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This account helps explain why grace is said to justify sinners. Justification consists not only in the remittance of sins, but in a transmutation whereby our wills are supernaturally directed away from morally deficient ends and towards God. In this way God, by means of his grace, heals our fallen nature, pardons sin, and makes us worthy of eternal life. Now, remission of sin and moral renovation cannot occur apart from the work God himself accomplishes through Christ. Yet such favor was not limited to Christ.

But again, the aim of satisfaction is not to appease God through acts of restitution but to renovate our wills and make possible a right relationship with him Stump, Thus we ought not to look at Christ simply as an instrument by which our sins are wiped clean, but as one whose sacrificial efforts produce in us a genuine love for God and make possible the very union we desire ST III The preceding survey of the Incarnation and the Atonement will undoubtedly raise further questions that we cannot possibly address here.

Instead, this brief survey attempts only a provisional account of how the Incarnation makes atonement for sin and reconciliation with God possible. This section will focus on the doctrine of the Trinity with all the typical caveats implied, of course. Aquinas' definition of the Trinity is in full accord with the orthodox account of what Christians traditionally believe about God. According to that account, God is one. That is, his essence is one of supreme unity and simplicity. By distinct, Aquinas means that the persons of the Trinity are real individuals and not, say, the same individual understood under different descriptions.

Moreover, each of the three persons is identical to the divine essence. That is, each person of the Trinity is equally to God. The doctrine is admittedly confounding. But if it is true , then it should be internally coherent. In fact, Aquinas insists that, although we cannot prove the doctrine through our own demonstrative efforts, we can nevertheless show that this and other doctrines known through the light of faith are not contradictory de Trinitate , 1.

It teaches that Christ was created by God at a point in time and therefore not co-eternal with him. In short, God and Christ are distinct substances. The other heresy, Sabellianism, attempts to preserve divine unity by denying any real distinction in God. Aquinas' account attempts to avoid these heresies by affirming that the persons of the Trinity are distinct without denying the complete unity of the divine essence.

How does Aquinas go about defending the traditional doctrine?


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The challenge, of course, is to show that the claim. In an effort to reconcile 1 and 2 , Aquinas argues that there are relations in God. For example, we find in God the relational notion of paternity which implies fatherhood and filiation which implies sonship ST Ia Paternity and filiation imply different things. Thus if there is paternity and filiation in God, then there must be a real distinction of persons that the divine essence comprises ST Ia The notion of distinction , however, does not contravene the doctrine of simplicity because according to Aquinas we can have a distinction of persons while maintaining divine unity.

This last claim is obviously the troubling one. How can we have real distinction within a being that is perfectly one? The answer to this question requires we look a bit more closely at what Aquinas means by relation.


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The idea of relation goes back at least as far as Aristotle for a good survey of medieval analyses of relations, see Brower, For Aristotle and his commentators, the term relation refers to a property that allies the thing that has it with something else. Thus he speaks of a relation as that which makes something of , than , or to some other thing Aristotle, Categories , Book 7, 6b1.

On the other hand, the notion of relation need not denote a property that allies different substances. It can also refer to distinctions that are internal to a substance. This second construal is the way Aquinas understands the notion of relation as it applies to God. For there is within God a relation of persons, each of which enjoys a characteristic the others do not have.

As we noted before, God the Father has the characteristic of paternity, God the Son has the characteristic of filiation, and so on. These characteristics are unique to each person, thus creating a kind of opposition that connotes real distinction ST Ia Care is required before proceeding here. Each of the aforementioned relations not only inhere in the divine essence, they are identical to it in the sense that each member of the Trinity is identical to God ST Ia From this abbreviated account we see that relation as it exists in God is not, as it is for creatures, an accidental property.

For the relation, being identical to God, does not add to or modify the divine substance in any way. This woefully truncated account of Aquinas' position presents a more detailed articulation of the very claim he needs to explain. Aquinas is aware of the worry. ST Ia Aquinas recognizes that most people will find it difficult to imagine how something can have within itself multiple relations and at the same time be an unqualified unity.

