Saturday, September 18, 2010

The mode of union in the Person of the Word

In article 1, St. Thomas addresses three objections to the question of whether it befits a Divine Person to assume: first, that a perfect Person cannot add to Himself; second, that in assuming something, He communicates something of Himself to what is assumed; and third, that its repugnant for something constituted to assume its constituent because effect does not act on cause. On the contrary, he notes citing Fulgentius, that the only-Begotten of God assumed a nature, and the only-Begotten is a Person, so it’s fitting. He adds, in this case, that in this assumption the Person is both principle and terminus, since the union took place in the Person. He agrees that on cannot add to perfection, but that in union, the Divine perfects man. He clarifies that a Divine Person isn’t communicable in the sense of being predicated of several supposita. However, he notes that nothing prevents several things to be predicated of a Person, so that even in a created person several natures may concur accidentally (for example, quality and quantity). In the Divine Person, who is eternal, it’s fitting for there to be a conjunction of natures in subsistence. To the third objection, he responds that the Divine Person is not constituted a person by human nature but is constituted man by that assumption.

In article 2, St. Thomas addresses three objections concerning whether the Divine Nature assumes. First, he addresses the notion that the Divine Nature did not assume since the union did not occur in the nature. He notes that the Divine Nature is not a distinct suppositum, but that “taking to Oneself” refers back to the suppositum, of which the Divine Nature cannot be separated. Objection 2 poses whether assumption is befitting to all three Persons of the Trinity Who share the Divine Nature, to which the Angelic Doctor responds that to assume is befitting only to the Person of the Word given that the Word assumed. The third objection distinguishes between what acts and how it acts and claims that acting befits a Person not a nature. St. Thomas points out that what acts and how it acts, in God, are one and the same in the Divine Nature. He accedes the propriety of saying that the Person assumes, yet he adds that Divine Nature is the principle of assumption, so it is by no means unfitting to say that the Nature assumes.

In article 3, St. Thomas addresses the question of whether the Nature abstracted from Personality could be said to assume. In objection 1, which posits that Nature only assumes by reason of the Personhood to which it belongs, he responds that all attributes of Nature, which are rational, would still subsist and be a Person and could still assume. Objection 2 suggest abstracting the Person would leave no terminus, but clearly, if the response to objection 1 is true, it follows that there still remains a terminus. Objection 3 posits that nothing remains when Personality is abstracted, leaving no-thing to assume. St. Thomas replies that all of the essential attributes of God still remain, subsist, and hence, are a suppositum that can assume. Even without the relationality of the Persons, there is still rational Nature and all other essential attributes that subsist as a Person.

In article 4, St. Thomas addresses whether one Person can assume without the others. In response to objection 1, which posits that the works of the Trinity are inseparable so precluding the possibility that one can assume without the others, he responds that the action of assumption pertains to all three Persons, the term pertains to the Son only. Objection 2 concludes that since the Divine Nature is common to all three Persons, so the assumption is befitting of all three Persons. To the contrary, St. Thomas responds that Divine Nature assumes by reason of the Person of the Son, and is thus befitting to the one Person alone. The third objection likens the assumption of human nature by Christ to the assumption of all men to God through grace. He responds that the assumption by grace of adoption is terminated in the three Persons, but the terminus of assumption of human nature is Christ, although the principle of each is the three Persons. In conclusion, St. Thomas underscores again that what has to do with the action is common, but what has to do with the term is unique to the Person of the Word.

In article 5, three objections are given to the notion that only the Son could be the term of the assumption: first, that to be otherwise would confuse the distinctions among the Divine Persons; second, that sonship by adoption is a participation in likeness to the natural sonship of the Son, which doesn’t belong to Father or Holy Spirit; and third, that the Father is innascible, incapable of becoming incarnate. St. Thomas notes that while the Father is eternally innascible, temporal birth would not change this. To the contrary, he says that what the Son can do, so can the other two Persons. Otherwise, their powers would be different. The principle of the act of assumption is the Divine power, which is common to all three Persons. The term is the Person of Christ. However, it could’ve been any one of the Persons.

In article 6, St. Thomas addresses whether several Divine persons can assume one human nature.

As an aside, I would say that I like the creativity of the objections in this article, and it’s to his credit that he responds so deftly. I have to wonder, though, whether these are his own manufactured objections or if these disputes were floating around in his day. Perhaps one of our philosophy colleagues could comment.

