CT 62: Effect of Intellectual Removal of Personal Properties on the Divine Essence

Whoops! Somehow I skipped Chapter 62 of Compendium Theologiae, and moved right along to Chapter 63. It’s time to fix that.

A bit of review. In CT 61, Thomas shows that if you abstract away the personal properties of the persons of the Trinity, you have also abstracted away the persons and been left with the Divine Oneness. In this chapter, given the title, he appears to be going to discuss the effect of the same action on the divine essence, which is to say, on the Divine Oneness. Let’s see what happens.

If the question were to be asked whether, in consequence of the removal of the personal properties by intellectual abstraction, the divine essence would remain, the answer is that in one respect it would remain, but in another it would not.

It’s clear to me that the divine essence would remain; after all, we spent chapters and chapters discussing it before we ever got to the Trinity, and Aristotle proved the existence of God without ever hearing of the Trinity. But Thomas says that in one sense it would not. How so?

(I have to ask: to what extent does the divine essence remain before we abstract away the personal properties, given the weakness of the human intellect and our complete inability to comprehend the divine essence? I suppose Thomas would say, “To a limited extent, even more limited by the removal of the personal properties.” Fair enough.)

Intellectual abstraction can take place in two ways. The first is by abstracting form from matter. In this abstraction the mind proceeds from the more formal to the more material; the first subject remains until the end, and the ultimate form is removed first.

This, I gather, is the normal course of apprehension of a substance. The ultimate form would be the essence, or substantial form, of the substance; and then one would start in on the accidental forms; and eventually, all one would have left is the matter, which is the principle of individuation, and hence the first subject.

The second way of abstracting is by the abstraction of the universal from the particular, and this proceeds according to an order that is, in a sense, the opposite; the individuating material conditions are first removed, so that what is common may be retained.

And this is the opposite. In the first way, we remove universals becoming more and more particular; in the second way, we remove particulars, beginning with identity, become more and more universal.

In God, of course, there are neither matter and form, nor universal and particular. Nevertheless there is in the Godhead something that is common, and something that is proper and that supposes the common nature; for, in our human way of thinking, the divine persons are to the divine essence what individual supposita are to a common nature. According to the first type of intellectual abstraction, therefore, if we remove the personal properties, which are the subsisting persons themselves, the common nature does not remain. But in the second type of abstraction it does remain.

Remember that supposita are individual substances. A person is an individual substances with a rational nature. The divine persons are not supposita in the full sense; but in the divine context they are analogous to supposita.

What Thomas seems to be saying is that if we proceed in the first way, and abstract away the personal properties, we must have previously abstracted away the divine essence itself, that being more “universal”. But if we work in the opposite direction, and abstract away the most particular things, the personal properties, we still have the more “universal”.

Not that “particular” and “universal” really apply in this case, except by analogy with creatures.

I’m not at all sure why this matters.

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