Monday, June 13, 2011

Necessity and freedom in the Trinity


In preparation for Trinity Sunday, we will dedicate several posts this week to this central mystery of the faith. First considering more theoretical questions about the Trinity, we will conclude with two articles on the relation of the Trinity to man as his salvation.
St. Gregory of Nazianzus has proposed this dogma for our belief: “Above all guard for me this great deposit of faith for which I live and fight, which I want to take with me as a companion, and which makes me bear all evils and despise all pleasures: I mean the profession of faith in the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. I entrust it to you today. By it I am soon going to plunge you into water and raise you up from it. I give it to you as the companion and patron of your whole life. I give you but one divinity and power, existing one in three, and containing the three in a distinct way. Divinity without disparity of substance or nature, without superior degree that raises up or inferior degree that casts down. . . the infinite co-naturality of three infinites. Each person considered in himself is entirely God. . . the three considered together. . . I have not even begun to think of unity when the Trinity bathes me in its splendour. I have not even begun to think of the Trinity when unity grasps me. . .” (Oratio 40,41; CCC 256)

The eternal processions of the Son and of the Holy Spirit
“The mystery of the Most Holy Trinity is the central mystery of Christian faith and life. It is the mystery of God in himself. It is therefore the source of all the other mysteries of faith, the light that enlightens them.” (CCC 234)
From all eternity the Father generates the Son and the Son is generated by the Father, and there is no time when the Father was without his Son or the Son without his Father. Likewise, the Holy Spirit from all eternity proceeds from the Father and from the Son as from a common principle – though, he proceeds principally from the Father, he proceeds also from and through the Son (since the Father has given all things to the Son, the Son has also that the Holy Spirit proceeds eternally from him).
And, of all three persons, we must admit that there was no time when he was not: There was no time when the Father was not the Father of the Son, and there was no time when the Son was not. Moreover, neither was there a time when the Holy Spirit was not the Spirit of the Father and of the Son. Rather, from all eternity the three persons are one.
When we say that the Father generates the Son and that the Father and the Son together as one principle spirate the Holy Spirit, we speak of the eternal processions of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. The Son proceeds from the Father, and the Holy Spirit proceeds from the Father and from the Son. Hence, the Father is “the source and origin of the whole divinity.” (Council of Toledo VI)
The eternal processions are necessary in a way far greater than anything else can be said to be necessary. In a way far greater even than that necessity by which one plus one must equal two, we say that the eternal processions of the Son and of the Holy Spirit are necessary. These processions are simply and absolutely necessary as being the cause and source of all necessity which can possibly exist among creatures. It is simply and absolutely impossible that there should be no Holy Spirit or no Son. It is simply and absolutely impossible that there should be no Trinity.
However, though it is absolutely necessary that God be the Trinity and that there be the eternal processions, this necessity does not bind the Father. It is not as though the Father were bound by an external necessity to generate the Son. Nor can we possibly think that the Father and the Son are constrained by an external necessity to spirate the Holy Spirit. Rather, it is the very person and nature of the Father which is the necessity of the Son. Likewise, it is the very persons and the nature of the Father and the Son which is the necessity of the Holy Spirit.
Thus, although the eternal processions are simply and absolutely necessary, they are also free – for there is no external constrain or compulsion which drives the Father to generate his Son. Freedom and necessity are united in perfect harmony and, though we claim that the Father generates the Son per naturam (by nature) rather than per volutatem (by will), we also insist that the eternal processions are simply and absolutely free as being entirely free from any constraint (either by external compulsion or natural limitation). In the Most Holy Trinity, necessity and love are united, such that what is most necessary is also most loved.
The procession of creatures
The procession of creatures in the act of creation, however, is per voluntatem (by will). There is nothing in the nature of God which requires that he create the universe. Indeed, the act of creation does not add any absolute goodness to existence – for the good of God himself is utterly and entirely infinite. The goodness of God is more infinite even that a mathematical infinity; since it is possible to add to a mathematical infinity, but it is not possible to add anything to the goodness of God.
No, creation does not and cannot add anything to the glory of God – rather, the goodness of creation is a participation in the infinite goodness of the Trinity. On this account, it is clear that there is no absolute necessity in creatures – God did not have to create the world, but he chose to do so per voluntatem (by will).
This is the essential difference between the procession of creatures and the processions of the Son and of the Holy Spirit: Creatures come from God by his willing it and not by nature, but the Son and the Holy Spirit proceed by nature rather than by will. This division between created and uncreated being, between God and creatures, is the greatest of chasms – short only of that chasm between being and non-being.
The Father does not choose to generate the Son (though he is free in this generation), but the Trinity does choose to create and sustain the world. “We believe that God created the world according to his wisdom. It is not the product of any necessity whatever, nor of blind fate or chance. We believe that it proceeds from God’s free will; he wanted to make his creatures share in his being, wisdom, and goodness.” (CCC 295)
The temporal processions of the Son and of the Holy Spirit
That man might come into the glory of God, the Father sent his own Son for our salvation and the Spirit of his Son for our sanctification. The missions of the Son and of the Holy Spirit into the world are the temporal processions – and these are both visible (i.e. the Incarnation of the Eternal Word and the Descent of the Holy Spirit) and invisible (i.e. the gift of sanctifying grace).
The temporal processions of the Son and of the Holy Spirit are not necessary nor are they per naturam, but are per voluntatem. The Father generates the Son per naturam, but the Holy Trinity sends the Son into the world per voluntatem. The Father and the Son spirate the Holy Spirit per naturam, but the Holy Trinity sends the Holy Spirit into the hearts of believers per voluntatem. There is no necessity in the temporal processions, for God did not have to redeem us.
Moreover, even granting that the Trinity loves man and desires to redeem man (by a desire which is born of the divine will and not of nature), it was not necessary that man should be redeemed by the temporal processions of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. God could have redeemed man through other means – and there was no absolute need for him to reveal the Most Holy Trinity in this life (though salvation itself must be the vision of the Trinity).
Finally, even granting that the Lord should choose (per volutatem) to redeem man by means of incarnation, it is possible that any or all of the persons of the Trinity could become incarnate in one or multiple human natures. The Father or the Holy Spirit could have become incrnate. The Son could have become incarnate in more than one human nature. The Father, Son and Holy Spirit could have all become incarnate in the same human nature, or in multiple human natures.
Though it is certainly particularly fitting that God should redeem man in the manner he has (i.e. through the Incarnation of the Son), it is possible that this redemption be accomplished in innumerable other ways which far exceed the imagination of man.
Necessity and freedom, and the Most Holy Trinity
Consider how great is the love of God by which he loves himself! This love is simply and absolutely necessary, and is the eternal processions of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.
Consider also how great is the love of God by which he loves the world! This love is not necessary but proceeds from the divine will, and is the procession of creatures.
Finally, consider how great is the love of God by which he has redeemed men! This love is not necessary but proceeds from the divine will, and is the temporal processions of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.

