Malankara World

Faith of the Church: Trinity


The Holy Trinity

by Saint Thomas Aquinas

Part - 4

50 The Trinity of divine persons and the unity of the divine essence

We must conclude from all we have said that in the Godhead there is something threefold which is not opposed to the unity and simplicity of the divine essence. We must acknowledge that God is, as existing in His nature, and that He is known and loved by Himself.

But this occurs otherwise in God than in us. Man, to be sure, is a substance in his nature, but his actions of knowing and loving are not his substance. Considered in his nature, man is indeed a subsisting thing; as he exists in his mind, however, he is not a subsisting thing, but a certain representation of a subsisting thing; and similarly with regard to his existence in himself as beloved in lover. Thus man may be regarded under three aspects: that is, man existing in his nature, man existing in his intellect, and man existing in his love. Yet these three are not one, for man's knowing is not his existing, and the same is true of his loving. Only one of these three is a subsisting thing, namely, man existing in his nature.

In God, on the contrary, to be, to know, and to love are identical. Therefore God existing in His natural being and God existing in the divine intellect and God existing in the divine love are me thing. Yet each of them is subsistent. And, as things subsisting in intellectual nature are usually called persons in Latin, or hypostases in Greek, the Latins say that there are three persons in God, and the Greeks say that there are three hypostases, namely, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.

51 A seeming contradiction in the Trinity

A certain contradiction, arising from truths previously established, seemingly appears at this point. If threefold personality is assumed in God, then, since number always follows division, some division will have to be acknowledged in God whereby the three may be distinguished from one another. Thus supreme simplicity will be lacking in God. If three agree in some respect and differ in another, composition must be present - which is contrary to what was set forth above.48 Again, if God must be strictly one, as has. been shown above,49 and if one and the same thing cannot originate or proceed from itself, it therefore seems impossible for God to be begotten or to proceed. Wrongly, therefore, the names of Father, Son, and proceeding Spirit are given place in the Godhead.

52 Solution of the difficulty: distinction in God according to relations

The principle for solving this difficulty must be derived from the fact that, among different classes of beings, the various ways in which one thing may arise or proceed from another depend on the diversity of their natures. Among lifeless beings, which do not move themselves and are capable of being moved only from outside, one thing arises from another by being, as it were, outwardly altered and changed. In this way fire is generated from fire and air from air.

But among living beings (which have the property of moving themselves), something is generated within the parent (for example, the young of animals and the fruits of plants). Moreover, the different manner of procession in living beings must be viewed according to their different powers and their different kinds of proceeding.

Among such beings, there are certain powers whose operations extend only to bodies, so far as they are material. This is clear with regard to the powers of the vegetative soul, which serve nutrition, growth, and generation. In virtue of this class of the soul's powers, there proceeds only what is corporeal and what is bodily distinct although, in the case of living beings, it is somehow joined to that from which it proceeds.

There are other powers whose operations do not transcend the limits of bodies and yet extend to the species of bodies, receiving them without their accompanying matter. This is the case with all the powers of the sensitive soul. For sense is capable of receiving species without matter, as the Philosopher says.50 But such faculties, although they are receptive of the forms of things in a sort of immaterial way, do not receive them without a bodily organ. If procession takes place within these powers of the soul, that which proceeds will not be something corporeal, nor will it be distinct or joined to that faculty whence it proceeds in a corporeal way, but rather in a certain incorporeal and immaterial fashion, although not entirely without the help of a bodily organ.

Thus the representations of things imagined, which exist in the imagination not as a body in a body, but in a certain spiritual way, proceed in animals. This is why imaginary vision is called spiritual by Augustine.51

But if something proceeds in a way that is not corporeal when the imagination is in action, this will be the case much more in the operation of the intellectual faculty, which can act without any bodily organ at all; its operation is strictly immaterial. For in intellectual operation a word proceeds in such a way that it exists in the very intellect of the speaker, not as though contained therein locally, nor as bodily separated therefrom, but as present there in a manner that is conformable to its origin. The same is true in that procession which is observed to take place in the operation of the will, so far as the thing loved exists in the lover, in the sense described above.52 However, although the intellectual and sensitive powers are nobler in their own scale of being than the powers of the vegetative soul, nothing that subsists in the nature of the same species proceeds either in men or in other animals according to the procession of the imaginative or sensitive faculties. This occurs only in that procession which takes place through the operation of the vegetative soul.

The reason for this is that in all beings composed of matter and form, the multiplication of individuals in the same species is effected by a division of matter. Hence among men and other animals, composed as they are of form and matter, individuals are multiplied in the same species by the bodily division which ensues in the procession that is proper to the operation of the vegetative soul, but that does not take place in other operations of the soul. In beings that are not composed of matter and form, no distinction can be discerned other than that of the forms themselves. But if the form, which is the reason for the distinction, is the substance of a thing, the distinction must obtain between subsistent things. Of course, this is not the case if the form in question is not the substance of the thing.

As is clear from our discussion, every intellect has this in common, that what is conceived in the intellect must in some way proceed from the knower, so far as he is knowing; and in its procession it is to some extent distinct from him, just as the conception of the intellect, which is the intellectual likeness,53 is distinct from the knowing intellect. Similarly the affection of the lover, whereby the beloved is in the lover, must proceed from the will of the lover so far as he is loving. But the divine intellect has this exclusive perfection: since God's understanding is His existence, His intellectual conception, which is the intelligible likeness, must be His substance; and the case is similar with affection in God, regarded as loving. Consequently the representation of the divine intellect, which is God's Word, is distinct from Him who produces the Word, not with respect to substantial existence, but only according to the procession of one from the other. And in God considered as loving, the same is true of the affection of love, which pertains to the Spirit.

Thus it is plain that nothing prevents God's Word, who is the Son, from being one with the Father in substance, and that, nevertheless, the Word is distinct from the Father according to the relation of procession, as we have said. Hence it is also evident that the same thing does not arise or proceed from itself, for the Son, as proceeding from the Father, is distinct from Him. And the same observation holds true of the Holy Spirit, relative to the Father and the Son.

53 Nature of the relations whereby the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit are distinguished

The relations by which the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit are distinguished from one another are real relations, and not merely mental relations. Those relations are purely mental which do not correspond to anything found in the nature of things, but depend on intellectual apprehension alone. Thus right and left in a stone are not real relations, but only mental relations; they do not correspond to any real disposition present in the stone, but exist only in the mind of one who apprehends the stone as left, because it is, for instance, to the left of some animal. On the other hand, left and right in an animal are real relations, because they correspond to certain dispositions found in definite parts of the animal. Therefore, since the relations which distinguish the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit really exist in God, the relations in question must be real relations, and are not merely mental relations.

54 Relations in God are not accidental

These relations cannot inhere in God accidentally, because the operations on which the relations follow directly are the very substance of God, and also because, as was shown above,54 there can be no accident in God. Hence, if the relations are really in God, they cannot be accidentally inherent, but must be subsistent. How it is that what is an accident in other things, can exist substantially in God, is clear from the doctrine previously set forth.55

55 Personal distinction in God through the relations

Since distinction in the Godhead is accounted for by relations that are not accidental but are subsistent, and since among beings subsisting in an intellectual nature personal distinction is discerned, it necessarily follows that personal distinction in God is constituted by the relations in question. Therefore the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit are three persons, and also three hypostases, since hypostasis means "that which is subsistent and complete."

Source: The Light of Faith by St. Thomas Aquinas (AD 1200 approx.)

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