Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers: Series I/Volume III/Doctrinal Treatises of St. Augustin/A Treatise on Faith and the Creed/Chapter 9

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Chapter 9.—Of the Holy Spirit and the Mystery of the Trinity.

16. The divine generation, therefore, of our Lord, and his human dispensation, having both been thus systematically disposed and commended to faith,[1] there is added to our Confession, with a view to the perfecting of the faith which we have regarding God, [the doctrine of] The Holy Spirit, who is not of a nature inferior[2] to the Father and the Son, but, so to say, consubstantial and co-eternal: for this Trinity is one God, not to the effect that the Father is the same [Person] as the Son and the Holy Spirit, but to the effect that the Father is the Father, and the Son is the Son, and the Holy Spirit is the Holy Spirit; and this Trinity is one God, according as it is written, “Hear, O Israel, the Lord your God is one God.”[3] At the same time, if we be interrogated on the subject of each separately, and if the question be put to us, “Is the Father God?” we shall reply, “He is God.” If it be asked whether the Son is God, we shall answer to the same effect. Nor, if this kind of inquiry be addressed to us with respect to the Holy Spirit, ought we to affirm in reply that He is anything else than God; being earnestly on our guard, [however], against an acceptance of this merely in the sense in which it is applied to men, when it is said, “Ye are gods.”[4] For of all those who have been made and fashioned of the Father, through the Son, by the gift of the Holy Spirit, none are gods according to nature. For it is this same Trinity that is signified when an apostle says, “For of Him, and in Him, and through Him, are all things.”[5] Consequently, although, when we are interrogated on the subject of each [of these Persons] severally, we reply that that particular one regarding whom the question is asked, whether it be the Father, or the Son, or the Holy Spirit, is God, no one, notwithstanding this, should suppose that three Gods are worshipped by us.

17. Neither is it strange that these things are said in reference to an ineffable Nature, when even in those objects which we discern with the bodily eyes, and judge of by the bodily sense, something similar holds good. For take the instance of an interrogation on the subject of a fountain, and consider how we are unable then to affirm that the said fountain is itself the river; and how, when we are asked about the river, we are as little able to call it the fountain; and, again, how we are equally unable to designate the draught, which comes of the fountain or the river, either river or fountain. Nevertheless, in the case of this trinity we use the name water [for the whole]; and when the question is put regarding each of these separately, we reply in each several instance that the thing is water. For if I inquire whether it is water in the fountain, the reply is given that it is water; and if we ask whether it is water in the river, no different response is returned; and in the case of the said draught, no other answer can possibly be made: and yet, for all this, we do not speak of these things as three waters, but as one water. At the same time, of course, care must be taken that no one should conceive of the ineffable substance of that Majesty merely as he might think of this visible and material[6] fountain, or river, or draught. For in the case of these latter that water which is at present in the fountain goes forth into the river, and does not abide in itself; and when it passes from the river or from the fountain into the draught, it does not continue permanently there where it is taken from. Therefore it is possible here that the same water may be in view at one time under the appellation of the fountain and at another under that of the river, and at a third under that of the draught. But in the case of that Trinity, we have affirmed it to be impossible that the Father should be sometime the Son, and sometime the Holy Spirit: just as, in a tree, the root is nothing else than the root, and the trunk (robur) is nothing else than the trunk, and we cannot call the branches anything else than branches; for, what is called the root cannot be called trunk and branches; and the wood which belongs to the root cannot by any sort of transference be now in the root, and again in the trunk, and yet again in the branches, but only in the root; since this rule of designation stands fast, so that the root is wood, and the trunk is wood, and the branches are wood, while nevertheless it is not three woods that are thus spoken of, but only one. Or, if these objects have some sort of dissimilarity, so that on account of their difference in strength they may be spoken of, without any absurdity, as three woods; at least all parties admit the force of the former example,—namely, that if three cups be filled out of one fountain, they may certainly be called three cups, but cannot be spoken of as three waters, but only as one all together. Yet, at the same time, when asked concerning the several cups, one by one, we may answer that in each of them by itself there is water; although in this case no such transference takes place as we were speaking of as occurring from the fountain into the river. But these examples in things material (corporalia exempla) have been adduced not in virtue of their likeness to that divine Nature, but in reference to the oneness which subsists even in things visible, so that it may be understood to be quite a possibility for three objects of some sort, not only severally, but also all together, to obtain one single name; and that in this way no one may wonder and think it absurd that we should call the Father God, the Son God, the Holy Spirit God, and that nevertheless we should say that there are not three Gods in that Trinity, but one God and one substance.[7]

