Question 43. The Mission of the Divine Persons

We here discuss the final Question on the One and Triune God before Thomas Aquinas turns to the subject of Creation

Article 1. Whether a divine person can be properly sent?

“I am not alone, but I and the Father that sent Me.” (John 8:16)

“Anyone being sent implies a certain kind of procession of the one sent from the sender: either according to command… or according to counsel…or according to origin…the mission of a divine person is a fitting thing, as meaning in one way the procession of origin from the sender, and as meaning a new way of existing in another; thus the Son is said to be sent by the Father into the world, inasmuch as He began to exist visibly in the world by taking our nature; whereas ‘He was’ previously ‘in the world’ (John 1:1).”

Mission and being sent, it may be argued, implies inferiority in the one sent, but this is only true in the forms of command or of counsel. Yet it is in the way of origin or procession that the Son, for example, is sent, and as we have seen in the unity of the Persons and their origins and distinctions, this implies no inequality in the Persons. And just as in creation, there is no change in something from something else, but rather a creation from nothing at all, likewise there is not a change when one Person is sent, but rather, something began to exist where nothing existed, causing no change in the Person but only a change in the world; the Son, for example, began to exist there.

Article 2. Whether mission is eternal, or only temporal?

“When the fullness of the time was come, God sent His Son.” (Galatians 4:4)

We must be careful of our use of terminology here and know that to proceed eternally and to be proceed as being sent are not used univocally. While the one is eternal, as discussed before, “that a divine person be possessed by any creature, or exist in it in a new mode, is temporal…Hence ‘mission’ and ‘giving’ have only a temporal significance in God; but ‘generation’ and ‘spiration’ are exclusively eternal; whereas ‘procession’ and ‘giving,’ in God, have both an eternal and a temporal signification: for the Son may proceed eternally as God; but temporally, by becoming man, according to His visible mission, or likewise by dwelling in man according to His invisible mission.”

Mission signifies not only procession from the principle, but also determines the temporal term of the procession. Hence mission is only temporal. Or we may say that it includes the eternal procession, with the addition of a temporal effect.” Any “effects” of God within creation are obviously temporal as the creation itself is temporal.  The immanent life of the Triune God is always eternal, and the effects of the Triune God in the world are always temporal.

Article 3. Whether the invisible mission of the divine person is only according to the gift of sanctifying grace?

It is an error to say that the Holy Ghost is not given, but “His gifts are given…and the divine person is the cause why the gift of sanctifying grace is possessed, and not conversely. Therefore it may seem improper to say that the divine person is sent according to the gift of sanctifying grace…But since then the creature’s sanctification is by sanctifying grace, it follows that the mission of the divine person is only by sanctifying grace.”

The next two points made are the most central points in all of philosophy and theology; the most important points in all wisdom that a man can attain:

  1. “God is in all things by His essence, power and presence, according to His one common mode, as the cause existing in the effects which participate in His goodness.” God is not part of this world, not the best part, or biggest part.  He transcends it entirely.  All beings are only possible because of Being Himself. When God made the universe, there may have been more beings than before, but there was no more “being” than before, nor could there ever be.
  2. “Above and beyond this common mode, however, there is one special mode belonging to the rational nature wherein God is said to be present as the object known is in the knower, and the beloved in the lover. And since the rational creature by its operation of knowledge and love attains to God Himself, according to this special mode God is said not only to exist in the rational creature but also to dwell therein as in His own temple.” God is in the rational creature, be it angel or man, in an entirely special way as compared to all else in creation.  When we have therefore the gift of the Holy Spirit, it is not merely the movements of grace as gifts or the compelling of one as from a commander, but the real existence of God in us, not just as efficient cause and final cause extrinsic to us, but as truly constituting our life in an unfathomable way.

“Sanctifying grace disposes the soul to possess the divine person; and this is signified when it is said that the Holy Ghost is given according to the gift of grace. Nevertheless the gift itself of grace is from the Holy Ghost; which is meant by the words, “the charity of God is poured forth in our hearts by the Holy Ghost”…and “Although the Son can be known by us according to other effects, yet neither does He dwell in us, nor is He possessed by us according to those effects.”

