2. Augustine’s correlation of mission and procession
Johannes Arnold (“Begriff und heilsökonomische Bedeutung der göttlichen Sendungen in Augustinus’ De Trinitate,” Recherches Augustiniennes 25, 1991, 3-69) claims that Augustine moves from a provisional understanding of the missions, in De Trin. 2.7-12, where mission is reduced to external apparition, to a definitive one in which mission consists in “the eternal procession of one Person from another, tied up with an external manifestation of the proceeding Person” (M. Schmaus, cited, Arnold, 25). The breakthrough to this integration of procession and mission occurs in 4.27-29:
It appears, then, that Augustine first relates the notion of the mission of the Son only to Christ in the forma servi, that is, to Christ insofar as he has already become visible. His “coming forth” from the Father is at this stage of the discussion not to be understood as inner procession but only as a synonym for the appearance in the form of the assumed creature. (Arnold, 10)
But the so-called provisional account is never jettisoned by Augustine, and continues to prevail in texts later than De Trinitate. However, alongside this account, place is found for two further developments: (a) a correlation of mission with procession, which may be influenced by Hilary of Poitiers, and (b) a discussion of the invisible missions which leads to the thesis “to be sent is to be known” (mitti est cognosci) and in which we may find Origenian influence.
The more advanced reflection on missions in De Trin. 4.27-9 suggests that it belongs to the revisions made by Augustine in preparing the definitive text of the work as opposed to the pirated copy earlier circulated (see Ep. 174 and Retractationes 2.15.1; see Arnold, 14, n. 41). M.-F. Berrouard (Bibl. Aug. 73A, 471) claims that Augustine confined mission strictly to the external economy of the incarnation until in 419 the Sermo Arianorum led him to see that the Son as divine person could also be seen as “sent” (the dating is given by Ep. 23A*.3). The ideas of 4.27-9 must then have been developed very soon before the publication of De Trin. around 420. 4.29 points forward to the discussion of the twofold giving of the Spirit in 15.46, which may suggest that it is contemporaneous with the latter text or even later than it. There is a puzzling inconsistency between 4.29, where “donum dei” is in intra-trinitarian designation of the Spirit: “sicut spiritui sancto donum dei esse est a patre procedere, ita mitti est cognosci ut ab illo procedat,” and 15.36, where “donum dei” refers to the economic donation of the Spirit: “intantum ergo donum dei est in quantum datur eis quibus datur.” Perhaps Augustine discovered the correlation of mission and procession when Book 15 was already written, and 4.29 represents a last-minute insight. It may be significant that the brief summary of Book 4 in 15.5 makes no mention of the correlation of mission with procession. (In Contra Sermonem Arianorum this correlation is only a minor strand; more prominent is the inseparability of the Trinity acting ad extra; the entire Trinity sends the Son and the Spirit, 21.14. Missions are primarily associated with created visibility: “ut eo ipso a Patre Filius missus esse dicatur, quod Filius hominibus apparuit in carne, non Pater”, 4.4. The same is true of Contra Maximinum.)
In De Trin. the mission of the Son is first presented as the sending of the visible Son by the invisible divinity, Father and Son together: “congruenter dictus est missus ille qui in ea carne apparuit; misisse autem ille qui in ea non apparuit” (2. 9: “the one who so appeared in the flesh is appropriately said to have been sent, and the one who did not to have done the sending”; text Corpus Christianorum; trans. E. Hill); “missus dicitur in quantum apparuit foris in creatura corporali, qui intus in natura spirituali oculis mortalium semper occultus est” (2.10: “the Son is said to have been sent in that he appeared outwardly in created bodily form while inwardly in uncreated spiritual form remaining always hidden from mortal eyes”). By the time Augustine has finished with them it is no longer sure that the Old Testament theophanies are missions (pace Arnold, 15); they are downgraded to external signs of the Trinity, or testimonies to the missions in the proper sense (4.25). The status of the invisible missions of the Son and the Spirit to the Old Testament prophets and saints remains intact, but they seem more sharply differentiated from the theophanies than in Origen. Origen does not have Augustine’s sharp distinction between the Trinity acting inseparably ad extra and the roles of each divine person in the missions, with the tensions this distinction creates in Augustine’s thought. The reduced value of theophanies for manifesting the Trinity weakens a bridge between the Old and New Testaments that was so strong in pre-Nicene theology. It results in a less unified account of salvation history, as a sign-signified schema is called on to deal with the varied and complex signs through which the Trinity manifests itself.