18. And, indeed, on this subject of the Father and the Son, learned and spiritual[8] men have conducted discussions in many books, in which, so far as men could do with men, they have endeavored to introduce an intelligible account as to how the Father was not one personally with the Son, and yet the two were one substantially;[9] and as to what the Father was individually (proprie), and what the Son: to wit, that the former was the Begetter, the latter the Begotten; the former not of the Son, the latter of the Father: the former the Beginning of the latter, whence also He is called the Head of Christ,[10] although Christ likewise is the Beginning,[11] but not of the Father; the latter, moreover, the Image[12] of the former, although in no respect dissimilar, and although absolutely and without difference equal (omnino et indifferenter æqualis). These questions are handled with greater breadth by those who, in less narrow limits than ours are at present, seek to set forth the profession of the Christian faith in its totality. Accordingly, in so far as He is the Son, of the Father received He it that He is, while that other [the Father] received not this of the Son; and in so far as He, in unutterable mercy, in a temporal dispensation took upon Himself the [nature of] man (hominem),—to wit, the changeable creature that was thereby to be changed into something better,—many statements concerning Him are discovered in the Scriptures, which are so expressed as to have given occasion to error in the impious intellects of heretics, with whom the desire to teach takes precedence of that to understand, so that they have supposed Him to be neither equal with the Father nor of the same substance. Such statements [are meant] as the following: “For the Father is greater than I;”[13] and, “The head of the woman is the man, the Head of the man is Christ, and the Head of Christ is God;”[14] and, “Then shall He Himself be subject unto Him that put all things under Him;”[15] and, “I go to my Father and your Father, my God and your God,”[16] together with some others of like tenor. Now all these have had a place given them, [certainly] not with the object of signifying an inequality of nature and substance; for to take them so would be to falsify a different class of statements, such as, “I and my Father are one” (unum);[17] and, “He that hath seen me hath seen my Father also;”[18] and, “The Word was God,”[19] for He was not made, inasmuch as “all things were made by Him;”[20] and, “He thought it not robbery to be equal with God:”[21] together with all the other passages of a similar order. But these statements have had a place given them, partly with a view to that administration of His assumption of human nature (administrationem suscepti hominis), in accordance with which it is said that “He emptied Himself:” not that that Wisdom was changed, since it is absolutely unchangeable; but that it was His will to make Himself known in such humble fashion to men. Partly then, I repeat, it is with a view to this administration that those things have been thus written which the heretics make the ground of their false allegations; and partly it was with a view to the consideration that the Son owes to the Father that which He is,[22]—thereby also certainly owing this in particular to the Father, to wit, that He is equal to the same Father, or that He is His Peer (eidem Patri æqualis aut par est), whereas the Father owes whatsoever He is to no one.

