Biblical Exegesis And Trinitarian Theology

The previous chapter brought to our attention some fundamental features of Thomas' reading of Scripture: Written in the faith of the Church, Scripture

1 Thus, for instance, the question of our knowledge of God ('How can we know God?') and that of our language for God (the 'divine names') are not placed at the beginning of the treatise on God, but in the middle of it (ST I, qq. 12-13), after the discussions of the existence of God and of the attributes of God's being.

directs us to the divinity of the three Persons, their personal existence, their distinction. But what is the difference, for Thomas, between scriptural exegesis and biblical theology? We have elsewhere compared St Thomas' Trinitarian theology in his biblical exegesis with that in his Summa Theologiae.2 Without labouring the details of the comparison here, one can mention some of its consequences, which tell us a lot. One can see that Thomas' Commentary on John contains the essential core of the Trinitarian doctrine taught by the Summa Theologiae: the notion of procession, the immanent modes of procession of the Son and the Holy Spirit (the intellectual mode and the mode of volition or love), the theory of relations and of relative opposition, personal subsistence, the conception of the Word, the eternal origin of the Spirit, the eternal property of the Father, the unity of the Father and the Son as the principle of the Holy Spirit, the personal properties, the connections between the persons and the divine essence and the relations, the 'order of nature' in God, the connections of the divine persons with creatures, the persons' missions, not forgetting the many problems of Trinitarian language. The biblical commentary exhibits these points of doctrine with a striking luxury of detail and refinement. On some points, especially on the speculative doctrine of the Word (set out in the Commentary on John 1.1-3), the Lectura on St John is more complete than the Summa Theologiae.

Within the main features of Thomas' doctrine of the Trinity, we found two which are deficient in the John Commentary, in comparison with the Summa: the investigation of the word 'person', which makes use of Boethius, and the deepened reflection on the 'imprint of love' which permits one to grasp the personal property of the Holy Spirit.3 The other differences relate to academic issues whose absence is not surprising in a biblical commentary.4 As regards essentials, the John Commentary is a striking demonstration that St Thomas does not separate biblical Trinitarian theology from speculative Trinitarian theology: it is the same theology. Both the biblical commentary and the synthesizing text have the same purpose, the reflective explanation of Scripture. The doctrinal resources are similar. Nonetheless, the biblical commentary develops some themes more fully which, without being

2 G. Emery, 'Biblical Exegesis and the Speculative Doctrine of the Trinity in St. Thomas Aquinas' Commentary on St. John', in id., Trinity in Aquinas, Ypsilanti, MI, 2003, pp. 271-319.

3 See below, in Chapter 6, 'What is a Person?' and in Chapter 10, 'The Holy Spirit is Love in Person'.

4 The John Commentary does not stretch either to questions which touch on the 'reasons' for the number of processions, of persons, and of real relations in God, or to some problems about the notional acts and notional power in God. In the same way, the Commentary on John does not discuss some linguistic questions, like the meaning of the word 'Trinitas', the attribution of essential names to the persons, or the attribution of personal names to the essential terms (questions which are dealt with in the Summa Theologiae).

completely absent from the treatise on the Trinity in the Summa, are touched on briefly there: the unity of knowledge and will of the Father and the Son, the action of the divine persons in the world, and the soteriological dimension of Trinitarian reflection.

How does St Thomas bring speculative reflection into effect in his reading of the Fourth Gospel? His way of reading the Bible uses the three levels of literal exposition described by Hugh of St Victor: the littera in the strict sense (textual analysis with reference to grammar and linguistics, an overview of the words' meaning in their immediate context), the sensus (the analysis of the signification of each member), and the sententia (a genuine understanding of the text, which draws out its theological and philosophical meaning).5 This sententia, that is, the development of the theological themes constituting the teaching in the finished exposition, exhibits two formal principles which are at work in the John Commentary. It engages either in commentary following upon the biblical pericope (this is what it does most often), or in questions, objections or digressions raised by the reading of the text (this occurs more rarely).6 In every case, speculative theology is not superimposed on or juxtaposed with the biblical text, but is part and parcel of the biblical reading: it aims at disclosing the doctrinal meaning of the 'letter', the literal sense, of the Gospel.

