In response to a request to provide thoughts on St Augustine in relation to the Filioque, I have put together this article examining a few quotations from St Augustine’s work: “On the Trinity”. The are intended to draw out how he understands the procession of the Holy Spirit and how this relates to the teaching of the Council of Florence on this matter. This is not an exhaustive study, but hopefully it will bring out some key strands of the thought of St Augustine to provide a means of understanding him in the context of the Filioque. The quotations are not in order as appear in his work, but rather arranged to build an argument as to how they are best read and understood.
The first quotation is as follows:
As, therefore, the Father begat, the Son is begotten; so the Father sent, the Son was sent. But in like manner as He who begat and He who was begotten, so both He who sent and He who was sent, are one, since the Father and the Son are one. So also the Holy Spirit is one with them, since these three are one. For as to be born, in respect to the Son, means to be from the Father; so to be sent, in respect to the Son, means to be known to be from the Father. And as to be the gift of God in respect to the Holy Spirit, means to proceed from the Father; so to be sent, is to be known to proceed from the Father. Neither can we say that the Holy Spirit does not also proceed from the Son, for the same Spirit is not without reason said to be the Spirit both of the Father and of the Son. Nor do I see what else He intended to signify, when He breathed on the face of the disciples, and said, “Receive ye the Holy Ghost.” For that bodily breathing, proceeding from the body with the feeling of bodily touching, was not the substance of the Holy Spirit, but a declaration by a fitting sign, that the Holy Spirit proceeds not only from the Father, but also from the Son. For the veriest of madmen would not say, that it was one Spirit which He gave when He breathed on them, and another which He sent after His ascension. For the Spirit of God is one, the Spirit of the Father and of the Son, the Holy Spirit, who worketh all in all. But that He was given twice was certainly a significant economy, which we will discuss in its place, as far as the Lord may grant. That then which the Lord says, — “Whom I will send unto you from the Father,” — shows the Spirit to be both of the Father and of the Son; because, also, when He had said, “Whom the Father will send,” He added also, “in my name.” Yet He did not say, Whom the Father will send from me, as He said, “Whom I will send unto you from the Father,” — showing, namely, that the Father is the beginning (principium) of the whole divinity, or if it is better so expressed, deity. He, therefore, who proceeds from the Father and from the Son, is referred back to Him from whom the Son was born (natus).(Book 4: Chapter 20)
The procession of the Holy Spirit here is derived from the sending of the Holy Spirit to man. The argument for the Spirit to proceed from the Father and the Son is based on the giving of the Holy Spirit to man; it is not based on the Trinity in Himself. Thus, we can take the idea of proceeding as applicable to God’s relation to humanity rather than in Himself. St Augustine seems to indicate that the origin of the Holy Spirit as God is the Father “the Father is the beginning (principium) of the whole divinity”. This implies that the Spirit is according to hypostasis and divinity from the Father alone, even if He is sent by both the Father and the Son. At least, it shows that St Augustine is recognising a distinction in the wording of Christ that points to the Father being a beginning of the Holy Spirit in a way that the Son is not.
The second quote is as follows:
Further, in that Highest Trinity which is God, there are no intervals of time, by which it could be shown, or at least inquired, whether the Son was born of the Father first and then afterwards the Holy Spirit proceeded from both; since Holy Scripture calls Him the Spirit of both. For it is He of whom the apostle says, “But because ye are sons, God hath sent forth the Spirit of His Son into your hearts:” and it is He of whom the same Son says, “For it is not ye who speak, but the Spirit of your Father who speaketh in you.” And it is proved by many other testimonies of the Divine Word, that the Spirit, who is specially called in the Trinity the Holy Spirit, is of the Father and of the Son: of whom likewise the Son Himself says, “Whom I will send unto you from the Father;” and in another place, “Whom the Father will send in my name.” And we are so taught that He proceeds from both, because the Son Himself says, He proceeds from the Father. And when He had risen from the dead, and had appeared to His disciples, “He breathed upon them, and said, Receive the Holy Ghost,” so as to show that He proceeded also from Himself. And Itself is that very “power that went out from Him,” as we read in the Gospel, “and healed them all.”(Book 15: Chapter 26)
This passage is initially focused on the eternal existence of God and St Augustine locates the proceeding from Father and Son in this context. St Augustine seems to be equating proceeding from both the Father and the Son with being the Spirit of both. This is to read “of” in an origin sense, although it can also be read in a possessive sense without implying origin. Again, the idea of proceeding from the Son is derived from the Son giving the Holy Spirit. St Augustine does not seem to consider here that men as adopted sons of God receive the Spirit from the Father and so that in being sons with or in the Son, the Son too has the Spirit from the Father as Son pf God. The Son gives as mediating to the faithful on becoming sons with Him as so too receiving His Spirit as only possible being united to Him and so through Him as mediator and from Him as receiving one doesn’t already have. Importantly, St Augustine is again not making an argument intra-Trinity for the procession, but from His giving in time.
