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The Notion of Person in Augustine and Aquinas By David Fleischacker, Ph.D.

To some, the arguments about the notion of person may seem to be like trite linguistics gymnastics. Yet, one can see the confusion in the use of the term in a variety of areas, especially when discussing the unborn or those in persistent vegetative states. This points to a deeper crisis in todays world. One can see in many writings of the late John Paul II that part of the crisis in the world today is one in which the modern mind does not know really know himself. At the heart of this crisis of self-knowledge is the need to understand ourselves as persons in the image of God, as the book of Genesis reveals, and the great thinkers of Christian history explore. One could say that many of us in this world tend to understand ourselves more as sophisticated animals than as human beings, let alone as children of God or as persons in the image of the Three Persons in God. In reaching for this solution, part of what is needed is the turn from a dramatic descriptive definition of the human person, something based largely on sensitive impressions, to a scientific, philosophical, and theology understanding. So, as a contribution to this recurrent need for self-knowledge, it is an interesting to compare and related two of the great figures in history whose contribution to the meaning of person has become part of rich theological tradition of the Catholic faith, St. Augustine and St.Thomas. In executing this comparison and relation, three questions will be posed. First, in what context and under what conditions do St. Augustine and St. Thomas introduce the notion of person. Second, what do each saint mean by person. Third, what are some of

the consequences that result from their notion of person.

St. Augustine: De Trinitate 1. The Context in which Augustine Discusses the Notion of Person Augustine's book de Trinitate, is a great paragon of one of his inherited phrases, faith seeking understanding. The Holy Trinity is the great mystery, and Augusine reminds us repeated at the beginning of nearly every book, though the human mind is wholly inadequate for searching the meaning of this great mystery, it can begin to do so, with the help of God. Important for Augustine is that the person in search of God does not think of the three persons as having any ". . . bulk, or of intervals, or of any distances of unlikeness, howsoever small . . ." because this will lead to inequality among the persons and confusion of the persons (241). For, says Augustine quoting the prophet, "Unless you believe, you shall not understand." So Augustine repeatedly states that faith is where to begin (241), followed by an eye that has been lifted to see more than merely the sensible.

2. The Meaning of Person The meaning of the term person is first raised explicitly in book five, then it is treated more fully in book seven. In both books, St. Augustine raises the same simple question and gives the same simple answer. He writes "Since, therefore, the Father, the Son, and the Holy spirit are three, let us ask what three, and what they have in common" (231). The simple answer is that they are three persons, but about the only explicit thing

that Augustine says about the notion of person is that he is using it in its common meaning. He does not further articulate this common meaning.

Characteristics and Activities of the Persons However, that does not mean that we cannot discern more about his understanding of person from the text. Before St. Augustine arrives at this point, he has been discussing these three in every book prior to the seventh. He clarifies who they are, what they have and do not have in common, and what they do or do not do in common, as described by a number of passages in Scripture. Already in book one, we know they are one God; that the Father is God, the Son is God, and Holy Spirit is God. We know that each possess one and the same power, wisdom, and justice. They work together in creating and in redeeming the world. In other books, Augustine argues the Scriptural basis for knowing that they are distinct, for only the Father says "Thou art my Son," only the Son says "The Father and I are one," and only the Holy Spirit is identified when the Son says "I will be sending another." In addition, we know that all three are equal because all three are the one God, and have one and the same essence. Augustine identifies many things about these three Persons in these early books, as he reflects upon Scripture, even though he does not discuss the meaning of Person as such until book five (though, in many of these instances, he does apply the term Person). Persons Distinct by Relations Perhaps the most significant contribute which Boethius then picks up is Augustines contribution to the discussion about the basis of the distinction between the

Three at the beginning of book five, chapter five. The Father is the Father, not because he is wise, good, just, powerful, or God, but because he is the Father who begets the Son. Likewise with the Son, he is the Son because he is begotten by the Father. And likewise with the Holy Spirit, the Holy Spirit is the Holy Spirit because he is the Gift of the Giver, being both the Son and the Father. The distinction of these three is solely due to the relations between them. They are not distinct because of the divine essence as such, or any of the characteristics that are identical with the divine essence, such as wisdom, goodness, truth, and justice. Only because of the relations are they distinct. This formulation in turn will play into the construction of what becomes the Filoque subsequently affirmed at the local Council of Orange in 654, and then of the explicit clarity in the Fourth Lateran Council in 1274 that affirms the basis of the distinction between Persons being rooted in the opposed relations.

Person as Compared to Substance, Genus, and Species Augustine does begin to raise some questions that move toward the definition of the term person in book seven, when he discusses the relation of the term 'person' to the terms 'substance,' 'genus,' and 'species.'

