The first distinction is between God in his immanent being (ST I, qq. 2-43), and God in his creative and saving action (qq. 44 ff.). This distinction takes us back to the origins of speculative Trinitarian theology. It is founded on the Christian doctrinal requirement, as formulated in the fourth century: the existence of the divine persons and their personal properties is dependent neither on creation nor on the divine action in the world. To avoid considering the Son and the Holy Spirit as creatures (as Arianism did), one's conception of the divine persons and their mutual relations must work on the level of eternal divinity, clearly distinguishing the created and the uncreated.
17 Cf. ST I, q. 44, prologue. The 'return to God' is already present in the Prima pars, as can particularly be seen in the Treatise on Angels (cf. q. 62) and that on the image of God (q. 93).
18 In his treatise on creation, St Thomas explains that: 'the processions of the divine persons are the reasons behind the production of creatures' (ST I, q. 45, a. 6). See below, in Chapter 14, 'The "Efficacy" of the Trinitarian Processions'.
The distinction between the immanent life of the Trinity and its action in the world comes out in a theme which especially belongs to Trinitarian theology. As Thomas explains them, Arianism and Sabellianism had committed the error of conceiving the processions of the Son and Spirit like an action of God in the world, that is, in the way that an effect proceeds from its cause; this kind of action does not allow one to account for the authentic divinity of the persons and their real distinction. Arianism effectively conceives the Son and the Holy Spirit like creatures, that is, like God's created effects. On the other hand, Sabellianism conceived the generation of the Son as the mode of a divine action in the world: God took the form of the Son when he became incarnate. Far from being marginal, this observation is the point of departure of the Trinitarian treatise of the Summa Theologiae (q. 27, a. 1). For this reason, the Trinitarian treatise begins precisely by showing that one ought not to conceive the procession of the divine persons like a divine action in the world, but like an immanent action brought about within God.
This distinction also rests on the philosophical analysis of action, which Aquinas took from Aristotle:
There are two sorts of operations, as Aristotle teaches in Metaphysics IX: The first has its place in the operating agent, remaining in it and constituting the perfection of that agent; for example, the act of sensing, knowing, and willing. The second passes over into an external thing, and is a perfection of the thing made as a result of that operation, as for instance, the acts of heating, cutting, and building.
Both kinds of operation belong to God: the former, in that He knows, wills, rejoices, and loves; the latter in that He brings things into being, preserves them, and governs them. But, since the former operation is a perfection of the operator, the latter a perfection of the thing made, and since the agent is naturally prior to the thing made and is the cause of it, it must be that the first of these types of operation is the ground (ratio) of the second, and naturally precedes it, as a cause precedes its eVect. We can see this very well in human experience: for the architect's plan and his will are the principle and the reason for the construction.19
St Thomas distinguishes 'immanent' action, which remains in the acting subject, and 'transitive' action, which is transmitted to a reality outside the acting subject. This explanation, which is not the only one,2° contains the fundamental principles of Thomas' reflection on what we today call the 'immanent Trinity' and the 'economic Trinity'. They allow one to take account of the plenitude of the Triune God which enjoys complete happiness in its own immanent life, without anything 'lacking' to it.21 This ensures the
2° See particularly ST I, q. 27, a. 1; De potentia, q. 9, a. 9; q. 10, a. 1.
21 ST I, q. 26, a. 1;cf.q. 18, a. 3. These features are recalled, in an entirely different context, by the Vatican I constitution Dei Filius (cf. Denzinger, nos. 3001-3002).
freedom and gratuity of the creation: whereas immanent action is 'necessary' within God (this action and the fruit or term which proceeds from it are strictly identical to the divine being), God's work in the world springs from a free decision: God creates that which he conceives in his wisdom, following the design of his will.22 This manifests the first motif of the revelation of the Trinity which we recalled above: in teaching us that God creates through his Word and his Love, Trinitarian faith shows us that God creates the world as a free gift, and not because he is under a necessary compulsion to do so.23
As Thomas further refines the point, the immanent action of God (knowledge and will, the processions of the Word and the Holy Spirit) undergird his action in the world: the immanent action is the ground of the latter. Since it is in knowing himself that God knows the creatures of which he is the exemplar and Creator, and since it is in loving himself that God wills and loves his creatures,24 we cannot study creation until we have considered God's immanent actions. For the same reason, the investigation of the Trinity's action in the world must be preceded by the study of the processions of Word and Love in God's eternity: the generation of the Word and the procession of Love are the source of God's works in the world.25 So investigation of God's immanent activity, which is essential and personal, must take first place before the consideration of creation and salvation. With St Thomas, the strong perception of God's transcendent unity does not separate thinking about God from thinking about the world or human beings. Rather, it shows and ensures the gratuity of divine action in the world, by showing the depth at which the world's bond to God is rooted within God.
