The Mediation of Christ in Augustine’s De Triniate IV and XIII


By John L. Drury


May 5, 2006

For students of theology, no lecture is more familiar than “three types of atonement theories.” This standard atonement typology spread through the theological world primarily by the influence of Gustav Aulen’s famous book, Christus Victor, although the makings of the typology predate his work.[i] Despite repeated caveats and attempts to move beyond it, this typology continues to dominate the discussion of the person and work of Christ.

Despite his general significance in the history of doctrine, Augustine is a marginalized figure in this discussion. Aulen mentions him a number of times, but does not supply a detailed analysis.[ii] This marginalization may be accounted for by the fact that Augustine never produced an independent treatise on the person and work of Christ. Such a lack does not imply, however, that Augustine never addresses the topic directly. In Books IV and XIII of his De Trinitate we find a sustained treatment of the soteriological significance of the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. The purpose of this essay is to offer a close reading of these two books in critical conversation with the standard typology. My thesis is that Augustine does not fit the mold of any one “type” of atonement theory, but rather combines a number of descriptively adequate motifs into a larger understanding of Christ as the mediator of contemplating God.

Such a proposal immediately encounters a stumbling block: these two books are embedded in the vast labyrinth of the De Trin. Can they be studied independently without doing violence to Augustine’s intentions? No, they cannot. Yet this observation does not spell the end of the project, but its starting point. The soteriological significance of Books IV and XIII can only be understood when placed within the overall structure of the De Trin. It is precisely this larger context that enables Augustine to embrace a number of motifs and thereby transcend categorization by the standard typology. Thus we will begin with a discussion of the overall structure of the De Trin and the place of Books IV and XIII within it.

The Structural Context of Books IV and XIII

            The intention of Augustine’s De Trin is inextricably tied to its structure. The pattern of the argument reveals the purpose of the argument. In virtue of its size and scope, Augustine treats numerous topics throughout the De Trin. The discussion of the mediation of Christ in Books IV and XIII could be treated as one such topic. However, all of Augustine’s topics, including Christ’s mediation, fit into the larger movement of the work as a whole. How should this movement be characterized?

            Traditional interpretations divide the work roughly in half. The two halves are generally identified by means of a shift in methodology. Thus, one might speak of the first half (I-VII) as proceeding by “faith” and the second half (VIII-XV) as operating by “reason.”[iii] A revised version of this division sees the first four books as using Scripture while the remaining books use reason.[iv]

            These traditional interpretations rightly identify a shift in Augustine’s style half-way through the work. Unfortunately, they link this shift to a misleading conception of Augustine’s method. A closer reading of the text shows that faith and Scripture are present in the latter books and reason is operating in the former books. Such a faith/reason dichotomy is anachronistic to Augustine. Furthermore, the resulting structure reveals little about the larger intention of the work. It falsely treats the De Trin as a textbook on the Trinity organized according to method.[v]

            Edmund Hill provides a more subtle structural analysis of the De Trin.[vi] He identifies the following chiastic pattern:

A Absolute Equality of Trinitarian Persons (I)

B Missions of Trinity in Scripture (II-IV)

     C Rational Discussion of Relations (V-VII)

D Inward Turn (VIII)

     C’ Rational Construction of Mental Image (IX-XI)

B’ History of Image in Scripture (XII-XIV)

A Absolute Inequality of Image to Trinity (XV)


Hill’s analysis acknowledges the stylistic shift in Book VIII, without splitting the work into two separate halves. Hill retains the concern for method found in traditional interpretations, yet nuances his analysis to account for the parallel Scriptural and rational approaches in both halves of the work. The plausibility of a chiastic structure is substantiated by the alleged presence of a chiasm in Augustine’s Confessions as well as the parallel structure of City of God. A chiastic structure reveals Augustine’s intention to take the reader on a journey down through the drama of God coming to us and up through the drama of the soul’s ascent to God.

