Monthly Archives: March 2012

Summa Questions 34-35: The Person of the Son

Question 34. The person of the Son

  1. Is Word an essential term in God, or a personal term?
  2. Is it the proper name of the Son?
  3. Is relation to creatures expressed in the name of the Word?

Immediately in these two questions pertaining to the Son we note the fact that some names, like Wisdom, Power, etc, that are attributed to the Son but are spoken essentially of God in His one nature, are not treated here. They will be treated when it comes to appropriations, but not as personal names of the Son.  The personal names used will be that of Word and of Image.

“The name of Word in God, if taken in its proper sense, is a personal name, and in no way an essential name… first and chiefly, the interior concept of the mind is called a word; secondarily, the vocal sound itself, signifying the interior concept, is so called; and thirdly, the imagination of the vocal sound is called a word… Word is also used in a fourth way figuratively for that which is signified or effected by a word…word is taken strictly in God, as signifying the concept of the intellect… Hence ‘Word,’ according as we use the term strictly of God, signifies something proceeding from another; which belongs to the nature of personal terms in God, inasmuch as the divine persons are distinguished by origin.”

The Word, then, signifies the person as person, and not the nature of that person, which is to be simply God.  The Word specifically refers to the person as the one who is generated as generated.

“’Word,’ said of God in its proper sense, is used personally, and is the proper name of the person of the Son. For it signifies an emanation of the intellect: and the person Who proceeds in God, by way of emanation of the intellect, is called the Son.”

The name Word does indeed apply to the Son in relationship to the creature, for it is in the Word that God sees all else, including every creature. God’s understanding even of creatures is not a discursive and empirical knowledge of those creatures, but rather, He understands them by first knowing them in Himself, of which knowledge (that of Himself, not just that of the creatures) is what we call the intellectual procession of the Word.

Question 35. The Image

  1. Is Image in God said personally?
  2. Does this name belong to the Son alone?

Having considered the name Word, Aquinas now considers the name Image as applies to the same Person of the Trinity, the Son.

“What is more absurd than to say that an image is referred to itself?” says Augustine in de Trinitate. Therefore the Image in God is a relation, and is thus a personal name.”

We mentioned this briefly when speaking of the relations in Question 28. The Image cannot be simply God as God, for an image of something cannot be simply that thing simply repeated. The image, rather, stands apart in some way. My image, perhaps in a mirror, stands apart from me as something truly distinct. In God, this Image is distinct as begotten is distinct from the begetter, although it is not distinct in its nature, which, of course, remains one.

“For a true image it is required that one proceeds from another like to it in species, or at least in specific sign. Now whatever imports procession or origin in God, belongs to the persons. Hence the name ‘Image’ is a personal name.”

“The Greek Doctors commonly say that the Holy Ghost is the Image of both the Father and of the Son; but the Latin Doctors attribute the name Image to the Son alone. For it is not found in the canonical Scripture except as applied to the Son.”

“The image of a thing may be found in something in two ways. In one way it is found in something of the same specific nature; In another way it is found in something of a different nature. In the first sense the Son is the Image of the Father; in the second sense man is called the image of God.”

In speaking of the Son as Word and Image, we cannot avoid speaking of the Holy Spirit briefly even in this question, given the unified view we must take of the Trinity.

“As the Holy Ghost, although by His procession He receives the nature of the Father, as the Son also receives it, nevertheless is not said to be “born”; so, although He receives the likeness of the Father, He is not called the Image; because the Son proceeds as word, and it is essential to word to be like species with that whence it proceeds; whereas this does not essentially belong to love, although it may belong to that love which is the Holy Ghost, inasmuch as He is the divine love.”

The Holy Ghost Himself is the topic of the following questions, and here, we cease discussion of the Son and His proper names in particular, although again, the Father and Son cannot go unmentioned when speaking of the Holy Spirit.


Summa Theologica Question 28: Relations

Question 28. The divine relations

  1. Are there real relations in God?
  2. Are those relations the divine essence itself, or extrinsic to it?
  3. Can there be several relations distinct from each other in God?
  4. The number of these relations

“…we may consider that in relations alone is found something which is only in the apprehension and not in reality. This is not found in any other genus.” What we find is that, among the metaphysical accidents, there is a uniqueness to relation, for “relation in its own proper meaning signifies only what refers to another. Such regard to another exists sometimes in the nature of things, as in those things which by their own very nature are ordered to each other, and have a mutual inclination.”

“Relationship is not predicated of God according to its proper and formal meaning, that is to say, in so far as its proper meaning denotes comparison to that in which relation is inherent, but only as denoting regard to another.” The Father, for example, is Father related to the Son, but is not therefore other than the Son as relates to nature.  The Father is Father because of the relationship of paternity to the begotten one, but not because the Son, who is God, is different in any way than Father besides this relation itself.

