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DR. WILHELM and Fr. Scannell have conferred upon the faithful in England a signal boon in publishing Scheeben’s scientific Dogmatik in English, and condensing it for careful and conscientious study.

St. Anselm, in his work, “Cur Deus Homo?” says, “As the right order requires that we should first believe the deep things of the Christian faith before we presume to discuss them by reason, so it seems to me to be negligence if, after we are confirmed in the faith, we do not study to understand what we believe.”

The Dogmatik of Scheeben is a profuse exposition of the deep things of faith in the light of intelligence guided by the illumination of the Church. Although, as Gregory of Valentia teaches, in accordance with the Catholic schools, that Theology is not a science proprie dicta, because it cannot be resolved into first principles that are self-evident, nevertheless it is higher than all sciences, because it can be resolved into the science of God and of the Blessed, known to us by revelation and faith.

Theology may for that cause be called wisdom, which is higher than all science, and also it may be called science for many reasons. First, because, if it be not a science as to its principles, it is so as to its form, method, process, development, and transmission; and because, if its principles are not evident, they are in all the higher regions of it infallibly certain; and because many of them are necessary and eternal truths.

Revelation, then, contemplated and transmitted in exactness and method, may be called a science and the queen of sciences, the chief of the hierarchy of truth; and it enters and takes the first place in the intellectual system and tradition of the world. It possesses all the qualities and conditions of science so far as its subject-matter admits; namely, certainty as against doubt, definiteness as against vagueness, harmony as against discordance, unity as against incoherence, progress as against dissolution and stagnation.

A knowledge and belief of the existence of God has never been extinguished in the reason of mankind. The polytheisms and idolatries which surrounded it were corruptions of a central and dominant truth, which, although obscured, was never lost. And the tradition of this truth was identified with the higher and purer operations of the natural reason, which have been called the intellectual system of the world. The mass of mankind, howsoever debased, were always theists. Atheists were anomalies and exceptions, as the blind among men. The theism of the primæval revelation formed the intellectual system of the heathen world. The theism of the patriarchal revelation formed the intellectual system of the Hebrew race. The theism revealed in the incarnation of God has formed the intellectual system of the Christian world. “Sapientia ædificavit sibi domum.” The science or knowledge of God has built for itself a tabernacle in the intellect of mankind, inhabits it, and abides in it The intellectual science of the world finds its perfection in the scientific expression of the theology of faith. But from first to last the reason of man is the disciple, not the critic, of the revelation of God: and the highest science of the human intellect is that which, taking its preamble from the light of nature, begins in faith; and receiving its axioms from faith, expands by the procession of truth from truth.

The great value of Scheeben’s work is in its scientific method, its terminology, definitions, procedure, and unity. It requires not only reading but study; and study with patient care and conscientious desire to understand. Readers overrun truths which they have not mastered. Students leave nothing behind them until it is understood. This work needs such a conscientious treatment from those who take it in hand.

Valuable as it is in all its parts, the most valuable may be said to be the First Book, on the Sources of Theological Knowledge, and the Second Book, on God in Unity and Trinity. Any one who has mastered this second book has reached the Head of the River of the Water of Life.

Of all the superstitious and senseless mockeries, and they were many, with which the world wagged its head at the Vatican Council, none was more profoundly foolish than the gibe that in the nineteenth century a Council has been solemnly called to declare the existence of God. In fact, it is this truth that the nineteenth century needs most of all. For as St. Jerome says, “Homo sine cognitione Dei, pecus.” But what the Council did eventually declare is, not the existence of God, but that the existence of God may be known with certitude by the reason of man through the works that He has created. This is the infallible light of the Natural Order, and the need of this definition is perceived by all who know the later Philosophies of Germany and France, and the rationalism, scepticism, and naturalism which pervades the literature, the public opinion, and the political action of the modern world. This was the first dominant error of these days, demanding the action of the Council. The second was the insidious undermining of the doctrinal authority of the Holy See, which for two hundred years had embarrassed the teaching of the Church, not only in controversy with adversaries without, but often in the guidance of some of its own members within the fold. The definition of the Infallible Magisterium of the Roman Pontiff has closed this period of contention The Divine certitude of the Supernatural Order completes the twofold infallibility of the knowledge of God in the natural and supernatural revelation of Himself. This was the work of the Vatican Council in its one memorable Session, in which the Councils of the Church, and especially the Councils of Florence and of Trent, culminated in defining the certitude of faith.

Scheeben has fully and luminously exhibited the mind of the Vatican Council in his First and Second Books.


Cardinal Archbishop.




I. THE word “Theology” means the Science of God. This science has God not only for its subject, but also for its source and its object; hence the Divine character of Theology cannot better be described than by the old formula: “Theology teaches about God, is taught by God, and leads to God.” Theology may be taken objectively as doctrine, or subjectively as knowledge. But it is not every knowledge of Divine doctrine, especially not the mere apprehension of it, that is called Theology. The term is restricted to scientific knowledge; and consequently Theology, in its technical sense, is the scientific exposition of the doctrine concerning God and things Divine.

The knowledge of God which can be obtained by means of Revelation is called Revealed Theology, in contra-distinction to Natural Theology, which depends on human reason alone. The “Natural Theology” of Paley and other English writers—that is, the knowledge of God obtainable by the study of Nature—is a branch of this more extensive Natural Theology.

II. Theology is usually divided into Dogmatic and Moral Theology. The former treats of dogmas—that is, rules of belief,—and is of a speculative character, while the latter deals with rules of conduct, and is practical. In this work we deal with Dogmatic Theology.

Theology may also be divided according to its various functions. When it demonstrates and defends the grounds of belief, it is called General or Fundamental Theology. This is more properly a vestibule or outwork of Theology, and may be considered as Applied Philosophy. It is also called the Treatise on the True Religion (Tractatus de Vera Religione), and sometimes Apologetics, because of its defensive character. When Theology expounds and coordinates the dogmas themselves, and demonstrates them from Scripture and Tradition, it takes the name of Positive Theology. When it takes the dogmas for granted, and penetrates into their nature and discovers their principles and consequences, it is designated Speculative Theology, and sometimes Scholastic Theology, because it is chiefly the work of the Schoolmen, and also because, on account of its abstruseness, it can only be acquired by scholars. Positive Theology and Speculative Theology cannot be completely separated. Hence the theological works of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries were entitled Theologia Positivo-Scholastica, or Dogmatico-Scholastica. The present work likewise possesses this two-fold character.

A fuller account of these various distinctions will be found in the concluding sections of Book I.


The history of Theology may be divided into three epochs, which coincide with the great epochs of the history of the Church:—

A.—The Ancient or Patristic Epoch;

B.—The Mediæval or Scholastic Epoch;

C.—The Modern Epoch.

Each of these has as its centre one of the great Councils of the Church, Patristic Theology being grouped round the Council of Nicæa, Mediaeval Theology round the Fourth Lateran Council, and Modern Theology round the Council of Trent. In each epoch also the growth of Theology has followed a similar course. A period of preparation has led up to the Council, which has been followed by a period of prosperity, and this in turn has given place to a period of decay. During the Patristic Epoch, Theology was engaged in studying Holy Scripture, in consolidating Tradition, and in defending the chief doctrines of Christianity against paganism and heresy, and was cultivated principally by the official representatives of Tradition, the Bishops. The foundation having thus been securely laid, the work of the Mediæval theologians was to develop and systematize what had been handed down to them; and this work was carried on almost entirely in the cloisters and universities. Finally, Modern Theology has taken up the work of both of the foregoing epochs by defending the fundamental dogmas of Religion against modern agnostics and heretics, and at the same time carefully attending to the development of doctrine within the Church.

A.—The Patristic Epoch

Theology was not treated by the Fathers as one organic whole. They first enunciated Tradition and then interpreted Scripture. In this way, particular dogmas were often explained and proved at considerable length. Some approach to systematic treatment may, indeed, be found in their catechetical works; but the greater part of the Patristic writings, besides the commentaries on Holy Scripture, consists of treatises written against the different heresies of the day, and thus, without directly constructing a system, the Fathers provided ample materials in almost every department of theology. The struggle against Paganism and Manichæism gave rise to treatises on God, man, and creation; the doctrine of the Blessed Trinity was proved against the Arians and Macedonians; the Incarnation against the Nestorians and Eutychians; Grace and Sin were discussed with the Pelagians; the schism of the Donatists brought out the doctrine concerning the Constitution of the Church.

In the East the Fathers were occupied chiefly in discussing speculative questions, such as the Blessed Trinity and Incarnation, while the Western Church directed its attention more to the practical questions of Sin and Redemption, Grace and Free Will, and the Constitution of the Church. The Easterns, moreover, excelled both in exactness of method and sublimity of expression. This difference in method and choice of subjects was due chiefly to the fact that Theology was treated in the East by men trained in Greek metaphysics, whereas in the West it was treated by men trained in Roman Law. Greek metaphysics supplied ideas and expressions capable of conveying some notion of the Divine Substance, the Divine Persons, and the Divine Nature. On the other hand, the nature of Sin and its transmission by inheritance, the debt owed by man and satisfied by Jesus Christ, were worked out on the lines of the Roman theory of obligations arising out of Contract or Delict, the Roman view of Debts, and the modes of incurring, extinguishing, and transmitting them, and the Roman notion of the continuance of individual existence by universal succession.

The Greek Fathers most highly esteemed for their dogmatic writings are:—The chiefs of the Catechetical School at Alexandria, Clement, Origen, and Didymus, from whom the subsequent writers drew their inspiration; Athanasius; the three great Cappadocians, Gregory of Nazianzum, Basil, and Gregory of Nyssa; Cyril of Alexandria, Leontius of Byzantium, Pseudo-Dionysius the Areopagite, and lastly, John Damascene. In the West may be mentioned Tertullian, Ambrose, Leo, Hilary of Poictiers, Fulgentius, and the great St. Augustine. The works of the last-named form a sort of encyclopædia of theological literature. The early Schoolmen, such as Hugh of St. Victor, did little more than develop and systematize the material supplied by him. After a time the influence of the Greek Fathers began to be felt, especially in the doctrine of Grace, and hence, long afterwards, the Jansenists accused both the Schoolmen and the Greek Fathers of having fallen into Pelagianism.

B.—The Mediæval or Scholastic Epoch

During the so-called Dark Ages, Theology was cultivated chiefly in the cathedral and monastic schools. It was for the most part merely a reproduction of what had been handed down by the Fathers. The most valuable writings of these ages are: Venerable Bede’s commentaries on Holy Scripture; Paschasius Radbert’s treatises on the Holy Eucharist, and those directed against Berengarius by Lanfranc and Guitmundus. Scotus Erigena created a sort of theological system in his celebrated work De Divisione Naturæ, but he can in no way be looked upon as the Father of Scholasticism, as he is sometimes styled in modern times; in fact, the Schoolmen completely ignore him.

I. The title of Father of Scholasticism rightly belongs to St. Anselm of Canterbury (d. 1109). He did not indeed supply a complete treatment of theology, but he dealt with the most important and difficult dogmas in such a way that it became easy to reduce them to a system. “Faith seeking understanding” was his motto. It was his severe and strictly logical method which set the fashion to those who came after him. His Monologium treats of God as one in Nature, and three in Persons; the Proslogium further develops the treatment of the unity of God, while the treatise De Processione Spiritus Sancti adversus Græcos develops his teaching on the Trinity; De Casu Diaboli and De Conceptu Virginali et Originali Peccato deal with sin; Cur Deus Homo contains his celebrated theory of Redemption. He also wrote on Grace and Free Will: De Libero Arbitrio and De Concordia Præscientiæ et Prædestinationis nec non Gratiæ Dei cum Libero Arbitrio.

The rationalistic tendencies of Abelard were successfully combated by St. Bernard (1153), Hugh of St. Victor (Summa Sententiarum and De Sacramentis Fidei), and Robert Pulleyn. Peter Lombard (Archbishop of Paris, 1104) was the author of the great mediaeval text-book, Sententiarum libri quattuor, in which the materials supplied by the Fathers are worked up into a complete system of Theology. William of Auxerre (Altissiodorensis), Richard of St. Victor, Alanus of Lille, and William of Paris, form the transition from the preparatory period to the period of prosperity.

II. During the early years of the thirteenth century the foundation of the two great Mendicant Orders by St. Francis and St. Dominic, and the struggles with the Arabico-aristotelian philosophy introduced into the west by the Spanish Moors, gave astonishing impetus to theological studies. Theology embraced a larger field, and at the same time became more systematic. Greek philosophy drew attention to the Greek Fathers, who began to exercise greater influence. Aristotle’s logic had already found its way into the schools; now his metaphysics, psychology, and ethics became the basis of Christian teaching. As might be expected from such studies, the great doctors of this period are characterized by clear statement of the question at issue, continual adoption of the syllogistic form of argumentation, frequent and subtle use of distinctions, and plain unvarnished style of language which is not, however, without a charm of its own. They sometimes treated of theology in commentaries on Holy Scripture, but their usual text-book was the Sentences of the Lombard. They also wrote monographs on various questions, called Quodlibeta or Quæstiones Disputatæ. Some doctors composed original systematic works on the whole domain of theology, called Summæ Theologiæ, most of which, however, remain in a more or less unfinished state. These Summæ have often been likened to the great Gothic cathedrals of this same age, and the parallel is indeed most striking. The opening years of the thirteenth century mark the transition from the Roman (or, as we call it, Norman) style to the Gothic or pointed style, and also from the Patristic to the Scholastic method. The period of perfection in both Scholasticism and Gothic architecture also extends from 1230 to the beginning of the fourteenth century. The Mendicant Orders were the chief promoters of both. The style of the Schoolmen is totally wanting in the brilliant eloquence so often found in the Fathers. They split up their subject into numberless questions and subdivide these again, at the same time binding them all together to form one well-ordered whole, and directing them all to the final end of man. In like manner the mediæval architects, discarding the use of all gorgeous colouring, elaborate the bare stone into countless pinnacles and mullions and clusters, all of them composing together one great building, and all of them pointing to Heaven. And just as in after ages a Fénélon could call Gothic architecture a barbarous invention of the Arabs; so there have been learned men who have looked upon Scholasticism as subtle trifling. But it is noteworthy that in our own day Scholasticism and Gothic architecture have again come into honour. As the German poet Geibel says:—

“Great works they wrought, fair fanes they raised, wherein the mighty sleep, While we, a race of pigmies, about their tombs now creep.”

This flourishing period of Scholasticism opens with the great names of Alexander of Hales (Doctor irrefragabilis) and Blessed Albert the Great. The former was an Englishman, but taught theology in the University of Paris. He composed the first, and at the same time, the largest Summa Theologica, which was partly drawn from his earlier commentary on the Lombard, and to which his disciples, after his death, probably made additions from the same source. It is remarkable for breadth, originality, depth, and sublimity. If it yields the palm to the Summa of St. Thomas, still St. Thomas doubtless had it before him in composing his own work. But Alexander’s chief influence was exercised on the Franciscan Order which he joined in 1225. To this day he is the type of the genuine Franciscan school, for his disciple, St. Bonaventure, wrote, no Summa, while the Scotist school was critical rather than constructive. His works deserve greater attention than they have received. He died about 1245. St. Bonaventure, the “Seraphic Doctor,” (1221–1274) did not actually sit under Alexander, but is nevertheless his true heir and follower. His mystical spirit unfitted him for subtle analysis, but in originality he surpassed St. Thomas himself. He wrote only one great work, a Commentary on the Sentences, but his powers are seen at their best in his Breviloquium, which is a condensed Summa containing the quintessence of the theology of his age. Whilst the Breviloquium derives all things from God, his Itinerarium Mentis ad Deum proceeds in the opposite direction, bringing all things back to their Supreme End. In another work, the Centiloquium, he sketched out a new book of Sentences, containing a rich collection of passages from the Fathers, but in a strange though ingenious order.

The Dominican school was founded by Albert the Great (1193–1280). His chief glory is that he introduced the study of Aristotle into the Christian schools, and that he was the master of St. Thomas Aquinas. His numerous works fill twenty-one folio volumes (Lyons, 1651). They consist of commentaries on the Gospels and the Prophets, homilies, ascetical writings, and commentaries on the Areopagite, on Aristotle, and on the Sentences. His Summa Theologica, of which the four intended parts were to correspond with the four books of the Lombard, was written in his advanced old age, after St. Thomas’s Summa, and goes no further than the end of the second part. He also composed a so-called Summa de Creaturis, partly answering to the Summa contra Gentiles of St. Thomas, and, like it, more philosophical than theological.

St. Thomas Aquinas, the “Angelical Doctor” (1225–1274), towers over all the theologians of his own or of any other age. He is unsurpassed in knowledge of Holy Scripture, the Fathers, and Aristotle, in the depth and clearness of his ideas, in perfection of method and expression, and in the variety and extent of his labours. He wrote on every subject treated by the Schoolmen, and in every form: on physics, ethics, metaphysics, psychology; on apologetic, dogmatic, moral and ascetical theology; in commentaries on Holy Scripture, on Aristotle, on the Areopagite and the Lombard; in monographs, compendia, and in two Summæ. His chief dogmatic writings are the following:—

1. The Commentary on the Sentences written in his early years, and expressing many opinions subsequently rejected by him.

2. The so-called Questiones Disputatæ, a rich collection of monographs, on the most important subjects of the whole province of theology, which St. Thomas here treats more fully than in his other writings. Written as occasion required, they have been grouped in a somewhat confusing way under the titles De Potentia, De Malo, De Spiritualibus Creaturis De Virtutibus and De Veritate. A better arrangement would be under the three headings: De Ente et Potentia, De Veritate et Cognitione, De Bono et Appetitu Boni. We should then possess a fairly complete system of theologicophilosophical Ontology, Psychology and Ethics.

3. The Summa contra Gentiles is for the most part philosophical, but it contains only such philosophical subjects as bear on theology. It is divided into four books: the first two treat of the Essence and Nature of God and of creatures; the third treats of the movement of creatures to their end in God, and of supernatural Providence; the fourth book deals with the various mysteries which bear on the union of creatures with God. The method of exposition is not dialectical but positive. An excellent commentary on this work appeared towards the end of the fifteenth century, written by Francis of Ferrara. An English translation, by Fr. Joseph Rickaby, S.J., has just been published (1905).

4. But the Saint’s masterpiece is his Summa Theologica, composed towards the end of his life and never completed. It contains his mature opinions on almost the entire province of theology. It is divided into three great parts, the second of which is subdivided into two parts, termed respectively, Prima Secundæ and Secunda Secundæ. Each part is divided into “questions” and these again into “articles.”

Part I. treats of God as He is in Himself and as the Principle of all things:

A.     Of God Himself:

(a)    His Being (qq. 2–13);

(b)    His internal activity (14–26);

(c)    His internal fruitfulness in the Trinity (27–43).

B.      Of God as Cause of all things:

(a)    His causal relation to them:

(α)   Generally (44–49);

(β)    Specially:

(1)    Angels (50–64);

(2)    The material world (65–74);

(3)    Man (75–102).

(b)    The government of creatures and their share in the course of the universe (103–119).

Part II. treats of the motion of rational creatures towards God:

A.     Generally (Prima Secundæ):

(a)    The end or object of their motion (1–6);

(b)    Human acts (7–48);

(c)    Habits, Virtue and Vice (48–89);

(d)    The influence of God on their motion by means of Law and Grace (90–114).

B.      Specially (Secunda Secundæ):

(a)    The Theological (1–47) and Moral Virtues (48–170);

(b)    Various classes of persons:

(α)   Those gifted with extraordinary Graces (171–178);

(β)    Those who have devoted themselves to the active or contemplative life (179–182);

(γ)    Those found in different occupations (183–189).

Part III. treats of God’s action in drawing man to Himself:

A.     Through Christ:

(a)    His Person (1–26);

(b)    His life and works (27–59).

B.      By means of Christ’s Sacraments (60–90).

The first regular commentary on the Summa was composed in the beginning of the sixteenth century by Cardinal Cajetan, and is still printed in the large editions of the Summa; but it was not until the end of the sixteenth century that the Summa displaced the Sentences as the text-book in theological schools. The editions are too numerous to mention. Perhaps the most beautiful modern edition is that published by Fiaccadori (Verona) in quarto.

5. The Compendium Theologiæ, sometimes called Opusculum ad Reginaldum, treats of theology in its relation to the three theological virtues, Faith, Hope, and Charity, just like our English Catechism. Only the first part was completed, De Fide Trinitatis Creatricis, et Christi Reparantis; the second part, connected with the Our Father, goes down to the second petition. The treatment is not uniform: the work seems to grow in the Saint’s hands, and consequently some matters are here better treated than in the larger works.

To this flourishing period belong the great apologetic works of the two Dominicans, Raymund Martini (died 1286), Pugio Fidei, and Moneta (d. about 1230), Summa contra Catharos et Waldenses; the Summa of Henry of Ghent, (d. 1293); the magnificent Life of Jesus Christ, by Ludolph of Saxony; the Postilla on Holy Scripture, by Nicholas of Lyra (Franciscan, d. 1340), corrected and completed by Paul of Burgos (d. 1433); the Rationale Divinoram Officiorum, by William Durandus (d. 1296), surnamed Speculator on account of his Speculum Juris; the three great encyclopædic Specula, by Vincent of Beauvais; and the writings of the English Franciscan, Richard Middleton, who taught at Oxford (d. 1300), Commentary on the Sentences and various Quodlibeta.

John Duns Scotus (1266–1308), the “Subtle Doctor,” was a disciple of William Ware (Varro) at Oxford, who was himself the successor of William de la Marre, the first opponent of St. Thomas. His extraordinary acuteness of mind led him rather to criticize than to develop the work of the thirteenth century. His stock of theological learning was by no means large. He composed no commentary on Holy Scripture, which to his predecessors was always the preparation for and foundation of their speculative efforts, nor did he complete any systematic work. His subtlety, his desultory criticisms, and his abstruse style make him far more difficult reading than the earlier Schoolmen, and consequently he is seldom studied in the original text, even by his own school. His principal work is the great Oxford Commentary on the Sentences, Opus Oxoniense. Besides this, he wrote a later and much shorter commentary, Reportata Parisiensia, the Questiones Quodlibetales (corresponding with St. Thomas’s Questiones Disputatæ), and various smaller opuscula on metaphysics and the theory of knowledge. The handiest edition of the Opus Oxoniense is that of Hugh Cavellus, an Irish Franciscan in Louvain, and afterwards Archbishop of Armagh, who enriched the text with good explanatory scholia.

Scotus cannot be considered as the continuer of the old Franciscan school, but rather as the founder of a new school which rightly bears his name. His excessive realism has a tendency quite opposed to the Platonism of the early members of his Order, and, indeed, agrees with Nominalism on many points. His stiff and dry style is very different from the ease and grace which charm us in St. Bonaventure. However, Scotus is the direct antagonist of St. Thomas, and it is in relation to him that the character of his mind stands out most clearly. St. Thomas is strictly organic; Scotus is less so. St. Thomas, with all his fineness of distinction, does not tear asunder the different tissues, but keeps them in their natural, living connection; Scotus, by the dissecting process of his distinctions, loosens the organic connections of the tissues, without, however, destroying the bond of union, and thereby the life of the loosened parts, as the Nominalists did. In other words, to St. Thomas the universe is a perfect animal organism, wherein all the parts are held together in a most intimate union and relation by the soul; whereas to Scotus it is only a vegetable organism, as he himself expresses it, whose different members spring from a common root, but branch out in different directions; to the Nominalist, however, it is merely a mass of atoms arbitrarily heaped together. These general differences of mode of conception manifest themselves in almost all the particular differences of doctrine.

III. About the beginning of the fourteenth century the classical and creative period of mediaeval scholasticism came to a close. In the two following centuries no real progress was made. The acquisitions gained in the period of prosperity were reproduced and elaborated to meet the hypercritical and destructive attacks made at this time both on the teaching and the public action of the Church. Nominalism springing from, or at least occasioned by Scotism (partly as an exaggeration of its critical tendencies, partly as a reaction against its realism), destroyed the organic character of the revealed doctrines and wasted its energies in hair-splitting subtlety. Pierre Aureole (Aureolus, a Frenchman, d. 1321) led the way and was followed by the rebellious William of Occam (d. 1347), who was educated at Oxford and at Paris. Both of these were disciples of Scotus. Oxford now almost disputed the pre-eminence with Paris. St. Edmund of Canterbury (d. 1242) had introduced there the study of Aristotle, and his great follower was Roger Bacon, a Franciscan (d. 1292), the author of the Opus Majus, the true Novum Organum of science. The Oxford Friars, especially the Franciscans, attained a high reputation throughout Christendom. Besides St. Edmund and Roger Bacon, the university claimed as her children Richard Middleton, William Ware, William de la Marre, Duns Scotus, Occam, Grosteste, Adam Marsh, Bungay, Burley, Archbishop Peckham, Bradwardine, Fitzralph, Archbishop of Armagh, Thomas Netter (Waldensis), and the notorious Wyclif.

Many of the theologians present at the councils of Constance and Basle, notably Pierre d’ Ailly (Alliacensis, d. 1425), belonged to the Nominalist school. Its best representatives were Gregory of Rimini and Gabriel Biel. The Dominicans, with the exception of Durandus of St. Portiano (d. 1332), and Holkot (d. 1349), remained faithful to the Thomist traditions of the thirteenth century. Among their later writers may be mentioned St. Antoninus of Florence, John Capreolus, the powerful apologist of Thomism (Clypeus Thomistarum), Torquemada, Cardinal Cajetan, the first commentator on the Summa, and Francis of Ferrara, the commentator on the Summa contra Gentes. The Franciscans were split up into several schools, some adhering to Nominalism, others to Scotism. Lychetus, the renowned commentator on Scotus, belongs to this period, as also do Dionysius Ryckel, the Carthusian, and Alphonsus Tostatus, Bishop of Avila. Thomas Bradwardine, Archbishop of Canterbury (Doctor Profundus, 1290–1349) was the most famous mathematician of his day. His principal work, De Causa Dei contra Pelagianos, arranged mathematically, shows signs of great skilfulness of form, great depth and erudition, but gives a painful impression by its rigid doctrines. Some look upon him as one of the forerunners of Wyclif, an accusation which might with more justice be made against Fitzralph (d. 1360).

Thomas Netter (d. 1431), provincial of the Carmelites and secretary to Henry V., composed two works against Wyclif, Doctrinale Antiquitatum Fidei Catholicæ adversus Wicliffitas et Hussitas and Fasciculus Zizaniorum Magistri Johannis Wyclif cum Tritico. Nicholas Cusa surpasses even Bradwardine in the application of mathematics to theology.

During this period of decay the ordinary treatment of theology consisted of commentaries on the Sentences and monographs on particular questions (Quodlibeta). The latter were, as a rule, controversial, treating the subjects from a Nominalist or Scotist point of view, while some few were valuable expositions and defences of the earlier teaching. The partial degeneracy of Scholasticism on the one hand, and of Mysticism on the other, led to a divorce between the two, so that mystical writers broke off from Scholasticism, to their gain, no doubt, as far as Scholasticism had degenerated, but to their loss so far as it had remained sound. As Nominalism by its superficiality and arbitrariness had stripped the doctrines of grace and morals of their inward and living character, and had made grace merely an external ornament of the soul: so did false mysticism by its sentimentality destroy the supernatural character of grace and the organic connection and development of sound doctrine concerning morals; and as both Nominalism and pseudo-mysticism endangered the right notion of the constitution of the Church, they may with reason be looked upon as the forerunners of the Reformation of the sixteenth century. It does not fall within our province to speak of the anti-scholastic tendencies of the Renaissance which were found partly among the Platonists as opponents of Aristotle, and partly among the Humanists as opposed to what was considered “Scholastic barbarism.” There was, as we have seen, some reason for a reaction against the degenerate philosophy and theology of the day. But instead of returning to the genuine teaching of the earlier period, the cultivators of the New Learning contented themselves with a vague Platonic mysticism or a sort of Nominalism disguised under a new and classical phraseology.

C.—The Modern Epoch

About the end of the fifteenth century and the opening of the sixteenth, three events produced a new epoch in the history of theology, and determined its characteristic tendencies: the invention of printing, the revival of the study of the ancient classics, and the attacks of the Reformers on the whole historical position of the Church. These circumstances facilitated, and at the same time necessitated, more careful study of the biblical and historical side of theology, and thus prepared the way for a more comprehensive treatment of speculative theology. This new and splendid development had its seat in Spain, the land least affected by the heretical movement. The Universities of Salamanca, Alcala (Complutum), and Coimbra, now became famous for theological learning. Spanish theologians, partly by their labours at the Council of Trent (Dominic Soto, Peter Soto, and Vega), partly by their teaching in other countries (Maldonatus in Paris, Toletus in Italy, Gregory of Valentia in Germany), were its chief promoters and revivers. Next to Spain, the chief glory belongs to the University of Louvain, in the Netherlands, at that time under Spanish rule. On the other hand, the University of Paris, which had lost much of its ancient renown, did not regain its position until towards the end of the sixteenth century. Among the religious bodies the ancient Orders, the heirs of the theology of the thirteenth century, were indeed animated with a new spirit; but all were surpassed by the newly founded Society of Jesus, whose members laboured most assiduously and successfully in every branch of theology, especially in exegesis and history, and strove to develop the mediaeval theology in an independent, eclectic spirit and in a form adapted to the age. The continuity with the theological teaching of the Middle Ages was preserved by the Jesuits and by most of the other schools, by their taking as a text-book the noblest product of the thirteenth century—the Summa of St. Thomas, which was placed on the table of the Council of Trent next to the Holy Scriptures and the Corpus Juris Canonici as the most authentic expression of the mind of the Church.

This modern epoch may be divided into four periods:—

I. The Preparatory Period, up to the end of the Council of Trent;

II. The Flourishing Period, from the Council of Trent to 1660;

III. The Period of Decay to 1760.

Besides these three periods, which correspond with those of the Patristic and Mediæval Epochs, there is another,

IV. The Period of Degradation, lasting from 1760 till about 1830.

I. The Preparatory Period produced comparatively few works embracing the whole domain of theology, but its activity was proved in treatises and controversial writings, and its influence shown in the decrees of the Council of Trent and the Roman Catechism.

The numerous controversialists of this period are well known, and an account of their writings may be found in the Freiburg Kirchen-Lexicon. We may mention the following: in Germany, John Eck of Eichstätt, Frederick Nausea and James Noguera of Vienna, Berthold of Chiemsee, John Cochlœus in Nuremberg, Fred. Staphylus in Ingolstadt, James Hogstraeten, John Gropper and Albert Pighius in Cologne, Cardinal Stanislaus Hosius and Martin Cromer in Ermland, and, lastly, Blessed Peter Canisius; in Belgium, Ruard Tapper, John Driedo, James Latomus, James Ravestein (Tiletanus), and others; in England, the martyrs Blessed John Fisher, Bishop of Rochester (Roffensis), and Blessed Thomas More, Card. Pole, Stephen Gardiner, Bishop of Winchester; and later Cardinal Allen, Blessed Edmund Campion, S.J., and Nicholas Sanders; in France, Claude d’Espence, Claude de Sainctes, John Arborée, Jodocus Clichtovée, James Merlin; in Italy, the Dominicans Sylvester Prierias, Ambrose Catharinus, and James Nacchiante (Naclantus), and Cardinal Seripandus, an Augustinian; in Spain, the Minorites Alphonsus de Castro, Andrew Vega and Michael de Medina, the Dominicans Peter and Dominic Soto, and Melchior Canus; in Portugal, Payva de Andrada, Perez de Ayala and Osorius. These writers treat of the Church, the sources and the rule of Faith, Grace, Justification, and the Sacraments, especially the Blessed Eucharist, and are to some extent positive as well as controversial. The following treatises had great and permanent influence on the subsequent theological development: M. Canus, De Locis Theologicis; Sander, De Monarchia Visibili Ecclesiæ; Dom. Soto, De Natura et Gratia, and Andr. Vega, De Justificatione, written to explain the Sixth Session of the Council of Trent, in which both authors took a prominent part; B. Canisius, De Beata Maria Virgine, a complete Mariology—his great Catechism, or Summa Doctrinæ Christianæ, with its copious extracts from Holy Scripture and the Fathers may be considered as a modern “Book of Sentences.”

Apart from controversy, few works of any importance appeared. Among systematic works we may mention the Institutiones ad Naturalem et Christianam Philosophiam of the Dominican John Viguerius, and the Compendium Instit. Cathol. of the Minorite Cardinal Clement Dolera, of which the first named, often reprinted and much sought after, aims at giving a rapid sketch of speculative theology. On the other hand, important beginnings were made in the theologico-philological exegesis of Holy Scripture, especially by Genebrard, Arboreus, Naclantus, D. Soto and Catharinus, the last three of whom distinguished themselves by their commentaries on the Epistle to the Romans which was so much discussed at this time. Sixtus of Siena furnished in his Bibliotheca Sancta (first published in 1566) abundant materials for the regular study of Holy Scripture.

II. The Flourishing Period began immediately after the Council of Trent, and was brought about as much by the discussions of the Council as by its decrees. This period has no equal for richness and variety. The strictly theological works (not including works on Moral Theology, History, and Canon Law) may be divided into five classes: 1. Exegesis; 2. Controversy; 3. Scholastic; 4. Mystic; 5. Historico-patristic Theology. These classes, however, often overlap, for all branches of theology were now cultivated in the closest connection with each other. Exegesis was not restricted to philology and criticism, but made use of scholastic and patristic theology for a deeper knowledge and firmer consolidation of Catholic doctrine. The great controversialists gained their power by uniting a thorough knowledge of exegesis and history to their scholastic training. Moreover, the better class of scholastic theologians by no means confined their attention to speculation, but drew much from the Holy Scriptures and the Fathers. On the other hand, the most eminent patristic theologians made use of Scholasticism as a clue to a better knowledge of the Fathers. Finally, many theologians laboured in all or in several of these departments.

I. At the very opening of this period Exegesis was carried to such perfection, principally by the Spanish Jesuits, that little was left to be done in the next period, and for long afterwards the fruits gathered at this time were found sufficient. The labours of the Protestants are not worthy to be compared with what was done in the Catholic Church.

The list of great exegetists begins with Alphonsus Salmeron, S.J. (1586). His gigantic labours on the New Testament (15 vols. folio) are not a running commentary but an elaboration of the books of the New Testament arranged according to matter, and contain very nearly what we should now call Biblical Theology, although as such they are little used and known. Salmeron is the only one of the first companions of St. Ignatius whose writings have been published. He composed this work at Naples in the last sixteen years of his life, after a career of great public activity. His brother Jesuits and fellow-countrymen, Maldonatus (in Paris), and Francis Toletus (in Rome), and Nicholas Serarius (a Lorrainer), should be named with him as the founders of the classical interpretation of Holy Scripture. We may also mention the following Jesuits: Francis Ribera, John Pineda, Benedict Pereyra, Caspar Sanctius, Jerome Prado, Ferdinand de Salazar, John Villalpandus, Louis of Alcazar, Emmanuel Sa (all Spaniards); John Lorin (a Frenchman), Bened. Justinianus (an Italian), James Bonfrère, Adam Contzen and Cornelius à Lapide (in the Netherlands), the last of whom is the best known. Besides the Jesuits, the Dominicans Malvenda and Francis Forerius, and Anthony Agelli (Clerk Regular) distinguished themselves in Italy; and in the Netherlands, Luke of Bruges, Cornelius Jansenius of Ghent, and William Estius.

For dogmatic interpretation, the most important, besides Salmeron, are—Pereyra and Bonfrère on Genesis; Louis da Ponte on the Canticle of Canticles; Lorin on the Book of Wisdom; Maldonatus, Contzen, and Bonfrère on the Gospels; Ribera and Toletus on St. John; Sanctius, Bonfrère, and Lorin on the Acts; Vasquez, Justinianus, Serarius and Estius on the Epistles of St. Paul; Toletus on the Romans, and Justinianus, Serarius, and Lorin on the Catholic Epistles.

2. During this period, in contrast to the preceding, controversy was carried on systematically and in an elevated style, so that, as in the case of Exegesis, there remained little to be done in after ages except labours of detail. Its chief representatives, who also distinguished themselves by their great speculative learning, were Robert Bellarmine, Gregory of Valentia, Thomas Stapleton, Du Perron, Tanner, Gretser, Serarius, and the brothers Walemburch.

Cardinal Bellarmine, S.J. (d. 1621), collected together, in his great work, Disputationes de Rebus Fidei hoc tempore controversis, the principal questions of the day under three groups: (a) on the Word of God (Scripture and Tradition), on Christ (the Personal and Incarnate Word of God), and on the Church (the temple and organ of the Word of God); (b) on Grace and Free Will, Sin and Justification; (c) on the channels of grace (the Sacraments). He treats of almost the whole of theology in an order suitable to his purpose. The extensive learning, clearness, solidity, and sterling value of his work are acknowledged even by his adversaries. It continued for a long time to be the hinge of the controversy between Catholics and Protestants.

Gregory of Valentia, S.J. (a Spaniard who taught in Dillingen and Ingolstadt, d. 1603), wrote against the Reformers a series of classical treatises, which were afterwards collected together in a large folio volume. The most important of these are Analysis Fidei and De Trinitate. He condensed the substance of these writings in his Commentary on the Summa.

Thomas Stapleton was born at Henfield, in Sussex, in the year 1535, and was educated at Winchester and New College, Oxford, of which he became fellow. When Elizabeth came to the throne he was a prebendary of Chichester. He soon retired to Louvain, and was afterwards for some time catechist at Douai, but was recalled to Louvain, where he was appointed regius professor of theology. He died in 1598. Stapleton is unquestionably the most important of the controversialists on the treatment of the Catholic and Protestant Rules of Faith. He concentrated his efforts on two principal works, each in twelve books. The first of these refutes, in a manner hitherto unsurpassed, the Protestant Formal Principle—the Bible the only Source and Rule of Faith: De Principiis Fidei Doctrinalibus (Paris, 1579), to which are added a more scholastic treatise, Relectio Principiorum Fidei Doctrinalium, and a long defence against Whitaker. The other deals with the Material Principle of Protestantism—Justification by Faith only: Universa Justificationis Doctrina hodie controversa (Paris, 1582), corresponding with the second part of Bellarmine’s work, but inferior to it. The two works together contain a complete exposition and defence of the Catholic doctrine concerning Faith and Justification.

Nicolas Sander, or Sanders (b. 1527), was also, like Stapleton, scholar of Winchester and fellow of New. On the accession of Elizabeth he went to Rome, and was afterwards present at the Council of Trent. His great work, De Visibili Monarchia Ecclesiæ, was finished at Louvain in 1571. Another work, De Origine ac Progressu Schismatis Anglicani, was published after his death, and has lately been translated and edited by Mr. Lewis (Burns & Oates, 1877). Sander was sent to Ireland as Nuncio by Gregory XIII., where he is said to have died of want, hunted to death by the agents of Elizabeth, about the year 1580.

Cardinal Allen was born in Lancashire in the year 1532 and was educated at Oriel College, Oxford. He became in due course Principal of St. Mary Hall. On the death of Mary he left England, and resided for some time at Louvain. He was the founder of the famous English seminary at Douai, and was raised to the cardinalate by Sixtus V His work entitled Souls Departed: being a Defence and Declaration of the Catholic Church’s Doctrine touching Purgatory and Prayers for the Dead, has lately been edited by Father Bridgett (Burns & Oates, 1886). He died in Rome, 1594.

Cardinal James Davy du Perron (a Frenchman, d. 1618), wrote in his own mother tongue. His chief works are the Traité du Sacrement de l’Eucharistie, his controversies with James I. of England (that is, really with Casaubon), and the celebrated acts of the discussion with Philip Mornay, the so-called Calvinist pope.

In Germany Valentia found worthy disciples in the keen and learned Adam Tanner (d. 1635), and the erudite and prolific James Gretser (d. 1625), both Jesuits of Ingolstadt, who worked together and supplemented each other’s labours. Tanner, who was also a scholastic of note, followed the example of his master by condensing his controversial labours in his commentary on the Summa. Gretser, on the other hand, spread out his efforts in countless skirmishes, especially on historical subjects. His works fill sixteen volumes folio. Germany was also the scene of the labours of the brothers Adrian and Peter Walemburch, who were natives of Holland, and were both coadjutor-bishops, the one of Cologne, the other of Mayence. They jointly composed numerous successful controversial works, though only in part original, which were afterwards collected under the title of Controversiæ Generales et Particulares, in two volumes folio.

About this time and soon afterwards many classical treatises on particular questions appeared in France. Nicolas Coeffeteau, a Dominican, wrote against M. A. de Dominis, Pro Sacra Monarchia Ecclesiæ Catholicæ; Michael Maucer, a doctor of Sorbonne, on Church and State, De Sacra Monarchia Ecclesiastica et Sæculari, against Richer; and the Jansenists Nicole and Arnaud composed their celebrated work De la Perpétuité de la Foi on the Eucharist, etc. Of the Controversies of St. Francis of Sales we have only short but very beautiful sketches.

At the end of this period and the beginning of the next, may be mentioned Bossuet’s Histoire des Variations, his celebrated Exposition de la Foi, and among his smaller works the pastoral letter, Les Promesses de l’Eglise. Natalis Alexander has inserted many learned dogmatic polemical dissertations in his great History of the Church.

3. Scholastic, that is, Speculative and Systematic, Theology, like Exegesis and Controversy, and in close union with them, was so highly cultivated that the labours of this period, although (at least in the early decades) inferior to those of the thirteenth century in freshness and originality, and especially in moderation and calmness, nevertheless surpassed them in variety and in the use of the treasures of Scripture and early Tradition. When Pius V. (1567) raised St. Thomas, and Sixtus V. (1587) raised St Bonaventure to the dignity of Doctors of the Church on the ground that they were the Princes of Scholastic Theology, and, also at the same time, caused their entire works to be published, it was the Church herself who gave the impulse and direction to the new movement.