The next quotation is:
And yet it is not to no purpose that in this Trinity the Son and none other is called the Word of God, and the Holy Spirit and none other the Gift of God, and God the Father alone is He from whom the Word is born, and from whom the Holy Spirit principally proceeds. And therefore I have added the word principally, because we find that the Holy Spirit proceeds from the Son also. But the Father gave Him this too, not as to one already existing, and not yet having it; but whatever He gave to the only-begotten Word, He gave by begetting Him. Therefore He so begat Him as that the common Gift should proceed from Him also, and the Holy Spirit should be the Spirit of both. This distinction, then, of the inseparable Trinity is not to be merely accepted in passing, but to be carefully considered; for hence it was that the Word of God was specially called also the Wisdom of God, although both Father and Holy Spirit are wisdom. If, then, any one of the three is to be specially called Love, what more fitting than that it should be the Holy Spirit? — namely, that in that simple and highest nature, substance should not be one thing and love another, but that substance itself should be love, and love itself should be substance, whether in the Father, or in the Son, or in the Holy Spirit; and yet that the Holy Spirit should be specially called Love.(Book 15: Chapter 17)
We see here that the Father alone is the from whom the Spirit principally proceeds. This reinforces that the quotation above that St Augustine sees the Father as the source of the divine hypostasis of the Holy Spirit. We again see St Augustine reading “of” as origin and using this to support that the Spirit proceeds from the Son. There is an important idea introduced here in that the Son receives from the Father that the common Gift should proceed from Him also. This can be read as meaning that the Son as Son is mediator of the Spirit as well as an idea of eternal procession from the Son. Also, St Augustine is not here saying that the Holy Spirit proceeds because of the love of the Father and the Son to each other, but simply as being a specific name of “Love” just as the Son takes the specific name of “Wisdom”.
Then we have:
Wherefore let him who can understand the generation of the Son from the Father without time, understand also the procession of the Holy Spirit from both without time. And let him who can understand, in that which the Son says, “As the Father hath life in Himself, so hath He given to the Son to have life in Himself,” not that the Father gave life to the Son already existing without life, but that He so begat Him apart from time, that the life which the Father gave to the Son by begetting Him is coeternal with the life of the Father who gave it: let him, I say, understand, that as the Father has in Himself that the Holy Spirit should proceed from Him, so has He given to the Son that the same Holy Spirit should proceed from Him, and be both apart from time: and that the Holy Spirit is so said to proceed from the Father as that it be understood that His proceeding also from the Son, is a property derived by the Son from the Father. For if the Son has of the Father whatever He has, then certainly He has of the Father, that the Holy Spirit proceeds also from Him. But let no one think of any times therein which imply a sooner and a later; because these things are not there at all. How, then, would it not be most absurd to call Him the Son of both: when, just as generation from the Father, without any changeableness of nature, gives to the Son essence, without beginning of time; so procession from both, without any changeableness of nature, gives to the Holy Spirit essence without beginning of time? For while we do not say that the Holy Spirit is begotten, yet we do not therefore dare to say that He is unbegotten, lest any one suspect in this word either two Fathers in that Trinity, or two who are not from another. For the Father alone is not from another, and therefore He alone is called unbegotten, not indeed in the Scriptures, but in the usage of disputants, who employ such language as they can on so great a subject. And the Son is born of the Father; and the Holy Spirit proceeds from the Father principally, the Father giving the procession without any interval of time, yet in common from both [Father and Son]. But He would be called the Son of the Father and of the Son, if — a thing abhorrent to the feeling of all sound minds — both had begotten Him. Therefore the Spirit of both is not begotten of both, but proceeds from both.(Book 15: Chapter 6)
This passage speaks of the procession of the Holy Spirit from the Father and the Son without time. This is seen in the context of the “coeternal” begetting of the Son and so can reasonably be taken to refer to a co-eternal procession of the Holy Spirit. The classic arguments in support of the “Filioque” are also present here such that the Father gave the Son the “property” of the Spirit proceeding from Him. St Augustine does note that begetting and proceeding are not the same as each other in a way beyond relations of origin. Thus, his thinking does not support speaking of both the generation and procession as processions or both as generations.
