Elements Of The Patristic Teaching On Relation

Relation was brought into Trinitarian theology right at the start of the Arian crisis. Before the Council of Nicaea, in his Profession of Faith to Alexander of

4 For instance, the Libellus defide Trinitatis (a compilation of Eastern patristic commentaries, that St Thomas examined at the request of Pope Urban IV) presented the thought of Gregory Nazianzus like this: 'The Father is called ''unbegotten'' and Father not because of his essence, but in a relative way because of his property of paternity; and the Son, likewise, since he takes his origin from the Principle, is not so called because of his nature but because of his relation to another' (no. 23; Leon. edn., vol. 40A, p. 127); cf. Gregory of Nazianzus, Orations 29.16 (SC 250, pp. 210-211); Orations 31.7 and 31.9 (SC 250, pp. 286-289 and 290-293); Orations 42.15 (SC 384, pp. 80-83).

Alexandria, Arius maintained that the Son is not co-eternal with the Father, explaining that: 'He did not exist at the same time as the Father, as some have said in speaking of''relatives'' (ta pros ti).'5 Arius' remark is a good indication that, already at the beginning of the fourth century, some Alexandrian Catholics (whose identity remains a tricky question6) were using the Aristotelian category of relation to show the co-eternity of the Father and the Son: relative beings are simultaneous;7 if 'Father' and 'Son' are indeed mutually related names, then whenever there was a Father, there must have been a Son. But it was left to the Cappadocians to exploit the theory of relation more systematically; the first of them to do so was Basil of Caesarea. In his Contra Eunomius, St Basil made relation a central feature of his argument against radical Arianism. We have already mentioned this, when we were talking about 'common' and 'proper'.

Remember why this problem matters. As a radical Arian (Anomoeanist), Eunomius identified the 'Unengendered' with the very substance of God: to be God is to be unengendered substance (ousia agennetos).s As a result, God-the-Unengendered could not beget an equal, for by doing so he would divide or introduce composition into himself, and cease to be the Unengen-dered. Nothing can coexist with the Unengendered.9 The name 'Father' does not designate the substance of the Unengendered, but rather an action (energeia) of the Unengendered, different from his substance. As for the 'Son', his name designates the filial substance, which is created.10 This complex thesis, hinting at the idea of an hierarchical emanation of beings out of the One, involves a recondite theory of language and a subtle metaphysics.n It excludes a priori any possibility of generation within God.

The challenge of Eunomius of Cyzicus' 'technology' led Basil to develop the first speculative theory of relation within Trinitarian theology. The first tool which Basil took to hand was linguistic analysis. He showed that our knowledge of God is analogical and that it derives from God's actions within the world; this means that we must use many names to express the mystery of God, in so far as we can grasp it at all. Some of these names are positive, expressing the substance of things, and others are negative and

5 Athanasius Werke, vol. III/1, ed. H.-G. Opitz, Berlin and Leipzig, 1935, p. 13. This is Aristotle's language ( ta pros ti), which one finds from the beginning of the history of the use of the idea of 'relation' in Trinitarian theology.

6 M.-O. Boulnois, Le paradoxe trinitaire chez Cyrille d'Alexandrie, Paris, 1994, pp. 391-393.

7 Aristotle, Categories 7 (7b15).

8 Eunomius of Cyzicus, Apology 8 (SC 305, pp. 250-251).

10 Eunomius, Apology 12-18 and 22-23 (SC 305, pp. 256-271 and 278-281).

11 See B. Sesboue, Saint Basile et la Trinité: Un acte théologique au IVe siècle, Paris, 1998, pp. 19-53.

designate that which the thing is not. The name 'Unengendered' belongs to the latter category: without implying any imperfection, it signifies that God is 'not-engendered'." By showing that 'Unengendered' is not a positive description of the divine substance, which in fact cannot be defined, Basil withdraws this appellation from the commanding heights upon which Euno-mius had set it. In the context ofthis analysis oflanguage and concepts, St Basil introduces the category of relation:

