Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Aquinas and the doctrine of the Trinity: John 1:1

In the previous thread, a selection from Aquinas' Commentary on the Gospel of John was provided, wherein he argues for the divinity of the Son of God with an appeal to the doctrine of deification. In that same selection, Aquinas states: The word "God" is also used in three senses. [Personally, I think that the word "God" is used in more than just "three senses"—more on this in an upcoming thread.]

In this thread, I am going to provide another selection from Aquinas' Commentary on the Gospel of John, wherein he delves into John 1:1, expounding on how the word "God" is to be understood. This verse has played a huge role in the understanding and development of the doctrine of the Trinity. From the pen of Aquinas we read:

44 At the outset, we should note that the name “God” signifies the divinity concretely and as inherent in a subject, while the name “deity” signifies the divinity in the abstract and absolutely. Thus the name “deity” cannot naturally and by its mode of signifying stand for a [divine] person, but only for the [divine] nature. But the name “God” can, by its natural mode of signifying, stand for any one of the [divine] persons, just as the name “man” stands for any individual (suppositum) possessing humanity. Therefore, whenever the truth of a statement or its predicate requires that the name “God” stand for the person, then it stands for the person, as when we say, “God begets God.” Thus, when it says here that the Word was with God, it is necessary that God stand for the person of the Father, because the preposition with signifies the distinction of the Word, which is said to be with God. And although this preposition signifies a distinction in person, it does not signify a distinction in nature, since the nature of the Father and of the Son is the same. Consequently, the Evangelist wished to signify the person of the Father when he said God.

45 Here we should note that the preposition with signifies a certain union of the thing signified by its grammatical antecedent to the thing signified by its grammatical object, just as the preposition “in” does. However, there is a difference, because the preposition “in” signifies a certain intrinsic union, whereas the preposition with implies in a certain way an extrinsic union. And we state both in divine matters, namely, that the Son is in the Father and with the Father. Here the intrinsic union pertains to consubstantiality, but the extrinsic union (if we may use such an expression, since “extrinsic” is improperly employed in divine matters) refers only to a personal distinction, because the Son is distinguished from the Father by origin alone. And so these two words designate both a consubstantiality in nature and distinction in person: consubstantiality inasmuch as a certain union is implied; but distinction, inasmuch as a certain otherness is signified as was said above.

The preposition “in,” as was said, principally signifies consubstantiality, as implying an intrinsic union and, by way of consequence, a distinction of persons, inasmuch as every preposition is transitive. The preposition “with” principally signifies a personal distinction, but also a consubstantiality inasmuch as it signifies a certain extrinsic, so to speak, union. For these reasons the Evangelist specifically used here the preposition “with” in order to express the distinction of the person of the Son from the Father, saying, and the Word was with God, that is, the Son was with the Father as one person with another.

46 We should note further that this preposition with has four meanings, and these eliminate four objections. First, the preposition with signifies the subsistence of its antecedent, because things that do not subsist of themselves are not properly said to be “with” another; thus we do not say that a color is with a body, and the same applies to other things that do not subsist of themselves. But things that do subsist of themselves are properly said to be “with” another; thus we say that a man is with a man, and a stone with a stone.

Secondly, it signifies authority in its grammatical object. For we do not, properly speaking, say that a king is with a soldier, but that the soldier is with the king. Thirdly, it asserts a distinction. For it is not proper to say that a person is with himself but rather that one man is with another. Fourthly, it signifies a certain union and fellowship. For when some person is said to be with another, it suggests to us that there is some social union between them.

Considering these four conditions implied in the meaning of this preposition with, the Evangelist quite appropriately joins to the first clause, In the beginning was the Word, this second clause, and the Word was with God. For if we omit one of the three explanations of, In the beginning was the Word (namely, the one in which principium was understood as the Son), certain heretics make a twofold objection against each of the other explanations (namely, the one in which principium means the same as “before all things,” and the one in which it is understood as the Father). Thus there are four objections, and we can answer these by the four conditions indicated by this preposition with.

47 The first of these objections is this. You say that the Word was in the beginning, i.e., before all things. But before all things there was nothing. So if before all things there was nothing, where then was the Word? This objection arises due to the imaginings of those who think that whatever exists is somewhere and in some place. But this is rejected by John when he says, with God, which indicates the union mentioned in the last four conditions. So, according to Basil, the meaning is this: Where was the Word? The answer is: with God; not in some place, since he is unsurroundable, but he is with the Father, who is not enclosed by any place.

