Conclusion of Trinity Section


Tomorrow we keep Lady Day. The Incarnation of God occurred on March 25, in the womb of Our Lady, as soon as she gave her consent to the Archangel Gabriel.

We will keep the feast by starting the second part of Book IV of St. Thomas’ Summa Contra Gentiles. Chapters 27-49 of Book IV consider the mystery of the Incarnation.

Today we conclude St. Thomas’ treatment of the Holy Trinity in SCG.

Summa Contra Gentiles, Book IV, chapter 26

Two notes…

1. Early in this chapter, we encounter the word innascibility. Among the three divine Persons, the Father alone is innascible.

It’s the opposite of nascible. That is, innascible would be the opposite of nascible, if nascible were an English word. Nascible, however, does not appear in the Oxford English Dictionary. Innascible and innascibility both do.

The words exist in English only in this context. Innascible means “not capable of being born.” All three divine Persons are eternal and infinite. Among them, the Father alone does not come from another.

2. We have seen how heavily St. Thomas relies on the psychological analogy for the Trinity. We can begin to grasp the mystery by studying the inner life of our own souls: We understand ourselves and love ourselves.

In this final chapter on the topic, St. Thomas acknowledges how inadequate an analogy it is.

When I studied post-graduate theology a decade ago, I had a profound aversion for the psychological analogy for the Trinity. I did not accept it as legitimate. In my research for yesterday’s podcast, I finally found a concise expression of my thoughts on the matter back in those days:

When Roman Catholic theology presents the relations of origin as notional acts and speaks of two processions per modum intellectus and per modum voluntatis, it commits–from the point of view of Orthodox triadology–an inadmissible error of confusion concerning the Trinity.

In effect, the external qualities of God-–intellect, will, or love–-are introduced into the interior of the Trinity to designate the relations between the three hypostases.

This line of thought gives us a divine individuality rather than a Trinity of persons–-an individuality which in thought is conscious of its own essential content (generation of the Word per modum intellectus) and which, in knowing himself, loves himself (the procession of the Holy Spirit ab utroque, per modum voluntatis or per modum amoris).

We are here confronted with a philosophical anthropomorphism having nothing in common with Biblical anthropomorphism; for the Biblical theophanies, while showing us in human guise the acts and manifestations of a personal God in the history of the world, also place us face to face with the mystery of His unknowable Being, which Christians nevertheless dare to venerate and to invoke as the unique Being in Three Persons, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, who live and reign in the inaccessible light of their essence.

For us the Trinity remains the Deus absconditus, the Holy of Holies of the divine existence, where no “strange fire” may be introduced. Theology will be faithful to tradition in so far as its technical terms–ousia, hypostasis, consubstantiality, relations of origin, causality, monarchy–serve to present more and more clearly the initial mystery of God the Trinity, without obscuring it with “Trinitarian deductions” derived from another starting-point…

The God of the philosophers and savants is introduced into the heart of the Living God, taking the place of the Deus absconditus, qui posuit tenebras latibulum suum. The unknowable essence of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit receives positive qualifications. It becomes the object of natural theology: we get “God in general,” who could be the god of Descartes, or the god of Leibnitz, or even perhaps, to some extent, the god of Voltaire and of the dechristianized Deists of the eighteenth century.

(Vladimir Lossky)

Lossky refers here to “intellect, will, or love” as “external qualities” of God. This seems strange, and I am not sure that I understand what he means. I believe that he means this: Anything and everything that we attribute to God, we do so as not-God, as the infinite God’s limited creatures. We must never imagine that anything having to do with us has to do with God also, in Himself.

A decade ago, I thought of all this as rock-solid reasoning. The psychological analogy annoyed me enormously.

But my thinking has changed. I see a crucial weakness in Lossky’s position. In the name of defending the Creed of Nicaea from philosophical invasions foreign to its purity of faith, the anti-analogy position forgets that the Nicene Creed is itself the result of careful philosophical theology. The God Who revealed Himself to the Israelites and the God sought by philosophers are not two different gods, but in fact the same, one, real God.

St. Thomas hardly imagines that the psychological analogy allows us to “understand” the Trinity. He explains in the Summa Theologica that the use of analogies in theology must always recognize that any similarity between creature and Creator exists nonetheless in the context of an infinitely greater difference.

What St. Thomas does take for granted, however, is this: The words we use do mean something. So let’s use them correctly, when we use them.

St. Thomas himself preferred to keep quiet and listen, rather than speak. He spoke only when he believed it would benefit others.



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