De Trinitate, book 9


May 11, 2013 by mattwilcoxen

AugAs painfully dense as it is, here is an attempt to summarize book 8. The movement of the book went something like this: we went from (a) the identicality of truth and goodness and being in ultimate reality, to (b) our need to participate more fully in this ultimate reality by desiring it above all things, to (c) the fact that our desiring this ultimate reality above all things requires our knowledge of this ultimate reality, to (d) the fact that the object we seek knowledge of is beyond our capacities because it is simple and also because we are sinful, to (e) the fact that our knowledge and loves are somehow already touched by this ultimate reality in their abilities to perceive and love goodness in things, to (f) the possibility that we might therefore gain knowledge of this ultimate reality by looking at the love we partake in when we love goodness. Finally (g), Augustine notes that God the Trinity is identified with love in the Bible, and so he ends with a provisional trinitarian image in love, loved, and lover. This lays the groundwork for him to look for the Trinitarian image in the human person’s loving (which is also the human person’s knowing).

Book 9 opens with a beautiful prologue, reminding us of the need for faith to be our starting point, and how this faith occasions a disposition of seeking. The rules of trinitarian thought in books 1-7 are guiding the enquiry of books 8-15; Augustine’s intent is not to spin off into looking at the mind for its own sake. He wants to find a created image of the uncreated Trinity. It’s important to keep this in mind as we navigate the labyrinth that is books 9-11.

He begins briefly with the human’s act of loving things outside herself: we have the lover, the thing loved, and the love with which the lover loves. Augustine almost immediately refines this and moves from this outer loving to the mind itself. Why? Because in this outward act of loving, the three are not identical. So sticking with love but going into the mind, he determines to analyze the love of self. Augustine does not discuss why it is legitimate to take this kind of self-love as axiomatic, but presumably he thinks that self-knowledge is a thing to be aimed at (per the Delphic oracle) and he knows that Jesus has said we are supposed to love our neighbor as we love ourselves (implying that we just do love ourselves).

For the mind, “loving itself” means “wanting to be available to itself in order to enjoy itself”. This will require the mind to know itself. In this, what the mind desires (and knows) is the mind, and the desire (or will) with which the mind desires the mind is also the mind. (Fun, isn’t it?!) There are therefore three equal and identical “somethings” that are distinguished only by their relations one to another. The three things are posited only relative to one another but, Augustine says, each is a distinct thing–a “substance” and not a predicate of one of the others, and not a predicate or property of the whole. Further, in the mind’s knowledge of itself “its knowledge pervades the whole of it; and when it loves itself completely it loves its whole self and its love pervades the whole of it.” Though the three points–love, lover, and loved have to be distinguished, each of the three wholly involves the other two in a type of perichoretic identicality. Even in this, they are not mixed together or dissolved in one another. The three remain distinct. So with this, Augustine has provided a trinitarian reading of the human mind’s knowing and loving itself.

The reason this above image is not perfect is because the mind that loves and knows itself is always changing. The truth, we know, is unchanging and identical with the ultimate reality that is goodness and being. So when it spots something true in this process of human knowing and loving, this truth is not inherent in the mind itself. Even this glimpse of knowledge which comes from the image is, like all other perceptions outside ourselves, the result of participation in the eternal truth.

In this participatory perception of truth–the seeing of eternal truth through changeable things–we have a description of an act of knowledge. This act Augustine calls the begetting of an inner-word. This word is conceived in love–the act of knowledge is wrapped up with desire. If one perceives (begets the inner-word) and one’s knowledge and desire refer beyond to God, then this is true love. If, however, one’s knowledge and love terminate on the thing one perceives, then this is a deficient type of love called covetousness. This is the word “conceived”, and the conceived word is “born” in our outward speech and actions. (Augustine is quite obviously echoing, or even interpreting, James 1:15.) What really matters, in other words, is the state of our minds and their abilities to know and love rightly. Outer words flow out of this organically.

(Augustine asks whether all of our knowledge can be called “knowledge with love”. If I understand him rightly, he says that the answer is no. There are simple acts of perception which involve no judgment about the goodness of the object perceived. However, he also says that even our hatreds involve this “inner-word” (knowledge with love) because they are acts of judgment which participate in the good.)

At this point Augustine says that all our knowledge bears a likeness to what it knows. Our inner-word corresponds. This allows him to make a parenthetical but important statement: insomuch as we know God we are like God. It also allows him to further his own argument about the mind as an image of the Trinity: when the mind knows itself and begets an inner-word about itself, this inner-word “matches [the mind] exactly and is equal to it and identical”. So the mind brings forth an image or inner-word of itself when it knows itself. This obviously echoes the Father’s begetting of the Son who is co-equal.

“What then about love?” Is love too said to be “begotten” like knowledge? The question is really about the Holy Spirit, but we are looking for an image of the Trinity in the mind, and not direct knowledge about the Trinity. So Augustine asks: if knowing and loving both come from the mind, then what differentiates them? The answer, simply put, is this: there is a logical priority for knowing over loving. One must know something in order to love it. However, one can have a knowledge of a thing without making either a positive or negative judgment of it. The knower knows something and loves this thing, binding herself to it. The trinitarian implication: the Father begets the Son and the Spirit is the mutual bond between Father and Son.

To recap book 9: Augustine is looking for an image of the Holy Trinity. He started with a triad of lover, loved, and love present when someone loves something outside themselves. He quickly moved inward, looking for a place where  lover, loved, and love could be seen to be co-equal. He glimpses something like this in the human mind, but this image is imperfect there for another reason: because the mind changes. The perception of the image is punctilinear, instantaneous. However, this glimpse of truth points to the fact that our knowledge does participate in eternal truth, otherwise we wouldn’t be able to recognize its truth. This leads to an analysis of our acts of knowledge-with-love as the bringing forth of inner-words. These are epistemic acts of judgment. In the case of the mind’s self-knowledge, Augustine finds that though the mind, the knowledge of self, and the love of self are all co-equal and identical, that they can also be distinguished by their ordering: the mind producing the identical image of itself and then uniting it to this image in love. This pretty transparently shows how Augustine conceives of the ordering of God’s life: the Father is the unbegotten principium (“source”), the Son is eternally brought forth or begotten by the Father, and the Spirit is the mutual bond of love between the two.


2 thoughts on “De Trinitate, book 9

  1. […] 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 […]

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