The great number of works and the variety of treatment make it difficult to give even a sketch of what was done in this department. Generally speaking, the theologians both of the old and of the newly-founded Religious Orders, and also most of the universities, kept more or less closely to St. Thomas. Scotism, on the contrary, remained confined to the Franciscans, and even among them many especially the Capuchins, turned to St. Thomas or St. Bonaventure. The independent eclectic line taken by the Jesuits, in spite of their reverence for St. Thomas, soon provoked in the traditional Thomist school a strong reaction which gave birth to protracted discussions. Although the peace was thereby disturbed, and much time, energy, and acuteness were spent with little apparent profit, nevertheless the disputes gave proof of the enormous intellectual power and activity which distinguished the first half of this period. As the Religious Orders were still the chief teachers of Theology, we may group the theologians of the period under the schools belonging to the three great Orders.

(a) The strict Thomist school was naturally represented by the Dominicans. At their head stand the two Spaniards, Dominic Bannez (d. 1604) and Bartholomew Medina (d. 1581), both worthy disciples of Dominic Soto and Melchior Canus, and remarkable for their happy combination of positive and speculative elements. Bannez wrote only on the Prima and Secunda Secundæ, whereas Medina wrote only on the Prima Secundæ and Pars tertia. Their works consequently complete each other, and together form a single work which may be considered as the classical model of Thomist theology. Bannez’s doctrine of grace was defended by Didacus Alvarez, Thomas Lemos (Panoplia Divinæ Gratiæ), and Peter Ledesma (d. 1616). Gonet (Clypeus Theologiæ Thomisticæ), Goudin, and the Venetian Xantes Marialles ably expounded and defended the teaching of St. Thomas. The Carmelites reformed by St. Theresa proved powerful allies of the Dominicans. Their celebrated Cursus Salmanticensis in Summam S. Thomæ (15 vols. folio), is the vastest and most complete work of the Thomist school.

Among other theologians whose opinions were more or less Thomist may be mentioned the Benedictine Alphonsus Curiel (d. 1609), the Cistercian Peter de Lorca (d. 1606), the Augustinians Basil Pontius and Augustine Gibbon, an Irishman who taught in Spain and in Germany (Speculum Theologicum); and Louis de Montesinos, professor at Alcala (d. 1623). Among the universities, Louvain was especially distinguished for its strict Thomism. The Commentary on the Sentences, by William Estius, is remarkable for clearness, solidity, and patristic learning. The Commentaries on the Summa, by John Malderus (d. 1645), John Wiggers (d. 1639), and Francis Sylvius (dean of Douai, d. 1649), are written with moderation and taste. The three most important scholastic theologians of the Sorbonne were less Thomistic, and approached more to the Jesuit school: Philip Gamache (d. 1625), who was unfortunately the patron of Richer; Andrew Duval (d. 1637), an opponent of Richer; and Nicholas Ysambert (d. 1642). The last two are very clear and valuable. In Germany, Cologne was the chief seat of Thomism, and a little later the Benedictine university of Salzburg strenuously supported the same opinions. One of the largest and best Thomistic works, although not the clearest, was composed towards the end of this period by the Benedictine Augustine Reding (d. 1692), Theologia Scholastica.

(b) Scotism was revived and developed in Commentaries on the Sentences by the older branches of the Franciscan Order, especially by the Irish members, the fellow-countrymen of Scotus, who had been driven from their own land by persecution, and were now dispersed over the whole of Europe; and next to them by the Italians and Belgians. The most important were Maurice Hibernicus (d. 1603), Antony Hickey (Hiquæus, d. 1641), Hugh Cavellus, and John Pontius (d. 1660). Towards the middle of the seventeenth century the Belgian, William Herincx, composed, by order of his superiors, a solid manual for beginners, free from Scotist subtleties, Summa Theologiæ Scholastiæ, but it was afterwards superseded by Frassen’s work.

The Capuchins, however, and the other reformed branches of the Order, turned away from Scotus to the classical theology of the thirteenth century, partly to St. Thomas, but chiefly to St. Bonaventure. Peter Trigos, a Spaniard (d. 1593), began a large Summa Theol. ad mentem S. Bonav., but completed only the treatise De Deo; Jos. Zamora (d. 1649) is especially good on Mariology; Theodore Forestus, De Trin. Mysterio in D. Bonav. Commentarii; Gaudentius Brixiensis, Summa, etc., 7 vols., folio, the largest work of this school.

(c) The Jesuit School, renowned for their exegetical and historical labours, applied these to the study of scholastic theology. As we have already observed, they were eclectics in spite of their reverence for St. Thomas, and they availed themselves of later investigations and methods. Their system may be described as a moderate and broad Thomism qualified by an infusion of Scotism, and, in some instances, even of Nominalism.

The chief representatives of this School, next to Toletus, are Gregory of Valentia, Francis Suarez, Gabriel Vasquez, and Didacus Ruiz, all four Spaniards, and all eminently acute and profound, thoroughly versed in Exegesis and the Fathers, and in this respect far superior to the theologians of the other Schools.

Valentia, the restorer of theology in Germany (d. 1603), combines in the happiest manner in his Commentaries on the Summa (4 vols., folio, often reprinted), both positive and speculative theology, and expounds them with elegance and compactness like Bannez and Medina.

Suarez (d. 1617, aged 70), styled by many Popes “Doctor Eximius,” and described by Bossuet as the writer “dans lequel on entend toute l’école moderne,” is the most prolific of all the later Schoolmen, and at the same time renowned for clearness, depth, and prudence. His works cover the whole ground of the Summa of St. Thomas; but the most extensive and classical among them are De Legibus, De Gratia, De Virtutibus Theologicis, De Incarnatione, and De Sacramentis, as far as Penance.

Vasquez (d. 1604), whose intellectual tendency was eminently critical, was to Suarez what Scotus was to St. Thomas. Unlike Scotus, however, he was as much at home in the exegetical and historical branches of theology as in speculation.

Ruiz surpasses even Suarez himself in depth and learning. He wrote only De Deo (6 vols., folio). His best work, and indeed the best ever written on the subject, is his treatise De Trinitate.

Besides these four chiefs of the Jesuit school, a whole host of writers might be mentioned. In Spain: Louis Molina (d. 1600), whose celebrated doctrine of Scientia Media was the occasion of so much controversy, was not really the leader of the Jesuit school, but was more distinguished as a moral theologian; Jos. Martinez de Ripalda (d. 1648), famous for his work against Baius (Michael Bay), and for his twelve books De Ente Supernaturali, in which the whole doctrine of the supernatural was for the first time systematically handled; Cardinal John De Lugo (d. 1660), better known as a moral theologian, is remarkable for critical keenness rather than for positive knowledge—his most important dogmatic work is the often-quoted treatise De Fide Divina. The Opus Theologicum of Sylvester Maurus, the well-known commentator on Aristotle, is distinguished by simplicity, calmness, and clearness, and by the absence of the subtleties so common in his day.

In Italy: Albertini, Fasoli, and Cardinal Pallavicini (d. 1667).

In France: Maratius, Martinon, and the keen and refined Claude Tiphanus (d. 1641), author of a number of treatises (De Hypostasi, De Ordine, De Creaturis Spiritualibus) in which the nicest points of theology are investigated.

In Belgium: Leonard Lessius (d. 1623), a pious, thoughtful, and elegant theologian, who wrote De Perfectionibus Moribusque Divinis, De Summo Bono, De Gratia Efficaci, and a commentary on the third part of the Summa; Ægidius Coninck, John Præpositus, and Martin Becanus.

Germany at this time had only one great native scholastic theologian, Adam Tanner (d. 1632). His Theologia Scholastica (in 4 vols. folio) is a work of the first rank, and completes in many points the labours of his master, Gregory of Valentia. During this period, however, and far into the eighteenth century, German theologians directed their attention chiefly to the practical branches of theology, such as controversy, moral theology, and canon law, and in these acquired an acknowledged superiority. It is sufficient to mention Laymann (d. 1625), Lacroix (d. 1714), Sporer (d. 1714), and Schmalzgrueber (d. 1735).

4. We omit writers who treat of the higher stages of the spiritual life, such as St. Theresa and St. John of the Cross, and mention only those who deal with dogmas as subjects of meditation, or who introduce dogmatic truths into their ascetical writings. To this period belong the Dominican, Louis of Granada, especially on account of his excellent sermons; the Jesuits, Francis Arias, Louis da Ponte (commentary on the Canticle of Canticles), Eusebius Nieremberg, Nouet (numerous meditations), and Rogacci, On the One Thing Necessary; also Cardinal Bérulle, the founder of the French oratory, author of many works, especially on the Incarnation; St. Francis of Sales, On the Love of God; the Franciscan John of Carthagena, and the Capuchin D’Argentan. The works of Lessius may also be named under this heading, De Perfectionibus Divinis and De Summo Bono. The Sorbonne doctors, Hauteville, a disciple of St. Francis of Sales, Louis Bail, and later, the Dominican Contenson, worked up the Summa in a way that speaks at once to the mind and to the heart.

5. This branch of theology was cultivated especially in France and Belgium, and chiefly by the Jesuits, Dominicans, Oratorians, and the new Congregation of Benedictines, and also by the Universities of Paris and Louvain. Their writings are mainly, as might be expected, dogmatico-historical or controversial treatises on one or other of the Fathers, or on particular heresies or dogmas. Thus, for instance, Gamier wrote on the Pelagians, and Combesis on the Monothelites, while Morinus composed treatises De Pænitentia and De Sacris Ordinibus; Isaac Habert, Doctrina Patrum Græcorum de Gratia; Nicole (that is, Arnauld) on the Blessed Eucharist; Hallier, De Sacris Ordinationibus; Cellot, De Hierarchia et de Hierarchis; Peter de Marca, De Concordia Sacerdotii et Imperii; Phil. Dechamps, De Hæresi Janseniana; Bossuet, Défense des Saints Pères, etc.; and the Capuchin Charles Joseph Tricassinus on the Augustinian doctrine of grace against the Jansenists. Much good work was done in this department, but it is to be regretted that after the example of Baius many of the historical theologians such as Launoi, Dupin, the Oratorians, and to some extent the Benedictines of St. Maur, deserted not merely the traditional teaching of the Schoolmen, which they considered to be pagan and Pelagian, but even the doctrine of the Church, and became partisans of Jansenism and Gallicanism. The Augustinus of Jansenius of Ypres (d. 1648) was the unhappy result of the misuse of splendid intellectual powers and immense erudition. The Jesuit Petavius and the Oratorian Thomassin attempted in their epoch-making works to treat the whole of dogmatic theology from a patristic and historical point of view, but both accomplished only a portion of their design.

Dionysius Petavius (Petau, d. 1647) finished no more than the treatises De Deo Uno et Trino, De Creatione and De Incarnatione, to which are subjoined a series of opuscula on Grace, the Sacraments, and the Church. Louis Thomassin (d. 1695) has left only De Deo Uno and De Incarnatione, and short treatises, De Prolegomenis Theologiæ, De Trinitate, and De Conciliis. Petavius is on the whole the more positive, temperate, and correct in thought and expression; whereas Thomassin is richer in ideas, but at the same time fanciful and exaggerated in doctrine and style. The two supplement each other both in matter and form, but both are wanting in that precision and clearness which we find in the best of the scholastic theologians.

III. The Period of Decay may be considered as a sort of echo and continuation of the foregoing, but was also a time of gradual decomposition. The Jansenists and Cartesians now played a part similar to that of the pseudo-mystic Fraticelli and the Nominalists at the end of the thirteenth century. Whilst the study of history and the Fathers was continued and even extended, systematic and speculative Theology became neglected. The change manifested itself in the substitution of quartos for folios, and afterwards of octavos and duodecimos for quartos. The best dogmatic works of the period strove to combine in compact form the speculative and controversial elements, and were therefore commonly entitled, Theologia Dogmatica Scholastica et Polemica and often too et Moralis. Many of these works, by their compactness and clearness, produce a pleasing impression on the mind, and are of great practical value, but unfortunately they are often too mechanical in construction. The Germans especially took to writing handbooks on every department of Theology. In the former period Positive Theology was cultivated chiefly in France, while Spain gave itself up to more subtle questions. Now, however, Italy gradually came to the front. A host of learned theologians gathered around the Holy See to fight against Jansenism and Regalism, which had spread over France and were finding their way gradually into Germany. Most of the older schools still remained, but they had lost their former solidity. Another school was now added—the so-called Augustinian school, which flourished among the Augustinians and also at Louvain. It took a middle course between the older schools and the Jansenists in reference to St. Augustine’s teaching.

Among the Thomists we may mention Billuart (d. 1757), Card. Gotti (d. about 1730), Drouin (De re Sacramentaria) and De Rossi (De Rubeis). The two Benedictine Cardinals, Sfondrati and Aguirre (Theologia S. Anselmi), belong to the less rigorous school of Thomists, and, indeed, have a marked leaning to the Jesuit school.

The Franciscan school produced the most important work of the period, and perhaps the most useful of all the Scotist writings: Scotus Academicus seu Universa Doctoris Sublilis Theologica Dogmata hodiernis academicorum moribus accomodata, by Claude Frassen (4 vols. folio, or 12 vols. quarto). Boyvin, Krisper, and Kick also wrote at this time. The well-known works of the Capuchin Thomas ex Charmes are still widely used.

It was from the Jesuit school, however, that most of the manuals and compendiums proceeded. Noel composed a compendium of Suarez; and James Platel an exceedingly compact and concise Synopsis Cursus Theolog. Antoine’s Theologia Speculativa is to be commended more for its clearness than for its rigid opinions on morals. Germany produced many useful manuals, e.g., for controversy, the short work by Pichler, and a larger one by Sardagna. But the most important, beyond question, is the celebrated Theologia Wirceburgensis, composed by the Wurzburg Jesuits, Kilber and his colleagues, about the middle of the eighteenth century. It includes both the positive and speculative elements, and is a worthy termination of the ancient Theology in Germany.

The Augustinian school approached closely to Jansenism on many points, but the devotion of its leading representatives to the Church and to genuine scholasticism saved it from falling into heresy. These leaders were Christian Lupus of Louvain and Cardinal Noris (d. 1704). Both were well versed in history and the Fathers, but they wrote only monographs. The great dogmatic work of this school is by Laurence Berti, De Theologicis Disciplinis (6 vols., sm. folio). The discalced Carmelite Henry of St. Ignatius is rather Jansenistic, while Opstraet is altogether so. On the other hand, the Belgian Augustinian Desirant was one of the ablest and most determined opponents of the Jansenists, and was consequently nicknamed by them Délirant.

The French Oratory, which had begun with so much promise, and had been so rich in learned historians, fell afterwards completely into Jansenism; e.g. Duguet, Quesnell, and Lebrun himself. Its best dogmatic works are the Institutiones Theol., by Gasper Juenin, and his Comment. hist. dogm. de Sacramentis. The French Benedictines, in spite of all their learning, have left no systematic work. Part of the Congregation of Saint-Maur inclined very strongly to Jansenism and Gallicanism. The Congregation of Saint-Vannes, on the other hand, was rigidly orthodox, and produced in Calmet the greatest exegetist of the age, in Maréchal and Ceillier excellent patrologists, and in Petit-Didier one of the most strenuous adversaries of Gallicanism, and a worthy rival of his religious brethren Sfrondrati, Aguirre, and Reding.

The Sorbonne was much infected with Jansenism, and after 1682 almost completely adhered to the violent Gallicanism of the French Government. Nevertheless, a tendency, Gallican indeed, but at the same time anti-Jansenistic, was maintained, notably at St. Sulpice. We may mention Louis Abelly (d. 1619), Medulla Theologiæ; Martin Grandin, Opera theol. (5 vols.); Louis Habert (d. 1718, slightly Jansenistic), Du Hamel (a thorough Gallican), L’Herminier (Gallican), Charles Witasse (1716, Jansenist). Tournely was the most learned and orthodox of this group, and his Prælectiones Theologicæ had great influence in the better-minded circles until they were supplanted by the vile work of Bailly. The Collectio Judiciorum de Novis Erroribus, by Duplessis D’Argentré, published about 1728, is an important contribution to the history of Theology.

In Germany, Eusebius Amort (Canon Regular) was the most universal theologian of his time; his principal work, Theologia Eclectica, possessed abundant positive matter, and aimed at preserving the results of the past, while at the same time meeting the claims of the present. We may also mention the Theatine, Veranus, the Benedictines Cartier, Scholliner and Oberndoffer, the Abbé Gerbert de Saint-Blaise, and, lastly, Joseph Widmann, Instit. Dogm. polem. specul. (1766; 6 vols. 8vo).

The chief theological works were polemico-historical treatises against Jansenism, Gallicanism, and Febronianism: Viva, S.J., Damnatæ Quesnelli Theses; Fontana, S.J., Bulla Unigenitus propugnata; Faure, S.J., Commentary on the Enchiridion of St. Augustine; Benaglio, Scipio Maffei, the Dominicans De Rubeis, Orsi, Mamachi, Becchetti, the Jesuits Zaccharia, Bolgeni and Muzzarelli; also Soardi, Mansi, Roncaglia, and the Barnabite Cardinal Gerdil. The learned Pope Benedict XIV., although more celebrated as a Canonist, wrote on many questions of dogma. Above all these, however, stands St. Alphonsus Liguori (d. 1787), who was raised to the dignity of Doctor of the Church by Pius IX., more on account of the sanctity of his life and the correctness of his opinions, especially in Moral Theology, than for his knowledge of dogma.

IV. The destructive and anti-Christian principles of Jansenism, Gallicanism, and Regalism, which had been gradually gaining ground during the preceding period, led to the downfall of Catholic theology. These principles, in combination with the superficial philosophy of the day, and with the deplorable reverence, disguised under the name of tolerance, for rationalistic science and Protestant learning, did much mischief, especially in Germany. Theology became a sort of systematic collection of positive notions drawn from the writers of a better age, or more commonly from Protestant and Jansenistic sources. Any attempt at speculative treatment only meant the introduction of non-Catholic philosophy, particularly that of Kant and Schelling. Lawrence Veith, Goldhagen, and the Augsburg Jesuits, were brilliant exceptions; but the best work of the period is Liebermann’s Institutions. Baader, Hermes, and Günther attempted a more profound philosophical treatment of dogma in opposition to the Protestant philosophy. Their efforts were signalized by great intellectual power, but, at the same time, by dissociation from genuine theology, and by ignorance, or at least neglect, of the traditions of the schools. Italy alone preserved the orthodox tradition; many of the writers named in the period of decay continued their labours far into the present period.

The toleration granted to Catholics in England and Scotland during the second half of the eighteenth century, gave them the opportunity of publishing works on Catholic doctrine. We may mention Bishop Challoner (1691–1781), Grounds of the Catholic Doctrine, The Catholic Christian Instructed, The Grounds of the Old Religion; Bishop Hay (1729–1811), Sincere Christian, Devout Christian, Pious Christian, and a treatise on miracles—an excellent edition of these has been published by Blackwood, Edinburgh; and Bishop Milner (1752–1826), whose End of Controversy is still the best work against Low Churchmen and Dissenters.

When order was restored to Europe after the wars of the Revolution, the Church found herself stripped of her possessions and excluded from the ancient seats of learning. In spite of these disadvantages, signs were not wanting of the dawn of a new epoch of theological learning which seems destined to be in no way inferior to those which have gone before. The movement begun in France by Lamennais, Lacordaire, and Montalembert, was taken up even more vigorously in Germany. The study of Church history was revived by Döllinger, Hefele, Hergenröther, Janssen, and Pastor; Canon law, by Walter and Philips; Scripture, by Windischmann and Kaulen; Symbolism, by Möhler; Dogma, by Klee, Kuhn, Knoll, Scheeben, and Schwane; Scholastic philosophy and theology, by Kleutgen. The labours of the German school are summed up in the great Kirchenlexicon, published by Herder, of Freiburg. In Italy Liberatore and Sanseverino brought back the Thomistic philosophy; Passaglia, Perrone, Palmieri, and Franzelin (an Austrian) composed dogmatic treatises which have become text-books in almost every Catholic country; Patrizi and Vercellone are well known for their Biblical labours. Among the French writers of the earlier years of the revival, Gousset, Gury, and Craisson deserve special mention; while the gigantic labours of the Abbé Migne, in reproducing the works of former ages, have been of the greatest service to the study of theology. In spite of persecution, France is now producing theological work admirably suited to the needs of the day. We would refer especially to the Dict. de Théologie Catholique, begun by the Abbé Vacant; the Bibliothèque de Théologie Historique, published under the direction of the Institut Catholique of Paris; Dict. d’Archéologie et de Liturgie, by Dom Cabrol; and the Bibliothèque de l’Enseignement de l’Histoire Ecclésiastique. These four collections mark a new departure in theological literature. They are composed on strictly historical lines, noting in particular the development and growth of doctrines and institutions. Vigouroux’s Dict. de la Bible is valuable, though perhaps too conservative in its tendencies. The same may be said of the Scriptures Sacræ Cursus of Cornely, Knabenbaur, and Hummelauer. The Études Bibliques edited by Lagrange, and the texts and studies of La Pensée Chrétienne are more advanced. England and the English-speaking countries have been content, as a rule, to take their theology from abroad. We have, however, some few theological works of our own, e.g. Murray’s De Ecclesia and Kenrick’s Theologia Moralis. But a whole host of writers have dealt with the Anglican controversy in its various aspects, while Cardinal Newman’s works, especially his Development of Christian Doctrine, are more than ever valuable.


I. The special task of Theology in the present day has been pointed out by the Vatican Council. In the Proœemium to the First Constitution (as had already been indicated by Pius IX. in his allocutions and also in his encyclical Quanta Cura issued in 1864), the council sketches in a few vivid strokes the chief errors of the age. After noting that these errors have sprung from the rejection of the Church’s teaching authority in the sixteenth century, it points out how opposed they are to the errors of that time: the first Protestants held to “Faith alone” and “Grace alone;” their modern successors believe in nothing but Reason and Nature. “Then there sprang up and too widely spread itself abroad through the world that doctrine of rationalism or naturalism which, totally opposed as it is to the Christian religion as a supernatural institution, striveth with all its might to thrust out Christ from the thoughts and the life of men, and to set up the reign of mere reason or nature. Having put aside the Christian religion and denied God and His Christ, many have at last fallen into the pit of pantheism, materialism, and atheism, so that now, denying rational nature itself and every criterion of what is right and just, they are working together for the overthrow of the foundations of human society. While this wickedness hath been gaining strength on all sides, it hath unhappily come to pass that many even of the Church’s children have strayed from the path of godliness, and that in them, by the gradual minimizing of truths, Catholic feeling hath been weakened. Misled by strange doctrines, confounding nature and grace, human knowledge and Divine Faith, they have distorted the true meanings of dogmas as held and taught by Holy Mother Church, and have imperilled the integrity and purity of the Faith.” Another constitution against Naturalism was projected in which the Trinity, Incarnation, and Grace were to be treated, but it was not issued owing to the suspension of the council. Two more constitutions, on the Church and on Matrimony, were to deal with the social aspect of Rationalism and Naturalism—that is, with Liberalism,—but for the same reason only one of them (that on the Church) was published. See Vacant, Études Théologiques sur le Concile du Vatican.

The leading errors which Theology has to combat are, therefore, Rationalism, Naturalism, and Liberalism. In opposition to Rationalism it establishes the supernatural character of theological knowledge; in opposition to Naturalism it brings out the meaning and connection of the supernatural truths in all their sublimity and beauty; and in opposition to Liberalism it proves the claim, and defines the extent, of the influence of the supernatural order upon the private and public life of men. While, however, carefully distinguishing between Reason and Faith, and Nature and Grace, Theology at the same time insists upon the organic connection and mutual relation between the natural and the supernatural order. Hence it is more than ever important that Catholic doctrines should be set forth in such a way as to bring out their organic union and connection.

II. We shall begin by treating of General Theology, or, in other words, the Sources of Theological Knowledge, the rule and motive of Faith, how we are to know what we are to believe and why we should believe it (De Locis Theologicis)—Book I.

We shall then deal with Special Theology; that is, the contents of Revelation, what we are to believe. Special Theology naturally begins with God—God considered in Himself, the Unity of the Divine Nature, and the Trinity of the Divine Persons (De Deo Uno et Trino)—Book II.

Next it considers God in His fundamental and original relations to the Universe generally, and to intelligent creatures, angels and men, particularly, in so far as they receive from Him their nature by creation, and at the same time in so far as they have been called to a supernatural union with Him by Grace; in other words—God as the Origin and End of the natural and the supernatural order (De Deo Creante et Elevante)—Book III.

Inasmuch as this original relation of God to the world and of the world to Him was destroyed by the revolt of the angels and of men, theology treats, in the third place, of Sin and its consequences (De Casu Diaboli et Hominis)—Book IV.

In the fourth place it deals with the restoration of the supernatural order and the establishment of a higher order and closer union with God by means of the Incarnation of God (De Verbo Incarnato)—Book V.

Fifthly, it expounds the doctrine of Grace, whereby, through the merits of Christ, man is inwardly cleansed from sin and restored to God’s favour, and enabled to attain his supernatural end (De Gratia Christi)—Book VI.

Sixthly, it considers the means appointed by the Incarnate Word for the continuance of His work among men: the Church His mystical Body, the Blessed Eucharist His real Body, and the other Sacraments (De Ecclesia Christi, De Sacramentis)—Book VII.

Lastly, Theology deals with the completion of the course of the Universe, the Four Last Things, whereby the universe returns to God, its End and Final Object (De Novissimis)—Book VIII.

NOTE.—The quotations of Scripture are taken from the modern editions of the Douai-Rheims Version. The translations of the passages of the Fathers are mostly taken from Waterworth’s “Faith of Catholics.” Our limited space has often compelled us to confine ourselves to mere statement without any explanation or proof. In such cases the reader must not assume that the doctrines stated are incapable of proof.








I. THE word Revelation originally means an unveiling—a manifestation of some object by drawing back the covering by which it was hidden. Hence we commonly use the word in the sense of a bringing to light some fact or truth hitherto not generally known. But it is especially applied to manifestations made by God, Who is Himself hidden from our eyes, yet makes Himself known to us. It is with this Divine Revelation that we are here concerned.

II. God discloses Himself to us in three ways. The study of the universe, and especially of man, the noblest object in the universe, clearly proves to us the existence of One Who is the Creator and Lord of all. This mode of manifestation is called Natural Revelation, because it is brought about by means of nature, and because our own nature has a claim to it, as will be hereafter explained. But God has also spoken to man by His own voice, both directly and through Prophets, Apostles, and Sacred Writers. This positive (as opposed to natural) Revelation proceeds from the gratuitous condescension of God, and tends to a gratuitous union with Him, both of which are far beyond the demands of our nature. Hence it is called Supernatural Revelation, and sometimes Revelation pure and simple, because it is more properly a disclosure of something hidden. The third and highest degree of Revelation is in the Beatific Vision in Heaven where God withdraws the veil entirely, and manifests Himself in all His glory. Here on earth, even in Supernatural Revelation, “we walk by faith and not by sight;” “we see now through a glass in a dark manner, but then [in the Beatific Vision] face to face;” “we shall see Him as He is” (2 Cor. 5:7; 1 Cor. 13:12; 1 John 3:2).


Natural Revelation is the principle of ordinary knowledge, and therefore belongs to the domain of philosophy. We touch upon it here because it is the basis of Supernatural Revelation, and also because at the present day all forms of Revelation have been confused and have lost their proper significance.

I. All natural knowledge of intellectual, religious, and ethical truths must be connected with a Divine Revelation of some kind, and this for two reasons: to maintain the dependence of these truths upon God, and the better to inculcate the duty of obeying them. This Revelation, however, is nothing else but the action of God as Creator, giving and preserving to nature its existence, form, and life. Created things embody Divine Ideas, and are thus imitations of their antitypes, the Divine Perfections. The human intellect, in particular, is an image of the Divine Intellect: the Creator endows it with the power to infer, from visible nature, the existence and perfections of its Author; and, from its own spiritual nature, the spiritual nature of the Author of all things. The revealing action of the Creator, then, consists in exhibiting, in matter and mind, the image of Himself, and in keeping alive in man the power of knowing the image and, through the image, Him who is represented. Theories which confound this Natural Revelation with Positive Revelation, like Traditionalism, or with the Revelation of Glory, like Ontologism completely misapprehend the bearing and energy of God’s creative operations and of created nature itself.

II. The following propositions, met with in the Fathers, and even in Holy Scripture, must be understood to refer to a Natural Revelation. When rightly explained they serve to confirm the doctrine stated above.

1. “God is the Teacher of all truth, even of natural truth,” i.e. not by formal speech nor by an inner supernatural enlightenment, but by sustaining the mind and faculties with which He has endowed our nature (cf. St. August. De Magistro, and St. Thomas, De Veritate, q. XI.).

2. “God is the light in which we know all truth,” that is, not the light which we see, but the Light which creates and preserves in us the faculty of knowing things as they are.

3. “God is the truth in which we read all truth,”—not as in a book or as in a mirror, but in the sense that, by means of the light received from God, we read in creatures the truths impressed upon them. The same idea is sometimes expressed by saying that God impresses His truth upon our mind and writes it in our souls.

4. It is particularly said that God has written His law upon our hearts (Rom. 2:14, 15) and that He speaks to us in our conscience. This, however, does not mean a supernatural intervention; through the light of reason God makes known to us His Will in a more vivid manner than even human language could do.

III. Natural Revelation embraces all the truths which we can apprehend by the light of our reason. Nevertheless only those which concern God and our relations with Him are said to belong to Natural Revelation, because they are the only truths in which He reveals Himself to us and which He commands us to acknowledge. Thus St. Paul (Rom. 1:18–20 and 2:14–15) points out as naturally revealed “the invisible things of God,” especially “His eternal power and Divinity,” and also the Moral Law.

It must not, however, be thought that all that can be or ought to be known about God, His designs, and His works, is within the sphere of Natural Revelation. The unaided light of reason can attain only a mediate knowledge of God by means of the study of His creatures, and must consequently be imperfect. Both the subjective medium (the human mind) and the objective medium (creation), are finite, whereas God is infinite. Moreover, the human intellect, by reason of its dependence on the senses, is so imperfect that it knows the essences of things only from their phenomena, and therefore only obscurely and imperfectly. And lastly, the study of nature can result only in the knowledge of such truths as are necessarily connected with it, and can tell us nothing about any free acts which God may have performed above and beyond nature, the knowledge of which He may nevertheless require of us.

Thus, even if the knowledge of God through the medium of nature without any special help were sufficient for our natural vocation, there would still be room for another and a supernatural revelation. But Natural Revelation is, in a certain sense, insufficient even for our natural vocation, as we shall now proceed to prove.


I. The direct object or purpose of Positive Revelation is to impart to us the knowledge of the truths which it contains or to develop and perfect such knowledge of them as we already possess. The remote, but at the same time the chief, object is to enable us to attain our last end. The measure of the knowledge required depends upon the end ordained to man by his Creator; its necessity is determined by the capability or incapability of man to acquire this knowledge. Thus the necessity of a Positive Revelation varies according to the end to be attained and man’s capacity to attain it.

II. Man, as we shall see, is destined to a supernatural end, and consequently the principal object of a Positive Revelation is to enable him to reach it. But this supernatural vocation does not relieve him from his natural duties, and even for the fulfilment of these a Positive Revelation is in a certain sense necessary. The Catholic doctrine on this point has been defined by the Vatican Council. “To this Divine revelation it belongeth that those Divine things which are not impervious to human reason may, in the present state of the human race, be known by all with expedition and firm certainty, and without any mixture of error. Nevertheless not on this account must Revelation be deemed absolutely necessary, but because God of His infinite goodness hath ordained man to a supernatural end, that is to say, to be a sharer in the good things of God which altogether surpass the understanding of the human mind; for eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, nor hath it entered into the heart of man what things God hath prepared for them that love Him” (sess. iii., chap. 2). We must therefore distinguish two different kinds of necessity.

1. Positive Revelation is not absolutely, categorically, and physically necessary for the knowledge of truths of the natural order bearing upon religion and morals, but it is relatively, hypothetically, and morally necessary. If Positive Revelation were absolutely necessary for the acquisition of natural, moral, and religious truths, then none of these truths could be known by any man in any other way. But this is plainly opposed to the doctrine that God and the moral law may be known by man’s unaided reason. Many difficulties, however, impede the acquisition of this knowledge. Very few men have the talent and opportunity to study such a subject, and even under the most favourable circumstances there will be doubt and error, owing to man’s moral degradation and the influences to which he is exposed. Positive Revelation is needed to remedy these defects, but the necessity is only relative, because it exists merely in relation to a portion of mankind, a part of the moral law, and in different degrees under different circumstances; the necessity is moral, because there is no physical impossibility but only great difficulty; and hypothetical, because it exists only in the hypothesis that God has provided no other means of surmounting the difficulties.

2. On the other hand Positive Revelation is absolutely, categorically, and physically necessary for the attainment of our supernatural end. To reach this end we must tend towards it supernaturally while we are here on earth (in statu viæ), and this supposes the knowledge of the end and of the means thereto. As both are supernatural, both must be made known by means of a direct communication from the Author of the supernatural order. And the necessity is absolute, because it extends to every truth of this order and arises from the very nature of man; physical, because of man’s physical incapacity of knowing God as He is in Himself; and categorical, because God cannot substitute any other means for it.

III. Positive Revelation is always a supernatural act as far as its form is concerned, because, in making it, God is acting beyond and above His ordinary activity as Creator, Conservator, and Prime Mover of nature, and out of purely gratuitous benevolence. This supernatural character belongs to it even when it merely supplements Natural Revelation. But it is purely and simply supernatural in all respects only when it manifests supernatural truths and is the means to a supernatural end.


I. We learn from the preceding section that Supernatural Revelation gives us knowledge of truths unrevealed by Natural Revelation. These truths constitute the specific and proper contents of Supernatural Revelation. As, however, this Revelation is by word of mouth, and not, as in the Revelation of Glory, by the vision of its object; as it does not entirely lift the veil from revealed things: it leaves them in obscurity, entirely withholding their reality from the mind’s eye, and only reproducing their essence in analogical concepts taken from the sphere of our natural knowledge. This peculiar character of the contents of Supernatural Revelation is called Mystery, or mystery of God; that is, a truth hidden in God, but made known to man by a free communication.

II. Mystery in common parlance means something hidden or veiled, especially by one mind from another. It implies the notion that some advantage attaches to the knowledge of it which gives the initiated a position superior to outsiders. The heathens gave the name of “mysteries” to the symbolical or sacred words and acts which they kept secret from the multitude, or to the hidden meaning of their liturgy, understood only by the initiated. The Fathers applied the term to the sacred words and acts of the true religion, kept secret from the heathen and catechumens, and understood only by the perfect, especially the mysteries knowable only by Faith which are veiled under the sacramental appearances (cf. Card. Newman, Development, p. 27).

1. The notion of theological mystery properly so called implies that the mysterious truth is incapable of being discovered by human reason, and that, even after it is revealed, reason cannot prove its existence. These conditions, however, are fulfilled by many truths which are not usually styled mysteries. Hence we must add the further condition that the truth should be naturally unknowable on account of its absolute and objective superiority to our sphere of knowledge, and that we should consequently be unable to obtain a direct and proper, but only an analogical, representation of its contents. A mystery is therefore subjectively above reason and objectively above nature.

2. That there are such mysteries has been defined by the Vatican Council. “Besides those things which natural reason can attain, there are proposed for our belief the mysteries hidden in God, which, unless they were divinely revealed, could not be known.” Although by means of analogy we may obtain some knowledge of these mysteries, nevertheless human reason is never able to perceive them in the same way as it perceives the truths which are its proper object. “The Divine mysteries, by their very nature, so far surpass the created intellect that, even when they have been imparted by Revelation and received by Faith, they nevertheless remain hidden and enveloped, as it were, in a sort of mist, as long as in this mortal life we are absent from the Lord, for we walk by faith and not by sight” (sess. iii., chap. 4). And the Council speaks of the two elements, subjective and objective, in the corresponding canon 1: “If any one shall say that in Divine Revelation no mysteries properly so called are contained, but that all the dogmas of the Faith may be understood and demonstrated from natural principles by reason duly cultured, let him be anathema” (cf. the Brief of Pius IX., Gravissimas inter).

3. The doctrine of the Council is based on many passages of Holy Scripture, some of which are quoted or alluded to in the decrees. The fullest text is 1 Cor. 2: “Howbeit we speak wisdom among the perfect, yet not the wisdom of this world, neither of the princes of this world that come to nought; but we speak the wisdom of God in a mystery [a wisdom] which is hidden, which God ordained before the world unto our glory: which none of the princes of this world knew.… But, as it is written; that eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither hath it entered into the heart of man, what things God hath prepared for them that love Him. But to us God hath revealed them by His Spirit. For the Spirit searcheth all things, yea, the deep things of God. For what man knoweth the things of a man, but the spirit of a man that is in him? So the things that are of God no man knoweth, but the Spirit of God. Now we have received not the spirit of this world, but the Spirit that is of God: that we may know the things that are given us from God” (6–12). Compare also Eph. 3:4–9; Col. 1:26, 27; Matt. 11:25–27, and John 1:18. The writings of the Fathers are very rich in commentaries on these texts, many of which are quoted in the Brief Gravissimas inter. See especially St. Chrysostom and St. Jerome on Eph. 3; also St. Peter Chrysologus, horn. 67, sqq., on the Lord’s Prayer.

4. The presence of mysteries in Christian Revelation is essential to its sublime character. The principle of Revelation is God Himself in His character of Father, sending His Son and, through Him, the Holy Ghost into this world to announce “what the Son received from the Father, and the Holy Ghost from both.” Again, the motive of Revelation is the immense love of the Son of God for us: He speaks to us a friend to friends, telling us the secret things of His Father (John 15:14). And the end of Revelation is to lead us on to a truly supernatural state, the direct vision of God face to face. Moreover, without mysteries, Faith would not be “the evidence of things that appear not” (Heb. 11:1), nor would it be meritorious (Rom. 4, Heb. 10). In fact, the very essence of Revelation is to be supernatural and therefore mysterious, so that all who deny the existence of mysteries deny also the supernatural character of Christianity. We may add that the study of the revealed truths themselves will plainly show their mysterious nature.

5. The mysteries which are the subject-matter of Revelation are not merely a few isolated truths, but form a supernatural world whose parts are as organically connected as those of the natural world—a mystical cosmos, the outcome of the “manifold wisdom of God” (Eph. 3:10). In their origin they represent under various forms the communication of the Divine Nature by the Trinity, the Incarnation, and Grace; in their final object they represent an order in which the Triunity appears as the ideal and end of a communion between God and His creatures, rendered possible through the God-Man, and accomplished by means of grace and glory.

6. It is folly to maintain that the revelation of mysteries degrades our reason; on the contrary, it is at once an honour and a benefit. To say that there are truths beyond the reach of our reason is surely not to degrade it, but to acknowledge the true extent of its powers. And what an honour it is to man to be made in some way a confidant of God! Moreover, the more a truth is above reason the more precious it is to us. Finally, the knowledge of things supernatural is a pledge and foretaste of the perfect knowledge which is to come.


I. Revelation embraces all those truths which have been revealed in any way whatever.

1. Some revealed truths can be known only by means of Revelation; as, for instance, the Blessed Trinity, the Incarnation, and Grace. Others can be known by natural reason also; for instance, the Unity of God, Creation, and the Spirituality of the Soul. The former, which are purely and simply matters of Faith, are revealed in order to be made known; whereas the latter are mentioned in Revelation to serve as a basis.

2. Another important distinction is that between matters of Faith and matters of morals. Matters of Faith refer to God and His works, and are primarily of a speculative character. Matters of morals refer to man and his conduct, for which they prescribe practical rules.

3. A third distinction is between truths revealed for their own sake and truths revealed for the sake of those. This distinction is of great importance with regard to the contents of Holy Writ.

4. Lastly, some truths stand out clearly in Revelation, and are revealed in their completeness, while others can only be inferred by means of reflection and study. The latter are called corollaries of the Faith, or theological truths. It may come to pass that these may be proposed as matter of Faith by the Church, because they are necessary for the support of the Faith and also for the attainment of its object.

These four groups of revealed truths may not inaptly be compared to the different parts of a tree. Matters of Faith, pure and simple, are like the trunk; the natural truths which serve as a basis are the roots; truths incidentally revealed are the bark which envelops and protects the trunk; truths inferred by ratiocination are the branches which spring from the trunk; while the practical truths are the buds and flowers, from which proceeds the fruit of Christian life.

II. Although, strictly speaking, things revealed are alone the subject-matter of Faith, nevertheless many truths belonging to the domain of natural reason, but at the same time so connected and interwoven with Revelation that they cannot be separated from it, may also be reckoned as matter of Faith. These truths are, as it were, the atmosphere in which the tree of Revelation lives and thrives. The determination of the meaning of words used for the expression of dogmas (e.g. ὁμοούσιος), and of passages in Holy Scripture and other documents, are instances. In like manner many truths are inseparably connected with matters of morals, e.g. discipline, ceremonies, Religious Orders, the temporal power of the Pope, etc.


I. Supernatural Revelation was not given at once in all its completeness. From the day of Creation to the day of Judgment God has spoken, and will speak, to mankind at sundry times and in divers manners (Heb. 1:1). Natural and Supernatural Revelation run in parallel lines. Yet, whilst the former is addressed to all men at all times in the same form, the latter is made immediately only to individuals, and is not necessarily meant for all mankind. We are not, however, concerned here with private revelations, but only with those which are public, i.e. destined for all men.

II. Public Revelation may be divided into two portions: the Revelation made to man in his original state of integrity in Paradise, and the Revelation made to fallen man—that is, the Revelation of Redemption.

1. The Revelation in Paradise was public because it was to be handed down to all men as an inseparable complement of Natural Revelation. Holy Scripture mentions as its subject-matter only the law of probation given to Adam, but it connects this law with the supernatural order because the possession of immortality was to be the reward of obedience. It may be inferred, however, that all other necessary elements of the order of grace were clearly revealed, e.g. the Divine adoption of man, and the corresponding moral law, although the Old Testament mentions only the gift of integrity.

