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Per Caritatem

Non intratur in veritatem nisi per caritatem. St. Augustine




Conversations with Augustine: Essay #1, Augustine, Henry of Ghent, and Scotus

By Cynthia R. Nielsen

July 31, 2008

Per Caritatem’s first annual Augustine Blog Conference is now underway!  Below is the first of a series of posts bringing Augustine into conversation with philosophers and theologians of the Middle Ages, Reformation, Modernity, and Postmodernity. The format of the conference is as follows:  an essay will be posted for a two days, then a short commentary on the essay will be posted and will remain on the site for two days or as long as (good) discussion continues.


Henry of Ghent and Duns Scotus on Divine Memory:
Pillagers of Augustine’s De Trinitate 15.4.25-26

By Scott M. Williams
Oriel College, Oxford University

In this short essay I wish to take a look at a brief section of Augustine’s magisterial work De Trintate. Anyone who has read Augustine’s De Trin. knows that it is in large part a (hermeneutical) meditation on Holy Scripture and a speculative exploration that aims to find the most suitable imago Dei in human creatures as a model for understanding the unity and plurality of the Trinity of divine persons. One such imago Dei that Augustine seriously considers is a psychological analogy of memory, understanding and will (love). Of course, as Augustine quickly points out, this analogy has a heavy limp because if we were to assert that the Father is analogous to divine memory, the Son is analogous to divine understanding, and the Holy Spirit is analogous to divine love, then it would follow that each divine person in se does not have what the other two divine persons have, except by being related to that person. Augustine finds this consequence unacceptable because then e.g., the Father could not love except by means of the Holy Spirit. But the Father as such can and does love e.g., the Son as such. So this psychological analogy limps badly. Nevertheless, suppose we don’t assert that the Father just is divine memory, but that divine memory is the precise power by which the Father ‘generates’ the Son/Word; and, that each divine person in se ‘has’ divine memory, understanding and love, it is just that the Word proceeds from the Father because the Father ‘generates’ the Word by the generative power of memory. In De Trin. 15.4.25-26 we find Augustine nearing the end of his discussion of what it means for God the Father to ‘speak’ or ‘generate’ or ‘produce’ God the Son by the generative power called memory which is like a storehouse of knowledge. Prior to this discussion in De Trin. 15.4.25-26 Augustine has laid out some basic claims that we must heed if we are to understand his discussion of the Father’s ‘generating’ the Son/Word by the generative power of memory. First, God is entirely simple and not composed of parts like matter, time, potentiality and actuality (cf. Book 1). Second, God necessarily and timelessly is a Trinity of persons. Third, we can say ‘the Father is God, the Father is wise’ not precisely because the Father is related to the Son, but precisely because the Father is identical with the divine substance, and likewise for the Son and Holy Spirit (cf. Books 5-7). With these preliminaries in mind, I can now get to the issue at hand, namely what does Augustine say about the Father’s ‘generating’ the Son in De Trinitate 15.4.25-26?

Augustine: De Trinitate 15.4.25-26

When I look at this passage I see that Augustine suggests (at least) two ways we can consider what is sufficient for the Father’s ‘generating’ or ‘speaking’ the Son/Word. He presumes that the Son/Word is knowledge from knowledge (notitia de notitia). He counts the first notitia as divine memory, and the second notitia as the generated Word. But just how are we to think of the Father’s having generated his Son/Word?

On the first view (15.4.25 para.1) suppose that memory is like stored knowledge which you are not right now thinking about. Next, the Father’s act of thinking (directed at what is stored) generates the mental word, and that the mental word as such is not strictly identical with the Father’s ‘thinking’ but is a product dependent on the Father’s act of thinking. So, the Father’s act of thinking is like an instrument as it were that is sufficient to generate the Son/Word. In this first consideration of the Father’s generation of the Son/Word, the Father’s act of thinking by the generative power of divine memory is necessary and sufficient for the generation of the Son/Word.

