Sunday, July 10, 2016

Augustine - on the causality of the Son from the Father and the monarchy of God the Father

Back on March 8, 2013, I published a thread under the title: Which Augustine ???. In the opening post, I wrote:

Keeping in mind the distinction between the Latin/Western and Greek/Eastern approaches to the doctrine of the Trinity drawn by a number of patristic and theological scholars of the last few decades, one will find that the following selections are more in line with the Greek/Eastern approach.

In addition to the contrast mentioned above, many of those scholars who have sided with the so-called 'Greek/Eastern' approach, also included some harsh criticisms of Augustine's elucidations on the doctrine of the Trinity. However, beginning with my aforementioned post on Augustine, I started to notice some serious flaws with those who maintained such views. One defect is the failure to realize that a good deal of semantic confusion existed among many post-Nicene Church Fathers. I have come to discern that many of the supposed distinctions entail little more than a lack of precision on the part of those CFs who were actually attempting to defend/explain the same concepts. One such concept was the eternal generation of the Son of God from the God the Father.

To my knowledge—unlike a number of modern Evangelical scholars who deny the doctrine of the eternal generation of the Son from the Father (see THIS THREAD for some examples)—every post-Nicene Church Father who wrote in depth on the doctrine of the Trinity affirmed the doctrine of the eternal generation of the Son of God by/from God the Father; it wasn't until the Reformation period that this centuries old doctrine was denied by some Trinitarians (the important/relevant debates over eternal generation are intra-Trinitarian, for all non-Trinitarians deny it).

When the concept of the generation of the Son of God from God the Father is affirmed, one cannot avoid the implication of causality. But if one affirms the causal relationship between the Father and the Son, how does one avoid the charge of either Arianism or Tritheism? A number of post-Nicene CFs avoided such charges by embracing three important concepts: first, the generation of the Son of God from the God the Father is an eternal begetting, not a temporal creation; second, this eternal begetting includes the full communication of the Father's ousia/essence/substance to the Son without any loss—or as the original Nicene Creed phrases it, 'born/begotten from the essence/substance of the Father'; and third, the affirmation of God the Father as the fount/source of divinity. [It is important to point out these three concepts form the foundational aspects of what I have termed, 'Nicene Monarchism'—more commonly known as the monarchy of God the Father—and importantly, all three entail causality.]

Though all the Catholic/Orthodox post-Nicene CFs who wrote at length on the doctrine of the Trinity clearly affirmed the doctrine of eternal generation, the same clarity concerning the latter two concepts were not always as transparent—this is where the aforementioned semantic confusion comes into play—but with that said, I am now convinced that even though some post-Nicene CFs did not explicitly affirm the last two concepts, they actually did so via terminology that can be confusing if one does not take into account all of what they wrote concerning the issues at hand. The rest of this post will focus on Augustine, and whether or not his overall theology affirms that the Son is, 'born/begotten from the substance of the Father', as well as the Father as the fount/source of divinity. I have chosen Augustine because my earlier readings of his writings—influenced by the consensus of modern patristic scholars who upheld the so-called distinction between the Latin/Western and Greek/Eastern approaches to the doctrine of the Trinity—led me to believe that he denied the third concept, and probably the second. However, my more recent readings have reversed these conclusions—I am now convinced that Augustine's overall theology upholds the Nicene teaching that the Son is 'born/begotten from the essence/substance of the Father' (not just from His 'person'), and that the Father is the fount/source of divinity. As such, I have also come to the conclusion that Augustine was also an advocate of the monarchy of God the Father.

Now, it is relatively straightforward to demonstrate that Augustine taught the Son is 'born/begotten from the essence/substance of the Father', for in a number of places in his writings he explicitly says so. I shall begin with a quote I already provided in the above mentioned thread, adding the Latin text, and two more English translations:

Naturalis ergo Filius de ipsa Patris substantia unicus natus est, id existens quod Pater est; Deus de Deo, Lumen de Lumine. (De Fide et Simbolo, 4.6)

Thus, then, the Son according to nature (naturalis filius) was born of the very substance of the Father, the only one so born, subsisting as that which the Father is, God of God, Light of Light. (On Faith and the Creed, 4.6 -NPNF 3.324 - bold emphasis mine.)

Only one natural Son, then, has been begotten of the very substance of the Father, and having the same nature as the father: God of God, Light of Light. (On Faith and the Creed, 4.6 - FC 27.323 - bold emphasis mine.)

