Lecture 8: The Latin Church: Jerome and Augustine
Course: Church History I
He laid such a good foundation for theological understanding, particularly for the understanding of the incarnation of Christ, that the Arian controversy never really took off because, as Tertullian explained it, he said, well, God became a man in Jesus Christ. He had to become a complete human being for our salvation. There was never any question about this, and so the issue – this was sort of taken on board – the issue that faced Arias and so on in the Eastern Church never really arose. Likewise, the doctrine of the Trinity, because the Western Church started not from a hierarchy of being – Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, you know, one on top of the other – but rather from the unity of God, the oneness of God in the Old Testament, tried to see, tried to understand the persons of the Trinity as somehow reflecting the oneness of God. The question of whether one was more important than the other never really came into play either. One of the famous phrases that you get in the Western Church is you can find it in Ambrose but Ambrose probably got it from Tertullian, although it’s not Tertullian’s surviving works, describing the Trinity as the three holys in the one holiness. This is taken from Isaiah 6:3, you know, “The year when King Uzziah died, I saw the Lord, high and lifted up, and his train filled the temple, and on either side there were the cherubim and the seraphim and they said, ‘Holy, holy, holy, Lord God of hosts; heaven and earth are full of thy glory. Glory be to thee, O Lord most high.’” That these three holys – the “holy, holy, holy” – represented Father, Son and Holy Spirit. And, of course, if you think like this, if you think of God as basically holiness – a thing called holiness – and the Father, Son and Holy Spirit represent this as the three holys, I mean, what is the difference between holy, holy, and holy? Well, there isn’t any, you see. They’re all exactly the same. The only difference that you can see is one of order. You have holy number one, holy number two and holy number three, and that’s it. Well, if you’re thinking like that, of course, the question of whether the first holy is more important than the second holy or – you know, it doesn’t really take off. You can’t really have that kind of discussion, if that is the starting point which you begin with.
And this is what the Western Church was more or less like. This is what went on, you see, there, that they had a system. They had a theological framework which was adequate for their needs and which was resistant to the kind of problems which the Eastern Church had to confront. Now this is not to say, of course, that there weren’t difficulties of their own. I mean, one of the difficulties – the big difficulties with the Western point of view, with the Western way of thinking – is that if it’s true that one holy and the other holy and the third holy all appear to be equal, it’s also true that they all appear to be identical. And this was something that Trinitarian theology had to avoid. You could say that Father, Son and Holy Spirit were all equal. Yes, fair enough. But to say that they were identical was wrong because, of course, Father, Son and Holy Spirit are not the same. They are not just different names for God. They are different persons, and so the problem that the Western Church had to face was how do you distinguish them? In what way is the Son different from the Father? What gives him his special identity? And here the Western Church found it more difficult to produce a credible answer. I mean, of course, Tertullian had said, well, it is the second person of the Trinity who becomes a man in Jesus Christ. It is the second person who suffers and dies on the cross. This does not happen to the Father and, therefore, this is one very obvious difference between Father and Son.
Now that, of course, is true – nothing wrong with that – but the question is, well, why is it true. And is it true because the Son behaves in a different way to the Father, the Son does something different? Well, I mean, clearly the Son does do something different. But is that the basis of the distinction between them? Because if it is, then the distinction between them is one of function rather than one of identity. You see, you have three identical things and one of them just happens to do something different. Well, all right, but is there some reason why the Father cannot have been incarnate, why the Holy Spirit could not have died on the cross? Is it just a sort of random choice of the second holy for these things, or is there something intrinsic about him which makes him appropriate for this particular task, which would not be the case for the other persons? I mean, can you swap the persons around, in other words, without noticing the difference or without seeing any problem with it?
And because the Western Church – this was the kind of problem it had to face. This is the way it was thinking. This is the danger to which it was constantly attempted to fall is the heresy which we call modalism or as it was known in ancient times Sabellianism from somebody called Sabellius of whom we know nothing other than he supposedly existed and was known for this heresy. It’s important that you realize this because Sabellianism or modalism – that is to say the heresy which says that there’s no real difference between the persons, there’s nothing there which means that one cannot sort of trade places with the other – this idea is the latent heresy of Western Trinitarianism just as Arianism – the idea that the Son and the Holy Spirit are not really God – is the latent heresy of the Eastern approach. You see, both approaches have their weakness and this is what we need to bear in mind.
