Monthly Archives: July 2012

Bibliography for Atheism, Darwinism, and the Problem of Final Causality

The following works will be consulted for my Atheism and the New Atheism project in PHTH 619: Epistemology at Holy Apostles College and Seminary on “The Absence of Final Causality in the Empirical Sciences.”  While the absence of final causes is completely permissible  as part of the description of reality from an empirically based study, to deny its existence is completely false and unjustified. The freely ordered and created world in which nature acts for an end (to include that rational creatures can act rationally towards an end) will be discussed in reference to this main point.

Clarke, W. Norris, S.J. The One and the Many: A Contemporary Thomistic Metaphysics. Notre Dame, IN: University of Notre Dame Press, 2001. This work, besides providing a good overview of the four causes as understood in an Aristotelian and Thomistic sense, provides, in Chapter 15, an excellent account of the problems and possible solutions of The Metaphysics of Evolution.

Darwin, Charles. The Origin of Species. New York, NY: Barnes and Noble Classics, 2004. Darwin’s book was obviously revolutionary. Here, it will be referenced to see what Darwin originally said.

Dawkins, Richard. The God Delusion. New York, New York: First Mariner Books, 2006. This work shows a typical position taken by a contemporary empirical scientist on the value of empirical study, while dismissing and/or misunderstanding the place of final causality in the greater sum of human knowledge of the world around us.

Gilson, Etienne. From Aristotle to Darwin and Back Again: A Journey in Final Causality, Species, and Evolution. San Francisco, CA: Ignatius Press, 2009. A quote from this work is sufficient to show its usefulness (and indeed priority) in this project. “If the scientist refuses to include final causality in his interpretation of nature, all is in order; his interpretation of nature will be incomplete, not false…To hold final causality to be beyond science is one thing; to put it beyond nature is something completely different.” (pg. 31)

Jaki, Stanley L. The Savior of Science. Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans, July 2000. This book examines the central role of Christian belief as it affects the empirical sciences. The two central beliefs of creation ex nihilo and of the one and only historical event of the Incarnation are central to the development of science, and we see their influence in the advances made in the Christian west compared to the stagnant lack of advances made in other parts of the world. These two central beliefs lead to the philosophical assurance of an intelligible world and therefore the reality of final causality.

Rizzi, Anthony. The Science Before Science. Baton Rouge, LA: IAP Press, 2004. This book sets forth a balanced understanding of what the empirical sciences can prove and cannot prove, as well as what constitutes a “proof” and/or a theory in the empirical sciences. It also demonstrates, from the knowledge of a distinguished physicist, why the knowledge gained in the empirical sciences must understood within rather than try to supersede the greater field of wisdom known as philosophy, to include the four causes of natural philosophy and metaphysics.

Wallace, William A. The Elements of Philosophy: A Compendium for Philosophers and Theologians. Washington, D.C.: Catholic University of America Press, 1977. This work provides a general overview of natural philosophy (chapter 3), metaphysics (chapter 5), and epistemology (chapter 6) , as well as relevant information on the history of philosophy (especially chapter 18) and the many particulars of the philosophy of the natural sciences (chapter 11). Although the project will not go into depth in some of these areas, this reference work offers solid, concrete and clear definitions of relevant information when needed.

Wallace, William A. The Modeling of Nature. Washington, D.C.: Catholic University of America Press, 1996. In this work, William Wallace, O.P. shows, in Part I., how contemporary scientific studies and ancient philosophical causes can be synthesized to show that they are not only compatible but bring forth a greater understanding of the world around us. In Part II, the book examines the topic of the “evolution” of the philosophy of science to show both the positive contributions of new forms of thought, along with the errors and dangers that reductionist and materialist thinking can bring to the table. Both of these aspects (Part I. Philosophy of Nature, and Part II.  Philosophy of Science) are pertinent to our study.


The following works will be consulted for my Epistemology project in PHL 620: Epistemology at Holy Apostles College and Seminary on “Realist Premises for a Realist Conclusion.”  The project will explore the history of attempts to come to a realist worldview using the premises of the critical method, and the failures to do so.

Gallagher, Kenneth T. The Philosophy of Knowledge. New York: Sheen and Ward, 1964. This work provides general background and historical information on the topic of epistemology and the various positions under which it has been viewed.

Gilson, Etienne. Methodical Realism: A Handbook for Beginning Realists. San Francisco, CA: Ignatius Press, 2011. This work lays out in a clear way what it speaks of in the title. After several essays on the difficulties encountered by Thomists in their dealings with modern and contemporary epistemology, it lays out an outline, almost of meditations, on which one can build a strong foundation for a realist view of knowledge and of the real world.

Gilson, Etienne. Thomistic Realism and the Critique of Knowledge. San Francisco, CA: Ignatius Press, 1986. In this work, Gilson analyzes several attempts of realist philosophers to show the truth of the realist position while engaging the adherents of the critical method at their own level; he shows why this ultimately must fail.

