Augustine’s City of God, XIII: Finale, The “Image of the Trinity”

Jacques Lacan, Slavoj Zizek, and many other continental psychoanalysts have paid homage to the bishop of Hippo for his insight into the human psyche. Indeed, even Sigmund Freud’s triad psyche of the superego, ego, and id is owed directly to Augustine’s tripartite man: memory (superego), intellect (ego), and will (id). More recently David Brooks has gone as far as to say that Augustine is the smartest human being he has ever encountered. And that’s a position that most figures who have dealt with Augustine would concur with.

Throughout the City of God Augustine discusses the will, desire, and hearts of men. He gets at the “unconscious” will and its deep burden on the human condition. The unconscious, focusing on a primal scene (i.e. the Fall), be it patricide, fratricide (Cain and Abel; Romulus and Remus), pervasive guilt (the inability to do good and find happiness), some forgotten crime, etc., is a return of the psychological reality of Original Sin. Indeed, some scholars have gone as far as to say Freud’s triad psyche is a return to the transcendental register but by way of via negativa.

The Imago Trinitatis

Because Augustine understands humans to be creatures of desire, he fundamentally understands humans to be creatures of will (voluntas) where will is the hypostasis connecting the image of the Trinity together and tying body and soul, or heart and mind, together as well. We will what we want. We are what we will. Tied to Augustine’s anthropology, and seen throughout the City of God, man wills for happiness; peace; justice; security. But man fails miserably at these pursuits! Man is internally tormented as a result. His desire, unordered and unformed, crashes violently in its restless pursuit of contentment.

Augustine can be said to have been the first psychologist. (And since the soul is in the mind, Augustine being a psychologist of the soul is deeply tied to his being a psychologist according to the modern psychologists.) For it is in the human mind that Augustine locates the seat of the human person. The mind, Augustine argues, is the seat of the image of God (which is an image of the Trinity).

The mind, from Augustine’s perspective, is broken down into memory, intellect, and will. Within the psyche man also desires knowledge (via will and memory; intellect being the bridge between the se nosse and se cogitare). Understanding, which is the result of the intellect, is God the Son.  Will is the result of desire or love, which is God the Holy Spirit. Knowing, which is the result of memory, is God the Father. (See CCC 215-221 for the dogma of the Trinity in this formulation.)

Thus, in trying to understand the human person one must begin to understand the multiplicity and inherent plurality of the human being. Where a person is on their journey differs from person to person. Moreover, what one loves may also radically differ from person to person. While it is true that the things people love is done so in the pursuit of happiness, what they are trying to find that happiness in: carnal pleasures, books, a relationship with the world, etc. tells you much about the type of person you’re dealing with.

Apart from a magisterial work of theology, philosophy, history, hermeneutics, and cultural criticism, Augustine’s City of God is also one of the first attempts (along with Confessions) at understanding the human psyche. Therefore, many non-Catholics have, since the rise of psychoanalysis, been drawn to Augustine. As Slavoj Zizek has said of Augustine, he took the first steps at “inventing psychological interiority.” If all subsequent philosophy has been a footnote to Plato, Saint Augustine is not far behind in being a close second to most influential and consequential philosopher in Western history and undoubtedly the most influential theologian in Western history. Augustine’s influence on psychology, psycho-analysis, and the unconscious, are all well-documented even if contemporaries don’t agree with Augustine’s psychological prescription, they are all nevertheless indebted to his discovery of psychological interiority.

It is not a coincidence that the human person is made in the image of the Trinity and that the eternal rest of the soul is beholding the image of the Trinity in Heaven! From whence one came one shall return.


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  1. I’m pondering in my “counseling theory“ a discussion about the emergence of exteriority:

    If we can say that Freud was perhaps a beginning of the externalization, or the systemization of exteriority, the making empirical of what we could call maybe Continental philosophy, but the German idealisms at least since Kant…

    So Freud then could be sad to be a juncture, making of ground, so to speak.

    From there we have another Trinity which really kind of encompasses the battles that we’ve been having with science psychology and philosophy etc. and what is actually true. Like a kind of exploding diagram or something, in real time of the past hundred or so years:

    Freud, Adler, Jung

    These are the big three; Adler and young were associated with Freud’s psychoanalytic society and they both left because they didn’t agree with Freud’s dogmatic insistence of his kind of science

    Adler is the psychoanalyst that pretty much every type of social services comes out of. Any type of social services you think about nowadays goes back to Adler thinking that everyone deserves some sort of psychoanalytic counseling or some means to help them negotiate the world.

    Jung , Kind of in another direction, sees Freud’s idea of the ego the Ed and the super ego as too limited. Jung opens up the Freudian singularity in the other direction; if Adler opened it up to some kind of empirical social reality, then young opened it up to some sort of spiritual metaphysical social reality. If Freud was utterly about the individual manifesting it’s world, then Adler and young where the manifesting of this world and its corresponding directions.

