Augustinian Studies 33:1 (2002) 1–16
2001 St. Augustine Lecture
Love and the Trinity:
Saint Augustine and the Greek Fathers
Andrew Louth
University of Durham, United Kingdom
It is generally recognized that one of the most distinctive, even unique,
elements in St. Augustine’s treatment of the Trinity is his thinking together
the doctrine of the Trinity and his doctrine of love. Indeed this claim can be
enhanced by a further claim: that it is to Augustine that we owe the emphasis
on the twofold commandment to love as summing up the essence of the Chris-
tian life.
What I want to do in this lecture is to look at the way in which
Augustine uses his doctrine of love in thinking about the Trinity, and use this
as a way of comparing Augustine’s approach to the Trinity with that found in
the Greek East. Comparison between Greek and Latin doctrines of the Trinity
inevitably always gives Augustine’s doctrine a central part, and this seems to
me justified, for his doctrine of the Trinity (as of much else) has become, at
least until comparatively recently, determinative for Western theology, at least
since the eleventh and twelfth centuries. Such comparison, however, usually
1. Oliver O’Donovan, The Problem of Self-Love in St. Augustine (New Haven and London: Yale
University Press, 1980), 4.
tries to articulate the difference between Eastern and Western approaches by
concentrating on other aspects of trinitarian doctrine, usually the question of
the Filioque; I want to go behind that to what it seems to me are more funda-
mental differences. I need, however, to limit my field of discussion, for whereas
in Latin theology it seems justifiable to concentrate on Augustine, given his
unquestioned influence, no such limitation in the realm of Greek theology can
be justified so simply. It might seem obvious to concentrate on the theology of
the great Cappadocian Fathers, especially given the likelihood that Augustine
was influenced by, at least, St. Gregory Nazianzen, but I do not propose to do
that for two, closely related, reasons. First, almost all that the Cappadocians
have to say about the Trinity is directly related to their polemic against Eunomius
and his followers; so their discussion tends to be technical, and to take its cue
from Eunomius’ own philosophical arguments; but secondly, such technical
argumentation has little opportunity to develop links between Christian life and
Christian thought—between spirituality and theology, as we would say nowa-
days—in the way that is characteristic of Augustine’s own treatment of love
and the Trinity, which though not so remote from polemics as has sometimes
been claimed,
certainly has a spaciousness that is usually impossible in direct
polemic. I am therefore going to use, as a foil to Augustine and an introduction
to Greek Trinitarian theology, two theologians: Clement of Alexandria and St.
Maximos the Confessor. The choice of the latter needs no justification: the
greatest of all Byzantine theologians, St. Maximos is unquestionably a bench-
mark for Greek theology, as much by virtue of the brilliance and subtlety of his
theology, as by his influence. Clement is perhaps a more puzzling choice, but I
think I am ultimately moved by a series of articles, later published as a book,
that constitute a seminal work of twentieth-century Orthodox theology, by Myrrha
Lot-Borodine, entitled “Le déification de l’homme selon la doctrine des Pères
grecs,” in which that great interpreter of Byzantine theology made clear the
fundamental place of Clement in the formation of that tradition.
What I propose to do, then, is, first, to look at Augustine’s own thinking, which
joins together the doctrine of love and his Trinitarian theology, and then try and
see how these themes are treated in Clement and Maximos; finally, I shall draw
some conclusions.
2. I am not unmoved by the recent arguments by Lewis Ayres and others that Augustine’s argumen-
tation is much more directly affected by contemporary Arianism than has often been allowed.
3. M. Lot-Borodine, La deification de l’homme selon la doctrine des Pères grecs, (Bibliothèque
Œcuménique 9, Paris: Éditions du Cerf, 1970), esp. 26–8.
Augustine on Love and the Trinity
In De Trinitate, to which I shall mostly confine my discussion, Augustine’s
use of his understanding of love to elucidate his doctrine of the Trinity occurs
mainly in two pivotal books: books VI and VIII. There is also a brief fore-
shadowing in book V, and a kind of reprise in book XV.
First, let us look at the brief foreshadowing in book V. In that book, Augustine
asserts that the Spirit is peculiarly to be regarded as the “gift of God,” donum
Dei. Unlike the names “Father” and “Son,” which reveal the intratrinitarian rela-
tionships in which Father and Son stand, the name “Holy Spirit” reveals no such
thing, since both Father and Son are both holy and spirit. The designation donum
Dei reveals the Spirit’s relationship to the Father and the Son. The identification
of the title donum Dei with the Spirit Augustine derives from Acts 8:20, where
Peter calls the Holy Spirit, which Simon Magus wishes to obtain, the “gift of
God”; the fact that it is given by the Father and the Son is justified by reference
to John 15:26, which speaks of the Spirit “proceeding from the Father,” and to
Rom. 8:9, which affirms that anyone “who does not have Christ’s Spirit does
not belong to him.” Augustine does not take the step from thinking of the Spirit
as gift to thinking of him as love, though he comes very close when he goes on
to say, “to speak of the gift of the giver and the giver of the gift is to use terms
that are relative one to another. Therefore the Holy Spirit is a certain ineffable
communion of the Father and the Son; and thus perhaps is he called, because
the same designation can be appropriate to both Father and Son”: ineffabilis
communio suggests something of the nature of love, but Augustine does not
make the connexion.