Okay. Well, we’ll look at that a little bit later this morning and see how this was resolved. In the fourth century, after the council of Nicaea, after the legalization of Christianity, the Roman Church gradually became more important than it had been previously. Partly this was a struggle for survival because Constantine, as I pointed out, moved the capitol of the Empire away from Rome to Constantinople. And therefore, if Rome was going to continue to exercise a major role in the life of the Christian church, it had to find a reason why it should be regarded as the most important Christian church. And it was after this time, after the removal of the capitol, that the Roman Church began to develop theories of its own importance. That is to say that it went back to the Apostles, that Peter had been the first bishop and founder of the Roman Church, and because of that, Peter was the chief of the Apostles. Peter’s successors enjoyed the same position in the church as he had done. This idea – this notion that the bishop of Rome was somehow the most important leader of the church as a whole – began to take off in a big way in the fourth century.
To support this, of course, it was necessary to have a functioning bureaucracy as the Roman Church survived on its bureaucracy. This may seem rather peculiar but it did, because the way the Roman Church exercised authority in the rest of the Christian world – or at least tried to exercise authority – was by settling disputes. If there was a problem in Carthage or if there was a problem somewhere else, the idea was that it would be referred to Rome, and Rome tried to encourage this. Rome tried to centralize the administration of the church as much as possible by claiming to be a sort of appeal court for the church as a whole. So, you see, you don’t really know who should be the leader of your church. There’s a contested election. Somebody’s doing something that they shouldn’t be doing and who’s going to sort it out, and so on. Rome gradually encouraged people write to us. Let us know. We’ll solve your problem, this kind of thing. And gradually it claimed more and more jurisdiction of this kind, settling disputes in local churches. And it was in this way that the claims of the Roman Church to be the main church of the Christian world were actually put into practice. This was how they developed the reality behind the theory because, of course, anyone could have a theory but how are you actually going to make it work. And so Rome developed in order to maintain this - increasingly developed a bureaucracy in the church which kept records, which kept sort of legal things, and they began generally to sort of try to centralize the administration as much as they possibly could, so this was a phenomenon in the fourth century. It was also, however, a time when leading writers and thinkers and so on appeared in Rome. This had not happened before. It's curious. You think the capitol of the Empire you would have great sort of leadership and so on, but actually in the second century, third century, there isn't really very much to show for it in this particular way. It's only in the fourth century that the Roman Church begins to produce theologians of the first rank. And the greatest of these by any reckoning was Jerome.
Jerome was born about 345. He was to all intents and purposes a Roman. I mean, I don't know if he was actually born in Rome. He grew up there and that was his home very much. And he was one of the most learned men of his day. He had a great gift for languages. Of course, he knew Greek perfectly, and he also took the trouble to learn Hebrew, which is a very unusual accomplishment for people of that time. I mean, it's very surprising in a way that he bothered with this, but he did. And he was asked by the bishop of Rome about 375 to prepare a translation of the scriptures into Latin to serve as the basis for the official text of the Western Church. Now this again is an interesting thing because until this time there had not been a translation of the Bible into Latin that was recognized. I mean, of course, people had translated parts of it and I suppose most of it was translated one way or another, but it was a case of, well, so-and-so does it here and somebody else does it there and people kind of prepared the translation as they needed it and as they went along, and there was no sort of standardized version. And so Jerome was given the task of actually producing this. It was an excellent choice of person because he was certainly the best qualified man to have done this, and his translation which became the official version of the Western Church and remained such for over a thousand years is one of the best translations which has ever been done of the scriptures, so it was high quality, very well done, and as I say, Jerome deserves a lot of credit for this.
However, in the process of doing this translation, preparing this translation, Jerome was forced to grapple with issues of biblical interpretation which up until that time had gone more or less un-discussed. The first, of course, and the most important, was to do with the Old Testament and what he had to decide was what is the Old Testament. Now there had been a Greek translation, as you know, from before the time of Christ, the Septuagint. There were other Greek translations. I mean, there were three or four of them going around by the time Jerome came along. But the issue was not that; the issue was what was the extent of the Old Testament canon? In other words, which books belonged in the Old Testament and which did not? And this problem arose because the Greek translation, the Septuagint, had more books in it and some of the books like Daniel and Esther were considerably longer than the Hebrew version of the same. And so the question comes up, is the Hebrew text the authentic one? Is this the one that is divinely inspired, or is it the Greek text or the Greek translation? Now you and I, of course, would have no problem with this because we would simply say, oh, well, I mean, it's obviously the Hebrew text because the Hebrew text is the original. The Greek is a translation. The original must be more important. That would tend to be our way of thinking. But in Jerome's time it was not so simple, and the reason it was not so simple was that the apostles and the early church had used the Greek translation. Most of the quotations from in the New Testament from the Old Testament come from the Greek and not from the Hebrew. And so you see the question then arises, well, if the Apostle Paul, for example, is going to quote from the Greek translation as the word of God, does this not mean that the translation is itself inspired? Should we not take that as the inspired text?