Gilson, Etienne. The Unity of Philosophical Experience. San Francisco, CA: Ignatius Press, 1999. This work shows, by historical survey, the unity of the project of attempts at human knowledge. It shows how in each case that turns away from realism, realism is again sought, for it is at minimum the default position of the human intellect.

Wallace, William A. The Elements of Philosophy: A Compendium for Philosophers and Theologians. Washington, D.C.: Catholic University of America Press, 1977. This work provides a general but densely packed overview of the discipline of Epistemology from a Thomistic Realist perspective, as well as being a useful reference for related fields, especially metaphysics and the history of philosophy.

Common Errors in Contemporary Morals

Freedom makes man a moral subject. When he acts deliberately, man is, so to speak, the father of his acts. Human acts, that is, acts that are freely chosen in consequence of a judgment of conscience, can be morally evaluated. They are either good or evil.[1] The object, the intention, and the circumstances make up the “sources,” or constitutive elements, of the morality of human acts.[2]

The errors of situation ethics, proportionalism, and consequentialism all relate directly to a failure to understand the text above. Utilitarianism and legalism have at least an indirect relationship to this as well.

Situational Ethics was pioneered by Joseph Fletcher. Situational Ethics, according to Fletcher’s model, states that decision-making should be based upon the circumstances of a particular situation, and not upon fixed Law. However, this is clearly rejected by the Church, because while the circumstances do affect the moral act, they are never the final determinant. As the Catechism states, “It is therefore an error to judge the morality of human acts by considering only the intention that inspires them or the circumstances (environment, social pressure, duress or emergency, etc.) which supply their context.


There are acts which, in and of themselves, independently of circumstances and intentions, are always gravely illicit by reason of their object; such as blasphemy and perjury, murder and adultery. One may not do evil so that good may result from it.”[3]

In other words, the object, the material of the act, must be objectively good, and this can never be “mitigated” by circumstances. The subjective guilt of the person committing such an act may differ based on their understanding of this, but the objective moral act remains evil. While circumstances can change the intensity of the goodness or badness of the act, they do not determine it to be one or the other.


Consequentialism is the group of ethical theories claiming that the consequences of conduct are the basis for judgment about the rightness of that action.This theory claims that a morally right act (or omission) is one that will produce a good outcome, or consequence, or that at least a good consequence can mitigate the evil involved. Clearly this teaching is rejected in Catholic moral theory as incompatible with objective moral norms and natural law.


A similar current moral theory that has been explicitly rejected in Veritatis Splendor is called proportionalism.  Its proponents often present it as [a modified consequentialism] in line with Catholic moral teaching, but it does not hold up to scrutinization. Proportionalism teaches that a physical evil can sometimes be knowingly committed while not being at the same time a moral evil. It attempts to label some actions pre-moral.  “Thus, in the concrete, one must always leave open the possibility that in some given set of circumstances, what would normally be a moral evil is not truly so, this is only a ‘physical’ or ‘ontic’ evil when it brings about greater goods or is justified by a proportionate reason for doing so.” (Moral Magisterium, Lesson 6)


Proportionalism does not seem much different than situation ethics, although it takes results as its determining factor over that of circumstances. It says that an action is right or wrong, depending on the consequences it produces. The proportionalist would say that it is never right to go against an objective moral principle unless a proportionate reason would justify it. But this repeats the error of doing evil that good may come of it. Proportionalism seems to seek a different material (result) than situation ethics (circumstance) to achieve the same result: the rejection of an objective absolute in an act itself (the matter of the act) being evil.


It is hard to deny that the prime mover in recent attempts to circumvent the Church’s teaching on absolute moral objects is the reception (or rejection) of Humanae Vitae. So we will take  the example of birth control; it is against natural law, because it artificially separates what God has made one: the act of spousal love and the possibility of procreation. Contrary to the question asked about “still allowing the spousal exchange of love between the partners,” it rather distorts this love.  It becomes two people using each other as objects of pleasure.  True love is self-sacrificial.  The couple instead could, if for grave reasons, abstain to some degree such as would be the case with natural family planning, or even completely if necessary.  This would show great love and conformity with God’s design for the marital act. The situation and/or the proportionate goods cannot change the objective truth of God’s willing the marital act to be open to life.


In brief, the moral object must always be good (or at least indifferent) as well as the intention.  What we do, and not just the outcome we intend, is part of the moral act. “We must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may receive good or evil, according to what he has done in the body” (2 Cor 5:10, quoted in VS 73).


This is best summarized by saying that proportionalists claim that there can be not judgment made of an act as good or evil from the object alone, but the circumstances and intention must be considered. This is true of moral good, but not of moral evil.  If an object is objectively evil, the consequences (circumstances) and intention cannot make it good.


The circumstances of an action are individual conditions of specific acts in time and place that are not of themselves part of the nature of the action.  They do, however, modify the moral quality of the action.  The who, what, when, and where of actions are bearing on the goodness or otherwise of specific actions.  These circumstances cannot, of course, make an objectively evil action to be good, but they can increase or decrease both moral culpability and the degree of goodness or evil in the act.[4]


Utilitarianism is a theory in that holds that the proper course of action is the one that maximizes overall “happiness”. It is really another sort of consequentialism, seeking the common good over that of individuals, most explicitly developed by J. S. Mills.

