August 31, Tuesday in the 22nd week in Ordinary Time
No one knows what pertains to God except the Spirit of God. (1 Cor 2:11)
These words of St. Paul are written to remind us that any true knowledge of the divine mysteries comes not from men, nor from the spirit of the world and worldly wisdom, but only from the Holy Spirit. Hence, we must have the Spirit of God living in us – that is, we must be moved by the Gifts of the Holy Spirit.
However, upon reading that only the Holy Spirit knows the things of God, we might be led to wonder whether the Father and the Son know what the Spirit knows. Indeed, St. Paul seems to speak exclusively of the Spirit, no one knows … except the Spirit. Is it true? Does the Holy Spirit have some special knowledge which is lacking to the other two Persons of the Blessed Trinity?
St. Thomas Aquinas ponders this very question in Summa Theologiae I, q.31, a.4: Whether an exclusive diction can be joined to the personal term? He considers several Scriptural and liturgical passages – “That they may know thee [i.e. the Father], the only true God.” (Jn 17:3); “No one knows the Son but the Father.” (Mt 11:27); “You alone are the Most High, Jesus Christ” (from the Gloria).
St. Thomas explains that all these verses must be understood as exclusive not of the other Persons of the Trinity but only of other natures. Thus, “no one” does not mean no other person, but rather no other nature. Thus, when the term only is applied to one of the divine Persons, the other Persons are not excluded – for all are united through the unity of the single divine Essence. However, this only holds true for those things which are predicated of the Persons by reason of the shared Essence. Thus, each and every Person of the Blessed Trinity is said to know the others, to be all powerful, to be most holy, etc.
Some terms, on the other hand, are not predicated of the Persons by reason of the Essence, but rather by reason of the relation. Examples of this would be: The Father alone is un-begotten; the Son alone is begotten; the Spirit alone proceeds from the Father and the Son.
Finally, in the case of the second Person, some terms are predicated not by reason of his divinity (either his divine Nature or his divine relations) but on account of his human nature. Thus, only the Son became incarnate; only the Son has died; only the Son will come again.
St. Thomas advises us, regarding the use of terms like “alone” or “only” or “no one”: “Such a way of speaking is not to be taken too literally, but should be piously expounded, whenever we find it in an authentic work [whether of the Fathers or of Scripture].” Hence, it is clear that modern theologians and preachers should avoid speaking in this way, on account of the confusion that can be easily caused. Yet, it is important for theologians to discuss the question, for the pastoral benefit of the faithful who can be led into false opinions by the words even of the Bible and of the holy Fathers, who wrote before the modern heresies had yet plagued the Church.