However, after considering this way of characterizing what is necessary and sufficient for the Father’s generation of the Son/Word, Augustine considers a second view (15.4.25 para. 2-3).  With his doctrine of divine simplicity in mind, Augustine advocates that we ought to deny that the Father’s act of thinking is either necessary or sufficient for the generation of the Son/Word. He doubts the need to postulate the Father’s act of thinking for the generation of the Son/Word because he is worried that by asserting this we would assert some sort of composition of potentiality and actuality in God. Suppose divine memory is the potentiality to think of something, and actually thinking of something is the actualization of memory. But if we wish to deny that God is constituted by the composition of potentiality and actuality, even if this potentiality is eternally actualized, then we should deny that a potentiality (divine memory) and an actuality (the Father’s act of thinking) would be sufficient to explain the Father’s having generated the Son/Word because we don’t want to suggest or imply a composition of potentiality and actuality in God. This last point about ‘suggesting to our readers’ is important because it shows that Augustine sees his readers as possibly misunderstanding what he has said in option one, and so he backs off being certain about the precise nature of the Father’s intellectual generation of the Son/Word. On this second view, the Son/Word is somehow generated by the Father’s memory, but we don’t know what it means to have generated the Son/Word other than meaning that the Son/Word has his origin from the Father’s memory.

As a result Augustine leaves options one and two open to his readers, just so long as they don’t commit particular errors that he has pointed out, like supposing that option one assumes a real composition of potentiality and actuality in God or that the Son/Word just is the Father’s act of thinking. It seems that Augustine fails to find an explanation which satisfies him as an account of the Father’s generation of the Son/Word that would be able to avoid misleading his readers into error. But, is there any theological explanation, or any explanation in general, that could guarantee that some reader would not misunderstand it? Augustine has a bit of anxiety over what Paul Ricoeur identifies as the ‘distanciation’ between author, text and implied readers. But Augustine’s De Trin. is not alone; all texts are cut adrift from the safety and security of their human author’s arms and preventions.

In summary, Augustine mentions (at least) two options for how to construe divine memory and the Father’s eternal generation of the Son/Word. The first view holds that the Father has the power (memory) to generate an act of thinking, and the Son/Word is somehow a by-product of this act of thinking such that the Son/Word is not precisely the Father’s act of thinking but a result of his act of thinking. And, the second view is that it is inappropriate given divine simplicity (no compositions in God) to suppose that the Father’s act of thinking has anything to do with the Father’s generation of the Son/Word because this might suggest to an implied reader some composition in God.

Henry of Ghent: How about Option One?

When Henry was teaching at the University of Paris from 1276-1292 much had changed in ‘speculative theology’ since Augustine’s time. Scholastic theologians like Henry of Ghent benefitted from various dialogue partners, most especially Plato, Aristotle, and arabian Commentators’ on Aristotle like Avicenna and Averroes. There were many other middle men too. Nevertheless, Augustine was a great authority too and greatly admired by folk like Henry of Ghent. In Henry’s hands were some rich sources by which he could put forth an account of the Father’s generation of the Son/Word. What then does he say of the Father’s generation of the Son/Word?

To read and study Henry of Ghent’s philosophical psychology is a very long and winding path. What follows is my interpretation of his take on Augustine’s two options mentioned above. Henry holds that memory is a necessary for the Father’s generation of the Son/Word, but does not see it precisely as a power generative of the Son/Word. Instead, Henry re-defines what ‘divine memory’ is; he denies that it is like a store house of knowledge because that would be an active potentiality in God. He suggests that the Father’s memory just is the Father’s act of thinking about the divine essence, and that the Father’s act of thinking is necessary for his generation of the Son/Word; however, the Father’s act of thinking is not sufficient for the generation of the Son/Word. Henry develops the view that any intellect, created or divine, has a passive power and an active power. The passive power is the power to receive an act of thinking (caused by a present intelligible object); and, the active power can produce some intellectual product (e.g., a proposition, a syllogism, an intellectual habit, and the mental word) that is similar to a greater or lesser extent to what was thought about just beforehand. When the Father (eternally) passively receives the divine essence as an object for thought, he has an occurrent thought directed at the divine essence. And supposing he has this eternal occurrent thought, only then (as it were) does the Father generate an intellectual ‘copy’ of what he ‘was’ thinking about. So, the Father’s act of thinking is necessary but not sufficient for the generation of the Son/Word. The Father’s generating the Son/Word by the active power of the divine intellect, which presupposes the Father’s occurrent thought, is sufficient for the generation of the Son/Word. There are many more details in Henry’s philosophical psychology (e.g., Henry’s critique of ‘intelligible species’)  that brings him to hold this view about what is sufficient for the Father’s generation of the Son/Word, but there is no space for those here.

