Book Review…. Trinity Sunday Style

Perhaps it’s a cop out – I intended to launch my book reviews tomorrow and post something up about the Trinity and our interactions with God. Then I realized, knowledge of the Trinity or where to read up on the Three-One God isn’t exactly common place.

So, here are two books – De Trinitate by St. Augustine and On The Holy Spirit by Basil.

What are they?

Well, De Trinitate is Augustine’s defense/explanation of the Trinity. Of the two, it is the longer by more than somewhat. It is exhaustive in it’s scope, it truly looks at every place God shows up in the cannon and in some extra canonical texts. It takes those theophanies and weaves them into the tapestry of God’s revelation of God’s self as Trinity.

It’s pretty cool.

When he gets done with that he begins to explore his philosophy of the will and other analogues that could be used to get a foot hold on the idea of Trinity, but he ends up summarily dismissing them all.


I mean some of them were great ideas –  like comparing Father, Son, and Spirit to Memory, Reason, and Desire or parts of the ways in which we see like light, eyes, and mind. These were pretty profound and reasonable ways of understanding the Trinity. But he rejects them.

He does so, because as he turns the pages of the cannon, he already knows that rationally or logically explaining the Trinity will have limits, we can only get so close to saying the complete truth when talking about God.

The second book is very different. Instead of using the whole of scripture, Basil focuses in on the grammatical reality of our worship. The book could read like a grammar analysis of all the little bits of scripture that have come into use as part of liturgies and canticles and prayers.

In the end the equality of the three persons of the Trinity is defended both from a rational argument as well as from the basic principles of word use. Ultimately the words we use when speaking about God fall short.

However, neither of these really gets my gears going. Don’t get me wrong, I like both and use both and spend time referencing and trying to make sure I’m following their arguments.

Both are even reverent.

Still they aren’t my favorite works by these authors or my favorite work on the Trinity.

For that, I have to go to a short homily by a friend of Basil named Gregory, specifically Gregory of Nazianzus. Gregory’s Oration 20 sticks in my head because it centers in on the interaction with God as God reveals himself. When Augustine teaches about prayer in Confessions you get this same sense – that the only way we know God is where God teaches us, and where God teaches us to know him, we are able to love him all the more.

Nazianzus rewrites Plato to flip the meaning of his words. In the Timaeus, Plato said something like “God is difficult to know and impossible to describe”, and Nazianzus in setting out to describe God in his work claimed “God is impossible to know, and difficult to describe”. No one can know God fully, but we can with God’s help and a great deal of work begin to describe God.

Basil and Augustine both capture this idea very well in their works, but perhaps the best way to learn about the Trinity is to pray to the Trinity with one of their prayers found through out their books, or the prayer of that great Trinitarian defender St. Patrick.


About Sean Smith

Husband, Father, Pastor, Swimmer, Writer, Reader, and attempted Adventurer!
This entry was posted in Church, Non-Fiction in Review, Practices of Faith, Theology and Philosophy and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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