The Augustinian Confusion: A sufficient safeguard from Arianism? Not at all.

Excerpt from God, History, and Dialectic by Most Rev. Photius (Joseph P.) Farrell, S.S.B., D.Phil.(Oxon.): 

When St. Augustine wrote his De Trinitate, he may have done so partially in an effort to combat Arianism.  Certainly the Council of Toledo advanced Augustine’s arguments for the filioque as being anti-Arian in nature.  But is the filioque in fact an adequate safeguard against Arianism?  We have seen that the Arians defined deity by confusing the hypostatic feature of the Father, ingenerate causation, with the divine essence itself: they defined the divine essence by the Father’s personal feature.  Thus, they could deny that Christ was fully God because he did not cause but was caused.  To this we saw that Athanasius’ response is to go to the root of the heresy: the definition of the divine essence as causation; if that were so, he said, then, yes, the Son in order to be God would have to cause the Spirit, and the Spirit a fourth person, and so on until on ended in Polytheism.

But it is exactly this course which Augustine pursues:

“As the Father hath life in Himself, so hath He given to the Son to have life in Himself.”(De Trinitate, 7:3:5)Because of this, one should, says Augustine:

“understand that as the Father has in Himself that the Holy Spirit should proceed from Him so He has given to the Son that the same Spirit should proceed from Him(the Son), and both apart from time.  For if the Son has of the Father whatever He (the Father) has, then certainly He has of the Father that the Holy Spirit proceeds also from Him.”(Ibid., 15:27:47)

The phrase “and both apart from time” indicates very clearly that Augustine is not talking about a mere sending of the Spirit from or through the Son in respect of time, that is, in respect of Economy or of God’s providential ordering and relationship with His creation.  This is a clear confession of a procession of the Spirit from the Father and the Son in eternity, in Theology. Notice that there is a new structural element, a new turning in Augustine’s ordo theologiae, and that is the element of a subordination of persons to attributes: we have now arrived at the full-blown Augustinian ordo theologiae of essence, attributes, persons, for the Son, as has been stated by Augustine, receives His causation of the Spirit from the Father not on the basis of a direct deduction from the simplicity of their essence, but mediately, on the basis of their common interchangeable attributes.  The reason for this step is, I believe, rather obvious, for had Augustine argued immediately from the simplicity to the Persons, he would have ended with no persons at all; it is this middle step which disguises the problem from him. Thus, there are two types of subordinationist structures present in Augustine’s exposition of doctrine: the first, the purely formal and structural level, is that of the Augustinian ordo theologiae itself: essence, attributes, persons.

 The second is that which occurs within the category of Persons, for the Holy Spirit is seen to proceed from an Uncaused Cause, the Father, and the Caused Cause, the Son, in almost the identical manner that Plotinus’ World-Soul proceeded both from the One and the Nous.

But is Augustine, the great expositor of the doctrine of the Trinity really that confused about these categories?  Indeed, and unfortunately, yes:

“For we cannot say that the Holy Spirit is not life, while the Father is life, and the Son is life: and hence as the Father … has life in Himself; so He has given to Him (the Son) that life should proceed from Him, as it also proceeds from himself.” (De Trinitate, 15:27:48)

Hence, not only has the unique personal distinction of the Father been exchanged with the Son on the basis of the common attribute of life, but that attribute which proceeds from the Father and the Son turns out to be the Holy Spirit.  It is precisely that Holy Spirit who turns out to be the attribute common to both the Father and the Son; consequently, a person has been confused with an attribute of all three persons; what is natural is now personal and the distinction of Person and Nature has entirely broken down.  This is, of course, classical Sabellianism.

This is a self-defeating enterprise at best, for having made the Spirit proceed from the Father and the son because the Father and the Son share common attributes since the essence is simple, the Spirit then becomes an attribute, defines the essence, indeed, is the essence, and therefore, is the new principle of unity in the Trinity!  Does Augustine actually say this? Indeed:

“Because both the Father is a spirit and the Son is a spirit, and because the Father is holy and the Son is holy, therefore… since the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit are one God, and certainly God is Holy, and God is a spirit, the Trinity can be called also the Holy Spirit.”(De Trinitate, 5:11:12)

Thus, since the Spirit defines attributes suitable to Father and Son, He becomes the new locus of unity in the Trinity — note now the Monarchy of the Father is destroyed as the personal locus of unity of the Trinity — and is thus the Hegelian “Synthesis” to the Father’s “Thesis” and the Son’s “Antithesis”, he is, in Augustine’s words, “the substantial and consubstantial love of both.”(De Trinitate, 15:27:50)  And this, of course, is the ultimate statement of a dialectical vision of God, for now the Persons are not distinguished by relations of origin, but of opposition.


