On the Trinity


Book II.

Augustin pursues his defense of the equality of the trinity; and in treating of the sending of the son and of the Holy Spirit, and of the various appearances of god, demonstrates that he who is sent is not therefore less than he who sends, because the one has sent, the other has been sent; but that the trinity, being in all things equal, and alike in its own nature unchangeable and invisible and omnipresent, works indivisibly in each sending or appearance.


When men seek to know God, and bend their minds according to the capacity of human weakness to the understanding of the Trinity; learning, as they must, by experience, the wearisome difficulties of the task, whether from the sight itself of the mind striving to gaze upon light unapproachable, or, indeed, from the manifold and various modes of-speech employed in the sacred writings (wherein, as it seems to me, the mind is nothing else but roughly exercised, in order that it may find sweetness when glorified by the grace of Christ);-such men, I say, when they have dispelled every ambiguity, and arrived at something certain, ought of all others most easily to make allowance for those who err in the investigation of so deepa secret. But there are two things most hard to bear with, in the case of those who are in error: hasty assumption before the truth is made plain; and, when it has been made-plain, defence of the falsehood thus hastily assumed. From which two faults, inimical as they are to the finding out of the truth, and to the handling of the divine and sacred books, should God, as I pray and hope, defend and protect me with the shield of His good will,(1) and with the grace of His mercy, I will not be slow to search out the substance of God, whether through His Scripture orthrough the creature. For both of these are set forth for our contemplation to this end,that He may Himself be sought, and Himself be loved, who inspired the one, and created the other. Nor shall I be afraid of giving my opinion, in which I shall more desire to be examined by the upright, than fear to be carped at by the perverse. For charity, most excellent and unassuming, gratefully accepts the dovelike eye; but for the dog's tooth nothing remains, save either to shun it by the most cautious humility, or to blunt it by the most solid truth; and far rather would I be censured by any one whatsoever, than be praised by either the erring or the flatterer. For the lover of truth need fear no one's censure. For he that censures, must needs be either enemy or friend. And if an enemy reviles, he must be borne with: but a friend, if he errs, must be taught; if he teaches, listened to. But if one who errs praises you, he confirms your error; if one who flatters, he seduces you into error. "Let the righteous," therefore, "smite me, it shall be a kindness; and let him reprove me; but the oil of the sinner shall not anoint my head."(2)

Chapter 1.-There is a Double Rule for Understanding the Scriptural Modes of Speech Concerning the Son of God. These Modes of Speech are of a Threefold Kind.

2. Wherefore, although we hold most firmly, concerning our Lord Jesus Christ, what may be called the canonical rule, as it is both disseminated through the Scriptures, and has been demonstrated by learned and Catholic handlers of the same Scriptures, namely, that the Son of God is both understood to be equal to the Father according to the form of God in which He is, and less than the Father according to the form of a servant which He took;(3) in which form He was found to be not only less than the Father, but also less than the Holy Spirit; and not only so, but less even than Himself,-not than Himself who was, but than Himself who is; because, by taking the form of a servant, He did not lose the form of God, as the testimonies of the Scriptures taught us, to which we have referred in the former book: yet there are some things in the sacred text so put as to leave it ambiguous to which rule they are rather to be referred; whether to that by which we understand the Son as less, in that He has taken upon Him the creature, or to that by which we understand that the Son is not indeed less than, but equal to the Father, but yet that He is from Him, God of God, Light of light. For we call the Son God of God; but the Father, God only; not of God. Whence it is plain that the Son has another of whom He is, and to whom He is Son; but that the Father has not a Son of whom He is, but only to whom He is father. For every son is what he is, of his father, and is son to his father; but no father is what he is, of his son, but is father to his son.(4)

