Another Anti-Western Orthodox Bigot (Sigh)

“For the rest, Augustine’s conception of the oneness of Christ is shown, although with more or less clarity, in the various, likewise traditional ways of describing the incarnation: as an event (fieri), a taking on (susceptio) or assumption (assumptio), a drawing close (accedere), or even a mingling without confusion (mixtio sine confusione). Although in using those terms Augustine is clearly starting from the teaching of the faith according to which only the Son became a human being, he does not yet arrive at the technical formulation of the dogma. That is, he does not use the epxression ‘the one person of Christ’ in order to describe the starting point of theincarnation.  In his thinking, ‘the one person of Christ’ is rather the result of the ineffable union between the godhead and the humanity in Jesus Christ.”

 Basil Studer, The Grace of Christ and the Grace of God in Augustine of Hippo: Christocentrism or Theocentrism?, trans. Matthew J.O. Connell, Liturgical Press, 1997, p. 34.

 Basil Studer, O.S.B., is professor of early Church history and patristics at the Pontifical Athaenaeum S. Anselmo and at the Patristic Institute, the Augustinianum, in Rome.

“There are many other things also in the incarnation of Christ, displeasing as it is to the proud, that are to be observed and thought of advantageously. And one of them is, that it has been demonstrated to man what place he has in the things which God has created; since human nature could so be joined to God, that one person could be made of two substances, and thereby indeed of three—God, soul, and flesh: so that those proud malignant spirits, who interpose themselves as mediators to deceive, although as if to help, do not therefore dare to place themselves above man because they have not flesh; and chiefly because the Son of God deigned to die also in the same flesh, lest they, because they seem to be immortal, should therefore succeed in getting themselves worshipped as gods. Further, that the grace of God might be commended to us in the man Christ without any precedent merits; because not even He Himself obtained by any precedent merits that He should be joined in such great unity with the true God, and should become the Son of God, one Person with Him; but from the time when He began to be man, from that time He is also God; whence it is said, “The Word was made flesh.” Then, again, there is this, that the pride of man, which is the chief hindrance against his cleaving to God, can be confuted and healed through such great humility of God. Man learns also how far he has gone away from God; and what it is worth to him as a pain to cure him, when he returns through such a Mediator, who both as God assists men by His divinity, and as man agrees with men by His weakness. For what greater example of obedience could be given to us, who had perished through disobedience, than God the Son obedient to God the Father, even to the death of the cross?”

Augustine, On the Trinity, 13.17.22

“Therefore also the Lord Jesus Christ Himself not only gave the Holy Spirit as God, but also received it as man, and therefore He is said to be full of grace, and of the Holy Spirit. And in the Acts of the Apostles it is more plainly written of Him, “Because God anointed Him with the Holy Spirit.” Certainly not with visible oil but with the gift of grace which is signified by the visible ointment wherewith the Church anoints the baptized. And Christ was certainly not then anointed with the Holy Spirit, when He, as a dove, descended upon Him at His baptism. For at that time He deigned to prefigure His body, i.e. His Church, in which especially the baptized receive the Holy Spirit. But He is to be understood to have been then anointed with that mystical and invisible unction, when the Word of God was made flesh,  i.e. when human nature, without any precedent merits of good works, was joined to God the Word in the womb of the Virgin, so that with it it became one person. Therefore it is that we confess Him to have been born of the Holy Spirit and of the Virgin Mary. For it is most absurd to believe Him to have received the Holy Spirit when He was near thirty years old: for at that age He was baptized by John; but that He came to baptism as without any sin at all, so not without the Holy Spirit.”

