(Published September 28, 2007)

This old essay was written in my senior year at college. At St. John’s College, students in their senior year write what is called a “senior essay,” something like a college thesis, which they work on for a month and on which they are later examined by a committee of three tutors. This essay was defended publicly on Tuesday, April 7, 1981 at Annapolis in the Prince William Room of what was then Woodward Hall and is now the Barr-Buchanan Graduate Center; the three tutors on the committee were Michael Littleton, Brother Robert Smith, and Scott Stripling, all of them now sadly deceased. I passed the examination. My advisor on the essay was James Carey, then a Catholic, now Orthodox, who still teaches at St. John’s College in Santa Fe.

A lot of what is found in this essay now strikes me as pretentious, and there are various claims in it that I would no longer make. Probably the most important claim the essay makes is that the Filioque issue is resolvable if one understands “from the Son” in terms of final causality — just as a gift is, in one sense, from the giver, but it is also, in a way, from the recipient inasmuch as, without both giver and recipient, there would be no giving, so also the Holy Spirit is, in one sense, from the Father alone, and, in another but legitimate sense, from the Father and the Son. I still think there is something to be said for that view; I have actually seen this theory independently advanced by at least one scholar, a more competent theologian than me. Also, it occurs to me now, though it didn’t at the time, that I wrote this essay on the sixteen-hundredth anniversary of the Council of Constantinople of 381; perhaps some of the saints who wrote the creed were putting in a good word for me.


What Is A Person?

Who hath ascended up into heaven, or descended? who hath gathered the wind in his fists? who hath bound the waters in a garment? who hath established all the ends of the earth? what is his name, and what is his son’s name, if thou canst tell?
Prov 30:4

Our English word “person” comes from the Latin persôna, a word whose earliest known use, in writings of the second century B.C., was to designate a theatrical mask. The etymology of this word is uncertain: some (among them Aquinas) have thought it to be derived from “per + sonare,” meaning “to sound through,” which would point to the use of the mask as a projector of the voice: the problem with this explanation is that it is doubtful whether the short “o” of sonare would have yielded the long “ô” of persôna. Others suggest that it came into Latin from the Etruscan “φersu,” meaning “mask.” Others think it to be related to the Greek word for face, “πρόσωπον,” from προς + ὠψ : “before the eye,” or, “before the face.” The word ὤψ is traced to ΟΠ, the assumed root or primitive of many words related to seeing, including the future, perfect, and first aorist tenses of ὁράω, “to see.” It is worth noticing that for both the aorist and the perfect, ὁράω shows two forms, one having ΟΠ for its root, the other having (Ϝ)ΙΔ, whence we get εἶδον and εἶδος (as well as “vision,” “witness,” and “wisdom”). One might expect this diversity of form to accompany a diversity of meaning. It will be found, I think, that most of the words rooted in (Ϝ)ΙΔ suggest the seenness of what is seen, while words rooted in ΟΠ generally express the whatness of what sees. Note also that both πρόσωπον and ὤψ mean face, but the former means literally a face that is facing. Facing what? Most likely another face. The etymological connection between πρόσωπον and persôna may have its missing link in the instances of πόρσωπον found on papyri from B.C. circa 155.(1) It seems to me that, while one of these sources of persôna may prove to be the principal, the three are not mutually exclusive, and it is conceivable that all of them contributed to the word’s acceptation into the language.

It was not long before persôna took on many derivative meanings. As used by Cicero (106 – 43 B.C.), the word could mean a character in a play or other literary work; or the subject of a portrait; or a person’s role in life, or his personal characteristics; or individual personality; or (in a legal context) a particular individual; or a personage; or, more generally, a person. Through Varro’s study of the Latin language(2) it came to be used to denote the three grammatical persons. By the time of Quintillian (born circa A.D. 35 – 40) it had taken on the meaning also of an assumed character, of pretence; and was used in such special phrases as “in sua persona,” on one’s own behalf, “in persona(m),” in the case or instance (of), and “personae fictio,” personification. It had thus taken on senses both of the reality of man as a specific individual and of the falsity of one who wears a mask. I hope to show that this bifurcation of meaning is not accidental.

The attempt by the early Church to define the Christian faith centered on the two problems of the Trinity and the Incarnation. Both were problems of speaking in appropriate terms (θεοπρέπεις λόγοι) of the eternal God who reveals Himself in time as Creator and Redeemer, who became a man to bring men to Himself, and who Himself moves men towards Him. By “appropriate terms” are meant words which reasonably and accurately express the things believed in, in harmony with the word of God revealed in Holy Scripture and in His Church, for the purpose both of persuading others of the truth of these beliefs and of keeping them whole and unconfused. The possibility of confusion was great: the things believed in were believed to be mysteries, unfathomable to reason — how then could they be rationally expressed? In particular, what sense was to be made of the assertion that by believing Jesus the carpenter’s son to be the Christ, the Son of the living God, by confessing that he died and was resurrected and ascended into heaven, and by following his commandments, we are saved from our sins and given eternal life? Insofar as this asserts a mystery of faith, the sense one could reasonably hope to make of it is not the sense of what is not of faith (as though one were to think it explainable through physical or metaphysical causes), but the sense of what must be taken on faith if the faith is to be held reasonable: the reason of faith is the essence of the faith, upon which its mysteries depend. Now, when someone asserts that Jesus is “the Christ, the Son of the living God,” it is reasonable to ask, whether Jesus is a man or a God, and if the latter, whether he is the same God as his Father, or whether he and his Father in fact differ. The essence of the Christian faith must lie in its answer to the question “Who is Christ?”, and this is found in the doctrines of the Trinity and the Incarnation (or, more truly, in the Trinity and Incarnation themselves), the one which presents a God who is both one and three, the other which presents a person who is both man and God. Both doctrines hang upon the meaning of “person,” and required the word to be newly defined: the intention of this essay is to follow, through certain theological writings, the development of this definition, to question its sufficiency, and to consider in what ways the old definitions of person are illumined by the new.

* * *

In the Bible there are many passages which speak of God as Father and Christ as His Son; there are many passages which speak of God’s Spirit. There are, however, few passages which speak explicitly of the Holy Trinity; none indeed call it by that name. The most direct statement which can be found in the Bible is at 1 John 5:7: “There are three who give testimony in heaven, the Father, the Word, and the Holy Ghost. And these three are one.” At Matthew 28:19, Jesus says, “Teach ye all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost.” In the synoptic gospels (Matt. 3:11-17, Mk. 1:8-12, Lk. 3:21-22) the Trinity is clearly imaged at Christ’s baptism by the descent of the Spirit as a dove and the voice from heaven saying, “This is my well-beloved Son.” Counting passages is however by no means a sure test of scriptural importance. It seems indeed that the Trinity is the key to understanding the Bible as a whole; if this is not self-evident perhaps this is because the Trinity is evidenced only at places of deepest mystery, which however hold the meaning of the rest. But all that is necessary here to note is that, from the beginning of their religion, Christians have believed in a divine three-some of Father, Son, and Holy Ghost.

There was from the first, however, much divergence of opinion (δόξα) as to the nature of this three. Consequently, it was the task of the Church — accomplished less from a love of speculation as from a struggle to exist — to define what opinions or beliefs would be considered orthodox (“right opinion”) and what ones heresy (αἵρεσις, from αἱρέομαι, to choose: “a choosing”; “a school” or “sect”; especially, “a religious sect”).

Some said that the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost, being one God, could not really be three distinct entities, but had to be considered three names or modes of appearance or of activity of one undifferentiated Being. This view came to be known as the Sabellian heresy, after a certain obscure Sabellius who lived early in the third century.

Others said that the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost, being three distinct entities, could not really be one God; and therefore maintained that the Father alone is very God while the Son and Holy Ghost share a certain preëminent likeness to God as being the first of His creatures. This is the Arian heresy, which was propounded early in the fourth century by Arius, a presbyter of Alexandria.

Perhaps it will be objected that in speaking of Arianism and Sabellianism as “heresies” we use as a standard of judgment an orthodoxy which received formulation only through conflict with such views, and that maybe orthodoxy has no better claim to truth than that it survived them. This objection can be met in two ways, according as orthodoxy’s standard of judgment is two-fold, based equally upon scripture and tradition: first, as belief in Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior antedated speculation about his nature, so did orthodoxy’s standard of judgment antedate its more precise formulation: its formulation is the tradition of a Church whose claim to truth is a divine institution and an apostolic succession. Secondly, an opinion merits the name of heresy if it demonstrably contradicts the meaning of scripture. And such is the case with Arianism and Sabellianism.

The formal definition of trinitarian doctrine came about in the fourth century, at the First and Second Ecumenical Councils, viz. Nicaea in 325 and Constantinople in 381. At Nicaea, primarily through the efforts of Saint Athanasius of Alexandria, Arianism was effectually condemned. A creed was drawn up in which the Father and the Son were defined as ὁμοούσιος, “same in substance,” such that if the Son were not confessed to be truly God neither would the Father be. Unless the Son were just as much God as the Father was, His death and resurrection would not avail to bring men to God the Father: unless He were both truly God and truly man He could not be the Mediator between God and men. So the reasoning went; and one must confess that it is sound, at least in expressing the orthodox faith — for there wouldn’t have arisen a faith if it had been thought that God could save sinners from death and Hell without undergoing it Himself.

