Saint Augustine on the Blessed Trinity

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 We have sufficiently spoken of the Father and of the Son, so far as was possible for us to see through this glass and in this enigma. We must now treat of the Holy Spirit, so far as by God’s gift it is permitted to see Him. And the Holy Spirit, according to the Holy Scriptures, is neither of the Father alone, nor of the Son alone, but of both; and so intimates to us a mutual love, wherewith the Father and the Son reciprocally love one another. But the language of the Word of God, in order to exercise us, has caused those things to be sought into with the greater zeal, which do not lie on the surface, but are to be scrutinized in hidden depths, and to be drawn out from thence. The Scriptures, accordingly, have not said, The Holy Spirit is Love. If they had said so, they would have done away with no small part of this inquiry. But they have said, God is love; so that it is uncertain and remains to be inquired whether God the Father is love, or God the Son, or God the Holy Ghost, or the Trinity itself which is God. For we are not going to say that God is called Love because love itself is a substance worthy of the name of God, but because it is a gift of God, as it is said to God, You are my patience. For this is not said because our patience is God’s substance, but in that He Himself gives it to us; as it is elsewhere read, Since from Him is my patience. For the usage of words itself in Scripture sufficiently refutes this interpretation; for You are my patience is of the same kind as You, Lord, art my hope, and The Lord my God is my mercy, and many like texts. And it is not said, O Lord my love, or, You are my love, or, God my love; but it is said thus, God is love, as it is said, God is a Spirit. And he who does not discern this, must ask understanding from the Lord, not an explanation from us; for we cannot say anything more clearly.

 God, then, is love; but the question is, whether the Father, or the Son, or the Holy Spirit, or the Trinity itself: because the Trinity is not three Gods, but one God. But I have already argued above in this book, that the Trinity, which is God, is not so to be understood from those three things which have been set forth in the trinity of our mind, as that the Father should be the memory of all three, and the Son the understanding of all three, and the Holy Spirit the love of all three; as though the Father should neither understand nor love for Himself, but the Son should understand for Him, and the Holy Spirit love for Him, but He Himself should remember only both for Himself and for them; nor the Son remember nor love for Himself, but the Father should remember for Him, and the Holy Spirit love for Him, but He Himself understand only both for Himself and them; nor likewise that the Holy Spirit should neither remember nor understand for Himself, but the Father should remember for Him, and the Son understand for Him, while He Himself should love only both for Himself and for them; but rather in this way, that both all and each have all three each in His own nature. Nor that these things should differ in them, as in us memory is one thing, understanding another, love or charity another, but should be some one thing that is equivalent to all, as wisdom itself; and should be so contained in the nature of each, as that He who has it is that which He has, as being an unchangeable and simple substance. If all this, then, has been understood, and so far as is granted to us to see or conjecture in things so great, has been made patently true, I know not why both the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit should not be called Love, and all together one love, just as both the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit is called Wisdom, and all together not three, but one wisdom. For so also both the Father is God, and the Son God, and the Holy Ghost God, and all three together one God.

 And yet it is not to no purpose that in this Trinity the Son and none other is called the Word of God, and the Holy Spirit and none other the Gift of God, and God the Father alone is He from whom the Word is born, and from whom the Holy Spirit principally proceeds. And therefore I have added the word principally, because we find that the Holy Spirit proceeds from the Son also. But the Father gave Him this too, not as to one already existing, and not yet having it; but whatever He gave to the only-begotten Word, He gave by begetting Him. Therefore He so begot Him as that the common Gift should proceed from Him also, and the Holy Spirit should be the Spirit of both. This distinction, then, of the inseparable Trinity is not to be merely accepted in passing, but to be carefully considered; for hence it was that the Word of God was specially called also the Wisdom of God, although both Father and Holy Spirit are wisdom. If, then, any one of the three is to be specially called Love, what more fitting than that it should be the Holy Spirit?— namely, that in that simple and highest nature, substance should not be one thing and love another, but that substance itself should be love, and love itself should be substance, whether in the Father, or in the Son, or in the Holy Spirit; and yet that the Holy Spirit should be specially called Love.

 Just as sometimes all the utterances of the Old Testament together in the Holy Scriptures are signified by the name of the Law. For the apostle, in citing a text from the prophet Isaiah, where he says, With various tongues and with various lips will I speak to this people, yet prefaced it by, It is written in the Law. And the Lord Himself says, It is written in their Law, They hated me without a cause, whereas this is read in the Psalm. And sometimes that which was given by Moses is specially called the Law: as it is said, The Law and the Prophets were until John; and, On these two commandments hang all the Law and the Prophets. Here, certainly, that is specially called the Law which was from Mount Sinai. And the Psalms, too, are signified under the name of the Prophets; and yet in another place the Saviour Himself says, All things must needs be fulfilled, which are written in the Law, and the Prophets, and the Psalms concerning me. Here, on the other side, He meant the name of Prophets to be taken as not including the Psalms. Therefore the Law with the Prophets and the Psalms taken together is called the Law universally, and the Law is also specially so called which was given by Moses. Likewise the Prophets are so called in common together with the Psalms, and they are also specially so called exclusive of the Psalms. And many other instances might be adduced to teach us, that many names of things are both put universally, and also specially applied to particular things, were it not that a long discourse is to be avoided in a plain case. I have said so much, lest any one should think that it was therefore unsuitable for us to call the Holy Spirit Love, because both God the Father and God the Son can be called Love.