The problem with such a proposal is that “it is a little too neat,” as Hill readily admits.[vii] Attempts have been made to ground the structure of the De Trin in more tangible literary and historical evidence. Earl Muller points out a number of rhetorical statements that indicate transitions in the argument. Muller divides the work into three parts: an exposition of the intellectus fidei in Books I-VII, the search for a Trinitarian analogy in Books VIII-X, and an explanation for the slow minded in Books XI-XV.[viii] John Cavadini has pointed out that the ascents of the latter books are intended to fail as a polemic against Neo-Platonists.[ix] Merriell argues that the work is organized around a series of questions posed and answered by Augustine.[x]

            The textual observations made by these recent interpreters must be acknowledged. However, each of these proposed alternatives undermines the parallelism employed by Augustine at certain key points in the argument. For instance, Augustine repeatedly associates Book IV and XIII with each other as parallel treatments of the same topic. At the conclusion of Book XIII, Augustine explicitly acknowledges that he “had already said much on the subject in the fourth book of this work.”[xi] At the close of Book XIV, Augustine again refers to these books as a pair. He reminds his readers that the ascent to God cannot be achieved by “reason alone without any faith in the mediator,” a point which “I tried to demonstrate as best I could in the previous books, especially in the fourth and thirteenth” (XVI.26). Any analysis of the structural form of the De Trin must take into account this explicit material parallel.[xii]

            Although this example vindicates Hill’s proposed chiasm in general, the explicit parallel between Books IV and XIII raises a question about its particulars. According to Hill’s structure, Book IV ought to parallel Book XII and Book XIII ought to parallel Book III. This goes to show that the chiasm does not produce exact parallels. Hill sometimes refers to his proposed structure as a “parabola.”[xiii] This term more accurately represents the explicit parallelism of the De Trin without implying a one-to-one correspondence.

            How might the explicit parallel between Books IV and XIII modify Hill’s structural analysis? First of all, the parallel between the books cannot be understood as two different topics approached by the same method. The opposite is the case: the same topic is treated from two different perspectives. Both Book IV and Book XIII are reflections on the historic mission of the Son. Book IV narrates this mission in the context of Augustine’s defense of the equality of the triune persons. Book XIII explains how knowledge of this same mission can be used wisely for the sake of contemplation. Augustine clearly explains this difference at the end of Book XIII: “I had already said much on the subject in the fourth book of this work. But there it was for a different reason from here: there it was to show why and how Christ was sent in the fullness of time by the Father, because of those people who say that the one who did the sending and the one who was sent cannot be equal in nature; here it has been to distinguish between active knowledge and contemplative wisdom” (XIII.25).

The parallel between Books IV and XIII indicates that the movement of the parabola is not one of faith seeking understanding but of knowledge seeking wisdom.[xiv] The earlier books clarify and defend Scriptural and doctrinal knowledge. The later books make use of this knowledge in the ascent toward the wisdom of God. Therefore, contemplation of God is the ultimate purpose of the De Trin, and the parabolic structure of the work serves this purpose. The whole work is therefore soteriological in orientation. Equipped with this understanding of the structure and intention of the De Trin as a whole, we can now turn to Augustine’s multifaceted exposition of the person and work of Christ in Books IV and XIII.

The Mediatory Mission of Christ: Restoration and Purification (Book IV)

            How does Augustine describe the work of Christ in Book IV? The Son was sent in order to restore the order of creation and purify us in preparation for our ascent to God. Restoration and purification are two aspects of the one work of the mediator. They are not assigned to different parts of the story of Jesus; rather, the whole dramatic mission of the Son, from incarnation to ascension, mediates restoration and purification to us. Following Augustine’s order of presentation, I will first treat restoration (Chapter 1-2), then purification (Chapter 3-4), and conclude with a discussion of how this multifaceted mediation functions in the larger soteriological purpose of the De Trin.

            Augustine begins his discussion of restoration by outlining the two-fold logic of demonstration. On the one hand, we need to be shown how much God loves us so that we will have the courage to seek him. On the other, we must be shown how much we need God so that we have the humility to rely on his strength. Augustine states this two-fold demonstration beautifully: “First we had to be persuaded how much God loved us, in case out of sheer despair we lacked the courage to reach up to him. Also we had to be shown what sort of people we are that he loves, in case we should take pride in our own worth, and so bound even further away from him and sink even more under our own strength” (IV.2, emphasis added). This opening statement is interesting not only for its content but also its form. In the sending of the Son, God desires to persuade us and show to us who he is and who we are in order to prepare us for our journey to him. Therefore, Augustine here understands the soteriological significance of the mission of the Son in terms of the moral influence it exerts upon us.

