Dec 17, 2012

Augustinian Theology

Augustine’s doctrine of the church
Augustine described the church as Christ’s mystical body, Christ’s bride, Christ’s realm, and the mother of Christians. This last phrase means there is no normative way of salvation outside of Christ’s church and one cannot ignore Christ’s visible means of grace in the church and still have the Holy Spirit. Augustine held that the true church is universal and comprised of all saints, both past and present. He realized that in this life the church is a mixed company but will one day be perfected. Augustine sees the oneness of Christ’s body as an essential and challenges schismatics by asking “who can truthfully say that he has the charity of Christ when he does not embrace His unity?” (Ep. 61, 2.) The church as Christ’s mystical body was key for Augustine and he saw Christ as existing as the eternal Word, the God-Man, and also as the Church. For Augustine, Christ and Christians are una quaedam persona: one person.

Increasingly more believers in the Western church, including Augustine, saw the Roman church as the one “to whom the Lord after his resurrection entrusted the feeding of his sheep” (C. Ep. Fund. 5). In the West, the development of the doctrine of transubstantiation was much less pronounced, and Augustine does not share a similar view of the elements as do his Eastern brothers. 
Augustine’s doctrine of the saving work of Christ
 Augustine saw the “end game” of the Incarnation as being Christ’s role as mediator. For in the God-Man, we can find common ground with our Creator and be reconciled to him. Augustine hints as what theologians call the “physical theory” when he says things such as “the Only-Begotten participated in our mortality so that we might participate in his immortality” (Ep. 187, 20). He also speaks, in the vein of what theologians call the “ransom theory”, of the cross freeing us from Satan’s bonds, wherein Christ’s blood was the price Satan was paid (De Trin. 13, 19.) Augustine focused most on the restoration of favor we received via Christ’s atoning sacrifice (JND Kelly, Early Christian Doctrines, 392).
Augustine’s analogies of the Trinity and why he thought them inadequate
I can barely grasp the analogies Augustine uses for the Trinity; for they are quite abstract and subtle. I am not certain I truly comprehend what he is saying in all of them. Therefore, I have had to follow closely JND Kelly’s description of them in Early Christian Doctrines. So what follows is my attempt to paraphrase his paraphrase but a ttimes I have had to rely too slavishly on him. If I have misunderstood Kelly at points, this does not mean that he has misunderstood Augustine, of course, but rather that I was not able to even ascertain the more stripped down version he provided. What follows is my best attempt …
  • Memory, understanding, and will Each of these are equal and yet one.This helps us understand the mutual relationships within the Trinity better.
  • The process of perceptionthe external object, the mind’s sensible representation of it and the intention or act of focusing the mind. Augustine says it is even better to remove the external object and replace it with the memory impression (or internal memory image). This is superior because then it is all in the mind and therefore ‘of one and the same substance’ (Sermon de Symbols 1, 2.)
  • Being, knowing, and wilingThis one is based on the inner man when the mind’s activity is focused on itself or God. In Augustine’s Confessions (398 AD), he pondered these three and later parsed them out in Detrinitate.
  • The idea of lovethe lover, the object loved, and the love itself.This last one is what ties them together. Augustine takes this idea from 1 John 4. He does not spend a lot of time on it, as he says it is only a small peek into the Triune Godhead.
Augustine was not totally satisfied with any of these. One reason was he felt the image of something in our mind is imperfect and too remote, whereas this distance does not exist with the Triune Godhead. Another reason is these processes are part of us as our mental faculties but this is God’s whole essence as a simple being. Another problem is the Three co-inhere or co-abide mutually but in our minds the actions are separate. Lastly, these things we are doing in our minds are not Persons in the way the Trinity truly is tri-personal.
Augustine’s contribution to Trinitarian thought and how it differed from Origen and the Cappadocians
His starting point is the nature of God as indivisible. This places the unity of the Trinity at the front, as it were, for “no single Person of the three is less than the Trinity itself” (De trin8, 1). To make sure the distinctions between the Three are maintained,Augustine focuses in what is now called “appropriation” as well as their mutual relations. Within the Godhead, these relations are eternal. There is much more that can be said, as Augustine’s contribution to Trinitarian theology is considerable but here the differences should be pointed out.

In contrast to the Cappadocians, he started with the divine nature itself, absolute and simple. For Augustine, this drove his theology in this area. In contrast to Origen, he went out of his way to state that whatever is true of one member is true of the other. This means whatever is affirmed of the Son is affirmed for the Father and the Holy Spirit as well. This formulation ensures their equality within the godhead, something Origen failed to do by advocating a subordinationism wherein the Father is “out of the league” of even the Son.

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