#9 The Trinity

Who is God?

This is the most fundamental question for any believer who feels God’s presence but does not comprehend the Being who is felt, the One who calls.

The vision of Thomas Aquinas is truly sublime.  It is he who consolidated the Christian concept of God as Trinity.

This post is longer as it contains the most important part of this article.

This is what Thomas Aquinas writes in Summa Theologica Volume 1: Treatise on the Most Holy Trinity (I will not quote page numbers too much as they will be different in different editions).

God is one essence and three persons.  The divine persons are distinguished as each subsists distinctly from the others in the divine nature.  There is only one essence though and one Godhead.

God the Father is existence itself, the principle without principle.  The Father is the principle of the whole deity.  It is the property of the Father to beget the Son.  God is the Father of the Son from eternity.

Jesus, the Son is begotten of God the Father receiving the whole Godhead from God.

Jesus is the principle from a principle.  He is wisdom.

Jesus is the image of the invisible God.

The Holy Spirit is the spirit of Jesus.

The Holy Ghost proceeds from Father and Son.  He is not made, nor created, nor begotten, but proceeding.  There is unity between Father and Son by the Holy Spirit.

The Father, Son and Holy Spirit have the essence of God which is existence; which is perfection; which is the goal of all things.

Power belongs to the Father who is the principle of the whole Godhead.  Wisdom belongs to the Son as the Word.  Goodness whose object is love has the likeness of the Holy Spirit.

The Father and Son are in everything one and are one principle of the Holy Spirit.  The Father in begetting the Son communicated His whole nature to Him.  “The Son was not begotten from nothing, but from the Father’s substance.” 

Creatures were originally created from nothing.  The principle of each ‘genus’ or type of creature made came from the over-arching principle of God.  It’s form was originally established by God it’s maker.

Humans are different from all other creatures in that God, the Holy Spirit may be given to us through grace and reside in our souls.  We can begin to know the One who made us.

#8 A Literal Reading of Scripture

Aquinas read the Bible in the most  literal way that logic would allow, and far more literally than St Augustine’s reading of it. 

In Summa Theologica volumes 1 and 2 Aquinas discusses why certain phrases were employed by Moses in writing Genesis and what they actually signify.  I, personally have derived great benefit from his insights as a basis to further reflection.  However, this further reflection must be done in the light of modern science, not according to the science of the Middle Ages.

Thomas Aquinas believed that none of the Biblical authors erred in composing the Scriptures; if we have the wisdom to understand it, the truth becomes evident.  The whole of his theology is based on the Bible and the actual words used.  The works of Aquinas read as evangelical as any Protestant Evangelical writings, but he was writing nearly 300 years before the Reformation.

#7 Quest for the Reasons for Things

Thomas Aquinas dealt in the analysis of what things are – the subject matter of science and philosophy.  Aquinas’ quest was for the reasons for things.  In the Christian tradition even the mysteries of faith are not irrational in themselves, but often beyond human grasp unless the meaning is revealed by God to his chosen.

In philosophy Thomas Aquinas sided with Aristotle most of the time, but greatly expanded his ideas, joining them with the ideas of St Augustine.  The Greek philosophers were firm believers in God, but Thomas Aquinas took this further and Christianized the ideas.

Aquinas established that creatures, including human beings, have agency and are separate to God.  The purposes of creation, however, are drawn towards their conclusion by God’s providence and governance of creatures.

Aquinas proclaimed the God of an ordered universe in which each thing has its place.  He likewise ordered his writings such that they could be read – which was unusual in his day.  Many ancient books read like a hotchpotch of bits and pieces.

On the question of origins, however, Thomas Aquinas was bound by the science of his historical time period – the High Middle Ages.  He could not know what was not available to know.  He could not know what we know now with the benefit of modern science.  I think that he knew that he couldn’t know because in discussing origins and addressing certain questions, he does not say categorically that it was like this or like that.  In these cases Aquinas quotes all the sources and opinions of the erudite of his day without declaring which one should be followed or taken as the definitive true path.

