Was Augustine a Filioquist in the sense that the Council of Florence defines Pneumatology? Some say “yes,” but they are depending upon a surface level understanding of some hard-to-interpret words of Augustine’s. Ironically, Augustine anticipated his words would be misused:
I expect, indeed, that some, who are more dull of understanding, will imagine that in some parts of my books I have held sentiments which I have not held, or have not held those which I have. But their error, as none can be ignorant, ought not to be attributed to me, if they have deviated into false doctrine through following my steps without apprehending me (Book 1, Par 6).
To thoroughly answer the question of whether Augustine’s Pneumatology was Orthodox, it is absolutely necessary to unpack all 15 books of On the Trinity. By understanding these books’ illustrations and consistent arguments, it is possible to get a firm handle on Augustine’s Pneumatology.
In this article we cover Books 2 through 4.
In both Tractate 99 and the 15th book of On the Trinity, Augustine is hung up on John 7:16—“My doctrine is not Mine, but His who sent Me.” He places massive Christological (and Pneumatological) importance on this one verse. So, whenever we see it, we have to pay careful attention.
John 7:16 first gets invoked in Book 2:
He has given doctrine to the Son [John 7:16], it may be rightly understood to mean, He has begotten the Son, who is doctrine so that, when it is said, “My doctrine is not mine, but His who sent me,” it is so to be understood as if it were, I am not from myself, but from Him who sent me. (Par 4)
Augustine’s point here in Book 2 is simple—the Son’s origin is not of Himself, but from the Father, much the same as His doctrine. The doctrine properly belongs to Him like His own divinity, but its origin is not with Him but with the Father. The point here is simple and uncontroversial until we later employ the same logic to the eternal causation of the Spirit. When it gets applied to Pneumatology, it becomes crucial in the discussion that we not forget what Augustine means by citing it—that origins are at issue.
We get some glimpse of the preceding in the next paragraph:
[E]xcept He had immediately gone on to say after this, “All things that the Father has are mine; therefore said I, that He shall take of mine, and shall show it unto you;” (John 16:15) it might, perhaps, have been believed that the Holy Spirit was so born of Christ, as Christ is of the Father. [The preceding may be supposed to be true s]ince He had said of Himself, “My doctrine is not mine, but His that sent me;” but of the Holy Spirit, “For He shall not speak of Himself, but whatsoever he shall hear, that shall He speak;” and, “For He shall receive of mine, and shall show it unto you.” But because He has rendered the reason why He said, He shall receive of mine (for He says, “All things that the Father has are mine; therefore said I, that He shall take of mine”); it remains that the Holy Spirit be understood to have of that which is the Father’s, as the Son also has [which is of the Father’s]. And how can this be, unless according to that which we have said above, “But when the Comforter has come, whom I will send unto you from the Father, even the Spirit of truth which proceeds from the Father, He shall testify of me?” He is said, therefore, not to speak of Himself, in that He proceeds from the Father. (Par 5)
How does this work? I will simply state that Augustine perceives that procession properly belongs to the Father, but there needs to be a sense where procession belongs to the Son because He has which is the Father’s. Because Augustine ends the paragraph by saying, “we will discuss [this] in another place,” I will for now not offer an explanation of what this means.
What follows for the rest of the book and the next one are speculations concerning Old Testament Theophanies. Augustine speaks of the topic in the same sense he covers it in the latter section of Book II of his Responses to Maximinus. In short, God cannot be seen in His essence, so Theophanies were in fact angels standing in for God. God was present in some sense within the hearts of those who saw them.
Book III, Par 12-13 implies that demons can work miracles by God’s permission. But nothing here is otherwise crucial to the topic at hand.
Book IV is similar in this respect, devoting much space to numerology. It has an interesting observation about Christ’s temptations in Par 17 which, in short, is relevant inasmuch as it states that Christ experienced external as opposed to internal temptations, due to His sinlessness. But, issues of anthropology are not the subject of this article, so I will cover these elsewhere.
Near the end of the same book, Augustine starts making some passing observations about what it means for the Son to be “sent.” He earlier denies that He was sent in His essence before the incarnation—it is within this context that we see why Augustine spent so much space on the question of Theophanies.