On the basis of this point, it seems, Augustine brings in the notion of love in
book VI. He notes that, though on the one hand one can speak of God as spirit,
and on the other speak of the human spirit as spirit, when someone cleaves to
the Lord, “there is one spirit” (1 Cor. 6:17). If that is the case between human
beings and God, how much more is that true, where there is inseparabilis atque
aeterna connexio, “an inseparable and eternal union” (trin. VI. iv. 6). Which
leads Augustine to begin the next section by asserting that “the Holy Spirit is
the basis (consistit) of the same unity and equality of substance,” and goes on
to affirm that
whether it is a matter of the unity of the two [Father and Son], or holiness, or
love, or unity because of love, or love because of holiness, it is manifest
For all this see trin. V. xi. 12.
that it is not some one of the pair by which one is joined to the other, or by
which the one begotten is loved by the begetter, and loves his own beget-
ter, and they are so not by participation, but by its essence, nor by the gift
of a superior, but genuinely (suo proprio) preserving the unity of the Spirit
in the bond of peace,
that last phrase being, of course, a citation of Eph. 4:3. Augustine continues:
which [viz., that unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace] we are commanded
to imitate, both in relation to God and in relation to ourselves. On which
two precepts hang all the Law and the Prophets. Thus these three are one,
sole, great, wise, holy and blessed God. We, however, are blessed from
him, and through him, and in him (cf. Rom. 11:36); because by his gift
[munus, rather than donum] we are one among ourselves, and one spirit
with him, because our soul is firmly attached to him. . . . The Holy Spirit,
therefore, is something common to the Father and the Son, whatever that
is. And this communion is consubstantial and co-eternal; which, if it may
appropriately be called friendship, let it be so called; but still more aptly
is it called love [caritas]. And this [love] is also substance, because God is
substance, and “God is love,” as it is written.
There is a great deal going on here, but one thing is obvious: the centrality for
Augustine of the twofold commandment to love in elucidating what is meant by
the unity that is Trinity. The unity that we may know among ourselves, the unity
we may know with God, and the unity there is in God himself: there is some deep
analogy between these, and that is signalled by the twofold commandment to love.
The way in which the first two of these—unity amongst ourselves, and unity with
God—are spoken of in terms of spiritus gives the key to the unity of God him-
self, that inseparabilis atque aeterna connexio, which is the Holy Spirit.
It is on this basis that Augustine conducts his investigation modo interiore,
“in a more inward way,
from book VIII onwards. What is important for our
purposes in book VIII is the way Augustine negotiates the problem of loving
an unknowable Trinity. For Augustine, love and knowledge go together: we
cannot love what we do not know. And yet our faith seems to involve much
that we do not know, and yet love: the people and places of the Gospel, the
central events of the creed, including the Resurrection of Christ himself, of
none of this do we have direct knowledge, and yet they are dear to us. But we
have seen human beings and other creatures mentioned in the Gospel, we
know about life and death, and from this we can make clear to ourselves what
we mean when we talk about the events of the Gospel. None of this helps much in
5. Trin. VIII. i. 1.
relation to God, for God is not a kind of being, examples of which we know, and
even understanding what is meant by a trinity or triad does not help, for God is
not loved because we recognize him from other examples of trinities.
We do not
even love the Apostle Paul simply because we recognize that he is a kind of hu-
man being. Augustine dwells on this example, arguing that we love Paul from
what we read about him, for we love the justice we read in him, because we our-
selves want to be just: indeed, loving a just man for his justice means wanting to
be just ourselves; in fact, we love human beings either because they are just, or
because we want to make them just.
This clarification of what is meant by brotherly love gives Augustine a basis
for the rest of book VIII, for it has become clear, he asserts, that the heart of this
question “about the Trinity and our knowledge of God” is the nature of true love
(vera dilectio), or bluntly the nature of love itself, for true love is the only kind
worth talking about, the rest is cupiditas (trin. VIII. vii. 10). True love Augustine
goes on to define (or perhaps better, describe) by saying that “this is true love,
that cleaving to the truth we may live justly.” This leads, as we would expect, to
the twofold commandment to love and, by way of the ideas about that which we
have already seen to be implicit in Augustine’s mind, to the assertion that in deal-
ing with love, we are dealing directly with God himself, for which the key biblical
evidence is 1 John 4:8: “God is love,” Deus dilectio est. Therefore Augustine
can say:
Let no one say: I do not know what I love. Let him love his brother, and he
will love that same love. For he rather knows the love by which he loves,
than the brother whom he loves. Behold now he can have God more known
[to him] than his brother; clearly more known, because more present; more
known, because more inward; more known, because more certain. Embrace
love, and by love embrace God. (trin. VIII. viii. 12)
Augustine goes on to envisage an objection:
But I see love, and as much as I can I look at it with my mind, and I believe
what Scripture says: “God is love, and he who abides in love, abides in God.”
