Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers: Series I/Volume III/Doctrinal Treatises of St. Augustin/On the Holy Trinity/Introductory Essay
|←On the Holy Trinity|| Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers: Series I/Volume III/Doctrinal Treatises of St. Augustin/On the Holy Trinity
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.”
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. 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.
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 excellentiæ, 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.” (1 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” (πλήρωμα τῆς θεότητος). 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. Trinality belongs as necessarily and intrinsically to the Divine unity as eternity does to the Divine essence. “If,” says Athanasius (Oration I. 17) “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.
The Primitive church took this ground with confidence. Unity and trinality were inseparable in their view. The term God meant for them the Trinity. A “theologian,” in their nomenclature, was a trinitarian. They called the Apostle John ὁ θεόλογος, because he was enlightened by the Holy Spirit to make fuller disclosures, in the preface to his Gospel, concerning the deity of the Logos and the doctrine of the Trinity, than were the other evangelists. And they gave the same epithet to Gregory Nazianzum, because of the acumen and insight of his trinitarian treatises. This work of Augustin adopts the same position, and defends it with an ability second to none.
3. A third advantage of this method of illustrating the doctrine of the Trinity is, that it goes to show that the personality of God depends upon the trinality of the Divine Essence—that if there are no interior distinctions in the Infinite Being, he cannot be self-contemplative, self-cognitive, or self-communing.
This is an important and valuable feature of the method in question, when viewed in its bearing upon the modern assertion that an Infinite Being cannot be personal. This treatise of Augustin does not develope the problem upon this point, but it leads to it. In illustrating the Trinity by the ternaries in nature, and especially in the human mind, he aims only to show that trinality of a certain kind does not conflict with unity of a certain kind. Memory, understanding, and will are three faculties, yet one soul. Augustin is content with elucidating the Divine unity by such illustrations. The elucidation of the Divine personality by them, was not attempted in his day nor in the Mediæval and Reformation churches. The conflict with pantheism forced this point upon the attention of the Modern church.
At the same time, these Christian fathers who took the problem of the Trinity into the centre of the Divine essence, and endeavored to show its necessary grounds there, prepared the way for showing, by the same method, that trinality is not only consistent with personality, but is actually indispensable to it. In a brief essay like this, only the briefest hints can be indicated.
If God is personal, he is self-conscious. Self-consciousness is, (1), the power which a rational spirit, or mind, has of making itself its own object; and, (2), of knowing that it has done so. If the first step is taken, and not the second, there is no self-consciousness. For the subject would not know that the object is the self. And the second step cannot be taken, if the first has not been. These two acts of a rational spirit, or mind, involve three distinctions in it, or three modes of it. The whole mind as a subject contemplates the very same whole mind as an object. Here are two distinctions, or modes of one mind. And the very same whole mind perceives that the contemplating subject and the contemplated object are one and the same essence or being. Here are three modes of one mind, each distinct from the others, yet all three going to make up the one self-conscious spirit. Unless there were these three distinctions, there would be no self-knowledge. Mere singleness, a mere subject without an object, is incompatible with self-consciousness.
In denying distinctions in the Divine Essence, while asserting its personality, Deism, with Socinianism and Mohammedanism, contends that God can be self-knowing and self-communing as a single subject without an object. The controversy, consequently, is as much between the deist and the psychologist, as it is between him and the trinitarian. It is as much a question whether his view of personality and self-consciousness is correct, as whether his interpretation of Scripture is. For the dispute involves the necessary conditions of personality. If a true psychology does not require trinality in a spiritual essence in order to its own self-contemplation, and self-knowledge, and self-communion, then the deist is correct; but if it does, then he is in error. That the study of self-consciousness in modern metaphysics has favored trinitarianism, is unquestionable. Even the spurious trinitarianism which has grown up in the schools of the later pantheism goes to show, that a trinal constitution is requisite in an essence, in order to explain self-consciousness, and that absolute singleness, or the absence of all interior distinctions, renders the problem insoluble.
But the authority of Scripture is higher than that of psychology, and settles the matter. Revelation unquestionably discloses a deity who is “blessed forever;” whose blessedness is independent of the universe which he has made from nonentity, and who must therefore find all the conditions of blessedness within himself alone. He is blessed from eternity, in his own self-contemplation and self-communion. He does not need the universe in order that he may have an object which he can know, which he can love, and over which he can rejoice. “The Father knoweth the Son,” from all eternity (Matt. xi. 27); and “loveth the Son,” from all eternity (John iii. 35); and “glorifieth the Son,” from all eternity (John xvii. 5). Prior to creation, the Eternal Wisdom “was by Him as one brought up with Him, and was daily His delight, rejoicing always before Him” (Prov. viii. 30); and the Eternal Word “was in the beginning with God” (John i. 2); and “the Only Begotten Son (or God Only Begotten, as the uncials read) was eternally in the bosom of the Father” (John i. 18).