            However, this is only the beginning. While Augustine makes ample use of the logic of demonstration, the historic mission of the Son cannot be reduced to an act of persuasion. Augustine immediately turns from this line of thinking to a discussion of the disorder of creation. This cosmic turn takes him in the direction of restorationist soteriology. The Word created the world, and yet we have become turned in on ourselves, losing contact with God’s light and life (IV.3). The “cure” for this ailment is to become illumined by participation in the Word (IV.4). “Yet we were absolutely incapable of such participation and quite unfit for it, so unclean were we through sin, so we had to be cleansed” (IV.4). Therefore, God cleanses us by becoming human and shedding his blood. Both Christ’s person (incarnation) and his work (death) are necessary for our participation in the Word. The person of Christ unites our humanity to his divinity so that we can be restored to the eternal life for which we were created: “So he applied to us the similarity of humanity to take away the dissimilarity of our iniquity, and becoming a partaker in our mortality he made us partakers of his divinity” (IV.4). The death of Christ functions to bear the weight of judgment: “It was surely right that the death of the sinner issuing from the stern necessity of condemnation should be undone by the death of the just man issuing from the voluntary freedom of mercy, his single matching our double” (IV.4). Both the life-giving person of Christ and his sin-cleansing death serve the restoration of creation to its proper symmetry.

            With these strongly “objective” statements regarding the person and work of Christ, Augustine clearly moves beyond a simple moral influence understanding of the atonement. However, he does not leave the logic of demonstration behind, but incorporates it into this larger restorationist scheme. The single death and resurrection of Christ are shown to have a double aspect for us: it is both a “sacrament for the inner man” and a “model for the outer one” (IV.6). The sacramental aspect of Christ’s death teaches us proper repentance and self-denial, while the sacramental aspect of Christ’s resurrection teaches us to ascend to higher, non-material thinking. But Christ’s death and resurrection is also a tangible model for the destiny of the outer man as we too will be raised with him.[xv] By means of the twin concepts of sacrament and model, Augustine is able to include both the “subjective” and “objective” aspects of the work of Christ. The mission of the Son cannot be reduced to one or other aspect.

            After some further rumination on the numerological symmetry of the historic mission of Christ, Augustine turns his focus to Christ’s purifying mediation. He sets up a contrast between the true mediation of Christ and the false mediation of the devil. The devil becomes the mediator of death by ensnaring us. The pride of the devil is contrasted with the humility of Christ.[xvi] Christ shows his humility in his willingness to die with us, whereas the devil traps us in death without sharing in it himself. Once again, the person and the work are tied together. The humanity of Christ is crucial for him to infiltrate the devil’s territory: “And precisely there, where [the devil] was able really to do something, was he well and truly routed; and by his receiving the exterior authority to strike down the Lord’s flesh, the interior authority by which he held us captive was itself struck down” (IV.17). Befitting this description of the victory of Christ, Augustine makes explicit use of the language of ransom: “For our sake the Lord paid this one death which he did not owe in order that the death we do owe might do us no harm” (IV.17).

However, the language of victory and ransom does not preclude Augustine from utilizing the language of sacrifice, payment, penalty, and guilt: “By his death he offered for us the one truest possible sacrifice, and thereby purged, abolished, and destroyed whatever there was of guilt, for which the principalities and powers had a right to hold us bound to payment of the penalty” (IV.17). Although this language does not go in the direction of a full-blown satisfaction theory, Augustine does employ forensic and priestly categories to describe the soteriological significance of the cross. He even lays out a complex four-fold sacrificial schema: who offers the sacrifice, what is offered, to whom it is offered, and for whom it is offered (IV.19). So Augustine is able to include elements of ransoming victory and expiating sacrifice into the one mediatory work of Christ.[xvii]

Once again, these “objective elements” are accompanied by moral instruction. Augustine critiques the false mediation of sacred rites in pagan religion (IV.18). He shows how Christ’s purification of us undermines the pride of self-purification (IV.20). We are not able to reach eternal things on our own, but must go through the temporal means provided by the historic mission of the Son (IV.24). As Augustine explains, “it was proper for us to be purified in such a way that he who remained eternal should become for us ‘originated’ … and so provided us with a bridge to his eternity” (IV.24). The historic victory and sacrifice of Christ are the path humanity must follow to reach God. Thus the many aspects of the one mediatory mission of Christ serve a larger purpose. Yet this larger purpose is not yet developed in Book IV. So we must ask how the mission of the Son fits into this larger purpose.

