C Understanding the Faith

We are now in a position to understand the problem which presents itself to Trinitarian theology: if, on the one hand, natural human intelligence has no access to the existence of a Trinity of persons in God (since only faith gives knowledge of it), and if, on the other hand, the speculative reasons advanced by Christian theology are not demonstrations, what could be the value of a speculative discussion which makes use of'reason', and what is the discussion for?

The treatise on the Trinity develops many themes which are applied to God by the use of analogy (person, relation, order, origin, procession, etc.); the properties of the persons are also set out by means of analogies derived from

24 I Sent. d. 3, q. 1, a. 4, ad 3 (adaptationes quaedam); SCG I, chs. 8-9.

26 See R. L. Richard, The Problem of an Apologetic Perspective in the Trinitarian Theology of St. Thomas Aquinas, Rome, 1963.

27 See our study: 'Essentialisme ou personnalisme dans le trait*; de Dieu chez St Thomas d'Aquin?' RT 98 (1998), 5-38; cf. H. C. Schmidbaur, Personarum Trinitas: Die trinitarische Gotteslehre des heiligen Thomas von Aquin, St Ottilien, 1995.

anthropology (word, love). The use of these analogies enables St Thomas to say precisely what the purpose of his Trinitarian theology is. Thus, in reference to the notion of person in the Trinity, he explains:

The plurality of persons in God belongs to those realities which are held by faith and which human reason can neither explore nor sufficiently understand; but we hope to know them when we reach our Mother Country, when the essence of God will be seen, when faith will give way to sight. Nonetheless, when they were pressed by those who denied the faith, the holy Fathers were compelled to discuss this and other matters of faith, yet they did so humbly and reverently, avoiding any pretence to comprehension. Nor is such a discussion useless, since it gives the mind enough of a glimpse of the truth to steer clear of error.28

This observation in the Quaestiones Disputatae de Potentia Dei, which is echoed in the Summa Theologiaef9 summarizes the purpose of speculative understanding of the mystery of the Trinity. We will come upon other remarks akin to these in the course of the discussion. This is the project which St Thomas puts to work in all of his writings: driven by the ultimate purpose of contemplation, Trinitarian theology supplies believers with ways to defend the faith.30 The expression of truth and the critique of error are the two facets of a single theological project. To eliminate error, it is not enough to produce Bible quotes; one has also to show the conformity of Catholic faith with Scripture, and to reply to arguments opposing the Church's faith. The truth is not fully disclosed until it has been distinguished from the errors set against it. To disclose the truth and to separate out errors: such is the twofold task of the Sage as Thomas formulates and works it out in the Summa Contra Gentiles.31

The purpose of defending the faith is more tacit in the Summa Theologiae, but it is in fact present. Thomas evokes the double task of the Sage when, in the first question of the Summa, he explains that sacred doctrine is an argumentative science: sacred doctrine 'does not argue to prove its principles' because it receives them (i.e. the articles of faith), but 'it disputes with those who deny its principles'.^ The treatise on the Trinity confirms this project: it begins precisely by showing the misjudgements which give rise to Arianism and Sabellianism, signposting the route away from the quicksand of such heresies.33 This has two sides to it, historical and speculative.

28 De potentia, q. 9, a. 5. 29 ST I, q. 29, a. 3, ad 1.

30 Trinitarian theology is thus woven into an extension of the ancient Credos which developed and refined the ecclesial expression of faith in Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, against heresies

31 Cf. SCG I, ch. 1: one can find a very clear description of this topic in R.-A. Gauthier, St Thomas d'Aquin, Somme contre les Gentils, Introduction, Paris, 1993, pp. 143-163 ('le métier de sage').

