In Search of the Triune God: The Christian Paths of East and West

In Search of the Triune God: The Christian Paths of East and West

In Search of the Triune God: The Christian Paths of East and West

In Search of the Triune God: The Christian Paths of East and West

Excerpt

In the year 400 CE, Aurelius Augustinus, bishop of Hippo, whom we now know as Saint Augustine, sat down to begin his treatise The Trinity (De Trinitate). At the Council of Constantinople a few years before, in 381, the doctrine of the Triune God had been proclaimed as official dogma in the formulation now known as the Nicene Creed. Augustine undertook his treatise, he said in the preface to book 3 of that work, because members of his flock were asking him to explain the new doctrine to them and because he needed himself to try to figure out what it might mean. The images of Father, Son, and Spirit had been familiar for centuries from the Hebrew Bible and early Christian literature, but the exact meaning of these symbols, the relation of each to the others, and especially the status of the latter two as divine or creaturely had been in dispute throughout the early centuries of the Christian religion. Although there had been some discussion of the topic in Latin literature before Augustine began his work on it, most of it had been in Greek and in the eastern part of the empire, as were the discussions and the original formulation of the defined doctrine at the Councils of Nicaea and Constantinople.

Augustine was frank in acknowledging that his effort was going to be exploratory, not a definitive statement on something he could speak about with special authority. By way of warning his readers, he wrote, β€œLet them also bear in mind, that the writings which we have read on these subjects have not been sufficiently explained in the Latin tongue, or they are not available, or at least it was difficult for us to find them; nor are we so familiar with Greek, as to be in any way capable of reading and understanding such books on these subjects in that language.” He hoped that writing about the new doctrine would help him to understand it, since, as he said, he had learned much in the past by writing about matters with which he was not yet familiar.

One can understand and sympathize with Augustine in this, and what he accomplished in the weighty product of his explorations (running over five . . .

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