There are several major problems with utilitarianism. First of all, it views the collective as a sort of unity beyond what it is.  It ignores the person as such. Also, it is difficult to define exactly what maximum “happiness” is. In reality, this usually is reduced to maximum pleasure and minimum pain, and even when this is admitted, it is rarely demonstrated how even this standard can have any true objective reference. One must arbitrarily assign a value to different pleasures and pains, which obviously include physical and emotional pleasures and pains that are at best difficult to commensurate.


Legalism, in Christian theology, is a usually-pejorative term referring to an over-emphasis on discipline of conduct, or legal ideas…and ignorance of the grace of God or emphasizing the letter of law over the spirit. Legalism is alleged against any view that obedience to law, not faith in God’s grace, is the pre-eminent principle of redemption.[5]

It can be contrasted with the heretical doctrine of antinomianism which states that Christians are exempt from the obligations of moral law. As in most heresies, there is truth in what is affirmed against legalism, but also error in what is rejected.


We may once again look to the Catechism for the true and balanced response. The vocation to eternal life is supernatural. It depends entirely on God’s gratuitous initiative, for he alone can reveal and give himself.[6] The preparation of man for the reception of grace is already a work of grace.[7] God’s free initiative demands man’s free response.[8] God grants his creatures not only their existence, but also the dignity of acting on their own, of being causes and principles for each other, and thus of co-operating in the accomplishment of his plan.[9] “For God is at work in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure.”[10] “He Who created you without your cooperation, will not save you without your cooperation.”[11]


Quotations from Scripture, the Fathers, and the Catechism could certainly be multiplied beyond this, but the Doctor of Grace will be given the final words here. Recognizing that there is an objective and absolute moral law that we must follow, yet finding ourselves in need of God’s mercy and grace to follow His commands, we ask with Augustine that God “”Give me what you command and command what you will.”[12]

[1] CCC 1749

[2] CCC 1750

[3] CCC 1756


[6] CCC 1998

[7] CCC 2001

[8] CCC 2002

[9] CCC 306

[10] Phil 2:13

[11] St. Augustine, Sermon 169, 13

[12] St. Augustine, Confessions, 10, 29

The Creed of Virtue

I believe this is worthy of becoming almost a Creed to be professed and lived by all who would call themselves men:


A virtue is a habitual and firm disposition to do the good. The virtuous person tends toward the good with all his sensory and spiritual powers; he pursues the good and chooses it in concrete actions.

Human virtues are firm attitudes, stable dispositions, habitual perfections of intellect and will that govern our actions, order our passions, and guide our conduct according to reason and faith. They make possible ease, self-mastery, and joy in leading a morally good life. The virtuous man is he who freely practices the good.

Prudence is the virtue that disposes practical reason to discern our true good in every circumstance and to choose the right means of achieving it; “the prudent man looks where he is going.

Justice is the moral virtue that consists in the constant and firm will to give their due to God and neighbor. (Justice toward God is called the “virtue of religion.”)

Fortitude is the moral virtue that ensures firmness in difficulties and constancy in the pursuit of the good.

Temperance is the moral virtue that moderates the attraction of pleasures and provides balance in the use of created goods.

Human virtues acquired by education, by deliberate acts and by a perseverance ever-renewed in repeated efforts are purified and elevated by divine grace. With God’s help, they forge character and give facility in the practice of the good. The virtuous man is happy to practice them.

The human virtues are rooted in the theological virtues, which adapt man’s faculties for participation in the divine nature. The theological virtues have the One and Triune God for their origin, motive, and object. The theological virtues are the foundation of Christian moral activity;

Faith is the theological virtue by which we believe in God and believe all that he has said and revealed to us, and that Holy Church proposes for our belief, because he is truth itself.

Hope is the theological virtue by which we desire the kingdom of heaven and eternal life as our happiness, placing our trust in Christ’s promises and relying not on our own strength, but on the help of the grace of the Holy Spirit.

“To love is to will the good of another.” Charity is the theological virtue by which we love God above all things for his own sake, and our neighbor as ourselves for the love of God.


An only somewhat shorter version would be the IN BRIEF part of the Catechism on virtues:


1833 Virtue is a habitual and firm disposition to do good.

1834 The human virtues are stable dispositions of the intellect and the will that govern our acts, order our passions, and guide our conduct in accordance with reason and faith. They can be grouped around the four cardinal virtues: prudence, justice, fortitude, and temperance.

1835 Prudence disposes the practical reason to discern, in every circumstance, our true good and to choose the right means for achieving it.

1836 Justice consists in the firm and constant will to give God and neighbor their due.

1837 Fortitude ensures firmness in difficulties and constancy in the pursuit of the good.

1838 Temperance moderates the attraction of the pleasures of the senses and provides balance in the use of created goods.

1839 The moral virtues grow through education, deliberate acts, and perseverance in struggle. Divine grace purifies and elevates them.