Being Son by nature he was born uniquely of the substance of the Father, being what the Father is, God of God, Light of Light. (Faith and the Creed 4.6 - LCC, Augustine: Earlier Writings, p. 357 - bold emphasis mine.)

And from his On the Trinity we read:

...the Father is not anything unless because He has the Son; so that not only that which is meant by Father (which it is manifest He is not called relatively to Himself but to the Son, and therefore is the Father because He has the Son), but that which He is in respect to His own substance is so called, because He begat His own essence. (VII.1 - NPNF 3.105 - bold emphasis mine.)

For the love in the Father, which is in His ineffably simple nature, is nothing else than His very nature and substance itself,—as we have already often said, and are not ashamed of often repeating. And hence the "Son of His love," is none other than He who is born of His substance. (XV.37 - NPNF 3.105 - bold emphasis mine.)

Wherefore the logic of Eunomius, from whom the Eunomian heretics sprang, is ridiculous. For when he could not understand, and would not believe, that the only-begotten Word of God, by which all things were made, is the Son of God by nature, i.e. born of the substance of the Father... (XV.38 - NPNF 3.105 - bold emphasis mine.)

And so, we see that Augustine explicitly affirmed the teaching from the original Nicene Creed (325) that the Son is, 'born/begotten from the essence/substance of the Father'.

But Augustine's elucidations on the causality of the Son also include phraseology which strongly suggests that Father is the fount/source of deity/divinity, which means that he was also an advocate of the monarchy of God the Father. IMO, the following selections—when reflected on objectively—support my assessments:

That then which the Lord says, "Whom I will send unto you from the Father," shows the Spirit to be both of the Father and of the Son; because, also, when He had said, "Whom the Father will send," He added also, "in my name." Yet He did not say, Whom the Father will send from me, as He said, "Whom I will send unto you from the Father," showing, namely, that the Father is the beginning (principium) of the whole divinity, or if it is better so expressed, deity. He, therefore, who proceeds from the Father and from the Son, is referred back to Him from whom the Son was born (natus). (On the Trinity, IV.29 - NPNF 3.85 - bold emphasis mine.)

...we understand that the Son is not indeed less than, but equal to the Father, but yet that He is from Him, God of God, Light of light. For we call the Son God of God; but the Father, God only; not of God. (On the Trinity, II.2 - NPNF 3.38 - bold emphasis mine.)

For the Son is the Son of the Father, and the Father certainly is the Father of the Son; but the Son is called God of God, the Son is called Light of Light; the Father is called Light, but not, of Light, the Father is called God, but not, of God. (On the Gospel of John, XXXIX.1 - NPNF 3.38)

Partly then, I repeat, it is with a view to this administration that those things have been thus written which the heretics make the ground of their false allegations; and partly it was with a view to the consideration that the Son owes to the Father that which He is, thereby also certainly owing this in particular to the Father, to wit, that He is equal to the same Father, or that He is His Peer (eidem Patri æqualis aut par est), whereas the Father owes whatsoever He is to no one. (On Faith and the Creed, 9.18 -NPNF 3.328-329 - bold emphasis mine.)

Just as the Father has life in himself, so he has also granted the Son to have life in himself (Jn. 5:26). As he had, as he gave; what he had, he gave; he gave the same king he had; he gave as much as he had. All the things which the Father has are the Son's. Therefore, the Father gave to the Son nothing less than the Father has. The Father did not lose the life he gave to the Son. By living, he retains the life he gave by begetting. The Father himself is life, and the Son himself is life. Each of them has what he is, but the one is life from no one, while the other is life from life. (Answer to Maximinis the Arian, II.7 - The Works of Saint Augustine, vol. 1.18, Arianism and other Heresies, p. 284 - bold emphasis mine.)