Augustine,  On the Trinity, 15.26.46

“Some resist upon being furnished with an explanation of the manner in which the Godhead was so united with a human soul and body as to constitute the one person of Christ, when it was necessary that this should be done once in the world’s history, with as much boldness as if they were themselves able to furnish an explanation of the manner in which the soul is so united to the body as to constitute the one person of man, an event which is occurring every day. For just as the soul is united to the body in one person so as to constitute man, in the same way God united to man in one person so as to constitute Christ. In the former personality there is a combination of soul and body; in the latter there is a combination of the Godhead and man. Let my reader, however, guard against borrowing his idea of the combination from the properties of material bodies, by which two fluids when combined are so mixed that neither preserves its original character; although even among material bodies there are exceptions, such as light, which sustains no change when combined with the atmosphere. In the person of man, therefore, there is a combination of soul and body; in the person of Christ there is a combination of the Godhead with man; for when the Word of God was united to a soul having a body, He took into union with Himself both the soul and the body. The former event takes place daily in the beginning of life in individuals of the human race; the latter took place once for the salvation of men. And yet of the two events, the combination of two immaterial substances ought to be more easily believed than a combination in which the one is immaterial and the other material. For if the soul is not mistaken in regard to its own nature, it understands itself to be immaterial. Much more certainly does this attribute belong to the Word of God; and consequently the combination of the Word with the human soul is a combination which ought to be much more credible than that of soul and body. The latter is realized by us in ourselves; the former we are commanded to believe to have been realized in Christ. But if both of them were alike foreign to our experience, and we were enjoined to believe that both had taken place, which of the two would we more readily believe to have occurred? Would we not admit that two immaterial substances could be more easily combined than one immaterial and one material; unless, perhaps, it be unsuitable to use the word combination in connection with these things, because of the difference between their nature and that of material substances, both in themselves and as known to us?”

Augustine, Letter 137.3.11

“He who spared not His own Son, but delivered Him up for us all, how has He not with Him also given to us all things?” God therefore took upon Him our nature—that is, the rational soul and flesh of the man Christ—by an undertaking singularly marvellous, or marvellously singular; so that with no preceding merits of His own righteousness He might in such wise be the Son of God from the beginning, in which He had begun to be man, that He, and the Word which is without beginning, might be one person. For there is no one blinded by such ignorance of this matter and the Faith as to dare to say that, although born of the Holy Spirit and the Virgin Mary the Son of man, yet of His own free will by righteous living and by doing good works, without sin, He deserved to be the Son of God; in opposition to the gospel, which says, “The Word was made flesh.” For where was this made flesh except in the Virginal womb, whence was the beginning of the man Christ? And, moreover, when the Virgin asked how that should come to pass which was told her by the angel, the angel answered, “The Holy Ghost shall come over on to thee and the power of the Highest shall overshadow thee, therefore that holy thing that shall be born of thee shall be called the Son of God.” “Therefore,” he said; not because of works of which certainly of a yet unborn infant there are none; but “therefore,” because “the Holy Ghost shall come over on to thee, and the power of the Highest shall overshadow thee, that holy thing which shall be born of thee shall be called the Son of God.” That nativity, absolutely gratuitous, conjoined, in the unity of the person, man to God, flesh to the Word! Good works followed that nativity; good works did not merit it. For it was in no wise to be feared that the human nature taken up by God the Word in that ineffable manner into a unity of person, would sin by free choice of will, since that taking up itself was such that the nature of man so taken up by God would admit into itself no movement of an evil will. Through this Mediator God makes known that He makes those whom He redeemed by His blood from evil, everlastingly good; and Him He in such wise assumed that He never would be evil, and, not being made out of evil, would always be good.”

Augustine, On Rebuke and Grace, 30.


  1. Am I wrong to freak out when I read these two statement from Augustine above?

    “that one person could be made of two substances” and “Some resist upon being furnished with an explanation of the manner in which the Godhead was so united with a human soul and body as to constitute the one person of Christ”

    The first quote seems to imply that the Son was made by the combining of the two natures. And the second seems to imply that the soul and body (nature) constitute the person, which seems to be the platonic notion of mixtures. Am I wrong there?

    Secondly, If my above assumptions are correct, can the reformed now find one more stake in their claim over Rome to be properly Augustinian? Which seems to be more important to Rome and the reformed, than who holds to a proper Christology. But hey, I am just a Eastern Orthodox bigot after all. 🙂


  2. It is important when reading any of the Fathers to have a merciful eye. Remember, they are working to express in their contemporary idiom the faith of Christ in precise language. They each succeed and fail in different areas.

    The specific case of Augustine is interesting because the mode of presentation also modifies the message. I think this is the reason why when Augustin is quoted by Aquinas, the Angelic Doctor will regularly begin his exposition on such a quote by saying, “what Augustine means is …”. We too should read any of the Fathers with such charity. We should also be careful to not read the Fathers as Protestants read Scripture. Proof texting is a poor method of exposition.