2. The Revelation of Redemption, or of the Gospel, was preparatory in the Old Testament and complete in the New. The preparatory stage was begun with the Patriarchs and continued with Moses and the Prophets. The Patriarchal Revelation contained the promise of the coming of the Redeemer, and pointed out the family from which He was to spring; it also enacted some few positive commandments. But as it did not form a complete system of religious truths and morals, and added little to what might be known by the unaided light of reason, it may be called the Law of Nature. The next stage, the Mosaic Revelation, was a closer preparation for the Revelation of the Gospel, and laid the foundation of an organized kingdom of God upon earth. Its object was to secure the worship of the one God and to keep alive the expectation of the Redeemer. Man is considered as a guilty servant of God, not as His child (Gal. 4:1). Nevertheless even this Revelation contains little more than Natural Revelation, except the positive ordinances for safeguarding the Law of Nature, for the institution of public worship, and for the atonement for sin. In the days of the Prophets the Revelation of the Gospel already began to dawn: the supernatural and the Divine began to appear in purer and clearer outline. Finally, the Revelation completed through Christ and the Holy Ghost surpasses all the others in dignity because its Mediator was the Only Begotten Son of God (Heb. 1:1), Who told what He Himself had heard (John 1:18), nay, Who is Himself the Word of God, and in Whom God speaks (John 8:25). The descent of the Holy Ghost upon the Apostles supplemented and completed what Christ had revealed. “When He, the Spirit of truth, is come, He will teach you all truth,” (John 16:13).

III. The dignity and perfection of Christian Revelation require that no further public Revelation is to be made. The Old Testament dispensation pointed to one that was to follow, but the Christian dispensation is that “which remaineth” (2 Cor. 3:11; cf. Rom. 10:3, sqq.; Gal. 3:23, sqq.); an “immovable kingdom” (Heb. 12:28); perfect and absolutely sufficient (Heb. 7:11, sqq.); not the shadow, but the very image of the things to come (Heb. 10:1). And Christ distinctly says that His doctrine shall be preached until the consummation of the world, and declares “All things whatsoever I have heard from My Father I have made known unto you” (John 15:15), and “when He, the Spirit of truth, is come, He will teach you all truth,” πᾶσαν τὴν ἀλήθειαν (John 16:13). The Apostles also exhort their disciples to stand by the doctrine which they received, and to listen only to the Church (2 Tim. 2:2, and 3:14). And the epistle ascribed to St. Barnabas contains the well-known formula: “The rule of light is, to keep what thou hast received without adding or taking away.” Moreover, the Church has always rejected the pretension of those who claimed to have received new revelations of a higher order from the Holy Ghost, e.g. the Montanists, Manichæans, Fraticelli, the Anabaptists, Quakers, and Irvingites.

The finality of the present Revelation does not, however, exclude the possibility of minor and subsidiary revelations made in order to throw light upon doctrine or discipline. The Church is the judge of the value of these revelations. We may mention as instances of those which have been approved, the Feast of Corpus Christi and the devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus.

From the above we deduce the existence of a gradual progress, both extensive and intensive, in Revelation. The extensive progress does not start from Adam or Noah, but from Abraham, the patriarch selected among fallen mankind. Patriarchal Revelation was made to a family, Mosaic Revelation to a people, Prophetical Revelation to several peoples, Christian Revelation to the whole world. The intensive progress consists in a higher degree of illumination and a wider range of the revealed truths. The intensive progress likewise begins with Abraham and ascends through Moses and the Prophets to Christ, Who leads us to the bright day of eternity (infra, pp. 71, 105).




DIVINE Revelation, although destined for all men in all times and places, has not been communicated to each individual directly and immediately. Certain means have been appointed by God for this purpose. Catholics and Protestants, however, hold diametrically opposite views as to what these means are. We shall first state both theories, and then develop and prove the Catholic theory.

I. The Protestant theory takes two different forms, both alike opposed to the Catholic theory. According to the older Protestants, Holy Scripture, the divinely written document of Revelation, together with an interior illumination of the Holy Ghost, is the sole means whereby Revelation asserts itself to the individual. All other institutions or external means of communicating Revelation are the work of man, coming violently between Revelation and Faith, and destroying the supernatural character of the latter. Modern Protestants, however, admit the existence of other means of transmission besides Holy Writ itself, but they deny that such means are ordained by God and participate in the Divine character of Revelation; while some even go so far as to deny the supernatural character of Holy Scripture. Revealed truth is handed down by purely human witnesses, whose authority depends, not on the assistance of the Holy Ghost, but on their natural abilities and industry. Both forms protest—the one in the name of Christian, the other in the name of natural, freedom—against the notion of a Revelation imposing itself authoritatively on mankind; and they also protest against any living and visible authority claiming to be established by God and to have the right to impose the obedience of Faith.

II. The Catholic theory is a logical consequence of the nature of Revelation. Revelation is not simply intended for the comfort and edification of isolated individuals, but as a fruitful source of supernatural knowledge and life, and a sovereign rule of Faith, thought, and conduct for all mankind as a whole, and for each man in particular. God wills that by its means all men should be gathered into His kingdom of holiness and truth, and should obtain, by conformity to His Will, the happiness which He destines for them, at the same time rendering to Him the tribute of glory which is His due. Revelation is especially intended to be a principle of Faith, leading to an infallible knowledge of revealed truth, and also to be a law of Faith, by submitting to which all men may offer to God the most perfect homage of their intellect. Hence it follows that God should provide efficient means to enable mankind to acquire a complete, certain, and uniform knowledge of revealed truth, and to secure to Himself a uniform and universal worship founded on Faith. This exercise of God’s Jus Majestatis over the mind of man is rightly insisted upon by the Vatican Council against the rationalistic tendencies of the day. Moreover, God could not cast upon the world the written document of His revealed Word, and leave it to an uncertain fate. Had He done so, the purposes of Revelation would have been completely frustrated. The only efficient mode of transmitting Revelation with authority is that the Word of God, after having once been spoken, should be continually proposed to mankind by His authorized envoys, and promulgated in His name and power as the principle and rule of Faith. These envoys are called the Teaching Body; their functions are called the Apostolate.

Thus, according to the Catholic theory, there is a means of transmitting Revelation distinct from Revelation itself and its written document; and this means, having been instituted by God, detracts in no way from the dignity of Revelation, but rather safeguards it. Other means of transmission, such as Scripture and history, are by no means excluded; they are, however, subordinate to the one essential and fundamental means.


I. The promulgation of revealed truth, being an act of God as Sovereign Lord of all creatures, must be made in the name of His sovereign authority and by ambassadors invested with a share of that authority. Their commission must consist of an appointment emanating from God, and they must be armed with the necessary credentials and the power of exacting Faith from those to whom they are sent. Thus qualified, the promulgation may be technically described as official, authentic, and authoritative: official, because made by persons whose proper office it is to publish—like heralds in human affairs; authentic, because with the commission to promulgate there is connected a public dignity and authority, in virtue of which the holder guarantees the truth of his utterances, and makes them legally credible—as in the case of public witnesses, such as registrars; authoritative, because the holder of the commission is the representative of God, invested with authority to exact Faith from his subordinates, and to keep efficient watch over its maintenance.

II. A threefold Divine co-operation is required for the attainment of the end of Revelation: the promulgation must be made under Divine guarantee, Divine legitimation, and Divine sanction. The object of the Apostolate is to generate an absolute, supernatural, and Divine certainty of the Word of God. Moreover, the promulgating body claims a full and unconditional submission of the mind to the truths which it teaches. But this certainty could not be produced, and this submission could not be demanded, except by an infallible body. The intrinsic and invisible quality of infallibility is not enough to convey the authenticity and authority of the Apostolate to the knowledge of mankind—some external mark is required. Christ proved the authority of His mission by miracles, and then instituted the Apostolate. His words and works were sufficient evidence for those who actually witnessed them. For us some other proof is necessary; and this may be either some special miracle accompanying the preaching of the Gospel, or the general moral miracle of the continuity and efficiency of the Apostolate. This subject will be treated at greater length in the treatise on Faith. The sanction of the Apostolate consists in the rewards and punishments reserved hereafter for those who accept or reject its teaching, and is the complement of its authority. Submission to Revelation is the fundamental condition of salvation, and consequently submission to the Apostolate, which is the means of transmitting Revelation, must be enforced by the same sanctions as submission to Revelation itself.

III. The act of promulgation must be a teaching (magisterium), and not a mere statement; this teaching must witness to its identity with the original Revelation, i.e. it must always show that what is taught is identical with what was revealed; it must be a “teaching with authority”—that is, it must command the submission of the mind, because otherwise the unity and universality of the Faith could not be attained.

IV. The subject-matter of the Apostolate is co-extensive with the subject-matter of Revelation. It embraces, besides the truths directly revealed, those also which are intimately connected and inseparably interwoven therewith (cf. § 5). Divine Faith cannot indeed be commanded in the case of truths not directly revealed by God; nevertheless the Teaching Body, the living witness and ambassador plenipotentiary of the Word of God, must, when occasion requires, be empowered to impress the seal of authenticity on subordinate truths also, for without this power the object of the Apostolate would in many cases be thwarted. The Church exercises this power when authoritatively passing judgment on dogmatic facts (facta dogmatica), or applying minor censures to unsound pro positions.


The Catholic theory that Revelation is transmitted and communicated by means of envoys and teachers accredited by God, is evident à priori, i.e. the consideration of the nature of Revelation and its object shows that no other theory is practically possible. There are, however, other proofs also, which are set forth under the following headings:—

I. Proof from our Lord’s words

1. The documentary proof of the institution of a teaching Apostolate is found in Holy Scripture exactly where we should expect to find it, viz. at the end of the Gospels and at the beginning of the Acts of the Apostles.

(a) The first Evangelist, St. Matthew (28:18, 19), gives the narrative around which all the others group themselves. He shows, first, that the Apostles’ mission is based upon the sovereign power of Christ, and he then characterizes this mission as the visible continuation of the mission of Christ—the working of the Apostolate is described as an authorized teaching of the whole doctrine of Christ to all men of all times; lastly, baptism is stated to be the act by which all mankind are bound to become the disciples of the Apostolate. “All power is given to Me in Heaven and on earth. Going therefore [in virtue of, and endowed with this My sovereign power, “As the Father hath sent Me, I also send you” John 20:21] teach ye [μαθητευσάτε—make to yourselves disciples, teach as having power; cf. Mark 1:22] all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost: teaching them (διδασκόντες) to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you (ἐνετειλάμην): and behold I am with you all days, even to the consummation of the world.” It is evident from the text that the promised presence of Christ is intended to secure the object of the Apostolate, and, consequently, that the Apostolate must be infallible. (See Bossuet, Instructions sur les Promesses faites à l’ Eglise; and Wiseman, The Principal Doctrines and Practices of the Church, lect. iv.)

(b) The second Evangelist, St. Mark, describes the “teaching” of St. Matthew as a “preaching,” and mentions, instead of the intrinsic guarantee of infallibility, the extrinsic signs of authority and sanction. “Go ye into the whole world and preach (κηρύξατε) the Gospel to every creature [as an authorized message from the Creator and Sovereign Lord to all mankind as His creatures]. He that believeth [your preaching] and is baptized shall be saved; but he that believeth not shall be condemned. And these signs shall follow them that believe: in My name they shall cast out devils.… But they [the eleven] going forth, preached everywhere: the Lord working withal, and confirming the word with signs that followed” (16:15–20).

(c) The third Evangelist, St. Luke, draws attention to the mission to “preach,” but afterwards lays special stress on its principal act—the authentic witnessing—and points to the Holy Ghost, of Whom the human witnesses are the mouthpiece, as the guarantee of the infallibility of the testimony. “Thus it is written, and it behoved Christ to suffer, and to rise again from the dead on the third day; and that penance and the remission of sins should be preached in His name unto all nations, beginning at Jerusalem. And you are witnesses of these things, and I send the promise of My Father upon you” (24:46–49). “You shall receive the power of the Holy Ghost coming upon you, and you shall be witnesses unto Me in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and even to the uttermost part of the earth” (Acts 1:8).

(d) Whilst the synoptic Gospels chiefly describe the universal propagation and first diffusion of the doctrine of Christ, St. John, the fourth Evangelist, points out especially the unity, conservation, and application of the doctrine. He narrates, as the last act of our Lord, the appointment of a permanent visible Head of the Church. St. Peter is chosen to take the place of Christ, with power to feed mankind with the bread of doctrine (21:15–17), and to lead them in the light of truth. The apostolic organism thus receives a firm centre and a permanent consistency. The abiding and invisible assistance of Christ announced in St. Matthew to the members of the Apostolate is here visibly embodied in His supreme representative to whom it was especially promised (Matt. 16:17–19; Luke 22:31, 32). Moreover, the very figure of a shepherd feeding his lambs and sheep contains an allusion to the authority and sanction of the promulgation of the Word (cf. John 10:11 sqq.; Ps. 22.; Ezech. 34:23).

Thus the last Evangelist comes back to the point from which St. Matthew started: “All power is given to Me in Heaven and on earth.” The mission of the Apostolate is an emanation from and a continuation of the mission of Christ, and consequently the functions of both are described in similar terms. Our Lord Himself is spoken of as a Doctor and Master, teaching as one having power (Mark 1:22); a Preacher of the Gospel sent by God to man (Luke 4:16–21); a Witness, giving testimony to what He saw with the Father (John 8:14–18); and, lastly as the Shepherd of the sheep (John 10:11).

2. The beautiful picture of the institution of the Apostolate given at the end of the Gospel narratives is brought out more clearly when viewed side by side with the previous teaching of our Lord.

The mission described in Matt. 28 is represented in John 17:17, 18, as a continuation of the mission of Christ Himself: “Sanctify them in truth: Thy word is truth. As Thou hast sent Me into the world, I also have sent them into the world.” Moreover the coercive authority spoken of by St. Matthew and St. Mark is mentioned by St. Luke 10:16 (cf. John 13:20; Matt. 10:40) on the occasion of the first preparatory mission of the seventy-two disciples. “He that heareth you heareth Me; and he that despiseth you despiseth Me; and he that despiseth Me despiseth Him that sent Me.” And the promise of the Holy Ghost, Who, according to St. Luke’s narrative, was to support and strengthen the testimony of the Apostles, is made at great length in St. John’s account of our Lord’s discourse at the Last Supper, in which the duration, importance, and efficacy of the Holy Ghost’s assistance are declared. “And I will ask the Father, and He shall give you another Paraclete, that He may abide with you for ever, the Spirit of truth, Whom the world cannot receive: … but you shall know Him; because He shall abide with you, and shall be in you” (14:16, 17). “These things have I spoken to you, abiding with you. But the Paraclete, the Holy Ghost, Whom the Father will send in My name, He will teach you all things, and bring all things into your mind, whatsoever I shall have said to you” (ibid., 25, 26). “But when the Paraclete cometh, Whom I will send you from the Father, the Spirit of truth, Who proceedeth from the Father, He shall give testimony of Me: and you shall give testimony, because you are with Me from the beginning” (15:26, 27). “When He, the Spirit of truth, is come, He will teach [ὁδογήσει] you all truth” (16:13). It is plain that these promises were made to the Apostles as future propagators of the Faith, and the stress laid upon the functions of the Holy Ghost as the Spirit of truth, as Teacher and Witness, as Keeper of and Guide to the truth, is intended to show that the transmission of Revelation was to be endowed with all the qualifications required for its object, and especially with infallibility. Lastly, the Pastor appointed by Christ (John 21:15–17) had been previously designated as being strengthened in Faith in order to confirm his brethren, and as the rock which was to be the indestructible foundation of the Church (Luke 22:31, 32; Matt. 16:18).

These passages taken together may be summarized as follows. After accomplishing His own mission, Jesus Christ, in virtue of His absolute power and authority, sent into the world a body of teachers and preachers, presided over by one Head. They were His representatives, and had for their mission to publish to the world all revealed truth until the end of time. Their mission was not exclusively personal—it was to extend to their successors. Mankind were bound to receive them as Christ Himself. That their word might be His word, and might be recognized as such, He promised them His presence and the aid of the Holy Ghost to guarantee the infallibility of their doctrine; He promised external and supernatural signs as vouchers for its authenticity; finally, He gave their doctrine an effective sanction by holding out an eternal reward to those who should faithfully adhere to it, and by threatening with eternal punishment those who should reject it.

This summary is a complete answer to certain difficulties drawn from detached texts of Holy Scripture, and likewise fills up the gaps in isolated passages. The picture we have drawn corresponds exactly, even in minute details, with the theory of the Catholic Church on the Apostolate. Certain points, as, for instance, the infallibility of the Apostolate in matters indirectly connected with Revelation, are at least implicitly and virtually contained in the texts quoted. There is even reason to maintain that the words, “He shall lead you into all truth” (John 16:13), imply the promise of the infallible guidance of the Holy Ghost in all truths necessary to the Church. It should also be noted that, although these passages, as a whole, apply to the future of the Christian dispensation, some of them apply chiefly to its commencement, e.g. the signs and wonders, and the ocular evidence of the Apostles. The transitory elements can, however, be easily distinguished, and are therefore no argument against the perpetuity of the essential elements required for the permanent object of Revelation—the salvation of all mankind.

II. Proof from the writings of the Apostles

The writings of the Apostles represent the Apostolate as an accomplished fact, destined to endure in all its essential elements until the end of time

1. The theory is set forth especially in Rom. 10:8–19 and Eph. 4:7–14. In the former passage, St. Paul insists on the necessity and importance of the apostolic preaching as the ordinary means of transmitting the doctrine of Christ. “The word is nigh thee [i.e. all men, Jews and Gentiles], even in thy mouth, and in thy heart. This is the word of faith which we preach. For, if thou confess with thy mouth the Lord Jesus, and believe in thy heart that God hath raised Him up from the dead, thou shalt be saved.… For whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved. How then shall they call on Him in Whom they have not believed? Or how shall they believe Him of Whom they have not heard? And how shall they hear without a preacher? And how shall they preach unless they be sent?… Faith then cometh by hearing, and hearing by the word of Christ [as preached by those who have been sent].… But I say, Have they not heard? Yes verily, their sound hath gone forth into all the earth, and their words unto the ends of the whole world.” “But all do not obey the Gospel [preached by the Apostles], for Isaias saith, Lord, who hath believed our report?” In writing to the Ephesians the Apostle describes how the organic body of living teachers is by its manifold functions the means designed by God to produce the unity, firmness, and security of the universal Faith. He speaks more particularly about the organization of the Apostolate, as it existed in his own day, when the Apostles were still living, and the extraordinary graces (charismata) were still in full operation. His description is not that of the ordinary organization, which was to endure for all ages, but, in spite of this, it is plain that what he says of the importance of the earlier form, may also be applied to that which was to come. “And He gave some apostles, and some prophets, and other some evangelists [both graces peculiar to the first epoch], and other some pastors and doctors [this alludes to the ordinary teachers, the bishops appointed by the Apostles] for the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ, until we all meet together into the unity of faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, unto a perfect man, unto the measure of the age of the fulness of Christ: that henceforth we be no more children, tossed to and fro, and carried about with every wind of doctrine by the wickedness of men, by cunning craftiness by which they lie in wait to deceive” (Eph. 4:11–15). The Apostles were the foundation of the whole organization; after their death their place was taken by the successor of St. Peter, to whom the other pastors stand in the same relation as the first bishops stood to the Apostles.

2. In practice, the Apostles announced the Gospel, and carried on the work of their ministry; they represented themselves as the ambassadors of Christ (Rom. 1:5; 15:18; 1 Cor. 2:16; 3:9, etc.), and, above all, as witnesses sent to the people by God; they proved the Divinity of their mission by signs and wonders, as Christ promised them (1 Cor. 2:4; 2 Cor. 12:12; 1 Thess. 1:5, etc.); they demanded for the word of God, to which they bore authentic and authoritative witness, the obedience of Faith (ὑπακὸη πίστεως, Rom. 1:5), and claimed the power and the right to enforce respect for it: “For the weapons of our warfare are not carnal, but mighty to God unto the pulling down of fortifications, destroying counsels (λογισμοὺς), and every height that exalteth itself against the knowledge of God, and bringing into captivity every understanding unto the obedience of Christ, and having in readiness to revenge all disobedience, when your obedience shall be fulfilled” (2 Cor. 10:4–6). They apply the sanction established by Christ, “He that believeth not shall be condemned,” and themselves pronounce the sentence. “But though we, or an angel from heaven, preach a gospel to you besides that which we have preached to you, let him be anathema” (Gal. 1:8).

The mode of promulgation, in its essentials, was to be permanent, and not to cease with the Apostles, as may be gathered from the principles laid down by St. Paul (Rom. 10) and from the fact that the Apostles appointed successors to themselves to watch over and keep the doctrine entrusted to them. “Hold the form of sound words which thou hast heard of me … Keep the good thing committed to thy trust by the Holy Ghost Who dwelleth in us” (2 Tim. 1:13, 14). They add the commandment to appoint further successors with the same charge. “The things which thou hast heard of me by many witnesses, the same commend to faithful men who shall be fit to teach others also” (2 Tim. 2:2). The practical application of this system is thus described by St. Clement of Rome, the disciple of the Apostles: “Christ was sent by God, and the Apostles by Christ. Therefore they went forth with the full persuading power of the Holy Ghost, announcing the coming of the kingdom of God. Through provinces and in towns they preached the word, and appointed the first fruits thereof, duly tried by the Spirit, to be the bishops and deacons of them that should believe.… They appointed the above-named, and then gave them command that when they came to die other approved men should succeed to their ministry” (Ep. i. ad Cor., nn. 42, 44).

This proof from Scripture by no means presupposes the inspiration of the books of the New Testament; it is enough for our present purpose to assume that they are authentic narratives. We thus do not fall into the vicious circle of proving the Apostolate from the inspired books, and the Inspiration of the books from the Apostolate. Nor do we make use of the authority of the Church in interpreting the texts. Their meaning is sufficiently manifest without any such help.

III. Historical proofs

But we have historical proofs of unimpeachable character that already, in the first centuries, the Catholic Rule was held by the Fathers. St. Irenæus, Origen, and Tertullian taught that, in consequence of the mission given to the Apostles, their successors preached the word with authenticity and authority; that the preaching of these successors infallibly reproduced the preaching of the Apostles; that, consequently, Ecclesiastical Tradition was to be followed, notwithstanding any private appeal to Holy Scripture or to any other historical documents.

1. St. Irenæus insists upon these points against the Gnostics, who appealed to Scripture or to private historical documents.

(a) He insists upon the existence and importance of the mission of the Apostles, and also upon the succession in the Apostolate: “Therefore in every church there is, for all those who would fain see the truth, at hand to look unto, the tradition of the Apostles made manifest throughout the whole world; and we have it in our power to enumerate those who were by the Apostles instituted Bishops in the churches, and the successors of those Bishops down to ourselves, none of whom either taught or knew anything like unto the wild opinions of these men. For if the Apostles had known any hidden mysteries, which they apart and privately taught the perfect only, they would have delivered them before all others to those to whom they entrusted even the very churches. For they sought that they whom they left as successors, delivering unto them their own post of government, should be especially perfect and blameless in all things.” He then demonstrates the continuity of succession in the church of Rome: “But as it would be a very long task to enumerate, in such a volume as this, the successions of all the churches; pointing out that tradition which the greatest and most ancient and universally known church of Rome—founded and constituted by the two most glorious Apostles Peter and Paul—derives from the Apostles, and that faith announced to all men, which through the succession of (her) Bishops has come down to us, we confound all those who in any way, whether through self-complacency or vain-glory, or blindness and perverse opinion, assemble otherwise than as behoveth them. For to this church, on account of more potent principality, it is necessary that every church, that is, those who are on every side faithful, resort, in which (church) ever, by those who are on every side, has been preserved that tradition which is from the Apostles.… By this order and by this succession both that tradition which is in the Church from the Apostles, and the preaching of the truth, have come down to us. And this is a most complete demonstration that the vivifying faith is one and the same, which from the Apostles even until now, has been preserved in the Church and transmitted in truthfulness.” After mentioning other disciples and successors of the Apostles, he continues: “Wherefore, since there are such proofs to show, we ought not still to seek amongst others for truth which it is easy to receive from the Church, seeing that the Apostles have brought together most fully into it, as into a rich repository, all whatever is of truth, that every one that willeth may draw out of it the drink of life.… But what if the Apostles had not left us writings: would it not have been needful to follow the order of that tradition which they delivered to those to whom they committed the churches—an ordinance to which many of the barbarian nations who believe in Christ assent, having salvation written, without paper and ink, by the Spirit, in their hearts, and sedulously guarding the old tradition?” (Adv. Hæres., l. iii., 3, 4).

(b) Irenæus then shows that the preaching of the Apostles, continued by their successors, contains a supernatural guarantee of infallibility through the indwelling of the Holy Ghost. “The public teaching of the Church is everywhere uniform and equally enduring, and testified unto by Prophets and by Apostles, and by all the disciples, as we have demonstrated, through the first and intermediate and final period, and through the whole economy of God and that accustomed operation relative to the salvation of man, which is in our faith, which, having received from the Church, we guard (quam pcrceptam ab ecclesia custodimus); and which by the Spirit of God is ever in youthful freshness, like something excellent deposited in a beautiful vase, making even the very vase, wherein it is, seem newly formed (fresh with youth). For this office of God has been entrusted to the Church, as though for the breathing of life into His handiwork, unto the end that all the members that partake may be vivified; in this [office], too, is disposed the communication of Christ, that is, the Holy Spirit, the pledge of incorruption, the ladder whereby to ascend unto God. For in the Church, saith he, God hath placed Apostles, prophets, doctors, and every other work of the Spirit, of which all they are not partakers who do not hasten to the Church, but by their evil sentiment and most flagrant conduct defraud themselves of life. For where the Church is, there is the Spirit of God, and where the Spirit of God is, there is the Church and every grace: but the Spirit is truth. Wherefore they who do not partake of that [Spirit] are neither nourished unto life from a mother’s breasts, nor see the most clear spring which proceeds from Christ’s body; but dig unto themselves broken cisterns out of earthy trenches, and out of the filth drink foul water, fleeing from the faith of the Church lest they be brought back; but rejecting the Spirit that they may not be instructed” (lib. iii., c. 24).

(c) Lastly, Irenæus links together the Apostolic Succession and the supernatural guarantee of the Holy Ghost. “Wherefore we ought to obey those presbyters who are in the Church, those who have a succession from the Apostles, as we have shown; who, with the succession of the episcopate, have received according to the good will of the Father the sure gift of truth; but the rest who depart from the principal succession, and assemble in any place whatever, we ought to hold suspected either as heretics and of an evil opinion, or as schismatics and proud, and as men pleasing themselves; or, again, as hypocrites doing this for gain’s sake and vain-glory.… Where, therefore, the gifts of God are placed, there we ought to learn the truth, [from those] with whom is that succession of the Church which is from the Apostles; and that which is sound and irreprovable in conversation and unadulterated and incorruptible in discourse, abides. For they both guard that faith of ours in one God, Who made all things, and increase our love towards the Son of God, Who made such dispositions on our account, and they expound to us the Scriptures without danger, neither uttering blasphemy against God, nor dishonouring the patriarchs nor contemning the prophets” (lib. iv. 26).

2. Origen, in the preface to his work De Principiis, states the principle of the Apostolate in the Church in the following pregnant terms: “There being many who fancy that they think the things of Christ, and some of them think differently from those who have gone before, let there be preserved the ecclesiastical teaching which, transmitted by the order of succession from the Apostles, remains even to the present day in the churches: that alone is to be believed to be truth which in nothing differs from the ecclesiastical and apostolical tradition.” And commenting on Matt. xxiv. 23, he says, “As often as they [heretics] bring forward canonical Scriptures in which every Christian agrees and believes, they seem to say, ‘Behold in the houses is the word of truth.’ But we are not to credit them; nor to go out from the first and the ecclesiastical tradition; nor to believe otherwise than according as the churches of God have by succession transmitted to us.… The truth is like the lightning which goeth out from the east and appeareth even into the west; such is the truth of the Church of God; for from it alone the sound hath gone forth into all the earth, and their words unto the ends of the world.”

3. Tertullian treats of this subject in his well-known work De Prcæcriptionibus. “[Heretics] put forward the Scriptures and by this their boldness they forthwith move some persons; but in the actual encounter they weary the strong, catch the weak, send away the wavering anxious. We therefore interpose this first and foremost position: that they are not to be admitted to any discussion whatever touching the Scriptures. If these be those weapons of strength of theirs, in order that they may possess them, it ought to be seen to whom the possession of the Scriptures belongs, lest he may be admitted to it to whom it in no wise belongs.… Therefore there must be no appeal to the Scriptures, nor must the contest be constituted in these, in which the victory is either none or doubtful, or too little doubtful. For even though the debate on the Scriptures should not so turn out as to confirm each party, the order of things required that this question should be first proposed, which is now the only one to be discussed, ‘To whom belongs the faith itself; whose are the Scriptures; by whom, and through whom, and when and to whom was that rule delivered whereby men became Christians?’ for wherever both the true Christian rule and faith shall be shown to be, there will be the true Scriptures and the true expositions and ail the true Christian traditions” (nn. 15, 19).

IV. The Divine legitimation of the Apostolate

A strong argument in favour of the Divine origin of the Apostolate, stronger even than the proof from the Holy Scriptures and early Fathers, may be drawn from its actual existence and working in the Catholic Church.

If the power over the human mind and the infallible possession of Divine truth claimed by the Catholic hierarchy did not really come from God, the claim would be a horrible blasphemy, and the hierarchy would be the work of the devil. But if this were the case, it would be impossible for the Church to do all the good which she does, to contribute so wonderfully to the sanctification of mankind, and to be so constantly and so energetically attacked by the enemies of Christ. God would be bound to oppose and extirpate this monster of deception, which pretends to be the work of His hands and to be guided by His Spirit. He could not allow it to prevail so long, so universally, with such renown and success among the very best of mankind. But, far from doing this, God marvellously supports the Apostolate and confirms its authority from time to time by supernatural manifestations. These, of course, demonstrate the Divine origin of the Church as a whole, but they also demonstrate the Divine origin of the Apostolate which is the means of communicating the Faith which the Church professes.


The usual place to treat of the Organization of the Teaching Apostolate is in the treatise on the Constitution of the Church. For our present purpose, however, which is to show to whom and in what manner belongs the right to expound and propose Revelation, it will be sufficient to give a clear notion of the two hierarchical powers.

I. The power to teach is vested by right, as well as by the institution of Christ, in those same dignitaries who are appointed to be the instruments of the Holy Ghost for the communication of His grace to mankind (potestas ordinis) and who are the representatives of Christ for the government of His kingdom upon earth (potestas jurisdictionis) in a word, the Apostolate belongs to the Hierarchy. But the Apostolate is not only intimately connected with the two above-named functions of the Hierarchy: it is also itself an hierarchical function. As such, its value and importance depend on the rank held by the members of the Hierarchy by right either of ordination or of jurisdiction. The Apostolate is not, however, an independent hierarchical function. It springs from and forms an essential part of the other two. To enlighten the mind with heavenly truth and to generate Faith are acts belonging to the very nature of the Power of Orders, inasmuch as in this way the gifts of the vivifying Spirit are dispensed. And the same may be said of the Power of Jurisdiction, for the noblest part of this power is to feed the flock of Christ on Faith, and so to guide it to salvation.

II. We have already distinguished two functions of the Apostolate: (1) the authentic witnessing to the doctrine of Christ, and (2) the authoritative enforcement of it. The first element belongs to the Power of Orders, the second to the Power of Jurisdiction.

1. The act of witnessing to the doctrine of Christ is not in itself an act of jurisdiction, but rather, as being a communication of grace and of supernatural life, belongs to the Power of Orders. The function of this power is to transmit the Grace of Christ, especially the grace of Faith, while the Apostolate transmits the truth of Christ and provides the subject-matter of the act of Faith. The members of the Hierarchy invested with the power of communicating the gifts of Grace in general and the gift of Faith in particular, are therefore also the instruments of the Holy Ghost in communicating the doctrine of Faith. The grace which they receive in their ordination consecrates them for and entitles them to both functions, so that they are, in a twofold sense, “the dispensers of the mysteries of God.” Hence the witnesses of the Apostolate, which was instituted to produce supernatural Faith, are invested with a supernatural character, a public dignity, and a power based upon an intimate union with the Holy Ghost. They represent the testimony of the Holy Ghost promised by Christ, because they are the instruments of the Holy Ghost. They cannot, however, individually claim infallibility, as will presently be shown.

The Power of Orders has different degrees which constitute the Hierarchy of Orders. To each of these degrees belongs a corresponding share in the right and power to expound revealed doctrine. The High Priests (the Pontiffs or Priests of the first order, i.e. the Bishops) alone possess the fulness of the Power of Orders, and are by themselves independent of any other order in the performance of their functions. Hence, in virtue of their Orders, the Bishops alone are, in a perfect sense, “Fathers of the Faithful,” independent teachers and authentic witnesses in their own right. The subordinate members of the Hierarchy of Orders receive their orders from the Bishops, and are mere auxiliaries. Thus the Deacons are exclusively called to assist in the functions of the higher orders, and the Priests of the second order, i.e. simple Priests, in the ordinary sense of the word, act as the Bishop’s assistants, and often with his positive co-operation. Their participation in the Apostolate is limited, like their participation in the Power of Orders, and may be expressed in the same terms.

2. The act of imposing the doctrine of Christ, that is, of commanding adhesion to it, clearly appertains to the Power of Jurisdiction, especially to that branch of it which is called the Power of Teaching. Bishops, in virtue of their consecration, are called to the government of the Church; but this does not of itself constitute them rulers of any particular portion of the Christian flock, and therefore does not give them the right to command submission to their doctrinal utterances. This right is the result of, and is co-extensive with their jurisdiction, i.e. with their actual participation in the government of the Church. On the other hand, the right to act as authentic witnesses and as simple doctors, not imposing submission to their doctrine, is independent of their governing any flock, and may extend beyond the particular flock actually committed to their charge.

In general, the power of authoritative teaching implies complete jurisdiction over the domain of doctrine, and therefore includes (1) the right of administration, which entitles the holder of it to use the external means necessary for the propagation of the doctrine, especially to send out authorized missionaries; (2) the right of superintendence, together with the right of punishing, entitling the holder to forbid, prevent, or punish all external acts opposed to the propagation of the true doctrine; (3) judicial and legislative powers, including the right of prescribing external acts relating to the Faith, but having for their principal function the juridical and legal definition and prescription of the Faith. This last is the highest exercise of authoritative teaching, because it affects the innermost convictions of the mind; it is eminently Divine and supernatural, like the exercise of jurisdiction in the Sacrament of Penance, and like this, too, it implies that the holder represents Christ in a very special manner.

The right of authoritative teaching has various degrees. Simple Bishops, placed over only a portion of the Christian flock, possess only a partial and subordinate, and hence an imperfect and dependent, Power of Teaching. The Chief of the Episcopate, as Pastor of the entire flock, alone possesses the universal and sovereign, and hence complete and independent, Power of Teaching, to which the Bishops themselves must submit. The difference between his power and theirs appears most strikingly in the legal force of their respective doctrinal decisions. The Pope’s decisions, as Christ’s chief judge upon earth, alone have the force of laws, binding generally; whereas those given by the Bishops have only the force of a judicial sentence, binding the parties in the suit. In matters of Faith Bishops cannot make any laws for their respective dioceses, because a law requiring assent to a truth cannot be more restricted than truth itself, and, moreover, a law of this kind must proceed from an infallible lawgiver. Universality and infallibility are not the attributes of individual Bishops, but of the Pope alone; and therefore Bishops can make merely provisional laws for their own dioceses, subject to the approbation of the Sovereign Pontiff. It is not their business to give final decisions in controversies concerning the Faith, or to solve the doubts still tolerated in the Church—their ministry is not even indispensable for these purposes. They are, indeed, judges empowered to decide whether a doctrine is in conformity with generally received dogma, but as individuals they cannot make a dogma or law of Faith. They wield the executive, not the legislative power. In short, although the Bishops are pre-eminently witnesses and doctors and, within certain limits, also judges of the Faith, yet their Head, the Pope, has the distinctive attributes of supreme promulgator of doctrine, universal judge in matters of Faith, arbiter in controversies of Faith, and “Father and Teacher of all Christians” (Council of Florence).


On the basis of what has been laid down in the foregoing section, we now proceed to treat of the organization of the members of the Apostolate, the allotment among them of apostolic powers and privileges, and more especially of the gift of infallibility.

It is manifest that there exists for the purposes of the Apostolate a number of different organs adjusted together so as to form one well-ordered whole, the several members of which share, according to their rank, in the various powers and privileges of the Apostolate. Taken in a wide sense, this body embraces all the members of the Church Teaching who in any way co-operate in the attainment of the ends of the Apostolate. In a narrower sense, however, the Teaching Body is understood to consist only of the highest members of the Hierarchy of Orders, who are at the same time by Divine institution the ordinary members of the Hierarchy of Jurisdiction, viz. the Pope and the Bishops. In them the fulness of the Apostolate resides, whereas the lower members are only their auxiliaries. We shall treat first of the organization of the Teaching Body itself; then of its auxiliaries; and lastly of its connection with the body of the Faithful.

I. The principles which determine the composition of the Teaching Body are the following:—

1. The first object to be attained by means of the Apostolate is the universal diffusion of Revelation, paving the way for supernatural Faith. For this purpose a number of consecrated organs of the Holy Ghost are required, to be authentic witnesses and teachers. As representatives of Christ, they must be endowed with a doctrinal authority corresponding to their rank, and must have power to appoint auxiliaries and to superintend and direct the Faith of their subjects.

2. The second object of the Apostolate is to produce unity of Faith and doctrine. To accomplish this, one supreme representative of Christ is required, to preside over the whole organization, and to possess a universal and sovereign doctrinal power.

3. The unity resulting from this sovereign power is threefold: material unity of the Teaching Body, consisting in the juridical union of the members with their Head, in virtue of which they have and hold their functions—a unity resulting from the administrative power of their Head; harmonic and external unity in the activity of the members, arising from the power of superintendence; and formal and intrinsic unity of doctrine and Faith, produced by authoritative definition.

4. The unity of the Teaching Body is not that of a lifeless machine but of a living organism. Each member is formed to the likeness of the Head by God Himself, Who gives life to Head and members alike through the action of the Holy Ghost.

II. The original members of the Apostolate chosen by Christ Himself for the fundamental promulgation and propagation of the Gospel possessed the attributes of the Apostolate in an eminent degree. This was necessary in view of the objects they had to attain. Their superiority over their successors appears in the authenticity of the testimony of each of them taken individually, in the authoritative power to teach conferred upon all of them and not restricted to the chief Apostle, and lastly in the personal infallibility of every one of them. As they were the first witnesses of the doctrine of Christ they were not only the channels but also the sources of the Faith of every age, and therefore it was necessary that their testimony should be endowed with a special internal and external perfection. The internal perfection arose from the fact of their being eye-witnesses and ear-witnesses of the whole Revelation, and of their being so filled with the Holy Ghost that each of them possessed a complete and infallible knowledge of revealed doctrine; while the external perfection was the gift of miracles, by which they were enabled to confirm the authenticity of their testimony. Again, the Apostles were to give an efficient support to their Chief—who was to be the permanent foundation of the Church—in the original establishment of the kingdom of God upon earth, and particularly in the original promulgation of Christian truth. Each of them therefore received the same authority to teach as their Chief, although it was not purely and simply a sovereign authority. And, lastly, their infallibility was a necessary consequence of the authenticity of their testimony and the assistance of the Holy Ghost.

This view of the eminent character of the Apostolate as possessed by its original members is proved more by their conduct than by positive texts of Scripture. Besides, it is and always has been the view held by the whole Church.

III. As soon as the original and fundamental promulgation of the Gospel was complete there was no longer any necessity for the extraordinary Apostolate. Another object had now to be obtained: the conservation and consolidation of the apostolic doctrine in the Church. The place of the extraordinary Apostolate was taken by the Episcopate, i.e. the body of the ordinary members of the hierarchy established for the transmission of the grace and truth of Christ and the government of the Church. This Episcopal Apostolate is a continuation of the primitive Apostolate, and must therefore be derived from the Apostles; it must also in its nature and organization be homogeneous with the original, and yet at the same time must in some respects be different. The doctrinal and other personal and extraordinary powers of the Apostles ceased at their death. Their Head, in whom these powers were ordinary, alone transmitted them to his successors. In these, then, is invested the power of completing and perpetuating the Teaching Body by admitting into it new and duly authorized members. The Sovereign Pontiffs are the bond that unites the Bishops among themselves and connects them uninterruptedly with the primitive Apostolate. The Popes thus represent the original apostolic power in an eminent degree, wherefore their see is called emphatically the Apostolic See.

IV. The Apostolate has still, on the whole, the same objects as it originally had, and consequently must still be so constituted that it can give authentic and authoritative testimony; in other words, it must possess infallibility in doctrinal matters. Although this infallibility is no longer found in the individual members, nevertheless it can and ought to result from the unanimous testimony of the whole body. It ought, because otherwise universal Faith would be impossible; nay, universal heresy might take its place. It can, and as a matter of fact does, result, because the assistance of the Holy Ghost cannot be wanting to the Teaching Body as a whole, and the unanimous consent of all its members is a sure token that they reproduce the testimony of the Spirit of truth. Personal infallibility as a witness cannot be claimed even by the Chief of the Episcopate any more than by the subordinate members. Nevertheless when he pronounces a sovereign judgment in matters of Revelation, binding upon all, teachers as well as taught, he can and ought to be infallible. He ought, because otherwise the unity of Faith might turn into a unity of heresy. He can be, and in fact is infallible, because the Holy Ghost, the Guide of all Christ’s representatives, cannot abandon the highest representative precisely in that very act which is the most essential expression of His assistance, and which in case of error would lead the whole Church astray. And, à fortiori, when the Head and the members of the Teaching Body are unanimous, their testimony is infallible. However, taken apart from the testimony of their Head, the testimony of even all the Bishops would not constitute an obligatory doctrinal definition, but simply a strong presumption. The Sovereign Pontiff alone can pronounce such a definition by reason of his universal jurisdiction, and then only in that exercise of it which enforces the unity of Faith in the whole Church.