19. With respect to the Holy Spirit, however, there has not been as yet, on the part of learned and distinguished investigators of the Scriptures, a discussion of the subject full enough or careful enough to make it possible for us to obtain an intelligent conception of what also constitutes His special individuality (proprium): in virtue of which special individuality it comes to be the case that we cannot call Him either the Son or the Father, but only the Holy Spirit; excepting that they predicate Him to be the Gift of God, so that we may believe God not to give a gift inferior to Himself. At the same time they hold by this position, namely, to predicate the Holy Spirit neither as begotten, like the Son, of the Father; for Christ is the only one [so begotten]: nor as [begotten] of the Son, like a Grandson of the Supreme Father: while they do not affirm Him to owe that which He is to no one, but [admit Him to owe it] to the Father, of whom are all things; lest we should establish two Beginnings without beginning (ne duo constituamus principia isne principio), which would be an assertion at once most false and most absurd, and one proper not to the catholic faith, but to the error of certain heretics.[23] Some, however, have gone so far as to believe that the communion of the Father and the Son, and (so to speak) their Godhead (deitatem), which the Greeks designate θεότης, is the Holy Spirit; so that, inasmuch as the Father is God and the Son God, the Godhead itself, in which they are united with each other,—to wit, the former by begetting the Son, and the latter by cleaving to the Father,[24]—should [thereby] be constituted equal with Him by whom He is begotten. This Godhead, then, which they wish to be understood likewise as the love and charity subsisting between these two [Persons], the one toward the other, they affirm to have received the name of the Holy Spirit. And this opinion of theirs they support by many proofs drawn from the Scriptures; among which we might instance either the passage which says, “For the love of God is shed abroad in our hearts by the Holy Ghost, who has been given unto us,”[25] or many other proofs texts of a similar tenor: while they ground their position also upon the express fact that it is through the Holy Spirit that we are reconciled unto God; whence also, when He is called the Gift of God, they will have it that sufficient indication is offered of the love of God and the Holy Spirit being identical. For we are not reconciled unto Him except through that love in virtue of which we are also called sons:[26] as we are no more “under fear, like servants,”[27] because “love, when it is made perfect, casteth out fear;”[28] and [as] “we have received the spirit of liberty, wherein we cry, Abba, Father.”[29] And inasmuch as, being reconciled and called back into friendship through love, we shall be able to become acquainted with all the secret things of God, for this reason it is said of the Holy Spirit that “He shall lead you into all truth.”[30] For the same reason also, that confidence in preaching the truth, with which the apostles were filled at His advent,[31] is rightly ascribed to love; because diffidence also is assigned to fear, which the perfecting of love excludes. Thus, likewise, the same is called the Gift of God,[32] because no one enjoys that which he knows, unless he also love it. To enjoy the Wisdom of God, however, implies nothing else than to cleave to the same in love (ei dilectione cohærere). Neither does any one abide in that which he apprehends, but by love; and accordingly the Holy Spirit is called the Spirit of sanctity (Spiritus Sanctus), inasmuch as all things that are sanctioned (sanciuntur)[33] are sanctioned with a view to their permanence, and there is no doubt that the term sanctity (sanctitatem) is derived from sanction (a sanciendo). Above all, however, that testimony is employed by the upholders of this opinion, where it is thus written, “That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit;”[34] “for God is a Spirit.”[35] For here He speaks of our regeneration,[36] which is not, according to Adam, of the flesh, but, according to Christ, of the Holy Spirit. Wherefore, if in this passage mention is made of the Holy Spirit, when it is said, “For God is a Spirit,” they maintain that we must take note that it is not said, “for the Spirit is God,”[37] but, “for God is a Spirit;” so that the very Godhead of the Father and the Son is in this passage called God, and that is the Holy Spirit. To this is added another testimony which the Apostle John offers, when he says, “For God is love.”[38] For here, in like manner, what he says is not, “Love is God,”[39] but, “God is love;” so that the very Godhead is taken to be love. And with respect to the circumstance that, in that enumeration of mutually connected objects which is given when it is said, “All things are yours, and ye are Christ’s, and Christ is God’s,”[40] as also, “The head of the woman is the man, the Head of the man is Christ, and the Head of Christ is God,”[41] there is no mention of the Holy Spirit; this they affirm to be but an application of the principle that, in general, the connection itself is not wont to be enumerated among the things which are connected with each other. Whence, also, those who read with closer attention appear to recognize the express Trinity likewise in that passage in which it is said, “For of Him, and through Him, and in Him, are all things.”[42] “Of Him,” as if it meant, of that One who owes it to no one that He is: “through Him,” as if the idea were, through a Mediator; “in Him,” as if it were, in that One who holds together, that is, unites by connecting.

