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Was Augustine’s Teaching on the Trinity Dangerous?

February 21, 2011

For any who have read or come into contact with Augustine’s treatment of the Trinity his analogy of self-consciousness in the human “memory” as the Father, the human “understanding” as Son, and human “will” as Spirit cannot help but be moved and drawn in by his fabulous insight.  The primary problem with this analogy is that memory, understanding, and will are simply functions of one person and not three distinct persons in and of themselves.  And so although Augustine would vigorously defend the doctrine of the Trinity his analogy has led to some heretical developments (see Peter Lombard and Joachim of Fiore).

But can we salvage this language of “self-consciousness?”  I think it is possible, yet with some well established provisos and explanations.  If God the Father has been generating, from all eternity, His own self-image (the basis of all self-consciousness is to be able to think of oneself, i.e. to be conscious of oneself) that image must bear all that is true of Him for it to be a true image, a “real image.”  That is, this image must possess all of the Father’s own attributes (aseity, immutability, infinity, etc…), but additionally and most significantly it must possess “personhood.”  If the Father is a person than His real image must also be a real person.  This, at some level, I think is connected to the Anselmian formulation of the ontological argument for God’s existence in that if the image is to be a “perfect” image it must possess personal existence in-and-of himself.  If this image were not to possess distinct personhood than it would be a deviation from the divine perfection and therefore not be God’s true image.  Therefore when God generates His own image, this image is all that Father is, especially in His own personhood.  This image in the Scriptures is called the “Son” (Colossians 1:15; 2 Corinthians 4:4; Hebrews 1:3).

What then is unique about the Son as distinct from the Father is that He is eternally begotten as the image of God, where as the Father is not, in precise terms, begotten.  This is where the distinctness of each person begins to emerge; the Son, as the image of the Father, has the unique personal attributes of begottenness, whereas the Father has the logical priority as source and originator.  We can perhaps then rescue Augustine’s analogy by asserting that when the Father generates His own image, that image is so full of the the Father’s perfections that that image is itself a distinct person from the Father and not simply a relation within the Godhead.

Perhaps more will come on the Spirit and how His personhood is as necessary as the Son’s…

Am I making sense?

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6 Comments leave one →
  1. February 21, 2011 9:52 pm

    Excellent explanation! I think you would be a great person to lead the Apologetics Ministry of MHC!

  2. February 21, 2011 9:55 pm

    Although I had to look up “aseity.”

  3. February 22, 2011 9:26 am

    i’m following you. kind of. ok, not really. but i love you and that has to count for something.

  4. JRutt permalink
    February 22, 2011 5:25 pm

    Sam, I think your thoughts will be more complete once the Spirit is incorporated into the discussion. I follow what you are saying but really it is the culmination of the three. Think about it in the terms of Adam. He was formed in God’s own likeliness. If we represent Adam and the Spirit dwells within us then we essentially are a critical part of His image.
    Maybe I’m way off the mark here but that’s what I am gleaning from this.

    P.S. I too had to look up “asiety”…and never did find a proper definition for it.

  5. JRutt permalink
    February 22, 2011 5:25 pm

    correction…”aseity”…excuse me

  6. JRutt permalink
    February 22, 2011 6:46 pm

    a·se·i·ty
       /əˈsiɪti, eɪˈsi-/ Show Spelled[uh-see-i-tee, ey-see-]
    –noun Metaphysics .
    existence originating from and having no source other than itself.
    Origin:
    1685–95; < Medieval Latin asēitās, equivalent to Latin ā sē from oneself + -itās -ity

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