V. The two Apostolates, or rather the two forms of the Apostolate, must however have certain points of difference, as indeed may be gathered from what has just been said. The Bishops are not, as the Apostles were, immediately chosen by Christ, but are selected by members of the Church. In the case of the Chief Bishop the person is designated by the members and then receives, not indeed from them but directly and immediately from Christ, the powers inherent in his office; the other Bishops are appointed to a particular see by the Chief Bishop, and receive their jurisdiction from him. Besides, he alone inherits the fulness of the Apostolate. Moreover, if we consider the authenticity of the testimony of the Bishops we must hold that the office of witness is conferred upon them directly by Christ in the sacrament of Orders; their admission to the office by the Sovereign Pontiff is merely a condition required for its lawful exercise. Nevertheless they are not eye and ear witnesses of what they teach. They gather their knowledge from intermediate witnesses or from the written documents, and do not possess individually the gift of infallibility.

The infallibility of the Church assumes a twofold form, corresponding with the twofold action of the Holy Ghost as Lord and Life-giver. As Lord, He gives infallibility to the governing Chief: as Life-giver, He bestows it on the entire Body, Head and members. The infallibility of the Head is required to produce universal unity of Faith; the infallibility of the Body is required to prevent a disastrous conflict between the Body and its Head, and also to deliver the mass of the Faithful from the danger of being led astray by their ordinary teachers in cases where no decision has been given by the Holy See. The two forms, moreover, support and strengthen each other mutually, and prove the Apostolate to be a masterpiece of that Divine Wisdom “which reacheth from end to end mightily and disposeth all things sweetly” (Wisd. 8:1).


The Teaching Body is a living organism, and consequently has the power of producing auxiliary members to assist in its work, and of conferring upon them the credentials required for their different functions. These auxiliary members may be divided into two classes: (1) auxiliaries of the Bishops, and (2) auxiliaries of the Chief Bishop.

I. The ordinary auxiliaries of the Episcopate are the priests and deacons. They receive their orders and their jurisdiction from the Bishops, and hold an inferior rank in the Hierarchy. Their position as regards the office of teaching, though far below that of the Bishops, is nevertheless important. They are the official executive organs of the Bishops, their missionaries and heralds for the promulgation of doctrine. They have a special knowledge of doctrine, and they receive, by means of the sacrament of Holy Orders, a share in the teaching office of the Bishops, and in the doctrinal influence of the Holy Ghost. Hence their teaching possesses a peculiar value and dignity, which may, however, vary with their personal qualifications. Moreover the Bishops should, under certain circumstances, consult them in matters of doctrine, not, indeed, to receive direction from them, but in order to obtain information. When we remember the immense influence exercised by the uniform teaching of the clergy over the unity of Faith, we may fairly say that they participate in the infallibility of the Episcopate both extrinsically and intrinsically: extrinsically, because the universal consent of all the heralds is an external sign that they reproduce the exact message of the Holy Ghost; and intrinsically, inasmuch as by their ordination they obtain a share in the assistance of the Spirit of Truth promised to the Church.

When and where necessary, the Bishops have the power of erecting Schools or Seminaries for the religious or higher theological education of a portion of their flocks. The professors in these institutions are auxiliaries of the Bishops, and are, if possible, in still closer union with the Teaching Apostolate than the clergy engaged in the ministry.

II. The Chief of the Episcopate, in virtue of his universal teaching authority, has the power of sending Missionaries into regions beyond the bounds of the existing dioceses, and can also establish, even within the dioceses, Religious Orders as his own auxiliaries, subject immediately to himself. He can also found Universities for the more profound and scientific study of Revelation. He can make all these persons and corporations comparatively independent of the Bishops, and invest them with a teaching authority analogous to that of the Episcopate. The Universities of the Middle Ages, for example, were not private, or state, or even episcopal institutions. They derived their mission from the Popes, together with the power of perpetuating themselves by the creation of doctors and professors, and the power of passing judgment on matters of doctrine. These decisions, however, did not carry with them any binding force, because their authors had no jurisdiction; but they possessed a value superior to that of many episcopal decisions. It is evident that the importance of the Universities as representatives of the teaching of the Church depends upon their submission to the Apostolate, whose auxiliaries they are, and also upon the number, the personal qualifications, and influence of their members.

Further, the Pope, in the exercise of his administrative power, can invest individual members of the inferior clergy, either for a time or permanently, with authoritative teaching power. But, even in this case, they are only auxiliaries of the Episcopate, existing side by side with it; as, for instance, Abbots exempt from episcopal jurisdiction (Abbates nullius) and the generals of Religious Orders, or acting as delegates of the sovereign teaching power of the Popes, e.g. the Cardinals and the Roman Congregations. All these auxiliaries, like those above mentioned, are assisted by the Holy Ghost, but their decisions acquire force of law only when confirmed by the Head of the Apostolate.

III. From time to time the Holy Ghost raises certain persons to an extraordinary degree of supernatural knowledge. Their peculiar position gives them a special authority as guides for all the members of the Church. They are not, however, exempt from the universal law that within the Church no teaching is of value unless approved by lawful authority. In so far, then, as it is evident that the Pope and the Bishops approve of the doctrine of these burning and shining lights, such doctrine is to be considered as an infallible testimony coming from the Holy Ghost. Thus, in Apostolic times, “Prophets and Evangelists” (Eph. 4:11) were given to the Apostles as extraordinary auxiliaries, not indeed for the purpose of enlightening the Apostles themselves, but to facilitate the diffusion and acceptance of their doctrine. In succeeding ages the Fathers and great Doctors have been of much use to the ordinary members of the Apostolate by helping them to a better knowledge of revealed truth. The function of these auxiliaries must, however, be carefully distinguished from those of the Prophets of the Old Testament. The former are not the organs of new revelations, nor do they possess independent authority—they are merely the extraordinary supports of the ordinary Teaching Body. “It is indeed a great matter and ever to be borne in mind … that all Catholics should know that they should receive the doctors with the Church, not that they should quit the faith of the Church with the doctors (‘se cum Ecclesia doctores recipere, non cum doctoribus Ecclesiæ fidem deserere debere’).”—Vine, of Lerins, Common. n. 17.


I. The Teaching Apostolate, with its auxiliaries on the one hand and the body of believers on the other, together constitute the Church. The union between them is not mechanical, but is like the mutual union of the members of a living organism. To obtain a correct idea of the relations between the two parts, we must bear in mind that infallibility and the other attributes granted to the Teaching Apostolate are intended only as means to secure an unerring Faith in the entire community, and that the supernatural Faith of all the members, both teachers and taught, is the result of the influence of the Holy Ghost. From this we infer that the teachers and their hearers compose one indivisible, complete organism, in which the teachers figure as the principal members, the head and the heart; that they constitute a homogeneous organism, because the teachers are at the same time believers, and because the belief of the Faithful is a testimony to and confirmation of the doctrines taught. They are an organism living supernaturally, because the Holy Ghost infuses into all the members the life of Faith by external teaching and internal grace. This union between teachers and taught likewise leads us to further consequences. The doctrine of Christ is manifested in two ways: in authoritative proposition and in private belief. The latter form, being only an echo of the former, and, moreover, being the result of the action of the Holy Ghost, becomes in its turn a kind of testimony of doctrine. The private form reacts upon the public proposition and confirms it. The Faith of the whole Church cannot be wrong, and, therefore, what all believe must infallibly be true, and must represent the doctrine of Christ as well as do the teachings of the Apostolate. Nay, the external manifestations of the Holy Ghost may be seen especially in the Body of the Faithful, in its Martyrs and Confessors, and these manifestations constitute, in connection with the universal belief, a powerful motive of credibility.

II. This notion of the organic character of the Church will enable us to understand many expressions met with in Theology, e.g. the “Church Teaching” and the “Church Hearing” or “Learning;” the “Mission and Authority of the Church,” i.e. of the members of the Hierarchy; the “Teaching Apostolate, or its Chief, represents the Church,” i.e. not in the same way as a member of parliament represents his constituents, but in the sense that the Faith of the Apostolate or of its Chief is a true expression of the Faith of the whole Church. It has lately been said, “Infallibility belongs only to the Church, but the Hierarchy is not the Church, and therefore the Hierarchy is not infallible.” We might just as well say, “Life belongs only to the body, but the head and heart are not the body, therefore the head and heart are not alive.” This false notion originated either from a comparison between the Hierarchy and the parliaments of constitutional States, or from the materialistic conception of authority according to the formula: “Authority is the result and sum-total of the power of the members taken individually, just as the total force of a material body is the result and sum-total of the energies of its parts.” But, in truth, authority is a principle implanted in society by God in order to give it unity, life, and guidance. In order to give to the infallibility of the Church as broad a basis as possible, some well-meaning persons have adopted the materialistic view, and have made the universality and uniformity of the belief of the Faithful the chief motive of credibility. This theory, however, is naturalistic, and is opposed to the teaching of Scripture. Moreover, it is intrinsically weak, for without the independent authority of the Teaching Apostolate and the assistance of the Holy Ghost, uniformity and universality could never be brought about, or at least could not last for any length of time.

The attribute of infallibility belonging to the entire community of the Faithful manifests itself differently in its different parts. In the Teaching Body it is Active Infallibility, that is, inability to lead astray; in the Body Taught it is Passive Infallibility—that is, incapability of being led astray.


I. Intimately connected with the infallibility of the Church is her Indefectibility. There is, however, a difference between the two. Infallibility means merely that what the Church teaches cannot be false, whereas the notion of Indefectibility implies that the essentials of Revelation are at all times actually preached in the Church; that non-essentials are proposed, at least implicitly, and are held habitually; and that the inner, living Faith never fails. The Indefectibility of truth in the Church is less limited than the Infallibility. The perfection of the latter requires merely that no doctrine proposed for belief should be false, whereas the perfection of the former requires that all the parts of revealed doctrine should be actually, and at all times, expressed in the doctrine of the Church. Indefectibility admits of degrees, whereas a single failure, for a single day, on a single point of doctrine, on the part of the public teaching authority, would utterly destroy Infallibility.

II. The Indefectibility of the Teaching Body is at the same time a condition and a consequence of the Indefectibility of the Church. A distinction must, however, be drawn between the Indefectibility of the Head and the Indefectibility of the subordinate members. The individual who is the Head may die, but the authority of the Head does not die with him—it is transmitted to his successor. On the other hand, the Teaching Body as a whole could not die or fail without irreparably destroying the continuity of authentic testimony. Again, the Pope’s authority would not be injured if, when not exercising it (extra judicium), he professed a false doctrine, whereas the authenticity of the episcopal testimony would be destroyed if under any circumstances the whole body fell into heresy.

III. The Indefectibility of the Faith in individual members is closely connected with the external and social Indefectibility of the Church. The two stand to each as cause and effect, and act and react on each other. The interior Faith of individual members, even of the Pope and the Bishops, may fail; but it is impossible for the Faith to fail in the whole mass. The Infallibility and Indefectibility of the Church and of the Faith require on the part of the Head, that by means of his legislative and judicial power the law of Faith should be always infallibly proposed; but this does not require the infallibility and indefectibility of his own interior Faith and of his extrajudicial utterances. On the part of the Teaching Body as a whole, there is directly required merely that it should not fail collectively, which, of course, supposes that it does not err universally in its internal Faith. Lastly, on the part of the Body of the Faithful, it is directly and absolutely required that their inner Faith (sensus et virtus fidei) should never fail entirely, and also that the external profession should never be universally wrong.

The whole doctrine of the Organization of the Teaching Apostolate may be summarized as follows. The teaching function bound up with the two fundamental powers of the Hierarchy, Orders and Jurisdiction, fulfils all the requirements and attains all the purposes for which it was instituted. It transmits and enforces Revelation, and brings about unity and universality of Faith. It is a highly developed organism, with the members acting in perfect harmony, wherein the Holy Ghost operates, and whereby He gives manifold testimony to revealed truth, at the same time upholding and strengthening the action of individuals by means of the reciprocal action and reaction of the different organs. Just as God spoke to our fathers through the Prophets before the coming of Christ,” at sundry times and in divers manners” (Heb. 1:1), so now does Jesus Christ speak to us at sundry times and in divers manners in the Church “which is His body, and the fulness of Him Who is filled all in all” (Eph. 1:23).


I. The office-holders in the Teaching Apostolate form one unbroken chain, derived from God, and consequently the doctrine announced by them at any given time is a continuation and a development of the doctrine originally revealed, and is invested with the same Divine character Jesus Christ, the immediate Envoy of His Father, announced what He had heard from the Father; the Apostles, the immediate envoys of Christ, preached what they had heard from Christ and the Holy Ghost; the successors of the Apostles, the inheritors of the apostolic mission, in their turn taught and still teach the doctrine received from the Apostles, and thus Revelation has been handed down from generation to generation without a single break.

The transmission and the teaching of Revelation are really one and the same act under two different aspects. Whenever the Word of God is announced, it is also transmitted, and it cannot be transmitted without being announced in some form or other. Thus transmission and publication are not two acts of a distinct nature, as they would be if Revelation was handed down only by means of a written document, or on merely historical evidence. The Council of Trent tells us that Traditions, “dictated by the Holy Ghost, have reached us from the Apostles, handed down as it were by hand,” and it speaks of “Traditions preserved by continual succession in the Catholic Church” (sess. iv). The transmission is the work of living, authorized officials, who hand down Revelation to the lawful heirs of their office. We must, however, distinguish between the authenticity and the authority of the act of transmission. When, for instance, a council makes the belief in some dogma obligatory, this act contains a twofold element: it bears authentic witness to the existence of the dogma in the Apostolic Deposit, and it authoritatively imposes Faith in that dogma. The authentic testimony belongs to the whole Church, which, either in teaching or in professing belief, witnesses to the existence of certain truths, whereas the power of imposing the obligation of belief resides only in the governing body and its Head. But the word “Tradition” does not express any notion of “Faith made obligatory,” but only of “Faith handed down by authentic witnesses.” We shall therefore use the term in the latter sense, although, as a matter of fact, transmission and imposition usually go together.

II. Three phases, more or less divided by time, but still alike in their nature, may be observed in the development and gradual progress of the transmission of revealed doctrine: (1) The Apostles confiding the Deposit of Revelation to the Church with the obligation to continue its promulgation; (2) The transmission of Revelation in and by means of the Church; and (3) The enforcement of belief by the Rule of Faith imposed by the Chiefs of the Apostolate.

1. The Apostles were the original depositaries of Christian Revelation, as well as its first heralds. They handed over to their successors the truths which they possessed, together with the powers corresponding to their mission, This first stage is called Apostolic Tradition, or Apostolic Deposit, the latter expression being derived from 1 Tim. 6:20, “Keep that which is committed to thy trust” (depositum, παραθήκην). All subsequent knowledge of Revelation is drawn from the Apostolic Deposit, which is consequently said to be the Source or Fount of Faith.

The Apostolic Deposit was transmitted in a twofold form: by word of mouth and by writing. The New Testament, although composed by the Apostles or their disciples, is not a mere reproduction of the Apostolic teaching. It was written at God’s command by men under His inspiration, and therefore it is, like the Old Testament, an original and authentic document of Revelation. Both Testaments were, as we shall see, transmitted to the Church by an authoritative act of the Apostolate. The Apostolic Deposit comprises, therefore, the Old Testament, the New Testament, and the oral teaching of the Apostles. By a process of desynonymization, the term “Deposit” has become restricted to the written Deposit, and the term “Tradition” to the oral teaching.

2. It is the Church’s office to hold and to transmit the entire Deposit, written and oral, in its integrity, and to deal with it as the Apostles themselves would if they were still living. This action of the Church is called Active Tradition; the doctrines themselves are called Objective Tradition. The term “Ecclesiastical Tradition” is sometimes used in a narrow sense for the unwritten truths of Revelation, and stands in the same relation to the Holy Scriptures as the oral teaching of the Apostles stood. In the course of time this Tradition has also been committed to writing, and as a written Tradition its position with regard to the living Active Tradition is now analogous to that occupied by the Holy Scriptures.

3. But the Church has a further office. The heirs of the Apostles have the right and duty to prescribe, promulgate, and maintain at all times and in behalf of the whole Church the teaching of the Apostles and of the Church in former ages; to impose and to enforce it as a doctrinal law binding upon all; and to give authoritative decisions on points obscure, controverted, or denied. In this capacity the Church acts as regulator of the Faith, and these doctrinal laws, together with the act of imposing them, are called the Rule of Faith. All the members of the Church are bound to submit their judgment in matters of Faith to this rule, and thus by practising the “obedience of Faith” to prove themselves living members of the one kingdom of Divine truth.

Thus we see that the Divine economy for preserving and enforcing Christian truth in the Church possesses in an eminent degree all the aids and guarantees which are made use of in civil society for the safe custody and interpretation of legal documents. In both there are documents of various kinds, witnesses, public and private, and judges of different rank. But in the Church the judges are at the same time witnesses, administrators, and legislators. In the Protestant theory there are written documents and nothing more.



THE doctrine concerning the Sources of Revelation was formally defined by the Council of Trent (sess. iv.) and the Vatican Council (sess. iii., chap. 2). At Trent the principal object was to assert, in opposition to the early Protestants, the equal value of Oral and Written Tradition. As regards the Holy Scriptures, the controversial importance of which was rather overrated than otherwise by the Protestants, the Council had only to define their extent and to fix upon an authentic text. But the Vatican Council had to assert the Divine character of Scripture, which was not contested at the time of the earlier Council. Both Councils, however, declared that the Written Deposit was only one of the sources of theological knowledge, and that it must be understood and explained according to the mind and tradition of the Church.


I. The “Sacred and Canonical Books,” i.e. the definitive collection of the authentic documents of Revelation preserved and promulgated by the Church, have been considered in recent times by writers tinged with rationalistic Protestantism, as being documents of Revelation merely because the Church has acknowledged them to be historically trustworthy records of revealed truth. This, however, is by no means the Catholic doctrine. The books of Holy Scripture are sacred and canonical because they are the Written Word of God, and have God for their Author, the human writers to whom they are ascribed being merely the instruments of the Holy Ghost, Who enlightened their minds and moved their wills, and to a certain extent directed them as an author directs his secretary.

1. The Council of Trent had declared that the whole of the books of the Old and New Testaments with all their parts were to be held as sacred and canonical. To this the Vatican Council adds: “The Church doth hold these [books] for sacred and canonical, not because, after being composed by merely human industry, they were then approved by her authority; nor simply because they contain Revelation without any error: but because, being written under the inspiration of the Holy Ghost, they have God for their author, and as such have been handed down to the Church.” And even before the Council of Trent the Council of Florence had said, “[The Holy Roman Church] professeth that one and the same God is the author of the Old and the New Testaments, because the holy men of both Testaments spoke under the inspiration of the same Holy Ghost” (Decret. pro Jacobitis). Again, the Council of Trent takes the Divine origin of Scriptures for granted when it says, “The Holy Synod receiveth and venerateth with like devotion and reverence all the books both of the Old and New Testament, since the one God is the author of both.”

2. The doctrine defined by the councils is likewise taught in Holy Scripture itself. Christ and His Apostles when quoting the Old Testament clearly imply that God is the author. “The Scripture must needs be fulfilled which the Holy Ghost spoke before by the mouth (διὰ στόματος) of David” (Acts 1:16). “David himself saith in the Holy Ghost” (Mark 12:36; Matt. 22:43). Sometimes instead of “the Scripture saith” we find “God saith,” where it is the sacred writer who is speaking (Heb., passim). St. Paul distinctly declares that all Scripture is “breathed by God,” πᾶσα γραφὴ θεόπνευστος (2 Tim. 3:16). St. Peter also speaks of the Prophets as instruments in the hands of the Holy Ghost: “No prophecy of Scripture is made by private interpretation; for prophecy came not by the will of man at any time, but the holy men of God spoke inspired by the Holy Ghost, ὑπὸ Πνεύματος ἁγίου φερόμενοι (2 Pet. 1:20, 21). This last text, it is true, applies primarily to prophecies strictly so called (foretelling events to come), but it refers also to the whole of the teaching of a Prophet, because he speaks in the name and under the influence of God (cf. 1 Kings 10:6; Mich. 3:8).

3. The Fathers from the very earliest days taught the Divine authorship of Scripture.

(a) “The Divine Scriptures,” “the Divine Oracles,” “the Scriptures of God,” “the Scriptures of the Lord” are the usual phrases by which they expressed their belief in Inspiration. “The Apostle moved by that Spirit by Whom the whole of Scripture was composed” (Tertull., De Or., 22). Gelasius (or, according to Thiel, Damasus) says that the Scriptures were composed “by the action of God.” And St. Augustine: “God having first spoken by the Prophets, then by Himself and afterwards by the Apostles, composed also the Scripture which is styled canonical” (De Civit. Dei, xi. 3). Origen, too, says that “the Scriptures were written by the Holy Ghost” (Præf. De Princ., nn. 4, 8). Theodoret (Præf. in Ps.) says that it does not matter who was the human writer of the Psalms, seeing that we know that they were written under the active influence of the Holy Ghost (ἐκ τῆς τοῦ Πνεύματος ἁγίου ἐνεργείας). Hence the Fifth General Council (the second of Constantinople) calls the Holy Ghost purely and simply the author of Holy Writ, and says of Theodore of Mopsuestia that he rejects the book of Job, “in his rage against its author, the Holy Ghost.” The Fathers frequently call the Bible “an epistle from God.” “What is Scripture but a sort of letter from Almighty God to His creature?” … “The Lord of Heaven hath sent thee His letters for thy life’s sake.… Study therefore, I pray thee, and meditate daily upon the words of thy Creator” (Greg. M., lib. iv., ep. 31). Further, the Scriptures are words spoken by God: “Study the Scriptures, the true words of the Holy Ghost” τὰς ἀληθεῖς ῥήσεις Πνεύματος το͂υ ἁγίου (Clem. Rom. ad Cor. i., n. 45). “The Scriptures were spoken by the Word and His Spirit” (Iren., Adv. Hæres, lib. ii., cap. 28, n. 2). Hence the manner of quoting them: “The Holy Ghost saith in the Psalms” (Cypr., De Zelo, n. 8). “Not without reason have so many and such great peoples believed that when [the sacred writers] were writing these books, God spoke to them or through them” (Aug., De Civit. Dei, xviii. 41).

(b) The Fathers also determine the relation between the Divine author of Scripture and the human writer. The latter is, as it were, the secretary, or the hand, or the pen employed by God—analogies which are set forth in the following well-known passages. “[Christ] by the human nature which He took upon Himself is the Head of all His disciples, who are, as it were, the members of His body. Hence when they wrote what He manifested and spoke, we must by no means say that it was not He Who wrote, for His members have done what they learnt from the orders of their Head. Whatever He wished us to read concerning His words and works He ordered them, His hands, to write down. Any one who rightly understands this union and this ministry of members performing in harmony their various functions under one head, will receive the Gospel narrative as though he saw the hand of the Lord writing, the very hand which belonged to His own body” (Aug., De Cons. Evang., l. i., c. 35). “It is quite useless to inquire who wrote this, since the Holy Ghost is rightly believed to be the author of the book. He therefore Who dictated it is the writer: He is the writer Who was the Inspirer of the work and Who made use of the voice of the [human] writer to transmit to us His deeds for our imitation. When we receive a letter from some great man, and know from whom it comes and what it means, it is folly for us to ask what pen he wrote it with. When therefore we learn something, and know that the Holy Ghost is its author, any inquiry about the writer is like asking about the pen” (Greg. M., In Job, præf.). And St. Justin compares the human writer to a lyre played upon by God through the action of the Holy Ghost (Cohort. ad Græcos, n. 8).

(c) From this dependence of the human writer on the Holy Ghost, the Fathers infer the absolute truth and wisdom of every, even the minutest, detail of Scripture. “We who extend the perfect truthfulness of the Holy Ghost to the smallest lines and letters (ἡμεῖς δὲ οἵ καί μέχρι τῆς τυχούσης κεραίας καὶ γραμμῆς τοῦ Πνεύματος τὴν ἀκρίβειαν ἕλκοντες) do not and dare not grant that even the smallest things are asserted by the writers without a meaning” (Greg. Naz., Orat., ii., n. 105). And the following passage of St. Augustine is especially worthy of notice: “I acknowledge to your charity that I have learnt to pay only to those books of Scripture which are already called canonical, this reverence and honour, viz. to believe most firmly that no author of them made any mistake, and if I should meet with anything in them which seems to be opposed to the truth, not to doubt but that either the codex is incorrect, or that the translator has not caught what was said, or that my understanding is at fault” (Ep. ad Hieron., lxxxii. [al. 19.] n. 3).

II. The Catholic Church expressly teaches that God is the author of the Holy Scriptures in a physical sense. That God may be the author of Scripture in a physical sense, and that Scripture may be the Word of God as issuing from Him, it is not enough that the Sacred Books should have been written under the merely negative influence and the merely external assistance of God, preventing error from creeping in; the Divine authorship implies a positive and interior influence upon the writer, which is expressed by the dogmatic term Inspiration. Although a negative assistance, preserving from error, such as is granted to the Teaching Apostolate, is not enough for the physical authorship of Holy Scripture, yet, on the other hand, a positive dictation by word of mouth is not required. The sacred writers themselves make no mention of it; nay, they expressly state that they have made use of their own industry; and the diversity of style of the different writers is distinctly opposed to it. Of course, when something previously unknown to the writer has to be written down by him, God must in some way speak to him; nevertheless, Inspiration in itself is “the action of God upon a human writer, whereby God moves and enables the writer to serve as an instrument for communicating, in writing, the Divine thoughts.” Inspiration arises in the first instance from God’s intention to express in writing certain truths through the instrumentality of human agents. To carry out this intention God moves the writer’s will to write down these truths, and at the same time suggests them to his mind and assists him to the right understanding and faithful expression of them. The assistance has been reduced by some theologians to a mere surveillance or watching over the writer; but the stress laid by the Fathers on the instrumental character of the writers in relation to God, and the Scriptural expression, ὑπὸ τοῦ Πνεύματος ἁγίου φερόμενοι, are plainly opposed to it (cf. St. Thom. 2 2, q. 174, a. 2). The diversity of style in the different books is accounted for by the general law, that when God employs natural instruments for a supernatural purpose, He does not destroy their natural powers, but adapts them to His own purpose.

III. 1. Though the Bible is not mere history or mere literature, it nevertheless has to do with history, and it is literature in the highest sense of the word. It has a human element as well as a Divine element; and how far the books are human and how far Divine is the great Scripture problem. The two elements are united somewhat after the fashion of the soul and the body. Just as the soul is present in every part of the body, so too the action of the Holy Ghost is present in every part of Scripture. But the Schoolmen went on to say that though the soul is whole and entire in every part of the body, it does not exercise all its powers in each and every part, but some powers in some parts and other powers in other parts. Hence we must not restrict Inspiration to certain portions of Scripture. On the other hand, the action of the Holy Ghost is not necessarily the same throughout.

2. When it is said that God is the Author of the Sacred Books, we must not take this in the same sense as when it is said that Milton is the author of Paradise Lost. This would exclude any human authorship. The formula was originally directed against the Manichæans, who held that the Evil Spirit was the author of the Old Testament.

3. The Church has never decided the question of the human authorship of any of the Books. There may be a strong opinion, e.g., that Moses wrote the Pentateuch, or that the whole of the Book of Isaias was written by the Prophet of that name; but no definition has ever been given.

4. We cannot admit that the Sacred Author Himself has been guilty of error. He may, however, make use of a story, not necessarily history, for the purpose of teaching some dogmatic principle or pointing some moral lesson. Again, He must adapt Himself to the circumstances of those whom He addresses. If He acted otherwise, He would fail to be understood. As St. Jerome says (In Jerem. Proph. xxviii.): “Multa in Scripturis Sanctis dicuntur secundum opinionem illius temporis quo gesta referuntur, et non juxta quod rei veritas continebat.” And St. Thomas (I, q. 70, a. 1): “Moyses autem rudi populo condescendens, sequutus est quae sensibiliter apparent.”

5. On the Catholic canon of Scripture, see Franzelin, De Script, sect. ii.; Loisy, Hist. du Canon de l’A.T.; Hist. du Canon du N. T.


I. Holy Scripture, being the work of God Himself, far surpasses in value and excellence any human account of Revelation. The Old Testament is inspired by the Holy Ghost, “Who spake by the Prophets,” as well as the New. Both are of equal excellence, and form together one general source of theological knowledge. The Old Testament is not a mere history of Revelation. It contains a fuller exposition of many points of Faith and morals than the New; it is as it were the body of which the New Testament is the soul: the two pervade and complete each other.

II. There are two fundamentally distinct senses in Holy Scripture: the Literal, conveyed by the words, and the Spiritual, conveyed by the things expressed by the words, whence it is also called Typical. The former is that intended by the human writer, and conveyed by the letter of the text. The Spiritual Sense has its foundation in the all-embracing knowledge of the Holy Ghost, Who inspired the writer. Sentences and even single words written under Divine direction have, in some circumstances, a significance beyond that which they would convey if they were of merely human origin. An historical fact, an institution, a precept, may stand isolated in the mind of the writer, whereas in the mind of God it may be related to other facts and truths, as a type, a confirmation, or an illustration. These relations are the basis of the Spiritual Sense of Scripture. We derive our knowledge of them from the things expressed by the words, and from the words themselves. Thus, to us the spiritual sense is mediate, but to the Holy Ghost it is immediate.

From these different senses of Holy Scripture it follows that a text is capable of many interpretations. All of them, however, must be based upon the Literal Sense. A text may have several spiritual or mediate meanings, but usually only one Literal Sense. Many applications of the Sacred Text commonly adopted by the Church may be regarded as belonging to the Mediate Sense, i.e. as being foreseen by the Holy Ghost, although in purely human writings such interpretations would appear to be distortions. Familiar instances are the passages Prov. 8 and Ecclus. 24 as applied to the Blessed Virgin.

A demonstrative argument that a certain doctrine is revealed can be obtained from any sense demonstrably intended by the Holy Ghost, whether literal, or logically inferred from the literal, or purely spiritual. The Literal Sense affords the most obvious proof. Where, however the language is figurative, the meaning of the figure must be ascertained before an argument can be drawn from it. The Inferential Sense is equal in demonstrative force to the Literal Sense, but in dignity it is inferior because only intended, and not directly expressed by the Holy Ghost The Spiritual Sense likewise offers a cogent argument, provided that the relation between the type and the thing typified be either directly stated in the Literal Sense or contained in it as an evident consequence. Indirectly, the Spiritual Sense acquires demonstrative force from explanations given in Scripture itself or handed down by Apostolical Tradition. Such explanations are often insufficient to determine the Spiritual Sense with complete certainty, and give us only probabilities. Sometimes a number of them, taken together, form a strong argument. See Wiseman’s Essays: Miracles of the New Testament, where arguments in favour of many Catholic doctrines are drawn from the typical signification of various miracles.

The principal object of Holy Scripture is to give us certain knowledge of Revelation. But the constant practice of the Church has made it serve another purpose, which, however, is quite in keeping with the former. In the book of nature we have a faithful though imperfect image of God’s Wisdom, but in the Inspired Books the defects are remedied, and a more perfect representation is set before us, destined to kindle in our minds a manifold knowledge of the supernatural world. This purpose is attained by that sense and interpretation of Holy Writ, whereby we gather from the Sacred Text pious considerations and suggestions, not necessarily intended by the Holy Ghost in the precise form which they take in the reader’s mind, and yet not wholly arbitrary.

III. The careful study and comparison of different passages of Holy Scripture throws great light on the dogmatic teaching of the Church; and, on the other hand, a sound knowledge of this teaching gives us a deeper insight into the Written Word. Theological Exegesis far surpasses mere philological criticism, and attains results beyond the reach of the latter. Scripture, for instance, tells us that God has a Son, and that this Son is the Word, the Image (Figure), the Mirror, the Wisdom of His Father. The combination and comparison of these expressions are of great help towards understanding the Eternal Generation of the Son; and, on the other hand, the theological knowledge of generation is the only basis of an accurate interpretation of these expressions.


We have seen that Holy Scripture holds a very high position as a source of Faith. This, however, does not mean that it is the only source, or even a source accessible and necessary to each and all of the Faithful. Indeed, without the intervention of some living authority, distinct from Holy Scripture, we should never be able to prove that Scripture is a source of Faith at all. Nevertheless, Protestants reject the Teaching Apostolate, and maintain that the Bible, the whole Bible, and nothing but the Bible, is the sole Source and Rule of Faith. We shall prove in § 21 that Oral Tradition is a substantial part of the Apostolic Deposit, and consequently that Holy Scripture is not the only source of Faith. That it is not the only rule may be seen from the following considerations.

I. The Rule of Faith should be materially complete, that is, it should embrace the entire sphere of revealed truth: formally perfect, that is, it should not need to be supplemented by any other: and universal, that is, applicable to all men, always and everywhere. None of these characteristics can be affirmed of Holy Scripture. There are, as we shall see, a number of revealed truths handed down by Oral Tradition only. Moreover, the Bible, notwithstanding the excellence of its contents, is but a dead letter, wanting in systematic arrangement, often obscure and hard to be understood, and exposed to many false interpretations. Some means must be provided by God to remove these difficulties, otherwise the object of Revelation would be frustrated. And, lastly, some of the very circumstances which constitute the excellence of the Bible—its being a written document of considerable dimensions, full of deep and difficult matter expressed in the metaphorical language of the East—make it unfit for the general use of the people.

Protestants cannot help feeling the force of these arguments. They usually admit more or less explicitly some other rule of Faith; for instance, the mind of the reader guided by a private supernatural revelation, or by its own natural light and inclination. The result has been that the Bible has become the sport of innumerable sectaries and the source of endless divisions. Practically, however, the mischief has been to a great extent prevented by the submission of the people to the guidance of others, or even to “Confessions of Faith and Formularies,” though the latter have no recognized authority.

After what has been said it is clear that the reading of the Bible is not necessary for salvation, or even advisable for every one under all circumstances. Hence the Church has with great wisdom imposed certain regulations on the subject. See The Pope and the Bible, by Rev. R. F. Clarke, S.J.

II. But the Protestant theory is not only false, but also contradictory. Inspiration is the result of such a mysterious influence of God that its very existence can be known only by means of Revelation. We cannot infer it from the character of the writers or the nature of their writings. There have been Prophets and Apostles who were not inspired (in the technical sense), and some of the inspired writers were neither Apostles nor Prophets. Some of the Sacred Books, indeed, state that their writers were animated by the Holy Ghost, but this does not necessarily mean that particular Divine influence which goes by the name of Inspiration. Even if we admit this, there still remains the question whether these statements themselves were inspired. The only way to avoid a vicious circle is to appeal to some testimony external to the Inspired Books. The consoling effect upon the reader, the “gustus spiritualis” of the early Protestants, cannot seriously be put forward at the present day as a test of Inspiration. There must be some public and authentic witness to the fact of Inspiration, and this we have seen to be the Teaching Body in the Catholic Church (cf. Card. Newman’s Idea of a University, p. 270).

Moreover, there is another difficulty in the Protestant theory. Even if we were to grant that the inspired character of all the books of the Bible was made known at the time of their original publication, we should still require official testimony of this fact. Besides, how could we be sure that the copies which we now possess agree with the originals? Apart from the authority of the Church, the common belief in the canon of Holy Scripture and the identity of later copies, rests on evidence which is by no means historically conclusive. And this common belief has, as a matter of fact, been produced by the action of the Church. We may still assert what St. Augustine said long ago: “I, for my part, should not believe the Gospel except on the authority of the Catholic Church.”


The position and functions of Holy Scripture in the Catholic System may be briefly expressed in this proposition: Scripture is an Apostolic Deposit entrusted to the Church; in other words, the Apostles published Holy Scripture as a document of Divine Revelation, and handed it over as such to their successors. It is on this ground that the Teaching Body claims the right of preserving and expounding the sacred writings. Protestants, on the other hand, have no right to call the Bible the, or even an, Apostolic Deposit. They reject the authoritative promulgation by the Apostles, and the necessity of entrusting the Deposit of Revelation to a living Apostolate; and consequently the word “deposit” is in their mouth devoid of meaning. To them the Bible is a windfall, coming they know not whence.

I. Catholics maintain, and they can prove their doctrine by evidence drawn from the earliest centuries, that the Apostles promulgated by God’s order both the Old and New Testaments, as a document received from God, and thus gave it the dignity and efficacy of a legitimate source and rule of Faith. This promulgation might have been expected from the nature of Holy Scripture and the functions of the Apostles. God would not have cast His Word upon the world to be the sport of conflicting opinions. Rather He would have committed the publication of it to the care of those whom He was sending to preach the Gospel to all nations, and with whom He had promised to be for all days, even to the consummation of the world. This fact of promulgation by the Apostles is generally treated of by the Fathers in connection with the transmission of Holy Scripture. The mere writing and publishing, even by an Apostle, were not deemed a sufficient promulgation of inspiration. It was necessary that the document should be put on a footing with the Old Testament, and approved for public reading in the Church. As St. Jerome says of the Gospel of St. Mark: “When Peter had heard it, he both approved of it and ordered it to be read in the churches” (De Script. Eccl.).

II. Besides promulgating Holy Scripture as a Divine document, the Apostles transmitted it to their successors with the right, the duty, and the power to continue its promulgation, to preserve its integrity and identity, to expound its meaning, to make use of it in demonstrating and illustrating Catholic doctrine, and finally to resist and condemn any attacks upon its teaching, or any abuse of its meaning. All this again is implied in the nature of the Apostolate, and the character of the Sacred Writings. See the passages quoted from St. Irenæus and Tertullian in § 9, III.

III. The function of Holy Scripture in the Catholic Church is determined by the two facts, that it is an Apostolic Deposit, and that its lawful administration belongs to the Church. Hence:—

1. Holy Scripture, in virtue of its permanent and official promulgation, is a public document, the Divine authority of which is evident to all the members of the Church.

2. The Church necessarily possesses an authentic text of the Scriptures, identical with the original. If either by constant use or by express declaration a certain text has been approved of by the Church, that text thereby receives the character of public authenticity; that is to say, its conformity with the original must be not only presumed juridically, but admitted as certain on the ground of the infallibility of the Church.

3. The authentic text, duly promulgated, becomes a Source and Rule of Faith; but it is still only a means or instrument of instruction and proof in the hands of the members of the Teaching Apostolate, who alone have the right of authoritatively interpreting it.

4. Private interpretation must submit to authoritative interpretation.

5. The custody and administration of the Holy Scriptures is not entrusted directly to the body of the Church at large, but to the Teaching Apostolate; nevertheless, the Scriptures are the common property of all the members of the Church. The duty of the administrators is to communicate its teaching to all who are in the obedience of the Faith. The body of the Faithful thereby secure a better knowledge than if each one were to interpret according to his own light. Besides, such private handling of Scripture is really opposed to the notion of its being the common property of all.

6. The Bible belongs to the Church and to the Church alone. If, however, those who are outside her pale use it as a means of discovering and entering the Church, such use is perfectly legitimate. But they have no right to apply it to their own purposes, or to turn it against the Church. This is the fundamental principle of Tertullian’s work, De Præscriptionibus Hæreticorum. He shows how Catholics, before arguing with heretics on single points of scriptural doctrine, should contest the right of the latter to appeal to the Scriptures at all, and should thus defeat their action at the outset (præscribere actionem, a mode of defence corresponding to some extent with demurrer).

7. Lastly, the rights of the Teaching Apostolate include that of taking and enforcing disciplinary measures for promoting the right use, or preventing the abuse of Scripture.


The principles laid down in the preceding section were applied by the Councils of Trent (sess. iv.) and the Vatican (sess. iii.).

I. The Council of Trent issued two decrees on the Sacred Text, one of which is dogmatic, and the other disciplinary. These decrees, however, did not so much confer upon the Vulgate its public ecclesiastical authenticity, but rather declared and confirmed the authenticity already possessed by it in consequence of its long-continued public use. “If any one,” says the Council, “receiveth not, as Sacred and Canonical, the said books, entire with all their parts (libros integros cum omnibus suis partibus) as they have been used to be read in the Catholic Church, and as they are contained in the old Latin Vulgate edition; let him be anathema.… Moreover, the same sacred and holy Synod—considering that no small profit may accrue to the Church of God if it be made known which out of all the Latin editions, now in circulation, of the Sacred Books is to be held as authentic—ordaineth and declareth that the said old and Vulgate edition, which, by the lengthened usage of so many ages, hath been approved of in the Church, be, in public lectures, disputations, sermons, and expositions, held as authentic; and that no one is to dare to reject it under any pretext whatsoever.”

1. These decrees are not exclusive. They affirm the authenticity of the Vulgate, but say nothing about the original text or about other versions. Hence the latter retain their public and private value. No Hebrew text has ever been used in the Church since the time of the Apostles; but the Greek text in public use during the first eight centuries must be considered as fully authentic for that time; since the schism, however, its authenticity is only guaranteed by the use of the Greek Catholics.

2. The conformity of the Vulgate with the original is not to be taken as absolute. Differences in distinctness and force of expression, even in dogmatic texts, may be admitted, and also additions, omissions, and diversities in texts not dogmatic. But in matters of Faith and morals the Vulgate does not put forth anything as the Word of God which either openly contradicts the Word of God or is not the Word of God at all. Again, the entire contents of the Vulgate are substantially correct, and are upon the whole identical with the original. Cf. Kaulen, History of the Vulgate (in German), p. 58 sqq.; Franzelin, De Script., sect. iii.

3. In demonstrating and expounding doctrines of Faith and morals the Vulgate may confidently be used, and its authority may not be rejected. It should be used in all public transactions relating to Faith and morals, as possessing complete demonstrative force within the Church. Hence the saying, “The Vulgate is the theologian’s Bible.” At the same time, the decree does not forbid the use of other texts, especially the originals, even in public transactions, in order to support and illustrate the Vulgate, or against non-Catholics as an argumentum ad hominem, or in purely scientific disquisitions.

Clement VIII., in execution of the Tridentine decrees, published an official edition of the Vulgate which came into general use, and must now be considered as an authentic reproduction of the text approved by the Council.

