Aquinas Conflating Person and Essence in God, Redux

by

This post was not actually written by MG, but by a former contributor named Zakk. If he requests that the post be removed, it will be removed.

 

In a previous post, Krause presented us with a quotation that seemed to show, in language all too plain, that Aquinas conflates person and essence in God. A commenter, however, felt that it was unfair to summarize Aquinas’s position as a conflation, especially without calling into account other relevant portions of the Summa Theologica. So, in the interest of fairness and ease of access, I present our readers with the portions suggested by the aforementioned commenter.

First, Summa Theologica 1, Q28, a2:

Whether relation in God is the same as His essence?

Objection 1: It would seem that the divine relation is not the same as the divine essence. For Augustine says (De Trin. v) that “not all that is said of God is said of His substance, for we say some things relatively, as Father in respect of the Son: but such things do not refer to the substance.” Therefore the relation is not the divine essence.

Objection 2: Further, Augustine says (De Trin. vii) that, “every relative expression is something besides the relation expressed, as master is a man, and slave is a man.” Therefore, if relations exist in God, there must be something else besides relation in God. This can only be His essence. Therefore essence differs from relation.

Objection 3: Further, the essence of relation is the being referred to another, as the Philosopher says (Praedic. v). So if relation is the divine essence, it follows that the divine essence is essentially itself a relation to something else; whereas this is repugnant to the perfection of the divine essence, which is supremely absolute and self-subsisting (Q[3], A[4]). Therefore relation is not the divine essence.

On the contrary, Everything which is not the divine essence is a creature. But relation really belongs to God; and if it is not the divine essence, it is a creature; and it cannot claim the adoration of latria; contrary to what is sung in the Preface: “Let us adore the distinction of the Persons, and the equality of their Majesty.”

I answer that, It is reported that Gilbert de la Porree erred on this point, but revoked his error later at the council of Rheims. For he said that the divine relations are assistant, or externally affixed.

To perceive the error here expressed, we must consider that in each of the nine genera of accidents there are two points for remark. One is the nature belonging to each one of them considered as an accident; which commonly applies to each of them as inherent in a subject, for the essence of an accident is to inhere. The other point of remark is the proper nature of each one of these genera. In the genera, apart from that of “relation,” as in quantity and quality, even the true idea of the genus itself is derived from a respect to the subject; for quantity is called the measure of substance, and quality is the disposition of substance. But the true idea of relation is not taken from its respect to that in which it is, but from its respect to something outside. So if we consider even in creatures, relations formally as such, in that aspect they are said to be “assistant,” and not intrinsically affixed, for, in this way, they signify a respect which affects a thing related and tends from that thing to something else; whereas, if relation is considered as an accident, it inheres in a subject, and has an accidental existence in it. Gilbert de la Porree considered relation in the former mode only.

Now whatever has an accidental existence in creatures, when considered as transferred to God, has a substantial existence; for there is no accident in God; since all in Him is His essence. So, in so far as relation has an accidental existence in creatures, relation really existing in God has the existence of the divine essence in no way distinct therefrom. But in so far as relation implies respect to something else, no respect to the essence is signified, but rather to its opposite term.

Thus it is manifest that relation really existing in God is really the same as His essence and only differs in its mode of intelligibility; as in relation is meant that regard to its opposite which is not expressed in the name of essence. Thus it is clear that in God relation and essence do not differ from each other, but are one and the same.

Reply to Objection 1: These words of Augustine do not imply that paternity or any other relation which is in God is not in its very being the same as the divine essence; but that it is not predicated under the mode of substance, as existing in Him to Whom it is applied; but as a relation. So there are said to be two predicaments only in God, since other predicaments import habitude to that of which they are spoken, both in their generic and in their specific nature; but nothing that exists in God can have any relation to that wherein it exists or of whom it is spoken, except the relation of identity; and this by reason of God’s supreme simplicity.

