03.10.02, Augustine, On the Trinity

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Sarah Catherine Byers

The Medieval Review baj9928.0310.002


Augustine. Matthews, Gareth B., ed. and Stephen McKenna, trans.. On the Trinity: Books 8-15. Series: Cambridge Texts in the History of Philosophy. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2002. Pp. xxxiv, 227. ISBN: 0-521-79231-2.

Reviewed by:
Sarah Catherine Byers
Catholic University of America

Augustine, despite being the subject of a rash of publications recently, does not yet receive the attention he deserves in the classroom. Consequently this addition to the Cambridge Texts in the History of Philosophy series is welcome as a means of bringing more students into contact with his thought.

Matthews' edition contains Books 8-15 of the De Trinitate (DT), which he describes as the first treatise on the philosophy of mind in the modern sense of "mind." The translation is of Stephen McKenna (1963),[[1]] slightly revised. It includes a 29 page introduction and some textual notes. The introductory remarks address eleven philosophical themes: Faith in Search of Understanding, The Problem of Other Minds, Mental Trinities, Mental Language, Mind-Body Dualism, Sense Perception, The Doctrine of Illumination, Happiness, Language Learning, Divine Simplicity, and Scepticism and the Cogito.

Matthews offers his volume as a more philosophical edition and a more literal translation of the text than that of Edmund Hill (newly translated, with notes and commentary, in 1991).[[2]] While it is true that McKenna's translation has the merit of sometimes being closer to the Latin than Hill's, it contains errors and awkwardness which have not always been corrected by Matthews. On the philosophical side, Matthews' volume is useful for alerting students to the various "isms" and standard topics that they may come across in secondary work on Augustine, and for pointing out real or apparent similarities between Augustine and later writers (both Medieval and Modern). What readers will generally not find in this volume is clear evidence of deep lexicological work, or of intimate familiarity with Augustine's philosophical context (especially Plotinian metaphysics and Stoic epistemology).

Matthews does credit Augustine with brilliance (x), but on the whole the book tends to present him as a figure who is important because of similarities to Descartes, Aquinas, Maimonides, etc., rather than a philosopher of late antiquity important in his own right. While it is useful for students to compare central figures in the history of philosophy, the presentation could have the effect of leading some readers to erroneously assume that Augustine's position was exactly the same as later philosophers', or that he was asking the same questions. For instance, Augustine's "concept of mind" is classified as "Cartesian" (xxi), and Augustine is said to have "raised the problem of other minds" (xiv). With regard to the latter, it would have been helpful to point out that Augustine did not actually consider the existence of other minds "problematic" in the way that Cartesian philosophers have. Nonetheless, Matthews rightly calls attention to Descartes' apparent remissness in failing to acknowledge the influence of Augustine upon his cogito argument (xxviii). And by pointing out that Augustine is not a "representationalist" in perception (xxi), he implicitly draws an important contrast with Descartes' position at e.g. Meditations 2.29.

Secondary literature on Augustine determines the focus of the introduction especially in the case of the so-called "Doctrine of Illumination." This phrase apparently passed into English secondary literature from French (or Latin) work of the early twentieth-century.[[3]] Unfortunately it is not very useful, especially for philosophy students approaching the text for the first time. These readers will want to know what philosophical issue is at stake, and the illumination metaphor will be unfamiliar to them. "Augustine's account of innate ideas" would be much less cryptic. Phraseology aside, Matthews' explanation could be more precise (What is meant by "direct" and "something like" in the phrase, "we have direct access to something like the Platonic Form of justice"(xxii)?). It also includes Malebranche's mistaken reading, according to which Augustine made the error of reasoning that "we see some of these eternal, immutable truths . . . therefore we see God" (xxix). Augustine says repeatedly in Books 8-15 of the DT that "we certainly do not yet see God" as such when we see an immutable Form; what we see is a Form "in" God (e.g. DT 8.4.6; 9.1.1; 9.7.12).

