- Term Papers, Book Reports, Research Papers and College Essays

St. Augustine of Hippo

Essay by   •  October 28, 2010  •  Research Paper  •  5,531 Words (23 Pages)  •  1,824 Views

Essay Preview: St. Augustine of Hippo

Report this essay
Page 1 of 23

The doctrine of the Divine Unity is a truth of natural religion; the doctrine of the Trinity is a truth of revealed religion. The various systems of natural theism present arguments for the Divine existence, unity, and attributes, but proceed no further. They do not assert and endeavor to demonstrate that the Supreme Being is three persons in one essence. It is because this doctrine is not discoverable by human reason, that the Christian church has been somewhat shy of attempts to construct it analytically; or even to defend it upon grounds of reason. The keen Dr. South expresses the common sentiment, when he remarks that "as he that denies this fundamental article of the Christian religion may lose his soul, so he that much strives to understand it may lose his wits." Yet all the truths of revelation, like those of natural religion, have in them the element of reason, and are capable of a rational defense. At the very least their self-consistence can be shown, and objections to them can be answered. And this is a rational process. For one of the surest characteristics of reason is, freedom from self contradiction, and consonance with acknowledged truths in other provinces of human inquiry and belief.

It is a remarkable fact, that the earlier forms of Trinitarianism are among the most metaphysical and speculative of any in dogmatic history. The controversy with the Arian and the Semi-Arian, brought out a statement and defense of the truth, not only upon scriptural but ontological grounds. Such a powerful dialectician as Athanasius, while thoroughly and intensely scripturalÐ'--while starting from the text of scripture, and subjecting it to a rigorous exegesisÐ'--did not hesitate to pursue the Arian and Semi-Arian dialectics to its most recondite fallacy in its subtlest recesses. If any one doubts this, let him read the four Orations of Athanasius, and his defence of the Nicene Decrees. In some sections of Christendom, it has been contended that the doctrine of the Trinity should be received without any attempt at all to establish its rationality and intrinsic necessity. In this case, the tenets of eternal generation and procession have been regarded as going beyond the Scripture data, and if not positively rejected, have been thought to hinder rather than assist faith in three divine persons and one God. But the history of opinions shows that such sections of the church have not proved to be the strongest defenders of the Scripture statement, nor the most successful in keeping clear of the Sabellian, Arian, or even Socinian departure from it.

Those churches which have followed Scripture most implicitly, and have most feared human speculation, are the very churches which have inserted into their creeds the most highly analytic statement that has yet been made of the doctrine of the Trinity. The Nicene Trinitarianism is incorporated into nearly all the symbols of modern Christendom; and this specifies, particularly, the tenets of eternal generation and procession with their corollaries. The English Church, to whose great divines, Hooker, Bull, Waterland, and Pearson, scientific Trinitarianism owes a very lucid and careful statement, has added the Athanasian creed to the Nicene. The Presbyterian churches, distinguished for the closeness of their adherence to the simple Scripture, yet call upon their membership to confess, 4

that "in the unity of the Godhead there be three persons, of one substance, power, and eternity; God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Ghost. The Father is of none, neither begotten nor proceeding; the Son is eternally begotten of the Father; the Holy Ghost eternally proceeding from the Father and the Son."1

The treatise of Augustin upon the Trinity, which is here made accessible to the English reader, is one of the ablest produced in the patristic age. The author devoted nearly thirty years of his matured life to its composition (A.D. 400 to 428). He was continually touching and retouching it, and would have delayed its publication longer than he did, had a copy not been obtained surreptitiously and published. He seems to have derived little assistance from others; for although the great Greek TrinitariansÐ'--Athanasius, the two Gregories, and BasilÐ'--had published their treatises, yet he informs us that his knowledge of Greek, though sufficient for understanding the exegetical and practical writings of his brethren of the Greek Church, was not adequate to the best use of their dialectical and metaphysical compositions.2 Accordingly, there is no trace in this work of the writings of the Greek Trinitarians, though a substantial agreement with them. The only Trinitarian author to whom he alludes is HilaryÐ'--a highly acute and abstruse Trinitarian.

In his general position, Augustin agrees with the Nicene creed; but laying more emphasis upon the consubstantiality of the persons, and definitely asserting the procession of the Spirit from the Father and Son. Some dogmatic historians seem to imply that he differed materially from the Nicene doctrine on the point of subordination. Hagenbach (Smith's Ed. Ð'§ 95) asserts that "Augustin completely purified the dogma of the Trinity from the older vestiges of subordination;" and adds that "such vestiges are unquestionably to be found in the most orthodox Fathers, not only in the East but also in the West." He cites Hilary and Athanasius as examples, and quotes the remark of Gieseler, that "the idea of a subordination lies at the basis of such declarations." Neander (II. 470, Note 2) says that Augustin "kept at a distance everything that bordered on subordinationism." These statements are certainly too sweeping and unqualified. There are three kinds of subordination: the filial or trinitarian; the theanthropic; and the Arian. The first is taught, and the second implied, in the Nicene creed. The last is denied and excluded. Accordingly, dogmatic historians like Petavius, Bull, Waterland, and Pearson, contend that the Nicene creed, in affirming the filial, but denying the Arian subordination; in teaching subordination as to person and real

tionship, but denying it as to essence; enunciates a revealed truth, and that this is endorsed by all the Trinitarian fathers, Eastern and Western. And there certainly can be no doubt that Augustin held this view. He maintains, over and over again, that Sonship as a real

tionship is second and subordinate to Fatherhood; that while a Divine Father and a Divine Son must necessarily be of the very same nature and grade of being, like a human father and a human son, yet the latter issues from the former, not the former from the latter. Augustin's phraseology on this point is as positive as that of Athanasius, and in some respects even more



Download as:   txt (33 Kb)   pdf (315.9 Kb)   docx (22.1 Kb)  
Continue for 22 more pages »
Only available on
Citation Generator

(2010, 10). St. Augustine of Hippo. Retrieved 10, 2010, from

"St. Augustine of Hippo" 10 2010. 2010. 10 2010 <>.

"St. Augustine of Hippo.", 10 2010. Web. 10 2010. <>.

"St. Augustine of Hippo." 10, 2010. Accessed 10, 2010.