Boethius' contribution does not end with his well-known definition of the person. He also nailed down for posterity a series of correlations between Greek and Latin Trinitarian terminology, 'not without some artificiality and a certain inflexibility which does not facilitate the interpretation of Conciliar texts'.47 The discussion of these correlations has an extraordinary position in
4i ST I, q. 29, a. 3, ad 4. 42 De potentia, q. 9, a. 3, ad 2.
43 Cf. ST I, q. 29, a. 3, ad 4. 44 De potentia, q. 9, a. 2, ad 12.
45 Thomas does not discuss Richard's definition within the main body of his arguments, but it does appear in the responses to objections, following upon expositions which have centred on the
Boethian definition: I Sent. d. 25, q. 1, a. 1, ad 8; Depotentia, q. 9, a. 2, ad 12; ST I, q. 29, a. 3, ad 4.
46 I Sent. d. 25, q. 1, a. 2, ad 5. 47 h. Dondaine, La Trinité, vol. 1, p. 180.
thirteenth-century Trinitarian texts.48 This is a witness to the remarkable way in which Thomas and his contemporaries applied themselves to remaining in direct contact with the language of the ancient Councils and with the Trinitarian doctrine of the Greek Fathers. In his Commentary on the Sentences, Thomas devotes a strikingly complex discussion to these correlations.49 He tries to give a little order to the catalogue of information; some of the facts came from logic, some from metaphysics, and when these issues were blurred, that often led to equivocation.
We can briefly bring to mind that the scholastic theologians knew and maintained one of the main formulas of Trinitarian orthodoxy: there are in God 'three hypostases and one ousia.50 Investigation of this formula brought about an examination of the language for talking about the Trinity which Boethius had passed on to them (substance, essence, subsistence, hypostasis, ousia, and so on), and of its connections with the word 'person'. The writers usually accept the following correlations: the Greek work ousia corresponds to the Latin term essentia (essence); hypostasis corresponds to subsistentia (subsistence); and prosopon corresponds to the Latin word persona (person).51
Thomas explains that these terms are not synonymous, and he sets himself to accounting for the correlations in a way that protects their pliability, so as to avoid rigid parallelisms. In the Summa, his exposition is organized around the notion of substance. If one considers substance in so far as it exists through itself and not in another, one speaks of subsistence; if one considers substance in so far as it is the subject or substrate which underlies accidents, one speaks of hypostasis. Since, as we have seen, the person is defined as a 'substance' (an 'individual substance of a rational nature'), it can be called both substance and hypostasis.52
We should point out that the word 'subsistence' does not have here the abstract meaning which it sometimes accrued in the later Thomistic tradition. The word refers to the reality itself: 'Subsistence is the same thing as the subsisting reality.'53 Thomas preserves the usage of the Fathers and the Councils which came to him in the Latin language: the hypostasis is the subsistence (subsistentia).54 So he customarily talks about 'three subsistences'
48 See for instance the Summa fratris Alexandri, Book I, pars 2, inq. 2, tract. 2, sect. 1, q. 1, mm. 2-3 (ed. Quaracchi, vol. 1, nos. 395-404); Albert, I Sent. d. 23, aa. 4 and 7; Bonaventure, I Sent. d. 23, a. 1, q. 3.
50 This is the title of one of Albert's articles: I Sent. d. 23, a. 7.
51 Albert, I Sent. d. 23, a. 4; Bonaventure, I Sent. d. 23, a. 1, q. 3; Thomas, I Sent. d. 23, q. 1, a. 1.
52 ST I, q. 29, a. 2; De potentia, q. 9, a. 1, ad 2. Cf. I Sent. d. 26, q. 1, a. 1; Albert, I Sent. d. 23, a. 4.
54 Thomas is using the Latin text of the Acts of Ephesus, Chalcedon, and Constantinople II, which usually translates the word 'hypostasis' by the Latin term 'subsistentia': see for instance ST III, q. 2, a. 1, ad 1; ST III, q. 2, a. 3; ST III, q. 2, a. 6; etc.
in God when he speaks of the three hypostases or the three persons. Without rejecting this expression, he also explains that Richard of Saint Victor's terminology posits three 'existences' (existentiae) in the Triune God,55 since, properly speaking, there is nothing that could stand underneath within God; but this is not his own habitual way of speaking.56
The correlation of hypostasis and person does not create any problem: 'In the same way that we [the Latins] say three persons, the Greeks say three hypostases!57 There is nonetheless a fine shade of difference between them. For Thomas, the term hypostasis properly means the whole individual in the genus of the substance, and not just the persons: hypostasis identifies the primary substance. For instance, a horse or a dog is just as much an hypostasis as a human being. He considers that it is this usage, rather than the strict meaning of the word, which led the Greek theological terminology to reserve the word hypostasis for substances of a rational nature, that is, for persons.58
The main hazard for the Latin terminology is its close etymological connection between the two words substance and hypostasis, for both suggest 'something which stands underneath'. And, within the healthiest tradition, Christians recognize one single 'substance' but three 'hypostases' in God; clearly, the two words cannot have the same meaning in Trinitarian theology. Thomas writes that:
Just as we [Latins] speak in the plural of three 'persons' and three 'subsistences', so the Greeks speak of three 'hypostases'. But the word substance [substantia] which properly speaking corresponds in meaning to 'hypostasis' is equivocal in Latin, since it refers sometimes to 'essence' and sometimes to 'hypostasis'. It was to avoid this opportunity for error that they preferred to translate 'hypostasis' by 'subsistence' rather than by
This analysis is reminiscent of the fourth-century Trinitarian controversy. Because the Arians liked it, it took a long and laborious debate before the expression three hypostases was imposed. Since the recognition of the three hypostases must not imply a diminution of the consubstantiality of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, professing three hypostases required Neo-Nicene orthodoxy to make a clear distinction between hypostasis and ousia. And, in Latin, ousia was often translated by the term substantia (or essentia). Thus, despite the literal correspondence of the words substantia and hypostasis, Latin Trinitarian theology had to find another word with which to translate
55 ST I, q. 29, a. 2, ad 2; De potentia, q. 9, a. 2, ad 8.
56 I Sent. d. 23, q. 1, a. 2, ad 3; I Sent. d. 34, q. 1, a. 1. The word 'subsistentia' literally means a reality which 'stands beneath'.
57 ST I, q. 30, a. 1, ad 1. 58 ST I, q. 29, a. 2, ad 1.
hypostasis: they chose subsistentia. St Thomas was aware of this patristic debate, and of the related translation problems, particularly through the discussions of the subject in Augustine and Jerome.60
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