But when I see [love], I do not see the Trinity in it. On the contrary, [Augus-
tine replies] you do see the Trinity, if you see love. But I will help you, if I
can, to see what you see; let [the Trinity] alone be present [to help us], that
we may be moved by love towards some good [end]. (Ibid.)
6. See especially trin. VIII. v. 8.
7. Trin. VIII. vi. 9.
8. Trin. VII. iii. 5; VIII. vii. 10; XIII. x. 14; XV. xvii. 31; XV. xxvi. 46.
Imo vero vides Trinitatem, si vides caritatem: if you see love, you see the
Trinity. It is one of Augustine’s boldest claims. He has already warned us,
that this is only true in the case of true love, but nonetheless one is struck by
its boldness. There is a long way to go, from seeing love to discerning the
Trinity. Augustine will offer, at the end of book VIII, an initial “image” or
“trace” of the Trinity in the lover, the beloved and the love that binds them
together, but he makes few claims for it. It is a starting point: “from here it
remains to ascend, and to seek out these things above, in as much as it is
given to humans.” We have not, asserts Augustine, “found what we are look-
ing for, but we have found where to look” (trin. VIII. x. 14). That is still quite
a claim.
The theme of love and the Trinity is not absent from the following books,
but I do not think Augustine introduces any new considerations that directly
affect this theme. In his summary in book XV these ideas are stated concisely
when he affirms: “He who is the Holy Spirit in accordance with the Holy
Scriptures is not the Father’s alone, nor the Son’s alone, but belongs to them
both: and thus he instils in us that common love by which the Father and the
Son love each other” (trin. XV. xvii. 27).
What are the key steps in Augustine’s considerations? Immediately, I want
to draw attention to two of them, which are, indeed, closely bound up with
each other. First, there is the way in which the twofold commandment links
the divine and the human realms. It is a twofold command, but there are not
really two loves: there is one love which functions as a bridge between the
divine and the human. Even though the one definition (or description) prof-
fered is in purely human terms (“that cleaving to the truth we may live justly”),
Augustine moves between human and divine love without much sense of dif-
ference. The second point I want to make is close to this: for it is the Holy
Spirit who is the root of either love, whether human or divine. In the case of
divine love, there is a strict identity: the Holy Spirit is the love by which the
Father loves the Son and is in term loved by the Son. In the case of human
love, such love is only genuine when it is a matter of the Holy Spirit moving
within us. The key text here is Rom. 5:5, which speaks of “the love of God
poured out in our hearts by the Holy Spirit that is given to us,” quoted five
times in de Trinitate.
Clement and Maximos
With Clement and Maximos, we shall have to approach the question of love and
the Trinity less directly, for neither of them wrote a work specifically on the Trinity.
There is a further complication with Clement, and that is, that since he lived more
than a century before the Synod of Nicæa, we cannot expect to find in him the clarity
of Trinitarian theology that there is in Augustine and Maximos. Nonetheless, there
are compensations, as we shall see.
The first point I want to make about Clement is to challenge Oliver O’Donovan’s
assertion that Augustine is the first to see the centrality of the twofold command-
ment to love. On the contrary, it seems to me that Clement makes a great deal of
it: he frequently returns to it in his discussions of the perfect Christian life in his
Stromateis, and yet more frequently the notion of the twofold nature of love
guides his reflections, even when the Dominical commandment is not explicitly
cited. But it is more than a matter of mention. For the twofold commandment has
for Clement, it seems to me, something of the same pivotal significance that it has
for Augustine. Let me take a couple of examples. First, from the second book of
Stromateis. One of Clement’s ways of proceeding in this work is to discuss gnomic
sayings from both the Classical and the Biblical traditions. Here is an example:
A little more mysterious is the sentence, “Know yourself.” It comes from the
text, “You have seen your brother, you have seen your God.” In this way I
suppose we must take “You shall love the Lord your God with your whole
heart and your neighbour as yourself.” He says that the whole of the Law
and the Prophets depends on these commandments. This matches the oth-
ers: “I have spoken thus to you so that my joy may be made full. This is my
commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you.” “For the
Lord is full of mercy and pity,” and “The Lord is good to all.” Moses, trans-
mitting “Know yourself” with greater clarity, often says, “Take heed”
[prov sece seautw/ ` , common in Deuteronomy]. “By acts of mercy and faith
are sins cleansed; by the fear of the Lord everyone is turned away from sin.”