Many people objected to the word ὁμοούσιος as false or misleading: it could be taken to signify an absolute identity of Father and Son, which is Sabellianism. Some thought ὁμοιούσιος, “of like substance,” an improvement, seeing as the Son is called the “likeness” of His Father: this word however was open to the Arian interpretation of an essential difference between the Father and the Son, therefore of the Son’s being a creature. What was needed was a terminology which would distinguish between that whereby God is three and that by which He is one. Earlier discussions had in fact used the words Three and One for this purpose; but something more elaborate was now required. The word ὑπόστασις (literally, sub-stance) was in most senses synonymous with οὐσία, and like οὐσία had been used to designate God’s unity: but in the writings of the three Cappadocian Fathers, St. Basil of Caesarea, St. Gregory of Nazianzus, and St. Gregory of Nyssa, the word took on the special sense of an individual in God, while οὐσία was restricted to mean the individuals’ common divine nature or essence — what we call Godhead. The word πρόσωπον, in the sense of “person,” was used as a less metaphysical equivalent of ὑπόστασις, but gradually fell into theological disuse among the Greeks. The Cappadocians also upheld the divinity of the Holy Ghost against the Pneumatomachoi (Spirit fighters), and distinguished Him from the Son by virtue of His “procession” from the Father according to John 15:26, as opposed to the Son’s “generation.” These doctrinal developments were embodied in the creed known commonly as the Nicene creed, which came out of Constantinople in 381.(3)

Latin-speaking theologians had considerable difficulty getting used to the terms “ousia” and “hypostasis,” since they were both translated into Latin by the one word “substantia,” substance. In Latin theology “substantia” was used to signify the one Godhead while the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost were called “personae,” persons. The use of personae for the three and substantia for the one first occurs in a treatise by Tertullian, Adversus Praxean (Against Praxeas), written sometime about the turn of the third century. There it seems to be applied on the basis of two analogies. The first is to persona as the legal status of one who own property (substantia): the property in this case is the divine monarchy or empire which, like the Roman Empire, remains one though administered by several persons: as the Roman emperor can delegate imperial authority to his son, while the empire remains their one undivided property, so God should be understood to confer the authority of Godhead upon His Son and Holy Spirit, while the Godhead itself remains one and indivisible (Adv. Prax., ch. 3). The second analogy made is to persona in the sense of the three grammatical persons which point out the relations between speaker, person addressed, and thing spoken of. Tertullian cites passages from the Old Testament and gives them in turn the interpretations of Father speaking of Son (as, My heart hath disgorged a good Word; Ps. 45:1), of Father speaking to the Son (as, Thou art my Son, this day have I begotten Thee; Ps. 2:7), of the Son speaking of the Father (as, The Spirit of the Lord God is upon me; because the Lord hath anointed me to preach good tidings unto the meek; Isa. 61:1), and to the Father, of Himself (as, O God, Thou hast taught me from my youth, and hitherto have I declared Thy wondrous works; Ps. 71:17), finally, of the Spirit speaking (through the prophets) of the Father and the Son (as, The Lord said unto my Lord, Sit thou at my right hand, until I make thine enemies thy footstool; Ps. 110:1). The divine persons are here shown to be distinguished and ordered on the basis or pattern of relations of grammatical persons. As Tertullian says, “he who speaks, and he of whom he speaks, and he to whom he speaks cannot possibly be one and the same” (non posse unum atque eundem videri qui loquitur et de quo loquitur et ad quem loquitur; Adv. Prax. ch. 11. Cf. Varro, de Lingua Latina, 8.20: “cum personarum natura triplex esset, qui loqueretur, ad quem, de quo.”).

In view of the subsequent development of the idea of person in trinitarian doctrine, the fact that the first application of “persona” to God was through an analogy to grammatical relations is well worth keeping in mind. As we shall see, in St. Thomas Aquinas’s treatment of the Trinity, written a thousand years later, a person in God comes to be defined as a relation, subsisting in the divine essence.

Tertullian does not expand on his analogy of divine to grammatical persons: he gives it simply to show that there are three who give testimony in scripture, and that these three are grammatically distinct. Observe that Tertullian does not give examples of Father or Son speaking to the Spirit, or of the Spirit speaking to the Father or the Son: the Spirit bears to the other two the relation of a third person, as never being an I or a Thou; and yet it is the Spirit who “spake by the prophets(4),” apparently even when the prophets were speaking in the person of the Father or the Son. Even more than the other persons, the Holy Ghost poses a special problem for the understanding: He is strictly a person without a name. As St. Augustine says (de Trinitate, bk. 5, ch. 11): “Neither can the Trinity in any wise be called the Son, but it can be called, in its entirety, the Holy Spirit, according to that which is written, ‘God is a Spirit’ (John 4:24); because both the Father is a spirit and the Son is a spirit, and the Father is holy and the Son is holy. Therefore, since the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit are one God, and certainly God is holy, and God is a spirit, the Trinity can be called also the Holy Spirit.” Augustine thinks the name “Gift” more proper to the Holy Ghost, as designating His relation to the Father and the Son, whereby He is known. St. Thomas (Summa Theologiae, Ia. 36, 1, reply obj. 1: “Whether this name, ‘Holy Ghost,’ is the proper name of a divine person?”) says that the expression “Holy Spirit” can be taken two ways: either as two words or as one. In the first way, the word “Holy” is adjectival to the subject “Spirit,” and the Spirit spoken of can be the Trinity itself; in the latter way, the expression “Holy Spirit” is “accommodated,” in the usage of the Church, to one of the divine persons — accommodated, because “the person proceeding in that manner (sc. of love) has not a proper name.”

St. Augustine’s treatise de Trinitate, “On the Trinity,” in fifteen books, was written “in order to guard against the sophistries of those who disdain to begin with faith, and are deceived by a crude and perverse love of reason” (bk. 1, ch. 1); also, as he says (I, 5, §8), for his own edification. It may be seen to fall into two general sections: the first, composed of books one through seven, expounds the doctrine of the Holy Trinity proper, books one through four by way of exegesis of scripture, books five through seven by treating of the Trinity as a problem of reason; the second section, which extends from book eight to the end, seeks to make the doctrine more comprehensible by finding analogous trinities in man, on the authority of God’s statement in Genesis 1:26, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness.” The most important of these trinities, the one which seems most perfectly to image the Holy Trinity, is the trinity of memory, understanding, and will, which together form what St. Augustine calls the human mind. The treatise thus approaches the question of the meaning of person from two directions, viz. revelation and experience, in the belief that the two complement and illumine each other.(5) It is necessary for us to ask, however, to what extent the illumination is genuine: in particular, whether the analysis of the Holy Trinity does not presuppose its human reflection. This question is the more urgent in view of the overwhelming influence which this treatise had upon subsequent Latin theologizing, and thus in the millennial feud between the Western and Eastern churches over the question of the procession of the Holy Spirit, one of the central articles of the faith. Also, because the resolution of the matter would seem to lie in a better understanding of the meaning of “person.”

After having demonstrated the scriptural basis of the dogma of the Trinity, St. Augustine proceeds in book five to consider the rational objections to it. He begins by saying that God is a substance or essence, indeed the truest essence insofar as “essentia” derives from “esse,” to be, and God alone is HE WHO IS (Ex. 3:14). The accidental, on the other hand, is that which is subject to change; thus there can be no accidents in God, for HE WHO IS is eternal and unchanging — and yet not everything predicated of God is predicated according to substance. For although in things which come to be and pass away, a relation of one thing to another is accidental to both, since it too is subject to change, in God a relation of one thing to another cannot be accidental, because it is eternal; neither however can it be substantial, because whatever is said according to substance is said in relation to self, and the relation of one person to another in the Godhead is not a relation of One to Oneself (for this would seem to be Sabellianism), but a relation of one Self to another. The Father is called Father because He has a Son, and the Son is a Son because He has a Father, but the Father is not the Son nor the Son the Father. Having differs from being. “Although to be the Father and the Son is different,” says St. Augustine (bk. 5, ch.5), “yet their substance is not different; because they are so called, not according to substance, but according to relation: which relation, however, is not accident, because it is not changeable.”

If the names Father, Son, and Holy Ghost are given according to the relations which the persons so named bear to each other, and only according to their relations, two things appear to follow. The first is that the plurality of persons does not entail a plurality of essences. Since the persons receive the personal names only with respect to each other, while each with respect to Himself has the same essence, the essence itself, what it is to be God, is not multiplied. But God and what it is to be God are the same thing. Thus one does not say that there are three Gods, although the Father is God, and the Son is God, and the Holy Ghost is God: for they are all the same God, though not the same person. Rather one says that God is one. “What” God is is one essence, “Who” God is is three persons. “Whatever is spoken of God in respect of Himself, is both spoken singly of each person, that is, of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit; and together of the Trinity itself, not plurally but in the singular. For inasmuch as to God it is not one thing to be, and another to be great, but to Him it is the same thing to be as it is to be great; therefore, as we do not say three essences, so we do not say three greatnesses, but one essence and one greatness” (bk. 5, ch. 8).

The second consequence of identifying personhood with relationship is, that the divine relations must be clearly distinguished if we are to distinguish the divine persons. Just as in order to escape the Arian heresy one must assert the unity of essence of the three persons, so in order to avoid Sabellianism one must state that wherein the three are distinct. The relation between Father and Son, at least, would seem to be evident in their very names: the Father is not the Son, for thus He would have to be the Father of Himself: but He is what the Son is, namely God. The relation of the Father and the Son would seem to be precisely the relation between a Father and a Son. A father is the father of a son, through having either begotten or adopted him. As begotten, “son” is said in its proper sense as meaning one who has a natural connection with his father, both as being directly from his substance and as reflecting his father in his nature: in the sense of being adopted, a “son” is treated by his father as a natural son would be, while having with his father no other natural tie than their common humanity. The same holds in speaking of God and creatures: the Father and the Son are of the same nature, the Son’s nature is from the Father, and the Son is the image of the Father, “the express image of his person” (Hebrews 1:3). And those creatures who are treated by the Father in the same way as He treats His Son, that is, to whom He gives the same love, are also called the sons of God, as is written in the Gospel according to St. John, ch. 1 verse 12: “But as many as received him, to them gave he power to become the sons of God, even to them that believe on his name: Which were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God.” (Cf. John, ch. 3.) Augustine sees such sons to be sons of God not by nature (even though, in becoming sons of God, they are born of God) but by adoption. If in being born of God one were to partake of the divine nature (cf. 2 Peter 1:4) in such a way as to destroy or overcome all distinction between creator and creature — so as no longer to partake of it, but to be it — then either one would no longer exist as a separate hypostasis, or, being a separate hypostasis, one would no longer be a creature. One is created, one is who one is: hypostases, both divine and creaturely, are incommunicable, and the communicability of the divine nature does not extend to the point of the unintelligible: that of created being becoming uncreated. Rather the partaking is like that of a man who partakes of wine, but does not become wine, or of bread, but doesn’t become bread: he remains who he is while what he partakes of transforms him. (Cf. John 6:48-56.) At its highest level this transforming is a transfiguration which comes only to the blessed: they share in God’s nature through knowing or seeing Him, yet they remain themselves. (Cf. 2 Cor. 3:18.) “Hence,” says St. Augustine, “in so far as we know God, we are like Him to the extent of His own being.” (de Trin. IX. 11.) The question of the communicability of the divine nature has to be seen in the light of the Holy Trinity which has been revealed to us as His nature, and in the light of creation and redemption, which reveal our own nature.