The other thing, of course - and this was actually pointed out to Jerome by other people - they said, well, if we accept the Hebrew text as the official text, how do we know that we're dealing with the authentic Hebrew text? Because, after all, we've had 300 years now of oral between Jews and Christians. How do we know that the Jews have not doctored the Hebrew text so that where there's a difference between the Hebrew and the Greek, it may be that it's the Jews who have doctored the Hebrew so that it won't be less Christian than the Greek. The classic case, of course, of this comes in the prophet Isaiah, you know, when it says behold the virgin will conceive a son. The Septuagint, the Greek Septuagint says virgin. This is not a Christian invention or anything like that. It comes from before the time of Christ. But the word translated virgin in Greek, in Hebrew, is simply young woman. Now, behold a young woman will conceive and bring therefore the son. Now, of course, you see, you can argue about this because why was the term young woman translated as virgin. Probably because in that culture the difference between being a young woman and an old woman was precisely that. That as long as you have not had a child, you were regarded as young, and when you had a child, well, that was that.
Well, you see, you laugh at this. You laugh at this but until quite recently this was the way of thinking. I mean, I remember - so you must have seen the film "Gone with the Wind." You've seen "Gone with the Wind," haven't you? Do you remember there's a scene in there where Scarlett O'Hara is trying to try on a dress that she had after she's had a baby. And the maid says, "You'll never get into that dress again, you know, because you've had your baby now. Sorry, dear, but you're not going to get back to that size." And I was thinking about this because that's really what this is all about, you see, that you've moved on now to a new stage in life and, of course, remember that in the ancient world people didn't live that long. I mean, it was unusual to live beyond the age of 50. I mean, if you got to 50, you were old. Really old. I mean, there were some people, of course, who lived to be 99 and that kind of thing, but that was extremely unusual. The average - I don't know what the average lifespan was but it was something like 40 for most people. So if you expect to die when you're 40, words like young and old take on a different meaning, so you can see this. So maybe that's what the translation is trying to get at. Anyhow, that's really not the point as far as we're concerned. The point that was based in the fourth century was do you think it's possible that the Jews replaced the word virgin with young woman in order that people would not be persuaded by Christians arguing that this is what the text said? So this question.
And the difficulty was further compounded by the fact that very few people knew Hebrew. You have to remember that in the time of Jerome Hebrew had died out as a spoken language. I mean, there were people who spoke Aramaic and Aramaic is closely connected and closely related. But there was nobody left who spoke Hebrew as their mother tongue, or very few anyway. Basically, nobody left. Whereas, of course, Greek was widely spoken and everybody had easy access to it. And so the argument was, well, if you take the Greek as authoritative, we can all read it. But if you insist that only the Hebrew is authoritative, then we're stuck because we just haven't got access to it. We don't know Hebrew in the way that we know Greek.
Now you might say, well, why don't you just sit down and learn it, lazy so-and-so's, like this. But again this is not so simple, you see. If you want a modern parallel to this, I mean, modern parallel would be if you had a text, for example, that was widely available in English translation but the original was in something like Navajo. I mean, how many people are going to bother learning Navajo just for this? They're going to say, well, isn't the English translation good enough? You see what I mean? This is the sort of feel that it would have because for people living in Jerome's time, the idea that Greek and Hebrew were equal in status just didn't occur to them. I mean, Greek was an important international language everybody knew, whereas Hebrew was an obscure dialect which hardly anybody knew and it was peculiar and it was written the wrong way around and things like that and no vowels and, I mean, it was just a pain to have to learn. So people kind of reacted in this way, and so Jerome faced a lot of opposition.
Now it's important to understand this because Jerome resisted this opposition. Jerome said no, you must go back to the source. You must learn the Hebrew because this was the language of the Old Testament people of God. This is how God spoke to them, and if we want to understand what they're going to say, we have to learn it too. And so he translated his Old Testament from the Hebrew. Now tied to this, of course, connected with this is not just a question of the language but it's a question of the meaning, because Jerome in going back to the Hebrew also became aware that Jewish interpretation of the Bible was much more literalistic than what was common in the Greek world. You see, the Greek Church had not simply used a translation but they had developed allegorical interpretation of the text. And, of course, the person above all who allegorized, the man who was most famous for this and whose name in a sense was a byword for allegory, was Origin. Origin was famous for having introduced allegorical interpretation into the Christian church or at least that's what Jerome thought.
