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THREE-PERSONED SUBSTANCE: THE RELATIONAL ESSENCE OF THE TRIUNE GOD IN AUGUSTINE'S DE TRINITATE SARAH HEANER LANCASTER Dallas, Texas WITH THE RECENT resurgence of interest in the doctrine of the Trinity, there is a need not only to attempt to speak to the concerns of our time but also to be attentive to the tradition of the Church. In this latter task, it is impossible not to take account of Augustine's work in De Trinitate. Theologians who have already written constructive accounts of the doctrine of the Trinity often set their positions in contrast to Augustine's understanding. Those who are concerned to stress God's relationality often view Augustine's position as a barrier to this understanding because Augustine is taken to have given priority to the one substance over the three persons. Thus, it is said, he has stressed absolute essence at the expense of relationality . In this paper, I would like to offer an alternative interpretation of Augustine's understanding of substance and person as it is stated in De Trinitate. To show how my reading is an alternative , I will first indicate how Augustine is often understood by highlighting the main points of one analysis of De Trinitate, that done by Catherine Mowry LaCugna in her book Godfor Us: The Trinity and Christian Life. There, LaCugna presents Augustine as producing a conception of the immanent Trinity in which essence or substance precedes and has priority over relation. In contrast, I will try to show that rather than giving priority to substance over relation, Augustine is trying to bring the reader to an understanding of God in which substance is itself three-personed . The substance itself is the relations of the persons. 123 124 SARAH HEANER LANCASTER I In LaCugna's view, one should speculate about God's nature only insofar as that speculation is rooted in God's economy. Theologia (the mystery of God) and oikonomia (the mystery of salvation) belong together, and "the fundamental issue in trinitarian theology is not the inner workings of the 'immanent' Trinity, but the question of how the trinitarian pattern of salvation history is to be correlated with the eternal being ofGod."1 In her view, when one links theologia with oikonomia, one gets a theology of relationship that has consequences for Christian life and praxis. Unfortunately, trinitarian theology has suffered because the essential connection between the threefold pattern of salvation history and God's being has been lost. LaCugna discusses what she calls the "emergence and defeat" of the doctrine of the Trinity in great detail, and her discussion encompasses the period from before the Council of Nicaea to Gregory of Palamas in the fourteenth century. For the purposes of this paper, it is important to note only that in her view Augustine's way of understanding substance and relation paved the way for a concern in Western theology to discuss God's relations in se, without much regard for God's acts in salvation history.2 Though she recognizes that De Trinitate begins with an account of the divine missions and the biblical record of salvation , LaCugna yet maintains that for Augustine the unity of the Trinity takes precedence over the economy and even becomes his real "starting point."3 She will not go so far as to say that Augustine's theology is noneconomic, but she does think that Augustine has a hard time keeping his development of the doctrine of the Trinity connected with the economy.4 There are three decisive elements of his thought that, in her view, have contributed to the division between theologia and oikonomia: 1) a 1 Catherine Mowry LaCugna, God for Us: The Trinity and Christian Life (San Francisco: HarperSanFrancisco, 1991), 4 (original emphasis). 2 Ibid., 81. 3 Ibid., 99. 4 Ibid., 98. THE RELATIONAL ESSENCE OF THE TRIUNE GOD 125 preoccupation with processions over missions; 2) the emphasis on the unity of divine essence over the plurality of divine persons within salvation history; and 3) the relocation of the economy away from the events of salvation history to within the human soul, a relocation that she describes as an "interior economy" in which one "becomes perfected by knowing...


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