20 Responses to The Augustinian Confusion: A sufficient safeguard from Arianism? Not at all.

  1. Jason Loh says:

    I have to say, notwithstanding my Augustinian allegiance, that was an excellent critique by Dr. Farrell. No surprise that both Perry and Daniel became Orthodox.

  2. Brandon says:

    I’m puzzled by this whole argument. Apologies for the length of the comment, but there are a number of things I don’t understand here.

    Let’s start from the beginning with Augustine’s use of the verse from John 5. Augustine does not in this passage infer the procession from the common attribute of life, as far as I can see. Rather, the structure of the passage is that just as we understand in the Johannine comment that the Son did not receive life from the Father in the sense of first not having it then having it, so too we ought to understand that the Spirit does not proceed from both Father and Son in the sense of having first proceeded from the Father and then from the Son. Thus there are three points worth noting: (1) the passage does not conclude to the Filioque but assumes it (which could be figured out from the strucutre of the chapter, but is also manifest in the immediate context itself); (2) the Johannine verse is used not as a premise but as a parallel; and (3) the parallel is not between life and the procession of the Spirit but between the fact on the one hand that the Son’s receiving life from the Father in being begotten by Him does not imply that the Son was first not alive then alive, and the claim on the other hand that the Spirit’s proceeding from Father and Son does not imply that He first did not proceed then proceeded .

    Second, let’s look at the actual context of the spirit quotation. He very clearly does not say that the Holy Spirit is the divine essence; he says that just as the Trinity may metaphorically be called the Father, in relation to creatures, so the Trinity may metaphorically be called the Holy Spirit in a similar way. I don’t see how this can be missed. He is explicitly talking only of relative names applied to the Trinity, and distinguishes between relative names involving mutual reference and relative names involving relation to creatures. He notes that ‘Father’ can be taken metaphorically of the whole Trinity in the second way; then notes that the whole Trinity is not called ‘Son’ in any sense; but that it may be called ‘Holy Spirit’ since Father and Son too have the attributes of ‘spirit’ and ‘holy’. He then in the very next sentence denies that the Holy Spirit Himself is the whole Trinity, which eliminates entirely your interpretation of the portion you quote. (He repeats this point again in the next chapter.) He then notes what everyone recognizes, that the Holy Spirit is designated by names that are common (namely, Holy and Spirit) but is nonetheless designated by these names specially, and suggests, adapting Hilary of Poitiers, that it is because as gift He is in a sense the communion of the Father and the Son, being the gift of both.

    (In fact, it’s pretty clear throughout this passage that Augustine has book II of Hilary’s De Trinitate in mind; the use of John 5:26 is likewise heavily influenced by the discussion of Book VII. Augustine throughout the book goes beyond Hilary, of course, but it seems a bit unlikely that Augustine is introducing a new and foreign ordo theologiae in passages in which he is following along with the most Greek of the Latin Fathers.)

    I can’t find the precise words you attribute to Augustine in your last paragraph at the place you cite. (The closest I can find is “a certain consubsantial communion of Father and Son,” which is obviously just a reference back to his previous comments in the same book.)

  3. Brandon says:

    I can’t find the precise words you attribute to Augustine in your last paragraph at the place you cite.

    Sorry; the formatting is not showing correctly in the browser, and so I mistook the last paragraph for an editorial comment, when it looks like it might be Farrell’s. In any case, I can’t find the quotation at the place cited, whoever may be quoting it.

  4. Quite so, Brandon.

    Eliminating the context is the weakest form of argument.

  5. Mark Downham says:

    Augustine used a primary organising category of ‘Purpose’ NOT Cause in dealing with the Trinity.

