Summa Theologica Q. 36-38: The Holy Spirit

Question 36. The person of the Holy Ghost

  1. Is this name, “Holy Ghost,” the proper name of one divine Person?
  2. Does that divine person Who is called the Holy Ghost, proceed from the Father and the Son?
  3. Does He proceed from the Father through the Son?
  4. Are the Father and the Son one principle of the Holy Ghost?

“While there are two processions in God, one of these, the procession of love, has no proper name of its own…Hence the relations also which follow from this procession are without a name…so to signify the divine Person, Who proceeds by way of love, this name “Holy Ghost” is by the use of scriptural speech accommodated to Him.”

It is true that the terms holy and ghost (old English equivalent of the Latin spiritus) are both used of the nature of God, the term Holy Spirit, used as one word (one term) is proper to the third Person of the Trinity. It is important here to remember that a term, as used in logic, simply denotes some one thing, and we may use two (or more words) to denote one term, and thus one name.  In fact, “that which is greater than anything which can be thought” is simply one term, even if it is ten words. Names and the essential meaning of the words used in them must not be confused or set against one another.

Of great importance is Thomas’ response to the second objection to article 1: “Although this name “Holy Ghost” does not indicate a relation, still it takes the place of a relative term, inasmuch as it is accommodated to signify a Person distinct from the others by relation only. Yet this name may be understood as including a relation, if we understand the Holy Spirit as being breathed [spiratus].

Probably the key question here, at least as it relates to a proper understanding of the Trinity as one of Persons defined by relative opposition, is that of the procession of the Holy Spirit from both the Father and the Son, rather than from the Father alone. This is often termed the Filoque (Latin “and the Son”) problem, and is still very much debating between the eastern Churches and the West.

Simply put, there must be some real relation between the Son and the Holy Spirit, and if this relation is separate than that of the relation between the Father and the Holy Spirit, one cannot maintain that the Persons can be understood through relative opposition.

“…it cannot be said that the divine Persons are distinguished from each other in any absolute sense; for it would follow that there would not be one essence of the three persons…the divine persons are distinguished from each other only by the relations…If therefore in the Son and the Holy Ghost there were two relations only, whereby each of them were related to the Father, these relations would not be opposite to each other, as neither would be the two relations whereby the Father is related to them. Hence, as the person of the Father is one, it would follow that the person of the Son and of the Holy Ghost would be one, having two relations opposed to the two relations of the Father…the Son and the Holy Ghost must be related to each other by opposite relations. Now there cannot be in God any relations opposed to each other, except relations of origin..opposite relations of origin are to be understood as of a “principle,” and of what is “from the principle.”

Of the Son and the holy Ghost, then, one must be a principle of the other, the the other as from this principle.  No one, of course, says that the Holy Ghost is the principle of the Son.  But the Son is, as one principle with the Father, the Principle of the Holy Ghost.

The topic of the procession of the Holy Ghost from the Father and the Son was highly discussed in St. Thomas day, and in fact, St. Thomas died in route to a council in which, with representatives of the East present, this certainly would have been discussed. In the Summa he notes that, in the east “they grant that the Holy Ghost is the Spirit ‘of the Son’; and that He is from the Father ‘through the Son.’ Some of them are said also to concede that ‘He is from the Son’; or that ‘He flows from the Son,’ but not that He proceeds…[but] granted that the Holy Ghost originates in any way from the Son, we can conclude that the Holy Ghost proceeds from the Son.”

Sadly, centuries later, this issue is still among those that divide us.

“…because the Son receives from the Father that the Holy Ghost proceeds from Him, it can be said that the Father spirates the Holy Ghost through the Son, or that the Holy Ghost proceeds from the Father through the Son, which has the same meaning. ”

So we may grant that the Father is the principle of a principle, inasmuch as the Son is begotten and therefore receives the power to spirate the Holy Spirit from the Father.  Yet this Spiration is one, and “the same spirative power belongs to the Father and to the Son; and therefore the Holy Ghost proceeds equally from both.”