And as he worked on the translations more and more, as he worked on trying to figure out what the real meaning and importance of the text was, he became aware that Origin had just gone off the deep end in his interpretation. I mean, he just sort of completely screwed up the whole thing, and so he became bitterly antagonistic to Origin and to everything which had flowed from Origin, which basically meant the entire Greek tradition as it was known in his time. And he would say, well, their whole way of reading the Bible, their whole understanding of scripture is totally messed up because they have taken not only a bad translation but an allegorical interpretation of the bad translation which bears no link with reality. This is not what it really means.
And Jerome was not a nice person. I mean, he would never have got on around here. He was a nasty so-and-so. He was. There's no doubt about it. I mean, he used to say nasty things about people and mean them. And he was a peculiar man. I mean, you have to admit. He went off to live in a cave in Bethlehem to do his translation and he surrounded himself with women admirers who were all these sort of middle-aged spinsters who used to run around doing his will. Yeah, I mean, he used to sort of lecture them in the morning and they'd iron his shirts, you know. I mean, can you imagine? Oh, yes, I'm sure you can imagine, but this kind of thing. And it's a bit of an odd life, you have to admit, for somebody who's a sort of translator of the Bible and so on. He was sort of followed around by this covenant of aristocratic ladies. So he was a strange bird. I mean, there's no doubt about it as far as that goes. And his attacks on Origin and the allegorized tradition became very vitriolic, very bitter and this was something which provoked division, of course, within the church at the time. I mean, it caused a great deal of problem diplomatically and in other ways, and in the end it probably didn't really pay off very much as far as Jerome was concerned because it turned a lot of people against him. His theories may have been right, but they tended to be rejected by the church because of the way he put them across and they said, well, this is the consequence, you see, of accepting Jerome's views. It means that you have to be nasty to everybody and say that they're totally wrong about everything. Maybe this is too high of price to pay. And so the legacy of Jerome was not as widely adopted at the time as one might otherwise have imagined.
However, it was to come back and be very influential at the time of the Reformation, and this is one of the reasons why we have to understand it because at the time of the Reformation, the arguments of Jerome resurfaced and people like Luther and Calvin adopted them against the teaching of the Roman Catholic Church of that time. And so the difference today between Catholic Bibles and Protestant Bibles which we know, of course, is the whole question of the apocrypha, the status of the apocrypha what was between the Old and the New Testament. This issue which came back at the time of the Reformation really goes back to Jerome and to his insistence that these so-called apocrypha books, these extra books should not be in the scriptures. All right? So that is something there.
Now Jerome, as I say, is mainly famous today for his translation of the Bible, but commentary writing in the West is an interesting thing as well at this time because you get the two strands: You have the kind of people who followed Jerome fairly faithfully and produced commentaries of the literal text of scripture and then you have others who wallowed in allegorizing interpretation. And one of the interesting things is that sometimes these activities were combined in the same individual. This was certainly true of Augustine. Augustine was capable of writing both literal and allegorical commentaries of scripture and didn't seem to think there was any reason why he shouldn't do both because they served different purposes. But perhaps the most famous example of this is connected with the name of Ambrose - Ambrose of Milan. Ambrose was perfect. Prefect is the mayor of the city of Milan here which was the headquarters of the emperor in the West, and in the year 374 the bishop of the city of Milan died and the people were asked who they wanted to succeed him, who was to lead the church in Milan, and they all said Ambrose. The only snag, of course, being that Ambrose was not ordained and this was resolved by ordaining him. He was ordained a deacon, a priest and a bishop in one day, a rather unique achievement. He hadn't even been to seminary or anything like that, but he's famous for this, for having jumped the hoops, as it were, within a 24 hour period and he became bishop of the city of Milan.
Now normally you would think this is not a very good way of appointing your church leaders. You know, you can imagine the mayor of Birmingham suddenly being sort of taken out of his office and made head of or sort of pastor of the First Baptist Church or something. Well, the lawyers would be there the next day, wouldn't they, sort of arrest him for corruption or something. But anyway, never mind. It's something that we wouldn't even think of today, but Ambrose did a very good job. I mean, this is the amazing thing, you see. He didn't object. He didn't say, oh, that's not what I'm called to do or anything like that. He just sort of jumped at it. He regarded it as a promotion which is very interesting because you see we can see from this that the church was becoming more important than the state, that it was better. It was regarded as more prestigious to be head of the church than to be mayor of the city. And that tells you a lot about the balance of power and so on at that particular time.
