Super Boetium de Trinitate
Commentary on the De Trinitate of Boethius
St. Thomas’ Introduction
Ab initio nativitatis investigabo et ponam in lucem scientiam illius.
I will seek her out from the beginning of her birth, and bring the knowledge of her to light.
Naturalis mentis humanae intuitus, pondere corruptibilis corporis aggravatus, in primae veritatis luce, ex qua omnia sunt facile cognoscibilia, defigi non potest; unde oportet ut secundum naturalis cognitionis progressum ratio a posterioribus in priora deveniat, et a creaturis in Deum: Rom. I: invisibilia ipsius a creatura mundi etc.; Sap. XIII: a magnitudine speciei etc. Et hoc est quod dicitur Iob XXXVI: omnes homines vident eum, scilicet Deum, unusquisque intuetur procul: creaturae enim, per quas naturaliter cognoscitur Deus, in infinitum ab ipso distant.
The natural intuition of the human mind, burdened by the weight of a corruptible body, cannot fix its gaze in the prime light of first truth, in which all things are easily knowable; whence it must be that, according to the progress of its natural manner of cognition, the reason advances from the things that are posterior to those that are prior, and from creatures to God. For the invisible things of him, from the creation of the world, are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made (Rom 1:20) and for by the greatness of the beauty and of the creature, the Creator of them may be seen, so as to be known thereby (Wis 13:5); and this is what is said in Job 36:25: all men see him, everyone beholdeth afar off. For creatures, through whom God can be known by the natural light of reason, are at an infinite distance from him.
Sed quia in his quae procul videntur facile visus decipitur, idcirco ex creaturis in Deum cognoscendum tendentes in errores multiplices inciderunt; unde dicitur Sap. XIV quod creaturae Dei sunt muscipulae pedibus insipientium, et in psalmo: defecerunt scrutantes scrutinio. Et ideo Deus humano generi aliam tutam viam cognitionis providit, suam notitiam mentibus hominum per fidem infundens; unde dicitur I Cor. II: quae sunt Dei nemo novit nisi Spiritus Dei, nobis autem revelavit Deus per Spiritum suum, et hic est spiritus quo efficimur credentes, II Cor. IV: habentes eundem spiritum fidei credimus, propter quod et loquimur.
But since, in those who look at a thing from a great distance, vision may readily be deceived, therefore those striving to attain to a knowledge of God from creatures fell into many errors: wherefore it is said: the creatures of God are . . . a snare to the feet of the unwise (Wis 14:11), and: they have failed in their search (Ps 63:7); and therefore God has provided for the human race another safe road of cognition, bestowing upon the minds of men, by faith, a knowledge of himself. Therefore, it is said: the things also that are of God no man knoweth, but the Spirit of God: but to us God has revealed them by his Spirit (1 Cor 2:11): and this is the Spirit by whom we are enabled to be believers: having the same spirit of faith, as it is written: “I believed, for which cause I have spoken.” We also believe, for which cause we speak also (2 Cor 4:13).
Sicut ergo naturalis cognitionis principium est creaturae notitia a sensu accepta, ita cognitionis desuper datae principium est primae veritatis notitia per fidem infusa; et hinc est quod diverso ordine hinc inde proceditur: philosophi enim, qui naturalis cognitionis ordinem sequuntur, praeordinant scientiam de creaturis scientiae divinae, scilicet naturalem metaphysicae, sed apud theologos proceditur e converso, ut creatoris consideratio considerationem praeveniat creaturae.
Therefore, as the principle of our cognition is naturally the knowledge of created things, obtained by means of the senses, so the principle of supernatural cognition is that knowledge of first truth conferred upon us, infused by faith; and hence it follows that in advancing one proceeds according to a diverse order. For philosophers, who follow along the way of natural cognition, place knowledge about created things before knowledge about divine things: natural science before metaphysics: but among theologians the procedure is in reverse order, so that study of the Creator comes before that of creatures.
Hunc ergo ordinem secutus Boethius, ea quae sunt fidei tractare intendens, in ipsa summa rerum origine principium suae considerationis instituit, scilicet trinitate unius simplicis Dei; unde ei competunt verba praemissa ab initio nativitatis etc. In quibus circa praesens opusculum, quod ad Symmachum patricium Urbis composuit, tria possunt notari, scilicet materia, modus, et finis.
