Monthly Archives: January 2012

Protestantism: Denial of the Incarnation

Protestantism: Denial of the Incarnation

The Incarnation and the Eucharist are one and the same mystery, and they are accepted or are denied together. “You must eat my body and drink my blood or you have no life in you” says Jesus.  Many who followed Him left.  “This is a difficult teaching; who can follow it?”

To whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life!”

Does God work in the world, in the lowly things of creation?  Catholics accept that He did and does.  Protestants, in general, claim that they believe in the Incarnation, but deny that God works in the world.  Grace merely covers sin in a legal exchange; we are not truly renewed and made to be good.  Christ said “Take and eat, this is my Body,” but most say “this is a symbol; God isn’t really here.”

Whom do we follow?

  • Jesus, that abstract Man that makes you feel good about the fact that you are one of His chosen?  Not the Man that said “He that endures to the end will be saved.”
  • Jesus, who stands in legal exchange for us and we remain filth? Not Jesus who said “You must be perfect, as your Father in heaven is perfect.”
  • Jesus, who abolished the law? Not Jesus who said “I came not to abolish but to fulfill. Not a dot, not an iota will pass away.”
  • Jesus, who says it doesn’t matter what we do, as those things flow from faith but have no bearing on our salvation? Surely not Jesus who said “When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, he will sit on his throne in heavenly glory. All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate the people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats” on the basis of what they did and did not do.
  • Jesus, the man who said he offered us a mere symbol of the last supper, a communal meal to repeat when we wish? Not the Jesus who said “For my flesh is real food and my blood is real drink.  Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me, and I in them.”
  • Jesus, who said that we are justified by faith apart from works? Not Jesus who said “For I tell you that unless your righteousness surpasses that of the Pharisees and the teachers of the law, you will certainly not enter the kingdom of heaven.”

But why should one be surprised? Throughout history, the truth of God becoming man, really existing and working in this created world, really giving grace not in some abstract way but by His actual existence among us in a material, visible way., has been denied repeatedly.  It is the one heresy that never goes away, from the moment that “many of his disciples turned back and no longer followed him.”

Soon thereafter, Ignatius of Antioch would have to warn the Christians of this denial:

  • “Consider how contrary to the mind of God are the heterodox in regard to the grace of God which has come to us. They have no regard for charity, none for the widow, the orphan, the oppressed, none for the man in prison, the hungry or the thirsty. They abstain from the Eucharist and from prayer, because they do not admit that the Eucharist is the flesh of our Savior Jesus Christ, the flesh which suffered for our sins and which the Father, in His graciousness, raised from the dead.” –Letter to the Smyrnaeans“, paragraph 6. circa 80-110 A.D.

This was followed by the Arians, who denied Jesus was really God.  When this was resolved, Nestorianism rose to take its place, claiming the divine and human natures do not make up one person.  Heresies followed where the divine nature absorbed the human, then the human nature had no soul of its own, then it had a human soul but no separate will of its own. After all this was finally corrected through the Church, Icons were smashed, for although Christ was finally admitted to be a real Man as well as true God, no Image could represent Him.  Once this heresy was corrected, you no longer have Christ present in the Eucharist. Of course, with the usual exception of the Iconoclasm that often exists there, protestant will point at all the above as “obvious errors,” blind to their own adherence to simply one more form of the same thing: “This is a hard teaching. Who can accept it?”

Immanuel,  God with Us, is simply unacceptable to the human mind.  It was, no doubt, difficult even for the faithful, and Peter said not “I understand” but “to whom shall we go?”

Jesus said not “take and understand, take and comprehend,” but “take and eat.”

The recent video, but by no means recent phrase “I love Jesus, and hate religion” and related nonsense coincides with this perfectly. In other words, I accept the abstract Jesus, not the Incarnate one.  I accept the one that loves me from “out there,” not the one that is with me “always, even to the end of the age.” I love the abstract Jesus that lets me worship him based on my own feelings.  Not the Jesus who said “When you pray, pray like this.”  Who did not say “if you fast” but “when you fast,” and “when you bring your gift before the altar”…an altar is a place of sacrifice, and the only sacrifice acceptable to God is His Son on the cross: the Eucharist at the Mass is all He could have been referring to here.

The protestant reformation is often said to be about sola Scriptura or sola Fide, but these are erroneous assumptions. They are symptoms, they are signs. They are the coughing and wheezing of a body in poor health.  But they are not the original disease.  The sickness is denial of the Real Presence of Christ, presently in the Eucharist, but ultimately in Nazareth and on the Cross. No “God with Us,” no “Immanuel.”

A separate absurdity of those who deny “religion” is the fact that none seem to know what “religion” actually is.  This is worth examining at length, and so I will not do so here.  I will let a short “definition” suffice for now:

“Religion on its subjective side is essentially, but not exclusively, an affair of the will, the will to acknowledge by acts of homage man’s dependence on God. Objective religion comprises the acts of homage that are the effects of subjective religion, and also the various phenomena which are viewed as the manifestations of good will by the Deity. We may distinguish in objective religion a speculative and a practical part. The speculative part embraces the intellectual basis of religion, those concepts of God and man, and of man’s relation to God, which are the object of faith, whether natural or supernatural.  The practical part comprises the acts of homage whereby man acknowledges God’s dominion and seeks His help and friendship, and  the extraordinary religious experiences viewed by the worshippers as manifestations of Divine good will.”

Those who “hate religion” usually hate this last piece, “The practical part,” for, because of their abstract view of Christ and His salvation, versus the very real concrete view of one who truly accepts “Immanuel,” the practical, the this worldly, obviously disappears. Religion and the Incarnation.  The Eucharist and the Incarnation. Both or neither.  The Incarnate Son of God and the Eucharist (the same presence, Immanuel) or neither.

