of Nicene Orthodoxy’, Augustinian Studies, 38/1 (2007), pp. 189202. See also among the classical books which follow this approach: TeSelle Eugene, Augustine the Theologian (New York: Herder & Herder, 1970); and Hill Edmund, The Mystery of the Trinity (London: Geoffrey Chapman, 1985).

3 Barnes Michel R., ‘Rereading Augustine's Theology of the Trinity’, in Davis S. T., Kendall D. and O'Collins G. (eds), The Trinity: An Interdisciplinary Symposium on the Trinity (Oxford: OUP, 2001), pp. 145–76, and Barnes M. R., ‘The Arians of Book V and the Genre of De Trinitate’, Journal of Theological Studies, 44/1 (1993), pp. 185–95.

4 David Bentley Hart, ‘The Hidden and the Manifest: Metaphysics after Nicaea’, and David Bradshaw, ‘Augustine the Metaphysician’, both in Orthodox Readings of Augustine, pp. 191–226 and 227–52.

5 Daley Brian E. SJ, ‘Revisiting the “Filioque”: Roots and Branches of an Old Debate, Part One’, Pro Ecclesia, 10/1 (2001), pp. 3162; Daly B. E., ‘Revisiting the “Filioque”: Part Two: Contemporary Catholic Approaches’, Pro Ecclesia, 10/2 (2001), pp. 195212.

6 Lewis Ayres, ‘Augustine's Pneumatology and the Metaphysics of Spirit’, in Orthodox Readings of Augustine, pp. 127–52. For a discussion of monarchy in Augustine which disagrees with Ayres’ interpretation and argues that Augustine's understanding of monarchy does not preclude equality for the sake of the Father, see Dunham Scott A., The Trinity and Creation in Augustine: An Ecological Analysis (Albany, NY: State University of New York Press, 2008), pp. 4556.

7 Augustine, On the Trinity, 1.1.

8 ‘With the help of the Lord our God, we shall undertake to the best of our ability to give [the readers] the reasons they clamour for, and to account for the one and only and true God being a Trinity, and for the rightness of saying, believing, understanding that the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit are of one and the same substance or essence’, ibid., 1.1.4. Further down, Augustine continues, ‘I would wish to enter into [this task] in the sight of the Lord our God with all who read what I write, and with respect to all my writings, especially such as these where we are seeking the unity of the three, of Father and Son and Holy Spirit. For nowhere else is a mistake more dangerous, or the search more laborious, or discovery more advantageous’ (1.1.5).

9 Ibid., 1.2.8.

10 On Augustine's relation with orthodoxy and Eastern theology, see Carol Harrison, ‘De Profundis: Augustine's Reading of Orthodoxy’, in Orthodox Readings of Augustine, pp. 253–61; Louth Andrew, ‘Love and the Trinity: Saint Augustine and the Greek Fathers’, Augustinian Studies, 33/1 (2002), pp. 116.

11 See e.g. Joseph T. Lienhard SJ, ‘Augustine of Hippo, Basil of Caesarea, and Gregory Nazianzen’, Orthodox Readings of Augustine, pp. 81–100.

12 Augustine, On the Trinity, 1.2.7. Augustine's concern about building upon, rather than extending or revising, the orthodox trinitarian theology invite one to consider carefully David Hart's claim that ‘in the case of Augustine there can be no doubt that, in its basic shape, his account of the order of intra-trinitarian relations is all but indistinguishable from that of the Cappadocians: the Son is begotten directly from the Father, while the Spirit proceeds from the Father through the Son’: David Bentley Hart, ‘The Hidden and the Manifest: Metaphysics after Nicaea’, Orthodox Reading of Augustine, p. 195.

13 Augustine, On the Trinity, 1.2.8.

14 Ibid., 1.2.12.

15 Ibid., 1.2.13.

16 Ibid., 2.2.9. ‘Furthermore, that form of the man who was taken on is the person or guise of the Son only, and not of the Father too. So it is that the invisible Father, together with the jointly invisible Son, is said to have sent this Son by making Him visible . . . as it is, the form of a servant was so taken on that the form of God remained immutable, and thus it is plain that what was seen in the Son was the work of the Father and Son who remain unseen, that is that the Son was sent to be visible by the invisible Father together with the invisible Son.’

17 Ibid., 2.2.10.

18 Ibid., 4.5.32. ‘For the moment, however, it has been sufficiently demonstrated, so I think, that the Son is not less than the Father just because He was sent by the Father, nor is the Holy Spirit less simply because both the Father and the Son sent Him. We should understand that these sendings are not mentioned in Scripture because of any inequality or disparity or dissimilarity of substance between the divine persons, but because of the created visible manifestation of the Son and the Holy Spirit; . . .’