“The fear of the Lord is education and wisdom.” [These last two citations
from Proverbs] (Strom. II. 70. 5–71. 4)
Here the apocryphal Dominical saying—“You have seen your brother, you
have seen your God”—is used to link the Delphic saying, “Know yourself,” with
the commandment to love (which suggests an attention to the qualification “as
yourself” in the second part of the twofold commandment, that O’Donovan also
denies before Augustine).
9. Translation, slightly modified, by John Ferguson, in Clement of Alexandria, Stromateis, Books
One to Three (Fathers of the Church 85, Washington DC: Catholic University of America Press,
1991), 205–6.
The other passage of Clement I want to look at briefly in this connexion is the
passage that O’Donovan cites in support of his claim: from Quis dives salvetur.
This is the passage where it is claimed that by loving one’s neighbour, Clement
means loving Christ (the implication being that this robs the command of its func-
tion as a basis for human morality). He, of course, does say this, but this is because
in the passage (Qds 27ff.) Clement is not just discussing the twofold command-
ment on its own, but in its context in St. Luke’s Gospel, where Jesus’ answer to the
lawyer’s query as to the identity of the neighbour we are to love is the parable of
the Good Samaritan. Clement reads this parable with more care than some exegetes.
It seems to me that he sees it functioning on two levels: the Lord’s final words, “Go
and do likewise” subvert the lawyer’s question to limit the commandment to the
“neighbour,” for, as Clement comments, Jesus’ words show that “love bursts out in
good works.” The neighbour then is the one whom we are to love, and it is these
good works (eujpwiiva) that are important rather than the identity of the neighbour.
This is the usual way in which the parable is taken. But Clement is conscious that
the parable is meant to answer the lawyer’s question. Taken like that, it is the good
Samaritan who is the neighbour: he is the one who is to be loved. That is a more
profound suggestion: that we are to love the one who shows us pity, for only in that
way will we open ourselves to the One whose pity we desperately need, namely
Christ himself. But even that interpretation does not frustrate the commandment in
the way O’Donovan feared, for Clement goes on to say that he who loves Christ
will obey his commandments, and as an example quotes Matt. 25:34–40, the Lord’s
words to the sheep in the parable of the sheep and the goats, a demanding account
of neighbourly love. But before Clement gets there he argues that such love on our
part will not be possible unless we are freed from the wounds visited upon us by the
“world-rulers of darkness”: “fears, lusts, wraths, griefs, deceits and pleasures.” “Of
these wounds,” he says,
Jesus is the only healer, by cutting out the passions absolutely and from the
very root. He does not deal with the bare results, the fruits of bad plants, as the
law did, but brings his axe to the roots of evil. This is he who poured over our
wounded souls the wine, the blood of David’s vine; this is he who has brought
and is lavishing on us the oil, the oil of pity from the Father’s heart; this is he
who has shown us the unbreakable bands of health and salvation, love, faith
and hope; this is he who has ordered angels and principalities and powers to
10. I have used the text of the Loeb Classical Library edition, with introduction and translation by
G. W. Butterworth (Cambridge Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1968 imprint of 1919 edi-
tion), though I have often modified, sometimes quite drastically, Butterworth’s translation
(Quis dives salvetur is on pp. 270–376; abbreviated in citations as Qds).
serve us for great reward, because they too shall be freed from the vanity of
the world at the revelation of the glory of the sons of God. (Qds 29. 3–6)
A little later on in this treatise, or homily, there is another striking passage
that leads up to an affirmation of the twofold commandment to love:
Behold the mysteries of love, and then you will have a vision of the bosom
of the Father, whom the only-begotten God alone declared. God himself is
love, and for love’s sake he manifested himself to us. And while the ineffable
part of him is Father, the part that has sympathy with us became Mother. By
his loving, the Father became female, a great sign of which is he whom he
begat from himself; and the fruit that is born of love is love. For this reason
he himself descended, for this reason he clothed himself in humanity, for
this reason he willingly suffered the human lot, so that, having been mea-
sured to the weakness of us whom he loved, he might measure to us his own
power. And when he was about to be offered and give himself as a ransom,
he leaves us a new covenant: “I give you my love.” What love is this, and
how great? For each of us he lays down his life, equal to that of the whole
world. In return he asks this from us for each other. (Qds 37. 1–4)
This passage is perhaps best known for its reference, unusual in the Fa-
thers, to God’s motherhood. But it is not that I wish to pursue now. What we
have in this passage is a remarkable account of the manifestation of God’s
love for us, through the Son, in Incarnation and Redemption: a love that mani-
fests God to us and through that manifestation calls from us love on our part, a
love for God, but primarily manifest in our love for one another, for the twofold
command is to characterize the life of those who have responded to God’s
gift of himself to us in love. The passage we have just quoted continues:
But if we owe our lives to our brothers, and acknowledge such a reciprocal
compact with the Saviour, shall we still gather up and treasure the things of
the world which are beggarly and alien and unstable? Shall we shut out from
one another that which in a short while the fire shall have? It was with divine
inspiration indeed that John said, “He who does not love his brother is a
murderer,” a seed of Cain, a nursling of the devil. He has nothing of God’s
tenderness, and no hope of better things, he is infertile, he is barren, he is no
branch of the ever-living vine from the realm beyond the heavens; he is cut
off, he is even now ready for the fire. (Qds 37. 5–6)
But the movement of love, the movement from God the Father to the Son (or
from God’s fatherliness to his motherliness) is a movement of manifestation to
us of that which, in itself, is ineffable. God, who is beyond knowledge and under-
standing, “beyond being,” like Plato’s form of the Good,
makes himself known
as love in the Son, in his Incarnation and self-offering. But love belongs to the