You cannot have Jesus without Religion.  You cannot have the Incarnation without the Eucharist. And if you do not, “you have no life (zoe, divine, eternal life) in you.”  Those are the words of Jesus, the one who “walked among us” and “is with us, even to the end of the age.”

Question 33. The Person of the Father

Question 33. The Person of the Father

Is the Father the Principle?

Is the person of the Father properly signified by this name “Father”?

Is “Father” in God said personally before it is said essentially?

Does it belong to the Father alone to be unbegotten?

Article 1. Whether it belongs to the Father to be the principle?

The word “principle” signifies only that whence another proceeds: since anything whence something proceeds in any way we call a principle; and conversely. As the Father then is the one whence another proceeds, it follows that the Father is a principle.

This principle is not to be understood in the way we speak of contingent being.  It is not one of “priority,” of being “temporally first,” or as “cause.”

We have spoken before of the difficulty in translation, as well as the fact that we often “think in words” that we know.  Thomas speaks in this article to the fact that:

‘The Greeks use the words “cause” and “principle” indifferently, when speaking of God; whereas the Latin Doctors do not use the word “cause,” but only “principle.” The reason is because “principle” is a wider term than “cause”; as “cause” is more common than “element”…The wider a term is, the more suitable it is to use as regards God , because the more special terms are, the more they determine the mode adapted to the creature.’

As always, we acknowledge the divine simplicity as well as the complexity that we must use to understand it.  We always speak of God in terms of created things, as is natural to use as contingent beings living in time.  But we must recognize this fact and carefully consider the terms we use, as well as their changed meanings, when speaking of the things of God.

“The word principle, as regards its derivation, does not signify priority, but origin.” We likewise say that God is the explanation for His own being, but we cannot say He is the “cause” of His being, for He has no “cause.”

Article 2. Whether this name “Father” is properly the name of a divine person?

“We need to understand what Thomas is aiming at here.  His purpose is precisely to address the Language of Scripture…as a name, Father is neither an image nor a metaphor but a name which properly applies to the divine Person.  It signifies a ‘perfection’ in God.” (The Trinitarian Theology of St. Thomas Aquinas, Giles Emery, OP)

Thomas says that “The proper name of any person signifies that whereby the person is distinguished from all other persons”… it is paternity which distinguishes the person of the Father from all other persons. Hence this name “Father,” whereby paternity is signified, is the proper name of the person of the Father.

“Among us relation is not a subsisting person. So this name “father” among us does not signify a person, but the relation of a person.“ My earthly father is not a person by way of him being my father, but he is and was a person apart from my existence.  In fact, part of natural generation is my separateness from my father.  I will still be me even when my father is gone.  The relation of father and son is dependent on the other, but not the very existence of the person.  In God, however, one in Being, this relation itself constitutes the Person.

The following may seem difficult, but deserve reflection:

  • The divine Word is something subsistent in the divine nature; and hence He is properly and not metaphorically called Son, and His principle is called Father.
  • The terms “generation” and “paternity” like the other terms properly applied to God, are said of God before creatures as regards the thing signified, but not as regards the mode of signification
  • Generation receives its species from the term which is the form of the thing generated; and the nearer it is to the form of the generator, the truer and more perfect is the generation
  • The very fact that in the divine generation the form of the Begetter and Begotten is numerically the same, whereas in creatures it is not numerically, but only specifically, the same, shows that generation, and consequently paternity, is applied to God before creatures.

Article 3. Whether this name “Father” is applied to God, firstly as a personal name?

It is mentioned in the first objection that: We say “Our Father” to the whole Trinity.

This is true, but is not the personal (what makes the Father to be Father) way of speaking.  We may for a moment reflect on this, however.  One should notice that Jesus never calls the Father “ours” when including Himself.  We are speaking of relation here, as it pertains to the Persons in the Trinity.  Christ is Son by nature, and we are sons by adoption and grace.

He clearly says  ‘I am returning to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.’ When Jesus does use the words “Our Father,” He says “when YOU pray, pray like this.” Clearly, then, the created relation of man to the God and the relation of the Son to the Father are simply of two different realms.  We must never neglect to remember this.

St. Thomas gives his answer to the objections by reflecting on priority, not as we know things, but as they are:

“The eternal comes before the temporal. But God is the Father of the Son from eternity; while He is the Father of the creature in time. Therefore paternity in God is taken in a personal sense as regards the Son, before it is so taken as regards the creature…A name is applied to that wherein is perfectly contained its whole signification, before it is applied to that which only partially contains it…all imperfect things are taken from perfect things.

I spoke a moment ago of God’s relation to man being different than the Father’s relation to the Son (and the Holy Spirit).  But Thomas actually lists several ways that creatures are related to God.  (In fact, God is not “really” related to creatures at all, and that can be a discussion for another time, though it certainly has its implications here):

  • God is called the Father of some creatures, by reason only of a trace, for instance of irrational creatures
  • Of some, namely, the rational creature (He is the Father), by reason of the likeness of His image,
  • Of others He is the Father by similitude of grace, and these are also called adoptive sons, as ordained to the heritage of eternal glory by the gift of grace which they have received
  • Lastly, He is the Father of others by similitude of glory, forasmuch as they have obtained possession of the heritage of glory

Article 4. Whether it is proper to the Father to be unbegotten?

Because of the importance of this article (they are all important, but this one must be pondered at length) I will let Thomas own words be placed here at greater length than in other of my summations:

“As in creatures there exist a first and a secondary principle, so also in the divine Persons, in Whom there is no before or after, is formed the principle not from a principle, Who is the Father; and the principle from a principle, Who is the Son.”

Now in things created a first principle is known in two ways; in one way as the first “principle,” by reason of its having a relation to what proceeds from itself; in another way, inasmuch as it is a “first” principle by reason of its not being from another. Thus therefore the Father is known both by paternity and by common spiration, as regards the persons proceeding from Himself. But as the principle, not from a principle He is known by the fact that He is not from another; and this belongs to the property of innascibility, signified by this word “unbegotten.”