Augustine eventually defines mission in soteriological terms:
Ecce ad quod missus est filius dei; immo vero ecce quod est missum esse filium dei. Quaecumque propter faciendam fidem qua mundaremur ad contemplandam veritatem in rebus ortis ab aeternitate prolatis et ad aeternitatem relatis temporaliter gesta sunt aut testimonia missionis huius fuerunt aut ipsa missio filii dei. [There you have what the Son of God has been sent for; indeed there you have what it is for the Son of God to have been sent. Everything that has taken place in time in “originated” matters which have been produced from the eternal and reduced back to the eternal, and has been designed to elicit the faith we must be purified by in order to contemplate the truth, has either been testimony to this mission or has been the actual mission of the Son of God.] (4.25)
Here mission is still clearly set among the originated signs of the eternal. The Platonic schema set out in 4.24 does not anticipate the more intimate correlation of mission with procession which will shortly emerge. 4.26 correlates being sent with being “made” (Gal 4:4): “eo itaque missum quo factum” (“sent in that he was made”). (The traditional identification of the theophanies as missions of the Son had been exploited by the Arians. Maximinus argues that the Father never shows himself under a visible form, whereas “ab illo primo homine Adam usque ad ipasm incarnationem semper Filius visus est,” Coll. c. Max, 26: he appeared to Adam, Abraham, Jacob. Augustine rejects this in his long reply, C. Max. 2.26. The pre-history of this exchange includes the discussions of the theophanies in Gregory of Elvira, De Fide Orthodoxa 74-87, and Hilary, De Trin. 4.23-4; 5.11-39; 12.46-7; see Studer, 17-37.)
4.27 introduces a new idea: “si autem secundum hoc missus a patre filius dicitur quia ille pater est, ille filius” (“If however the reason why the Son is said to have been sent by the Father is simply that the one is the Father and the other the Son”). Now the sender is primarily the Father, rather than the indivisible Trinity, and the sent is the Son in person, rather than only in his human nature. The intra-divine relations are explicitly correlated with the missions. “Secundum hoc iam potest intelligi non tantum ideo dici missus Filius quia quia verbum caro factum est, sed ideo missus ut verbum caro fieret” (4.27, ll. 8-10: “we can now perceive that the Son is not just said to have been sent because the Word became flesh, but that he was sent in order for the Word to become flesh”). The “potest intelligi” here suggests the introduction of an alternative hypothesis. If accepted, it takes us into a puzzling, indeed ineffable dimension of the mission of the Son: “cum haec a Patre missio Filii prorsus ineffabilis sit, nec capi ullius cogitatione possit” (C. Serm. Arr. 3.4).
The context of the correlation of mission and procession is the reply to Arian objections that mission implies inferiority. The first line of defence, which confines mission to the created humanity of Christ, corresponds to the tactic of interpreting apparently subordationist statements in the New Testament as referring to Christ in his human nature, the “forma servi” (1.14-31). The second line of defence, that intra-divine mission implies no inferiority, corresponds to the alternative hermeneutic of some of these expressions as concerning the Son’s origination from the unoriginated Father (2.2-6). The influence of Hilary is possible here: the “de patre” regula of 2.2-6 recalls Hilary’s discussion of the Father’s “auctoritas innascibilitatis” (De Trin. 4.6); Hilary also correlates mission and generation in 3.14 and 6.29. (See J.-L. Maier, Les missions divines selon saint Augustin, Fribourg, 1960, 60-2, 205-6. A.-M. La Bonnardière, Biblia Augustiniana: Le Livre de la Sagesse, Paris, 1970, 167-8, is too sceptical about Augustine’s knowledge of Hilary, who is quoted in De Trin. 6.11.)