II. The Council of Trent also issued a decree concerning the Interpretation of Scripture. This decree, although further explained in the Creed of the council drawn up by Pius IV., was in later days very much misunderstood. Hence the Vatican Council has explained its true extent and meaning. The Tridentine decree quoted above continues, “Furthermore, in order to restrain petulant spirits, [the council] decrees that no one, relying on his own skill shall, in matters of faith and of morals pertaining to the edification of Christian doctrine, wresting the Sacred Scripture to his own senses, presume to interpret the said Sacred Scripture contrary to that sense which Holy Mother Church—to whom it belongeth to judge of the true sense and interpretation of the Holy Scriptures—hath held and doth hold; or even contrary to the unanimous consent of the Fathers; even though such interpretations were never intended to be at any time published.” The passage in the Creed runs thus: “I also admit the Holy Scriptures according to that sense which Holy Mother Church hath held and doth hold, to whom it belongeth to judge of the true sense and interpretation of the Scriptures; neither will I ever take and interpret them otherwise than according to the unanimous consent of the Fathers.” The conclusion of the Vatican decree is as follows: “Forasmuch as the wholesome decree of the holy and sacred council of Trent concerning the interpretation of the Divine Scripture … hath been perversely explained by divers persons, We, while renewing the said decree, declare this to be its meaning: in matters of Faith and morals pertaining to the edification of Christian doctrine, that is to be held as the true sense of Sacred Scripture which Holy Mother Church hath held and doth hold, to whom it belongeth to judge of the true sense and interpretation of the Holy Scriptures; and therefore it is lawful to no man to interpret the said Sacred Scripture against this sense or even against the unanimous consent of the Fathers.” Hence, according to the explanation given by the Vatican Council, the meaning of the Tridentine decree is that the Church has the right to give a judicial decision on the sense of Holy Scripture in matters of Faith and morals; that is, to give an interpretation authentic, infallible, universally binding, not only indirectly and negatively, but also directly and positively. To oppose such a decision is unlawful, because to do so would be a denial of the true sense of Scripture and not merely an act of disobedience. Moreover, the unanimous interpretation of the Fathers, whose writings reproduce the authentic teaching of the Church, has a similar value.

A very little thought will convince any one that the Catholic rule of Scriptural interpretation does not clash with a reasonable liberty and the development of scientific exegesis. On the contrary, the period subsequent to the Council of Trent produced the most famous Biblical commentators (see supra, Introd., p. xxxi.), while the principle of private judgment has produced nothing but errors and destructive criticism.

Stapleton, Princ. Fid. Demonstr., 11. x. et xi.; Franzelin, De Script., sect. iii.; Vacant, Etudes Theol. sur le Concile du Vatican, t. i. p. 405, sqq.


The Protestant rejection of a permanent Teaching Apostolate while, as we have seen, injurious to the Written Word, destroys the very existence of Oral Tradition. The Catholic doctrine, on the other hand, maintains that the preaching of the Apostles, unwritten as well as written, is an independent and trustworthy Source of Faith, and is, like the Holy Scriptures, an essential part of the Apostolic Deposit. The Council of Trent “seeing clearly that this truth and discipline are contained in the written books and the unwritten traditions which, received by the Apostles from the mouth of Christ Himself, or from the Apostles themselves, the Holy Ghost dictating, have come down even unto us, transmitted as it were from hand to hand, following the examples of the orthodox Fathers, receiveth and venerateth, with an equal affection of piety, all the books both of the Old and of the New Testaments … and also the said traditions, as well those appertaining to Faith as to morals, as having been dictated either by Christ’s own word of mouth or by the Holy Ghost, and preserved in the Catholic Church by a continuous succession” (sess. iv.).

I. The Catholic doctrine is an evident consequence of the perpetuity of the Apostolate. It is plain from Holy Scripture and the testimony of the early Fathers that the Apostles handed over to their successors, together with the written documents of Revelation, the contents of their oral teaching as an independent and permanent Source of Faith. This Oral Deposit can, by reason of the natural and supernatural qualifications of the depositary, be transmitted as securely and perfectly as the Written Deposit.

1. Scripture nowhere says plainly, or even implies, that it is to be the only Source of Faith. The whole composition of the books supposes the existence of a Teaching Body, and the fact of the perpetuity of the Apostolate implies also the perpetuity of the authority of their teaching. St. Paul expressly enjoins the holding of the things which he preached as well as of those which he wrote. “Therefore, brethren, stand fast, and hold the traditions which you have learned, whether by word, or by our epistle” (2 Thess. 2:14; cf. St. John Chrysostom in h. 1.). And again, “Hold the form of sound words, which thou hast heard of me in faith, and in the love which is in Christ Jesus. Keep the good thing committed to thy trust (τὴν καλὴν παραθήκην) by the Holy Ghost” (2 Tim. 1:13–14); “The things which thou hast heard of me by many witnesses, the same commend to faithful men, who shall be fit to teach others also” (ib., 2:2). In the earliest ages of the Church, too, it was universally held that the contents of the apostolic preaching were transmitted to the Church as a permanent Source and Rule of Faith. See above, § 9, iii. The same doctrine is proved by the fact that in patristic times the true interpretation of Scripture was ruled by the Teaching Apostolate. Many truths not contained in Scripture were held on the authority of the Apostolate. Cf. Stapleton, l. c., l. xi., c. 3.

2. Protestant objections on the ground that an Oral Deposit cannot be perfectly transmitted, by reason of the imperfection of the Apostolate, do not touch the Apostolate as we conceive it, viz., as infallible through the assistance of the Holy Ghost. Any force that these objections may have can be turned against the transmission of Scripture itself. Even from a merely human point of view, the constitution and organization of the Apostolate afford an almost perfect guarantee for the purity of the doctrine transmitted. The cohesion of the different members, their fidelity to and respect for apostolical traditions, the constant mutual watchfulness, the daily application of most of the truths in question in private practice and public worship—all of these are admirably adapted for the preservation of truth and the prevention of error (cf. Franzelin, De Trad., th. ix.; Kuhn, Dogmatik, introd., § 5). The very fact that a doctrine is universally held in the Church is a sufficient proof of its apostolic origin and faithful transmission. “Granted that all (the churches) have erred, … that the Holy Ghost hath looked down upon none of them to lead them into the truth, although it was for this that He was sent by Christ and asked of the Father that He might be a Teacher of truth; granted that God’s steward, the Vicar of Christ, hath neglected his duty, … is it likely that so many and such great churches should have gone astray into one faith? Never is there one result among many chances. The error of the churches would have taken different directions. Whatever is found to be one and the same among many persons is not an error but a tradition” (Tertull., De Præscr., c. 28).

II. Oral Tradition could, absolutely speaking, be the sole Source of Faith, because it could hold its own even if no Written Deposit existed, whereas, as we have shown, the inspiration and interpretation of Scripture cannot be known without the aid of Tradition. Nevertheless, the Holy Scriptures have a value of their own, and are in a certain sense even necessary. They contain not only the Word, but also the language of God, and they give details, developments, and illustrations to an extent unattainable by Tradition. They are a sort of text-book of Tradition, enabling the Faithful to acquire a vivid knowledge of revealed truths. There is no revealed doctrine which has not at least some foundation in the Bible. The most important truths are explicitly stated there. On the whole, we may say that Oral Tradition is the living and authentic commentary upon the written document, yet, at the same time, not a mere commentary, but something self-subsistent, confirming, illustrating, completing and vivifying the text.

III. The Fathers and the Schoolmen often insist upon the completeness and sufficiency of Holy Scripture, but they do so in the sense of the present section. The Bible clearly teaches the doctrine of the Teaching Apostolate, and this implicitly contains the whole of Revelation. Hence we may say that the Bible itself is complete and sufficient. Sometimes, however, the Fathers speak of the completeness of Scripture merely with regard to certain points of doctrine. Thus in the well-known passage of St. Vincent of Lerins (Common., c. 2) where it is said that “the canon of the Scriptures is perfect, and of itself enough and more than enough for everything” the Saint is really putting an objection, which he proceeds to answer in favour of the necessity of tradition. And Tertullian’s saying, “I worship the fulness of Scripture,” refers to the doctrine of creation (cf. Franz., De Trad., th. xix.). On the other hand, certain texts of the Fathers which at first sight might be quoted in support of our thesis refer to discipline rather than to dogma.

There are many regulations which have been handed down with apostolic authority, but not as revealed by God. These are called Merely-Apostolic Traditions, in contradistinction to the Divino-Apostolic Traditions. This distinction, though clear enough in itself, is not easy of application, except in matters strictly dogmatical or strictly moral. In other matters, such as ecclesiastical institutions and discipline, there are various criteria to guide us; e.g. (1) the distinct testimony of the Teaching Apostolate or of ecclesiastical documents that some institution is of Divine origin—for instance, the validity of baptism conferred by heretics; (2) the nature of the institution itself—for instance, the essential parts of the sacraments as opposed to the merely ceremonial parts. Where these criteria cannot be applied and the practice of the Church does not decide the point, it remains an open question whether a given institution is of Divine right and belongs to the Deposit of Faith. In any case we are bound to respect such traditions, and also those which are merely ecclesiastical. Thus in the Creed of Pius IV. we say: “I most steadfastly admit and embrace Apostolical and Ecclesiastical Traditions and all other observances and institutions of the said Church.… I also receive and admit the received and approved ceremonies of the Catholic Church used in the solemn administration of all the Sacraments.”




I. ECCLESIASTICAL tradition differs essentially from human tradition, whether popular or scientific. Human tradition can produce only human certitude; it increases or decreases with the course of time, and may ultimately fail altogether. Ecclesiastical Tradition is indeed human, inasmuch as it is in the hands of men, and it may be popular or scientific, historical or exegetical. But it is also something far higher. Its organs are the members of Christ’s Church; they form one body fashioned by God Himself, and animated and directed by His Holy Spirit. Hence their testimony is not the testimony of men, but the testimony of the Holy Ghost. Its value does not depend upon the number of witnesses or their learning, but on their rank in the Church and the assistance of the Holy Ghost; and the authenticity of their testimony remains the same at every point of the stream of Tradition.

II. Nevertheless it must be admitted that the human element modifies the perfection of Tradition. There may be a break in its continuity and universality. A temporary and partial eclipse of truth is possible, as are also further developments. It is possible that for a time a portion of the Deposit may not be known and acknowledged by the whole Church or expressly and distinctly attested by the leading organs of the Apostolate. We may therefore assert that the essential integrity, continuity, and universality of Oral Tradition, as required by the infallibility and indefectibility of the Church and as modified by the imperfections of the human element, are subject to the following laws:—

1. Nothing can be proposed as Apostolic Tradition which is not Apostolic Tradition, or is opposed to it; and no truth handed down by the Apostles can be altogether lost.

2. The most essential and necessary truths must always be expressly taught, admitted, and handed down in the Church, if not by every individual teacher or hearer, at least by the Body as a whole. Truths belonging to the Apostolic Deposit which have been so obscured as not to be known and professed by all the members of the Church, and even to be rejected by some or not distinctly enforced by others, must be attested and transmitted at least implicitly; that is to say, truths clearly expressed and distinctly professed must contain the obscured truths in such a way that by careful reflection and the assistance of the Holy Ghost these obscured truths may be evolved and proposed for universal acceptance. There are, we may observe, several ways in which one truth may be implied in another. General truths contain particular truths; principles imply consequences; complex statements involve simpler statements whether as constituent parts or as conditions; practical truths presuppose theoretical principles and vice versâ. The dogmas of the Immaculate Conception and of Papal Infallibility are implied in other dogmas in all of these four ways (infra, p. 105).

Only the actual and express Tradition of a truth can be appealed to in proof that it is a matter of Faith. If we can show that at a given time the Tradition was universal this alone is sufficient—continuity is not absolutely necessary. However, except in cases of an authoritative definition, Tradition, to become universal, requires a long time. Even when an authoritative definition is given, it is always based upon the fact that the Tradition in question was universal for a long time. Hence the duration for a more or less long period should be proved.


The modes or forms in which the infallible testimony of the Holy Ghost is given are as manifold as the forms of the living organism of the Church. For our present purpose we may distinguish them according to the rank of the witnesses.

I. The most adequate testimony exists when the entire Body of the Church, Head and members alike, profess, teach, and act upon a certain doctrine. This unanimity is expressed and maintained by professions of Faith universally admitted, by catechisms in general use, and by the general practice of the Church either in her liturgy, discipline, or morals, in so far as such practice supposes and includes Faith in particular doctrines. Hence the old rule quoted against the Pelagians, “Legem credendi statuat lex supplicandi.”

II. Next in extent, though far lower in rank, is what is called the “Sensus fidelium,” that is, the distinct, universal, and constant profession of a doctrine by the whole body of the simple Faithful. As we have shown in § 13, this sensus fidelium involves a relatively independent and immediate testimony of the Holy Ghost. Although but an echo of the authentic testimony of the Teaching Apostolate, the universal belief of the Faithful is of great weight in times when its unity and distinctness are more apparent than the teaching of the Apostolate itself, or when a part of the Teaching Body is unfaithful to its duty, or when the Teaching Body, about to define a doctrine which had for a time been obscured in the Church, appeals to all the manifestations of the Holy Ghost in its favour. Thus, during the Arian troubles, St. Hilary could say, “The faithful ears of the people are holier than the lips of the priests.” And before the definition of the Immaculate Conception the profession and practice of the Faithful were appealed to in favour of the definition. Cf. Franzelin, De Trad., th. xii., p. 112, where he rejects the interpretation given in the Rambler for July, 1859, p. 218 sqq. See also Card. Newman’s Arians, pp. 464, 467; Ward, Essays on the Church’s Doctrinal Authority, p. 70. “As the blood flows from the heart to the body through the arteries; as the vital sap insinuates itself into the whole tree, into each bough, and leaf, and fibre; as water descends through a thousand channels from the mountaintop to the plain; so is Christ’s pure and life-giving doctrine diffused, flowing into the whole body through a thousand organs from the Ecclesia Docens.” Murray, De Ecclesia, disp. x., n. 15, quoted by Ward.

III. The universal teaching of the Bishops and Priests is another mode of ecclesiastical testimony to revealed truth. The testimony of all the Bishops is in itself infallible, independently of the teaching of the inferior clergy and the belief of the Faithful, because the Episcopate is the chief organ of infallibility in the Church. It is, moreover, an infallible testimony at every moment of its duration (“I am with you all days”). This mode of testimony is sometimes called the testimony of the Particular Churches, because the teaching of each Bishop is reflected and repeated by the clergy and the Faithful of his diocese. Hence the testimony of the Priests and of Theological Schools in subordination to the Bishop holds a sort of intermediate position and value between the “Sensus fidelium” and the testimony of the Episcopate.

IV. The central, perfect and juridical representative of Tradition is the Apostolic See. From the earliest times it has been the custom to consider the formula, “The Roman Church or Apostolic See hath held and doth hold,” as equivalent to “The Catholic Church hath held and doth hold;” because the universal Church must hold, at least implicitly, the doctrines taught by the Holy See. When the Pope pronounces a judicial sentence he can bind the whole Church, teachers as well as taught, and the authority of his decisions is not impaired, even by opposition within the Teaching Body. Moreover, as a consequence of the connection between the Head of the Church and the Roman See, there exists in the local Roman Church, apart from the authoritative decisions of the Pope, a certain actual and normal testimony which must be considered as an expression of the habitual teaching of the Holy See. This arises from the fact that the Faith professed in the Roman Church is the result of the constant teaching of the Popes, accepted by the laity and taught by the clergy, especially by the College of Cardinals who take part in the general government of the Church.

V. Besides the Apostolic See and the ordinary Apostolate, God has provided auxiliary channels of Ecclesiastical Tradition in the person of the extraordinary auxiliary members described above, § 12. Their position and importance have been defined by St. Augustine (Contra Julianum, 11. i. et ii., especially ii. c. 37), and by St. Vincent of Lerins who comments on the text of St. Augustine (Commonitor., c. xxviii. sqq., and c. i. of the second Commonitorium). In the early days of the Church, when the teaching functions were almost exclusively exercised by the Bishops, the extraordinary representatives of Apostolical Tradition were usually eminent members of the episcopate. They received the name of “Fathers” because this was the title commonly given to Bishops by their subjects and by their successors. They are also called “Fathers of the Church,” because, living as they did in the infancy of the Church, when extraordinary means were needed for its preservation, they received a more abundant outpouring of the gifts of the Holy Ghost, and thus their doctrine represents His teaching in an eminent degree. Besides, their special function was to fix the substance of the Apostolic Deposit so that, naturally, their writings became the basis of the further development of doctrine, and were placed side by side with Scripture as channels of Apostolic doctrine. Thus they were the Fathers, not only of the Church in their own day, but also in subsequent ages. Compared with them, the later writers are regarded as the “Sons of the Fathers,” and sometimes as “Pædagogi,” with reference to what St. Paul says (1 Cor. 4:15), “If you have ten thousand instructors (pædogogi) in Christ, yet not many fathers.” The Sons of the Fathers were not all bishops. Many of them were priests or members of Religious Orders, or masters of theological schools. They represent the mind (sensus) of the Catholic Schools and of the Faithful, and are distinguished for human learning and industry, which they apply to the development and fuller comprehension of doctrine rather than to the fixing of its substance. Hence their name of “Doctors” or “Theologians.”


I. Ecclesiastical Tradition by its very nature is oral. Writings and documents are not needed for its transmission; nevertheless they are useful for the purpose of fixing Tradition, and of remedying the imperfections of the human element. Hence it follows that the Holy Ghost, Who watches over the living Tradition, must also assist in the production and preservation of such documents so as to cause them to present, if not an adequate, at least a more or less perfect exposition of previous Tradition.

II. When the writings of the Fathers reproduce the authentic teaching of the Church, they constitute a Written Tradition, equal in authority to the subsequent Oral Tradition, and are, like Holy Scripture, an objective and remote Rule of Faith running side by side with Oral Tradition. Still they are not by themselves a complete and independent Source and Rule of Faith. Like the Holy Scriptures, they too are in the Church’s custody and are subject to the Church’s interpretation. There can be no contradiction between the teaching of the Fathers and the doctrine of the Church; apparent contradictions are due either to spuriousness or lack of authenticity on the part of the documents, or to a mistaken interpretation of them.

III. The various writings and documents which constitute Written Tradition may be divided into two classes.

1. The first class comprises those which emanate from the official organs of Ecclesiastical Tradition in the exercise of their functions, and which, therefore, belong by their very nature to the Written Tradition, e.g. Decisions of the Popes and of Councils; Liturgical documents and monuments, such as Liturgies, Sacramentaries, Ordines Romani, pictures, symbols, inscriptions, vases, etc., connected with public worship; the writings of the Fathers and approved Theologians in so far as they contain distinct statements on the truths of Tradition. These documents and monuments have more than a mere historical value. They all participate more or less in the supernatural character of the living Tradition of which they are the emanation and exponents, and, even when they are not the work of the authors to whom they are ascribed, they may still be of great weight.

2. The second class of documents is composed of those which, independently of the ecclesiastical rank of their author, or of the authority of the Church generally, contribute to the history or better scientific knowledge of Tradition. To this class may belong the writings of doubtful Catholics, and even of heretics and pagans. The two classes do not exclude each other. Many documents belong to both, under different aspects.

The Roman Catacombs have lately acquired great importance as monuments of the earliest Tradition. See Roma Sotteranea, by Dr. Northcote and Canon Brownlow.


The rules for the application of the laws mentioned in the above section may be gathered from the laws themselves. Catholics, believing as they do in the Divine authority of Tradition, will of course obtain different results from Protestants who acknowledge only its historical value. Catholics, too, will apply the rules differently, according as their object is to ascertain with infallible certitude the apostolicity of a truth, or to expound and defend it scientifically.

I. For the Catholic it is not necessary to demonstrate positively from coeval documents that the Church has always borne actual witness to a given doctrine. The scantiness of the documents, especially of those belonging to the sub-apostolic age, makes it even impossible. The Tradition of the present time, above all if it is attested by an authoritative definition, is quite sufficient to prove the former existence of the same Tradition, although perhaps only in a latent state. Any further knowledge of its former existence is merely of scientific interest. When, however, the Ecclesiastical Tradition of the present is not publicly manifest, and the judges of the Faith have to decide some controverted question, they must investigate the Tradition of the past, or, as St. Vincent of Lerins expresses it, they must appeal to antiquity. It is not necessary to go back to an absolute antiquity: it is sufficient to find some time when the Tradition was undoubted. Thus, at the Council of Ephesus (A.D. 431), the decisions were based upon the testimony of the Fathers of the fourth century. When the Tradition is not manifest either in the present or in the past, we can sometimes have recourse to the consent of the Fathers and Theologians of note. The temporary uncertainty and even partial negation of a doctrine within the Church is not, in in itself, a conclusive argument against the traditional character of the doctrine. The opposition can generally be shown to be purely human, and can often be turned to good account. We can sometimes ascertain its origin and show that the Church resisted it. Sometimes the difficulty arises from an appeal to merely local traditions; or the opposition is inconsistent, varying, indefinite, mixed with opinions distinctly heretical or destructive of Catholic life and thought. It would be easy to prove that all these marks are applicable to the Gallican opposition to the Infallibility of the Pope. Even when the investigation of antiquity does not result in absolute certitude, it may at least produce a moral conviction, so that denial would be rash

II. The Tradition of a truth being once established, a Catholic has no further interest in the investigation of its continuity, except for the purposes of science and apologetics. Heretics, moreover, have no right to demand direct proof of the antiquity of a doctrine. We may indeed reply to their arguments from Tradition, and set before them the traces of the doctrine in the different ages, but it is better to prove to them the Catholic principle of Tradition, for which there is abundant historical evidence.


I. The “Fathers” are those representatives of Tradition who have been recognized by the Church as excelling in sanctity and in natural and supernatural gifts, and who belong to the early Church. This latter mark distinguishes them from the doctors who have lived in more recent times, but it has only a secondary influence upon their authority. No great significance was attached by the Council of Ephesus or the older theologians to the antiquity of the Fathers. The Church herself has bestowed the title of “Doctor Ecclesiæ,” by which it honours the most illustrious Fathers in the Liturgy, upon many saints of later date, and has thereby put them on the same level. We may even say that the canonization of a theological writer raises him to some extent to the dignity of a “Father.” Still, the mark of antiquity is not without importance, as we have already explained.

II. The domain of doctrine covered by the authority and infallibility of the Fathers is co-extensive with that of the Church, whose mouthpiece they are. Hence it does not embrace truths of a purely natural and philosophical character, or truths revealed only per accidens, because these are not part of the public teaching of the Church. On the other hand, their authority is not limited to their testimony to truths expressly and formally revealed, but extends to the dogmatico-theological interpretation of the whole Deposit of Revelation. The material and formal authority of the Fathers—that is, the subject-matter with which they deal, and the ecclesiastical use of their writings—are beautifully expressed by St. Vincent of Lerins, when speaking of the Fathers quoted at the Council of Ephesus: “Only these ten, the sacred number of the commandments, were brought forward at Ephesus as teachers, counsellors, witnesses, and judges; [and the Council] holding their doctrine, following their advice, believing their testimony, and obeying their decision … passed judgment concerning the rules of Faith” (n. 30). The modern view which reduces the authority of the Fathers to that of mere historical witnesses could not better be refuted.

III. We must be careful to distinguish between the authority of one or a certain number of the Fathers, and the consentient testimony of all of them. It is evident that the former is not infallible, because the Church’s approbation of their writings is not intended to be a guarantee of the truth of all that they teach. Some particular works, as, for instance, St. Cyril’s Anathemas, have, however, received this guarantee. The Church’s approbation implies: (1) that the writings approved were not opposed to any doctrine publicly held by the Church in the time of the author, and consequently were not subject to any censure; (2) that the doctrines for which the Father was renowned, and on which he insisted most, are positively probable; (3) that there is a strong presumption that the doubtful expressions of the Fathers should be interpreted in accordance with the commonly received doctrine, and that no discrepancy should be admitted among them except on the strongest grounds; (4) under extraordinary circumstances it may give us a moral certainty of a doctrine when, for instance, some illustrious Father has, without being contradicted by the Church, openly enforced that doctrine as being Catholic, and has treated those who deny it as heretics. When, however, all the Fathers agree, their authority attains its perfection. The consent of the Fathers has always been looked upon as of equal authority with the teaching of the whole Church, or the definitions of the Popes and Councils. But inasmuch as it is hardly possible to ascertain the opinions of every Father on every point of doctrine, and as the Holy Ghost prevents the Church from ascribing to the whole body of the Fathers any doctrine which they did not hold, it follows that the consent of the Fathers must be regarded as fully ascertained whenever those of them whose writings deal with a given doctrine agree absolutely or morally, provided that they are numerous and belong to different countries and times. The number required varies with the nature of the doctrine, which may be public, a matter of daily practice and of great importance, or, on the other hand, may be of an abstract, speculative character, and comparatively unimportant: and with the personal authority of the Fathers, with their position in the Church, with the amount of opposition to the doctrine, and with many other circumstances.

The Consent of the Fathers does not always prove the Catholic character of a doctrine in the same way. If they distinctly state that a doctrine is a public dogma of the Church, the doctrine must be at once accepted. If they merely state that the doctrine is true and taught by the Church, without formally attributing to it the character of a dogma, this testimony has by no means the same weight. The doctrine thus attested cannot, on that account, be treated as a dogma. Nevertheless it is at least a Catholic truth and morally certain, and the denial of it would deserve the censure of temerity or error.

IV. The authority of the Fathers is held in high esteem by the Church in the interpretation of Scripture. They made the Bible their especial study, whereas later writers have not been so directly concerned with it, and when they have treated of it they have followed the lead of the Fathers. The consent of the Fathers is a positive and not an exclusive rule, i.e. the interpretation must be in accordance with it where it exists, but where it does not exist we may lawfully interpret even in opposition to the opinions of some of the Fathers. This consent must be gathered from all their writings and not merely from their commentaries, because in the latter they often have in view particular points of doctrine of a practical or ascetic nature, whereas in their other writings they are rather engaged in expounding Catholic dogma. But even in both kinds of writings a complete scientific exposition of the text can seldom be found, because, as a rule, the Fathers have in hand some particular doctrine which they endeavour to draw from and base upon the text. Hence the many apparent differences in their exegesis, which may, however, be easily explained by a collation of the various passages. (See supra, p. 65.)


I. By Theologians we mean men learned in Theology, who as members or masters of the theological schools which came into existence after the patristic era, taught and handed down Catholic doctrine on strictly scientific lines, in obedience to and under the supervision of the bishops. The title belongs primarily to the Schoolmen of the Middle Ages—the Scholastic Theologians strictly so-called; then to all who followed the methods of the School during the last three centuries; and, generally, to all distinguished and approved writers on Theology whether they have adhered to the Scholastic methods or not. It is only in exceptional cases that the Church gives a public approbation to an individual Theologian, and this is done by canonization or by the still further honour of conferring on him the title of Doctor of the Church. When we speak of an Approved Author, we mean one who is held in general esteem on account of his learning and the Catholic spirit of his teaching. Some approved authors are of acknowledged weight, while others are of only minor importance. What we are about to state concerning the authority of Theologians must not be applied indiscriminately to every Catholic writer, but only to such as are weighty and approved (auctores probati et graves).

II. The authority of Theologians, like that of the Fathers, may be considered either individually and partially, or of the whole body collectively. As a rule, the authority of a single Theologian (with the exception of canonized Saints, and perhaps some authors of the greatest weight) does not create the presumption that no point of his doctrine was opposed to the common teaching of the Church in his day; much less that, independently of his reasons, the whole of his doctrine is positively probable merely on account of his authority. When, however, the majority of approved and weighty Theologians agree, it must be presumed that their teaching is not opposed to that of the Church. Moreover, if their doctrines are based upon sound arguments propounded without any prejudice and not contradicted very decidedly, the positive probability of the doctrines must be presumed. No more than this probability can be produced by the consent of many or even of all Theologians when they state a doctrine as a common opinion (opinio communis) and not as a common conviction (sententia communis). These questions have been discussed at great length by Moral Theologians in the controversy on Probabilism. See Lacroix, Theol. Mor., lib. I., tr. i., c. 2.

The consent of Theologians produces certainty that a doctrine is Catholic truth only when on the one hand the doctrine is proposed as absolutely certain, and on the other hand the consent is universal and constant (Consensus universalis et constans non solum opinionis sed firmæ et ratæ sententiæ). If all agree that a particular doctrine is a Catholic dogma and that to deny it is heresy, then that doctrine is certainly a dogma. If they agree that a doctrine cannot be denied without injuring Catholic truth, and that such denial is deserving of censure, this again is a sure proof that the doctrine is in some way a Catholic doctrine. If, again, they agree in declaring that a doctrine is sufficiently certain and demonstrated, their consent is not indeed a formal proof of the Catholic character of the doctrine, nevertheless the existence of the consent shows that the doctrine belongs to the mind of the Church (catholicus intellectus), and that consequently its denial would incur the censure of rashness.

These principles on the authority of Theologians were strongly insisted on by Pius IX. in the brief, Gravissimas inter (cf. infra, § 29), and they are evident consequences of the Catholic doctrine of Tradition. Although the assistance of the Holy Ghost is not directly promised to Theologians, nevertheless the assistance promised to the Church requires that He should prevent them as a body from falling into error; otherwise the Faithful who follow them would all be led astray. The consent of Theologians implies the consent of the Episcopate, according to St. Augustine’s dictum: “Not to resist an error is to approve of it—not to defend a truth is to reject it.” And even natural reason assures us that this consent is a guarantee of truth. “Whatever is found to be one and the same among many persons is not an error but a tradition” (Tertullian). (Supra, p. 68.)

The Church holds the mediaeval Doctors in almost the same esteem as the Fathers. The substance of the teaching of the Schoolmen and their method of treatment have both been strongly approved of by the Church (cf. Syllab., prop. xiii., and Leo XIII., encyclical Æterni Patris on the study of St. Thomas).




I. THE nature and dignity of the Word of God require that submission to it should not be left to the choice of man, but should be made obligatory. The Church should put it forth in such a way as to bind all her members to adhere to it in common, and with one voice and in all its fulness, as a public and social law.

II. The Rule of Faith was given to the Church in the very act of Revelation and its promulgation by the Apostles. But for this Rule to have an actual and permanently efficient character, it must be continually promulgated and enforced by the living Apostolate, which must exact from all members of the Church a docile Faith in the truths of Revelation authoritatively proposed, and thus unite the whole body of the Church, teachers and taught, in perfect unity of Faith. Hence the original promulgation is the remote Rule of Faith, and the continuous promulgation by the Teaching Body is the proximate Rule.

III. The fact that all the members of the Church actually agree in one Faith is the best proof of the efficiency of the Catholic Rule of Faith. This universality is not the Rule of Faith itself, but rather its effect. Individual members are indeed bound to conform their belief to that of the whole community, but this universal belief is produced by the action of the Teaching Apostolate, the members of which are in their turn subject to their Chief. Hence the Catholic Rule of Faith may be ultimately reduced to the sovereign teaching authority of the Holy See. This was asserted long ago in the Creed drawn up by Pope Hormisdas: “Wherefore following in all things the Apostolic See and upholding all its decrees, I hope that it may be mine to be with you in the one communion taught by the Apostolic See, in which is the true and complete solidity of the Christian Religion; and I promise also not to mention in the Holy Mysteries the names of those who have been excommunicated from the Catholic Church—that is, those who agree not with the Apostolic See.”

IV. The act or collection of acts whereby the Word of God is enforced as the Rule of Catholic Faith is called in technical language “Proposition by the Church” (Propositio Ecclesiæ, Vat. Council, sess. iii. chap. 3). It is called “Proposition” because it is an authoritative promulgation of a law, already contained in Revelation, enjoining belief in what is proposed; and “Proposition by or of the Church,” because it emanates from the Teaching Body and is addressed to the Body of the Faithful; and not in the sense that it emanates from the entire community.

V. The manner in which the Proposition is made and the form which it assumes are determined by the nature of the Teaching Apostolate and of the truths proposed. The ordinary Proposition of the law of Faith is identical with the ordinary exercise of the Teaching Apostolate; for the Word of God by its very nature exacts the obedience of Faith, and is communicated to the Faithful with the express intention of enforcing belief. Hence the ordinary teaching is necessarily a promulgation of the law of Faith and an injunction of the duty to believe, and consequently the law of Faith is naturally an unwritten law. But the Proposition of or by the Church takes the form of a Statute or written law when promulgated in a solemn decision. Such decisions, however, are not laws strictly speaking, but are merely authoritative declarations of laws already enacted by God, and in most instances they only enforce what is already the common practice. Both forms, written and unwritten, are of equal authority, but the written form is the more precise. Both also rest ultimately on the authority of the Head of the Apostolate. No judicial sentence in matters of Faith is valid unless pronounced or approved by him; and the binding force of the unwritten form arises from his tacit sanction.

VI. The authority of the Church’s Proposition enforcing obedience to its decrees and guaranteeing their infallibility, is not restricted to matters of Divine Faith and Divine Revelation, although these are its principal subject-matter. The Teaching Apostolate, in order to realize the objects of Revelation, i.e. to preserve the Faith not only in its substance but also in its entirety, must extend its activity beyond the sphere of Divine Faith and Divine Revelation. But in such matters the Apostolate requires only an undoubting and submissive acceptance and not Divine Faith, and consequently is, so far, a rule of theological knowledge and conviction rather than a Rule of Divine Faith. Hence there exists in the Church, side by side with and completing the Rule of Faith, a Rule of Theological Thought or Religious Conviction, to which every Catholic must submit internally as well as externally. Any refusal to submit to this law implies a spiritual revolt against the authority of the Church and a rejection of her supernatural veracity; and is, if not a direct denial of Catholic Faith, at least a direct denial of Catholic Profession.

VII. The judicial, legislative, and other similar acts of the members of the Teaching Apostolate are not all absosolutely binding rules of Faith and theological thought, but rather resemble police regulations. These disciplinary measures may under certain circumstances command at least a respectful and confident assent, the refusal of which involves disrespect and temerity. For instance, when the Church forbids the teaching of certain points of doctrine, or commands the teaching of one opinion in preference to another, external submission is required, but there is also an obligation to accept the favoured view as morally certain. When a judicial decision has been given on some point of doctrine, but has not been given or approved by the highest authority, such decision per se imposes only the obligation of external obedience. Points of doctrine expressed, recommended, and insisted upon in papal allocutions or encyclical letters but not distinctly defined, may create the obligation of strict obedience and undoubting assent, or may exact merely external submission and approval. Thus in the Rule of Faith we distinguish three degrees: (1) the Rule of Faith in matters directly revealed, exacting the obedience of Faith; (2) the Rule of Faith in matters theologically connected with Revelation, exacting respect and external submission, and, indirectly, internal assent of a certain grade; (3) the Rule of Faith in matters of discipline, exacting submission and reverence.

The difference between the rules of theological knowledge and the disciplinary measures is important. The former demand universal and unconditional obedience, the latter only respect and reverence. Moderate Liberalism, represented in the seventeenth century by Holden (Analysis Fidei), in the eighteenth century by Muratori (De Ingeniorum Moderatione) and Chrismann (Regula Fidei), is an attempt to conciliate Extreme Liberalism by giving up these various distinctions, and reducing all decisions either to formal definitions of Faith or to mere police regulations.


I. Everything revealed by God, or Christ, or the Holy Ghost is by that very fact a Divine or Christian Dogma; when authoritatively proposed by the Apostles it became an Apostolic Dogma; when fully promulgated by the Church, Ecclesiastical Dogma. In the Church’s language a dogma pure and simple is at the same time ecclesiastical, apostolic, and Divine. But a merely Divine Dogma—that is, revealed by God but not yet explicitly proposed by the Church—is called a Material (as opposed to Formal) Dogma.

1. Dogmas may be classified according to (a) their various subject-matters, (b) their promulgation, and (c) the different kinds of moral obligation to know them.

(a) Dogmas may be divided in the same way as the contents of Revelation (§ 5) except that matters revealed per accidens are not properly dogmas. It is, however, a dogma that Holy Scripture, in the genuine text, contains undoubted truth throughout. And consequently the denial of matters revealed per accidens is a sin against Faith, because it implies the assertion that Holy Scripture contains error. This principle accounts for the opposition to Galileo. The motions of the sun and the earth are not indeed matters of dogma, but the great astronomer’s teaching was accompanied by or at any rate involved the assertion that Scripture was false in certain texts.

(b) With regard to their promulgation by the Church, dogmas are divided into Material and Formal. Formal Dogmas are subdivided into Defined and Undefined.

(c) With regard to the obligation of knowing them, dogmas are to be believed either Implicitly or Explicitly. Again, the necessity of knowing them is of two kinds:—Necessity of Means (necessitas medii) and Necessity of Precept (necessitas præcepti); that is, the belief in some dogmas is a necessary condition of salvation, apart from any positive command of the Church, while the obligation to believe in others arises from her positive command The former may be called Fundamental, because they are most essential. We do not, however, admit the Latitudinarian distinction between Fundamental articles, i.e. which must be believed, and Non-fundamental articles which need not be believed. All Catholics are bound to accept, at least implicitly, every dogma proposed by the Church.

2. The Criteria, or means of knowing Catholic truth, may be easily gathered from the principles already stated. They are nearly all set forth in the Brief Tuas Libenter, addressed by Pius IX. to the Archbishop of Munich.

The following are the criteria of a dogma of Faith: (a) Creeds or Symbols of Faith generally received; (b) dogmatic definitions of the Popes or of ecumenical councils, and of particular councils solemnly ratified; (c) the undoubtedly clear and indisputable sense of Holy Scripture in matters relating to Faith and morals; (d) the universal and constant teaching of the Apostolate, especially the public and permanent tradition of the Roman Church; (e) universal practice, especially in liturgical matters, where it clearly supposes and professes a truth as undoubtedly revealed; (f) the teaching of the Fathers when manifest and universal; (g) the teaching of Theologians when manifest and universal.

II. Between the doctrines expressly defined by the Church and those expressly condemned stand what may be called matters of opinion or free opinions. Freedom, however, like certainty, is of various degrees, especially in religious and moral matters. Where there is no distinct definition there may be reasons sufficient to give us moral certainty. To resist these is not, indeed, formal disobedience, but only rashness. Where there are no such reasons this censure is not incurred. It is not possible to determine exactly the boundaries of these two groups of free opinions; they shade off into each other, and range from absolute freedom to morally certain obligation to believe. In this sphere of Approximative Theology, as it may be styled, there, are (1) doctrines which it is morally certain that the Church acknowledges as revealed (veritates fidei proximæ); (2) theological doctrines which it is morally certain that the Church considers as belonging to the integrity of the Faith, or as logically connected with revealed truth, and consequently the denial of which is approximate to theological error (errori theologico proximo); (3) doctrines neither revealed nor logically deducible from revealed truths, but useful or even necessary for safeguarding Revelation: to deny these would be rash (temerarium). These three degrees were rejected by the Minimizers mentioned at the end of the last section, and all matters not strictly defined were considered as absolutely free. Pius IX., however, on the occasion of the Munich Congress in 1863, addressed a Brief to the Archbishop of that city laying down the Catholic principles on the subject. The 22nd Proposition condemned in the “Syllabus” was taken from this Brief, and runs thus: “The obligation under which Catholic teachers and writers lie is restricted to those matters which are proposed for universal belief as dogmas of Faith by the infallible judgment of the Church.” And the Vatican Council says, at the end of the first constitution, “It sufficeth not to avoid heresy unless those errors which more or less approach thereto are sedulously shunned.”


The chief rules of Catholic belief are the definitions and decisions of the Church. Before we study them in detail, it will be well to treat of the elements and forms more or less common to them all.

I. Definitions and decisions are essentially acts of the teaching power, in the strictest sense of the word; acts whereby the holder of this power lays down authoritatively what his subjects are bound to accept as Catholic doctrine or reject as anti-Catholic. Hence, as distinguished from other acts of the Teaching Apostolate, they are termed decrees, statutes, constitutions, definitions, decisions concerning the Faith. In the modern language of the Church, “Definition” means the positive and final decision in matters of Faith (dogmas), and “Judgment” means the negative decision whereby false doctrines are condemned (censures). The wording of definitions is not restricted to any particular form. Sometimes they take the form of a profession of Faith: “The Holy Synod believeth and confesseth;” at other times they take the form of a declaration of doctrine, as in the “chapters” of the Council of Trent and the Vatican Council, or of canons threatening with “anathema” all who refuse to accept the Church’s teaching.

II. The general object of authoritative decisions in doctrinal matters is to propose dogmas in clear and distinct form to the Faithful, and thereby to promote the glory of God, the salvation of souls, and the welfare of the Church. Sometimes, however, there are certain specific objects; e.g., (1) to remove existing doubts. The definitions of the Immaculate Conception and the Infallibility of the Pope are cases in point. (2) To condemn criminal doubts prevailing against dogmas already defined, e.g. the case of the five propositions of Jansenius. (3) To prevent future doubts and to confirm the Faith of the weak. In this case, as in the preceding, the new definition takes the form of a confirmation or renewal of a former definition. Thus the Vatican Council, at the end of its first constitution, insists upon the duty of conformity to the doctrinal decision of the Holy See. The question of the “Opportuneness” of a definition must be decided by the judges themselves. Under certain circumstances they may withhold or postpone a definition in order to avoid greater evils, as in the case of the Gallican doctrines. Once the definition is given, there can be no further question as to its opportuneness. The Holy Ghost, who assists in making the definition, also assists in fixing its time.

III. Authoritative definitions and decisions can emanate only from the holders of the teaching power in the Church. Learned men and learned societies, such as universities, may publish statements of their views, and may thus prepare the way for a dogmatic definition. These statements may even have greater weight than the decisions of individual bishops. Nevertheless they are merely provisional, and stand to the final judgment in the relation of a consulting vote. Hence the importance of acting in conjunction with the Holy See. Even from the earliest times it has been the rule to refer to Rome the more important questions of Faith, and in recent times bishops and local (as opposed to general) councils have been ordered not to attempt to decide doubtful questions, but only to expound and enforce what has already been approved.

