Augustine, the Image, and the Fall

I’ve been reading Keith E. Johnson’s fantastic book, Rethinking the Trinity and Religious Pluralism: An Augustinian Assessment, and I came across this quote from Augustine:

This Trinity of the mind is not really the image of God because the mind remembers and understands and loves itself, but because it is also able to remember and understand and love him by whom it was made (De trinitate 14.15).

Johnson notes that Augustine is affirming here the idea that the divine image is actualized only in the context of redemption. This, however, made me reflect on the fall a bit. If Augustine is right, that when God said, “Let us made man in our image,” then that image must reflect the “our” in that passage, and is therefore trinitarian (as opposed to Christological), then there is link between that point and the one made above. Satan, in other words, was right when he seduced Eve, telling her that eating the fruit would make them like God. This likeness is a mind remembering, understanding, and loving itself, because, in the life of God, he is perfect beauty (not to mention all that is prior to creation). What Satan left out was the fact that for creatures, this is a fallen reality. Being “like” God, in this sense, is not a good thing, but is turning in on oneself as the greatest good when that is not true of who you are. It is an attempt to grasp God’s inner-life without his goodness, truth, or beauty.

This is just some musing on this passage in Augustine. Any thoughts?


3 thoughts on “Augustine, the Image, and the Fall

  1. Nicely put. I like the idea that the serpent, though persuading towards disobedience, isn’t expressing a falsehood when it says “you will be like God.” Because it’s not our nature to be like God, even though we are made in the image of God. We are icons of deity — and yet we should not become deity itself! The icon is not to be worshiped as though the eye stopped at its surface.

    And yet I can’t help but think that if the serpent doesn’t lie, it misunderstands the being of God — because God is not deus in se incurvatus. Of God’s unending self-sufficiency, God reaches outward in relationship. We become, instead, the antithesis of God, a darkened mirror of the imago Dei. The endlessly self-insufficient, reaching forever outward to fill up our lack.

  2. Also: don’t miss the fact that, for Augustine, de Trinitate is about the unity of the being of God. And so it is right to call it the trinitarian image of God — because Trinity is the name of God, who appears as Father, Son and Spirit, but also remains one God acting in undivided deity. But it is more proper to understand Genesis as speaking of an image of the undivided totality of God, the image properly *of God*. It’s an important argument about the OT especially writing in the wake of Nicaea and Constantinople, in which we didn’t totally get over the notion that the Father is deity par excellence.

    (And from there, of course, it is necessary to say that after the incarnation we must understand the totality of God ab origine as consisting of all that we have seen in the actions of Father, Son and Spirit — because in changing in those ways God is not more or less than God has always been, though now in new ways.)

    So it’s fine to speak of the Christological image as well, but it means a different thing — Christ is God fulfilling the image of God, a creature that is no mere icon of deity, but is the perfection of our creaturely being in the presence of God. The perfect marriage of the human and divine lovers — and it’s my hunch that in using the vestigial imago Dei as a pedagogical tool, Augustine is aiming at the image of good humanity, in a sense very compatible with the Christological image. Teaching his audience to see themselves as good creatures of the Creator, and properly how.

  3. Just in itself, (I’m not familiar with the context), this statement by A can be read two different ways:

    1) The “mind” sometimes in the Bible, refers to our mere human mind or human ideas – as opposed to God’s. The trinity of the “mind” in this reading, is just a human construct; it is useful only if we go on to accept the good God behind it, perhaps the trinity not of our fallible human minds, but of our – probably trinitarian – God himself. This would fit with your idea that the Trinity is good. But it means nothingu – unless or until we are also accepting the goodness, the salvation, of God. And accept that with love. Beyond human understanding?

    2) On the other hand though? Another reading of this sentence – to be sure, taken by itself – would be that the “Trinity” is a construct of our mere fallible human minds. Whereas? God himself, might well be beyond the “Trinity” itself after all.

    What in other words, is the referant of the “it” we are to transcend. Is it the human mind … or the concept of Trinity itself?

    Most religious writings, the high theological style, have a double meaning.

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