Is the correlation of mission and procession logically compatible with the previous account, which confined mission to the created realm and saw the entire Trinity as the sender of the Son (or the Spirit)? How can the mission still be an operatio ad extra of the Trinity acting inseparably if it is an intra-trinitarian event? It seems that Augustine is offering alternative interpretations of the language of mission, showing that neither implies any inferiority of the Son to the Father. It is the earlier interpretation that fits most easily with his metaphysical presuppositions.
3. “Mitti est cognosci”: An Origenian theme?
Augustine comes to the “mitti est cognosci” theme by way of the notion of an invisible mission of the Son to the saints and prophets. This theme is suggested to him by the Alexandrian book of Wisdom, which also inspired Origen. He quotes Wisdom 7:25 to confirm that mission does not imply inferiority: the Word is sent “non quia inaequalis est patri sed quia est manatio quaedam claritatis omnipotentis dei sinceris” (IV 27, ll. 17-19: “not because he is unequal to the Father, but because he is `a certain pure outflow of the glory of almighty God’“). The extensive exegesis of Wisdom 7:25-6 which follows is taken by La Bonnardière (169) to be a correction of Origen’s subordinationist reading of this text.
The recognition of an invisible mission occurs as an afterthought:
Ab illo itaque mittitur a quo emanat. Sic enim et petitur ab illo qui amabat eam et desiderabat: Emitte, inquit, illam de sanctis caelis tuis et mitte illam a sede magnitudinis tuae ut mecum sit et mecum laboret (Wisdom 9:10)... Sed aliter mittitur ut sit cum homine; aliter missa est ut ipse sit homo. In animas enim sanctas se transfert atque amicos dei et prophetas constituit (Wisdom 7:27). [So it is sent by him from whom it flows. Thus a man who loved and desired this Wisdom could pray, “Send her out from your holy heavens, and send her from the throne of your greatness to be with me and labor with me”... But her being sent to be with man is one thing; that she was once sent to be man is another. “For she inserts herself into holy souls and makes them friends of God and prophets”.] (4.27, ll. 44-51)
The sharp opposition between the invisible mission (ut sit cum homine) and the visible one (ut sit homo) is perhaps directed against Origen’s tendency to find only a difference of degree. “The union of the humanity of Christ to the Word is of another order than that of the saints to the Son of God” (Maier, 154). But this point is one that Augustine had been making as early as Ep. 14.3 (see also Ep. 187.40 and T. Van Bavel, Recherches sur la christologie de saint Augustin, Fribourg, 1954, 28-30). Note that Wisdom 9:10 is quoted nowhere else in Augustine or the Latin Fathers: “It is a unique pearl, which he found by himself” (La Bonnardière, 169). Origen does not cite it either. Aquinas uses it as a proof-text for the invisible mission (STh 1.43.5), retained in medieval theology as an Augustinian theologoumenon.
Origen’s Christology of continuity is partly retained in Augustine’s views that the hypostatic union may be conceived as a grace, the “gratia unionis” of the Scholastics. The idea is beautifully orchestrated in De Corruptione et Gratia 30. But this is not a grace into which the human Christ grows; it is given with his very being, so that continuity with the saints and prophets is reduced. Augustine’s Christology allows only limited play to the historical humanity of Jesus; all is decided in advance through the ontological conjunction of Word and flesh. “The idea of a moral union is totally foreign to him. One feels at times that one is in the middle of the Adoptionist controversy!” (Van Bavel, 39). He does stress the role of the human soul of Christ as mediating the union of Word and flesh, though unlike Origen (PArch 2.6.3) he does not see this role as metaphysically necessary. His recourse to the metaphor of Christ’s humanity as a garment assumed by the Logos has an occulting effect on his understanding of the humanity.
