Most people have heard the name Augustine at some point. It’s not just a vacation destination. Augustine is the name of a 4th-5th century North African bishop who contributed more to the formalization of the doctrine of the church than nearly any other figure.
Augustine was born in 354 and died in 430. While his mother was a Christian, he was not converted until later in life. We do know that he was baptized in 386. As a very well studied and intelligent man, he seemingly wrote down every thought he ever had—and they were all brilliant. The translation we’ll use of his work “The Trinity” is nearly 600 pages, not including the indexes and front matter.
Many ancient books are broken down further into smaller books, then those books are given chapters. Today we’ll take a look at Book 1, chapter 2 of “The Trinity.”
Augustine begins his chapter by clearly stating his point or his thesis: “The unity and equality of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit are proved from Scripture.” He will then lay out several passages that help us see the Trinity in Scripture, even if the name is a later formulation. A number of doctrines are later given names to help us deal with the concept that Scripture presents. For instance, the simplicity of God is a concept clearly presented throughout Scripture even if the word itself is not used. Study of the canon leads to concepts.
The Trinity is one of those doctrines that has been debated because there are those that say no one passage of Scripture lays it out simply. As Augustine will show us, that’s actually a tenuous position to hold. Basically, Scripture teaches that the Christian doctrine of God is the Trinity, and Scripture presents the doctrine as a reason for worship.
He begins by describing the clarity with which Scripture speaks of each member of the Trinity. “[T]he Father has begotten the Son, and therefore he who is the Father is not the Son; [...] and the Holy Spirit is neither the Father nor the Son, but only the Spirit of the Father and of the Son, himself coequal to the Father and the Son, and belonging to the threefold unity.” Scripture consistently addresses or describes the same three persons as God.
Augustine uses the baptism of Jesus as a prime example of Scripture presenting three distinct persons as divine. The Spirit alone descended at the Son's baptism. The Father alone addressed the Son at the same event. "An utterance of the Father was heard which is not the Son's utterance, and that on the other hand only the Son was born in the flesh and suffered and rose again and ascended; and that only the Holy Spirit came in the form of a dove."
The divinity of the Son, therefore a necessary and co-eternal person of the Trinity, is made clear in John 1:1, "In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God." John then says, "This was in the beginning with God; all things were made through him, and without him was made nothing." As the agent of creation, the Word is not therefore a created being. "But all things were made through him; therefore he is of one and the same substance as the Father" says Augustine. Christ, the Word made flesh, is again presented as divine, eternal, and a person of the Trinity.
In 1 Timothy 6:13-16, Paul speaks of the eternality of Jesus, an attribute of God himself. Augustine comments, "For life everlasting can scarcely be mortal and subject to change, and thus the Son of God, being life everlasting, must also be meant with the Father by the words "who alone has immortality." Paul is inspired to write about the Son while assigning to him the attributes of the Father.
In the same passage Paul explains that Jesus showed to humanity "the blessed and only mighty one, King of kings and Lord of lords." No member of the Trinity is specifically mentioned as the "only mighty one." The proper conclusion is that Paul assumes the Trinity here instead of defining the Trinity here.
Many Trinitarian passages are content to describe instead of define, which might frustrate the seeking mind and heart; but it also shows us that God as Trinity, for the authors of Scripture, is a matter most intended to draw us to worship, even as we seek to understand God's trinitarian nature. Scripture presents or reveals to us the eternal, Trinitarian God so we may worship him rightly!
With so much more to say (quite literally hundreds more pages), we surely can't stop with one week in Augustine's The Trinity. See you back here next week for "The rule of interpretation that the Son is equal to the Father in the form of God, less than the Father in the form of a servant; that he will hand over the kingdom to the Father, and himself be subject to the Father, when he brings all his faithful to the contemplation of the three divine persons, and so completes and lays aside his office of mediator." Or as I like to call it, "The Greatest Chapter Title Ever."