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Modern Theology 19:3 July 2003 ISSN 0266-7177

Modern Theology 19:3 July 2003 ISSN 0266-7177

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Nothing must mute the fact that all truth lies right before the eyes, andthat its appropriation is a natural consequence of the facts. There is noneed for any additional perfection of man as though he could not focuson the ‘supernatural’ truth with his normal equipment for knowing.Wolfhart Pannenberg,
Revelation as History
Thus from every point of view our theological wisdom is bound up withthe incarnate, personal wisdom of God, is conformed to him, andreceives from him its characteristic divine-human signature.Matthias Joseph Scheeben,
The Mysteries of Christianity Introduction
The subject of Augustine’s understanding of the vision of God has beendescribed in modern scholarship primarily in terms of the problematic of aneoplatonic ascent to God, which was, it clearly seems, so much a part of Augustine’s early aspirations. At the same time, Augustine’s Trinitariantheology has recently seemed to some to possess too static a doctrine of God,with a diminished sense of the significance of Christology as the foundationof any theology of God, that is, of the Trinity. Yet to speak about “the visionof 
” can itself lead inquiry away from the Trinitarian problematic thatAugustine encountered so substantially towards the end of the fourthcentury, in which questions are cast in terms of the our vision of the indi-
© Blackwell Publishing Ltd 2003. Published by Blackwell Publishing, 9600 Garsington Road, Oxford OX4 2DQ, UK and 350Main Street, Malden, MA02148, USA.
Modern Theology 19:3 July 2003ISSN 0266-7177 (Print)ISSN 1468-0025 (Online)Michel René BarnesDepartment of Theology, Marquette University, 100 Coughlin Hall, Milwaukee, WI 53201, USA
vidual Persons of the Trinity—and the difference in the “visions” of eachPerson possible for us.Books I–IV of 
de Trinitate
are concerned with the question of the appear-ances of the Son in the theophanies of the Old Testament. According toAugustine’s opponents, the Homoians, the appearance of the Son in thesetheophanies serves as proof that the Son is not true God; only the invisible—and non-appearing—Father is the true or real God. The same argument isapplied to the Incarnation. The very appearance of the Son, his visibility, thevision or sight of him, constitutes sufficient evidence that the Son is not,cannot be, God. If we restate this critique more precisely in terms of theeconomy of the Trinity, then what is being argued by the Homoians is thatthe Son’s role as revealer of the Father means that the Son cannot be God asthe Father is God. The very attributes which constitute, as it were, the Son’scapacity to reveal are judged as decisive indications of the Son’s inferiorstatus to the Father who is revealed by the Son—the Father who is the “onetrue God”. Augustine’s engagement with this argument begins immediatelyat the beginning of 
de Trinitate
, for Book I is concerned directly with theHomoian argument that the Son’s character as revealer—or the Son’s “noeticvisibility”—constitutes the Son’s inferiority to the Father. Indeed, theHomoian argument for an anti-Nicene Trinitarian theology based on theSon’s character as revealer places that very character at the center of anyaccount by Augustine of the Trinity; by the year 400 one of Augustine’sprimary tasks in
de Trinitate
(and in his Trinitarian writings generally) is toarticulate an understanding of the Son’s revelatory role which supports atheology of the Son’s equal divinity with the Father. The “vision of God” has become a Trinitarian problem.In the early books of 
de Trinitate
Augustine develops his understanding of the Trinitarian and christological issues contained in the dispute over thecontent of the theophanies. As he makes this development Augustine uncov-ers
 between Trinitarian doctrines and the experience of faith, betweenthe question of what of God is seen in the theophanies (which is functionallyequivalent to the question, When does one see God?) and the question of how does faith bring the Christian to his or her proper end, namely, delightin the vision of God the Trinity? These two questions are brought togetherin the judgment by Augustine that Mt. 5:8 (“Blessed are the pure of heart,for they shall see God”) is significant for both questions. The exegetical con-nection of Mt. 5:8 to the question of how does faith bring the Christian tothe vision of God is obvious, but, as we will see, there was a trajectory of Latin theology which also connected the beatitude—with its invocation of avision of God—to a theology of the Trinity and Incarnation. This connectionis based in part on the decisive role that visibility and invisibility played intraditional arguments against the modalists for the separate existences of theFather and the Son, as well as the role visibility and invisibility play in then-contemporary anti-Nicene doctrines of the different natures of Father and330
 Michel René Barnes
© Blackwell Publishing Ltd. 2003
Son. There is thus a Latin tradition which gives Mt. 5:8 a real Trinitarian-christological significance, and Augustine incorporates that significance intohis own Trinitarian and christological doctrines.The Trinitarian controversy as Augustine encounters it is argued in termsof whether God can be seen at all, has the Son been seen, and if yes, whenand how? Aside from the historical question of when was the Son seen (e.g.,in the Old Testament theophanies, the Incarnation, etc.), there is an episte-mological question at play, because for Augustine “to see” means “to know”.Augustine finds the answers to these questions in Phil. 2:5–7, the root nar-rative of the Trinity, the very language of which Augustine understands todescribe visual or epistemological categories (i.e.,
of God,
of Servant). Augustine’s judgment is that all the Persons of the Trinity can beseen only at the resolution of history—the end-time—and he describes theobject(s) of this vision very specifically: what will be seen is either the Formof Man or the Form of God. Given the visual content of the christologicaldrama described in Phil. 2:5–7 and the visual resolution of that drama atthe final judgment, the statement Mt. 5:8 makes about the sight of God is of profound significance, for it is the promise of the very vision of whichAugustine has spoken. As a promise, Mt. 5:8 carries both the tension of thedelay in the vision Christians hope to have and the means to resolve thattension, namely, purity of heart. The meaning of purity of heart lies in thepossession of faith, and faith “proves” the reality of that final vision throughthe reality of what is gained now through faith.Augustine invokes Mt. 5:8 immediately in his polemical engagement withthe anti-Nicene Homoians, and the passage appears repeatedly in Book I of 
de Trinitate
Augustine treats Mt 5.8 explicitly in Book I because it is a foun-dation for what follows. The question of “the pure of heart will see God” isnot a question specific to, or localized in, just book I of 
de Trinitate
—it is noteven specific just to books I–IV, although these books are indeed about onekey kind of “seeing God”—the theophanies. The exegesis of Mt. 5:8 providesthe means by which Augustine “clears the ground” for a proper under-standing of the sight of God.
Above all, Augustine starts with what Mt. 5:8means “now”, that is, what it means for those Latin-speaking Christians whoknow their own tradition and who are aware of the state of doctrine in oraround the year 400.I will argue in this article that Augustine’s doctrine of the vision throughChrist of the Trinity at the end-time should be understood as Augustine’ssolution to the Homoian subordinationist understanding of the Son’s visi- bility. This specific thesis presupposes that Augustine’s doctrine of the escha-tological vision of God should be understood as a polemical issue since thesignificance of the Son’s role as revealer of the Father was at that time a pointof controversy in Trinitarian theology. The historical context meant that anydoctrine of the vision or knowledge of God was set within theologies of theTrinity and the Incarnation. This polemical setting of Augustine’s doctrine
© Blackwell Publishing Ltd. 2003
The Visible Christ and Invisible Trinity

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