More on the Opening Lines of Augustine's De Trinitate

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s2smodern

I read the opening lines of Augustine's De Trinitate today.  I was struck.  So much is loaded into this opening paragraph.  Here is what Augustine writes.

The reader of these reflections of mine on the Trinity should bear in mind that my pen is on the watch against the sophistries of those who scorn the starting-point of faith, and allow themselves to be deceived through an unseasonable and misguided love of reason.

Note that Augustine is not the least concerned about starting on a polemical note.  He is happy to engage in polemics.  His pen "is on the watch".  Augustine has in mind the "sophistries of those who scorn the starting-point of faith . . ."  Here is Augustine's "faith seeking understanding".  He clearly starts with faith (or claims to--this is certainly a larger discussion).  These persons err in allowing themselves "to be deceived through an unseasonable and misguied love of reason".  So much: our "unseasonable" and "misguided" love(s).  And these disordered loves cause some persons to not make appropriate use of reason.  Augustine is not denigrating reason, but apparently or more likely is speaking of reason when it is not ordered the way it ought to be ordered. And this dis-ordered approach to, and mis-appropriation of, reason is linked do (caused by?) not embracing the starting point of faith.

Augustine continues . . .

Some of them try to transfer what they have observed about bodily things to incorporeal and spiritual things, which they would measure by the standard of what they experience through the senses of the body or learn by natural human intelligence, lively application, and technical skill. There are others whose concept of God, such as it is, ascribes to him the nature and moods of the human spirit, a mistake which ties their arguments about God to distorted and misleading rules of interpretation. Again, there is another type; people who indeed strive to climb above the created universe, so ineluctably subject to change, and raise their regard to the unchanging substance which is God. But so top-heavy are they with the load of their mortality, that what they do not know they wish to give the impression of knowing, and what they wish to know they cannot; and so they block their own road to genuine understanding by asserting too categorically their own presumptuous opinions, and then rather than change a misconceived opinion they have defended, they prefer to leave it uncorrected.

One comment here.  Toward the end Augustine can write: ". . . and so they block their own road to genuine understanding by asserting too categorically their own presumptuous opinions . . . "  Throughout De Trinitate Augustine will work through the danger of not approaching God on God's terms.  We must indeed be on the watch for "presumptuous opinions," and for the pride which tempts us to refuse to correct a "misconceived opinion."

Augustine's First Lines from "The Trinity"

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s2smodern


In my "Doctrine of God" class we will soon start reading Augustine's De Trinitate.  I am looking forward to reading through it with the students.  I read the opening section today, and was struck by how wonderfully Augustine begins his treatise.  Here are the opening lines:

The reader of these reflections of mine on the Trinity should bear in mind that my pen is on the watch against the sophistries of those who scorn the starting-point of faith, and allow themselves to be deceived through an unseasonable and misguided love of reason. Some of them try to transfer what they have observed about bodily things to incorporeal and spiritual things, which they would measure by the standard of what they experience through the senses of the body or learn by natural human intelligence, lively application, and technical skill. There are others whose concept of God, such as it is, ascribes to him the nature and moods of the human spirit, a mistake which ties their arguments about God to distorted and misleading rules of interpretation. Again, there is another type; people who indeed strive to climb above the created universe, so ineluctably subject to change, and raise their regard to the unchanging substance which is God. But so top-heavy are they with the load of their mortality, that what they do not know they wish to give the impression of knowing, and what they wish to know they cannot; and so they block their own road to genuine understanding by asserting too categorically their own presumptuous opinions, and then rather than change a misconceived opinion they have defended, they prefer to leave it uncorrected.

With such a beginning, you know you are in for a real treat!

Henri Blocher on the Trinity

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s2smodern

Here is a video by Henri Blocher, giving a lecture on the Trinity at Moore College.  The video is two lectures, Don Carson then Henri Blocher.  Blocher's lecture starts about halfway through (about 1:13:50).

Secularized Trinitarianism

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s2smodern

One of the insights of classical Trinitarianism, seen in Augustine and others, is that the the temporal sendings of the Son and Spirit reflect (in some way) the eternal processions of the the Son and Spirit (from the Father).  Put more simply: what God does as revealed in the pages of the New Testament (sending the Son and Spirit), reflects something of who God is in eternity.  Theologians have parsed the details on what this means, but more on that at some other point.

My interest here is something I just read in Herman Dooyeweerd's In the Twilight of Western Thought. Dooyeweerd is summarizing post-Kantian thought in Europe.  He is summarizing a general tendency which permeated this era.  He writes of the "firm belief in eternal values or ideas, which realize themselves in the temporal order of the historical process in wealth of individual forms" (p. 54).

Dooyeweerd is here summarizing a trend whereby, in reaction to Kant's understanding of a universal moral law which everyone knows, Romanticism and post-Kantian Idealism was trying to carve out room for the importance of individuality (but without sliding into moral anarchy).  In trying to resist Kant's understanding of this universal moral law (which its detractors saw as diminishing the importance of individuality and particularity), Dooyeweerd summarizes the viewpoint of what he calls the "historical school" (which existed alongside of romanticism and post-Kantian idealism, on Dooyeweerd's view).  This "historical school" uses some of same language of (Edmund) Burkean conservatism: the organic nature of a culture, the importance of allowing relationships and institutions to grow naturally, etc.).

Dooyeweerd suggests that while this "historical school" was embraced by many folks--including many Christians, in part because it seemed be an ally in resisting the principles of the French Revolution--it still was rooted in a fundamentally non-Christian and humanistic and Rousseauian understanding of reality (i.e., unbridled and untethered reality, unformed by Christian teaching/formation/structuring is good).

It is at this point in the discussion that Dooyeweerd says that the more radical consequences of this "historical school" (still being fundamentally humanistic and Rousseauian) were kept in check.  And, these consequences were kept in check because of what was mentioned above: the "firm belief in eternal values or ideas, which realize themselves in the temporal order of the historical process in wealth of individual forms" (p. 54).  That is, instead of seeing all reality held in being, and led, and structured by the three persons of the Godhead, a secularized Trinitarianism (these "eternal values or ideas" which over time "realize themselves in the temporal order") is seen to structure reality and provide meaning and coherence to reality.

We are indeed worshipping beings.  We will have our objects of worship: either the Triune God of Holy Writ, or gods of our own making.

Arius Notes

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s2smodern

Attached are simply some notes on Arius which might be helpful.

Arius' Letter to Constantine

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s2smodern

Here is Athanasius' Letter to Constantine.