33 ST I, q. 27, a. 1; see below, in Chapter 4, 'The Problems of Arianism and of Sabellianism'.

On the historical side, as Thomas says, heresies gave the Fathers the opportunity to deepen their understanding of revelation and hence to refine the deposit which they passed on to others.34 The main topics in question were adoptionism, Arianism, Sabellianism, and the heresy concerning the Holy Spirit attributed to Macedonius.35 Taking this on board, Thomas connects up with an important feature of patristic theology, and finds it a stimulus to his own presentation of Trinitarian faith, which will occupy an eirenic genre. He also pays attention to the Islamic rejection of the Trinity, but, on this occasion his efforts at documentation were rather more limited.36 The 'errors' which Thomas discussed were mainly Christian heresies of patristic times, those which occasioned the Fathers' elaborations of Trinitarian doctrine. The reasons for this preference should probably be sought in the interesting metaphysical themes found in Trinitarian errors: 'The only errors which interest the Christian sage are those which have contributed to the deepening of Christian truth.^7 The manifestation of the faith is tied to the refutation of errors which are opposed to it. As Fr R.-A. Gauthier has very well shown, Thomas is interested in an error, not only because of the number of adherents it has or will attract, but rather, an error 'is more interesting in the degree that it is opposed to a deeper truths St Thomas tries to discover these heresies' internal logic and their roots, so that, ultimately, by contrast, he can find a way to disclose the Catholic faith.

The construction of a speculative reflection on the Trinity, using analogies and philosophical resources, is thus guided by a double-sided theme: the contemplation of revealed truth, which makes it possible, secondly, to defend the faith against error. The goal of Trinitarian theology is to show the intelligibility of the faith, and thus that arguments against it are not compelling. Since the principles of human reason come from God, they cannot contradict the faith given by God. St Thomas firmly maintains that the principles of human reason 'cannot be contrary to the truth of Christian faith.'39 For this reason, the arguments against Trinitarian faith 'do not have demonstrative force, but are either probable reasons or sophisms'.4° In some

34 Depotentia, q. 9, a. 5; ST I, q. 29, a. 3, ad 1; cf. CEG, prol.

35 For documentation on St Thomas and the Trinitarian heresies, see our articles, 'Le photinisme et ses précurseurs chez St Thomas', RT95 (1995), 371-398; 'Le Traite de St Thomas sur la Trinite dans la Somme contre les GentilsRT 96 (1996), pp. 14-18, in Trinity in Aquinas, pp. 71-120.

36 See our note in Thomas d'Aquin, Traites: Les raisons de la foi, les articles de la foi et les sacrements de l'Église, trans. Gilles Emery, Paris, 1999, pp. 30-35. This is a translation of Thomas' De rationibus fidei.

37 Gauthier, St Thomas d'Aquin, p. 127.

38 Ibid., p. 142 . 39 SCGI, ch. 7; cf. Super Boetium de Trinitate, q. 2, a. 3; STI, q. 1, a. 8.

cases, one can refute the arguments against Trinitarian faith by establishing that they are erroneous (sophisms); but at other times, one cannot directly show that the argument is inherently false: 'The realities belonging to faith cannot be proven in a demonstrative way; for this reason, the falsity of certain [statements] contrary to the faith eludes the possibility of demonstration, but one can show that they are not necessary proofs.'41 In the latter case, one can only prove that the arguments against the faith are just 'probable reasons', which do not necessarily bind our thinking. And, to show that, one must establish an alternative, by making use of different 'probable reasons'.

In effect, when St Thomas discloses the intelligibility of the faith through 'likely arguments', he shows—without demonstrating the faith—that the arguments of the heretics (Arianism, Sabellianism), and the arguments of those who reject the Trinity, do not have the force ofnecessity: he does this by indicating a different approach which establishes a cogent alternative. It is not a matter of showing the complete convergence of faith and reason, but rather their non-divergence or, still better: the Wttingness of truth. If there is an apologetic dimension in Thomas' Trinitarian theology, it will be a somewhat indirect one.42 Thomas explains this in broad strokes in the first question of the Summa Theologiae:

Since it has no science above itself, Holy Scripture can dispute with one who denies its principles only if the opponent admits at least some of the truths obtained through divine revelation; thus we can argue with heretics from texts in Holy Writ, and against those who deny one article of faith we can argue from another. If our opponent believes nothing of divine revelation, there is no longer any means of proving the article of faith by reasoning, but only of answering his objections—if he has any— against faith. Since faith rests upon infallible truth, and since the contrary of a truth can never be demonstrated, it is clear that the arguments brought against faith are not demonstrations, but are arguments that can be solved.'43

On the one hand, the theologian puts forward scriptural arguments, reasoning which is compelling for believers, and, on the other, he makes use of 'similitudes', that is, the analogies which allow one to give an account of faith in three divine persons, in the main, the Augustinian analogy of word and love.'' These 'similitudes' constitute arguments from congruity or Wtting-ness,45 'persuasive arguments which show that what the faith proposes is not

