"The good of the grace of one soul is greater than the good of the nature of the whole universe"
- St Thomas Aquinas Ia IIa, q.24, a. 3, ad 2

REALITY—A Synthesis Of Thomistic Thought

by Reginald Garrigou-Lagrange, O. P.


If there are real processions in God, then there must also be real relations. As in the order of nature, temporal generation founds two relations, of son to father and father to son, so likewise does the eternal generation of the Word found the two relations of paternity and filiation. And the procession of love also found two relations, active spiration and "passive" spiration. [534].

Are these relations really distinct from the divine essence? No.Since in God there is nothing accidental, these relations, considered subjectively in their inherence (esse in) are in the order of substance and are identified with God's substance, essence and existence. It follows then that the three persons have one and the same existence. [535] The existence of an accident is inexistence. [536] Now in God, this inexistence of the relations is substantial, hence identified with the divine existence, hence one and unique.

This position, so simple for St. Thomas, was denied by Suarez, [537] who starts from different principles on being, essence, existence, and relation. Suarez holds that even in the created order essence is not really distinct from existence, that relation, subjectively considered, in its inexistence, in its esse in, is identified with its objective essence, its esse ad. Hence the divine relations, he argues, cannot be real, unless each has its own existence. Thus he is led to deny that in God there is only one existence. [538] This is an important divergence, similar to that on the Incarnation, where the proposition of St. Thomas, that in Christ there is only one existence, [539] is also denied by Suarez.

Those divine relations which are in mutual opposition are by this very opposition really distinct one from the other. [540] The Father is not the Son, for nothing begets itself. And the Holy Spirit is not the Father nor the Son. Yet the Father is God, the Son is God, the Holy Spirit is God. Thus, by increasing precision, we reach the formula of the Council of Florence: In God everything is one, except where relations are opposite. [541].

Here enters the saint's response to an objection often heard. The objection runs thus: Things which are really identified with one and the same third thing are identified with one another. But the divine relations and the divine persons are really identified with the divine essence. [542] Hence the divine relations and the divine persons are identified with one another.

The solution runs thus: Things which are really identified with one and the same third thing are identified with one another; yes, unless their mutual opposition is greater than their sameness with this third thing. Otherwise I must say No. To illustrate. Look at the three angles of a triangle. Are they really distinct one from the other? Most certainly. Yet each of them is identified with one and the same surface.

Suarez, [543] having a different concept of relation, does not recognize the validity of this response. Instead of admitting with St. Thomas, [544] that the three divine persons by their common inexistence (esse in): have one and the same existence (unum esse): Suarez, on the contrary, admits three relative existences. Hence his difficulty in answering the objection just now cited. He solves it thus: The axiom that things identified with one third thing are identified with one another—this axiom, he says, is true in the created order only, but not universally, not when applied to God.

Thomists reply. This axiom derives without medium from the principle of contradiction or identity, and hence, analogically indeed, but truly, holds good also in God, for it is a law of being as such, a law of all reality, a law absolutely universal, outside of which lies complete absurdity.

Thus the doctrine of St. Thomas safeguards perfectly the pre-eminent simplicity of the Deity. [545] The three persons have but one existence. Hence the divine relations do not enter into composition with the divine essence, since the three persons, constituted by relations mutually opposed, are absolutely equal in perfection. [546].

A conclusion follows from the foregoing discussion. Real relations in God are four: paternity, filiation, active spiration, "passive" spiration. But the third of these four, active spiration, while it is opposed to passive spiration, is not opposed to, and hence not really distinct from, either paternity or filiation. [547].

This doctrine, perfectly self-coherent, shows the value of St. Augustine's conception, which is its foundation and guaranty.

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