Monday, June 26, 2006

What did Augustine and Arius have in common?

Answer: Both Arius and Augustine defined deity in terms of divine causality, thus understanding causality to be the essential attribute of deity rather than the hypostatic (i.e. personal) feature of the Father's monarchy.

In this confusion of Person, nature and attribute, Arius went on to assert that only the Father was truly God, for the Logos was begotten of the Father. Thus Christ could not be fully divine in that he was "caused by," and in no way the "cause of," the Father. Divine causality and essential deity are inextricably mixed.

In his argument against the later heresy of semi-Arianism, Augustine conceded this point, but went on to employ it in favor of the essential deity of Christ by positing the filioque doctrine. Thus Augustine saw the Son as the "cause," along with the Father, of another divine Person: the Holy Spirit. "For if the Son has of the Father whatever He has, then certainly He has of the Father that the Holy Spirit proceeds also from Him" (De Trinitate 15:26:47). In other words, the Son receives divine causality from the Father and thus is fully divine, for the Holy Spirit proceeds from both.

At this point the inconsistency in Augustine's view of the Trinity becomes apparent, for where does this leave the Holy Spirit? If the Holy Spirit is a fully divine hypostasis then wherein is manifested the attribute of causality?

Food for thought.

Until next time.

P.S. I am indebted to my friend, Dr. Joseph Farrell (+Photius), for these insights.


Thomas said...

Aquinas accuses Arius of misunderstanding procession in God in the sense of an effect tending toward exterior matter. He prefers instead the word ‘principle’ to which the term of procession is interior, i.e. one in essence – which of course in Aquinas’s metaphysics also means one in esse, since in the divine nature there is no real distinction between essence and existence. He could not have accused Augustine of the same error since, as the previous post shows, according Augustine all things in God are identical with his essence. The whole purpose of the intellectual analogy – the radical imperfection of which he openly acknowledges in the de Trinitate – is to illustrate how something can proceed from another without being ‘other’ with respect to substance.

As for the full divinity of the Holy Spirit, it seems that on the basis of the Augustinian schema the divinity of the Third Person would only be called into question if there were a Fourth Person who proceeds from the Father and the Son and not the Holy Spirit. Admittedly, however, Augustine complicates the matter by his implication that the Holy Spirit has within his hypostatic character the role of principle of the volitional procession of creation.

Photius said...


The point here illustrated by the post is that from Augustine's stand-point two hypostasis have a hypostatic character of causality with respect to divinity that a third doesn't. Properties are either absolutely unique and irrepeatable to one, or properties are in common. If the property of hypostatic causality is common to the Father and the Son, it must be common to the Spirit. As much, you would have an infinite number of hypostasis since each one would need the principle of causality and dependent on the person they produced. Each is impossible without the other.

The problem here is in the ordo theologiae. How can you talk about an essence (that doesn't exist in abstraction) without first considering A PERSON and what they do?

If all things are identical with the divine essence, can both ingeneracy and generacy both be identical with the essence? What is the differene between a divine attribute and a person in such a view?


Thomas said...

Photius - If the persons, in so far as they subsist, are not identical with the divine essence, how can you avoid talking about an essence without first considering a person? Aquinas's view of the persons as essentially subsistent relations - it seems to me - would make it even more difficult to think about the nature apart from the persons.

As to the logic of common properties vs. unique properties, could you not use the same way of speaking to argue that since both the Son and the Holy Spirit proceed from a principle - and a common principle at that - that this characteristic must be a property held in common, i.e. of the divine essence and thus an attribute of the Father, which is impossible? It seems that the distinguishing of the hypostases on the basis of opposite relations, in the manner completed by the Latin use of the filioque, avoids this problem. But then I am not necessarily closed to an orthodox pluralism in Trinitarian metaphysics.

Photius said...


They both don't proceed. Procession is a unique hypostatic property.

Here's Thomas's confusion:

"[F]or, if anything is in any way at all from something, we say it proceeds from that thing."-- Summa Contra Gentiles (Notre Dame-. University of Notre Dame Press, 1975), 4, 24

For to say that the Son originates from the Father and that the Spirit originates from the Father, must mean by this logic, there is not one, Only-Begotten but two.

But what is underlining the presupposition that “if anything is from something” in “any way at all” that this means that this designates procession? It must be his Natural theology dictating this principle.

Nevertheless for Thomas, “Natural theology” trumps Revelation.

The Persons of the Trinity, in the Cappadocian model, are distinguished by THREE (not two) RELATIONS OF ORIGIN (not opposition): The Father as Ingenerate cause, the Son as Only-Begotten, and the Spirit from the Father Proceeding.