    I’m sure I got a book in there. 😄


    1. Definitely some sort of cohesive history to be drawn upon probably extending all the way back to Plato and then through the Neoplatonists and stuff like that. Schooladtisism all that shit


  2. You know come to think of it, I don’t know if you had time to watch that Peterson video that I put on my post a couple days ago that you commented on.

    Basically he starts like at the beginning of time and then he goes through Egyptian mythology and he talks about how their mythology of God’s represents their conception of the state and any brings it into the formation of an idea of the self in the mind and the human being and government in et cetra…

    I mean it sounds really great; it makes a lot of sense.

    And actually I’m wondering if you’ve ever pondered things along these lines here:

    I just can’t shake the notion that he is drawing a kind of mythology out of thin air. I’m not really sure why it would make any sense to take a mythology of say Egypt, as Peterson does, about gods and the stories about their gods and then apply it to their social system as if that describes how people lived back then or how they conceived of themselves and the world.

    why should that be the case?

    It seems to me like a kind of arrogant presumption upon Peterson, at least, and people like him who would suppose that mythological systems are reflecting some actual substance of the reality of the situation that they are assumed to have arrived for.

    I mean think about our life right now our world. I think the assumption that goes into our world and our perception of our world and reality is that it’s progressed and it’s way more complex as a real system then say Egypt or any past civilization was.

    I am not really sure that that is the case.

    To me it sounds like people are saying like we have more pebbles to play with; like back then those people only had five pebbles. But now we have 50 pebbles. As though reality was not just as dynamic and just as filled for experience back then as it is now.

    Is that making any sense to you?

    For example, what does it say about a Christian today about our world? I think it says very little. And so I am pondering why a religion that is represented of ancient history such as Egypt, should say anything about what the reality was.

    Is that making any sense to you?

    Do you know of other authors that have considered this kind of strange overlaying of concepts?

    Liked by 1 person

    1. You have a lot in your comments with questions which will take time to parse out for a considered and considerate response. So if you don’t see it for a few days, don’t be alarmed.


      Liked by 1 person

  3. “Footnotes to Saint Augustine!”

    Thanks for another great post.

    In the interest of clarity and rhetorical I winder if this threefold needs two minor adjustments:

    “Understanding, which is the result of the intellect, is God the Son.  Desire, or love, which is the result of will, is God the Holy Spirit. Knowing, which is memory, is God the Father.”

    The first sentence is perfect. The second seems like a reversal of the terms, since will follows desire or love and not the converse. The third could use “is the result of” in order to sustain the parallel structure.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. You’re probably right. Or I should have just lifted from Augustine where he states this. LOL. So it’s amended with a link to the appropriate part of the Catholic Catechism which has this set in dogma.

      It’s one of the curiosities of the Catholic Church: The deep anthropological, psychological, and philosophical tradition which draws people to it; if they’re also willing to overlook some of its obvious institutional shortcomings. One of my former professors at Yale wrote a book “Augustine and the Cure of Souls.” Someday I’ll get to reading it.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I think this meaningful trinity equation is often overdetermined. (God knowledge; son understanding…) what I mean is that if indeed this equating is true , then people take it as proof of the truth of Christianity. As I’m sure Augustine agrees.

        Coincidentally , this is the same point I make in my latest post about Jordan Peterson’s argument in the debate (that I link to).

        My point is that such concordance just describes parallel discourses. One does not have to “prove” or “mean” or “reduce” the other. I could just as easily apply Augustine’s formula the dinner on my plate.

        If Psychology and Christianity are ways to speak about the same thing the the problem is not the Proof, but how that order is being mobilized.


  4. Hegel argues in the his Lectures on the Philosophy of History, maintains that ” though in all the mythologies invented by Error, traces of that origin and of those primitive true dogmas are supposed to be present and cognizable.” He also states, “The State is the Divine Idea as it exists on Earth. We have in it, therefore, the object of History in a more definite shape than before; that in which Freedom obtains objectivity, and lives in the enjoyment of this objectivity. For Law is the objectivity of Spirit; volition in its true form.”

    I have, since discovering Peterson by fellow Yale students asking me about his religious expositions (as I was regarded the student expert on Christian theology and philosophy owing to my background in classics and philosophy), always felt that his Jungianism is a product of his implicit Hegelianism and German Idealism (which I doubt he realizes he is an expositor of). Given his love of Jung, it is only natural, however, that Peterson is part of the German Idealist tradition from Schelling to Hegel to Jung; I’ve lectured before on this continuity in German idealist thought.

    Personally, I dislike Zizek a lot because I find him mired in his filthy Marxist reading of Hegel and the German Idealist tradition which doesn’t give credence to the whole impetus of the German Idealist project: it was an attempt to return to sacramentality, mythology, and enchantment (cf. Glenn Magee, “Hegel and the Hermetic Tradition” and George S. Williamson, “The Longing for Myth in Germany”). Zizek is also a liberal pretending to be a Marxist so I dislike him for that reason too. But it’d be interesting if Zizek — who is obviously better read than Peterson in philosophy — might bring up how a lot of Peterson’s broader claims fall in the German idealist tradition which, I have no doubt, Zizek is familiar with irrespective of how he twists it to conform to his materialism.