1840 The theological virtues dispose Christians to live in a relationship with the Holy Trinity. They have God for their origin, their motive, and their object – God known by faith, God hoped in and loved for his own sake.

1841 There are three theological virtues: faith, hope, and charity. They inform all the moral virtues and give life to them.

1842 By faith, we believe in God and believe all that he has revealed to us and that Holy Church proposes for our belief.

1843 By hope we desire, and with steadfast trust await from God, eternal life and the graces to merit it.

1844 By charity, we love God above all things and our neighbor as ourselves for love of God. Charity, the form of all the virtues, “binds everything together in perfect harmony” (Col 3:14).

1845 The seven gifts of the Holy Spirit bestowed upon Christians are wisdom, understanding, counsel, fortitude, knowledge, piety, and fear of the Lord.


A review of or primer on the Trinity


“If any one, therefore, says to us, “How then was the Son produced by the Father?” we reply to him, that no man understands that production, or generation, or calling, or revelation, or by whatever name one may describe His generation, which is in fact altogether indescribable. Neither Valentinus, nor Marcion, nor Saturninus, nor Basilides, nor angels, nor archangels, nor principalities, nor powers [possess this knowledge], but the Father only who begot, and the Son who was begotten. Since therefore His generation is unspeakable, those who strive to set forth generations and productions cannot be in their right mind, inasmuch as they undertake to describe things which are indescribable.” -St. Irenaeus of Lyons

How, then, dare I try to make an attempt to tell of the mystery of the Trinity in my little blog, a man of little learning that I am?  I simply affirm what St. Irenaeus says; I am out of my mind. I agree with Aristotle and St. Thomas when I say that to achieve even a little knowledge of the highest things is far better than to know almost everything about worldly things.

In the prologue to Book II of St. Augustine’s de Trinitate, he confirms this saying “When men seek to know God, and bend their minds according to the capacity of human weakness to the understanding of the Trinity; learning, as they must, by experience, the wearisome difficulties of the task, whether from the sight itself of the mind striving to gaze upon light unapproachable.”

In all that will be said here, we must remember that it is by faith alone that we can know of the Trinity.  Theologians past, and with good intention, have tried to prove the existence of the Trinity.  I agree with St. Thomas that this is impossible, for we can only know things by reason because of the world we experience.  That is, to use reason alone is to confine ourselves to the starting point of the created world.

God is One, and He acts as one.  We can know that God exists through reason alone, but this is reasoning from cause to effect, and in this case, we recognize a “necessary cause” for all that is contingent. We can only reason to the one cause, which is the one nature, the one essence that is the one God.  There is no way to know there is a Trinity.

“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” (de Trinitate, Book I) says St. Augustine of his work on the Trinity.  While never disdaining reason, we will keep in mind constantly that we are contemplating the greatest of mysteries, beyond the comprehension of any finite intellect.

We can, however, know that arguments against the Trinity are not demonstrable, that is, there is no argument that can show that the Trinity is against reason. Arguments against the Trinity, like any argument against the faith, are either sophistry (simply erroneous) or otherwise merely probable (meaning that they are not the only explanation that explains the data; similar examples can be found on other issues which cannot be known through reason alone, such as whether the world is eternal or had a beginning in time, etc).

Therefore, the investigation of the mystery of the Trinity can do two things, and these are not really separate. “The manifestation of truth and the criticism of errors constitute two aspects of one theological enterprise” (Giles Emery, OP). We will see, then, that throughout our contemplation of the Trinity, we will often use the errors of non-believers and heretics alike to show forth the true doctrine of the Trinity, inasmuch as we are able.  Of course, God can never be comprehended, but we can, through effort and grace, come to some knowledge of God.  And after all, “this is life eternal, that they might know thee the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom thou hast sent.”

‘”Come now, let us reason together,” says the LORD.’ (Isaiah 1:18) We will attempt to do just that. Call me “out of my mind” if you will.

In the next post, I plan to, in summary form, lay out the basic principles of Trinitarian theology, to include

The immanent Trinity: processions, relations, persons, notions, and appropriations.

The economic Trinity: the “role” of each Person in the order of creation and of redemption, to include the missions. The understanding of the “economic Trinity,” (God as He is known and made known to us)of course, flows from the “immanent Trinity,” (God as He is eternally to Himself).


Two Processions

Our faith in the One but Triune God rests on the notion of persons, of which, in One God, we recognize three. To have any grasp of these Persons, we must first understand relations, and in order to do this, we must inquire as to the processions in the Trinity. “The role which the study of processions plays is propaedeutic: it prepares the way for the study of relations, which in its turn, prepares the way for us to think about the persons” (Giles Emery, pg. 51).

In the Summa Contra Gentiles, Book 4, we read that “Sacred Scripture, then, hands on to us the names of “paternity” and “sonship” in the divinity, insisting that Jesus Christ is the Son of God. Scripture has not been silent about the very name of “divine generation.” For in the Psalm (2:7), as was said, one reads: “This day have I begotten You” (Ch. 2). We certainly do not reason our way to the divine processions, but rather, present them as the teaching of revealed truth.

