Trinity In The Context Of Theology

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Trinity in the Context of Theology

Trinity in the Context of Theology

Although it has been some time since Augustine's trinitarian theology was studied in depth,(1) 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. For example, a consensus among systematicians on the existence and character of an early "economic" understanding of God has led, among other things, to the not uncommon judgment that Augustine's trinitarian theology sacrificed this sense of oeconomia, with unfortunate consequences for later theology. This sacrifice is frequently contrasted not only with primitive Christianity's experience of God but with the emphasis on relationship in the trinitarian theologies of the Cappadocians.(2) My purpose in this article is to examine many of these recent theological works for what they reveal about the methodological presuppositions operative, more or less, in most systematic treatments of Augustine today, and to critique those presuppositions from the point of view of a historical theologian whose speciality is patristic trinitarian theology. After thus providing what could be called a general phenomenology of contemporary systematic appropriations of Augustine's trinitarian theology, it will be possible to show how these presuppositions have figured in readings of Augustine by systematic theologians, in their methods, and, particularly, in their conclusions.(3)

Most accounts of patristic trinitarian doctrine divide this theology into two fundamental categories: Greek and Latin. By this account, Greek theology begins with the reality of the distinct persons while Latin theology begins with the reality of the unity of the divine nature. That this schema is true cannot be assumed; as I will show, the effect of assuming this schema has been to conceal as least as much as it revealed. But setting aside whether the schema is true, that is to say, whether it accurately describes the doctrines it purports to describe, what is certain is that only theologians of the last one hundred years have ever thought that it was true. A belief in the existence of this Greek/Latin paradigm is a unique property of modern trinitarian theology. This belief, and the associated diagrams that one finds in de Margerie(4) and LaCugna,(5) or the "plurality-model/unity-model" jargon that one finds in Brown,(6) all derive from a book written about 100 years ago, namely Theodore de Regnon's studies on the Trinity.(7) For it is de Regnon who invented the Greek/Latin paradigm, geometrical diagrams and all.(8) De Regnon'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 both exhibit a scholastic modernism, since they both take as an obvious given a point of view that is coextensive with the 20th century. So do Mackey(9) and O'Donnell.(10)

All of these works organize patristic trinitarian theology according to de Regnon's paradigm. None of them shows any awareness that the paradigm needs to be demonstrated, or that it has a history. LaCugna and Brown need the paradigm to ground the ...
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