De Trinitate, book 14


May 15, 2013 by mattwilcoxen

Aug“Now it is wisdom’s turn to be discussed.” Augustine is not talking about the wisdom proper to God, but the wisdom proper to humans. Human participation in divine wisdom can be simply called “worship of God” or “piety”. That is the subject of this book.

Augustine first returns to the subject of the past book–faith. He says that that faith’s act of perception cannot be the image of the Trinity within us because of the fact that faith is temporary. It will not exist in eternity. The image of God–the image we have been seeking so desperately since book 9!–must be found in the inner man. And here  Augustine gives us a definition of this image. The rational mind has the “capacity to use reason and understanding in order to understand and gaze upon God” and in this way it has been made to the image of God.

At this point Augustine rehearses his work from books 9-13, laying out the basic progression of his argument. He spends the bulk of his time on books 9-10, showing that their main point was an image of the trinity that is not the mind itself, but a mental act: a thing being brought up in the memory, a thought being begotten by the object, and the will (or love) joining the two together. Books 11-13 were for his “slower readers” to give them practice in seeing how mental acts work with respect to temporal things. Books 11 and 12 made the distinctions between knowledge and wisdom, and book 13 started us on our ascent from the former to the latter.

Augustine ascends from simple acts of temporal perception, to acts of perception in the memory. Next he discusses perceptions of virtue by way of temporal things. In all of these cases the objects of knowledge beget the knowledge, and in most cases the objects of knowledge precede knowledge in time. The mind is not like this. In the mind’s knowledge of itself, the three elements of mental perception (memory, understanding, and will) are all simultaneous or analogously co-eternal. So here in the purified mind (purified of all attachment to temporal things) we have located at least the potentiality for the image. Thus far Augustine appears not to say anything other than we learned in books 9-10.

Finally Augustine gives us something new. He says that “this trinity of the mind is not really the image of God because the mind remembers and understands and loves itself, but because it is also able to remember and understand and love him by whom it was made. And when it does this it becomes wise.” In other words, the mind becomes the image of God really and fully only when it participates in God through worship. And the mind only really loves itself when it loves God. Further, when the mind is loving God and therefore loving itself, it can be commanded to love its neighbor as itself. So when rightly ordered the human mind participates in one movement wherein the love of God entails the love of self and the love of neighbor.

Augustine thinks the mind is arranged such that it attaches itself to things. He has demonstrated this again and again as he discusses the fallenness of the mind. Now he locates this bonding nature of the mind to its being the image of God: “There is such potency in this image of God that it is capable of cleaving to him whose image it is.” Augustine looks forward to a day when the mind, by cleaving to the unchanging God, will have an unchanging vision and simply be the actualized image in an immutable fashion. However, this is an eschatological accomplishment. In the meantime, the only hope for the mind is to receive the grace by which it will merit this eschatological reward. This grace of God is what leads to the remembrance of God. This remembrance is not the memory of some former, direct participation in God but rather it is the reception of something that awakens us to the goodness we have been participating in all our lives.

And so when we turn to God in conversion–that is, when we remember God–we are renovated, our minds being renewed in the knowledge of God (Augustine has in mind Romans 12:1-2; Col 3:9; Eph 4:24). This renewal does not happen at the point of conversion, but is something that continues throughout our entire lives. Augustine makes a clear distinction between conversion and sanctification. He says of the latter:

So then the man who is being renewed in the recognition of God and in justice and holiness of truth by making progress day by day, is transferring his love from temporal things to eternal, from visible to intelligible, from carnal to spiritual things; he is industriously applying himself to checking and lessening his greed for the one sort and binding himself with charity to the other. But his success in this depends on divine assistance; it is after all God who declares, “without me you can do nothing” (John 15:5). When the last day of his life overtakes someone who has kept faith in the mediator, making steady progress of this sort, he will be received by the holy angels to be led into the presence of the God he has worshiped and to be perfected by him and so to get his body back again at the end of the world, not for punishment but for glory. For only when it comes to the perfect vision of God will this image bear God’s perfect likeness.

So one does not simply become the image of God. Rather, one will achieve full likeness when we have “full vision”. In the meantime one can only advance “through a puzzling reflection in a mirror” (citing 1 Cor 13:12). In the 15th and final book Augustine will interpret his entire De Trinitate by this rubric of seeing “through a puzzling reflection in a mirror”.


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