The Logic of the Trinity: Augustine to Ockham

The Logic of the Trinity: Augustine to Ockham

Copyright Date: 2012
Published by: Fordham University Press
Pages: 260
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    The Logic of the Trinity: Augustine to Ockham
    Book Description:

    This book recounts the remarkable history of efforts by significant medieval thinkers to accommodate the ontology of the Trinity within the framework of Aristotelian logic and ontology. These efforts were remarkable because they pushed creatively beyond the boundaries of existing thought while trying to strike a balance between the Church's traditional teachings and theoretical rigor in a context of institutional politics. In some cases, good theology, good philosophy, and good politics turned out to be three different things.The principal thinkers discussed are Augustine, Boethius, Ablard, Gilbert of Poitiers, Bonaventure, Aquinas, Scotus, and Ockham. The aspects of Trinitarian doctrine dealt with are primarily internal ontological questions about the Trinity. The approach draws on history of theology and philosophy, as well as on the modern formal disciplines of set-theoretic semantics and formal ontology.Augustine inaugurated the project of constructing models of the Trinity in language drawn from Platonic and Aristotelian philosophy, especially the conceptual framework of Aristotle's Categories. He used the Aristotelian notions of substance and relation to set up a model whose aim was not so much to demystify the Trinity as to demonstrate the logical consistency of maintaining that there is one and only one God at the same time as maintaining that there are three distinct persons, each of whom is God. Standing against this tradition are various heretical accounts of the Trinity. The book also analyzes these traditions, using the same techniques.All these accounts of the Trinity are evaluated relative to the three constraints under which they were formed, bearing in mind that the constraints on philosophical theorizing are not limited to internal consistency but also take note of explanatory power. Besides analyzing and evaluating individual accounts of the Trinity, the book provides a novel framework within which different theories can be compared.

    eISBN: 978-0-8232-5362-3
    Subjects: Religion

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. List of Definitions
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. List of Rules
    (pp. xi-xii)
  5. List of Figures
    (pp. xiii-xiv)
    (pp. xv-xviii)
  7. 1 Background
    (pp. 1-18)

    The tradition of reflection on the internal nature of the Holy Trinity draws together sacred writings from the Bible and Church Fathers and theories of the Greek philosophers. In this introduction I outline some of the sources that formed that tradition, and I introduce some techniques for representing them in the languages of modern logic.

    Before Christianity there was philosophy. And when Christianity came, it was not long before Christians returned to philosophy in an effort to give systematic rational sense to their religious beliefs. The philosophy to which they turned had its roots in the pre-Christian writings of Plato...

  8. 2 Augustine
    (pp. 19-41)

    Here, in his matureDe Trinitate, Augustine reflects on his love of Platonic philosophy as a young man.

    The fifteen books of Saint Augustine’sDe Trinitatewere written over the period 400–420.² The author says in his prefatory letter to Aurelius Bishop of Carthage, “I was a young man when I began these books on the Trinity which the one true God is, and I am now an old man as I publish them.”³

    The work falls into two parts. Books I–VIII deal with the mystery of the Trinity in itself; Books IX–XV explore the ways in...

  9. 3 Boethius
    (pp. 42-61)

    Here the Lady Philosophy, a literary creation of Boethius’s, describes the pitiful sight of her author in prison awaiting his execution.

    Boethius was born in 480 and lived most of his life in Rome. At that time Justin ruled the Empire from Constantinople, and the Ostrogoth King Theoderic ruled Italy from Ravenna. Boethius, his emperor, and his king were adherents of three different Christian sects, Boethius being a follower of the decrees of the Councils of Nicaea and Constantinople, the Emperor Justin a Monophysite, and Theoderic an Arian.

    Boethius’s theological writings, theOpuscula sacra, comprise five works:


  10. 4 Abelard
    (pp. 62-77)

    In these affecting words, Abelard recalls the humiliating end of the Council of Soissons.

    Twice in the course of his life, Peter Abelard (1079–1142) had to answer to Church authorities about his theological views. The first occasion was the Council of Soissons in March 1121.

    As chance would have it, I first gave myself to discuss the foundation of our faith by analogies from reason, and composed for my students a theological tractate, On the Unity and Trinity of God. They had kept asking of me rational and philosophical expositions and insisting on what could be understood and not...