The “mitti est cognosci” theme now emerges:
Et tunc unicuique mittitur cum a quoquam cognoscitur atque percipitur quantum cognosci et percipi potest pro captu vel proficientis in deum vel perfectae in deo animae rationalis. Non ergo eo ipso quo de patre natus est missus dicitur filius, sed vel eo quod apparuit huic mundo verbum caro factum... vel eo quod ex tempore cuiusquam mente percipitur. [And he is precisely sent to anyone when he is known and perceived by him, as far as he can be perceived and known according to the capacity of a rational soul either making progress toward God or already made perfect in God. So the Son of God is not said to be sent in the very fact that he is born of the Father, but either in the fact that the Word made flesh showed himself to this world... Or else he is sent in the fact that he is perceived in time by someone’s mind.] (4.28, ll. 67-74)
[Maier (209-12) notes that the phrase “pro captu” here also occurs in Ambrose, De Fide 5.99. It corresponds to Origen, ComJn 10.26: hekastos tosouton kai toiouton, hopoian autô poioumen kai pêlikên khôran en tê psukhê hêmôn. La Bonnardière (165) finds this far-fetched; she proposes the possibility “that Augustine had received some echo, through Jerome or Paulinus of Nola, of the Origenian interpretation of Wisdom 7:25-6.]
Mission, here, is still a temporal, created event, confined to the register of apparition. Augustine’s initial definition of mission was based on John 16:28: “Ego, inquit, a patre exii et veni in hunc mundum; ergo a patre exire et venire in hunc mundum, hoc est mitti” (De Trin. 2.7: “So that is what being sent is, going forth from the Father and coming into this world”). Now this no longer quite fits, for when the Logos is sent to our minds we are no longer “in this world’: “Cum autem ex tempore cuiusque provectus mente percipitur, mitti quidem dicitur, sed non in hunc mundum” (4.28, ll. 84-6: “When however he is perceived by the mind in the course of someone’s spiritual progress in time, he is indeed said to be sent, but not into this world”).
This idea is in tension with the incarnational emphasis of Augustine’s discussion so far. He is even tempted to an Alexandrian depreciation of the incarnational economy: the visible mission of the Son is associated with faith: “placuit deo per stultitiam praedicationis salvos facere credentes ut verbum caro fieret et habitaret in nobis” (4.28, ll. 82-4). I Cor 1:21, quoted here, is frequently cited by Origen in distinguishing simple believers from the spiritually advanced. The mystical knowledge enjoyed by those to whom the Logos comes invisibly is of a higher order. Maier claims that the greater or less degree of our perception of the divine Word belongs to the register of faith: “What will determine the depth of our knowledge is not the greater or lesser acuity of our natural faculty, but the strength of our faith” (159). But the idea that the soul is no longer in this world does suggest that the invisible mission is of a higher, more interior order than the visible mission. One recalls how Origen stressed that the invisible mission is what really counts: “He came previously, though not bodily, in each of the saint, and after this visible coming of his he comes again to us... There is a coming of the Logos individually to those who most profit from it. For what use would the coming of the Logos into the world be to me, if I did not have him? Conversely, if he had not yet come to the whole world, supposing that I were as one of the prophets, I would have the Logos” (HomJer 9.1; P. Nautin’s note on this text, SC 232. 376-8, whisks away this invisible mission of the Logos by identifying it with the universal participation of rational creatures in the Logos). Perhaps there is a tension in Augustine here between a democracy of faith and the elitism implicit in the Origenian theologoumenon he is taking up. This tension is seen in the vagueness of what he says about our knowledge of eternal things and the saints’ experience of things divine:
Quia et nos secundum quod mente aliquid aeternum quantum possumus capimus, non in hoc mundo sumus, et omnium iustorum spiritus etiam adhuc in hac carne viventium in quantum divina sapiunt non sunt in hoc mundo. [Of us too it can be said that when we grasp some eternal truth with the mind as far as we are capable of it, we are not in this world; and the spirits of all just men, even while still living in the flesh, are not in the world insofar ad they have a sense of divine things.] (4.28, ll. 87-91).