3. Some things, then, are so put in the Scriptures concerning the Father and the Son, as to intimate the unity and equality of their substance; as, for instance, "I and the Father are one;"(5) and, "Who, being in the form of God, thought it not robbery to be equal with God;"(6) and whatever ether texts there are of the kind. And some, again, are so put that they show the Son as less on account of the form of a servant, that is, of His having taken upon Him the creature of a changeable and human substance; as, for instance, that which says, "For my Father is greater than I;"(7) and, "The Father judgeth no man, but hath committed all judgment unto the Son." For a little after he goes on to say, "And hath given Him authority to execute judgment also, because He is the Son of man." And further, some are so put, as to show Him at that time neither as lessnor as equal, but only to intimate that He isof the Father; as, for instance, that whichsays, "For as the Father hath life in Himself, so hath He given to the Son to have life in Himself;" and that other: "The Soncan do nothing of Himself, but what He seeth the Father do."(8) For if we shall take this to be therefore so said, because the Son is less in the form taken from the creature, it will follow that the Father must have walked on the water, or opened the eyes with clay and spittle of some other one born blind, and have done the other things which the Son appearing in the flesh did among men, before the Son did them;(9) in order that He might be able to do those things, who said that the Son was not able to do anything of Himself, except what He hath seen the Father do. Yet who, even though he were mad, would think this? It remains, therefore, that these texts are so expressed, because the life of the Son is unchangeable as that of the Father is, and yet He is of the Father; and the working of the Father and of the Son is indivisible, and yet so to work is given to the Son from Him of whom He Himself is, that is, from the Father; and the Son so sees theFather, as that He is the Son in the very seeing Him. For to be of the Father, that is, to be born of the Father. is to Him nothing else than to see the Father; and to see Him working, is nothing else than to work with Him: but therefore not from Himself, because Heis not from Himself. And, therefore, those things which "He sees the Father do, these also doeth the Son likewise," because He is of the Father. For He neither does other things in like manner, as a painter paints other pictures, in the same way as he sees others to have been painted by another man; nor the same things in a different manner, as the body expresses the same letters, which the mind has thought; but "whatsoever things," saith He, "the Father doeth, these same things also doeth the Son likewise."(10) He has said both these same things," and "likewise;" and hence the working of both the Father and the Son is indivisible and equal, but it is from the Father to the Son. Therefore the Son cannot do anything of Himself, except what He seeth the Father do. From this rule, then, whereby the Scriptures so speak as to mean, not to set forth one as less than another, but only to show which is of which, some have drawn this meaning, as if the Son were said to be less. And some among ourselves who are more unlearned and least instructed in these things, endeavoring to take these texts according to the form of a servant, and so mis-interpreting them, are troubled. And to prevent this, the rule in question is to be observed whereby the Son is not less, but it is simply intimated that He is of the Father, in which words not His inequality but His birth is declared.

Chapter 2.-That Some Ways of Speaking Concerning the Son are to Be Understood According to Either Rule.

4. There are, then, some things in the sacred books, as I began by saying, so put, that it is doubtful to which they are to be referred: whether to that rule whereby the Son is less on account of His having taken the creature; or whether to that whereby it is intimated that although equal, yet He is of the Father. And in my opinion, if this is in such way doubtful, that which it really is canneither be explained nor discerned, then such passages may without danger be understood according to either rule, as that, for instance, "My doctrine is not mine, but His that sent me."(11) For this may both be taken according to the form of a servant, as we have already treated it in the former book;(12) or according to the form of God, in which He is in such way equal to the Father, that He is yet of the Father. For according to the form of God, as the Son is not one and His life another, but the life itself is the Son; so the Son is not one and His doctrine another, but the doctrine itself is the Son. And hence, as the text, "He hath given life to the Son," is no otherwise to be understood than, He hath begotten the Son, who is life; so also when it is said, He hath given doctrine to the Son, it may be rightly understood to mean, He hath begotten the Son, who is doctrine so that, when it is said, "My doctrine is not mine, but His who sent me," it is so to be understood as if it were, I am not from myself, but from Him who sent me.

Chapter 3.-Some Things Concerning the Holy Spirit are to Be Understood According to the One Rule Only.