Reply to Objection 2: As the relation which exists in creatures involves not only a regard to another, but also something absolute, so the same applies to God, yet not in the same way. What is contained in the creature above and beyond what is contained in the meaning of relation, is something else besides that relation; whereas in God there is no distinction, but both are one and the same; and this is not perfectly expressed by the word “relation,” as if it were comprehended in the ordinary meaning of that term. For it was above explained (Q[13], A[2]), in treating of the divine names, that more is contained in the perfection of the divine essence than can be signified by any name. Hence it does not follow that there exists in God anything besides relation in reality; but only in the various names imposed by us.

Reply to Objection 3: If the divine perfection contained only what is signified by relative names, it would follow that it is imperfect, being thus related to something else; as in the same way, if nothing more were contained in it than what is signified by the word “wisdom,” it would not in that case be a subsistence. But as the perfection of the divine essence is greater than can be included in any name, it does not follow, if a relative term or any other name applied to God signify something imperfect, that the divine essence is in any way imperfect; for the divine essence comprehends within itself the perfection of every genus (Q[4], A[2]).

The next section is from 1, Q39, a1:

Whether in God the essence is the same as the person?

Objection 1: It would seem that in God the essence is not the same as person. For whenever essence is the same as person or “suppositum,” there can be only one “suppositum” of one nature, as is clear in the case of all separate substances. For in those things which are really one and the same, one cannot be multiplied apart from the other. But in God there is one essence and three persons, as is clear from what is above expounded (Q[28], A[3]; Q[30], A[2]). Therefore essence is not the same as person.

Objection 2: Further, simultaneous affirmation and negation of the same things in the same respect cannot be true. But affirmation and negation are true of essence and of person. For person is distinct, whereas essence is not. Therefore person and essence are not the same.

Objection 3: Further, nothing can be subject to itself. But person is subject to essence; whence it is called “suppositum” or “hypostasis.” Therefore person is not the same as essence.

On the contrary, Augustine says (De Trin. vi, 7): “When we say the person of the Father we mean nothing else but the substance of the Father.”

I answer that, The truth of this question is quite clear if we consider the divine simplicity. For it was shown above (Q[3], A[3]) that the divine simplicity requires that in God essence is the same as “suppositum,” which in intellectual substances is nothing else than person. But a difficulty seems to arise from the fact that while the divine persons are multiplied, the essence nevertheless retains its unity. And because, as Boethius says (De Trin. i), “relation multiplies the Trinity of persons,” some have thought that in God essence and person differ, forasmuch as they held the relations to be “adjacent”; considering only in the relations the idea of “reference to another,” and not the relations as realities. But as it was shown above (Q[28], A[2]) in creatures relations are accidental, whereas in God they are the divine essence itself. Thence it follows that in God essence is not really distinct from person; and yet that the persons are really distinguished from each other. For person, as above stated (Q[29], A[4]), signifies relation as subsisting in the divine nature. But relation as referred to the essence does not differ therefrom really, but only in our way of thinking; while as referred to an opposite relation, it has a real distinction by virtue of that opposition. Thus there are one essence and three persons.

Reply to Objection 1: There cannot be a distinction of “suppositum” in creatures by means of relations, but only by essential principles; because in creatures relations are not subsistent. But in God relations are subsistent, and so by reason of the opposition between them they distinguish the “supposita”; and yet the essence is not distinguished, because the relations themselves are not distinguished from each other so far as they are identified with the essence.

Reply to Objection 2: As essence and person in God differ in our way of thinking, it follows that something can be denied of the one and affirmed of the other; and therefore, when we suppose the one, we need not suppose the other.

Reply to Objection 3: Divine things are named by us after the way of created things, as above explained (Q[13], AA[1],3). And since created natures are individualized by matter which is the subject of the specific nature, it follows that individuals are called “subjects,” “supposita,” or “hypostases.” So the divine persons are named “supposita” or “hypostases,” but not as if there really existed any real “supposition” or “subjection.”

At face value, these two sections seem to tell us that in God (1) relation is the same as essence and (2) essence is the same as person. This seems to support the interpretation provided by Krause–namely, that Aquinas conflates person and Essence in God.

Thoughts?

________________
Note: Quotations from the Summa Theologica are taken from the edition available from the Christian Classics Ethereal Library.