Person and Substance

Augustine, at times, is willing to use the term three substances rather than three persons, but he thinks person is more appropriate both because it apparently suggests the notion of relation while substance suggests being compound rather than simple.

Substance is compound because it suggests subsistence, which for Augustine, implies a relation to accidents which reside in that which subsists. But in God, there are no accidents, and hence substance is not appropriate for identifying in God what is meant by essence or what is meant by person (235).

Person, Genus, and Species

Augustine first identifies person as a kind of genus, because even "man" is identified as a person (232). But there are other discussions about these terms which he discards. The most prominent is the position that identifies the divine essence as a genus and the person as a species. This does not work for various reasons, primarily because the genus has a distinction from the species that does not exist between the persons and the divine essence. Using the illustration of the statues, for example, the analog being three statues and one gold, the form of the statues is distinct from that of the gold, whereas in the Trinty the Father is not a form made from the divine essence, but is the divine essence, just as is true of the Son and the Holy Spirit (as a note, St. Augustine argues how this illustration with statues and gold cannot properly be said to have a relation of species and genus). Furthermore, the material analog fails because of the lack of equality. Three statues are more than one, but the three Persons are not more than one person. Their equality exists because they are the one and identical divine essence (236237). Other analogues using genus and species are also rejected (238-239). Apparently some were trying to initiate definitions of a person in terms of genus and species, but this did not work.

So What can be said about person? Each one of the three is one and the same God. Sometimes one, two, or all three of the persons are said to speak or act in some event. Certain characteristics, like being a Father, belong to the person as person, and when they do so, the predication belongs to the person in their relation to another person. Whenever though the predication is attributed to the person alone, without being based in the relations, it is predicated in identity with the divine essence, or with God (189). Thus, these persons are distinct from each other because of their relations to each other, and they can have events and characteristics predicated of them either in terms of their divine essence or in terms of their relations. Once Augustine clarified some of these points about each of the Three, he then raised the question about what they had in common that was distinct from their sharing of the divine essence (or of being God). The answer is that each is a person. So, a divine person is distinct by relation and can possess characteristics either based on that relation or on the divine essence, which each one is. Augustine did not, though, give a definition of person which would clearly articulate what was meant by the term.

3. Consequences of this Notion of Person Augustine's discussions of person are within the context of Church teaching, Scripture, and tradition. He does not develop a definition of person in that context, though some meaning of the term can be gleaned from his discussion of the Three Persons. No such definitions or discussions of person arise after book seven, and thus

Augustine does not introduce any further use for the term or give it any further definition when he introduces his three analogs of lover, loved, and loving; mind, knowing, will; memory, understanding, and love. Though he does not further develop the term, his discussions of the three persons in these earlier books have a role in examining the aptness of the various analogies that he discusses, not only the three to which he gives some credence, but the many material analogs that he rejects. Further, because there are three Persons and one God, he is searching for analogs of three and one. Of the three analogs that he accepts, there is no other reason for limiting these interior acts to three. Thus, Augustine cannot give a reason why there are three persons in God using his analogies. What his analogies do is to help us to understand other aspects of the Trinity, such as why they are equal (for example, see book nine, chapter five), how there can be three, yet one, and what are some characteristics of these three acts that explain why the Persons are identified in certain ways in Scripture. No other role for the notion of person arises in these later books other than being the basis for searching for three acts and acts with particular characteristics that match Scripture and Church teachings. Many of these further explanations would need to wait until St. Thomas.

Thomas Aquinas: Summa Theologica 1. The Context in which St. Thomas Discusses the Notion of Person The grounds upon which St. Thomas discusses the Trinity are Church Teaching, Scripture, and various Authorities in the tradition. We know by faith not by reason that

there are three persons. Yet, guided by faith, we can make proposals and explore that faith, trying to grasp analogical reasons for it. Thus, in the Trinity, one could make the proposal about two processions in God, and from this proposal conclude to the existence of a Trinity of Persons, and even identify their defining features and characteristics. This is what St. Thomas does in the course of his discussions in questions 27-43. The fact that the analogical conclusions are always supporting of what is known about the Trinity and each of the persons supports the value of its analogical insights. St. Thomas introduces the notion of person following a discussion of the existence and characteristics of God in questions 2-25. Critical to those earlier discussions was the grasping of the simplicity, subsistence, and rationality of God. As simple, God is not compound. As subsistent, God exists in himself and not in another. As rational, he possesses both intellect and rational appetite (though these are not discursive in God as they are in us). As we shall see, these notions become important for grasping why there exist three divine persons.

