Friday, April 1, 2016

Clear elements of Nicene Monarchism from an esteemed, 19th century Catholic theologian

Important elements of Nicene Monarchism include the priority of the Father over the Son and the Holy Spirit, and the etiological principle that the Father is the cause/source of both the person and substance of the Son and Holy Spirit. Though post-Augustine Catholic theologians rarely place an emphasis on the above aspects of Trinitarian thought (unlike many Anglican and Eastern Orthodox theologians), I remained convinced that the Catholic tradition has never denied those teachings. For instance, I found vestiges of Nicene Monarchism in the thought of Thomas Aquinas, who taught:

One of the most important 'relational' distinctions between the three persons of the Trinity is that, "the Father is the principle of the whole Godhead" (P1.Q.39.A5), the "fontal principle of the entire divinity" (fontale principium totius divinitatis - Aquinas, Commentum in Lib. 1 Sententiarum, D.34.Q.2) [See THIS THREAD for more on this issue.]

In his commentary on the Gospel of John (verse 14:28), we read:

1971 One could also say, as Hilary does, that even according to the divine nature the Father is greater than the Son, yet the Son is not inferior to the Father, but equal. For the Father is not greater than the Son in power, eternity and greatness, but by the dignity of a grantor or source. For the Father receives nothing from another, but the Son, if I can put it this way, receives his nature from the Father by an eternal generation. So, the Father is greater because he gives; but the Son is not inferior, but equal, because he receives all that the Father has: "God has bestowed on him the name which is above every name" (Phil 2:9). For the one to whom a single act of existence (esse) is given, is not inferior to the giver. [LINK to online source.]

So, although I had found snippets of Nicene Monarchism in post-Augustine Catholic theologians, it was not until I had recently read the English translation of Matthias Joseph Scheeben's, Die Mysterien des Christentums (The Mysteries of Christianity), that I came across definitive support for Nicene Monarchism within the Catholic tradition. The following germane selections will be from the B. Herder Book Co. 1947 English edition, translated by Cyril Vollert.

From Chapter IV - The Productions of the Second and Third Persons, we read (all bold emphasis mine):

The term "generation" is of course employed, in the first place, to indicate that the production of the Second Person in God is wholly different from creation, the act by which non-divine beings come into existence. Creation is a free act of the divine will, whereby God calls into being things which of themselves were nothing, and communicates to them an existence which is essentially different from His own. But God brings forth His interior Word by communicating to Him His own being, His own substance. The Word proceeds from the Father's innermost substance, which passes over to the Word and places Him in full possession of the very nature that is proper to the Father. (Page 87.)

In God, in whom all that is found scattered in creatures is one, faith reveals to us the production of the Word from the substance of the Father. This Word is an intelligible image of its principle, because it proceeds from the latter's cognition and manifests it. It is likewise a real. substantial, personal image, because the cognition and also the object of the cognition, are expressed and impressed in this Word. The Second Person in the Godhead is produced because the First Person wills to utter and attest Himself, to express and manifest His nature. The Second Person receives the Father's nature in order to exhibit and manifest it in Himself. What then is to prevent us from saying that He is truly generated, nay, that in accord with the words of Holy Scripture, all fatherhood in heaven and on earth is so-called after the generating fatherhood of His principle? (Page 91.)

Then, in a footnote (#4, p. 91 ff.) Scheeben provides a quotation from Aquinas' Summa Contra Gentiles (IV.11), a work I had read in the 90's, long before my studies into Nicene Monarchism, and quite frankly, failed to recall its importance to Nicene Monarchism. Note the following:

We must note that what is generated is said to be conceived, so long as it remains in the parent. God's Word is begotten of God in such wise that He does not depart from the Father but remains in Him. Therefore God's Word may rightly be said to be conceived of God. This is the reason why the Wisdom of God affirms: 'The depths were not as yet, and I was already conceived' (Prov. 8:24). (Page 92.)

