There is no subject where a mistake is more dangerous, or the search more laborious, or discovery more advantageous than the unity of the Trinity: of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.
Augustine's remark, which Peter Lombard put on the first page of his study of the Trinity in the Sentences,1 gives us the flavour of Trinitarian reflection in the golden age of scholasticism. As St Thomas' Master, Albert the Great saw the matter, precisely because it belongs to this field, to show the goal of human existence—making mistakes here will divest faith and theology of their purpose: 'The whole of human knowledge comes to fruition in knowledge of the Trinity. For every science and every thing to which the mind applies itself is looking for that which gives us happiness. Speaking about other things is only worthwhile when it derives from and guides us to this search.'2 St Thomas would follow that up by saying that, 'The whole of our life bears fruit (fructus) and comes to achievement (finis) in the knowledge of the Trinity.'3
This 'knowledge of the Trinity' is supplied by Christian faith, and so paves the way for the vision of the Trinity. It is the way to happiness: 'The Lord taught that the knowledge that makes us happy consists in knowing two things: the divinity of the Trinity and the humanity of Christ.'4 Faith in the mystery of Christ enshrines and implies faith in the Trinity.5 Within the pilgrimage of faith made in the hope of happiness, the theologian's vocation consists in giving an account of the mystery which he has received, after the pattern of 1 Peter 3.15, a verse which St Thomas loved to quote in order to describe the task to which he dedicated his life within the Order of St Dominic: 'Always be prepared to satisfy everyone that asketh a reason for the hope and faith which are in you.'6
1 Augustine, De Trinitate I.III.5; Peter Lombard, I Sent. dist. 2, ch. 1 (vol. I/2, ed. PP. Collegii S. Bonaventurae ad Claras Aquas, Grottaferrata, 1971, p. 62).
4 CT I, ch. 2. See De rationibus fidei, ch. 1; De articulis fidei I.
6 St Thomas usually cites a version of this verse which refers to faith (hope and faith); see De rationibus fidei, ch. 1; ST II-II, q. 2, a. 10, sed contra; q. 10, a. 7, ad 3; etc. On the history of this theological emblem, see J. De Ghellinck, Le Mouvement theologique du Xlle siecle, Brussels and Paris, 1948, pp. 279-284.
Reflecting on the Trinitarian faith is thus the theologian's primary task and this is where the heart of St Thomas' teaching rests.7
A fresco in the Dominican monastery of St Anne in Nocera Inferiore in Campania bears witness to the central role which Trinitarian faith played in Thomas' life. St Thomas is pictured in this icon as one who has received the gift which the Trinity makes of itself to the saints. Images like this are not common within the iconography of the Dominican saint, which usually displays different motifs, like his triumph, his meditation on the Blessed Sacrament, his prayer before the crucifix, his composing the office of the Blessed Sacrament, and so on, along with various insignia, like the chair, the dove, and the lily. In a collection of frescos dating from the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries, in the monastery of St Anne, Thomas is set between St Paul and St Lucy, and pictured with a pen and a book, two recurrent figures in his iconography.8 The book pictured here is not the Summa Theologiae, but the 'Writing on the Sentences, and we can see its first lines, taken from Ecclesias-ticus, I, Wisdom have poured out rivers (Ecclus 24.40, in the Vulgate). St Thomas' prologue to the 'Writing' explains that Wisdom refers to the person of the Son: Wisdom who reveals the Trinity in its intimate mystery and in its works, Wisdom who creates, Wisdom who saves the world through his incarnation, and leads humankind to the Father's glory.9 When the believer looks at the Son-Wisdom, he is engaged in contemplation of the creative and saving Trinity. And the artist at Nocera has depicted the Trinity as dwelling in the heart of the Dominican master. This icon represents a Trinity as 'two heads with the dove between them', an iconographic type which is fairly infrequent and of which one finds almost no trace after the fifteenth century.10 Here it suggests the Pauline and Johannine idea of the indwelling of the divine persons: 'We will make our abode in him' (Jn 14.23).n It was also
7 See the magisterial discussion by J.-P. Torrell, Thomas Aquinas: Spiritual Master, trans. Robert Royal, Washington DC, 2003, pp. 23-224.