14 comments:

Stacy Trasancos said...

Father, I am only a student learning about the Trinity and it has helped me to understand so much more about life. Could you explain what you meant in the paragraph towards the end that starts, "Finally, even granting that the Lord should choose..."

It seems to contradict what Fr. Kenneth Baker states, referencing the Bible, The Fourth Lateran Council and the Council of Florence. All external activities of God are common to the three Persons because they are one indivisible divine substance. No one can act separately or independently of the other. Even though scripture sometimes "appropriates" (the word Aquinas uses in the Summa, Q.39) some activities to a certain Person, Creation to the Father, Incarnation to the Son, Sanctification to the Holy Spirit, it is to make manifest the differences in them, but it does not mean they act separately. Everything including Creation, Incarnation and Sanctification is done by all three Persons acting as a sole principle of all things.

I read that in Fr. Kenneth Baker's book "Fundamentals of Catholicism: God, Trinity, Creation, Christ, Mary" on page 109-111. (I have it linked under the Theology tab on my blog.)

Can you explain if that's what you are also saying, or if you meant something else...or if I'm just confused. Thank you!

Reginaldus said...

@Stacy,
I have not read Fr. Baker's book, but I see that it is published by Ignatius press (and, considering the sources he is referencing, I would be quite certain that it is a good source for the faith).

Certainly, I do not mean to imply that any of the persons act independently of the others in the creation or redepmtion of the world -- an article later in the week (the Trinity and our spiritual life) will go into this at length.

However, it is more than a matter of appropriation when we say that the Son became incarnate or that the Holy Spirit descended at Pentecost. Moreover, though the Son and Spirit are "sent", the Father is not "sent".

The important distinction here is to realize that the union of humanity and divinity in Christ is not a union in his divine essence (which would necessitate a change in God, and a change in the Father and Spirit), but rather is a union in his person -- for the human nature us united to the divine nature through the hypostatic union; it is a union in the person of the Word.

All three persons are active in this and we can say that all three persons are our Redeemer. Still, only the Son became incarnate.