11. Plato, Republic VI. 509b, frequently alluded to by Clement.
manifestation; God in himself is ineffable. Clement expresses his movement from
what would later be called the apophatic to the cataphatic (from the realm where
our knowledge is expressed by negation to the realm where we may affirm what
has been revealed), from ineffable mystery to divine manifestation as love, in
terms of the unknowable, invisible Father whom the Son makes visible or known,
terms characteristic of much pre-Nicene theology.
In post-Nicene Greek the-
ology, this distinction is preserved as the contrast between -.c`c,. c and
c. -c|cµ. c: the unknowable mystery of God in Himself, God as Trinity, and God’s
self-manifestation in his bringing into being the “house” (c.-c,) of creation and
his work of redeeming and bringing to perfection all that belongs to that house.
The c. -c|cµ. c is the realm of God’s love; God in Himself, God the Trinity, is a
mystery beyond our comprehension.
One consequence, or so it seems to me, of Clement’s correlating love with
the realm of manifestation is that it is something that can be known and un-
derstood; and we indeed find in Clement much reflection on the nature of love
as the crowning human virtue, both requiring and making fully effective the
other human virtues. His picture of the Christian gnostic (or contemplative,
though I wish we could reclaim the word “gnostic” for Orthodoxy: it was far
more commonly used, and continued to be used, in Orthodox ascetic theol-
ogy than it ever was among those we have come to know since the nineteenth
century as “gnostics”): this picture is of one moved by such love, what Clem-
ent calls “the divinity of love” (-.. c| tµ , c ,c ¬µ,), which is “not desire on
the part of the one who loves, but a loving affinity (ct.¡-t.-µ c. -.. .c.,)
restoring the gnostic to unity of faith, having no need of time or space”;
it is
a state of serene attention, made possible by the acquisition of c ¬c -..c, free-
dom from passion or desire in virtue, as Clement sees it, of the serene possession
of the good on the part of the gnostic. It is this love that we see in Christ, for
“he could never abandon his care for human kind (-µo.µc|. c|) through the
distractions of any pleasure, seeing that, after he had taken upon himself our
flesh, which is by nature subject to passion, he trained it to a habit of freedom
from passion (. ç.| c ¬c-.. c,).”
12. On Clement’s apophatic theology, see most recently Henny Fiskå Hägg, “Apophaticism and
Knowledge in Clement of Alexandria,” in Eadem (ed.), Language and Negativity. Apophaticism
in Theology and Literature (Oslo: Novus Press, 2000), 51–62.
13. Clement of Alexandria, Stromateis VI. ix. 73. 3.
14 Ibid. VII. ii. 7. 5.
This notion of love and aj pav qeia is one that seems very strange to modern
Western ears: and that is partly because it was attacked early on in the West
by Jerome
and perhaps also by Augustine,
and therefore dropped out of
Western ascetic vocabulary, to be replaced by Cassian with the less alarming-
sounding puritas cordis. But Clement’s understanding of love and aj pav qeia,
developed and deepened by their own experience, became the heritage of the
Eastern ascetic masters, and was inherited by Maximos.
What we find in Maximos is very much what we have found in Clement,
transposed into the idiom of post-Nicene, indeed post-Chalcedonian, theology.
The distinction between the unknowable, apophatic realm of qeologiv a and
the cataphatic realm of oij konomiv a, about which we are granted understand-
ing, is fundamental.
In his beautiful letter on love (ep. 2), which is really a
lengthy encomium of love, Maximos says:
For nothing is more truly godlike than divine love, nothing more mysterious,
nothing more apt to raise up human beings to deification. For it has gathered
together in itself all things that are recounted by the understanding of truth
in the form of virtue, and it has absolutely no relation to anything that has
the form of wickedness, since it is the fulfilment of the law and the prophets.