 As, then, we call the only Word of God specially by the name of Wisdom, although universally both the Holy Spirit and the Father Himself is wisdom; so the Holy Spirit is specially called by the name of Love, although universally both the Father and the Son are love. But the Word of God, i.e. the only-begotten Son of God, is expressly called the Wisdom of God by the mouth of the apostle, where he says, Christ the power of God, and the wisdom of God. But where the Holy Spirit is called Love, is to be found by careful scrutiny of the language of John the apostle, who, after saying, Beloved, let us love one another, for love is of God, has gone on to say, And every one that loves is born of God, and knows God. He that loves not, knows not God; for God is love. Here, manifestly, he has called that love God, which he said was of God; therefore God of God is love. But because both the Son is born of God the Father, and the Holy Spirit proceeds from God the Father, it is rightly asked which of them we ought here to think is the rather called the love that is God. For the Father only is so God as not to be of God; and hence the love that is so God as to be of God, is either the Son or the Holy Spirit. But when, in what follows, the apostle had mentioned the love of God, not that by which we love Him, but that by which He loved us, and sent His Son to be a propitiator for our sins, and thereupon had exhorted us also to love one another, and that so God would abide in us—because, namely, he had called God Love; immediately, in his wish to speak yet more expressly on the subject, Hereby, he says, know we that we dwell in Him, and He in us, because He has given us of His Spirit. Therefore the Holy Spirit, of whom He has given us, makes us to abide in God, and Him in us; and this it is that love does. Therefore He is the God that is love. Lastly, a little after, when he had repeated the same thing, and had said God is love, he immediately subjoined, And he who abides in love, abides in God, and God abides in him; whence he had said above, Hereby we know that we abide in Him, and He in us, because He has given us of His Spirit. He therefore is signified, where we read that God is love. Therefore God the Holy Spirit, who proceeds from the Father, when He has been given to man, inflames him to the love of God and of his neighbor, and is Himself love. For man has not whence to love God, unless from God; and therefore he says a little after, Let us love Him, because He first loved us. The Apostle Paul, too, says, The love of God is shed abroad in our hearts by the Holy Ghost, which is given unto us.

 

2 Responses to Saint Augustine on the Blessed Trinity

  • Bill Sr. says:

    Through the hard lessons of human history the true perspective of the God/mankind relationship became evident to a precious few, the Israelites, who accepted the Creator and obeyed his commands. It is to our eternal benefit and everlasting thanks that they did and a covenant was formed which bound them together for generations to come.
    Salvation history seems to show that man obviously was a “slow learner” when it came to understanding our relationship with the Creator. So our eternal and loving God gave humanity a while to experience life at a distance from him. This prepared us for Christ; his beloved Son, the Teacher, his Word in the flesh.
    It was time for us to visually see, audibly hear, and bare witness to his word and love in action exemplified by his own Son. The Father through the Holy Spirit, which is his Will in action, came to us in the Incarnate flesh of Christ. Only an omnipotent being as our God could have designed and implemented such a revealing divine and complete plan for mankind’s ultimate salvation as the birth and life of Jesus.
    Through Christ we are called to become a new creation with a new commission and share intimately with the Creator in his plan for “his people”. We are now united as “one body” through Christ and pledge our will to do his “on earth as it is in heaven”.
    Family was God’s one choice for revealing his “Word” to “become flesh and dwell among us”. This was his model for man to understand our triune God, his love for us, his desire to be in communion with us, and to enjoy the mystery of his presence among us in this our universal home.
    It was a humble family which faithfully accepted the arrangement on his terms, by his means not as they had planned, and for his will to be done. Both Mary and Joseph, as part of that original covenant, were devout Jews and “willing” to do whatever God had in mind for them knowing they would be together “with child” in their adventure for the Holy Spirit who came to “overshadow” them.

    So what do we see here? A complete and dedicated union of a devoted husband, a pure and faithfully obedient virgin wife, and a divine child combined in love and purpose to make up the celestial package for the worlds first “Christmas”. A single unit of persons, Family was its name; Salvation was its goal; Love was its eternal message.
    There exposed and unfolded to the world was heavens “eternal family” of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit in their greatest act of love for mankind’s salvation, spiritually conjoined with a “holy family” of husband, wife, and savior child. The nature of heaven’s Trinity revealed on earth in “Family” as only God would have it for the sake of all in humanity’s ultimate and nearly unimaginable triumph, the Incarnation.
    Father God is Love, willed through the Holy Spirit and His chosen vessel our Immaculate mother Mary, the “triumphant” woman named and promised in the garden, to be present among us as our savior Lord, His only begotten Son, Jesus Christ once and forever.

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