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§ 131. The Post-Nicene Trinitarian Doctrine of Augustine.


Augustine: De trinitate, libri xv., begun in 400, and finished about 415; and his anti-Arian works: Contra sermonem Arianorum; Collatio cum Maximino Arianorum episcopo; Contra Maximinum haereticum, libri ii. (all in his Opera omnia, ed. Bened. of Venice, 1733, in tom. viii. pp. 626–1004; and in Migne’s ed. Par. 1845, tom. viii. pp. 683–1098).


While the Greek church stopped with the Nicene statement of the doctrine of the Trinity, the Latin church carried the development onward under the guidance of the profound and devout speculative spirit of Augustine in the beginning of the fifth century, to the formation of the Athanasian Creed. Of all the fathers, next to Athanasius, Augustine performed the greatest service for this dogma, and by his discriminating speculation he exerted more influence upon the scholastic theology and that of the Reformation, than all the Nicene divines. The points in which he advanced upon the Nicene Creed, are the following:14861486   The Augustinian doctrine of the trinity is discussed at length by Baur, Die christl. Lehre von der Dreieinigkeit, etc. vol. i. pp. 826-888. Augustinehad but an imperfect knowledge of the Greek language, and was therefore not accurately acquainted with the writings of the Nicene fathers, but was thrown the more upon his own thinking. Comp. his confession, De trinit. l. iii. cap. 1 (tom. viii. f. 793, ed. Bened. Venet., from which in this section I always quote, though giving the varying chapter-division of other editions).

1. He eliminated the remnant of subordinationism, and brought out more clearly and sharply the consubstantiality of the three persons and the numerical unity of their essence.14871487   De trinit. l. vii. cap. 6 (§ 11), tom. viii. f. 863: “Non major essentia est Pater et Filius et Spiritus Sanctus simul, quam solus Pater, aut solus Filius; sed tres simul illae substantiae [here equivalent to ὑποστάσει“ ] sive personae, si ita dicendae sunt, aequales sunt singulis: quod animalis homo non percipit.” Ibid. (f. 863): “Ita dicat unam essentiam, ut non existimet aliud alio vel majus, vel melius, vel aliqua ex parte divisum.” Ibid. lib. viii. c. 1 (fol. 865): “Quod vero ad se dicuntur singuli, non dici pluraliter tres, sed unam ipsam trinitatem: sicut Deus Pater, Deus Filius, Deus Spiritus Sanctus; et bonus Pater, bonus Filius, bonus Spiritus Sanctus; et omnipotens Pater, omnipotens Filius, omnipotens Spiritus Sanctus; nec tamen tres Dii, aut tres boni, aut tres omnipotentes, sed unus Deus, bonus, omnipotens ipsa Trinitas.” Lib. xv. 17 (fol. 988): “Pater Deus, et Filius Deus, et Spiritus S. Deus, et simul unus Deus.” De Civit. Dei, xi. cap. 24: “Non tres Dii vel tres omnipotentes, sed unus Deus omnipotens.” So the Athanasian Creed, vers. 11.

Yet he too admitted that the Father stood above the Son and the Spirit in this: that he alone is of no other, but is absolutely original and independent; while the Son is begotten of him, and the Spirit proceeds from him, and proceeds from him in a higher sense than from the Son.14881488   De trinit. l. xv. c. 26 (§ 47, fol. 1000): ”Pater solus non est de alio, ideo solus appellatur ingenitus, non quidem in Scripturis, sed in consuetudine disputantium ... Filius autem de Patre natus est: et Spiritus Sanctus de Patre principaliter, et ipso sine ullo temporis intervallo dante, communiter de utroque procedit.” We may speak of three men who have the same nature; but the persons in the Trinity are not three separately subsisting individuals. The divine substance is not an abstract generic nature common to all, but a concrete, living reality. One and the same God is Father, Son, and Spirit. All the works of the Trinity are joint works. Therefore one can speak as well of an incarnation of God, as of an incarnation of the Son, and the theophanies of the Old Testament, which are usually ascribed to the Logos, may also be ascribed to the Father and the Holy Ghost.

