The Theme of Love in Augustine's de Trinitate

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The Theme of Love in Books VIII – XV of Augustine’s De Trinitate

The structure of Augustine’s De Trinitate conforms to the rule that “authority takes precedence over reason.” Having expounded upon the scriptural revelation of God, in the latter half of his grand exposition on the Trinity the Church Father attempts to draw from things here knowable an analogy befitting of God. Yet in his pursuit for an analogy depictive of the true God both the precondition from which he begins and the conclusion with which he closes is that one cannot say anything truer nor more expressive of God than that he is Love personified. Love is an elementary theme in Augustine’s De Trinitate, because the Trinity speaks to us of the miracle of love. We cannot say anything higher or better of the ‘inwardness of God’ than that God is Father, Son and Holy Spirit, and therefore that He is love in Himself, without and before us, and without being forced to love us. Augustine’s theology is irreducibly an interpretation of divine love, and in books 8 to 15 of De Trinitate he seeks to emphasise two conceptions upon which his theology is grounded: that God is love and that love, in turn, is God.

God is Love
Augustine is never interested in cold theological discussion. He is not principally a theologian but a contemplative chronicling his spiritual journey in theological language. His desire remains always the ongoing pursuit of the love of God, thus the theological enquiry from which all his work proceeds is how one comes to love that which one does not know. “But who can love what he does not know? [What] I am asking is whether something can be loved which is unknown, because if it cannot then no one loves God before he knows him.” For Augustine, it is through the veiled image of the divine in things here experienced that one discovers things transcendent, a disposition inspired by St. Paul: “Ever since the creation of the world his eternal power and divine nature, invisible though they are, have been understood and seen through the things he has made.” (Rom. 1:20) The Church Father’s theology is fundamentally founded upon a doctrine of unreserved grace. He recognises that the knowledge of God for which humanity inexorably cleaves is itself a gift undeserved. Humanity can know God only because in freely giving of himself God affords humanity the capacity to know him. Though Augustine observes that all creation points to the hands of a Creator as a work of art expresses the character of the artist, nowhere in the created order is God more manifestly revealed than in love. Augustine’s God is not the Aristotelian unmoved mover dispassionately governing that which he has made but the Trinitarian One from whose love creation is the overflow. The revelation of God thus begins in one’s own encounter with love. As analogy love is for Augustine the irreducible starting-point in attempting to describe in lucid terminology the essential nature of the Godhead, because it is the ground and goal of God’s self-revelation. So we can also understand Trinitarian language as calling attention to God’s role as the ground and mediator of this loving self-disclosure, its content, and the facilitator of its reception. The love of God is active in each moment of revelation, and speaking of God as Trinity can serve to underscore revelation’s triune pattern. God is love because God is Trinity. Love is God’s essential and irreducible nature. This is perhaps Augustine’s most “distinctive and important contribution to Trinitarian theology: the understanding of the Holy Trinity as love.” Augustine recognises in love the purest analogy of God’s being, because it denotes “someone loving and something loved with love. There you are with three, the lover, what is being loved, and love.” The analogy thus adheres to Augustine’s Nicaean Trinitarianism. The Son is considered begotten of the Father as the divine Beloved and the “Holy Spirit, not Himself begotten, is the sweetness of...
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