Innascibility, spoken of in the preceding question (32) is not a relation, and does not constitute a person. Nevertheless, it can be said to be a property of the Father, for we know Him as, again, the principle not from a principle.

Question 32. The knowledge of the divine persons

Question 32. The knowledge of the divine persons

  1. Can the divine persons be known by natural reason?
  2. Are notions to be attributed to the divine persons?
  3. The number of the notions
  4. May we lawfully have various contrary opinions of these notions?

Article 1. Whether the trinity of the divine persons can be known by natural reason?

The answer is no, and we may go back to the second Question of the Summa, The Existence of God.

The existence of God is first of all not self-evident.  Thomas here differs from such men as St. Anselm, who thought that the existence of God was self-evident, merely by understanding what we meant when we say the name God.

Probably the single most famous “proof” in all of philosophy is refuted if the topic of our discussion is legitimate.  In his Proslogion, St. Anselm lays out the following argument for the existence of God:

“And certainly that than which a greater cannot be imagined cannot be in the understanding alone. For if it is at least in the understanding alone, it can be imagined to be in reality too, which is greater. Therefore if that than which a greater cannot be imagined is in the understanding alone, that very thing than which a greater cannot be imagined is something than which a greater can be imagined. But certainly this cannot be. There exists, therefore, beyond doubt something than which a greater cannot be imagined, both in the understanding and in reality.”

St. Thomas, of course, rejects this “proof” of St. Anselm in his Summa Theologica, in Question 2:

“Granted that everyone understands that by this word “God” is signified something than which nothing greater can be thought, nevertheless, it does not therefore follow that he understands that what the word signifies exists actually, but only that it exists mentally. Nor can it be argued that it actually exists, unless it be admitted that there actually exists something than which nothing greater can be thought; and this precisely is not admitted by those who hold that God does not exist.”

The problem is basically this: to ask the question “is it?” the same as to ask the question “what is it?” Or is one a question of concept and the other a question of judgment?  For to say what something is, according to Aristotelian logic, is the understand an essence, but this is not the same thing as to affirm the existence of that essence.

Of course, Thomas does believe that we can prove the existence of God from reason alone, but for Thomas, we know of His existence from His effects. We reason from creatures and their contingency back to a necessary being on who’s being the contingent beings depend.

In article 2 of Question 2, Thomas states explicitly how we come to know God:

“Demonstration can be made in two ways: One is through the cause, and is called “a priori,” and this is to argue from what is prior absolutely. The other is through the effect, and is called a demonstration “a posteriori”; this is to argue from what is prior relatively only to us. When an effect is better known to us than its cause, from the effect we proceed to the knowledge of the cause. And from every effect the existence of its proper cause can be demonstrated, so long as its effects are better known to us; because since every effect depends upon its cause, if the effect exists, the cause must pre-exist. Hence the existence of God, in so far as it is not self-evident to us, can be demonstrated from those of His effects which are known to us.”

Because of Thomas’ strict adherence to this truth, he can show that we cannot know of the existence of the Trinity apart from revelation.

“Man cannot obtain the knowledge of God by natural reason except from creatures. Now creatures lead us to the knowledge of God, as effects do to their cause. Accordingly, by natural reason we can know of God that only which of necessity belongs to Him as the principle of things… Now, the creative power of God is common to the whole Trinity; and hence it belongs to the unity of the essence, and not to the distinction of the persons. Therefore, by natural reason we can know what belongs to the unity of the essence, but not what belongs to the distinction of the persons.”

The very proof we can offer for the existence of God thereby excludes our “proof” from reason of the existence of the Trinity.  We know contingent being has a cause, and this cause we call God.  We cannot, however, derive from this an understanding of those things that go on within this transcendent being.

Thomas goes on to show the errors of those who try to prove the Trinity from reason alone. In this article, he states that “we must not attempt to prove what is of faith, except by authority alone, to those who receive the authority; while as regards others it suffices to prove that what faith teaches is not impossible.”

In the Summa Contra Gentiles, he made this statement even more emphatically. Stating that some truths can certainly be defended by reason, that is, it can be shown that they are not contrary to reason, he goes on to say:

“The sole way to overcome an adversary of divine truth is from the authority of Scripture—an authority divinely confirmed by miracles. For that which is above the human reason we believe only because God has revealed it. Nevertheless, there are certain likely arguments that should be brought forth in order to make divine truth known. This should be done for the training and consolation of the faithful, and not with any idea of refuting those who are adversaries. For the very inadequacy of the arguments would rather strengthen them in their error, since they would imagine that our acceptance of the truth of faith was based on such weak arguments. (SCG Book I, Chapter 9)”

Article 2. Whether there are notions in God?

Objection 1. It would seem that in God there are no notions. For Dionysius says (Div. Nom. i): “We must not dare to say anything of God but what is taught to us by the Holy Scripture.” But Holy Scripture does not say anything concerning notions. Therefore there are none in God.

Thomas answers this charge, which seems to be contrary to the Divine simplicity, by saying that “he use of concrete and abstract names in God is not in any way repugnant to the divine simplicity; forasmuch as we always name a thing as we understand it… our human intellect apprehends and names divine things, according to its own mode…we use abstract terms to signify simple forms; and to signify subsistent things we use concrete terms.”

We are not, then, adding something extraneous to the divine simplicity, but are seeking to understand in the only way we can.  God is simple, but to us, we have to take in this simplicity in a multiplicity of ways.  Therefore, we understand God in diverse manners:

“To those who ask: ‘Whereby are They one God? and whereby are They three persons?’ as we answer that They are one in essence or deity; so there must also be some abstract terms whereby we may answer that the persons are distinguished; and these are the properties or notions signified by an abstract term, as paternity and filiation. Therefore the divine essence is signified as ‘What’; and the person as ‘Who’; and the property as ‘Whereby.’”