What Henry retains from Augustine is the idea in option one that the Father’s act of thinking is at least necessary for the generation of the Son/Word; but Henry rejects the assertion that this is also sufficient. What needs to be added is that the divine intellect has two powers: a passive power to have an occurrent thought, and an active power to generate a ‘copy’ of what was thought about beforehand. Of course, ‘copy’ needs to be explained but to do this I would need to discuss Henry’s category theory of substance and relation, his ‘material constitution’ model of divine persons (where the numerically one divine essence is the foundation of all personal properties, i.e., paternity, passive generation, and passive spiration), and his general account of passive and active powers. Suffice it to say, when I say that the divine Word is a ‘copy’ this should not entail that the Son/Word is numerically distinct from the singular divine substance/essence. Instead, it entails that the Son/Word is really distinct from the Father, but numerically identical with the divine substance/essence. There is math here that needs to be explained; but this math problem is in no way peculiar to Henry’s Trinitarian theology.

Before moving on to Duns Scotus I should mention that in recent years it has been discovered that Henry’s Trinitarian theology was somewhat innovative in the late 13th century. By ‘innovative’ I don’t mean something like a revolution– but an organic branching out of the Christian tradition. Henry’s account may not ‘work’ in the end, nevertheless it provoked much discussion in the late 13th century. What was unique to Henry is that he brought Augustine’s psychological analogy to the heart of Trinitarian theology, which is what Russell Friedman argued in his 1996 unpublished PhD. dissertation and what Jos Decorte has argued in various journal articles over the last 15 years. On the one hand Dominicans like Thomas Aquinas held that Augustine’s opposed relations account was the explanatorily prior account, and that stacked on top of it was an emanations account, and on top of that a psychological account. On the other hand Franciscans like Bonaventure had reversed the explanatory order such that the emanation account was first, and the opposed relations and psychological accounts were secondary. But Henry, who was a ‘secular priest’ that dabbled in Dominican, Franciscan and Victorine theological sources, argued that a psychological account is first in the explanatory order, then the emanations account and lastly the opposed relations account. Consequently, in the late 13th century various Franciscan theologians championed Henry’s psychological cause, including John Duns Scotus. Of course, Scotus was no slack, he more often than not critically expanded Henry’s initial insights.

One caveat: although I do not mention it here, Henry has a critically developed Victorine Trinitarian theology. This comes to the fore in two ways. First, he intends to give ‘necessary reasons’ for why God is a Trinity of persons just as Richard St. Victor did by arguing from the nature of perfect love; although unlike Richard, Henry argues from divine intellect and will (love). Second, his account of the Father and Son’s volitional production of the Holy Spirit requires their mutual love. But for our purposes here, I have focused entirely on divine memory and the Father’s intellectual generation of the Son/Word.

John Duns Scotus: How About Option Two?

Duns Scotus disagreed with option one above, and went with something like option two. He denies that the Father’s act of thinking is necessary for the Father’s generation of the Son/Word. Like Augustine, Scotus agrees that divine memory is like a storehouse of knowledge and it is a generative/productive power. But even more, divine memory can produce two kinds of things, an operation (i.e. an act of thinking) and a product (i.e. the Son/Word). So, when God the Father uses the divine memory he does two things by two kinds of action. By memory the Father quasi-produces his own act of thinking. And, by memory the Father generates/produces the Son/Word. These two actions are causally unrelated to one another. Whereas Augustine and Henry (in option one) supposed that the Father’s act of thinking was at least necessary for the Father’s generation of the Son/Word, Scotus rejects this claim in favor of something akin to Augustine’s option two that denies the Father’s act of thinking has anything to do with the generation of the Son/Word.