Advertisements

35 Responses to “Aquinas Conflating Person and Essence in God, Redux”

  1. Bryan Cross Says:

    If by “same” you mean identical, then you would imply that for Aquinas there are three Essences or only one Person. So, in order not to misrepresent Aquinas, you have to distinguish in what respect Person and Essence are not identical. What is left ambiguous in the post title is whether you are speaking of the concepts or the referent. Aquinas makes a careful distinction here between concepts and referents. Aquinas is not saying that Person (in a generic sense) is the same in meaning as Essence. He is saying that each divine Person is the divine Essence (otherwise each Person wouldn’t be God). But those two terms (Person and Essence) each have a different sense, and in that respect it is not a contradiction to say that there are three Persons, yet one Essence. If your intention is simply to note that for Aquinas each Person is the divine Essence (rather than an Energy), then I agree that this is what Aquinas is saying.

    In the peace of Christ,

    – Bryan

  2. MG Says:

    Bryan–

    Exactly. We think Aquinas believes there is only one person. The distinction between the three persons seems to be a conceptual distinction. We understand that meaning and reference aren’t the same, and that he takes person to mean something distinct from essence.

    This may resolve the contradiction, but at the price of collapsing Aquinas’ “persons” into things that are merely distinct in the mind, not in reality. That isn’t the Trinity. Patristic and conciliar theology would call that MODALISM.

  3. Bryan Cross Says:

    The distinction between the three Persons, for Aquinas, is not a mere conceptual distinction. The Persons as Persons are not identical to each other, precisely (and only) in their relation. The Father is not begotten. The Son does not beget. But the Essence of the Father is the very same (identical) Essence as that of the Son. Aquinas is not a modalist.

    In the peace of Christ,

    – Bryan

  4. MG Says:

    Are the persons of the Trinity really distinct for Aquinas? Or are they numerically identical to the divine essence?

    If both terms “person” and “nature” refer to the same thing, and that thing is utterly simple and without any real distinctions, then the distinction is still de dicto and not de re.

    What kind of distinction is it, if not something like Suarez’s distinction of reasoned reason?

  5. Ø Says:

    Bryan –

    You wrote:
    “The Persons as Persons are not identical to each other, precisely (and only) in their relation. The Father is not begotten. The Son does not beget. But the Essence of the Father is the very same (identical) Essence as that of the Son.”

    Yes, yes. But you seem to be forgetting the transitive property of equality.

    If Father = DivineEssence, and Son = DivineEssence, then Son = Father.

    We might also point out that, since Aquinas says that Relation in God is the same as His Essence, all of the relations are actually the same. Again, the distinction between them only appears in the mind–phenomenally, if you will–while the fact of the matter–the reality–is that there is no real distinction.

  6. Photios Jones Says:

    The only way to make your assertion work Bryan (or at least convincing) is to say that the Person’s are not the same as the divine essence. Why not just say that?

    I would go even further. Relation is not a person. Person is not the same as the essence. And relation is not the same as essence.

    Given Divine Revelation, there’s no reason to say that relation is the same as the divine essence, or what is not the divine essence is a creature. Why construe that as a dialectic either/or in the first place? There’s no reason to do so.

    Photios

  7. Photios Jones Says:

    “Since a relation, insasmuch as it is something real in God, is the divine essence itself, and the essence is the same as a person, as we have already made clear, it must be that the relation is the same as a person.”

    Aquinas uses the transition above to say that relation is the same as a person.
    Let A = relation
    In asmuch as A is something real in God, A is equal to the divine essence
    Let B = to the divine essence
    Given the minor premise, A = B.
    Let C= person in God.
    B = C as was already stated by Aquinas.
    Therefore A = C.

    Why isn’t this transition good:

    If Father = DivineEssence, and Son = DivineEssence, then Son = Father.

    I see nothing wrong with that logic. The conclusion that we would draw is that it seems differentiation in the Godhead only really exists from the perception of those things that are actually differentiated: creatures.