These notional acts belong to the persons.

Article 3. Whether there are five notions?

There are Five notions in God:

  • “innascibility,”
  • “paternity,”
  • “filiation,”
  • “common spiration” and
  • “procession.”

Of these only four are relations, for “innascibility” is not a relation.

Three are personal notions, that is, they  constitute a persons:

  • “paternity,”
  • “filiation,” and
  • “procession.”

“Common spiration” and “innascibility” are called notions of Persons, as Thomas will explain in later Questions.

From this, paternity is seen to belong exclusively to the Father.  He is not, however, “paternity” but Father. To the Son, likewise, belongs filiation, but He is not filiation, but rather, He is Son. Remember again that these notions are that whereby some Person is what they are, but it is not the relation itself.

Article 4. Whether it is lawful to have various contrary opinions of notions?

“The notions are not articles of faith. Therefore different opinions of the notions are permissible.”

A thing is of faith, indirectly, if the denial of it involves as a consequence something against faith.  As long as this does not occur in contrary opinions of the notions, or in anything else of the faith, of course, then it is permissible to disagree.  However, if and when the Church makes a dogmatic statement on this or any other teaching it, of course, then becomes no longer permissible.

Question 31.The unity or plurality in God

In four Articles, the following are addressed:

  1. The word “Trinity”
  2. Can we say that the Son is other than the Father?
  3. Can an exclusive term, which seems to exclude otherness, be joined to an essential name in God?
  4. Can it be joined to a personal term?

Article 1. Whether there is trinity in God?

“The name ‘Trinity’ in God signifies the determinate number of persons. And so the plurality of persons in God requires that we should use the word trinity; because what is indeterminately signified by plurality, is signified by trinity in a determinate manner.”

It is the very idea of person that makes a trinitarian monotheism possible.  A clear understanding of what it means to say “person” is necessary to avoid the errors of Sabellius and Arius.

Each of these heresies viewed the processions as something that happened “as if in the world” rather than as something transcendent.  Sabellius viewed the procession of the Son, for instance, as being one of “being sent” in the world, and the truth of the Son’s separate existence was for him dependent on the Son’s mission in the world.  This is what we call modalism. Arius, rather, saw the procession as a kind of creation, a coming forth, viewed in the way we view change in the world.  For him the son is but “there was a time when he was not.”

Thomas’ understanding of the person, as relation, and this from the processions in the one being, leads us to understand (not comprehend) that God can be one and triune.

The [most] important points for extended reflection, besides Thomas’ sed contra given above, are a few lines from his replies to the objections:

  • In the strict meaning of the term (Trinity) it rather signifies the number of persons of one essence…Yet it does not mean the relations themselves of the Persons, but rather the number of persons related to each other;
  • Two things are implied in a collective term, plurality of the “supposita,” and a unity of some kind of order…In the first sense, this word “trinity” is like other collective words; but in the second sense it differs from them, because in the divine Trinity not only is there unity of order, but also with this there is unity of essence.
  • In God there is not triplicity, but Trinity (understanding this is THE KEY to contemplating the Triune God)

Article 2. Whether the Son is other than the Father?

“Heresy arises from words wrongly used, when we speak of the Trinity we must proceed with care and with befitting modesty.” We should, in all things we do, choose our words carefully.  Part of good communication is to clearly state to the other what we wish to convey.  Psychologically, much of our thinking is actually done “in words,” meaning that we contemplate things not in just some ephemeral fashion but often by thinking about things through the words we know and not merely the concepts.

All of this matters because it can affect the clearness or lack thereof in our thinking.  In few places does the use of words, and the clear consideration of exactly what they mean, become more important than in discussing the highest things in revealed truth.

“Now, in treating of the Trinity, we must beware of two opposite errors, and proceed cautiously between them–namely, the error of Arius, who placed a Trinity of substance with the Trinity of persons; and the error of Sabellius, who placed unity of person with the unity of essence.”

Because of this, Thomas will give us many terms that we must, for clarity, avoid when speaking of the trinity.

  • We must shun the term “singularity,” lest we take away the communicability of the divine essence.
  • We must avoid the adjective “only” [unici] lest we take away the number of persons.
  • We exclude from God the idea of singularity or uniqueness.
  • We must shun the use of the terms diversity and difference in God, lest we take away the unity of essence: we may, however, use the term “distinction” on account of the relative opposition.
  • We avoid the word “confused;” The word “solitary” is also to be avoided.

Thomas, however, realizes that orthodox teachers had used these words in orthodox writings, and says, for example, that “whenever we find terms of diversity or difference of Persons used in an authentic work, these terms of “diversity” or “difference” are taken to mean distinction.” As with all things in the development of our understanding of doctrine, it is with time and reflection that clarity comes more and more to the front. As the Church’s understanding of the great mysteries increases through the ages, more and more care will be taken in what statements we make.

A few excerpts deserve extra reflection

  • We can properly say that “the Son is other than the Father,” because He is another “suppositum” of the divine nature, as He is another person and another hypostasis.
  • There is a distinct substance in the sense of hypostasis or person. But diversity requires a distinct substance in the sense of essence. Thus we cannot say that the Son is diverse from the Father, although He is another.
  • There is one form in God, as appears from the text, “Who, when He was in the form of God” (Philippians 2:6).
  • Because in God distinction is by the persons, and not by the essence, we say that the Father is other than the Son, but not something else; while conversely we say that they are one thing, but not one person.

Article 3. Whether the exclusive word “alone” should be added to the essential term in God?

Once again, clear distinctions in terms, as well as a solid grasp on Aristotelian logic (or rather, logic; there is, in reality, no Aristotelian logic versus Kantian logic versus Matt Menkingian logic; things either conform to reality or they do not) are needed, and Thomas takes time here to refresh the memory of those students who have stuck with him thus far.