The exact extent of the invisible mission of the Son as contrasted with his universal illuminating activity is not apparent. Is any knowledge of the eternal to be equated with a mission of the Son? Maier (154) suggests as much when he says that the presence of the Logos in the soul, a frequent theme in Augustine, is now revealed to be “the result of a real mission.” But it seems rather that we should confine the mission to the saving, sanctifying knowledge of the Son that is the prerogative of the righteous. “We” and the “righteous” seem to be contrasted in this sentence; yet both have knowledge that makes them “not in this world.” Arnold (16) reads the sentence as excluding common believers from the experience of the invisible mission: “The spiritual knowledge of the one sent is reserved for the ‘advanced ones’ and the ‘righteous.’ And Augustine does not count himself and his readers (‘nos’) among them.” But this is mistaken: both “nos” and “iusti” have knowledge that makes them “not of this world”; and a few lines earlier Augustine has said that the Word is sent when known by the soul “either making progress toward God or already made perfect in God” (4.28)
After this discussion of the mitti/cognosci theme launched in connection with the invisible mission, Augustine finally states the theme more formally in IV 29: “Sicut enim natum esse est filio a patre esse, ita mitti est filio cognosci quod ab illo sit” (“And just as being born means for the Son his being from the Father, so his being sent means his being known to proceed from him”). It is extended to the Spirit as well: “Et sicut spiritui sancto donum dei esse est a patre procedere, ita mitti est cognosci quod ab illo procedat” (“And just as for the Holy Spirit his being the gift of God means his proceeding from the Father, so his being sent means his being known to proceed from him”). As Edmund Hill perspicaciously remarks: “These two sentences are the culmination of the whole discussion of the divine missions from Book II onward. They justify the space devoted to the topic, for they state that it is the missions which reveal the inner core of the trinitarian mystery” (E. Hill, Saint Augustine: The Trinity, Brooklyn, NY, 1991, 184).
Should we reduce the language of “mitti est cognosci” to the less exciting proportions of the dominant Augustinian understanding of mission in terms of external manifestations of Son and Spirit? Several commentators claim that even though “the missions image the immanent processions and make them externally knowable” (Arnold, 17), this does not necessarily entail that “knowledge becomes part of the notion of mission”; the phrase “mitti est cognosci” means only that knowledge is the consequence of mission, for “it is impossible to know the divine processions except by their revelation through the missions” (Maier, 137). Alfred Schindler argues against Michael Schmaus that “the mission is the outer manifestation, and one cannot speak of a mission ‘eo ipso quo de patre natus est’... Mission is external making known, and being born from the Father is a relation that remains in intratrinitarian being” (Wort und Analogie in Augustins Trinitätslehre, Tübingen, 1965, 144). There is only an analogy between mission and procession, so the inseparability of Trinity in its operationes ad extra is not compromised. “Incarnation and mission are thus largely reduced to signifying and indicating” (145). Schindler takes the phrase “non ergo eo ipso quo de patre natus est” (4.28, l. 71) to exclude procession from the concept of mission, while Schmaus reads it as meaning that mission is not only procession, but procession with manifestation. Arnold (27), modifying Schmaus, sees mission as paralleling procession but not identical with procession; “to send” is equivalent to “to make knowable.” Schindler’s low-key reading fits in with his focus on “word and analogy”. But can Augustine’s strong expressions be reduced to a manner of speaking? Schindler claims that Augustine’s tight connection of mission and procession is due to the pressure of traditional Christian language, but as Arnold points out, the tradition Augustine explicitly refers to (2.10) links mission with external signs, not with the divine processions. Neither scholar envisages a possible influence of Origenian language.
In Origen, “the invisible mission is presented as the prolongation in us of the eternal generation of the Word”; he “bases the mission of the Word in the soul on the eternal generation of the Son” (Aeby, 172, 177). When the Word illumines the minds of prophets, Origen claims, they not only foresee the coming of Christ but teach “much theology, the relation the Father has toward the Son and the Son toward the Father” (ComJn 2.205). The Word of God is born in our souls: “in te si dignus fueris nascitur sermo Dei” (HomCt 2.6). We are always being generated by God (HomJer 9.4). The ongoing invisible missions of the Son are “the efficacious prolongation of the visible mission of the incarnation” (Aeby, 177). Augustine, in his fleeting remarks, does not go very far along this Origenian trail. He is on his guard against the fantasies of separation of two beings which talk of the Father sending the Son tends to suggest, and which he detects at the base of Arianism. This may have inhibited his freedom to draw on the bolder expressions of Origen.