Article 4. Whether the Father can be fittingly sent?

When we search the Scriptures it is clear that “The Father alone is never described as being sent.”

Because “the very idea of mission means procession from another, and in God it means procession according to origin…[and] the Father is not from another, [it is] in no way is it fitting for Him to be sent; but this can only belong to the Son and to the Holy Ghost, to Whom it belongs to be from another.”

Although the effect of grace is also from the Father, Who dwells in us by grace, just as the Son and the Holy Ghost, still He is not described as being sent, for He is not from another.” We must keep in mind here that the missions and being sent tell us something true about the immanent Trinity and not just the economic Trinity (as God works in the world), but yet the two are not unrelated.  How God is in Himself has a real relation as to how God acts in the world.

Article 5. Whether it is fitting for the Son to be sent invisibly?

Notably it is objected thatthe procession of the Son and of the Holy Ghost differ from each other. Therefore they are distinct missions if both are sent; and then one of them would be superfluous, since one would suffice for the creature’s sanctification.”

Thomas answers that “The whole Trinity dwells in the mind by sanctifying grace” and “that a divine person be sent to anyone by invisible grace signifies both that this person dwells in a new way within him and that He has His origin from another. Hence, since both to the Son and to the Holy Ghost it belongs to dwell in the soul by grace, and to be from another, it therefore belongs to both of them to be invisibly sent.” The Father, as said above, is not sent, yet He dwells also by grace in the believer.

Augustine says, in his de Trinitate, that “The Son is sent to anyone invisibly, whenever He is known and perceived by anyone.”and “The Word we speak of is knowledge with love.” Thus the Son is sent…according to the intellectual illumination, which breaks forth into the affection of love… “The Son is sent, whenever He is known and perceived by anyone.” Now perception implies a certain experimental knowledge; and this is properly called wisdom [sapientia].”

As per the superfluity of the two being sent invisibly,if we speak of mission according to origin, in this sense the Son’s mission is distinguished from the mission of the Holy Ghost, as generation is distinguished from procession. If we consider mission as regards the effect of grace, in this sense the two missions are united in the root which is grace, but are distinguished in the effects of grace, which consist in the illumination of the intellect and the kindling of the affection. Thus it is manifest that one mission cannot be without the other, because neither takes place without sanctifying grace, nor is one person separated from the other.”

Article 6. Whether the invisible mission is to all who participate grace?

According to Augustine (De Trin. iii, 4; xv, 27), the invisible mission is for the creature’s sanctification. Now every creature that has grace is sanctified. Therefore the invisible mission is to every such creature.

“Mission in its very meaning implies that he who is sent either begins to exist where he was not before, as occurs to creatures; or begins to exist where he was before, but in a new way, in which sense mission is ascribed to the divine persons. Thus, mission as regards the one to whom it is sent implies two things, the indwelling of grace, and a certain renewal by grace. Thus the invisible mission is sent to all in whom are to be found these two conditions.”

It may be objected that this mission was not for those before the New Covenant, but this comes from a misunderstanding of the way we exist in time and God transcends time. Of course, for the holy prophets and all who Christ redeemed through His passion, the effects take place in time for us, but the mission for those before the New Covenant is nonetheless real and always predestined to be what it was.”Thus the words, ‘the Spirit was not yet given,’ are to be applied to that giving accompanied with a visible sign which took place on the day of Pentecost.”

“Grace resides instrumentally in the sacraments of the New Law, as the form of a thing designed resides in the instruments of the art designing, according to a process flowing from the agent to the passive object. But mission is only spoken of as directed to its term. Hence the mission of the divine person is not sent to the sacraments, but to those who receive grace through the sacraments.” It would indeed be odd to say that the grace is sent to the Sacraments rather than to those that receive them through the Sacraments. God does not confuse means with ends, of course. A deeper discussion of the Sacraments and grace conferred by them, including the doctrine of Sacraments as signs that effect what they signify can be found in the Part III and the Supplement to Part III of the Summa.

