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Superior^ Baltimore Province


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Archbishop of Washington

December 4, 1962

The nihil obstat and imprimatur are official declarations that a book or

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therein that those who have granted the nihil ohstat and the imprimatur

agree with the content, opinions, or statements expressed.

Library of Congress Catalog Card No: 63*12482

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| HE TRINITY OF ST. AUGUSTINE cannot compare in popu-

larity with his Confessions or the City of God. Yet

233 manuscripts of it have been found, dating from

the ninth to the fifteenth century. 1 This is a rather surprising the Migne text do not appear to be of a substantial nature.

have some of his other writings, though the discrepancies in

A Greek translation was made about the year 1350. This was

Unfortunately the work has not yet been edited critically as

which even the saint himself thought few would understand,2

number in view of the subjects treated in the fifteen books,

not only a rare tribute to the work of a Latin writer, but was,

in all probability, the first time the De Trinitate was trans-


St. Augustine gives us some interesting facts about this

work in a letter to his friend, Bishop Aurelius of Carthage.

'I began the books on the Trinity as a young man/ he says,

'but published them as an old man/4 Youngand old are rather

indefinite terms, but it is commonly agreed that he started

the work about the year 400 and finished it in 416,5 There are

many reasons for so long a delay. Two of the most important

1 A. Wilmart, *La Tradition des grandes ouvrages de S. Augustm/ Miscel-

lanea Agostiniana 2 (Rome 1931) 269-278.

2 'Nimis operosi sunt, et a paucis

Scriptorum Ecclesiasticorum


intelHgi posse arbitror.' Ep. 169, Corpus

Latinorum (hereafter cited as CSEL)

L. Arias, 'Tratado sobre la SantJsiina Trinidad,' Obras 174, de San CSEL Agustin 44.650. 5


Bibliotheca de Autores Cristianos (Madrid 1948) 108.

4 'Be Trinitate libros iuvenis inchoavi, senex edidi/

5 V, Bourke, Augtistine's Quest of Wisdom (Milwaukee 1945) 202, 304.





were the struggle with the Donatists, the scourge of the Church

in Africa during those years, and his own ill-health which

forced him to leave Hippo for a time.7

Augustine's original intention was to complete the fifteen resolved was still working to complete on the what twelfth he had book, started and had at the it distributed earnest re-

action that he discontinued the writing altogether, and only

quest of Aurelius and some others. 'I took care to finish the

laborious treatise, with the help of God correcting the books,

not as well as I wished but as well as i could, lest too great

without his permission. The saint was so annoyed at their

above, some friends surreptitiously obtained a copy while he

into circulation. But, as he tells us in the letter referred to

books, check them carefully, and only then have them put

were a discrepancy first taken develop from in me/ the In revised his Retractations version from those he calls which at-

tention to only two passages of minor importance that he

wished and the to Manicheans, have changed. who 8 were actually propagating their

His other dogmatic writings were usually of a polemical

nature, errors from the among and existing were the directed Catholic evidence, against people. no concerted the But Donatists, as far attack as the we was can Pelagians, judge being come in contact with the Arians since his early clays at Milan,

posing a refutation. As a matter of fact he had probably not

had been he would hardly have spent sixteen years in com-

and his famous debate with Maximinus, the Bishop of this

sect, took place in 428, only two years before his death. There

were indeed the 'garrulous disputants/ 10 as he calls those who

regarded reason alone as the sole criterion of all truth, but

made at that time against the doctrine of the Trinity. H there

6 See the saint's letter about the disorders in Carthage caused by

Donatists, Ep. 118, CSEL 34,643,


1Ep. 118, CSEL 34,665.

8 Book II, 15 (PL 32.635-636).

9 Collatio cum Maximino (PL 42.709-742).



they seem to have been neither numerous nor influential.

probably His main to strengthen reason, the faith of his fellow-Catholics in the

then, for writing on the Trinity was wanted them to remember, to contemplate, and to love the

their hearts with love. During their earthly pilgrimage he the 42,816 Biblical quotations in his writings. 12 He had also with the great Trinitarian writings of SL Athanasius, St.