A bit later, from the same footnote, we read:

Again, what is brought forth issues from the womb. For a similar reason the generation of God's Word, which is called birth to indicate his perfect distinction from His Father, is called birth from the womb, according to Psalm 109:3" 'From the womb before the day star I begot Thee." However, the distinction of the Word from the speaker does not prevent the Word from existing in the speaker. Hence, just as the Word is said t0 be begotten or brought forth from the womb, to indicate His distinct existence, so to show that this distinction does not exclude the Word form existence in the speaker, revelation assures us that He 'is in the bosom of the Father' (John 1:18).

Finally, we must advert to the fact that carnal generation of animals is effected by an active and a passive principle. The father has an active, the mother a passive part. Hence for procreation of offspring the father has one function, the mother a different one: the father confers nature and species on the progeny, whereas the mother, as passive and receptive principle, conceives and gives birth. Procession is predicated of the Word inasmuch as God understands Himself: but the divine intelligence involves no passive element, but is wholly active, so to speak, since the divine intellect is not in potency but exclusively in act. Therefore in the generation of God's Word there is no maternal function, but only a paternal function. Hence the various functions which pertain to the father and the mother in carnal generation, are attributed by Scripture to the Father in His generation of the Word: the Father is said to give life to the Son (cf. John 5:16), to conceive Him, and to bring Him forth. (Page 93.)

Towards the end of the chapter, Scheeben, provides some insightful commentary on the issue of 'relation' as it pertains to the three persons of the Godhead/Trinity. Scheeben writes:

The communication of the essence from one person to the others involves no separation or partition of the essence. On the contrary, the essence can be transmitted to one of the other persons only if this person enters into relationship with the First Person and is united to Him in oneness of essence.

Furthermore, the first principle is one, the original possessor of the divine nature is one, and the distinction among persons proceeds from this one principle. The distinction issues from the unity, and is in turn stabilized by this same unity. for the Second and Third Persons are distinct from the First Person only because they have their origin from Him and stand in relation to Him by virtue of this origin...(Page 115.)

The Father unites the other two persons with and in Himself as their common root and source; for He is the common principle of both. (Page 116.)

In ending, I would like to say that it is quite reassuring (and refreshing) to discover a 'heavy-weight' Catholic theologian who espouses a number of the propositions concerning the Godhead that I have been defending over the last few years.

Grace and peace,



Rory said...

Hey Dave,

As always, I am edified by your reflections on the monarchy of God the Father. It helps me better understand the desire of His only Son to be submissive to Him and to give glory to Him. It is especially helpful in determining what way He probably meant that "The Father is greater than I." Those who say that this is in reference to Christ's human nature certainly offer a way to end any debate about whether Christ held the fulness of divinity. But I find it unsatisfying. Would not that mean that in the eternities before the Incarnation, there was no sense at all in which the Father was greater? I am drawn to a view which more readily lends itself to understanding Jesus to be expressing an eternal truth.

It seems like the truth about the relations between fathers and their offspring is not appreciated as well as much in our times and culture as it has been in other times and places. Revelation indicates that God the Father exercises authority over the Son. This truth is attested to by a Son who is so happily submitted to such a perfect Father that His meat, was to do the will of Him that sent Him (His Father). Why, was the Father stronger? Of course not. It is about the greatness of fatherhood and the recognition of God's Son that He is a principle from a principle.

It would not be fitting were it reversed. It appears to me that this is the sense and the eternal truth about the relations between Father and Son. It wasn't a human nature that made the Father greater. The Father is always and ever greater, and that is why the Son took a human nature, for it was His delight to do the Father's will, as much before the Incarnation as after.

As always, my opinions are subject to the teaching of the Catholic Church. St. Hilary of Poitiers was the first Western Father to have taken the interpretation towards which I lean. I have also noted that the Traditional Latin Mass, while not explicit, seems to me to infer the doctrine of the monarchy of the Father.

I guess there were controversies in the early centuries against the deity of Christ that made the Western church emphasize the ontological fulness of the Second and Third Persons of the Blessed Trinity. Of course I deny that the Father is greater than His Son in any ontological sense. No more would I believe that the offspring of any creature would be inferior in nature to its father. "After his kind". God's creation reflects the Godhead.