5. For even of the Holy Spirit, of whom it is not said, "He emptied Himself, and took upon Him the form of a servant;" yet the Lord Himself says, "Howbeit, when He the Spirit of Truth is come, He will guide you into all truth. For He shall not speak of Himself, but whatsoever He shall hear that shall He speak; and He will show you things to come. He shall glorify me; for He shall receive of mine, and shall show it unto you." And except He had immediately gone on to say after this, "All things that the Father hath are mine; therefore said I, that He shall take of mine, and shall show it unto you;"(13) it might, perhaps, have been believed that the Holy Spirit was so born of Christ, as Christ is of the Father. Since He had said of Himself, "My doctrine is not mine, but His that sent me;" but of the Holy Spirit," For He shall not speak of Himself, but whatsoever he shall hear, that shall He speak;" and, "For He shall receive of mine, and shall show it unto you." But because He has rendered the reason why He said, "He shall receive of mine" (for He says, "All things that the Father hath are mine; therefore said I, that He shall take of mine "); it remains that the Holy Spirit be understood to have of that which is the Father's, as the Son also hath. And how can this be, unless according to that which we have said above, "But when the Comforter is come, whom I will send unto you from the Father, even the Spirit of truth which proceedeth from the Father, He shall testify of me"?(14) He is said, therefore, not to speak of Himself, in that He proceedeth from the Father; and as it does not follow that the Son is less because He said, "The Son can do nothing of Himself, but what He seeth the Father do" (for He has not said this according to the form of a servant, but according to the form of God, as we have already shown, and these words do not set Him forth as less than, but as of the Father), so it is not brought to pass that the Holy Spirit is less, because it is said of Him, "For He shall not speak of Himself, but whatsoever He shall hear, that shall He speak;" for the words belong to Him as proceeding from the Father. But whereas both the Son is of the Father, and the Holy Spirit proceeds from the Father, why both are not called sons, and both not said to be begotten, but the former is called the one only-begotten Son, and the latter, viz. the Holy Spirit, neither son nor begotten, because if begotten, then certainly a son, we will discuss in another place, if God shall grant, and so far as He shall grant.(15)

Chapter 4.-The Glorification of the Son by the Father Does Not Prove Inequality.

6. But here also let them wake up if they can, who have thought this, too, to be a testimony on their side, to show that the Father is greater than the Son, because the Son hath said, "Father, glorify me." Why, the Holy Spirit also glorifies Him. Pray, is the Spirit, too, greater than He? Moreover, if on that account the Holy Spirit glorifies the Son, because He shall receive of that which is the Son's, and shall therefore receive of that which is the Son's because all things that the Father has are the Son's also; it is evident that when the Holy Spirit glorifies the Son, the Father glorifies the Son. Whence it may be perceived that all things that the Father hath are not only of the Son, but also of the Holy Spirit, because the Holy Spirit is able to glorify the Son, whom the Father glorifies. But if he who glorifies is greater than he whom he glorifies, let them allow that those are equal who mutually glorify each other. But it is written, also, that the Son glorifies the Father; for He says, "I have glorified Thee on the earth."(16) Truly let them beware test the Holy Spirit be thought greater than both, because He glorifies the Son whom the Father glorifies, while it is not written that He Himself is glorified either by the Father or by the Son.

Chapter 5.-The Son and Holy Spirit are Not Therefore Less Because Sent. The Son is Sent Also by Himself. Of the Sending of the Holy Spirit.

