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Whether There is Procession in God?

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C.f., Sent.I.D13.A1; SCG4.C11; QDePot.Q10.A1


In the beginning of the tract De Deo Trino, we are instantly faced with two central principles of St. Thomas' theological method, 1. The principle of the "golden mean," 2. The principle that heretics, in the words of St. Augustine, "help [the Catholic Church] to refine and test her doctrine."


Heretics help us by showing us the pitfalls on either side of the narrow road that is orthodoxy. Catholic theology considers these errors and not only goes "between" their errors in solving excess on the one hand and defect on the other hand, but also, by a more profound consideration of the revealed data goes ABOVE the opposed error, as a mountain peak is not only between the valleys, but above them. For, if one considers opposed errors, their mistake is typically rooted in lacking the same distinction. 


In Trinitarian theology, the two "valleys" are the heresies of Arianism and Sabellianism. Arianism, faced with texts of scripture (such as John 15:26) that affirms "procession" in God, errs by excess in positing that the Son proceeds from the Father transitively, i.e., outside of the Divinity, as a spoken word proceeds from us. Sabellianism, faced with the numerous texts of scripture affirming the unity of God, errs by defect in denying procession altogether. 


Arianism is correct to affirm procession and deny Sabellianism's denial of procession. Sabellianism is correct to affirm the numerical unity of the Godhead and deny Arianism's affirmation of a transitive procession of the Son from the Father. 


Their errors are commonly rooted in a failure to distinguish transitive (i.e., a procession from within to without) procession from immanent procession (i.e., a strictly internal procession). Since Arians saw that scripture affirmed "procession," they jumped to the conclusion that this must be between terms of diverse natures, i.e., be transitive. On the other hand, since Sabellians recognized that transitive processions involved a denial of unity, they denied "procession" altogether. Both confused "procession" in general with "transitive procession" in particular.


Each of these good intuitions (abused as to result in error) finds its completion in the notion of an immanet procession. On the one hand, it affirms (with the Arians, against the Sabellians) that there is procession in God. On the other hand, it affirms (with the Sabellians, against the Arians) that there is unity in God. 


How ought we to think of this notion of immanet procession? St. Thomas, by analogy with created processions, is able to purify our notions of procession in God and gain some understanding of the mystery. (c.f., Dei Filius 4)


Procession, in the broadest possible sense, is the "coming forth of one thing from another thing." It can denote the relationship of many things, a father's relationship to his son, an author's relationship to a book, an intellect's relationship to the word it pronounces. 


Yet, how are we to think of procession in God? Some processions involve a unity of species (such as the procession of a son from his fathers), others are diverse from the original species (such as a building from its workers), still others do not even exit the subject (such as a thought proceeding from a certain intellect).


In considering the manner in which some operation or attribute exists in God, we begin by asking ourselves whether imperfection is included in the notion of that operation or attribute. For example, when we consider "love" or "beauty" or "goodness" or "existence" we understand that no imperfection is present in any of those concepts, ONLY in the way in which those concepts exist in our experience of created things. Thus, we PROPERLY and FORMALLY say that God is "love," "beauty," "goodness," "existence," etc. On the other hand, when we look at such things as "anger," "hatred," "body," etc., we have imperfections and thus we METAPHORICALLY say that God is "angry," "hateful," "a body," etc.. 


How are we to determine whether something is perfect or imperfect in concept? A quick and easy way is to ask yourself whether an infinite version of it would cause a contradiction. Can something have infinite love, i.e., wish goodness to another without limit? Yes. Can something have an infinite body, i.e., be infinite extended across space? No. (c.f., ST.I.Q7.A3) 


Now, back to procession. Could something communicate oneself to another without limit? Yes. There is no reason why such an idea would be contradictory. 


Now that we have determined that procession is proper in God, we continue on to a consideration of the various "levels" of procession in creatures, more or less perfect, in order to see how a MOST PERFECT procession would look like. 


(Following SCG4.C11) At the lowest level, we have lifeless things. No procession can be said to properly occur from them. For, it is only by some action from an external agent that procession occurs. Thus, fire only proceeds from fire when another body is set on fire. 


Then, we reach the level of plant life. Here, we can properly speak of things "proceeding" from plants. A flower grows on the branch of the tree, which is transformed into a fruit, which falls onto the ground, spreading seed into the soil and causing another plant to grow. Yet, we see many signs of manifest imperfection in this manner of procession. First, the procession is over a period of time, happening little by little. Second, the procession is completely external (i.e., transitive) to the plant. 