Each holder of the teaching power can judge individually, except those whose power is only delegated, and those who by reason of their functions are bound to act in concert; as, for instance, the Cardinals in the Roman Congregations. Still, it follows from their office, and it has always been the practice of the Church, that the Bishops, as inferior judges, should judge collectively in synods and councils, except when they act simply as promulgators or executors of decisions already given. The Pope, the supreme and universal judge, is subject to no other judges or tribunals, but all are subject to him. Matters of general interest (causæ communes) or of great importance (causæ majores) are of his cognizance. He is the centre of unity, and he possesses, in virtue of his sovereign power, a guarantee of veracity which does not belong to individual Bishops. But before coming to any decision he is bound to study the Sources of Faith, and to consult his advisers either individually or collectively. He may, nay sometimes he must allow his ordinary and extraordinary counsellors to act as subordinate colleges of judges, whose decisions he afterwards completes by adding his own. He may also place himself at the head of these various colleges, so that the members become his assessors. “The bishops of the whole world sitting and judging with us,” says the Proœmium of the first constitution of the Vatican Council. The same council also enumerates the various ways in which the Popes prepare their definitions: “The Roman Pontiffs, according as circumstances required,—at one time, by summoning ecumenical councils, or by ascertaining the opinion of the Church dispersed over the world; at another time, by means of local synods, or again by other means—have defined that those things are to be held which they have found to be in harmony with the Sacred Writings and Apostolical Traditions” (sess. iv., chap. 4).

IV. Dogmatic definitions being judicial acts presuppose an investigation of the case (cognitio causæ). If this is not made, the judge acts rashly, but the judgment is binding. When the authority of the judge is not supreme, and consequently the presumption in favour of the justice of the judgment is not absolute, a statement of the reasons may be necessary, and an examination of them may be permitted. Sometimes even the highest authority states his reasons for coming to a decision, but he does this merely to render submission easy. As regards the manner of conducting the investigation of the case, it should be noted that an examination of the Sources of Faith and the hearing of witnesses, although integral portions of the judicial functions, are not always necessary. When an already-defined doctrine has only to be enforced these processes may be dispensed with. However, even in this case, they may be advisable, so as to remove all suspicion of rashness or prejudice, and to enable the judges to affirm that they speak of their own full knowledge (ex plena et propria cognitione causæ).

Although doctrinal definitions are always supported by strong arguments, their binding force does not depend on these arguments but upon the supernatural authority of the judges, in virtue of which they are entitled to say, “It hath seemed good to the Holy Ghost and to us.” In the case of individual judges the Divine guarantee depends upon the legitimacy of their appointment; in the case of councils or other bodies of judges it depends upon the legitimacy of their convocation. Hence the expression, “The synod lawfully assembled in the Holy Ghost (In Spiritu Sancto legitime congregata).” We must, however, remember that the Divine guarantee is perfect only when final decisions for the universal Church are given. In other cases it is merely presumptive, and this presumption is not sufficient to make the judgment infallible or to exact unconditional submission. The formula, “It hath seemed good to the Holy Ghost and to us,” does not necessarily imply that the accompanying judgment is infallible. The authority of the judgment depends upon the rank of the judge. Inferior ecclesiastical judges as a rule ask the Pope to ratify their decisions, or they add the qualification, “Saving the judgment or under correction of the Apostolic See (salvo judicio, sub correctione Sedis Apostolicæ).” Hence no process is complete and final until the Holy See has given its judgment.

We shall now examine the various sources of Decisions and Judgments.


I. The Pope, the Father and Teacher of all Christians and the Head of the Universal Church, is the supreme judge in matters of Faith and Morals, and is the regulator and centre of Catholic Unity. His decisions are without appeal and are absolutely binding upon all. In order to possess this perfect right and power to exact universal assent and obedience it is necessary that they should be infallible. The Vatican Council, completing the definitions of the Fourth Council of Constantinople, the Second Council of Lyons, and the Council of Florence, and the Profession of Faith of Pope Hormisdas, thus defines Papal Infallibility: “The Roman Pontiff, when he speaks ex cathedra—that is, when, in discharge of the office of Pastor and Doctor of all Christians, by virtue of his supreme Apostolic authority he defines a doctrine regarding Faith or Morals to be held by the Universal Church—by the Divine assistance promised to him in Blessed Peter, is possessed of that Infallibility with which the Divine Redeemer willed that His Church should be endowed for defining doctrine regarding Faith or Morals; and therefore such definitions of the Roman Pontiff are irreformable of themselves and not from the consent of the Church.”

II. The person in whom the Infallibility is vested is the Roman Pontiff speaking ex cathedra; that is to say, exercising the highest doctrinal authority inherent in the Apostolic See. Whenever the Pope speaks as Supreme Teacher of the Church, he speaks ex cathedra; nor is there any other ex cathedra teaching besides his. The definition therefore leaves no room for the sophistical distinction made by the Gallicans between the See and its occupant (Sedes, Sedens). An ex cathedra judgment is also declared to be supreme and universally binding. Its subject-matter is “doctrine concerning Faith or Morals;” that is, all and only such points of doctrine as are or may be proposed for the belief of the Faithful. The form of the ex cathedra judgment is the exercise of the Apostolic power with intent to bind all the Faithful in the unity of the Faith.

The nature and extent of the Infallibility of the Pope are also contained in the definition. This Infallibility is the result of a Divine assistance. It differs both from Revelation and Inspiration. It does not involve the manifestation of any new doctrine, or the impulse to write down what God reveals. It supposes, on the contrary, an investigation of revealed truths, and only prevents the Pope from omitting this investigation and from erring in making it. The Divine assistance is not granted to the Pope for his personal benefit, but for the benefit of the Church. Nevertheless, it is granted to him directly as the successor of St. Peter, and not indirectly through the medium of the Church. The extent of the Infallibility of the Pope is determined partly by its subject-matter, partly by the words “possessed of that Infallibility with which the Divine Redeemer willed that His Church should be endowed for defining doctrine regarding Faith or Morals.” Moreover, the object of the Infallibility of the Pope and of the Infallibility of the Church being the same, their extent must also coincide.

From the Infallibility of ex cathedra judgments, the council deduces their Irreformability, and further establishes the latter by excluding the consent of the Church as the necessary condition of it. The approbation of the Church is the consequence not the cause of the Irreformability of ex cathedra judgments.

III. Ex cathedra decisions admit of great variety of form. At the same time, in the documents containing such decisions only those passages are infallible which the judge manifestly intended to be so. Recommendations, proofs, and explanations accompanying the decision are not necessarily infallible, except where the explanation is itself the dogmatic interpretation of a text of Scripture, or of a rule of Faith, or in as far as it fixes the meaning and extent of the definition. It is not always easy to draw the line between the definition and the other portions of the document. The ordinary rules for interpreting ecclesiastical documents must be applied. The commonest forms of ex cathedra decisions used at the present time are the following:—

1. The most solemn form is the Dogmatic Constitution, or Bull, in which the decrees are proposed expressly as ecclesiastical laws, and are sanctioned by heavy penalties; e.g. the Constitutions Unigenitus and Auctorem Fidei against the Jansenists, and the Bull Ineffabilis Deus on the Immaculate Conception.

2. Next in solemnity are Encyclical Letters, so far as they are of a dogmatic character. They resemble Constitutions and Bulls, but, as a rule, they impose no penalties. Some of them are couched in strictly juridical terms, such as the Encyclical Quanta cura, while others are more rhetorical in style. In the latter case it is not absolutely certain that the Pope speaks infallibly.

3. Apostolic Letters and Briefs, even when not directly addressed to the whole Church, must be considered as ex cathedra when they attach censures to the denial of certain doctrines, or when, like Encyclicals, they define or condemn in strict judicial language, or in equivalent terms. But it is often extremely difficult to determine whether these letters are dogmatic or only monitory and administrative. Doubts on the subject are sometimes removed by subsequent declarations.

4. Lastly, the Pope can speak ex cathedra by confirming and approving of the decisions of other tribunals, such as general or particular councils, or Roman Congregations. In ordinary cases, however, the approbation of a particular council is merely an act of supervision, and the decision of a Roman Congregation is not ex cathedra unless the Pope makes it his own.


I. The Pope, speaking ex cathedra, is infallible independently of the consent of the subordinate members of the Teaching Body. On the other hand, the whole of the Bishops apart from the Pope cannot pronounce an infallible judgment. The Pope, however, can assemble the Bishops and constitute them into a tribunal which represents the Teaching Body more efficiently than the Pope alone. Their judgments given conjointly with his are the most complete expression of the Teaching Body. This assembly is termed a Universal or Ecumenical Council. It is not an independent tribunal superior to the Pope. It must be convened by him, or at least with his consent and co-operation; all the Bishops of the Church must be commanded, or at least invited to attend; a considerable number of Bishops must be actually present, either personally or by deputy; and the assembled prelates must conduct their deliberations and act under the direction of the Pope or his legates. Some of the Councils styled ecumenical do not, however, fulfil all of these conditions. The First and Second Councils of Constantinople are well-known instances. But these Councils were not originally considered as ecumenical except in the sense of being numerously attended, or on account of the ambition of the Patriarchs. It was only in the sixth century, some time after the Creed of the First Council of Constantinople had been adopted at Chalcedon, that this Council was put on a level with those of Nicæa, Ephesus, and Chalcedon. Similar remarks apply to the Second Council of Constantinople. See Hefele vol. i., p. 41, and vol. ii., § 100.

It may seem strange that none of the early Western Councils, although presided over by the Roman Pontiff and accepted by the whole Church, received the title of Ecumenical. This, however, may be easily accounted for. The Western Councils only represented the Roman patriarchate, and consequently their authority was identical with that of the Holy See. Moreover, before the Great Schism the notion of a General Council was that of a co-operation of the East with the West: in other words, of the other patriarchates with the patriarchate of Rome. The Eastern Bishops attended personally, whereas the Pope and the Western Council sent deputies. Thus a Council, although meeting in the East, was really composed of representatives of the whole Church. The later Councils held in the West were far more conformable to the theological notions already given, because the entire, episcopate was convened in one place, by express command, not by mere invitation, and the body of the Bishops acted on the strength of their Divine mission, no distinction being made in favour of patriarchs or metropolitans, or other dignitaries.

II. Councils, when defining a dogma, perform a double function: they act as witnesses and as judges. The cooperation of the Pope is especially required as supreme judge. Care must be taken not to lay too much stress on the function of witnessing, lest the importance of the papal co-operation be unduly minimized and the true notion of a council be distorted. It is true, indeed, that many expressions of the Fathers of the fourth century concerning the Council of Nicæa seem to insist almost exclusively on the witnessing function. We must, however, remember that this Council was the first of the General Councils, and that under the then existing circumstances an appeal to the solemn testimony of so many Bishops was the best argument against the heretics. The subsequent Councils, especially the Councils of Ephesus and Chalcedon, followed quite a different line of action. Stress was there laid upon the judicial function, and consequently upon the influence of the Roman Pontiff and the various grades of hierarchical jurisdiction.

III. The special object of General Councils is to attain completely and perfectly the ends which particular councils can attain only partially and imperfectly. In relation to the Pope’s judgment, which is in itself a complete judgment, the object of General Councils is (1) to give the greatest possible assistance to the Pope in the preparation of his own judgment by means of the testimony and scientific knowledge of the assessors; (2) to give the Papal definition the greatest possible force and efficacy by the combined action and sentence of all the judges; and (3) to help the Pope in the execution and enforcement of his decisions by the promulgation and subsequent action of the assembled judges. The co-operation of the Council brings the testimony and the judicial power of the whole Church to bear upon the decision of the Pope.

IV. The action of General Councils essentially consists in the co-operation of the members with their Head. To the Pope therefore belongs the authoritative direction of all the proceedings of the Council. He can, if he chooses to exercise his right, determine what questions shall be dealt with and the manner of dealing with them. Hence no decision is legitimate if carried against his will or without his consent. Even a decision accepted by his legates, without an express order from him, is not absolutely binding. On the other hand, no decision is unlawful or void on account of a too extensive use of the papal right of direction, because in such a case the restriction of liberty is caused by the internal and legitimate principle of order, not by external and illegitimate pressure. The decision would not be illegitimate even if, as in many of the earlier Councils, and indeed in all Councils convoked for the purpose of promulgating and enforcing already existing papal decisions, the Pope commanded the acceptance of his sentence without any discussion. At most, the result of this pressure would affect the moral efficiency of the Council. On the other hand, the forcible expulsion of the papal legates from the “Latrocinum” (Council of Bandits) at Ephesus was rightly considered by the Catholics as a gross violation of the liberty of a Council. The sentence of the majority, or even the unanimous sentence, if taken apart from the personal action of the Pope, is not purely and simply the sentence of the entire Teaching Body, and therefore has no claim to infallibility. Such a sentence would not bind the absent Bishops to assent to it, or the Pope to confirm it. Its only effect would be to entitle the Pope to say that he confirms the sentence of a council, or that he speaks “with the approval of the Sacred Council” (sacro approbante concilio).

The Vatican Council, even in the Fourth Session, may be cited as an instance of a Council possessing in an eminent degree, not only the essential elements, but also what we may call the perfecting elements. The number of Bishops present was the greatest on record, both absolutely and in proportion to the number of Bishops in the world; the discussion was most free, searching, and exhaustive; universal tradition, past and present, was appealed to, not indeed as to the doctrine in question itself, but as to its fundamental principle, which is the duty of obedience to the Holy See and of conformity to her Faith; absolute unanimity prevailed in the final sentence, and an overwhelming majority even in the preparatory judgment.

The decrees of the General Councils may be found in the great collections of Labbe, Hardouin, Mansi, Catalani; the more important decrees are given in Denzinger’s Enchiridion.


I. The Roman Congregations are certain standing committees of Cardinals appointed by the Pope to give decisions on the various questions of doctrine and discipline which arise from time to time. The most important Congregations are the following:—

1.      The Congregation of the Council of Trent;

2.      The Congregation of Bishops and Regulars;

3.      The Congregation of the Propagation of the Faith (Propaganda);

4.      The Congregation of Sacred Rites;

5.      The Congregation of the Index of Prohibited Books;

6.      The Congregation of the Holy Office (the Inquisition).

To these must be added the Pœnitentiaria, which is a tribunal for granting absolutions from censures and dispensations in matters of vows and matrimonial impediments. It also passes judgment on moral cases submitted to its decision.

These Congregations have as their principal function the administration, or, if we may so term it, the general police of doctrine and discipline. It is their duty to prosecute offences against Faith or Morals, to prohibit dangerous writings, and to attach authoritative censures to any opinions the profession of which is sinful. They do not give decisions without appeal, because finality is inseparable from infallibility. Although they act in the Pope’s name, their decrees are their own and not his, even after receiving his acknowledgment and approbation. If, however, he himself gives a decision based upon the advice of a Congregation, such decision is his own and not merely the decision of the Congregation. What, then, is the authority of the Roman Congregations?

1. Doctrinal decrees of the Congregations, which are not fully and formally confirmed by the Pope, are not infallible. They have, however, such a strong presumption in their favour that even internal submission is due to them, at least for the time being. The reason of this is plain. The Congregations are composed of experienced men of all schools and tendencies; they proceed with the greatest prudence and conscientiousness; they represent the tradition of the Roman Church which is especially protected by the Holy Ghost. We may add that their decrees have seldom needed reform. Hence Pius IX. points out that learned Catholics “must submit to the doctrinal decisions given by the Pontifical Congregations” (Brief to the Archbishop of Munich, Tuas libenter, 1863).

2. If the Pope fully and formally confirms the decrees they become infallible. It is not easy, however, to decide whether this perfect confirmation has been given. Certain formulas, e.g. the simple approbavit, may signify nothing more than an act of supervision or an act of the Pope as head of the Congregation, and not as Head of the Church.

II. Particular or Local Councils are assemblies of the Bishops of a province or a nation as distinguished from assemblies of the Bishops of the world. When the council is composed of the Bishops of a single province, it is called a Provincial Council; when the Bishops of several provinces are present, it is called a Plenary or National Council. Thus in England, where there is only one province, the province of Westminster, the English Councils are called the “Westminster Provincial Councils.” In Ireland there are four provinces, and consequently when all the Irish Bishops meet in council the assembly is called the “National Council.” The usual name given to similar assemblies in the United States is Plenary Council. Every Particular Council must be convened with the approbation of the Holy See. The Bishops act indeed in virtue of their ordinary power, and not as papal delegates; nevertheless it is only fitting that they should act in union with their Head. Moreover, the decrees must be submitted to the approval of Rome. The approval granted is either Simple or Solemn (approbatio in forma simplici, approbatio in forma solemni). The Simple form, which is that usually granted, is a mere act of supervision, and emanates from the Congregation of the Council. The Solemn form is equivalent to an adoption of the decrees by the Holy See as its own, and is seldom granted. The Provincial Councils held against Pelagianism are well-known instances. In modern times, Benedict XIII. granted the solemn approbation to the decrees of the Council of Embrun. Without this solemn approval the decrees of Provincial Councils are not infallible. The presumption of truth in their favour depends partly on the number and the personal ability and character of the Bishops present, and partly on the nature of their proceedings and the wording of their decrees. Peremptory and formal affirmation of a doctrine as Catholic, or condemnation of a doctrine as erroneous, would not be tolerated by the Holy See unless such affirmation or condemnation was in accordance with the teaching of Rome; and consequently even the simple approval of decrees of this kind gives a strong presumption of truth. When, however, the decrees have not this peremptory and formal character, but are simply expositions of doctrine or admonitions to the Faithful, the presumption in their favour is not so strong.

See Bellarmine, De Conciliis; Benedict XIV., De Synodo Diocesana, 1. xiii. c. 3. The decrees of the various Provincial and other Particular Councils may be found in the great collections of Councils named above. The more recent decrees are given in the Collectio Lacensis (Herder, Freiburg). The Westminster Councils, of which four have been held, have been published by Burns and Oates. The most important National Council of Ireland is the Synod of Thurles held in 1851. There have been three Plenary Councils of Baltimore (United States), held in the years 1852, 1866, and 1884 respectively.


I. The Vatican Council has spoken of the right of censure belonging to the Church in the following terms: “Moreover, the Church having received, together with the apostolic office of teaching, the command to keep the Deposit of the Faith, hath also the right and the duty of proscribing knowledge falsely so-called, lest any one should be deceived by philosophy or vain deceit. Wherefore all the Faithful are forbidden, not only to defend as legitimate conclusions of science opinions of this kind which are known to be contrary to the doctrine of the Faith, especially if they have been condemned by the Church, but are also bound to hold them rather as errors having the deceitful semblance of truth” (sess. iii., chap. 4). See also Pius IX.’s brief Gravissimas inter.

II. Dogmatic censures impose most strictly the duty of unreserved assent. In matters of Faith and Morals they afford absolute certainty that the doctrines or propositions censured are to be rejected in the manner required by the particular censure affixed to them. Sometimes the obligation of submitting to the Church’s judgment is expressly mentioned; e.g. in the Bull Unigenitus: “We order all the Faithful not to presume to form opinions about these propositions or to teach or preach them, otherwise than is determined in this our constitution.” In cases of this kind the infallibility of the censures is contained in the infallibility concerning Faith and Morals which belongs to the Teaching Apostolate, because submission to the censure is made a moral duty. No difference is here made between the binding power of lesser censures and that of the highest (heresy). Moreover, these censures bind not only by reason of the obedience due to the Church, but also on account of the certain knowledge which they give us of the falsity or untrustworthiness of the censured doctrines. To adhere to these doctrines is a grievous sin because of the strictness of the ecclesiastical prohibition sanctioned by the heaviest penalties, and also because all or nearly all the censures represent the censured act as grievously sinful.

The duty to reject a censured doctrine involves the right to assert and duty to admit the contradictory doctrine as sound, nay as the only sound and legitimate doctrine. The censures do not expressly state this right and duty, nevertheless the consideration of the meaning and drift of each particular censure clearly establishes both. In the case of censures which express categorically the Church’s certain judgment, such as “Heresy,” “Error,” “False,” “Blasphemous,” “Impious,” and also in cases where moral certainty is expressed, such as “Akin to Heresy,” “Akin to Error,” “Rash,” there can be no question as to this. Doubt might perhaps arise whether the other censures, such as “Wicked,” “Unsound,” “Unsafe,” and mere condemnations without any particular qualification, impose the duty of admitting the falsity of the condemned doctrines as at least morally certain, or whether it is enough to abstain from maintaining them. As a rule, however, we must not be content with the latter.

III. The Church’s judgment is also infallible when condemning doctrines and propositions in the sense meant by some determinate author. This infallibility is already contained in the infallibility of the censure itself when no distinction can be drawn between the meaning of the words and the meaning intended by the author. But, where this distinction can be drawn, the infallibility of the judgment concerning the author’s meaning is at least virtually contained in the infallibility of the censure itself. The Church sometimes condemns an author’s propositions in the sense conveyed by their context, and sometimes formulates propositions conveying the author’s meaning. In the former case the censure applies to the context as well as to the proposition; in the latter case there is a twofold censure, one on the propositions as formulated by the judge, and another on the text as containing the sense of the propositions. In neither of these cases would the censure be infallible, if it were not infallible in determining the sense of the author. For this reason the Church does not give a separate judgment to establish that a particular text conveys a particular meaning; she simply attaches the censure to the text as it stands.

These various distinctions were of great importance in the Jansenistic controversy. The Jansenists admitted that the five propositions censured by Innocent X. were worthy of condemnation, but denied that they were to be found in their master’s works.


I. The truths which God has been pleased to reveal to mankind were not all communicated in the beginning. As time went on, the later Patriarchs had a larger stock of revealed truth than those who preceded them; the Prophets had a still larger share than the Patriarchs. But when the Church was founded, the stock of Revelation was completed, and no further truths were to be revealed (§ 6). The infallibility of the Church manifestly precludes any change in dogmas previously defined. Nevertheless, it is clear that the Church has not always possessed the same explicit knowledge of all points of doctrine and enforced them just in the same way as in the time of the Apostles. In what terms should this difference be stated?

II. 1. It is not enough to say that the difference between the earlier and the later documents is merely nominal; viz. that the terminology of the earlier Creeds is obscure and vague, while in the later ones it becomes clear and precise.

2. Nor, again, will it do to make use of the comparison of a scroll gradually unrolled or of a casket whose contents become gradually known. There is, indeed, some truth in these comparisons, but they cannot account for all the facts.

3. A better comparison is that the later defined doctrines are contained in the earlier ones as the conclusion of a syllogism Is contained in the premisses. This is to admit that there has been a real, though only logical, development in the Church’s doctrine. Such is the argument of St. Augustine in the dispute concerning the re-baptism of heretics. According to him, a dogma may pass through three stages: (1) implicit belief; (2) controversy; (3) explicit definition. Thus in the early ages the validity of heretical Baptism was admitted in practice by the fact of not repeating the Sacrament. But when the question was formally proposed, there seemed to be strong arguments both for and against the validity. At this stage the most orthodox teachers might, and indeed did, disagree. Finally, the matter was decided, and thenceforth no further discussion was lawful within the Church. (De Bapt, II. 12–14; Migne, ix. 133. See also Franzelin, De Trad., thes. xxiii.)

4. But can we not go further and admit an organic development? In the case of logical development all the conclusions are already contained in the premisses, and are merely drawn out of them, whereas in organic development the results are only potentially in the germs from which they spring (Mark 5:28–32). In organic development there is no alteration or corruption, no mere addition or accretion; there is vitality, absorption, assimilation, growth, identity. Take, for example, the doctrines mentioned above. Scripture teaches plainly that there is only one God; yet it speaks of Father, Son, and Holy Ghost, and it speaks of Jesus Christ in such terms that He must be both God and Man. It was not until after some centuries that these truths were elaborated into the definitions which we are bound to believe. Who can doubt that during these centuries the primitive teaching absorbed into itself the appropriate Greek elements, and that the process was analogous to the growth of an organism? (Supra, p. xx.) This view of the organic development of the Church’s teaching is a conclusive answer to those who ask us to produce from ancient authorities the exact counterpart of what we now believe and practise. They might just as well look for the branches and leaves of an oak in the acorn from which it sprang.

“Shall we then have no advancement of religion in the Church of Christ? Let us have it indeed, and the greatest.… But yet in such sort that it be truly an advancement of faith, not a change (sed ita tamen ut vere profectus sit ille fidei, non permutatio), seeing that it is the nature of an advancement, that in itself each thing (severally) grow greater, but of a change that something be turned from one thing into another.… Let the soul’s religion imitate the law of the body, which, as years go on, develops indeed and opens out its due proportions, and yet remains identically what it was.… Small are a baby’s limbs, a youth’s are larger, yet they are the same.… So also the doctrine of the Christian religion must follow those laws of advancement; namely, that with years it be consolidated, with time it be expanded, with age it be exalted, yet remain uncorrupt and untouched, and be full and perfect in all the proportions of each of its parts, and with all its members, as it were, and proper senses; that it admit no change besides, sustain no loss of its propriety, no variety of its definition. Wherefore, whatsoever in this Church, God’s husbandry, has by the faith of our fathers been sown, that same must be cultivated by the industry of their children, that same flourish and ripen, that same advance and be perfected” (Commonitorium, nn. 28, 29).

III. Revelation does not follow the merely natural laws of development like any other body of thought. While it is indeed necessarily influenced by the natural environment in which it exists, this influence works under Divine Providence and the infallible guidance of the Church. Moreover, it can never come to pass that an early dogmatic definition should afterwards be revoked, or be understood in a sense at variance with the meaning originally attached to it by the Church. “The doctrine which God has revealed has not been proposed as some philosophical discovery to be perfected by the wit of man, but has been entrusted to Christ’s Spouse as a Divine deposit to be faithfully guarded and infallibly declared. Hence sacred dogmas must ever be understood in the sense once for all (semel) declared by Holy Mother Church; and never must that sense be abandoned under pretext of pro-founder knowledge (altioris intelligentiæ).” (Vat. Council, Sess. iii. chap. 4.) On the whole subject, see Newman’s great work, Development of Christian Doctrine.


The most important dogmatic documents are the Creeds, or Symbols of Faith, and the decrees of the Popes and of General and Particular Councils.

I. Creeds

1. The simplest and oldest Creed, which is the foundation of all the others, is the Apostles’ Creed. There are, however, twelve different forms of it, which are given in Denzinger’s Enchiridion. See Dublin Review, Oct., 1888, July, 1889; and Le Symbole des Apôtres, by Batiffol and Vacant, in the Dict. de Théol. Catholique.

2. The Nicene Creed, published by the Council of Nicæa (A.D. 325), defines the Divinity of Christ. It originally ended with the words, “and in the Holy Ghost.” The subsequent clauses concerning the Divinity of the Holy Ghost were added before the First Council of Constantinople. In its complete form it is now used in the Mass.

3. The Athanasian Creed was probably not composed by St. Athanasius, but is called by his name because it contains the doctrines so ably expounded and strenuously defended by him. It is aimed at the heresies of the fourth and fifth centuries, and dates back at least to the sixth or seventh century.

4. The Creed of Toledo, published by the sixth council of Toledo (A.D. 675), further develops the Athanasian Creed, and is the most complete of the authentic expositions of the dogmas of the Blessed Trinity and Incarnation. As it closely follows St. Augustine’s teaching, it might almost be called “St. Augustine’s Creed” with even more reason than the preceding creed is called the creed of St. Athanasius. See Denzinger, n. xxvi.

5. The Creed of Leo IX. is a free elaboration of the Nicene Creed, with some additions against Manichæans and Pelagians. See Denzinger, n. xxxix. It is still used at the consecration of Bishops.

6. The Creed of the Fourth Lateran Council, the famous caput Firmiter credimus, under Innocent III. (1215), which is the first Decretal in the Corpus Juris Canonici, is in substance similar to the foregoing, but further develops the doctrine concerning Sacrifice, Baptism, and particularly Transubstantiation. The subjoined condemnation of Abbot Joachim completes the dogmatic definition of the Holy Trinity. See Denzinger, n. lii.; also St. Thomas, Expositio Primæ et Secundæ Decretalis, Opuscc. xxiii. and xxiv.

7. The formula prescribed by the same Pope Innocent III. (1210) to the converts among the Waldenses, states more or less extensively the doctrine concerning the Sacraments, and also various matters of morals and discipline. Denzinger, n. liii.

8. The Confession of Faith made by Michael Palæologus in the Second Council of Lyons, 1274, accepted by Pope Gregory X., is based upon the Creed of Leo IX., but adds clauses containing the doctrine concerning the Four Last Things (Death, Judgment, Hell, Heaven), the Sacraments, and the Primacy of the Roman Church.

After the Council of Trent three more professions of Faith for the use of converts were issued by the Popes, all of which begin with the Nicene Creed, and contain in addition appropriate extracts from the decrees of several councils.

9. The so-called Tridentine Profession of Faith, drawn up in 1564 by Pius IV. for converts from Protestantism, recapitulates the most important decrees of the Council of Trent. Denzinger, n. lxxxii.

10. The Profession of Faith prescribed by Gregory XIII. to the Greeks contains the principal decrees of the Council of Florence concerning the Trinity, the Four Last Things, and the Primacy. Denzinger, n. lxxxiii.

11. Lastly, the Profession of Faith for the Easterns, prescribed by Urban VIII., is copied from the Decretum pro Jacobitis, published by the Council of Florence. It is a summary of the teaching of the first eight ecumenical councils, and contains the same extracts from the Council of Florence as the foregoing Profession. It also includes many definitions of the Council of Trent. It is composed on historical lines, and is the most complete of all the Creeds. Denzinger, n. lxxxiv.

II. The decrees of the Popes and the councils are sometimes negative and aphoristic, and sometimes positive and developed formulas. The drawing up of these formulas was, as a rule, the work of doctors or of particular Churches or of the Holy See; in a few cases these were the results of the combined labours of the bishops assembled in councils. In this respect the Council of Trent excelled all others. The various decrees are given in Denzinger’s Enchiridion.



THEOLOGICAL knowledge should be considered under a twofold aspect: (1) as act of Faith; and (2) as theological science. Faith assents to revealed truths on the authority of God Who reveals them, whereas theological science, under the guidance of Faith, submits them to examination and discussion in order to gain a clearer and deeper insight into them. This distinction has been disregarded in modern times even more than the various distinctions in the objective principles of theological knowledge. Hence the Vatican Council has dealt with it in detail, especially in the third and fourth chapters of the Constitution concerning Catholic Faith.

See Denzinger, Religious Knowledge, books iii. and iv. (in German); Kleutgen, Theology of the Olden Time, vol. iii. (in German); Schrader, De Fide, utrum ea imperari possit? These three authors have made the best use of the materials contained in the older theological works. See also Alexander of Hales, Summa, p. iii., q. 68, 69; St. Thomas, 2 2, q. I sqq.; Quæst. Dispp. De Veritate, q. 14, and various portions of the opusculum, Super Boetium De Trinitate. The question of Faith was exhaustively treated in the century following the Council of Trent. See among the commentators on the Secunda Secundæ, Bannez, Salmanticenses, Reding, Valentia, Tanner, Ysambert; Suarez, De Virtut. Theol.; Lugo, De Fide. In English, we have Card. Newman’s Grammar of Assent, and Mr. Wilfrid Ward’s brilliant little work, The Wish to Believe.




I. The English word Faith is derived from the Latin Fides, and is akin to the Greek πίστις; Belief is akin to the German Glauben; Creed, Credibility are derived from the Latin Credere. We have, therefore, to examine the four words, fides, credere, πίστις, and glauben. Both fides and credere convey the fundamental meaning of trowing, trusting (Germ. trauen). Credere is akin to κρατεῖν, to grasp firmly and to hold; Sanscr. Krat-dha, to give trust, to confide. The noun Fides conveys also the meaning of trust, confidence, and fidelity. The notion of confidence or trust appears in the derived forms, fido, fidentia, fiducia; the notion of fidelity, i.e. firm adherence, in fidelis, fidelitas, and fidus.

Πίστις, so often used in Holy Scripture, comes from πείθειν, which, according to its root bhidh, bhadh, originally meant to bind, fasten, hold fast. It afterwards became specialized in the sense of binding by means of speech—that is, to convince, to persuade. We can thus understand how πίστις has all the significations of fides. It must, however, be remarked that when used to express some relation between God and man, πίστις is used in a passive or middle sense, (πειθέσθαι = to be bound, convinced, or persuaded, and to allow one’s-self to be bound, convinced, or persuaded), and that this use is noticeable everywhere in the Sacred Writings. Hence πίστις involves, first, on the part of the πειθόμενος, the believer, a willing listening and submission (ὑπακούειν, obaudire, obedire) to the commanding call of God, by Whom the hearer allows himself to be bound; secondly, a cleaving to God, to Whom the hearer allows himself to be bound by accepting His good gift, and by entering into a pact, fœdus, with Him.

In these are included fidelity and confidence, in a form peculiar to religious πίστις, namely, as a docile and confident submission to the Divine guidance. The two elements of πίστις, obedience and fidelity appear manifestly in the two expressions used to designate the contrary notions, ἀπείθεια, inobedientia, disobedience, and ἀπιστία, perfidia, faithlessness, and diffidentia, distrust.

The German word Glauben has the same root as lieben, loben, geloben, to love, to praise, to promise; viz. “lubh,” in lubet, libet = to wish to find good, to approve. Hence it has the radical meaning of accepting willingly and holding fast, approving.

It is plain that these various words, according to their etymology and theological use, do not exclusively refer to acts or habits of the intellect. They often express the affections and dispositions of the will, especially obedience and hope, as based on or aiming at some act of knowledge. As a rule, however, they express acts of the intellect only, in so far as these are dependent on or connected with acts of the will. In Holy Scripture πίστις and πιστεύειν, when used with reference to God, mean, purely and simply, to cling and hold fast to God, and consequently all the acts involved in clinging to God, or any one of them, according to the context. When applied to acts of knowledge, these expressions designate only those which have some analogy with acts of the will, such as to admit, hold, cling to, approve, consent, amplecti, adhærere, συγκατατίθεσθαι. The sense in which the “holding something for true” is called fides, πίστις, is manifold. Thus fides and πίστις are often used generically to designate every “holding for true,” every conviction; nay, they are sometimes used as the technical terms for conviction, like the German Ueberzeugung. On the other hand, “to believe” is often used as equivalent to mean, think, opine, as expressing a more or less arbitrary assent founded on imperfect evidence.

II. The special signification of the terms Faith, Fides, Πίστις, with which we are now concerned, is “assent on authority;” that is to say, the acceptance of a proposition, not because we ourselves perceive its truth, but because another person tells us that it is true. The notion of Faith implies that the assent is considered as something good and desirable. “Assent on authority” results from our esteem for the mental and moral qualifications of the witness, and is, therefore, accompanied by a willing acknowledgment of a sort of perfection in him, and also by a respectful and confiding submission to the authority which that perfection confers Hence Faith is not simply an act of the intellect, but an act commanded and brought about by the will acting on the intellect: the assent of the intellect to what is true is determined by the consent of the will to what is good. This consent implies an approbation given to the assent of the intellect, and a willing acknowledgment of the authority of the speaker.

III. The part played by the will in this sort of Faith resembles any other sort of deference to authority. It consists in submitting to a legitimate order or call to perform some action. The person who gives the order is the author of the action rather than he who actually performs it, whence comes the term Authority. In ordinary cases we are invited rather than commanded to assent on the authority of another. We may have some doubt as to his knowledge or veracity, and even if we have no such doubt, he has no power or right over us. But when the author or speaker is the Supreme Lord, Infinite Wisdom, and Infinite Truth, He is entitled to exact complete consent of our will, and to set before us His knowledge, not merely as a basis, but even as a rule, of conviction. The act of Faith is, however, distinguishable from most other acts of submission to authority by the peculiarity that the authority which exacts it must also make it possible, and must co-operate in its production. This is brought about by the Divine Author constituting Himself the guarantee of the truth of what He communicates. The speaker, in virtue of the moral perfection of His will, guarantees that He communicates only what He knows to be true; and that, moreover, by virtue of the perfection of His intellect all danger of error is excluded, thus offering to the mind of the hearer a foundation for certitude, surer than the latter’s own personal knowledge.

IV. The manner in which authority asserts itself to and is received by a believer varies according to the nature of the authority and of the communication made. The nearest approach to Divine authority and Divine Faith is found in the relations between parents and their offspring. Parents have a natural superiority and dominion over their children, as being the authors of their existence; hence their authority, unlike that of any other person, is in itself, apart from any external legitimation, sufficient to command the assent of their children. And in like manner, the respect and reverence due to parents cause the child to take for granted their knowledge and veracity. The relation between God and man is a sort of spiritual paternity (cf. Heb. 12:9) whereby we are entitled to address Him as “Our Father.” Human parents, although their children reasonably assume their knowledge and veracity, may, however, deceive or be deceived. But our Heavenly Father is Infinite Wisdom and Truth itself.


I. Theological Faith is assent given to the Word of God in a manner befitting its excellence and power. It is also termed Divine Faith, in opposition to human faith—that is, faith founded on the authority of man; Supernatural Faith, because it leads to supernatural salvation and has God for its Author and Generator; Christian Faith, because its subject-matter is the Revelation made by Christ, and because it is interwoven with the Christian economy of salvation; Catholic Faith, because it is assent to the doctrines proposed by the Catholic Church. These four appellations are not exactly synonymous, but they all designate the same act, though under different aspects.

II. The nature of Theological Faith has been clearly defined by the Vatican Council, sess. iii., chap. 3: “Seeing that man wholly dependeth upon God as his Creator and Lord, and seeing that created reason is entirely subject to Uncreated Truth, we are bound to submit by Faith our intellect and will to God the Revealer. But this Faith, which is the beginning of man’s salvation, the Church confesseth to be a supernatural virtue, whereby, with the help of God’s grace, we believe what He revealeth, not because we perceive its intrinsic truth by the natural light of our reason, but on account of the authority of God the Revealer, Who can neither deceive nor be deceived. For Faith, according to the Apostle, is ‘the substance of things to be hoped for, the evidence of things that appear not’ (Heb. 11:1).”

This definition means (1) that Theological Faith is faith in the strictest sense of the word—that is to say, assent on authority, implying an act of the intellect as well as an act of the will; (2) that it is faith in an eminent degree, because it implies unlimited submission to God’s sovereign authority and an absolute confidence in His veracity, and is therefore an act of religious worship and a theological virtue; and (3) that it is influenced, not only externally by Divine authority, but also internally by Divine Grace, and consequently is supernatural. These three characteristics of Theological Faith distinguish it from all natural knowledge with which the Rationalists confound it, and also from all forms of rational or irrational, instinctive emotional Faith.

The classical text Heb. 11:1, is quoted by the council in confirmation of its teaching. It describes Faith as the act of spiritually seizing and holding fast things that are beyond the sphere of our intellect—things the vision of which is the object of our hope and the essence of our future happiness. It tells us that Faith is a conviction pointing and leading to the future vision, and even anticipating the fruition of it. Hence it implies that Faith, like the future vision itself, is a supernatural participation in the knowledge of God and a likening of our knowledge to His, inasmuch as our Faith has the same subject-matter as the Divine knowledge, and resembles it in its inner perfection. The literal meaning of the text is as follows: “The substance, ὑπόστασις, of things to be hoped for” is a giving in hand, as it were, a pledge and security for the future good gifts, and so a sort of anticipation of their possession; “the evidence ἔλεγχος, of things that appear not, μὴ βλεπομένων,” is an evident demonstration, a clear showing, hence a perfect certitude and conviction, concerning things invisible. These expressions are applicable to the habit of Faith without any figure of speech; to the act of Faith they apply only figuratively as being the result of the giving in hand and the clear manifestation. Moreover, these relations of our Faith to the Beatific Vision bring out, as clearly as the definition of the council, the difference between Theological Faith and every other sort of faith or knowledge.

III. We are now in a position to trace the genesis of Theological Faith. The believer, moved by grace, submits to the authority of God and trusts in God’s veracity, and strives to conform his mental judgment to that of God and to connect his convictions in the closest manner with God’s infallible knowledge. Grace makes this connection so perfect that a most intimate union and relationship are established between the believer’s knowledge and the Divine knowledge; the excellence and virtue of the latter are thus communicated to the former, and mould it into an introduction to and participation of eternal life.

IV. We subjoin some remarks on the use of the term Faith in theological literature. Fides is used to signify either the act (credere, fides quâ creditur); or the principle of the act (gratia fidei, lumen seu virtus fidei); or its subject-matter (fides quæ creditur), especially the collection of creeds, definitions, and the like. A distinction is sometimes drawn between Explicit and Implicit Faith, founded upon the degree of distinctness with which the act of Faith apprehends its subject-matter; also between Formal Faith, which supposes an explicit knowledge of the motive and an express act of the will, and Virtual Faith, which is a habit infused or resulting from repeated acts of Formal Faith, and produces acts of Faith as it were instinctively without distinct consciousness of Formal Faith. The expression Credere Deum signifies belief in God as the subject-matter of the act—”I believe that God exists;” Credere Deo means belief on the authority of God—”I believe what God says;” Credere in Deum implies both of the former meanings—”I believe in God on God’s authority.”


I. To the question, “Why do we believe?” or “What is the motive of our Faith?” many answers may be given. Some motives of Faith are similar to those which induce us to elicit other free acts of the will. They may be grouped under the head of what is fitting and useful (decens et utile, or justum et commodum), and are the following: Faith contributes to our moral perfection, and leads to our eternal salvation; it ennobles the soul and satisfies the moral necessity of submission to and union with God; it enriches and elevates our mental knowledge by increasing its store and by strengthening its certitude. As a rule, however, when we speak of the motive of Faith we understand that by means of which the act of Faith is produced. In the case of Theological Faith this is the Word of God, whence the name “theological,” that is, relating immediately to God, is applied to this sort of Faith. We believe a truth proposed to us because it is the Word of God—a word founded upon Divine Authority, and therefore entitled to the homage of our intellect and will.

