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God the Father in the Theology of St. Thomas Aquinas

Series:

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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Chapter 2: The Innascible Father 73

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Chapter 2: The Innascible Father St. Thomas Aquinas maintains that “the person of the Father cannot be known by the fact that he is from another but by the fact that he is from no one, and for this reason ‘innascibility’ is a notion of his.”1 For Aquinas and his contemporaries, two great figures, Ss. Augustine and Hilary, define the field concerning innascibility.2 Each wrote a treatise De Trinitate to address Arian problems. Hilary, who picks up the term innascibilitas (innascibility) from Tertullian and develops a more scriptural argument than Augustine, suggests that “authority,” and thus the Father’s principiality, is included in the notion of innascibility.3 Augustine, by contrast, deploying more complex speculative arguments dealing with relation and negation, uses the term ingenitus (unbegotten) as a strictly negative term.4 Augustine argues that since ingenitus is the negation of a relative term, it does not imply that the unbegotten Father is of diverse substance from the begotten Son. Lombard and Aquinas follow this line of reasoning, seizing upon Augustine’s assertion that ingenitus does not signify what the Father is but rather what he is not.5 In his Sentences (bk. 1, dd. 27-28), Peter Lombard distills the thought of Hilary and Augustine (and Fulgentius of Ruspe, taken to be Augustine), reading the two as convergent, though subordinating Hilary to Augustine. He bequeaths to his medieval successors a synthesis of Augustine and Hilary that invites original contribution. By the time Bonaventure and Aquinas are writing, the two camps have largely become aligned...

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