The Origenian themes of the invisible mission and “mitti est cognosci” are a hapax in Augustine’s thought. The topic is never referred to again, even when Augustine develops what Hill calls a “super-image” of the Trinity in the mind that remembers, knows, and loves God at the end of Book 14. In In Evang. Joh. 55-124 the idea of an intra-trinitarian sending occurs: “Missus autem ipse ut homo esset” (110.5), as does the idea that missions reveal processions: “insufflando significavit Spiritum Sanctum non Patris solius esse Spiritum, sed et suum” (121.4). But the full Origenian resonances of the “mitti est cognosci” motif are absent.
The topic of the divine image in the mind seems to have displaced the “mitti est cognosci” scheme. Augustine’s forgetfulness of this theme can be glimpsed from the contrast between his treatment of the Spirit as “donum dei” in 4.29 and 15.36, if we see the latter as chronologically later: “The equation of `donum dei esse’ with the intra-divine processions is clearly abandoned (possibly unconsciously)... Fluid transitions between immanent and economic trinity can no longer be asserted” (Arnold, 65).
When Augustine pauses at the centre of his work to reflect on what we mean when we say “God”, he refers to fundamental experiences of Truth and the Good, which dazzle our weak human minds and make necessary a purgative regime of signs to be grasped in faith (8.3-4). An overpowering sense of the divine simplicity reinforces a tendency to see the entire temporal realm, including the biblical economy, as a set of signs refracting the divine light; we rejoin that light in intellectus through subjecting these signs to a process of inquisition and interpretation, seeking out the substance of God across his creatures and his scriptures (2.1). The effort to give dynamism to the trinitarian image constructed in Books 9-10 by reinserting it in a sketch of salvation history in Books 12-14 fails to close the gap created by the imposition of the image-archetype schema on the biblical relationship between God and his creatures. This is what justifies the criticisms of Harnack and Scheffczyk which Arnold queries at the beginning of his essay.
The promise of an Origenian breakthrough in 4.27-9 was a momentary flight of speculation, a quite isolated episode. The Origenian continuity between the immanent and economic trinities could not be retrieved by Augustine, partly because of the scruples instilled by Nicene orthodoxy and partly because his own strong account of the relation of economy and theology according to the Platonist schema of image and archetype blinded him to the potential of the “mitti est cognosci” idea for dislodging this basic framework. Arius and Nicea enact a crisis of Origenian Platonism, but Nicea did not bring in a radical deplatonizing of dogma. Augustine is caught within a Platonizing, dualistic vision of the incarnational economy in terms of Christ as temporal “way” to an eternal “fatherland”. In Origen the Scriptures speak more directly and constantly of the epidˆm¡a of Christ than the Nicene safeguards later allowed them to do. Origen’s fluidity had to yield to a constant stress on the boundaries between Creator and creature; eternal things and temporal signs; divine attributes or roles as shared by all three persons and as merely “appropriated” to one or the other; operationes ad extra and missions.
Thus, there are severe limits to Arnold’s project of finding in Augustine an integrated linking of theology and economy, which it is easier to find in Origen. Ironically, Arnold’s own account of “the significance of the divine missions for the economy of salvation” turns on such Platonist themes as “contemplation of God”, “purgatio cordis”, “peregrinatio and patria”, “per scientiam ad sapientiam”. He could have made more of the counter-Platonist potential of 4.27-9.
