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Theological Notebook: Jan 25 Augustine's De Trinitate Seminar Notes

Michael Anthony Novak
25 January 2006
THEO 383: Augustine’s De Trinitate
Professor Michel René Barnes

Latin Homoian Theology

Today’s Readings:     Primary— Various, “Latin Homoian Theology”
Secondary—Williams, D.H., “Anti-Nicenes in the West”
Suggested Strongly—Hanson, R.P.C., “Theology of the Homoian Arians”  

Next Reading:     Primary—Augustine “Letters to Nebridius (Epistles 11&14)”
Secondary—Barnes, “Rereading Augustine’s Trinitarian Theology” pp145-165 ; Ayres, “Remember That You Are Catholic” pp.39-55
Also in bin: Olivier du Roy, L'Intelligence de la Foi en la Trinité selon saint Augustin, Genèse de sa Théologie Trinitaire Jusqu'en 391 (Paris: Études Augustiniennes, 1966) only modern scholarly treatment before Barnes and Ayres of the Letters to Nebridius. 391-401.

Barnes:  We begin by finishing off the Hilary from our last meeting and look closely at his argument on common natures.  We looked at the end of class on Monday in the “adventureous” way in which the Latin is registered in the English in the NPNF and that terminology and clarity lacking in the Latin is helpfully provided in the English.  

If anyone has a NT with you, get that out, preferably the Douay-Rheims.  BTW, there’s a store in town that sells the Stuttgart Vulgate, which you need if you’re doing Patristic or Medieval work.  It’s the Jerome Vulgate used until Trent.  

Looking at John 5; what’s going on in this passage is Hilary working through John 5:16-27+ in his De Trinitate VII.17.  Now we are looking at the Latin and English translation.  “Therefore did the Jews persecute Jesus for working these things on the Sabbath….”  Looking at the equality of Christ with the Father.

The “working” language is variations on opera.  John 5:19 (NIV) “Jesus gave them this answer: ‘I tell you the truth, the Son can do nothing by himself; he can do only what he sees his Father doing, because whatever the Father does the Son also does.’”

The Son sees the Father.  Therefore there is a difference between them.  
“Order” is ordo; Greek taxis.  “Power” potestam.  
“nature” natura/naturam  “the operations of his Father’s power…”

Okay.  So the language he’s using—the ontology, the metaphysics—those words are kind of clumsy, but….  

Nature      natura
    Power   virtus, potest
        Operations   opera, facere

            Works   opera

Okay, so what’s the argument?  Render it into a normal English:

Briggman:  “Because of his nature he is aware of the power of his Father, which he also shares, therefore he can do the same things, acts, works, as his Father.  Because he can do the same acts, he has the same nature.”

Concannon: It’s interesting that Hilary needs to assert this “birth” stuff about the Son from the Father right in the middle.  

Barnes: Yes.  Does this mean everyone is in agreement with Mr. Briggman?

Harris: Do we need “can-do,” or what about “does?”  Is the importance that Christ is able to do as the Father, or that he is actually doing what the Father does?  

[More on the Concannon point.]

B: The ordo which we have received is that of:
  • Father and Son, first and second.  
  • -->the birth language signifies “Father first begets Son.”  
  • -->“The Power is his by virtue of his knowledge [of the Father’s Power?]”
  • -->because of the Son’s knowledge of Father’s ∆ dunamis (virtus, potest(as)), the Son can say he can do nothing alone.  [Sight of, or knowledge of, seems to be possible because of common/same nature.  “The Son can see the Father because they have the same nature.”]
  • Therefore: the Only-Begotten God works through the operations of the Father’s ∆ dunamis.

Harris: (in answer to discussion about the use of “birth” language in this passage, and whether it was worth noting) It was a recurring point starting earlier in Book VII.

Concannon: Restating, “The Son through the power and the nature of the Father in himself has the awareness that he can do no other than what he sees the Father doing.”

Barnes attempts to restate: The presence of the power and nature of the Father in Him gives Him the awareness that he can do nothing but (nihil nisi) what he sees the Father doing.

This is a stronger statement of unity of nature than the draft offered earlier.  The nature and the power are in the Son, and this is the basis of this knowledge.

Vail: Is the Son’s self-awareness an awareness of the nature of the Father?

