Today’s Aquinas: God of God, Light of Light, True God of True God

Today’s Aquinas: God of God, Light of Light, True God of True God August 3, 2015

ThomasAquinas We’re blogging through St. Thomas Aquinas’ Compendium Theologiae, sometimes called his Shorter Summa. Find the previous posts here.

Last week, Thomas showed that God’s Word is not distinct from God in time, that is, that God and His Word are co-eternal.  Next, Thomas shows that there is no distinction between God and His Word according to species.  Remember that two things are of different species if they belong to the same genus but are distinguished by some specific difference; thus, oak trees and apple trees are logically of the same genus, trees, but of different species.

According to species, too, it is impossible for the Word of God to differ from God, as though He were inferior; for God does not understand Himself to be less than He is. The Word has a perfect likeness to the Father, because that whereof He is the Word is perfectly understood. Therefore the Word of God must be absolutely perfect according to the species of divinity.

God generates the Word by a process we regard as analogous to biological and intellectual conception; and in biological generation, the being generated is of the same species as the parent(s).  The Word has, similarly, a perfect likeness to the Father, because the He is the Father’s understanding of Himself, and the Father’s understanding is perfect.  The Word is therefore fully divine, contrary to (say) the Arians who would make Him first among creatures.

I’ll note that Thomas is speaking of logical species here, rather than metaphysical species, because he’s already shown that God is neither a species nor a member of any species in the metaphysical sense.

Some beings, it is true, that proceed from others, are found not to inherit the perfect species of those from whom they proceed. One way in which this can happen is in equivocal generations: the sun does not generate a sun, but an animal of some kind. To exclude imperfection of this sort from divine generation, we proclaim that the Word is born “God of God.”

In Thomas’ day, it was thought that maggots arose in rotting meat by a kind of spontaneous generation caused by the Sun; they had no microscopes or magnifying glasses, and no one had any idea that flies laid eggs that were too small to see.  However, flesh tended to rot more actively when the sun was hot, and so the maggots were attributed to the effect of the sun.  This was called an equivocal generation, where a one thing generates something else that is very different.

We know now that animals do not arise by spontaneous generation in this way; whether there are any examples of equivocal generation that have withstood the march of science, I don’t know.  Either way, it doesn’t matter; Thomas’ whole point is that the generation of the Word by the Father isn’t this kind of thing.  Consequently, the creed says that the Son is “God of God”, not “Something other than God from God”.

There’s a second way a thing can generate something not identical to it:

The same thing occurs in another way when that which proceeds from another differs from the latter because of a defect in purity; that is, when something is produced from what is simple and pure in itself by being applied to extraneous matter, and so turns out to be inferior to the original species. Thus, from a house that is in the architect’s mind, a house is fashioned in various materials; and from light received in the surface of a body, color results; and from fire, by adding other elements, a mixture is produced; and from a beam of light, by interposing an opaque body, shadow is caused. To exclude any imperfection of this kind from divine generation, we add: “Light of Light.”

And these kinds of generation clearly do happen.  The design that is in my mind is translated into the house that I build: but the design is not the house, though they have a resemblance one to another.  The shadow I cast on the sidewalk bears something of my shape.  But the generation of the Word is not of this kind either: not shadow from light but “Light of Light”.

There’s yet a third way, which is subtly different from the previous one: likeness without true generation.

In yet a third way, what proceeds from another can fail to equal the latter’s species, because of a deficiency in truth. That is, it does not truly receive the nature of its original, but only a certain likeness thereof; for example, an image in a mirror or in a picture or in a statue; also, the likeness of a thing in the intellect or in one of the senses. For the image of a man is not said to be a true man, but is a likeness of a man; and a stone is not in the soul, as the Philosopher notes [De anima, III, 8, 431 b 29], but a likeness of the stone is in the soul. To exclude all this from divine generation, we subjoin: “True God of true God.”

The house proceeds from the architect’s design, and resembles it somewhat; the shadow proceeds from light shining on the object, and has something of the same shape; but then there are those things like paintings and photographs which do not proceed from the subject directly but might resemble it strongly though imperfectly.  A painting can be a perfect image of a man, but is not the man: it is not all that the man is, even if it is a perfect likeness.  But the Word is all that God is; and so the creed says “True God of true God.”

Next week, Thomas will show how the Word is not distinct from God in nature.

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photo credit: Public Domain; source Wikimedia Commons

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