  6. Death Bredon says:


    Just some thought:

    It strikes me that, of course, Augusitne does not cast his speculative theology (that’s all he thought it was) in pure, historical Sabellian language and format. But, rather what Farrel and other scholars note is that the natural and logical IMPORT of what he does say is Sabellian. Hence, the charge is that Augustine is a crypto-Sabellain; a hidden Sabeliian. And, if fact, history indicates that, until fairly recently, those who relied upon Augustine as a virtually sole source of patristic teaching did indeed read him along the crypto-Sabellian lines that Farrel explicates, even if they themselves were not consciously aware of, or even denied, their implicit Sabellianism.

    Of course, with some effort, some strained construction, and possibly special pleading, Augustine of Hippo probably can be read back into congrunence with (and in subordination to) the Cappodacian mainstream of Christian explication in the Greco-Latin classical idiom — that is to say that, with a proper and fully catholic commentary using the consenus patri (not Papal decree) as the canon, Augustine could be fully baptized as Fr. Meyendorff of belssed memory would put it, much like much of Origen in the East was (though in the end not all Origen’s works could be reconciled and he had to be unfortunately anathematized after his death within the Church).

    In point of fact, in most contemporary RC defenses of Augustine, this “redemption of Augustine process” seems to me to be what is happening — that is to say that the RCs are conceding the Athanasian/Cyrillian/Cappodacian ground (as they were THE Fathers of the early Counicls) and arguing that Augustine (over in his little Latin-only hamlet of Hippo) in fact fits in the larger (and largely Greek or Syrian) orthodox-catholic framework WHEN GIVEN A SYMPATHETIC READING. Personally, I view this is as progress because the long-held Karling-Frankish/Scholastic “misreading” of Augustine gets jettisoned by all parties, and Augustine is no longer seen as THE patristic source standing alone from the consensus patri.

    In short, I can swallow Augustine as a minor father if and only if he is read in conjunction with and subordination to the consensus patri. But of course, this an ahistorical and therefore somewhat revisionist way to read him, as the Karling Franks intentionally did not do this and the Schoolmen (such as Acquinas) inherited Karling dogma as a fait accompli. Nevertheless, the effort is worth while (1) for ecumenical reasons and (2) because this almost certainly how Augustine himself wanted to be read. Finally, (3) Augustine also give us some works which may be the best representatives of the consensus patri in certain areas; “just war” doctrine for instance.

  7. Brandon says:


    For my part, I think that two separate things are happening:

    (1) There are Augustinian positions that have grown up on the basis of Augustine’s works; they are often mutually exclusive, in fact.

    (2) Because of Augustine’s importance in the West people assign him the cause of every bad idea they think is floating about the West, even when the textual evidence can’t justify it.

    With regard to (1), there are definitely extreme interpretations of Augustine that have arisen. But at the same time, reading Augustine as in harmony with the rest of the Church Fathers is hardly a new or revisionist reading. Nor does it in the least require that one not consider Augustine a ‘major’ father or consider the Latin Fathers not to have received the true faith so that those who owe their faith to them always must go a-begging to the Greeks to find out what they should believe. All it requires is a concern for catholicity. The alternative — playing games of My Saint Is Better Than Your Saint — is not conducive to anyone’s spiritual health.

    With regard to (2), I find it remarkable how often Augustine is criticized for originating things he did not originate. Is Augustine’s position in the De Trinitate crypto-Sabellian? He’d have to be getting it largely from Hilary, whom no one accuses of being crypto-Sabellian. So should we really be going back to Hilary and condemning him? Or should the Hilarian influence give us pause about whether we are interpreting Augustine correctly? (Of course, I don’t see how one can show that Augustine’s position has the logical import of Sabellianism by attributing claims to him that he obviously doesn’t hold, and that serious reading can’t support, but that’s a different issue.)

    I also think the Carlovingian theologians had much less of an influence on scholastic thought than you seem to think. What sort of thing do you have in mind?