This sums up what is clarified further in Article 4, in that the Father and Son are one principle of the Holy Ghost. The only difference that can be stated as between any Person of the Trinity and another, as is clear by now, is whatever makes the one not to be the other through relative opposition.  For example, the Son is all that the Father is, except father, begettor, unbeggotten, etc. “The Father and the Son are in everything one, wherever there is no distinction between them of opposite relation. Hence since there is no relative opposition between them as the principle of the Holy Ghost it follows that the Father and the Son are one principle of the Holy Ghost.”

Question 37. The name of the Holy Ghost–Love

  1. Is it the proper name of the Holy Ghost?
  2. Do the Father and the Son love each other by the Holy Ghost?

1 John says that “God is Love,” and this refers to the One God in His essence. As an essential term, therefore, it may be argued that the name Love is not a proper name for a Person of the Trinity.  After all, we do not say that God is Word and also that the proper name of the Son is Word.

Aquinas, as always, makes the distinction: “The name Love in God can be taken essentially and personally. If taken personally it is the proper name of the Holy Ghost; as Word is the proper name of the Son.”

So to understand the difference, we must look at a few things. Again, “there are two processions in God, one by way of the intellect, which is the procession of the Word, and another by way of the will, which is the procession of Love.” As we have earlier looked at the processions according to intellect and will, we need not review them here.  But just as before we had no proper name for the second procession (that of the Holy Ghost) but could use the term Spiration, so here “on account of the poverty of our vocabulary, we express these relations [of the love and to love] by the words ‘love’ and ‘dilection’: just as if we were to call the Word ‘intelligence conceived,’ or ‘wisdom begotten.'”

In the replies to the objections, we are further enlightened of the distinctions”…when we say that the Holy Ghost is the Love of the Father for the Son, or for something else; we do not mean anything that passes into another, but only the relation of love to the beloved; as also in the Word is imported the relation of the Word to the thing expressed by the Word…As regards origin, therefore, the Holy Ghost is not the medium, but the third person in the Trinity; whereas as regards the aforesaid relation He is the bond between the two persons, as proceeding from both. ”

When addressing the topic as to whether the Father and the Son love each other by the Holy Ghost, once more a distinction is made, this time between using terms essentially or notionally.

“…we must say that since in God ‘to love’ is taken in two ways, essentially and notionally, when it is taken essentially, it means that the Father and the Son love each other not by the Holy Ghost, but by their essence…But when the term Love is taken in a notional sense it means nothing else than ‘to spirate love’; just as to speak is to produce a word…”

Question 38. The name of the Holy Ghost, as Gift

  1. Can “Gift” be a personal name?
  2. Is it the proper name of the Holy Ghost?

The word gift denotes something that can be given, even before it is given.  Something must belong in some way to the giver before it can be gifted to someone else. Of course, a stolen good could be said to be given to another, but this is to use the term gift in a nominal way.

Here, the gift is the Person Himself.  To give oneself, one must truly belong to oneself.  This is fully true only in God, who belongs in no way to another. Indeed, God as a whole can be said to be gift, but properly speaking, and as backed by Scripture, the Holy Spirit is Gift.

“Now a divine person is said to belong to another, either by origin, as the Son belongs to the Father; or as possessed by another. But we are said to possess what we can freely use or enjoy as we please: and in this way a divine person cannot be possessed, except by a rational creature united to God…the rational person alone can possess the divine person…Thus a divine person can be given, and can be a gift.”

Just as Word and Image are personal and proper names of the Son, as from eternity, so must Gift, if it is to be proper, be a name eternally, apart from and not contingent upon creation. “Gift is not so called from being actually given, but from its aptitude to be given. Hence the divine person is called Gift from eternity, although He is given in time.

As always, there is much we can learn of ourselves from contemplating the Trinity and the divine Persons as such.  The Love of God and the proper name of Love which belongs to the Holy Spirit as Gift are no different.  We are made, after all, in the image and likeness of God, and we are called to “be like Him” if we wish to “see Him as He is.”

But first and foremost our contemplation of the Trinity should be just that; a gazing at God simply to know God. “Ask, and it shall be given you: seek, and you shall find: knock, and it shall be opened to you.” (Matt 7:7)





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