2. The Meaning of Person The four articles of question 29 discuss the Divine persons. The first gives a definition developed by Boethius. It can be summarized as an "individual (singularis) substance with a rational nature." A person is a perfected type of substance. In article 2, St. Thomas elaborates on what is meant by person by discussing three meanings of substance. The first is substance as res naturae, which arises when considering a thing in terms of its common nature. The second is substance as a hypostasis, which arises when

considering the thing as underlying these accidents (notice this is the notion of substance that Augustine has in mind when using the term substance). The third is substance as a subsistent, which arises when considering the thing as existing in itself and not in another. Person is all of these when "rational nature" is added. So, a Person possesses a rational nature, exists in itself and not in another, is that which possess a common nature (or two if we are speaking of Jesus), and is that which underlies accidents. In the case of God, there are no accidents, so, person comes to refer to an individual subsistence that possess the common nature of rationality.

3. Consequences of Defining the Notion of Person Defining person as an individual or a distinct subsistent in a rational nature allows for an exposition of the Trinity that explains why there are three distinct persons as well as the nature of their principle characteristics. Let me illustrate these consequences with one of the points, namely the answer to why there are three distinct persons (going further, and discussing the characteristics of these persons would require more space than is allotted for this essay). So, why are there three distinct persons? In Augustine, the question was answered doctrinally and scripturally, but not analogically. In St. Thomas, we can answer this analogically. Because of limited space, I will presuppose Thomas' argument for the simplicity and subsistence of God, as well as the two processions (and why there are only two). To identify a person, therefore, each of these terms must be fulfilled. In other words, the

individual, the subsisting, and the rationality of the nature must be grounded. First, what does Thomas mean by individual. In article 4, St. Thomas identifies individual as meaning the distinguishing principle or basis that one subsistence is not another. In the case of human being, the materiality of our particular bones and flesh distinguish us from other human beings (q. 29, a. 4). In other words, even if I was completely identical, even to the location of cells and neurons as another, I would still be distinct from that other because my spatial-temporal, or material uniqueness is a constituent element of my being, and not a constituent element of the other. In the case of God, no such materiality exists, and hence a different principle of distinction must be found and that principle is found in real relations. St. Thomas wrote that "while in God the hypostasis is expressed as distinct by the relation: and thus relation, as such, enters into the notion of person indirectly" (q. 29, a. 4). Linking relation into the definition of a Divine person is not enough to distinguish divine persons. The relations themselves must be distinguished, and this was one reason that St. Thomas introduces the discussion of processions and relations first. Two processions in God lead to four real relations. I am not going to reproduce the arguments and full discussion of q. 27, but only the conclusions. There are two processions, one of word and the second of love. The procession of love proceeds from the procession of the word. St. Thomas argues that the analogy must be taken from an inward not external procession (cause to effect), and the highest created analogy to understand this event is the human intellect, for the "action remains in the intelligent agent," something which is important if we are to discuss the immanent processions of God, which remain eternally

in God himself. So, what is this procession? St. Thomas writes "For whenever we understand, by the very fact of understanding there proceeds something within us, which is a conception of the object understood, a conception issuing from our intellectual power and proceeding from our knowledge of that object." This is the analog of the first procession, that of word. With this similitude, we can then state, analogically, that in God is an act of Understanding that issues forth in an emanation of an internal Word. In the third article of question 27, St. Thomas introduces the analogy for understanding the second procession, it is the procession of the love from the word. He writes "the operation of the will within ourselves involves also another procession, that of love, whereby the object loved is in the lover; as, by the conception of the word, the object spoken of or understood is in the intelligent agent. These two processions are related. The procession of the word is an act that begets an object present which then can be loved. Hence, in the first something is born in the knower, namely a word, and once born, this word can be loved. This order of processions is one key for distinguishing relations, hence persons. From the processions, one can then move on to relations (q. 28). The processions result in relations which are opposed. When considering the understanding and the conception, the understood begets the concept, and the concept is begotten by the understood, relations which could be identified as 'paternity' and 'filiation' respectively. They are relations which are opposed because they are defined by the opposite relations of two terms to each other. Thus, when such mutual 'regard' exists in God, which it does