Another short passage:
If, therefore, that also which is given has him for a beginning by whom it is given, since it has received from no other source that which proceeds from him; it must be admitted that the Father and the Son are a Beginning of the Holy Spirit, not two Beginnings; but as the Father and Son are one God, and one Creator, and one Lord relatively to the creature, so are they one Beginning relatively to the Holy Spirit. But the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit is one Beginning in respect to the creature, as also one Creator and one God.(Book 5: Chapter 14)
This passage sets out the basis for the Filioque of Florence speaking of one beginning, which is taken to state “one principle”. St Augustine falls short though of speaking one procession and he does not speak with the term spiration or of one spiration. With St Augustine, this beginning, though, is related to the giver as to what is given. Thus, the Spirit is given from both the Father and the Son as one beginning of the giving. This, though, implies that the Holy Spirit is given and implies the existence of Creation. This is further seen in the next passage.
But it is asked further, whether, as the Son, by being born, has not only this, that He is the Son, but that He is absolutely; and so also the Holy Spirit, by being given, has not only this, that He is given, but that He is absolutely — whether therefore He was, before He was given, but was not yet a gift; or whether, for the very reason that God was about to give Him, He was already a gift also before He was given. But if He does not proceed unless when He is given, and assuredly could not proceed before there was one to whom He might be given; how, in that case, was He [absolutely] in His very substance, if He is not unless because He is given? just as the Son, by being born, not only has this, that He is a Son, which is said relatively, but His very substance absolutely, so that He is. Does the Holy Spirit proceed always, and proceed not in time, but from eternity, but because He so proceeded that He was capable of being given, was already a gift even before there was one to whom He might be given? For there is a difference in meaning between a gift and a thing that has been given. For a gift may exist even before it is given; but it cannot be called a thing that has been given unless it has been given.(Book 5: Chapter 15)
Here St Augustine states that procession cannot happen unless there is one to receive. Thus, it appears that he is considering procession in terms of sending to the faithful. Yet, he does think of proceeding as not in time. He thus speaks of the Holy Spirit as eternally existing as Gift, even if not given. This is further seen in the next quote.
Nor let it trouble us that the Holy Spirit, although He is co-eternal with the Father and the Son, yet is called something which exists in time; as, for instance, this very thing which we have called Him, a thing that has been given. For the Spirit is a gift eternally, but a thing that has been given in time.(Book 5: Chapter 16)
This raises a question as to how to interpret St Augustine’s thinking. He speaks about an eternal procession of the Holy Spirit as necessitated by His sending from the Father and the Son to the faithful and yet, he also acknowledges that the procession requires one to receive for there to be a procession: “…[He] assuredly could not proceed before there was one to whom He might be given”. The Spirit for St Augustine is: “a gift eternally, but a thing that has been given in time”. Also, when St Augustine speaks of the Father and the Son being a beginning of the Spirit, he does so in reference to the giving of the Holy Spirit. Given this, then in what sense can the Holy Spirit be said to proceed eternally? If He cannot proceed without being given and there is none to whom He can be given eternally apart from the Father and the Son then how can he be said to proceed eternally? We don’t see an answer to this question in St Augustine. It seems that St Augustine begins with the case of the Holy Spirit being given by both the Father and the Son and takes this to be a procession without time from both of them. Yet, it is not clear what he conceives a procession without time from the Father and the Son to mean eternally if there is no one to receive.
To avoid contradiction, one can perhaps speak of the proceeding as a potential, that is that the Father has given to the Son that the Holy Spirit may be given by Him, once there are creatures, as being His own Spirit. One could alternatively argue that the procession here is the origin of the hypostasis of the Holy Spirit from the Father and the Son, but since this is not a giving of the Spirit then this must collapse into a generation or begetting of the Holy Spirit by the Father and the Son and so undo the whole argument based on giving.