Augustine's Platonism could have received more attention in this volume. His arguments for the existence of transcendent Forms are not commented on in the notes or introduction; likewise, the fact that the Forms are associated with God goes unexplained (e.g. 8-9, 17, 19-21). The lack of clarity in the translation of some of these passages (and the omission of such tools as capitalization for "form" when Augustine is speaking of transcendent standards of judgment) could give the impression that McKenna himself did not fully understand Augustine's metaphysics, and that Matthews has not done enough to rectify the situation. Likewise, Plotinian echoes in Augustine's text[[4]] could be more clearly brought out in the translation; for example, it omits Augustine's "there" (ibi) from a passage referring to the realm of the Forms (p. 5, DT 8.1.2; cf. e.g. Enn. 5.9.6, 5.9.10, 6.7.15, 6.7.16).

Greater attention to the epistemological context might have led to more accurate word choices for notitia and noscere. These are always rendered "knowledge"/"to know", despite the fact that notitia, like phantasia, is often used by Augustine for subjective concept/impression of an object, [[5]] which may or may not fully correspond to the object itself. To refer more specifically to accurate impressions, he uses verax notitia or secundum speciem notitia, species here meaning the standard against which one's impressions are to be measured. Thus Augustine's assertion, "Sed omnis secundum speciem notitia similis est ei rei quam novit" (DT 9.10.16) means every impression that corresponds to reality is similar to the thing of which it is an impression (i.e. that which it represents/"images"). Augustine is stating a truism, and is working within the framework of the so-called "correspondence theory of truth" which he clearly assumes. Matthews has, "But all knowledge according to the form [of what is known] is similar to that which it knows" (37). He has improved upon McKenna by choosing "form" for species, but as there is no note explaining what "form" means in this sort of case, and as the translation implies a distinction between two different kinds of knowledge (that "according to the form" and that which is not) without elucidating the distinction, the reader is left at a loss. McKenna and Hill are no better in this regard [[6]]; thus Matthews is in line with earlier authoritative versions in English. But he could have surpassed these translations with the recognition that Augustine was here and elsewhere exhibiting the influence of the epistemology outlined at e.g. Acad. 1.40 (a two-step process of receipt of an impression, and subsequent judgment that the impression does or does not accurately represent the object it purports to represent).

Other noteworthy lexical/conceptual features include the use of "conscious self" or "seat of human consciousness" for mens (x, xvi, 7 n. 8). Here Matthews differs from Hill, who ascribes this meaning to animus (op. cit., 260-1). We also find a misleading translation of DT 9.12.18 (apparently originating with Arthur Haddan (1887) [[7]] and followed by McKenna and Matthews). It presents a distinction between "love" (amor) and "seeking" (appetitus inveniendi), whereas Augustine intends a distinction between two different kinds of "love," one of which is "seeking" (or more literally, the impulse to discover). Hill's translation has got this right.

The notes to the text sometimes give the Latin for certain phrases or terms; this can be useful for readers who are already familiar with the Latin of late antiquity. Yet generally the notes could be more informative given that the Cambridge series is intended for students. At times the reader is told what the Latin is for an English word, but is not told why this information is important (e.g. 65, 105). In other places notes give the same Latin word for various English terms, without explaining why its translation is changing though its role in the various passages seems to be the same (e.g. 61, 95). Elsewhere terms are left untranslated and unexplained (e.g. "form and species" for forma et species, 69).

Finally, the accuracy and smoothness of the translation could be improved upon in a few details. On p. 10, McKenna's error in translating scire[[8]] as "to love" is faithfully reproduced by Matthews. Elsewhere Matthews supplements McKenna's translation by inserting brackets in which he seems to misidentify the antecedents of Augustine's illa at DT 9.4.6, resulting in a distortion of the meaning (29).[[9]] If it is not a simple typo, on p. 37 it is Matthews' deviation from McKenna which yields a sentence fragment.[[10]]

Matthews and Cambridgehave done a service to academia by undertaking a new edition of the most philosophically interesting section of Augustine's De Trinitate. This volume will be useful especially for orienting readers to topics found in secondary literature on the DT, and alerting them to Medieval and Modern treatments of certain philosophical themes in Augustine's treatise. However, readers may wish to supplement their reading of this edition with that of Hill, and with background reading of (or at least about) Augustine and his philosophical sources. In fact, some relevant titles are helpfully provided by Matthews under the heading "Further Reading" (xxxii).