II. Divine Authority influences Faith in a twofold manner: it is a call to Faith and it is a testimony to the truth of Faith. As a call to Faith, Divine Authority is the expression of the Divine will and power to which man is bound to submit. As a testimony to the truth of Faith, Divine authority acts as the Supreme Truth, guaranteeing the truth of the Faith and supplying a perfect foundation for certitude. In both respects the Divine authority is based upon God’s Essence, in virtue of which He is the Highest Being, the Uncreated Principle of all things, the Possessor of all truth, the Source of all goodness. Hence the classical form “God is the motive of Faith inasmuch as He is the First Truth.” Now God is the First Truth in a threefold sense: in being (in essendo), because of the infinite perfection of His Being; in knowledge (in cognoscendo), because He possesses infinite knowledge; in speech (in dicendo), because, being infinitely holy, He cannot deceive. Divine authority, as the motive of Faith, acts on the will. The will, moved by respect and confidence, reacts upon the intellect, urging it to elicit an act of Faith in what is proposed by the Infallible Truth. As in every act of faith, of whatever kind, the believer bases his assent on the knowledge and veracity of the witness, so in the case of Divine Faith, the will urges the intellect to base its assent upon the infallible knowledge and veracity of the great First Truth. The motive of Faith is impressed by the will upon the intellect as a light which enlightens and manifests the truth of the Word proposed, which thus in its turn acts on the intellect directly and not merely by means of the will. Again: the motive of Faith—that is, God as the First Being and First Truth—is at the same time, conjointly with the contents of Revelation, the end and object towards the apprehension of which the will moves the intellect.


I. A proposition or fact becomes the subject-matter of Faith when God reveals it and commands us to believe it on His authority. When these two conditions are fulfilled, Faith finds in God both its “substance” and its “evidence” (Heb. 11:1). All such truths must be believed with Divine Faith properly so-called. In the following cases it is doubtful whether, or at least how far, a truth can be believed with Divine Faith.

1. Truths which are revealed only mediately and virtually—that is, evidently inferred from truths directly and immediately revealed—are the subject-matter of Theological Knowledge rather than of Divine Faith. If, however, God intended to reveal them, and if they were known to the first promulgators of Revelation, some theologians (e.g. Reding) think that they may be believed with Divine Faith. But most theologians (e.g. Suarez, Lugo, Kleutgen) are of opinion that Divine Faith is possible in the case of these truths only when they are authoritatively proposed by the Church. The reason is that the proposal of them by the Church takes the place of the immediate proposal by God Himself, and assumes the form of an extensive interpretation of the Divine Word.

2. Truths which only indirectly belong to the domain of Revelation (supra, § 5, II.) are primarily the subject-matter of human knowledge; they become the subject-matter of Faith when the Church has authoritatively proposed them for belief. In such cases God Himself gives testimony by means of the Church, which acts as His plenipotentiary and ambassador. The assent given resembles Theological Faith in this, that it springs from respect for the knowledge, veracity, and authority of God, and is infallible. Nevertheless, as this assent is not directly founded upon God’s knowledge but rather upon the knowledge possessed by the Church, there is an essential difference between Theological Faith and the assent given to truths indirectly connected with Revelation. The latter, which is called Ecclesiastical Faith, is less perfect than the former, but still, by reason of its religious and infallible character, is far above any purely human faith. Many theologians, notably Muzzarelli, declare that these truths are the subject-matter of Divine Faith on account of the Divinely promised infallibility of the Church. They claim Divine Faith especially for matters connected with morals and for the canonization of Saints, because an error in either would tell against the divinely revealed sanctity of the Church, while the latter is moreover based upon the miracles wrought by God in proof of the holiness of His Saints. We may observe, in reply, that the relation of moral matters with the sanctity of the Church only indirectly bases Faith in them on God’s knowledge. Again, the miracles wrought through the intercession of holy persons are not direct revelations, but are only indications of the Divine Will which the Church interprets, and consequently Faith founded upon them is only Ecclesiastical Faith.

II. Foremost among the attributes cf the subject-matter of Faith is its truth. Whatever is proposed for our belief must be true in itself. Still, Faith does not suppose in the believer a direct knowledge of the truths which he believes, nor an illumination of his mind similar to that of the Beatific Vision. On the contrary, Faith being “the evidence of things that appear not,” implies that its subject-matter is inaccessible to the natural eye of the mind, even when revealed; it is the peculiar excellence of Faith that it makes the unseen as certain to our minds as the seen (Heb. 11:27). Trusting in God’s knowledge and veracity, Faith glories in truths above reason, and delights in mystery; it transcends all human faith and science, inasmuch as it embraces objects far beyond the sphere of the human mind. But although “the things that appear not” are the proper subject-matter of Faith, it must not be supposed that absolute invisibility is required. The relatively invisible can also be made its subject-matter (cf. St. Thom. 2 2. q. 1, a. 3: “Utrum objectum fidei possit esse aliquid visum,” and a. 4: “Utrum possit esse scitum”).

III. In accordance with its being “the substance of things to be hoped for,” and in accordance with the intentions of its Author, Faith aims at giving us the knowledge of the things concerning our future supernatural happiness. Hence, God Himself, in His invisible Essence, as He is and as He will reveal Himself to the blessed in the Beatific Vision, and God’s Nature as the principle which causes our supernatural perfection and beatitude by communicating Itself to us, are the chief subjects of Faith. Hence we see again how much the subject-matter of Faith transcends all human knowledge, for no natural faculties can reach the heights or fathom the depths of the Divine Essence and its relations with the soul of man (cf. 1 Cor. 2). Indeed, the whole supernatural economy of salvation is subordinate to the belief in God as the final object of our eternal beatitude.

IV. Faith is founded on God’s knowledge and veracity; it has God and His Divine Nature for its subject-matter; and it tends to the Beatific Union with Him. Seeing to a certain extent, as it were, all things in God and through God, it not only reduces all its own tenets to a certain unity in God, but also apprehends in God and through God all created truth, and judges of all created things with reference to God, Who is their ultimate End and immutable Ruler. Faith is therefore, in a certain sense, what modern philosophers call a “transcendental knowledge.” Adhering to God in all humility, it effects what philosophers have vainly attempted by their exaggeration of the natural powers of the human mind (Matt. 11:25).


I. To enable us to elicit an act of Divine Faith in a revealed truth, the fact of its being revealed must also be perfectly certain to us. Without this perfect certitude we could not reasonably assent to it on the authority of God. Hence Innocent XI. condemned the proposition; “The supernatural assent of Faith necessary for salvation is compatible with merely probable knowledge of Revelation, nay even with doubt whether God has spoken” (prop. xxi.). No certitude is perfect unless based upon reasonable motives. We cannot, therefore, accept with certitude any proposition as being the word of God without Motives of Credibility—that is, marks and criteria clearly showing the proposition to be really the Word of God.

The Motives of Credibility are not the same thing as the Motives of Faith. The former refer to the fact that a particular doctrine was originally revealed by God, the latter refer to the necessity of believing generally whatever God has revealed. Both are the foundation of the reasonableness of our Faith. This will be clear if we bear in mind that the assent given in an act of Faith is inferential: “Whatever God reveals is true; God has revealed, e.g., the mystery of the Blessed Trinity; therefore the mystery is true.” The Motives of Faith are the reasons for assenting to the major premise; the Motives of Credibility are the reasons for assenting to the minor. The Motives of Faith—that is to say, God’s knowledge and veracity—are, however, so evident that no one can call them in question; whereas the Motives of Credibility—that is, the proofs that a given doctrine is of Divine origin—are by no means self-evident, but are the object of the fiercest attacks of unbelievers. It is on this account that, in dealing with the reasonableness of Faith, stress is laid principally upon the Motives of Credibility.

II. The chief errors concerning the Motives of Credibility are: (1) Rationalism, which denies the possibility of any reasonable certainty in matters said to be revealed. (2) Protestantism, at least in some of its forms, which substitutes for external criteria inward feelings and consolations. (3) Some Catholic Theologians have also erred by assigning too prominent a place to these inward feelings. Against these errors the Vatican Council has defined the Catholic doctrine on the nature of the certitude concerning the fact of Revelation, and has especially declared how the proposition by the Church of doctrines as revealed, is a legitimate promulgation of the Divine word: “In order that the submission of our Faith might be in accordance with reason, God hath willed to give us, together with the internal assistance of the Holy Ghost, external proofs of His Revelation, namely, Divine facts and, above all, miracles and prophecies, which, while they clearly manifest God’s almighty power and infinite knowledge, are most certain Divine signs of Revelation adapted to the understanding of all men. Wherefore Moses, and the Prophets, and especially Christ our Lord Himself, wrought and uttered many and most manifest miracles and prophecies; and touching the Apostles we read, ‘They going forth preached the word everywhere, the Lord working withal, and confirming the word with the signs that followed’ (Mark 16:20). And again, it is written, ‘We have the more firm prophetical word, whereunto you do well to attend, as to a light that shineth in a dark place’ (2 Pet. 1:19). But in order that we may fulfil the duty of embracing the true Faith, and of persevering therein constantly, God, by means of His Only Begotten Son, hath instituted the Church, and hath endowed her with plain marks whereby she may be recognized by all men as the guardian and mistress of the revealed word. For to the Catholic Church alone belong all the wonders which have been divinely arranged for the evident credibility of the Christian Faith. Moreover, the Church herself, by her wonderful propagation, exalted sanctity, and unbounded fertility in all that is good, by her Catholic unity and invincible stability, is both an enduring motive of credibility and an unimpeachable testimony of her Divine mission. Whence it is that like a standard set up unto the nations (Isai. 11:12) she calleth to her them that have not yet believed, and maketh her children certain that the Faith which they profess resteth on the surest foundation” (sess. iii., chap. 3).

The Catholic Church therefore teaches: (1) that we must have a rational certitude of the fact of Revelation in order that our Faith may be itself rational; (2) that this certitude is not founded exclusively on internal experience, but also, and indeed chiefly, on external and manifest facts; (3) that these external and manifest facts which accompany the proposition of Revelation can produce a perfect certitude of the fact of Revelation in the minds of all; and (4) that these facts not only accompany the original proposition of Revelation, and thus come down to us as facts of past history, but that by means of the unity and stability of the Church they are perpetuated in the same way as the promulgation of the Divine Word, and are at all times manifest to all who inquire.

III. The following paragraphs will serve to explain and prove the doctrine just stated.

1. First of all it is evident that our Faith cannot be a “reasonable worship” unless sound reasons, distinct from Revelation and the result of our own inquiries, persuade us of the fact that the doctrines proposed for our belief are really the Word of God. If we believe without any reason, our Faith is manifestly irrational. On the other hand, if we believe for revealed reasons exclusively, our Faith is also irrational, because we thereby fall into a vicious circle. We do not, however, maintain that the assent must be purely rational.

2. It is not necessary, according to the teaching of most theologians, nor is it implied in the terms of the Vatican definition, that the certitude of the fact of Revelation should be invariably, in each and every case, absolutely perfect. It is enough if it appears satisfactory to the believer, and excludes all doubt from his mind; in other words, a subjective and relative certitude is sufficient. But this applies especially to the cases of children and uneducated persons, and even then it supposes that those persons upon whose human testimony they rely have a perfect and objective certitude. Cf. Haunold, Theol. Spec., lib. iii., tract ix., c. 2; also Bishop Lefranc de Pompignan’s controversy with a Calvinist, Sur la Foi des Enfants et des Adultes ignorants, in Migne’s Curs. Theol., tom. vi., p. 1070.

3. Among the signs of the Divine origin of a doctrine must be reckoned the inner experiences of the believer. The effects of grace upon the soul are especially important. Nevertheless, these inner experiences cannot be either the exclusive or even the primary criteria of the Divine origin of a doctrine, because they are subjective, that is, restricted to the person who feels them, liable to illusions, and can be felt only after the fact of the Revelation of the doctrine has been otherwise apprehended. The Faith is proposed by public authority, and exacts public and universal obedience. It must therefore be supported by public and plain signs of its Divine origin.

4. Among the external signs of the fact of Revelation, purely human testimony has a place only in so far as it bears witness to the Divine facts connected with Revelation to those persons who cannot personally apprehend them. The proper criterion of the Divine origin of a verbal communication, as might be expected from the nature of the thing, and also according to the teaching of the Church, consists in external, supernatural, and Divine facts or effects, which God intimately connects with the proposition of His Revelation, and by which He signifies to us His will that we should believe that He has spoken.

5. As God has ordained that His word should be proposed to the faithful by the ministry of authentic witnesses, the first point to be established is the Divine mission of these witnesses. Although in theory it would be conceivable that it was only the first promulgators of the Faith who had their mission attested by Divine signs, and that this fact should have been handed down to us in the same way as any other historical event,—nevertheless, as a matter of fact, and as might be expected from the nature of Faith and Revelation, God has ordained that the signs or criteria of Divine origin should uninterruptedly accompany the preaching of His doctrine. The fact of Revelation is thereby brought home to us in a more lively, direct, and effective manner. This question is of the greatest importance at the present time, when the Divine mission of even Christ Himself is the object of so many attacks. When the Divine mission of the Church was denied, and thereby the existence of a continual, living testimony was rejected, Faith in the Divine mission of Christ thenceforth rested upon merely historical evidence, and so became the prey of historical criticism. Besides, without a continuous Divine approbation, Christ’s mission becomes such an isolated fact that its full significance cannot be grasped. Some Catholic theologians, in their endeavours to defend Christianity and the Church on purely historical grounds, have not given enough prominence to the constant signs of Divine approbation which have accompanied the Church’s preaching in all ages. The Vatican definition has therefore been most opportune. It is now of Faith that the Church herself is “an enduring motive of credibility and an unimpeachable testimony of her Divine mission.” Her wonderful propagation, in spite of the greatest moral and physical difficulties, not only in her early years, but even at the present day; her eminent sanctity, as manifested in her Saints, combined with their miracles; her inexhaustible fertility in every sort of good work; her unity in Faith, discipline, and worship; her invincible constancy in resisting the attacks of powerful enemies within and without for more than eighteen centuries: all these are manifest signs that she is not the work of man, but the work of God.

6. The certitude of the fact of Revelation must be in keeping with the firmness required by Faith. Hence all theologians teach that the demonstration of this fact from visible signs, such as prophecies and miracles, must be so evident as to generate a certitude excluding all doubt and fear of error—a certitude sufficient to place a reasonable man under the obligation of adhering to it. This, however, does not mean that the evidence must be of the most perfect kind, so as to render denial absolutely impossible. The proofs of the fact of Revelation may admit of unreasonable dissent, as is manifest by daily experience. Our judgment on the credibility of the fact of Revelation—”It is worthy of belief that God has revealed these things; they must, therefore, be believed,”—is formed with reference to God’s veracity and authority; that is to say, the signs and wonders appear as indications of God’s command to believe and as pledges of His veracity. Now, it is clear that the moral dispositions of the inquirer exercise the greatest influence upon such a judgment. If he has a love of truth, a deep reverence for the authority and holiness of God, and firm confidence in God’s wisdom and providence, he easily sees how incompatible it would be with the supreme perfection of God to give such positive indications of the existence of a revelation if in fact He had made no revelation at all. The inquirer is confronted with the dilemma: “Either God is a deceiver or He has given a revelation to mankind;” and his good dispositions urge him unhesitatingly to accept the latter alternative. On the other hand, if he has a dislike for, or no interest in, the truth, and if he is wanting in submission to God and confidence in Him, he will endeavour to persuade himself that the signs do not come from God, or are not intended to prove a revelation. It is possible to refuse assent to the fact of Revelation by rebelling against Divine authority, and treating God as a deceiver, and herein consists the enormity of the sin of infidelity. Hence St. Paul says, “Having faith and a good conscience, which some rejecting have made shipwreck concerning the faith” (1 Tim. 1:19). Cf. Card. Newman, Occasional Sermons, v., “Dispositions for Faith.”

7. The prophecies, miracles, and other signs by which we prove the credibility of the fact of Revelation, must not be confounded with the Motive of Faith, which is the authority and veracity of God. The Motives of Credibility do not produce the certitude of Faith; they merely dispose, lead, and urge the mind to submit to the Divine authority, of which they are signs. This explains the condemnation of Prop. ix. among those condemned by Innocent XI.: “The will cannot make the assent of Faith more firm in itself than is demanded by the weight of reasons inducing us to believe.” By the “weight of reasons” are meant the Motives of Credibility, the rational certainty of which is neither the measure of the confidence with which the will clings to the contents and facts of Revelation, nor the measure of the firmness with which the intellect impelled by the will adheres to them.

8. In order to elicit an act of Faith, we must know not only the fact, but also the contents, of Revelation: in other words, we must know not only that a Revelation has been made, but also the things which have been revealed. The latter are either communicated directly by God or are proposed by His infallible Church. In the former case, Faith is possible even without their being proposed by the Church. The ordinary way, however, in which God makes Faith accessible to mankind is the authoritative teaching of the Church. The object of this teaching is not simply to convey to our minds the knowledge of revealed truth, as a book would do, but to render possible the “faith which cometh by hearing,” upon which the Apostle insists. By submitting to the testimony and authority of the Church, our Mother, we yield that obedience of Faith which is the result of our reverence for our Heavenly Father, and which is of the very essence of Faith. It is, indeed, more difficult, because more against our pride, to submit to the Church than to God directly; but by so doing we act in the true spirit of Faith.

The authoritative teaching of the Church does not supply an entirely independent motive of Faith, or the highest motive, or even a part of the highest motive. It acts rather as an instrument or vehicle of the real motive. The Church sets before us the contents of Revelation as worthy of belief; she proposes detailed points of doctrine as a living and ever-present witness, and demands our assent thereto on the authority of God.


I. It is not absolutely impossible for man unaided by grace to elicit an act of faith of some kind. Man is naturally able to perceive revealed truth when brought under his notice, and also the authority of God and the motives of credibility. His moral nature, too, prompts him to reverence and honour God. An act of faith of some kind is, therefore, naturally possible. But the act of Faith intended and commanded by God transcends our natural faculties, and is supernatural in two ways: supernatural in its very substance or essence (secundum substantiam sive essentiam), inasmuch as it is the beginning, the root and foundation of man’s salvation; and also supernatural in its mode (secundum modum or secundum quid) by reason of the great difficulty which the natural man finds in embracing the Faith and accepting its consequences. The first-named supernatural character is given by Elevating Grace—that is, by grace which raises nature to the supernatural order; the other comes from Medicinal Grace—that is, grace which makes up for the shortcomings of nature. The Vatican Council teaches that Faith is a “supernatural virtue whereby we believe with the help of God’s grace;” and it repeats the words of the Seventh Canon of the Second Council of Orange: “No man can assent to the gospel preaching, in the manner requisite for salvation (sicut oportet ad salutem consequendam), without the light and inspiration of the Holy Ghost, Who giveth to every man sweetness in assenting to and believing in the truth.”

A complete explanation and proof of these various points must be deferred till we come to the treatise on Grace. For our present purpose the following will be sufficient.

II. The definition just quoted teaches directly that Faith is supernatural in its cause and in its object. But the supernatural cause must communicate to the very act of Faith the worth which enables that act to attain a supernatural object. Hence the act itself must be supernatural; it must be substantially different from every merely natural act, and must be capable of attaining an object transcending the natural order. Speaking generally, the supernatural essence of the act of Faith consists in our accepting revealed truths in a manner befitting our dignity of adopted sons of God, destined to the Beatific Vision; and in a manner befitting the paternal condescension of God, Who has deigned to speak to us as His children, and to call and raise us to the most intimate union with Himself. But more particularly it consists in the transformation of our sense of Faith (pius credulitatis affectus) into a filial piety towards God, and into a striving after its supernatural object in a manner commensurate with the excellence of that object; and also in the union and assimilation of our knowledge with the Divine knowledge, so that Faith becomes as it were a participation of God’s own Life and Knowledge, and an anticipation and foretaste of the supernatural knowledge in store for us in the Beatific Vision. The supernatural essence of Divine Faith thus contains two elements, one moral, the other intellectual, intimately interwoven but still distinct.

III. Faith is Divine, not only because its certitude is based upon God’s authority, but also because God Himself is the efficient cause acting upon the mind of the believer and producing in him subjective certainty. God is the author of Faith as no one else can be. Holy Scripture teaches that Christian Faith requires an internal illumination in addition to the external revelation (Matt. 16:17), and, besides the hearing of the external word, the hearing of an internal one, and the learning from an internal teacher (John 6:45): the external revelation is attributed to the visible Son, the internal to the invisible Father. It follows that Faith cannot be produced by purely external influences, nor can the mind of man produce it by his own natural exertions. Faith must be infused into the soul by Divine light, and must be received from the hand of God.

IV. The acts of the mind preceding the infusion of the light of Faith have merely the character of preparatory dispositions or of co-operation enabling the light of Faith to exert its own power. But even these acts are supernatural from their very outset, and must therefore be the result of the illumination and inspiration of the Holy Ghost. Hence the illumination which gives the soul the immediate inclination and power to elicit a supernatural act of Faith is not the only one to be taken into account. The practical judgment “that we can and ought to believe” which precedes the “pius affectus” must itself be the result of a supernatural illumination, otherwise it could not produce a supernatural act of the will. The illumination has also the character of an internal word or call of God, at least so far as it repeats and animates internally the command to believe given to us by external revelation. Nevertheless a natural knowledge of this same practical judgment must be presupposed in order that the supernatural illumination may itself take place. The best way to explain this is to consider the natural judgment as merely speculative until the action of the Holy Ghost transforms it into an effective practical judgment determining the act of Faith.

V. The secondary and relatively supernatural character of Faith, although less important, is nevertheless more apparent. Faith is beset with difficulties arising partly from the intellectual and moral conditions of our nature and partly from the obligations which Faith imposes upon the intellect and will of the believer. Without the help of God’s grace man could not surmount these difficulties, and consequently the act of Faith would be, even in this respect, morally impossible. All men, however, have not the same difficulty in believing. Hence the necessity for God’s assisting grace is not absolute but relative, varying with the moral and intellectual dispositions of the persons to whom Revelation is proposed.


I. Although so many external causes are brought to bear on the act of Faith, and although God is its principal cause, nevertheless the act of Faith is a Human Act and a Free Act. According to the Vatican Council it is, as we have seen, essentially an act of obedience, “an entire submission of the intellect and the will.” It is therefore not simply a passive or receptive act, nor a blind, instinctive act, nor an act forced upon us by Divine grace or by the weight of demonstration. The Council of Trent (sess. vi. chaps. 4–5) describes Faith as a “free movement towards God,” implying a twofold operation: hearing His outward word and receiving His inward inspiration. The Vatican Council further explains the Tridentine doctrine in sess. iii., chap. 3. It speaks of “yielding free obedience to God,” thus meeting the rationalistic assertion that the assent of Christian Faith is the necessary result of human arguments. The same doctrine may be gathered from Holy Scripture, which always speaks of the act of Faith as a free and moral act, an act of obedience, of worship, and the like: cf. Rom. 4:20; Mark 10:22; John 20:27; Matt. 16:17; Luke 1:45; Matt. 9:29; Rom. 4:3–20 sqq.; Gal. 3:6.

II. The Council of Trent also indicates the positive character of the free act of the will determining the act of Faith: the will determines the act of Faith freely because its moral dispositions move it to obey God. Besides this primary liberty of Faith, there is also a secondary liberty, arising from the non-cogency of the motives of credibility, which allows the will to withhold its consent and leaves room for doubt and even denial. Hence every act of Faith must be determined by an act of free will. The non-cogency of the motives of credibility may be referred to three causes—(a) the obscurity of the Divine testimony (inevidentia attestantis); (b) the obscurity of the contents of Revelation; (c) the opposition between the obligations imposed upon us by Faith and the evil inclinations of our corrupt nature.

III. In eliciting the act of Faith man’s freedom is elevated to the supernatural order. This supernatural dignity and excellence lead to a supernatural and Divine freedom of the mind, the freedom of the children of God, the freedom from error and doubt, the full and perfect possession of the highest truth in the bosom of the Eternal Truth. Its childlike simplicity is really the highest sense, and leads to the highest intellectual attainments, whereas infidelity leads only to folly. “No more children tossed to and fro and carried about with every wind of doctrine by the wickedness of men, by cunning craftiness” (Eph. 4:14; cf. Luke 10:21).


I. Faith requires the fullest assent, excluding every doubt and every fear of deception, and including the fullest conviction that what is believed cannot be other than true. No other faith answers to the excellence and force of God’s infallible truth. Faith is thus essentially different from mere opinion without certitude, and also from so-called practical or moral certitude. The certitude of Faith, as regards the firmness of assent, is essentially higher and more perfect than the certitude of science. The motive of Faith, which is the authority of God, is more trustworthy than the light of our reason, by which we obtain scientific certitude. We are bound therefore to reject unconditionally any doubts or difficulties arising from the exercise of our reason. As theologians say, the certainty of Faith is supreme, surmounting all doubts and rising above all other certainties (certitudo super omnia). The Vatican Council, as we have seen, declares Faith to be a complete submission of the mind, consisting in the perfect subjugation of the created intellect to the uncreated Truth. And the council also enjoins the unconditional rejection of any scientific inquiry at variance with the Faith (sess. iii. c. 4).

II. In order to understand this, a threefold distinction must be made.

1. The supreme certitude of Faith is appreciative in its nature—that is to say, it includes and results from a supreme appreciation of its motive, but is not necessarily felt more vividly than any other certitude. As a rule, this certitude is felt even less vividly than human certitude based upon unimpeachable evidence.

2. The supreme firmness of Faith must likewise be distinguished from the incapability of being shaken which belongs to evident human knowledge.

3. That the certitude of Faith is supreme does not imply that all other certitude is untrustworthy, or that we must be ready to resist evident human certitude apparently conflicting with the Faith. A real conflict between Faith and reason is impossible.

III. The high degree of certitude which belongs to the act of Faith is attained and completed by means of the supernatural light of Faith which pervades all the elements of the act. This light, being, as it were, a ray of the Divine Light, participates in the Divine infallibility and cannot but illumine the truth. The certitude produced by it is therefore Divine in every respect, and so absolutely infallible that a real act of Faith can never have falsehood for its subject-matter. This has been defined by the Vatican Council, repeating the definition of the Fifth Lateran Council: “Every assertion contrary to enlightened Faith (illuminatæ fidei, i.e. Faith produced by Divine illumination) we define to be altogether false” (sess. iii., chap. 4). The words “illuminatæ fidei” signify the Faith as it is produced in the believer, as distinct from the external objective proposition of revealed truth, and also as distinct from the act of human faith. In like manner the Council of Trent states that Faith affords a certitude which cannot have falsehood for its subject-matter (cui non potest subesse falsum). The light of Faith cannot be misapplied to belief in error; nevertheless it is possible for man to mistake an act of natural faith in a supposed revelation for a supernatural act elicited by the aid of the light of Faith. Some external criterion is needed whereby we may distinguish the one from the other. Such a criterion is supplied by the Faith of the Church, which cannot err. Catholic Faith carries with it the consciousness that it is Divine Faith produced by Divine light, whereas the self-made faith of Protestants cannot assert itself as Divine without leading to fanaticism.

IV. The supreme certitude of Faith implies that we must have the will to remain true to the Faith without doubt or denial, and the firm conviction that it can never be given up on account of its turning out to be false. Hence, every act of Faith is an irreformable act, and possesses a certitude that cannot be shaken. Faith can, however, be destroyed by an abuse of our free-will. Again, we are bound to reform faith which is erroneously thought to be Divine but is applied by mistake to propositions not revealed by God. The Vatican Council, after declaring how God co-operates in the acceptance of Faith and in perseverance therein, concludes thus: “Wherefore the condition of those who have by the heavenly gift of Faith cleaved to Catholic truth is by no means on a footing with the condition of those who, led by human opinions, follow a false religion; for those who have received the Faith under the teaching of the Church can never have any just cause for changing or calling the Faith in doubt” (sess. iii., chap. 3). And in Canon 6, directed against the doctrines of Hermes, the council enacts, “If any one shall say that the condition of the Faithful is on a footing with that of those who have not yet reached the one true Faith, so that Catholics can have just cause for calling in doubt the Faith which they have received under the Church’s teaching, until they shall have completed a scientific demonstration of the truth and credibility of their Faith, let him be anathema.” Every one who embraces the Catholic Faith binds himself most strictly to adhere to it for ever. “I promise most constantly to retain and confess the same [Faith] entire and inviolate, by God’s help, to the last breath of my life” (Creed of Pius IV.). No excuse can be made for any breach of fidelity, except on the score of ignorance. Every doubt against the Faith must unhesitatingly be rejected as sinful.


I. The Necessity of Faith is twofold: a Necessity of Means and a Necessity of Precept. The latter always includes the former, but not vice versâ.

The Faith which is a necessary means of justification and salvation is Theological Faith, perfect in its kind. In infants the Habit of Faith is sufficient; in those who have reached the use of reason some act is required bearing in some way on the economy of salvation as revealed by God. Faith, in the broad sense of the word—that is, faith founded on the testimony which creatures give of God’s existence and providence—is not enough (see prop. xxiii., condemned by Innoc. XI., March 2, 1679). Nor is Inchoate Faith sufficient—that is, a faith in the germ, not extending beyond a willingness and readiness to believe. The act of Faith must be complete, and must be based upon a supernatural Divine Revelation. Faith alone can give that knowledge of the supernatural economy of salvation which enables man to dispose his actions in harmony with his supernatural end. This reason is adduced by the Apostle (Heb. 11:6) to prove that Abel and Henoch, like Abraham, obtained their justification and salvation by means of Faith, although Holy Scripture does not say of them, as of Abraham, that their Faith was founded upon a positive Divine Revelation: “Without Faith it is impossible to please God; for he that cometh to God [to serve Him] must believe that He is, and is [becomes, γίνεται] a rewarder to them that seek Him.”

1. The two points of Faith mentioned in this text are indispensable, because they are the two poles on which the whole economy of salvation turns. There is probably some allusion to the words spoken by God to Abraham: “I am thy protector and thy reward exceeding great” (Gen. 15:1). Hence the words, “that He is,” refer to the existence of God, not in the abstract, but as being our God, as leading us on to salvation under the care of His paternal Providence. A belief in His existence, in this sense, is the fundamental condition of all our dealing with Him, and this belief is as much above our natural knowledge as is the belief in God the Rewarder. If, as St. Peter Chrysologus states, the first article of the Apostles’ Creed expresses belief in God as our Father, then the words “that He is” correspond with this article, just as the words “that He is a rewarder to them that seek Him” correspond with the last article, “Life everlasting.” Theologians rightly conclude from Heb. 11:6 that, at least in pre-Christian times, the two points there mentioned were alone necessary to be expressly believed. They suffice to enable man to tend by hope and charity towards God as the Source of salvation.

2. It is an open question whether, after Christ’s coming, Faith in the Christian economy is not indispensable. Many texts in Holy Scripture seem to demand Faith in Christ, in His death and resurrection, as a necessary condition of salvation. On the other hand, it is not easy to understand how eternal salvation should have become impossible for those who are unable to arrive at an explicit knowledge of Christian Revelation. The best solution of the difficulty would seem to be that given by Suarez (De Fide, disp. xii., sect. iv.). The texts demanding Faith in Christ and the Blessed Trinity must not be interpreted more rigorously than those referring to the necessity of Baptism, especially as Faith in Christ, Faith in the Blessed Trinity, and the necessity of Baptism are closely connected together. The Faith in these mysteries is, like Baptism, the ordinary normal means of salvation. Under extraordinary circumstances, however, when the actual reception of Baptism is impossible, the mere implicit desire (votum) suffices. So, too, the implicit desire to believe in Christ and the Trinity must be deemed sufficient. By “implicit desire” we mean the desire to receive, to believe, and to do whatever is needful for salvation, although what is to be received, believed, and done is not explicitly known. The implicit wish and willingness to believe in Christ must be accompanied by and connected with an explicit Faith in Divine Providence as having a care of our salvation; and this Faith implies Faith and Hope in the Christian economy of salvation (see St. Thom., 2 2, q. 2, a. 7).

II. The Necessity of Precept—that is, the obligation arising from the command to believe—extends conditionally to the whole of Revelation. As soon as we know that a truth has been revealed, we are bound to believe it explicitly. The number of revealed truths which we are bound to know and believe explicitly, varies with the circumstances and abilities of the individual. There is no positive law concerning them. Every Christian, however, is bound to know explicitly those revealed truths which are necessary for leading a Christian life and for the fulfilment of the duties of his state. It is the general opinion of theologians that there is a grave obligation to know the contents of the Apostles’ Creed, the Decalogue, the Lord’s Prayer, and all that is required for the worthy reception of the Sacraments and for proper participation in public worship. Cf. St. Thom. 2 2, q. 2, aa. 3–8, with the commentaries thereon




I. WE have now to consider how far we can understand the supernatural truths or mysteries which we believe on the authority of God and the Church. Rationalists and Agnostics of all times have held that no understanding is possible of things beyond the sphere of natural reason. Abelard and some theologians of the thirteenth century, and in modern times Günther and Frohschammer, were of opinion that nothing is beyond the grasp of human reason, and, consequently, that supernatural truths can be demonstrated by reason, and that Faith can be replaced by knowledge. Other theologians allow the co-existence of Faith with knowledge, pretending that reason adds a new certitude to Faith.

II. Against these errors the Vatican Council teaches that some understanding of mysteries is possible, and it lays down its conditions and rules: “When Reason enlightened by Faith maketh diligent, pious, and sober inquiry, she attaineth, by God’s gift, most fruitful knowledge of mysteries, both from the analogy of things naturally known and from the relation of mysteries with one another and with the end of man.” Then the Council sets forth that this understanding is less clear and less perfect than our understanding of things natural: “Still she (Reason) is never rendered fit to perceive them in the same way as the truths which are her own proper object. For the Divine mysteries, by their very nature, so far surpass the created intellect that, even when conveyed by Revelation and received by Faith, they remain covered by the veil of the Faith and, as it were, hidden by a cloud, as long as in this mortal life we are absent from the Lord, for we walk by faith and not by sight” (sess. iii., chap. 4).

III. Faith, then, seeking after understanding (fides quærens intellectum) first adapts the natural notions of the mind to things Divine by determining the analogies or likenesses between the two orders. An understanding is thus obtained of the several mysteries varying in perfection with the perfection of the analogical conceptions. Further, comparing the mysteries with one another, and grouping them in the order determined by the principle of causality, the mind, enlightened by Faith, contemplates a magnificent cycle, beginning and ending with God, and constituted after the manner of a living organism. Unity is given to this noble cosmos of supernature by the terminus to which every part of it is directed—the glory of God in the Beatific Vision, which is also the last end of man.

Practical illustrations of this theory will be found in every chapter of the following treatises; for the harmony of the whole, see the Division of the work given at the end of the Introduction.

IV. The Understanding of Faith cannot lead to any independent certitude, nor can it afford any additional certitude to the certitude of Faith. Its only effect is to facilitate and strengthen the act of Faith by removing apparent difficulties, and by inducing the mind to accept truths so beautifully in harmony with one another and with the Nature of God and the nature of man. The Understanding of Faith has, therefore, a moral rather than a purely logical character, and corresponds with the pious dispositions of the will which incline to Faith. Its moral persuasiveness is felt more as regards the first principles of the supernatural order; its logical persuasiveness is more manifest in connection with inferred truths.


I. The immediate object of the Understanding of Faith is to present to the mind of the believer a true, distinct, and comparatively perfect notion of what he must believe. A further object is to evolve from Faith a wider and deeper knowledge rooted in Faith but not formally identical with it, and having a certitude of its own similar to the certitude of Faith, but not exactly of the same kind.

Revealed truths, just like natural truths, can be used as principles from which other truths may be logically inferred. When so used, these revealed truths are called Theological Reasons, as distinguished from human or natural reasons. In the domain of natural science, the certitude with which we adhere to the conclusion of an argument is only an extension of our certitude of the premises, and is of the same kind. But in the domain of Faith our certitude of the conclusion of an argument is the result of two distinct factors—Faith and reason,—and is therefore essentially different from and inferior to our certitude of one of the premises. This kind of certitude is called Theological Certitude. Hence Theological Knowledge differs, on the one hand, from philosophical or natural science; and, on the other hand, from the knowledge of the revealed principles from which it starts. Like natural science, it has complete scientific value only when its demonstrations are based on principles which are the real objective causes of the conclusions; in other words, only when it shows not merely that the thing is (quia est, ὅτι), but also why and wherefore it is (propter quid sit, διότι). But since Faith, as such, requires us to know only what its subject-matter is, we have here another difference between simple Faith and Theological Knowledge.

II. It is an open question whether the certitude of theological conclusions is supernatural or merely natural. If we consider that the conclusion cannot be stronger than the weaker of the premises, it would seem that theological conclusions are only humanly or naturally certain. On the other hand, theological conclusions are organically connected with the Understanding of Faith, from which they spring as their root, and of which they are a natural expansion. They are also supported by the pious and loving disposition to believe. The true theologian looks upon the rational minor premise less as a partial motive than as a means whereby he arrives at the full comprehension of the major premise. God, Who preserves His Church from error when she proposes theological conclusions for our belief, will likewise extend His grace to the assent which the theologian gives to similar conclusions. At any rate, all this goes to prove that the assent to theological conclusions is of a higher character than the assent of heretics and infidels founded upon human motives, and that consequently these latter can no more possess true theological science than supernatural Faith. We see, too, that Theological Knowledge, in its principles and conclusions, enjoys a more sacred and inviolable certitude than any human science, and that every human certitude not intrinsically and extrinsically perfect must give way to theological conclusions perfectly ascertained.


I. A science pure and simple should be, not merely a collection of facts or truths, but a complete system organically linked together by fixed laws and reducible to objective unity. Theology fulfils these conditions in an eminent degree. Its subjective principle of cognition is one, and its subject-matter is one, viz. God, the supreme substantial unity. Created things are dealt with only in as far as they tend towards God and are factors or elements of the Divine order of things. Science, it is sometimes said, should deal only with necessary, eternal, and universal truths, not with what is contingent, temporal, and particular. This, rightly understood, would mean that science is not concerned with the transient and changeable, but with the ideas and laws that govern and connect such phenomena. In this sense also theology is eminently a science. Its primary object, God, is necessary and eternal, and rules over all things. Besides, the contingent facts of which it treats are considered in so far as they eternally exist in the all-commanding will of God, and many of them, as for instance the birth of Christ, are of lasting, nay eternal importance, and so possess as it were a universal character.

II. Theology is a distinct and separate science by reason of its peculiar principle of cognition and its peculiar subject-matter. The peculiarity of its principle of cognition makes it a science generically distinct from all other sciences. So, too, does its subject-matter, which embraces the whole supernatural order. This, however, does not prevent Theology from including in its domain many truths which also belong to the other sciences. It derives its knowledge from God’s omniscience, and therefore can throw light on everything that can be known. But the supernatural is its primary, direct, and proper subject-matter. The natural belongs to theology only in certain respects and for a special purpose, viz. in so far as what is natural is related to the supernatural order. Theology, therefore, does not deal with the subject-matter of the other sciences in the same way and with the same exhaustiveness as these sciences do. See St. Thom., Contra Gentes, l. ii., c. 4; Card. Newman, Idea of a University, p. 430.


I. Theology, by reason of the excellence of its subject-matter and of its principle of knowledge, is both subjectively and objectively the highest and noblest of all sciences. Objectively, the dignity and excellence of a science depend upon the dignity, universality, and unity of its subject-matter—three attributes which we have just shown to belong in an eminent degree to the subject-matter of Theology. Subjectively, the excellence of a science is measured by the degree of certainty which it affords. But Theology, both in its principles and conclusions, especially when they are guaranteed by the Church, possesses the highest certitude. Moreover, as it demonstrates all its contents on the ground of Eternal Reasons (rationes æternæ), i.e. of God and His eternal ideas, it is also the most profound and thorough of all the sciences. It is, indeed, inferior to some of the sciences as regards clearness and distinctness, because its evidence is not direct, and its notions are analogical. This, however, does not degrade Theology, because this defect—if such it be—is amply atoned for by other excellences, and is even a proof of the dignity of Theology, because it is a consequence of the exalted character of supernatural knowledge. This supreme excellence may be fitly expressed by styling Theology the Transcendental Science; for, borne up by Faith and the pious boldness of Faith, it really attains what a godless and reckless modern science vainly strives after.

II. The Fathers and theologians, following the example of Holy Scripture, express the peculiar dignity of Theology by terming it Wisdom pure and simple, or Divine Wisdom (Sapientia). By this is meant a knowledge far above common knowledge,—a knowledge dealing with the highest principles and most exalted things, and yet with the greatest certitude; perfecting the mind and elevating it to God the highest Good and ultimate End of all; enabling us in the practical order to direct all our actions and tendencies towards their proper object—Eternal Beatitude. Human reason, indeed, endeavours to attain a knowledge fulfilling these conditions, wherefore Aristotle called Metaphysics “Wisdom,” because to him it was the noblest science. The wisdom of this world is styled Philosophy, that is, a love of and seeking after wisdom; but it is Theology alone that is the true Wisdom itself. Hence the name of Wisdom is given in many passages of Holy Scripture to the knowledge contained in or developed from Faith (see especially 1 Cor. 1 and 2).


We have already mentioned the various branches of Theology (Introduction, p. xvii.). We are now in a position to speak of them in detail.

I. Theology may be said to be the science of Revelation. It tells us (1) that there is a Revelation; (2) how we are to know the things that have been revealed; (3) what are the things that have been revealed; and (4) what are the relations between these things, and what the inferences that can be drawn from them. Now, it is clear that 1 and 2 are the groundwork of 3 and 4; that 3 is of a positive character—that is, dealing with fact; and that 4 is more subtle and metaphysical than the others. Hence we have three great branches of Theology: Fundamental, Positive, and Speculative.

II. The existence and attributes of God are proved in that branch of Philosophy called Natural Theology. They come within the province of unaided reason, and need no supernatural Revelation to manifest them (Rom. 1:20; 2:14, 15; Acts 14:14–16; Wisd. 13:1–9). But God has freely bestowed upon us a higher way of knowing Him and His dealings with man. He has spoken directly by His own voice and the voice of His Son, and indirectly through Prophets, Apostles, and Inspired Writers (Heb. 1:1, 2). Those who originally heard God or His envoys were convinced of the Divine origin of what they heard, by the working of miracles and the fulfilment of prophecies. Those who lived in after ages had first to be convinced of the truth of the record of these sayings and doings handed down by word of mouth or by writing, and then were able to infer that these really came from God. Now it is the business of Fundamental Theology to prove the trustworthiness of these records, to examine the evidence for the various miracles and prophecies, and so to establish that God has indeed “at sundry times and in divers manners spoken in times past to the fathers by the Prophets,” and afterwards by His Son. But the evidence for the fact of Revelation is not merely a matter of history. We have before our eyes a plain proof that God has spoken, and has worked supernaturally. The Catholic Church herself, by her wonderful propagation, her eminent sanctity, and her inexhaustible fertility in all that is good, is a standing unanswerable argument of her Divine origin and mission. The dogmatic constitution published in the third session of the Vatican Council summarizes the scope and function of Fundamental Theology under four headings: (1) God the Creator of all things; (2) Revelation; (3) Faith; (4) Faith and Reason.