For they were succeeded by the mystery of love, which out of human beings
makes us gods, and reduces the individual commandments to a universal
meaning. Everything is circumscribed by love according to God’s good plea-
sure in a single form, and love is dispensed in many forms in accordance
with God’s economy.
Even though Maximos speaks (like Clement) of divine love, he means God’s
love towards us and the love he inspires in us, a love manifest both in our
longing for God, and also in our love for our fellows. Like Clement, and
Augustine, the twofold commandment constantly guides Maximos’ reflections
on love; Maximos even concurs with Augustine in finding in the two pence
the Good Samaritan leaves with the innkeeper an allusion to the twofold com-
Maximos also follows Clement (and the by now highly developed
15. Jerome, ep. 133. 3.
16. Cf. Augustine, de Civitate Dei XIV. 9. 4.
17. On Clement’s understanding of love and ajpavqeia , see my article, “Apathetic Love in Clement of
Alexandria,” Studia Patristica 18.3 (1989), 413–19.
18. Though, as Maximos’ disciple, St. John Damascene, points out the two distinctions—apophatic-
kataphatic, theologia-oikonomia—do not exactly correspond (expos. fidei 2).
19. Maximos the Confessor, ep. 2 (PG 91. 393BC).
20. Idem, Centuries on Love IV. 75 (cf. Augustine, Qu. Evang. II. 19; En. Psa. 125. 15).
Byzantine ascetical tradition) in having a clearly worked out notion of love as the
fruit of aj pav qeia, itself the product of the acquisition of the virtues. Love brings
us to the threshold of the divine mystery, but Maximos does not use the language
of love to describe God’s inner nature, or trinitarian life: love belongs to, indeed
characterizes, the divine economy. Of love, Maximos can say:
This is the way of truth, as the Word of God calls himself, that leads those
who walk in it, pure of passions, to God the Father. This is the door, through
which the one who enters finds himself in the Holy of Holies, and is made
worthy to behold the unapproachable beauty of the holy and royal Trinity.
This is the true vine, in which he who is firmly rooted is made worthy of
becoming a partaker of the divine quality. Through this love, all the teaching
of the law and the prophets and the Gospel both is and is proclaimed, so that
we who have a desire for ineffable goods may confirm our longing in these
It is not that Maximos has nothing to say about the Trinity, into whose myster-
ies the Christian soul is initiated. There is a remarkable passage, that occurs is
slightly different forms in his commentary on the Lord’s Prayer and in his com-
mentary on the Divine Liturgy, called his Mystagogia. Let me quote part of it:
The Word then leads [the soul] to the knowledge of theology made mani-
fest after its journey through all things, granting it an understanding equal
to the angels as far as this is possible for it. He will teach it with such
wisdom that it will comprehend the one God, one nature and three per-
sons, a tri-personal unity of essence, and a consubstantial trinity of persons,
trinity in unity and unity in trinity, not one and another, nor one beside
another, nor one through another, nor one in another, nor one from an-
other, but the same in itself, according to itself, with itself, by itself. . . .
For the holy trinity of persons is an unconfused unity, by essence and in its
own simple meaning; and the holy unity is a trinity, by persons and in its
mode of existence, the same—whatever it is—as a whole, and differently
according to each meaning, as has been said, understood as one and sole,
undivided and unconfused, single and undiminished and undeviating godhead,
wholly a unity existing in its being and the same wholly a trinity in its
persons, a single ray of triply radiant light, shining in a single form. In
which light the soul, equal in dignity to the holy angels, having received
the manifest principles concerning the godhead that are accessible to cre-
ation, and having learned in harmony with them without silence to praise in
threefold form the one godhead, has been drawn up to the adoption by grace
through the likeness it has acquired, through which, in its prayers having
God by grace as the hidden and only Father, it is gathered up to the One in
its hiddenness by an ecstasy from all things, and the more it is persuaded of
21. Idem, ep. 2 (PG 91. 404A).
divine things, or rather comes to know them, the more it wants not to be its
own, nor to be able to be known from itself, by itself or anything else, but
only as wholly God’s, who takes it up wholly in a way befitting of the good,
wholly and impassibly in a divinely-befitting way entering it wholly, wholly
deifying it, and transforming it unchangeably into himself.
