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

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The Trinity and Knowability

The Trinity is a mystery that is dogma and must be believed for one to call themselves a Christian.  This is a leap of faith, because though we know it is true, we are not able to understand everything about it.  Do we need to understand everything about it in order to believe?  Some would say that to believe we must have absolute knowledge of the subject.  To not have this knowability is a contradiction in eyes of many.

There are many things that we have knowledge of, but we do not know absolutely.  The medical field is constantly changing and filled with new advances, but just a few decades ago the damage of cigarettes on the human body was not well known.  Is this a contradiction in the medical field?  Do we not adhere to the advice of our doctor because we do not have an absolute knowledge of his field?  To have that line of thinking borders on insanity.

There is no tension between the trinity and its knowability.  The Trinity was revealed very slowly in scripture because to reveal it right away would lead Israel into Tritheism.  They simply would not have understood it.  The members of the Trinity were together at one time at the baptism of Christ, and Christ mentioned all three.  For those who have issues believing the Trinity, St. Augustine asks a very interesting question.  Do you believe Jesus rose from the dead though you have never seen anyone else do the same (Augustine 7.5)?  We love the Lord Jesus though we have never seen him, and we love the other members of the Trinity as well.  We see the handiwork of the Trinity all around us.  The Trinity is one God with three persons, and we love them because they are God.  It does take an element of faith like most things in life.  That illumination that faith provides assists in understanding it a bit more.  If we fully understand everything there is to know about God, then he ceases being God.

 

Works Cited

Augustine of Hippo. 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 November 11, 2018.

The Need for Formal Formulation of Trinitarian Dogma

In the early church many were attempting to understand the divinity of Christ, and in extension the Holy Trinity.  Today, we have the benefit of the Church correcting false ideas.  However, when these ideas were formulated there was not a dogmatic decree regarding the Trinity though the dogma had been taught in the earliest days of the church.  The heresies of Monarchianism, Sabellianism, Subordinationism, and Arianism required that the church formally formulate the Trinitarian doctrine.

Dynamic Monarchianism taught that the Father was true God, and that Christ was a man who was indwelled with a divine spirit (Preuss 126).  Patripassian Monarchianism takes it a step further by acknowledging Christ as divine but does not go far enough as the two are not of the same substance.  Sabellianism, or Modalism as it is also called, taught that God manifested himself in different modes and that there was only one person of the Godhead.  In short, God was made up of one person (Garrigou-Lagrange Ch.5).  Arianism denied the divinity of Christ and taught that He was a creation of the Father (Lecture Notes), and this was also the Arian view of the Holy Spirit.  In that regard, he was subordinate to the Father.  The heresies mentioned all have elements of subordinationism, because in various respects the divinity of Christ and the Holy Spirit is lowered.

With these heresies being taught the souls of the faithful were at risk.  The church rightly saw that an attack on the persons of the Trinity was a salvific issue.  Afterall, if Christ was not fully divine then his sacrifice on the cross meant little or nothing.  The church responded to the heresies, and formally defined the Trinity at the Council of Nicea in 325.

 

Works Cited

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

Preuss, Arthur. The Divine Trinity.  https://archive.org/details/divinetrinityad00pohlgoog, accessed November 12, 2018.

Patristic Testimony and the Trinity

If the Trinity is of such vital important to the faith and to the Christian life, what did the testimony of the patristic fathers have to say about it?  This question is asked because it is a question asked by some skeptics of the Trinity dogma.  While the Faith is explained in a plain and direct manner in the first centuries, the substance of the mystery is rightly shown in the following centuries.  The patristic testimony regarding the Trinity, has a definite influence on the doctrinal and liturgical life of the church now as it did then.

The work of the early church fathers can be divided in what is called Anti-Nicene and Post-Nicene.  The reason for these distinctions is because the Council of Nicea was a sort of dividing line because after Nicea the dogma of the Trinity was formally defined (Preuss 142).  At any rate, the first four centuries were crucial as dogma was not only defined, but even before then we see development and manifestation of the dogma in the liturgy (Garrigou-Lagrange Introduction).

At mass there are two creeds that can be said after the homily.  One is the Nicean creed, and the other is the Apostle creed.  The Apostles creed is only slightly older than its Nicean counterpart, but in it we profess the Trinity.  Though it is made up of a few lines it declared the divinity of all three persons of the Godhead, and it is a creed that we still profess today (Preuss 144).  Regarding this Garrigou-Lagrange states, “according to the arrangement of the Apostles’ Creed is the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost and those things attributed to them in the order of salvation” (Garrigou-Lagrange Ch. 1).

The creed itself is an extension of the sacrament of Baptism.  In Baptism, one is immersed, or water is poured on the head, three times in the name of each person of the Trinity (Lecture Notes).  The Trinitarian formula of baptism has biblical roots in such places as Matthew 28, but it was carried on into the liturgy and the writings of the Fathers.  Tertullian, a second century Christian writer, stated that the Trinity itself is the substance of the New Testament (Garrigou-Lagrange Ch.1).