7. But being proved wrong so far, men betake themselves to saying, that he who sends is greater than he who is sent: therefore the Father is greater than the Son, because the Son continually speaks of Himself as being sent by the Father; and the Father is also greater than the Holy Spirit, because Jesus has said of the Spirit, "Whom the Father will send in my name;"(17) and the Holy Spirit is less than both, because both the Father sends Him, as we have said, and the Son, when He says, "But if I depart, I will send Him unto you." I first ask, then, in this inquiry, whence and whither the Son was sent. "I," He says, "came forth from the Father, and am come into the world."(18) Therefore, to be sent, is to come forth forth from the Father, and to come into the world. What, then, is that which the same evangelist says concerning Him, "He was in the world, and the world was made by Him, and the world knew Him not;" and then he adds, "He came unto His own?"(19) Certainly He was sent thither, whither He came; but if He was sent into the world, because He came forth from the Father, then He both came into the world and was in the world. He was sent therefore thither, where He already was. For consider that, too, which is written in the prophet, that God said, "Do not I fill heaven . and earth?"(20) If this is said of the Son (for some will have it understood that the Son Himself spoke either by the prophets or in the prophets), whither was He sent except to the place where He already was? For He who says, "I fill heaven and earth," was everywhere. But if it is said of the Father, where could He be without His own word and without His own wisdom, which "reacheth from one end to another mightily, and sweetly ordereth all things?"(21) But He cannot be anywhere without His own Spirit. Therefore, if God is everywhere, His Spirit also is everywhere. Therefore, the Holy Spirit, too, was sent thither, where He already was. For he, too, who finds no place to which he might go from the presence of God, and who says, "If I ascend up into heaven, Thou art there; if I shall go down into hell, behold, Thou art there;" wishing it to be understood that God is present everywhere, named in the previous verse His Spirit; for He says," Whither shall I go from Thy Spirit? or whither shall I flee from Thy presence?"(22)

8. For this reason, then, if both the Son and the Holy Spirit are sent thither where they were, we must inquire, how that sending, whether of the Son or of the Holy Spirit, is to be understood; for of the Father alone, we nowhere read that He is sent. Now, of the Son, the apostle writes thus: "But when the fullness of the time was come, God sent forth His Son, made of a woman, made under the law, to redeem them that were under the law."(23) "He sent," he says, "His Son, made of a woman." And by this term, woman,(24) what Catholic does not know that he did not wish to signify the privation of virginity; but, according to a Hebraism, the difference of sex? When, therefore, he says, "God sent His Son, made of a woman," he sufficiently shows that the Son was "sent" in this very way, in that He was "made of a woman."Therefore, in that He was born of God, He was in the world; but in that He was born of Mary, He was sent and came into the world. Moreover, He could not be sent by the Father without the Holy Spirit, not only because the Father, when He sent Him, that is, when He made Him of a woman, is certainly understood not to have so made Him without His own Spirit; but also because it is most plainly and expressly said in the Gospel in answer to the Virgin Mary, when she asked of the angel, "How shall this be?" "The Holy Ghost shall come upon thee, and the power of the Highest shall overshadow thee."(25) And Matthew says, "She was found with child of the Holy Ghost."(26) Although, too, in the prophet Isaiah, Christ Himself is understood to say of His own future advent, "And now the Lord God and His Spirit hath sent me."(27)

