PROFESSOR IN THE UNION THEOLOGICAL SEMINARY, NEW YORK.
IN CONNECTION WITH A NUMBER OF PATRISTIC SCHOLARS OF EUROPE AND AMERICA.
WM. B. EERDMANS PUBLISHING COMPANY
GRAND RAPIDS, MICHIGAN
ON THE HOLY TRINITY
St. Aurelius Augustin
On the Trinity
On the Catechising of the Uninstructed
A Treatise on Faith and the Creed
Concerning Faith of Things Not Seen
On the Profit of Believing
On the Creed: a Sermon to the Catechumens
On the Good of Marriage
Of Holy Virginity
On the Good of Widowhood
Of the Work of Monks
On Care to Be Had for the Dead
This third volume contains the most important doctrinal and moral treatises of St. Augustin, and presents a pretty complete view of his dogmatics and ethics.
The most weighty of the doctrinal treatises is that on the Holy Trinity. The Latin original (De Trinitate contra Arianos libri quindecim) is contained in the 8th volume of the Benedictine edition. It is the most elaborate, and probably also the ablest and profoundest patristic discussion of this central doctrine of the Christian religion, unless we except the Orations against the Arians, by Athanasius, “the Father of Orthodoxy,” who devoted his life to the defense of the Divinity of Christ. Augustin, owing to his defective knowledge of Greek, wrote his work independently of the previous treatises of the Eastern Church on that subject. He bestowed more time and care upon it than on any other book, except the City of God.
The value of the present translation, which first appeared in Mr. Clark’s edition, 1873, has been much increased by the revision, the introductory essay, and the critical notes of a distinguished American divine, who is in full sympathy with St. Augustin, and thoroughly at home in the history of this dogma. I could not have intrusted it to abler hands than those of my friend and colleague, Dr. Shedd.
The moral treatises (contained in the 6th volume of the Benedictine edition) were first translated for the Oxford Library of the Fathers (1847). They contain much that will instruct and interest the reader; while some views will appear strange to those who fail to distinguish between different ages and different types of virtue and piety. Augustin shared with the Greek and Latin fathers the ascetic preference for voluntary celibacy and poverty. He accepted the distinction which dates from the second century, between two kinds of morality: a lower morality of the common people, which consists in keeping the ten commandments; and a higher sanctity of the elect few, which observes, in addition, the evangelical counsels, so called, or the monastic virtues. He practiced this doctrine after his conversion. He ought to have married the mother of his son; but in devoting himself to the priesthood, he felt it his duty to remain unmarried, according to the prevailing spirit of the church in his age. His teacher, Ambrose, and his older contemporary, Jerome, went still further in the enthusiastic praise of single life. We must admire their power of self-denial and undivided consecration, though we may dissent from their theory.1
The asceticism of the early church was a reaction against the awful sexual corruption of surrounding heathenism, and with all its excesses it accomplished a great deal of good. It prepared the way for Christian family life. The fathers appealed to the example of Christ, who in this respect, as the Son of God, stood above ordinary human relations, and the advice of St. Paul, which was given in view of “the present distress,” in times of persecution. They deemed single life better adapted to the undivided service of Christ and his church than the married state with its unavoidable secular cares (1 Cor.vii. 25sqq.). Augustin expresses this view when he says, on Virginity, § 27:
“Therefore go on, Saints of God, boys and girls, males and females, unmarried men and women; go on and persevere unto the end. Praise more sweetly the Lord, whom ye think on more richly; hope more happily in Him, whom ye serve more earnestly; love more ardently Him, whom ye please more attentively. With loins girded, and lamps burning, wait for the Lord, when He returns from the marriage. Ye shall bring unto the marriage of the Lamb a new song, which ye shall sing on your harps.”
The Reformation has abolished the system of monasticism and clerical celibacy, and substituted for it, as the normal condition for the clergy as well as the laity, the purity, chastity and beauty of family life, instituted by God in Paradise and sanctioned by our Saviour’s presence at the wedding at Cana.
New York, March, 1887
By William G. T. Shedd, D.D.
The doctrine of the Divine Unity is a truth of natural religion; the doctrine of the Trinity is a truth of revealed religion. The various systems of natural theism present arguments for the Divine existence, unity, and attributes, but proceed no further. They do not assert and endeavor to demonstrate that the Supreme Being is three persons in one essence. It is because this doctrine is not discoverable by human reason, that the Christian church has been somewhat shy of attempts to construct it analytically; or even to defend it upon grounds of reason. The keen Dr. South expresses the common sentiment, when he remarks that “as he that denies this fundamental article of the Christian religion may lose his soul, so he that much strives to understand it may lose his wits.” Yet all the truths of revelation, like those of natural religion, have in them the element of reason, and are capable of a rational defense. At the very least their self-consistence can be shown, and objections to them can be answered. And this is a rational process. For one of the surest characteristics of reason is, freedom from self contradiction, and consonance with acknowledged truths in other provinces of human inquiry and belief.