            How does this book further the argument of Augustine’s De Trin? Specifically, how does the multifaceted mediation of Christ fit into the discussion of missions (Book II-IV) and the pastoral function of the work as a whole? This relationship can be illumined by Augustine’s understanding of the mediation of Christ as a means toward contemplation. It is as such a means that the book fits within the prior discussion of angels (Book III) and the ascent discussed in the later books. The clue that mediation is oriented towards contemplation is the relationship between the mediation of Christ and the mediation of angels.

            It is worth noting first how others have explained the place of Book IV. Edmund Hill argues that Book IV functions to fill out in concrete terms the mission of the son. Secondarily, it contrasts the mission of the Son with that of angels.[xviii] The strength of this interpretation is that it openly admits the oddity of Augustine’s exposition at this point as well as connects this book to the discussion of missions in Books II-IV. The weakness of Hill’s approach is that Augustine’s actual understanding of the mediation of Christ is turned into parenthesis, as it is only formally related to the larger argument. Furthermore, the subordination of the comparison with angels is misleading. As will be shown shortly, the relationship between Christ and angels is the key to understanding the place of Book IV within the work.

            Earl Muller offers an alternative interpretation of Book IV. Muller wisely relates the mediation of Christ to the final purpose of the book: the ascent of the soul to God. However, he characterizes the sacrifice of Christ as a necessary precondition for the ascent discussed in the later books. Christ makes us pure so that we may see God.[xix] The strength of Muller’s view is that he fits Christ’s mediation into the argument of the whole work, not just II-IV. But his weakness is treating sacrifice as independent precondition of contemplation instead of an internally-related means toward contemplation. This crucial difference will be explained by the following analysis.

            Hill rightly identifies the key passage for explaining the function of Book IV. After having described the mediation of Christ, Augustine states, “There you have what the Son of God has been sent for” (IV.25). This statement certainly explains the formal relationship of mediation to mission. But Augustine goes on in the same paragraph to explain the material relation as well:

Everything that has taken place in time in “originated” matters which have been produce from the eternal … has either been testimony to this mission or has been the actual mission of the Son of God… It was only fitting that when he through whom every creature was made became a creature himself, all creation should bear witness to him. Unless the one were proclaimed by the sending of the many, the one would not be held onto by the sending away or repudiation of the many… Incomparably greater things were made by the Son of God than the signs and portents which broke out to bear him witness … Yet in order for little men to believe … they had to be impressed and awestuck by these little things” (IV.25).

Here Augustine explains the positive relationship between angelic signs and Christ’s mediation. Both Christ and the angels are creaturely signs that point fallen rational creatures to God. The angels sent before are lesser versions of the greatest sign, the Incarnate Word. But the lesser and the greater both function toward the same end: to turn our eyes to the unseen God. Thus the mediation of Christ is not a precondition for contemplation, merely taking care of sin and death so we can get on with the business of contemplation. The mediation of Christ is the means toward contemplation. We look through Christ in order to seek God.

            This common function of angels and Christ as creaturely signs in our journey of ascent can be traced back through Book IV. In the section immediately preceding the above quote, Augustine sums up his argument against proud forms of philosophic ascent by stating: “we are incapable of grasping eternal things, and weighed down by the accumulated dirt of our sins … so we need purifying. But we could only be purified for adaptation to eternal things by temporal means” (IV.24). Here Augustine makes it clear how creaturely media are necessary for the ascent.