Nevertheless, because all three persons are equal, we must admit that the personal union effected in the incarnation is possible also to the other two persons -- i.e. the Father or the Spirit could have become incarnate as well (of course, all three persons would always be active in any incarnation).
I will note, however, that (although the Father could become incarnate) I do not think that he could be sent, since he did not proceed from anyone in eternity.

I know that all this can be a bit confusing ... and I certainly do not write as clearly on the matter as do the great saints and theologians ... but I hope that this is at least understandable.

So, to be very clear, the only point in your comment which I think is a bit off is when you compare the appropriation of "Creation to the Father" and "Sanctification to the Holy Spirit" as being the same as professing "Incarnation to the Son".
The Incarnation is not a mere appropriation -- only the Son became incarnate, and only the Son has a human nature.

This is because the hypostatic union is in the divine person (the Word) and not the divine nature.
Whereas the acts of Creation and of Sanctification (as well as Redemption) are from the power of the divine nature and not of any one divine person.
[there, that last bit gets to the heart of what I mean to say!]

Stacy Trasancos said...

Thank you for explaining all of that. I think my confusion is a) that I have not had a Christology course yet and b) the words "appropriate" and "attribute" don't mean quite the same thing and I am using them as if they do.

Fr. Baker says or quotes (and it seems consistent with what you explained) that "Careful readers of the New Testament will have noted that Holy Scripture attributes the Incarnation (or Hypostatic Union) to the Father (Heb 10:5), to the Son (Phil 2:7), and to the Holy Spirit (Lk 1:35; Mt 1:20)." (p. 232)

And...

"It should be believed that the whole Trinity effected the Incarnation of this Son of God, because the works of the Trinity cannot be divided." (Denzinger 284)

And...most concisely:

"The only begotten Son of God, Jesus Christ, was made incarnate by a common action of the Holy Trinity." (Denzinger 429)

I understand better now. Thank you, Father. There is so much richness in the mysteries!!

Reginaldus said...

To all: My final claim that any of the three persons could have become incarnate in any number of human natures is based on the opinion of St. Thomas Aquinas (ST III, q.3, aa. 5-8), and has been held by many prominent theologians of our day: Fr. Garrigou-Lagrange, Abbot Vonier, Fr. Journet.
In fact, pretty much the only prominent theologian explicitly to disagree with St. Thomas' opinion is Fr. Karl Rahner ... personally, I will follow the Dominican Thomists over that particular Jesuit ...

Reginaldus said...

@Stacy,
Yes, I think you are correct to point out that we need to understand the difference between "appropriate" and "attribute" ... certainly, the final quote from Denz 429 is very good: The action of the Incarnation is common to all three persons, but only the Son of God was made incarnate (as also only the Son suffered).

As you say, "There is so much richness in the mysteries!"

Augustine said...

"However, though it is absolutely necessary that God be the Trinity and that there be the eternal processions, this necessity does not bind the Father. It is not as though the Father were bound by an external necessity to generate the Son."

Please help me with this part, Father. It seems to imply (although admittedly this is because we are temporal and think of things as 'before' and 'after') that the Father is somehow 'before' the Son and the Holy Spirit. This would create difficulties, of course. How would you respond to this?

Reginaldus said...

Augustine,
Certainly you are correct ... there is no time when the Son did not exist, there is no time when the Father existed before the Son ... we say: "The Son proceeds from the Father, but the Father does not precede the Son."

In fact, the point of saying that the Son proceeds "per naturam" rather than "per voluntatem" is a defense of this doctrine -- when I say that the Son proceeds by necessity, I am emphasizing that it is not as though the Father one day "decided" to generate the Son; rather, the Father is the Father as generating the Son (hence, the very nature of the Trinity is that the Father generates the Son).

[so there is no "before" or "after" in the Trinity, though there is an order of the divine persons]

yan said...

several questions, rabbi!

you say the Son proceeds of nature yet freely. however, previously, you distinguish and therefore define the difference between nature and will as being the difference between what occurs of necessity and what does not. if we understand the terms in the way you originally distinguish them, then, to say that the Son proceeds by nature yet freely seems to be a contradiction. so surely in reference to the procession of the Son, when you say that it occurs by nature, you do not mean by nature in the sense that you have previously used the phrase. so please distinguish the 2 senses of nature which you have employed, and i will gratefully tip the stetson!

Reginaldus said...

yan, Good question, perhaps I have not been so clear on this point.

What I want to say is something like this:
The Son proceeds not per voluntatem (by the Father's willing it) but per naturam (by the very nature of God Himself). In this sense, the procession of the Son (and of the Spirit) is simply and absolutely necessary.

