Dissertation/Thesis Abstract

Re-evaluating Augustinian Fatalism through the Eastern and Western Distinction between God's Essence and Energies
by Plecnik, Stephen J., Ph.D., Marquette University, 2019, 340; 13896167
Abstract (Summary)

In this dissertation, I will examine the problem of theological fatalism in St. Augustine and, specifically, whether or not Augustine was philosophically justified in his belief that his views on divine grace and human freedom could be harmonized. As is well-known, beginning with his second response To Simplician (ca. 396) and continuing through his works against the semi-Pelagians (ca. 426–429), Augustine espoused the Pauline doctrine of all-inclusive grace: that the fallen will’s ability to accomplish the good is totally a function of God’s elective grace. What, then, does the fallen will do to work out its own salvation? There is the further issue of how to reconcile Augustine’s rather extreme emphasis on grace in his later works with the more balanced picture we receive in his sermones ad populum, written throughout his forty-year preaching career. In many of these sermons, even those written during the Pelagian controversy, Augustine is careful to leave space for both divine and human initiative in the process of our justification within the totus Christus, or ‘whole Christ.’ How we can understand Augustine in his role as doctor gratiae and as preacher of human freedom will be a major inquiry of this dissertation.

The most serious obstacle to moving forward on these problems has been and remains the essentialist interpretation of Augustine’s Trinitarian theology by most commentators. On their interpretation, Augustine thought that there were no real distinctions within the Trinity, with each of the three divine persons and their actions sharing in the absolute unity of the divine essence. Holding this interpretation not only does away with the distinctness of each of the persons, but also requires all of God’s different powers and attributes, including willing and foreknowing, to be coalesced into one another without distinction in the divine essence. God’s foreknowledge is thereby identified with God’s will, which necessarily leads to theological fatalism: God would have to will everything that He foreknows, and God would have to foreknow everything that He wills. Since God is omniscient, He wills everything that will happen, including the future willings of the fallen human will.

It cannot be denied that there are texts in the Augustinian corpus that seem to point to a reading of the Trinity as absolutely simple. But this study will endeavor to show that there are also other largely overlooked texts in On the Trinity, the Confessions, and his Commentaries on the Literal Interpretation of Genesis (among others) that argue for various distinctions within the Trinity to make sense of the relation between Creator and creature, and the differences between the divine processions of generation/spiration, and the act of creation. These texts will be shown to parallel very closely the position of the Eastern Orthodox Christian tradition, which consistently uses the real distinction between God’s essential being and energetic activities (also known as the essence-energy distinction) to avoid the problem of theological fatalism. This rich theological and philosophical tradition, from the time of the fourth-century Greek Fathers to the Byzantine tradition that followed, differs less with Augustine concerning the essentials of Trinitarian theology and its practical implications for solving the problem of making human freedom and divine grace compatible than has been hitherto thought.

Indexing (document details)
Advisor: Jones, John D.
Commitee: Min, Anselm K., Plested, Marcus, Tucker, Ericka
School: Marquette University
Department: Philosophy
School Location: United States -- Wisconsin
Source: DAI-A 80/11(E), Dissertation Abstracts International
Source Type: DISSERTATION
Subjects: Philosophy of religion, Philosophy
Keywords: Augustine, Energies, Essence, Fatalism, Free will, Liberty
Publication Number: 13896167
ISBN: 978-1-392-22673-5
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