knowledge of Greek, it would seem that he was not familiar

name.14 From his own testimony, as well as from his limited

though St. Hilary is the only author whom he mentions by

Basil, and St. Gregory of Nazianzus, but was familiar with

excerpts from their works that had then been translated into


read all the books on this dogma that were available to him,13

authority in doctrinal questions, as is clearly indicated from

The Sacred Scriptures were always the saint's principal

nity. 11

Blessed Trinity that would be their supreme delight in eter-

the minds of his readers with knowledge. He would also fill

on fire, could never be satisfied with merely enlightening

greatest of the mysteries, the one upon which all dogmas

saint, depend, who and is represented to which they in Christian also ultimately art as holding lead. a heart

But the

The saint divides the fifteen books into two general sections;

in the first seven he examines the Trinity in the light of the

Sacred Scriptures; and in the remaining eight he makes a

speculative study of this dogma, though even there he fre-

quently appeals to the authority of the Bible. It is best to

follow his own synopsis of this long treatise.16

In the opening book he says very simply: 'the unity and the

equality of that highest Trinity is shown. 1 His Scriptural texts


12, V. Capanga, 'Tratados sobrc la Gracia/ Obras dc San Agustin 6 Bibho-

theca de Autores Cristianos (Madrid 1949) 11.

13 De Trinitate 1.4.7.

14 Ibid. 6.10.11.

15 Ibid. S Preface 1.



are, we may say, a commentary on the magnificent profession

of faith in the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, that he

himself had composed. 17 In the next three books he discusses accord with the common opinion the Old of Testament, his time, and he maintains is not In

the same subject, but from a different point of view. In them

he proves

does not

that the 'sending' of the Son and the Holy Spirit

indicate any Inferiority between the One who sends

and those who are sent. With regard, incidentally, to


'apparitions' of Gocl In

that these took place through the ministry of the angels, 1*

In the fifth book he raises the question; since the Father is

called 'unbegotten' and the Son 'begotten,' does this differ-

ence In terminology signify also a difference in their nature?

His answer, of course, is In the negative, for not everything

that is said of the Father refers to His substancethis was

the fundamental error of the Arians but some things express

a relationship to the Son and to the Holy Spirit. The sixth

book Is concerned with a more abstruse problem, namely, how

we are to understand the words of St. Paul, that Christ is the

power of God and the wisdom of God. The seventh book is

concerned with the terms that will best safeguard the unity

of the divine nature, and the distinction between the three

Persons. His psychological Should we say, study as of the the Latin Trinity, writers as we do, may 'one call essence the

and three persons/ or follow the Greeks, who generally express

it as 'one essence and three substances?10

second part of this work, has no parallel in the history of

Patristic literature. He begins it in the eighth book with a

note of warning: we must discard all corporeal ideas of the

three divine Persons, such as Imagining that the Father and

the Son together are greater than the Holy Spirit. We must

17 ibid. 1.4.7.

18 J. Agostiniana Lebreton, *S. Augu&tin, thdologien de la Trimt^/ 2 Miscellanea


1931) 8^1-886.

19 It is strange mat

nowhere in the De Trinitate does St. Augustine refer to

homoo'&siQn (consubstantial), the key-word of the Council of

(325) against the Arians,



acquire our knowledge of the Trinity, he continues, through

the truth that is seen with the mind, through the highest

good from which is every good, through the justice on account

of which a just soul is loved, even by one that is not yet

just, and especially through love. For love is the name given

to God in the Sacred Scriptures, and there, the image of the

supreme Trinity begins to emerge in the lover, the beloved,

and the love.

The ninth is undoubtedly the most original of the fifteen

books. In it Augustine centers his attention on the mind, as

the most perfect created image of the most Blessed Trinity, a

fact that no one before him seems to have noticed.20 The

first trinity is the mind, its knowledge of itself, and its love of

itself. But an even closer one is to be found there, namely,

memory, understanding, and love, and this second trinity

forms the subject-matter of the tenth book. But the mind

sometimes identifies itself with the corporeal things of which

it thinks. To prevent a repetition of this mistake, the saint He conducts this investigation in the eleventh book using

just mentioned.