There is an intensity, a passion even, about this passage, a strangely sober,
ethereal intensity, that is not uncommon in Byzantine attempts to delineate
something of what knowledge (gnw` si~) of the Trinity means. But Maximos
does not use the notion of love to characterize the Trinity that he has discov-
ered. Even though the fulfilment of human love is deification, becoming divine,
love is not used to characterize the nature or inner life of the Trinity. The
reason is, I think, very simple: that for Maximos, and for the Greek patristic
tradition both before and after him, the mystery of God overwhelms any hu-
man categories; all one can do is stutter the precise distinctions that belong to
the doctrine of the Trinity, which do not so much reveal the divine mystery,
as prevent one reducing it in one’s conception to a bare philosophical unity or
a pagan pantheon or any other misconception. As Vladimir Lossky put it, with
characteristic perceptiveness:
This is why the revelation of the Holy Trinity, which is the summit of
cataphatic theology, belongs also to apophatic theology, for [quoting the
Areopagite] “if we learn from the Scriptures that the Father is the source of
divinity, and Jesus and the Holy Spirit are the divine progeny, the divine
seeds, so to say, and flowers and lights that transcend being, we can neither
say nor understand what that is.”
I think my conclusion is reasonably clear, and perhaps not very surprising. All
the Fathers we have discussed are in complete agreement that the twofold com-
mandment to love is at the centre of any understanding of the Christian life;
furthermore, in this love something of the divine is revealed to us, for the Incar-
nation is a revelation of God’s love, and in our loving response to his love we
come to share in the divine love. But despite all this there is a striking difference
between Augustine and our two Greeks, and this difference is, broadly speaking, a
difference between Augustine and Greek patristic theology. This difference lies in
22. Idem, Mystagogia 23, ed. Ch. Sotiropoulos (Athens 1993), 216. 14–22, 218. 3–220. 2; cf.
idem, exp. orationis dominicae, ed. P. van Deun, CCSG 23, ll. 440–467.
23. Vladimir Lossky, “La notion des «analogies» chez le Pseudo-Denys l’Aréopagite,” in Archives
d’histoire doctrinale et littéraire du moyen âge 5 (1930): 283 (quoting Dionysios, Divine
Names II. 7).
the fact that for Augustine love characterized the divine life itself, and not just
God’s love for us and our love for one another. Love gives us some kind of key to
the inner reality of God. Augustine’s idea is intoxicating; it is difficult, once
having read Augustine, not to let this idea, which seems to be very much
Augustine’s own, condition our reading of other theologians, especially the
Greeks, who do not seem to share it.
But if we look at how Augustine gets to this idea, it is clear that there are
reasons for reserving our judgment. “The unity of the spirit in the bond of
peace” (Eph. 4:3) is clearly for St. Paul the unity of love in the Spirit that is
the principle of the unity of the Church; it is not, as it is for Augustine, the
unity of the Spirit that constitutes the unity of the Trinity (cf. trin. VI. v. 7).
The advancement of Augustine’s argument in the books of de Trinitate that
we have looked at depends on this blurring of the distinction between the
divine and the human. But we have seen in the Greek Fathers, in an inchoate
form in Clement, but fully worked out in Maximos, as in all the post-Nicene
Greek Fathers (with rare exceptions such as, perhaps, Synesius of Cyrene),
the crucial significance of the distinction between qeologiv a and oij konomiv a,
a distinction that holds together, on the one hand, the genuine revelation of
God that takes place in the created order, both in the providential ordering of
the cosmos and in the history of salvation, culminating in the Incarnation,
and, on the other, the ultimate mystery of the ineffable Godhead. For the
Fathers this distinction, first evoked, to my knowledge, in connexion with the
Arian controversy,
is crucial, because if it is breached we run the risk of
reducing the mystery of the Godhead to human categories. This, it seems to
me, is the danger with Augustine’s doctrine of the Trinity, even if the human
category is love, and even though he does his best to make sure that we derive
our notion of love from God’s love, rather than the other way about.
This conclusion is not at all original, for much the strongest argument of
Orthodox theologians against the Western doctrine of the Filioque, the doc-
trine that the Spirit proceeds from the Son as well as from the Father, is that
this doctrine only gains what credence it has by confusing qeologiv a and
oij konomiv a, by applying ideas about the Spirit’s mission in the oij konomiv a to his
eternal procession within the Trinity.
24. For someone who keeps her head, see Catherine Osborne, Eros Unveiled. Plato and the God of
Love (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1994).
25. See the letter of Alexander of Alexandria to Alexander of Byzantium (?Thessalonica), in H.-G.
Opitz (ed.), Athanasius Werke, vol. III, part 1: Urkunde zur Geschichte des arianischen Streites,
Urkunde 14. 4.
But it may be that my conclusion is not really a conclusion at all. Maybe Augus-
tine was right in seeing the notion of love as one that retains its meaning, if not
univocally, at least with a strong analogy, whether applied to God or to human kind.
One might think that some recent developments in personalist metaphysics in mod-
ern theology, whether Orthodox or Western, make Augustine’s premise plausible
(though Western advocates of such personalist metaphysics seem even less inclined
than the Orthodox to seek support for their ideas in Augustine).
One might also
point to the fact (for such I think it is) that no less an Orthodox theologian than St.