20. Those parties oppose this opinion who think that the said communion, which we call either Godhead, or Love, or Charity, is not a substance. Moreover, they require the Holy Spirit to be set forth to them according to substance; neither do they take it to have been otherwise impossible for the expression “God is Love” to have been used, unless love were a substance. In this, indeed, they are influenced by the wont of things of a bodily nature. For if two bodies are connected with each other in such wise as to be placed in juxtaposition one with the other, the connection itself is not a body: inasmuch as when these bodies which had been connected are separated, no such connection certainly is found [any more]; while, at the same time, it is not understood to have departed, as it were, and migrated, as is the case with those bodies themselves. But men like these should make their heart pure, so far as they can, in order that they may have power to see that in the substance of God there is not anything of such a nature as would imply that therein substance is one thing, and that which is accident to substance (aliud quod accidat subsantiœ) another thing, and not substance; whereas whatsoever can be taken to be therein is substance. These things, however, can easily be spoken and believed; but seen, so as to reveal how they are in themselves, they absolutely cannot be, except by the pure heart. For which reason, whether the opinion in question be true, or something else be the case, the faith ought to be maintained unshaken, so that we should call the Father God, the Son God, the Holy Spirit God, and yet not affirm three Gods, but hold the said Trinity to be one God; and again, not affirm these [Persons] to be different in nature, but hold them to be of the same substance; and further uphold it, not as if the Father were sometime the Son, and sometime the Holy Spirit, but in such wise that the Father is always the Father, and the Son always the Son, and the Holy Spirit always the Holy Spirit. Neither should we make any affirmation on the subject of things unseen rashly, as if we had knowledge, but [only modestly] as believing. For these things cannot be seen except by the heart made pure; and [even] he who in this life sees them “in part,” as it has been said, and “in an enigma,”[43] cannot secure it that the person to whom he speaks shall also see them, if he is hampered by impurities of heart. “Blessed,” however, “are they of a pure heart, for they shall see God.”[44] This is the faith on the subject of God our Maker and Renewer.

21. But inasmuch as love is enjoined upon us, not only toward God, when it was said, “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind;”[45] but also toward our neighbor, for “thou shalt love,” saith He, “thy neighbor as thyself;”[46] and inasmuch, moreover, as the faith in question is less fruitful, if it does not comprehend a congregation and society of men, wherein brotherly charity may operate;—


  1. Instead of fideique commendata et divina generatione, etc., another, but weakly supported, version is, fide atque commendata divina, etc., which makes the sense = The faith, therefore, having been systematically disposed, and our Lord’s divine generation and human dispensation having been commended to the understanding, etc.
  2. Non minore natura quam Pater. The Benedictine editors suggest minor for minore = not inferior in nature, etc.
  3. Deut. vi. 4
  4. Ps. lxxxii. 6
  5. Rom. xi. 36
  6. Corporeum = corporeal.
  7. Many mss., however, insert colamus after Deum in the closing sentence, sed unum Deum unamque substantiam. The sense then will be = and that nevertheless we should worship in that Trinity not three Gods, but one God and one substance.
  8. Spiritales, for which religiosi = religious, is also sometimes given.
  9. Non unus esset Pater et Filius, sed unum essent = how the Father and the Son were not one in person, but were one in essence.
  10. 1 Cor. xi. 3
  11. In reference probably to John viii. 25, where the Vulgate gives principium qui et loquor vobis as the literal equivalent for the Greek Ϣὴν ἀρχὴν ὅ, τι καὶ λαλῶ ὑηῖν
  12. Col. i. 15
  13. John xiv. 28
  14. 1 Cor. xi. 3
  15. 1 Cor. xv. 28
  16. John xx. 17
  17. John x. 30
  18. John xiv. 9
  19. John i. 1
  20. John i. 3
  21. Phil. ii. 9. [See R.V.]
  22. Or it may be = that the Son owes it to the Father that He is.
  23. In reference, again, to Manichean errorists.
  24. Patri cohœrendo = by close connection with the Father.
  25. Rom. v. 5
  26. 1 John iii. 1. The word Dei = of God, is sometimes added here.
  27. Rom. viii. 15
  28. 1 John iv. 18
  29. Rom. viii. 15
  30. John xvi. 13
  31. Acts ii. 4
  32. Eph. iii. 7, 8
  33. Instead of sanciuntur, which is the reading of the mss., some editions give sanctificantur = all things that are sanctified are sanctioned, etc.
  34. John iii. 6
  35. John iv. 24
  36. Reading, with the mss. and the Benedictine editors, Hic enim regenerationem nostram dicit. Some editions give Hoc for Hic, and dicunt for dicit = for they say that this expresses our regeneration.
  37. Quoniam Spiritus Deus est. But various editions and mss. give Dei for Deus = for the Spirit is of God.
  38. 1 John iv. 16
  39. Here again, instead of dilectio Deus est, we also find dilectio Dei est = love is of God.
  40. 1 Cor. iii. 22, 23
  41. 1 Cor. xi. 3
  42. Rom. xi. 36
  43. 1 Cor. xiii. 12
  44. Matt. v. 8
  45. Deut. vi. 5
  46. Luke x. 27