Author: Teske, Roland J
Date published: June 1, 2012
AUGUSTINE AND THE TRINITY. By Lewis Ayres. New York: Cambridge University, 2010. Pp. xiv + 360. $80.
Ayres, well known for his writings on Augustine's works on the Trinity, presents in this challenging volume a careful and detailed account of the development of Augustine's thought on the Trinity from his first writings at Cassiciacum through the gradual development of his understanding of the triune God up to the very different and highly technical articulation of the mystery of the Trinity that he came to in his great work, De trinitate. A. also explores the sources of Augustine's developing understanding of the triune God and convincingly argues against some theories proposed in the past regarding Augustine's sources.
Scholars in the past have said, for example, that Augustine's De trinitate was a work of speculative theology not written in controversy with others, as his works against the Manichees, Donatists, and Pelagians clearly were. A. and his colleagues have long and convincingly argued that Augustine was engaged throughout the years of his developing thought on the Trinity with the Homoian Arian theology, which he would have first encountered in Milan at the time of his baptism, where Ambrose was struggling against the Arian empress. Other scholars have pointed to Augustine's discovery of Plotinus as the decisive influence, especially on his early understanding of the Trinity. A., on the other hand, convincingly shows that Augustine's early understanding of the Trinity was much more indebted to his proNicene predecessors, such as Hilary of Poitiers, Victorinus, and Ambrose of Milan than has been previously generally acknowledged, and that Augustine's reading of these and other pro-Nicene authors nourished his growing understanding of the trinitarian mystery. Others have claimed that Augustine's account of the Trinity, in contrast to that of the Eastern Fathers, begins with the divine unity and only with difficulty moves on toward the three Persons and their role in the economy of salvation. A., on the other hand, shows that Augustine was from the first and through the gradual development of his trinitarian theology deeply concerned with the irreducible character of the three Persons and their involvement in the economy of salvation.
The volume's introduction sets forth the author's aim, and the epilogue summarizes the major steps through which it has guided the reader. The study comprises four parts: "Origins," "Ascent," "Into the Mystery," and "Memory, Intellect, and Will," with several chapters in each part. The argumentation in each chapter is highly detailed, and rather than trying to summarize it, I will mention a few of the highlights that I found particularly helpful. For example, A's critique of du Roy's view that Augustine's early understanding of the Trinity was largely due to Plotinus's thought is nicely countered in terms of Christian pro-Nicene sources. A. goes on to show that Augustine's De fide et symbolo reveals "for the first time a variety of terminologies from Latin pro-Nicene and anti-monarchian tradition to define Catholic Trinitarianism" (92).
In the second part A. turns to the ascent from belief to understanding that becomes a central feature of Augustine's mature thought on the Trinity. The chapter entitled "A Christological Epistemology" is particularly interesting for in it A. points out what he calls Augustine's "Panzer," that is, his principal weapon of attack against all Homoian attempts to find in Scripture arguments for the subordination of the Son to the Father. A. sees Augustine as developing a notion of a contemplation of God that is Platonic in terminology, but pro-Nicene in its purpose.
Two topics dealt with in the third part are particularly helpful, namely, the procession of the Holy Spirit from the Father and the Son and the doctrine of subsisting relations. On the former A. not merely indicates the roots of the Filioque in Augustine, but points to ways in which Augustine's tentative language might alleviate some of the resulting tensions with the Eastern churches. On the latter A. distinguishes between Augustine's language on the relations between the Persons and the Thomistic doctrine and emphasizes that "Augustine simply does not offer (and may strategically wish to avoid) the sort of logical and philosophical precision so central to Thomas's exposition" (270). And A. is certainly correct that Augustine simply does not have a doctrine of the Persons as subsisting relations.
In the last part A.'s treatment of the created image of the Trinity in memory, understanding, and will emphasizes the tentative use of the psychological analogy and, while avoiding any facile simplification, helps the reader see Augustine's struggle to clarify the image of the Trinity in the human soul.
All told, the book is probably the most challenging study of Augustine's trinitarian thought that I have encountered, but it is, I believe, equally rewarding.
Marquette University, Milwaukee ROLAND J. TESKE, S.J.