We must first ask then, whether there can be any processions in God, for “It would seem that there cannot be…procession signifies outward movement. But in God there is nothing mobile, nor anything extraneous.” What we must do is recognize that here, the processions are immanent, within the one God. “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…This procession has been differently understood. Some have understood it in the sense of an effect, proceeding from its cause; so Arius took it…Others take this procession to mean the cause proceeding to the effect, as moving it, or impressing its own likeness on it; in which sense it was understood by Sabellius.”

Of course, these errors are easy to fall into, as this is our experience in the world around us.  Actions tend to terminate in other objects, or in other locations, or in other times. But we can, as Augustine showed us, and Thomas refined so well, see an analogous procession in ourselves in our intellect and in our will, allowing us to have some understanding of what immanent (internal) processions might be.

“As God is above all things, we should understand what is said of God, not according to the mode of the lowest creatures, namely bodies, but from the similitude of the highest creatures, the intellectual substances… Procession, therefore, is not to be understood from what it is in bodies, either according to local movement or by way of a cause proceeding forth to its exterior effect, as, for instance, like heat from the agent to the thing made hot. Rather it is to be understood by way of an intelligible emanation.”

After showing that, within God who is pure simplicity, there can still be processions, we move to the question of generation. “Generation has a twofold meaning: one common to everything subject to generation and corruption…for this kind of generation requires that there should be a procession by way of similitude in the same specific nature; as a man proceeds from a man, and a horse from a horse…In another sense it is proper and belongs to living things; in which sense it signifies the origin of a living being from a conjoined living principle.”

Now, in God, what is generated does not have its terminus in another subject, as it would in creatures.  When a human begets a human, the nature is shared, but the subject is a different human, in different matter and with its own form. It is this creaturely part of generation we must let go of when thinking of God.

“But if there is a being whose life does not proceed from potentiality to act, procession (if found in such a being) excludes entirely the first kind of generation; whereas it may have that kind of generation which belongs to living things [but] by way of similitude, inasmuch as the concept of the intellect is a likeness of the object conceived:–and exists in the same nature, because in God the act of understanding and His existence are the same.”

As St. Thomas says elsewhere, “That, then, is the supreme and perfect grade of life which is in the intellect, for the intellect reflects upon itself and the intellect can understand itself… God, because He understands Himself, the intellect, the thing understood, and the intention understood are all identical. God, therefore, must be in Himself as the thing understood in him who understands… The divine intellect, of course, since it does not pass from potency to act, but is always actually existent (which was proved in Book I), must necessarily have always understood itself and is co-eternal with God, and is not acquired by Him in time, as our intellect acquires in time its interiorly conceived word which is the intention understood” (SCG, IV, 11) As Fr. Lagrange puts it, “the Word, conceived from eternity by the Father, has no other nature than that of the Father. And the Word is not like our word, accidental, but substantial, because God’s act of knowledge is not an accident, but self-subsisting substance” (Reality).  We touched on this when asking if there were any procession in God, and what kind of procession (immanent) that might be.

But an objection may be placed here, if one has not grasped what was said above. It would seem that “anything that is generated derives existence from its generator. Therefore such existence is a derived existence.” Thomas reply is that “…what is generated in God receives its existence from the generator, not as though that existence were received into matter or into a subject…but… He Who proceeds receives divine existence from another; not, however, as if He were other from the divine nature.” This had been recently defined by the Church: The Fourth Lateran Council…declared…(The Divine Substance) does not generate, nor is it generated, nor does it proceed; it is the Father that generates, the Son who is generated, and the Holy Ghost that proceeds (Dogma, pg. 61)

We have spoken of generation, and this applies to the Word of God, whom we generally refer to as the Second Person of the Trinity. But can any other procession exist? As stated earlier, we can have some understanding of the answer to this by looking within ourselves, for we were created in the image and likeness of God. “We must observe that procession exists in God, only according to an action which does not tend to anything external, but remains in the agent itself. Such an action in an intellectual nature is that of the intellect, and of the will.”

The first procession, that of the generation of the Word, refers to the intellect.  When we turn to the procession of the Holy Ghost, we will speak analogously of the will. We might ask what difference there is in the procession of the Word and of the Holy Ghost, and why, if we call the first generation, we do not likewise call the procession of the Holy Ghost generation.

Fr. Lagrange puts it succinctly. “Further, this procession of the only-begotten Son is rightly called generation. The living thing, born of a living thing, receives a nature like that of its begetter, its generator. In the Deity, the Son receives that same divine nature, not caused, but communicated…But this second procession is not a generation, because love, in contrast with knowledge, does not make itself like its object, but rather goes out to its object…The second procession, spiration, presupposes the first, generation, since love derives from knowledge.”

Thomas tells us, as far as using the word procession and generation for the Son, but only the word procession for the Spirit, “As in creatures generation is the only principle of communication of nature, procession in God has no proper or special name, except that of generation. Hence the procession which is not generation has remained without a special name; but it can be called spiration, as it is the procession of the Spirit.”