    Photios

  8. Ø Says:

    It seems this kind of thing might be the reason why, close to death and after having a major mystical experience, Aquinas called his works “straw”.
    ;p

  9. Photios Jones Says:

    I know! Its as if he just did some Hesychasm, and was like I better not say too much or I’ll bring down the whole edifice built out of tinker toys and lincoln logs! Aquinas thinking in his head “Person isn’t nature, realtion isn’t nature, operation isn’t a person, operation isn’t the essence…oh my!”

    Aquinas then goes off to re-write the summa starting with the Incarnation (instead of theology as a science and philosophical “proofs”), an exegesis of the Lord of Glory in the OT, His two natures, the distinction between person and nature, the operations of Christ’s person, operations are rooted in the nature, the kind of operation determines the kind of nature. Christ reveals the Father in the NT, Christ sends the Spirit, Christ says He is begotten of the Father and the Holy Spirit originates from the Father and rests in Him…..oh my…imagine the impact that would have had:

    The ordo theologiae of..
    essence-attributes-persons

    now becomes:

    Persons-operations-essence

    …as the method of doing theology!

    The west recovers Orthodoxy, the Reformation is prevented nor needed…

    Ah!

    Photios

  10. Photios Jones Says:

    Actually, at best they would’ve exiled him or worse burned him at the stake..

  11. Ø Says:

    Actually, that bishop–Etienne Tempier–probably would have been happy with him.

  12. Ø Says:

    We should probably move back towards the actual discussion, now.

    Bryan? Anyone? Responses? If we’re wrong–please, show us the light!

  13. MG Says:

    Yeah, I’m really aching to hear a Catholic response here. I want to see why Aquinas is not a Modalist. Its been over 5 years since I started worrying about this, so I’m really looking forward to getting the problem resolved. If some Roman Catholics or Anglicans or other pro-Thomism people could help us out here, it would be great.

  14. Photios Jones Says:

    I’m in acceptance mode man. I’ve given up on there being a resolution. I’m pretty much convinced you’re going to get the same responses until the Lord comes and we will just keep pointing out the inconsistencies. A committed RC can’t do otherwise because of the papal dogma. It would bring that whole thing down.

  15. Ø Says:

    Well, we’ll probably continue in our attempt to be optimistic on behalf of the Roman Catholics, as it seems conducive to giving them the fairest hearing possible.

  16. Jay Dyer Says:

    I listed a catena of my own, from several places:

    http://www.nicenetruth.com/home/2009/05/problem-quotes-in-aquinas-listed-for-discussion.html

  17. Jay Dyer Says:

    “These words of Augustine do not imply that paternity or any other relation which is in God is not in its very being the same as the divine essence…”

    This is horrible.

  18. photios Says:

    Yep horrible. As Aquinas has already established that ‘relation’ and ‘essence’ are the same thing in God.

  19. Jay Dyer Says:

    http://www.nicenetruth.com/home/2009/07/absolute-divine-simplicity-western-absurdity.html

  20. Jay Dyer Says:

    “But in God relations are subsistent, and so by reason of the opposition between them they distinguish the “supposita”; and yet the essence is not distinguished, because the relations themselves are not distinguished from each other so far as they are identified with the essence.”

  21. Boreas Says:

    “If Father = DivineEssence, and Son = DivineEssence, then Son = Father. I see nothing wrong with that logic.”

    Well, there is something wrong with it. The problem lies in where the distinction between the Father (F) and the Son (S) lies.

    The distinction cannot be in essence, for F and S are both God, both the same as the Divine Essence (DE). If we say either F or S is not the DE, then we have commited the heresy of Arianism.

    So where do we find the distinction between F and S? That’s the question really, isn’t it? And it’s what Aquinas tried to answer.

    I will give here my understanding of what Aquinas is saying.

    He is basically saying that since the real distinction between F and S cannot lie in essence (they are homoousious), it must lie in something else. The real distinction, must be in virtue of opposition between the relations. Which means: the Father is the Father only insofar as he is the Father of the Son, and the Son is the Son only insofar as he is the Son of the Father. Does that make sense?