  3. Oh, and I didn’t proof text. I just supplied the text that Dr. Studer does in the endnote for the section that I quoted. Perhaps he learned to proof text at the Augustinianum? I dunno. I haven’t been there.

    Besides, Br. Gabriel, you should pay more attention to the art work. It says more than the words for this entry do.


  4. I think I am confused by the title of this entry and I’ve been trying to make a mental connection between the contents and the title unsuccessfully. 😦

    From the title, I expected to read of an Orthodox Christian who was fiercely anti-Western. I suppose it could also be interpreted as being about someone opposed to the Western rites within Orthodoxy. But I don’t see evidence of either in the content.

    What am I missing, Perry?

    Also, who painted(?) ‘Augustine with heart enflamed’?


  5. Perry,
    Ya like that anti-western, western McCormack?
    Is that Justinian’s mug shot of Vigilius from the 5th? Must be, he’s not smiling cause his name has been removed from the diptychs.

    Bathrellos mentions others who seem to differentiate between the person of the Logos and the person of Christ after the incarnation, not willing to speak of them as one and the same.


  6. Perry,

    Why are you subjecting one of the saints to ridicule? What good does this do? Shouldn’t we be trying to understand what Augustine really meant?

    For starters (not having studied the matter in any way) I would guess that Augustine did not have in mind same technical theological meaning of the word “person” as we do — this would be analogous to the use of the word “nature” in 2 Peter 1:4.

    That may be quite false. I’d really like to know what an Orthodox theologian who has studied Augustine would say. That would be much more edifying than this suggestively illustrated expose. I hate to say it, because I know it plays into your sarcastic title, but would you treat an Eastern saint like that?


  7. Jeremy,

    There is no ridcule in anything I wrote. Are you suggesting that Studor in his work on Augustine is holding Augustine up for ridicule?

    I am not primarily concerned with technical vocabulary or of convicting people by it in a post facto way. That said, I’d invite you to think about what Augustine means, according to Studer and how if at all that meshes with his predestinarian thinking.

    If Augustine means by person, nature as in 2 pet 1:4, that seems to be problematic. I’ll leave that for you to tease out.

    Why would you want to know what an Orthodox theologian would say rather than a Catholic specialist at the top of his field?

    What I posted is anything by an expose. It is a patristic monograph by a well respected Augustinian scholar. Anyone who works in Augustinian studies is quite familiar with Studer’s name and work. I only posted the material from Augustine because it was the material that Studer cited to support his claim.

    As for Eastern saints, when Nyssa botches it, I say so. It is a matter of record that he bothced in places. There is no point in hiding it. That said, thinking about how and why such problems or botches come about, well, that would certainly seem to be worthwhile to think about, particularly in terms of East/West relations. In short, its nothing personal.

    That said, I was really hoping someone would think about the relationship with Gelasius and the problem of the Three Chapters and why the West took the position it did.


  8. Perry,

    I guess I took your post the wrong way. Sorry about that.

    “If Augustine means by person, nature as in 2 pet 1:4, that seems to be problematic. I’ll leave that for you to tease out.”

    That’s not quite what I meant. I wasn’t saying that Augustine’s “person” was Peter’s “nature.” I only called in analogous, in that just as Peter did not mean “nature” the way later theologians have used the word, so too Augustine may not have meant “person” in the way that theologians normally use that word.

    “As for Eastern saints, when Nyssa botches it, I say so”

    Glad to hear it.

    “That said, I was really hoping someone would think about the relationship with Gelasius and the problem of the Three Chapters and why the West took the position it did.”

    I would love to…if I knew anything about it. By all means tell us about it and what it has to do with this post! I must confess, your picture of Gelasius left me in the dark. The only picture I really got was the one showing Nestorius condemned and I though you were implying that Augustine was a heretic. My bad.


  9. Perry, I’m perhaps a bit confused. Didn’t the East eventually come around to the West’s position on this matter? I mean, Acacius was eventually stricken from the dyptics in Constantinople… It thus seems that Gelasius’s position came to be the accepted one even in the East.

    Vigilius is a different story. And while we might speculate that he refuses to condemn the Three Chapters due precisely to this imprecision or even questionable reasoning in Augustine, I’d really like some proof to that fact, not mere assertion (or hint, based upon the artwork you have carefully selected).


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