Ambrose wrote a great many commentaries on various parts of the Bible, all of which were very allegorical in nature. He was a preacher more than anything else, and in preaching he used to get carried away with illustrations and so on and, of course, from there it was a short step to sort of put this in more commentaries and then he went producing a very flowery kind of thing. But the tradition of Ambrose is very interesting through the Middle Ages also contains a very good literal commentary on the epistles of Paul, and what is particularly noticeable about this commentary is that whoever wrote it was particularly aware of the Jewish background of the apostle. Now this is unusual, you see. Again it shows there must be some influence from Jerome on this because people didn't go into this in great detail, but this particular commentary on Paul's epistles shows a deep awareness of Judaism and the importance of Judaism for the apostle Paul, and it is not particularly critical of it. That's the amazing thing. It doesn't just say that, you know, the Jews were all wrong. I mean, it sort of points out that if you follow the Jewish laws, if you understand the Jewish way of thinking and so on, then the argument which Paul is making saying in his epistle to the Romans can be understood in a different sort of way. And for the fourth century, you know, for a Latin commentary in the fourth century, this is pretty progressive, you might say. In fact, this commentary is so carefully done that it could be published today with very little alteration and pass as a modern piece of work, which is quite remarkable when you think about it in that sense.
This, as I say, circulated under the name of Ambrose. Nobody seems to have thought there was any problem with this and thought Ambrose could have done both, and it wasn't until Erasmus came along in around 1500 and Erasmus looked at this and said this is not possible. One person could not have written these two, and he realized that the literal commentary was not the product of Ambrose himself but of some anonymous person and sort of split them up, you see, and said now there are two different people here at work. The fact that for 1,000 years they have been combined and nobody really bothered, nobody thought there was any problem with this shows that the differences between literal interpretation and allegorical interpretation, great as they are and as they were even back then, were not such as to preclude the possibility that one person could have done both. That's the key thing.
Anyway, Ambrose would probably be less famous today than he is had it not been for the fact that one of the people who heard him preach in Milan and who was in effect converted under his ministry was the young Augustine of Hippo. And, of course, Augustine always attributed his conversion and so on to the work of Ambrose and his early discipleship. He was discipled in the church at Milan and therefore, of course, took on board a lot of what Ambrose was saying and doing. Augustine is far and away the greatest of the early church fathers. In the western church, in the Latin Church, he is so prominent and so majestic a figure that the others tend to fade away by comparison. This is not because Augustine was a particularly original thinker. This is something that we have to try to understand. Augustine can be compared in this respect to Calvin because John Calvin was not a particularly original thinker either. Now you may think, oh, that can't be right. All my ideas come straight from Calvin so then he must have been original. This is not true. The greatness of Calvin and the greatness of Augustine as well - it's a very similar kind of thing - is not that they were original in their thinking but that they were good synthesizers. In other words, they knew how to take ideas from other people and create a synthesis, create a system out of different ideas, you see, put them in order, give them a kind of context and a framework and so on, which would last and which would be capable of absorbing just about anything, really. I mean, you could fit it into the system somehow or other and which would be sufficiently deep in its penetration of ideas to bear fruit in later generations so that there would be an ongoing development of thought on the basis of this new framework, on the basis of this new systematization which there might not otherwise be. And this is what we find in Augustine. This is what Augustine’s great gift was. You can read through his texts and page after page you will find ideas which come from somewhere else. You know, you can pick it apart and say, well, he got this from there and that from somebody and so on, which is all very true, but he put it together in a way which was unique and in a way that has lasted. And it is for this reason that Augustine is regarded as being as great a writer and as great a person as he is.
I could point out on this score a completely different discipline. Shakespeare is the same, you know. I mean, you can read Shakespeare, and Shakespeare was not very original either. A lot of Shakespeare is in fact plagiarized from different people one way or the other, and scholars love to prove this. Oh, he got this from there and he got that from somewhere else, and at the end of the day you say to yourself, well, he was just a hack writer who didn't really do anything, if you follow that kind of line, but we all know that the greatness of Shakespeare was not his originality in that sense, not that he sat down and thought up people like Lady Macbeth, you know, out of nowhere but rather he was able to take material from other people and other places and turn it into something different, you see, and somehow work with it to get something very special out of it that other people haven't been able to do. And this is where Augustine really comes into his own. This is his greatness.
All right. What do we know him for? We know him primarily because Augustine is the first person, first person ever - Christian, non-Christian, you name it - to write autobiography. Now other people have written about themselves but in a different way. I mean, Julius Caesar wrote about himself but he wrote about his military campaigns and so on, so it's not quite the same thing. The Apostle Paul wrote about himself, but he wrote about himself in passing and usually only when he was provoked. You think I'm a no-good so-and-so; let me tell you. I'm an apostle. I'm a this; I'm a that. And so you find out who the Apostle Paul is in this way and you get the impression that this guy doesn't like being crossed and so on. But it's accidental. It's not a systematic - he didn't sit down to write his life story. Augustine did. He wrote this in his confessions. His spiritual journey, how he became a Christian, and he is the first person, really, to engage in what we would today call self-examination. What kind of person is he, and what happened to him? Why was he chosen by God in the way that he was?
