De Trinitate, book 8


May 7, 2013 by mattwilcoxen

AugBook 8 is a major turning point in De Trinitate. Augustine says that it is time to “put some limits to repetition” and see if we might be able to understand the doctrine of Christian faith which he has laid out. “Now therefore, as far as the wonderfully merciful creator may assist us, let us turn our attention to the things we are going to discuss in a more inward manner than the things that have been discussed above, though in fact they are the same things…” It is time to explore the image of God in humans, seeing if somehow we might come to understanding of the Trinity. Paradoxically, the teaching of the Trinity will be what allows us to locate the image of the Trinity, and it is only when this image is properly imitative that we have some chance at understanding. In the second half of De Trinitate (books 9-15) the doctrine will serve as a guide to the psychology of the human person, allowing us to pursue the purification that will draw us closer to a vision of the Trinity. Book 8 lays the groundwork for this new focus of De Trinitate.

Augustine’s first move is to show that in the realm of the unchangeable and simple reality that God is, to be is the same as to be true and to be true is the same as to be great. In other words, truth and goodness are identical. If we are to grasp how this is, we will have to debar from our conceptions everything that is bodily or temporal (changeable). Augustine invites us to look at the nature of truth itself–at God who is Truth. He says that when we try to do this we immediately get pulled back to bodily images. Then he invites us to approach from the avenue of goodness; let us try to look for goodness itself. Perhaps we can take away all that is bodily and changeable from our perceptions of goodness and arrive at the Good. We cannot, but the attempt to do so shows us that there must be an unchangeable good in which all perceived goodness partakes. But since the Good is a simple reality, this source of all goodness must also be the source of all being. This is God “in whom we live and move and have our being” (Acts 17:27).

We never cease to exist in God, but we do exist more or less truly to the extent that we exist in accordance with the goodness for which we were created. In other words, it is not enough merely to exist, we must seek the Good. This “seeking” that is necessary is love. But one cannot seek or love that which they do not know, otherwise, how would they seek it? And since God is not a body, the loving and knowing of God must be something that happens in our minds, not with our physical eyes. According to the Bible, this intellectual gaze of God only comes to those who are “pure in heart” (Mt 5:8). This puts us in a pickle: needing to seek, but needing therefore to know in order to seek, but needing therefore to be purified in order to know. Thankfully, this logjam is broken by faith. Faith refers to the fact that things of our world (i.e., the incarnation, life, death, and resurrection of Christ) can become for us the route by which we know and love the Good that is God the Trinity.

Since faith is the route to understanding, we must make sure our faith is pure and does not lead us astray. Beliefs, Augustine says, depend upon our mind’s ability to construct images based on its generic or specific knowledge of other things. For example, we hear about Paul and believe things about him because we can construct an image of him and what we are told he did. But there is no way to derive such knowledge of the Trinity which is beyond genus and species. Augustine’s answer to this conundrum is to give an example of how it is that we love Paul when we love him without directly knowing him. We hear that he is a “just mind” and we have an innate access to the concept (form) of justice, though we might not be just ourselves, and though we cannot define perfectly justice itself. In other words, there is something resident within us that recognizes Justice (and the Good and Truth) when we see it. The Good jives with our fundamental structure. So Augustine can say that, on the basis of our constitution, we already know the Good (God!) in some manner, and in this way we love it when we love the manifestations of it.

In the final section Augustine turns to the question of “what true love is” or “simply what love is”. Augustine gives as a definition of love: “that we should live justly by cleaving to the truth, and so for the love of men by which we wish them justly we should despise all mortal things”. A simple way of putting this is to say that true love is expressed through loving all things in light of their final cause in God. This is why Augustine can say in the next breath that though love involves (a) love of God and (b) love of neighbor, scripture can often have one stand in for the other. Any entrance into true love as defined here is an entrance into the love of God, who is himself love. Augustine shows that, as with concepts of the Good or Truth, we have love accessible to us in someway; it fits with our structure. By entering into the love of the brother or sister (or neighbor) we are loving love, and since God is love, we are in someway loving God. So it is that our love for others can even be a sacrament, a way of loving God.

Augustine says that in this loving we see a trinity: lover, loved, love. Yet he says that we need to investigate this “on a higher plane”. He wants to go from this loving relationship between two discrete created things, to analyze love in the mind. That is what he will begin in book 9.


4 thoughts on “De Trinitate, book 8

  1. […] to have any chance at understanding book 10, you’ll have to see it as the continuation of book 8 and book 9. So have a look at my posts on those […]

  2. Jimmy says:

    Hi Matt,
    I am currently studying for a comprehensive at Boston College that requires knowing books X and XI of De Trinitate. I just wanted to tell you that you have stated Augustine’s thoughts really beautifully and make them accessible when they are often quite dense. Thank you.

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