Amongst the names, some are connected to the thing itself, as an absolute, and when they are pronounced they signify the substrate of the realities in question; others are said in connection with beings other than themselves, and are only made known through their relation (schesis) with the others in connection with which they are spoken. For example, man, horse, cow, express each of the named entities; but son, slave, or friend just indicate a connection with the term to which it is joined. This is why what is expressed by the word 'offspring' (gennema) does not lead one to think of a substance (ousia), but it conceives the entity in question as connected to another. For 'oVspring' is called 'oVspring' as springing from someone. In fact, since what it puts before us is not the notion of a subject but an indication of relation (schesis) to another thing, isn't it the height of insanity to decide that it means the substance?!3

It is clear from the examination of these names, that is, father and son, that they are not of such a kind as primarily to evoke the idea of corporeal passion; but spoken through themselves, they just express the relation (schesis) of the one to the other. A father is one who supplies for another the principle of his being in a nature like his own, a son is one who receives from another through generation the principle of his being . . . 14

There are thus two kinds of appellations: names which refer to substance, and names which refer to relations. In the same way, there are two levels in our approach to God, and our language for God: that of substance and that of the properties of the hypostases. So, as we mentioned before, language about God must be effected by the 'combination' of the two levels.15 The main point of the use of relation is to show that, even though he is neither Father nor 'Unengendered', the Son is nonetheless fully God: 'not to be Father' does not strip the Son of his divinity, because the names Father and Son do not express the substance of divinity, but the mutual relation of Father and Son. The

12 Basil of Caesarea, Contra Eunomius I.5-14 (SC 299, pp. 168-225). See Sesboüé's exposition in the work mentioned in the previous footnote. We can note that most of the elements set out here by St Basil will reappear in Thomas' treatise on God: analogical knowledge, plurality of divine names, affirmative and negative names, the incomprehensibility of God, and so on (STI, qq. 12-13).

13 Basil, Contra Eunomius II.9 (SC 305, pp. 36-37).

14 Basil, Contra Eunomius II.22 (SC 305, pp. 92-93).

15 Basil, Contra Eunomius II.28 (SC 305, pp. 118-121).

category of relation also enables one to put across the eternal coexistence of the Son: 'As soon as the Father is, the Son is, and the Son immediately enters into the notion of the Father.'16 So relation allows one to disclose the consubstantiality of the divine persons and to show that, within God, generation does not imply any of the imperfection tied to corporeality or mutability: it is not a 'passion', but a 'relation from one to another'. St Basil can thus dispose of the objections prompted by the suggestion of becoming or change in God.

From now onwards, the notion of relation becomes a prerequisite for giving an account of Trinitarian monotheism. So, for instance, one finds it in Gregory Nazianzus when he goes about synthesizing the properties of the divine persons. 17 St Augustine takes over this theory and hands it on to the West. Gregory of Nazianzus and Basil's reflections on the name 'Unengendered' reappear in a strikingly similar form in the writings of the bishop of Hippo. i8 As it was for the Cappadocians, likewise for Augustine, Father and Son are relational terms. Everything that we say about God, we say either substantially or relationally. Saint Augustine employs many elements of the Aristotelian theory of predicaments here, in Trinitarian theology:

With God, nothing is said under the heading of accident, because he is unchangeable. And yet, not everything that is said of him is said substance-wise. Some things are posited as relations (ad aliquid): for instance, the Father is relative to the Son and the Son is relative to the Father, which is not an accident. The one is always Father, the other is always Son... This is why, if being the Father and being the Son is not the same, the substance is nonetheless not different. These appellations do not belong to the order of substance but to that of relation (relativum), relation which is not an accident because change is foreign to it.i9

Thus, Augustine's view that the persons are formally characterized by their mutual relations is an extension of the Cappadocians' theory. It is through their relations that we grasp what belongs to them as persons.20 'In the case of the Trinity, expressing the proper and distinct characteristics of each of the persons, comes back to expressing their mutual relations (quae relative dicuntur ad

17 Gregory Nazianzus, Orations 31.9 (SC 250, pp. 290-293).

18 Augustine, De Trinitate V.VI.7-VII.8 (BA 15, pp. 434-443).

19 Augustine, De Trinitate V.V.6 (BA 15, pp. 432-435). The decrees of the 11th Council of Toledo, in the high Middle Ages, echo this Augustinian doctrine: if one speaks of three persons in God, this is in as much as 'the three persons are said relationally to one another'; 'it is in relation that the number of persons appears' (Denzinger, nos. 528 and 530).

