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The Thomist 63 (1999): 579-612 THE CONTEXT AND CHARACTER OF THOMAS'S THEORY OF APPROPRIATIONS TIMOTHY L. SMITH University ofNotre Dame Notre Dame, Indiana ACCORDING TO THOMAS, 'appropriation' refers to the attempt to manifest the Trinity of divine Persons by means of essential attributes.1 Because the essential attributes are known from creation and are therefore more accessible to reason than the personal properties of the three Persons, we have greater access to them. Moreover, "just as we are able to use vestiges or images of the Trinity found in creation, so it seems permissible to use the essential attributes in the same way."2 These essential attributes are not to be asserted of the divine Persons as if they were proper to them but only by way of similitude or dissimilitude .3 The intention of such speech is best described as removing errors from our thinking and speaking about the three Persons. At first glance, Thomas's explanation of appropriations does not appear to be especially revealing or insightful. In fact, he dedicates only two articles to it in the Summa Theologiae. Similar discussions in the texts of earlier theologians went on for pages.4 Because of this comparative brevity, Thomas is often considered not to be innovative on this topic. One scholar notes that although we do not know to what extent Thomas was able to refer to Alain de Lille, Simon de Tournai, and the Porretan masters, he remains to a large extent 1 Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologiae I, q. 39, a. 7. 2 "Sicut igitur similitudine vestigii vel imaginis in creaturis inventa utimur ad manifestationem divinarum Personarum, ita et essentialibus attributis" (ibid.). 3 Ibid., ad 1. 4 Augustine, for example, discusses the appropriation of power and wisdom to Christ for almost two entire books (De Trinitate 6-7). 579 580 TIMOTHY L. SMITH the heir of their teaching. The Porretan theologians were the first to assemble the patristic dossier that is essentially reproduced and organized into a solid structure in the Summa Theologiae.5 With these words J. Chatillon consigns Thomas to the status of heir and innovative compiler of material that was worked out by earlier if not greater minds. Thomas's contribution is assumed to be one of putting such insights into a very concise and readable form. According to Chatillon's study, appropriation theory is based on a text in Romans that appears to refer to distinct divine Persons in the act of creation: "For from him and through him and in him are all things" (Rom 11:36). Beginning with Augustine's De doctrina Christiana, this text was used as "the point of departure" for theological reflection that seeks to "render an account of the ineffable mystery of the distinction of persons."6 Such reflection then provides a kind of accessus to the mystery of the divine Persons.7 Chatillon contends that Augustine, in the De Trinitate, combines the teaching of Romans 1:20 (that our understanding of invisible things is had by created things) with Romans 11:36 in order to justify a "method of intellectual ascension ... to the knowledge of the mystery reflected in creation."8 The understanding "by means of created things" is, according to Chatillon, an ascent to the mystery itself, that is, to the distinction of divine Persons. Chatillon uses Augustine's discussion as the framework for treating Thomas and his sources. For Chatillon, as well as for al5 "Pourtant, bien que nous ne sachions pas clans quelle mesure saint Thomas d'Aquin a pu frequenter Alain de Lille, Simon de Tournai et !es maitres porretains, c'est de leur enseignement qu'il demeure pour une large part l'heritier. Ce sont en effet !es theologiens porretains que avaient ete Jes premiers a rassembler Jes elements du dossier patristique dont la Summa theologiae reproduit l'essentiel et a !es organiser clans un traite solidement structure" (Jean Chatillon, "Unitas, Aequalitas, Concordia vel Connexio," in St. Thomas Aquinas 1274-1974: Commemorative Studies, vol. 1 (Toronto: Pontifical Institute of Medieval Studies), 375. 6 "Rendre compte ... de !'ineffable mystere de la distinction des personnes" (ibid., 337). 7 In order to make his study of the theory's development more manageable...


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