If one finds Scotus’s position on this question generally amenable, there is a catch to be noticed. What are we to make of the claim that the Father ‘quasi-produces’ his own intellectual operation? I do not know what to make of it for the following reason. In his account of human cognition, Scotus argues that human memory is a productive power, and what it can produce is an act that is intellectual operation directed at some intentional content in the memory. So for example, suppose I know that JFK and C.S. Lewis both died on November 22, 1963 but am not right now thinking of this knowledge. Then at some later time, I will to produce an act of thinking that is directed at this knowledge. Consequently, if this account were true of humans, and this were part of the imago Dei in humans, why suppose that divine memory can have two kinds of productions, namely the Father’s production of his own act of thinking directed at knowledge in his memory, and the Father’s generation of the Son/Word. (By the way, Scotus defines divine memory as the ‘presence of the divine essence to the divine intellect’.) I’m sure Scotus has a subtle response to my worry, but I’ve yet to figure out what it is.


In De Trin. 15.4.24-26 Augustine discusses two ways to explain the Father’s generation of the Son/Word. In the first option he considers that the Father’s act of thinking is sufficient for the generation of the Son/Word. But in the second option he denies that the Father’s act of thinking is causally related to the generation of the Son/Word because Augustine is worried about rejecting divine simplicity. As we saw above, Henry agreed with Augustine’s option one to the extent that the Father’s act of thinking does have to do with the Father’s generation of the Son/Word; although Henry denies that this is sufficient for the generation of the Son/Word. What needs to be clarified is that (a) the divine intellect has a passive power to have an act of thinking and an active power to generate the Word; and that (b) the Father’s act of thinking is presupposed for the Father’s generation of his Son/Word because the Son/Word must be a ‘copy’ of a prior ‘actually thought about object (i.e. the divine essence as occurrently known by the Father)’. Even more, on Henry’s view the Son/Word is not the Father’s own act of thinking (which is a view that Duns Scotus and some contemporary readers of Henry have attributed to Henry). There has been doubt about what Henry’s position is because Henry often described the divine intellect’s ‘active/productive power’ as the power ‘to reflect’ on a prior act of thinking of some object. But if one were to read far and wide enough in Henry’s massive Quodlibets and Summa, she should come to the conclusion that Henry’s rhetorical style sometimes obscures his teaching; with too many synonyms comes many obfuscations. On my view Henry does in fact follow Augustine’s prohibition against saying the Father in se does not know the divine essence except by means of the Son/Word. In one passage Henry outrightly denies that the Father is wise by being related to the Son/Word (cf. Augustine’s De Trin. Books 6-7; Henry’s Summa 39.6-7; 40.6-7).

Scotus rejects option one, and favors a version of option two. Scotus supposes that the Father’s act of thinking is causally unrelated to the generation of the Son/Word, even though divine memory is the same power productive of the Father’s own act of thinking of the divine essence, and the generated Son/Word. So, Scotus too follows Augustine’s prohibition against saying the Son/Word is the Father’s own act of thinking.

One reason Scotus rejects Henry’s position has to do with Scotus’s rejection of Henry’s (‘Latin’) teaching that the Father and Son (and Holy Spirit) are numerically one positive entity. Scotus thinks of the divine persons as analogous to Peter, James and John. These humans have the same kind-nature, although numerically distinct instances of this kind-nature; but divine persons have the same kind-nature (divine essence) and numerically the same instance of this kind-nature. Nevertheless, the persons as such are positively distinct such that when the Father produces an act of thinking, it is his, but when the Father generates the Son/Word, he generates a (formally) distinct entity who nevertheless is constituted by numerically the same divine essence that constitutes the Father. (Scotus views the divine essence as akin to an ‘immanent universal’.) Putting Scotus’s view in such curt terms is not a technically pristine presentation of his account of divine simplicity because I have not elaborated on his ‘formal distinction’ and theory of individuation; still we can get near the bookshelf even if limping. In effect, Scotus’s dispute with Henry’s psychological claims rests in large part on a dispute over metaphysical claims regarding a very (very) particular ‘existential’ distinction between Father and Son.

If I were preaching, I would say that Henry read one paragraph of Augustine’s De Trin. in support of his own view, and Duns Scotus read the next paragraph in support of his own view. Of course, this is but one instance of many when scholastic A and scholastic B had opposite views on a given matter but had equal support from Augustine. I conclude that not only did Augustine pillage the Egyptians, so too did scholastics like Henry of Ghent and Duns Scotus pillage their’s and our beloved saint.