Now the remarkable thing about the confessions if you read them is that not only had no one ever written a book like this before but even more remarkably no one has ever written a book like this since, because modern people who write autobiographies are talking to you. I mean, Bill Clinton's busily trying to explain to you why you voted for him and kept him in office for eight years even though other people were clearly better placed for the job. Never mind. And this is known as autobiography. You see, people sort of justifying their existence to you. But if you read the confessions, Augustine’s not talking to you. He's talking to God. That right through the book it is literally a confession to God of who he is and what he's done, and so we - you the reader, of course, reading this - are eavesdropping on a conversation between him and the Lord. And this is what makes it so unusual because obviously it's a literary device. I mean, Augustine knew that God wasn't going to read it. He had a presentation copy and put it on the shelf. And he knew that you and I would read it, so it's a device in this sense, but nevertheless it's a dimension of thinking. It shows something that can't just be ignored, because Augustine believed that the meaning of his life was determined by God and by his relationship to God. And this is what is fundamental. If you don't understand his relationship to God and what that means, then you won't understand him and you won't understand the purpose of his being and Augustine wants to say in doing this, you won't understand yourself either. Because his main purpose in writing this was not to tell you and me about him but to tell you and me about ourselves, to make us think about ourselves in the same way in our relationship to God. In other words, it was an attempt to encourage spiritual reflection in you and in me, and this is the greatness of the confessions. You see, it's really a kind of attempt to stir up in you a gift of God to see, well, who are you? Where do you stand in relation to God and in relation to all the things that matter in this way?
And so this is why the confessions of St. Augustine remain to this day one of the classics of Christian literature because in every generation everybody who reads them they come back hit between the eyes as something which could be true of you. It could be true of me, and it's something that we can relate to and we can relate to because you and I also have a relationship with God. And Augustine is basically saying if you don't have a relationship with God, if you don't understand what I'm writing here and why I'm doing this, then you're not a Christian. I mean, you don't understand this then forget it if you don't know what I'm talking about because you haven't met with God. And his conversion, of course, which he recounts in there is very interesting because it's something what he says is that he first of all he hears Ambrose. He goes to hear Ambrose speaking, very much in that kind of world. But he's very troubled in his soul. He's very worried about different things because the preaching and teaching which he hears in the church upset him. They make him unhappy. And, of course, this is very important because he's being dislodged, if you like, from his complacency and so on and made to think about the reality of his life and what he's done and so on. And then as he becomes more and more troubled in his soul, the answer, the solution is found by picking up the scriptures and reading, and the portion of scripture which he picked up was Romans 13, I think it's verse 7 or verse 8 towards the end of Romans 13 anyway, where it says, "Make no provision for the flesh and lusts thereof." I mean, this was the thing. And of course, this was very central to him because Augustine had lived with a woman who was not his wife for many years and he was very attached to her, and he knew, of course, that this was wrong and we shouldn't do this and his mother was very unhappy with him and all the rest of it. It was part of his rebellion, you might say, against his family. His mother was a strong Christian, by the way, and used to pray for him. But, you see, it was only when the scripture sort of hit him between the eyes that he broke down and confessed and so you see that it's the preaching of the word of God. It's the word of God which comes into his life. And then a very interesting thing that he says, he said that he wants to go and get baptized in the church so that he might be born again. And this is the point where modern readers kind of are jolted by this because you and I would say, well, he was born again when he confessed, when he gave his life to Christ after having read the scriptures. But in his understanding, baptism was the way in which you were to be born again, and being born again was something which was not necessarily equivalent to conversion. And it's an interesting sort of take on this because it shows that his doctrine of the church, his understanding of the church and the sacraments, was different from what it would be today even though his conversion experience is very similar. You can read the conversion experience and say yes, yes, yes, I understand all that. And it's perfectly okay and accepted. It's when you come to this other thing that you sort of stand back and say where do you get that from?
And this is important to say because so much of Augustine is like this. In one half of him, you're with him all the way and you say, yes, this is exactly what we think and so on. The other half, you kind of pull back and say, well, you know, where's that coming from? And you need to be prepared for this because when you read him it's an interesting experience to see when you agree and when you disagree or when you feel it's a little strange what he's saying.