If the orthodox doctrine of the Trinity lies midway between Sabellianism and tritheism, Augustine bears rather to the Sabellian side. He shows this further in the analogies from the human spirit, in which he sees the mystery of the Trinity reflected, and by which he illustrates it with special delight and with fine psychological discernment, though with the humble impression that the analogies do not lift the veil, but only make it here and there a little more penetrable. He distinguishes in man being, which answers to the Father, knowledge or consciousness, which answers to the Son, and will, which answers to the Holy Ghost.14891489   Confess. xiii. 11: “Dico haec tria: esse, nosse, velle. Sum enim, et novi, et volo; sum sciens, et volens; et scio esse me, et velle; et volo esse, et scire. In his igitur tribus quam sit inseparabilis vita, et una vita, et una mens, et una essentia, quam denique inseparabilis distinctio, et tamen distinctio, videat qui potest.” This comparison he repeats in a somewhat different form, De Civit. Dei, xi. 26. A similar trinity he finds in the relation of mind, word, and love; again in the relation of memory, intelligence, and will or love, which differ, and yet are only one human nature (but of course also only one human person).14901490   Mens, verbum, amor;—memoria, intelligentia, voluntas or caritas; for voluntas and caritas are with him essentially the same: “Quid enim est aliud caritas quam voluntas?” Again: amans, amatus, mutuus amor. On these, and similar analogies which we have already mentioned in § 130, comp. Augustine, De Civit. Dei, l. xi. c. 24; De trinit. xiv. and xv., and the criticism of Baur, l.c. i. p. 844 sqq.

2. Augustine taught the procession of the Holy Ghost from the Son as well as from the Father, though from the Father mainly. This followed from the perfect essential unity of the hypostases, and was supported by some passages of Scripture which speak of the Son sending the Spirit.14911491   John xv. 26: Ὁ παράκλητος, ὃν ἐγω πέμψω ὑμῖν παρὰ τοῦ πατρός ,and xvi. 7: Πεμψω αὐτὸν πρὸς ὑμᾶς; compared with John xiv. 26: Τὸ πνεῦμα τὸ ἅγιον, ὃ πέμψει ὁ πατήρ ἐν τῷ ὀνοματί μου. Augustineappeals also to John xx. 22, where Christ breathes the Holy Ghost on his disciples, De trinit. iv. c. 20 (§ 29), fol. 829: “Nec possumus dicere quod Spiritus S. et a Filio non procedat, neque enim frusta idem Spiritus et Patris et Filii Spiritus dicitur. Nec video quid aliud significare voluerit, cum sufflans in faciem discipulorum ait: ’Accipite Spiritum S.’ ” Tract. 99 in Evang. Joh. § 9: “Spiritus S. non de Patre procedit in Filium, et de Filio procedit ad sanctificandam creatuam, sed simul de utroque procedit.” But after all, he makes the Spirit proceed mainly from the Father: de patre principaliter. De trinit. xv. c. 26 (§ 47). Augustinemoreover regards the procession of the Spirit from the Son as the gift of the Father which is implied in the communication of life to the Son. Comp. Tract 99 in Evang. Joh. § 8: “A quo habet Filius ut sit Deus (est enim de Deo Deus), ab illo habet utique ut etiam de illo procedat Spiritus Sanctus: ac per hoc Spiritus Sanctus ut etiam de Filio procedat sicut procedit de Patre, ab ipso habet Patre.” He also represented the Holy Ghost as the love and fellowship between Father and Son, as the bond which unites the two, and which unites believers with God.14921492   De trinit. xv. c. 17 (§ 27) fol. 987: “Spiritus S. secundum Scriptams sacras nec Patris solius est, nec Filii solius, sed amborum, et ideo communem, qua invicem se diligunt Pater et Filius, nobis insinuat caritatem.” Undoubtedly God is love; but this may be said in a special sense of the Holy Ghost. De trinit. xv. c. 17 (§ 29), fol. 988: “Ut scillicet in illa simplici summaque natura non sit aliud substantia et aliud caritas, sed substantia ipsa sit caritas et caritas ipsa sit substantia, sive in Patre, sive in Filio, sive in Spiritu S., et tamen proprie Spiritus S. caritas nuncupetur.”