15 Responses so far

Scott, thanks for this mini-essay—great job with such “space” constraints! You note that Augustine wants to avoid advocating any teaching that might suggest that God is composed of potentiality and actuality, even if this potentiality (divine memory) is eternally actualized (in the Father’s act of thinking). Henry then re-defines divine memory, denying that it is a storehouse of knowledge because that would be an active potentiality in God. Henry identifies the Father’s memory with the Father’ act of thinking about the divine essence, and says that the latter is a necessary (but not sufficient) condition for generation of the Word. Henry also claims that both created and divine intellects have a passive and active power. With this in mind, he claims that the Father eternally (passively) receives the divine essence as an object of thought (an eternal occurent thought). I am wondering what the difference it between (1) a potentiality that is eternally actualized and (2) something (viz., the divine essence as an eternal occurent thought) being eternally passively received?

This was an excellent essay that I enjoyed reading. Cynthia, since I don’t have your email, I am misusing this space to invite you to participate in a series of guest posts I am doing at Levellers on “neglected theologians.” See

I hope you’ll join in, but thanks for your great blog, regardless.


You have written a very fine short essay on these topics. It makes me want to re-read De Trinitate after all these years, to learn more about Henry of Ghent’s view of the Trinity, and to resume reading the relevant selections from Scotus’s Quodlibetal Questions (which I recently laid aside to attend to other intellectual tasks). Thank you for your contribution.

I believe you put your finger on an area where the Scotist view needs further elaboration. For Scotus, God’s act of thinking is basically a mental act of recalling that P, where P(=the Word qua second Trinitarian Person)is an intentional content in the divine memory that can also be the content of an act of recall. The mental act of recalling P does not generate P; rather, the generation of P in the divine memory is logically prior to the mental act of recalling P. So, you ask, if the intentional content P is already in the divine memory, why suppose that there are two productions here? Especially since the only obvious production is the mental act whereby God (eternally) recalls P!

Drawing upon your analogy between the intentional content P “stored” in the divine memory and then recalled by God’s operative mental act, on the one hand, and the knowledge stored in a human that JFK and C.S. Lewis both died on 11/23/63 (knowledge which also may be recalled by a subsequent mental act of memory), on the other, one might sketch the following reply on Scotus’s behalf. In the human case, clearly there is some mental process/act whereby a particular person comes to know that JFK and C.S. Lewis both died on 11/23/63. That is, there is some act of cognitive generation such that this knowledge comes to be stored in the person’s memory, where it wasn’t before, so that he/she can remember it later in a mental act of recall. The cognitive act whereby this intentional content is generated in the person’s memory is distinct from the mental act whereby the person recalls this intentional content. Similarly, Scotus might argue, the cognitive act whereby God eternally generates the content P(=the Word) in the divine memory is (in Scotist terms, formally)distinct from God’s operative mental act of recalling P.

Now, a very fair question at this point–one you hint at in your exposition–is exactly WHAT is the nature of the cognitive act whereby God eternally generates P in the divine memory, in a manner that is distinct from His operative act of recalling P? I don’t think that Scotus devotes sufficient attention to this question (though like I said, I haven’t finished QQ yet!)

I can only offer some tentative speculations; I hope to do better in subsequent work. Suppose you generate and store in your memory a self-image or self-concept that is completely transparent, in that it not only avoids distorting or concealing any facts about you but also enables you to know yourself the way someone else knows you. One way this might be is if your perfectly transparent self-image were literally another person who is also somehow you as well. We humans cannot generate a perfectly transparent self-image, since we are locked into our first-person perspective on ourselves. But perhaps God can generate a perfectly transparent self-image whereby He knows Himself (the Father) by literally being a distinct Person (the Son) who is also the same (via the divine essence encompassing them). In a distinct act of operative knowledge, God (and any other Person) can recall this self-image. I’m not suggesting that we can fully understand what this means, only that it may help us begin to understand it, up to the point where our human conceptual abilities falter. In any case, the matter certainy needs further development. It also underscores the importance of psychological concerns, just as your reading of Henry does.