Anyway, proposed as objections are the following: that several Divine Persons could not assume one human nature because either several gods would result or because one person would result, confusing the distinction of Divine Persons; next, that because assumption terminates in unity of Person, and the Divine Persons are not one person, they could not assume one human nature; and finally, that what can be predicated of one Person to the man would be predicable to the Persons as well, which would allow for something proper only to the Father (such as begetting the Son) to be predicated of the Son. First he notes that “one man” does not equal unity of person, only unity of human nature. Second, he states that the unity occurs in regards the nature to the Persons and would mirror the unity of the Divine nature with each Person. Third, he clarifies that the Person communicates to the human nature, but those distinctions are not communicated from Person to Person. In all, he distinguishes between unity in hypostases versus unity in Person. Just as the Incarnate Person subsists in two natures and the three Persons subsist in one, all three can assume one.

In article 7, St. Thomas addresses the question of whether one Divine Person can assume two human natures. He provides three objections: first, that a Divine Person assuming two human natures would result in a single suppositum composing two natures of one species, which would be a contradiction since one species is multiplied by distinct supposita; second, that an Incarnate Person having assumed two human natures could not be said to be one man, nor two; and third, that two human natures could not be united, because the uniting of human bodies and souls would result in a confusion of Divine Persons. St. Thomas appears to be using the trump card of omnipotence here: God cannot be limited be created things, or He would be limited in power. To the objections, he replies as follows: first, the Incarnation doesn’t result a new supposita, so neither would another assumed nature; second, that unity of nature does not imply unity of suppositum; and third, that unity between one human nature and the Divine Persons would not imply a unity of the two human natures, so there could still be a uniformity in assumption among the Divine Persons without any union between the assumed natures.

In article 8, St. Thomas addresses whether it was more fitting for another of the Divine Persons to become incarnate. First, one objection posits that if the Father had become incarnate, there would be less occasion for error to come into man’s thinking. St. Thomas counters, citing Romans 2:4, that man would still be capable of error in this case. In objection 2, the Father is seen as more fitting since He brought about the first creation. In reply, the doctor notes that the first creation was brought about by the Father through the Word. Finally, because the Incarnation was ordered toward the remission of sins, the Holy Spirit should have become incarnate since remission of sins is a gift of the Holy Spirit. St. Thomas responds that it is proper for the Holy Spirit to be the gift of Father and Son, hence more fitting that the Son become incarnate to bestow this gift upon us. He notes that it is fitting for the Son, Whose concept is the exemplar likeness of the created, to restore mankind, much in the way that a craftsman restores a work that has been damaged or ruined. In addition, he adds that the Son’s natural sonship makes Him the fitting Person to bring mankind into adopted sonship. And finally, the Incarnation is a remedy for mankind’s overweening desire for knowledge, making it fitting that the Word of true knowledge might lead mankind back to God.

Saturday, September 11, 2010


Oddly enough, I can't be completely negative about this date. Nine years ago today, I first met the woman who is now my wife.

The mode of union of the Word Incarnate

This is my second batch of summaries for Christology. Fire away! I can use all the help I can get in sharpening my understanding of St. Thomas.


In article 1, St. Thomas dispenses with the Monophysite argument that the union of the word took place in the nature. The first objection, he notes, is based on a selective reading of St. Cyril. The second objection, he notes, is essentially a false analogy. The third objection, he notes, confuses two natures being changed as opposed to two natures being joined and that the Divine nature cannot actually be the form of a body but is simply joined to the flesh. He goes on to explain that nature has two senses: one, which deals with the begetting of things (birth) and a second, which deals with that which is essential to a thing (its quiddity). Union couldn’t then, be accidental, as with a composition of different elements; nor could it be a mixture of elements, which would result in nature neither Divine nor human. Nor could two natures be combined as two imperfect things, like members of a body, since each is perfectly complete or “has its specific perfection.”

This second article appears to be geared toward the opposite position at the Council of Chalcedon—that taken by Nestorius—that the union did not take place in the Person of the Word of God. In response to the first objection, St. Thomas notes that in God, nature and Person are not distinct (owing to God’s simplicity), but that the words “nature” and “person” do not mean the same thing. However, human nature is united to the Person of the Word without changing the Divine nature. In response to the second, he notes that human nature has greater dignity because it exists in the Person of the Word. In response to the third objection, he points out that the human nature assumed by Christ does not have its own personality because it did not exist apart from the Person of Christ. He then notes that while in the Divine Person, nature and essence are the same, that in created things, nature and person are not the same because other things adhere to the person that are not essential. Yet the suppositum is taken as whole, regardless of whether what is joined to it is essential or accidental. Hence, the human nature of the Word, which doesn’t belong to the Divine nature, is united in the Person of the Word.