9. Perhaps some one may wish to drive us to say, that the Son is sent also by Himself, because the conception and childbirth of Mary is the working of the Trinity, by whose act of creating all things are created. And how, he will go on to say, has the Father sent Him, if He sent Himself? To whom I answer first, by asking him to tell me, if he can, in what manner the Father hath sanctified Him, if He hath sanctified Himself? For the same Lord says both; "Say ye of Him," He says, "whom the Father hath sanctified and sent into the world, Thou blasphemest, because I said, I am the Son of God;"(28) while in another place He says, "And for their sake I sanctify myself."(29) I ask, also, in what manner the Father delivered Him, if He delivered Himself? For the Apostle Paul says both: "Who," he says, "spared not His own Son, but delivered Him up for us all;"(30) while elsewhere he says of the Saviour Himself, "Who loved me, and delivered Himself for me."(31) He will reply, I suppose, if he has a right sense in these things, Because the will of the Father and the Son is one, and their working indivisible. In like manner, then, let him understand the incarnation and nativity of the Virgin, wherein the Son is understood as sent, to have been wrought by one and the same operation of the Father and of the Son indivisibly; the Holy Spirit certainly not being thence excluded, of whom it is expressly said, "She was found with child by the Holy Ghost." For perhaps our meaning will be more plainly unfolded, if we ask in what manner God sent His Son. He commanded that He should come, and He, complying with the commandment, came. Did He then request, or did He only suggest? But whichever of these it was, certainly it was done by a word, and the Word of God is the Son of God Himself. Wherefore, since the Father sent Him by a word, His being sent was the work of both the Father and His Word; therefore the same Son was sent by the Father and the Son, because the Son Himself is the Word of the Father. For who would embrace so impious an opinion as to think the Father to have uttered a word in time, in order thatthe eternal Son might thereby be sent and might appear in the flesh in the fullness oftime? But assuredly it was in that Word of God itself which was in the beginning with God and was God, namely, in the wisdom itself of God, apart from time, at what time that wisdom must needs appear in the flesh. Therefore, since without any commencement of time, the Word was in the beginning, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God, it was in the Word itself without any time, at what time the Word was to be made flesh and dwell among us.(32) And when this fullness of time had come, "God sent His Son, made of a woman,"(33) that is, made in time, that the Incarnate Word might appear to men; while it was in that Word Himself, apart from time, at what time this was to be done; for the order of times is in the eternal wisdom of God without time. Since, then, that the Son should appear in the flesh was wrought by both the Father and the Son, it is fitly said that He who appeared in that flesh was sent, and that He who did not appear in it, sent Him; because those things which are transacted outwardly before the bodily eyes have their existence from the inward structure (apparatu) of the spiritual nature, and on that account are filly said to be sent. Further, that form of man which He took is the person of the Son, not also of the Father; on which account the invisible Father, together with the Son, who with the Father is invisible, is said to have sent the same Son by making Him visible. But if He became visible in such way as to cease to be invisible with the Father, that is, if the substance of the invisible Word were turned by a change and transition into a visible creature, then the Son would be so understood to be sent by the Father, that He would be found to be only sent; not also, with the Father, sending. But since He so took the form of a servant, as that the unchangeable form of God remained, it is clear that that which became apparent in the Son was done by the Father and the Son not being apparent; that is, that by the invisible Father, with the invisible Son, the same Son Himself was sent so as to be visible. Why, therefore, does He say, "Neither came I of myself?" This, we may now say, is said according to the form of a servant, in the same way as it is said, "I judge no man."(34)

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  1. Ps. v. 12.
  2. Ps. cxli. 5.
  3. Phil. ii. 6. 7.
  4. [Augustin here brings to view both the trinitarian and the theanthropic or mediatorial subordination. The former is the status of Sonship. God the Son is God of God. Sonship as a relation is subordinate to paternity. But a son must be of the same grade of being, and of the same nature with his father. A human son and a human father are alike and equally human. And a Divine Son and a Divine father are alike and equally divine. The theanthropic or mediatorial subordination is the status of humiliation, by reason of the incarnation. In the words of Augustin, it is "that by which we understand the Son as less, in that he has taken upon Him the creature." The subordination in this case is that of voluntary condescension, for the purpose of redeeming sinful man.-W.G.T.S.]
  5. John x. 30.
  6. Phil. ii. 6.
  7. John xiv. 28.
  8. John v. 22, 27, 26, 19.
  9. Matt. xiv. 26, and John ix. 6, 7.
  10. John v. 19.
  11. John vii. 16.
  12. See above, Book I. c. 12.
  13. John xvi. 13-15.
  14. John xv. 26.
  15. Below, Bk. XV. c. 25..
  16. John xvii. 1, 4.
  17. John xiv. 26.
  18. John xvi. 7, 28.
  19. John i. 10, 11.
  20. Jer. xxiii. 24.
  21. Wisd. viii. 1.
  22. Ps. cxxxix. 8, 7.
  23. Gal. iv. 4, 5.
  24. Mulier..
  25. Luke i. 34, 35.
  26. Matt. i. 18.
  27. Isa. xlviii. 16.
  28. John x. 36.
  29. John xvii. 19.
  30. Rom. viii. 32.
  31. Gal. ii. 20.
  32. John i. 1, 2, 14.
  33. Gal. iv. 4.
  34. 10 John viii. 42, 15.