Barnes: I’m hesitant to identify the entirety of the Son’s self-knowledge with his knowledge of the Father, or of the Father’s power in him.  I don’t think that’s wrong, but I don’t want to go that far without a text from Hilary.  Augustine says in the endtime we will see through to the divinity in the Trinity.  


[Move on to reading section 18 from Hilary, still from last week’s Latin/English handout.]

Barnes: When we say “through his birth, his nature is revealed” we want to fill in what “nature” means.  I want to hold off on that, because of Phil. 2:5-7, where what God is, is revealed as not ontology, but as “love” and so forth.  So let’s leave this open for development and put a bracket around “nature” for the moment.  Let us not assume it is an ontological term like substantia or esse.  That sort of thing.

Okay.  Latin Homoianism.  The Hanson is confused: it uses “homoian” for Greek and Latin over a lot of time.  Be careful.  But he does give a kind of summary of what you can find.  Go to page 3 of Dr. Patricia Sullivan’s notes from the 1998 semester.  A mistake was made twice.  Hanson actually thinks homoianism is scriptural and unphilosophical.  

Really what I want to talk about is the blasphemy of Sirmium 357 and page 5 of the translation of the Scholia.  Daniel Williams tells you about the authors of Sirmium, Valens and Ursacius.  This document is the first explicit attack on Nicaea.  Everything before was content to state a different perspective, some of which acknowledged the authority of Nicaea.  This is the first time the vocabulary of Nicaea is attacked.  Out of this comes Homoianism, from which will split off Eunomianism in the East.  Who knows in the West?

  • “For it is plain that only the Father… ”  Alexander of Alexandria would take this line, and support Nicaea.  
  • The Son cannot be immortal because he came to be.  

Homoian theology will emphasize suffering.  Son being visible will be important.  Parts of this go back to Latin anti-modalist argument from Novatian that “the pure in heart seeing God” must refer to someone other than Jesus because Jesus was right there.  


[Looking at the Bishop Palladius material]  

Barnes: By this time it is the standard Nicene “take” that weakness is always attributed to the flesh of Christ, the glory is attributed to the divinity.  

Gregory of Nyssa avoids “mission” language as essentially subordinationist.  In the West, such language is stronger.  Palladius is here drawing on a tradition going back 24-some years here when he asks the really good question: “Who or what did God the Father send?”  Ambrose did not answer him.  

All Ambrose was prepared to reply with was the old Neo-Nicene “Whatever is said that attributes weakness to Christ is said of the flesh of Christ” (Athanasius, Hilary, Greg of Naz, Ambrose, Augustine—this exegetical rule is consistent.  It’s the rule developed to defeat or deflect Arian or non- or anti-Nicene theologies.)  

Palladius hoists Ambrose on his own petard when he says “if you say weakness is according to the flesh, ‘He is sent’—the one who sends is greater than one sent.”  

So if you put these together, that which is sent is the flesh?  Nicenes don’t want to say this, but that’s where the exegetical rule is vulnerable.

So Palladius can say, “ I believe that the Son—not the flesh—was sent—and Phil. 2:5-7 in fact seems to support me.”  

Dowell: Is Ambrose right when he says that that “sent” is not in Scripture?

Harris: The logic works for Palladius but Ambrose is right on the text.  Is is scriptural, it’s just not here.  “Sent” in this sense of the Father sending the Son is actually used in John 14:24.  

Barnes: Could this be a textual problem?  Ambrose will be quoting the Milanese and Palladius will be quoting a Central European [Palladius was from Ratiaria, now Arcar, western Bulgaria along the Danube border] textual tradition.  This isn’t dead certain, but it could be another possible source for the difference.  

Last thing: Remember that when this thing is floating around—it’s 381.  Apollinarianism is also happening: in Christology, the current question is the character of the relationship between the divinity and humanity.  Palladius' question is also a timely Christological one.  This is a good example of how Trinitarian and Christological theologies cannot be easily separated.  

Final Note: Palladius, with whom Ambrose is in conflict, is also his opponent as part of the Homoians who take over the basilica in Milan, where Monica will be trapped, singing songs with Ambrose.  Augustine is in town, not yet a Christian, but certainly able to have impressions made upon him by this situation, impressions which may have a bearing on later development. 
Tags: augustine's de trinitate, books, historical, theological notebook, trinity

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