This order, therefore, Boethius followed: intending to treat of those things which are of faith, he took as the starting point of his study that highest origin of things, namely, the Trinity of the one, simple God. Whence it is that the above-quoted words are applicable to him: I will seek her out from the beginning of her birth, and bring the knowledge of her to light (Wis 6:24). In these words, as regards the present opusculum, which he addressed to Symmachus, a patrician of Rome, three things can be noted: namely, the matter, the mode, and the purpose.
Materia siquidem huius operis est in una divina essentia trinitas personarum, quae consurgit ex prima nativitate, qua divina Sapientia a Patre aeternaliter generatur: Prov. VII: nondum erant abyssi, et ego iam concepta eram; in psalmo: ego hodie genui te.
The matter of this work is the Trinity of persons in the one, divine essence, that Trinity which has its source in the primal nativity in which divine wisdom is eternally generated by the Father. The depths were not as yet, and I was already conceived (Prov 8:24), and: this day have I begotten you (Ps 2:7).
Quae quidem nativitas initium est cuiuslibet nativitatis alterius, cum ipsa sola sit perfecte naturam capiens generantis, aliae vero omnes imperfectae sunt, secundum quas genitum aut partem substantiae generantis accipit, aut substantiae similitudinem; unde oportet quod a praedicta nativitate omnis alia nativitas per quandam imitationem derivetur: Eph. III: ex quo omnis paternitas in caelo et in terra nominatur. Et propter hoc Filius dicitur primogenitus omnis creaturae, Col. I, ut nativitatis origo et imitatio designetur, non eadem generationis ratio; unde convenienter dicit ab initio nativitatis, Prov. VIII: Dominus possedit me in initio viarum suarum. Nec solum creaturarum est initium praedicta nativitas, sed etiam Spiritus Sancti, qui a generante genitoque procedit.
This nativity is the beginning of every other nativity, as it is the only one involving perfect participation in the nature of the generator: but all others are imperfect according as the one generated receives either a part of the substance of the generator, or only a similitude: from this it follows that from the aforesaid nativity, every other is derived by a kind of imitation; and thus: of whom all paternity in heaven and in earth is named (Eph 3:15); and on this account the Son is called the first-born of every creature (Col 1:15) so that the origin of nativity and its imitation might be designated, but not according to the same meaning of generation; and therefore it is aptly said: I will seek her out from the beginning of her birth; the Lord possessed me in the beginning of his ways (Prov 8:22); for not only of creatures is the aforesaid nativity the beginning, but even of the Holy Spirit, who proceeds from the Generator and the Generated.
Per hoc autem quod non dicit: initium nativitatis investigabo, sed ab initio, designatur quod in hoc nativitatis initio eius perscrutatio non finitur, sed ab hoc incipiens ad alia procedit. Eius namque doctrina in tres partes dividitur.
But in saying this, he does not say: I will seek out the beginning of nativity, but from the beginning signifies that his search is not limited by initiation of this kind of nativity, but that, beginning from this, he proceeds to others. For his doctrine is divided into three parts.
Prima namque est de trinitate personarum, ex quarum processione omnis alia nativitas vel processio derivatur: in hoc quidem libro qui prae manibus habetur, quantum ad id quod de trinitate et unitate sciendum est, in alio vero libro, quem ad Iohannem diaconum ecclesiae romanae scribit, de modo praedicandi quo utimur in personarum trinitate, qui sic incipit: quaero an Pater etc.
The first part, concerning the Trinity of persons, from the procession of whom every other nativity and procession are derived, is contained in that book which we possess at hand, so far as anything can be known about the Trinity and Unity. But in another book which he wrote to John, a deacon of the Roman Church, we find what he says about the mode of predication which we employ in the distinction of persons and unity of essence; and this book begins: I inquire whether the Father.
Secunda vero pars est de processione bonarum creaturarum a Deo bono, in libro qui ad eundem Iohannem conscribitur De hebdomadibus, qui sic incipit: postulas a me etc.
The second part, which is about the procession of good creatures from a good God, is in a book that is written to the same John (De hebdomadibus), and this begins: you ask of me.
Tertia vero pars est de reparatione creaturarum per Christum. Quae quidem in duo dividitur:
The third part is about the separation of creatures through Christ. This is divided into two parts:
primo namque proponitur fides quam Christus docuit, qua iustificamur, in libro qui intitulatur De fide christiana, et sic incipit: Christianam fidem etc;
For first, there is set forth the faith which Christ taught by which we are justified, in that book entitled De fide Christiana, which begins: the Christian faith.
secundo explanatur quid de Christo sentiendum sit, quomodo scilicet duae naturae in una persona conveniant, et hoc in libro De duabus naturis in una persona Christi, ad Iohannem praedictum conscripto, qui sic incipit: anxie te quidem etc.
In the second part, an explanation is given of what must be held about Christ: namely, how two natures are united in one person. This discussion of the two natures and the one person in Christ is also in a book written to the same John, which begins: you, indeed, solicitously.
Modus autem de Trinitate tractandi duplex est, ut dicit Augustinus in I De Trinitate, scilicet per auctoritates et per rationes. Quem utrumque modum Augustinus complexus est, ut ipsemet dicit;
Now the mode employed in treating of the Trinity is twofold, as St. Augustine says in De Trinitate, 1, namely, through truths known on the basis of authority, and through those known by reason, both of which modes Augustine combined, as he himself says.
quidam vero sanctorum patrum, ut Ambrosius et Hilarius, alterum tantum modum prosecuti sunt, scilicet per auctoritates; Boethius vero elegit prosequi per alium modum, scilicet per rationes, praesupponens hoc quod ab aliis per auctoritates fuerat prosecutum. Et ideo modus huius operis designatur in hoc quod dicit investigabo, in quo rationis inquisitio designatur, Eccl. XXXIX: sapientiam, scilicet Trinitatis notitiam, antiquorum, scilicet quam antiqui sola auctoritate asseruerunt, exquiret sapiens, id est ratione investigabit; unde in prooemio praemittit: investigatam diutissime quaestionem.
Some of the holy fathers, as Ambrose and Hilary, employed but one mode of explanation: namely, by setting forth those truths founded upon authority. But Boethius chose to proceed according to the other mode; namely, according to reasoned arguments, presupposing what had been concluded by others on the grounds of authority. Hence also the method of his work is indicated in what he says: I shall investigate, in which an inquiry of reason is signified. In Sirach 39:1 we read: wisdom, namely, knowledge of the Trinity; of all the ancients, that is, which the ancients affirmed solely on the grounds of authority; the wise man will seek out, that is, he will investigate by reason. Wherefore, in the preface he speaks of an investigation carried on for a very long time.
Finis vero huius operis est ut occulta fidei manifestentur quantum in via possibile est, Eccl. XXIV: qui elucidant me, vitam aeternam habebunt; et ideo dicit: ponam in lucem scientiam illius, Iob XXVIII: profunda fluviorum scrutatus est et abscondita produxit in lucem.
The purpose of this work is: that hidden things may be made manifest, so far as that is possible in this life. They that explain me shall have life everlasting (Sir 24:31); and therefore, he says: I will bring the knowledge of her to light (Wis 6:24). The depths also of rivers he hath searched, and hidden things he hath brought forth to light (Job 28:11).
The problem which has been for so long a time the subject of my investigation—to the extent that the divine light has deigned to enkindle the feeble spark of my mind—now arranged according to a reasoned plan and consigned to writing, I have taken pains to offer and share with you, prompted as much by desire for your judgment as by zeal for my task.
In this matter it is possible to understand what my intention is whenever I entrust my thought to pen, both because of the difficulty of the matter and because it is only to you men that I am addressing it.
Indeed, I am not prompted by any desire for fame or for empty popular applause; but if there is any exterior reward, it can be no other than to hope for a judgment in keeping with the matter.
For, wherever I have directed my gaze, apart from you, I have encountered, on the one side, stolid indifference or, on the other, sly envy, so that I would appear to offer insult to matters pertaining to divine things by putting them before such monsters of men to be trampled under foot by them rather than to be acknowledged.
On this account I restrain my pen by brevity, and truths gleaned from the deepest teachings of philosophy I veil over by the signification of new words, so that they may speak only to me and to you; if you, indeed, will direct your attention to them. But, as for others, I so disregard them that those who are unable to grasp the meaning of my words shall seem unworthy to read them.
Only so much ought one require of me as the intuition of human reason can approximate about the sublime truths of the Godhead. For in the case of other arts, the same limit is also established, namely, that which by the way of reason one can attain. Now, medicine does not always effect the cure of the patient. But no blame will be placed upon the physician if he has omitted none of the things which he ought to have done; and the same is true in other matters.