if there is a procession of word in God, there exists real relations, meaning that the distinction between them is real and not merely rational (distinctions such as between wisdom, power, and justice in God are notional, because each one is identical to the divine nature) (q. 28, a.4). Likewise with the relations derived from the procession of love. These can be expressed as understanding/conception to love, and love to understanding/conception. The relation of the first is spiration, because from the understood and the concept emanates the love, and the relation in the reverse direction, where one considers love as emanating from the understood and concept is identified as 'procession' (for lack of better terminology). Thus, we have two sets of relations that are defined by mutual opposition to each other, the first being paternity and filiation, the second being spiration and procession. Still, the first set is not defined in mutual opposition to the second. In other words, spiration is not an opposed relation to paternity or filiation, nor is 'procession' an opposed relation to paternity or filiation. So, how can they be distinguished? This is where one reintroduces the order of the processions, and the fact that there are two. In trying to discover a possible distinction between the two sets of relations, four comparisons can be made: spiration to paternity, spiration to filiation, procession to paternity, and procession to filiation (q. 28, a. 4). The comparison requires that one draws out a consequence about the processions if an identity is assumed between the base terms of two relations (a base term means the term from which the relation is derived, so it is from the point of view of the concept/Word that filiation is derived). So, if spiration

is considered from the viewpoint of concept/Word as is filiation, then spiration is said of the Son, and the Son is said to be that from which love proceeds, and this is true. If spiration is considered from the viewpoint of understanding as is paternity, then the understanding (who is the Father) is said to be that from which love proceeds, and this is also true. If procession is considered from the viewpoint of the concept/word as is filiation, then the Son is said to be that which proceeds as love, which is not true, for the Son is Word. Likewise, if procession is considered from the viewpoint of the understanding as is paternity, then the understanding is said to be that which proceeds as love, but likewise, this is not true, because the understanding (or the Father) does not proceed from anything (St. Thomas does not fully articulate all of these comparisons, but he does note them). This means that spiration can be equated with understanding and concept/word, leaving the procession intact, but the relation of 'procession' cannot. Hence that which proceeds as love is a relation that is distinct from filiation and paternity, but spiration is not. Hence there are three really distinct relations. Nothing else in God is distinct, not even the relations from the essence, which means that the relations are not really distinct from God's simplicity and subsistence and rationality. Now we can return to the definition of person, and conclude to three persons. A person is an individual subsistent in a rational nature. Since three of the real relations are distinct from each other, then we have a principle of individuality, which fulfils one term of the definition. Since nothing in God is really distinct except these three relations, each person is subsistent and rational, because God is subsistent and rational, hence, we have fulfilment of the other two terms of the definition. Thus, if all the terms defining a

person are really fulfilled in God, then we have the actuality or reality of what of this definition in God. Thus, since we have three that fulfill the definition of person in God, we actually have three Persons in God (q. 30, a.1 and 2). This is a question that Augustine would like to have answered, but could not. It required a number of developments, one of which was a definition of person as an individual subsistent in a rational nature (and a clear understanding of what is meant by individual). Once St. Thomas established the nature of the processions, of the relations, of the status of the relations as real and distinct, of the three distinct subsistents in an intellectual nature, or the three persons, he then goes on to discuss the characteristics of these three persons, given the original procession of word and of love. The proper characteristics are articulated as notions, of which there are five: innascibility, paternity, filiation, common spiration, and procession. Four of these are based on the relations, and thus on the processions and emanations. St. Thomas then further articulates these points in discussions of each of the persons in a series of questions.

Summary of Augustine and Thomas The notion of person as it is found in St. Augustine and St. Thomas underwent development. Augustine's explicit discussion of person is that it is the answer to the question "Three What?" (Which is the same question Tertullian Answered). The answer is three persons, not three substances or three essences or three modalities. For

Augustine though, the answer is not merely negative, his use of the term indicates a recognition that a Person is that to which certain characteristics and activities belong. Some events belong to God the Father, others to the Son, others to the Holy Spirit, and sometimes to all three. St. Augustine's analogy of memory, knowledge and will (as well as his analogies of mind, knowledge, and will), begin to suggest an explanation for certain characteristics of the three Persons, but they do not explain why there are three persons or why these three persons necessarily have the various characteristics (once one proposes the two processions in God).
St. Thomas uses Boethius' definition of person as an individual subsistent in a rational nature. He clarifies the meaning of individual as

refering to the principle of individuation and the basis of distinctness. This distinctness, in the case of a Divine person is rooted upon a real distinct relation, of which there are three. By means of this precise

definition of person, as well as of processions and relations, St. Thomas is not only able to explain St. Augustine's basic question: "Three What?", but why. The three are three distinct subsistents in intellectual natures. He

goes further and explains why there are three, why they have the characteristics they possess, why Scripture identifies them as expressing these characteristics (as well as why they have the missions they are given, though I did not deal with this above). Augustine begins to explore these We will have to wait to see if

things, St. Thomas advance this exploration.

the modern world has further advanced this basic question of "Three What?" or whether it has forgotten these developments, and regressed to an earlier stage of development, of course, with modern twists.