Aquinas and the Concept of Relations

When it comes to the concept of relation there is some clarification that must first take place.  To the everyday person, relation means someone to whom you are related.  At the base level this is correct, but philosophically it goes a little deeper.  This is especially true when discussing relations in connection with the Trinity.  St. Thomas Aquinas’s concept of relations included paternity and filiation (Garrigou-Lagrange Introduction).

Paternity and filiation, of course, ae completely different things.  A man can at the same time be a father and a son.  He is father to a child, and a child, or offspring to someone else.  He is not able to be both to the same person.  The idea here is that paternal relation delineates a distinction between persons.  In the Trinity the Son is not able to be the Father because the Father is paternal.  It shows a distinction between the two, and though they are of the same substance they are separate.  Regarding this concept Aquinas states, “Thus the Father has communicable being, but He is a distinct person by the paternity, which is opposed to filiation; similarly, active spiration is opposed to passive spiration” (Garrigou-Lagrange Introduction).

If paternity denotes the relationship of the Father and Son, then what is filiation?  Paternity is a term that applies to fatherhood and filiation is a term that implies sonship.  This was a key point in Aquinas’s opposition to the Scotists.  The Son is distinguished from the Father through filiation alone, but within God paternity and filiation are personal properties (Garrigou-Lagrange Ch. XIV).  In filiation the Son has all the perfections from all eternity that the Father has.  This is done through generation and it is perfect based on relation.

One objection to the idea of filiation is the fact that Jesus said that the Father was greater than he (John 14:28).  Is not Jesus saying that he is somehow less than the Father?  That is what those wo object to the Trinity would have you believe?  Jesus says this because he lacks the relation of paternity.  This is something that is wholly unique to the Father.  They are the same essence and paternity in the Father in filiation in the Son (Garrigou-Lagrange Ch. XIV).  Divine filiation is not less than, or somehow subordinate, to paternity.  If that were the case then the Son would lack perfection, and that would not make him divine.  To think that way would lead us into many of the Christological heresies that the Church had already dealt with.  Regarding this Aquinas writes, “Thus divine filiation is not less perfect than divine paternity, just as in the triangle either angle at the base is not less perfect than the angle at the apex” (Garrigou-Lagrange Ch. XIV).

Regarding paternity, Aquinas answered an objection that stated that divine persons were brought about by active and passive origins (Garrigou-Lagrange Ch. XIV).  Generation is active and active generation is something that comes from the Father.  This is a relation of Paternity and the very act refers to the Son.  This does not change the existence of the Son or modify it in some way.  They are still the same essence, but in relation to one another one is paternal.

In Conclusion, St. Thomas Aquinas wrote many things that advanced our understanding of the Trinity.  His explanation from scripture and philosophy helped elaborate on earlier work done on the Trinity by St, Augustine.  It is important to understand the distinctions between paternity and filiation, because to misunderstand can lead to error in discussing the Trinity.

 

Works Cited

Garrigou-Lagrange, Reginald.  The Trinity and God the Creator.  https://www.ewtn.com/library/THEOLOGY/TRINITY.HTM#05, accessed November 13, 2018

Advertisements

St. Augustine and the Trinity

The Trinity is a doctrine that some have had issue with since the earliest days of Christianity.  The great church father, St. Augustine, was not immune to having to deal with Christological heresies.  Though the heresies are Christological, they deal with the Trinity because Christ is the second person of the Trinity.  If a there is a false understanding of who Christ is, then there is a false understanding of what the Trinity is.  In discussing these various heresies, St. Augustine wrote treatise titled On the Trinity.  This has become known as one of his most difficult works and it took him sixteen years to complete (Augnet 2135).  His work is gift to all of us and shows various arguments supporting the equality of divine persons against Christological heresies.

In chapter one, St. Augustine warns the reader of those who commit heresy through the misuse of reason.  They fall into error by misinterpreting the sacred text through crude love of reason (Augustine Ch.1).  By doing so they miss the point of the text and somehow twist scripture to mean something it does not intend.  In all fairness, this is still something that happens today regarding the Trinity.  In chapter five, Augustine speaks of the unity of the divine persons.  He does this specifically by describing how the three persons are one, how they have individua work, and yet work together.  Augustine states in regard to their work, “Father does some things, the Son other things, and the Holy Spirit yet others” (Augustine Ch.5.8).  The Holy Spirit is the spirit of both the Father and the Son and was not begotten.  Just like the Father and the Son, the Holy Spirit has no beginning or end.

In Chapter six Augustine seems to be teaching against a type of modalism that was going around.  Some were saying that God was not immortal because he changed into the Son and Holy Spirit through time, or that somehow Christ was less that the Father.  Augustine brilliantly answers with scripture.  This is still a method that is effective today.  He quotes John 1:1 to show that Christ has always existed, and that the scriptures call Him God (Augustine Ch. 6.9).  He then alludes to the baptism of Christ in Matthew chapter 3 to show the unity and equality of the three.  Jesus is present, it was the Father’s voice that spoke, and it was the Holy Spirit that was present in the dove.  This shows that they all exist at the same time, in unity, equality, and that it is not one form changing to another.