throw upon the inner and more profound one that he has

any now trinities turns to will the be so-called seen there, outer and man, if so, in order what light to see they whether may

sight, the noblest of the five senses and the one most akin to

internal vision. The first trinity that he here meets with is the

bodily object that is seen, the form that this impresses on the

gaze of the beholder, and the voluntary concentration of at-

tention which combines the two. These three, however, are

unequal and differ in substance. But they bring about another

trinity in the mind itself: the sense memory, the internal

vision, and the will. While this trinity is indeed of the same

substance, yet it is also imperfect since it originates from


He proceeds next to examine the nature of the mind more

20 G. Bardy, *Trinit/ Bictionnaire de tMologie catholique 15 (1943) 1684.



closely in the twelfth book. Although It (the mind] is one,

yet we can lightly speak of the superior and Inferior reason,

because knowledge or science is the object of the latter, and

wisdom the object of the former. To justify this distinction

he thirteenth appeals book. to the But testimony not everyone of the recognizes Sacred Scriptures the authority in the of

the Bible; he must, therefore, look for something upon which

all, both Christians and pagans, can agree, and this is happi-

ness or blessedness which everyone desires. True happiness,

however, is impossible without immortality. But the majority

of people are incapable of the mental effort which the study memory, person of understanding, man are quite and different love. There from Is the Indeed three a likeness Persons

resumes his investigation of the trinity already referred to;

In the last two books, the fourteenth and fifteenth, he

for the human race.

the Redeemer, who has purchased true and lasting happiness

to make such a study. Hence, they must have faith In Christ

of the future life requires, or else lack the necessary leisure

between this one and the supreme Trinity, but a likeness is

not an exact similarity, and these three things in the one

who are the one God, Only divine grace will enable us to

penetrate example of further St. Hilary, into he this closes mystery. his study Therefore, of the Imitating Trinity, not the prevented him from correcting as he would have liked, But

it would be superficial to regard this as the only explanation

for these literary defects. The mind of St. Augustine was

which the circumstances to which we have already referred

quently interrupted during the course of sixteen years, and

were perhaps inevitable In a work that must have been fre-

not a few repetitions and digressions. Such literary faults

medieval or modern studies of this dogma, It also contains

with a scholarly disquisition or recapitulation, but with a

beautiful prayer to the Triune God.

Even this brief account serves to show that the De Trinitatc

of St. Augustine

is not as systematically arranged as




always centered on God; he sought Him everywhere, and

when he came across something that would help to make God

better known and loved, he did not hesitate to write about it,

even theme.21 though he had to depart for a time from his main

doing Hence, so, unconsciously in this work he anticipates explains the why answer the Incarnation of the Councils was

the most fitting way for God to save the human race, and in

of Ephesus and Chalcedon to the Nestorian and Monophysite

heresies. There are also references to Baptism, Confirmation,

and the Eucharist, which are frequently cited in the histories to St. Augustine for expressing his opinion on so many differ-

aids us in our spiritual progress. But while we are grateful

ent subjects, this work must be judged by the part that it

plays in the development of the dogma of the Trinity.

No one was more conscious than he of man's inability to

express in words, or even to form adequate concepts of the

three divine Persons, who, though distinct, are the one God.

study of an incomprehensible mystery such as the Trinity

of detaching ourselves from material things, and how the

He frequently makes spiritual applications, such as the need

of the Trinity, as well as of the nature and gravity of sin.

him to speak of the sublime dignity of man as the image

of Sacramental theology. His study of the human mind causes

Hence, whenever he makes any statement about the Trinity

he generally qualifies it at once by such phrases as 'however

it may be/ or *be it as it may.' In fact towards the end of

this work he declared that nothing of the many things he

had said in the course of the fifteen books was worthy of the

ineffable Trinity. 22 Nevertheless, theologians are agreed that

21 M. Schmaus, "fiber den Dreiemigen Gott (Mttnchen 1951) 292 and V.

Bourke, op, tit, 205,

Xiv he has given us a clearer SAINT and AUGUSTINE a deeper understanding of the

most sublime mystery of the Christian religion, 23

First of all, the very plan that he follows differs from that the unityof Godby reason of the consubstantiality of the three

divine Persons. But to St. Augustine it seemed better to begin

tures, and then show how this Trinity can be reconciled with

Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit according to the Scrip-

of the Greeks. They begin by affirming their belief in the

with the unity of the divine nature, since this is a truth that

is demonstrated by reason. He studies the nature of God at

great length and makes it crystal-clear that in all the attri-

butes of Gocl, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit are

perfectly equal. For example, he says: 'The Father is omni-

potent, the Son is omnipotent, and the Holy Spirit is omni-

potent, and yet there are not three omnipotents but One

Omnipotent.' 24 In this way he escaped the danger into which

some theologians before him fell, or at least he avoided the there is one God, yet the Father is always the Father, the Son

is always the Son, and the Holy Spirit is always the Holy

Spirit. Since there are no accidents in God, these distinctions

must be substantial. The saint's doctrine about the unity of

God and the relations in the Trinity would be later sum-

marized in the classical formula: *In God all things are one

except where there is the distinction of opposite relation.'