It is a remarkable fact, that the earlier forms of Trinitarianism are among the most metaphysical and speculative of any in dogmatic history. The controversy with the Arian and the Semi-Arian, brought out a statement and defense of the truth, not only upon scriptural but ontological grounds. Such a powerful dialectician as Athanasius, while thoroughly and intensely scriptural—while starting from the text of scripture, and subjecting it to a rigorous exegesis—did not hesitate to pursue the Arian and Semi-Arian dialectics to its most recondite fallacy in its subtlest recesses. If any one doubts this, let him read the four Orations of Athanasius, and his defence of the Nicene Decrees. In some sections of Christendom, it has been contended that the doctrine of the Trinity should be received without any attempt at all to establish its rationality and intrinsic necessity. In this case, the tenets of eternal generation and procession have been regarded as going beyond the Scripture data, and if not positively rejected, have been thought to hinder rather than assist faith in three divine persons and one God. But the history of opinions shows that such sections of the church have not proved to be the strongest defenders of the Scripture statement, nor the most successful in keeping clear of the Sabellian, Arian, or even Socinian departure from it.
Those churches which have followed Scripture most implicitly, and have most feared human speculation, are the very churches which have inserted into their creeds the most highly analytic statement that has yet been made of the doctrine of the Trinity. The Nicene Trinitarianism is incorporated into nearly all the symbols of modern Christendom; and this specifies, particularly, the tenets of eternal generation and procession with their corollaries. The English Church, to whose great divines, Hooker, Bull, Waterland, and Pearson, scientific Trinitarianism owes a very lucid and careful statement, has added the Athanasian creed to the Nicene. The Presbyterian churches, distinguished for the closeness of their adherence to the simple Scripture, yet call upon their membership to confess, that “in the unity of the Godhead there be three persons, of one substance, power, and eternity; God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Ghost. The Father is of none, neither begotten nor proceeding; the Son is eternally begotten of the Father; the Holy Ghost eternally proceeding from the Father and the Son.”1
The treatise of Augustin upon the Trinity, which is here made accessible to the English reader, is one of the ablest produced in the patristic age. The author devoted nearly thirty years of his matured life to its composition (A.D. 400 to 428). He was continually touching and retouching it, and would have delayed its publication longer than he did, had a copy not been obtained surreptitiously and published. He seems to have derived little assistance from others; for although the great Greek Trinitarians—Athanasius, the two Gregories, and Basil—had published their treatises, yet he informs us that his knowledge of Greek, though sufficient for understanding the exegetical and practical writings of his brethren of the Greek Church, was not adequate to the best use of their dialectical and metaphysical compositions.2 Accordingly, there is no trace in this work of the writings of the Greek Trinitarians, though a substantial agreement with them. The only Trinitarian author to whom he alludes is Hilary—a highly acute and abstruse Trinitarian.
In his general position, Augustin agrees with the Nicene creed; but laying more emphasis upon the consubstantiality of the persons, and definitely asserting the procession of the Spirit from the Father and Son. Some dogmatic historians seem to imply that he differed materially from the Nicene doctrine on the point of subordination. Hagenbach (Smith’s Ed. § 95) asserts that “Augustin completely purified the dogma of the Trinity from the older vestiges of subordination;” and adds that “such vestiges are unquestionably to be found in the most orthodox Fathers, not only in the East but also in the West.” He cites Hilary and Athanasius as examples, and quotes the remark of Gieseler, that “the idea of a subordination lies at the basis of such declarations.” Neander (II. 470, Note 2) says that Augustin “kept at a distance everything that bordered on subordinationism.” These statements are certainly too sweeping and unqualified. There are three kinds of subordination: the filial or trinitarian; the theanthropic; and the Arian. The first is taught, and the second implied, in the Nicene creed. The last is denied and excluded. Accordingly, dogmatic historians like Petavius, Bull, Waterland, and Pearson, contend that the Nicene creed, in affirming the filial, but denying the Arian subordination; in teaching subordination as to person and relationship, but denying it as to essence; enunciates a revealed truth, and that this is endorsed by all the Trinitarian fathers, Eastern and Western. And there certainly can be no doubt that Augustin held this view. He maintains, over and over again, that Sonship as a relationship is second and subordinate to Fatherhood; that while a Divine Father and a Divine Son must necessarily be of the very same nature and grade of being, like a human father and a human son, yet the latter issues from the former, not the former from the latter. Augustin’s phraseology on this point is as positive as that of Athanasius, and in some respects even more bold and capable of misinterpretation. He denominates the Father the “beginning” (principium) of the Son, and the Father and Son the “beginning” (principium) of the Holy Spirit. “The Father is the beginning of the whole divinity, or if it is better so expressed, deity.” IV. xx. 29. “In their mutual relation to one another in the Trinity itself, if the begetter is a beginning (principium) in relation to that which he begets, the Father is a beginning in relation to the Son, because he begets Him.” V. xiv. 15. Since the Holy Spirit proceeds from both Father and Son, “the Father and Son are a beginning (principium) of the Holy Spirit, not two beginnings.” V. xiv. 15. Compare also V xiii.; X. iv.; and annotations pp. Augustin employs this term “beginning” only in relation to the person, not to the essence. There is no “beginning,” or source, when the essence itself is spoken of. Consequently, the “subordination” (implied in a “beginning” by generation and spiration) is not the Arian subordination, as to essence, but the trinitarian subordination, as to person and relation.3
