Michel René Barnes

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Michel René Barnes

Michel René Barnes is Associate Professor emeritus of Historical Theology at Marquette University in Milwaukee, Wisconsin.[1] He focuses on Latin and Greek Patristic Theology, in particular, Gregory of Nyssa, Augustine of Hippo, and pneumatological development in the early church[citation needed].


Michel Barnes attended St. John's College, Santa Fe, New Mexico, and earned his PhD under the direction of John Rist and Joanne McWilliam at the University of St. Michael's College, Toronto. He also holds an M. Div. and Th. M. from St. Michael's in Toronto.

Barnes lives in Milwaukee with his wife, Julia, and two of his three daughters.

Theological project[edit]

Barnes’s research first focused on fourth century Trinitarian theology on which he published several articles and the monograph, The Power of God: A Study of Gregory of Nyssa's Trinitarian Theology. He co-edited with Daniel H. Williams, a colleague and friend from St. Michael’s, Arianism After Arius: Essays on the Development of Fourth Century Trinitarian Conflicts. As of 2013 he was working on a monograph on the doctrine of the Holy Spirit in the early church -- "Jewish and Christian Pneumatologies from 200-200" is the working title. In 2014 he will finish that work and, during his sabbatical in the academic year of 2014-15 Barnes will write a monograph on Pre-Nicene Trinitarian theology.[citation needed].

Barnes wrote a paper on the narrative that developed from nineteenth-century scholar Theodore DeRégnon’s characterization of Eastern and Western Trinitarian theology as starting from distinction and unity, respectively.[2] DeRégnon had said that Western Trinitarian theology had emphasized God's oneness, while Eastern Trinitarian theology had emphasized his threeness. In the Harvard Theological Review Khaled Anatolios acknowledged that “The assertion of a substantive rift between Eastern and Western trinitarian theologies… is not found in either Hanson or Simonetti ... and its genealogy ... has been famously exposed by Michel Barnes.”[3] Matthew Drever also noted the attempt by Barnes, Ayres, and others to argue that many of the traditional categories for analyzing pre- and post-Nicene thought were inadequate.[4] This paper is probably Barnes's most influential publication to date.

Barnes proceeded, with Lewis Ayres in particular, to cast Pro-Nicene Trinitarian theologies (found in the East and West) as possessing a harmonious logic, as seen in the independent accounts of Gregory of Nyssa and Augustine of Hippo. He then focussed on two different, though connected, pursuits: the development of Latin Trinitarian theology in the third and early fourth centuries, and the development of pneumatology in the early church. His article, "Irenaeus' Trinitarian Theology", which was in press in 2008, covered these topics.

Collaboration with Lewis Ayres[edit]

Along with Lewis Ayres, professor of Catholic and historical theology in the University of Durham, and Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams, Barnes is part of a rereading of Augustine's trinitarian theology that contradicts the older, neoplatonic-centered account. In his 2007 doctoral dissertation, Keith Edward Johnson referred to his new reading as "New Canon" Augustine scholarship.[5] From a footnote in Johnson's dissertation (p. 108 n. 189), that name would appear to have been taken from a publication by Barnes; however, the bibliography does not provide further details. Barnes's and Ayres's work suggests that Augustine has been read primarily with a non-theological focus, and needs a theological or doctrinal re-reading. Some have expressed hope that their work will eventually result in a new theological biography of Augustine.[6] The basis of the New Canon reading of Augustine was worked out from 1995 to 2000, during which Ayres and Barnes conducted an almost daily common reading and discussion, via e-mail, of Augustine's trinitarian writings.

The mutuality of Barnes' and Ayres' partnership is evident from the following comments in their respective papers, "Remember you are Catholic" and "Rereading Augustine on the Trinity":

Barnes, 'Rereading Augustine on the Trinity', in Stephen Davis, Daniel Kendall, and Gerald O'Collins (eds.), "The Trinity" (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1999), p. 148n.4. Ayres, 'Remember you are Catholic: Augustine on the Unity of the Triune God', Journal of Early Christian Studies 8.1 (2000), p. 42
'Since 1995 my work on Augustine has been conducted in continuous conversation with Lewis Ayres (Trinity College, Dublin) regarding his work on parallel and overlapping themes. Our daily exchange of research and texts via email means that it is difficult to acknowledge all the points at which this detailed conversation has influenced both our accounts.' 'Since 1995 my work on Augustine has been conducted in continuous conversation with Michel Barnes and his work on parallel and overlapping themes. Our virtually daily exchange of research and texts via email means that it is difficult to acknowledge all the points at which this detailed conversation has influenced both our accounts, though I have tried to do so throughout the paper in particularly important cases.'


  1. ^ Marquette University Department of Theology Faculty Page
  2. ^ Michel Barnes, “De Régnon Reconsidered,” Augustinian Studies 26 (1995): 51-79.
  3. ^ Khaled Anatolios, “Yes and No: Reflections on Lewis Ayres, Nicaea and Its Legacy,” Harvard Theological Review 100 (2007): 153-58, here 153.
  4. ^ Matthew Drever, “The Self Before God? Rethinking Augustine's Trinitarian Thought,” Harvard Theological Review 100 (2007): 233-42
  5. ^ Keith Edward Johnson, A “Trinitarian” Theology of Religions? An Augustinian Assessment of Several Recent Proposals. Duke University, Doctoral Dissertation, 2007. "Rereading Augustine," pp. 63-110, is particularly dependent upon the new Barnes and Ayres insights.
  6. ^ "It is to be hoped that the doctrinal revisionist scholarship of Ayres, Barnes, Williams and others will yield a new theological biography of Augustine in the future." Jason Byassee, Praise Seeking Understanding: Reading the Psalms with Augustine. (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2007), 61, n.15.