The relation of the Father and the Son being seen by way of analogy to human fathers and sons, it remains to consider how they are related to the Holy Ghost. The name “Holy Ghost” would not seem primarily to indicate a relation. A man gives up the ghost, he expires — what is this but to say that he’s dead, and that the ghost he’s breathing out has no relation to its source as to a living being, but as to a corpse: the spirit is itself the living thing in itself. But “the Father hath life in himself; so hath he given to the Son to have life in himself” (John 5:26). Thus the relation of Spirit to source is not that of a ghost to its corpse. Yet it is like it at least to the extent that it is an expiration. As we have observed, in defending the Christian faith against the Arians the Cappadocian fathers distinguished between the hypostases of the Son and Holy Spirit on the basis of their different modes of origin from the Father, the one by way of generation, the other by procession, according to John ch. 15 verse 26: “But when the Comforter is come, whom I will send unto you from the Father, even the Spirit of truth, which proceedeth from the Father, he shall testify of me.” (ὅταν ἔλθῃ ὁ παράκλητος ὃν ἐγὼ πέμψω ὑμῖν παρὰ τοῦ πατρὸς, τὸ πνεῦμα τῆς ἀληθείας ὃ παρὰ τοῦ πατρὸς ἐκπορεύεται, ἐκεῖνος μαρτυρήσει περὶ ἐμοῦ.) In John ch. 20, Jesus sends the Holy Ghost by breathing on his disciples: “Then said Jesus to them again, Peace be unto you: as my Father hath sent me, even so send I you. And when he had said this, he breathed (ἐνεφύσησεν) on them, and saith unto them, Receive ye the Holy Ghost.” (John 20:21,22.) One way in which the Cappadocians distinguished between these two modes of origin was to consider the difference between the way a word proceeds from the mouth of one who speaks and the way a breath accompanies it. The breath is not the word, but accompanies and manifests it. Generally, however, it was their belief that the truth of the difference between generation and procession is sufficiently attested by the fact that scripture reveals it, and that what generation and procession are in themselves, outside of time, is not given to human beings to understand. “What, then, is procession?” asks St. Gregory of Nazianzus (Oration 31, §8). “Do you tell me what is the unbegottenness of the Father, and I will tell explain to you the physiology of the generation of the Son and the procession of the Spirit, and we shall both of us be frenzy-stricken for prying into the mystery of God.” On the other hand, later in the same oration he says the following: “What then, say they, is there lacking to the Spirit which prevents his being a Son, for if there were not something lacking he would be a Son? We assert that there is nothing lacking — for God has no deficiency. But the difference of manifestation, if I may so express myself, or rather of their mutual relations one to another, has caused the difference of their names.” He says the same thing in oration 29, §16: “‘Father’ is not a name either of an essence or of an action. … It is the name of the relation in which the Father stands to the Son, and the Son to the Father. For as with us these names make known a genuine and intimate relation, so in the case before us too they denote an identity of nature between him that is begotten and him that begets.” Thus the Greek Fathers (at least that Father who has gained the epithet of “the Theologian”) would seem to acknowledge that the distinction between the Son and the Holy Spirit, even as a thing to be taken on faith, is possible only on the assumption of a relation between the Son and the Holy Ghost. To their thinking, however, it is important to observe the difference between supposing a relation and defining it. The latter, they would say, is not essential to the faith, and, if based on anything besides God’s word revealed in Holy Writ, it risks being a perversion of the faith. If God does not tell us how the Son and Holy Ghost are related from all eternity, it is none of our business to try to figure it out.

On the other hand, St. Augustine would say, if God seems not to be telling us how the Son and Holy Ghost are related from all eternity, perhaps it is only because we haven’t tried hard enough to figure out what He has told us. It is for the sake of this figuring out, of finding a way of better reflecting upon God’s word, that St. Augustine, after his discussion of the logical problems involved in confessing three persons in one essence, begins immediately to seek for images of the Trinity in man — not so that his speculation on them should form the basis of his conclusions about relations in the Godhead, but so that a better understanding of the human being should bring the hidden meaning of the scriptures to light. Thus, after his discussion of trinities in man, he returns in the fifteenth book to treat the question of the procession of the Holy Ghost, with the important addition of having seen man’s highest natural trinity to lie in memory, understanding, and will. This leads him to inquire whether one name of the Holy Ghost to be found in Holy Scripture is not Love.

In chapter four of the First Epistle of John it is stated two times that “God is love.” St. Augustine asks in book nine of de Trinitate whether this name “Love” is to be considered as belonging to one of the persons especially or to the Trinity as a whole. This leads him to seek an image of the Trinity in human love. In love there are three things concerned — he who loves, that which is loved, and love. “But what,” asks St. Augustine, “if I love none except myself? Will there not then be two things — that which I love, and love? For he who loves and that which is loved are the same when any loves himself; just as to love and to be loved, in the same way, is the very same thing when any one loves himself…. Let us treat of the mind alone. But what is to love one’s self, except to wish to help one’s self to the enjoyment of self? And when any one wishes to be just as much as he is, then the will is on a par with the mind, and the love is equal to him who loves.” Up to this point St. Augustine has been working to the conclusion that, in perfect self-love, mind and love are two equal things, just as any two divine persons are equal. He goes on now to show that they correspond to divine persons also with respect to their relations and their essence. “If love is a substance, it is certainly not body, but spirit; and the mind also is not body, but spirit. Yet mind and love are not two spirits, but one spirit; nor yet two essences, but one: and yet here are two things that are one, he that loves and love; or, if you like so to put it, that which is loved and love. And these two, indeed, are mutually said relatively, since he who loves is referred to love, and love to him who loves…. But mind and spirit are not said relatively, but express essence…. Insofar as [he that loves and love] are mutually referred to one another, they are two, but whereas they are spoken in respect to themselves, each are spirit, and both together are also one spirit; and each are mind, and both together one mind. Where then is the trinity?” We see then that there is a likeness to the relation of person to person in the Trinity in the relation of love to that which loves (or, to that which is loved: whether in self-love the lover and beloved are the same, or in what sense they are the same, remains to be seen); there is moreover a likeness to the persons’ identity of Godhead in the identical self-relation of love and that which loves — for in respect to themselves, both love and that which loves are spirit. (The word “spirit” (πνεῦμα) itself seems to have undergone a strange transvaluation with the coming of Christ. Formerly if one were to speak of that which is noblest or transcendent about a human being, one would speak of his “soul,” as opposed generally to his “body.” And likewise with “spirit” there is generally an opposition made to “flesh.” But “body” and “flesh,” “soul” and “spirit,” do not appear to signify the same things. Whereas the soul is, according to Aristotle, the form or actuality of a living thing qua living, and its body is accordingly either its matter or potentiality qua living, or its form or actuality qua non-living, the spirit is rather an immediate existence that comprehends both soul and body, and yet is neither. In the New Testament it comes to mean a subsisting will. For what more palpable and immediate source of life is there than breathing? yet breathing is also a matter of choice. But its very immediacy also gave it the sense of what is most ephemeral: the expression “Man is a spirit” could be an expression of despair, equivalent to calling him a vapor. “Therefore I hated life; because the work that is wrought under the sun is grievous unto me: for all is vanity and vexation of spirit.” (In the Anchor Bible this is translated as “a chasing after wind.”) “The wind goeth toward the south, and turneth about unto the north; it whirleth about continually, and the wind returneth again according to his circuits.” (Ecclesiastes 2:17, 1:6. Cf. Wisd. 2:1-3.) Jesus says the same thing about its immediacy, “The wind bloweth where it listeth, and thou hearest the sound thereof, but canst not tell whence it cometh, and whither it goeth: so is every one that is born of the Spirit.” But he also says that “God is a Spirit: and they that worship him must worship him in spirit and in truth.” (John 3:8, 4:24.))

After finding a certain resemblance to the Trinity in the mind that loves itself, St. Augustine examines a mind that knows itself, “For the mind cannot love itself, except it also know itself; for how can it love what it does not know?” (bk. 9, ch. 3.) And, finding that the mind knows itself through itself, not through experience of other minds (“for whence does a mind know another mind, if it does not know itself?” ibid.), he concludes that “as there are two things (duo quaedam), the mind and the love of it, when it loves itself; so there are two things, the mind and the knowledge of it, when it knows itself. Therefore the mind itself, and the love of it, and the knowledge of it, are three things (tria quaedam), and these three are one; and when they are perfect they are equal.” (bk. 9, ch. 4.) Here the image of the Trinity is made complete: mind, knowledge, and love are each spoken of in relation to each other, and each in relation to itself is of the same essence. Also they correspond to the Trinity in content, for mind, in being the source of all activity of mind, resembles the Father as the source of Godhead, and knowledge, being generated in the mind in the form of a word, resembles the Son, while love, which joins the word of the mind to the knower (for, says Augustine, one does not love what one does not know), resembles the Holy Ghost.

Although St. Augustine goes on to find other trinities in man, and restates this trinity as something found not only in the mind’s acts of knowing and loving, but in its subsisting faculties of memory, understanding, and will, which constitute it, yet it is essentially this image of the word and love proceeding in the mind of one who knows and loves that is taken up by later writers, such as Sts. Anselm and Thomas Aquinas, as the basis of their expositions of the Trinity, and its incorporated into the Western Christian tradition as the Catholic understanding of the revealed nature of God.

St. Augustine does not claim to have found a perfect image of the Trinity in memory, understanding, and will, however. For while one man can be said to have memory, understanding, and will, these three faculties do not make him three persons; nor again do they constitute one whole human person, for the human person is also essentially possessed of body. But “in the Highest Trinity itself, of which this is an image, these three belong to one God, but they are one God, and these three are three persons, not one.” (bk. 15, ch. 23.) Neither are the memory, understanding, and will found to be, in most people, of equal strength, but in some the will predominates, in others the memory, in others the understanding: it is in fact only through the Holy Spirit’s dwelling in a man, as in a temple (vide 1 Cor. 6:19, “What? know ye not that your body is the temple of the Holy Ghost which is in you?”), and working in a man His sanctification, that the faculties of memory, understanding, and will are set in harmony. For sin has set these faculties against each other, so that one remembers some things against one’s will, or wills not to remember or to understand, or understands but fails to will or to remember. It may be asked, whether there is any act which so demands an equal participation of memory, understanding, and will, as does an act of faith, which combines the recollection of one’s sins with an understanding of their consequences and cure and a will to renounce them and be saved. Thus by a constant faith the memory, understanding, and will are brought into harmony, and receive the spiritual gifts of faith, hope, and charity respectively. (Cf. 1 Cor. 13:13.) Faith accord especially with the memory, not as being an isolated act, but as the continuity and disposition of having trust in one’s Creator. Hope is a gift to the understanding, as being an active desire for what is understood to be worth having. Charity, which is the greatest of these, is a gift to the will, as a sublimation of the self-love by the love of Christ, whom one finds in one’s self by looking for in others. But as the love of Christ is nothing else than the Holy Spirit, it is fitting that charity be called “the greatest of these”: for what in the cases of faith and hope is an image of a divine person, is in the case of charity the divine person Himself.

