Saturday, December 10, 2011

Nearly Done

I am nearing completion of the last course (aside from my directed research) for the MA in theology program at Holy Apostles. I have a paper to submit this evening (after my wife has a chance to give it a once over), and a final next Friday. Then on to the thesis!

I'm posting some of the papers I've written this semester (but not this week's assignment). I suspect I will be posting a lot more when my reading will call for more personal reflection. I'm looking forward to finishing this program and moving on to the next big thing (diaconal ordination) and then the next big thing after that (Ph.D.).

And someday, I might just be able to teach again.

Relations of Distinction

By human reason, we can come to know God’s existence, can recognize His external acts, and can deduce His attributes. Outside of the Judeo-Christian tradition, the pagan Greek philosophers had already deduced the oneness of God (in contradistinction to their own pantheon) as well as many of His perfections as the source of all being.[1] The Catechism of the Catholic Church notes that it is within mankind’s natural gifts to come to knowledge of God’s existence (CCC 35; also Denizinger 1785, 1806), and our theological traditions attest to this truth. Yet this knowledge of God comes from observation and reflection on this material world. It can only address the effects of God and the necessary powers to induce those effects. What our reflection cannot penetrate is the inner life of God. For that we require a testimony. For that, we require revelation.

Catholic theology tells us that there are three absolute mysteries of our faith: the Trinity, the Incarnation, and divine grace.[2] They are called absolute mysteries because no created intellect can comprehend them, not even the angels or souls in beatitude. We know of these mysteries only because God has chosen, in His goodness, to reveal Himself through scripture, through the words of His prophets, and finally, through the Incarnation of the Word in Jesus Christ. Through the words of Christ as reported by the evangelists and the teachings of the Apostle Paul, we see allusions to the mystery of the Trinity. In the two infancy accounts from Matthew and Luke, each gospel points toward the personal in God in the unusual circumstances of Jesus’ conception and birth. However, our first glimpse into the relational life of the Trinity is given to us in the unanimous witness in all four gospels of the account of Jesus’ baptism. In the three synoptic gospels, the evangelists relate that the heavens open, Jesus sees the Holy Spirit descending on Him in the form of a dove, and He hears the Father speaking the words of affirmation. In the Gospel of John, the evangelist relates what is more of an eyewitness account by John the Baptist:
“I saw the Spirit descend as a dove from heaven, and it remained on him, I myself did not know him, but he who sent me to baptize with water said to me, ‘He on whom you see the Spirit descend, this is he who baptizes with the Holy Spirit.’ And I have seen and born witness that this is the Son of God.” (1:32–34, RSV).
The final verses of the Gospel according to Matthew also attest to three persons: “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit” (28:19). St. Paul, too, attests to the persons of the Father and the Son (Romans 8:32) and also to the Holy Spirit given to us as gift (Romans 5:5). Scripture, then, gives one sufficient witness of the Persons in God, yet still there is little to explain how One is Three.

Much of the early doctrine on the Trinity comes by way of the works of the Cappadocian Fathers, St. Cyril of Alexandria, and St. Augustine.[3] The early councils of the Church and their resulting creeds teach two processions within God (Denzinger 86). The work of the early Church Father mentioned above help the faithful to understand that these processions correspond to the two internal activities of God, thinking and willing. In respect to these processions, St. Augustine wrote, “For the mind cannot love itself, except also it know itself; for how can it love what it does not know?” (9, 3, 3) This first procession, that of knowing, is called generation, and the second, that of willing or loving, spiration. The result of each procession is a Person, yet a Person sharing the same Divine nature as the origin and subsisting in that nature. What does this mean for a Person to subsist in the Divine nature?

As St. Thomas notes in Summa Theologica, a person as defined by Boethius is “an individual substance of a rational nature” (I. 29. 1). One typically thinks of an individual substance as a discrete being, and in creatures this identification would be correct. However, in God, being or nature is not discrete but communal and possessed by three Hypostases. Thus,
[B]ecause subsistence in a rational nature is of high dignity, therefore every individual of the rational nature is called a “person.” Now the dignity of the divine nature excels every other dignity; and thus the name “person” pre-eminently belongs to God. (I.29.3)
These persons in the Divine Being are not distinct by nature, but only by way of the relation each has to the origin. Ott explains that relation indicates an ordination or ordering of one thing to another and describes three elements in a relation: principle (origin), aim (term), and the basis of the relation (fundamentum).[4] The Father is the origin. The Son is generated from the Father. The Holy Spirit proceeds from Father and Son. These Persons, then, are said to signify relations in God, or as St. Thomas averred, “Therefore a divine person signifies a relation as subsisting” (I.29.4).