19 I am indebted in some of the main points about Augustine's interpretation of the Holy Spirit in this section and the following one to my exposition in Awad Najeeb G., God Without a Face? On the Personal Individuation of the Holy Spirit (Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck, 2011), pp. 61–9, 153–5.

20 On bk. 7, Augustine says that his goal, more specifically, is to present an interpretation of this issue that is acceptable and plausible for the ‘Latin mind’: Augustine, On the Trinity, 7.2.10.

21 Augustine , A Treatise on Faith and the Creed, in Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, ed. Schaff Philip (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson, Publishers, 1995), vol. 3, 9.1819.

22 Augustine, Treatise on Faith and the Creed, 9.19–21. The same logic is also stated in Augustine's On the Christian Doctrine, where the Holy Spirit is defined as the relationship that maintains the harmony between unity (particularly ascribed to the Father) and equality (particularly ascribed to the Son): Augustine , On Christina Doctrine, tr. Robertson D. W. (New York: Bobbs-Merrill, 1958), 1.5.

23 Augustine, On the Trinity, 7.1.2. ‘Of course, if it is the same for God to be as to subsist, then it ought not to be said that there are three substances any more than it is said that there are three things. It is because it is the same for God to be as to be wise that we do not say three wisdoms any more than we say three beings . . . every single thing that is, after all, subsists with reference to itself. How much more God, if indeed it is proper to talk about God subsisting?’ (7.3.9).

24 For example, ibid., 7.3.9–11; 7.4.12. In his study of Augustine's trinitarian logic, David Coffey claims that Augustine derived this understanding of ‘persons’ as ‘relations’ from Gregory Nazianzen's saying in Oration 29.16: ‘“Father” is a term neither of essence (ousia) nor of energy (energia), but of relation (schesis), of the manner of the Father's bearing towards the Son of the Son's bearing towards the Father’: Coffey David, Deus Trinitas: The Doctrine of the Triune God, 9 (New York: OUP, 1999), p. 68. One should, nevertheless, be careful lest this linking makes the Nazianzen one of those who reduce hypostasis to mere relation. Coffey personally admits that the Cappadocians never took hypostasis to the extreme reductionism of ‘subsistent relations’.

25 Augustine, On the Trinity, 4.5.29; 5.3.12.

26 Something Augustine also argues for in De Civitati Dei: Augustine , The City of God, tr. Bettenson Henry (London: Penguin Books, 1984), bk. 11.

27 Augustine, On the Trinity, 8.5.12ff.

28 Ibid., 8.5.14. ‘What is love but a kind of life coupling or trying to couple together two things, namely lover and what is being loved?’ On bk. 12, Augustine speaks about a triangular relationship of love between father, mother and child. Yet, he claims that such a relation is inconvenient for the Trinity (12.2.5). I find this logic unpersuasive. Being an imperfect image does not render the relation of ‘father, mother, child’ totally absurd. Actually, the image of ‘mind, knowledge, love’, which Augustine relies on is, by his confession, as limited and inappropriate. Add to this that the Trinity does not lie only in the notion of ‘origin’, but also in the notion of ‘love reciprocated’. Is not the triangular relation of Father, Son and Spirit a valid expression of reciprocation? Augustine does not answer.

29 Augustine, On the Trinity, 6.7; 7.6. See on this also Gioia Luigi, The Theological Epistemology of Augustine's De Trinitate (Oxford and New York: OUP, 2008), pp. 125–46.

30 Augustine, On the Trinity, 15.2–5. In his Confessions, Augustine, along the same line of thought, calls the Spirit the gifted God alone between the Father and the Son and names him ‘the super-eminent’ love: Augustine , Confessions, tr. Boulding Mario (New York: New City Press, 1997), bk. 13.

31 In his assessment of Augustine's trinitarian terminology, the late Colin Gunton points to this, saying that Augustine treats the Spirit ‘substantially rather than personally’: Gunton C. E., The Promise of Trinitarian Theology (Edinburgh: T. & T. Clark, 1993), p. 37. This, however, seems to be inevitable from the angle of Augustine's concern about proving the Spirit's divine consubstantiality rather than speaking about his trinitarian particularity in the Godhead, in the first place. For a critical conversation with Gunton's critique of Augustine's trinitarian thinking, see the recent discussion of Dunham, Trinity and Creation in Augustine, pp. 18–29.