Augustin starts with the assumption that man was made in the image of the triune God, the God of revelation; not in the image of the God of natural religion, or the untriune deity of the nations. Consequently, it is to be expected that a trinitarian analogue can be found in his mental constitution. If man is God’s image, he will show traces of it in every respect. All acknowledge that the Divine unity, and all the communicable attributes, have their finite correspondents in the unity and attributes of the human mind. But the Latin father goes further than this. This, in his view, is not the whole of the Divine image. When God says, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness” (Gen. i. 26), Augustin understands these words to be spoken by the Trinity, and of the Trinity—by and of the true God, the God of revelation: the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, one God. He denies that this is merely the pluralis excellentiae, and that the meaning of these words would be expressed by a change of the plural to the singular, and to the reading, “Let me make man in my image, after my likeness.” “For if the Father alone had made man without the Son, it would not have been written, ‘Let us make man in our image, after our likeness.’” City of God XVI. vi.; Trinity I. vii. 14. In Augustin’s opinion, the Old Testament declaration that God is a unity, does not exclude the New Testament declaration that he is a trinity. “For” says he, “that which is written, ‘Hear O Israel: the Lord our God is one Lord’ ought certainly not to be understood as if the Son were excepted, or the Holy Spirit were excepted; which one Lord our God we rightly call our Father, as regenerating us by his grace.” Trinity V. xi. 12. How far Moses understood the full meaning of the Divine communication and instruction, is one thing. Who it really and actually was that made the communication to him, is another. Even if we assume, though with insufficient reason for so doing, that Moses himself had no intimation of the Trinity, it does not follow that it was not the Trinity that inspired him, and all the Hebrew prophets. The apostle Peter teaches that the Old Testament inspiration was a Trinitarian inspiration, when he says that “the prophets who prophesied of the grace that should come, searched what the Spirit of Christ which was in them did signify, when it testified beforehand of the sufferings of Christ, and the glory that should follow.” (I Pet. i. 10, 11).
In asserting, however, that an image of the Trinity exists in man’s nature, Augustin is careful to observe that it is utterly imperfect and inadequate. He has no thought or expectation of clearing up the mystery by any analogy whatever. He often gives expression to his sense of the inscrutability and incomprehensibility of the Supreme Being, in language of the most lowly and awe-struck adoration. “I pray to our Lord God himself, of whom we ought always to think, and yet of whom we are not able to think worthily, and whom no speech is sufficient to declare, that He will grant me both help for understanding and explaining that which I design, and pardon if in anything I offend.” V. i. 1. “O Lord the one God, God the Trinity, whatever I have said in these books that is of Thine, may they acknowledge who are Thine; if anything of my own, may it be pardoned both by Thee and by those who are Thine. Amen.” XV. xxviii.
Augustin’s method in this work is (1.) The exegetical; (2.) The rational. He first deduces the doctrine of the Trinity from Scripture, by a careful collation and combination of the texts, and then defends it against objections, and illustrates it by the analogies which he finds in nature generally, and in the human mind particularly. The Scripture argument is contained in the first seven books; the rational in the last eight The first part is, of course, the most valuable of the two. Though the reader may not be able to agree with Augustin in his interpretation of some Scripture passages, particularly some which he cites from the Old Testament, he will certainly be impressed by the depth, acumen, and accuracy with which the Latin father reaches and exhausts the meaning of the acknowledged trinitarian texts. Augustin lived in an age when the Scriptures and the Greek and Roman classics were nearly all that the student had, upon which to expend his intellectual force. There was considerable metaphysics, it is true, but no physics, and little mathematics. There was consequently a more undivided and exclusive attention bestowed upon revealed religion as embodied in the Scriptures, and upon ethics and natural religion as contained in the classics, than has ever been bestowed by any subsequent period in Christendom. One result was that scripture was expounded by scripture; things spiritual by things spiritual. This appears in the exegetical part of this treatise. Augustin reasons out of the Scriptures; not out of metaphysics or physics.