Article 7. Whether it is fitting for the Holy Ghost to be sent visibly?

It is certainly of the faith that the Holy Spirit was never sent in the way that the Son was, that is, by an Incarnation, becoming truly a part of this world.  The Holy Spirit is never said to have “become flesh” or anything like this.  Yet it should not be said that the Holy Spirit cannot be sent in a visible way, as He obviously was in the shape of a dove or as fire, for example.

Now the nature of man requires that he be led to the invisible by visible things,…wherefore the invisible things of God must be made manifest to man by the things that are visible. As God, therefore, in a certain way has demonstrated Himself and His eternal processions to men by visible creatures, according to certain signs; so was it fitting that the invisible missions also of the divine persons should be made manifest by some visible creatures.” God “meets us where we are” and shows us through our senses either the things themselves or signs that point to the things themselves.

“…the Son has been sent visibly as the author of sanctification; the Holy Ghost as the sign of sanctification.”

One of the objections is that the Son, as Incarnate, was called “less than the Father,” as when Jesus says “the Father is greater than I.” Nothing similar is said of the Holy Spirit, and therefore, it would seem the Holy Spirit never appeared as visible.  But it is the fact of the Incarnation of the Son and the human nature thereby that allows a sense in which the Father is greater than Jesus.  As no such Incarnation, but only a visible manifestation of the Holy Spirit took place, there is no nature in the Spirit to call “less than the Father.”

“…the dove and the fire suddenly appeared to signify only what was happening…the Holy Ghost is said to be sent visibly, inasmuch as He showed Himself in certain creatures as in signs especially made for that purpose.”

It was necessary that the Son appear as that which He would save, that is, as man.  But it was not necessary for the Holy Spirit to appear as such, but only to be made known in some visible form, so as to know that this Person is doing that work which is His part, “since it was not assumed or used for the purpose of action, but only for the purpose of a sign; and so likewise it was not required to last beyond what its use required.”

The visible mission was directed to Christ at the time of His baptism by the figure of a dove, a fruitful animal, to show forth in Christ the authority of the giver of grace by spiritual regeneration; hence the Father’s voice spoke, “This is My beloved Son” (Matthew 3:17), that others might be regenerated to the likeness of the only Begotten. The Transfiguration showed it forth in the appearance of a bright cloud, to show the exuberance of doctrine; and hence it was said, “Hear ye Him” (Matthew 17:5).” Thomas goes on to give explanations of other examples in the New Testament where we see visible signs of the Spirit, and an explanation of the Spirit’s lack of a direct manifestation in the Old Testament.

Article 8. Whether a divine person is sent only by the person whence He proceeds eternally?

It would seem that, in line with what we have previously said about the missions and sending as related to the origins and processions of the Persons that the Son could not be sent by the Spirit because, in the immanent Trinity, the Spirit proceeds from the Father and the Son and not vice versa. However, the Scriptures tell us that “The Son is sent by the Holy Ghost, according to Isaiah 48:16, ‘Now the Lord God hath sent Me and His Spirit.’ But the Son is not from the Holy Ghost. Therefore a divine person is sent by one from Whom He does not proceed.”

Thomas says that there are different opinions on this point. “Some say that the divine person is sent only by the one whence He proceeds eternally;…Augustine says…that the Son is sent by Himself, and by the Holy Ghost; and the Holy Ghost is sent by Himself, and by the Son; so that to be sent in God does not apply to each person, but only to the person proceeding from another, whereas to send belongs to each person.” And he decides that “There is some truth in both of these opinions… if the sender be designated as the principle of the person sent, in this sense not each person sends, but that person only Who is the principle of that person who is sent; and thus the Son is sent only by the Father; and the Holy Ghost by the Father and the Son. If, however, the person sending is understood as the principle of the effect implied in the mission, in that sense the whole Trinity sends the person sent.”

We thus leave the section of the Summa teaching the doctrine of the Trinity in a fitting way; not only with answers, but with questions.  With mystery. If we ever think we have comprehended God, we have failed to be thinking still of God and are thinking of some created fiction of our own instead.


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