Question 39 + 42 on the Trinity

Question 39

Article 7. Whether the essential names should be appropriated to the persons?

Attributes like Wisdom and Power certainly apply to God as one, in His essence. Metaphysically, it would seem erroneous to say that one of the Persons of the Trinity is Wisdom and not the others. Yet the Scriptures seems to emphasis certain of these attributes as being important in the recognition of one or other Person of the Trinity.  This is a problem many prior to St. Thomas had discussed, very notably, St. Augustine in his de Trinitate, for example.

The Apostle says: “Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God” (1 Corinthians 1:24).

Thomas goes on to say that “For the manifestation of our faith it is fitting that the essential attributes should be appropriated to the persons. For although the trinity of persons cannot be proved by demonstration… it is fitting that it be declared by things which are more known to us. Now the essential attributes of God are more clear to us from the standpoint of reason than the personal properties; because we can derive certain knowledge of the essential attributes from creatures which are sources of knowledge to us, such as we cannot obtain regarding the personal properties…such a manifestation of the divine persons by the use of the essential attributes is called “appropriation.”

While we can know that the one God is Wisdom, Power, Truth, etc, we cannot know that the one God is Trinitarian apart from Revelation.  In understanding in some way the three Persons, it is helpful and quite appropriate that we see certain attributes of the essence of God as especially revealed through the specific Persons.

The essential attributes are not appropriated to the persons as if they exclusively belonged to them; but in order to make the persons manifest by way of similitude.” We are not, again, saying that Christ is the power and the wisdom of God in a way that excludes the other two persons of the Trinity from sharing these same attributes in their essential oneness, but we are expressing, for example, that since the Son is seen as the Word, the proceeding knowledge of God to Himself, it is appropriate to recognize Him (the Son) as the Wisdom of God.

Article 8. Whether the essential attributes are appropriated to the persons in a fitting manner by the holy doctors?

Essence and operation are not found to be appropriated to any one person. The essence is one and the operations of the one God in this world are as from one source, the one Being. It is difficult for some, then, to reconcile certain sayings of the Fathers of the Church that seem to divide the essence or operations of the one God, such as Augustine when he says that “Unity is in the Father, equality in the Son, and in the Holy Ghost is the concord of equality and unity” or when “Further, according to Augustine, to the Father is attributed ‘power,’ to the Son ‘wisdom,’ to the Holy Ghost ‘goodness.’…Likewise Augustine says …”‘from Him’ refers to the Father, ‘by Him’ to the Son, ‘in Him’ to the Holy Ghost.”

Thomas answers that, “Our intellect, which is led to the knowledge of God from creatures, must consider God according to the mode derived from creatures. In considering any creature four points present themselves to us in due order. Firstly, the thing itself taken absolutely is considered as a being. Secondly, it is considered as one. Thirdly, its intrinsic power of operation and causality is considered. The fourth point of consideration embraces its relation to its effects. Hence this fourfold consideration comes to our mind in reference to God.”

The rest of the article is dedicated to expounding on this, as well as particular defenses of statements made by the Fathers of the Church on this topic.  It should be read in its entirety and meditated upon closely, as it gives insight not only into God in His relationship within Himself and to us, but in the order of human knowing in general.


Question 42

Article 5. Whether the Son is in the Father, and conversely?

One of two opposites cannot be in the other. But the Son and the Father are relatively opposed. Therefore  how can one be in the other?

“I am in the Father, and the Father is in Me” (John 14:10)

Thomas answers that there “are three points of consideration as regards the Father and the Son; the essence, the relation, and the origin; and according to each the Son and the Father are in each other.”

“The Father is in the Son by His essence, forasmuch as the Father is His own essence, and communicates His essence to the Son not by any change on His part. Hence it follows that as the Father’s essence is in the Son, the Father Himself is in the Son; likewise, since the Son is His own essence, it follows that He Himself is in the Father in Whom is His essence.”

“As regards the relations, each of two relative opposites is in the concept of the other. Regarding origin…the procession of the intelligible word is not outside the intellect, inasmuch as it remains in the utterer of the word. What also is uttered by the word is therein contained. And the same applies to the Holy Ghost.”

The general problem with the objections is likewise a problem in everything we ponder when reflecting on God.  His being, his essence, His attributes, etc, cannot be viewed in a univocal way with the beings and being of our experience.  The analogous character of being is here, as in all of Thomas’ reflections on God, of key importance.



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