Monday, 24 January 2011

Question 37 - The Name "Love"

Why this Question Matters.

In the second of this trio of questions concerning the Holy Spirit, Aquinas asks about how we can consider the name “Love” to be used of the Holy Spirit. The bulk of the arguments in this question concern the precise use of language to express precise concepts; a problem made harder for the lack of terminology given to us to talk about the Holy Spirit. Despite its technical clothing, this question is important because it allows Aquinas to steer a course between many Trinitarian errors, maintaining a coherent account of the three Persons and the one essence.

The Thread of the Argument

A1: Following a by now well established pattern, Aquinas asks whether the name “Love” can be considered a proper name for the Holy Spirit. There are some difficulties: we already attribute the term “Love” to God, how then can it be proper to the Holy Spirit? “Love” doesn’t really seem to signify a subsistent person, rather it signifies an action; love is a bond between persons, not something that proceeds from them; if the Holy Spirit is “Love” that loves then there will be a love that belongs to “Love” and therefore a Spirit from the “Spirit”.

The basic problem that Aquinas has to face in answering these objections is the lack of words that we have to describe the different modes of love. Consequently, much of the effort in this question describes the need for precision in how the word “Love” is being used in saying that “Love” is a proper name for the Holy Spirit. He immediately points out that the name “Love” can be taken both with respect to God’s essence and with respect to a Person of the Trinity. To illustrate this he makes an analogy with the procession of the “Word”. When thought of as a Person, God’s “Word” is his self-understanding insofar as it comes forth from Him. But we recall that “understanding” and “an understanding” are also predicated of the divine essence; God’s knowledge and understanding of things is creative of them, for example. In similar fashion, “love” and “to have affection for” are predicted of the divine essence. But whereas in the case of understanding in the intellect, we have words such as “word” and “to speak” in order to express what proceeds from the intellect, we have to make double use of the word “love” to express both what exists in the will and what proceeds from the will. Therefore, as long as we understand “Love” to be the name that refers to “Love insofar as it proceeds from the divine will” then we can rightly claim “Love” as a proper name of the Holy Spirit.

In answering the objections, Aquinas is able to expand upon this explanation. When we think of ourselves, we realize that love is something that remains within the lover in a sense similar to how the “inner word” (verbum cordis in Latin, “word of the heart”) remains within the one expressing a conception; yet there is also a relation to the thing loved or to the thing expressed by the word. When this is raised to the consideration of God, the relational aspect gives us the subsistent Persons. In replying to the third objection, Aquinas points out that the Holy Spirit is not some sort of “medium” between the Father and the Son, but rather one of the Persons of the Trinity; He provides the “bond” between the Father and the Son because of the single relation of love that the Father has for the Son and the Son has for the Father. For the final objection, Aquinas points out the parallel with the Son. Understanding belongs to the Son only insofar as He is the Word proceeding; He does not have an understanding that is in any sense separate from the understanding that God has of Himself. There is no word that proceeds from the “Word” and likewise, there is no love that proceeds from the “Love”.

A2: The second article probes further the idea that the Father and the Son love one another by the Holy Spirit. Aquinas approaches this question from the point of view of a grammatical analysis as he believes that other scholars have been led into error by misunderstanding how “by” should be taken. In Latin, this idea is expressed with the use of the ablative case (Spiritu Sancto) which is often interpreted as indicating instrumentality (“I hit the nail with the hammer”), although it can also be used in many other ways including to give a sense of origin (“He came from the village”). Aquinas points out that taking the ablative in its instrumental sense here, as if the Holy Spirit were some sort of cause, is to get things back to front. He then runs through a list of misunderstandings that originate with this mistake.

Aquinas singles out the opinion of Richard of St. Victor: the ablative should be taken here as indicating a “formal effect”. To explain what this means and to justify the interpretation, Aquinas points out that we often name things from their forms (a man from humanity, for example) and that the expression of this formal cause of things often uses the ablative case. But in a phrase like “he is clothed with a garment”, also using the ablative, what is expressed is not the fact that the garment is a form in the sense of signifying something in the subject (“he”) but rather points to one of the ten categories (or modes of being) giving the sense that “he is having the garment”. Similarly, when we say that “a tree blooms with its flowers”, we are not saying that the flowers are the form of the tree’s blooming but rather that the flowers are the effect of the tree’s blooming.

It is in this latter sense that we can say that the Father and the Son love by the Holy Spirit. But we also have to restrict “love by the Holy Spirit” to the Persons (or more strictly to the characteristics or “notions” that identify the Persons); if we take “love” in an essential sense (as discussed in Article 1) then the Father and the Son love by their common essence. If we take “love” as characteristic of the Persons of the Father or of the Son, then we are using it the sense of “to spirate love”. So, with these restrictions, just as we can say that the Father utters himself by His Word, so we can say that the Father and the Son love by the Holy Spirit.

The reply to the third objection anticipates some of the themes that Aquinas is going to cover in his teaching on creation (QQ. 44-49). The Father loves not only the Son but also Himself and us by the Holy Spirit. Taking “love” in its notional sense, characteristic of the Father, includes both the bringing forth of the Holy Spirit and the Holy Spirit Himself. In the same way that in uttering the Word the Father completely expresses Himself (including us!), by the Holy Spirit He loves us in loving His Word.

Handy Concepts

  • As long as we understand the name “Love” in the sense of the love that proceeds from the divine will, we can rightly claim “Love” as a proper name for the Holy Spirit.
  • As long as we don’t mistake “by” as indicating a cause but rather an effect, we can say that the Father and the Son love each other by the Holy Spirit.
  • In his reply to the second objection, Aquinas uses the terminology of “notions” (or “characteristics”). Notions are basically abstract concepts that allow us to identify and distinguish the divine Persons. There’s a close connection with the idea of a “property” (where the word is taken in a technical sense) as something that belongs strictly to one subject or class of subjects. A property of a divine Person provides something notional (or characteristic) of them. To illustrate this, that the Father speaks his Word is a notion of the Father and His speaking that Word is a notional action. The term “love” can be taken as an essential action of God but also as a notional action of the Father and the Son jointly.

1 comment:

  1. A comment from sunsetmike originally posted here has been moved to Q39.