I recently received an email from a friend and brother in Christ who has been in dialogue with a Reformed pastor who maintains that Athanasius' view of God and the Godhead (i.e. doctrine of the Trinity) is virtually identical to that of Augustine. This is nothing 'new', for this same notion is espoused by the vast majority of Catholic, Evangelical, and Reformed folk I have dialogued with on this topic. Unfortunately, the "vast majority" have 'got it wrong', for there exists some substantial differences between Athanasius and Augustine on this issue. I shall begin this new series on Athansius with the opening portion of his 4th "Discourse/Oration with the Arians", which is one of the best examples (there are quite a few spread throughout his large corpus of writings) of his thought on God, His Son/Word, and the Godhead [please note that in the following selection, Newman consistently translates οὐσια as 'substance', though I prefer the term 'essence']:
1. THE Word is from God ; for the Word was God, and again, Of whom are the Fathers, and of whom Christ, who, is God over all, blessed for ever. Amen. And since Christ is God from God, and God's Word, Wisdom, Son, and Power, therefore but One God is declared in the divine Scriptures. For the Word, being Son of the One God, is referred to ; Him of whom also He is; so that Father and Son are two, yet the Unity [μονάδα] of the Godhead [θεότητος] is indivisible and inseparable. And thus too we preserve One Origin of Godhead and not two Origins, whence there is properly a divine Monarchy. And of this very Origin the Word is by nature Son, not as if' another origin, subsisting by Himself, nor having come into being externally to that Origin, lest from that diversity a Dyarchy and Polyarchy should ensue ; but of the one Origin He is proper Son, proper Wisdom, proper Word, existing from It. For, according to John, in that Origin was the Word, and the Word was with God, for the Origin was God ; and since He is from It, therefore also the Word as God.
2. And as there is one Origin and therefore one God, so one is that Substance [οὐσια] and Subsistence [ὑπόστασις] which indeed and truly and really is, and which said I am that I am, and not two, that there be not two Origins; and from the One, a Son in nature and truth, is Its proper Word, Its Wisdom, Its Power, and inseparable from It. And as there is not another substance, lest there be two Origins, so the Word which is from that One Substance has no dissolution, nor is a sound significative, but is a substantial Word and substantial Wisdom, which is the true Son. For were He not substantial, God would be speaking into the air, and having a body, in nothing differently from men; but since He is not man, neither is His Word according to the infirmity of man. For as the Origin is one Substance, so Its Word is one, substantial, and subsisting, and Its Wisdom. For as He is God from God, and Wisdom from the Wise, and Word from the Rational, and Son from Father, so is He from Subsistence Subsistent, and from Substance Substantial and Substantive, and Being from Being.
3. Since were He not substantial Wisdom [ουσιώδης σοφία] and substantive Word [ενούδιος Λόγος], and Son existing, but simply Wisdom and Word and Son in the Father, then the Father Himself would have a nature compounded of wisdom and reason. But if so, the forementioned extravagances would follow; and He will be His own Father, and the Son begetting and begotten by Himself; or Word, Wisdom, Son, is a name only, and He does not subsist who owns, or rather who is, these titles. If then He does not subsist, the names are idle and empty, unless we say that God is Very Wisdom and Very Word. But if so, He is His own Father and Son ; Father, when Wise, Son, when Wisdom ; but these things are not in God as a certain quality ; away with the dishonourable thought; for it will issue in this, that God is compounded of substance , and quality. For whereas all quality is in substance, it will clearly follow that the Divine One, indivisible as it is, must be compound, being severed into substance and accident.
4. We must ask then these reckless men ; The Son was proclaimed as God's Wisdom and Word ; how then is He such ? if as a quality, the extravagance has been shewn ; but if God is that Very Wisdom, then it is the extravagance of Sabellius. Therefore He is as an Offspring in a proper sense from the Father Himself, according to the illustration of light. For as there is light from fire, so from God is there a Word, and Wisdom from the Wise, and from the Father a Son. For in this way the Unity remains undivided and entire and Its Son and Word, is not unsubstantive, nor not subsisting, but substantial truly.
5. For unless it were so, all that is said would be said only in notion and without a meaning. But if we must avoid that extravagance, then is a true Word substantial. For as there is Father truly, so Wisdom truly. In this respect then they are two ; not because, as Sabellius said, Father and Son are the same, but because the Father is Father and the Son Son ; and they are one, because He is Son of the Substance of the Father by nature, existing as His proper Word. This the Lord said, viz. I and the Father are One ; for neither is the Word separated from the Father, nor was or is the Father, ever Wordless; on this account He says, I in the Father and the Father in Me. (Discourses/Orations Against the Arians, Book IV.1-5 - English translation by John Henry Newman from A Library of Fathers of the Holy Catholic Church series, volume 19, Saint Athanasius: Select treatises in controversy with the Arians, Pt. 2, 1842, pp. 512-516 - bold emphasis mine.)
[Online pdf copy: HERE; alternate American edition, with some revisions - HERE; Migne's Greek text (PG 26)- HERE]
Contra Augustine, Athansius' 'One God' is the Father, not the Trinity; and yet, he forcefully maintains that the Godhead [θεότητος] is 'One' (i.e "the Unity" [μονάδα]). So, while maintaining the Monarchy of God the Father—that is the "one Origin" (in a number of texts, he substitutes 'Fountain' for 'Origin')—he also defends the view that the Son is also God, because via eternal begetting, the Son has the same essence/substance of the Father. But, though the Son is essentially 'God from God', and the essence of the two are 'one' he remains distinct from the Father, and 'substantially' so, such that in a very real sense they are 'two'.
More later, the Lord willing.
Grace and peace,