The Order Of The Trinitarian Processions

Reflecting on the procession of the Holy Spirit creates another refinement. It relates to the order of the processions.84 In using the analogies of mind and will, does Thomas grasp the procession of the divine persons on the basis of God's mind and will, taken as essential attributes? In that case, would he not be conceiving the Son and the Spirit as somehow deriving from the divine essence? But then, the project of understanding the faith would be empty, since as Thomas himself has explained, the distinction of the persons is not drawn from the divine essence, since that essence is common to the Three. The intellect and will of God are really identical to the one single being and substance of God.85 So in God, intellect and will are a single, identical reality. But then how can one think the procession of two really distinct persons, when one uses the mode of two attributes (intellect and will or love) which are, in God, really identical? Would such an enterprise not be doomed to failure from the start?

The first point to clarify is that Thomas does not reserve the activity of thought to the procession of the Son, nor the activity of love to the procession of the Spirit: there is no more 'intellect' in the begetting of the Son, nor is there 'more love' in the procession of the Holy Spirit. The begetting of the Son is also, and eminently, an act of love; and the procession of the Holy Spirit is not without wisdom. Thomas explains that, in each of the processions, all of the divine attributes are brought into play 'concomitantly'.86 All of the divine

83 ST I, q. 27, a. 4, ad 1; cf. SCG IV, ch. 19 (no. 3563); De rationibus fidei, ch. 4.

84 This is the premier aspect in the Disputed Questions De potentia, q. 10, a. 2.

86 I Sent. d. 6, q. 1, a. 2 and 3; cf. ST I, q. 41, a. 2; De potentia, q. 2, a. 3.

attributes concur in the begetting of the Son, and all concur in the breathing-forth of the Spirit. In begetting as in spiration, one must recognize the fullness of God, by the mode of the speaking of the Word and the procession of Love.

Thomas' next step is to explain that intellect and will, or love, taken as such, are incapable of distinguishing two persons in God.87 Intellect and Love are essential attributes which are in reality identical and which are only logically distinct. A distinction amongst such essential attributes would not suffice to disclose the real plurality of the divine persons. Otherwise put, the distinction of the persons is neither that of mind and will, nor, properly speaking, of wisdom and love since they too are essential attributes. Rather, it concerns the immanent terms or fruits which proceed by dint of an action of knowledge and love: the Word, distinct from the Father who speaks him, and Love (affection, amorous 'impression'), distinct from the Father and the Son from which he proceeds. Further, at the heart of the processions of the Son through intellect and the Spirit through love, St Thomas distinguishes an 'order', a relation which excludes their being conflated. It is this order, and not intellect or will as such which enables one to disclose Trinitarian faith: 'It is only the order of the processions, which arises from their origin, that multiplies processions in God.'88 Thomas writes that,

To distinguish the Holy Spirit and the Son, it is not enough to say that the Son proceeds by the mode of the intellect and the Holy Spirit by the mode of volition, unless one adds that the Holy Spirit proceeds from the Son... From the very fact that the Holy Spirit proceeds by way of volition and the Son by way of intellect, it follows that the Holy Spirit exists from the Son. For love proceeds from the word: we cannot love anything if we have not conceived it by the word in our heart.89

So one cannot give a reason for the processions just by talking about their modes, of intellect and love; one also needs to speak of the order which these modes make manifest:

All that exists in God is one with the divine nature. Hence it is not from this unity that one can grasp the rationale which belongs to this or that procession, that is, that which distinguishes the one from the other. The rationale of each of the processions must be taken from the order which they have amongst themselves. And this order is derived from the very nature of volition and intellect.9° [...] It is necessary that Love proceeds from the Word; this is why we cannot love something unless we have first conceived of it in our mind.91

87 Depotentia, q. 10, a. 2; SCG IV, ch. 24 (no. 3616); cf. ST I, q. 40, a. 2.

88 Depotentia, q. 10, a. 2. 89 SCG IV, ch. 24 (nos. 3616-3617).

So the distinction of the processions is rooted in the 'order of origin', that is to say the relation which the procession of the Spirit has to the generation of the Son, or, to put it in full, in the Son's relation of origin to the Father, and in the Spirit's relation of origin to the Father and the begotten Son. This is the order which the notions of intellect and will permit one to present, because of the character of these two modes of action. St Thomas also explains this when he formulates the processions in terms of nature (generation) and will (spira-tion):

In God, procession by way of nature is one that presupposes no other. But that which takes place by the mode of will takes its origin from a procession which it presupposes. So it is necessary that there is procession from procession, and that one of the [Persons] proceeds from another; and this is what makes for a real distinction in God.92

This theme of order, which is integrated here into a Trinitarian theological structure which is obviously Latin and Catholic, comes from the Trinitarian doctrine of the Cappadocian Fathers.93 This order, which makes it impossible to conXate the persons, is expressed in the baptismal formula and in the Creed: Father, and Son, and Holy Spirit. Thomas explains that the 'order' in God, refers only to the relations of origin that the persons maintain in the processions: the Father does not proceed from anyone, but is rather the source of the Son and the Holy Spirit; the Son receives the substance of divinity from the Father who eternally begets him; and the Holy Spirit receives the substance of divinity from the Father and the Son from whom he eternally proceeds.94 This order excludes not only temporal intervals in between the existence of the persons, but also any kind of 'priority' of a person or procession in relation to another. St Thomas puts this very strongly: 'The Father has no priority in relation to the Son: neither in duration, nor in nature, nor conceptually, nor in dignity... There is no priority whatsoever of one person over another in God.'95

One has to interpret Thomas' intention in saying that the generation of the Son is 'presupposed' in the procession of the Holy Spirit by the same lights: 'in the divine reality, begetting has no priority at all over procession [of the Holy Spirit]'.96 The order solely consists in the relations of origin. In the simultaneity of divine eternity, the three persons are absolutely equal and inseparable. There is for this reason no priority of the generation of the Son over the procession of the Spirit, even if, for the purposes of describing it in

93 See for instance Basil of Caesarea, Against Eunomius III.1-2 (SC 305, pp. 145-153).

96 I Sent. d. 12, q. 1, a. 1. This 'priority' only exists in the flawed 'likenesses' which creatures present.

terms taken from our knowledge of this-worldly things, we have to consider one procession at a time. This point will be important for getting a good grasp on the reciprocity of the divine persons.

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