Basil Studer similarly misses the potential of the “mitti est cognosci” discussion for overcoming the Platonist framework. He claims that it is in the heavily Platonist passage 4.24 (faith in temporal signs leads to knowledge of eternal truth) that Augustine “comes closest to affirming the principle that the temporal economy in fact manifests an eternal theology” in that “one and the same person is both the way and the end” (“History and Faith in Augustine’s De Trinitate,” Augustinian Studies 28, 1997, 35, 38). He sees the “mitti est cognosci” theme in terms of an external demonstration of the trinitarian relations: “the temporal economy of the Trinity symbolizes an eternal theology” (45); “The temporal economy of salvation symbolizes the eternal reality of the Holy Trinity” (50). He comes closer to doing justice to the specific contours of Augustine’s vision when he remarks that in his commentary on John 5:19, Augustine “interpret[s] the whole attitude of Jesus as a manifestation of his eternal filiation” (51). Studer is close to Schindler’s extrinsicism when he sees the correlation of mission and procession as a matter of reasoning from one to the other: “he reasons from the appearances of the Son and the Holy Spirit to their real distinction and even to their mutual relationship” (38). He does not advert to the more intimate nexus whereby the invisible mission, or the interior experience of the visible mission, constitute a temporal experience of the eternal processions as the Son and Spirit come to us from the Father. Arnold (28) admits that “analogical deductions” play a part in our knowing the processions from the missions, but he insists, against Maier, that Son and Spirit are really known in their coming forth from the Father.
To defend Augustine against the charge of subordinating the biblical economy to speculative dogma by invoking De Trin. 4.24 is to charge through an open door. The question is not whether the economy reveals the Trinity but rather concerns the concrete modalities of the articulation between economy and theology, and on this point 4.27-9 offers a better premise for defending Augustine against the charge of forgetfulness of the horizons of revelation. 4.24 is indeed a prominent, programmatic text, like the similar passage in 13.24, and it conveys the dominant Platonist horizon of the work, in which the revelation of the Trinity in the economy is overshadowed by a schema of image and archetype. [The programmatic prominence of 4.24 might be taken as another chronological indicator – with 4.27-9 being seen as an afterthought that strains against the Platonic enframing of the missions prevalent up to then; true, the similar passage 13.24 belongs to the last stages of composition, but 4.27-9 may be still later.] The framing of the economy within a Platonist schema of temporal, sensible signs and eternal, intelligible realities links the immanent and economic trinities in a dualistic way; it is part of the problem, not the solution. Even the fact that sign and signified coincide in the person of Christ does not suffice to resolve the discord between the Platonist space of thought clashes and the space opened up by the New Testament. That is why the De Trinitate is a disappointing conclusion to the great period of trinitarian thought, and why we need to retrieve in a fresh perspective the history out of which it came, against Studer’s claim (44) that study of the De Trinitate “could be more profitable in itself than the study of the history of early Christian doctrine.
To readers of Harnack and Heidegger, familiar with critiques of Greek metaphysics and its Christian reception, the alternative framings of the incarnational economy offered by Origen and Augustine illustrate the limits of their respective totalizing Platonist worldviews. When scholars argue that these great theologians do full justice to the economic Trinity or to the historicity of revelation they are turning a blind eye to the governing constraints of a metaphysical framework in which the dyads of sensible and intellible, temporal and eternal, intervened as supreme explanatory principles at every moment, scarcely allowing the events and phenomena behind John 1:14 to unfold their significance freely. The Incarnation was brought into view only as framed within this metaphysics. However, we may see in the momentary attempts of Augustine to root the idea of the eternal relations in the biblical phenomenality of the missions, and still more in the freer commerce between missions and processions in Origen, an index of the constant tendency of faith to “overcome metaphysics” and seek out a language more appropriate to the biblical revelation. When we look closely we find in Augustine’s text a series of criss-crossing tensions - between biblical and metaphysical, Platonism and Incarnation, salvation history and the image-archetype schema, experiential and metaphysical psychology, the phenomenology of mind and the imposition on it of a trinitarian construction, and many more. These make DT a choice site for a differentiating, deconstructive analysis.
Joseph S. O’Leary, from Origeniana Septima, Leuven University Press, 1999.