[[1]] In the series "The Fathers of the Church", Vol. 45 (Washington, DC: CUA Press). Matthews mistakenly gives 1961 as the copyright date for the volume (xxxi).

[[2]] In the series "The Works of Saint Augustine: A Translation for the Twenty-First Century", Part I, Vol. 5 (New York: New City Press).

[[3]] In 1931, Gilson put the phrase "doctrine augustinienne de l'illumination divine" into quotation marks and said Augustine's theory was commonly so-called (Introduction a L'Etude de Saint Augustin [Paris: Librarie Philosophique J. Vrin], 103); although it seems to have become very common only after Gilson's book. In 1934 we have R. Jolivet's Dieu Soleil des Esprits, ou La Doctrine Augustinienne de L'Illumination (Paris: Desclee de Brouwer), in 1952 R. Allers' "St. Augustine's Doctrine on Illumination" (Fransiscan Studies 12, 27-46). The earliest use of this phrase I have seen is in 1903, by E. Portalie: "La doctrine d'Augustin est donc, d'apres nous, la theorie . . . de illumination divine des intelligences" (Dictionnaire de Theologie Catholique I, col. 2336). It does not occur e.g. in A. Lepidi, Examen Philosophico-Theologicum de Ontologismo (Louvain: 1874), 192-224. Writing in 1921, C. Boyer does not use the phrase (La Idee de Verite dans la Philosophie de Saint Augustin [Paris: 1921], 164ff.), but he does in 1925 ("Autour de l'illumination augustinienne" [Gregorianum 6], 449-453; see 453 n. 2: "une doctrine . . . de l'illumination divine"). It sometimes occurs in secondary work in Latin in the 1920's (e.g. I. Sestili once uses "doctrinam Augustini de illuminatione" in Utrum Deus Moveat Immediate Intellectum Creatum, Ia, q. 105, a. 3 (Xenia Thomistica II [1925], 155-185); J. Sestili once uses the phrase "de illuminatione doctrinam" in "Thomae Aquinatis cum Augustino de illuminatione concordia" [Divus Thomas 31 (1928)], 50-82). The preceding sample is not intended to be a complete list, but a starting-point for those interested in the genealogy of the phrase used by Matthews. As noted by Owens, the phrase divina illuminatio sometimes occurs in Roger Bacon and Bonaventure (J. Owens, "Faith, Ideas, Illumination and Experience" in The Cambridge History of Later Medieval Philosophy [Cambridge, 1982], 442 n. 5). Those interested more generally in the question may also consult e.g. C. Schuetzinger (The German Controversy on St. Augustine's Illumination Theory [New York: Pageant Press, 1960]) for the German bibliography, and B. Bubacz, St. Augustine's Theory of Knowledge (New York: Edwin Mellon, 1981). For a clear Medieval discussion of Augustine's statements, see Bonaventure, Quaestiones Disputatae de Scientia Christi, Q. 4.

[[4]] For recent discussion of how much Plotinus (in translation) Augustine read and when, see J. Rist, "Plotinus and Christian Philosophy" in The Cambridge Companion to Plotinus, ed. L. Gerson (Cambridge and New York: CUP, 1996), 386-413.

[[5]] cf. e.g. notitia est imago, DT 9.11.16.

[[6]] Both always translate notitia/noscere as "knowledge"/"to know", and McKenna simply leaves species as an untranslated technical term (without explaining its meaning), whereas Hill's translation of secundum speciem notitia as "positive knowledge of quality" exhibits that freedom which Matthews remarks upon, and is also unclear. (Perhaps Hill means, "all knowledge of positive quality" (as opposed to "knowledge of privation," as in the following lines of his translation); but even so, clarity would be lacking.)

[[7]] In the series "A Select Library of the Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers of the Christian Church", Vol. 3 (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans Publishing).

[[8]] PL 42, 951; CCSL 50, p. 275, l. 9.

[[9]] DT 9.4.6: Augustine seems to intend the mind, its love, and its knowledge as antecedents for illa.

[[10]] "So, when we know God, although we become better than we were before we knew him, and especially when this knowledge being liked and loved worthily, is a word, and thereby produces something similar to God."

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Sarah Catherine Byers

Catholic University of America