There are, besides intellect and will, other perfections on God, such as power, goodness, and others.  Are there, then, other processions in God? “It would seem to some that… there are more than two processions in God, for goodness seems to be the greatest principle of procession, since goodness is diffusive of itself. Therefore there must be a procession of goodness in God. But, As Boethius says (De Hebdom.), goodness belongs to the essence and not to the operation, unless considered as the object of the will.”

In other words, “The divine processions can be derived only from the actions which remain within the agent. In a nature which is intellectual, and in the divine nature these actions are two, the acts [are] of intelligence and of will.”

In summary, we may reflect on the processions in the following way:

  1. Our intellectual ideas are accidental, not substantial. God’s are substantial; it does not develop in time, as though it was discursive.  He has but one idea, one Word, that of Himself.
  2. This Word is begotten, generated, for knowledge makes itself like its object.
  3. The Holy Ghost proceeds as love, which does not make itself like its object, and thus in God is not by generation, but rather, love goes out to its object, and this, we may call spiration.
  4. To again quote LaGrange, “The second procession, spiration, presupposes the first, generation, since love derives from knowledge.” From this, we can know the Father as first principle, but also that the Holy Ghost proceeds from both the Father and the Son as from one principle.


Three Persons, Four Relations, and Five Notions

“…those who follow the teaching of the Catholic faith must hold that the relations in God are real…there are in God three Persons of one Essence. Now number results from some kind of distinction — wherefore in God there must be some distinction not only in respect of creatures who differ from him in nature, but also in respect of someone subsisting in the divine nature. But this distinction cannot regard anything absolute, since whatsoever is predicated of God absolutely denotes the divine essence, so that it would follow that the divine Persons differ essentially… It follows then that the divine Persons are distinct only by their relations.” (Aquinas, Disputed Questions on the Power of God)

In seeking to understand the Trinity of three Persons and one God, the subject of relations will be central.  The Persons who share one existence, one being, can only be understood as distinct in this way.

The Father is God, the Son is God, and the Holy Spirit is God.  God is one being, and each of these Persons is this one being.  Each is not a part of this one being, this one God, but fully this one being, this one God. However, the Father is not the Son, nor the Son the Father, for example.

As we see in the Summa Theologica of St. Thomas Aquinas, an understanding of the processions must be grasped prior to seeking to unfold the significance of the relations within the Trinity. The divine processions can be derived only from the actions which remain within the agent. In a nature which is intellectual, and in the divine nature these actions are two, the acts are of intelligence and of will. There are processions in God, then, and these can be understood (but not reasoned to apart from revealed truth) by way of what follows in the pure absolutely simple intelligent being of God.

In the natural world, temporal generation founds two relations; that of son to father and father to son. So likewise does the eternal generation of the Word found the two relations of paternity and filiation.  The procession of love also found two relations, active spiration and “passive” spiration.

A word must be said about the special significance of relations. “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.” (Giles Emery, p.87)

Aristotelian categories of being show us that there is substance, in which accidents adhere, and accidents which only exist because of the substance, for example, quality and quantity. A substance exists of itself and is what underlies its accidents.  If we think of “rough” we ask “a rough what?” but when we think of rock we do not think of “a rock what?” for a roughness adheres in another, but a rock is that thing in which something adheres.

Unique, however, among the accidents is that of relation.  For, while it is this column, say, that is to the left of some other thing, it is not that left is really “in” the column.  To see exactly what is meant by this, and in the context of the Trinity, it is best to let St. Thomas explain:

“The attributing of anything to another involves the attribution likewise of whatever is contained in it. So when “man” is attributed to anyone, a rational nature is likewise attributed to him. 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. Hence, there must be real distinction in God, not, indeed, according to that which is absolute–namely, essence, wherein there is supreme unity and simplicity–but according to that which is relative.” (ST. 28, a3)

The idea of relation includes the idea of another.  It means there is something besides the substance itself. A column, as we said above, cannot be related except as to something else. A column can be white, and heavy, and long, and round, all without the existence of any other thing whatsoever. But it cannot be left or heavier or smoother without being left of something, smoother than something, or heavier than something else.

Since this is so, whatever the column is heavier than is likewise lighter than the column. Whatever the column is smoother than is rougher than the column. If it is double, that something else is likewise half.  There is, as Thomas said, a real opposition wherever there is a real relation. And when something proceeds from another, or is generated by another, there is, as said above, a real relation.

A conclusion follows from the foregoing discussion. Real relations in God are four: paternity, filiation, active spiration, and passive spiration, as we said above.  It is worth repeating here: The eternal generation of the Word founds the two relations of paternity and filiation.  The procession of love founds two relations, active spiration and passive spiration.

“But the third of these four, active spiration, while it is opposed to passive spiration, is not opposed to, and hence not really distinct from, either paternity or filiation.” (LaGrange) The relation of the Father to the Son is paternity.  That of the Son to the Father is filiation.  That of the Holy Spirit to the Father and Son is passive spiration.  The relation of the Father and Son to the holy Spirit is active or common spiration.