In proving his case of equality among the Trinitarian persons, St. Augustine looks to 1 Corinthians 8:6 which states, “yet for us there is one God, the Father, from whom are all things and for whom we exist, and one Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom are all things and through whom we exist” (NRSV).  This verse affirms the divinity of Christ by mentioning him in the same sentence as God.  Notice also how all things exist through the Father and the Son?  Each person of the Trinity has a clause, or duty, assigned.  One is not more important than the other, but they all work together for our redemption and salvation (Augustine 6.12).

Some may say that the verse mentioned above makes sense, but what of the Holy Spirit?  In Chapter 6, St. Augustine goes to great lengths to show that the Holy Spirit is equal to the Father and the Son.  The Holy Spirit is not something that had a point of origin.  In other words, he is not a creature that had a beginning and that will have an ultimate end.  The Holy Spirit is equal, coeternal, and of the same essence.  Regarding the Holy Spirit St. Paul writes in Philippians 3:3, “For it is we who are the circumcision, who worship in the Spirit of God and boast in Christ Jesus and have no confidence in the flesh” (NRSV).  Also in 1 Corinthians 6:9, St. Paul specifically mentions that our bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit.  We serve, worship, and ask the Holy Spirit for things just as we would the Father and the Son.  That is because they are coequal and God.

Image result for augustine and the trinity

Works Cited

Augustine. On the Trinity From Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, First Series, Vol. 3. Edited by Philip Schaff. (Buffalo, NY: Christian Literature Publishing Co., 1887.) Revised and edited for New Advent by Kevin Knight. <http://www.newadvent.org/fathers/130101.htm&gt;, accessed October 14, 2018.

Augustinians Australia. http://www.augnet.org/en/works-of-augustine/writings-of-augustine/2135-on-the-trinity/, accessed October 14, 2018.

Homoosios and Christology

Within Christian theology the term Homoosios holds a very important distinction.  The word itself was made famous at the Council of Nicea when the council fathers used it to defend Christ’s deity.  The word means “same essence” and was used to say that Christ was of the same essence of the Father.  Though all 318 bishops at Nicea defended the divinity of Christ, not all of them agreed with using Homoosios as a descriptor.  This is because the historical roots of the word were used by Paul of Samasota in defending earlier Christological heresies.  This made some bishops weary of its adoption.

The Council of Nicea met to combat the teachings of a priest named Arius who was teaching that Christ was a created being.  As previously stated, the council fathers used the term Homoosios in regard to the relationship between the Father and the Son.  Some bishops were weary of its usage because its links to Gnosticism.  This word had antecedents in Gnosticism, and Paul of Samosata used it to revive an adoptionist usage.  The adoptionist movement taught that Christ became Christ as a reward for his deeds on life, and as a result he was not always eternal.  It is obvious to see, and to appreciate, the concerns that some bishops had.

In response to the term some bishops came up with an alternative.  This alternative word was known at Homoiousios which is defined as “similar essence” (Lecture Notes).  The presence of that one extra vowel makes big difference in meaning.  Homoosios means of “same essence” and Homoiousios means of “similar essence”.  Was Christ the Logos or not?

The answer to the above question, according to Arius was a resounding no.  To the council fathers the answer was obviously that he was.  Richard Norris describes this as “The incarnation is and must be the incarnation of one who is fully and truly God” (Norris 19).  Some bishops wanted to be as far away from the term Homooosios because of its root in an earlier heresy.  In doing so, the council would have gained very little, if any, ground in defining who Christ was.  In defining the Trinity, we are taught that the three persons are separate persons but of one essence.  If he church would have went with Homoiousios it still would have held the door open to the teaching that Christ was somehow subordinate but a different essence altogether.

What does the mean in regard to the council itself?  The council had the goal in mind of rendering an authoritative declaration on the deity of Christ, not to provide a thorough explanation.  This judgment of Christ’s deity reaffirmed the Christian belief that God is a community of three persons, and this was at odds with the Roman pagan religion.  Some saw the response of Nicea a good start but incomplete.  This is why other councils such as Constantinople (aka Nicea II), Ephesus, Chalcedon were called.  There were far more issues at stake in regard to the deity of Christ that Nicea had not been prepared to handle.  The council of Nicea had the goal of squashing Arian belief, and it was partly successful, but further definitions of Homoosios would come in 381 at the Council of Constantinople.  Nicea laid the groundwork for further discussion on the deity of Christ, and its implications on the community of Christians.

Image result for homoosios

Works Cited

Norris, Richard.  The Christological Controversy.  Philadelphia, PA:  Fortress Press.  1980.

 

Blog at WordPress.com.

Up ↑