“This term “alone” can be taken as a categorematical term, or as a syncategorematical term. A categorematical term is one which ascribes absolutely its meaning to a given “suppositum”… If the term “alone” is taken in this sense, it cannot in any way be joined to any term in God… A syncategorematical term imports the order of the predicate to the subject… when we say, “Socrates alone writes,” we do not mean that Socrates is solitary, but that he has no companion in writing, though many others may be with him. In this way nothing prevents the term “alone” being joined to any essential term in God.”

The issue brought up in the first objection was that “he is alone who is not with another,” and that therefore it should not be said of God that He is alone, because of the “multitude” of persons.  This, of course, confusions what is being stated of God in one being, one essence, and in speaking of God the Father or God the Son or God the Holy Spirit.  Thomas answers that

  • “it is not properly said that the Father is God alone, or the Trinity is God alone, unless some implied meaning be assumed in the predicate, as, for instance, “The Trinity is God Who alone is God.” In that sense it can be true to say that the Father is that God Who alone is God, if the relative be referred to the predicate, and not to the “suppositum.”
  • For this proposition, “God alone is Father,” can mean two things, because the word “Father” can signify the person of the Father; and then it is true; for no man is that person: or it can signify that relation only; and thus it is false, because the relation of paternity is found also in others, though not in a univocal sense.

To some this seems so much technical jargon that one like Martin Luther would call Thomas the worst chatterbox of the Scholastics.  But if we are truly to contemplate God, to “seek His face” and “know the Truth,” such distinctions cannot be avoided.  Knowing God is more than a feeling; it requires a labor of love.

Article 4. Whether an exclusive diction can be joined to the personal term?

In the third objection to this article, we read that ‘an exclusive diction does not exclude what enters into the concept of the term to which it is joined. Hence it does not exclude the part, nor the universal; for it does not follow that if we say “Socrates alone is white,” that therefore “his hand is not white,” or that “man is not white.”’

Here, we return to the categorematical problem of the last article.  Remember that Thomas is seeking to defend and to unpack one of the most difficult mysteries of our faith: God is One and God is Triune.  There are three Persons, yet we are not polytheists.  We Worship one God, and we may pray to God the Father, or God the Son, or God the Holy Spirit.

Thomas answers that “When we say, “The Father alone is God,” such a proposition can be taken in several senses. If “alone” means solitude in the Father, it is false in a categorematical sense; but if taken in a syncategorematical sense it can again be understood in several ways.”

I will not list the ways here, but basically, we have to understand what we are predicating with the word “alone.”  Whenever Scripture speaks, for example, of God the Father, or of simply God, we cannot impose a different predication than the intended meaning of the passage.

A similar example occurs when Jesus says “The Father and I are one” or when Jesus says “The Father is greater than me.”  We must see that the I/Me being spoken of in each passage, to avoid a contradiction, must be somehow distinct.  The Father is greater than “me” when “me” is used speaking of the “man” Christ Jesus.  The Father and I are one is true when “I” refers to the divine Person, the second Person in the Trinity.

Likewise, we must be discerning when terms like alone are used to speak of the Father, or of God, or anything else. Again, clarity is needed to avoid heresy. Thomas again refers to uses of the word “alone” in writings of the Fathers of the Church, etc.

We reflect again on a few lines from Thomas’ replies to objections:

  • When we say, “Thee the only true God,” we do not understand it as referring to the person of the Father, but to the whole Trinity.
  • The exclusive diction does not exclude what enters into the concept of the term to which it is adjoined, if they do not differ in “suppositum,” as part and universal. But the Son differs in “suppositum” from the Father; and so there is no parity.


St. Augustine, de Trinitate, Book III

“…while yet I cannot resist my brethren when they exact of me, by that law by which I am made their servant, that I should minister above all to their praiseworthy studies in Christ by my tongue and by my pen, of which two yoked together in me, Love is the charioteer; and while I myself confess that I have by writing learned many things which I did not know.”

Writing continues to be, for Augustine, a pastoral project. As mentioned before, many would rather simply contemplate God, and this is indeed what we are called to do.  It is, as in the story of Martha and Mary, “the better part.” It is the “one thing necessary.”

Nevertheless, on earth we are called to love not only God but our neighbor.  It is hard to imagine a way in which we could love our neighbor more than by bringing them to the truth or, if they are there, confirming them in it, so that they may know the truth and it may set them free, both now and eternally.  We not only wish to know God, but to serve him, and Augustine, as pastor and bishop, continues to fulfill this.

Serving God, however, always has its rewards, although they certainly need not be temporal.  Here, however, Augustine notes that he learns much through his writing.  In being called again to the active life, he is not turned away from the contemplative. Indeed, we can only share the fruits of our contemplation after we have done the contemplating.  Teaching, as so many involved in such work will attest, is a great means of learning. And a bishop is a teacher.  He is arguably first a teacher, and then a sanctifier, and only then and because of these first two, a governor.  He is to follow his exemplar, who is Christ, as prophet, priest, and king.  He is to teach, to sanctify, and to govern.

Let us return, however, to the teaching of de Trinitate itself. Augustine had posed three questions in Book II, Chapter 3.  After a brief recapitulation, he proceeds here to formulate a response to the second of those questions…

“Let us, then, continue our inquiry now in order. ..the second head in that division the question occurred, whether the creature was formed for that work only, wherein God, in such way as He then judged it to be fitting, might be manifested to human sight; or whether angels, who already existed, were so sent as to speak in the person of God, assuming a corporeal appearance from the corporeal creature for the purpose of their ministry; or else changing and turning their own body itself, to which they are not subject, but govern it as subject to themselves, into whatever forms they would, that were appropriate and fit for their actions, according to the power given to them by the Creator.”