There is also evidence of Patristic testimony in the doxologies in the early church and those in use today.  As was the case with Baptism, origins of these doxologies have their roots in the Pauline epistles where St. Paul writes the earliest doxologies.  The prayer that we sometimes call the “Glory Be” (Gloria Patra) today, has very ancient Christian roots (Lecture Notes).  Glory be to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit as it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be.  World without end, amen.  This prayer reflected the publicly professed faith of the early Christians, and early Christian writers (Preuss 146).  It is one of the basic prayers taught to children at an early age to teach them the dogma of the Trinity.  It is one that links us today with great saints such as St. Justin Martyr, wo also was familiar with this doxology (Preuss 146).

The doctrine of the Trinity is echoed in the confessions of the early martyrs.  Patristic testimony celebrated these martyrs as heroes of the faith, and in some cases the patristics were among these martyrs.  These martyrs are celebrated in the liturgy on various feast days throughout the liturgical calendar.  St. Polycarp was martyred in 166 A.D., and before his martyrdom he gave glory all here persons of the Trinity (Preuss 145).  There were many others with St. Epipodeus and St, Euplus of Cantonia just to name a couple more.  These holy martyrs died for the Trinity because it was true.  Just because the dogma had not been formally defined does not mean that it had not always been taught.

 

Works Cited

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

Preuss, Arthur. The Divine Trinity.  https://archive.org/details/divinetrinityad00pohlgoog, accessed November 12, 2018.

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.

Guest Post: How Can God Die On The Cross?

Today’s post is a guest article written by Catholic Apologist Eric Shearer.  Eric has a blog titled On This Rock Apologetics.  He is doing great work for the church and you will be richly blessed by his writing.  So go on over and give him a follow.  Enjoy the article!

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Not long ago, I was talking with someone about how Jesus is both God and man. I explained how the Bible affirms this, especially in the beginning of John’s gospel: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God… The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us” (John 1:1,14).

“Jesus cannot be God because Jesus died on the cross,” the man retorted, “and God cannot die.”

Have you ever found yourself pondering this dilemma? Something just doesn’t sound right when we say that God died. It’s as if we are saying that while Jesus was in the tomb for three days the world was without God.

But a world without God would be impossible. Existence is one of God’s attributes. Recall what God said to Moses when asked about His name: “I am who am” (Ex 3:14, Douay-Reims translation). St. Thomas Aquinas even described God as “Him who is subsisting being itself”.1 Existing isn’t just something God does, it’s something He is.

Even more, our existence depends on His. It’s in God that “we live and move and have our being” (Acts 17:28). If God stopped existing (even for a moment), creation itself would know about it. It wouldn’t be pretty…

So how do we explain that God died on the cross? We’ll need to investigate two questions: What is man? And what is death? Let’s begin.

 

What is Man?

Man is like an Oreo. An Oreo is made of chocolate cookies and white frosting. Take away one of those two components and you don’t have an Oreo anymore.

Similarly, man is composed of both body and spirit. That is, he has both a material component (his body), as well as a spiritual component (his spirit). Take one away and he isn’t complete.

Consider the second creation account in Genesis 2. We read that, “the Lord God formed man from the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life.” And after this, “the man became a living being” (Gen 2:7). First God forms man’s body, then he infused in that body the breath of life, a spirit. And it wasn’t until both came together that the first man was complete.

So man is a fusion of both body and spirit. Commenting on this, Frank Sheed said that, “only in man spirit is united with a body, animates the body, makes it to be a living body.”2

So when Jesus took on flesh, He took on a human body, and His divine nature was coupled with a human nature. (For those of you who like big words, this union is what theologians call the Hypostatic Union).

It can be difficult to imagine the God of the universe taking on a human nature. And it can be even more tempting to reduce His humanity to a more comfortable and “bitesize” understanding. But make no mistake, He was (and is) just as much human as we are, similar in all ways except sin. He experienced anger (Matt 21:12-13), sadness (John 11:35), temptation (Matt 4:1-11), and yes, even death (Matt 27:50).

So when we say that Jesus died, we mean it. His death was as real as any other human’s death.

Now that we’ve looked at what a human is, we can move on to what death is.

 

What is Death?

When we talk about death, it’s easy to be nearsighted. We tend to think of it as “The End” (roll the credits). And understandably so, since death marks the end of our earthly lives, and it’s a tragic event for everyone. But that view of death ignores all mention of an afterlife.

As Christians, we don’t see death as the end. It’s a comma, not a period. Consider St. Paul when he said, “For to me, living is Christ and dying is gain… my desire is to depart and be with Christ, for that is far better” (Phil 1:21,23). Though it seems like the end, death only marks a transition from this life into the next.