What is a more natural solution to the problem is to say that the Holy Spirit eternally proceeds from the Father as given to the Son. Thus, the Holy Spirit is both eternally Gift and given and thus truly proceeds and He is also the Spirit of the Father and the Son. Being given without time, the Spirit is eternally that of the Son, who is never without His Spirit, yet not being the Spirit, He must receive the Spirit as proceeding from the Father with His own begetting. This is supported by St Augustine who states:
For that which is born of the Father, is referred to the Father only when called Son, and so the Son is the Son of the Father, and not also our Son; but that which is given is referred both to Him who gave, and to those to whom He gave; and so the Holy Spirit is not only the Spirit of the Father and of the Son who gave Him, but He is also called ours, who have received Him: as “The salvation of the Lord,” who gives salvation, is said also to be our salvation, who have received it. Therefore, the Spirit is both the Spirit of God who gave Him, and ours who have received Him.
That the Son also gives the Holy Spirit can be referred to His role has mediator and that the giving is in time and a common action of God: the Father sends, the Son sends from the Father and the Holy Spirit comes from the Father through the Son.
Overall, the thought of St Augustine as expressed in his work: “On the Trinity” seems to lack a level of coherency in drawing together all the principles that he states particularly in speaking of there procession as eternal and yet ground in giving to another, which on his scheme is only in time. Thus, to draw on this work for establishing the theology of the Trinity one has to prioritise one aspect over another and somewhat suppress one thought or another.
One approach is to prioritise procession from the Father and the Son and that this is without time, that the Holy Spirit eternally proceeds from the Father and the Son as per the Second Council of Lyons. Doing so, though, undermines a key element of St Augustine’s thought, that of the Spirit as Gift even if he, himself, tends to move along this path in speaking of the Spirit as Gift even if not given. A problem with this is that it implies some potential in the Trinity and the Spirit can only be Gift at all if there is necessarily going to be a Creation to whom He may be given in Time. If there is no Creation then He cannot be Gift; thus the procession of the Holy Spirit is predicated on Creation, which denies His procession being eternal or that Creation is by will and not necessary. It also requires the procession to be in potential until Creation that leaves God in an eternal state of potential, which is impossible, or to have the procession be effectively a generation. He rejects the procession being a generation so this cannot be allowed as consistent with his thought.
A second approach is to prioritise the Holy Spirit as Gift and have Him proceed from the Father and be received by the Son. Thus, the giving is eternal and the procession is eternal in actuality without need of any potential. The procession is also distinguishable from a generation and one can legitimately speak of the Spirit as of the Father and of the Son. The sending from both the Father and the Son can then be a result of Creation as the Son is mediator, which is also an eternal reality because the Son mediates the procession of the Spirit, “through the Son”, as well as receiving the Spirit. This approach better puts together the logic of St Augustine, but is not as close to his speaking of the procession from Father and Son without time. Nevertheless, when set in the context of giving to the faithful, in which case the Spirit is given from both the Father and Son simultaneously as from one beginning, the ideas of St Augustine can be maintained as qualified by relations to the faithful. The giving to the faithful as sons of God also matches the eternal receiving as Son of God, so one is not establishing something “new” with the faithful not realised eternally in the Trinity. This approach also reflects the Father as the beginning of all divinity. It reads the Son being given the property to give the Spirit as referring to His role as mediator, which indeed is quite proper to Him being Son and He through whom the Holy Spirit eternally proceeds.
In conclusion, one way or another the thought of St Augustine needs some qualification to use it to establish a consistent theological position. One can prioritise the procession from Father and Son in an eternal sense, which is where St Augustine seems to head himself, bu, for reasons given above, this causes some significant problems within his own reasoning and fails to establish a consistent theological position. This, nevertheless, is the path followed at the Council of Florence and that of the Second Council of Lyons, as well as by such as Aquinas and Scotus. One can alternatively rework the conclusions of his reasoning and keep the core of his thought of the Spirit as Gift and downplay the eternal procession from both, which then provides a more coherent system of thought without giving up his principles, even if downplaying his general tendency for procession from both beyond time. The former can be said a more verbatim following of St Augustine, whereas the second is following his reasoning, but positing a better conclusion for coherency of the reasoning. In either case St Augustine can be legitimately considered a Father of the Church, although in the latter case, his thought needs to be read in context of other Fathers and into conformity with them, rather than as the primary Father to whom other Fathers are read into conformity, as in the former case and at Florence.