In order to show how one might have a plurality while preserving unity, consider the following analogy. Although the authors do not have Aquinas' account of divine relations in mind when using this analogy, we may cautiously avail ourselves of their insights. If we can think of the lump of bronze and the configuration by which the bronze is a statue as a relation of two things, then we can see that relation does not concern anything that is not identical to the object the bronze statue. Such an account is similar to the one Aquinas has in mind when attempting reconcile 1 and 2.

For although each person of the Trinity is distinct from each other, each person is not distinct from God ST Ia Some readers might object to the use of such analogies. In the present case, the relations that inhere in God are persons , not formally discrete features of an artifact. Moreover, the analogy does not adequately capture the precise nature of the relations as they exist in God. For Aquinas, the divine relations are relations of procession. Aquinas is careful not to suggest that the form of procession mentioned here does not consist in the production of separate beings.

Jesus does not, as Arius taught, proceed from God as a created being. Nor does the Holy Spirit proceed from Father and Son as a creature of both.

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In order to make sense of this idea, Aquinas employs the analogy of understanding, which consists in an interior process, namely, the conceptualization of an object understood and signified by speech Ibid. He refers to this process as intelligible emanation. Intelligible concepts proceed but are not distinct from the agent who conceives them.

This notion is central to Aquinas' account of how Father and Son relate to each other. For the Son does not proceed from the Father as a separate being but as an intelligible conception of God himself. These words may sound cryptic to the casual reader, but Davies helps render them comprehensible. Aquinas' attempt to render the doctrine of the Trinity coherent is controversial and involves complexities not addressed here.

Yet I imagine Aquinas himself would not be surprised by the consternation some readers might express in response to his attempts to illuminate and defend this and other sacred teachings. After all, Aquinas contends that knowledge of the divine nature will, if acquired by our own investigative efforts, be quite feeble SCG IV. And this is why God, in his goodness, must reveal to us things that transcend human reason.

But even once these things are revealed, our understanding of them will not be total or immediate. What is required is a form of intellectual training whereby we gradually come to comprehend that which is difficult to grasp in an untutored state Jenkins: And even those who reach a proper state of intellectual maturation will not be able to comprehend these mysteries fully, which may explain why attempts to clarify and defend these doctrines can produce so much debate.

Yet Aquinas expresses the hope that what we cannot understand completely now will be apprehended more perfectly after this life, when, according to Christian doctrine, we will see God face to face SCG IV. Shawn Floyd Email: sfloyd malone. Aquinas: Philosophical Theology In addition to his moral philosophy , Thomas Aquinas is well-known for his theological writings. The argument is as follows: In the world of sense we find there is an order of efficient causes. For our purposes, it might be helpful to present Aquinas' argument in a more formal way: The world contains instances of efficient causation given.

Nothing can be the efficient cause of itself. So, every efficient cause seems to have a prior cause. But we cannot have an infinite regress of efficient causes. So although this process denies God those traits that are contrary to what we know about him, those denials invariably yield a fairly substantive account of the divine life Other truths necessarily follow from the idea that God is pure actuality. Brain Davies explains this implication of the causal argument in the following way: The conclusion Aquinas draws [from the five ways] is that God is his own existence.

Faith So far, this article has shown how and to what extent human reason can lead to knowledge about God and his nature. What is Faith? Christian Doctrine A closer look at some central Christian doctrines is now in order. Incarnation and Atonement The doctrine of the Incarnation teaches that God literally and in history became human in the person of Jesus Christ.

Trinity This section will focus on the doctrine of the Trinity with all the typical caveats implied, of course.

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The challenge, of course, is to show that the claim 1 the persons of the God-head are really distinct is consistent with the claim that 2 God is one In an effort to reconcile 1 and 2 , Aquinas argues that there are relations in God. References and Further Reading a. Primary Sources Thomas Aquinas, St. Compendium of Theology. Louis MO: B. Herder, Thomas Aquinas, St.

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Questiones de vertitate QDV. Robert W. Mulligan, S. Henry Regnery Company. Summa contra gentiles SCG , vol. Anton Pegis. Charles J. Summa theologiae ST. Fathers of the English Dominican Province. Westminster: Christian Classics. Super Boethium de Trinitate de Trinitate. In Aquinas On Faith and Reason , ed. Stephen Brown. Indianapolis: Hackett Publishing.