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Trinitarian Spirituality

FoA Clare Priory Meeting July 2010 Topic 

Augustine and The Trinity

“Lord, my knowledge and my ignorance lie before You. Where You have opened to me let me enter. Where you have closed to me , open when I knock”
The magnitude of the task of understanding the Trinity and in Augustines task in trying to explain it, is encapsulated in the story of the Bishop of Hippo and the small boy on the sea-shore. Augustine tells the boy who is attempting to emptily the contents of the ocean with his bucket into the hole he has just dug in the sand, that it is futile. The boy replies that it is not so futile as the Bishops attempting to explain the Trinity!

Pope Benedict, in his talks on St Augustine, spoke of De Trinitate ranking it alongside De Civitate Dei, Confessiones and Enarrationes in Psalmos, as of the most important books that Augustine had written:
“ a work in 15 books on the central core of the Christian faith, faith in the Trinitarian God…..Here he reflects on the Face of God and seeks to understand this mystery of God who is unique, the one Creator of the world, of us all, and yet this one God is precisely Trinitarian, a circle of love. He seeks to understand the unfathomable mystery: the actual Trinitarian being, in three Persons, is the most real and profound unity of the one God.” (1)

According to Eugene Teselle it was in this great book, and in his teachings on Grace, that Augustine’s genius was recognised; it profoundly moulded western thought and dogma.

During the early centuries of the Church heresies arose as to the true nature and relationship of the Three Persons of the Trinity. It was necessary to have a defining dogma which was enshrined in the Nicene Creed 325AD. 

If I look back to my original ideas on the Trinity, I can see that I was strongly influenced by paternal, autocratic and fundamental beliefs: God was the Father and Creator, the Originator of everything that existed, all came from Him; Jesus Christ “the servant King” and the Holy Spirit were secondary to His Supremacy. 
In one sense there’s nothing the matter with this theology but I think that many of our erroneous and damaging conceptions of God stem from this idea of the all powerful, critical, stern God “out of our orbit” on his throne.

The Nicene Creed states that Jesus Christ is “God of God, Light of Light, very God of very God, begotten not made, being of one substance with the Father.”
Augustine confirms and expands the Nicene Creed giving us the concept of the Godhead; there at the beginning of time,
The Three in One: God equals God equals God. Complete equality and unity.
“the equality is so absolute that not only is the Father not greater than the Son…but neither is any one Person of the Trinity less than the Trinity itself.” (2)
Moreover the Trinity does not exist in itself apart from the Three Persons, for it is the Three Persons. When one acts they all act “The Trinity wrought that human form from the Virgin Mary, yet it is the person of the Son alone; for the invisible Trinity wrought the visible person of the Son alone.” (2)
Something to reflect on and discuss: the Trinity’s very nature and of the essence of God that it exists as they relate. God equals relationship equals love. What is relationship if it is not love?

Equally interesting for reflection and discussion is this paraphrase of the opening verses of Book 2 of De Trinitate by Eugene Teselle 
“the Son, by seeing the Father, is the Son, for his being begotten by the Father consists in nothing else than seeing the Father.”(3) Vice versa, God being self aware spoke The Word: this is who I Am. The Holy Spirit, the Kiss between the two, is also the delight, the desire to reveal who I Am.
This is the same as how we have a “self” but only know this by becoming “self aware”; this can lead to healthy “self-love” providing it is not closed-in on itself. Only with self reflection; by living a life that is compatible with the essential you, within the light of God’s Truth and all pervading love; only then Augustine says, can a man be affirmed, have correct self-awareness and be fully mature. All he/she was meant to be. 
(Interestingly Augustine “the psychologist” saw attachments as “confusions”; these hinder the mind from knowing itself as it “confuses” itself with them. Take away these attachments/ detach yourself through contemplation and you will come to yourself, and God.)
This triad of the human mind is developed by Augustine along the lines of his “Know yourself and know God.” “Capax Dei” becomes “Imago Dei” as the mind remembers, understands and wills to love God. We have to be careful not to confuse the glass with the image. Paul 1Cor.13,v.12 writes of seeing “through a glass darkly, then face to face.”
We are the image bearers; we are not little gods. It is only as the mind progresses from its own mindfulness to contemplating that of God. 

