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What is often termed the modern crisis of the Western self (1)--the problems associated with the proto-Cartesian and proto-Kantian conceptions of the self--has given rise to attempts not only to confront the crisis constructively, but also to trace its origin. In one philosophical reading of the development of the crisis in the Western self, Augustine stands as one of its forefathers. In this reading, Augustine's anthropology is anchored firmly within Platonism and is viewed as a key precursor of the tradition leading to the modem, autonomous self of Descartes and Kant. (2) Such a reading often focuses on Augustine's somewhat idiosyncratic self-analysis in Confessionum libri [Conf.] XIII, and points to his so-called psychological model of the Trinity found in De Trinitate [Trin.]. It is argued that his method of inward movement, which involves the utilization of the structures of individual consciousness as an analogy to the immanent Trinity, in conjunction with his analysis of the individual self in Conf., becomes a basic foundation for the modern private, autonomous self.
A second trend accompanies this particular philosophical reading of Augustine's anthropology. Michel Barnes has noted that much modern scholarship on Augustine by systematic theologians tends somewhat paradoxically to presuppose a philosophical foundation (in Neoplatonism) for Augustine's trinitarian thought rather than a Christian doctrinal foundation. (3) This often leads to criticisms that Augustine's trinitarian thought is overly speculative. On the one hand, it is argued that Augustine formulates a model of the Trinity based on an abstract, neoplatonic conception of the mind, which psychologizes God and potentially generates a type of onto-theology? On the other hand, it is argued that this philosophical model minimizes the significance of history and the incarnation, and so the economy of salvation.
In particular, Colin Gunton has raised pointed criticism of Augustine concerning the supposed foundation of his trinitarian thought in Neoplatonism. He argues that Augustine's famous analogy between the triadic structures of the mind-memory, understanding, and will--and the Trinity is fundamentally derivative of a neoplatonic philosophy of the mind that colors Augustine's model of the Trinity with an abstract individualism and intellectualism, and distances the Trinity from its ecclesiological and soteriological context. (5) Gunton contrasts this model of the Trinity with the tradition in the East of grounding the Trinity in the economy of salvation--God's self-revelation as Father, Son, and Spirit within salvation history. (6)
He summarizes the consequences of Augustine's model of the Trinity as follows: "The crucial analogy for Augustine is between the inner structure of the human mind and the inner being of God, because it is in the former that the latter is made known, this side of eternity at any rate, more really than in the 'outer' economy of grace." (7)
But what if the directionality between the mind and God suggested by Gunton is actually the reverse in Augustine's trinitarian thought? What if the structure of the mind is most fundamentally made known through the Trinity? Moreover, what if it is not the "inner being of God" that is at issue here, but the "'outer' economy of grace"? What if the God involved here is the trinitarian God of salvation? In this essay I shall address these questions by defending the following claim: Augustine's trinitarian thought does not move from the categories of the self to a description of the Trinity. Rather, the reverse is true: through a soteriological reversal, in which the self is first created and then re-formed by Christ, the Trinity is the basis for the self. This soteriological reversal is fundamentally tied to Augustine's anthropology and, more specifically, to his claim that the authentic self is not the self in full possession, power and knowledge of itself, but the self created in the image of the Trinity, possessed by God, and empowered through Christ. We shall see that an explanation of this soteriological reversal stands not only against categorizing Augustine's trinitarian thought as a psychological model, but also against characterizing Augustine's anthropology as proto-Cartesian.
To develop this argument, it is important to identify the proper framework for interpreting the trinitarian thought of Augustine. There has been a recent attempt in historical theology by Barnes, Ayres, and others to argue that many of the traditional categories for analyzing pre- and post-Nicene thought (especially the distinction between East and West on the starting points of de Deo Trino vs. de Deo Uno) are inadequate. (8) With regard to Augustine, it is argued that a framework grounded in either the East/West dichotomy or a neoplatonic context is inappropriate for interpreting his model of the …