  11. 5 Gilbert of Poitiers
    (pp. 78-93)

    Christophe Erismann remarks,

    the height of the influence of Boethius’s theological treatises was reached during the twelfth century, when they were often commented upon and became the centre of philosophical questioning. . . .

    Medieval thinkers did not seek faithfulness to Boethius’ teaching, the coherence of which remains difficult to ascertain, but drew from theOpuscula sacrathe concepts and theses they needed to expound their own thought.²

    These remarks are especially true of the commentaries on Boethius by Gilbert of Poitiers. Gilbert wrote detailed commentaries on all of Boethius’sOpuscula sacra, which appear to contain an original ontological system....

  12. 6 Peter Lombard
    (pp. 94-103)

    These dramatic and emotion-charged words come from the prologue to Peter of Lombard’sSentences, a work dating from the 1150s² and one of the most important works in the history of Trinitarian writing, though not one of the most philosophically subtle.

    John of Salisbury says that many people attacked Gilbert of Poitiers at Rheims, and he names as the fiercest assailants Suger, abbot of Saint Denis; Calo and Arnold (“straight face”), canons of Poitiers; Peter Lombard; and Robert of Melun.³ Peter later rose to the position of Bishop of Paris. Shortly after the Council of Rheims he completed hisSentences,...

  13. 7 Bonaventure
    (pp. 104-117)

    Here, at the start of his commentary on the second book of theSentences, Bonaventure reflects on his commentary on the first book. With great humility, he portrays himself as a mere compiler.

    Three mid-thirteenth-century theologians responded in similar but interestingly different ways to the agenda of Trinitarian problems set by Peter Lombard. These were Albert the Great, Bonaventure, and Thomas Aquinas. All three accepted that there must be real relations in God, by which the Persons are distinguished from one another.

    Giovanni di Fidanza, later known as Bonaventure, rose to high offices in the Church, serving from 1257 as...

  14. 8 Albert
    (pp. 118-128)

    So writes Dante in hisParadiso, placing Albert alongside Thomas among the theologians and Fathers of the Church in paradise.

    Albert, like Bonaventure, rose to high Church offices, being Provincial of the Dominicans in Germany from 1254 to 1257 and Bishop of Regensburg from 1260 until 1262 . He died in 1280. As a philosopher, Albert was an exceptionally prolific commentator on Aristotle. Unlike Bonaventure and Thomas, he wrote a commentary on theCategories, and his theological writings were colored by his knowledge of Aristotle’s logic to an extent that we do not see in his contemporaries. It is appropriate,...

  15. 9 Aquinas
    (pp. 129-142)

    With these eloquent words, Thomas begins his commentary on theSentences. They concisely signal the author’s intention to consult “many opinions coming from different sources” and to refute those that will not withstand scrutiny (such as the opinion that “only the Son is wisdom”), all the while respecting both the words of Holy Scripture and the philosophy of Aristotle (“a thing is called perfect when it has attained its proper end”).

    Aquinas died in July 1274 while en route to the Council of Lyon. He treats many of the semantic and ontological questions about the Trinity in ways that had...

  16. 10 Scotus
    (pp. 143-160)

    These words, from the prologue to Duns Scotus’s treatise on God as First Principle, show how the author’s aims go beyond the Augustinian project of demonstrating the logical consistency of Trinitarian doctrine: he wants, if possible, to know the whole of being.

    Scotus brought a new level of sophistication to theorizing about the Trinity. Richard Cross assesses his Trinitarian theology as “a powerful exposition of the Augustinian tradition, perhaps the most consistently rational exposition of this tradition that has ever been attempted.”² This is not to say (as Cross himself points out) that Scotus never departs from the mainstream of...

  17. 11 Ockham
    (pp. 161-180)

    Such was the mild rebuke handed down by the Papal Commission at Avignon in 1324 regarding William Ockham’s criticisms of the Thomist view that the divine relations were “in” God.

    It is a characteristic of William Ockham’s philosophy, deriving from his meticulous approach to the philosophy of language, that he “scrupulously observed the difference between the mind and its activity on the one hand and the objective reality outside the mind, or what the mind knows, on the other.”² His strict observance of this difference led him to believe that much of what his illustrious predecessors viewed as belonging to...

  18. Appendix: Ontological Systems
    (pp. 181-184)
  19. NOTES
    (pp. 185-228)
    (pp. 229-234)
  21. INDEX
    (pp. 235-236)