    So what Aquinas says is that F is F to S, and S is S to F. This is the real distinction.

    So F is not S; F is F to S. But F is the same essence as S, that is, both F and S are God, and therefore F and S are in essence equal, but F and S are distinct by virtue of the opposition of relation, not distinct by virtue of opposition or unequality of essence (Arianism).

  22. Boreas Says:

    By the way, if one denies Aquinas viewpoint, then the question still remains: where lies the distinction betwen F and S? And the question becomes how one avoids either Arianism or Modalism. The persons are both God (homoousious), or DE, so we can’t make a distinction there without Arianism. What remains which distinguishes them? If nothing distinguishes them, then we are back in Modalism.

    But Aquinas says: what distinguishes them is that F is not S; F is F to S, and S is S to F. That is what distinguishes them, and that is a real distinction, and that is all that distinguishes them: distinction by virtue of opposition in relation.

  23. Krause Says:

    Boreas,

    I’m afraid I don’t see how the proposed explanation of the distinction makes any sense. It is impossible for me to see how Aquinas has anything more than a conceptual distinction. If you admit that Person=Essence and the essence has no real distinctions within it, then there cannot be any real distinctions between the persons. The argument if very clearly logically sound. What one needs to avoid Arianism and modalism is a real distinction between person and essence and a real distinction between the three persons.

    A real distinction between relations will not save you because, as I’ve pointed out in my previous Aquinas post, for Aquinas Relation=Person BECAUSE Relation=Essence. Thus, we can substitute Relation in for person in the previous argument and it goes through just as well. If there is no real distinction between relation and essence, and there are no real distinctions in the essence, then there cannot be a real distinction between the different relations.

    You have to throw out either Trinitarian theology or the notion that there are no real distinctions in God. It’s that simple.

  24. Boreas Says:

    But what you are saying is not Aquinas viewpoint. He does believe there is a real distinction between the relations, because one relation intrinsically cannot be the other relation (e.g. one relation is a relation insofar as it relates as a separate relation to the other; and therefore is intrinsically distinct from the other).

    The question, even if you deny Aquinas, is what does distinguish the persons? Aquinas answer is that one person is not the other person (basically); one is unbegotten, another is begotten, etc.

    If one denies Aquinas viewpoint, then the question still remains: where lies the distinction betwen F and S? And the question becomes how one avoids either Arianism or Modalism. The persons are both God (homoousious), or DE, so we can’t make a distinction there without Arianism. What remains which distinguishes them? If nothing distinguishes them, then we are back in Modalism.

    But Aquinas says: what distinguishes them is that F is not S; F is F to S, and S is S to F. That is what distinguishes them, and that is a real distinction, and that is all that distinguishes them: distinction by virtue of opposition in relation.

    And of course, this notion of relation as the only distinction between persons is not at all unique in Aquinas, but is taken from St. Gregory of Nazianzus and Augustine.

  25. Boreas Says:

    That Aquinas believes the essence and the person is the same (because the persons are essential and the essence personal), does not mean that the persons are the same as the other persons in their personhood.

    It means that the persons are the same as the other persons _in essence_, not in person.

  26. Boreas Says:

    If you doubt the point that Aquinas is making, that the persons are the same as the Divine Essence, just think of the alternative: Divine Essence is NOT the same as Person. If that were the case, then none of the Divine Persons are truly and fully God, since they are all something other than God.

  27. Boreas Says:

    That is to say, there is nothing in God more than the persons who are the same essence. Anything beyond this same essence is no longer God.

  28. ZSDP Says:

    Boreas,

    I’m sorry, but I think we’ve said just about all we can. You simply keep claiming that Aquinas makes a real distinction, despite the fact that this is a classic case of Suarez’s distinction of reason (not to mention that it strains any definition of “real distinction” to which I’m privy). Further, you apparently lack the ability to imagine any alternative viewpoints, including the Eastern Orthodox one defended by the authors of this blog. Both counts lead me to believe that you are perhaps under-informed about scholastic philosophy and Christian views of the Trinity. For the former, I suggest having a look at Francis Suarez’s “On Various Kinds of Distinction”, while a brief trod through Vladimir Lossky’s “Orthodox Theology: An Introduction” should serve as a tonic to the latter.