            Much earlier in the book, Augustine explicitly refers to angels as preparing for Christ’s coming by serving as signposts along our path to God:

This sacrament, this sacrifice, this high priest, this God, before he was sent and came … all the sacred and mysterious things that were shown to our fathers by angelic miracles … were likenesses of him, so that all creation might in some fashion utter the one who was to come and be the savior of all … And so it was fitting that at the beck and bidding of a compassionate God the many should themselves acclaim together the one who was to come … that we may be able to cling to the one, enjoy the one, and remain for ever one (IV.11).

So the one Christ and the many angels together signify the unseen God.

            One can now see what Augustine has in mind when at the end of Book III he speaks of angels “preparing his coming” (III.26). The angels are not merely offering a prophetic testimony to the coming Christ, but are participating in the process of mediation by which creaturely signs move the human toward God. Thus Book IV is far from an aside, filling out the details of Christ’s mediating work which prepares us for ascent. Rather, the mediation of Christ is an indispensable instrument for that ascent. It is only through a purifying faith in Christ’s flesh that we ascend to a contemplation of the sight of God.[xx] How we move through faith to contemplation remains to be developed. Augustine returns to the person and work of Christ in Book XIII in order to explain and commend this movement through knowledge to wisdom.

Through the Knowledge of Christ to the Wisdom of Christ (Book XIII)

            We saw in Book IV that Augustine employs numerous motifs to describe the mediation of Christ. We also saw that the mediation of Christ is oriented toward the contemplation of God. The temporal mission of the Son is our bridge to contemplate the eternal triune God. In Book XIII, Augustine shows us how to cross this bridge. He continues to incorporate a number of motifs, but now in more explicit connection to the contemplative purpose of Christ’s mediation.

            The proceeding analysis will follow the structure of Augustine’s own argument. Book XIII can be roughly divided into two parts: chapters two and three address the human problem and solution in general terms, while chapters four and five explain how Christ solves the problem in particular. Chapters one and six stand as bookends, placing the whole discussion in the context of Augustine’s distinction between knowledge and wisdom. It is this larger context that enables Augustine to employ so many different motifs in his description of the work of Christ.

            The distinction between knowledge and wisdom is in play throughout the De Trin. It emerges explicitly at the close of Book XII. In the opening chapter of Book XIII, Augustine illustrates the distinction via his exegesis of John 1:1-14. He notes that the first five verses speak of eternal Logos, the proper object of contemplation. This is the wisdom of God that constitutes true happiness. The remaining verses speak of the temporal mission of the Logos made flesh, of which we have knowledge by faith.

Logos : Eternal    :  Wisdom      : Contemplation

Flesh  : Temporal : Knowledge  : Faith

From God’s perspective, eternity is the starting point and time is entered for the sake of bringing us into eternity. But from the perspective of the human journey, the soul’s ascent to God begins with knowledge of temporal things and through them pursues a contemplative wisdom of the eternal triune God. With this distinction in mind, Augustine turns to our pursuit of happiness and how we can attain it through knowledge seeking wisdom.

            Like any adequate soteriology, Augustine frames the work of Christ in a general problem-solution structure. The problem is laid out in chapter two: we all want to be happy, yet we do not and cannot attain happiness. In conversation with Stoic philosophers, Augustine clarifies that happiness must be a moral category, for simply getting what we want does not produce genuine happiness. The true happiness we seek, whether we realize it or not, is characterized by a “sagacious, moderate, courageous and just mind” (XIII.9).

            Yet the search for happiness is a failure. First of all, “humankind is so thoroughly warped” that is does not search rightly (XIII.9). But even if we did seek the right kind of happiness, it would be cut short by death (XIII.10). So, in order to be truly happy, we must become immortal. Thus “God is the only source to be found of any good thing,” because he alone is immortal (XIII.10). The search for happiness entails the search for immorality. As Augustine argues, “All people then want to be happy; if they want something true, this necessarily means they want to be immortal. They cannot otherwise be happy… For a man to live happily, after all, he must live” (XIII.11).

            In the next two chapters, Augustine explains the manner by which God grants us immortality so that we can be truly happy in him. He begins by reconfiguring the common patristic formula that “the sons of men by nature can become the sons of God by grace and dwell in God, for it is in him alone and thanks to him alone that they can be happy, by sharing in his immorality” (XIII.12). Here Augustine affirms the classic theosis pattern of thinking to explain the purpose of the incarnation. However, he immediately adds that “it was to persuade us of this that the Son of God came to share in our mortality” (XIII.12, emphasis added). Thus the objective action of God also serves to persuade us into the happy life.