Picking up on earlier presentations.
Paul Bethell’s “Augustinian Theology of the Community”
I quote “This is the Augustian charism: we are a group of Christians freely gathered to march toward God, living in fraternal communion.
Trinity: The Trinity is full communion of life and love between the three Divine Persons - this is our model: we are called to live united in love, in full communion with profound interpersonal relationships.”(3)

Ian Harding’s “Augustinian Interiority”
I quote” For Augustine spirituality implied entering into the depths of oneself;” I entered into the depths of my soul and thus I was able to do it for Your aid befriended me”(Confessions7, 10) where one comes to terms with his soul, which is created in the image and likeness of God.” (On the Trinity 14,4,6)” (5)

Further back Nigel Bavidge at one of our National meetings said “What Augustine realised was that in every friendship there is a third person, namely God. He is J. McEvor’s ‘invisible partner in every relationship.’
The recognition of this trinity of love ensures a purity of love, in De Trinitate 1X vii 13 Augustine writes:
Not that every creature ought not to be loved, but if that love is referred to the Creator then it will not be desire but love. For it is desire when the creature is loved for itself. And then it does not help a man through making use of it but corrupts him in the enjoying of it…For as you ought to enjoy yourself not in yourself but in Him who made you, so also him whom you love as yourself. Let us enjoy there , both ourselves and our brethren in the Lord. “ (6)
So the triad of Beloved, Lover and Loving (whether of Eros or Philo love) is made perfect when surrendered/given up to the light and love of God. 


1. Pope Benedict XVI General Audiences 20/02/08
2. De Trinitate VII, 1 ; II 10,18
3.E. Teselle “Augustine the Theologian”
4. Paul Bethell “Communion of Life in St Augustine - what does it mean for FOA?”
5. Ian Harding “Augustinian Interiority FOA”
6. Nigel Bavidge “Friendship in St Augustine”

Suggested further reading

William Paul Young “The Shack”
This is not a book on the defining nature of the Trinity, as some fundamentalist Christians declare with horror and condemnation, but a refreshing contemporary and relevant take on God as big black “Momma”, Jesus in levis and artist- creator -gardener-ethereal Spirit. It is a book about a compassionate God who is there with us in our deepest pain at that stuck place of our hurts.

W.H. Vanstone “Loves Endeavour, Loves Expense”
The Trinity already complete and perfect created man out of the overflow of their love. With the Fall (“Where are you?” calls God ) God is strangely now incomplete and man a missing part of their communion. God the Son by kenosis (selfless love) reconciles us, bringing us back into communion (Holy Communion.)

Rowan Williams “The Dwelling of the Light”
Williams reflects on Andrei Rublev’s fifteen-century icon of “The Holy Trinity”
He suggests that the story of the visitors Abraham receives at Mamre was seen by early Christians as “a foreshadowing of the revelation that God is three agents sharing one agency”
“The whole theology of icons depended upon the incarnation; God could be depicted because God had taken and transformed ordinary flesh and blood. But the Father and the Spirit had never taken flesh, and so could not be painted … But there was this narrative in which it seemed that the three divine agents appeared visibly in history; here was the vehicle for the representation of the mystery.” 
Augustine in De Trinitate III 10,19 “Theophanies are always mediated by created things which signify the indivisible and unintelligible God.” He thought they were usually Angels as such or borrowing human form or other creatures.
Frank Sheed “A Map Of Life”
In the chapter Truth: Mystery of the Trinity he writes, “…mystery …is not to be conceived as a blank wall barring further progress… think of it as an in exhaustible well of truth - a well from which for all eternity we can drink our fill yet which in all eternity we shall never drink to the last drop.”

I leave you with Augustine, “In loving your neighbour you endow your eye with the purity needed in order to see God” St Augustine

P.S. Ian at our meeting gave us the very useful analogy of the Trinity as H2O: 
“An analogy to help me understand the Trinity: 
H2O, or water consists of three atoms tightly bound together acting as one molecule of water. Yet water can reside in three distinctly different forms or states; ice (solid), water (liquid) and steam (gas). Each state will be dominant, depending on the circumstances – but all three are capable of existing simultaneously. This wonderful ‘Life giving water’!”


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