Sunday, April 7, 2013

Aquinas and Drake Shelton's, "Triunism and Sabellianism; Is There a Difference?": some initial reflections

This last Tuesday, Drake Shelton, on his blog "UNCREATED LIGHT", posted a thread under the title, "Triunism and Sabellianism; Is There a Difference?" (LINK). Though I have sincerely appreciated a number of Drake's threads on 'Nicene Monarchism' and 'Triadology' (his output is very impressive), this recent thread is not among them, due to a few 'difficulties' that I have with some key aspects of the post. In the rest of this thread, I will be delving into some of those 'difficulties'; Drake opens his thread with the following:

It is the desperate and hopeless cause of the Triunists to distinguish their view from Sabellianism. There is a reason for this: it cannot be done. I have cataloged here a list of popular historic Triunist Theologians, their accounts of Sabellianism and their desperate and meaningless attempts to distinguish the Triune view from it.

The first "Triunist" theologian he examines is Thomas Aquinas, beginning with the following quote from his Summa Theologica [Drake is using the Christian Classics Ethereal Library online edition (no date and no translator provided); I will be using the Christian Classics 1981 reprint of the Fathers of the English Dominican Province 1911 translation - link to online edition]:

“On the contrary, Boethius says (De Trin.) that in God “the substance contains the unity; and relation multiplies the trinity.” Therefore, if the relations were not really distinguished from each other, there would be no real trinity in God, but only an ideal trinity, which is the error of Sabellius.”

Drake comments on the above quote with the following:

The problem with Aquinas’ view is that his theology makes persons relations. This is ad hoc nonsense. I am a brother, I am a son, I am a cousin, but that does not make me multiple persons.

IMO, the identification of the 'persons' as 'relations' by Aquinas (he is following Augustine and Boethius here) is not problematic if one has a clear understanding of what Aquinas meant by 'relation'. In the first article of Question 28, Aquinas in his answer states that, "relations exit in God [i.e. the Divine essence/nature] really", and that:

"...when something proceeds from a principle of the same nature, then both the one proceeding and the source of procession, agree in the same order; and they have real relations to each other. Therefore as the divine processions are in the identity of the same nature, as above explained (Q. 27, AA. 2, 4), these relations, according to divine processions, are necessarily real relations." (P1.Q.28.A1)

In the next Question (29), Aquinas goes on to defend Boethius's famous definition of person: "a person is an individual substance of rational nature". Aquinas writes:

I answer that, Although the universal and particular exist in every genus, nevertheless, in a certain special way, the individual belongs to the genus of substance. For substance is individualized by itself ; whereas the accidents are individualized by the subject, which is the substance; since this particular whiteness is called this, because it exists in this particular subject. And so it is reasonable that the individuals of the genus substance should have a special name of their own ; for they are called hypostases, or first substances.

Further still, in a more special and perfect way, the particular and the individual are found in the rational substances which have dominion over their own actions ; and which are not only made to act, like others ; but which can act of themselves; for actions belong to singulars. Therefore also the individuals of the rational nature have a special name even among other substances ; and this name is person. (P1.Q.29.A1)

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)

Now, I sincerely doubt that a Sabellian would be able to honestly embrace a number of the above affirmations by Aquinas, especially that the three persons of the Godhead are "individual substances" that have "real relations" with each other. Maybe I have misunderstood Aquinas and/or Drake; if so, I would greatly appreciate some correction.

Grace and peace,