Real Relations In

Thomas explains that Catholic faith in the Trinity requires the acknowledgement of real relations. To show this, he does not just argue from authority, on the basis of the tradition we have described, but looks for the reasons for the truth which has been handed on to him. These reasons depend on a detailed analysis of relation, or, more precisely, 'relatives'. A 'relative'25 is the thing itself which is referred to another thing, or the word by which our language signifies one thing which is referred to another. Conversely, 'relation' (relatio) refers to the accident in a relative thing which consists in its connection to another thing: it is through this relation that one thing is referred to another. Thomas' meditation starts from Aristotle's teaching on this subject. We can recall the definitions Aristotle gives in the Categories:

Those things are called relative which, being either said to be of something else or related to something else, are explained by reference to that other thing. For instance, the word 'superior' is explained by reference to something else, for it is superiority over something else that is meant. Similarly the expression double has this external reference, for it is the double of something else that is meant____These terms, then, are

24 Boethius, The Trinity is One God not Three Gods, ch. 6.

25 In Thomas' Latin: relativum, id quod ad aliquid dicitur, id quod est ad aliquid.

called relative, the nature of which is explained by reference to something else, the preposition 'of' or some other preposition being used to indicate the relation.26 even if our definition of that which is relative was complete, it is very difficult, if not impossible, to prove that no substance is relative. If, however, our deWnition was not complete, if those things only are properly called relative in the case of which relation to an external object is a necessary condition of existence, perhaps some explanation of the dilemma can be found. The former definition does indeed apply to all relatives, but the fact that a thing is explained with reference to something else does not make it essentially relative.27

Like Aristotle (and Augustine, Boethius, etc.), Thomas envisages relation in our world as an accident, that is, as one of the categories of being. Following Aristotle, he gives this definition of it:

Relative terms by their very meaning indicate only a reference to something (ad aliud )____To be relative means having a relationship to another thing.28

This definition expresses the essence of the relative as such, the notion or ratio of the relative. So a word will be relative when it formally signifies a relation to another thing. Likewise, a reality will be relative when it formally implies this relation to another thing.

Among relative things and names, there are those whose entire being formally consists in relation to another thing, for example, 'larger', 'smaller', 'double', 'half', 'father', and 'son'. The entire content of these words and the reality formally signified by them consists in a relation to something else; these words and realities are the ones which properly belong to the category of relation. When he wants to indicate them, Thomas speaks of 'relatives according to being' (relativa secundum esse). But there are also relative names which designate realities from which relations derive. Thomas calls them 'relatives as to speech' (relativa secundum dici).29 This distinction, which goes back to Aristotle, is expressed in Boethian terminology. But different authors give the terms different meanings. For Albert the Great or Alexander of Hales, for instance, the relatives which are just 'as to speech' indicate a logical or conceptual relation.^ One must handle the terminology carefully, because Thomas uses these same words with a totally different meaning. Within his usage, 'relatives according to being' are relative terms which signify the relation itself (these are the relatives which primarily or solely present a relation),

26 Aristotle, Categories 7 (6a36-6b8); in The Basic Works of Aristotle, ed. Richard McKeon, New York, 1941.

30 Cf. A. Krempel, La doctrine de la relation chez St Thomas d'Aquin, Paris, 1952, pp. 398-402.

whereas 'relatives as to speech' refer to things which are accompanied by a relation: 'This distinction between relatives ''as to being'' and ''as to speech'' has nothing to do with the reality of the relation.'31 The relatives studied by Trinitarian theology (Father, Son and Word, Love and Gift) are relatives 'according to being': they properly or formally refer to the connection itself, that is, the relation to another. Therefore, even when we have fine-tuned the topic thus far, we have yet to show that relation can be real.