All right. Augustine also wrote very extensively on the Trinity, and this is very important because Augustine came up with a new understanding of the Trinity which was to become the basis of western Trinitarian thinking and indeed is still to this day fundamental to the Trinitarian doctrine of the Western Church. That's to say about the Protestant and the Catholic churches. I mean, you can't get away from Augustine when you discuss the doctrine of the Trinity. Now what did he do? What happened? Where is he coming from on this? Augustine begins in his understanding of the Trinity with the basic principle which he inherited from Tertullian which he got through Ambrose and so on, which is that God is one, and that to understand God you must begin with understanding the unity of God. What makes God one? What is the characteristic of God? What makes God who God is?
Now the earlier tradition, the tradition which Augustine had inherited, had said the chief characteristic of God - the distinguishing thing - is his holiness. And, of course, referring to Isaiah 6:3 as the sort of text for this. Augustine says, right, well, of course, we're not going to deny the holiness of God, but we need to move from the Old Testament into the New Testament because the Trinity is essentially a New Testament doctrine. And when we move into the New Testament, we find that in 1 John 4:15 where John says, "God is love." And he said this is the chief characteristic of God. I mean, holiness is fine. I'm not going to deny that. But to understand God as he reveals himself in Jesus Christ, you really have to understand God not as a holy God alone, although that's part of it, but God as a God of love.
Now what's the difference between holiness and love? The difference between holiness and love as Augustine sees it, is this: holiness is something which separates God from man because God is holy and you and I are not holy but love is relational by nature. God cannot be love on his own because love is not a thing. Love is not a quality of somebody's being. Love is the expression of a relationship. If there is nobody to love, there can be no love.
Now Augustine did not suggest from this as some people thought at the time that the reason God created the world was that he needed somebody to love. So in order to express his love, he created the world and now he loves the world. Augustine wouldn't accept this. He said, well, that may be true in a way, that God loves the world and he creates. Yes, he accepts that, but not that the creation of the world was part of God expressing his lovingness because that would make the world necessary to God, and God doesn't need the world in order to be himself. Therefore, says Augustin, God must love and reveal his love and express his love and fulfill his love inside himself, and this is why a doctrine of the Trinity is necessary.
Now, you see, Augustine moves from saying not only is there a Trinity, but for God to be love, there must be a Trinity. The Trinity is necessary once you start thinking of God as love. And, of course, in this way, he manages to solve the problem which had plagued the Western Church from the time of Tertullian, how are the persons different from each other. And he said, well, it's very simple. The father is the lover - the one who loves. The son is the beloved - the one who is loved. And the Holy Spirit is the love which flows between the father and the son binding them together.
Now Augustine develops this analogy in many different ways, and this is again very fascinating to read because in the process of this development he became the father of modern psychology, not that he wanted to be the father of modern psychology but that's basically what happened because once you start examining the inner processes of God, you then start examining the inner processes of the image of God which is man and you come up with something approaching a psychological way of thinking.
All right. So what does he say? He says, well, God is the supreme mind. What constitutes the mind? Well, the mind thinks. Can there be a mind which doesn't think? No. The fact that a mind exists means that the mind is thinking. Thinking is not just something that goes on and on. Thinking is something which produces thoughts. Therefore, the mind which is always thinking must conceive of things, must have concepts, must have thoughts in it. What is the perfect mind, who is God, going to think about? Well, the perfect mind by definition must contemplate perfection because to contemplate anything less than perfection is basically unworthy of its nature. The perfect thing. We'll obviously want to contemplate what is perfect. Well, what is perfect? It itself. Therefore, the perfect mind having the perfect thought will be thinking about himself, and what is more, his thought about himself will be equally perfect. And if you start turning this into Father, Son and Holy Spirit, what you end up with, you have the Father who conceives the thought in his mind of perfection of himself. This is the son. The concept is not identical with the mind. They are two different things. But nevertheless, the concept must be equal to the mind in order for it to be perfect because if the perfect mind has the perfect concept, the perfect concept will be a perfect concept of the perfect mind and therefore equal to the perfect mind. The same as the perfect mind, only produced by the perfect mind. You see what I mean? And this is why Augustine says, look, we use the language of conception in physical terms for birth, so to say that the father begat a son - the father gave birth to a son - is an appropriate way of describing in human terms what is going on inside the mind of God. Two different levels of conception.