48 The second objection against the same explanation is this. You say that the Word was in the beginning, i.e., before all things. But whatever exists before all things appears to proceed from no one, since that from which something proceeds seems to be prior to that which proceeds from it. Therefore, the Word does not proceed from another. This objection is rejected when he says, the Word was with God, taking “with” according to its second condition, as implying authority in what is causing. So the meaning, according to Hilary, is this: From whom is the Word if he exists before all things? The Evangelist answers: the Word was with God, i.e., although the Word has no beginning of duration, still he does not lack a principium or author, for he was with God as his author.

49 The third objection, directed to the explanation in which principium is understood as the Father, is this. You say that In the beginning was the Word, i.e., the Son was in the Father. But that which is in something does not seem to be subsistent, as a hypostasis; just as the whiteness in a body does not subsist. This objection is solved by the statement, the Word was with God, taking “with” in its first condition, as implying the subsistence of its grammatical antecedent. So according to Chrysostom, the meaning is this: In the beginning was the Word, not as an accident, but he was with God, as subsisting, and a divine hypostasis.

50 The fourth objection, against the same explanation, is this. You say that the Word was in the beginning, i.e., in the Father. But whatever is in something is not distinct from it. So the Son is not distinct from the Father. This objection is answered by the statement, and the Word was with God, taking “with” in its third condition, as indicating distinction. Thus the meaning, according to Alcuin and Bede, is this: The Word was with God, and he was with the Father by a consubstantiality of nature, while still being “with” him through a distinction in person.

51 And so, and the Word was with God, indicates: the union of the Word with the Father in nature, according to Basil; their distinction in person, according to Alcuin and Bede; the subsistence of the Word in the divine nature, according to Chrysostom; and the authorship of the Father in relation to the Word, according to Hilary.

A bit later, we read:

56 The other question comes from his saying, with God. For since “with” indicates a distinction, it could be thought that the Word was with God, i.e., the Father, as distinct from him in nature. So to exclude this he adds at once the consubstantiality of the Word with the Father, saying, and the Word was God. As if to say: the Word is not separated from the Father by a diversity of nature, because the Word itself is God.

57 Note also the special way of signifying, since he says, the Word was God, using “God” absolutely to show that he is not God in the same way in which the name of the deity is given to a creature in Sacred Scripture. For a creature sometimes shares this name with some added qualification, as when it says, “I have appointed you the God of Pharaoh” (Ex 7:1), in order to indicate that he was not God absolutely or by nature, because he was appointed the god of someone in a qualified sense. Again, it says in the Psalm (81:6): “I said, ‘You are gods.’” —as if to say: in my opinion, but not in reality. Thus the Word is called God absolutely because he is God by his own essence, and not by participation, as men and angels are.

58 We should note that Origen disgracefully misunderstood this clause, led astray by the Greek manner of speaking. It is the custom among the Greeks to put the article before every name in order to indicate a distinction. In the Greek version of John’s Gospel the name “Word” in the statement, In the beginning was the Word, and also the name “God” in the statement, and the Word was with God, are prefixed by the article, so as to read “the Word” and “the God,” in order to indicate the eminence and distinction of the Word from other words, and the principality of the Father in the divinity. But in the statement, the Word was God, the article is not prefixed to the noun “God,” which stands for the person of the Son. Because of this Origen blasphemed that the Word, although he was Word by essence, was not God by essence, but is called God by participation; while the Father alone is God by essence. And so he held that the Son is inferior to the Father.

59 Chrysostom proves that this is not true, because if the article used with the name “God” implied the superiority of the Father in respect to the Son, it would never be used with the name “God” when it is used as a predicate of another, but only when it is predicated of the Father. Further, whenever said of the Father, it would be accompanied by the article. However, we find the opposite to be the case in two statements of the Apostle, who calls Christ “God,” using the article. For in Titus (2:13) he says, “the coming of the glory of the great God and our Savior Jesus Christ,” where “God” stands for the Son, and in the Greek the article is used. Therefore, Christ is the great God. Again he says (Rom 9:5): “Christ, who is God over all things, blessed forever,” and again the article is used with “God” in the Greek. Further, in 1 John (5:20) it says: “That we may be in his true Son, Jesus Christ; he is the true God and eternal life.” Thus, Christ is not God by participation, but truly God. And so the theory of Origen is clearly false. (Commentary on the Gospel of John.)

Grace and peace,


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