  8. Cyril says:

    From De Triinitate 6.5.7

    Spiritus ergo sanctus commune aliquid est patris et filii, quidquid illud est, aut ipsa communio consubstantialis et coaeterna; quae si amicitia conuenienter dici potest, dicatur, sed aptius dicitur caritas; et haec quoque substantia quia deus substantia et deus caritas sicut scriptum est. Sicut autem simul substantia cum patre et filio, ita simul magna et simul bona et simul sancta et quidquid aliud ad se dicitur quoniam non aliud est deo esse et aliud magnum esse uel bonum et cetera sicut supra ostendimus. Si enim minus magna est ibi caritas quam sapientia, minus quam est diligitur sapientia; aequalis est igitur ut quanta est sapientia tantum diligatur. Est autem sapientia aequalis patri sicut supra disputanuimus; aequalis est igitur etiam spiritus sanctus, et si aequalis in omnibus aequalis propter summam simplicitatem quae in illa substantia est.

  9. We follow up with Hilary and see if he follows an Augustinian or an Ireneaeus/Athanasian/Cappadocian/Ambrosian Ordo Theologiae. I suspect that St. Augustine is confused in his interpretation of Hilary because of his lingering NeoPlatonism.

    For the record, Farrell considers St. Augustine a bone fide Saint and not to blame for every ill fate that the West took.


  10. Brandon says:


    I take it you are trying to read the ‘something common’ as meaning an attribute in common? But it seems clear that Augustine’s meaning is more straightforward than that, namely, that the Spirit is common to the Father and the Son as their Spirit, or, in other words, that the Spirit is the Spirit of the Father and of the Son. This is clear from the passage immediately prior to the one you quote, which shows that the point here is that just as the Father and Son are equal persons of one and the same substance, so too the Spirit must be an equal person of one and the same substance, and therefore God. The idea is that the Trinity in and of itself, and in the highest and most perfect sense, ‘keeps the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace’, as we are exhorted to do by the Apostle; to interpret the Spirit’s commonality to the Father and the Son as the Spirit’s being their common attribute would require us to say as well that the Spirit’s commonality to us when we keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace is the Spirit’s being our common attribute, which is absurd. So I don’t see that the passage supports the claim that Augustine is doing any conflating.


    It may well be, for all that I’ve argued, that Augustine follows a general ordo theologiae foreign to that of Hilary; my point was merely that the passages Farrell quotes don’t show it, because in those passages Augustine is merely following along with discussions by Hilary.

    If I had a serious and sound argument in hand that Augustine was Sabellian-tending, that wouldn’t really bother me, any more than I’m bothered by the fact that Cyril of Jerusalem was technically Semi-Arian; all it does is underline the point that would have to be made already, that one must listen to other Fathers and not just take a diet of one. It’s also entirely possible that Augustine misinterprets Hilary on some key points; Hilary’s book on the Trinity was notorious at the time for being occasionally difficult to interpret, so it wouldn’t be surprising if Augustine misread something.

    So I’m open to being convinced on something like this. But Farrell’s argument seems to me absolutely the wrong way to go about it; it sounds suspiciously like it starts with the assumption that Augustine is Sabellian-tending and then goes through his works picking out passages that sound vaguely like what someone who’s Sabellian-tending might say. That’s not an argument; it’s an attempt to associate someone with a position by a chain of vague verbal associations. It’s the same thing Theodoret did with Cyril of Alexandria; convinced that Cyril was Appolinarian, he goes through what Cyril says and, dropping any qualifications or precisifications Cyril actually makes, emphasizes everything Cyril says that sounds vaguely like what an Appolinarian would say. It has a superficial plausibility until you go back and read what Cyril actually says in context. And this pattern of argument seems to be much the same.

    In any case, while Farrell’s argument doesn’t work, I do think following up with Hilary is worthwhile, because if we are to evaluate Augustine’s contribution correctly, we definitely do need to look at it in light of its actual background; and while Hilary is not the only part of the background to Augustine’s theology of the Trinity, he obviously is an important one.

  11. Death Bredon says:

    One final note Brandon,

    While I generally agree with your words, I want to make clear that I am aware that RC scholars (theologians) have historically CLAIMED to read Augustine (or Acquinas for that matter) catholically. But, IMHO, until recently, westerns have only paid lip service to the consensus patri, as the Greek/Syriac Fathers were (intentionally) distorted to conform to Latin, Karling-Frank secartarianism. Thus, I do not credit reading Augustine catholically in a way that treats him as equal or superior to the consensus establish before he was born and unknown to him because he self-admittedly refused to sharpen his Greek.

