[2.6.3] St Augustine’s Trinity – Human Soul Analogy

St Augustine (354-430 AD) in his work On the Trinity proposes a series of analogies to illustrate that the human (mind) is created on the image of God; and also to make the God-Trinity concept more accessible for the reader.
Augustine uses some of the faculties and functions of the human soul, like (see in [2.6.1]): Reason, Will, Memory, Understanding, Love.

Faculties and functions of Soul used in the Trinity analogy

Since in God-Trinity the three persons (Father, Son, Holy Spirit) are of the same essence, he is looking for similar structures with three parts and one essence in the human mind. He finds the following analogies, in an analysis which processing from the exterior to the interior of human cognition:

  • 1st: will, image received through sense perception, understanding
  • 2nd: will, object of thought, understanding
  • 3rd: self, love, understanding

The 1st analogy is has a severe shortcoming: the image received through sense perception depends on the exterior word, so is not internal enough to the Reason.
For the 2nd and 3rd analogy, the members have the same essence: they are all Reason, as presented in the OntoUML diagram below:

Augustine’s God-human soul analogies
TrinityMembers of TrinityExplanation
In GodFather, Son, HolySpiritIn Trinity, the three persons (Father, Son, Holy Spirit) are of the same essence of God.
2nd analogy in in ReasonWill, ObjectOfThought, UnderstandingThe memory presents the object of thought, (e.g. an image of an object, a mathematical theorem..), which is grasped by understanding. The will directs the attention of understanding towards the object of thought.
The problem with this analogy is that the presented relation is not eternal: the object of thought changes as the will changes.
3rd analogy
in Reason
SelfKnowledge, Love, Understanding The memory presents the image of self, (as an object of thought), which is grasped by understanding, self-knowledge. The love of self directs through the will the attention of understanding towards the image of self.
Since the love for self is unchanging, this analogy is stable and immortal, as the human soul containing it is immortal. Augustine thinks that this is the best analogy for God Trinity – human soul.
“But in these three, when the mind knows itself and loves itself, a trinity remains: the mind, love, and knowledge.”
“These three, therefore, are in a marvelous manner inseparable from another; and yet each of them is a substance, and all together are one substance or essence, while the terms themselves express a mutual relationship.”


First published: 06/06/2019

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