Review of Orthodox Readings of Augustine

The set up of this book was weird. It was published by an Orthodox Seminary, yet most of the authors were Roman Catholics, I think. Most of the authors were quite critical of many Orthodox distinctives. I wonder if the editors/publisher thought all of these things through.

Contents of the book:
Notwithstanding, most of the essays were good. Demacopolas gives an interesting survey of Augustinian studies in the past few centuries. He gives particular notice to the neo-Palamites, noting that they have done the most in framing the Augustinian debate as a fierce East vs. West battle. Interestingly, almost all of the authors in the book, even the pro-Orthodoxy ones, will critique this move of neo-Palamism.

Some of the essays are just weird. Flogaus argues that Palamas was influenced by Augustine. While that’s shocking, Flogaus certainly cites his sources and is fairly convincing. Except Flogaus doesn’t seem to think that he is actually convincing? It’s like “Yeah, Palamas borrowed from St Augustine, but not really.” Brian Daley gives an interesting comparison between Maximus and Augustine. While many Westerners (von Balthasar, most notoriously) think there is one pure line of thought from Augustine to Maximus to Aquinas to one’s favorite movement today, Daley actually puts the breaks on that reasoning. He does note some similarities between the two authors, but supposes that could simply be the common Catholic consensus of the time, rather than Maximus overtly borrowing ideas from Augustine. Instead, Maximus almost doesn’t quote Augustine–if at all–especially in places where it would have been most pertinent had he done so.

Joseph Lienhard discusses Augustine’s use of the Cappadocian fathers. It’s not clear what Lienhard was actually arguing. I don’t remember a specific argument. It is true that Augustine quoted a few of the Cappadocians around a dozen times, but that doesn’t prove–nor does Lienhard specifically argue thus–that the Cappadocians were basically Augustinians. I would like to have seen Lienhard specifically interact with Augustine’s use of St Basil. Augustine quotes Basil as advocating original sin, which Basil emphatically denies (Hexameron, Homily 2.5; 9.4). ??????????

The main event of the show is the Trinitarian discussions by Ayres, Hart, Behr, Bradshaw, and to a strange degree, Jean-Luc Marion. Ayres writes a fantastic essay, even if I demur at points, arguing for a metaphysics of the Spirit. He makes many outstanding insights, most notably that each act of “sending” is also an act of “revealing” (130). The essence is the Trinity itself (Behr offers a corrective to that essentially true insight). Ayres via Augustine sees the revelation of the Spirit as an invitation to reflect on the Triune economy (143). Nevertheless, I do not find Ayres’ filioquist reasoning persuasive simply because such reasoning is convoluted to begin with and can also be used to argue for precisely the opposite conclusion. However, that shouldn’t take away from the otherwise brilliance of the essay.

David Bentley Hart argues that the Nicene ontology destoyed the old pagan metaphysics. The Father did not generate the Logos with respect to creation, nor was the Logos’s generation a “second moment” of the Real, but the Logos is the reality of God. Hart makes many insightful points to that respect; unfortunately, he tries to take on David Bradshaw. He says that Bradshaw mistranslated and misunderstood Augustine on “intelligibis,” making Augustine to say that the mind comprehends the divine nature. Hart says that’s not what intelligibis means (never mind that Latin theological dictionaries do render the word in the way that Bradshaw used it). Hart tries to rebut Bradshaw when Bradshaw says that for Gregory of Nyssa the divine names refer to the divine energies primarily, not to the Divine Nature. Yet in the next few sentences Hart admits that for Gregory the divine names refer to how God manifests himself toward us, which is another way of saying they are the divine energies!!!!!!!!

David Bradshaw gives a brief summary of his book Aristotle East and West. He notes that for Augustine, truth is defined as convertible with being, and the more united (unitary?) one is, the more being it has. More importantly, for Augustine God’s being is identified with God’s will–God’s eternal act of willing. The implications are staggering–and which Hart doesn’t want to face, given his commitment to Absolute Divine Simplicity: if God’s being is necessary and natural, and God’s eternal act of willing is identical with God’s being, then could God have willed otherwise? If yes, then how does that follow with the identification of being and willing? If no, how is that not a form of Origenism? And putting necessity on God? Hart doesn’t really give an answer to this question.

Fr Andrew Louth closes with a gentle reminder that we should read Augustine on the psalms, for in the psalms we hear the voice of Christ speaking to us.

