Summary Against Modern Thought: Understanding The Trinity VI

Summary Against Modern Thought: Understanding The Trinity VI

Previous post.

Now begins the proofs that Christ is not generated, but is God.


1 The truth, of course, excludes every falsehood and dissolves every doubt therefore it is now time to dispose of the arguments which appeared to offer difficulty about divine generation.

2 From what we have said it is already clear that we assert an intelligible generation in God, and not such as that we find in material things wherein the generation is a kind of change which is the opposite of corruption. For not even in our intellect is the word conceived with some change, nor does it have an opposing corruption. It is to this conception that the generation of the Son of God is similar, as is now clear.

3 In like manner, too, the word conceived by our intellect does not proceed from potency to act except in so far as the intellect proceeds from potency to act. For all that, the word does not arise in our intellect except as it exists in act; rather, simultaneously with its existence in act, there is a word conceived therein.

But the divine intellect is never in potency, but is actual only, as was shown above. Therefore, the generation of the Word Himself is not like the process from potency to act rather, it is like the origin of act from act, as is brilliance from light and an understanding understood from an understanding in act. Hence, clearly also, generation does not prevent the Son of God from being true God, nor from being Himself eternal. Rather, He is indeed necessarily coeternal with God whose Word He is, for an intellect in act is never without its word.

4 And since the Son of God’s generation is not material, but intelligible, it is now stupid to doubt whether the Father gave His nature wholly or partially. For, manifestly, if God understands Himself, the whole fullness of Himself must be contained in His Word. Nevertheless, the substance given to the Son does not cease to be in the Father, for not even in our case does the proper nature cease to be in the thing which is understood. One word of our intellect owes it to the very thing understood that it contains intelligibly that very same nature.

Notes “…it is now stupid to doubt”

5 Since, again, divine generation is not material, clearly there need not be in the Son of God something which receives and something else which is the nature received. For this necessarily happens in material generations in that the matter of the generated receives the form of the one generating. But, in an intelligible generation, such is not the case. For it is not thus that a word arises within an intellect: one part of it is previously understood as receiving, and one part as flowing from the intellect; but in its entirety the word has its origin from the intellect, as even in our case one word in its entirety has its origin from others—a conclusion, for example, from principles. Where one thing in its entirety rises from another there is no marking off a receiver from the thing received, but the entire thing which arises is from him from whom it rises.

6 In this same way it is clear that the truth of divine generation is not ruled out by this: in God there can be no distinction of a plurality of subsistents. The divine essence, subsistent though it be, cannot for all that be separated from the relation which must be understood to be in God, because the conceived Word of the divine mind is from God Himself speaking. For the Word, too, is the divine essence, as was shown, and God speaking, from whom the Word is, is the divine essence; not a first and a second, but an essence numerically the same.

But relations like this are not accidents in God; they are subsistent things; for nothing can happen to God, as was proved above. There are, therefore, many things subsisting if one looks to the relations; there is but one subsistent thing, of course, if one looks to the essence. And on this account we speak of one subsisting God, because He is one subsisting essence; and we speak of a plurality of Persons, because of the distinction of subsisting relations. For the distinction of persons, even in things human, is not worked out in accordance with the specific essence, but in accordance with things adjoined to the specific nature. Now, in all the persons of men there is unity in the specific nature; there is, nevertheless, a plurality of persons simply because men are distinguished in these things which are adjoined to the nature. In divinity, therefore, one must not speak of one Person by reason of the unity of the subsisting essence, but of many Persons by reason of the relations.

7 From this, of course, it clearly does not follow that what serves as principle of individuation is in some other, because the divine essence is not in another god, nor is the paternity in the Son.

8 Although, of course, the two Persons—namely, that of the Father and that Of the Son—are differentiated not by essence, but by a relation, the relation is not, for all that, other than the essence in reality, since a relation in God cannot be an accident.

Neither will this be looked on as impossible if one earnestly considers the points established in Book I. There it was shown that in God are the perfections of all beings, not in any composition, but in the unity of a simple essence, for the diversity of perfections which a created thing acquires by many forms is God’s in His one and simple essence. For a man lives by one form, is wise by another, and is just by another; and all of these belong to God by His essence. Therefore, just as wisdom and justice in a man are accidents indeed, but in God the same as the divine essence, so a relation (say, that of paternity or of sonship), although it be an accident in men, in God is the divine essence.

