"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

CHRIST THE SAVIOUR
— A Commentary on the Third Part of St Thomas' Theological Summa

by Reginald Garrigou-Lagrange, O. P.


CHAPTER IV: QUESTION 2 —THE MODE OF THE UNION OF THE WORD INCARNATE (cont)

Eighth Article: Whether Union Is The Same As Assumption

First conclusion. There is a distinction between union as implying a relation, and assumption that implies an action; for this relation is in Christ's humanity and follows the active assumption, which is the foundation for this relation, just as passive generation is the foundation of the relation of filiation.

Second conclusion. Hence assumption implies becoming, whereas union implies having become. Thus we say of what took place, that the Word assumed the human nature, and even now that it is united with the Word.

Third conclusion. Whereas union implies a relation of quasi-equivalence, and both the divine nature and the human nature are declared united; but assumption, which is the action of the one assuming, does not designate the divine nature, but the agent assuming and the human nature that is assumed.

Fourth conclusion. Who unites and who assumes are not the same absolutely, for only the Son of God assumed the human nature, but the Father and the Holy Spirit are said to unite, but not to assume. For union as an action implies only the conjunction of extremes, whereas assumption as an action means the same as the taking to oneself, inasmuch as He who assumes unites to Himself personally, and is the end of the terminating action and not merely its beginning. Every external action of God is common to the three persons, just as omnipotence is, from which action derives its power; but one person, such as the person of the Word, can be separately the terminus of some real relation.[613]

Ninth Article: Whether The Union Of The Two Natures In Christ Is The Greatest Of Unions

State of the question. St. Thomas, as Cajetan remarks, considers union here not so much as a relation, but as it is a substantial and immediate conjunction of the two natures in the person of the Word. And the conjunction is the foundation of the above-mentioned relation. There are difficulties, as stated in the beginning of this article.

1) Unity that is the principle of number, seems to be a greater unity than Christ.

2) It seems that this union is not the greatest, because the divine and human natures are infinitely apart, and the greater the distance between the extremes that are united, the less is the union.

3) It seems that the union between body and soul is greater, because from it there results what is one not only in person, but also in nature.

The counterargument presents a contrary objection, as if the union of the Incarnation were greater than the unity of the divine essence.

Reply. The hypostatic union is the greatest of unions, not on the part of the things united, but on the part of the person in whom they are united.

First part. It is proved in the body of this article, and in the reply to the second objection as follows: The greater the distance between the extremes united, the less is the union in this respect. But the divine and human natures, which are the extremes of this union, are infinitely apart. Therefore the union of the divine and the human natures is the least in this respect.

Second part. It is proved as follows: On the part of the medium in which the extremes are united, so much the greater is the union as this medium is in more one and simple, and more intimately united with the extremes. But the medium in this union, namely, the person of the Word, is most simple in Himself, and really identical with the divine nature, and substantially united with the human nature, so that the person of the Word imparts to the human nature both subsistence and existence.[614] Therefore this union, on the part of the medium in which it took place, is the greatest of created unions.

This same principle serves as the means of illustrating the mystical body of Christ. Although the members of His mystical body live far apart from one another in most distant climes, yet they are most closely united both in Christ and in the Holy Spirit.

Thus it is that sometimes two saintly persons living far apart according to their nationality, are more intimately united in Christ than with their fellow citizens. The principle on which the unity of the mystical body of Christ depends is, indeed, far more productive of this spirit of unity than that of any family or nation on this earth.

It is the formal unitive principle that is of greater consideration in union than the actual distance, however great this may be, which separates the members. Thus it is apparent that the greatest intimacy is to be found in the hypostatic union, which evidently far transcends the unity of the mystical body of Christ. Nevertheless the hypostatic union is not so great as the unity of the Trinity;[615] for the unity of the Trinity is a unity of an absolutely simple nature, which is numerically one in the three divine persons and identical with each of them.

St. Bernard has given us three conclusions in equivalent words in one of his works, saying: "Among all things that are properly called one, the unity of the Trinity holds the first place, in which the three persons are one in substance or nature; conversely, that union holds the second place by which three substances are present in the one person of Christ,"[616] namely, the Deity, the soul, and the body.