We count three Persons in the Trinity, yet the Church teaches four real relations in the Trinity. To understand this teaching, one must go back to the notion of the processions. Two processions result from the two activities in God. The first is called generation. Fr. Kenneth Baker describes generation as “the origin of a living being from another living being, both having the same nature.”[5] In the Divine generation, the intellect of God knows Itself, and this knowledge of self produces a perfect image, the Word. In this generation, there is a principle, the Father, and a term, the Son. As two Persons result, they exist in relation to one another. As the Father generates the Son, His relation to Son is called paternity. This relation is the action of the principle toward the Son. St. Thomas notes, citing Augustine, that real relation in God can only be based on action because there is no quantity in God (I.28.4). From this action moving from origin to term, two relations result. The first, paternity, identifies the origin as Father. The second relation is referred to as filiation because the term of generation (the Son) is a Person of the same nature as the Father. As the Angelic Doctor explains, “two opposite relations arise; one of which is the relation of the person proceeding from the principle; the other is the relation of the principle Himself” (I.28.4).

The next procession results from an act of will, specifically an act of mutual love between Father and Son.[6] The Father is the origin, but the action takes part on behalf of both Father and Son. The term of the action is the Holy Spirit. While the scriptural basis for this teaching is clear, it was nonetheless a source of controversy in the ninth century, when a patriarch, Photius, rejected the teaching as heretical.[7] Yet scripture states that all that the Father has, He has given the Son (John 16:16) and that the Son (John 15:26, 16:7) sends the Holy Spirit who has proceeded from the Father. If the Father has given the Son everything, then He has given the procession of the Holy Spirit as well. Hence, this action moves from the Father and Son as a single principle,[8] and results in the Holy Spirit as term. Again, as with the first procession, two real relations result. First, is the action of the Father and Son as a single principle, which has come to be known as spiration,[9] as it results in a term, the Holy Spirit. In this process, the action is referred to as the relation of active spiration, while the term or recipient of action is called the relation of passive spiration. All together, we have four real relations in God: Father to Son, Son to Father, Father and Son to Holy Spirit, and Holy Spirit to Father and Son.[10]

At this point, one can acknowledge four relations, but within a single being, how are these relations real rather than just logical relations—that is, actual relations or just a means by which we think about and compare two things? St. Thomas points out that when something proceeds from a principle of the same nature, the relation is not simply logical but real (I.28.1). Thus in the Trinity are four real relations. Yet, if there are four real relations, why is God triune rather than quadruple? The answer to this question lies in the nature of the relations. Relations imply distinction, and in the Godhead, there exist principles and terms in opposition to each other. In the first procession (generation), Father is opposed to Son in that one (the principle) is active, and the other (Son), passive. In the second procession (spiration), the Father and Son are active as one principle, and the passive spiration of the Holy Spirit is opposed to them. Active spiration is opposed to passive spiration but not to the Father and the Son. Thus it is not distinct from them.[11] So while the real relation of active spiration exists, it does not result in a person distinct from the other Persons of the Trinity.

By reason, we can know God, but only through revelation can we know of His internal life. Through the Incarnation, we come to know three Divine Persons, the Unbegotten, the Begotten, and the Love between them: three Persons from four real relations in One Divine Being.

1. “Aristotle,” Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy. October 21, 2005.
aristotl/ (accessed November 7, 2011); also Carl Huffman, “Pythgoreanism,” The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, (accessed November 7, 2011).

2. Kenneth Baker, Fundamentals of Catholicism, (San Francisco: Ignatius, 1983) 79.

3. Ludwig Ott, Fundamentals of Catholic Dogma, (Rockford, Illinois: Tan Books and Publishers, Inc., 1974) 68.

4. Ott, 67–68.

5. Baker, 93.

6. Ott, 66.

7. Ibid., 62–63.

8. Ibid.

9. Baker, 98

10. Ibid., 101.

11. Ibid., 102.

Works Cited

Aquinas, Thomas. “Summa Theologica, Prima Pars.” New Advent. 2000. (accessed October 6, 2011).

“Aristotle.” Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy. October 21, 2005. (accessed November 7, 2011).

Augustine. “On the Trinity.” New Advent. Edited by Phillip Schaff. 1887. (accessed October 7, 2011).

Baker, Kenneth. Fundamentals of Catholicism. San Francisco: Ignatius, 1983.

Catechism of the Catholic Church. Washington D.C.: United States Catholic Conference, 1997.

Denzinger, Henry. The Sources of Catholic Dogma. Fitzwilliam, New Hampshire: Loreto Publications, 1954.

Huffman, Carl. “Pythgoreanism.” The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. Edited by Edward N. Zalta. Summer 2010.
entries/pythagoreanism/ (accessed November 7, 2011).