For, as St. Augustine shows in book fifteen, chapter seventeen, in an exegesis of chapter four of the first epistle of John, the name “Love” or “Charity” belongs especially to the Holy Ghost. In this chapter, which seems to be devoted entirely to the subject of love, John says both that “love is of God” (v. 7) and that “God is love” (v. 8); therefore, concludes St. Augustine, the God who is love must be God of God: that is, either the Son or the Holy Ghost, since both persons are from the Father. But in what follows, after the apostle has told us that “If we love one another, God dwelleth in us, and his love is perfected in us,” he immediately says, “Hereby we know that we dwell in him, and he in us, because he hath given us of his Spirit.” “Therefore,” says St. Augustine, “the Holy Spirit, of whom He hath given us, makes us to abide in God, and Him in us; and this it is that love does. Therefore He is the God that is love.” Also because St. John then repeats the statement that “God is love” (v. 16), and adds, as though for good measure, that “he that dwelleth in love dwelleth in God, and God in him”; thereby referring us again to verses twelve and thirteen, where it was said that God dwelleth in us, and that we know that He does, “because He hath given us of His Spirit.” We know God is in us because we know the Holy Spirit is in us, and we know that God is in us if love is in us, therefore we know that the Holy Spirit is love. Therefore we may say that the love that is in us is the God in us who has been given to us by God through His love for us, that is to say, through Himself. Yet our love is also for God, as it is written, “We love him, because he first loved us.” (1 John 4:19.) What should we say, then? that through Himself God loved us, and that through us God loves Himself?

What St. Augustine says is rather that God’s love is a love of the Father for the Son, and of the Son for the Father, that is, since God’s love is the Holy Spirit, that the Holy Spirit proceeds from the Father and the Son: and that this procession is eternal, and in no way dependent on us.

In support of this, St. Augustine cites Jesus’ words: “But when the Comforter is come, whom I will send unto you from the Father, even the Spirit of truth, which proceedeth from the Father, he shall testify of me;” and “the Comforter, which is the Holy Ghost, whom the Father will send in my name, he shall teach you all things, and bring all things to your remembrance, whatsoever I have told unto you,” and “Receive ye the Holy Ghost.” (John 15:26, 14:26, 20:22.) This is to show that the Holy Ghost proceeds also from the Son, since He is sent by the Son, and by the Father in the name of the Son, and is actually breathed forth by the Son upon His disciples. Yet, while these passages show that the Son sends the Holy Ghost in time to us, they do not reveal that the Holy Ghost proceeds from the Son eternally, as the love of the Son for the Father. The love of Father and Son is expressed in Proverbs thus, in the person of Wisdom (commonly interpreted by Christians as the eternal Son): “Then I was by him, as one brought us with him: and I was daily his delight, rejoicing always before him;” which Jonathan Edwards(6) takes to imply a loving of the Father in return: but the text continues: “Rejoicing in the habitable part of his earth; and my delights were with the sons of men.” (Prov. 8:30-31.) The temporal sending of the Spirit by the Son, for the sake of man’s redemption (or, as the Greek Fathers do not shrink from saying, his deification), is well attested in scripture, as are the love of the Father for the Son, and of Jesus for his disciples, and of Wisdom for her children: but an eternal proceeding of the Spirit from the Son, whether towards the Father or towards creatures, is nowhere expressed. What then justifies one’s saying that the Holy Spirit proceeds from the Father and from the Son?

According to St. Thomas Aquinas, it is necessary to say that the Holy Ghost proceeds from both the Father and the Son, as from a single principle. (Summa Theologica, Ia. 36, 4.) For otherwise one would not be able to distinguish the person of the Holy Ghost from that of the Son. For as that which distinguishes one divine person from another is a relation of opposition between them (Ia. 28, 3), there must be such a relation of opposition between the Holy Ghost and the Son. Now, opposition in God cannot be based on differences of quantity, or on having and not having, but can only be of an active principle to a passive (as, the Father begets, the Son is begotten), and the only activity that is intrinsic to God, not directed outwards as toward creatures, is the procession of a person from His origin. (S.T. Ia. 28, 4.) But scripture reveals to us two such processions, that of the Son, which is called generation, and that of the Holy Spirit, which has no specific name: we conceive of these processions upon analogy to the processions of the word and of love in the intellect and will, for these are the only processions we know of that likewise remain wholly within their agent. Both the Son and the Holy Spirit are from the Father, therefore in respect of proceeding from the Father they are not opposed. “Therefore,” says St. Thomas Aquinas (Summa Contra Gentiles, bk. 4, ch. 24), “if the Holy Ghost is distinct from the Son, He must proceed from Him: since it cannot be said that the Son proceeds from the Holy Ghost, because the Holy Ghost is the Spirit of the Son, and is given by Him.”

St. Thomas’s treatment in the Summa Theologica of the doctrine of the Holy Trinity comprises questions 27 through 43 of the First Part. It immediately follows the natural theology developed in questions 1 through 26, and forms the groundwork for the rest of his revealed theology. Questions 27 through 32 treat of the scriptural and metaphysical bases for distinguishing the three persons and establish a terminology; questions 33 through 38 treat of the persons and their relations individually; questions 39 through 42 deal with logical problems involved in comparing the persons to each other, to their common essence, and to those properties and acts by which they are known; finally, question 43 treats of the mission of the divine persons, that is, of their visible and invisible ingression into the created world — and this forms a natural bridge from the discussion of the Trinity to the next section of the Summa, the Treatise on Creation. In speaking here of St. Thomas’s trinitarian doctrine, we shall concentrate on the questions of the meaning of “person” and of the procession of the Holy Ghost.

For St. Thomas, all that we know of the divine persons as really distinguished from one another rests on their “processions.” The word “procession” (processio) is held by St. Thomas to be “the most common among all [words] that denote origin of any kind.” (Ia. 36, 2.) In respect to God, therefore, it carries “both an eternal and a temporal signification: for the Son has proceeded eternally as God. But He may proceed temporally, to become man as well, according to His invisible mission.” (Ia. 43, 2.) Procession “always supposes action” (Ia. 27, 1), which action can be either outward (ad extra), as an act performed upon external matter, or inward (ad intra), as an act remaining within the agent. The Arian and Sabellian heretics supposed procession to be, like creation, an act ad extra; the former taking it for an effect proceeding from its cause, the latter, for a cause proceeding to its effect. As the faith teaches, however, a Trinity of three who are each truly God, and are truly one God, and yet are truly three, it is necessary to take procession to mean an act ad intra, capable of rendering an individual agent interiorly plural: the most obvious example is that of the intellect which forms a conception or a “word of the heart,” as something both distinct from itself and inseparably within itself. In God the corresponding procession is called “generation”: for it is the procession of the Word or Son from the Father. Curiously enough, having shown that scripture reveals a generation in God, St. Thomas next demonstrates the necessity of another procession, the procession of love (Ia. 27, 3: Whether any other procession exists in God besides that of the word?). For in an intellectual nature there are two inward actions, that of the intellect and that of the will. But God’s nature is intellectual. Therefore we must assume that there exists in God another procession, that of love, “Whereby the object loved is in the one who loves” (ibid.). Given the analogy to human knowing, the generation of the Word by the Father suffices to show the existence of the Spirit, or Love. Also we must suppose that the procession of word precedes in some way that of love, “since nothing can be loved by the will unless it is conceived in the intellect.” (ibid., ad 3.)

One may question here the legitimacy of St. Thomas’s mode of argument. For if in speaking of the Trinity we have passed beyond natural theology, and are dealing with truths of revelation, it is not clear what place an analogy to creatures can have in establishing the truth or falsity of a given article of faith. The word and love in an intellectual nature, which St. Thomas takes as a starting point for his discussion of God’s persons, are precisely those things which St. Augustine had found as only an imperfect image of the three who are revealed as God. St. Thomas would reply that the image is imperfect only in that, in human beings, what emanate as word and love are not self-subsisting persons: as processions, however, they correspond remarkably to what is revealed of the processions of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. For it is “in this sense,” the sense of an “intelligible emanation,” that “the Catholic Faith understands procession as existing in God.” (Ia. 27, 1.) Nevertheless, we shall have to look circumspectly to see if this analogy becomes the basis of something not expressly revealed to us, that the Holy Spirit proceeds from the Father and the Son (Filioque) eternally, as from a single principle.

From either of the processions called “generation” and “procession” we distinguish two relations, the relation of a source to that which proceeds from it, and the relation of what proceeds to its source. “Relation in its own proper meaning signifies only what refers to another.” (Ia. 28, 1: cf. Aristotle, Categories, ch. 7, 6a35.) It is the only one of the ten categories that can contain something found not in reality but in thought only: that is, logical relations, resulting from the comparison of one thing to another, as e.g. a species to its genus. But where the reference of one thing to another is found also in the nature of the things, there is “real relation,” “as, in a heavy body is found an inclination and order to the center of the universe.” (ibid. The illustration of the natural by the falling of a stone is an important image in the Summa Theologica: it reappears in connection with the will. [IaIIae. 6, 1: Whether there is anything voluntary in human acts?] In the same way that the stone drops naturally to the ground from an inner inclination to the center of the universe, so the rational creature wills naturally from an inner inclination to the universal good. In both rational and irrational creatures, the natural is found not in the abstracted universal law, but in a real relation, an inherent referencing to another, whose principle lies within themselves. Note however that in the cases both of the stone and of the rational creature, taken universally, there is a referencing to a particular being having universal reference: for the stone a particular place, for the rational creature a particular person.) Now, in divine procession what proceeds is of the same nature as that whence it proceeds, and the two “communicate in the same order.” Procession is a natural ordering of things of the same nature, and the relations it establishes are therefore real. These relations cannot then be mere names or modes of appearance of an undifferentiated being, as the Sabellians thought: they are in fact the true source of real differentiation in God.