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13 comments on “Review of Orthodox Readings of Augustine

  1. James Dean says:

    To be precise, there was-:1 Lutheran:-Reinhard Flogaus2. Anglicans:Carol Harrison*Elizabeth Fisher5 Catholics:-Lewis Ayres-Jean-Luc Marion-Joseph LeinHard SJ-Brian Daley SJ-David Tracy4*) Eastern Orthodox-John Behr -David Hart-David Bradshaw-Aristotle Papanikolaou George Demacopoulos(as far as i know these two are Easter Orthodox)we can only count them as one though, given that they co-wrote the one introductory article.-Fr. Andrew Louth*Carol Harrison is married to Andrew LouthGood review although i disagree with some of your points. Ayres & Michel Rene Barnes are single handedly responsible for debunking DeRégnon’s East v West paradigm.Ayres also has a book that is coming out this november, you should get it.

  2. James Dean says:

    To be precise, there was-:1 Lutheran:-Reinhard Flogaus2. Anglicans:Carol Harrison*Elizabeth Fisher5 Catholics:-Lewis Ayres-Jean-Luc Marion-Joseph LeinHard SJ-Brian Daley SJ-David Tracy4*) Eastern Orthodox-John Behr -David Hart-David Bradshaw-Aristotle Papanikolaou George Demacopoulos(as far as i know these two are Easter Orthodox)we can only count them as one though, given that they co-wrote the one introductory article.-Fr. Andrew Louth*Carol Harrison is married to Andrew LouthGood review although i disagree with some of your points. Ayres & Michel Rene Barnes are single handedly responsible for debunking DeRégnon's East v West paradigm.Ayres also has a book that is coming out this november, you should get it.

  3. I don’t hold to deRegnon’s paradigm, though there is an element of truth in it. Hart also routinely bashes DeRegnon. John Behr also criticizes it, though he does note–and something Ayres admits as well–that Augustine in some ways did introduce a new way of speaking of God. Ayres had a fantastic essay, and no doubt he is an awesome scholar. I would like to read more of his works, but they are way too expensive for me (at least at the moment).Thanks for pointing out the confessional allegiances of the authors.

  4. I don't hold to deRegnon's paradigm, though there is an element of truth in it. Hart also routinely bashes DeRegnon. John Behr also criticizes it, though he does note–and something Ayres admits as well–that Augustine in some ways did introduce a new way of speaking of God. Ayres had a fantastic essay, and no doubt he is an awesome scholar. I would like to read more of his works, but they are way too expensive for me (at least at the moment).Thanks for pointing out the confessional allegiances of the authors.

  5. Drew says:

    The problem with this book is that (almost) all the wrong people wrote it. Had there been contributions by Sarah Coakley, Michel Rene Barnes, Brian Leftow, and others in the more Analytic tradition, the style of argument and pattern of conclusions might have been more tightly knit.De Regnon’s schema really needs to be discarded. A prime example of its inapplicability is Augustine’s “De Trinitate” itself: he spends several books going through biblical exegesis, anti-Arian polemics, and establishing the reality of the persons in the economy of salvation before he turns to the more speculative problem of reconciling the plurality of persons with the divine unity. It was then only on the basis of his speculative conclusions that the various psychological analogies were proposed in order to illustrate – not explain – the plausibility of these conclusions. Conversely, we see Eastern Fathers (including the Cappadocians) placing the divine essence in a logically prior position. The whole debate is really unnecessary. Since a divine person is simply “common essence” + “personal property”, the essence is logically – not ontologically – prior by virtue of being common to all, so it is simply good “economy of writing” to treat of the essence first and then proceed to the persons. It in no way implies that the essence is a fourth thing or subsists independently of the persons. Richard Cross has pointed out that, once this important point is understood, it becomes clear that the East and the West do not have different theologies of the Trinity insofar as the divine essence is concerned, debates about whether it is or is not a universal notwithstanding.It seems to me that Augustine had almost no impact on Orthodox theology outside of Russia, though, which would lead one to question the rationale of the book in the first place, but that’s just me.

  6. Paradoxicon says:

    The problem with this book is that (almost) all the wrong people wrote it. Had there been contributions by Sarah Coakley, Michel Rene Barnes, Brian Leftow, and others in the more Analytic tradition, the style of argument and pattern of conclusions might have been more tightly knit.De Regnon's schema really needs to be discarded. A prime example of its inapplicability is Augustine's "De Trinitate" itself: he spends several books going through biblical exegesis, anti-Arian polemics, and establishing the reality of the persons in the economy of salvation before he turns to the more speculative problem of reconciling the plurality of persons with the divine unity. It was then only on the basis of his speculative conclusions that the various psychological analogies were proposed in order to illustrate – not explain – the plausibility of these conclusions. Conversely, we see Eastern Fathers (including the Cappadocians) placing the divine essence in a logically prior position. The whole debate is really unnecessary. Since a divine person is simply "common essence" + "personal property", the essence is logically – not ontologically – prior by virtue of being common to all, so it is simply good "economy of writing" to treat of the essence first and then proceed to the persons. It in no way implies that the essence is a fourth thing or subsists independently of the persons. Richard Cross has pointed out that, once this important point is understood, it becomes clear that the East and the West do not have different theologies of the Trinity insofar as the divine essence is concerned, debates about whether it is or is not a universal notwithstanding.It seems to me that Augustine had almost no impact on Orthodox theology outside of Russia, though, which would lead one to question the rationale of the book in the first place, but that's just me.