Reply to first objection. The unity of the divine person in Christ is greater than numerical unity, which is the principle of number; for the unity of a divine person is an uncreated and self-subsisting unity, and is incompatible with the nature of a part.

This union is sublime; for what is extraordinary in the order of the beautiful is sublime. Beauty is splendor of unity in variety, and the more distant are the extremes that are united and the more intimately they are united, the more beautiful is their union. This union of which we are speaking is unique, and is both a miracle and an essentially supernatural mystery. Its real possibility is not apodictically proved by reason alone, but it is persuaded and defended against those denying it.

There remains, however, the principal difficulty.[617] It may be expressed by the following syllogism.

That union is greater from which results not only one person, but also one nature. But such is the union between soul and body. Therefore it is greater than the hypostatic union.

Reply to third objection. On the part of the medium in which it takes place, the hypostatic union is nobler, for "the unity of the divine person is greater than the unity of person and nature in us."[618] This is evident, for the divine person of the Word is absolutely simple, whereas the human person and the human nature are composite. Thus the human composite is corruptible, whereas the hypostatic union is incorruptible.

How shall we reply, therefore, to the major of this objection, namely, that union is greater from which results not only one person but also one nature? I distinguish: that the union is greater on the part of the extremes, this I concede; on the part of the medium, this I deny.

Thus the union in the Incarnation is intensively more perfect than the union between soul and body, and therefore is indissoluble; whereas soul and body are separated by death, and as long as the soul is separated it is not properly a person.

This article is most sublime in doctrine. It can be developed so as to elevate the mind to spiritual things, combining this article with the above-mentioned principle, namely, "It is a greater dignity to exist in something nobler than oneself than to exist by oneself."[619] This principle is very rich in possibilities if closely examined, first as found in Christ, and then as it applies in a certain extended sense to us in the operational order. Thus it is better for us to be passive in our relations with God, by a perfect conformity of our will with the divine will, than following our own will to rule the world, which is contrary to Satan's doctrine, who, in seeking to tempt Christ, said: "All these things will I give Thee, if falling down Thou wilt adore me."[620] Thereupon Jesus says to him: "Begone, Satan! For it is written: The Lord thy God shalt thou adore, and Him only shalt thou serve."[621] It is a greater dignity for one to exist in someone nobler than oneself than to exist by oneself, and to act in conformity with God's will than to perform great acts by one's own choice. As Cajetan says: "It is better to obey the king, than to rule over one's household,"[622] or it is better to be in a passive frame of mind as regards those superior to us, than to assume an active role as regards those inferior to us; and although it is better to give than to receive, it is better to receive from someone superior to us, than to give to someone inferior to us. Thus the true way of passivity in the spiritual life is nobler than to act, relying on one's own ability, as Dionysius says of Hierotheus that he was "passive to the divine operations (patiens divina) "[623]

Tenth Article: Whether The Union Of The Two Natures In Christ Took Place By Grace

State of the question. The difficulties at the beginning of this article show clearly the purpose of this question. It seems that the union did not take place by grace, because grace is an accident inhering in the soul of everyone in the state of grace; whereas the hypostatic union is substantial, as stated above, and belongs exclusively to Christ.

Reply. This union did not take place by created grace, which is an accident, and an habitual gift inhering in the soul, but it took place by uncreated grace, which is the gratuitous will of God doing something without any preceding merits on the part of the beneficiary of the gift.

First part. It is evident, because this union is substantial, and not accidental.

Second part. It is also evident, because this union infinitely transcends the faculty and exigencies of created nature, even the angelic.[624]

In this article St. Thomas does not speak of a substantial mode that would be present between the Word that assumes and the humanity that is assumed.

 

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Footnotes

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"God speaks to us without ceasing by his good inspirations."

The Cure D'Ars

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"As the flesh is nourished by food, so is man supported by prayers"

St Augustine

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"A person who rails at God in adversity, suffers without merit; moreover by his lack of resignation he adds to his punishment in the next life and experiences greater disquietude of mind in this life."

St Alphonsus de Liguori

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