  29. Boreas Says:

    I have already shown that Aquinas viewpoint demonstrates that the persons are really distinct from each other, and no one has given an alternative to making the persons distinction only by virtue of opposition in relation (begotten, unbegotten, generated, ungenerated, etc). For that reason, the burden of proof rests on you now, not me.

  30. Boreas Says:

    That is, to show that Aquinas view is not orthodox, or that there is really an alternative to the essence of his point (namely distinction by virtue of opposition in relation) which amounts to saying that there is another distinction, which would result in a distinction in essence, and that is not orthodoxy.

  31. MG Says:

    Boreas–

    You wrote:

    “But what you are saying is not Aquinas viewpoint. He does believe there is a real distinction between the relations, because one relation intrinsically cannot be the other relation (e.g. one relation is a relation insofar as it relates as a separate relation to the other; and therefore is intrinsically distinct from the other).

    The question, even if you deny Aquinas, is what does distinguish the persons? Aquinas answer is that one person is not the other person (basically); one is unbegotten, another is begotten, etc.

    If one denies Aquinas viewpoint, then the question still remains: where lies the distinction betwen F and S? And the question becomes how one avoids either Arianism or Modalism. The persons are both God (homoousious), or DE, so we can’t make a distinction there without Arianism. What remains which distinguishes them? If nothing distinguishes them, then we are back in Modalism.

    …But Aquinas says: what distinguishes them is that F is not S; F is F to S, and S is S to F. That is what distinguishes them, and that is a real distinction, and that is all that distinguishes them: distinction by virtue of opposition in relation.”

    It seems that at most what you have shown is what Aquinas would believe and how he would articulate a distinction between the persons *if he is a consistent Trinitarian*. You sort of say “well surely because he is a Trinitarian, he must think the persons are distinct; the only way they can be distinct is by relations of opposition; therefore he distinguishes them by relations of opposition”. But given the evidence brought forth that calls into question Aquinas’ consistency, we can’t start with the assumption that he is a consistent Trinitarian, and then discount all of the apparently conflicting texts. So why think the apparently non-Trinitarian texts are compatible with Aquinas being a Trinitarian? (I will discuss this further below)

    You wrote:

    “And of course, this notion of relation as the only distinction between persons is not at all unique in Aquinas, but is taken from St. Gregory of Nazianzus and Augustine.”

    It is important to differentiate two different meanings of “distinguish”. One meaning is “make to be distinct” referring to ontological difference–the objective fact of two things not being numerically identical to each other. The second meaning is “recognize to be distinct” referring to our mental action whereby we apply different concepts to different things, thus making them seem to be ontologically different. And this mental act can happen whether the things are or are not distinct; as Suarez points out, sometimes we are wrong, and apply different concepts to the same thing, falsely inferring there are different particular things when there is only one. St. Gregory Nazianzus seems to have the second meaning in mind when he says the relations make the persons distinct; we can recognize them as distinct based on what we know about their eternal, immanent, hypostatic relationships from divine revelation. St. Augustine may be a supporter of the idea that the relations ground ontological difference, but Augustine’s claim to a consistent trinitarian theology is quite suspect itself. And unlike the Cappadocians, his understanding of the Trinity certainly wasn’t formative for the Ecumenical Councils 1-7.

    You wrote:

    “If you doubt the point that Aquinas is making, that the persons are the same as the Divine Essence, just think of the alternative: Divine Essence is NOT the same as Person. If that were the case, then none of the Divine Persons are truly and fully God, since they are all something other than God.”

    If we think divine essence is not an identical thing to person, then this is still compatible with saying they are fully God. You assume that the divine essence is the only divine thing. But this is not so. God is not absolutely simple.