Here is society within the Essence, and wholly independent of the universe; and communion and blessedness resulting therefrom. But this is impossible to an essence without personal distinctions. Not the singular Unit of the deist, but the plural Unity of the trinitarian, explains this. A subject without an object could not know. What is there to be known? Could not love. What is there to be loved? Could not rejoice. What is there to rejoice over? And the object cannot be the universe. The infinite and eternal object of God’s infinite and eternal knowledge, love, and joy, cannot be his creation: because this is neither eternal, nor infinite. There was a time when the universe was not; and if God’s self-consciousness and blessedness depends upon the universe, there was a time when God was neither self-conscious nor blessed. The objective God for the subjective God must, therefore, be very God of very God, begotten not made, the eternal Son of the eternal Father.
The same line of reasoning applies to the third trinitarian person, but there is no need of going through with it. The history of opinion shows, that if the first two eternal distinctions are conceded, there is no denial of the reality and eternity of the third.
The analogue derived from the nature of finite personality and self-consciousness has one great advantage—namely, that it illustrates the independence of the Divine personality and self-consciousness. The later pantheism (not the earlier of Spinoza) constructs a kind of trinity, but it is dependent upon the universe. God distinguishes Himself from the world, and thereby finds the object required for the subject. But this implies either that the world is eternal, or else, that God is not eternally self-conscious. The Christian trinitarianism, on the contrary, finds all the media and conditions of self-consciousness within the Divine Essence. God distinguishes himself from himself, not from the universe. The eternal Father beholds himself in the eternal Son, his alter ego, the “express image of his own person” (Heb. i. 3). God does not struggle gradually into self-consciousness, as in the Hegelian scheme, by the help of the universe. Before that universe was in existence, and in the solitude of his own eternity and self-sufficiency, he had within his own essence all the media and conditions of self-consciousness. And after the worlds were called into being, the Divine personality remained the same immutable and infinite self-knowledge, unaffected by anything in his handiwork.
“O Light Eterne, sole in thyself that dwellest,
Sole knowest thyself, and known unto thyself,
And knowing, lovest and smilest on thyself!”—Dante: Paradise xxxiii. 125.
While, however, this analogue from the conditions of finite personality approaches nearer to the eternal distinctions in the Godhead than does that ternary which Augustin employs—namely, memory, understanding, and will—yet like all finite analogies to the Infinite it is inadequate. For the subject-ego, object-ego, and ego-percipient, are not so essentially distinct and completely objective to each other, as are the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. They cannot employ the personal pronouns in reference to each other. They cannot reciprocally perform acts and discharge functions towards each other, like the Divine Three. Revelation is explicit upon this point. It specifies at least the following twelve actions and relations, that incontestably prove the conscious distinctness and mutual objectivity of the persons of the Trinity. One divine person loves another (John iii. 35); dwells in another (John xiv. 10, 11); knows another (Matt. xi. 27); sends another (Gen. xvi. 7); suffers from another (Zech. xiii. 7–13); addresses another (Heb. i. 8); is the way to another (John xiv. 6); speaks of another (Luke iii. 22); glorifies another (John xvii. 5); confers with another (Gen. i. 26; xi. 7); plans with another (Is. ix. 6); rewards another (Phil. ii. 5–11; Heb. ii. 9).
Such are some of the salient features of this important treatise upon the Trinity. It has its defects; but they pertain to the form more than to the matter; to arrangement and style more than to dogma. Literary excellence is not the forte of the patristic writers. Hardly any of them are literary artists. Lactantius among the Latins, and Chrysostom among the Greeks, are almost the only fathers that have rhetorical grace. And none of them approach the beauty of the classic writers, as seen in the harmonious flow and diction of Plato, and the exquisite finish of Horace and Catullus.
Augustin is prolix, repetitious, and sometimes leaves his theme to discuss cognate but distantly related subjects. This appears more in the last eight chapters, which are speculative, than in the first seven, which are scriptural. The material in this second division is capable of considerable compression. The author frequently employs two illustrations when one would suffice, and three or more when two are enough. He discusses many themes which are not strictly trinitarian.
