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Descent and Ascent in Augustine's De Trinitate: Prayer as a Way of Being in the Trinity



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Borthwick, Kirsty Louise 


This thesis uses an Augustinian model of participation, derived from Augustine’s De Trinitate, to examine how human prayer participates in something of God’s own self and action. I argue that intercession is an especially helpful category for understanding the participatory shape of human prayer.

A number of recent scholars have commented on the roots of human prayer in the triune life. This study contributes an analysis of this idea using Augustine of Hippo’s De Trinitate. The text’s chiastic structure, in which the account of the descent of the Son and Holy Spirit (Books II-VII) enables the human person’s ascent to God (Books IX-XIV), results in a treatise in which Augustine maps a spiritual progression. In particular, he describes how the activity of the Son ‘for us’ and the Spirit ‘in us’ perfects our imaging of the Trinity, such that we are increasingly shaped to remember, understand and love God. This perfecting happens, Augustine argues, as we are found in Christ as members of the totus Christus.

In Part I, I offer broad introductions to both participation and prayer, with particular reference to Kathryn Tanner’s work on participation and Sarah Coakley’s work on desire. In Part II, this thesis then explores principles of prayer and participation in Augustine’s work with a particular focus on De Trinitate’s account of divine descent and human ascent, and consideration of Augustine’s broader interest in the concept of the totus Christus. Having discerned an Augustinian model of participation at the end of Part II, I use this in Part III to examine how human prayer might be described as an act of participation in God, indeed as a way of being in the Trinity, whose own way of being in creation - the divine missions - are themselves an act of divine intercession.





Davison, Andrew
McFarland, Ian


Augustine, Intercession, Participation, Prayer, Trinity


Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Awarding Institution

University of Cambridge