Reading again through Saint Augustine’s “Confessions”: Day 25 (The Literary and Analogical Trinity of God)

Reading again through Saint Augustine’s “Confessions”: Day 25 (The Literary and Analogical Trinity of God)

When I read that your Spirit moved over the waters, I catch a faint glimpse of the Trinity which you are, my God. For it was you, the Father, who created heaven and earth in the Beginning of our Wisdom – which is your Wisdom, born of you, equal to you, and co-eternal with you – that is, in your Son. I have had much to say of the Heaven of Heavens, of the earth invisible and without form, and of the deep, showing how its darkness was in keeping with the spiritual creation, which, in its formlessness, had no cohesion or stability. Such it would have remained unless, by being turned to God, from whom it already drew such life as it had, it had received beauty as well as life by the reflection of his glory. In this way the Heaven of Heavens came into being, that is, the heaven of the heaven which was later created between the waters above and the waters below. When I spoke of these things, I took the word ‘God’, who made them, to mean the Father and the ‘Beginning’, in which he made them, to mean the Son. But, believing that my God is a Trinity, I searched for this truth in the sacred words of his Scripture and found it where it says that your Spirit moved over the waters. Here, then, is the Trinity, my God, Father, Son, and Holy Ghost, the Creator of all creation.

Did not the Father and the Son also move over the waters? If we think of this as movement in space, as a body moves, we cannot say that even the Holy Spirit moved in this sense. But if we think of it as Divinity, changeless and supreme, moving over all that is mutable, then the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit moved over the waters. Why, then, does Genesis speak only of your Holy Spirit? Why is it only in that case that the Spirit is mentioned as if the Spirit were in a particular place, which of course is not a place at all? We are also told of him alone that he is ‘your free gift’ (Acts 8:20). It is in your Gift that we find our rest. It is in him that we enjoy you. The place where we find rest is the right one for us. To it we are raised by love. To it your Spirit lifts us up, lowly creatures as we are, from ‘the gate of death’. It is in goodness of will that we find our peace.

A body inclines by its own weight towards the place that is fitting for it. Weight does not always tend towards the lowest place, but the one which suits it best, for though a stone falls, flame rises. Each thing acts according to its weight, finding its right level. If oil is poured into water, it rises to the surface, but if water is poured on to oil, it sinks below the oil. This happens because each acts according to its weight, finding its right level. When things are displaced, they are always on the move until they come to rest where they are meant to be. In my case, love is the weight by which I act. To whatever place I go, I am drawn to it by love. By your Gift, the Holy Spirit, we are set aflame and borne aloft, and the fire within us carries us upward. ‘Our hearts are set on an upward journey’ (Ps 83:6 [84:5]), as we sing the ‘song of ascents’ (Ps 119:33 [120:34]). It is your fire, your good fire, that sets us aflame and carries us upward. For our journey leads us upward to the peace of the heavenly Jerusalem; it was a welcome sound when I heard them saying, We will go into the Lord’s house. There, if our will is good, you will find room for us, so that we shall wish for nothing but to remain in your house for ever.

Who can understand the omnipotent Trinity? We all speak of it, though we may not speak of it as it truly is, for rarely does a soul know what it is saying when it speaks of the Trinity. Men wrangle and dispute about it, but it is a vision that is given to none unless they are at peace.

There are three things, all found in man himself, which I should like men to consider. They are far different from the Trinity, but I suggest them as a subject for mental exercise by which we can test ourselves and realize how great this difference is. The three things are existence, knowledge, and will, for I can say that I am, I know, and I will. I am a being which knows and wills; I know both that I am and that I will; and I will both to be and to know. In these three – being, knowledge, and will – there is one inseparable life, one life, one mind, one essence; and therefore, although they are distinct from one another, the distinction does not separate them. This must be plain to anyone who has the ability to understand it. In fact he need not look beyond himself. Let him examine himself closely, take stock, and tell me what he finds.

But when he has found a common principle in these three and has told me what he finds, he must not think that he has discovered that which is above them all and is unchangeable, that which immutably is, immutably knows, and immutably wills. For none of us can easily conceive whether God is a Trinity because all these three – immutable being, immutable knowledge, and immutable will – are together in him; whether all three are together in each person of the Trinity, so that each is threefold; or whether both these suppositions are true and in some wonderful way, in which the simple and the multiple are one, though God is infinite he is yet an end to himself and in himself, so that the Trinity is in itself, and is known to itself, and suffices to itself, the supreme Being, one alone immutably, in the vastness of its unity. This is a mystery that none can explain, and which of us would presume to assert that he can?”

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