Gregory Palamas, once he encountered Augustine’s association of the Spirit and
love, incorporated it into his own theology.
Perhaps then I have not reached a conclusion, but rather raised a question
about the continued relevance of the thought of the great African doctor of
the Church on the topic of love and the Trinity. But if we are to follow Augus-
tine, we should, I think, heed the fact that this is one aspect of Augustine’s
theology that departs from the tradition of the Church, both as it was under-
stood in his day and for centuries later, at least in the East. Not only that, but
it is not difficult to see why the Greek Fathers do not follow Augustine in
tracing the reality of love right to the heart of the Trinity. For myself, I would
want to be sure that they were wrong before abandoning their teaching.
I do not, however, think that the Greek Fathers are wrong, and it perhaps worth
concluding by drawing out why I think we should hold to the Greek distinction
between qeologiva and oijkonomiva, and resist the attraction of Augustine. What
Augustine does in allowing his doctrine of love to constitute a bridge between
qeologiv a and oij konomiv a is, it seems to me, to begin to imagine the Trinity as a
community of loving individuals. The Trinity then becomes an object of human specu-
lation in itself: we are well on the way to a kind of mythological notion of the
Trinity, which will cause the problems Augustine is already somewhat at a loss to
answer, such as whether any other “members” of the Trinity could have become
The apophatic doctrine of the Trinity we find in the Greek Fathers
26. I have in mind Orthodox theologians such as Metropolitan John (Zizioulas) of Pergamon and
Christos Yannaras, and Western theologians such as Colin Gunton and Alan Torrance.
27. See Gregory Palamas, Capita CL 36–7. For evidence that Palamas derived this from his reading
of Maximos Planoudis’ Greek translation of Augustine’s de Trinitate, see R. Flogaus, “Palamas
and Barlaam Revisited: A Reassessment of East and West in the Hesychast Controversy of 14
Century Byzantium,” in St. Vladimir’s Theological Quarterly 42 (1998): 1–32. Palamas’ use of
Augustine extends far beyond this idea.
28. A question Augustine faces without giving any convincing response in both ep. 11 to Nebridius
and sermo 52. I am grateful to Lewis Ayres for bringing these two passages to my attention in a
keeps a rein on such speculations, and this seems to me an advantage.
reasons to resist the modern tendency to go even further than Augustine with a
social model of the Trinity have been aired recently by several theologians, and I
would endorse their approach here.
It must be granted that Augustine himself
does not advance very far down this route, his doctrine of the Trinity has its own
but his use of the doctrine of love in the way outlined above ad-
vances along a road ruled out altogether by the Greek Fathers.
Another related point of contrast between Augustine and the Greek Fathers
might be worth mentioning briefly. I noted above that, because the Greek doc-
trine of love is about the realm of the oij konomiv a, it belongs to the realm of the
known, and in fact the Greek Fathers have a good deal to say about the nature of
love, and how to nurture it; there is, in short, a proper asceticism of love to be
developed. I find myself wondering whether there is not a link between Augustine’s
sliding between divine and human love in the way I have argued above and what
seems to me his shyness of any asceticism of love. Such shyness occurs in, for
instance, the second half of book ten of his Confessions, and also in his response
to the monks of Hadrumetum: in the former case, particularly, his searching self-
examination does not lead to any consideration of what his part might be in
remedying the defects he analyses but to the need to cast himself on divine grace.
If love is essentially divine, the presence of the Spirit within us, then it is perhaps
not surprising that Augustine finds it impossible to develop any asceticism of
love, such as can be found throughout the Byzantine ascetical tradition.
But I am raising questions, not providing answers, and I hope that such may be
accepted as a proper use of the Villanova Augustine Lecture.
seminar paper eventually published as: ‘“Remember That You are Catholic” (serm. 52.2): Augus-
tine on the Unity of the Triune God,” Journal of Early Christian Studies 8 (2000): 39–82. But I
think Augustine has greater difficulty with this problem than Ayres would like to think.
29. The question as to why it is the person of the Son who becomes incarnate it raised, glancingly,
by John Damascene in his treatise against the Monothelites (de Duabus in Christo Voluntatibus
37). But his response in terms of the invariability of the mode of existence of the Son in
qeologiva and oijkonomiva provides an answer without raising any speculative questions about the
nature of the Trinity.
30. See Karen Kilby, “Perichoresis and Projection: Problems with Social Doctrine of the Trinity,” New
Blackfriars 81 (2000): 432–45, and from a rather different perspective, John Behr, “The Paschal
Foundation of Christian Theology,” St. Vladimir’s Theological Quarterly 45 (2001): 115–36.
31. See Vladimir Lossky, “Les éléments de «théologie negative»dans la pensée de saint Augustin,”
Augustinus Magister I (Paris, Études Augustiniennes, 1954), 575–81.

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