So no the Son and the Spirit do not both proceed from a principle. Only the Spirit has that hypostatic property. Gregory of Nazianzus warned of the dialectic to which you refer in the 5th Theological Oration, NPNF II, 7, p.319-320: “For, tell me, what position will you assign to that which Proceeds, which has started up between the two terms of your division, and is introduced by a better Theologian than you, our Savior Himself? Or perhaps you have taken that word out of your Gospels for the sake of your Third Testament, The Holy Ghost, which proceedeth from That Source, is no Creature; and inasmuch as He is not Begotten is no Son; and inasmuch as he is between the Unbegotten and the Begotten is God. And thus escaping the toils of your syllogisms, He has manifested himself as God, stronger than your divisions. What then is Procession? Do you tell me what is the Unbegottenness of the Father, and I will explain to you the physiology of the Generation of the Son and the procession of the Spirit, and we shall both of us be frenzy-stricken for prying into the mystery of God.”


Thomas said...

Photius – I simply disagree with your caricature of Aquinas’s theology. When he speaks of ‘origin’ or ‘principle’ in God, he recognizes that these words, though borrowed from created things, signify realities that transcend both their mode of expression and cognition, which is necessarily creaturely. Thomas absolutely rejects univocal correspondence between the divine ‘res’ and its extension in theological speech. At the same time, words of this kind must point in some way to the “things” signified by them; otherwise all theological speech is falsified.

As for his use of the word ‘procession’, he is using it not in the sense of a personal property specifically distinct from ‘begotten’, but – as he says – in the more general sense of having one’s being from another. This is true of both the Son and the Holy Spirit. Neither is without origin.

There is no perfect Trinitarian logic. I am not rejecting the Orthodox manner of theologizing.

lexorandi2 said...


You may not see yourself as rejecting orthodox theologizing, but your own theologizing belies a fundamentally different ordo theologiae than the orthodox -- essence, attributes, persons -- which was and remains the crux of the issue.


Photius said...

"As for his use of the word ‘procession’, he is using it not in the sense of a personal property specifically distinct from ‘begotten’, but – as he says – in the more general sense of having one’s being from another."

Thomas, this is precisely what I reject. What is a procession in "general"? Like I said, if you consider an essence and its attributes prior to Persons, this is how you come up with such a view of "procession in general." This is why Lossky called the Latin doctrine of a "simple essence" a 'God in General." To your ears, this might sound somewhat polemical, but think of the implications of considering a fetus's nature prior to person. Person ends up being defined in abstract philosophical categories. Abortion is a Trinitarian problem, and really, only solvable with the infection of the First Europe's Trinitarian doctrine. Thus, I reject Thomas Aquinas (and the whole Scholastic enterprise) of natural theology.

The correct way to view these questions are not through philosophical reason, but rather, recapitulationally, meaning denotes the priority of scripture and liturgy above philosophy. Afterwards, we then could consider what kind of philosophical import our doctrine could have, but never by the marriage with Hellenistic first principles (simplicity, identity, attributes, etc.)


Thomas said...

Dr. D.,

The method of speculative Trinitarian theology – the same in St. Thomas and St. Gregory of Nyssa – of treating of the essence before the persons, may reflect, in the Angelic Doctor at least, an epistemic priority of essence to persons, on account of the natural order of human cognition, but not therefore an ontological one. Often in Thomas’s theology the ontological and the logical are opposite. Take for example his notion that God is unknowable to us precisely because he is the most knowable thing. The mind naturally moves from the least to the most intelligible objects.

I am not engaged in a fight-to-the-death over any particular Trinitarian theology. I recognize that there are real values at stake in this discussion, on both sides. I also believe that there are non-theological forces at play. For example, a particular way of cognizing the mystery may appeal to someone because of his or her preference for philosophy or a kind of philosophy, such as realism or personalism. Also, I think much of this discussion is animated by a discredited "antinomic dialectic" (Emery, p.166-171) between Augustinian essentialism and Cappadocian personalism.

My main concern, as was Thomas’s I think, is to preserve both the incomprehensibility of God and the true meaningfulness of theo-logiae.

Photius said...

"The method of speculative Trinitarian theology – the same in St. Thomas and St. Gregory of Nyssa – of treating of the essence before the persons"

St. Gregory of Nyssa taught no such thing. In fact, he sharply criticized this and saw this as the root foundational problem Eunomianism. Amazing. Truly Amazing.

Photius said...

"I also believe that there are non-theological forces at play. For example, a particular way of cognizing the mystery may appeal to someone because of his or her preference for philosophy or a kind of philosophy, such as realism or personalism."

For us, it is an ontological priority of Tradition and Revelation here. There are two movements of Hellenization in Christianity. One Origenistic and Gnostic and the other "Augustinian." There is also two movement away from Hellenization. In the East it is a slow divorce from Hellenistic principles, and thus, celebrated on The Sunday of Orthodoxy as precisely a triumph over the root paradigm of heresy, philosophy. The other, Augustinian (not the Person mind you), was never broken away from (though resisted at times), but rather unraveled itself like a great Hegelian man of destiny (as it still continues to do so). Those (St. Vincent of Lerins, St. John Cassian) who called for an evaluation of some of Augustine's speculations in light of the consensus patrum, were largely ignored.

In short, the filioque (or rather the principles and methods it is based on) is a doctrine of life and death.


Asher Black said...

I see you are a friend of the good doctor. Feel free to announce that his magnum opus: God, History, & Dialectic is now available for a reasonable price in 4-volume electronic edition at