Article | Augustine in Contemporary Trinitarian Theology by Michel Barnes

Michel_Rene_BarnesMy research relies heavily on the Social Trinity and draws upon theologians like Lacugna, Moltmann, Zizioulas, among others. It is important to note that not everyone agrees with their theological constructs. Michel Barnes is a key voice that has pointed out a fundamental flaw in the recent Trinitarian conversation. The flaw centers on a misunderstanding and misappropriation of Augustines’s doctrine of the Trinity. Barnes statement can be summarized:

I have argued that contemporary systematic appropriations of Augustine are based upon methods and accounts that are preselected for mirroring a widely held hermeneutic or ideology of systematic theology. These methods and accounts typically include an unconscious dependence on de Régnon, a tendency towards a logic of ideas, including a lust (operative even when unfulfilled) for encyclo­pedic comprehensiveness at the conceptual level coupled with a reduc­ tive use of primary sources, a retreat from the polemical genre, with an emphasis on the philosophical content of doctrine. The popular judg­ ment that Augustine’s trinitarian theology sacrificed the oeconomia is presently too burdened by the unreflective use of such hermeneutical presuppositions to be regarded as established or even likely. ((Barnes, Michael R. “Augustine in Contemporary Trinitarian Theology.” Theological Studies 56, no. 2 (1995): 237-250.))

My Highlights of the Article

Page 1,

Content: “time since Augustine’s trinitarian theological depth, the last decade has seen a significant and widely expressed interest on the part of systematic theologians in the implications of Augustine’s theology for the development of trinitarian doctrine.”

Page 2,

Content: “This belief, and the associated diagrams that one finds in de 7 Margerie and LaCugna, or the “plurality-model/unity-model” jargon that one finds in Brown, all derive from a book written about 100 8 years ago, namely Théodore de Régnon’s studies on the Trinity. For it is de Régnon who invented the Greek/Latin paradigm, geometrical diagrams and all. De Régnon’s paradigm has become the sine qua non for framing the contemporary understanding of Augustine’s theology. To this extent, works as otherwise diverse as LaCugna’s and Brown’s 9 10 both exhibit a scholastic modernism, since they both take as an obvi­ ous given a point of view that is coextensive with the 20th century.”

Page 4,

Content: “To take just one of these limitations, the standard division of trini­tarian theologies into the Greek tradition, paradigmatically expressed by the Cappadocians, and its opposite, the Latin tradition, paradig­matically expressed by Augustine, ignores the close affiliation that flourished between Alexandrian (“Greek”) and Roman (“Latin”) the­ologies a generation earlier.”

Page 5,

Content: “The overwhelming presence in systematic discussions of Augustine of a watered-down version of de Régnon’s paradigm, coupled with an ignorance of the origin of the paradigm, reveals the systematic pen­ chant for using grand, broad-stroked, narrative forms. Like turn-of-the-century historians, contemporary systematicians seem to be dis­tinguished by the confidence with which they will deploy such grand, architectonic narrative forms.”

Page 11,

Content: “If the judgment that the de Trinitate lacks polemical intention were not so automatic it would be infamous; the ideological need for de Trinitate to be free of polemical intent means that the well is poisoned on that judgment, even if it is true we cannot say that we know it to be so.”

Page 11,

Content: “Augustine’s treatment of trinitarian economy in de Trinitate occurs 41 primarily in Books 2 to 4; it is Book 2 particularly which has served as a scholar’s laboratory, as it were, of Augustine’s economic theology of the Trinity. Formally, there are three noteworthy features to Augus­tine’s argument in this book. First and foremost, it is a polemically charged argument, designed to combat a false “economy of the Trin­ity”: various clues (e.g., the debate over the exegesis of John 5:19), as 42 well as the evidence of Collatiocum Maximino 26 and Contra Maximinum 2, identify the proponents of this false economy as Latin Homoians (“Arians”). Anti-Nicenes excluded the Father from Old Tes­tament theophanies so as to argue from these appearances the Son’s changeability and materiality, and so Augustine must counter this argument. Another interesting feature of Book 2 is that it is cast as a series of exegeses of Scripture (primarily passages from the Old Tes­tament). Probably Augustine’s choice of scriptural texts to exegete, and thus to dispute interpretations, is governed by Old Testament passages Homoians have chosen in support of their arguments (as is the case for New Testament passages in Books 5 and 6). Nonetheless, the book remains structured around scriptural exegesis. The final noteworthy aspect of the argument in Book 2 is that while the specific passages disputed are determined in response to Homoian polemic, some scriptural passages cited in support of Augustine’s position are used because these have an older history, authority, and role in an economic theology of the Trinity. I am thinking, in particular, of the pivotal appeal to John 1:1-3 at de Trinitate 2.2.9, which resembles Tertulliano especially John 1:1 as the paradigmatic expression of the economy of the Trinity.”

Page 12,

Content: “Any substantial interpretation of Augustine’s argument in Book 2, like any credible characterization of Augustine’s argument in de Tri­nitate as a whole, would have to interpret the text in light of these three aspects, for otherwise Augustine’s argument would be repre­sented in a false context and thus misunderstood. However, I have not found that readings οι de Trinitate in light of aspects such as the three just enumerated are common among contemporary theologians. More­ over, given the importance of Book 2 for most modern patristics’ ac­ counts of Augustine’s economical theology of the Trinity (especially Catholic accounts), it is surprising to find e.g., LaCugna’s treatment.


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