  7. Drew says:

    BTW, the work of Richard Cross I was referring to was his paper, “Two Models of the Trinity?”. These views can also be found in his book “Duns Scotus on God” (which I would recommend for anyone interested in Greek theology, as Scotus incorporated many elements of Greek theology into his system that were ignored by other scholastics). Basically, he argues that the reason the West denied the divine essence was a universal, and the East affirmed it, had to do with different definitions of the term “universal” rather than with different conceptions of the divine essence. The Neoplatonists were nominalists about “in re” universals and believed the basic relation between univerals and individuals to be one of division. Augustine fell neatly into this camp, as this was his philosophical milieu prior to his conversion (though the source of this milieu was Greek, not Latin). Eastern thinkers, on the other hand, tended to follow older schools of Platonism, and were thus more “realist” in their attitude to “in re” universals. Many of the Greek Fathers – and Gregory of Nyssa is a particularly good example here – believed that the basic relation between universals and individuals was one of repetition rather than division. In other words, universals are really existing “things” in their own right that can exist simultaneously in many individuals without being multiplied themselves. This idea figured prominently in fourth century trinitarian theology and was the foundation for one of the approaches taken by Gregory of Nyssa in his defense of God’s unity (though it was not his only argument): God is one because the essence is not multiplied in the three persons. It is a numerically singular universal that is repeated-without-division in each of the persons. The West agreed with the East that the divine essence was numerically singular and shared, but they did not believe this feature entailed that the divine essence was a universal. In this particular area, the Latin tradition was more apophatic than the East: there was a posited, knowable similarity between created and uncreated universals that was very important in theological argumentation in the East; the Western tradition, on the other hand, tended to emphasize the dissimilarity between created and Uncreated being, which is why they restricted the existence of universals – which by their definition were always divisible and thus never divine – to the realm of creatures. So the difference between the two theologies, as Cross presents the matter, is merely semantic and terminological, at least on this particular point.

  8. Paradoxicon says:

    BTW, the work of Richard Cross I was referring to was his paper, "Two Models of the Trinity?". These views can also be found in his book "Duns Scotus on God" (which I would recommend for anyone interested in Greek theology, as Scotus incorporated many elements of Greek theology into his system that were ignored by other scholastics). Basically, he argues that the reason the West denied the divine essence was a universal, and the East affirmed it, had to do with different definitions of the term "universal" rather than with different conceptions of the divine essence. The Neoplatonists were nominalists about "in re" universals and believed the basic relation between univerals and individuals to be one of division. Augustine fell neatly into this camp, as this was his philosophical milieu prior to his conversion (though the source of this milieu was Greek, not Latin). Eastern thinkers, on the other hand, tended to follow older schools of Platonism, and were thus more "realist" in their attitude to "in re" universals. Many of the Greek Fathers – and Gregory of Nyssa is a particularly good example here – believed that the basic relation between universals and individuals was one of repetition rather than division. In other words, universals are really existing "things" in their own right that can exist simultaneously in many individuals without being multiplied themselves. This idea figured prominently in fourth century trinitarian theology and was the foundation for one of the approaches taken by Gregory of Nyssa in his defense of God's unity (though it was not his only argument): God is one because the essence is not multiplied in the three persons. It is a numerically singular universal that is repeated-without-division in each of the persons. The West agreed with the East that the divine essence was numerically singular and shared, but they did not believe this feature entailed that the divine essence was a universal. In this particular area, the Latin tradition was more apophatic than the East: there was a posited, knowable similarity between created and uncreated universals that was very important in theological argumentation in the East; the Western tradition, on the other hand, tended to emphasize the dissimilarity between created and Uncreated being, which is why they restricted the existence of universals – which by their definition were always divisible and thus never divine – to the realm of creatures. So the difference between the two theologies, as Cross presents the matter, is merely semantic and terminological, at least on this particular point.

  9. James Dean says:

    Paradoxicon, thanks for that clarificaton.btw Jacob, if you want Ayres’ initial article from ’02 let me know.

  10. James Dean says:

    Paradoxicon, thanks for that clarificaton.btw Jacob, if you want Ayres' initial article from '02 let me know.

  11. Drew says:

    You’re welcome!

  12. Paradoxicon says:

    You're welcome!

  13. […]  Orthodox Readings of Augustine.  This book ended up being the scholarly equivalent of WWF.   The Trinitarian arguments and counters by Bradshaw, Ayres, and Hart are worth the price of the book. […]

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