42 On the apologetic put forward by St Thomas, see our Thomas d'Aquin. Traités, pp. 24-30.

44 Super Boetium de Trinitate, q. 2, a. 3: 'It is thus that Augustine, in his book on the Trinity, inserts numerous comparisons drawn from philosophical doctrines to manifest the Trinity'; cf. SCG I, chs. 7-9.

impossible1.46 They do not aim either to give a rational demonstration of the faith or to convince those who do not share the Christian faith in the Trinity.47 If one refuses to use speculative reason like this, one can assert that God is a Trinity, but one cannot disclose the truth of Trinitarian faith, or make its truth more visible to human eyes. The task of speculative theology is very well expressed in a celebrated Quodlibet in which Thomas explains that, if the master or professor is content to rest his case on 'authorities' (the texts which are authoritative within theology), his audience will doubtless know what is true and what is false, but they will not have any idea of what the truth proposed to them means:

So it is necessary to rest one's case on reasons which seek out the roots of the truth and which enable people to see how what one proposes is true. Unless one does this, if the master's response is based purely on authorities, the listener will know that things are so, but he will have achieved neither knowledge nor understanding and will go away with an empty head.4s

This is what speculative theology aims to do: to seek out the root of truth, with the ultimate purpose of discovering how one can know the truth of the revealed texts and the teaching of the Church. The doctrine of Trinitarian processions, relations, persons, and so on, are very precisely engraved into this intention. In offering us understanding of the truth, Trinitarian theology provides believers with a foretaste of that which they hope to contemplate in the beatific vision of God: this is Trinitarian theology's essential contemplative dimension. This goal, which Thomas takes over from Augustine, is thus simultaneously modest and high-reaching: 'To disclose this kind of truth [truth which belongs to faith alone], it is necessary to propose likely arguments, for the exercise and support of the faithful!49

As Thomas sees it, the seat of his vocation as a theologian is to perform a 'contemplative' exercise, the purpose of which is to take a 'small sip'50 of the divine knowledge which is communicated in revelation. In presenting 'likely reasons', the Christian theologian enters into the understanding of a mystery which loses none of its transcendence and which, for that reason, is a profound source of spiritual joy. Thomas states that,

46 ST II-II, q. 1, a. 5, ad 2. 47 SCG I, ch. 9; cf. De rationibus fidei, ch. 2.

4s Quodlibet IV, q. 9, a. 3. See J.-P. Torrell, 'Le savoir theologique chez S. Thomas', RT 96

49 SCG I, ch. 9 (no. 54): ad fidelium quidem exercitium et solatium. On Trinitarian theology as a 'spiritual exercise' for Christians, see Augustine, De Trinitate XIII. XX. 26; XV. I. 1; XV. VI. 10. St Thomas himself sets the study and teaching of Wisdom amongst the spiritual exercises [spiritualia exercitia]: see SCG III, ch. 132 (no. 3047); ST II-II, q. 122, a. 4, ad 3.

it is useful for the human reason to exercise itself in such arguments, however weak they may be, provided only that there is no presumption to comprehend or to demonstrate. For to be able to see something of the loftiest realities, however thin and weak the sight may be, is... a cause of the greatest joy. The testimony of Hilary agrees with this. Speaking of this same truth, he writes as follows in his De Trinitate. 'Enter these truths by believing, press forward, persevere. And though I may know that you will not arrive at an end, yet I will congratulate you on your progress. For, though he who pursues the infinite with reverence will never finally reach the end, yet he will always progress by pressing forward. But do not intrude yourself into the divine secret, do not, presuming to comprehend the sum total of intelligence, plunge yourself into the mystery of the unending nativity [the begetting of the only begotten God by the only unbegotten God]; rather, understand that these things are incomprehensible.'51

For this reason, an accurate interpretation of the treatise on the Trinity in the Summa must distance itself from every sort of rationalism. It is by a serious misreading that some writers have believed they have found an attempt at a rational demonstration of the Trinity in St Thomas' works. Those who can never stop contrasting the spiritual aims of the Fathers with Thomas' scholastic theology make the same mistake. Thomas undertakes a speculative or contemplative52 exercise which, addressing itself to believers, enables them to touch lightly upon 'something of the truth' (aliquid veritatis),53 in developing 'approximations' and analogies which suffice to exclude errors, because they show that the Trinity fulWls our minds without violating them.

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