While displaying an openness of approach on questions he could not answer, he was very firm on the truth he could establish.  His arguments are built up step by step paying attention to detail.  He details the way in which the Bible was written and the particular words used, the intention behind the text, and makes observations relating to the human condition.

There have been many centuries of exegesis of the Bible by theologians; among all exegets, I believe that Thomas Aquinas is among the greatest.

#6 What Thomas Aquinas Achieved

Ancient Greek philosophers initiated a dialogue about science and the nature of reality from about 600 BC.  The texts written by Greek philosophers were copied and conserved by Orthodox Christians in libraries belonging to the Byzantine Empire prior to the fall of Alexandria in 642 AD. Islamic scholars translated these texts from Greek into Arabic. Orthodox Christians continued to study the texts in Greek up to the fall of Constantinople in 1453. 

Catholic Europeans at first read texts translated from Arabic into Latin. When philosophical dialogue was taken up by theologians when universities were first founded in Europe during the 13th century, many of the Latin scholars were Averroeist and Avicenna followers. But Europe was to take its own direction different to that of these Arabic philosophers.  The pivot point of this new direction was the work of Thomas Aquinas himself.

Thomas Aquinas accomplished the feat of summarizing all the relevant knowledge known up to his day (1250s – 1270s).  He got to grips with the writings of ancient Greek philosophers especially Aristotle, Islamic philosophers such as Avicenna and Averroes, Church Fathers especially St Augustine (354-430 AD) as well as with his contemporary Scholastic scholars.  He commented on every part of the Bible which he knew in its entirety.  What he bequeathed to future generations was encyclopedic knowledge from the Ancient Greeks through to the Medieval Scholasticism of his day.

#5 Hot Debates and Sainthood

Aquinas was quite motivated by hot debates, and had many of them with the medieval philosophers and theologians of his day.  Aquinas was outspoken and would not back down.  This won him both admiration and enemies. 

At the end of his life Aquinas was summoned by the Pope to attend the Council of Lyons.  It is unclear whether this was to get a good telling off or to be commended for putting down some heretics and enemies of the church.  Thomas did not want to go, but started out.  The journey to Lyon was to prove his final voyage, as Thomas Aquinas managed to die en route.

In 1273 Thomas had a vision of Christ (it was witnessed by a brother as he prayed in the chapel).  After the vision Aquinas wrote no more and did not finish his great work Summa.  By the time he died a year later, Aquinas’ spirit was already residing elsewhere, and his body fairly quickly followed.

Thomas Aquinas was made a saint, a Doctor of the Church and a Father of the Catholic Church.  Aquinas’ writing on the Doctrine of Creation was adopted by the Catholic Church as it’s own teaching.  His writings on theology were taught to men training to be priests until Vatican II in the 1960s.

#4 There is one truth, not two

Thomas Aquinas applied himself to Natural Theology which is to seek knowledge of God and of things through reason.  It was Aquinas who defined in detail what could be taken as true and what should be regarded as false in the many areas of theology.  In the numerous  volumes of The Summa Theologica Aquinas lays out his arguments for the correct understanding of God, the Trinity, angels, human souls, the human condition and creation.

Aquinas is most quoted on his five ways to prove the existence of God, although this is a very small section of Summa.  Aquinas’ tour de force was the recognition that God created things from nothing: in Latin creatio ex nihilo.  This became the Doctrine of Creation of the Catholic church.

Aquinas debated with Siger of Brabant who was a Latin Averroist disagreeing with him on many points.  Brabant proposed that church theology is true and philosophy is true even though they contradict each other – you just keep them separate.  Aquinas proclaimed one truth although this one truth could be approached by the two paths.  Aquinas stood firm and would not be moved and would not accept contradiction or the double truth.

Aquinas tirelessly fought against heretics.  There is an anecdote of Aquinas having been invited to a dinner with King Louis IX of France and his courtiers.  He reluctantly went, however, he found the flirtatious courtiers boring so he remained in his own thoughts, not listening to the trivial chit chat.  Suddenly he banged his fist on the table and exclaimed “And that will settle the Manichees.”  The king quickly summoned a scribe to write down on a tablet the inspiration that Aquinas had just had to prove a point before he forgot it.

