Today’s Aquinas: An Opportunity to Make Merry

Today’s Aquinas: An Opportunity to Make Merry December 21, 2015

ThomasAquinas We’re blogging through St. Thomas Aquinas’ Compendium Theologiae, sometimes called his Shorter Summa. Find the previous posts here.
Today’s post is from Chapter 60, “The Number of Relations and the Number of Persons”.

My intent is to blog through the entire Compendium Theologiae, but some chapters I really wish I could skip, and this is one of them. In the past few chapters, Thomas has identified three subsisting persons in God, as defined by five properties or notions: innascibility, paternity, filiation, spiration, and procession. So, someone (not me!) might ask, there are five properties! Why are there not five persons? And Thomas is concerned to reassure them on this point. If you are untroubled by this, you might take this opportunity to finish your Christmas shopping or make merry with your loved ones.

So, once more into the breach, dear friends!

We must realize that, although the relations subsisting in the Godhead are the divine persons themselves, as was stated above, we are not to conclude that there are five or four persons corresponding to the number of relations.

The three divine persons are three subsistent relations in God, and yet there are five notions distinguishing them. Why are there not five persons? The short answer is that the notions are with respect to different persons or pairs of persons. Paternity and filiation—that is, fatherhood and sonship—are opposite ways of looking at the same relation. For the long answer, carry on.

For number follows distinction of some sort. Just as unity is indivisible or undivided, so plurality is divisible or divided. For a plurality of persons requires that relations have power to distinguish by reason of opposition, since formal distinction necessarily entails opposition. If, then, the relations in question are closely examined, paternity and filiation will be seen to have relative opposition to each other; hence they are incompatible in the same suppositum. Consequently paternity and filiation in God must be two subsistent persons.

In other words, a son can’t be his own father or a father his own son, time travel stories notwithstanding. As I said above, these two properties imply exactly two persons. (In this context, a suppositum is a substance, a thing that exists of itself, as opposed to a quality of a thing. Remember, an apple is a substance, its redness is an accident that exists only as a quality of the apple.)

Innascibility, on the other hand, although opposed to filiation, is not opposed to paternity. Hence paternity and innascibility can pertain to one and the same person.

Innascibility is the property of not proceeding from any other person; it’s one of the distinctions of the Father. So the Father can be the Father of the Son, and also be “innascible”.

Similarly, common spiration is not opposed either to paternity or to filiation, nor to innascibility. Thus nothing prevents common spiration from being in both the person of the Father and the person of the Son. Accordingly common spiration is not a subsisting person distinct from the persons of the Father and the Son.

Common spiration is a distinction between the Father and the Son on one hand and the Holy Spirit on the other. The Holy Spirit proceeds from the Father and the Son, as the Creed tells us; and Thomas calls this the common spiration of the Father and the Son. But common spiration is not in anyway opposed to fatherhood or sonship, but to the procession of the Spirit:

But procession has a relation of opposition to common spiration. Therefore, since common spiration pertains to the Father and the Son, procession must be a person distinct from the persons of the Father and the Son.

Thus, we have three subsisting relations: innascibility, to which nothing is opposed; paternity/filiation; and common spiration/procession. But where multiple properties pertain to a person, one is primary:

Accordingly the reason is clear why God is not called “quiune,” quinus, on account of the notions, which are five in number, but is called triune, on account of the Trinity of persons. The five notions are not five subsisting things, but the three persons are three subsisting things. Although several notions or properties may pertain to a single person, only one of them constitutes the person. For a divine person is constituted by the properties, not in the sense that He is constituted by several of them, but in the sense that the relative, subsisting property itself is a person. If several properties were understood as subsisting in themselves apart, they would be several persons, and not one person. Hence we must understand that, of the several properties or notions belonging to a single person, the one that precedes according to the order of nature constitutes the person; the others are understood as inhering in the person already constituted.

But which ones? For the Father, paternity must be primary:

Thus it is evident that innascibility cannot be the first notion of the Father, constituting His person, because nothing is constituted by a negation, and also because affirmation naturally precedes negation. Further, common spiration presupposes paternity and filiation in the order of nature, just as the procession of love presupposes the procession of the Word.

And for the Son, filiation must be primary, and for the Spirit, procession must be primary:

Hence common spiration cannot be the first notion of the Father, or of the Son either. The first notion of the Father is paternity and the first notion of the Son is filiation, whereas procession alone is the notion of the Holy Spirit.

Thus, though we have five notions, only three of them are properties in the proper sense:

Accordingly the notions constituting persons are three in number: paternity, filiation, and procession. And these notions must be strict properties. For that which constitutes a person must pertain to that person alone; individuating principles cannot belong to several individuals. For this reason the three notions in question are called personal properties, in the sense that they constitute the three persons in the manner described. The remaining notions are called properties or notions of the persons, but not personal properties or notions, because they do not constitute a person.

I’m glad that’s all settled.


photo credit: Public Domain; source Wikimedia Commons

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