"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.

CH14: THE DIVINE PROCESSIONS

1. Generation

Following revelation, particularly as recorded in St. John's prologue, St. Thomas shows that there is in God an intellectual procession, "an intellectual emanation of the intelligible Word from the speaker of that Word." [518]. This procession is not that of effect from cause (Arianism): nor that of one subjective mode from another (Modalism). This procession is immanent in God, but is a real procession, not merely made by our mind, a procession by which the Word has the same nature as has the Father. "That which proceeds intellectually (ad intra) has the very nature of its principle, and the more perfectly it proceeds therefrom the more perfectly it is united to its principle." [519] This is true even of our own created ideas, which become more perfect by being more perfectly united to our intellect. Thus the Word, conceived from eternity by the Father, has no other nature than that of the Father. And the Word is not like our word, accidental, but substantial, because God's act of knowledge is not an accident, but self-subsisting substance.

In Contra Gentes St. Thomas devotes long pages to this argument of appropriateness. The principle is thus formulated: "The higher the nature, the more intimately is its emanation united with it." [520] He illustrates by induction. Plant and animal beget exterior beings which resemble them, whereas human intelligence conceives a word interior to it. Yet this word is but a transient accident of our spirit, where thought follows after thought. In God, the act of understanding is substantial, and if, as revelation says, that act is expressed by Word, that Word must itself be substantial. It must be, not only the idea of God, but God Himself. [521].

Under this form St. Thomas keeps an ancient formula, often appealed to by the Augustinians, in particular by St. Bonaventure. It runs thus: Good is essentially self-diffusive. [522] The greater a good is, the more abundantly and intimately does it communicate itself. [523] The sun spreads light and heat. The plant, the animal, beget others of their kind. The sage communicates wisdom, the saint causes sanctity. Hence God, the infinite summit of all that is good, communicates Himself with infinite abundance and intimacy, not merely a participation in being, life, and intelligence, as when He creates stone, plant, animal, and man, not even a mere participation of His own nature, as when He creates sanctifying grace, but His own infinite and indivisible nature. This infinite self-communication in the procession of the Word reveals the intimacy and fullness of the scriptural sentence: "My Son art Thou, this day I beget Thee." [524].

Further, [525] this procession of the only-begotten [526] Son is rightly called generation. The living thing, born of a living thing, receives a nature like that of its begetter, its generator. In the Deity, the Son receives that same divine nature, not caused, but communicated. Common speech says that our intellect conceives a word. This act of conception is the initial formation of a living thing. But this conception of ours does not become generation, because our word is, not a substance, but an accident, so that, even when a man mentally conceives his own substantial self, that conception is still but an accidental similitude of himself, whereas the divine conception, the divine Word, is substantial, is not merely a similitude of God, but is God. Divine conception, then, is rightly called generation. Intellectual conception, purified from all imperfection, is an "intellectual generation," just as corporeal conception terminates in corporeal generation.

In this argument we have the highest application of the method of analogy. The Word of God, far from being a mere representative similitude of God the Father, is substantial like the Father, is living like the Father, is a person as is the Father, but a person distinct from the Father. [527].

2. Spiration

There is in God a second procession, by the road of love, as love in us proceeds from the knowledge of good. [528] But this second procession is not a generation, [529] because love, in contrast with knowledge, does not make itself like its object, but rather goes out to its object. [530].

These two processions alone are found in God, as in us intelligence and love are the only two forms of our higher spiritual activity. [531] And in God, too, the second procession, spiration, presupposes the first, generation, since love derives from knowledge.

Further on St. Thomas [532] solves some difficulties inherent in St. Augustine's teaching on the divine processions. The three persons, he shows, have in common one and the same essential act of intellect, but it is the Father only who speaks the Word, a Word adequate and hence unique. To illustrate: Of three men faced with a difficult problem, one pronounces the adequate solution, while all three understand that solution perfectly. Similarly the three persons love by the same essential love, but only the Father and the Son breathe (by notional love) the Holy Spirit, who is personal love. [533] Thus love in God, whether essential or notional or personal, is always substantial.

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Footnotes

518-534

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