23 The importance of this work in the development of the doctrine of thr

impression which they gave, that the Son and the Holy Spirit

are in some way subordinate to God the Father. The logic

of this arrangement is today commonly recognized, and in

the textbooks of dogma the treatise DeDeo Una precedes that

of De Deo Trino.

The next important point that he emphasizes is that while

Trinity is brought out by E. Portali6, 'Augu&tin; saint/ Dictionn&ire dc

thflologie catholique I (1934) 2548-2355, and E, Gilson, Introduction &

raude de 5. Augustin (Paris 194S) 279-292.


24 andDe Trinitate 5.8.9. This

is repeated verbatim in the Quicumque,

reveals the Augustinian

influence on this famous profession of faith

in the Trinity.



From it he would also argue that in all things extraneous to

the Godhead, the Trinity works inseparably. Yet the creation

of the world may be attributed to God the Father, for the

creative power contains the idea of a principle, and


Father is the principle of the Trinity. He proves, in a similar as the Creator, while St. John's Gospel says that all things the value of these analogies in enabling us to perceive the humanmind he concluded that the processions in the Blessed

Trinity take place after the manner of intellection and love.

these analogies the memory, understanding, and love of the

This explanation is far more satisfactory than that of the

Greeks, who regarded the processions simply as donations or

communications of the divine nature. For it shows what the

Greeks could not show, namely, why there can be only two

mentioned in the present work. From the most perfect of

Thirteen of the twenty-two 'trinities'26 that he found are

nature of the mystery which we are called upon to believe.25

religious spirit. No writer before him seems to have realized

the Holy Spirit in the universe and in man reveals his deeply

Finally, his search for likenesses of the Father, the Son, and

were made by the Son.

explain why the Apostles* Creed speaks only of the Father

teaching of the Greek Fathers, for they found it difficult to

of appropriations clears up some of the obscurities in the

Love are appropriate names for the Holy Spirit. This theory

way, that the Son may be called Wisdom, and that Gift and

processions in the Trinity, how that of the Son differs from person, greater precision and substance, to some and of Augustine's would arrange terms, the such subject as, nature, matter

of the Patristic period. Later theologians would indeed give

in a more systematic manner. But with few exceptions they

25 Fohle-Preuss, The Divine Trinity (St. Louis 1930) 197.

26 They are listed by Portal!^ op. tiL 2351-2552*

that of the Holy Spirit, andwhy the Holy Spirit must proceed

both from the Son as well as from the Father.

The present work is the last of thegreat Trinitarian writings



would remain faithful


the principles that he



down. St. Thomas Aquinas, for example, in his own masterly

work from St. on Augustine. the Trinity 27 quotes with approval many passages

study We of can St. conclude Augustine's this writings brief introduction on the Trinity, best perhaps Garrigou- by mentary on the DC Trinitatelic. also translated it into Ger-

of the mystery/ 28 And Schmaus, the author of the finest com- the Old Testament and the Rheims-Challoncr revision of the

New Testament.

the Scriptures I have used the Douay-Challoner revision of

as reprinted in Migne, PL 42. For the English translation of

citing the testimony of two modern scholars. After a careful

Lagrange says: 'Whatever difficulties still remained were at-

tributable not to deficiencies of method but to the sublimity


pays it

this tribute:

It surpasses in profundity of

thought and in wealth of ideas, all the other works of the

great Doctor, and is the grandest monument in Catholic

theology to the august mystery of the Most Holy Trinity/20

This translation is based on the Benedictine edition of 1845

27 Swnma Theologica I (London 1913) Qs. 27-4S.

28 R. Garrigou-Lagrange, The Trinity and God the Creator

1952) 197?

(St. K Louis

29 M. Schmaus, Die psychologmh^ Trinitatskhre dss hL Augitstinus




Texts find Translations:

Arias, L. 'Tratado sobrc la Santfsima Trinidad/ Primera Version Iluchei ilbei Die Dreieingkeit aus dem Lateinischen ubersetzt und

nut Einleitung versehen. Bibliothek der Kirchenvater, Zweite

Schmaus, M. De& Heiligen Kirchenvaters, Aurelius Augustinus funfzehn

Espanola Obras de San Agustin 5 Bibliothcca de Autores Cristianos