            Augustine ties these two aspects of the mediation of Christ together by reflection on the interplay of justice and power in the story of Christ. “By a kind of divine justice the human race was handed over to the power of the devil for the sin of the first man” (XIII.16). By his permissive will, God executes the justice of his law (XIII.16). As Augustine summarizes the predicament of justice, “if the commission of sins subjected man to the devil through the just wrath of God, then of course the remission of sins has delivered man from the devil through the kindly reconciliation of God” (XIII.16).

            God does not solve the problem by simply overcoming the devil through sheer force of power. Instead, God uses just means to overcome the devil’s stronghold on humanity (XIII.17). Thus we can see that power must follow justice and not precede it. Augustine shows how this not only frees us but also shows us how to live. He commends that we too should seek justice before power. Only if we want the right things will the power to attain them lead to true happiness. So the just action of God saves us both by freeing us from the devil and demonstrating to us how to live rightly.

            One can see clearly here how all three so-called “types of atonement theories” are in play for Augustine. He speaks eloquently of the victory of Christ over the devil: “In this act of redemption the blood of Christ was given for us as a kind of price, and when the devil took it he was not enriched by it but caught and bound by it, so that we might be disentangled from his toils” (XIII.19). He also speaks of Christ bearing the wrath of God: “Therefore shall we be saved from the wrath through him, from the wrath of God that is, which is nothing else but just retribution” (XIII.21). Finally, Augustine regards the historic work of Christ as one big object lesson that trains us for the happy life: “Let a man will to be sagacious, will to be brave, will to be moderate, will to be just, and by all means let him want the power to really manage these things” (XIII.17). The devil’s death-grip is overcome, the just wrath of God is executed, and we are shown how to live.

            Augustine goes on to list additional moral implications of the temporal mission of the Son. He notes how it teaches us how to worship rightly, live by grace, humble ourselves, and obey God (XIII.22). Augustine displays how a rightly-ordered life can flow from the proper knowledge of the story of Christ. One might get the impression that what really counts is the life-lessons gleaned from the story. But the soteriological significance of the work of Christ cannot be reduced to its moral influence, because the very logic of its moral implications rests on the assumption that justice was actually executed by Christ. Nevertheless, the soteriological significance of the work of Christ is truncated without its moral influence, for the very purpose of the temporal mission of the Son is to draw us into eternal enjoyment of God.

            Augustine concludes Book XIII by returning to the distinction between knowledge and wisdom. He states that “all these things that the Word made flesh did and suffered for us in time and space belong … to knowledge and not to wisdom. Insofar as he is Word, he is without time and without space, coeternal with the Father and wholly present everywhere; and if anyone can utter a true word about this … it will be a word of wisdom. So it is that the Word made flesh, which is Christ Jesus, has treasures both of wisdom and of knowledge” (XIII.24). The two natures of Christ thus correspond to the knowledge-wisdom polarity.[xxi] For Augustine, knowledge is not sought in one place and wisdom in another, for “it is one and the same person by whom deeds were carried out in time for us and for whom we are purified by faith in order that we may contemplate him unchangingly in eternity” (XIII.24). Augustine criticizes those who try to find eternal happiness “without the mediator” (XIII.24). The only sure path goes “through him straight toward him” (XIII.24). Through knowledge of Christ’s temporal work we are freed, forgiven and transformed so that we may attain the eternal wisdom of God.

            Augustine’s understanding of the journey through knowledge to wisdom enables him to weave together many different soteriological motifs. Themes of victory, wrath and moral influence are difficult to integrate into one another. But Augustine does not turn any of these into an over-arching soteriological construct into which the others must be subsumed. Rather, the over-arching soteriology is the movement of knowledge seeking wisdom. Salvation begins with God’s mission to us, which provides the temporal data of knowledge through which we can become wise in the eternal things of God. Thus, Christ’s primary function is to mediate the wisdom of God who is our happiness. All of his other achievements – the mediation of life, forgiveness and instruction – serve that ultimate end.