After showing that relations in God are real, St. Thomas proceeds in article two of question 28 to inquire “whether relation in God is the same as His essence?” (utrum relatio in Deo sit idem quod sua essentia). This is perhaps the crucial step in Aquinas’s treatise on the Trinity. It is crucial not only for the prosecution of his argument, but also in that it removes, or would seem to remove, the crux that the Trinity had always represented for reason — the paradox that three should equal one. It is also a crossing of the ways between Western and Eastern Christianity, for among the Eastern Orthodox the Blessed and Life-Giving Trinity has always been revered as the deepest of mysteries — for them, indeed, the word “theology” means specifically the mystery of the Trinity. Although for the Orthodox the whole kataphatic tenor of St. Thomas’s theology is suspect (cf. S.T. Ia. 13, 1-3), in no place is it as suspect as here. We shall proceed through this article slowly.

Here, as in the previous article, the argument starts with an elucidation of the peculiar place of “relation” amidst the categories. The ten categories of simple forms of thought can be grouped into one category of substance and nine categories of accident. “In each of the nine genera of accidents there are two things to be considered.” An accident can be taken on the one hand as accident, and in this respect accidents of all nine genera are alike, since whatever kind of accident you have, its nature is to be an accident, that is, to depend on and inhere in something else, its subject. On the other hand, different genera of accidents betoken different relations to subjects. Accidents other than relation all refer directly to the subject in which they inhere: their genera are likewise defined through reference to a subject, “for quantity is called the measure of substance, and quality is the disposition of substance.” “But the true notion of relation is not taken from its respect to that in which it is, but from its respect to something outside.” Among accidents, only relations refer not to the subject in which they inhere, but to some other. For instance, in the sentence, “John is younger than his father,” the words “younger than” point not to John but to his father: yet the relation “younger-than-his-father” inheres in John as the subject of the predication. It would be otherwise if one said “John is ill” or “John is sitting,” for besides inhering in John as a subject both “ill” and “sitting” refer to John alone, the one as John’s quality, the other as his position. Relations, then, qua relation, are said to be “assistant” or “extrinsically affixed,” for they receive their application to the subject from something other than itself. But, qua accident, a relation belongs wholly to that subject in which it inheres. Thus, it belongs just as much to John to be younger than his father as it does to be ill.

Now, Gilbert de la Porrée (1076-1154, a scholastic theologian and commentator on Boethius) erred, says Thomas Aquinas, in supposing the divine relations to be only “extrinsically affixed” to the divine essence, and in thence concluding that relation and essence in God are different. He should have considered that, as an accident, a relation also adheres wholly in its subject. For “God is truly and absolutely simple” (Deus vere et summe simplex est; S.T. Ia. 3, 7; cf. Aug. de Trin., VI, 6). Therefore whatever is spoken of God is said of Him according to substance, even though it be spoken of creatures accidentally: as, if one says “God is wise,” one does not mean that “to be wise” adheres in His as in a subject, as it does in Socrates or Solomon, but that “to be God” and “to be wise” are one and the same thing — though one must subjoin that “wise” is not spoken univocally of God and creatures so as to make every wise man God. If then all things are predicated of God substantially, relations are predicated of Him substantially, so that to be God and to be such and such a relation in God are one and the same thing. “So,” says St. Thomas, “insofar as relation has an accidental being in creatures, relation really existing in God has the being of the divine essence in no way distinct therefrom. But insofar as relation implies respect to something else, no respect to the essence is signified, but rather to its opposite term.”

Perhaps the significance of this will become clearer if we recall what was said earlier, that for St. Thomas a divine person is a divine relation, subsisting in the Godhead. If this is so, and we have just shown that in God, to be a relation is to be Himself, then it would seem that we have solved the mystery of the three and one; all that remains for us to do is to see what relations co-subsist in the Godhead, and how they get to be there.

It was said above that the two processions of generation and procession each yield two relations, one, the relation of the source of procession to the person who proceeds, the other, the relation of the proceeding person to His source. St. Thomas gives them respectively as paternity and filiation (for generation) and spiration and procession (for procession. Observe that Aquinas uses the word in at least three technical senses). But here we find four relations. Why then not four persons?

In question 29 St. Thomas considers the definition of “person,” both in its generic sense and as specifically applied to God. He starts by asking whether the definition given by Boethius is sufficient — that “a person is an individual substance of a rational nature” (persona est rationalis naturae individu substantia; Boet. de Duab. Nat., III; PL 64, 1343). First he remarks that the individual is substance in a special, primordial sense. It is what Aristotle calls “first substance” (πρώτη οὐσία), “that which is neither present in a subject nor predicable of a subject.” (Categ. ch. 5.) When one sees a horse and says of it, “This is a lazy horse,” one does not mean that the horse is predicable of something, as “horse” is of him; nor that he is present in something, as “laziness” is in him — it may well be that the horse is in a stable, but not in such a manner as to remove the stable if you take away the horse. (cf. Categ. ch. 2, 1a24.) “Horse” is called a “second substance” or “species,” “laziness” is an accident of substance; but if one is to say “this horse” or “this laziness” one requires an individual or first substance to individuate one’s horse or laziness. “For substance is individuated through itself, whereas the accidents are individuated by the subject, which is the substance.” (S.T. Ia. 29, 1.) Therefore, says St. Thomas, as the individual is primordially self-subsistent, it is fittingly called first substance, or “hypostasis.”

But among individuals there are some which self-subsist in a special way. For as individuals act, and as every action is attributed to some individual thing, it is a more perfect self-subsistence for a thing to act of itself, that is, that an act be attributed wholly to one thing, than that the act of a thing should be finally attributable to something else: and such final, self-sufficient causality is the nature of rational substances alone. “Therefore, individuals of a rational nature have a special name among other substances; and this name is ‘person'” (ibid.). A person is an ultimate term in the attribution of causes, because it acts freely: because the principle of its acting — reason — lies within itself. It is therefore also ultimately individual: its existence, says Richard of St. Victor (cf. S.T. Ia. 29, 3, ad 4), is incommunicable — not like the individual wax which becomes an individual candle which becomes individual smoke. A person cannot cease to be a person, and cannot cease to be that particular person that he is.

According to St. Thomas, men, angels, and God are all persons, but are individuated in different ways. Human beings are “composite substances,” composed of matter and form; since the form “man” is universal, the particular nature of each man comes about through the matter to which the human form is joined: matter is, for man and for creatures generally, the principle of individuation. What gives actuality to creatures is God’s act of creation by which matter is united to form: on this point St. Thomas differs from Aristotle, who held form itself to be actuality. (Cf. On Being and Essence, ch. 2. St. Thomas’s theory gets considerably more complicated when attention is given to the interaction of form and matter to yield individual living forms, or “souls,” and we cannot pursue it any further here; it should be remarked, however, that the difference between Aristotle’s and Aquinas’s conceptions of actuality is precisely that difference which obtained between soul and spirit with the coming of Christ; see above, p. 9.) Angels, or “intelligences,” having no admixture of matter, can be distinguished only by differences of form, for God is supremely simple and is properly speaking above species and genus. Thus “distinction in God is only by relation of origin. But relation in God is not as an accident in a subject, but is the divine essence itself; and so it is subsistent, for the divine essence is subsistent. Therefore, as the Godhead is God, so the divine paternity is God the Father, Who is a divine person. Therefore a divine person signifies a relation as subsisting.” (S.T. Ia. 29, 4.)

To distinguish between persons in God we need to know how they are relatively opposed. Not relation simply establishes otherness, but relation of opposition, which in God means relation of origin. Through paternity, that is, through Himself, the Father is opposed to the Son; through filiation, that is, through Himself, the Son is opposed to the Father. Opposition here does not mean antagonism, but simply an opposition as of terms, as in the phrase “A, as opposed to B.” Now, in the Bible we read that the Spirit proceeds from the Father. Let us assume that He proceeds from the Father alone. Then there will be a relation by which the Father is opposed to the Spirit — call it “spiration” — and another relation, “procession,” by which the Spirit is opposed to the Father. The relation of paternity is not opposed to the relation of spiration, and therefore both can inhere in the one person of the Father — indeed they must inhere together in one person, as they are not mutually opposed. (And this is why, according to Aquinas, the four relations determine only three persons.) But neither is the relation of filiation opposed to the relation of spiration, and nothing prevents their inhering in one person. There must then be a relation of opposition between the Son and Spirit if we are to distinguish between them, and the only way relations of opposition arise in Godhead is by procession. Therefore either the Son proceeds from the Holy Spirit or the Holy Spirit proceeds from the Son. Now, in question 36, article two (“Whether the Holy Ghost proceeds from the Son?”), St. Thomas argues that the Holy Spirit proceeds from the Son. The first reason he gives is, that no one says that the Son is from the Holy Ghost, but that we confess that the Holy Ghost proceeds from the Son; and furthermore “the nature of the procession of each one agrees with this conclusion. For it was said above, that the Son proceeds by way of the intellect as Word, and the Holy Ghost by way of the will as Love. Now love must proceed from a word. For we do not love anything unless we apprehend it by a mental conception. Hence also in this way it is manifest that the Holy Ghost proceeds from the Son.” He further argues that between all creatures of common nature there is to be found some order (cf. p. 26), and that it is by their order that “the beauty of divine wisdom is displayed” (cf. Ia. 39, 8, where St. Thomas considers “beauty” as an attribute of the Son, and gives its three conditions), therefore it is just to suppose an order to exist also between the Spirit and the Son, which order can only be by way of the procession of one from the other. Moreover, says St. Thomas, “even the Greeks themselves recognize that the procession of the Holy Ghost has some order to the Son. For they grant that the Holy Ghost is the Spirit of the Son; and that He is from the Father through the Son. Some of them are said also to conclude that ‘He is from the Son’; or that He ‘flows from the Son,’ but not that He proceeds; which seems to come from ignorance or obstinacy. For a just consideration of the truth will convince anyone that the word ‘procession’ is the most common among all that denote origin of any kind.”