Augustine likewise deals with this difficulty in Book VII of his de Trinitate, where he at one point makes the statement that “it is ridiculous that substance should be predicated by way of relationship; every single thing that is, after all, subsists with reference to itself.” (Book VII, Ch. 3)

Giles Emery, O.P. addresses this: “Relation is the only predicament that can have a purely logical existence: all other modes of being, St. Thomas says, properly signify something which concretely exists, that is, the substance or the accidents which inhere in a substance. The very nature of relation makes it an exception to this rule.”

We do not have to say, therefore, that the Father inheres in the substance of divinity, separately therefore from the way the son does, as green may inhere in grass, and therefore be other than “smoothness” which also inheres in grass.  Likewise, we cannot say that the green is the grass, but only that the grass is green.  But with the Persons of the Trinity, we rightly say that the Father is the One God, the Son is the One God, and the Holy Spirit is the One God. To say it again, the Persons do not inhere in the One God, but, because of the special “nature” of relation, each Person simply is the One God.

“In the genera, apart from that of “relation,” as in quantity and quality, even the true idea of the genus itself is derived from a respect to the subject…But the true idea of relation is not taken from its respect to that in which it is, but from its respect to something outside…if relation is considered as an accident, it inheres in a subject, and has an accidental existence in it…Now whatever has an accidental existence in creatures, when considered as transferred to God, has a substantial existence; for there is no accident in God; since all in Him is His essence.”

Are the relations in God, however, really distinguished from one another, if God is one, simple substantial existence? “The idea of relation, however, necessarily means regard of one to another, according as one is relatively opposed to another. So as in God there is a real relation, there must also be a real opposition. The very nature of relative opposition includes distinction.”

After briefly discussing the Aristotelian sense of identity as regards relation, Thomas states that “although paternity, just as filiation, is really the same as the divine essence; nevertheless these two in their own proper idea and definitions import opposite respects. Hence they are distinguished from each other.”

This Question is concluded by showing that these four relations, paternity, filiation, spiration, and procession, are the only relations in God. Having established this, Thomas has prepared us to discuss, in the next Question (29) the Persons themselves, which are three. In a future short essay we will discuss further these four relations and how, from these four, we arrive at three persons.

Augustine, de Trinitate Book V: How to talk about God

In natural theology, it is almost a given that more can be said by way of what God is not than what He is. This is the via negativa, the negative way.  Of course, in Scripture, we can know things about God that we cannot know through reason alone, and among these is, of course, the Trinitarian nature of the one God. Still, Scripture often emphasizes those things that God is not, helping us to avoid comparing the Creator too directly with creation, where the temptation to pantheism, idolatry, and other dangers would creep in. For “whatever is said of a nature, unchangeable, invisible and having life absolutely and sufficient to itself, must not be measured after the custom of things visible, and changeable, and mortal, or not self-sufficient.”

Augustine certainly emphasizes this via negativa, even while restating his belief that the Trinity is something that God has positively revealed to us. “Whoso thus thinks of God, although he cannot yet find out in all ways what He is, yet piously takes heed, as much as he is able, to think nothing of Him that He is not.”

Augustine goes on to speak of the ways in which we may speak of God.  He is unchangeable, and thus, anything we say “happens to Him” or any human emotion we apply to Him is at best analogous, but more often than not, is actually expressing a change in creation.  For example, when God becomes angry with man, it is really that man has positioned himself differently toward the divine justice, for it is not God’s “emotions” that changed but man is the “relative partner.”

All that is “in” God is substantial, and never accidental (metaphysically speaking), and all things describing God must be viewed either as an aspect of this divine simplicity or otherwise as a metaphor for our understanding.  Either way, nothing can contradict this supreme simplicity and oneness of God and be taken in a literal way.

However, within the Godhead, it is not always true that everything is said substance-wise.  The one category, the one “accident” that is applicable to God is the unique category of relation, and it is by this that we begin to have an understanding of the Son as related to the Father, and likewise with the three Persons of the Trinity.  Of course, the Son differs in no way substantially (as substance) from the Father or the Spirit, but only by relation.

The remainder of Book V continues to look as substance, relation, person, and other words and the way they must be used and must not be understood when speaking of God, both as related to us but most especially as these words describe, as best as human language can, the immanent life of God.

After all, our entire language (any human language) is one built around the idea of expressing changeable being within time.  The jump from this language to things such as metaphysics takes great precision in speech and depth of thought.  Even further, then, is the stretch of human language to the Creator Himself, who is beyond even the subject of metaphysics but is, rather, its principle.