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The Logic of the Trinity:Augustine to Ockham

Augustine to Ockham

Paul Thom

Publication Year: 2012

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.

Published by: Fordham University Press

Series: Medieval Philosophy: Texts and Studies

Title Page, Copyright

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pp. 1-6


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pp. 7-8

List of Definitions

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pp. ix-10

List of Rules

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pp. xi-12

List of Figures

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pp. xiii-xiv

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pp. xv-xvi

The history of logic is not just a history of logic books. All sorts of writings provide a fitting context for logical theorizing. In the Middle Ages, one of those contexts was the tradition of philosophical theology surrounding questions about the Christian doctrine of the Holy Trinity....

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1. Background

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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...

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2. Augustine

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pp. 19-41

I used to say to my friends: “Do we love anything except that which is beautiful? What then is a beautiful object? And what is beauty? What is it which charms and attracts us to the things we love? It must be the grace and loveliness inherent in them, or they would in no way move us.” I gave the subject careful attention, and...

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3. Boethius

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pp. 42-61

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...

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4. Abelard

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pp. 62-77

I was immediately summoned before the council, and with no preliminary discussion they compelled me with my own hand to cast my book into the fire, and it was burned up. . . . When I arose to profess and explain my faith using my own words, my opponents declared that nothing else was required than that I...

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5. Gilbert of Poitiers

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pp. 78-93

These remarks are especially true of the commentaries on Boethius by Gilbert of Poitiers. Gilbert wrote detailed commentaries on all of Boethius’s Opuscula sacra, which appear to contain an original ontological system. However, because the commentaries closely follow the order of Boethius’s text it is very difficult...

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6. Peter Lombard

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pp. 94-103

Wishing to cast down the assembly of such people, which is hateful to God, and to stop up their mouths, so that they may not be able to spread the poison of their own malice to others, and in order to put the light of truth on the lamp-stand, we have, with God’s aid, put together with much labor and sweat a volume from...

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7. Bonaventure

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pp. 104-117

By the Savior’s helping grace, on account of which one has arrived at the completion of the First (Book) of the Sentences, with the intervening insistence of the Fathers, one is bound to undertake the second. But just as in the First Book I adhered to the considerations and common opinions of the masters (of theology), and most...

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8. Albert

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pp. 118-128

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...

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9. Aquinas

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pp. 129-142

With these eloquent words, Thomas begins his commentary on the Sentences. 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...

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10. Scotus

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pp. 143-160

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.” This is not to say...

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11. Ockham

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pp. 161-180

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.” His...

Appendix: Ontological Systems

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pp. 181-183


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pp. 185-227


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pp. 229-234


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pp. 235-236

E-ISBN-13: 9780823253623
Print-ISBN-13: 9780823234769
Print-ISBN-10: 0823234762

Page Count: 192
Publication Year: 2012

Series Title: Medieval Philosophy: Texts and Studies