#3 Life of Thomas Aquinas

In 1267 Thomas Aquinas met William Moerbeke who was busy translating Aristotle directly from the Greek.  Up to this point Latin scholars had only known Aristotle from translations of Arabic into Latin.  The translations from Arabic presented Aristotle’s thoughts coloured by Islamic philosophy to Latin scholars.

From this point on, Thomas Aquinas based all of his own writings on the translations of Moerbeke of the original Greek texts.  In this way he was able to lead Latin theology in a totally new direction: one that would become the basis to Western thought and Western Civilization.

The crucial point here is that whereas the teaching from the Islamic world was that men participated in one collective soul that they either followed or refused to follow, Thomas Aquinas taught that each man was an individual who had his own soul and free-will.  As a consequence, each man has his own mind and is able to decide on his own actions whichever social class that man belonged to.  Aquinas argued that it is because of this that slavery is wrong as it deprives a man of choice in his actions.  (In Western Europe in the 13th century there was the system of feudal landlords and serfs, while in other parts of the world there were systems based on slavery).

#2 Life of Thomas Aquinas

Thomas Aquinas was born in 1225 in Aquino, Italy and died aged 49 in France in 1274.

Thomas Aquinas’ father was Count Landulf of Aquino, near Naples.  He and his brother Ronald seized the castle of Roccasecca and became the landlords of the area.  Thomas’ mother was Theodora; she may have been sister to the Holy Roman Emperor.

Aged five Thomas was taken to the abbey of Monte Cassino to be educated by monks.  Thomas’ family wanted to place him in the best position to obtain power and wealth.  However, aged 18 Thomas refused the path that would lead to him becoming abbot of the abbey, and instead joined the poor Order of Preachers founded by St Dominic. 

Thomas’ outraged family abducted him and incarcerated him in Roccasecca castle.  This was to prevent Thomas from joining the Dominicans because they were too evanglical.  Dominicans were going around preaching the gospel to the poor.  Other saints of the new evangelical movement in the church in the 13th century were St Francis of Assisi and St Anthony of Padua.

Thomas escaped and as a Dominican friar went to study at Naples University under the new Aristotlian teachers of the 1240s.  The Dominican brothers removed Thomas from  there because of the problems he had with his nearby family.  They took him to the University of Paris to study under Albert the Great in 1245.  The other scholars in Paris mocked Thomas for being a bit slow and stupid, but Albert saw that Aquinas was destined for great things.

Thomas was made a priest in Cologne where he had a post teaching Bible studies to Dominican brothers.  He taught Biblical studies and theology at various papal universities receiving his qualification as a teacher in 1256. 

#1 Thomas Aquinas on God as Trinity and Creator

introduction

Reflections on the nature of the human person having an individual soul; the nature of God as Trinity; the creation of the world by the Creator acting by analogy as a craftsman; the sustaining of all creatures in being by Being; and the complete summary of human knowledge up to 1270 was the tour de force of Thomas Aquinas.

The theology of Thomas Aquinas, in particular his Doctrine of Creation, became the theology of the Catholic Church up to recent times.  All priests were instructed according to the teachings of Thomas Aquinas up to Vatican II.

The thought of Thomas Aquinas, for which he fought many battles with his contemporary Catholic Latin theologian scholars, became the basis to concepts behind Western Civilization.  I say this because it was he who recognized human persons both male and female as individuals possessing free will and the right to make choices in life.

Thomas Aquinas worked on rational thought, defining what things actually are.  His personal faith, however, was completely given to the love of God, to the Person of Jesus Christ and the sanctifying influence of the Holy Spirit.  The object of his writing was to glorify God as well as to promote the common good of society.

I am posting this article and series of blog posts on The Principles of Creation website because it explains, in the words of Thomas Aquinas, how God as Trinity created life.  God who is principle made things according to their various principles.