Thursday, November 7, 2013

Armchair Theology #5

Here is the fifth and final piece on this topic.

Development of the Doctrine of the Trinity pt.5


Centuries later, Richard St.Victor described God as summa caritas and identical with His own essence. If love in God is authentic it cannot be solitary, rather a movement towards another because perfect love is not selfish, it gives itself away. This means at least two persons are required; God cannot completely love creation in this way since creation does not merit nor can creation receive God’s perfect and supreme love. Ergo, there must be equality within these multiple of persons as well. The love of God has to be shared, and this perfect love between persons must spill into a third. Summa love cannot be contained only between two. This is because love between two beings experiences love for the other, and the love given back. If there are only two beings, it is difficult to differentiate whether it is pure; that is, if it is the love willed for the other or the love returned. This would appear that there is no opportunity to share love and that the love is self-contained. There needs to be a third in order to experience a shared love where two affections are blended into one by the pouring out of the third. The Holy Ghost is the unity of the Father and the Son within the divine nature. This very unity is what reveals the distinction between person and nature in the Triune mystery. The Holy Ghost preserves Trinitarian logic by showing love given to others and that the Persons are not facsimiles. Divine nature can have common existences within the same nature, but are incommunicable with other natures. For example, more than one Person can exist as the Divine Nature, God (but no other nature can exist as the Divine nature). Since the Persons of the Trinity are incommunicable within their Person they are distinct. All are uncreated; they are distinct through their mode of origin. This is what makes the role of the Holy Ghost as condilectus (shared love) absolutely vital when understanding the Trinity, as He is the unity of the perfect supreme love shared by the Father and the Son.

Saint Thomas Aquinas wanted to make the concept of Person in the Trinity less abstract, for the Trinity is better understood by their relation. In question 27 of the Summa, Aquinas states that while there is only one begetting in God (the Father to the Son) there are two processions (intellect and will). He asserts that the procession of the Persons in God relates to the action of intellect and will because these two operations remain within the agent itself, therefore the procession does also. This is why the Son and the Holy Ghost can process from the Father and still be the same substance. The knowing and loving in God is so perfect that it is a Person. This is because the more perfectly something proceeds the closer it is to its source. Aquinas illustrated that there can only be four relations in God: Paternity, Sonship, Spiritation, and Procession.Since there is no time in the Trinity, these processions are not happening chronologically, they are eternal. They are a subsistence relation that define and distinguish the Person.

In conclusion why should we as Christians care about the Trinity today? And what are some of the contemporary problems that ensue from a lack of understanding the Trinity?

We need to care about the Trinity for the simple fact that the Trinity is God! First, if Christians do not have a full grasp on the Trinity, we do not have a full grasp on God. The biggest issue I see today is how the Holy Trinity is delegated into priorities. Which is understandable to a point. Today, many faithful insist on having a relationship with Jesus, well how about a relationship with the Father? Or the Holy Ghost? But our finite will leads us to these analogies, for example we might hear: “the Holy Ghost spoke to me” rather than “God spoke to me”. If we are to defend the Trinity to those who deny the Triune God (Mormons, Jehovah Witness’s et al) we must know why the Church teaches what it does and on what basis. There were many heresies in the past and heresies continue to abound, just in different forms. However all heresies come from a misunderstanding or a misrepresentation, Hilaire Belloc wrote:
 “It [Arianism] sprang from the desire to visualize clearly and simply something which is beyond the grasp of human vision and comprehension.”

Certainly not every Christian has a solid understanding of the Doctrine of the Most Holy Trinity, and every Christian does not need to go out and read the Summa, for it is not knowledge that gets us into heaven but love. A love that echoes the mystery of the Trinity, which is, the perfect example of love. This perfect love and unity is also manifested in the Church’s unity as the Body of Christ, and since Jesus bears the presence of the Holy Ghost at all times, it is evident that Christians are members of the Church by the power of the Holy Ghost, as seen in Baptism and Confirmation. In his epistle to the Ephesians Saint Paul states, (Ephesians 2:22)

“… in Him you are also being built together into a dwelling place of God in the Spirit” 

And since the Holy Ghost is never separated from Jesus, all aspects of the Church are in the Holy Ghost, such as Scripture, Tradition, Magisterium, Sacraments. These elements of objective holiness have a unity with the Church’s subjective holiness as well. The subjective holiness finds its perfection in Mary, whom the Holy Ghost overshadows and which is precisely why the Church on both the objective and subjective level is holy regardless of man’s sinfulness. This is something that is important to remember and was brought up in one of our class discussions. Through the Church, man can participate not only in his salvation, but in Trinitarian love as well.

Gloria Patri, et Filio, et Spiritui Sancto. Sicut erat in principio, et nunc, et semper, et in saecula saeculorum. Amen.


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“Fundamentals of Catholic Dogma”, Dr. Ludwig Ott, Tan publishers, 1954
“Augustine”, Henry Chadwick, Oxford University Press, 1986
“The Great Heresies”, Hilaire Belloc, Tan Publishers, 1938
“The Father’s Speak”, Georges A. Barrois (editor), St. Vladimir’s Press, 1986
“Theology for Beginners”, Frank Sheed, Servant books, 1958
“Richard of St. Victor: The Book of the Patriarchs”, Classics of Western Spirituality, 2009
“Heresy and Orthodoxy”, Jules Lebreton SJ & Jacques Zeiller, Collier books, 1962
“ A History of the Church”, Philip Hughes, Sheed & Ward, 1948
“Fundamentals of the Faith”, Peter Kreeft, Ignatius Press, 1988
“Documents in Early Christian Thought”, Maurice Wiles (editor), Cambridge University Press, 1975
“Nicene & Post – Nicene Fathers”, volume7 & 8, Hendrikson publishing, 2004
“Compendium of Theology”, Saint Thomas Aquinas, Oxford Press, 2009
“Aquinas’s Shorter Summa”, Saint Thomas Aquinas, Sophia Institute Press, 1993