Death is when our spirit leaves our body, ending our time on Earth. Our spirit passes into the afterlife. Our bodies, on the other hand, remain on earth, lifeless. As it is written, “the dust returns to the earth as it was, and the spirit returns to God who gave it” (Eccl 12:7). Frank Sheed describes death in these words:

A point comes—suddenly if there is violence, or by slow wearing—when the body can no longer respond to the life-giving energy of the soul. That, precisely, is death. The body unvivified, falls away into its elements. But the soul does not die with the body. Why should it? As a spirit it does not depend for its life upon the body: matter cannot give life to spirit.3

So death isn’t the end. Though separated from the body, the spirit lives on.

Now that we’ve defined what man and death are, we’re finally ready to come back to our original dilemma.

 

Did God Die?

Yes, God did die. Jesus Christ, the second person of the Holy Trinity was tortured to death at the hands of Roman soldiers. Nailed to the wood of the cross, moments before His death, He cried out, “Father, into your hands I commend my spirit.” Then, Luke tells us, Jesus “breathed his last” (Luke 23:46).

Jesus’ death on the cross was just as real as any other human death. When His body could no longer sustain life, His spirit departed the material world, leaving His body lifeless. But does this pose any problem for a Christian? Does this sound like a dilemma?

Of course not. The world was not without God for three days. Jesus lived on, in spite of His separation from His body. Dying in no way blotted Jesus out from existence. It only separated Him from His body, causing Him to depart from this world.

So if anyone ever objects that Jesus can’t be God because Jesus died, simply explain that death only separates the spirit from the body, and that in no way poses a dilemma for a Christian. God came that He might redeem us through His death on the cross. And redeem us He did.

Image result for jesus on the cross

 

Sources

[1] Summa Theologiae I, Q 4, Art 2,
www.newadvent.org/summa/

[2] Sheed, F. J. Theology for Beginners, 1981, p. 10.

[3] Sheed, F. J. “Life After Death.” Theology and Sanity,
http://www.ecatholic2000.com/sheed/untitled-31.shtml

St. Irenaeus and the Rule of Faith

In the second century Gnosticism threatened to tear the young church apart.  It was a heresy that taught that all matter was evil, Jesus was spirit, and that true salvific doctrine was passed down through a secret oral tradition[1].  To combat this growing problem the early church father Irenaeus wrote a lengthy treatise titled Against Heresies.  One of the methods used by the great church father was the rule of faith.  In describing the rule of faith Irenaeus writes, “The Church, though dispersed through our the whole world, even to the ends of the earth, has received from the apostles and their disciples this faith: [She believes] in one God, the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven, and earth, and the sea, and all things that are in them; and in one Christ Jesus, the Son of God, who became incarnate for our salvation [2].”  This rule of faith would lay the groundwork for what would become the Apostles’ Creed.  Ireneaus argues that the faith was given by Christ to the Apostles, and then to the bishops to whom the disciples appointed.  This is what we now call Apostolic Succession.

The rule of faith also shows that Christ was truly incarnate, and that matter was created by an eternal God and not evil.  The rule of faith was a vital part in combating gnostic teaching because it showed that they had no historical, scriptural, or apostolic support for the claims that they were making.  It helped expose their schismatic and anti-scriptural view of Christianity.  Irenaeus also appealed to Ephesians 1:10 in his refutation of Gnosticism.  That passage of scripture states, “as a plan for the fullness of time, to gather up all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth [3].”  The church was to be a unified body of believers with Jesus Christ as its head and the gnostic heresy was causing division.  It is linked with the rule of faith in that there was only one faith handed down from Christ.  There was not one faith for one group, and a special secret faith for a select few.  The faith in Christ is available to all people and in that we should be unified.

The rule of faith previously cited is a great tool in confronting false doctrines in our own times, and in our churches.  There is no shortage of false doctrine and some of these groups are outpacing evangelical churches in evangelization even though there number are smaller.  The rule of faith is a great tool because it shows that the faith is not a new invention, but was passed down by Christ himself.  It shows that Christ is God incarnate, and firmly teaching that the Trinity is one being with three distinct persons.  Many of these groups deny the Trinity and showing scriptural support, and that it was taught from the beginning is good place to start.   Whether it be in person, phone, or email dialogue about the truth can mean a lot to someone caught in false doctrine.  It gives them someone to ask questions to and the Holy Spirit can plant a seed.

Image result for irenaeus

 

Works Cited

1.  Olsen, Roger E.  The Story of Christian Theology:  Twenty Centuries of Tradition & Reform.  (Downers Grove, IL:  IVP Academic, 1999), 29.

2.  Irenaeus.  Against Heresies.  Christian Classics Etherreal Library, retrieved May 19, 2018

http://www.ccel.org/ccel/schaff/anf01.ix.ii.xi.html

3.  Ephesians 1:10, New Revised Standard Version

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.

 

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