Ott, Ludwig. Fundamentals of Catholic Dogma. Rockford, Illinois: Tan Books and Publishers, Inc., 1974.

Intellect and Will: Two Divine Processions

In 879, a council in Constantinople under the Patriarch Photius rejected the Filioque (the statement concerning the procession of the Holy Spirit from the Father and the Son) as heretical. The Synod of Toledo in 447 had added the words “and the Son” to the Nicene-Constantinople Creed to signify the procession of the Holy Spirit in one spiration from a single principle, an expression of doctrine that was held or confirmed by councils, synods, doctors, and popes in the four centuries preceding Photius’s condemnation.[1] Did Photius have a point? Did anything in the history of the Church justify a schism on such grounds? Did Sacred Scripture and Sacred Tradition point to a different expression of the divine processions? What exactly was the perpetual teaching of the Church regarding the processions of Son and Holy Spirit?

The Church has proclaimed the procession of Son and Holy Spirit from the Father in its creeds going back to the Council of Constantinople in 381 (Denzinger 86). As Fr. Kenneth Baker summarizes,
The Church teaches in this matter that in God there are two internal divine processions. By ‘procession’ is meant to origin of one from another…. [C]reatures proceed from God by external procession, but the Son and the Holy Spirit proceed by an immanent act of the Most Holy Trinity, since they belong to the internal life of God.[2]
The Church’s proclamation of this truth, of course, did not stand on a single pronouncement but upon the living tradition of the faith as expressed in its scripture and tradition, and attested to in the liturgy of the Church and the words of the Church Fathers and Doctors. While both processions originate in the Father, they differ in act and relation. While the Son is begotten and proceeds by generation, the Holy Spirit proceeds by spiration. In the developing theology concerning these processions, which both Latin and Greek churches accepted and to which they attested, two different views arose and expressed differing emphases, which were later the seeds of misinterpretation leading to the Photian schism.

The oneness of the Trinity had been long affirmed by the creeds, and the doctrine concerning the procession of the Son had developed during the Christological debates of the fourth century. Specifically, the Nicene-Constantinople Creed states the following concerning the second Person of the Trinity:
[We believe in] one Lord Jesus Christ, the only begotten Son of God, born of the Father before all ages, light of light, true God of true God, begotten not made, consubstantial with the Father, by whom all things were made…. (Denzinger 86, bracketed content added)
The Son is unique in His relationship with the Father as the only begotten. Begetting is the procession proper to the Son and is also referred to as generation. St. Thomas describes this unique procession in Summa Theologica as that kind of generation which involves “what proceeds by way of similitude in the same specific nature” (I, 27, 2). While there is generation of a kind in which an effect proceeds from a cause, as Arius took Jesus’ procession to be (ST I, 27, 1), such a procession does not necessarily entail a procession by way of similitude. The Council of Nicea ended speculation along such lines by declaring the Son homoousious or consubstantial with the Father. As such, His procession can only be by way of similitude, as St. Thomas describes in Question 27, Article 2.

This generation of similitude is well attested in scripture. First, there is the literal claim of generation of Jesus in the annunciation narrative of Luke: “And the angel said to her, ‘The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be called holy, the Son of God’” (1:35). In the Gospel according to John, Jesus frequently alludes to His relationship with the Father: “But the testimony which I have is greater than that of John; for the works which the Father has granted me to accomplish, these very works which I am doing, bear me witness that the Father has sent me” (5:36), or again in 8:54: “Jesus answered, "If I glorify myself, my glory is nothing; it is my Father who glorifies me, of whom you say that he is your God.” Finally, perhaps the most oft quoted of all gospel passages speaks directly to Jesus as One Who is sent: “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life” (3:14). In the book of Hebrews, the author interprets Psalm 2:7 in light of Christ’s revelation of Himself as Son: “For to what angel did God ever say, ‘Thou art my Son, today I have begotten thee’?” (1:5).

That He proceeds from the Father, then, is clear in revelation. The question, then, becomes how He proceeds. How does His identity as the Word point to the nature of this procession? We understand His procession to be by way of generation as one like the Father of the same essence. In the Gospel According to John, we hear of the Word being with God and also God (1:1). John employs the Greek word λογος (logos), which carries with it more than the mere notion of the spoken word but of word as concept or idea. In On the Trinity, St. Augustine establishes a foundational notion of Son as the knowledge God (as mind) has of Himself: “For the mind cannot love itself, except also it know itself; for how can it love what it does not know?” (9, 3, 3) St. Thomas develops this idea further, noting that the Son proceeds by way of generation: “He proceeds by way of intelligible action, which is a vital operation:—from a conjoined principle (as above described):—by way of similitude, inasmuch as the concept of the intellect is a likeness of the object conceived” (ST I, 27, A2). The Son’s procession, then, is an act of intellect. He is the thought of God in God’s mind, the perfect Imago Dei possessing all that the Father has.