If the Holy Spirit, we see here, did not proceed from the Father and the Son as one principle, then the Spirit would have a different relation to the Father than He does to the Son.  The principle of the Persons having their foundation in the relations would therefore fall, and there would no longer be a unity of “personhood” in the Holy Spirit.  Therefore, we see the importance of the fact that the Holy Spirit proceeds from “the Father and the Son.” And this procession is active spiration and, as termed here, “common” spiration.  This active or common spiration is not, however, mutually opposed to paternity or to filiation.  Again, if it were, there would be more persons than the three we refer to, for there would be a greater quantity of relations.

This problem of the Holy Spirit proceeding from the Son can also be approached in another way, and this again is based on the relations. We may look at it as follows:

The Father begets the Son.  We have a mutually opposed relation: paternity to filiation.

The Holy Spirit proceeds from the Father. We have a mutually opposed relation: active spiration and passive spiration

Are, then, the Son and Holy Spirit related? How so?

Unless the spiration that distinguishes the Father and the Holy Spirit is shared by the Son as a common active spiration, the Son and Holy Spirit seem to have no relation at all, which is absurd.  But if they do have a relation, then it must be some additional relation, some additional mutual opposition, and at least a fourth divine person would seem to be produced (of course, this fourth person would have to relate to the Father somehow, and it would only fall to greater absurdity).

But the Holy Spirit proceeds from the Father and the Son as from one principle, not two. There is no need, therefore, to multiply relations. As St. Thomas says in the Summa Contra Gentiles, “The conclusion, therefore, must be that the divine Persons cannot be distinguished except by relative opposition in origin. Therefore, if the Holy Spirit is distinguished from the Son, He is necessarily from the Son, for we do not say that the Son is from the Holy Spirit, since the Holy Spirit is, rather, said to be of the Son and given by the Son.”

It is important to restate the following: The three persons have but one existence. Hence “the divine relations do not enter into composition with the divine essence, since the three persons, constituted by relations mutually opposed, are absolutely equal in perfection.” (LaGrange)

No true understanding of the Persons can be arrived at without understanding first the processions “in” God and the mutually opposed relations that they “cause.” Reflection on the real existence (and not just logical) of the relations is necessary to avoid thinking of the Persons of God in a merely “modal” way, as has often been done in the past.  We may say that the distinction between a Person (in the Godhead) and the Nature of God is only mental: the Father is not part of God but simply is God, for example. But the distinctions between one Person and another are not merely mental but real. And these distinctions, once more, are based on mutually opposed relations.

Thus, by increasing precision, we reach the formula of the Council of Florence: “The Holy Spirit is eternally from Father and Son; He has His nature and subsistence at once (simul) from the Father and the Son. He proceeds eternally from both as from one principle and through one spiration . . . . And, since the Father has through generation given to the only begotten Son everything that belongs to the Father, except being Father, the Son has also eternally from the Father, from whom He is eternally born, that the Holy Spirit proceeds from the Son.”

We must add innascibility to the above named relations to arrive at the five notions. Of these five notions only four are relations, since innascibility is not a relation but the negation of the relation of origin in the Father. The Father, as already mentioned, has no origin, but is the origin of the Son and, with the Son, the origin of the Holy Spirit.


Personal Properties

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.”



Of course, in all that has been said, nothing of the mysterious nature of the Trinity is denied.  While we cannot comprehend God, we are not confined to agnosticism regarding Him and His interior life.  Both reason and revelation can help us contemplate God with greater understanding. While reason can never arrive at the existence of the Triune character of God, it is a great instrument in understanding what is revealed, and cannot be neglected if we are to “seek His face, always.”

Overview of Patristics

The Fathers of the Church can be roughly divided into certain time periods, but it important to establish, first, what it means to be a Father of the Church. The four necessary criteria are orthodoxy of faith, holiness of life, Church approval, and antiquity, as basically defined by St. Vincent, himself an eventual Church Father.

Orthodoxy of faith certainly does not mean that each Father had to get everything right or be discounted.  The early Church was in a time of rapid learning and reflection, and certainly there were disputes even between what are now considered the Fathers.  Origin, for example, even took much of his allegorical interpretation too far in some areas, but his vast and great speculative writing still win him a place among the Fathers. As to holiness of life, one can immediately recognize that certain Fathers are not canonized saints, and canonization is certainly not a prerequisite to be considered a Father.  Again, we might mention Origin, Tertullian, and others. Still, a general holiness of life spent trying to be conformed to the will of God is recognized in those titled “Father of the Church.”

Church approval is a rather straight forward criteria, as it is the Church that has determined the list (or lists) of Fathers. Their teaching and writings have become part of the living tradition of the Church. As to antiquity, we see that St. Vincent himself was eventually called a Father, even as he probably considered “antiquity” to have ended before his own time.  Generally the Patristic era begins with the Apostolic Fathers and ends with the seventh or eighth century.