    Rather, there are real distinctions in God between person and nature, and within the divine nature between essence and energies. The Son and the Father and the Spirit are distinct persons, and the fact of their being distinct is what makes it possible for them to be correctly mentally distinguished by causal relations. The fact of their being distinct is grounded in their utter particularity and uniqueness. They are not distinct because they are “different relations” or “different properties”, but because they are distinct hypostases (particulars). They are different from the essence they all share in common like you as a particular person are different from your soul–a mental substance of powers and capacities instantiated in you and other human persons. God’s essence is distinct from his energies in a way that is analogous to the distinction in us between our intellect and our thoughts–namely a difference between power (dynamis) and activity (energeia). The divine energies are inherently distinct from each other because they are different kinds of activities of the one divine essence. None of these things are opposed to each other. All are distinct, but all are fully divine. So they are not each “parts” of God, such that each is less divine than the whole; they are different, but all are uncreated and each is equally divine. They are not seperate from each other either; they are intrinsically united.

    If you ask “why should I accept this view?” I would say (1) it comports better with the biblical revelation which teaches that God can be spatially and temporally present in the universe, made visible in the divine glory to his creatures; (2) it is taught by the sixth ecumenical council (and assumed by pretty much every ecumenical council); (3) it can explain God’s freedom to create (whereas Absolute Divine Simplicity cannot); (4) it is a necessary precondition for explaining how the communication of divine attributes to Christ’s humanity is possible (which ADS cannot explain); (5) it is needed to explain how union with God (deification, 2 Pet 1:4) is possible (which is impossible given ADS); (6) it makes it possible to deny theological determinism (which ADS must affirm).

    You wrote:

    “That Aquinas believes the essence and the person is the same (because the persons are essential and the essence personal), does not mean that the persons are the same as the other persons in their personhood.”

    As it stands, the interpetation of Aquinas given by you above implies that the persons are all numerically identical. If there is one essence, and each person is the same as essence, then each person is identical to the one essence. If each person is identical to the one essence, then each person is identical to the other person. Why is each person not identical to the other person, given that they are identical to the essence?

    If you answer “because of their relations of mutual opposition” then the question changes to this: “how can they be mutually opposed if they are identical?” The defense of Aquinas as a trinitarian seems therefore to require two things. First, it must be shown that he tries to distinguish the persons (which you have argued he does, via the idea of “relations of mutual opposition”). But second, it must be shown that he can consistently affirm the distinction, given other aspects of his doctrine of God. Can he affirm this without contradiction? It seems he cannot; for he also identifies the persons as identical to the essence. This would, as I argued above, entail that there is no distinction between them. At best what has been shown up to this point is that Aquinas *wants* to be a Trinitarian, not that he can consistently affirm the Trinity.

    Also, are you saying the divine essence is a person? Are you saying the persons are essences? I assume you are not, but would like some clarity about what you *do mean*.

    You wrote:

    “It means that the persons are the same as the other persons _in essence_, not in person.”

    What you stated implies the persons are not merely “identical to each other in essence (sharing the same essence, and thus the same kind of thing)” but rather that they are “identical *to the* essence”.

    You wrote:

    “I have already shown that Aquinas viewpoint demonstrates that the persons are really distinct from each other, and no one has given an alternative to making the persons distinction only by virtue of opposition in relation (begotten, unbegotten, generated, ungenerated, etc). For that reason, the burden of proof rests on you now, not me.

    That is, to show that Aquinas view is not orthodox, or that there is really an alternative to the essence of his point (namely distinction by virtue of opposition in relation) which amounts to saying that there is another distinction, which would result in a distinction in essence, and that is not orthodoxy.”

    As I pointed out above, at most you have shown that Aquinas is inconsistent in his attempt to affirm the Trinity. It still needs to be shown that Aquinas’ view of the divine essence is compatible with his affirmation of the distinctness of the persons.

    And as I argued above, the divine persons can be distinct from their essence in the way that a particular human person is distinct from the soul (substantial set of mental powers and capacities) he or she instantiates. Particulars such as one horse and another horse (or like a female human person and her soul) are irreducibly distinct; they ground distinction, and do not require something else to explain how they can be ontologically different. So the persons of the Trinity can be distinct as particulars without some kind of “relation of opposition” between one particular and the other that grounds their distinction.