Yet the patient student will derive some benefit from this discursiveness. He will find, for example, in this treatise on the Trinity, an able examination of the subject of miracles (Book III); of creation ex nihilo (III. ix); of vicarious atonement (IV. vii-xiv); of the faculty of memory (XI. x); and, incidentally, many other high themes are touched upon. Before such a contemplative intellect as that of Augustin, all truth lay spread out like the ocean, with no limits and no separating chasms. Everything is connected and fluid. Consequently, one doctrine inevitably leads to and merges in another, and the eager and intense inquirer rushes forward, and outward, and upward, and downward, in every direction. The only aim is to see all that can be seen, and state all that can be stated. The neglect of the form, and the anxiety after the substance, contribute to the discursiveness. Caring little for proportion in method, and nothing for elegance in diction, the writer, though bringing forth a vast amount of truth, does it at the expense of clearness, conciseness, and grace. Such is the case with the North African father—one of the most voluminous and prolix of authors, yet one of the most original, suggestive, and fertilizing of any.
And this particular treatise is perhaps as pregnant and suggestive as any that Augustin, or any other theologian, ever composed. The doctrine of the Trinity is the most immense of all the doctrines of religion. It is the foundation of theology. Christianity, in the last analysis, is Trinitarianism. Take out of the New Testament the persons of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, and there is no God left. Take out of the Christian consciousness the thoughts and affections that relate to the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, and there is no Christian consciousness left. The Trinity is the constitutive idea of the evangelical theology, and the formative idea of the evangelical experience. The immensity of the doctrine makes it of necessity a mystery; but a mystery which like night enfolds in its unfathomed depths the bright stars—points of light, compared with which there is no light so keen and so glittering. Mysterious as it is, the Trinity of Divine Revelation is the doctrine that holds in it all the hope of man; for it holds within it the infinite pity of the Incarnation and the infinite mercy of the Redemption.
And it shares its mysteriousness with the doctrine of the Divine Eternity. It is difficult to say which is most baffling to human comprehension, the all-comprehending, simultaneous, successionless consciousness of the Infinite One, or his trinal personality. Yet no theist rejects the doctrine of the Divine eternity because of its mystery. The two doctrines are antithetic and correlative. On one of the Northern rivers that flows through a narrow chasm whose depth no plummet has sounded, there stand two cliffs fronting each other, shooting their pinnacles into the blue ether, and sending their roots down to the foundations of the earth. They have named them Trinity and Eternity. So stand, antithetic and confronting, in the Christian scheme, the trinity and eternity of God.
The translation of this treatise is the work of the Rev. Arthur West Haddan, Hon. Canon of Worcester, who, according to a note of the publisher, died while it was passing through the press. It has been compared with the original, and a considerable number of alterations made. The treatise is exceedingly difficult to render into English—probably the most so of any in the author’s writings. The changes in some instances were necessary from a misconception of the original; but more often for the purpose of making the meaning of the translator himself more clear. It is believed that a comparison between the original and revised translation will show that the latter is the more intelligible. At the same time, the reviser would not be too confident that in every instance the exact meaning of Augustin has been expressed, by either the translator or reviser.
The annotations of the reviser upon important points in the treatise, it is hoped, will assist the reader in understanding Augustin’s reasoning, and also throw some light upon the doctrine of the Trinity.
William G. T. Shedd.
New York, Feb. 1, 1887.
- Westminster Confession, II. iii.
- That Augustin had considerable acquaintance with Greek is proved by his many references and citations throughout his writings. In this work, see XII. vii. 11; XII. xiv. 22; XIII. x. 14; XIV. i. 1; XV. ix. 15. His statement in III. i. 1, is, that he was “not so familiar with the Greek tongue (Græcæ linguæ non sit nobis tantus habitus), as to be able to read and understand the books that treat of such [metaphysical] topics.” In V. viii. 10, he remarks that he does not comprehend the distinction which the Greek Trinitarians make between οὐσία and ὑπόστασις; which shows that he had not read the work of Gregory of Nyssa, in which it is defined with great clearness. One may have a good knowledge of a language for general purposes, and yet be unfamiliar with its philosophical nomenclature.
- For an analysis of Augustin’s Trinitarianism, see Bauv: Dreieinigkeitslehre I. 828–885; Gangauf: Des Augustinus speculative Lehre von Gott dem Dreieinigen; Schaff: History, iii. 684 sq.
- The Mohammedan conception of the Divine Unity, also, is deistic. In energetically rejecting the doctrine of the Trinity, the Mohammedan is the Oriental Unitarian.
- “That view of the divine nature which makes it inconsistent with the Incarnation and Trinity is philosophically imperfect, as well as scripturally incorrect.” H. B. Smith: Faith and Philosophy, p. 191.
- Upon the necessary conditions of self consciousness in God, see Müller: On Sin, II. 136 sq. (Urwick’s Trans ); Dorner: Christian Doctrine, I. 412–465; Christlieb: Modern Doubt, Lecture III.; Kurtz: Sacred History, § 2; Billroth: Religions Philosophie, § 89, 90; Wilberforce: Incarnation, Chapter III; Kidd: On the Trinity, with Candlish’s Introduction; Shedd: History of Doctrine, I. 365–368.