    My point is that Augustine’s largely Latin-only, speculative theology must be read in SUBORDINATION to the preexisting, non-speculative, explication of empirical dogma stated in the Greek/Syriac languages (by historical ‘accident’) of THE fathers. Had the Karling (Carolingian) Franks been willing to do this, as there Merovingian predecessors were, then Augustine would now enjoy a minor, uncontroversial place in the patristic pantheon as an eccentric, speculative theologian overly influenced by Platonism and Manichean thought because he would not learn Greek well enough to read himself out of these blinders, but who nevertheless received enough truly catholic wisdom through Latin too occassionally uncork some brilliant work that captured the mind of the church in the best possible way.

    Also, as an aside (wink), had the Karlings not been hell bent on a Germanic Empire to Rival or Supercede the Greco-Roman Empire, and had not employed sectarian speculative theology as a rhetorical weapon in that effort (for example claiming that the “Greeks” are heretics because they don’t follow Augustine), the great schism between the older Greco-Roman Christians and the newer Barbarian Germanic Christians might have been avoided altogether. As is, we are at a tough juncture, as most of the West has not read Augustine in subordination to the orthodox catholic consensus before him, but has adopted Karling Frank (or Calvinist) readings of him as dogma. Naturally, we can’t put the blame entirely on Augustine personally (though he is an object lesson about learning Greek well before attempting any theologizing), as Germanic racism must shoulder the greater part of the blame, we still have a GREAT SCHISM in which Augustine, as read by the Barbarian Germanic West, is among THE root causes (not to overlook the Barbarian Germanic West’s love affair with Aristotelian Scholasticism, whether Thomistic or Calvinistic).

  12. Anastasia Theodoridis says:

    As an Orthodox Christian and no friend of the Filioque, I rejoiced to see this article.

    But then I got curious and re-read what St. Augustine said in de Trinitate 5:11:12 and guess what? Yes, He did say that since God was both Holy and Spirit, one could call God “the Holy Spirit,” but the seeming scandal of that sentence is completely undone by his next. There, he goes on to say, “But yet that Holy Spirit, *who is not the Trinity,* but is understood as in the Trinity, is spoken of in His proper name of the Holy Spirit relatively, since He is referred both to the Father and to the Son, because the Holy Spirit is the Spirit both of the Father and of the Son.”

    In other words, his first suggestion was NOT to confuse the 3rd Hypostasis with the Holy Trinity. I think to have presented his statement as if St. Augustine HAD meant this is dishonest. Even more embarrassing is that this is exactly the sort of scholarly dishonesty of which I frequently accuse Catholics.

    Anastasia Theodoridis

  13. Cyril says:


    It wasn’t my point at all, but that St. Augustine subordinates persons to attributes (so-called): et haec quoque substantia quia deus substantia et deus caritas. Further, nothing can be said of the essence of God, yet this is exactly what St. Augustine does: ita simul magna et simul bona et simul sancta et quidquid aliud ad se dicitur quoniam non aliud est deo esse et aliud magnum esse uel bonum et cetera sicut supra ostendimus.


  14. Brandon says:

    Ah, thank you; it’s so much easier to respond to an objection when it is stated. It’s still difficult to catch your point, though. In the first Latin section you quote, Augustine is clearly alluding to Exodus 3:14 and quoting I John 4:8, since he is giving a reason why the Spirit must be consubstantial with the Father and the Son. Since I take it you aren’t claiming that the Apostle also subordinates persons to attributes, you must be claiming that Augustine is in some way radically misapplying these verses; but I still don’t know in what way you think He is.

