Some claiming acquaintance with Aquinas, however, have been more doubtful about his Trinitarian commitments and the shape of his teaching. Several criticisms have been made of the Dominican theologian, sometimes with a nod to the, apparently, more compelling, integrated teaching of his Franciscan contemporary. To cite but a few of these criticisms: this account of Trinity is too rationalistic and jargon-laden; the intimate connection between the immanent and the economic Trinity has been broken; Aquinas’ talk of God over-emphasizes the essence and is relatively inattentive to the persons; the account of Trinity, sophisticated in itself, has inadequately informed the rest of the theology; the Trinitarian teaching is simply too speculative and fails to make a difference in Christian living and practice (Scheffczyk 1995). Aquinas, however, does affirm Trinity, and with Bonaventure affirms the centrality of Trinity; it is hard to see why he too should not be taken at his word. (p182-183)

I think the criticisms noted here of Aquinas (whom Emery defends) are indeed valid, but only relative to Bonaventure. If I were to be pugilistic, I might answer (overemphasizing, surely) that we should not take Aquinas “at his word” because the Trinity does not shine through every page and part of his theological writings as it does in Bonaventure.

But what God is in Godself, and in particular that God is triune, transcends the human capacity for knowing. (p184)

This is a brutalizing of God’s revelation, ironically in a passage that is all about God’s revelation. God has revealed Himself using male language. Ok, rant off.

As made by God, the world does offer testimony to the God that is triune; the world proclaims God in the ways determined by God in God’s creative activity. The triune God can be read in the ‘Book’ of creation. But the intellect has been clouded by sin, and human beings as under sin consequently fail to read this Book correctly; they are thus blind to the witness to the triune God provided by the creation. Thus, for humans to know the triune God, other ‘Books’ are required. There is the Book of Scripture, which testifies to God. The Old Testament is concerned with being and unity; but there are figures of the triune God even in the Old. The New Testament more openly proclaims the triune God; here, God reveals God, in the process making it possible to read anew the Book of creation correctly. Yet, for the grasping of the scriptural message about God, and so too the correct reading of the world, a further Book is needed, the Book of Life, which is God’s inner inspiration by which people are granted faith, and so accept God’s self-manifestation in Scripture. (p184)

This is, I feel, quite a strong (and accurate) distinction between Thomas’ view of the knowledge of the Trinity, and that of Bonaventure. There is no question that the Thomistic view has been highly influential, but I think it is flawed, both from a Trinitarian perspective (the vestiges and figures of which are everywhere in creation) and from the perspective of Thomas’ overall duality of knowledge, which I do not believe is completely sound. Bonaventure fares better in both respects.

On page 186, I am a little disappointed that Emery does not treat the Breviloquium in greater detail and catalog the full extent of how the Trinity impacts a wide range of Bonaventure’s system and thoughts.

The Good is central to Bonaventure’s discussion of the triune God. Bonaventure invokes the Good in treating God’s activities ad extra. Echoing Pseudo-Dionysius (e.g. De caelestia hierarchia, ch. 4; De divinis nominibus, ch. 4), Bonaventure notes that it pertains to the good to di􀁼use itself, to share its goodness or perfection with others. Hence, in creating, in bringing into existence and sustaining what is not God, God is sharing with creatures God’s goodness. God is free of any necessity to create; God would be God even if there were no universe of creatures. But, as good, indeed the ultimate goodness, it is wholly in keeping with, compatible with, God’s nature to bring others into existence. (p186)
Several basic features of love are pertinent to the presentation of  the triune God. Love is not self-contained; it has to do with another. To love is to give of oneself, to another. It is to share oneself with that other. Love is also mutual: it involves the love of that other in return. And true love involves more than the two; it will bring in a third, who is loved by the two. The two in their perfect love share themselves with a third, who so unites them fully. With respect to God, the relations that are constitutive of the divine persons are figured in terms of love. In the Father’s loving self-giving, the Son is generated; the Son loves the Father in return; and in the perfection of their mutual love, there is a third, the Holy Spirit, with whom they share themselves, in their love. (p187)

In the above quote we see the marks of Richard of St. Victor’s Trinitarianism on Bonaventure.

Origin is important in this meditation on the divine persons. The Son is generated by the Father, arises from the Father. The Holy Spirit proceeds from both the Father and the Son, receiving from both. The Father, however, is innascible, does not arise from another; the Father is of himself. On this basis, the Father enjoys a fundamental primacy (e.g. In I Sent., dist. 27, pars 1, a.unicus, q.2, ad3; dist. 28, a.unicus, qq.1–4; De Trinitate q.8, conclusion; Breviloquium, Part One, ch. 3, 7). Now, from Aristotle (Posterior Analytics I, ch. 2) and the Liber de causis, we know that what is more prior is more productive of being. And so, to the ‘negative’ aspect of the Father (namely, the Father does not arise from another) Bonaventure adds the more positive description, that the Father possesses a fontal plenitude.