    Also, this does not imply that the persons are distinguished by having different essences. So we can maintain trinitarian theology without admitting any opposition within God.

  32. Boreas Says:

    You: “It is important to differentiate two different meanings of “distinguish”. One meaning is “make to be distinct” referring to ontological difference–the objective fact of two things not being numerically identical to each other. ”

    My response: Aquinas is speaking about “subsistent relations”, “real relations”. Not distinctions that only we make, but real distinctions between subsistent, real relations in the divine essence.

    You: “If there is one essence, and each person is the same as essence, then each person is identical to the one essence. If each person is identical to the one essence, then each person is identical to the other person. Why is each person not identical to the other person, given that they are identical to the essence?”

    My response: Because they are still really distinct by opposition of their origin as relations.

    The relations are the same as the essence, and inasfar as they are identical to the essence, they are identical to the other persons essentially. But meditate on what it even means to say “they”; it refers to the relations that are by nature opposed _in origin_ and hence, in relation. They are all identical in and to the essence, but they are still not identical in origin, and therefore, in relation are not identical. For the relations to constitute real relations, it means they are not “shared” and identified between the different relations, like the divine essence. They are opposed in their origin, and therefore, cannot be identical in origin or relation. They are identical to the other persons in the essence they are identified with, but not _in their origin_, and hence, their real relation within that essence.

    You: “If you answer “because of their relations of mutual opposition” then the question changes to this: “how can they be mutually opposed if they are identical?””

    Me: Because they are not identical in origin.

    You: “As it stands, the interpetation of Aquinas given by you above implies that the persons are all numerically identical.”

    Me: First of all, they are identical only in essence, not in origin and relation. And second, you cannot simplify and arithmetize the Holy Trinity to numbers to begin with, since the numbers don’t take into account the complex questions involved in what each number represents. Such arithmetical arguments are also used to prove that the trinity means 3 gods, because numbers are deficient in representing complex notions.

  33. Jonathan Deane Says:

    Curious if you brothers have read “The Ground of Union: Deification in Aquinas and Palamas” by A.N. Williams.

    Blessings!

  34. MG Says:

    Jonathan–

    I’ve read some of it. Williams basically seems to think that Palamas had the same view of God as Aquinas, namely absolute divine simplicity (either that or his view is compatible with that of Aquinas, I don’t remember). At face value this seems rather bizarre, given his involvement in the controversy with Barlaam and the fact that in order to deny what Barlaam is saying you need to affirm that the essence-energies distinction is a real distinction. I didn’t pick up any positive argument for the controversial part of her thesis with respect to Palamas per se, but rather an argument that the essence-energies distinction is not stated so clearly as to rule out the possibility that it is a mental distinction in the Triads.

    My impression is that Williams had omitted reading many much clearer texts in Palamas’ writings (ie. the Capita or Dialogue Between an Orthodox and a Barlamite) which state the distinction very unambiguously compared to the Triads.

    Also, (though this point is unnecessary given the above) regardless of the clarity or lack thereof with which Palamas says things, the distinction is in the earlier Fathers, and is necessary for the Christology of the sixth ecumenical Council.

    If you would like me to take a closer look into Williams’ book, I can. But I doubt there is anything in there (and other people have confirmed this to me) that convincingly shows that Palamas did not hold to essence-energies as a real distinction.

  35. jad Says:

    Since it seems bizarre, I think it would be interesting to give her book more attention. But I wouldn’t ask that of you, or anyone else. My priest and spiritual father has recommended the book to me and at some point I may read it. Though I first need to read the biography of Fr. Seraphim Rose!

    The key question to the issue (irrespective of Williams’ writing) is this matter of the essence-energies distinction and absolute divine simplicity. Working that out through whatever means will be an important part for mutual understanding of the East and the West.

    With that being said, St. Gregory’s work is commended to me by my spiritual father, so I am hopeful that regardless of the means of reconciliation (correction of one, the other, both, or a sort of understanding that the views are complementary/not mutually exclusive), that that reconciliation will come one day.

    Blessings.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s


%d bloggers like this: