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8/31/2017 8:36 pm  #1

St. Bonaventure on the Father's innascibility as fontal plenitude

Within Catholic theology, the mistery of the Trinity has been aproached in basically two ways: the Eastern way beginning with the Trinity of Persons and the Western way beginning with the unity of nature. Within the West two theological schools developed, the Dominican and the Franciscan, having St. Thomas Aquinas and St. Bonaventure of Bagnoregio as their respective foremost representatives. Within the first school, the greatest representative of "strict observance Thomism" in the XX century was Reginald Garrigou-Lagrange, O.P. Thus, I will use an extensive quote of one of his works to show a problem with a strictly Thomistic approach to the mistery of the Trinity.

Reginald Garrigou-Lagrange, O.P., in [1] wrote:

Two difficulties remained in the Augustinian doctrine. The first arose from the fact that the generation of the Word takes place after the manner of intellection; but the three divine persons have intellect; therefore the three divine persons ought to beget, and then there would be a fourth person, and so on to infinity. This difficulty is solved by the distinction between intellection and the expression of the notional idea inasmuch as the three persons all have intelligence but only the Father expresses the intellection. He alone expresses because the Word is adequate and the most perfect expression of the divine nature and no other Word need be enunciated. Just as in a classroom while the teacher is teaching, both he and the pupils understand, but the teacher alone enunciates. [p. 68]
Second doubt. In the body of the article, does St. Thomas intend to say that a word is produced in every intellection?

The reply is in the negative, for manifestly St. Thomas holds that the Son and the Holy Ghost understand and still do not produce a word. The three divine persons understand by the same numerically one essential intellect, but only the Father enunciates, just as in a classroom both the teacher and the pupils understand but only the teacher enunciates. [p.84]
I insist. But why do not the Son and the Holy Ghost produce a word by their intellection?

Reply. This is part of the mystery and cannot be explained entirely. But we can say and should say, as do the Thomists, one intellection will have one word when that word is adequate. But in God intellection is infinite, and also the same for the three divine persons. Therefore in God there is one, infinite, and adequate word and no other word need be produced. The three persons understand but only the Father enunciates because He enunciates adequately, or because the Word already enunciated is perfect and without any imperfection. Nothing more need be enunciated in God nor would anything more be needed in the case of men if the teacher would be able adequately to say all that pertained to the matter under discussion. [p. 86]

I find quite surprising that Fr. Garrigou-Lagrange did not perceive that the classroom analogy he used - not just once but three times - was most inappropriate for shedding light on the mistery of the Trinity, because it flatly contradicted the most basic truth, particularly dear to the Thomistic school, that God, i.e. each of the divine Persons, is Pure Act, which means that there can be no unrealized (or unactualized) potency in any of the divine Persons.

Thus, the situation of the classroom, where each of the knowledgeable students is able to present the subject matter but does not do it because the teacher is already doing it appropriately, is absolutely unacceptable as an analogy for the Trinity, because it would imply that each of the Son and the Holy Spirit could enunciate a Word of his own but does not do it because the Father is already doing it.

In contrast, this difficulty, and the corresponding difficulty regarding the spiration of the Holy Spirit, are solved easily and simply if we adopt the position of St. Bonaventure regarding the meaning of the notion of innascibility, or unbegottenness, of the Father. Quoting from one of the best contemporary presentations of the trinitarian doctrine of St. Thomas Aquinas [2]:

Gilles Emery, O.P., in [2] wrote:

For St Bonaventure, unbegottenness does have a negative face (the Father has no principle), but there is also a positive face on it. Not to receive his existence from another, as Bonaventure explains it, that is, to be first, constitutes a position of nobility: and his primacy implies fecundity. 'It is because He is first that the Father begets [the Son] and breathes [the Spirit].' With the Franciscan Master, unbegottenness designates precisely the fecundity of primacy. So it does not just consist in a negation, but also in the affirmation of a positive feature of the Father, in other words, his primordial fecundity which 'produces' the other divine persons: 'the unbegottenness of the Father significes his originary plenitude (plenitudo fontalis)'. According to Bonaventure, this is the meaning of the Augustinian theme of the Father as 'principle not from a principle' or 'principle of the whole deity'. As a result, the Father's proper distinction is initially posited in terms of unbegottenness ('we can conceive of the Hypostasis of the Father Himself without conceiving another person, and It is thus conceived without paternity'), and is drawn out to its fullness by paternity. To be even more precise, the Franciscan Master has it that, 'it is because He is unbegotten that the Hypostasis of the Father engenders [the Son]'. [p. 171]

It can be immediately seen that St. Bonaventure's position offers a satisfactory answer to the question in the quoted passages by Fr. Garrigou-Lagrange. If 'it is because He is unbegotten that the Hypostasis of the Father engenders [the Son]', the reason why only the Father enunciates is because only He is unbegotten, or expressing the notion in its positive aspect, because only He is the divine nature in fontal plenitude mode (*). Thus, fontal plenitude and paternity are inseparable, and in fact are aspects of the same personal property: paternity presupposes fontal plenitude and fontal plenitude implies paternity. Therefore, in St. Bonaventure's position the Father has in fact one personal property: "fontal plenitude and paternity".

Notably, my statement that, in St. Bonaventure's position, "fontal plenitude and paternity are inseparable, and in fact are aspects of the same personal property" is confirmed by none other than St. Thomas Aquinas himself:

St Thomas Aquinas in (ST I, q. 33, a. 4, ad 1) wrote:

Some there are who say that innascibility, signified by the word "unbegotten," as a property of the Father, is not a negative term only, but either that it means both these things together—namely, that the Father is from no one, and that He is the principle of others; or that it imports universal authority, or also His plenitude as the source of all. This, however, does not seem true, because thus innascibility would not be a property distinct from paternity and spiration; but would include them as the proper is included in the common.

To note, and as is clear in the text after the quoted passage in [2], St. Bonaventure's position is consistent with an explanation of the mistery of the Trinity that starts from the Person of the Father. In this approach, the divine essence abstracted from the personal properties does not have even logical or conceptual entity prior to the Person of the Father, so that the logical sequence is not "essence -> generation -> Father and Son", but "Father -> generation -> Son".

(*) It was St. Basil of Cesarea who first distinguished the divine Persons by their modes of being ("tropoi hyparxeos"), a notion that has nothing to do with the "modes of appearing" of the modalist heresy. To note, the use of the term by the Cappadocian Fathers is completely different from its use in the neomodalist (or mitigated modalist or semimodalist, as preferred) heresy of Karl Barth and Karl Rahner. Whereas for the former each Person is the subject of the respective mode of being, which is what distinguishes that Person from the other two, for the latter the only real divine Person is the subject of the three modes of being.

PD: I wrote a longish article on this subject last year in Spanish, which I link below just in case [3].


[1] Reginald Garrigou-Lagrange, O.P., The Trinity and God the Creator: A Commentary on St. Thomas' Theological Summa, Ia, q. 27-119, 1943, translated by Frederic C. Eckhoff, B. Herder Book Co., 1952. Reprinted by Aeterna Press, 2016.
Available (1):
Available (2):
Available (3):

[2] Gilles Emery, O.P., The Trinitarian Theology of St Thomas Aquinas., translated by Francesca Aran Murphy. New York, NY, USA: Oxford University Press, 2007, p. 171.


Last edited by Johannes (8/31/2017 11:03 pm)


2/03/2018 6:35 pm  #2

Re: St. Bonaventure on the Father's innascibility as fontal plenitude

I will share some further comments on this subject from my recent reading of a 2009 book by Franciscan theologian Kenan Osborne [1].

Fr. Osborne in p. 215 wrote:

Bonaventure [...] provides four reasons why a plurality of persons should be predicated of God.

1. Simplicitas: [...]
2. Primitas: [...]
3. Perfectio: [...]
4. Beatitudo et Caritas: [...]

All four of these realities, simplicitas, primitas, perfectio and beatitudo et caritas, are based on the very nature of God. All four form the base for a plurality of persons in God. Only because the very being of God is itself simplicitas, primitas, perfectio and beatitudo et caritas, can Christians speak of a plurality of persons. [Note by J: it is actually "can there be a plurality of persons."]

Already in this passage, there is a problem whose consequence will surface in the next quoted passages: Osborne approaches Bonaventure's trinitarian theology from an "Agustinian-Thomistic" framework, i.e. one which takes as the starting point the divine essence, which inevitably leads to inconsistencies. In order to avoid them, Bonaventure's trinitarian theology must be approached from a "consistent Bonaventuran framework", i.e. one which takes as the starting point the person of God the Father. In that framework, primitas, simplicitas, perfectio and beatitudo et caritas are attributes of God the Father, the first exclusive to Him, a "personal property" in scholastic terms [2], and the other three also possessed by the Son and the Holy Spirit. To note, this framework is in complete agreement with the definition of the Ecumenical Council of Florence, session 6: "since the Father has through generation given to the only-begotten Son everything that belongs to the Father, except being Father," (CCC #246).

Fr. Osborne in p. 216 wrote:

In his presentation on this section of Bonaventure, Iammarrone [...] begins with summa beatitudo, followed by summa perfectio and then summa simplicitas. He ends with summa primitas. For the first three, Iammarrone continually focuses on the essence of God; however, in the last section, Iammarrone moves almost immediately to the innascibility of God the Father. This particular issue, that unites primitas to the innascibility of the Father, has been noted time and again by Bonaventure scholars."

Those Bonaventure scholars would not have regarded this particular issue as remarkable if they had adopted the "consistent Bonaventuran framework" I described above, in which all four summas belong to the Father, and the first three, through generation and spiration, also to the Son and the Holy Spirit.

Fr. Osborne in p. 216 wrote:

However, just as the other three characteristics stem from God as bonum est sui diffusivum, innascibilitas also needs to be connected primordially to God's nature as bonum set sui diffusivum.

It is already connected because God's nature is the nature the Father. Innascibilitas remains exclusive to Him and the other three characteristics are also of the Son and the Holy Spirit.

Fr. Osborne in p. 217 wrote:

The interconnection in Bonaventure of the relationship of innascibilitas to the primordial nature of God as well as to the first trinitarian person, the Father, remains as of today an issue that needs further consideration.

The issue disappears once the theologian in question adopts as the starting point in his study of the Trinity the person of God the Father instead of the divine nature, whereby he abandons the Agustinian-Thomistic logical sequence:

Divine nature -> generation -> Father and Son

for a consistent Bonaventuran logical sequence:

God the Father -> generation -> Son

While making this framework jump would place the theologian in question at a distance from the majority of Western theologians, he would come to enjoy some select very good company, starting with the Apostle Paul: "to us there is one God, the Father" (1 Cor 8:6). Nay, starting with the Lord Jesus Himself, who said to the Father: "that they may know You, the only true God," (John 17:3).

Of course, the alternative is to remain in the Agustinian-Thomistic camp and either keep wondering why the Son does not enunciate his self-knowledge thus generating a Grandson, or, even worse, attempting to solve that problem by positing an unrealized potency in the Son (as in Garrigou-Lagrange's classroom analogy discussed in the previous post), thus contradicting the most basic truth that each of the divine Persons is Pure Act.

[1] Kenan Osborne, "A Theology of the Church for the Third Millennium: A Franciscan Approach", Brill NV, Leyden, the Netherlands, Nov 23, 2009, pp. 204ff.

[2] In the consistent Bonaventuran framework, fontal plenitude and paternity are inseparable, and in fact are aspects of the same personal property, as confirmed by St. Thomas Aquinas himself in the (ST I, q. 33, a. 4, ad 1) quote in the previous post.

Last edited by Johannes (2/04/2018 8:07 am)

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