Augustine and Neo-Platonism

I first heard that Augustine was a Neo-Platonist in my undergraduate philosophy program.  Since then, the concept has simply been a given.  Of course he was.

The major problem with this statement is that it lacks much distinctive value.  It is true that Augustine was familiar with the works of the Platonists, but that hardly makes him a devoted member of a distinctive “Neo-Platonic” school.  Most of the Fathers were Neo-Platonic in some sense, and indeed, most of the medievals and quite a bit of moderns are Neo-Platonic.  But to stop at this “description” is to do very little indeed.

For all we know, John’s prologue has Neo-Platonic elements.  Does that therefore mean we relegate his gospel to a sub-Christian standing?  To paraphrase David Bentley Hart, this gets embarrassing.

Michel Barnes, with an appropriate amount of cynicism, has sought to show just how ahistorical most of these claims against Augustine actually are.  In fact, he says that we only possess one or perhaps two credible histories of Augustine that seek to locate him in his intellectual and historical context. Continue reading


One Power

In the Synodical letter from the Council of Constantinople, the bishops give a short summary of the catholic faith:

This is the faith which ought to be sufficient for you, for us, for all who wrest not the word of the true faith; for it is the ancient faith; it is the faith of our baptism; it is the faith that teaches us to believe in the name of the Father, of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. According to this faith there is one Godhead, Power and Substance of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost; the dignity being equal, and the majesty being equal in three perfect hypostases, i.e. three perfect persons.

Godhead, Power, and Substance are all “of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost.” This is as conservative as it gets.

Important for us moderns, however, is to note that the power is one. Often we think of the Father’s power or the Son’s power or the Holy Ghost’s power as if they were individual powers, but the pro-Nicene’s used power as a means of unity, and thus it is really but another name for the divine essence.

We confess the one Power of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost.