Academic journal article Theological Studies

The Johannine of Augustine's Trinity: A Dogmatic Sketch

Academic journal article Theological Studies

The Johannine of Augustine's Trinity: A Dogmatic Sketch

Article excerpt

THE NECESSITY OF A PROPER ACCOUNT of Augustine's trinitarian theology for the present dogmatic context is discernible in calls from both sympathizers (1) and those who disparage him as the progenitor of a dubious legacy. (2) In a context broader than merely trinitarian (or even explicitly dogmatic) concerns, Augustine is also a conversation partner of 20th century intellectual developments and the postmodern turn. (3) Though a Nicene formula is not apparent in discourses about these developments, their pertinence to contemporary trinitarian dogmatics is ignored with expense. Issues of hermeneutics, love, and the nature of the self are properly trinitarian in an Augustinian framework, and to divorce them from this context is to misunderstand Augustine's project. What is needed, for both overtly trinitarian concerns and a wider superset of dogmatic questions, is an appraisal of Augustine's trinitarian logic. As the doctor of grace has paradigmatically shaped the discussion of agency and sovereignty in Western theological discourse, so also his trinitarian logic is prototypical and equally indispensable.

The commonplace distinction between Western tri-unity and Eastern tri-unity is simply inadequate for the task of explication. In the same way, a supposed Augustinian turn to introspection and divine immanence cannot be said to impinge substantially upon Augustine's trinitarian theology as dynamically soteriological, however much this diagnosis may be helpful in understanding the wider shifts of later Western thought. The idea of "a Trinity which is absolutely locked within itself" (4) identified in Augustine's work by Karl Rahner is foreign to an honest reading of Augustine's De Trinitate; also foreign is Rahner's characterization of the "psychological" Trinity, supposedly introducing through Augustine an anthropomorphic introspection that becomes the downfall of all subsequent Western (Victorine excepted) models of trinitarian discourse. (5)

Such formulas are, at best, overgeneralizations that do more to confuse than elucidate; at worst they are simply incorrect. Yet, despite their pervasiveness over the past century and especially more recently through Colin Gunton, (6) Jurgen Moltmann, (7) and others, the sharp East-West dichotomy guiding such readings of Augustinian and Cappadocian trinitarianism no longer enjoys its previous status. This is not to say that the issue is resolved, or even that a substantial reassessment of Augustine is yet complete. However, a weighty initial response has been voiced. Michel Rene Barnes and Lewis Ayres present a compelling "fundamentally proNicene trinitarianism" (8) in Augustine, which has made its impact on other secondary literature (9) and has shaped my own conception of Augustine's trinitarian logic. The problem, even amidst the present flourishing of Augustinian and post-Nicene scholarship, is diagnosed well by Ayres: "Unfortunately, the critique of Augustine's trinitarianism to be found in much modern theological writing does not occur actively against this recent trend in Augustinian scholarship--engaging directly and in detail with original texts and attempting to refute these new scholarly arguments--but largely in ignorance of it." (10)

My article contributes to present scholarship by engaging Augustine's use of the Johannine corpus in his trinitarian theology and arguing for a significantly Johannine logic in his articulation of a "fundamentally pro-Nicene trinitarianism." Such a thesis does not discount examination of Augustine's other biblical sources. Viable avenues of inquiry include the exegetical influence of the Philippian Christ-hymn on Augustine's Servant-Lord Christology, 1 Corinthians 13:12 on his trinitarian-epistemological concerns (and Genesis 1:27 as these concerns relate to the imago Dei), and Wisdom 8:1 on Augustine's Wisdom Christology (which carries methodological implications for his Pneumatology). The importance of Johannine influence, though, is that it demonstrates a logic rather than simply an argument in Augustine's trinitarian theology. …

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