Friday, 6 May 2011

Audio lecture: lessons from Augustine's De Trinitate

Over the past several weeks, my class on the trinity has been working through Augustine's De Trinitate – an immense challenge! Today we reached the great finale of Book 15. So I tried to sum up Augustine's theology of the trinity in a final lecture, outlining a series of brief "lessons from Augustine". I had to record the lecture for some of the students, so I thought I'd also post it here. If you're interested, you can listen below – there are six short parts, each about 10 minutes:

Augustine part 1
Augustine part 2
Augustine part 3
Augustine part 4
Augustine part 5
Augustine part 6

11 Comments:

Jarrod M. Longbons said...

Ben, thank you for this. This is so helpful. Also, I love your video posts...very intriguing to match a thinker/face/voice!

I posted about your lecture series on my blog, fyi: www.theartofthegoodlife.blogspot.com

I have several readers who love digging into Augustine!

Bobby Grow said...

Hey Ben,

I just listened to Part 1, nice! A quick question, I just picked up Augustine His Legacy and Relevance edited by Wayne Cristaudo and Heung-Wah Wong (Australia: Australasian Theological Forum, 2010). Is this book worth my time? Thanks.

Ben Myers said...

Thanks — I haven't actually taken a look at that new Australian book yet, but it sounds good.

Bobby Grow said...

You're kidding me, you mean I might actually read an available book on Augustine before you :-). I guess I'll just have to read it, and see how it goes. Thanks by the way for highlighting all of the books you have been reading on Augustine (a good list).

Anonymous said...

Thanks Ben. Part 4 on apologetics is great stuff!

Jason Goroncy said...

Thanks for sharing these Ben. They in no way helped my insomnia problem, but did fuel my desire to 'take up and read' more.

Pamela said...

I don't know a great deal about Augustine (although I have purchased a book entitled "Augustine of Hippo: Selected Writings" by Francine du Plessix Gray) and have listened to the first two of your audio tapes.

Daniel said...

Very well done, obliged.

David said...

I enjoyed this a lot Ben. I very much liked your constant nod to the very provisionality Augustine accorded to his thought - it's a bit too easy to get bogged down in questions of whether Augustine predominantly favours a social or psychological model, for example, when both these pictures offered really have more to say about our own experience of being drawn into the life of the trinity than the inner-workings of the trinity itself.

Still, this hesitancy to be upfront about exactly what certain trinitarian theories (or metaphors?) are trying to say is not always satisfactory - I'm afraid it's all too easy to slide into a lazy apophaticism too timid to say anything which justifies why Christians say God is three and not five or sixteen. Even in your own (brilliant) lecture, I see you've managed to talk about the trinity for a whole hour without really pinning down precisely what it is you are talking about!

Of course I'm sure this is very much part of the point, but I'd still love to hear you explain your own views in a little more detail. I think I've seen you deride social trinitarianism a few times, but at the same time you call Pannenberg the 'best' trinitarian? Also, I see your distaste for the logos asarkos and your stress that Jesus simply IS the eternal trinitarian Son - not simply a human being to which the Word has decided to unite Himself, or some other quasi-Nestorian nonsense so fashionable these days - this surely implies there are least two sets of consciousnesses, two quasi-independent streams of experience in the Godhead, even if in some complicated Barthian way you consider them as included under one single subject, and even if only one of these consciousnesses 'wakes up' as it were as Jesus hops onto the scene. Is there also something like an independent consciousness for the Spirit, analogous to the way the Father's consciousness is not quite the same as the Son's (even if somehow bound up in a single subject)? If not, then I wonder why call the Spirit a person - given this distinction of consciousness between Father and Son seems to be the main ground for also distinguishing them as persons. But if so, are you not basically a social trinitarian after all?

Sorry if I've gone rather off topic here - I understand your lecture is about Augustine on the trinity, not Ben Myers! - but I really would love to hear your response, I've been a bit of a lurker on your blog for a while now and love your thought, but would love still more to see a more precise account of the trinity than what I've found so far. Thanks for this great piece anyway.

David

Ben Myers said...

David, thanks for these troubling questions. You can see that I'm struggling to get my head around all this. I see Augustine's account as an alternative to both social and psychological models — and I'm also impressed by his (apophatic) argument that we really have no idea what the distinction between "ousia" and "hypostases" means; it's just a way of securing the conviction that there is an irreducible threeness in God.

As for earlier blog posts re Barth, logos asarkos, and whatnot — I must admit, I've been thinking somewhat differently about all this after spending (too much) time immersed in Rowan Williams' recent essays on the trinity (he has a whole cluster, published since the late 90s, on the trinity in Augustine, John of the Cross, and Aquinas). Williams' account gives a strong argument in response to your question, "why three?" He tries to develop the Augustinian logic of a threeness that subverts social and psychological models alike. (There's a chapter on this in my forthcoming book on Williams.)

Anyway, I feel I've been much influenced by this recent immersion in Williams and Augustine — so I'm sure I'd have to disclaim some of my earlier posts on the trinity. (Though I can't say I've actually gone back to look at any of these posts — I'd prefer not to!)

David said...

Thanks for your quick response Ben. I seem to remember that Nicolas Lash, in his famous 'Believing Three Ways in One God,' has a similar respect for Augustine's apophaticism, pointing out that the ancient formulae were essentially equivalent to saying there were three whats in one what - and by implication, I suppose, we might add that God's oneness is just as knotty and hard to pin down as his threeness!

I'd be interested to take a look at Wiliams' essays (and indeed your own book when it comes out) and I wonder if you'd be kind enough to give me the full titles of his relevant works - I've googled around but I'm hideously incompetent at searching for things I'm afraid.

I must admit I'm not quite sure what might lie between social and psychological models of the trinity - however sophisticated and difficult our understanding of the trinity is, I think it's still always going to be the case that there's either something like three consciousnesses in God, or three isn't and there's just one - or indeed two plus a rather less personal Spirit, although as I've said this seems problematically inconsistent. For my own money, despite naturally being allergic to strong social trinitarianism, I find myself resigned to admit something like it, partly to avoid modalism but mostly to do full justice as I see it to the divinity of Jesus - something like Alexandrian Christology is the way to go I think, and so I want to say something like the consciousness of Jesus is truly the consciousness of God, but not being a unitarian patripassinist I'm obviously committed here to saying God can make room in his life for more than one consciousness! And if God can do that, and God is three, then for the sake of consistency I then tend towards seeing the Spirit in a similar manner too... so for me the Father is what it's like for God to be God above us, the Son is what it's like for God to be with us (and one of us! or, depending what I'm thinking about the logos asarkos at the time, at least always incarnational and tending-towards-being-one-of-us), whilst the Spirit is what it's like to be God in us, what it's like for God to be the link between Father and Son and the heartbeat of creation.

This is all very provisional of course and I'm not sure how convinced I am myself yet. But I suppose it highlights how, for me at least, we really need to always begin with Christology before launching ourself into the theological stratosphere that is the trinity. I think this is rarely done these days however - not that it ever really was I'm afraid - and I find it incredible how many theologians seem content to pronounce judgements on the coherency of these various theories about the inner-life of God without considering exactly how the life of the Word includes the life of Jesus - as though the trinity were a doctrine any monotheist could have invented, as if we could have had knowledge of God's triune identity apart from the incarnation!

Anyway, sorry to have gone on again, and I very much look forward to you impending book.

David

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