I firmly believe the above selections from Augustine demonstrate that he must be included with other CFs (e.g. Athanasius, Basil, Gregory Nazianzen, Gregory of Nyssa, Hilary) who affirmed the monarchy of God the Father. But, I suspect that some folk will need further confirmation to convince them; as such, I am including the assessment of a highly respected 20th century patristic scholar—the Catholic theologian, Yves Congar, d. 1995—which supports my view. Note the following from his third volume of, I Believe in the Holy Spirit:

Clearly Augustine must be mentioned first, because he had such a deep influence on Western thinking and, although he did not initiate the idea, continued to be the major source in the question of the Filioque. He said, for example: 'The Father is the principle of all-divinity or, to be more precise, of the deity, because he does not take his origin from anything else. He has no one from whom he has his being or from whom he proceeds, but it is by him that the Son is begotten and from him that the Holy Spirit proceeds.'[19] Later in the same treatise, he reaffirms this conviction: 'The Son has all that he has from the Father; he therefore has from the Father that the Holy Spirit (also) proceeds from him.'[20] This 'also' is my insertion, not Augustine's. Augustine, on the contrary, expresses the monarchy of the father in the following words: 'It is not in vain that God the Father is called the one by whom the Word is begotten, and from whom the Holy Spirit principally proceeds. I have added principaliter, "principally", because the Holy Spirit also proceeds from the Son. But it is the Father who gave it to him.'[21]  This principaliter has very strong import—it expresses the idea of the first and absolute source. (I Believe in the Holy Spirit, Volume III - The River of the Water of Life (Rev. 22:1) Flows in the East and the West, pp. 134, 135 - bold emphasis mine.)


19. Augustine, De Trin. IV, 20, 29 (PL 42, 908); this text is frequently quoted, for example, by Peter Lombard, I Sent., 29, Bonaventure, Thomas Aquinas and even Leo XIII, in his encyclical Divinum illud munus of 9 May 1897 (DS 3326).
20. De Trin. XV, 26, 47 (PL 42, 1094).
21. De Trin. XV, 17, 29 (PL 42, 1081); 26, 47 (PL 42, 1095, principaliter); Contra Maxim. II, 14 (PL 42, 770). The word also occurred in Tertullian; see Adv. Prax. III, 3. Tertullian used it to affirm the of the Father in begetting the Son. (Ibid. 141.)

Though I have been aware of Augustine's somewhat famous phrase, "The Father is the principle of all-divinity" (totius divinitatis...principium pater est), for a number of years now (and that it was referenced by Peter Lombard, Bonaventure and Thomas Aquinas), I was not aware this phrase was quoted by Leo XIII. And further, it wasn't until I had read Congar's assessment that I fully equated this phrase with the monarchy of God the Father. With that said, I would like to suggest to those who read this thread that they seriously reflect on the evidence that has been presented, and then ask themselves if my reassessment of Augustine is accurate.

I shall bring this post to an end by acknowledging that my research into certain elements of Augustine's Trinitarian thought since my March 8, 2013 thread has not been an 'easy' endeavor; but, it has certainly has been an informative and rewarding one. I sincerely hope that others will find some value in my continued efforts.

Grace and peace,



Ryan said...

Interesting and informative, thanks.

Rory said...

Hi Dave.

I am wondering from what quarter you might expect opposition to this interpretation of St. Augustine? The only relevant group I can think of would be Orthodoxy. Do you think Eastern Christians out of communion with Rome might perhaps find it inconvenient if this Western father agrees with them? Have they possibly held Augustine up at times as an example of one who is opposed to the view we have been calling the Monarchy of God the Father?


David Waltz said...

Hi Ryan

So good to hear from you again. Your post got me thinking about the issue of autotheos. I consulted your 74 page contribution on autotheos and did not find Augustine in it.

As you know, autotheos, has two senses; one which has a broad application, the other narrow. In the broader sense, aseity can be ascribed to the Son and Holy Spirit in that they both possess full divinity . But in its narrow sense, the Father alone has aseity, for He alone possesses divinity without derivation.

IMO, Augustine applies the narrow sense to the Father when he says that, "the Father is God only", and not "God of God".

What do you think?

Grace and peace,


David Waltz said...

Hello Rory,

You asked:

==I am wondering from what quarter you might expect opposition to this interpretation of St. Augustine? The only relevant group I can think of would be Orthodoxy.==

Older EO theologians like Vladmir Lossky and John Meyendorff appealed to Augustine as the foremost representative of the so-called Latin/Western trajectory of Trinitarian thought, and maintained that the differences between the Latin/Western and Greek/Eastern approaches were/are substantial. However, it seems that a number of current EO theologians are questioning this division. In THIS POST, I quoted the following from Fr. John Behr:

>>The past century was not a good one for Blessed Augustine: during its course, he was subject to increasingly servere criticism for his trinitarian theology. This misfortune occurred as the so-called "de Régnon paradigm"—that the Greeks began with the three and moved to the unity, while the Latins began with the one before treating the three...