8 On these frescos, see G. Ruggiero, 'Il monastero di Sant' Anna di Nocera. Dalla fondazione al concilo di Trento', Memorie Domenicanen.s. 20 (1989), 5-166, esp. pp. 114-131 (including 24 plates alongside the text). This essay was also published in book form in the same year and with the same title, by the Centro Riviste della Provincia Romana in Pistoia.
9 This text is translated in our book, La Trinite créatrice, Paris, 1995, pp. 531-535.
10 See F. Boespflug, Dieu dans l'art, Sollicitudini nostrae de Benoît XV (1745) et l'affaire Crescence de Kaufbeuren, Paris, 1984, p. 285. In the wake of theologians like Bellarmine, who jumped into linking this figure with the 'Three-headed Trinity' and so criticized this way of representing the Trinity, Benedict XV prohibited it (ibid., p. 41). This kind of iconogaphy does not bear the hallmarks of the 'monstrosity' which Bellarmine ascribed to it: it hints at the communion of Father and Son who, as distinct persons, are united in their common nature and in the Holy Spirit, their mutual bond.
11 Perhaps because they are dubious about this kind of iconography of the Trinity, some people have wanted to see the Nocera Fresco as picturing the humanity and the divinity of in his 'Writing on the Sentences' that St Thomas created his most expansive treatise on the missions of the divine persons; this was the work which medieval commentators pored over most minutely. The artist's message is transparent: what St Thomas taught in his theology, he had received and channelled into his own life experience through living faith and charity, remaining constantly open to the gift of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit: 'The whole of our life bears fruit (fructus) and comes to achievement (finis) in the knowledge of the Trinity.'
St Thomas was happy to speak of the topic of his enquiry as 'the mystery of the Trinity' (mysterium Trinitatis). Those who follow his steps often encounter this turn of phrase, used to signify the three distinct persons in the unity of their identical divinity.12 We can take it as read that for Thomas, 'mystery' means God in his revelation, seen from the outlines of creation and salvation, moving through its different scenes down to the summative restoration of the creation at the end of time, and with the advent of the Son in the flesh and the gift of the Holy Spirit at its centre. For St Thomas, 'Mystery is the secret of Wisdom, the Word of God insofar as He manifests God, and reveals the cosmic dimensions of salvation.'" 'The mystery of the Trinity' is a two-sided expression: it refers to God himself, as he reveals himself in the economy of the Son and Holy Spirit/4 making a free gift of himself that surpasses anything at which human reason could arrive by its own devices. 15 What was veiled under the Old Covenant is exhibited to the eyes of faith under the New: the mystery of Christ.w
When he reflects on the lines of Augustine cited at the beginning, St Thomas comments that 'disordered' explanations, or ones which 'make light of the matter', lead straight to the recreation of the ancient errors, especially Arianism and Sabellianism. Since it transcends our reason, reflection on the Trinitarian mystery can only be achieved along the 'modest and prudent' path of the minute analysis of our own thinking and language. A singular kind of care has to be taken in the patient weighing and evaluation of the import of all the sources: Scripture first of all, then the tradition of the Fathers, and also metaphysics, anthropology, logic, and the other human disciplines.
Christ as two heads. We have taken the Trinitarian interpretation from the well-documented study of Santo Pagnotta, La figura di San Tommaso d'Aquino nell'arte: Tentativo di analisi storico-teologica dell'iconografia tommasiana, Fribourg, 1995, pp. 55-57.
13 M.-J. Le Guillou, Christ and Church: A Theology of the Mystery, preface by M. D. Chenu, trans. Charles E. Schaldenbrand, New York, 1966 p. 214.
'Modesty' and 'prudence' keep us going on an investigative journey whose complexity discourages even the most ardent applicants. Thomistic studies of the Trinitarian mystery often contain the steepest ascents. Most of these are simply specialist research. Bear it in mind that St Thomas' Trinitarian theology is demanding. This has put some readers in such a hurry to get through it that they want to shrug it off as a logical or metaphysical disquisition detached from revelation and the history of salvation or as an abstract exercise which only the most highfalutin intellects should attempt to scale. But the Summa Theologiae was not written for professors: it was addressed to students, in order to help them take the first steps in understanding revelation.