Just as the day Martin Luther nailed his ninety-five theses against the sale of indulgences to the door of Wittenburg’s Castle Church, October 31, 1517 (a Halloween), is taken to mark the beginning of the Protestant Reformation, though men like Wycliffe and John Hus preceded Luther by a hundred years or so and it was only after a hundred more years of fraternal bloodshed and destruction that people realized what had happened: even so, the Great Schism between East and West, though the mutual antipathy of Greeks and Latins can be traced to Troy and it was not till another century had passed that the breach was rendered permanent when the Crusaders sacked Constantinople, is thought to have begun on July 16, 1054, when the papal legate, Cardinal Humbert, laid a Bull of Excommunication on the steps of Byzantium’s Church of Holy Wisdom against Michael Cerularius, the Patriarch of Constantinople, in a dispute over the use of leaven in the Eucharistic bread: and indeed it is unfortunate that St. Augustine was born so prematurely, for had he been born at a later day he should have found a clearer image of the Trinity in the example of the one Holy Church with her three bodies, of which each one owns itself and believes itself to be the one true Body of Christ — though perhaps it will be said that this image is rather of that mind that neither wills what it understands nor understands what it wills or remembers nor remembers what it has willed or understood. The two main points of controversy between the Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox Churches have been for the past millennium the questions of papal supremacy and of the procession of the Holy Ghost. They are not unrelated: and surely the Eastern Church’s passionate resistance to the word “filioque” rests to some extent on the fact that Western attempts to impose it on the East became a test case for determining whether ecclesiastical authority would finally lie with the Pope or with the Oecumenical Councils. (cf. S.T. Ia. 36, 2, ad 2: “Later on, when certain errors rose up, in another council assembled in the west, the matter was explicitly defined by the authority of the Roman Pontiff, by whose authority also the ancient councils were summoned and confirmed.”) No doubt reconciliation will either be found hidden in that very word, or will come with Him, the very Word. Regardless of the Schism, however, the Orthodox believe the doctrine of the double procession of the Holy Ghost to be inherently untrue, as we shall seek to show.

To understand the Eastern Orthodox position one must first know what is meant by the words “apophasis” and “kataphasis.” Literally they mean “a speaking away” and “a speaking down.” In the West they are often called “negative” and “positive theologies,” or “the way of negation” and “of affirmation.” (That these words receive two translations, one referring to theology, the other to a “way,” is itself illustrative of the very difference in habits of thought that the words distinguish: in the East there is no distinction posited between “theology” and the “way” of a spiritual life, and the greatest theologians are equally the greatest mystics.) The classical exposition of the Orthodox faith, de Fidei Orthodoxae by St. John of Damascus, written in the eighth century, begins with a statement both of the unknowability of God and of the truth of His revelation in Jesus Christ: “No man hath seen God at any time: the only begotten Son who is in the bosom of the Father, he hath declared him.” (John 1:18.) The character of true theology preserves the antinomy of knowing and not-knowing that characterizes man’s dealings with God. God is unknowable and ineffable, yet He has revealed Himself and we speak His name. The antinomy of apophasis and kataphasis reflects that of knowing and not-knowing, and is itself necessarily a part of true theology. Indeed, among the Orthodox the paradoxical or antinomic nature of Christ’s whole revelation is taken for a manifestation of its truth; that God and man should be together one person, that one for God equals three, that bread and wine should be body and blood, and that the immortal should suffer death and the mortal be risen from the dead, are not stumbling blocks to faith, but a well-spring of faith and of spiritual life. The story is believed because it is the biggest fish that can be swallowed. But precisely because they wish that the antinomic character of revelation be preserved, the Orthodox incline towards apophasis. They attempt no proofs of the Holy Trinity, because they think that the desire to prove that source from which “every good gift and every perfect gift” flows, from which flows the very reason that would prove it, is a sign of spiritual blindness — what is desirable is not to speculate about the Trinity but to participate in its life. They approach the Trinity in a manner quite unlike that of St. Thomas: their object is not to reconcile the antinomy, but to preserve it, not to make the mystery comprehensible, but to preserve it as mystery. Yet neither do they suppose that a mystery can be preserved as mystery without being thought about.

The Orthodox have defined the faith slowly down the centuries, only as specific heresies have arisen; consequently, for them “the Faith” means much the same as “the Tradition”: both are meant to be kept. The single most important statement of the Faith for Orthodox Christians is the Nicene Creed, which came out of the struggle with Arianism. (St. Seraphim of Sarov considers it one of the three prayers essential to a Christian, along with the Lord’s Prayer and the Jesus Prayer.) In the wording of the form adopted at the Second Ecumenical Council at Constantinople in 381, the Creed says the following about the Holy Spirit: “And (I believe) in the Holy Ghost, the Lord, the Giver of Life, who proceedeth from the Father; Who together with the Father and the Son is worshipped and glorified; Who spake by the prophets.” The addition of the word “Filioque,” making it to read “Who proceedeth from the Father and the Son,” was first approved at the Council of Toledo in 589, and not by the Church of Rome till the eleventh century. It has never been accepted by the Eastern Orthodox Church.

The basic reason why the Orthodox refuse to confess that the Holy Ghost proceeds from the Son is that it doesn’t say so in the Bible. What is said in the Bible is that He proceeds from the Father. As mentioned above (p. 13), the Greek fathers distinguished between the Son and the Holy Ghost by way of their different modes of origination from the Father — the Son by generation, the Spirit by procession. “The Father and the Son and the Holy Ghost are one in all things save in the being unbegotten, the being begotten, and the procession.” (de Fide Orth., bk. 1, ch. 2.) “Father is the Father, and unbegotten; Son is the Son, begotten and not unbegotten, for He is from the Father; Holy Ghost, not begotten but proceeding, for He is from the Father.” (On Heresies, John of Damascus, §103.) The Father is the πηγαία Θεότης, the source of Godhead: the Greek writers speak of Him in respect to the other persons not so much in terms of relation as of causality. He is that person who distinguishes the others, in an absolute, not relative, way. The Orthodox preserve the antinomy of the three and one by attributing personal distinction in the Godhead not to relation of opposition as an abstract principle, but to the Father, a concrete person. As He is the source from which the other persons receive their deity, even so is He the source from which they have their personhood, that is, their absolute distinctness from one another — it is from the Father that the Son is generated, and from the Father that the Spirit proceeds, and yet even with respect to themselves alone, the Son is a generated-one and the Spirit is one-who-proceeds. Hence their difference in themselves is not founded upon their relations to one another, but upon an absolute difference which they have from the Father: and what they are is not constituted by their relations to the Father, but is only manifested thereby. But the Son and Holy Ghost also have from the Father their common essence, by which the three are one. The mystery of the three and one is preserved by grounding the personhood of the three not in the internal relations of the one but in the monarchy of the Father as the sole principle (μόνη ἀρχή) of both unity and diversity.

Now, St. Thomas argues that we know the Spirit proceeds from the Son, since the Son sends Him. On what basis do we say that to proceed and to be sent are the same thing? One might make an argument for it on the basis of John 8:42: “Jesus said unto them, If God were your Father, ye would love me: for I proceeded forth and came from God; neither came I of myself, but he sent me.” And, indeed, the idea that the word “procession” is a generic term applicable to both the Holy Spirit and the Son, to both temporal and eternal origination, would seem to be supported by this passage, for at John 15:26 it reads “even the Spirit of truth, which proceedeth from the Father.” And the words “proceeded” and “proceedeth” are translated into Latin from the Greek by the words processi and procedit(7) respectively, so that one might naturally take them to mean the same thing. But in the Greek original the words are respectively ἐξῆλθον and ἐκπορεύεται(8); and although “proceeded forth” and “proceedeth” are perfectly good translations, they do not of themselves enable us to say that “to proceed” applies in the same way to both the Son and the Holy Spirit, and to them in both their temporal and their eternal modes of existence. The Orthodox interpret ἐκπορεύεται to refer only to the Spirit in an eternal mode of origination from the Father, not to His being-sent-in-time which is common to the Spirit and the Son, and in which the Son assists in the Spirit’s origination. They hold to a distinction (as might Kant) between those things that pertain to God in Himself, outside of time, and those things that pertain to His manifestation in time, for the purposes of man’s salvation: the one they consider the province of “theology” proper, the other of “economy” (οἰκονομία, “housekeeping”). A special difficulty arises in speaking of the Spirit, for unlike the Father and the Son, for whom there are plenty of passages in Scripture which speak of their expressly eternal relation (cf. Prov. 8:22-31 and John 1:1,2), the Holy Spirit is spoken of in relation to the other persons only in connection with His temporal mission of sanctification: yet we must suppose Him to be eternally distinct from them. On the basis of John 15:26 what shall we say? We read that the Son will send the Spirit from the Father, and that the Spirit proceeds from the Father. The one refers to some future time, and if so it would not seem to define an eternal mode of existence of the Spirit; whereas the other either refers not at all to time, in which case it would appear to suit the purpose of definition, or it refers only to that time when Jesus spoke, so as to mean “the Spirit is proceeding.” In that case the Spirit would seem to be proceeding from the Father to Jesus, and resting upon him, as a dove. Whence the Orthodox will say that the Spirit is always with the Son: “He is a sanctifying force that is subsistent, that proceeds unceasingly from the Father and abides in the Son, and that is of the same substance as the Father and the Son” (St. John of Damascus, de Fide Orth. bk. 1, ch. 13).

What then about the relations of persons spoken of by St. Thomas? If both the Spirit and the Son are from the Father, whether one calls this being-from a procession or something else, or whether they are distinguished by the Father or by an abstract principle of relation of opposition, must we not know how they are distinguished from each other if we are really to consider them two distinct persons? The Orthodox will say that the Son is generated, and the Spirit is proceeding, and that it is sufficient to know that generation and procession are not the same thing: “We have learned that there is a difference between begetting and procession, but what the manner of this difference is we have not learned at all” (de Fide Orth. bk. 1, ch. 8). But the Catholic will ask how we are to know that they are not the same thing if we don’t know what is the relation between the Son and the Spirit, or rather, if we don’t suppose there to be a relation between the two. The Orthodox will allow that there is a relation between the Son and the Holy Ghost, just as there is a relation between a spoken word and the breath that accompanies it, but not that this is a relation of procession, such as to remove the monarchy of the Father, and put the principle of personal distinction out of a person and into an abstract impersonal idea. The Orthodox will add that by making “relation of opposition” the principle of distinction in God, the Catholic confounds the persons of the Father and the Son in an impersonal unity in order to produce the hypothetical relation of spiration. The Catholic will answer that there is nothing impersonal about a unity of love, and that the persons are not confounded in it since they retain their distinguishing relations towards each other. Also, that the monarchy of the Father is not impaired, since the Son has it from the Father to be the co-spirator of the Holy Ghost. The Orthodox will surely disagree….

