Trinitarian Plan
14 June 2016
Augustine's On the Trinity is a difficult read. Augustine was a subtle thinker, and so is a challenge to understand. However, we are also handicapped by our ignorance of the context into which Augustine sends his words. Sometimes he is responding to quite specialized Trinitarian issues presented to him by his opponents. Occasionally, our ignorance of the character of that opposition makes it difficult to understand precisely what Augustine is driving at, like listening to the answer to a question we have not heard. At other times, he is responding to common objections to the doctrine of the holy Trinity. These objections we understand well, either because we ourselves have struggled inwardly with these objections, or we have heard them made by others and have wondered how to respond.

Augustine is deeply concerned with the meaning of those texts of Scripture that describe the second person of the Trinity as being sent by His Father. Does His being sent by the Father imply that the Son is inferior to the Father? On the other hand, if the external works of the Trinity are indivisible, then the sending of the incarnation, by which the Son is born in time of the Virgin Mary, would be a sending of the holy Trinity: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. And since this is so, can it then be said that the Son sent Himself? This question sounds somewhat like the joke about the man who is his own grandfather. But it is no joke.

Augustine's answer is yes, the Son can be said to send Himself, but that this in no way nullifies the sending of the Father. Augustine, tied down to the divine revelation as he is, simply shows parallel examples in which both the Son sanctifies Himself while the Father also sanctifies Him. The incarnation of the Son in time is the eternal will of the Holy Trinity whose will is therefore fixed on the work of salvation which the Son carries out in the fullness of time. From eternity the holy Trinity planned the world's salvation. So there is no division but only unity within the Trinity's conversation, will, or act; and this unity focused on our need.

Rev. Dr. Scott R. Murray
Memorial Lutheran Church

Augustine of Hippo

"Perhaps some one may wish to drive us to say, that the Son is sent also by Himself, because the conception and childbirth of Mary is the working of the Trinity, by whose act of creating all things are created. And how, he will go on to ask, has the Father sent Him, if He sent Himself? To whom I answer first, by asking him to tell me, if he can, in what manner the Father has sanctified Him, if He hath sanctified Himself? For the same Lord says both; 'Do you say of him whom the Father sanctified and sent into the world, 'You are blaspheming,' because I said, 'I am the Son of God?' (Jn 10:36) while in another place He says, 'And for their sake I sanctify myself' (Jn 17:19). I ask, also, in what manner the Father delivered Him, if He delivered Himself? For the Apostle Paul says both: 'Who,' he says, 'spared not His own Son, but delivered Him up for us all' (Rm 8:32) while elsewhere he says of the Savior Himself, 'Who loved me, and delivered Himself for me' (Gal 2:20). He will reply, I suppose, if he has a right sense in these things, 'Because the will of the Father and the Son is one, and their working indivisible.' In like manner, then, let him understand the incarnation and nativity of the Virgin, through which the Son is understood as sent, to have been done by one and the same operation of the Father and of the Son indivisibly; the Holy Spirit certainly not being excluded, of whom it is expressly said, 'She was found with child by the Holy Spirit.'

"Perhaps our meaning will be more plainly unfolded, if we ask in what manner God sent His Son. The Father commanded that He should come, and the Son, complying with the command, came. Did He then request, or did He only suggest? But whichever of these it was, certainly it was done by a word, and the Word of God is the Son of God Himself. Therefore, since the Father sent Him by a word, His being sent was the work of both the Father and His Word; therefore the same Son was sent by the Father and the Son, because the Son Himself is the Word of the Father. For who would embrace so impious an opinion as to think the Father to have uttered a word in time, in order that the eternal Son might thereby be sent and might appear in the flesh in the fullness of time? But assuredly it was in that Word of God itself which was in the beginning with God and was God, namely, in the wisdom itself of God, apart from time, at what time that wisdom must appear in the flesh.

"Therefore, since without any commencement of time, the Word was in the beginning, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God, it was in the Word itself without any time, at what time the Word was to be made flesh and dwell among us (Jn 1:1-2, 14). And when this fullness of time had come, 'God sent His Son, made of a woman' (Gal 4:4), that is, made in time, that the Incarnate Word might appear to men. While it was in that Word Himself, apart from time, at what time this was to be done. For the order of times is in the eternal wisdom of God without time. Since, then, that the Son should appear in the flesh was wrought by both the Father and the Son, it is properly said that He who appeared in that flesh was sent, and that the Father who did not appear in it, sent Him; because those things which are transacted outwardly before the bodily eyes have their existence from the inward structure of the spiritual nature, and on that account are properly said to be sent."

Augustine, On the Trinity, 2.5
Psalm 32

Blessed is the one whose transgression is forgiven, whose sin is covered. Blessed is the man against whom the LORD counts no iniquity, and in whose spirit there is no deceit. For when I kept silent, my bones wasted away through my groaning all day long. For day and night your hand was heavy upon me; my strength was dried up as by the heat of summer.   I acknowledged my sin to you, and I did not cover my iniquity; I said, "I will confess my transgressions to the LORD," and you forgave the iniquity of my sin. Therefore let everyone who is godly offer prayer to you at a time when you may be found; surely in the rush of great waters, they shall not reach him. You are a hiding place for me; you preserve me from trouble; you surround me with shouts of deliverance.

I will instruct you and teach you in the way you should go; I will counsel you with my eye upon you. Be not like a horse or a mule, without understanding, which must be curbed with bit and bridle, or it will not stay near you. Many are the sorrows of the wicked, but steadfast love surrounds the one who trusts in the LORD. Be glad in the LORD, and rejoice, O righteous, and shout for joy, all you upright in heart! (ESV)
O Holy Trinity, You planned my soul's salvation from eternity. Help me to live in the peace and joy of this fact as I confess You: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit to the world. Amen.
For Leslie Roch, in thanksgiving to God for a recovery of health and strength
For Howard Smith, that the Lord would send His holy angels to watch over him in his recovery
For all those who are grieving, that they might be comforted by the word of God
Art: Durer, Albrecht  The Adoration of the Trinity (1515) 
Memorial Lutheran Church
© Scott Murray 2016
Memorial Lutheran Church, 5800 Westheimer Rd., Houston, TX 77057
Sent by in collaboration with
Constant Contact