Monday, 24 January 2011

Question 38 - The Name "Gift"

Why this Question Matters.

In Acts 2:38, Peter foresees the gift of the Holy Spirit to those who repent and are baptized. The final topic in Aquinas’s trilogy of questions on the Holy Spirit concerns “Gift” as a name for the Holy Spirit.

The Thread of the Argument

A1: The first question that Aquinas asks is whether the term “Gift” can even be considered as the name of the name of a Person of the Trinity. In order to overcome objections to this idea, Aquinas has to define the sense in which “Gift” is to be used. “Gift” indicates something apt to be given as well as indicating a relationship with the giver and with the receiver. For a gift to be given it has to be able to belong to the giver and to the one receiving. In the case of the Holy Spirit there is no problem with the idea of the gift belonging to the giver, but the case of belonging to the receiver (us) is more difficult. Aquinas argues that “to belong” implies that receiver must be able to use or enjoy the given in freedom. For rational creatures this is only possible when the creature is in some sense conjoined to God. But that we are able to participate in the divine Word and in the Love that proceeds is the supernatural end of man, lifted up by God. Hence in this sense, the gift that God gives to us can be possessed by us.

In reply to the objection that the name “Gift” does not really distinguish a person in God, Aquinas answers that for a gift to belong to someone can be understood in three ways. In the first sense anything can be considered to belong to itself; in this sense the Holy Spirit can be considered to give Himself. In the second sense, something belonging is a possession and as such is different in essence from the giver; in this sense the gift of God can be something created (such as a created grace). In the third sense, something belongs when it has its origin in the one to whom it belongs. This is the sense in which the Son belongs to the Father and the Holy Spirit belongs to the Father and to the Son. In this last sense we see that the giver and the given can be considered Persons of the Trinity.

A2: We’ve seen that “Gift” can be considered as a name for a Person of the Trinity, but how can it be considered as a proper name for the Holy Spirit? As scripture tells us that “A Son is given to us” it would seem that the name could not be proper to the Holy Spirit. Likewise, this name does not seem to signify any property of the Holy Spirit; it is not characteristic of Him.

Aquinas quotes Aristotle to the effect that a gift is given with no intention of being recompensed; a true gift expresses true love, the willing of good for another. Therefore the first gift is of the love itself which stands as the primary gift through which all gifts are given. As the Holy Spirit proceeds as “Love”, He therefore proceeds as if the primary gift. Therefore the name gift is proper to the Holy Spirit, expressing His character as the primary among all gifts. Even though the Son is truly given, the fact that the Son is given is on account of the Father’s love.

Handy Concepts

  • The Holy Spirit can be considered as “Gift” to us as his origin is in the Father and the Son and we can possess him when we are elevated to the supernatural.
  • “Gift” is a name proper to the Holy Spirit as love is the very foundation of any true gift.

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