To help people to understand the wealth of Thomas Aquinas' Trinitarian doctrine, without making a secret of the complexity of some questions, this book hopes to offer an introduction to the reading of the Trinitarian treatise in the Summa. It is written for students and for those who want to take an overview of the main questions and the issues they raise, and to get an idea of the lie of the land before they commence their study of the articles of the treatise.
So this book does not comment on the Trinitarian treatise as a whole, and nor does it analyse every single question in this part of the Summa. Even though Trinitarian research has made much progress since the 1960s, Father Hyacinthe Dondaine's wonderful set of comments have yet to be replaced.17 Even though we will not refer to Father Dondaine's notes, the reader could learn a great deal from them.
But the Summa's treatise lends itself to being read as an organic whole and this book seeks to show this way into it. Finding our way to this opening must begin by getting a feel for the foundations of Trinitarian thought, and thus of the driving aim or intention behind the theologian's quest for an understanding of the mystery of the Trinity. Reading the treatise also calls for a sense of the way that St Thomas structured his meditation. Our first three chapters attempt to set out these preliminary elements. They can stand as a general introduction to the Summa's Trinitarian treatise.
The twelve following chapters travel the roads which Trinitarian theology takes. The first and foremost of these are the three basic routes of the doctrine of the processions, that of relations, and that of the persons (Chapters 4, 5, and 6). No one could call these easy questions. They take up all the resources and the capacity for complexity which theology has to offer. But it is through
17 H.-F. Dondaine, 'Notes explicatives' and 'Renseignements techniques', in Thomas Aquinas, Somme theologique, La Trinité, vol. 1: la, Questions 27-32, Paris, Tournai and Rome, 1943, 1950; vol. 2: la, Questions 33-43, Paris, Tournai and Rome, 1946, 1950. The two volumes were reissued by Cerf in 1997.
these questions that the issue of whether one can lay out an authentically Trinitarian monotheism is decided (Chapter 7). These questions pave the way for the enquiry into Father, Son, and Holy Spirit as grasped in each of their unique, distinguishing properties (Chapters 8-11) and within the reciprocal interiority of their communion (Chapter 12). We attempt to disclose the properties of the persons within the eternal Trinity, but also to show how these properties shed light on the persons' action in the economy of creation and of grace. The last three chapters (13-15) will indicate, finally, St Thomas' teaching on the creative and salvific action of the Trinity, since this is the overall theme and end of the revelation of the Trinity: to give us a fair idea of the creation and salvation which the divine persons bring about.
Our reading of St Thomas' Trinitarian doctrine often remarks upon the deepening scope or progress which one can find amongst his synthetic works, showing also how his biblical commentaries illuminate the doctrine; and it does not neglect to note the sources which enable one better to see where it is innovative, and where traditional. This historical moment is not at the forefront of this work, but it is not without importance. Without leading the reader into the thickets of historical research, we have sought to indicate the key issues, pointing out the works which take these matters further. The historical development of St Thomas' own Trinitarian thought and where it fits into the thirteenth-century Trinitarian debates must not be neglected, because we cannot fully understand Thomas' speculative thought without knowing something of them. The fact that we think it necessary to attend to the history of doctrines does not mean that St Thomas can be tucked away into the past, but it does enable us to disengage the circumstances and the motivations which helped to concentrate his attention during his speculative journey. It is our profound conviction that a truly speculative understanding of Thomas' thought can benefit from grasping the historical state of play at the time of his writing. We cannot show St Thomas' relevance for today without paying the price of historical research.
To pin down what the Summa means, or to illustrate particular aspects of its Trinitarian treatise, we refer to other works by St Thomas, but we have no intention of mentioning every text that is related to the questions with which we deal. The bibliographical references are likewise restricted. Referring to a greater diversity of works would have led us into refinements and critical discussions that are way beyond the purview of this book. Although we do not make detailed references to them we have tried to take on board up-to-date research and the contemporary debates over the interpretation of St Thomas' thought. The notes will indicate some reference works for further study. The reader can also consult the bibliography at the back of this book.
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