CT 37: The Word in God

Public discourse in our day is awash with vague metaphor. We use words for general effect, to convey some general sense, rather than with precision. And so sometimes I’m surprised to discover that some theological term that I’ve used for years, and taken to be largely metaphorical, is in fact, both concrete and precise.

In Chapter 37, Thomas begins to discuss the relation between God and His Word. “God’s Word,” of course, we understand to be the Second Person of the Trinity, Christ Jesus, through whom everything was made that was made. But according to Thomas, the Son is God’s Word in a very real and precise sense.

We take from the doctrine previously laid down that God understands and loves Himself; likewise, that understanding and willing in Him are not something distinct from His essence. Since God understands Himself, and since all that is understood is in the person who understands, God must be in Himself as the object understood is in the person understanding.

We understand with our intellect; and our understanding is within us, within our intellect. Being a software engineer, I have a reasonably good understanding of how the laptop on which I’m typing this post works. That understanding doesn’t reside in the laptop; the laptop will function whether I understand it or not. That understanding doesn’t float out in the air somewhere. Nor (per Thomas and Aristotle) does it reside in my brain, though we’re accustomed to talking that way; it resides in my intellect, which is a function of my soul, rather than a function of my body. Thus, there is a real sense in which this laptop is within me. Thomas would say that understanding is understanding of form; hence, what is in my intellect is the form of the laptop.

That’s what the intellect does: it collects and manipulates and understands forms.

Now, God understands Himself; therefore the form of God is within God’s intellect; and since God understands perfectly, it is perfectly so.

But the object understood, so far as it is in the one who understands, is a certain word of the intellect; we signify by an exterior word what we comprehend interiorly in our intellect. For words, according to the Philosopher, are signs of intellectual concepts [De interpretatione, I, 1, 16 a 3].

I understand an object with my intellect; my intellect contains the object understood, or rather, its form. This interior understanding is represented to the world outside my intellect as a word, which is a sign of the concept: e.g., the word “laptop”. This word exists both within and without, that is, I understand not only my laptop, but also the word “laptop”, which I use as a sign for the understanding.

Hence we must acknowledge in God the existence of His Word.

This implies that the Son, the Second Person of the Trinity, is the exterior sign of God’s understanding of Himself. An exterior sign to who? To creation. Even at this most fundamental level, therefore, we see that the Son is a Mediator begin God and His creation.

OK, now this is way cool.

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