The second, or speculative division of the work, is that which will be most foreign to the thinking of some trinitarians. In it they will find what seems to them to be a philosophy, rather than an interpretation of the word of God. We shall, therefore, in this introductory essay, specify some of the advantages, as it seems to us, of the general method of defending and illustrating the doctrine of the Trinity employed by Augustin and the patristic Trinitarians.
1. Fuller justice is done to Scripture by this method. Revelation denominates the first trinitarian person the Father, the second the Son, the third the Spirit. These terms are literal, not metaphorical; because the relations denoted by them are eternally in the essence. Scripture clearly teaches that the Father is such from eternity. Consequently, “paternity” (implied in the name Father) can no more be ascribed to the first person of the Godhead in a figurative sense, than eternity can be. For a person that is a father must be so in relation to a son. No son, no father, Consequently, an eternal Father implies an eternal Son. And the same reasoning holds true of the relation of the Father and Son to the Spirit. The terms Father, Son, and Spirit, in the baptismal formula and the apostolic benediction, must designate primary and eternal distinctions. The rite that initiates into the kingdom of God, certainly would not be administered in three names that denote only assumed and temporal relations of God; nor would blessings for time and eternity be invoked from God under such secondary names.
Hence, these trinal names given to God in the baptismal formula and the apostolic benediction, actually force upon the trinitarian theologian, the ideas of paternity, generation, filiation, spiration, and procession. He cannot reflect upon the implication of these names without forming these ideas, and finding himself necessitated to concede their literal validity and objective reality. He cannot say that the first person is the Father, and then deny that he “begets.” He cannot say that the second person is the Son, and then deny that he is “begotten”. He cannot say that the third person is the Spirit, and then deny that he “proceeds” by “spiration” (spiritus quia spiratus) from the Father and Son. When therefore Augustin, like the primitive fathers generally, endeavors to illustrate this eternal, necessary, and constitutional energizing and activity (opera ad intra) in the Divine Essence, whereby the Son issues from the Father and the Spirit from Father and Son, by the emanation of sunbeam from sun, light from light, river from fountain, thought from mind, word from thought—when the ternaries from nature and the human mind are introduced to elucidate the Trinity—nothing more is done than when by other well-known and commonly adopted analogies the Divine unity, or omniscence, or omnipresence, is sought to be illustrated. There is no analogy taken from the finite that will clear up the mystery of the infinite—whether it be the mystery of the eternity of God, or that of his trinity. But, at the same time, by the use of these analogies the mind is kept close up to the Biblical term or statement, and is not allowed to content itself with only a half-way understanding of it. Such a method brings thoroughness and clearness into the interpretation of the Word of God.
2. A second advantage in this method is, that it shows the doctrine of the Trinity to be inseparable from that of the Unity of God. The Deistical conception of the Divine unity is wholly different from the Christian. The former is that of natural religion, formed by the unassisted human mind in its reflection upon the Supreme Being. The latter is that of revealed religion, given to the human mind by inspiration. The Deistical unity is mere singleness. The Christian unity is a trinality. The former is a unit. The latter a true unity, and union. The former is meagre, having few contents. The latter is a plenitude—what St. Paul denominates “the fullness of the Godhead” (plhvrwma th?" qeovthto") Coloss. i. 9.
It follows, consequently, that the Divine unity cannot be discussed by itself without reference to trinality, as the Deist and the Socinian endeavor to do.4 Trinality belongs as necessarily and intrinsically to the Divine unity as eternity does to the Divine essence. “If,” says Athanasius (Oration I. I7) “there was not a Blessed Trinity from eternity, but only a unity existed first, which at length became a Trinity, it follows that the Holy Trinity must have been at one time imperfect, and at another time entire: imperfect until the Son came to be created, as the Arians maintain, and then entire afterwards.” If we follow the teachings of Revelation, and adopt the revealed idea of God, we may not discuss mere and simple unity, nor mere and simple trinality; but we must discuss unity in trinality, and trinality in unity. We may not think of a monad which originally, and in the order either of nature or of time, is not trinal, but becomes so. The instant there is a monad, there is a triad; the instant there is a unity, there are Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. The Christian Trinity is not that of Sabellius: namely, an original untrinal monad that subsequently, in the order of nature if not of time, becomes a triad; whereby four factors are introduced into the problem. God is not one and three, but one in three. There is no primary monad, as such, and without trinality, to which the three distinctions are secondary adjuncts. The monad, or essence, never exists in and by itself as untrinalized, as in the Sabellian scheme. It exists only as in the three Persons; only as trinalized. The Essence, consequently, is not prior to the Persons, either in the order of nature or of time, nor subsequent to them, but simultaneously and eternally in and with them.