Notes Toward the Definition of Memory

D. C. Schindler

I. Modernity as Damnatio Memoriae

It is not uncommon for new readers of patristic theology to find themselves in a bit of confusion regarding Augustine’s characterization of the imago Trinitatis in the human soul: the powers of memory, intellect, and will—each of which, for Augustine, is the whole soul considered under a certain aspect of its relation to itself—image the Father, Son, and Spirit, three persons in one God. His account has been the most widely affirmed in the tradition among the many variations offered, both because it is inherently compelling and because it is illuminating in an especially fruitful way. Not only does the imago help us understand (to some extent) the unfathomable mystery of the Trinity, but the insight into the Trinity in turn casts a novel light on the powers of the soul, which opens dimensions in them that we have still scarcely begun to explore. The Son, as Logos, is very much like an act of the intellect; the light of the Son’s procession, in turn, allows us to see something in the human intellect that, for example, Aristotle did not, or in any event not very clearly, namely, that this act always necessarily coincides with the procession of a word, a procession that may bear some analogy to the begetting of a child. Similarly, the Spirit clearly reveals something of the dynamic character we associate with the will, and this association in turn deepens our understanding of the human will, allowing us to see it as connected essentially to love, that is, to the fruitful bond of union, and to gift. But here the confusion arises: What connection could there be between the Father and memory? What does fatherhood have to do with what seems to be nothing more than the capacity to record and retain previous experience? Perhaps this is simply where the analogy fails, as they all eventually must when dealing with a mystery that transcends all human understanding.


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