Moreover, in proportion to the difficulty of a problem, the pardoning of error ought to be the more easily granted. You must also determine this: whether the seeds of speculation, gathered from the writings of the blessed Augustine, have in my work borne fruit.
Now, therefore, let us undertake at this point the discussion of the proposed question.
Exposition of the Preface
Huic ergo operi prooemium praemittit. In quo tria facit:
To this work the author prefixes a preface, in which he does three things.
primo breviter causas operis praelibat, in quo reddit auditorem docilem;
First, he briefly indicates the causes of the work, in doing which he inclines his hearer to accept what he says.
secundo excusationem subiungit, in quo reddit auditorem benivolum, ibi: idcirco stilum etc;
Second, he adds an excuse or explanation in which he gains the good will of his hearer, where he says: I restrain my pen.
tertio ostendit sui operis originem et quasi subiectum esse doctrinam Augustini, ex quo reddit auditorem attentum, ibi: vobis tamen etiam illud inspiciendum etc.
In the third place, he points out that the source of his work and, in a certain way, its teaching, is the doctrine of St. Augustine, and in doing this he renders his hearer attentive, when he says: you must also determine this.
Proponit autem quattuor causas sui operis in prima parte:
He likewise sets forth in the first part the four causes of his work.
primo materialem, cum dicit: investigatam diutissime quaestionem, scilicet de Trinitate personarum unius Dei; in quo et difficultatem materiae insinuat, quae diutina investigatione indiguit, et studii diligentiam qua ipse eam diutissime investigavit, ut intelligatur investigatam a nobis; quamvis etiam intelligi possit investigatam a pluribus, quia a principio nascentis Ecclesiae haec quaestio ingenia fidelium maxime fatigavit.
First, the material cause, when he says: the problem which has been for so long a time the subject of my investigation, that is, about the Trinity of persons of the one God; and in these words he implies both the difficulty of the matter, because he has carried on the investigation for a very long time, and also the diligence of the study with which he has for so long a period investigated it, as “investigation” is understood by us, although it can also be understood to mean investigation by many; because from the beginning of the existence of the Church, this question has especially continued to challenge the cleverest minds of Christians.
Secundo tangit causam efficientem, et proximam sive secundariam, in hoc quod dicit: quantum mentis nostrae igniculum, et primam sive principalem, in hoc quod dicit: illustrare lux divina dignata est. Proxima siquidem causa huius investigationis fuit intellectus auctoris, qui recte igniculus dicitur: ignis enim, ut dicit Dionysius XV Caelestis hierarchiae, maxime competit ad significandas divinas proprietates, tum ratione subtilitatis, tum ratione luminis, tum ratione virtutis activae per calorem, tum ratione situs et motus. Quae quidem Deo maxime competunt, in quo est summa simplicitas et immaterialitas, perfecta claritas, omnipotens virtus, et altissima sublimitas; angelis autem mediocriter, sed humanis mentibus infimo modo; quarum propter corpus coniunctum et puritas inquinatur, et lux obscuratur, et virtus debilitatur, et motus in suprema retardatur; unde humanae mentis efficacia recte igniculo comparatur. Unde nec ad huius quaestionis veritatem inquirendam sufficit nisi divina luce illustrata; et sic divina lux est causa principalis, humana mens causa secundaria.
Second, he indicates the proximate or secondary efficient cause when he says: the feeble spark of my mind. Moreover, he speaks also of the first or principal cause when he adds: that the divine light has deigned to enkindle. Now the proximate cause of this investigation is, indeed, the intellect of the author, which is rightly termed a spark. For fire, as Dionysius says (Celestial Hierarchy, 15), especially serves to signify properties of the divinity: at once by reason of its subtlety, of its light, and also by reason of its place and motion. These things, in the highest degree, pertain to God, in whom exist the culmination of simplicity and of immateriality, perfect charity, almighty power, and highest majesty. To the angels, fire (as indicative of intellect) may be applied in a middle sense, but to human minds, with only a more restricted meaning; for by union with a body, its purity is lessened, its light is obscured, its power weakened, and its upward motion retarded: wherefore the efficacy of the human mind is rightly compared to a spark. Hence it would not be able to investigate the truth of this question unless light were cast upon it by the divine light; and thus the divine light is the principal cause; but the human mind, a cause in the secondary order.