Ayres, Lewis. Augustine and the Trinity
Continuing the argument in his Nicea and its Legacy, Ayres wants to posit Augustine as a faithful exponent of the “pro-Nicene” tradition. In order to do so, he must rescue Augustine from the charge that Augustine simply framed Trinitarian theology around explicitly neo-Platonic categories. Thus, Ayres argues that Augustine used a number of non-Christian sources ranging from Platonic to neo-Platonism; therefore, a 1:1 parallel between Augustine and Plotinus is unwarranted, or so Ayres argues. Ayres continues with a Latin context for Augustine, and here we are treated to some excellent expositions of Hilary and Ambrose.
I grant Ayres’ argument that Augustine was not a full-orbed neo-Platonist. Further, I can even agree with him that Augustine did not use the idea of “hypostases” in the Plotinian sense (he may well have, but I lack the ability to judge that topic). Notwithstanding, though, Augustine did say he was heavily influenced by Platonists and did admit he framed his doctrine of simplicity around Platonic categories (City of God, books 8 and 11). Elsewhere in the book, Ayres routinely says that Augustine’s models often follow Platonic categories (Ayres: 209, 314, 316). So, do we see Augustine as a neo-Platonist or not? Why not? Ayres has certainly advanced the scholarship on Augustine and neo-Platonism, but he has come nowhere close to overturning the earlier scholarly consensus. Earlier scholars, therefore, are not off-base for seeing Augustine within at least some category of neo-Platonism.
Ayres also wants to argue that Augustine held to a robust view of the irreducibility of the divine persons: in other words, an emphasis on the “three-ness” of the Trinity. A few questions arise, though: if the persons are irreducible, how can they subsist in the essence relatively? It seems the concepts of “relative subsistence” and “irreducibility” are mutually exclusive, especially given the fact that Augustine didn’t even like the term “persons!” Secondly, if the Holy Spirit is the love between Father and Son, or the love of the Father and Son, then one must immediately ask, “Is the Holy Spirit now an attribute of the other persons, or is he an irreducibly divine person?”
The book ends with a thorough discussion of how Augustine used the Trinitarian analogies. This book is quite fine in many ways. Ayres gives us careful arguments and advances much recent scholarship. I do not think his “pro-Nicene” thesis is as strong as he presents it, nor do I think he successfully disengages Augustine from the neo-Platonic model.