In article 3, the Angelic Doctor addresses whether the union of natures in Christ took place in the suppositum or hypostasis. In response to objection 1 that Augustine and Pope Leo both refer to an “other” or to the Word and man as distinct, St. Thomas notes that they referred to His natures, and not to distinct hypostasis. To objection 2, he responds that a hypostasis includes those things in union to a substance and not only the substance itself. In objection 3, he explains that a thing is placed in a genus or species not based on individuating elements but by nature or essence. He sums up by noting that a person is simply a suppositum or hypostasis with a rational nature. To attribute a thing to a person is the same as to attribute it to their hypostasis. He points out that the Second Council of Constantinople and the First Council of Ephesus both condemned the position that two subsistences resulted from the Incarnation and anathematized anyone who denied that the Word was united to flesh in subsistence.

In Article 4, St. Thomas addresses the question of whether the Person of Christ was composite after the Incarnation. The first objection, St. Thomas addresses in the main body of his presentation as it is the primary consideration. In the second, St. Thomas notes that composition is not solely in parts but also in number. In the third, explains that not all composition requires homogeneous parts since animals are composed of soul and body, neither of which by itself is an animal. The first objection adheres to a view of the person of Christ prior to the Incarnation, as the Nature of the Word only. But following the Incarnation, Christ subsists in two natures: one subsistent being but different aspects of subsistence. So Christ is, after the Incarnation, a composite being.

In article 5, St. Thomas notes that the essence of a human being is for soul to be united in body. To objection 1, he points out that union of soul and body result in a person since they exist in themselves, but in Christ, they are joined to an existing person, so a new person need not result. In his response to objection 2, he notes that the human nature He assumed was of an individual, which isn’t common in the sense of something generalized and purely abstract, nor was the Damascene talking about a nature that came about after the union of human and Divine natures. Finally, he distinguishes between the effective principle of life (the Word) and the formal principle (the soul) and adds that the former cannot be the form of the body. As the essence of being human requires a soul to be united to a body, it could be no less in Christ. To claim such would be to diminish the humanity of Christ and lapse into heresy.

In article 6, St. Thomas addresses whether human nature was united to the Word accidentally. He responds to the objection that St. Paul referred Christ as being “in the habit found as a man” (Phillipians 2:7), and that habits are accidents. To this he replies that examples need not (and in fact should not) be similar in every way. Oddly, he doesn’t refer to his own argument on habits (II, 51, 1) in which he quite clearly says that some habits accrue to nature and not ass accidents (for example, knowledge as an operation of intellect). In the second objection, St. Thomas notes that something that is assumed into a complete subject is accidental only if it is not assumed into the same being. In response to the third objection, he notes that accident is divided against (distinct from?) substance and that substance can be either the nature or the hypostasis. A union taking place in a hypostasis, then, wouldn’t be an accidental union. Pointing out that this accidental union was part of the error of Nestorius and Theodore of Mopuestia, he points out that union by accident of various kinds was condemned by the second Council of Constantinople and that they confessed a union of the Word with flesh in one subsistence.

In article 7, St. Thomas addresses whether the union was created. In response to the first objection that nothing in God can change, he notes that the union is really more in our way of thinking since the creature is united to God with no change to God. To the second objection that the union should be judged in reference to the dignity of the Divine Person, he states that the union exists only in a created nature, hence, is a created being. To the third, that Man is called Creator is on account of the terminus being the Divine Person, not in the union itself. He states simply that the union came to exist in time rather than existing from all eternity and that it represents a change in relation between God and creature rather than a change in the Creator.

In article 8, St. Thomas deals with the question of whether union is the same as assumption. He dispenses fairly quickly with each objection: first, that union and assumption have different relations to the terminus or end, union addressing relation while assumption addresses action; second, that action and patient differ between assumption and union; and third, that assumption implies patient and agent, so is logically different from union or Incarnation. His answer clarifies that the Son of God assumes human nature, while God the Father unites the Son with human nature. So while the relationship is the same, the agency is clearly identified by the word “assumption” but not by “union.”

In article 9, St. Thomas deals with the question of whether the union of two natures in Christ is the greatest of all unions. He dispenses with the objections by noting that the unity of the Divine Person is greater than mere numerical unity due to the fact that it is uncreated and self-subsisting, and that it is the union in the Divine Person which gives the union pre-eminence over other unions. Each objection and reply essentially addresses this aspect.

In article 10, St. Thomas points out that accidental grace is a likeness of the Divinity in which men participate. However, in the Incarnation is no participation in likeness but is actual union, which is greater. Also, while habitual grace is in the soul only, the grace of being united to the Divine Person belongs body and soul to the whole human nature. Grace, he notes, can be understood as God bestowing something gratuitously but also as a free gift. Both ways can be seen in operation in the Incarnation: first, that God willed the Incarnation gratuitously and second, that the union was a free gift that was not preceded by any merits.