    On the second part of your objection, I again am unclear about your point. The meaning appears to be: The substance of the Holy Spirit is, together with the substance of the Father and the Son, good, great, and holy, since it is not one thing for God to be and some other thing for God to be great, good, and holy. And this is true; if God is, He is great, good, and holy, for these things pertain to what it is for God to be”; thus, if the Spirit is God, He is equally great, good, and holy with the Father and the Son. The context, you will recall, is precisely this, showing that the Spirit is equal to the Father and the Son; so any interpretation of this passage has to be understood so as to make this point. And indeed, I think it’s pretty clear how to do so. The previous chapter discusses how the Son is consubstantial and equal with the Father, and this chapter discusses how, since the Father and the Son in the supreme sense “keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace,” the Spirit is substance, love, good, holy, great, the Spirit cannot be a lesser substance, or a lesser love, or anything else than the Father and the Son. One could perhaps argue that the discussion is more convoluted than it needs to be, but there’s nothing here that really suggests that Augustine subordinates persons to attributes, or, indeed, is saying of the divine substance anything except that the Spirit in being one substance with the Father and the Son is equal to them in love, greatness, goodness, holiness, and everything else, for no one can have the divine substance without having these things in full measure. In any case, Augustine later tells us very clearly what he means when saying that for God to be is to be wise, etc. (7.1.2); something for which to be is other than to be wise is something which, when it is, may sometimes be wise and sometimes not be wise (like the soul), whereas for the Father to be is to be wise because He is by that whereby He is wise, so you can’t split the two and say that the Father is in Himself but not wise in Himself.

  15. Brandon says:

    Also, I should point out that we have to be very careful in interpreting anything said in Books 6 & 7 in any case, since for much of the discussion there Augustine is not giving his own view. What he is doing is considering a particular argument sometimes used against the Arians, namely, that Christ is the wisdom and power of God, and God cannot be without wisdom and power, and therefore Christ must be God; and he looks at some questions raised by it. Much of the discussion is devoted to developing this argument and explaining what sort of questions are raised not to giving Augustine’s answer to those questions (or to Augustine’s own view of the argument). When he does answer the question, he actually rejects the argument as misleading. His answer would make any Orthodox proud, because he rejects the argument for not distinguishing properly between persons and attributes: the Father, the Son, and the Spirit are wise by one wisdom, and, while the Son is the wisdom of the Father as the Apostle says, He is not the wisdom of the Father in the sense of being that whereby the Father is wise. Thus one very plausible way to interpret the passage you are quoting is simply as developing the argument he ultimately rejects, showing how someone who held it would speak of the Spirit as well. That is, Augustine is showing the implications of an argument used by other Church Fathers, which he thinks, despite its potential strength against the Arians, is not quite right, for the reasons he gives.

    These two books are tricky in parts for precisely the reason that we have to distinguish Augustine’s view from the views of others, which he is developing in these books; so there are probably other ways in which it could be interpreted. But in either case, we have to be able to fit our interpretation into the whole argument of Books VI and VII. And I don’t see how one can say that passages in these books show that Augustine subordinates persons to attribute, when the whole point of the argument in these books is that the Son and Spirit are not attributes of the Father.

  16. acolyte says:


    The passage works from the Platonic structure of the One and Nous causing Soul jointly which is why you detect that Augustine doesn’t conclude the filioque from that passage but assumes it. That of itself is problematic for lots of reasons. First because the Plotinian arguments for the procession of Soul from the previous two hypostases are well known to be unconvincing to say the least and it signals what is doing the real work here for Augustine and it isn’t Scripture or the Patristic tradition.

    While Augustine doesn’t flat out say that the Holy Spirit is the divine essence one wouldn’t expect someone of Augustine’s intelligence to make such an outright heterodox statement either. Augustine often pulls back from the full implications of many of his statements, whether it is in his earlier or later writings. That is hardly interesting or a sufficient basis to move us away from the idea that Augustine is certainly bothered and confused about something here. In fact, it is reason to think that he is.

    The problem of referring to the Trinity as “Father” in terms of creating source and the distinct hypostasis of the Father is a problem with a history. It might be helpful to compare and contrast Augustine’s answer with that of others such as Athanasius. That might bring to light some interesting facts rather than simply dismissing objections to Augustine’s handling of the problem. Hence I don’t think “metaphorically speaking” is adequate.

    A significant question would be if the whole Trinity can have the “attributions” of “spirit” and “holy” what is the metaphysical difference between those attributes and the hypostasis of the Spirit? The argument is the citation is quite compatible with your reading since it argues that Augustine’s method of doing theology at least lends itself to confusion in theology proper.

