David Skeel


This Symposium Article takes Adolf Berle's cue in several respects. Most importantly, it will look to Augustine for guidance in developing insights into the nature of the corporation—in particular, corporate personhood. Where Berle drew inspiration from The City of God, this Article looks to a different Augustinian masterpiece, The Trinity, which has played a pivotal role in Christians’ understanding of who God is. Christian theology, as brilliantly explicated in The Trinity, states that God consists of three different persons—the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit—but is a single divine being. This Article argues that corporate personhood has similar qualities and that the analogy is not accidental.

Part I explores the debate over corporate personhood that Citizens United and Hobby Lobby prompted. Both sides in the debate work from implausible concepts of the corporation. Conservatives characterize corporations as having rights but few responsibilities, whereas liberals believe they have responsibilities but few rights. Part II develops the Trinitarian concept of the corporation. As those who are familiar with the historical debate over corporate personhood will recognize, the Trinitarian concept of the corporation can be seen as combining attributes of each of the two most prominent traditional theories, one of which characterizes corporations as the aggregate of their individual shareholders, while the other sees them as a “real entity.” The distinction is that the Trinitarian concept insists that both theories are needed, rather than one or the other. After outlining a Trinitarian conception of the corporation, Part III explores its implications for a variety of issues, including: the personhood of “closely held” corporations, whether noncorporate entities have personhood, and whether a corporation can have a religious identity. The final section returns to Berle’s analysis to discuss the current debate over corporate political involvement.