Augustine makes the point that there will be mystery in the exact “how” of God and His messengers.  Did the angels “assume” (and by this he does not imply a true incarnation) a matter that did not pre-exist so as to manifest themselves to man?  Or rather, did they assume (as in take over) pre-existing matter to do likewise? Certainly, it could have been both.  Perhaps “the three” that visited Abraham were created simply for these meetings, and then disappeared later, whereas, at the burning bush, a preexisting bush was set aflame yet was not consumed.

Whatever they (the angels, His messengers) did, they did with power from God, as authorized and derived from Him.  God is always the cause, at least in the sense of being the cause of something’s existence as such.  God is the primary mover, and nothing happens outside of His [consequent] will.  The difference between antecedent will and consequent will is not directly addressed here, but Augustine seems to demonstrate that the difference is to be understood in the way he repeatedly claims that all happens by God’s will, yet any evil acts are by His “permission.”  Later in Book III, he will say this in more explicit terms:

“But neither do the good angels do these things, except as far as God commands, nor do the evil ones do them wrongfully, except as far as He righteously permits. For the malignity of the wicked one makes his own will wrongful; but the power to do so, he receives rightfully, whether for his own punishment, or, in the case of others, for the punishment of the wicked, or for the praise of the good.”

Augustine tells us, indeed, that this path follows all the way up to God in all things, whether by inanimate object, as well as by creatures, rational or non-rational, although each in their own way:

“But as the more gross and inferior bodies are governed in due order by the more subtle and powerful ones, so all bodies are governed by the living spirit; and the living spirit devoid of reason, by the reasonable living spirit; and the reasonable living spirit that makes default and sins, by the living and reasonable spirit that is pious and just; and that by God Himself, and so the universal creature by its Creator, from whom and through whom and in whom it is also created and established. And so it comes to pass that the will of God is the first and the highest cause of all corporeal appearances and motions.”

Augustine has certainly assumed miracles in his exposition thus far, and the teaching is almost universally accepted by Christians.  I know of few who would deny miracles but still claim to be Christians before the time of David Hume and his contemporaries and followers.

Nevertheless, those who would deny the possibility of miracles, as spoken of in the Old Testament, are addressed. Speaking of God’s providence and His being the cause, as addressed above, of all things, Augustine states that it is the same God who does both.

“Who ordinarily clothes the trees with leaves and flowers except God? Yet, when the rod of Aaron the priest blossomed, the Godhead in some way conversed with doubting humanity.”

Augustine is not saying that miracles are merely unexplained happenings of the natural order, although one could possibly think this by a superficial reading of the text.  Certainly, one should not go around explaining everything as a miracle immediately simply because one doesn’t understand the cause.  Many things that seemed unexplainable in Augustine’s day may perhaps be explained today by the physical sciences (of course, many scientists try to explain too much with their method, and come up with such absurdities as “the law of gravity created the universe”).

We must not become either rationalists or fideists, as there is always a tendency to let happen.  This is what we see with the creationist vs. darwinianist controversy, and this type of debate is nothing new. Indeed, the existence and the movement of the heavens, and the progress of the species, are all to be looked upon with wonder, knowing God is the original source and designer, no matter what method He uses in their sustainment.  The existence of anything is amazing, whether the simply or the complex.

“Jacob’s stone, therefore, as I said, signified something better than did the serpents of the magicians; yet the deed of the magicians was much more wonderful. But these things in this way are no hindrance to the understanding of the matter; just as if the name of a man were written in gold, and that of God in ink.”

God came to humble the proud, but to exalt the humble. We should not be confused by the simple and think it is not sacred.  The humanity of Jesus and the Eucharist are prime examples of the lowly things God uses. “He had no beauty or majesty to attract us to him, nothing in his appearance that we should desire him” (Isaiah 53). Yet we would look at human achievement and think these things to be the greater. God will let those who are proud wallow in the mire of their conceit, and remain confused:

“I see here what may occur to a weak judgment, namely, why such miracles are wrought also by magic arts; for the wise men of Pharaoh likewise made serpents, and did other like things. Yet it is still more a matter of wonder, how it was that the power of those magicians, which was able to make serpents, when it came to very small flies, failed altogether.”

The letter to the Hebrews confirms the main contention of Augustine: “God, who, at sundry times and in divers manners, spoke in times past to the fathers by the prophets, last of all, in these days hath spoken to us by his Son, whom he hath appointed heir of all things, by whom also he made the world” (Heb 1:1-2).  Angels are, by definition, messengers.

“It is manifest, accordingly, that all those appearances to the fathers, … we say that they were wrought by angels; “

He again says that:

“…both by probable reason, so far as a man, or rather, so far as I am able, and by strength of authority, so far as the divine declarations from the Holy Scriptures have been made clear, that those words and bodily appearances which were given to these ancient fathers of ours before the incarnation of the Saviour, when God was said to appear, were wrought by angels.”

Noting as before that these things we do not know by our reason, although they are not in contradiction to our reason, we look to God’s revelation of Himself.  We trust not only what is said of God but the God who says it.  In fact, in faith, we must trust the message and the messenger:

“For the authority is extant of the divine Scriptures, from which our reason ought not to turn aside; nor by leaving the solid support of the divine utterance, to fall headlong over the precipice of its own surmisings, in matters wherein neither the perceptions of the body rule, nor the clear reason of the truth shines forth.”

Short response to pro-abortion disruptors

I feel compelled to say something about this, but only very little, due to the sad nature of the event:

First, people think that rhymes make an argument. Sad in itself. None were willing to “defend” their position but merely to chant and scream it.

Half the people who “crashed the party” probably thought they were showing up to a “blood for oil” or “save the whales” rally ten minutes before they received their scripts. Usually, you may find one person in such a mob that can actually answer a few questions or rebuttals with any coherency, if that. People have a need to be a part of something, and sadly, these are the results.

Freedom of speech is certainly so people can stand and be heard…but shouldn’t they actually have something to say?

