Malankara World

Faith of the Church: Trinity

Trinity

The Holy Trinity

by Saint Thomas Aquinas

Part - 5

56 Impossibility of more than three persons in God

There cannot be more than three persons in God. For the divine persons cannot be multiplied by a division of their substance, but solely by the relation of some procession; and not by any sort of procession, but only by such as does not have its term in something outside of God. If the relation had something external as its term, this would not possess the divine nature, and so could not be a divine person or hypostasis. But procession in God that does not terminate outside of God, must be either according to the operation of the intellect, whereby the Word proceeds, or according to the operation of the will, whereby love proceeds, as is clear from our exposition.56 Therefore no divine person can proceed unless He proceeds as the Word, whom we call the Son, or as love, whom we call the Holy Spirit.

Moreover, since God comprehends everything in His intellect by a single act of intuition and similarly loves everything by a single act of His will, there cannot be several words or several loves in God. If, then, the Son proceeds as Word, and if the Holy Spirit proceeds as love, there cannot be several Sons or several Holy Spirits in God.

Again: the perfect is that beyond which there is nothing. Hence a being that would tolerate anything of its own class to be outside itself, would fall short of absolute perfection. This is why things that are simply perfect in their natures are not numerically multiplied; thus God, the sun, the moon, and so on.57 But both the Son and the Holy Spirit must be simply perfect, since each of them is God, as we have shown.58 Therefore several Sons or several Holy Spirits are impossible.

Besides, that whereby a subsistent thing is this particular thing, distinct from other things, cannot be numerically multiplied, for the reason that an individual cannot be predicated of many. But the Son is this divine person, subsisting in Himself and distinct from the other divine persons by sonship just as Socrates is constituted this human person by individuating principles. Accordingly, as the individuating principles whereby Socrates is this man cannot pertain to more than one man, so sonship in the Godhead cannot pertain to more than one divine person. Similar is the case with the relation of the Father and the Holy Spirit. Hence there cannot be several Fathers in God or several Sons or several Holy Spirits.

Lastly, whatever is one by reason of its form, is not numerically multiplied except through matter (thus, whiteness is multiplied by existing in many subjects). But there is no matter in God. Consequently, whatever is one in species and form in the Godhead cannot be multiplied numerically. Such are paternity and filiation and the procession of the Holy Spirit. And thus there cannot be several Fathers or Sons or Holy Spirits in God.

57 Properties of the Father

Such being the number of persons in God, the properties whereby the persons are distinguished from one another must be of some definite number. Three properties are characteristic of the Father. The first is that whereby He is distinguished from the Son alone. This is paternity. The second is that whereby the Father is distinguished from the other two persons, namely, the Son and the Holy Spirit. And this is innascibility; for the Father is not God as proceeding from another person, whereas the Son and the Holy Spirit do proceed from another person. The third property is that whereby the Father along with the Son is distinguished from the Holy Spirit. This is called their common spiration. But a property whereby the Father may be distinguished from the Holy Spirit alone is not to be assigned, for the reason that the Father and the Son are a single principle of the Holy Spirit, as has been shown.59

58 Properties of the Son and the Holy Spirit

Two properties must pertain to the Son: one whereby He is distinguished from the Father, and this is filiation; another whereby, along with the Father, He is distinguished from the Holy Spirit; and this is their common spiration. But no property is to be assigned whereby the Son is distinguished from the Holy Spirit alone, because, as we said above, the Son and the Father are a single principle of the Holy Spirit. 60 Similarly, no single property is to be assigned whereby the Holy Spirit and the Son together are distinguished from the Father. For the Father is distinguished from them by one property, namely, innascibility, inasmuch as He does not proceed. However, since the Son and the Holy Spirit proceed, not by one procession, but by several, they are distinguished from the Father by two properties. The Holy Spirit has only one property by which He is distinguished from the Father and the Son, and this is called procession. That there cannot be any property by which the Holy Spirit may be distinguished from the Son alone or from the Father alone, is evident from this whole discussion.

Accordingly, five properties in all are attributed to the divine persons: innascibility, paternity, filiation, spiration, and procession.

59 Why these properties are called notions

These five properties can be called notions of the persons, for the reason that the distinction between the persons in God is brought to our notice through them. On the other hand, they cannot be called properties, if the root meaning of property is insisted on, so that property is taken to mean a characteristic pertaining to one individual alone, for common spiration pertains to the Father and the Son.

But if the word property is employed in the sense of an attribute that is proper to some individuals as setting them off from others (in the way that two-footed, for example, is proper to man and bird in contradistinction to quadrupeds), there is nothing to prevent even common spiration from being called a property. Since, however, the persons in God are distinguished solely by relations, and distinction among the divine persons is manifested by the notions, the notions must in some sense pertain to relationship.

But only four of the notions are real relations, whereby the divine persons are related to one another. The fifth notion, innascibility, pertains to relation as being the denial of relation (for negations are reduced to the genus of affirmations, and privations are reduced to the genus of habits, as, for example, not man is reduced to the genus of man, and not white is reduced to the genus of whiteness).61

We should note that among the relations whereby the divine persons are related to one another, some have definite names, such as paternity and filiation, which properly signify relationship. But others lack a definite name: those whereby the Father and the Son are related to the Holy Spirit, and the Holy Spirit is related to them. So for these we use names of origin in place of relative names.

We perceive clearly that common spiration and procession, signify origin, but not relations that follow origin. This can be brought out in the case of the relations between the Father and the Son. Generation denotes active origin, and is followed by the relation of paternity; and nativity signifies the passive generation of the Son, and is followed by the relation of filiation. In like mariner, some relation follows common spiration, and the same is true of procession. But as these relations lack definite names, we use the names of the actions instead of relative names.

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

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