Conclusion: Beyond the Atonement Typology

            Augustine’s ability to transcend the standard atonement typology challenges its pedagogical usefulness. In the case of Augustine, the typology is historically misleading because it creates an expectation to find one of three models, when in fact all three are in play. If Augustine transcends the typology, then one may justifiably wonder whether other historical figures also break the mold.

            Furthermore, the standard typology is theologically reductionistic. It substitutes secondary problems and penultimate solutions for the primary problem and the ultimate solution. Once these secondary problems and penultimate solutions are abstracted from their larger soteriological context, they cannot help but compete with one another. Either the problem is death and the solution is victory, or the problem is guilt and the solution is expiation, or the problem is ignorance and the solution is moral influence. If any one of these problem-solution narratives is identified as the primary soteriological paradigm, then it will necessarily come into conceptual conflict with the others.

            Augustine shows us the better way. For him, the primary problem is unhappiness. We are cut off from the wisdom of God and do not love and enjoy him eternally. The ultimate solution is our participation in the eternal wisdom of God. In order to move from our sorry state into God’s wisdom, a number of obstacles must be removed. These obstacles include death, guilt, and ignorance. The historic mission of the Son overcomes these barriers by his victory, sacrifice and moral influence. Through knowledge of this temporal action in all its aspect we can come to contemplate the wisdom of God – our true happiness and ultimate end. Thus Augustine demonstrates to contemporary students and teachers of theology that the only way to overcome the mutually exclusive reductionism of our atonement typology is to perceive the larger journey which embraces the multifaceted mediation of Christ.




Augustine. The Trinity. The Works of Saint Augustine: A Translation for the 21st Century. Translated by Edmund Hill. Brooklyn: New City Press, 1991.

Aulen, Gustaf. Christus Victor: An Historical Study of the Three Main Types of the Idea of Atonement. Translated by A. G. Herber. Eugene, OR: Wipf & Stock Publishers, 2003.

Ayres, Lewis. “The Christological Context of Augustine’s De Trinitate XIII: Toward Relocating Books VIII-XV.” Studies in Patristic Christology. Edited by Thomas Finan and Vincent Twomey. Portland, OR: Four Courts Press, 1998. pp. 95-121.

Cavadini, John. “The Structure and Intention of Augustine’s De Trinitate.” Augustinian Studies 23 (1992) pp. 103-23.

Charry, Ellen T. By The Renewing of Your Minds: The Pastoral Function of Christian Doctrine. New York: Oxford University Press, 1997.

Daley, Brian E. “A Humble Mediator: The Distinctive Elements in Saint Augustine's Christology.” Word and Spirit 9 (1987) pp. 100-117.

Krueger, Arthur F. Synthesis of Sacrifice According to Saint Augustine: A Study in the Sacramentality of Sacrifice. Dissertationes ad Lauream 19. Mundelein, IL: Seminarii Sanctae Mariae ad Lacum, 1950.

Muller, Earl C. “Rhetorical and Theological Issues in the Structuring of Augustine’s De Trinitate,” Studia Patristica 27. Edited by Elizabeth A. Livingstone. Louvain: Peters, 1993. pp. 356-363.

Muller, Earl C. “The Priesthood of Christ in Book IV of the De trinitate.” Augustine: Presbyter Factus Sum. Edited by Joseph T. Lienhard, Earl C. Muller, and Roland J. Teske. New York: Peter Lang, 1993. pp. 135-49.

Ormerod, Neil. “Augustine’s De Trinitate and Lonergan’s Realms of Meaning.” Theological Studies 64:4 (Dec 2003) pp. 773-794.

Studer, Basil. “‘Sacramentum et exemplum’ chez Saint Augustin.” Studia Patrstica Vol. XVI. Berlin: Akademie, 1985. pp. 578-83.

[i] Gustaf Aulen, Christus Victor: An Historical Study of the Three Main Types of the Idea of Atonement (Translated by A. G. Herber. Eugene, OR: Wipf & Stock Publishers, 2003). Theodosius and Adolf Harnack had already begun the process of differentiating types of atonement thinking in the history of doctrine.

[ii] G. Aulen, Christus Victor, pp. 55, 58, 61, 67, 74.

