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Published by: Michael Gibson on May 22, 2012
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Remember That You Are Catholic" (serm. 52.2): Augustine onthe Unity of the Triune God
Lewis Ayres
Journal of Early Christian Studies, Volume 8, Number 1, Spring2000, pp. 39-82 (Article)
Published by The Johns Hopkins University Press
For additional information about this article
Access Provided by Nanyang Technological Univ at 10/22/10 4:26AM GMT
 Journal of Early Christian Studies 8:1, 39–82 © 2000 The Johns Hopkins University Press
“Remember That You AreCatholic” ( 
. 52.2): Augustineon the Unity of the Triune God 
For Robert Markus on his seventy-fifth birthday
That Augustine’s Trinitarian theology “begins” with the “unity” of God is apersistent but strongly erroneous perception. In this article I offer analternative reading of Augustine through seeing his Trinitarianism asembedded in fourth-century Latin pro-Nicene theology and as hence focusedaround the need to explain the inseparable operation of the triune God. Thistheme is common to both Greek and Latin pro-Nicene theology. Augustineapproaches this task through extensive discussion of the ways in which theIncarnation provides the means for elevating our imaginations to truecontemplation of the divine unity and diversity. Augustine is also explicit thatthere can be no formal analogy for the Godhead. I end by showing howAugustine’s use of divine simplicity does not mark his theology as necessarily“neoplatonic” and distinct from his Latin predecessors, but indicates theextent to which his theology may be read as a development of that tradition.
I. INTRODUCTIONIn a recent paper John Zizioulas speaks with approval of “the well-known textbook thesis that the West began with the unity of God and
1. I am very grateful to audiences at St. Patrick’s College, Maynooth, and at theUniversity of Durham for the reception of and comments on this paper. I wouldespecially like to thank Andrew Louth, Carol Harrison, and Gerald Bonner for theircomments and encouragement, and Michel Barnes and Mike McDermott, S.J., forcomments on earlier drafts (see also n. 8). I would also like to thank Mark Weedmanfor taking time out from his own research to make and then help interpret searches onthe Cetedoc system. All abbreviations for Augustine’s works are from C. P. Mayer,ed.,
Augustinus Lexicon
(Stuttgart and Basle: Schwabe & Co., 1986– ).
then moved to the Trinity, while the East followed the opposite course.”
The style and content of this remark is not unique and I cite Zizioulas’comment as only one particularly clear statement of an opposition be-tween “Eastern” and “Western” theologies of the Trinity that has, in thelatter half of this century, become a commonplace assumption. This asser-tion is often, if not usually, accompanied by another: namely, that the keyoriginator of and exemplar for the West’s style is Augustine. For example,Catherine LaCugna writes: “Augustine’s point of departure in
De Trinitate
was the unity of the divine essence shared by the three divine persons.”
This account of Augustine is then used as part of a fairly standard East/ West distinction in Trinitarian theology.
The shape of that fairly stan-dard account can be grasped by noting the two things that LaCugna’sstatement alleges: first, Augustine emphasizes or begins with the divineunity to a degree that marks his theology as distinct from Greek theol-ogies; second, Augustine does so by treating the divine unity as a divineessence or substance shared by and prior to the distinctions of the per-sons. In this account we can also hear echoes of the argument thatAugustine represents the beginning of a “medieval” or “scholastic” para-digm of thought and the end of characteristically “Patristic” Trinitariantheology.In this article my aim is to offer an alternative way of reading Augustine’saccount of the Triune unity. In order to offer this alternative account I willattempt to prove that four things are the case:1. the closest we can come to identifying Augustine’s “point of depar-ture” for describing the unity of God is the pro-Nicene
doctrine of theinseparable operation of the three persons;
2. J. Zizioulas, “The Doctrine of the Holy Trinity: The Significance of the Cap-padocian Contribution,” in C. Schwöbel, ed.,
Trinitarian Theology Today: Essays onDivine Being and Act 
(Edinburgh: T. & T. Clark, 1995), 46.3. C. M. LaCugna,
God for Us: The Trinity and Christian Life
(San Francisco:HarperCollins, 1991), 214.4. LaCugna,
God for Us
, 10.5. I use “pro-Nicene” to describe theologies which, from about 360
graduallycame to present themselves as upholding the creed of Nicaea over against thetheologies of those who had no interest in, or were actively opposed to, Nicaea. It isnot appropriate to use the term to designate any clear theological party in the two orthree decades immediately following Nicaea, as the particular creed of that councildoes not appear to have been central to debate. In the West, pro-Nicene reaction tothe Council of Ariminum in 359 provides a good point of departure. These theologiesof course had allegiances to previous traditions, and also were varied in themselvesand underwent significant development. For an account of the rise of pro-Nicenetheologians in the West see D. H. Williams,
Ambrose of Milan and the End of theArian-Nicene Conflicts
(Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1995), esp. chap. 1.

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