dominican publications

A text by Aquinas that encapsulates Dominican theology and spirituality

Vivian Boland, OP
 imagesF8R3MTUMSumma Theologiae Ia pars, question 43, article 5, reply to the second objection

Thomas Aquinas writes –

By grace the soul is divinized. When by grace a Divine Person is sent to someone, the receiver must be made like the Person sent through a particular gift of grace. Since the Holy Spirit is Love, the soul becomes like the Holy Spirit through the gift of charity: so it is in charity that the mission of the Holy Spirit is seen. And the Son is the Word: not just any word, however, but the Word that breathes Love, as Augustine says in De Trinitate, book IX, ‘the Word as we intend it here means knowledge accompanied by love’. Consequently, the soul becomes like the Word not by any strengthening of the mind, but only by that forming of the mind that bursts forth into love. We read of it in John 6:45, ‘everyone who has heard and learned from the Father comes to me’, as well as in Psalm 38(39):4, ‘at the thought of it, the fire blazed up’. Augustine pointedly says that ‘the Son is being sent whenever someone has knowledge or perception of him’, for ‘perception’ indicates a kind of experiential knowledge. This is properly called ‘wisdom’, sapientia coming from sapida scientia, a tasted knowledge, as Sirach 6:23(22) puts it, ‘wisdom is like her name’.

Vivian Boland writes –

The 43rd question of the Prima Pars is one to which I have returned again and again. I have done so not only when I have been teaching a course on, for example, the theology of grace, but when preparing retreat conferences, reflecting on great biblical passages like John’s Prologue, giving short introductions to the theology of Aquinas, as well as for my own spiritual reading.

It is one of the linking questions that you find in the Summa, the last question of one section which is also the first question of the following section. This question finishes Thomas’ account of the Blessed Trinity but it also begins his treatment of creation. The missions of the Persons of the Trinity are the sendings of the Son and the Spirit by the Father into this world and its history.

This question takes us straight to the heart of Thomas’s theology which is always focused simply on God and on grace. In concluding what he says about the Blessed Trinity, he feels obliged to speak already about creation and salvation, grace and deification, the world and its history, time and eternity, nature and the supernatural, God making Himself visible through all this and yet remaining invisible in the darkness to which all our theology points. One of the reasons for returning to this question is that it is, like a very good brandy, a rich distillation of an entire theological vision.

The passage I have chosen from question 43 is a key text on divinization, which some might regard as the property of Eastern Orthodox theology. Yet here it is in Thomas, for of course it is a biblical teaching: ‘we have become partakers of the divine nature’ (2 Peter 1:4) and ‘if someone loves me, he will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him’ (John 14:23). This divinization happens through the coming to us of the Son and the Spirit, the indwelling of the Persons of the Trinity. Sanctifying grace enables us to receive these Guests and their dwelling in us has the effect of shaping our nature and our abilities in new ways. The Spirit who is Love makes us to be lovers: Thomas has extraordinary texts on this point elsewhere in his writings. If the Spirit is Love, bringing charity, then the Son shapes our intellectual nature because he is the Word. The presence of the Divine Word will mean not simply a new knowledge or understanding but always also new love, a new experience. The Word is verbum spirans amorem, ‘the Word that breathes Love’, for me one of the most beautiful phrases in all of Thomas’s writings. To experience this Word is to be wise.

For me question 43 encapsulates Dominican spirituality and theology: we do not have to choose between Son and Spirit, institution and charism, head and heart, doctrine and experience. Dominican theology is holistic, all-embracing, as the Father embraces the world and its history with both his ‘arms’, the Word and the Spirit.