When you have nothing intelligent to say, just scream your absurdities louder. That’s the motto of the modern day “progressive”

Female Priests, Pro-abortion Catholics, and Square Circles

There are arguably three versions of the principle of non-contradiction to be found in Aristotle:

“It is impossible for the same thing to belong and not to belong at the same time to the same thing and in the same respect.” This is the ontological version.  It is a statement about being itself.

“It is impossible to hold (suppose) the same thing to be and not to be.” This has to do with the mind and its conformity to reality.

The third is that “opposite assertions cannot be true at the same time.” This one is really just a variant of the first, but makes “less of a claim” about reality at any one moment.  Only that at that moment, its opposite cannot occur.

Let’s look at a square circle…ok, let’s not, for it cannot be done.  The definition of a square is contradictory to that of a circles.  Something cannot be both a shape with no corners and one bent line with all points equally distant from the center and also be a shape with four corners of 90 degrees each and four equal sides. Yet we can say “square circle, square circle, square circle” all we want.  It’s a funny thing about our reasoning ability.  We can make statements about things that exist, things that don’t but in fact could exist, and even about things that cannot possibly exist.

Which brings us to female priests (in Catholicism, not paganism, which I am not addressing here), pro-abortion catholics, and other such absurdities.  You see, in the real world in which we live, the law of non-contradiction applies to all of reality. Therefore, since by definition to be a Catholic priest includes being male, we are simply stating an absurdity when we make claims otherwise.  Being Catholic includes, by definition, that we are pro-life.  Making a statement to the contrary is by definition, likewise, another absurdity.

We can go around calling ourselves or others “pro-abortion catholics” or “female priests” or “living inorganic object” or purple solid-black object” or “dry-water” or even point to something and call it a “square circle.” We may even convince a few others to use the same absurd terms when referring to such objects.  Yet part of sanity, of what it is to be a functioning rational being, is to recognize such absurdities and then point them out for the benefit of others.


God bless you,


The importance of Act and Potency, Essence and Existence

How do you understand St. Thomas’ first “proof” (Prime Mover) for the existence of God (I, Q.2, Art.3)?

Let’s start with Aristotle’s definition of motion, which is basically that “”Motion is the actualizing of what exists in potency insofar as it is in potency.” Potency means changeable. This leads us to understand motion as “the actualizing of the moveable (changeable) insofar as it is moveable (changeable).”

So, God is pure act. Therefore, there is no potency in Him, and He cannot move (He cannot be the object moved) but He can move [verb] others as cause.

All contingent things are obviously not pure act, but at a minimum have the potency to exist or not to exist. So this potential to exist must be brought about by something other than themselves, since they do not explain their own existence. This “movement” from potentiality is from God.

Of course, this will include not only things that involve local motion, which are the material things we study in physics, but also the “motion” of moving from potency to act even in non-material beings, such as angels, etc.

In the end, Thomas’ argument is one that says that nothing that does not explain its own being can be the cause of its existence (almost a tautology), and so a pure act, a necessary being, must exist, an uncaused cause and unmoved mover.

So at it’s core, motion is about going from non existence to existence?

At its core, motion is moving from potency to act. The way we see this as humans is generally in the physical world, which is local motion, physical motion of material things. But also, say, in the realm of mind, moving from not knowing something to knowing it (by being taught, for instance). Motion always involves potency. God, having no potency, cannot receive motion, cannot receive act.

So it’s potency to act in the broadest sense, meaning it covers every type of potency to act?

Yes. Going from non existence to existence, in the sense of creation, however, is a very different thing than going “from here to there” or going “from black to white,” etc. it’s not like God took some thing called “nothing” which had potency and actualized it. He rather made something to exist from nothing-at-all.

Much harder to perfectly define, but the point still remains: for anything to exist that could possibly not exist, a necessary being (pure act) must be the cause.

This stuff is so important in understanding Thomas’ teachings. For example, many problems arise from misunderstanding things of God as if they were movements within the world. A couple examples should demonstrate:

1. When you read Thomas treatment of the processions in the Trinity, you will see that the heresies of Sabellianism and Arianism both treated the procession of the Son from the Father as if it was a movement from within the world, and this is why they could not understand one God and three Persons.

In the first objection in Q.27, it is said “It would seem that there cannot be any procession in God. For procession signifies outward movement. But in God there is nothing mobile, nor anything extraneous. Therefore neither is there procession in God.

The reply to this objection is “This objection comes from the idea of procession in the sense of local motion, or of an action tending to external matter, or to an exterior effect; which kind of procession does not exist in God, as we have explained.”

2. In creation, so many of the debates between evolutionists and intelligent design adherents is based on a false understanding of creation as something that happens “within” the world. Thomas’ answer (and I believe the correct one) sees that it transcends this. Here is an excellent video that demonstrates the point well:

Thomas Aquinas vs. The Intelligent Designers (1/2)

and part 2:

Thomas Aquinas vs. The Intelligent Designers (2/2)

The point is, understanding act and potency, existence and essence, etc, is crucial for understanding so much about what Thomas says, and thus, about God and the world.

One last point can be made here:

There is a difference between cause and effect and sufficient reason. People sometimes miss this. For instance, God is not the cause of Himself; He has no cause. He is, however, the explanation, the sufficient reason, for His own existence. Some do not understand the difference here, and it leads to other problems later.

Thus, people will say that, by saying everything needs a cause, we must give a cause for God.  But Thomas, for one, does not say that all things need a cause, but rather, all contingent things need a cause.  All caused things need a cause, and all contingent things are caused things.  God, who’s essence is to exist, is not contingent, and thus does not need a cause.

God bless

St. Augustine, de Trinitate, Book II

In Book II, the first chapter almost seems to be a continuation of Book I, where the rule of interpretation presented in that Book is discussed once more. The application of this can basically be called the “form-of-a-servant” rule and the “form-of-God” rule.  We speak of Christ in either of these manners, for He has two natures by His incarnation.