"Whatever the Father is or has, He does not have from another, but from Himself; and He is the principle without principle. Whatever the Son is or has, He has from the Father, and He is the principle from a principle."

---The 17th Ecumenical Council of Florence, Feb. 4, 1441. (Denz. 704)

Which is greater, to be a principle from a principle, or a principle without a principle? I am glad David, that you are consoled at seeing major Catholic theologians embrace this truth. I do not think an argument can be made that the "patrimony" of this doctrine belongs to the East alone. Sometimes, I get the impression that Orthodoxy is pleased to believe that the West has lost significant truths which they alone have retained. If that is so, the monarchy of God the Father is not one of them.


David Waltz said...

Good morning Rory,

Thanks much for taking the time to post your thoughts; as always, they were informative and well written. You said:

==I guess there were controversies in the early centuries against the deity of Christ that made the Western church emphasize the ontological fulness of the Second and Third Persons of the Blessed Trinity. Of course I deny that the Father is greater than His Son in any ontological sense. No more would I believe that the offspring of any creature would be inferior in nature to its father. "After his kind". God's creation reflects the Godhead.==

I have often thought the same. It seems that the fear of Arianism precipitated much of the post-Nicene CFs language. They seemed much more in fear of Arianism than Sabellianism, though I would argue that both should be feared equally. And further, I believe that the fear of Sabellianism had no small part to play in the rise of Arianism; not only in the 4th century, but also in its later manifestations (including modern Unitarianism). From my perspective, I think it is time for 'orthodox' theologians re-emphasize the etiologocial language of early CFs and the original Nicene creed. I sincerely wonder if this emphasis had remained strong throughout the history of the development of doctrine the Trinity, that Arianism and Unitarianism would have had as much appeal.

Grace and peace,


kmaheynoway said...

Hello David,

Thank you for your edifying reflections on the Trinity in Catholic thought. I too am convinced that Nicene Monarchism has never been lost in Catholic tradition, although for a variety of reasons, has become less emphasized due to the heresies unique to the West that seem to have been less prominent in the East. To me, the doctrine of the Monarchy of the Father is the principle (ha!) on which the doctrine of the Trinity rests. In fact, in a dialogue with a friend who formerly was non-Trinitarian, we could never come to an agreement until I became familiar with your blog and the necessary doctrine of Nicene Monarchism, and we both agree that it is necessary to prevent both modalism and tri-theism (which the autotheos of Calvin's theology would imply.

To further your point about this doctrine having never left Catholic thought, I point you to CCC 248 in the Catechism:

==At the outset the Eastern tradition expresses the Father's character as first origin of the Spirit. By confessing the Spirit as he "who proceeds from the Father", it affirms that he comes from the Father through the Son. The Western tradition expresses first the consubstantial communion between Father and Son, by saying that the Spirit proceeds from the Father and the Son (filioque). It says this, "legitimately and with good reason", for the eternal order of the divine persons in their consubstantial communion implies that the Father, as "the principle without principle", is the first origin of the Spirit, but also that as Father of the only Son, he is, with the Son, the single principle from which the Holy Spirit proceeds. This legitimate complementarity, provided it does not become rigid, does not affect the identity of faith in the reality of the same mystery confessed.

While touching on the controversial Filioque clause, the Catechism casually references the Father as being the Principle without Principle -- principium sine principio. Also, many modern Catholics talk about the Father as the Principium Deitatis -- so it has certainly not been lost in Catholic thought, although it has taken on separate terminology.

David Waltz said...

Hi kmaheynoway,

Thanks much for taking the time to comment. It is so good to hear that my reflections on the monarchy of God the Father were of some value in your dialogue with your friend.

I would also like to thank you for the CCC quote. If memory serves me correctly, I think it was Augustine who first introduced the concept of “the principle without principle:. [See THIS THREAD]

Concerning Augustine, a number of modern neo-modalists selectively quote from his writings for support of their view; but those folk who do so, completely ignore the emphasis he placed on the causality of the Son from the Father—I provide a number of germane quotations in THIS POST.

Grace and peace,