This is excellent and a key part of Bonaventure’s theology.

While the second person is not innascible, the second divine person does receive from the Father the Father’s productive power, such that the second person is principle, with the Father, of the third. (p188)

I appreciate this nuance, and it is one of the reasons I prefer, along with Letham, if I am remembering correctly,  to say the the Spirit emanates from (or is spirated by) the Father through the Son, rather than the Father and the Son.

Bonaventure’s description of the primacy of the Father is perhaps his most innovative Trinitarian move. It also occasioned some controversy. Why is the first divine person the Father? Here, paternity, the personal characteristic of the Father, is surely relevant. The Father is the Father because of generation. But Bonaventure also observes the fontal plenitude of the Father, which pertains to the Father as first; and this seems, logically, to be prior to, apart from, generating. It is because of this primal fullness, as unoriginated, that this person can/must generate. Relation, then, would only provide a partial account for the person. The first person would be Father in a lesser sense (due to the primal fullness), and then logically in a fuller sense, because of generation (Hayes 1979: 42; Friedman 2010: 28–30). The richness of Bonaventure’s talk of the primacy of the Father in terms of plenitude might be offset by this relativization of paternity. (p189)

I think Bonaventure is exactly right to use the word “primacy” in regard to the Father and in fact that the Nicene Creed reflects this.

After considering different types of generation, Aquinas identifies the most suitable parallel as found in intellectual generation, and in particular, in one’s thinking of oneself, in which one forms a ‘word’ of oneself. He then painstakingly suggests how this would play out in God, taking into account the analyses offered in the first book. All perfections are to be affirmed of God; they are to be affirmed of God in a way proper to God; all imperfections, found in creatures, are to be denied of God. There is, in short, a grammar of divinity; and in the Trinitarian discussions, Aquinas observes that grammar. The upshot is that intellectual generation in God, by which the one spoken is distinguished from the one who speaks, is portrayed as a single, eternal act, in which the Word who is spoken possesses real being and indeed the same being as the Father. The Word is different from the Father, but does not proceed outside of God; the two stand in real relation, and the being of the two is the same. Each is identical with the divine essence, while different from each other. The relations constitutive of Father and second person, on the basis of the eternal intellectual generation, are subsistent. (p191)
In treating what belongs to the Trinity of persons in God [in Summa Theologica], Aquinas follows what he deems the order of doctrine, beginning with the processions (q.27) and then relations (q.28) and then person (qq.29ff.); this is to reverse the order of knowing, in which person is revealed first, but is in keeping with the pedagogical aim of the Summa theologiae, as announced in its brief Prologue. (p193)
Organization is indeed Aquinas’ forte, and he has constructed a teaching on God that is comprehensive and precise, leading to fresh insight into the Christian God, in the service of Christian faith. While sharing much with Bonaventure’s theology—the basic terminology of Trinitarian discourse, as this had emerged over the centuries; the linking of the immanent and the economic Trinity; the stressing of God’s salvific intention as the beginning and end of reflecting on Trinity—Aquinas’ account of the Christian God takes a distinctive shape. The pace is measured as he unfolds that teaching, moving from what the persons hold in common, to the persons themselves, including in their individuality, to the creative and salvific activities of the triune God in the world. Aquinas favours, as well, different authorities; as in the discussion of the processions in terms of rational activities, the debt to Augustine is more pronounced and obvious. Aquinas has, finally, shied away from what is likely the most distinctive feature of Bonaventure’s Trinitarian theology. Without naming Bonaventure, Aquinas rejects the parsing of innascibility in terms of fecundity; for him, innascibility simply means that the Father is not from another (ST I, q.33, 4, ad1). And although Aquinas certainly invokes the Dionysian insight into the self-diffuseness of the good when it comes to the action of God ad extra—witness his argument for the plausibility of the second person becoming incarnate (ST III, q.1, a.1, resp.)—he does not use that saying to portray the inner life of the Trinity, preferring to base the distinction of the persons who are God exclusively in subsistent relations. (p193-194)

This is a great summary by Emery. Aquinas is indeed a great systematician and I drew liberally from him in recent lectures. But in areas in which he differs from Bonaventure, I think that the Franciscan has the upper hand and a richer Trinitarian theology.



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