    In reference to Hilary, while it is true that Augustine probably has Hilary in mind, that of itself is hardly exculpatory. Augustine is no slave to Hilary or to just about any source. And Augustine feels free to follow his metaphysics when it flies in the face of tradition, his discussion in De Trinitate on theophanies is one clear example. What needs to be demonstrated is that he means the same thing that Hilary did. I don’t think that Hilary believed in the filioque for example despite what spoof texts are often brought forward to that effect. It isn’t clear to me at all that Hilary is the “Western” (mind you I am not speaking of geography) witness that he is popularly thought to be.

  17. All,

    Farrell remarks in a footnote and is well aware what Augustine goes on to say that the Holy Trinity is not one person, and applauds Augustine for doing so. That’s not what is in question. So, there’s no dishonesty going on here. It is, rather, the logical steps that Augustine takes in coming to state that the Holy Trinity can be called Holy Spirit because of the attributable common attributes among each that Farrell sees as a problem (i.e. a problem in the ordo theologiae). It is Augustine’s “logic” and metaphysics that Farrell wishes to pin-point. Why the Western development in the liturgy…”in unity of the Holy Spirit,” when it is the Father according to Tradition that is the Source of unity in the Trinity?

    I amazed that nobody has commented on De Trinitate 15:27:48. That is a very problematic text. The attribute of life is attributable to each Father and Son, and that it is life that proceeds from them. Is life a person? Is the Holy Spirit an attribute? What?


  18. Brandon says:


    The passage doesn’t. as far as I can see, involve any Platonic structure at all; the reason the Filioque is assumed is that Augustine (starting in 15.26.45) reads the Scriptural claims about the divine missions as evidence that the Spirit proceeds from both the Son and the Father. You seem to be forgetting that accusations of Plotinianism in any particular passage have to be proven rather than assumed. Even if Augustine is guilty of Plotinianism elsewhere, I see no evidence that he is guilty of it here.

    As for the rest of your comment, I don’t see the relevance to Farrell’s argument. I’ve hardly claimed to give a comprehensive defense of Augustine here (and wouldn’t presume to give one in any case); my point is that Farrell’s argument is just plain bad because he is attributing things to passages that the textual evidence does not support. If there are other arguments, by all means they should be put forward; but Farrell’s particular claims about these particular passages are contrary to the evidence of the text, and cannot be salvaged precisely because of that.


    That’s an interesting passage. The background to the discussion is explicitly John 5:26, “As the Father has life, so He has given the Son to have life in Himself.” It’s pretty clear that all Augustine is claiming is that as the Father, having life in Himself, has given to the Son to have life in Himself, (so that life comes from the Father to the Son) so He has given that life should come from the Son (i.e., to the Spirit). So there doesn’t seem to be any claim that life is a person; only that the Son gives life to the Spirit as the Father gives it to Him. It could be more straightforwardly stated, but the sense seems clear enough; and whatever problems one might have with it, it doesn’t make life a person or treat the Holy Spirit as an attribute.

    Incidentally, Augustine is here quoting part of one of his sermons; the full original context can be found in Tractate 99 on the Gospel of John. Now that’s the text that Orthodox critics of the Filioque should be focusing on, because it gives a straightforward summary of Augustine’s reasons for the Filioque. The problem with using the De Trinitate is that Augustine only discusses it briefly in passing while doing other things (refuting Arians; analyzing arguments used against Arians; arguing that only through love can we come to believe in the Trinity as we ought; etc.). The basis for the claim has to be teased out, and that always brings a danger of seeing things that are not there.

  19. Joseph P. Farrell says:

    Goodness…! I had no idea that so many years after teaching this course for a college honors philosophy seminar that people would actually be arguing about it! It comes as a great surprise to me, especially as I have let very few copies of this work out.

    I wish I had time to comment on the many excellent observations and critiques, but to be honest, I stumbled across this thread of discussion quite by accident, and personal circumstances do not allow me the time to do so. In the main, I would only say that Mr. Jones is essentially correct, in that I am concerned primarily with the exposition of the logic of Augustine’s system.

    Blessings In our Lord God and Saviour Jesus Christ.

  20. I just want Dr. Farrell (I finished the intro to “A Disputation with Pyrrhus) and Mr. Jones (I’m rereading “Synergy in Christ”) to know that I am working through their enlightening works in my blog and hope that I’m not taking too many liberties. Feel free to tell me if I am.

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