This approach has great benefits. By respecting the absolute transcendence of God's being, knowledge and love, Thomas founds the participation of creatures in the divine life, and ensures the total liberty of the action which God exercises in the world on behalf of creatures. Still more, the fruits of God's activity in the world (creation, exercise of providence, salvation) have their source and rationale in the eternal, immanent activity of God: it is by the same wisdom that God knows himself and knows us; it is by the same love that God loves himself and loves each of his creatures.26 Here, what may look superficially like an approach which is detached from the economy of creation and salvation, turns out in reality to be a teaching which contains a deep-seated window into the divine foundations of the economy. For St Thomas,
22 ST I, q. 14, a. 8; q. 19, a. 4; q. 20, a. 2; cf. q. 44. Using a doctrine which he took from the Fathers, St Thomas explains that the Father engenders the Son and breathes the Holy Spirit by nature, whereas he creates the world by volition (see below, in Chapter 4, '''Notional'' Action').
23 ST I, q. 32, a. 1, ad 3. 24 ST I, q. 14, a. 8; q. 19, a. 4; q. 20, a. 2.
26 SCG I, chs. 48-49 and 74-76; cf. ST I, q. 14, a. 5; q. 19, a. 2.
creation and salvation are illuminated from within the doctrine of God himself. One does not take God's action seriously by allowing his relations to the world to condition him, but, rather, one discovers the source of the economy by contemplating the immanent and transcendent being of God. As a result, Thomas refuses to subordinate Trinitarian theology to other theological or anthropological interests. The 'instrumentalization' of Trinitarian discourse, which one sometimes encounters today, is alien to St Thomas. As the Thomist tradition emphasizes, the subject of theology is 'God qua God'.27
This is how the 'procession of creatures' is made a part of the study of the Triune God, as the prologue of the second question of the Summa Theologiae indicates. This thesis is connected to Thomas' conception of theology. Just as the specifying diVerence of the philosophical sciences issues from human reason, so sacra doctrina has divine revelation as its principle^8 Philosophical theology (i.e. metaphysics) achieves its goal by considering God as the principle of being; but the subject of the 'theology transmitted by sacred Scripture' is God considered in himself. If one looks at it like this, theology and philosophy take inverse routes. Philosophy derives from the consideration of creatures and knows God as the principle of these creatures; whereas Christian doctrine issues from revelation and takes its departure from the study of God, using this to illuminate our knowledge of creatures.29 In other words, whereas the human sciences study creatures 'in the nature proper to them', Christian theology studies them in so far as they come from God, disclose God and are related to God. If one follows Thomas, this epistemology implies an ordo appropriate to Christian doctrine, where what is at stake is nothing less than the status of revelation within theology:
in the teaching of philosophy, which considers creatures in themselves and leads us from them to the knowledge of God, the first consideration is about creatures; the last, of God. But in the teaching of faith, which considers creatures only in their relation to God, the consideration of God comes first, that of creatures afterwards.30
It is this conception of sacred doctrine which the Summa's teaching on the subject of theology expresses: 'In sacred doctrine, everything is treated of under the aspect of God (sub ratione Dei): either because it concerns God himself, or because it is a question of realities in so far as they relate to God as
27 One of the episodes in this debate is presented in our article, 'Dieu, la foi et la théologie chez Durand de Saint-Pourçain', RT 99 (1999), 679-687.
29 Super Boetium de Trinitate, q. 5, a. 4; see J.-P. Torrell, 'Philosophie et theologie d'après le Prologue de Thomas d'Aquin au Super Boetium de Trinitate. Essai d'une lecture theologique', Documenti et Studi sulla tradizione filosofica medievale 10 (1999), 299-353.
30 SCG II, ch. 4 (no. 876); cf. ST I, q. 1, ad 2: the natural ('philosophical') sciences study realities as known 'in the light of natural reason', whereas theology studies them in the degree that they are known 'in the light of revelation'.
their principle and end.'3i The investigation of creatures need not only disclose their relation to God, but also helps us to have a better grasp of God himself: theology invites us to meditate on the works of God so as to deepen our knowledge of God.32 The analogies deployed by Trinitarian doctrine are a case in point: a good understanding of the mystery of God requires an accurate assessment of the creatures who make an analogical disclosure of our faith in God possible. This is the theocentrism animating Thomas' theology: theology derives from the revelation of the Triune God, and it goes on to illuminate the 'procession of creatures' within a ground-plan which never loses sight of the mystery of the Trinity.
The treatise on the Trinity must show that the three persons are one God, in virtue of a single essence, and that they are really distinct, by dint of the processions immanent to the heart of the Trinity. When it clarifies the relations that creatures have with the Triune God, it must also show that the creative and salvific action of the Trinity is founded on the common essence and in the properties of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit; all with the aim of helping us to know God better. Even though it comes after the investigation of the immanent life of God, considering the works of God is also part of the study of the Triune God.
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