Against this general tendency [support for the "de Régnon paradigm"], nevertheless, there have appeared more recently new voices arguing that the situation is, if truth be told, not so bleak. Michel Barnes and Lewis Ayres (though there are others), have argued that Augustine, in fact, shares many features of trinitarian theology with the Cappadocians, so that there is a generally recognizable "pro-Nicaean" trinitarian theology common to both Greek and Latin traditions, depsite variations not only between them but also within them. Augustine's contribution, therefore, is not a radically new turn, but a deepened, more clearly articulated expression of a common body of inherited belief.>>

Fr. Behr is not alone in his reassessment of Augustine. A couple of days ago I received in the mail a book by Fr. Seraphim Rose (Russian Orthodox), The Place of Blessed Augustine in the Orthodox Church. I have not had a chance to read it yet, but the following introduction from speaks to the content of the book:

>>When Fr. Seraphim found out that the early Western Father, Blessed Augustine of Hippo, was being attacked in contemporary Eastern Orthodox circles, then he--himself a Western convert to Orthodoxy--rose in his defense. This book is the outcome. Fr. Seraphim said he wrote it in the hope that it would help remove Augustine as a scapegoat for today's academic theologians, and thus "help free us all to see his and our own weaknesses in a little closer light--for his weaknesses, to a surprising degree, are indeed close to our own.">>

==Do you think Eastern Christians out of communion with Rome might perhaps find it inconvenient if this Western father agrees with them?==

I have discerned that Eastern Orthodoxy is not nearly as monolithic as I once thought. As such, there is some considerable division amongst its theologians when it comes to the interpretation of Augustine.

==Have they possibly held Augustine up at times as an example of one who is opposed to the view we have been calling the Monarchy of God the Father?==

For sure. But, I think—thanks in no small part to the efforts of current Augustine scholars like Lewis Ayres and Rene Barnes—that the 'tide may be turning' for some current EO theologians.

Grace and peace,


Iohannes said...

Hi David,

I wanted just to say thanks for the post. I am traveling and am not able to comment much, but appreciate very much your investigations into this subject.

In Christ,

David Waltz said...

Hello John,

Good to hear you liked the post. When your traveling is completed (btw, work or vacation?), I would be interested in hearing from you concerning Congar's remarks on Augustine.



Ken said...

Hi David,
I was wondering if you have seen the articles on the controversy on the eternal subordination of the Son to the Father in the Trinity that has been going on recently among Evangelical (mostly Reformed) theologians.

Does this relate to "Monarchy of the Father" issue?

David Waltz said...

Hi Ken,

I touched on this ongoing issue of the subordination of the Son to the Father in THIS POST.

Dr. Michael Bird referred to this current debate among Calvinistic theologians as a "civil war" (LINK).

You asked:

==Does this relate to "Monarchy of the Father" issue?==

I believe that it does. Unfortunately, one rarely finds Calvinistic theologians (Dr. Sam Waldron is an important exception) addressing this issue directly.

Jan Sichula, in the combox of the aforementioned post, has some very good comments on this: LINK.

BTW, what is your take on this ongoing debate?

Grace and peace,


Ken said...

I have not studied it enough; but, from what I have looked at briefly, the eternal submission of the Son in eternity past and future seems to be right to me.

It would explain passages like 1 Cor. 11:3, 1 Cor. 15:28; John 14:28 and 20:17 better. It helps me understand those passages better.

The list of quotes that Wayne Grudem provides seems persuasive to me.

Especially the one by J. I. Packer was powerful.

It seems to me that Grudem and Bruce Ware and Denny Burk are correct, in my opinion. Reading all of those quotes also helped me come closer to understanding what you have been saying. I never really fully understood the Monarchy of God view, until now; I think I am getting closer, as this is helping me.

There has to be a sense in which the Father is father, as inherently "father" in relation to the Son, as the Son; it seems to me, in role and function.

but I don't understand why the other side (Carl Truman, Liam Goliger) disagreeing with Grudem and Bruce Ware are saying that they are not Nicene. It seems to me that the Nicene-Constantinopolitan Creed expresses eternal generation, and therefore, an inherent subordination/submission in role and function.

One can still hold to that and also hold to the full Deity of the Son into eternity past, and the Holy Spirit, as equal in power, glory and honor, ie, in essence/substance; but distinct in role and function.

Denny Burk has another blog post on the issue and a quote from Jonathan Edwards. makes sense to me.