Malankara World

Faith of the Church: Trinity

Trinity

The Holy Trinity

by Saint Thomas Aquinas

Part 6

60 The number of relations and the number of persons

We must realize that, although the relations subsisting in the Godhead are the divine persons themselves, as was shown above,62 we are not therefore to conclude that there are five or four persons corresponding to the number of relations. For number follows distinction of some sort. Just as unity is indivisible or undivided, so plurality is divisible or divided. For a plurality of persons requires that relations have power to distinguish by reason of opposition, since formal distinction necessarily entails opposition. If, then, the relations in question are closely examined, paternity and filiation will be seen to have relative opposition to each other; hence they are incompatible in the same suppositum. Consequently paternity and filiation in God must be two subsistent persons. Innascibility, on the other hand, although opposed to filiation, is not opposed to paternity. Hence paternity and innascibility can pertain to one and the same person. Similarly, common spiration is not opposed either to paternity or to filiation, nor to innascibility. Thus nothing prevents common spiration from being in both the person of the Father and the person of the Son.

So common spiration is not a subsisting person distinct from the persons of the Father and the Son. But procession has a relation of opposition to common spiration. Therefore, since common spiration pertains to the Father and the Son, procession must be a person distinct from the persons of the Father and the Son.

Accordingly, the reason is clear why God is not called quiune (quinus) on account of the notions, which are five in number, but is called triune, on account of the Trinity of persons. The five notions are not five subsisting things, but the three persons are three subsisting things.

Although several notions or properties may pertain to a single person, only one of them constitutes the person. For a divine person is constituted by the properties, not in the sense that He is constituted by several of them, but in the sense that the relative, subsisting property itself is a person. If several properties were understood as subsisting in themselves apart, they would be several persons, and not one person. Hence we must understand that, of the several properties or notions belonging to a single person, the one that precedes63 according to the order of nature constitutes the person; the others are understood as inhering in the person already constituted.

Thus it is evident that innascibility cannot be the first notion of the Father, constituting His person, because nothing is constituted by a negation, and also because affirmation naturally precedes negation. Further, common spiration presupposes paternity and filiation in the order of nature, just as the procession of love presupposes the procession of the Word.

Hence common spiration cannot be the first notion of the Father or of the Son either. The first notion of the Father is paternity and the first notion of the Son is filiation, whereas procession alone is the notion of the Holy Spirit.

Accordingly, the notions constituting persons are three in number: paternity, filiation, and procession. And these notions must be strict properties. For that which constitutes a person must pertain to that person alone; individuating principles cannot belong to several individuals. Therefore, the three notions in question are called personal properties, in the sense that they constitute the three persons in the manner described. The remaining notions are called properties or notions of the persons, but not personal properties or notions, since they do not constitute a person.

61 Dependence of the hypostases on the personal properties

This makes it clear that if we were to remove the personal properties by intellectual abstraction, the hypostases could not remain. If a form is removed by intellectual abstraction, the subject of the form remains. Thus if whiteness is removed, the surface remains; if the surface is removed, the substance remains; if the form of the substance is removed, prime matter remains. But if the subject is removed, nothing remains.

In the case of God, the personal properties are the subsisting persons themselves. They do not constitute the persons in the sense that they are added to preexisting supposita; for in the Godhead nothing predicated absolutely, but only what is relative, can be distinct. So if the personal properties are removed by intellectual abstraction, no distinct hypostases remain. But if non-personal notions are thus removed, distinct hypostases do remain.

62 Effect of intellectual removal of personal properties

If the question were to be asked whether, in consequence of the removal of the personal properties by intellectual abstraction, the divine essence would remain, the answer is that in one respect it would remain, but in another it would not. Intellectual abstraction can take place in two ways. The first is by abstracting form from matter. In this abstraction the mind proceeds from the more formal to the more material; the first subject remains until the end, and the ultimate form is removed first. The second way of abstracting is by the abstraction of the universal from the particular, and this proceeds according to an order that is, in a sense, the opposite; the individuating material conditions are first removed, so that what is common may be retained.

In God, of course, there are neither matter and form, nor universal and particular. Nevertheless there is in the Godhead something that is common, and something that is proper and that supposes the common nature. In our human way of thinking, the divine persons are to the divine essence what individual supposita are to a common nature. According to the first type of intellectual abstraction, therefore, if we remove the personal properties, which are the subsisting persons themselves, the common nature does not remain. But in the second type of abstraction it does remain.

63 Personal acts and personal properties

We can perceive from this discussion the nature of the order between the personal acts and the personal properties. The personal properties are subsistent persons. But a person subsisting in any nature whatsoever, acts in virtue of his nature when he communicates his nature; for the form of a species is the principle for generating a product that is of like species. Consequently, since personal acts in God have to do with communicating the divine nature, a subsisting person must communicate the common nature in virtue of the nature itself.

Two conclusions follow from this. The first is, that the generative power of the Father is the divine nature itself, for the power of performing any action is the principle in virtue of which a thing acts. The second conclusion is that, according to our way of conceiving, the personal act of generation presupposes both the divine nature and the personal property of the Father, which is the very hypostasis of the Father. This is true even though such property, regarded as a relation, follows from the act. Thus, in speaking of the Father, if we attend to the fact that He is a subsistent person, we can say that He generates because He is the Father. But if we are thinking of what pertains to relationship, it seems we should say, contrariwise, that He is the Father because He generates.

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

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