- Divine Innascibility in the Theology of Ss. Gregory Nazianzen and Thomas Aquinas
GOD THE FATHER can be known distinctly in three ways: (1) insofar as he is unoriginate, or proceeds from no one and has no principle—on account of which he is said to have innascibility; (2) insofar as he is the principle of the Son—on account of which he has paternity; and (3) insofar as he is the principle of the Holy Spirit—on account of which he has spiration. There is no way to tell the Father apart from the other divine persons besides these three notions.1 This article will consider the first of these three notions—the Father's innascibility, or unbegottenness—in the thought of St. Gregory of Nazianzus and St. Thomas Aquinas.2
It should come as no surprise that these two doctors agree on key doctrinal points. Yet because they come from different times and places, living in different cultures and writing in different languages, it should similarly come as no surprise that they articulate their doctrines in different ways. Even so, given the [End Page 57] common doctrinal ethos in the Church, such as we find preserved in creeds, and the fact that Aquinas was an inheritor of some of Nazianzen's work, many of the expressions they use are the same.3
Recent scholarship has sought to manifest the harmony between ancient Eastern theologians and Augustine and Aquinas, while taking note of their differences.4 This article intends to advance that fruitful line of inquiry. Although it is unremarkable that Nazianzen and Aquinas would agree in their articulation of Trinitarian theology, it is important to prove that we are not harmonizing the two authors by force. For those who would expect agreement, this article intends to provide clarifying documentation; for those who would be suspicious of such [End Page 58] agreement, this article hopes to offer some interesting discoveries.
This article will examine three topics: (1) the identity and distinction of the divine persons in terms of relations and properties (the result of which will give us confidence that Nazianzen and Aquinas are truly speaking the same language), (2) the Father being unoriginate (our principal interest), and (3) the Father's action through the Son and the Holy Spirit in the created order (a consequence of the Father not being from another).
We will verify a deep resonance between these two saints. We will see that they are in agreement on the following formulations of doctrine. Each divine person is the one identical divine essence, and yet each is distinct from the others in the real order by their properties, which are distinct on account of the relations that each person has the others. The unoriginate Father is the source of unity in the Trinity; and "unbegotten" properly applies to the Father, not the divine essence—although "unbegotten" can be taken in a more general sense to mean "uncreated." The Son and the Holy Spirit may be said in some sense to be led back to the Father. The Father acts through the Word and the Spirit in the created order; and thus, in grace, we are drawn by the Holy Spirit to the Son and by the Son back to the Father, our ultimate end.
There are differences. Whereas Aquinas places a strong emphasis on the Father's identity as being rooted in his paternity, Nazianzen manifests an inclination to think of the Father as the Unoriginate One. We find in Aquinas a greater coherence and consistency in articulation as well as some conceptual advances. Yet the precision and clarity of Nazianzen's assertions about the persons being distinct by property on account of their mutual relations could surprise disciples of Aquinas who might have expected this understanding to be in its embryonic stage in this period when, for instance, the definitive affirmation of the Holy Spirit's divinity was still being worked out. [End Page 59]
I. The Equality and Distinction of the Divine Persons in Terms of Relations and Properties
In Oration 20, Nazianzen supplies us with a succinct expression that identifies how...