Saturday, June 02, 2007

A Blast from the Past: What did Augustine and Arius have in common?

--Originally posted on June 26, 2006. I'm reposting this in view of Trinity Sunday.

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?


Mike L said...

...thus understanding causality to be the essential attribute of deity rather than the hypostatic (i.e. personal) feature of the Father's monarchy.

That is vague, especially given that you haven't quoted any passage in particular. Indeed it is so vague that, as stated, the thesis Augustine is alleged to have held concerning deity could apply just as well to any actual entity: for any x, x is actual just in case x is a causal agent of some kind. Thus "causality" is the essential attribute of actual existence, not just of deity.

Augustine is often charged with holding ideas, especially heretical ideas, that he did not in fact hold. In the present case, you haven't succeeded in specifying just what erroneous thesis, if any, he did hold.

lexorandi2 said...

Dear Mike,

The "causality" to which my brief entry refers is not a general causality, but rather a "divine causality," i.e., the generation or cause of divine filiation or procession. Any introductory work on the Arian heresy would confirm that Arius' entire argument was grounded in the notion of divine causality: The Father is the "cause" (through begetting) of the Son, who is thus divine to a lesser degree. In this way, Arius distinguished the essential deity of the Father from the begotten or "created" divine status of the Son. Again, you can study this in any introductory work.

The same is true of Augustine. Mountains of material have been written by him and about him. Indeed, practically the entire Western system has been built on the foundation of his theology. Incidentally, I was not accusing Augustine of being an Arian, I was just pointing out a particular affinity in their respective approaches to the question of divine causality. Nothing new here. Again, any introductory primer on Augustine's trinitarian thought will confirm what I have said: that Augustine understood divine causality to be an essential aspect of what it means to be God, which is exactly why his system REQUIRES filioquism. The Father begets the Son; the Spirit proceeds from Father and the Son. The question that remains (and I am not the first to ask it by any stretch) is what about the Spirit? Must not the Spirit be the "cause" of the generation of yet another divine person in order to be fully God?