    Carl Schmitt, who is a major influence over me, and who was my interlocatur in dialogue with Augustine in my thesis at Yale, said that all major concepts of the political are derived from theology. This is what is called political theology in the academic discipline (which I’m involved in) where we trace the origin of political notions back to theology. (My commentary on Plato’s “Crito,” under review, deals with this in detail.)

    Schelling, in his “Introduction to the Philosophy of Mythology,” argues that mythological consciousness was the basis for the development of human consciousness and the gradual displacement of the old gods to the Rational God of Christianity was the culmination of human psychological evolution and why Christianity would never be displaced as the penultimate rational religion. Just because doltish retards like Sam Harris and Richard Dawkins and co. have never read any philosophy or theology simply means you should ignore them (and Bill Maher) whenever they discuss these issues because they seriously do not know what they’re talking about. If they just read Confessions from St. Augustine they’d learn that just about everything that they say about religion, and Christianity in particular, is dogmatically “wrong, wrong, flat earth wrong” to quote another idiot who I skewered in a book review.

    So I’d say to read Hegel’s Lectures on the Philosophy of History trans. J. Sibree and Schelling’s Introduction to the Philosophy of Mythology because they have the primordial beginnings of much of what Peterson has elaborated on in his lectures. Josephine Evetts-Secker’s “At Home in the Language of the Soul” and Michael Conforti’s “Field, Form and Fate: Patterns in Mind, Nature, & Psyche” also explore the role of mythology in much the same way that Peterson does.

    Personally, I think some of the beef with Peterson is: a) from rather shallow people who are upset that Peterson has become more famous than them as these ignorant people who have wasted away their lives in academia and tend to also have a very high opinion of themselves because they’re narcissists of the first order; b) Peterson’s admittedly poor understanding of postmodernism puts off many who are invested in the postmodern project and their entire understanding of Peterson comes from this scorn they have toward his understanding of PoMo instead of the many other things he deals with; c) that Peterson has escaped the suffocating confines of the academy to find success in the real market which makes many people in camp A and B envious of his success; d) that Peterson disturbs the peace of the politically correct and so must be vilified by people who are intellectually pathetic (like the writers at the NYT or New Yorker) who write the most silly things about him like he’s a favorite of the Alt-Right or a Nazi of which neither is true if anyone had intellectual honesty. At best, Peterson is, as he claims himself to be, a moderate liberal and a centrist. This is definitely true too; he is hardly a right-winger by any historical or traditional sense of the what the Political Right is about.

    Now this doesn’t get into my criticisms of Peterson, which I have a number, but an observation of mine from his critics which, in part, compelled me to write that defense of his religious beliefs. Peterson is obviously extremely well-read in Jung; it would serve him well to go back to antecedent influences on Jung like Hegel and Schelling who provided the framework for Jung to build from which Peterson has unconsciously inherited from his readings and wrestling with Jung. As for Christians really liking Peterson, this is problematic because Peterson is not wrestling with God, he is wrestling with Jung, who wrestled with his own psyche. This is why Peterson’s God-talk is quasi-orthodox and quasi-heretical; where he is superficially orthodox it’s because he has the water downed version of God as the Logos and embodying the Logos and sacrificial suffering and God as the greatest good in the hierarchy of goods to long after: None of which he has arrived from being a student of Christianity or the Christian tradition but from Jung. Where he is deeply heretical, by veering into neo-Gnosticism, is also from Jung, who, in wrestling his psyche, elaborated a Gnostic interpretation of man, God, and the psyche. Christians who gravitate to Peterson are starved and impoverished Christians (mostly in the Protestant world) who have no idea what Christianity is or its deep psychological roots and anthropology precisely because they are cut off from the two traditions of psychological Christianity: Catholicism and Eastern Orthodoxy; of which Catholics and Orthodox are simultaneously pleased with some of Peterson, but troubled by other aspects of him.

    My preference to liking some Peterson, while brushing away other sides, is largely because he says things that some of my favorite philosophers (Schelling and Hegel and co.) also discussed which no body ever reads. In a perfect world, Peterson would read Schelling and Hegel and realize he’s not unique (if he thinks he is unique) in what he’s presenting. It has a two-hundred year tradition to it; the notion of progressive development from ancient mythology is already all over Schelling and Hegel. So, as hitherto mentioned, you can go to them and the expositors of Jung that I also listed above.

    I hope this suffices given the complexity and the depth of your questions to which I’ve tried to answer to the best of my ability, knowledge, and honesty on the dense subject matter which I myself am involved in since the topics of psychological archetypes, mythology, and religious literary and psychological construction, were foundational to my chapter contribution to a forthcoming book on pedagogy.


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