9 It is not, of course, said that the divine wisdom is His essence whereas in us wisdom adds something to the essence, because the divine wisdom is, as it were, something lesser than our wisdom; it is said because His essence exceeds our essence, so that a thing which exceeds our essence (namely, to know and to be just) is possessed by God in His essence perfectly. Therefore, whatever is fitting to us which is distinguished in accord with essence and with wisdom must be ascribed to God by reason of His essence at one and the same time. And a like proportion must be observed in other cases.

Now, since the divine essence is the very relation of paternity or of sonship, whatever is the property of paternity must belong to God, although paternity be His very essence. However, this is the property of paternity: to be distinguished from sonship. For one is said to be a father to a son as to another. And this is, essential to a father: to be the father of a son. Therefore, although God the Father is the divine essence, and in the same way God the Son is, from His being the Father He is distinguished from the Son, even though they be one in that each of the two is the divine essence.

10 From this it is also evident that a relation in divinity is not without an absolute. But a comparison to an absolute in God is other than a comparison to an absolute in created things. For in created things a relation is compared to an absolute as an accident to a subject; not in God, of course—there the comparison is by way of identity, just as it is also in other. things which are said about God.

An identical subject, of course, cannot have opposed relations in itself: the same man, for example, being his father and his son. But the divine essence, by reason of its all round perfection, is identified with its wisdom and its justice and other things of this kind, which in our case are contained in differing genera. And in the same way nothing stops the one essence from being identified with paternity and sonship, and the Father and the Son from being one God, although the Father is not the Son; for it is by an identical essence that God has by nature being and His very own intelligible Word.

11 From what has been said it can be made clear that the relations in God are in reality, and not in understanding alone. For every relation which follows on the proper operation of any thing, whether potency, or quantity, or anything of this kind, really exists in that thing; otherwise, it would be in the thing by understanding alone, as is apparent in the instance of knowledge and the knowable.

For the relation of knowledge to the knowable follows on the action of the knower; not, of course, on the action of the knowable. The knowable maintains itself as it is in itself, both when it is understood and when it is not understood. Accordingly, the relation is in the knower really, but it is in the knowable consequently upon understanding only, since one says that the knowable is understood relatively to the knowledge because the knowledge is related to the knowable.

A like situation appears in the case of right and left. For there is in animals a distinction of the powers from which the relation of right and left arises, on which account such a relation truly and really exists in the animal. Hence, no matter how the animal is turned around, the relation always maintains itself in the same way, for the right part is never called the left. Inanimate things, to be sure, which lack the powers just mentioned, have no relation of this kind really existing in them, but one names them in the relation of right or of left from this: the animals in some way present themselves to the inanimate. Hence, the same column is called now right, now left, inasmuch as the animal is compared to it in a different situation. Of course, the relation of the Word to God who speaks and whose Word He is in the divinity is based on the fact that God understands Himself. This operation is, indeed, in God, or, rather, is God Himself, as was shown above. One concludes that the relations aforesaid are in God truly and really and not solely according to our understanding.

12 Although, of course, one holds that there is a relation in God, it does not, for all that, follow that there is in God something which has a dependent being, for in us the relations have a dependent being because their being is other than the being of the substance. Hence, they have a proper mode of being in their proper essence, just as happens in the case of the other accidents. In view of the fact that all accidents are forms of a sort superadded to the substance and caused by the principles of the substance, it must be that their being is superadded to the being of the substance and dependent on that being.

And by as much as the being of each and every one of them is prior or posterior, by that much the accidental form in its proper essence will be more like a substance or more perfect. For this reason even a relation really accruing to a substance has a being which is last in order and quite imperfect: last in order, that is, because not only is the being of the substance prerequisite, but also the being of other accidents, out of which the relation is caused (thus to be one in quantity causes equality, and one in quality similarity); quite imperfect in turn, because the proper essence of the relation consists in its being toward-another; hence, its proper being, which it adds to the substance, depends not only on the being of the substance, but on the being of some exterior thing as well.

This situation, of course, has no place in divinity, since there is in God no other being than that of substance, for whatever is in God is substance. Just as the being of wisdom in God, therefore, is not being by depending on substance (since the being of wisdom is the being of substance), so the being of relation is not being by depending either on substance or on another exterior thing (since the being of relation is also the being of substance). From the fact, then, that one puts a relation in God it does not follow that there is in Him some dependent being, but only that there is in Him some aspect in which aspect the essence of relation consists. just so from the fact that one puts wisdom in God it does not follow that there is something accidental in Him, but only that there is a certain perfection in which the essence of wisdom consists.