Finally, it would be interesting to see how Henry tries to reconcile his distinction between the passive power of generating an occurrent thought of the divine essence and the active power of generating a “copy” of this occurrent thought with Augustine’s view that the divine simplicity precludes any composition of potentiality and actuality. For the active power of generating the “copy,” which amounts to the generation of the Son, seems like the actualization of a potentiality, no less than the act of recalling an intentional content stored in the memory does. I realize that these concerns lie beyond the scope of your essay, so I’ll just say again how much I appreciated and learned from it.

Best regards,


Hi Cynthia,

Good question. There is one important difference: it is one thing to have an act of thinking, and another thing to have generated and sprirated. And, on Henry’s view, our explanation of each of these requires that we posit an active power/cause and a passive power for each. There is an active cause of an act of thinking (divine essence as such), and a passive power that ‘has’ the act of thinking. There is an active cause for the generation of the Son (divine memory in the Father and the active power of the divine intellect) and the divine essence’s passive power to ‘have’ the Son subsisting in the divine essence, and an active cause for the spiration of the Holy Spirit (the mutual love btwn. Father and Son, and active cause by their will); and, there is a passive power to ‘have’ the Holy Spirit (i.e. divine essence to ‘have’ the Holy Spirit subsisting in it).

IN a nutshell, Henry does not think there is any distance (contingency) between a passive power in God and the corresponding active power in God. In creatures, the actualization of a passive power is wholly contingent; but in God given divine simplicity and necessary existence (necesse esse), the ‘distance’ btwn. passive and active power in God is a distinction of reason rather than a real distinction. Henry basically wants to say, this is how we ought to think about God, but don’t assume there is some contingent composition of potentiality and actuality in God. But, even in saying these are distinctions of reason, he wants to say that somehow this maps onto what is really the case in God.

Scotus will later come along and posit his formal distinction as a way to avoid saying things like, ‘this is how we think of God’ to saying things like, ‘this is how it is in God’. Henry would only worry that we might _suggest_ some real ‘distance’ between potentiality and actuality in God which is why he says these are ‘rationally distinct’.

With that as some more background, I can say that the ‘passively received’ just means that in terms of the causal story of a divine person’s act of thinking that the ‘objectively/intentionally’ present object is the active cause of the act of thinking, and the passive power is what ‘has’ or ‘gets’ the act of thinking. To say that the Father eternally ‘has’ the act of thinking means that it necessary is the case that the Father has an act of thinking; there was no time when the Father didn’t actually know the divine essence (or generate the Son, or spirate the Holy Spirit).

Sometimes I get the feeling that when Henry attributes a passive power in God, he is doing two things. First, he is trying to give an explanation of something we know to be true about divine persons (they know the divine essence, the Father generates the Son, etc.), and so needs to posit a passive and active cause for this, even if there is never any ‘distance’ btwn. them. Second, by saying there is a certain passive power in God means that God by nature is suited to have whatever this passive power can ‘have’ or ‘get’, so long as there is an active cause to make it so.

Thanks, Scott. Your explanation sums up what I was wondering, viz., does Henry’s view involve something more like Augustine’s view (specifically with regard to Augustine’s desire not to posit any composition in God when using language like active and passive powers when speaking of God or something more “like” Scotus’ formal distinction or not and if so/not how is it different.

How would you respond to someone who claimed the following: the (unique) necessity that is involved when speaking of the relations among the Trinitarian persons—unique in that that kind of necessity is no part of the created order—coupled with God’s simplicity suggests the need for analogical language. E.g., doesn’t your essay suggest that we don’t mean the same thing when we predicate active/passive (in the context of your essay) of God and of creatures?

Dear Cynthia,

Perhaps. Henry himself certainly thinks that some sort of analogical thinking is involved when we do theology. But, I don’t think that Henry’s view about analogy vs. univocity would determine whether his own acct. _requires_ analogical discourse contrary to univocal discourse. It does matter a great deal how one might parse out what univocal discourse would be when doing theology. One needs to be very careful if one were to go with univocal discourse. And, I happen to think that some sort of univocal discourse is _required_ for doing theology. But to get into this discussion would require various other discussions.