The only solution which can be found to this is to say that the Holy Ghost both proceeds from the Son, and does not proceed from the Son. We may say that the Father is the sole source of the Holy Ghost, and that from the Father the Holy Ghost receives both His personal distinguishing mark and His Godhead; and we may say on the other hand that the Holy Ghost is from the Father and the Son as from a single principle, and that what distinguishes Him is a relation of opposition; and we may say moreover that we don’t know what constitutes His person and that what constitutes His person is a subsisting relation. For the Catholic and the Orthodox will both agree that the Holy Spirit is the Gift of God. The Catholic will allow this, since St. Thomas proves it (S.T. Ia. 38, 1 and 2), and St. Augustine demonstrates it in book 15 chapter 19 of de Trinitate on the basis of many scriptural passages, all of which however the Orthodox might object to as pertaining rather to economy that to theology: the Holy Spirit is given to us, but it does not follow that He is eternally the Gift of God — this would be to make creation an act not of will but of nature, since if God were eternally a gift to men He would presuppose the very men to whom He should be given. Yet the Orthodox themselves acknowledge that the Holy Ghost proceeds from the Father and rests with the Son: and what is this but to say that He is given by the Father to the Son? For surely in resting with the Son He has not been taken from the Father, but received: and received therefore not as nature (for this is involved in begetting, which the Orthodox confess to be different than procession), but as Gift. Moreover this accords with the sense of Scripture, for in Matthew chapter 28 verse 18 we read “Jesus came and spake unto them, saying, All power is given unto me in heaven and in earth.” (Ἐδόθη μοι πᾶσα ἐξουσία ἐν οὐρανῷ καὶ ἐπὶ [τῆς] γῆς.) Now how, one may ask, can all power have been given unto the Son in heaven if he were already all power by virtue of being God? Shall we say that He lost His power and then got it back? or that His very power as God is His not naturally but from His Father’s will? God forbid: for this is Arianism. What then is this power that has been given to Him who is already all-powerful? Is it the Father? so that He who gives is the same as He who is given? Or shall we say the Father is given by the Holy Ghost? or that the Father that gives Himself and the Spirit who is given by Himself are one and the same person? No, for this is Sabellianism, and patent nonsense. The only orthodox way of construing this verse is to acknowledge that the power that is given to the Son in heaven is the Holy Ghost who is given to the Son eternally by the Father, as a Gift.

Then if the Holy Ghost is eternally the Gift, how are we to understand His mode of procession? Does He proceed from the Father alone, ἐκ μόνου τοῦ Πατρός, or from the Father and the Son as a single principle, a Patre Filioque tanquam ab uno principio? If we consider a gift, we find that it is given by one person, and to him is attributed all the causality of the giving: to the extent that the causality is not attributable to the one who gives, what is given is not a true gift. And yet there is no giving without both someone to give and someone to receive. Could the Father and Son be seen as a single principle such as that a giver gives a gift only if he has a recipient already in mind? so that giving proceeds from two persons as a principle — he who gives and he to whom is given — while remaining entirely the act of one? This would accord both with the Orthodox doctrine of the Father’s being the principle of differentiation in Godhead — for it is the Father who begets and gives, and He is not forced to give by His relation to the Son, but does so naturally nonetheless — and with the Catholic and Protestant position that what distinguishes the Holy Persons are their relations one to another — for unless we held there to be a relative opposition between them, we could not say that “the Spirit (as opposed to the Father and the Son) proceedeth from the Father.” And He also proceeds from the Son, not as from a source, but as from an end for the sake of which He proceeds. For it is written, “It is done (Γέγονεν). I am Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the end. I will give unto him that is athirst of the fountain of the water of life freely” (Rev. 21:6). Now this water of life is the Holy Spirit, as is evident from chapter four of the Gospel of St. John: “If thou knewest the gift of God, and who it is that saith to thee, Give me to drink; thou wouldest have asked of him, and he would have given thee living water” (John 4:10; cf. verses 23 and 24). The Alpha and Omega are the Father and the Son, who are joined together in the unity of their Love. As their Love for one another is the Gift that that proceeds from the Father and the Son, so their Love for man is the Gift that proceeds from Father and Son: but in both cases it proceeds as the Act of the one and the Passion of the other. Cf. John 19:30: “It is finished (Τετέλεσται): and he bowed his head, and gave up the ghost (παρέδωκεν τὸ πνεῦμα).”

Moreover, this hypothesis, that the Holy Spirit proceeds from the Father in the way of a gift, concurs also with the sense of the word ἐκπορεύεται, upon which the doctrine of the procession is based. Ἐκπορεύεται, “to go out” or “go forth,” is formed from πορεύω, which can mean either “to make to go, carry, convey” or “to bring, furnish, bestow.” Πορεύω in turn is related to πόρος, which has the senses of a “ferry,” a “passageway,” a “means of accomplishing or of providing,” and a “journey” or “voyage.” And cognate with πόρος are the Latin portô, “to carry, to bring,” and the Sanskrit pãrdhi, “to give.”(9) It would seem that with ἐκπορεύεται there is a resonance, if not a distinct connotation, of “going forth as a gift.”

By supposing that the Holy Spirit proceeds from the Father in the way of a Gift, do we impair the mystery of Who He is, who of all persons is most mysterious? Let us not treat the question lightly, for there is a sin unto death, and unto him that blasphemeth against the Holy Ghost it shall not be forgiven. We should not have advanced this idea that the Spirit proceeds as a Gift, if it had not seemed to concur with the two traditional conceptions of Him, and to reconcile them in a most judicious way. Yet, having advanced it, we do not feel as though we had explained the Trinity, or made it any less mysterious. The reason why the Father gives the Son to the world is not made any less mysterious by the assertion that “God so loved the world, that he gave his only-begotten Son.” In the same manner, we do not find that it makes the Holy Ghost less mysterious to say that He proceeds from the Father as a Gift, that is, for another. For why should the Father give, when He is sufficient unto Himself, and His Son is sufficient also unto Himself, simply by virtue of their being God? He gives because He loves, for “God is love.” Yet this is a mystery, that God should be love, and not simply be.

“My brethren, have not the faith of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Lord of glory, with respect of persons…. If ye fulfil the royal law according to the scripture, Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself, ye do well: But if ye have respect to persons, ye commit sin, and are convinced of the law as transgressors” (James 2:1,8,9). We have now to consider the effect of the doctrine of the Trinity on our understanding of the word “person.” It was said above that “person” carries senses both of what is essential to a person and what is only superficial. It would seem to connote even the “body,” as in the sentence, “He carried twenty dollars upon his person.” Thus, “some person” and “some body” have the same meaning. It is not easy to distinguish, however, between the essential and the accidental, especially in the case of “person,” which signifies the individual as such, — for what makes such and such an individual to be himself and not somebody else, besides such fortuitous marks as the color of the hair or the tone of the voice or the quotient of intelligence? One may say that the person is also individuated by his history, for this is necessarily his and nobody else’s — yet what is more accidental than that a person should have been born in such and such a place and time, to such and such parents, into such and such a religion, and have met these persons and not those, and met with this fortune and not that? Or, what is more fortuitous than that a person should have been at all?

On the other hand, according to Boethius, a person is an individual of a rational nature. We might therefore expect to find that which is essential to a person in his or her rationality. But rationality as such does not differ from person to person, and cannot serve as the distinguishing form. It may be that reason shows forth more distinctly in some actions than in others, or in some persons than in others; but this helps us only to distinguish the actions or persons as personal. It tells us the “what,” but not the “who.”

But because rationality is essential to the person, as a principle of choice within himself, the actions of a person as a person are not fortuitous, but are attributable to a specific subject, namely himself. And this is why each person receives a specific name, and is accounted a “who,” because by the co-inherence in him of all the actions attributable to him, as well as all his accidents attributable either to his actions or to something else, the person has a distinct form of his own. As form, he is intelligible, and this intelligible form is signified by the word that is his name. But the form signified by a name is not a universal form: it is not communicable, as is the word “man,” but proper to one. But if it is not communicable, how is it intelligible?

A personal name is not communicable in the sense of transferable to another subject, but it can be communicated through speech. It is intelligible in three basic ways, that is, can have three different significations, according as its form is multiplied by the two basic relations in which speakers can stand. One’s name can signify an “I,” a “you,” or a “he, she, or it.” The two relations are those of I – you and I – he, she, or it. As one cannot have real relation without some opposition, the relation I – I, or the self-relation, always takes the implicit or explicit form of an I – you or an I – him. And in fact the self-relation is always based on these two relations to other persons, and always conditions them in turn. Thus the royal law, Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself, seems almost less of a commandment than an empirical fact.

What then about the other royal law, Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heard, and with all thy soul, and with all thy strength, and with all thy mind? Can anyone love with all his heart, with all his soul, with all his strength, and with all his mind, what is not God? If he did, would he not lose his heart, soul, strength, and mind? “I love them that love me,” says Wisdom, but “all they that hate me love death…. He that loveth wisdom loveth his own soul” (Prov. 8:17,36; 19:8). If one’s love for self is grounded in fact in one’s love for others, what is the ground of one’s love as such? — which is also the ground of one’s heart, soul, strength, and mind. Mustn’t its ground be at least as stable as itself? Now a ground is what a thing stands on, or its substance; and just as a body needs a floor to stand on, so a living body needs a living ground. The vegetative soul needs vegetable substance, and the animal soul needs animal substance, and every man needs a means of subsistence if he is to stay alive. But “a man does not live by bread only,” nor by sex and money, but “by every word that proceedeth from the mouth of God.” For a man is a person: what is his ground as a person? Mustn’t it be equally as stable as himself? A person is “an individual substance of a rational nature,” says Boethius; a human person is individuated by matter, and is rational by form, but his substance is neither matter nor form, but spirit. The substance on which he stands as person must therefore be spirit, and must be equally as rational and individual and incommunicable as himself. But a man is a contingent spirit, and although his actions are all necessarily his, and this makes him who he is, yet his very being would seem to be as accidental as the wind. How then can his actions necessarily belong to him, who is himself accidental? The ground of his being a person is not his free actions simply, not the reason in him whereby he freely acts, but the necessary spirit which has freely given him his being. But the test of the person he is is in his gratitude, or his thanksgiving, which means a giving in return to that spirit which gave him being; and this is what is meant by the love of God. Love is the act of a person when it is a voluntary love, a giving and receiving: and in giving in return to Him who gives, one images His freedom and transcendent personhood. But just as one cannot love one’s neighbor as neighbor without knowing who he is (though one might love him impersonally, as through a charity), so, how can one love God as God without knowing WHO HE IS? But God is HE WHO IS.