As to the theological resources, one must observe that the John Commentary (like the Summa Contra Gentiles) pays much attention to Trinitarian heresies; this flows from Thomas' exegesis being rooted in the theology of the Church Fathers. One example of this is the equality in power of the Father and the Son. In the Summa Theologiae, the article on this (Ia, q. 42, a. 6) mentions many Johannine texts in the objections (Jn 5.19; 5.20; 5.30; 14.31) and in the sed contra (Jn 5.19). Thomas' professorial reply does not indicate any patristic authority, even though one can see a reference to Saint Hilary's De Trinitate (Bk. IX) in the reply to the first objection.

The John Commentary tells us much more about Thomas' patristic sources for the equality in power of the Father and the Son. The patristic sources themselves also illuminate our perception of his doctrinal exegesis. On John 5.19 (The Son can do nothing of himself, only that which he sees the Father doing), the Commentary presents in near-entirety the anti-Arian reading

5 See G. Dahan, L'exégèse chretienne de la Bible en Occident mediéval XIIe-XIVe siècle, Paris, 1999, pp. 239-297; M.-D. Chenu, Toward Understanding St Thomas, trans. A.-M. Landry and D. Hughes, Chicago, 1963, pp. 83-86 and 221-222. Cf. Hugh of St Victor, Didascalicon VI. 8: 'Expositio tria continet: Litteram, sensum, sententiam' (ed. Ch. H. Buttimer, Washington, 1939, p. 125).

6 One can see the detail of these types of exegesis, including many examples, in the article mentioned above ('Biblical Exegesis and the Speculative Doctrine of the Trinity').

given by Hilary's De Trinitate (Bk. VII); by relating power to nature, this text shows that the Son receives power from the Father as he receives nature, being and operation, without incurring inequality by so doing.7 The Commentary also cites Augustine's interpretation, which synthesizes Hilary and John Chrysostom's differing approaches to the text.8 The Commentary on John enables one to see that, in the Summa, Thomas' reply to the objections drawn from John 5.20 and 5.30 largely come from St Augustine (mainly, his Homilies on John); when it is said that the Son has received a command from the Father or that the Son listens to the Father and so receives knowledge of Him, this refers to Christ's human nature, or to the eternal generation through which the Father communicates divine knowledge and will to the Son.9 As to the incommunicable relations or personal properties (the Son receives his essence from the Father but not the property of paternity), the John Commentary (like the Catena aurea) shows that the reply in the Summa is taken from Didymus' Treatise on the Holy Spirit.1° In this way, one can see that the Summa organizes and summarizes the patristic teachings which the John Commentary presents in greater detail. One could multiply similar instances: the exegesis in the Commentary is guided by the legacy of the Fathers (and by their concern to avoid heresy), so it helps us to rediscover the way in which the Summa's Trinitarian doctrine is rooted in patristic theology.

Ultimately, the main difference between the biblical Commentary and the Summa Theologiae concerns the order of exposition, the organization of the material: whilst the Summa Theologiae follows the teaching order (ordo disciplinae) which guides us through Trinitarian doctrine as laid out according to the coherence and internal organization of its elements, the biblical Commentary puts its development of doctrinal points into the hands of the text, although the speculative perspective becomes apparent in some specific explanations.

Comparison of the Commentary on St John and the Summa Theologiae enables us to see the unity which Sacra doctrina has for Thomas. The aim which he pursues in explaining Scripture is identical to the goal of Scripture itself and to that of Christian theology: to teach revealed truth, to distance it from error, in order to perceive that which we hope one day to contemplate in broad daylight. In the John Commentary and in the Summa, speculative reflection is engaged in disclosing the truth taught by revelation (that is to

7 In Ioan. 5.19 (no. 749); cf. Catena in Ioan. 5.19 (ed. A. Guarienti, Turin, 1953, vol. 2, pp. 401-403). This throws light on the reply in ST I, q. 42, a. 6, ad 1.

9 In Ioan. 5.20 (no. 754) and 5.30 (nos. 795-797): cf. Catena in Ioan. 5.20 and 5.30 (ed. Guarienti, pp. 402-403 and 407-408). This illuminates the reply in ST I, q. 42, a. 6, ad 2.

1° In Ioan. 16.15 (no. 2111, cf. no. 2114); cf. Catena in Ioan. 16.15 (ed. Guarienti, p. 541).

say: in making it more articulate for us). The most speculative reflection on the properties and Trinitarian relations is inscribed in his biblical teaching, for its purpose is to disengage the deep meaning of the scriptural text, using reason within faith. In the light of these observations, it is doubtless necessary to advise people not to read the Summa Theologiae without Thomas' biblical commentaries.

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