However, when I claim that the generation is free; I mean this in a negative sense -- i.e. that the Father is neither constrained nor forced to generate the Son.
Neither by his nature (for the divine nature is pure being without limitation) nor by an outside force (for nothing exists excepting that it be created by the Trinity) -- still the generation is per naturam (i.e. it is the very nature of God to be Trinity, but this cannot be thought of as a constraint or limitation).

In this sense, necessity and freedom are united in God.
I hope this helps, it is a great mystery we contemplate!

yan said...

Hello Fr.,

Thank you for trying, but I am much too dense!

Whether the 'nature of God as Trinity cannot be thought of as a constraint or limitation', as you say, I know not; but I do know that if the procession is 'absolutely necessary', then this must be some kind of constraint or limitation! N'est pas? if the generation is per naturem, it would seem to therefore be of necessity, although
this necessity be neither from outer constraint [clear to me] nor inner [not clear to me why this cannot be so.]

Why is it objectionable to say that the procession of the Holy Trinity occurs by some sort of inner necessity related to the being of God?

Forgive me if I say anything theologically untoward!

Consider--by analogy, the goodness of God is not thought of as a constraint on the freedom of God. Nor are His attributes of holiness, omnipotence, love, and so on. Why then should the necessity of procession be thought of as a constraint on the freedom of God?

Ok, that's the best I can do to explain my confusion. I await your illumination!

Regards,
yan

Reginaldus said...

yan,
Your final lines have come to the exact conclusion I am advocating:
"The [necessary, per naturam] goodness of God is not thought of as a constraint on the freedom of God. [...] Why then should the necessity of procession be thought of as constrain on the freedom of God?"

This is my exact point! Though the nature of God demands the Trinity with a simple and absolute necessity (per naturam, not per voluntatem), this necessity "is no thought of as a constrain on the freedom of God." (to use your words)

No other person nor anything in the divine nature itself can be thought of as limiting or constraining God -- yet, the nature demands (of necessity) that the Father generate the Son and that the Father and Son together spirate the Holy Spirit.


So, your paragraph beginning with "consider--by analogy..." has really answered your earlier paragraph beginning with "whether the 'nature of God as Trinity..."

Just as the goodness of God is an absolute necessity, but no constraint or limitation; so too the Trinity of persons is an absolute necessity, but is no constraint or limitation.
Peace! +

yan said...

Hello Fr.,

You are absolutely right! I argued myself into agreeing with you. So, to confirm this conclusion, please if you will restate why God's goodness for example is not considered to be an inner constraint. I know I have read the answer before somewhere, but it is eluding me at present. My memory ain't what it used to be.

Regards and thanks
yan

Reginaldus said...

yan,
The simplest way of looking at it is to recognize that the Divine Nature is unlimited, infinite, and perfect being -- God is "subsistent being" that is in no way limited to any species or genus.

As pure existence, God is perfectly good -- because goodness is a perfection of being.
Thus, the goodness of God is in no way a limitation, because to do/be evil is to lessen existence ... the ability to sin is in fact a tendency not towards freedom but toward non-existence.

For this reason, we say that although God is perfectly good and cannot do any evil, he is in no way constrained by his nature -- because freedom is not the ability to sin but the ability to do good.

In an analogous way, I want to argue that God is in no way constrained or forced when the Father generates the Son -- even though this happens by an absolute necessity, the processions in God are the perfection of being and of existence.
Hence, although we don't say that the Father "chose" to beget the Son, we can say that the Father was free when he begot the Son per naturam and by an absolute necessity.

Hopefully this is clear! +

yan said...

Hello Fr.,

I think i see it now, but i see it in spite of the words, so to speak. if only prof wittgenstein had embraced our faith, this matter might have been cleared up for me. as things are however, when i see the word 'free' qualified by denying that it implies that something did not also take place 'per naturem and by necessity', my brain automatically reverts to the conclusion: impossible and absurd. to get out of this situation one must get away from the idea of, say, the interaction of chemical elements, in thinking of what is meant by 'necessity' and 'per naturam' in the context of discussing the nature of God. But such is the normal understanding of the usage of those words. so it must be admitted at the outset that the words 'necessity' and 'free' in relation to God are being used in some sort of analogical sense, and then they must be carefully qualified, if theology is not to be justifiably criticized as gibberish by linguistic positivists. It would be a shame for it to be so misunderstood because in reality we are describing in small part, knowledge of the holy mystery of the being of God Himself.

Amen and alleluia to that, especially today, Most Holy Trinity.

regards and thanks again
yan

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