32 Augustine, On the Trinity, 7.3.7–8. Augustine's concept of ‘name’ is derived from Plotinus’ notions of ‘quality’ and ‘substance’. Plotinus claims that the different accidents of the substance are not indicative of different qualities but of different activities which originate the substance's qualities. Plotinus also speaks about ‘differentiations of substance’ and ‘differentiations that are essential to the completion of substance’ and describes what stems from the substance as merely ‘activity’ or ‘form’: Plotinus , Enneads (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1967), vol. 3, 2.6. Augustine, in turn, considers ‘Father, Son and Spirit’ names of three activities or relations of one God with his Word, wisdom and self. He also understands the Trinity as three substantial activities which do not change or complete the nature of the substance (i.e. are not differentiations which complete something absent in the substance), but qualitatively and distinctively disclose this substance as a relation of ‘lover’ and ‘beloved’ in God (i.e. differentiations in the substance): Augustine, On the Trinity, 11.10. See also on Augustine and Armstrong Platonism A. H., ‘St. Augustine and Christian Platonism’, in Plotinian and Christian Studies (London: Variorum Reprint, 1979), vol. 9, p. 2; Ayres Lewis, ‘Giving Wings to Nicaea: Reconceiving Augustine's Earliest Trinitarian Theology’, Augustinian Studies, 38/1 (2007), pp. 2140; Teske Roland J. SJ, To Know God and the Soul: Essays on the Thought of Saint Augustine (Washington, DC: Catholic University of America Press, 2008), pp. 369; L. Gioia, The Theological Epistemology of Augustine's De Trinitate, pp. 47–67.

33 Thomas Marsh is correct to conclude from this specific perspective that Augustine's stress on ‘substance’ instead of ‘person’ produces an impersonal identity of God and shows that understanding the divine substance on the basis of the consubstantiality of the three persons is not fully developed in Augustine's trinitarian thinking in De Trinitate: Marsh Thomas A., The Triune God: A Biblical, Historical and Theological Study (Dublin: Columba Press, 1994), pp. 132ff.

34 Augustine, On the Trinity, 5.2.9.

35 Ibid., 5.3.12. Although the Father and the Son are also spirits, they are so, according to Augustine, not as hypostases, but as God.

37 Reading Augustine's discussion as one on pneumatology would also water down the seriousness of Basil Studer's critique of Augustine's trinitarian discourse, when Studer says: ‘Augustine himself received [from orthodoxy] this fundamental [distinction between economy and theology]. However, one can hardly maintain that he reflected properly on the methodological principles which allow us to reason from the salvific action of the Father, Son and Spirit to their eternal common life’: Studer Basil OSB, ‘History and Faith in Augustine's De Trinitate’, Augustinian Studies, 28/1 (1997), pp. 750, p. 33. This weakness in Augustine's discussion may stem from the possibility that this distinction is not one of his focal concerns in the first place. Studer points out later in his article that Augustine finds a link between economy and theology from the angle of Holy Spirit. Yet, Studer still wants to see this link as the frameworking subject and pneumatology as one of its demonstrative tools (ibid., p. 39), rather than seeing pneumatology as the framework. Had he opted for the second option, Studer would have probably found an explanation as to why Augustine does not reflect much on the relation between the temporal economy of salvation's symbolisation and the eternal reality of the Trinity (ibid., p. 50).

38 Augustine, De Trinitate, 5.3.15.

39 Thus correctly Bochet Isabelle, ‘The Hymn of the One in Augustine's De Trinitate IV’, Augustinian Studies, 38/1 (2007), pp. 4160. Bochet restricts this concern to Augustine's discussion in bk. 4 (p. 46). I believe it applies to all the books of the treatise.

40 Thus Brachtendorf Johannes, ‘“. . . Prius esse cogitare quam creder”: A Natural Understanding of “Trinity” in St. Augustine?’, Augustinian Studies, 29/2 (1998), pp. 3545, p. 41.

41 Barnes M. R., ‘De Trinitate VI and VII: Augustine and the Limits of Nicene Orthodoxy’, Augustinian Studies, 38/1 (2007), pp. 189202, p. 201.

42 Cavadini John, ‘The Structure and Intention of Augustine's De Trinitate’, Augustinian Studies, 23/1 (1992), pp. 103–23, pp. 103–4. Cavadini reveals his reservation about the inclusiveness of this division and reminds the contemporary readers that De Trinitate is not a medieval or modern piece of dogmatic writing (p. 104). Cavadini believes that these two halves are not extrinsic to each other (p. 106). They are rather related in content and purpose (p. 110).

43 For a christological qualification of the Trinity-based division as presented by Cavadini, see Ayres Lewis, ‘The Christological Context of Augustine's De Trinitate XIII: Toward Relocating Books VIII–XV’, Augustinian Studies, 29/1 (1998), pp. 111–39, esp. pp. 134–9.

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