20 See in particular I. Chevalier, Saint Augustin et la pensee grecque: Les relations trinitaires, Fribourg, 1940; id., La theorie augustinienne des relations trinitaires, Fribourg, 1940.

invicem): it is in this way that we speak of the Father and of the Son, and of the Gift of them both, the Holy Spirit'21

In the wake of the Cappadocians and Augustine, Boethius pushed the boat out a little further, at the beginning of the sixth century. Boethius is an important link in the chain which transmitted this patristic teaching to the medievals and to St Thomas in particular.22 Like the Fathers, Boethius uses relation to keep Arianism and Sabellianism at bay. He made a systematic examination of Aristotle's ten categories, so as to determine the value and status of our affirmations about God. He pinpointed the fact that, when we acknowledge substance and relations in God, these attributions are linguistically distinct from those which we apply to creatures, for everything in God is the divine substance. So relation is not attributed to God in the same way as it is to creatures. It adds nothing to the divine substance; it cannot be counted up alongside it. Boethius explains that relation adds no perfection whatsoever to the divine essence: it does not modify the substance, nor does it perfect the divine essence, since it is simply an interconnection. This permits one to account for divine immutability and for the perfection of the persons. Boethius also explains that the correlatives are inseparable. For these reasons, relation entails no inequality of the persons and allows one to grasp that there is real plurality in God and yet no diversity within God's nature:

It cannot be aYrmed that a category of relation increases, decreases, or alters in any way the substance of the thing to which it is applied. The category of relation, then, has nothing to do with the essence of the substance; it simply denotes a condition of relativity, and that not necessarily to something else, but sometimes to the subject itself Accordingly those predicates which do not denote the essential nature of a thing cannot alter, change, or disturb its nature in any way. Wherefore if Father and Son are predicates of relation, and, as we have said, have no other diVerence but that of relation... it will effect no real difference in its subject... the plurality of the Trinity is secured through the category of relation, and the unity is maintained through the fact that there is no difference of substance, nor of activity... 23

Boethius summarizes his perspective in a formula which was later very inXuential with the medievals, and to which St Thomas often refers:

21 Augustine, De Trinitate VIII, prol. (BA 16, pp. 24-25).

22 See ST I, q. 28, a. 1, arg. 1 and ad 2; q. 28, a. 3, sed contra; q. 30, a. 1, arg. 3 and ad 3; q. 36, a. 1, arg. 2; q. 39, a. 1; q. 40, a. 2, sed contra; q. 41, a. 1, arg. 1 and sol. (this one is about relation and not the Boethian definition of the person which we will discuss later).

23 Boethius, The Trinity is One God not Three Gods, chs. 5-6 (English-Latin in the Loeb edition: Boethius, The Theological Tractates and The Consolation of Philosophy, trans. H. F. Stewart and E. K. Rand, London, 1918, 1968).

So then, the category of substance preserves the Unity, that of relation brings about the Trinity (substantia continet unitatem, relatio muliplicat trinitatem). Hence only terms belonging to relation may be applied singly to each.24

Later on, we will mention other echoes of the Patristics in St Thomas' writings; this must be enough for the time being. Thomas was able to draw on an enormously rich vein of tradition for his use of the category of relation. Relation enables us to articulate the names of the divine persons, and, more generally, to spell out how language about the Trinity works (through substance-relation). It also permits us to get hold of the properties of the persons, the immutability of the Trinity, the co-eternity of the persons and their consubstantiality. Thomas' original contribution consisted in systematically deepening the patristic legacy. His innovation was to extend this theological tradition in two directions: toward the theory of real relation, as presented in his conception of the word and the 'impression' of love (Thomas' own doctrine of the Word and Love), and, following from this, the constitution of the divine persons through relation, that is, the conception of subsistent relation.

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