The Son is the Image of the Father, and receives His Father’s Love: and through the Son the Father creates the world, and man in the image of God. And when man had obscured the image of God in him, and lost God’s image through sin, God the Son, the Image of the Father, became a man, so that man might regain the image of God by believing in Him. But for men to believe in Him it was necessary that He send the Spirit, who dwells in man and gives faith. The Spirit acts in man by putting in mind the Image of God, and just as the Son freely receives the Gift of the Father, so a man freely receives the Gift of God, or freely refuses. And just as the Son in this world, having received the Gift from above, gave of himself, so by the Holy Spirit that is in him a man gives of himself, until his giving itself becomes holy. This giving of one’s self is called faith. In every act of faith a man is remade into an image of God, for, like God, he has the Image of God in mind (and, like God, the Image also images the man’s own self, for God was true man), and as God the Father would not give the Gift to the Son if the Son were not in His mind — “in the bosom of the Father” — so the man would not give of himself if the Son were not given to his mind by the Holy Spirit; but by giving of himself a man becomes a holy spirit himself, and able of himself to keep in mind the Image of God. So faith itself is a double procession, which proceeds from God as act, and from man as passion. But in the image of God which is man, faith proceeds from man as act and from God as passion, for God the Image is in man, and man gives Him his faith.



1 See Moulton and Milligan, The Vocabulary of the Greek Testament, p. 553.

2 de Lingua Latina.

3 The Nicene-Constantinopolitan Creed in its original form runs thus:

I believe in one God the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth, And of all things visible and invisible:
And in one Lord Jesus Christ, the only-begotten Son of God; Begotten of his Father before all worlds, God of God, Light of Light, Very God of Very God; Begotten, not made; Being of one substance with the Father; By whom all things were made: Who for us men and for our salvation came down from heaven, And was incarnate by the Holy Ghost of the Virgin Mary, and was made man; And was crucified also for us under Pontius Pilate; he suffered and was buried; And the third day he rose again according to the Scriptures: and ascended into heaven, and sitteth on the right hand of the Father: and he shall come again, with glory, to judge both the quick and the dead: Whose kingdom shall have no end.
And I believe in the Holy Ghost, the Lord, and Giver of Life, Who proceedeth from the Father; Who with the Father and the Son together is worshipped and glorified; Who spake by the Prophets: and I believe in one holy Catholic and Apostolic Church: I acknowledge one baptism for the remission of sins: And I look for the Resurrection of the dead: And the Life of the world to come. Amen.

4 See above, note 3.

5 Cf. 1 Cor. 14:14,15: “I will pray with the spirit, and I will pray with the understanding also.”

6 “An Essay on the Trinity,” Jonathan Edwards: Representative Selections. New York: American Book Company, 1935, p. 377.

7 Dixit ergo eis Jesus: Si Deus pater vester esset, diligeretis utique me. Ego enim ex Deo processi, et veni; neque enim a me ipso veni, sed ille me misit. (John 8:42)

Cum autem venerit Paracletus, quem ego mittam vobis a Patre, Spiritum veritatis, qui a Patre procedit, ille testimonium peribebit de me. (John 15:26)

8 εἶπεν αὐτοῖς ὁ Ἰησοῦς, Εἰ ὁ θεὸς πατὴρ ὑμῶν ἦν ἠγαπᾶτε ἂν ἐμέ, ἐγὼ γὰρ ἐκ τοῦ θεοῦ ἐξῆλθον καὶ ἥκω· οὐδὲ γὰρ ἀπ᾽ ἐμαυτοῦ ἀλήλυθα, ἀλλ᾽ ἐκεῖνόν με ἀπέστειλεν. (John 8:42)
Ὅταν ἔλθη ὁ παράκλητος ὃν ἐγὼ πέμψω ὑμῖν παρὰ τοῦ πατρός, τὸ πνεῦμα τῆς ἀληθείας ὃ παρὰ τοῦ πατρὸς ἐκπορεύεται, ἐκεῖνος μαρτυρήσει περὶ ἐμοῦ. (John 15:26)

9 Chantraine, Pierre. Dictionnaire Étymologique de la Langue Grecque: Histoire des Mots. Paris: Éditions Klincksieck, 1980, pp. 928-929.



Chadwick, Henry. The Early Church. Harmondsworth: Penguin Books, 1967.

Chase, Fredric H. (tr.) Saint John of Damascus: Writings. New York: Fathers of the Church, Inc., 1958.

Evans, Ernest (tr.). Tertulliani Adversus Praxean Liber / Tertullian’s Treatise Against Praxeas. London: S.P.C.K., 1948.

Glare, P. G. W. (ed.) Oxford Latin Dictionary: fascicle VI. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1977.

Hardy, E. R. and Richardson, C.C. (eds.) The Library of Christian Classics: Christology of the Later Fathers. Philadelphia: The Westminster Press, 1954.

Liddell and Scott. An Intermediate Greek-English Lexicon. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1889.

Lossky, Vladimir. The Mystical Theology of the Eastern Church. Cambridge: James Clarke and Co. Ltd., 1957.

Maurer, Armand (tr.). St. Thomas Aquinas’s On Being and Essence. Toronto: The Pontifical Institute of Medieval Studies, 1968.

Schaff, Philip (ed.). A Select Library of the Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers of the Christian Church, vol. III: St. Augustin’s On the Holy Trinity. Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1978.


My thanks go to Mr. James Carey, my adviser; to Mr. Benjamin Milner, who lent me an essay; to the Rev. J. Winfree Smith and Miss Anne Love, from both of whom I have borrowed books; and to Mr. Stephan Beskid, librarian of St. Vladimir’s Seminary, who gave me a book by St. Basil.

3 Responses to “What is a Person?”

  1. Michael McDonough Says:

    Mr. Gilbert,

    E Contra,
    I found this essay to be beautiful and spiritually uplifting. I would like to ask some questions, and make an observation or two of my own, so if you wouldn’t mind, please just send me mail at:


    and I’ll take that as consent.

    Best regards.

  2. bekkos Says:

    Dear Michael,

    I agree with most of the points in your e-mail.

    1) I have no quarrel over the etymology of persona. I have done no detailed study of the question since I wrote the essay 26 years ago, and it may well be that Boethius is right in deriving it the way he does.

    2) I agree with you that I overstated, or misstated, things in that essay when I described St. Augustine as exploring the trinitarian mystery in terms of “solving” it, as though it were some sort of solvable, mathematical puzzle. It does seem to me that both St. Augustine and St. Thomas, and for that matter the Greek fathers, employ reason in the service of faith, and all of them are very aware, in their different ways, of the danger of reason usurping faith’s primacy. Conversely, I also think that both Aquinas and Augustine make a case for the legitimate rights of reason (if I could use such a phrase) within a life of faith; both of them see the desire to understand as intrinsic to human nature, and, consequently, as an inescapable and proper aspect of human life in faithful response to God. Both of them are incessant questioners; they see this questioning as akin to the questions children ask, in all simplicity and trust, of their earthly fathers. I suspect that they are rather clearer about this aspect of the life of faith than most of the Greek fathers are. There is no Greek patristic work of which I am aware that combines prayer and questioning in quite the way St. Augustine’s Confessions does; the only thing I know that comes close to it is St. Gregory the Theologian’s poems.

    At the same time, while it would not be right to depict Augustine or Aquinas as trying to “solve the mystery” of the Trinity, as though it were a mathematical problem, I do think that they are very intent upon clarifying certain ontological questions related to this mystery. The issue of the meaning of personhood is one of them. When St. Gregory the Theologian, in his Fifth Theological Oration, says, concerning the Son and Holy Spirit, that “the difference of manifestation, if I may so express myself, or rather of their mutual relations one to another, has caused the difference of their names,” he does not claim to be resolving the mystery of the Trinity; but, in the process of refuting a heretical conundrum, he does clarify, give greater intelligible content to, the notion of a trinitarian person. The fathers’ writings are full of clarifications of this kind. Their arguments presuppose that God, even though beyond human comprehension, can be spoken about with true and meaningful propositions, and that false propositions about God can be rationally shown to be false.

    My guess is that this is how Aquinas also is to be read, at least concerning those matters (like the Trinity) which, he says, reason cannot come to know by its own natural powers. Although reason cannot come to know, by its own natural powers, that God exists as a Trinity of persons, reason can, Aquinas thinks, clarify and verify the data of faith regarding that Trinity of persons; it can show certain propositions about the Trinity to be true, and certain propositions to be false, by appealing to the data of faith. In questions 27 to 43 of the first part of his Summa Theologica, Aquinas is entirely involved in that business of clarification and verification. And in that business, there are definitely some false antinomies that Aquinas wants to dispose of and show as false. The distinction between person and nature is NOT one of them, although some Orthodox critics claim that, by interpreting “person” in God as a subsisting relation, Aquinas has in fact reduced person to nature.

    When I described the essay as “pretentious,” part of what I was referring to was an overdependence upon Vladimir Lossky’s «Mystical Theology of the Eastern Church» as an exposition of Orthodox doctrine. When one encounters language in the essay about “reconciling the antinomy,” it is a reflection of that overdependence.

    3) Unfortunately, I have lost sleep over the Filioque. I would like to think that the Giver-Gift-Recipient model resolves all the intellectual issues that critics of the Filioque raise, and is consistent with what defenders of the Filioque actually say about it. On both counts, I’m still not 100% sure. (For instance, I recall Aquinas denying somewhere that processions in God can be understood on the model either of formal or of final causality; the “Recipient” model views the Son, with relation to the Holy Spirit, as a sort of final cause, “that for the sake of which.”) Nevertheless, 26 years later, it still seems to me a helpful way of considering the issue, and may open at least some minds to the possibility that, on the subject of the Holy Spirit’s procession, East and West are really not contradicting each other.

    4) The distinction between “theologia” and “oikonomia” is a traditional one and doubtless has important, true applications, though I would agree that it should not be pressed to the point where what happens in time becomes irrelevant to one’s understanding of God in his eternal being. To do that, I agree, undercuts the whole basis of our confession of God as Trinity.

    There are things I could say about “person” and “hypostasis,” but I think they would be better saved for the blog. In general, I recommend on the subject G.L. Prestige, «God in Patristic Thought».


  3. Soror Says:

    The entire essay just…beautiful. Thank you.

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