For example, when Henry posits a passive power in God, he quickly qualifies how we are to take this (there is no ‘distance’ between potentiality and actuality in God). So, suppose we say there is a ‘real generation’ in divinis. What does this mean? Well, Henry says–in creatures a real generation requires some sort of motion between bodies in order for the generated entity to exist, but in God there is a real generation without any motion whatsoever. So we need to abstract out the notion of motion when we think of divine generation. Henry clearly knows what needs to be denied and does in fact make such a denial. He does at least seem to know what he is talking about. But if this were purely ‘analogical thinking’, would he really know what sort of denial that needs to be made to talk about divine generation? Perhaps, but perhaps not.

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This is an impressive essay, and I enjoyed reading it very much. However, I would be grateful for your response to my humble remarks:

1. In Augustine’s De Trinitate 15 I could not spot the two ways of accounting for the generation of Word in a juxtaposition. More than that, I could not find there Augustine stating that Father had an occurent thought (occurent cogitation) or that the generated Word was in any sense a “byproduct” of Father’s thinking.

2. As it appears, Augustine suggests what you term “the second way” not so much to avoid the risk of posing composition in God, as for fear of compromising the coaeternity of divine Word with Father: “solus Deus intellegatur habere Verbum sempiternum sibique coaeternum. Nisi forte dicendum est, ipsam possibilitatem cogitationis, quoniam id quod scitur, etiam quando non cogitatur, potest tamen veraciter cogitari, verbum esse tam perpetuum, quam scientia ipsa perpetua est.[...] quis non videat, quanta hic sit dissimilitudo ab illo Dei Verbo, quod in forma Dei sic est, ut non antea fuerit formabile postque formatum, nec aliquando esse possit informe, sed sit forma simplex et simpliciter aequalis ei de quo est, et cui mirabiliter coaeterna est.” (De Trin.15.15.25)

3. Could it be the case that the whole passage in question explains the difference between human and divine cogitation in terms of their different relations with word as the representative product of knowledge? Thus, human word is merely an occurent formation, contingently supervening upon the possibly sempiternal knowledge, whereas divine Word is the form of knowledge itself (the act of thinking identical with eternal being) If put so, the apparant problem of contradistinction between Father’s act of thinking and the generation of Word appears to dissolve.

Dear Iryna,

I’ll get back to you with a fuller response in the next day or two. For now, suffice it to say that yes, Augustine is contrasting the human mental word with the divine mental word, and he wishes to point out some disanalogies. However, he does point out some analogies, e.g., the mental word necessarily is something having to do with an occurrent thought (in human and divine cognition). What is at question is what it would mean to say the Word has to do with an act of thinking; is the act of thinking the act productive of the mental word, or is the mental word somehow prior to the act of thinking (as a condition for thinking), or perhaps is the production of the mental word unrelated to an act of thinking (as its productive cause).

In a nutshell, is the Word produces by the Father’s act of thinking (i.e. the Father’s act of thinking is sufficient for the production of the Word), or is the produced Word causally unrelated to the Father’s act of thinking? I think these ‘two views’ are certainly in De Trin. 15.4.24-25 and I will do a little exegesis if need be when I’ve got the book in front of me.

Also, beware of attributing to Aug. the view that the mental Word just is either the Father’s act of thinking or some knowledge that the Father has. In Books 6-7 and 15.7.n.12 Aug. argues that the Word cannot be the Father’s very knowledge; this would be absurd b/c then the Father would not know anything unless the Father has the Son. Divine attributes like omniscience are equally had by all divine persons, such that the Father must have ‘his own’ omniscience which is not strictly speaking identical with the produced mental Word. This doesn’t nec. imply social psych. trinitarianism, but just that each divine person is a knower (they could have the very same mental acts).

More soon enough.

As an aside, I just found out that Courtenay gave an paper at the Duns Scotus Congress in Oxford which gives evidence that Duns Scotus must have been in Paris for four years prior to 1293. This means that Scotus must have met Henry of Ghent (d. 1292). This is big news for the chronology of Scotus’s life journeys, which thus far have been fairly ambiguous.

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Dear Scott,
thanks a lot for your answer. Looking forward to reading more of your essays,

By the way, I have begun a blog on Henry of Ghent here:

Kudos to Scott for this.

I know very little about the Solemn Doctor, and I look forward to being educated. The suggestion that Henry has a fertile metaphysical imagination–which, God knows, we all need in dealing with these abstruse topics!–is a splendid advertisement for the new blog. I’m ready to learn….


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