[iii] Neil Ormerod, “Augustine’s De Trinitate and Lonergan’s Realms of Meaning,” Theological Studies 64:4 (Dec 2003) 775.

[iv] N. Ormerod, “Augustine’s De Trinitate and Lonergan” 775-776.

[v] Neil Ormerod’s intriguing attempt to organize the De Trin according to Lonergan’s four realms of meaning suffers from the same anachronistic obsession with method as a structural principle. See “Augustine’s De Trinitate and Lonergan” 773-794.

[vi] Edmund Hill, “Introduction,” Augustine, The Trinity in The Works of Saint Augustine: A Translation for the 21st Century (Brooklyn: New City Press, 1991) 26-27. See also E. Hill, The Mystery of the Trinity (Geoffrey Chapman, 1985) 81.

[vii] Edmund Hill, “Foreward to Books IX-XIV,” in Augustine, The Trinity 258.

[viii] Earl C. Muller, “Rhetorical and Theological Issues in the Structuring of Augustine’s De Trinitate,” in Studia Patristica 27, edited by Elizabeth A. Livingstone (Louvain: Peters, 1993) 356-363.

[ix] John Cavadini, “The Structure and Intention of Augustine’s De Trinitate,” Augustinian Studies 23 (1992) 103-23.

[x] See N. Ormerod, “Augustine’s De Trinitate and Lonergan” 779.

[xi] Augustine, The Trinity in The Works of Saint Augustine: A Translation for the 21st Century (Translated by Edmund Hill; Brooklyn: New City Press, 1991) p. 364, XIII.25. Hereafter cited in-text by book and paragraph number.

[xii] Lewis Ayres acknowledges the material parallel between Books IV and XIII. However, he studies Book IV only to substantiate his larger argument about the Christological context of Books VIII-XV. He does not analyze the two books in tandem or in order. See “The Christological Context of Augustine’s De Trinitate XIII: Toward Relocating Books VIII-XV” in Studies in Patristic Christology, edited by Thomas Finan and Vincent Twomey (Portland, OR: Four Courts Press, 1998) 95-121.

[xiii] E. Hill, “Introduction,” Augustine, The Trinity 27.

[xiv] Although she has not yet developed a full-scale structural analysis, Ellen Charry implies that the movement through scientia to sapientia characterizes the thought pattern of De Trin as a whole. See By The Renewing of Your Minds: The Pastoral Function of Christian Doctrine (New York: Oxford University Press, 1997) 146-48.

[xv] Basil Studer displays how Augustine makes use of these twin concepts throughout his work. See “‘Sacramentum et exemplum’ chez Saint Augustin in Studia Patrstica Vol. XVI (Berlin: Akademie, 1985) pp. 578-83.

[xvi] Brian Daley has conclusively argued that humility is a key concept for Augustine’s Christology throughout his corpus. See “A Humble Mediator: The Distinctive Elements in Saint Augustine's Christology.” Word and Spirit 9 (1987) 100-117.

[xvii] Arthur F. Krueger explores the category of sacrifice throughout Augustine’s entire corpus in Synthesis of Sacrifice According to Saint Augustine: A Study in the Sacramentality of Sacrifice Dissertationes ad Lauream 19 (Mundelein, IL: Seminarii Sanctae Mariae ad Lacum, 1950).

[xviii] Edmund Hill, “Introductory Essay on Book IV,” in Augustine, The Trinity 148.

[xix] Earl C. Muller, “The Priesthood of Christ in Book IV of the De trinitate,” in Augustine: Presbyter Factus Sum, edited by Joseph T. Lienhard, Earl C. Muller, and Roland J. Teske (New York: Peter Lang, 1993) 135-49.

[xx] Note how for Augustine purification is correlated with faith and contemplation with sight. Purification by faith is the temporal path to contemplation by sight in eternity. See IV.11, IV.16, IV.31.

[xxi] Lewis Ayres explores this correspondence in “The Christological Context of Augustine’s De Trinitate XIII: Toward Relocating Books VIII-XV” in Studies in Patristic Christology, edited by Thomas Finan and Vincent Twomey (Portland, OR: Four Courts Press, 1998) 95-121.