Source:Nibley:CW03:Ch11:3:Augustine as source of speculative trinitarian theology

Augustine as source of speculative trinitarian theology

Augustine as source of speculative trinitarian theology

"Augustine," says Thomasius, "is the true founder of the speculative theology of the Trinity," which was to remain the most active branch of philosophy and theology for fifteen centuries. Convinced that the highest blessedness depended on a true and complete grasp of this mystery, Augustine exerted prodigies of energy and genius in trying to achieve it. For fifteen years he labored away at his thesis on the trinity, "without," says Thomasius, "ever reaching a satisfactory conclusion." Beginning with axiom No. 1 of the schools, the absolute oneness and immateriality of God, he tries to work a threeness out of it by a series of elaborate analogies with the human mind, only to reach the final conclusion that if such a procedure furnishes an inadequate answer, it is at least an answer: Impar imago, sed tamen imago! The Father and the Son "cannot be really different persons, yet neither can they be entirely the same"; and "since the Father has a Son, he cannot very well be the Father." Again, Augustine wants the Holy Ghost to be a person, but his philosophical training will not allow it. Here certainly is a place where revelation would be helpful; its intellectual substitutes break down at every point. We say there are three persons, Augustine sums it up, not because there are three, but because we must say something. (Non ut illud diceretur, sed ne taceretur). "Thus," Thomasius concludes, "this attempt, carried out with such labor and perspicacity by the great teacher of the Church, is only a proof that the Trinity is not to be proven in such a way." This is the same conclusion we reached regarding Origen, and a confession of Augustine to a friend in a letter reads exactly like Origen's frequent admission in the First Principles: The friend had asked why, since the trinity are in all things inseparable, Christ alone took on a human body? "This is such a supremely difficult question," the saint replies, "and such a very important matter that it cannot here be settled by a sententia, nor can we be sure of solving it by any investigation. I make so bold, therefore, in writing to you, to indicate what I have in mind rather than giving an explanation, that you might judge the thing according to your own best understanding."[1]

Notes

  1. ↑ Hugh W. Nibley, The World and the Prophets, 3rd edition, (Vol. 3 of Collected Works of Hugh Nibley), edited by John W. Welch, Gary P. Gillum, and Don E. Norton (Salt Lake City, Utah: Deseret Book Company; Provo, Utah: Foundation for Ancient Research and Mormon Studies, 1987), Chapter 11, references silently removed—consult original for citations.