28th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Luke 17:11-19
Jesus said in reply, “Ten were cleansed, were they not? Where are the other nine? Has none but this foreigner returned to give thanks to God?”
In the account of the cleansing of the ten lepers, of whom only one (the Samaritan) returns to give thanks, our Savior may at first appear to be dejected or hurt that the other nine have not thanked him. What shall we say to this – Is it possible that the Lord of heaven and earth, the King of the universe needs the thanksgiving and worship of man?
God does not rely on his creation
The forth weekday preface states: Lord, “you have no need of our praise, yet our desire to thank you is itself your gift. Our prayer of thanksgiving adds nothing to your greatness but makes us grow in your grace.” We must insist that man’s worship of God does not increase God’s glory absolutely, nor does God require that worship for his own benefit.
Origen (and, to some extent, St. Irenaeus) had held that God had no need of man’s worship because the Father was worshiped from all eternity by the Son and the Spirit. Thus, through an intra-Trinitarian praise, the glory and honor of God were appeased. Others, notably many in the Nestorian churches of the East, held that God was called “Lord” from all eternity by virtue of the lordship of the Father over the Son and the Spirit. In this way, these theologians attempted to maintain the transcendence of God over and above creation.
However, it is obvious that such an explanation cannot hold true. The Son and the Holy Spirit are equal with the Father, thus there can be no true worship between them. Likewise, as the Father is not superior to the Son, neither can he be said to be Lord over the Son (except insofar as Jesus is considered in his humanity). These attempts to safeguard the transcendence of God, failed to safeguard the equality of the three Divine Persons.
It is better to say that God is his own beatitude and that the only real relations in the Most Holy Trinity are active and passive generation (predicated of the Father and the Son, respectively), active spiration (predicated of the Father and the Son together), and passive spiration or procession (predicated of the Holy Spirit). Thus, speaking absolutely, God is only Father, Son, and Holy Spirit in the intra-Trinitarian life – he is not Lord, nor is he worshiped. Yet, in these four real relations, God is pre-eminently blessed.
In God, there is no real relation to creatures
Though, in creatures, there is a real relation to God; there is no real relation to creation in God. Put in another way, creatures are really related to God, but God is only logically related to creatures. This is the great insight of scholastic theology.
Let us be clear: The fact that the relation of God to his creatures is only a logically relation does not make that relation any less true. God truly is the Creator, but this term is predicated of him on account of creation not on account of the divine essence. In other words, God is not Creator essentially, but voluntarily – thus, in creation there is a real relation to God as Creator, but in God there is no real relation to creation. St. Thomas explains this well: “Thus, God is called ‘Lord’ by a relation which is implied in the real relation by which the creature is subject to God. And although lordship is not a real relation in God, yet is he really Lord through the real subjection of the creature to him.” (ST III, q.35, a.5)
Thus, when we worship or give thanks to God, this does not imply any change in God, but it does imply a change in us. It is clear that we cannot change God in any respect – he is the unmoved mover, immutable and eternal. However, though God does not change, our relation to him really does change; this implies a change in the logical relation which God has to us – before creation, God could not be called “Creator” or “Lord”; yet he is now rightly and truly so-called, not on account of a change in the Divinity, but because of the world’s coming to be.
Why God requires us to give him thanks
If we admit that God has no need of our praise or thanks, if we admit that he is not really related to us at all; we might then ask, “Why does God command that we thank him?” Here we recall that, although there is no real relation in God to his creatures, there is a real relation in creatures to God. We can become more or less subject to him as our true Lord, we can worship him more or less as our Good God, we can become true sons of our heavenly Father – though these relations imply no change in God, there is a real change in us; and that is what makes all the difference!
The fourth weekday preface, mentioned above, captures this most eloquently saying: “Our prayer of thanksgiving … makes us grow in your grace.” It is on this account that Christ our Savior is so dejected that the other nine lepers did not return to thank him. The Lord is not concerned for his honor (even as a man, he has received perfect glory from God), but he thirsts for the salvation of those ungrateful ones. Though completely happy and blessed in himself, Christ desires the salvation of all and so requires our thanksgiving and praise – not for his sake, but for ours!