While the Son proceeds by generation, the Holy Spirit does not. There cannot be two different words of God or two distinct intellectual acts of self recognition in the Father. The Holy Spirit’s name alludes to the form of His procession. The word “spirit” comes from Latin spirare, which means to breathe or blow. In Genesis 1:2 is the first image of the Holy Spirit, the ruah (spirit or breath in Hebrew) that “moves over the face of the waters.” He is the Spirit of the Father (Matthew 10:20) and is spoken of in Matthew 28:19 as equal to the Father. In John 15:26, Jesus speaks of the Spirit as being sent by and proceeding from the Father. Yet He is also the Spirit of the Son (Galatians 4:6) and the Spirit of God and Christ (Romans 8:9).

Unlike the Word, an act of intellection by the Father, the Spirit proceeds by way of an act of the will. St. Augustine is first credited with the notion of the Spirit's procession as an act of the Divine Will[4] and also as the Love of God.[5] St. Thomas develops this notion of Spirit as an act of will in Summa Theologica: “Thus the procession of the intellect is by way of similitude, and is called generation, because every generator begets its own like; whereas the procession of the will is not by way of similitude, but rather by way of impulse and movement towards an object” (I, 27, 4). This willful impulse is the intense love between Father and Son, which manifests itself in this third Person of the Trinity.

While the procession of the Son is by generation, the Church teaches that the procession of the Holy Spirit occurs by spiration. Described in scripture as both the Spirit of the Father and of the Son, sent also by Father and Son (John 15:26, 16:7), it follows that the Spirit proceeds from Father and Son, the very point disputed by Photius, as mentioned above. St. Augustine notes the visible sign of this procession in John 20:22: “For that bodily breathing, proceeding from the body with the feeling of bodily touching, was not the substance of the Holy Spirit, but a declaration by a fitting sign, that the Holy Spirit proceeds not only from the Father, but also from the Son” (4, 20, 29). Ott affirms, citing John 16:15, this procession of the Holy Spirit from Father and Son as from a single principle and a single spiration and notes the testimony of both Greek and Latin Fathers, as well the affirmation in various creeds and by synods and councils from the fifth century and up to the Council of Lyons in 1274.[6] While the Latin Fathers preferred the expression “from the Father and the Son,” the Greek Fathers employed a more subordinating expression, “from the Father through the Son.”[7] Yet these two formulations in no way contradict each other but express different theological understandings of the very same operation.

While the question of the Filioque still stands as one of the primary points of disagreement between the Catholic and Orthodox churches, we can see in the writing of the early Church Fathers a clear understanding of two processions: one by generation and the other by spiration. From the testimony of scripture, we can discern the double procession of Spirit from Father and Son (whether expressed in coordination or subordination). From the works of Augustine and St. Thomas, we come to understand the processions as acts of Divine Intellect and Divine Will: two processions, three Persons, One God.

1. Ludwig Ott, Fundamentals of Catholic Dogma, (Rockford, Illinois: Tan Books and Publishers, Inc., 1974), 62–63.

2. Kenneth Baker, Fundamentals of Catholicism (San Francisco: Ignatius, 1983), 90.

3. J. Lebreton, (1910). The Logos. Retrieved October 7, 2011, from The Catholic Encyclopedia:

4. George Joyce, “The Blessed Trinity,” The Catholic Encyclopedia, 1912, (accessed October 2, 2011).

5. Augustine, “Of Faith and the Creed,” New Advent, Phillip Shaff ed, 1887, (accessed October 8, 2011).

6. Ott, 62–64.

7. Ibid.

Works Cited

Aquinas, Thomas. “Summa Theologica, Prima Pars.” New Advent. 2000. (accessed October 6, 2011).

Augustine. “Of Faith and the Creed.” New Advent. Edited by Phillip Shaff. 1887. (accessed October 8, 2011).

—. “On the Trinity.” New Advent. Edited by Phillip Schaff. 1887. (accessed October 7, 2011).

Baker, Kenneth. Fundamentals of Catholicism. San Francisco: Ignatius, 1983.

Denzinger, Henry. The Sources of Catholic Dogma. Fitzwilliam, New Hampshire: Loreto Publications, 1954.

Joyce, George. “The Blessed Trinity.” The Catholic Encyclopedia. 1912. (accessed October 2, 2011).

Lebreton, Jules. “The Logos.” The Catholic Encyclopedia. 1910. (accessed October 7, 2011).

Ott, Ludwig. Fundamentals of Catholic Dogma. Rockford, Illinois: Tan Books and Publishers, Inc., 1974.