The Nicaeno-Constantinopolitan Creed affirms only the processio Spiritus a Patre, though not with an exclusive intent, but rather to oppose the Pneumatomachi, by giving the Spirit a relation to the Father as immediate as that of the Son. The Spirit is not created by the Son, but eternally proceeds directly from the Father, as the Son is from eternity begotten of the Father. Everything proceeds from the Father, is mediated by the Son, and completed by the Holy Ghost. Athanasius, Basil, and the Gregories give this view, without denying procession from the Son. Some Greek fathers, Epiphanius,14931493   Ancor. § 9: Ἄρα Θεὸς ἐκ πατρὸς καὶ υἱοῦ τὸ πνεῦμα.Yet he says not expressly: ἐκπορεύεται ἐκ τοῦ υἱου.̑̑ Marcellus of Ancyra,14941494   Though in a Sabellian sense. and Cyril of Alexandria,14951495   Who in his anathemas against Nestorius condemns also those who do not derive the Holy Ghost from Christ. Theodoret replied: If it be meant that the Spirit is of the same essence with Christ, and proceeds from the Father, we agree; but if it be intended that the Spirit has his existence through the Son, this is impious. Comp. Neander, Dogmengesch. i. p. 822. derived the Spirit from the Father and the Son; while Theodore of Mopsuestia and Theodoret would admit no dependence of the Spirit on the Son.

Augustine’s view gradually met universal acceptance in the West. It was adopted by Boëthius, Leo the Great and others. 14961496   Comp. the passages in Hagenbach’s Dogmengeschichte, vol. i. p. 267 (in the Engl. ed. by H. B. Smith, New York, 1861), and in Perthel, Leo der G. p. 138 ff Leo says, e.g., Serm. lxxv. 2: “Huius enim beata trinitatis incommutabilis deitas una est in substantia indivisa in opere, concors in voluntate, par in potential aequalis in gloria.” It was even inserted in the Nicene Creed by the council of Toledo in 589 by the addition of filioque, together with an anathema against its opponents, by whom are meant, however, not the Greeks, but the Arians.

Here to this day lies the main difference in doctrine between the Greek and Latin churches, though the controversy over it did not break out till the middle of the ninth century under patriarch Photius, (867). 14971497   Comp. on this Controversy J. G. Walch: Historia Controversiae Graecorum Latinorumque de Processione Spir. S., Jen. 1751. Also John Mason Neale; A History of the Holy Eastern Church, Lond. 1850, vol. i. 1093. A. P. Stanley (Eastern Church, p. 142) calls this dispute which once raged so long and so violently, “an excellent specimen of the race of extinct controversies.” Dr. Waterland briefly sums up the points of dispute thus:14981498   Works, vol. iii. p. 237 f. “The Greeks and Latins have had many and tedious disputes about the procession. One thing is observable, that though the ancients, appealed to by both parties, have often said that the Holy Ghost proceeds from the Father, without mentioning the Son, yet they never said that he proceeded from the Father alone; so that the modern Greeks have certainly innovated in that article in expression at least, if not in real sense and meaning. As to the Latins, they have this to plead, that none of the ancients ever condemned their doctrine; that many of them have expressly asserted it; that the oriental churches themselves rather condemn their taking upon them to add anything to a creed formed in a general council, than the doctrine itself; that those Greek churches that charge their doctrine as heresy, yet are forced to admit much the same thing, only in different words; and that Scripture itself is plain, that the Holy Ghost proceeds at least by the Son, if not from him; which yet amounts to the same thing.”

This doctrinal difference between the Greek and the Latin Church, however insignificant it may appear at first sight, is characteristic of both, and illustrates the contrast between the conservative and stationary theology of the East, after the great ecumenical councils, and the progressive and systematizing theology of the West. The wisdom of changing an ancient and generally received formula of faith may be questioned. It must be admitted, indeed, that the Nicene Creed has undergone several other changes which were embodied in the Constantinopolitan Creed, and adopted by the Greeks as well as the Latins. But in the case of the Filioque, the Eastern Church which made the Nicene Creed, was never consulted, and when the addition was first brought to the notice of the bishop of Rome by Charlemagne, he protested against the innovation. His successors acquiesced in it, and the Protestant churches accepted the Nicene Creed with the Filioque, though without investigation. The Greek Church has ever protested against it since the time of Photius, and will never adopt it. She makes a sharp distinction between the procession, which is an eternal and internal process in the Holy Trinity itself, and the mission, of the Spirit, which is an act of revelation in time. The Spirit eternally proceeds from the Father alone (though through the Son); but was sent by the Father and the Son on the day of Pentecost. Hence the present tense is used of the former (John 15:26), and the future of the latter (14:26; 15:26). The Greek Church is concerned for the dignity and sovereignty of the Father, as the only source and root of the Deity. The Latin Church is concerned for the dignity of the Son, as being of one substance with the Father, and infers the double procession from the double mission.



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