It appears, however, that this continuation makes sense, for the rule is here applied to the Son and the Spirit “as sent.” The Father, however, is never said to be sent, but is rather the one who sends (later Augustine will certainly address that the Father and Son both send the Spirit). This is the required preface to the rest of Book II, which begins to look at the Old Testament theophanies.

Here, we look at the questions of whether it was one Person or another who appeared in the Old Testament when God spoke to men, or if it was whether the Trinity as a whole (this “Trinity as a whole” phrase certainly does not mean there can be any division into “parts;” remember we are speaking on the edge of human language).  After investigating many instances of God’s meeting with man in the Hebrew Scriptures, including those of the garden of Eden, the appearance of the three to Abraham, and the various appearances to Moses, Augustine concludes the following:

“Wherefore, since in that our threefold division we determined to inquire, first, whether the Father, or the Son, or the Holy Spirit; or whether sometimes the Father, sometimes the Son, sometimes the Holy Spirit; or whether, without any distinction of persons, as it is said, the one and only God, that is, the Trinity itself, appeared to the fathers through those forms of the creature: now that we have examined, so far as appeared to be sufficient what places of the Holy Scriptures we could, a modest and cautious consideration of divine mysteries leads, as far as I can judge, to no other conclusion, unless that we may not rashly affirm which person of the Trinity appeared to this or that of the fathers or the prophets in some body or likeness of body, unless when the context attaches to the narrative some probable intimations on the subject. For the nature itself, or substance, or essence, or by whatever other name that very thing, which is God, whatever it be, is to be called, cannot be seen corporeally: but we must believe that by means of the creature made subject to Him, not only the Son, or the Holy Spirit, but also the Father, may have given intimations of Himself to mortal senses by a corporeal form or likeness.”

St. Augustine, de Trinitate, Book I

“The following dissertation concerning the Trinity, as the reader ought to be informed, has been written in order to guard against the sophistries of those who disdain to begin with faith, and are deceived by a crude and perverse love of reason.”

Thus begins Augustine in the first line of his magisterial on the Trinity, de Trinitate. It cannot be doubted, then, that this work will be one that is one where faith seeks understanding, and not one where faith comes from understanding. Like Thomas Aquinas centuries later, for Augustine the Trinity is something we can only know through God’s revelation of Himself to us. We can ponder these truths with our God given intellects, both to move towards a knowledge of God and also to refute errors, but we cannot reason our way to a knowledge of the Trinity’s existence as if it can be known from the world of created things.

“Wherefore, our Lord God helping, we will undertake to render, as far as we are able…: that the Trinity is the one and only and true God, how the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit are rightly said, believed, understood, to be of one and the same substance or essence.”

Once the plan of the work is stated, St. Augustine moves immediately to Scripture to substantiate the claim that the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit are all indeed God, that they are equal, and that they are one. Again, it will not be reason that brings us to a knowledge of the existence of the Trinity, but revelation.  Only after it is established can reason do its part in seeking to understand, “our Lord God helping,” something about this Triune God.

“All those Catholic expounders of the divine Scriptures, both Old and New, whom I have been able to read, who have written before me concerning the Trinity, Who is God, have purposed to teach, according to the Scriptures, this doctrine, that the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit intimate a divine unity of one and the same substance in an indivisible equality; and therefore that they are not three Gods, but one God.”

Augustine wishes to follow the lead of these earlier commentators and to learn from the reflections as well: “By supplying them [people who ask questions of the Trinity] with matter to read, I shall profit myself also; and that, in seeking to reply to their inquiries, I shall myself likewise find that for which I was inquiring.”

Augustine is doing his work as a pastor, who, like many holy men, had hoped to live a life of contemplation, but were called by God to serve the Church in a more active way (a very recent example of this is none other than Pope Benedict XVI). At the beginning of Book III, St. Augustine will say so himself:  “I would have them believe, who are willing to do so, that I had rather bestow labor in reading, than in dictating what others may read. But let those who will not believe this… grant me whatever answers may be gathered from reading… and then let them see how easily I would refrain from this labor, and with how much even of joy I would give my pen a holiday.”

In chapter 3 of Book I, the Bishop of Hippo lays down a simple rule of interpretation that must be followed when speaking of the Incarnate Christ, who both said “the Father and I are one” but also “the Father is greater than I,” for “men have erred through a want of careful examination or consideration of the whole tenor of the Scriptures, and have endeavored to transfer those things which are said of Jesus Christ according to the flesh, to that substance of His which was eternal before the incarnation, and is eternal.” Therefore, we must discern the difference between what is said of Christ as man, and what is said of Christ as God.

Thomas Aquinas will devote Question 16 of the Third part of the Summa to this in great detail, asking and answering these questions:

  1. Is this true: “God is man”?
  2. Is this true: “Man is God”?
  3. May Christ be called a lordly man?
  4. May what belongs to the Son of Man be predicated of the Son of God, and conversely?
  5. May what belongs to the Son of Man be predicated of the Divine nature, and what belongs to the Son of God of the human nature?
  6. Is this true: “The Son of God was made man”?
  7. Is this true: “Man became God”?
  8. Is this true: “Christ is a creature”?
  9. Is this true: “This man,” pointing out Christ, “began to be”? or “always was”?
  10. Is this true: “Christ as man is a creature”?
  11. Is this true: “Christ as man is God”?
  12. Is this true: “Christ as man is a hypostasis or person”?

The Scriptures indeed tell us the truths of the one Person and two natures in Christ, as well as the one God and three persons of the Trinity, yet a superficial reading by the unlearned, or even a careful reading by the learned, can easily lead to error and to the appearance of contradictions in Scripture.  For this reason, St. Augustine has to show early in the work this key principle to reading the Scriptures when it relates to the Incarnate Son of God. Augustine then spends several pages applying this principle to Scripture passages. This comprises the completion of Book I.