Article | Appropriating the Divine Presence: Reading Augustine’s On the Trinity as a Transformative Text by Edward Howells

Appropriating the Divine Presence Reading Augustine as Transformative my annotated copy

This article contributes to my case that I must delve deeply into Augustine’s On The Trinity. The paper I wrote back in the spring is proving to be a bit prophetic for the course of study. Here Howells helps me understand Augustine’s pre-modern understanding of the relationality of the trinitarian persons and the better understanding of interiority.

Dr. Edward Howells is a lecturer in Christian Spirituality at Heythrop College at the University of London

If we see [the analogies] only as analogies–that is, as entities separate from the Trinity, which somehow represent the Trinity independently–rather than as the means to move towards a deeper engagement with God as the source, we miss their real purpose. (203)

The center of faith lies not in what we would call the doctrinal content but in the personal transformation by means of that content of an individual’s entire sensibility and self-understanding. On the Trinity is structure according to this plan. (204)

His starting point of love of neighbor in Book 8 indicates that our awareness of human relationality, rather than of autonomous individual rationality, is what he is seeking. This means that he understands mind primarily in the context of other-relatedness, rather than as a feature of our individuality. (212)

For Augustine, mind is an open ended, relational capacity, which shares in the divine knowing. It is not to be identified merely with knowing things in the world but is the deeper awareness or consciousness by which knowing moves out in relationship to the world and to God, in order to know in an unlimited movement of love. (213)

The “inner word” points to the ability of the mind to make a distinction at the immediate level, which is also an act of judgment, before a concept is separated or expressed outwardly. It is this ability that is fostered and cultivated on the journey of transformation in relation to the divine presence. (217)

Augustine does not approach doctrine as information with independent value or even as highly sophisticated or metaphorical information but as part of human transformation, where its role is to help us learn how to understand the divine presence in the midst of things. He allows little room for the kind of positivist, propositional view of doctrine that is characteristic of the most exclusive accounts of what it means to be Christian today. (220)

This is a Christological staring point, but the manner I which he understands it, paradoxically, is the very opposite of exclusive. Doctrine points to a divine presence, immediate and equally available to all. God and truth are approached only in the manner of sharing in what is common to all as a gift. (220)

Doctrine here is understood not as a “narrowing” of the human sphere to a particular group of humans and their technical concerns (Christians, as against other groups), but as the liberation of human awareness from the divisions that beset humanity as a whole, in favor of a manner of knowing that is universally inclusive, being wholly shared and not amenable to exclusively individual possession. (220)

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