To the Apostolic Fathers belong those “Christian writers of the first and second centuries who are known, or are considered, to have had personal relations with some of the Apostles, or to have been so influenced by them that their writings may be held as echoes of genuine Apostolic teaching.”[1] Most of these Fathers were bishops, and some became martyrs. It took almost no time in the early church for heresies to develop (we even see Paul writing against them in some of the New Testament epistles). Much of the teaching of the Apostolic Fathers is on what it means to be a Christian, what it means to live in a world that is, for the most part, Pagan, and how to stand fast in the faith against persecution. Among the great Fathers of this period are St. Clement of Rome, St. Ignatius of Antioch, and St. Polycarp of Smyrna.

Apologetics means, broadly speaking, a form of apology. An apologist basically fulfills the command of the First Epistle of St. Peter, to “be ready always to give an answer to every man that asketh you a reason of the hope that is in you.”[2] St. Justin Martyr and St. Irenaeus of Lyons are two of the first Apologists, who offered defenses of the faith of the Catholic Church against the background of the culture and philosophy of the time.

Whether it was pagan thought or Gnosticism, for example, the apologists’ writings focused on a rational vindication of Catholic belief and practice.

St. Justin Martyr, for example, was a philosopher who searched many philosophical traditions for the truth, until he came to rest in the peace of the Gospel of Christ. He used his knowledge of various philosophies to defend the faith in dialogues with both the Pagans and the Jews. St. Iranaeus of Lyons wrote a large work commonly called Against the Heresies, and is an immense apologetic focused mostly on the early gnostic sects.

The third century brought us such great minds as that of Tertullian and of Origen. Here, we enter a time when the Church seemed to be making a decision (cognitively or not) about whether to establish its teachings in the language of the Hellenized culture or not. Tertullian would ask the famous question “what has Athens to do with Jerusalem?” but the majority of the Fathers seemed to move in the other direction. Philosophy, especially neoplatonic philosophy, had a well established vocabulary that proved quite useful to the Church once it started reflecting deeply on such mysteries as personhood, the dual nature of Christ, and the unity and diversity of the Trinity. Several of the recognized Fathers from this period have never been canonized, such as Novation, as well as Origin and Tertullian, already mentioned above.

The fourth century and early fifth century is the great age of the Fathers, and is considered the Golden Age, bringing us such teachers as St. Augustine, the Doctor of Grace, and St. Jerome, the great Biblical scholar and exegete of the east, as well as St. John Chrysostom, the Golden mouthed. St. Athanasius, St. Ambrose, and St. Basil the Great also belong to this era. There are, in fact, too many great names to mention here. Saints Augustine, Jerome, Ambrose, and Gregory the Great are known as the four great Western Church Fathers.[3]

These authors wrote in a time, generally, when Catholicism was accepted and no longer persecuted in the Roman world. With greater freedom, and following the council of Nicaea, we see timeless tomes emerge on the Trinity, the unity of the Church, the two natures and one person of Christ, and reflections on the work of the Holy Spirit. Also, discussion (and often disputes) among the bishops on tough questions come to surface. With some of the focus turned away from defending the faith against those on the outside, further clarification on the Church from within is debated. Details of such issues as the relationship of grace and free will and the meaning of the Church as both the Body of Christ and as human institution can be more freely discussed after the “victory” of Christianity in the empire.

Among these Fathers in the West, Augustine of Hippo deserves special mention. St. Augustine is commonly referred to as the Doctor of Grace, as his reflections on the necessity of grace in the life of man to do anything good at all permeate his writings.  His contemplation of grace as a free gift of God certainly appears in the pages of his great works such as the Confessions, The City of God, and the Trinity, and is clearly brought out in his polemic against the Pelagian heresy. This issue and its resolution (although the mystery of grace and free will is likely to never to be resolved this side of the grave) in St. Augustine is defining for the western Church.

Augustine is cited almost constantly by all sides in many debates, such as that between the protestant reformers and the Catholic Church. His authoritative standing is unquestioned among almost all Christians. St. Augustine is only rivaled in Catholic thought, outside the Biblical authors themselves, by St. Thomas Aquinas. Among our separated brethren, however, Augustine is clearly received in a way that Aquinas is not. Catholic and non-Catholic alike, the development of the church in the west is built with the influence of Augustine.

Of the later Fathers, we have such names as St. John of Damascus, who some consider the last of the Fathers. In the West, some consider the end of the Patristic era to be with Gregory; others would extend it to Saint Isidore who died in Spain in 636; others would extend it to the great English author and historian, Saint Bede, who died in 735. While there is obviously diversity in the authoritative “end” of the Patristic era, it is clearly sometime between the 7th and 8th centuries.

The Church Fathers are the guarantors of an authentic Catholic Tradition.[4] Not only did they reflect upon and pastorally share the fruits of their contemplation with the early church, but they provide the link with those who walked with Christ Himself. They had a brilliant way of never separating theological insight from spiritual life, and they developed not only our way of understanding the fundamental truths of our faith, but developed the very language by which we do so. They are a guide to the belief and worship of the early Christians, and have led many non-Catholic Christians “back to Rome.”




[2] 1Peter 3:15

[3] ICU Patristics, Lecture 2

[4] ICU Patristics, Lecture 1