Now he says it's not enough for the mind to have a concept - a perfect concept of itself. There has to be a relationship. You see, it's not as if the mind produces its concept and goes off and does something else. The mind and its concept of itself remain in dialogue. They remain in contact. They love each other, and what is more, the perfect love which flows from the mind to the concept must be equaled by an equally perfect love flowing from the concept back to the mind. Why? Because if it's not, if the mind loves its concept with perfection but the concept does not love the mind back with equal perfection, then you have imbalance. You have what is known in human terms as unrequited love. So for love to be perfect, it must be equally perfect on each side. It's got to be perfect on both sides.
Now, you see, you say to yourself, well, where’s all this leading? Within God, the love relationship between the Father and the Son and between the Son and the Father is a perfect one. It is a perfect relationship, a perfect love, because the people participating in it are perfect. Okay? Extend this to the earth. Extend this to you and me. You and I are created in the image and likeness of God. God loves us with the fullness of his love, the perfection of his love. However, we do not love return with that same perfection, and there are two reasons for this. The first reason is we are not perfect. We were created perhaps perfect in a sense but the perfection of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden was a finite perfection, not an infinite perfection. Therefore, it was limited, and while the infinite loves the finite in its fullness, if the finite loves the infinite in its fullness – in other words, a finite being loves the infinite as much as it can – it’s not able to grasp the infinite. You see what I mean? The infinite can grasp the finite but not the other way around. So it’s hopeless, you know, from the beginning. You just can’t do it in that way, but of course, added to this is the problem of sin, that by sin Adam and Eve not only demonstrated that they were incapable of loving God in the same way as God loved them, but they didn’t want to. They chose not to. They turned away from God and this is the situation in which we human beings find ourselves now. How can this situation be put right? It can only be put right if God loves a man who is capable of loving him back with the same love that he loves the man with. In other words, there’s got to be a relationship of love between God and man which is similar to the love between the mind and the concept in the Trinity. How is this going to happen? How is this possible? The only way that it’s possible is for the concept to become a man. Because if the concept which can love God perfectly becomes a man, then in his humanity he can transfer his perfect love for the mind for the Father and use this perfect love as a vehicle, as a means for putting right the relationship between God and man which went wrong because of the sin of Adam.
So you see how Augustine is able to take this concept of love and extend it to cover not simply the Trinity within the godhead but also the relationship between God and man and in the process demonstrate why the incarnation of the Son of God was necessary, and indeed why it could only be the Son of God that was incarnate, not the Father and not the Holy Spirit. And so Augustine in his way of thinking says, well, now I’ve found the reason why it’s the Son who becomes a man and not another of the persons of the Trinity, because it fits the structure of the love relationship within God.
Now why then do we need a Holy Spirit? Who is the Holy Spirit? Where does he fit in? Well, this is a weakness of Augustine’s theology. It has to be confessed that Augustine sees the Holy Spirit as the love relationship flowing between the Father and the Son, and therefore the question arises, well, is this a person? That if you see two people who are in love, you might know that they’re in love. You might be able to tell if they’re in love, but there isn’t a third person there. In fact, a third person there would be highly unwelcome. Never mind. It doesn’t seem to fit the image very well. But for Augustine the third person is essential because it is the third person whose spirit who creates the church. In other words, our integration into the love relationship of God is achieved because the third person, the mutual love of the Father and the Son for each other, comes into us, into our lives and gives us the grace, gives us the power to enter into the perfect love relationship which the Father and the Son have for each other. In other words, this is how this love relationship is extended to us. Because the Holy Spirit is the spirit of both the Father and the Son, he brings into our life both of these persons equally. We cannot have an experience of the Father but not of the Son. We cannot have an experience of the Son but not of the Father. Now as this gets developed, of course, over time, it gets developed along lines like you cannot have an experience of judgment (the Father) without an experience of mercy (the Son). You see, this sort of thing kind of grows out of this.
Now I’m not saying that that necessarily should have grown out of it or that that’s the right way to look at it, but this way of thinking – the Father is the judge, the Son is the redeemer, you know, this sort of thing, the Father would condemn us, the Son saves us – is combined because in the work of the Holy Spirit, we hear both the word of condemnation and the word of forgiveness. You can’t be forgiven without being condemned, because if you’re not condemned, you don’t need forgiveness. You know, forgiveness doesn’t mean anything without condemnation. You see what I’m saying? And you can see this right the way through the Western tradition – Martin Luther on law and grace. You know, you can’t understand grace unless you understand the law because grace doesn’t mean anything without the law. And so it goes.
And so it’s Augustine’s construction of the doctrine of the Trinity which really lies at the heart of all of this, and this gives you some notion of how powerful and how influential he has been in the life of the church over the centuries. There I have to leave you this morning because we’ve come to the end of our time, but we’ll come back again on Tuesday and pursue some of this a little bit further.