St. Thomas points out in article 11 that holy men could not have merited the Incarnation condignly as if it were something they justly deserved but only congruously because their love and devotion elicited such a response from God. In addition, he notes that Incarnation is the principle (agency) of grace, which is the principle of merit. Referring to Titus 3:5, he notes that we are not saved by our own works but by Christ’s mercy and through baptism.

In the final article of this question, St. Thomas notes that something can be termed natural in two ways: first, it can be from the essential, or second, it can be with a man from birth. While the grace of union was not natural in the first sense, it most certainly was natural in the second sense in that it came to Him by way of His Divine Nature from the moment of His conception.

Saturday, September 04, 2010

Summa Theologia pt. III, Question 1

This is my first summary of St. Thomas Aquinas for my Christology class. Feel free to offer corrections. Some of the objections and responses are less than clear to me.

In Article 1, St. Thomas deals with whether it was fitting that God become incarnate. Addressing first the objection, he responds that immutable God is not changed in state from this unity, but that the mutable creature is changed. While man is not naturally endowed with this dignity (Obj. 2), God’s goodness made this unity fitting for our salvation. St. Thomas notes the confusion with which objection 3 treats the matter of evil, returning to the distinction he makes in PI, Q48, A5 between evil of pain and evil of fault. Finally, he underscores that God is not great in material terms but in terms of might or power (potentia). He notes that the end of the material world is itself to make known “the invisible things of God” and that it is most fitting for God, who is goodness itself, to communicate that goodness to man, whose nature is reasonable, in a means that befits the highest manner of the creature (which would be reason or logos).

In Article 2. St. Thomas first responds is to the definition of “necessary,” that the Incarnation was not exclusively necessary but suitably necessary in that it accomplished what needed to be done and did so for the “furtherance of our good”—that is, as Augustine noted in De Trinitate xiii, it demonstrated God’s love for us by condescending to share our lot. Through the Incarnation, He instills in us faith and hope, and through His demonstration of love, gains our love in return. In addition, He gives us an example to be followed and, by uniting Himself to flesh, divinizes humanity, as the Early Fathers would say. In addition to this “furtherance of good” is a withdrawal from evil, in which, being united to God, we understand our true dignity, not as some merit of ours but as a gift from God.

St. Thomas acknowledges in Article 3 a diversity of opinion on the question of whether God would have become incarnate had man not sinned, he comes down on the side of those who say He would not have become incarnate. He notes in response to objection 1 that all causes assigned in article 2 (the previous article) pertained to remedies for sin, and in response to objection 2 that all that is required for the perfection of nature is that creatures be ordered toward God as their natural ends. While St. Thomas agrees that God certainly could have become incarnate in any case, none of the objections necessitate that God become incarnate in such case. However, scripture makes clear that the purpose of the Incarnation was the redemption of man from sin, as the author notes in Luke 19:10 and Ephesians 5:32.

As sin came into the world through one man, one man would defeat sin through His action. St. Thomas notes in Article 4 that the Lamb comes to absolve the sins of the world. While this undoubtedly includes actual sins, it must primarily address the first cause of sin, the original fall. As Paul notes in Romans, many died through one man’s sin, but many more have “the free gift in the grace of that one man Jesus Christ abounded for many” (5:15, RSV). One of the distinctions the Angelic Doctor makes in this article is between intensive and extensive greatness of sin, the former which is hereditary and the latter, voluntary (II, 81, 1). While actual sin may be more grievous in a personal sense, its effects are limited in scope to the individual, while the effects of original are more extensive, applying to all humanity.

In Article 5, St. Thomas addresses objections that charity, effectiveness, and perfection of grace would all have been better served had God become incarnate at the beginning of the human race. He counters that God in His Divine wisdom knew best when and where the Incarnation was needed and would be most effective for the perfection of human nature. Because the Incarnation was provided as a remedy for sin, it was only fitting for the Incarnation to come after the fall. He also points out the root of Adam’s fall in pride and the need to bring us to humility to recognize our need for grace. Come too soon, and man would fail to recognize his need for a liberator. The furtherance of our good required the spiritual man to follow the “earthy” man (adamah). In addition, Christ’s dignity necessitated that He be preceded by heralds who went before Him. Finally, so that the fervor of those coming to faith did not grow cold toward the end of time, it was fitting that God become Incarnate when he did, and not at the beginning of the human race.

In Article 6, St. Thomas points out that the Incarnation is both perfect Himself and also our means of perfection. In this sense perfection both precedes our imperfection, but in terms of our nature, follows imperfection. By coming when He did, He found us in our imperfection, when we most needed His grace and when we would be most likely to respond. Had he come at the end, memory and reverence of Him may have been forgotten, along with the natural law and morality. By coming neither at the beginning of the human nor at the end of the world, God saves through faith in past, present, and future events.