St Thomas recognizes two main types of relation: (1) real relations; (2) logical relations. He designates as a 'real relation' (relatio realis) a relation which has a concrete existence in things, independent of whether we are thinking about it, when the connection to another thing exists 'in the very nature of the things themselves'.32 In these cases, the relation does not just exist 'between' things, but 'in the things': given its ontological texture, the relation concretely qualifies the substance which carries it, in the same way that an accident does. This radically distinguishes Thomas' teaching from the later nominalism which reduces relation to a mental comparison and thereby makes its function in Trinitarian theology rather rarefied.33 For William of Ockham, in the fourteenth century, relations will be exclusively predicated of names, that is, of relative words, and not of things outside of our minds (for him, only the singular thing exists, in its irreducibility). Ockham firmly distances himself from the existence of relations in the reality of things, and only upholds the existence of the extra-mental real relations 'where faith obliges one to do so', that is, in Trinitarian doctrine^4 thus, the recognition of real relations in God is no longer replenished by an analogy within our world and ceases to throw much light on it. So, to understand Thomas' intention, it is necessary to observe this concrete reality of relations which exists in the very reality of things, outside of our minds: this is the decisive point. Already, before Thomas, this was the thesis which Albert the Great maintained^

Thomas called the relation which does not exist in the concrete reality of things, which is not ontologically inherent in things, 'logical' (rationis, secundum rationem, etc.), for its fabric is conceptual. There will only be a

33 R. Schönberger, Relation als Vergleich: Die Relationstheories des Johannes Buridan im Kontext seines Denkens und der Scholastik, Leiden, 1994.

34 On this idea of relation, see B. Beretta, Ad Aliquid: La relation chez Guillaume d'Occam, Fribourg, 1999.

35 For St Albert, see my article, 'La relation dans la theologie de saint Albert le Grand', in Albertus Magnus: Zum Gedenken nach 800 Jahren, Neue Zugange, Aspekte und Perspektiven, ed. W. Senner, Berlin, 2001, pp. 457-458.

conceptual distinction between this relation and the thing to which one attributes it. For instance, this is the case for a thing's relation of identity with itself, or of a relation to things which do not really exist, or of the relation which does not exist concretely in a relative even though it really exists in its correlative, or of the relation between relations,36 and the same goes for all relations which derive purely from a mental conception.37 Relation is the only predicament which can have purely 'logical' existence: all the other 'modes of being', St Thomas says, properly signify something which concretely exists, that is, the substance or the accidents which inhere in a substance (quantity, quality, etc.). The very nature of relation makes it an exception to this rule, as we will see again later on. So far as its formal notion is concerned, relation properly consists in a connection to another thing, not in a determination of the subject bearing the relation.38 This unique characteristic of relation will play an important role in showing that, in God, relation adds nothing to the divine essence and does not perfect this essence: 'When one considers a relative, its proper reason as a relative is not taken from a comparison with its subject but by comparison to another.'^ This is the reason why relation can exist either 'in the nature of things' (real relations) or 'only in the apprehension of our reason which attributes this or that to a thing' (logical relation).40

Since every relation involves two correlative terms, it follows that there are three classes of relation: (1) those which are real in both one and the other, that is to say, which really exist in both of the relatives; (2) those which are 'logical' relations in both the one and the other; (3) those which are real in one relative, and merely 'logical' in the other.4i

The third class of relations is especially important in theology, since one can see it in the relationship between God and the world. St Thomas customarily compares it to the relation of knowledge: in the mind of the knowing subject, the relation is 'real'; but in the thing known, the relation to the knowing subject is simply a 'logical' one.42 This example can make this easy to understand. When we say that a collection of paintings is admired by the visitors to an art gallery, the fact of 'being admired' is not positively inscribed within the paintings themselves; 'being admired' adds nothing to the works of art in themselves: so far as the ontology of the artwork is concerned, the fact of being admired is a 'logical' relation. But when the visitor admires the artwork, it is very much an objective event in the person vis-a-vis the work of art, that