He then speaks as follows concerning the issue of being “sent:”
What wonder, therefore, if He is sent, not because He is unequal with the Father, but because He is “a pure emanation (manatio) issuing from the glory of the Almighty God?” [cf Wis 7:25] For there, that which issues, and that from which it issues, is of one and the same substance… Scripture meets that other thought, whereby that light which issues might seem darker than that from which it issues; and it has removed this surmise by saying, “It is the brightness of that light” [cf Wis 7:26], namely, of eternal light, and so shows it to be equal… Nor ought this to trouble us, that it is called a pure emanation issuing from the glory of the Almighty God, as if itself were not omnipotent, but an emanation from the Omnipotent; for soon after it is said of it, “And being but one, she can do all things.” But who is omnipotent, unless He who can do all things? (Par 27)
As we can see, sending is in reference to eternal origins in some way. The claim in Par 27 is limited. Essentially, if Christ is sent, He must be sent from the Father because that is His origin. He follows up on this line of thinking in Par 29:
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.
As we can see, being that the Spirit is sent as well, we must understand that because sending is necessarily from the Father, the Spirit is therefore sent from the Father.
Augustine is saying that because the Son has everything the Father has, the Spirit must also be sent from the Son. Take note, the eternal procession is not explicitly invoked.
For the Spirit of God is one, the Spirit of the Father and of the Son, the Holy Spirit, who works all in all… That then which the Lord says —”Whom I will send unto you from the Father,” (John 15:26)— shows the Spirit to be both of the Father and of the Son…
Augustine is stating that the Son shares the quality of sending the Spirit, but the temporal procession/sending is what is cited.
…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). (Par 29)
The preceding passage shatters Roman Catholic (and some Orthodox) conceptions of Augustine as a Florentine Filioquist thinker. In exegeting John 15:26, Augustine explicitly refers to the origins of the Spirit as being from the Father, because the Spirit cannot be from the Son.
Why? “The Father is the beginning,” i.e. the eternal origin of the Spirit. In short, the Spirit may be said to be “of” the Son, but not “from” the Son.
Saint John of Damascus explicitly explains how this works:
Likewise we believe also in one Holy Spirit, the Lord and Giver of Life: Who proceeds from the Father and rests in the Son…proceeding from the Father and communicated through the Son… we speak likewise of the Holy Spirit as from the Father, and call Him the Spirit of the Father. And we do not speak of the Spirit as from the Son: but yet we call Him the Spirit of the Son. (Exposition of the Orthodox Faith, Chap 8)
Since we are talking about the saints’ writings, my first presumption is to reconcile the teaching of saints so that they agree, provided a legitimate argument can be made to the effect and a massive leap of the imagination is not necessary to pull it off. This does not mean all saints can be reconciled on every issue. Saints Pope Stephen I, Cyprian, and Firmilian cannot have their sacramentologies nor ecclesiologies reconciled. Nevertheless, I think it is incumbent upon the Christian to reconcile any doctrinal issue, such as Pneumatology, when possible.
And so, I think it to be perfectly legitimate to interpret Augustine as substantially expressing the same thing as the Damascene. In refusing to state that the Spirit is “from” the Son and rather pointing out the “Father is the beginning of the whole divinity,” a double procession is not being invoked. Rather, “proceeding [i.e. originating via procession] from the Father and communicated [i.e. proceeding communitively (lit. “of the community”) or in Augustine’s words communiter procedit cf Book 15 Par 29)] through the Son” must be understood as expressing the Damascene’s thought, in my opinion.
Nevertheless, my observation is that Augustine is less precise than the Damascene. When I have looked into the original Latin, Augustine sometimes says the Spirit is “from” the Son as well, though he explicitly states that the Spirit is from the Son in a different sense (i.e. Book IV, Par 29; see also Responses to Maximinus, Book II, Par 5). In fact, there is another sense (the incarnation, but as we will see, even in the eternal sense) that the Son is sent by the Spirit.
Augustine in his Responses to Maximinus states:
Let us not think that the Son was sent by the Father in such a way that He was not sent by the Holy Spirit, for His voice speaks through the prophet, “The Lord has now sent Me and His Spirit has also.” (Is 48:16) The preceding text shows that the Son said this. This is how those words are introduced: He says, “Hear me, Jacob, and Israel whom I shall call. I am the First and I last forever. My hand laid the foundation of the Earth…Even from the beginning I have not spoken unclearly and when they were being made, I was there. The Lord has now sent me and His Spirit has also” (Is 48:12-16), What could be clearer? (Book II, Chap 20:4)
This is why, as we continue through On the Trinity, it is especially important that we interpret Augustine’s “categories of thought” in a matter consistent with his illustrations. If we do this, we will not get all hung up when Augustine uses the word “from” or “sent” in a sloppy way.