13 Thus clearly, also, from the imperfection in created relations it does not follow that the divine persons, distinguished by relations, are imperfect, but it does follow that the distinction of the divine persons is minimal.

14 Clearly, also, from the points made, although God is substantially predicated of the Father and the Son, it does not for all that follow that, if the Father and the Son are a kind of plurality, they are a plurality of gods. For they are many by reason of the distinction of subsistent relations, yet one God, nevertheless, by reason of the unity of subsistent essence. This does not happen among men, of course—that is, that some plurality is one man—since the essence of humanity is not numerically one in each of the plurality, nor is the essence of humanity subsistent; that is, humanity is not a man.

15 From the fact that in God there is unity of essence and distinction of relations it becomes manifest that nothing stops one’s finding opposites in the one God, at least those opposites which follow the distinction of relation: begetting and begotten, for instance, which are opposed relatively, and begotten and unbegotten which are opposed as affirmation and negation. For wherever there is a distinction one must find the opposition of negation and affirmation. Things which differ in no affirmation or negation are entirely undifferentiated, for the first would have to be in every respect one with the second, and thus they would be thoroughly identified, and in no way distinct.

16 Let these points on the divine generation suffice, then.


  1. jorgen b

    The emphasis on defining the Trinity in accordance with Platonic and Aristototlean metaphysics which nobody understands really anymore is one of the things that first corrupted Christianity away from moral living, leading ot the acceptance of faith alonism in Luther, because already the focus was placed on abstract definitions of God’s interrelations with himself (a head faith) rather than morality, so Luther was only a natural next step. And the next step from there was “Christian” Zionism, or in other words rejection of supersessionism (replacement theology), and denying that Christ replaces Moses, the church replaces the state of Israel, Christians replace Jews, heaven replaces eretz yisrael, baptism replaces circumcision, communion replaces passover, etc., and so modern Christians now are solidly Trinitarians but deny morality and deny that Christians are the chosen people and say the Jews are the chosen people and although Trinitarian worship the state of Israel as part of the Trinity!

  2. Dean Ericson

    Jorgen B — I think you’re on to something.

  3. Dean Ericson

    But of course, I won’t know what to really think about it until Lee Phillips and Shecky Greene weigh in.

  4. John Cassani

    Jorgen B- You make a good point. But why is it that no one understands Platonic and Aristotelian metaphysics anymore? The fact is, no one was ever born understanding it; it has always required that one be taught it. I can tell you, learning it didn’t make me a faith alone heretic, or abandon moral living, though I believe that moral living is only truly possible through living the life of grace. The fact that this stuff is only taught in conservative Catholic seminaries today does not invalidate its worth. I am confident that even today’s young scholars are capable of understanding the best of the work of the ancients. As far as the Trinity goes, no one will understand it until they see God face to face.

  5. acricketchirps

    As commenters here know well, I’m not very smart so I probably won’t be able to argue this through, but it seems to me jorgen b begins with a non sequitur. Nothing about the dependence of the doctrine of the Trinity on Aristotle’s metaphysics leads to bad behaviour. In fact all truth must depend on a true metaphysics.

    Rather he should say it was the abandonment of Thomine-Aristotelian metaphysics itself in favour of nominalism and other increasingly anti-realist systems that led to lack of belief and thence to immorality that brought the church down in Northern Europe.

  6. Rob

    St. Thomas had the benefit of familiarity with Dionysus the PseudoAreopagite, the author of Cloud of Unknowing, St. John Damascene, and the early Desert Fathers, etc. in defense of Trinitarian doctrine. No modern theologians have cultivated inner reliance upon God in order to understand these writers. Ianto Watt is correct in his condemnation of modern scholars, as having no historical depth beyond the coming of the Beatles.

  7. jorgen b

    Its not the dependency of the orthodox conception of the Trinity on Platonic and Aristotolean metaphysics that leads to immoral behavior. Its the lack of doing anything to make sure morality was paid attention to. The 3 creeds, Apostles, Nicene, Athanasians, where do they even mention morality? You have positions like CS Lewis’ Mere Christianity that say believing these creeds makes you a Christian. But does not believing them make one a heretic in actuality? A true church should include morality in its creed, not just Trinity. This is the problem. Implementations of church on the credal level have not paid attention to morality, and then everyone wonders why morality disappeared.

  8. acricketchirps

    More later but the words of the creed you’re looking for are, ‘whence he shall come to judge the living and the dead’.

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