36 Thomas, I Sent. d. 26, q. 2, a. 1 (Thomas indicates his sources here: Aristotle and Avicenna).

37 ST I, q. 13, a. 7; De potentia, q. 7, a. 11. 38 De potentia, q. 8, a. 2.

41 ST I, q. 13, a. 7; cf. I Sent. d. 26, a. 2, q. 1; De potentia, q. 7, a. 10.

is, a gaze, a knowledge, an emotion, a pleasure which positively qualifies the admirer: so far as the visitor is concerned, the relation to the artwork is very much 'real'. This is how St Thomas explains that the relations which we have with God are real, whereas, for God, the relation to creatures is 'logical'. This language must be understood properly: it absolutely does not mean either that God is 'indifferent' to his creatures, or that God's relationship to the world is illusory. Rather, it means that God is not enriched or modified by this relation to the world because God is of another order from the world. The relation to the world adds nothing to God, it does not make God more perfect; it is the creature who is enriched by the divine action.43 God's action in the world is very much real. It is real to the point that it is the substance and very being of God, but it makes no addition to God, and this is why it does not introduce any difference into God himself. God surpasses the relation which we have with him, because he is its transcendent cause.44

Nonetheless, it is the first class of relations which mainly concerns Trinitarian theology: a real relation in each of the two relatives. As we've seen, the existence of such a real relation requires that it be founded on quantity, action, or passion.45 This has already been secured through the study of the processions (action). The bilateral reality of relation takes us even further into the implications of the fact that the relatives must be of the same order: 'A relation exists in the very nature of the thing . . . when things are naturally pointed at each other and have an inclination toward one another.'4fi Since a real relation consists in the interconnection with, or the order (ordo) of, one thing towards another, one only finds a mutually real relation between two things which communicate from within one and the same 'order' of connections.'47 This is the further reason why, unlike the mutual relations of the divine persons, God's bonds to creatures are not 'real': 'God is outside the order of creatures.'48 God does not belong to any genus;49 nothing can bracket God and creatures together as the possessors of the same perfection. It is otherwise

44 ST I, q. 13, a. 7; cf. De potentia, q. 7, a. 11. This teaching clearly derives from that of St Albert: see our article, La relation dans la theologie de saint Albert le Grand, pp.457 and 462-464.

4s ST I, q. 13, a. 7; q. 28, a. 1, ad 3. The relation that God maintains with creatures is not of the same nature as the relation of creatures to God. God transcends the relation which creatures have toward him. This point had already been established in Christian theology well before St Thomas, in the East as well as in the West. For instance, in Denys' wake, St Maximus the Confessor explains that, in his creative causality, God remains immutable and 'without relation' (aschetos); cf. Maximus the Confessor, Ambigua 23 (PG 91.1260); Denys, The Divine Names IV.16 (PG 3.713). It is this teaching which Thomas is taking over, when he distinguishes the 'real' relation of creatures to God and the 'logical' relation of God to creatures.

49 ST I, q. 3, a. 5: this is a requirement of divine simplicity.

with the divine persons who share in the same divine nature communicated through generation and spiration:

When a being proceeds from a principle which has the same nature, then both that which causes the procession and that which proceeds from it necessarily belong to the same order; and so they must have real relations with one another. Since processions in God exist within an identity of nature, as we have shown, it is necessary to consider the relations made by the divine processions as real relations.50

Within this argument, the fact that the relation of origin is a real one rests on two factors: (1) divine consubstantiality, which ensures the unity of the interconnections of the persons who share the same divinity; (2) the communication of the divine nature, that is, the generation of the Son and the procession of the Holy Spirit, which tests out as an action capable of founding real relations. In his Commentary on the Sentences, St Thomas insists on this second factor. A relation needs two legs to be real: a connection to another thing, but also a 'foundation' in reality, that is, a 'cause' giving rise to the relation. Without these two factors, the reality of the relation disappears.51 And relations of origin prove to contain the two elements: they involve a connection to someone else within the same order, and they are founded on the 'communication of the divine nature' (generation and spiration).52 With the second factor, Thomas takes further care to emphasize that it is not about a relationship of knowledge and love with a known and loved being (and which it is necessary to acknowledge analogously in God, as a logical relation), but concerns, rather, the procession of the Word engendered by its Principle, and the procession of the impression or affection of Love, in which one can see a real distinction, as was indicated in the earlier discussion of the processions.53

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