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God the Father in the Theology of St. Thomas Aquinas


John Baptist Ku

God the Father in the Theology of St. Thomas Aquinas is an exposition of Aquinas’ theology of God the Father as a coherent whole. Surprising as it might be, there has not been an extended treatment of Aquinas’ theology of God the Father. Three misconceptions are addressed: (1) the idea that Aquinas’ speculative Trinitarian theology is detached from Scripture; (2) the supposition that in Aquinas’ understanding, the Father’s relation to the Holy Spirit is an afterthought to the Father’s relation to the Son; and (3) the view that for Thomas, the Father has no proper mode of action in the created universe – since Thomas maintains that in all ad extra activity, the Trinity acts as a single principle. Two less polemical, more perennial issues are discussed as well. First, the concept of relation, as the key to a coherent account of three distinct persons in one same divine essence, emerges as an important theme in Aquinas’ exposition of the Father’s paternity and innascibility. Second, Aquinas understands the Father as the source of unity in the Trinity and as the beginning and end of the whole created universe. It becomes clear that St. Thomas places forceful emphasis on the Son’s equality to the Father and on the radical difference between the creator and the creature.


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Preliminary Note: Basic Terminology 21


Preliminary Note: Basic Terminology In this preliminary note, we prepare the discussion for the subsequent chapters by reviewing the basic terminology of Aquinas’ Trinitarian theology. This presentation pretends neither to be exhaustive nor to offer an original contribution to the field of Trinitarian theology; its purpose is simply to obviate the need for obtrusive tangents in the following chapters. Discussion of the Trinity demands an account of divine unity and the distinction of persons, beginning with the Father. We need a way to refer to what is one in God and what is three. For the Father is not the Son or the Holy Spirit, and the Son is not the Holy Spirit; yet all three are coequally the divine essence. Aquinas inherits the terminology that is summarized in the Trinitarian mnemonic: “one essence, two processions, three persons, four relations and five notions.”1 In the Summa Theologiae, he identifies the five notions, four relations and three personal properties that pertain to the divine persons: There are five notions, namely paternity, filiation, procession, innascibility and common spiration. But only four of these are properties that belong to only one person, namely paternity and innascibility, which belong only to the Father; filiation, which belongs only to the Son; and procession, which belongs only to the Holy Spirit. Common spiration cannot be called a property simply, because it belongs to two persons…. Of these [five] notions only four are relations, namely, paternity, filiation, procession and common spiration; for innascibility is not properly...

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