Above this, we can look at a higher form of life, animal life. Animals, above plants, are able to engage in "sensitive life." In this, we are able to speak of "internal procession" in that those things that are external to the animal are brought into it by the working of the senses, whereas, plants had a purely external procession. We can even speak of "grades" within animal life of more perfect sensitive processions occuring. For some animals, there is merely a momentary communication. Others, having the faculty of memory, are able to have a more stable communication. 


Yet, there is always a manifest imperfection, no matter how highly we consider the sensitive powers of animals, the termini (i.e., the subject considered and the subject considering) will always be diverse. The action will always be transitive. While this is certainly a "step up" from plant life, it is not what we are looking for in God. 


Above sensitive life, we have intellectual life. In this, we have three grades, human, angelic, and Divine. Intelligent life allows us to move from that which is transitive (i.e., involving that which is external) to immanet (i.e., internal). For, intellectual beings are able to reflect upon themselves. Yet, men and angels do not carry out intellection in a purely intrinsic way. 


When men engage in reflex thinking (i.e., thinking about ourselves) we necessarily engage in this by means of some medium that is not ourselves. This is called the "intelligible species." When we think about anything, we have an "image" in our minds by which we think about that thing. We form that "image" by the working of our senses. Thus, the procession of our intellect is more perfect in that it begins and ends in ourselves, yet, it is built by means of something external. 


Angels, on the other hand, reach another level of perfection in the procession that is their intellect. For, an angel knows itself by means of a species that is completely intrinsic (whereas, while our intelligible species is intrinsic, it is formed by extrinsic considerations). Yet, there is an imperfection present in the angelic knowing. The angel, while having a completely intrinsic intelligible species, is other than this intelligible species. The intelligible species inheres in the angel as an accident. Thus, the angel is dependent on something besides itself for its knowing. 


Where does this leave us? We have investigated all manner of created procession to find all of them lacking that superior perfection that must be present in Divine procession. Thus, we must consider the imperfections present in created processions and deny those imperfections as present in Divine procession. 


In this, we have a procession that has it's beginning (*terminus a quo*), means (*principium quo*), and end (*terminus ad quem*) INTRINSIC TO God in a complete manner. YET, the beginning, means, and end must also BE GOD, i.e., be complete sharers in the supremely unified Divine Essence. 


Respondeo: Divine Scripture uses, in relation to God, names which signify procession. This procession has been differently understood. Some have understood it in the sense of an effect, proceeding from its cause; so Arius took it, saying that the Son proceeds from the Father as His primary creature, and that the Holy Spirit proceeds from the Father and the Son as the creature of both. In this sense neither the Son nor the Holy Spirit would be true God: and this is contrary to what is said of the Son, That . . . we may be in His true Son. This is true God (1 John 5:20). Of the Holy Spirit it is also said, Know you not that your members are the temple of the Holy Spirit? (1 Cor 6:19). Now, to have a temple is God’s prerogative. Others take this procession to mean the cause proceeding to the effect, as moving it, or impressing its own likeness on it; in which sense it was understood by Sabellius, who said that God the Father is called Son in assuming flesh from the Virgin, and that the Father also is called Holy Spirit in sanctifying the rational creature, and moving it to life. The words of the Lord contradict such a meaning, when He speaks of Himself, The Son cannot of Himself do anything (John 5:19); while many other passages show the same, whereby we know that the Father is not the Son.


Careful examination shows that both of these opinions take procession as meaning an outward act; hence neither of them affirms procession as existing in God Himself; whereas, since procession always supposes action, and as there is an outward procession corresponding to the act tending to external matter, so there must be an inward procession corresponding to the act remaining within the agent. This applies most conspicuously to the intellect, the action of which remains in the intelligent agent. 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 conception is signified by the spoken word; and it is called the word of the heart signified by the word of the voice.


As God is above all things, we should understand what is said of God, not according to the mode of the lowest creatures, namely bodies, but from the similitude of the highest creatures, the intellectual substances; while even the similitudes derived from these fall short in the representation of divine objects. Procession, therefore, is not to be understood from what it is in bodies, either according to local movement or by way of a cause proceeding forth to its exterior effect, as, for instance, heat from the agent to the thing made hot. Rather it is to be understood by way of an intelligible emanation, for example, of the intelligible word which proceeds from the speaker, yet remains in him. In that sense the Catholic Faith understands procession as existing in God.

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