As soon as we know that God has spoken we naturally ask, How are we to find out the things that He has revealed? This question was the turning-point of the controversy between the Catholics and the Protestants in the sixteenth century, and was decided by the Council of Trent (sess. iv.). The branch of Theology that deals with it may be styled fundamental, inasmuch as the question concerns the very basis of our belief; but it is more usually called Polemical or Controversial Theology.

The other branch of Fundamental Theology is sometimes designated Apologetic Theology, because its function is to defend Revelation against Rationalists, Deists, Atheists, and others.

III. After having established that God has made a Revelation, and after having discovered the means of knowing the things that He has revealed, our next step is to inquire what these things are. Positive Theology takes for granted all that has been proved by Fundamental Theology, both Apologetic and Controversial. It examines the various sources of Revelation, written and unwritten; it tells us that in God there are Three Persons, that God raised man to the supernatural order, that man fell, that God the Son took flesh and died for us, and so on with the other great mysteries. Its proper function is to establish the truths of Revelation, and not to penetrate into their inner and deeper meaning and mutual relations. But those who treat of it do not restrict themselves to the former task, but make excursions into the higher region.

IV. The noblest branch of Theology is that which is concerned, not with proving the contents of Revelation, but with comparing revealed truths and entering into their very essence as far as reason, guided by Faith, will allow. Speculative Theology starts where Positive Theology ends: Positive Theology proves a dogma; Speculative Theology examines it closely, views it in connection with other dogmas, and strives thereby to get a deeper insight into it and into them. The attacks made by Protestants on the Rule of Faith, and those made by Rationalists on the very existence of Revelation, have naturally drawn off attention from this profound and sublime study. But at the present time signs are not wanting that it is once more being cultivated. The deep and many-sided insight which it gives into things Divine is itself a most desirable enrichment of the mind, enabling us to participate more fully in the blessings and fruits of the Faith. It is also of help to our Faith, not indeed by increasing its certainty, but by presenting revealed truths to better advantage in the light which they throw on one another, and in the harmony of their mutual relations. Even against heretics it is not without value. Their chief strength lies in the confusion of ideas, in the falsification of true notions, and in the abuse of logic. On all these points Speculative Theology renders great service to the truth. The great controversialists of the last three centuries have been at the same time profound speculative theologians. See Canus, l. viii., and l. xii., c. 2; Kleutgen, Theol., vol. iii., diss. 1 and 5.

V. An example will perhaps help us to understand the various distinctions spoken of in this section. We take the dogma of the Blessed Trinity.

1. Natural Theology, which is really a branch of Philosophy, proves to us that God exists.

2. Apologetic Theology proves that He has revealed to us truths above our reason.

3. Controversial Theology proves that the testimony and authority of the Catholic Church is the means of finding out what God has revealed.

4. Positive Theology proves that it has been revealed that there are three Persons in God.

5. Speculative Theology teaches us how One Divine Essence is possessed by Three distinct Persons, viz. that One Person possesses It as uncommunicated; a Second possesses It as communicated by knowledge; and a Third possesses It as communicated by love.

We repeat in this place that the present manual deals chiefly with Positive Theology. Occasionally we shall rise into Speculative Theology, notably in Book II., Part II., chap. iv., where we strive to penetrate into the mystery of the Trinity.


I. Human reason, like Faith, has its own proper subject-matter and province. It also lays the foundation of Faith, and aids in the development of revealed doctrines. There is, however, a certain territory which is common to both Reason and Faith. Hence we must consider the mutual relations of the two. This subject has been clearly expounded by the Vatican Council (sess. iii., chap. 4), so that we need only quote and explain what is there laid down.

1. “If any one shall say that in Divine Revelation no mysteries properly so-called are contained, but that all the dogmas of the Faith can be understood and proved from natural principles by reason duly cultivated: let him be anathema.

2. “If any one shall say that human sciences are to be treated with such freedom that their assertions, although at variance with revealed doctrine, can be received as true, and cannot be proscribed by the Church: let him, etc.

3. “If any one shall say that it can come to pass that at some time, according to the progress of science, a meaning should be attributed to the dogmas proposed by the Church other than that which the Church hath understood and doth understand: let him,” etc.

In these three canons the principal claims of the Rationalists are condemned: (1) The right to treat of revealed truths in the same way as natural truths, that is, on purely natural principles and with purely natural certitude; (2) the right of human reason to hold its scientific conclusions, notwithstanding their opposition to revealed doctrines, and independently of the authority of the Church; and (3) the right to substitute new meanings for old ones, in the definitions of Faith. It is plain that these claims not only entirely emancipate Reason from the control of Faith, but also invade the proper domain of Faith and destroy its supernatural character.

II. The fundamental principles upon which the relations between Faith and Reason are based are stated by the Council to be the following:—

1. Reason is a principle or source of knowledge, and possesses a domain of its own. Faith, too, is a principle of knowledge, higher in dignity than reason, and likewise having its own proper domain.

2. As both Faith and Reason come from God, they cannot be opposed to each other, or arrive at contradictory conclusions.

3. From these two principles the Council infers that any conclusion or assertion opposed to illuminated (supernatural) Faith is altogether false, and only apparently reasonable. Hence a Catholic has the right and the duty to reject any such assertion or conclusion as soon as he is informed by the infallible teaching of the Church that his Faith is really illuminated. Again, Faith and Reason combine for mutual aid and support, yet in such a way that each retains its own proper character and comparative independence. Reason assists Faith by demonstrating the credibility of Faith, by contributing to the understanding of its subject-matter, and by developing it into theological science. On the other hand, Faith is of service to Reason, by rescuing it from many errors, even in the domain of human science, and by guiding it to a profounder and more comprehensive knowledge of natural truths. This influence of Faith on Reason implies, indeed, a certain weakness and dependence on the part of Reason, but does not interfere with its legitimate conclusions or legitimate freedom. It is only a false liberty or licence that is inconsistent with submission to Faith.

III. The relations between Reason and Faith can be summed up in the well-known formula: “Reason is the hand-maiden of Faith.” That is to say, Faith and its theological development are the highest science, and are the supreme object and highest end towards which the activity of man can be directed. St. Thomas expresses the same doctrine thus: “Seeing that the end of the whole of Philosophy is lower than and is ordained to the end of Theology, the latter should rule all the other sciences, and take into her service what they teach” (prol. in I. Sent. q. I. a. 1). And St. Bonaventure: “Theology takes from nature the materials to make a mirror in which Divine things are reflected, and she constructs as it were a ladder, the lowest rung of which is on earth, and the highest in Heaven” (Prol. Breviloq.). The Seraphic Doctor develops the same idea in his splendid work, Reductio artium ad Theologiam. See Dr. Clemens, De Scholasticorum sententia: Philosophiam phiam esse ancillam Theologiæ: Kleutgen, vol. iv., n. 315 sqq. Franzelin, De Trad., Append., cap. vi.: Card. Newman, Idea of a University, p. 428.

IV. Hence it follows that philosophy must be, in a certain sense, Christian and Catholic in its spirit, in its principles, and in its conclusions. Its spirit is Catholic when the philosopher is guided by the doctrines of Faith, when he aims at a fuller knowledge of the natural truths contained in Revelation, and prepares the way for the scientific development of supernatural truths. Its principles and conclusions are Catholic when they agree with Faith, or at least do not clash with it, and when they can be used in speculative theology. In other words, philosophy is Christian and Catholic when it is really true and sound philosophy. Non-Christian philosophy can indeed, to a certain extent, be true and sound; nevertheless, the nature of the science itself, and its history, prove that its proper development is dependent on its Christian spirit. In pre-Christian times, Socratic philosophy attained a high degree of perfection, and became the foundation upon which Christian philosophy is built. The Fathers recognized in this fact the Hand of God preparing the way for the science of the Gospel. By Socratic philosophy we mean the due combination of its two forms, Platonic and Aristotelian. These two correct and supplement each other, and should not be separated. (See the interesting parallel between Plato and Aristotle, in St. Thom. Opusc., De Substantiis Separatis.) Christian philosophy blends them together, although it has sometimes given more prominence to one than to the other. The use which the Church has made, and continues to make, of this combined system is a guarantee of the truth of its main principles and conclusions. Hence any attempt to substitute for it a totally new or different system must be viewed with distrust, so much the more as all modern attempts of the kind have miserably failed.


1. A supernatural illumination of the mind is in the first place needed to assist the mind in overcoming the difficulties naturally inherent in a knowledge of supernatural things. These difficulties arise from the nature of the human mind, which draws its notions from the sensible world, and is subject to the influence of passion and prejudice. Both sorts of difficulties are alluded to by the Apostle: “The sensual (ψυχικὸς) man perceiveth not these things that are of the Spirit of God: for it is foolishness to him, and he cannot understand: because it is spiritually (πνευματικῶς) examined. But the spiritual (πνευματικὸς) man judgeth all things” (1 Cor. 2:14, 15). The Divine assistance required for their removal is often mentioned in Scripture, e.g. “His unction teacheth you of all things” (1 John 2:27; cf. Eph. 1:17).

Again, the action of the Holy Ghost is required, at least morally, to produce that purity of disposition and humility of heart which are indispensable for all moral and religious knowledge, and especially for a knowledge of the supernatural. This assistance is often so effective, that it contributes more to the perfection of spiritual science than the best-developed but unassisted natural abilities. Hence children and uneducated people sometimes have a clearer perception of the mysteries of the Faith than persons calling themselves philosophers. “I give thee thanks, O Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because thou hast hid these things from the wise and prudent (ἀπὸ σοφῶν καὶ συνετῶν), and hast revealed them to little ones” (νηπίοις, Matt. 11:25; cf. 5:8, and Wisd. 1:4). Card. Newman, Oxford University Sermons, xiii., “On Implicit and Explicit Reason;” Grammar of Assent, chap. viii., § 3, “Natural Inference.”

II. The influence of the Holy Ghost on our spiritual knowledge reaches its perfection when He diffuses in our soul the supernatural life of Divine Love. This life brings us into most intimate connection with the mysteries of the Faith, keeps them continually before our mind, and, as it were, identifies us with them. Divine charity, which is fruitful of good works, is also productive of increased knowledge of spiritual things. It transforms the elementary understanding into a perfect Wisdom which is a foretaste and beginning of the Beatific Vision. Charity give a keenness to the spiritual eye, and fixes it upon the Divine Love; Charity gives us a sense of the Divine Beauty and Sweetness; Charity likens us to God Himself, inasmuch as He is the principle of the greatest mysteries the more we love the better we understand the love of others. The spiritual contentment produced by Charity in the soul helps us to understand the perfect harmony existing between revealed truth and the noblest aspiration of our nature. The fire of Divine Charity is naturally accompanied by a Divine light, by means of which God manifests Himself in a marvellous manner. 1 Cor. 2:13–16; 2 Cor. 3:16–18; Eph. 3:14, sqq.


I. The possibility, and indeed the necessity, of progress in Theology result in general from the inexhaustible riches of revealed truths, the perfectibility of the human mind, the wise dispensation of Providence which gradually evolved Revelation, and lastly from the necessity of combating heresy and infidelity.

II. Progress in Theology necessarily differs from progress in human sciences. Theology, for instance, can never desert the standpoint of Faith so as to substitute for it purely rational principles; it cannot give up or alter anything which has once been defined; it cannot discover any new province—except, indeed, in certain auxiliary branches of research—because its limits have already been fixed by the fact that Revelation has been closed. Positive progress is possible in three directions only: (1) what is uncertain, indefinite, or obscure may be made certain, definite, and clear; (2) erroneous opinions held by some may be corrected; and (3) demonstration and defence may be remodelled or improved. Speaking generally, progress is made chiefly in the correction of partially held erroneous opinions.

III. Progress in Theology is not as constant and steady as progress in dogma, because theology depends, much more than dogma, on the abilities of individual members of the Church. Epochs of profound theological learning have been succeeded by epochs of comparative sterility. Mathematics, the natural sciences, and history progress more steadily than Theology, because they deal with fixed formulas and facts. Nevertheless Theology advances more steadily than Philosophy, because the fundamental principles of Theology are fixed, and also because the assistance of the Holy Ghost, working through the Church, preserves it from straying far from the truth.

IV. In recent times the enemies of Theology, and even some of its less prudent friends, have tried to give sacred science a “liberal” basis. Liberalism in Theology consists in questioning its principles either categorically, that is, doubting them until natural science has proved them to be true (as Hermes did); or hypothetically, that is, accepting them, but subject to scientific ratification (Günther). In both cases the principle of the Faith is denied, and progress in Theology is rendered as impossible as progress in a philosophy based on the negation of first principles. The only permissible doubt is Methodic Doubt. A Catholic theologian may treat of the truths which he firmly believes, as though they were still uncertain, for the purpose of discovering for his own benefit or for that of unbelievers the grounds upon which they are based. A third form of liberalism, less serious than the other two, is the rejection of the method and principles of the old scholastic theologians. (See Syllabus, prop. xiii.) To do this would be an insult to reason, to the vital power of the Church and to Divine Providence. Besides, no progress is possible except on the basis of previously acquired results. On the whole, Liberalism is opposed to authority because it looks upon authority as an obstacle to progress. It demands unlimited freedom in its methods, its principles, and its conclusions. But a comparison of the state of Theology in Germany and Spain shows that progress results not from licence but from authority. In Spain, in the sixteenth century, when the Congregation of the Index ruled supreme over theological science, theology attained an unparalleled height of splendour. In Germany, during the eighteenth century, when “freedom of thought” flourished, Theology was in a pitiable state of decay.

The true conditions of a fruitful progress in Theology are: (1) a firm adhesion to the Faith; (2) the acceptance of the progress already made; (3) a willing submission to the authority of the Church; (4) prudence in the use of auxiliary sciences hostile to the Church; and (5) exactness and thoroughness of method.

See Hist. de la Théologie Positive, par J. Turmel; La Théologie Catholique au XIX Siècle, par J. Bellamy.



THE natural and usual division of the treatise on God is founded upon the Unity of the Divine Substance and the Trinity of the Divine Persons. While, however, opposing the Unity to the Trinity, as is done in the division “Of God as One,” and “Of God as Three” (De Deo Uno, De Deo Trino), we shall here connect them organically by first studying the Existence and Nature of God, then the Divine Life, and, lastly, the Divine Internal Activity, whereby the One Substance is communicated to the Three Divine Persons.



THE Fathers treat of God as One when they speak of Creation against pagans and Manichæans. They enter more into detail in their polemical writings on the Trinity and Incarnation, especially against the Arians: e.g. St. Basil, St. Gregory of Nyssa, Contra Eunonium; St. Hilary, De Trinitate; and, above all, St. Augustine, De Trinitate. The completest patristic treatise on God as One is that of Dionysius the Areopagite (so-called), De Divinis Nominibus, with the commentary by St. Maximus the Confessor. The best collections of texts from the Fathers on this question are those of John of Cyprus, Expositio materiaria eorum quæ de Deo a theologis dicuntur (Bibl. Patrum, Lugd., tom. xxi.), Petavius, Thomassinus, and Frassen, De Deo; and Theophil. Reynaud, Theol. Naturalis. In the Middle Ages St. Anselm’s Monologium was an epoch-making work. Alexander of Hales and St. Thomas (I., qq. 2–26) contain copious materials. Of the countless modern writers we need only name Lessius, De Perfectionibus Moribusque Divinis. Among theologians of the present time the best treatises are by Staudenmaier, Berlage, Kuhn, Schwetz, Kleutgen, Franzelin, Pesch, Billot, and Janssen.





I. THE Catholic doctrine on man’s natural knowledge of God was defined by the Vatican Council: “Holy Mother Church doth hold and teach that God, the beginning and end of all things, can certainly be known from created things by the natural light of reason; ‘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).… If any one shall say that the One true God, our Creator and Lord, cannot be certainly known by the natural light of human reason from the things that are made, let him be anathema” (sess. iii., De Fide Catholica, ch. 2 and the corresponding can. ii. 1).

Holy Scripture, upon which the council’s definition is based, teaches the same doctrine in many passages.

ROM. 1.

          WISD. 13.

For the wrath of God is revealed from Heaven against all ungodliness and injustice of those men that detain the truth of God in injustice (ver. 18); (For professing themselves to be wise they became fools, and they changed the glory of the incorruptible God into the likeness of the image of a corruptible man, … and they liked not (ἐδοκίμασαν) to have God in their knowledge). (Vers. 22–28.)

Because that which is known of God is manifest in them (τὸ γνωστὸν τοῦ Θεοῦ φανερόν ἐστιν ἐν αὐτοῖς). For God hath manifested it unto them (ver. 19).

For the invisible things of Him from the creation of the world are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made (ἀπὸ κτίσεως κόσμον τοῖς ποιήμασι νοούμενα καθορᾶται); His eternal power also and divinity (ἥτε ἀΐδιος αὐτου δύναμις καὶ Θειότης).

So that they are inexcusable. Because that when they knew God (γνόντες τὸν θεόν), they have not glorified Him as God, or given thanks, but became vain in their own thoughts, and their foolish heart was darkened (vers. 20, 21).

          But all men are vain (μάταιοι μὲν γὰρ πάντες ἄνθρωποι φύσει), in whom there is not the knowledge of God:

and who by these good things that are seen could not understand Him that is (τὸν ὄντα), neither by attending to the works have acknowledged who was the Workman: but have imagined either the fire, or the wind, or the swift air, or the circle of the stars, or the great water, or the sun and moon to be the gods that rule the world (vers. 1, 2).

With whose beauty if they being delighted, took them to be gods: let them know how much the Lord of them is more beautiful than they; for the First Author (γενεσιάρχης) of beauty made all those things.

Or if they admired their power and their effects (δύναμιν καὶ ἐνέργειαν), let them understand by them that He that made them is mightier than they: for by the greatness of the beauty and of the creature, the Creator of them may be seen, so as to be known thereby (ἐκ γὰρ μεγέθους καλλονῆς κτισμάτων ἀναλόγως ὁ γενεσιάρχης αὐτῶν θεωρεῖται). (Vers. 3–5.)

But then again they are not to be pardoned; for if they were able to know so much as to make a judgment of the world, how did they not more easily find out the Lord thereof? (Vers. 8, 9.)

And again: “For when the Gentiles who have not the law do by nature those things that are of the law, these having not the law are a law to themselves; who show the work of the law written in their hearts, their conscience bearing witness to them, and their thoughts between themselves accusing or also defending one another” (Rom. 2:14–16). Compare also St. Paul’s discourses at Lystra and at Athens (Acts 14, 17), in which a natural knowledge of God is presupposed as a foundation of and a point of contact with Faith.

II. The doctrine of Holy Scripture and the Council may be expressed in the following paragraphs:—

1. Man is able and is bound to acquire a true knowledge of God by means of his own natural faculties, and is responsible for ignorance or denial of God’s existence, and for any consequent neglect of religious or moral duties.

2. Although it is most difficult for unaided reason to attain a perfect knowledge of God, nevertheless some elementary knowledge of Him is natural to the human mind; that is to say, a notion of God is acquired spontaneously at the very dawn of reason; no external help, certainly no profound philosophical instruction, is needed. The notion of God is likewise so much in harmony with the spiritual nature of man, that no adverse influences can altogether destroy it. This doctrine is not formally expressed by the Vatican Council; but it is contained clearly enough in Holy Scripture, and is universally taught by the Fathers and by theologians (cf. § 2).

3. This knowledge of God is also natural as proceeding from the very nature of human reason, and as being in accordance with its laws; that is to say, this knowledge arises, not from some blind instinct, or blind submission to authority, but from a most simple process of reasoning. Created nature is the medium whereby, as in a mirror, God manifests Himself to the eye of our mind. Our knowledge of Him, therefore, is not a direct or immediate intuition of Him as He is in Himself, but an inferential knowledge of Him as the Cause of created things. The Council directly states only that human reason is unable to attain to an immediate apprehension of God, and that the mediate apprehension by means of created things possesses a real, true, and perfect certitude. Hence the definition does not formally exclude the possibility of some other objective and immediate perception of God, not having the character of an intuition of or direct gazing upon His Essence. Revelation, however, does not recognize any such immediate knowledge, and the attempts made by theologians to establish its existence are not only without foundation, but even tend to endanger the dogma of the Divine Invisibility, and the dogma of the independent force of the mediate knowledge.

4. Our natural knowledge of God is based upon the consideration of the external world, that is, of the things apprehended by the senses, and also upon the consideration of the spiritual nature of the human soul. The external world manifests God chiefly in His Omnipotence and Providence; the life of the soul manifests the inner attributes of the Divine Life. The material and the spiritual world are thus, as it were, two mirrors in which we behold the image of the Creator. The material mirror is less perfect than the other, but for that very reason the knowledge acquired by means of it is easier, more natural, and more popular. Holy Scripture and the Fathers lay special stress upon it.

5. Our natural knowledge of God is aided by the supernatural manifestations of the Divine power, which can be perceived by our senses and intellect, the natural means of our knowledge. Physical and moral miracles, special and general instances of Providence, such as the hearing and answering of prayer, the punishment of evil-doers, the reward of the good, and the like, are instances of what we mean. This species of Divine Revelation also serves to authenticate the verbal Revelation—the medium of Faith,—and is the continuation of natural Revelation. On the other hand, by it alone the existence, and many attributes of God, may be known, and therefore it is particularly adapted to excite, develop, and complete the knowledge founded upon simply natural contemplation. Cf. Franzelin, De Deo Uno, thes. viii.


The complete treatment of the proof of the Existence of God belongs to Philosophy and Apologetics. We shall here confine our attention to some remarks on the nature, force, and organic connection of these proofs.

I. To be or to exist belongs to God’s very essence. The proposition, “God exists,” is therefore immediately evident in itself (per se nota secundum se). Nevertheless, since we have no immediate perception of the Divine Essence, this proposition is not immediately evident to us (per se nota quoad nos). To our mind it is a knowledge acquired by experience. The manifestations of God are immediately perceivable by us, and through these we prove the existence of God.

II. Although the existence of God requires proof, still our certitude of His existence is not necessarily the result of a scientific demonstration. A natural demonstration, sufficient to generate a perfect certitude, offers itself to every human mind, as it were spontaneously. The processes of scientific demonstration, if made use of at all, find already in the mind a conviction of God’s existence, and only serve to confirm and deepen this conviction.

III. The proofs of the existence of God are of two kinds—direct and indirect.

1. The indirect proofs show that our knowledge of the Divine existence is the necessary result of our rational nature, whence they infer that the existence of God is as certain as the rationality of our nature. Hence we have: (1) the Historical proofs, taken from the universality and constancy of this knowledge; (2) the Moral proof, based upon the moral and religious activity resulting from it; and (3) the proof taken from the logical and psychological character of this knowledge, by showing that it cannot result from internal or external experience, or from artificial combination, and must therefore result from the natural tendencies of reason itself.

2. The direct proofs represent God as the only Sufficient Cause of some effect which we perceive. They tend directly to prove His existence, and are a development of that natural process of human reason which, previous to any scientific demonstration, has already convinced us that He exists. They are classified according to the nature of the effect used as a medium of demonstration. At the same time, they form one organic whole, the several parts of which complete and perfect each other. They may be arranged as follows:—

A.     Proofs taken from existing things of which God is the Cause:

(a)    From attributes common to all things, and pointing to God as the Absolute Being (= Metaphysical Proofs):

(α)   From the dependent and conditional existence of things, which requires an independent and absolute Cause (causa efficiens);

(β)    From the imperfection, mutability, and natural limitation of things, which require an immutable and absolutely perfect Cause (causa exemplaris);

(γ)    From the motion and development of which things are capable and which they accomplish, supposing thereby an immovable Prime Mover and Final Cause (causa finalis).

(b)    From attributes proper to certain classes of things, and pointing to God as the Absolute Spiritual Nature (= Cosmological Proofs):

(α)   From the nature and energies of matter, and the design in its arrangements, which can only be accounted for by the existence of an intellectual Being, the Author and Disposer of the material universe;

(β)    From the nature and energies of mind, which suppose a Creator and an Absolute Mind;

(γ)    From the twofold nature of man, in whom mind and matter are so intimately blended that a higher creative principle must be admitted, the Author of both mind and matter.

B.      Proofs taken from possible or ideal things of which God is the Principle:

The possibility, necessity, and immutability inherent in certain conceptions of the possible, the unlimited domain of things possible—all of these suppose the existence of a Being, real, necessary and infinite, the foundation and source of all being and truth.

See St. Thom., I., q. 2, a. 3.

IV. It is an article of Faith that the Existence of God can be known by natural means. From this it follows that the proofs which are the natural means must themselves be convincing. It does not, however, imply that each of the above-mentioned arguments taken apart has the power of convincing. All, or at least some of them, taken together are capable of producing the requisite certitude. But the evidence of the demonstration is not like that of a mathematical proposition. In mathematics, especially in geometry, our imagination aids our reason; no moral considerations oppose the admission of the truths to be proved. The proofs of God’s existence appeal to our reason alone, and compel it to rise above the images of our fancy and to accept a truth often most opposed to our natural desires. At the same time, the evidence is far more than a moral evidence. It produces absolute certainty, and imposes itself upon the mind in spite of moral obstacles.


I. As our natural knowledge of God is mediate and indirect, our knowledge of the Divine Essence cannot be intuitive—that is, resulting from direct intuition; nor can it be even equivalent to intuitive cognition—that is, reflecting the Divine Essence as It is in Itself purely and simply. The latter could be the case only if creatures were perfect images of the Creator, and also if, in addition, we had a perfect knowledge of their essences. Holy Scripture tells us that the vision of God, as He is, is promised as the reward of the sons of God in Heaven (1 John 3:2); and describes our present knowledge as a seeing through a glass in a dark manner (διʼ ἐσόπτρου ἐν αἰνίγματι) (1 Cor. 13:12).

II. An idea or conception of God as He really is, is impossible. Nevertheless, our idea of God is not simply negative and relative, showing merely what He is not and in what relations He stands to other beings. It is true, indeed, that the first element of our notion of Him is that He has none of the imperfections of finite things, and that He possesses the power to produce the perfections of creatures; yet, as these perfections are a reflection of His perfections, we are enabled to gather from them notions or conceptions of God, imperfect and indirect indeed, but still, at the same time, positive and truly representing the perfections belonging to the Divine Essence.

III. The perfections found in nature are but faint reproductions of the perfections of the Creator. Hence our natural conceptions, before they can be applied to the Divine Substance, must be purified of all imperfections, and must be enlarged and elevated so as to be made worthy of God (θεοπρεπεϊς). This “eminent sense,” as it is called, is expressed in the language of Holy Scripture and the Church in three ways: (1) The simplicity and substantiality of the Divine perfections are indicated by the use of abstract terms, e.g. by calling God not only good and wise, but also Goodness itself and Wisdom (αὐταγαθότης, αὐτοσοφία). (2) The infinite fulness of His perfections is expressed by adjectives with the prefix “all,” e.g. almighty, all-wise. (3) The intensity and super-eminent excellence of these perfections is pointed out by the prefix ὑπέρ, super, which may be expressed in English by the adverb “supremely,” e.g. supremely wise.

IV. The analogical value or the eminent signification is not the same in all conceptions. Some of the perfections of creatures can be conceived as divested of all imperfection, e.g. the transcendental attributes of unity, truth, goodness, force, and the attributes which go to make spiritual creatures the images of God. When these notions are applied to God they remain analogical indeed, but still they are used in a positive and proper sense, as opposed to a metaphorical, improper, or symbolical sense. But some natural perfections cannot be conceived without some imperfection adhering to them; they cannot therefore be predicated of God except in a symbolical and metaphorical sense, e.g. God is a lion, a rock, a fire, God is angry. Such metaphors, however, have a deeper meaning than ordinary metaphors, because they are founded upon the fact that the First Cause is reflected in every perfection of the creature. Perfections of the first kind are called “pure, and simple, and unadulterated perfections” (perfectiones simplices); the latter are called “mixed perfections”—that is, perfections combined with imperfection. The Greek Fathers designate the two classes and our corresponding knowledge of God by the expressions, κατηγορήματα τέλεια or ἀποδεικτικά, θεολογία ἀποδεικτική, for the first class, and κατηγορήματα ἀπόρρητα, or μυστικά and θεολογία συμβολική for the second. The two classes complete each other; the simple attributes enabling us to understand what is obscure and undetermined in the mixed attributes, and the latter giving a concreteness to the first.

IV. Theologians distinguish three ways of arriving at correct notions of God by means of the analogical conceptions gathered from natural perfections. The first is the Positive method, or the method of Causality (causa exemplaris), by which we consider the created perfection as an image and likeness of the corresponding Divine perfection. The second is the method of Negation, or removal (negationis seu remotionis), whereby we deny that certain perfections exist in God in the same manner as in creatures, viz., mixed with imperfection. The third is the method of Eminence (καθʼ ὑπεροχήν), which is a combination of the two preceding methods, and consists in conceiving the Divine perfections as of the most exalted character, and as having in themselves in a supreme degree whatever is perfect in creatures, without any admixture of imperfection. Hence there are three ways of predicating of God the perfections found in creatures. We can say: God is a spirit, God lives, God is rational; meaning that these perfections really exist in God. We can also say: God is not a spirit, is not living, is not rational; meaning that these perfections do not exist in God as they exist in creatures. To reconcile this seeming contradiction, the perfections should be predicated of God in the eminent sense: God is superspiritual, superrational. This doctrine is often expressed by the Fathers by saying that God is at the same time πανώνυμος, ἀνώνυμος, ὑπερώνυμος (all-names, nameless, above all names).

These three methods may be aptly compared with the methods of the three principal fine arts. The painter produces a picture by transferring colours to the canvas; the sculptor executes a statue by chipping away portions of a block of marble; while the poet strives to realize his ideal by the aid of metaphor and hyperbole.

The indirect and analogical character of our knowledge of God renders us unable to embrace in one idea all the perfections of the Divine Substance, or even the little that we can naturally know of them. We are obliged to combine several particular conceptions into one relatively complete representation. But the subject will be considered in the chapter on the unity and attributes of God.

V. The names which we give to things are the expression of our conceptions of those things. Hence what has been said concerning our conceptions of God applies to the names by which we designate them. Negative names exclude all idea of imperfection and represent God as a Being sui generis—which can alone be properly predicated of Him. All positive names transferred from the creature to the Creator are more or less improper names of Him, because they are not predicated of Creator and creature in exactly the same sense. Still, not being predicated of God in quite a different sense, they are not simply improper but analogical names. The most perfect among them are the names of pure or spiritual perfections, because they express perfections formally contained in Him. Although they are predicated of Him by way of eminence, still they belong to Him more than to creatures, because the perfections they express exist in God with more purity, fulness, reality, and truth than in creatures. For this reason they are sometimes attributed to Him exclusively: “Who alone is,” “One only is good, God.” The names of mixed perfections, especially specific names of material things can only be given to God in a metaphorical or symbolical sense.

VI. From what has been said it follows that the Divine Essence can neither be conceived or expressed by us as it really is in itself, but still that some conception and some expression of it are not beyond the power of our natural faculties—an absolute knowledge is impossible, a relative and imperfect knowledge is within our reach.

The doctrine contained in this section is beautifully expressed by St. Gregory of Nazianzum, in his “Hymn to God:”—

“In Thee all things do dwell, and tend

To Thee Who art their only End;

Thou art at once One, All, and None,

And yet Thou art not all or one.

All-name! by what name can I call

Thee, Nameless One, alone of all?”


I. Our natural knowledge of God embraces all those Divine attributes without which God cannot be conceived as the First and Supreme Cause of the visible universe. This doctrine is set forth by the Apostle when he teaches that “the invisible things of God” are knowable in so far as they are reflected in things visible in nature, the Divine Nature (Θειότης) being especially mentioned.

II. The Trinity of the Divine Persons—that is, the manner in which the Divine Nature subsists in Itself and communicates Itself to several Persons—lies absolutely beyond the sphere of human knowledge; our reason cannot discover it, or even prove it on natural grounds after its existence has been revealed. This is taught by Holy Scripture in the general passages concerning the inscrutableness of the mysteries revealed to us by God. These expressions refer, not merely to His inscrutable counsels, but also to the inscrutable depths of His Being. “The Spirit searcheth all things, yea, the deep things of God. For what man knoweth the things of a man, but the spirit of a man that is in him? So the things also that are of God no man knoweth, but the Spirit of God” (1 Cor. 2:10, 11). “No one knoweth the Son but the Father, neither doth any one know the Father but the Son, and he to whom it shall please the Son to reveal Him” (Matt. 11:27; cf. John 1:18). The same can be demonstrated from the dogmatic conception of the Trinity compared with the sole medium of our natural knowledge of God. The Divine Persons operate externally as one single principle (unum universorum principium, Fourth Lateran Council). Now, from the effects we can know only so much of the cause as actually concurs in the production of the effects; wherefore from God’s works we can infer nothing concerning the Trinity of Persons.

The indemonstrability of the Blessed Trinity largely contributes to the incomprehensibility of the mystery. Whatever cannot be arrived at by reason is difficult of mental representation. Conversely, the incomprehensibility of the Trinity, that is, the impossibility of forming a conception of it in harmony with natural things—is a further reason of its indemonstrability. Both the indemonstrability and the incomprehensibility originate from the fact that the Trinity is God as He is and lives within Himself, apart from and above the manifestations of Him in nature. Hence it is that no process of mere reasoning can lead to a knowledge of God as He is. Faith gives us an obscure knowledge of Him: the Beatific Vision will disclose Him to us. See St. Thom. I., q. 32, a. 1.


Our supernatural knowledge of God differs essentially from natural knowledge, although the nature of the conceptions is the same in both. Faith fixes the mind on its object, and enables it to free its conceptions from the disfiguring elements which an unguided imagination might introduce. The light of Faith illuminates the Divine manifestations in nature, and better adapts our conceptions to the dignity of God. The moral and spiritual life, which is one of the fruits of Faith, elevates the mind above mere animal nature, perfects the image and likeness of God, and so produces a more faithful mirror of the Divine perfections. Holy Scripture tells us of many Divine operations in nature which would have escaped the eye of our mind, and it also reveals many supernatural works of God which place the Divine perfections in a brighter light. Lastly, the manifestation of God in the Incarnation has given us the most perfect manifestation of the Deity, and the best adapted to our capacities.


I. Divine Revelation gives a progressive development of the idea of God, even if we abstract from the final revelation of the mystery of the Trinity. Nothing new was revealed to the Patriarchs concerning the Divine Nature and attributes; their knowledge was the same as natural knowledge and as that handed down by tradition. The object of the Mosaic Revelation was to preserve in its purity the idea of one God against the corruptions of idolatry and polytheism. It proclaimed God’s exalted power over all things finite and material, and His absolute dominion over mankind; it revealed the essential characteristic of God in the name Jehovah. The Prophets point out and describe in magnificent language the Divine attributes which can be known by the light of reason; especially unity, eternity, unchangeableness, infinite greatness, creative omnipotence, omnipresence, omniscience, wisdom, goodness, justice, and holiness. But all these attributes are spoken of simply to bring out the infinite Majesty of God, and not in order to reveal anything further concerning His Essence. This latter aspect is first opened up in the Sapiential books (Prov. 8, Wisd. 7, Ecclus. 24), where, under the name of the Eternal Wisdom, the inner life of the Deity is exhibited in its internal and external communication, and the theology of the New Testament is thereby anticipated. The object and tendency of Christian Revelation is to raise man to a most intimate union with God, his Father, and consequently it manifests the inner perfection of the Divine Life of which man becomes a partaker. It presupposes the Old Testament Revelation without making any further disclosures concerning the Divine Nature; but, as it tells us of the mystery of the Trinity, it enables us to gain some insight into the Divine internal fecundity, and to conceive the Divine Nature as the purest spirituality—as the Light, the Life, the Truth, the Love, and so as the principle and ideal of the supernatural perfection to which we should tend.

II. The names applied to God are either substantives or adjectives. In the present section we shall confine ourselves to the former. There are seven substantives applied to God in the Old Testament. These “Holy Names” may be divided into three classes.

I. The first class comprises the names which designate the supreme excellence of God rather than His Essence: אֵל, אֱלוחִים, אֲרוֹנָי.

אֵל, El, the Mighty, is often used with appositions, such as אֵל שַׁדַּי, παντοκράτωρ, omnipotens, almighty; אֵל אֱלוהִים, God of Gods. The name El, even without apposition, is seldom used of false gods.

אֱלוהִים Elohim, plural of Eloah, the Arabic Allah, the Powerful, with the correlative significations of Awe-inspiring, Worthy of adoration. This name is given ironically to false gods, and in a true but weak, inferior sense to beings inferior to God as reflections of His Majesty, e.g. angels, kings, judges. When applied to the one, true God, Elohim must be taken as the majestic plural rather than as an indication of the Trinity. Appositions are sometimes used to define the sense, e.g. Elohim Zebaoth, the God of hosts,—that is, the hosts or armies of angels, of the stars, or of men; sometimes it means the God of all creatures.

אֲרוֹנָי, Adonai, Κύριος, δεσπότης, Dominus, Judge, Commander, Lord pre-eminently. This name combines the meanings of El and Elohim, because God, the Supreme Lord, not only inspires fear on account of His physical might, but also exacts reverence and submission as a moral power. Adonai is used without apposition as a proper name of God. Other beings can indeed be judges and commanders, but they are so only inasmuch as they represent God, and not in the eminent sense indicated by the plural of majesty. It is never used of the false divinities of the heathen, because the idea of supreme moral power and sovereignty was not associated with them.

2. The second class contains only one name, essentially a proper name, because it describes the Divine Essence. It is יְהוָֹה, Jehovah (Exod. 3:14–16), “I am Who am.” The correct pronunciation is probably Yahweh, whence the abbreviation יָה, Yah. Its meaning is that God is the One Who is, purely and simply; Whose Being is dependent on no external cause, Who therefore can neither be limited nor changed by anything, and Who, by reason of this mode of existence, is distinguished from all other beings, real or possible, especially from all pretended divinities, and also from powerful, ruling, or unearthly beings, which might possibly be designated by the other Divine names. Hence it is, in the strictest sense of the word, a proper name, such as Moses asked for in order to make known to the people the characteristic name of the God, Elohim, of their fathers. It is moreover a name of alliance, as being intimately connected with the covenant between God and Israel; the knowledge of the true God as revealed in the name Jehovah was the pledge, the medium, and the proof of the alliance. As the name Jehovah was in use before the time of Moses, the question arises as to the sense in which God said to Moses (Exod. 6:3) that he appeared to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob by the name of God Almighty, El Schadai, and did not reveal to them His name Jehovah. The best solution of the difficulty is, perhaps, that Jehovah was His most appropriate name, and that it was, as a matter of fact, adopted by Him to serve as a symbol and watchword of the public worship of the one God, whereas El Schadai expresses more accurately the relation of God to the families of the Patriarchs as their powerful protector.

3. The third class embraces those names akin to the first class, but expressing with more force the sublime excellence of the true God. In their substantive form they are, however, applied to false divinities.

הַשַׁרָי, Haschadai—from schadad, to overpower (?)—the Strong, Mighty, akin in meaning to El, but designating with more energy the independence, self-sufficiency, and inviolability of the Power, and therefore it is equivalent to “the Almighty.”

הַעֶלְיון, Haelion, Altissimus, the High, Sublime, the Most High, akin to Elohim.

הַקָּרוֹשׁ, Hakadosch, the Holy, found chiefly in the Prophets and among these especially in Isaias: the Holy One of Israel, the Holy Lord, Judge and Lawgiver of the chosen people. Akin to Adonai.

In the New Testament these names are replaced by their Greek or Latin equivalents, e.g. ὁ Κύριος, ὁ ὤν, ὁ ὕψιστος, etc. The most frequent name applied to God is the classical word Θεός, Deus.


Just as the New Testament takes over from the Old Testament the doctrine concerning the Divine Essence and Nature, and only occasionally insists upon this doctrine, so has the Church from her very infancy looked upon it as sufficiently proposed and as universally admitted. Hence it is that, notwithstanding the importance and the fecundity of the dogma of the Divine Essence and Nature, it is the subject of so few definitions. It was only in our own day, when the most grievous errors concerning God had spread even among Christians, that the Church at length issued a formal definition in the Vatican Council (sess. iii., chap. 1). “The Holy, Catholic, Apostolic, Roman Church believeth and confesseth that there is one true and living God, the Creator and Lord of Heaven and earth, Almighty, Eternal, Immense, Incomprehensible, Infinite in intellect and will and in all perfection; Who, being one, individual, altogether simple and unchangeable Substance, must be asserted to be really and essentially distinct from the world, most happy in Himself and of Himself, and ineffably exalted above everything that exists or can be conceived.

“This one true God, of His own goodness and of His almighty power,—not to increase His happiness, nor to acquire but rather to manifest His perfection by means of the good things which He bestoweth upon creatures,—most freely in the very beginning of time made out of nothing both kinds of creatures, to wit, angelic and mundane, and afterwards human nature, participating of both because composed of spirit and body.

“But God, Who reacheth from end to end mightily and ordereth all things sweetly (Wisd. 8:1), protecteth and ruleth by His providence all the things that He hath made. For all things are naked and open to His eyes (Heb. 4:13), even those things which will come to pass by the free agency of creatures.”

The corresponding canons are the following:—

“1. If any one shall deny the one true God, the Creator and Lord of things visible and invisible, let him be anathema.

“2. If any one shall not be ashamed to say that besides matter nothing doth exist, let him be anathema.

“3. If any one shall say that the substance or essence of God and of all things is one and the same, let him be anathema.

“4. If any one shall say that finite things, whether spiritual or corporeal, or at least spiritual things, have emanated from the Divine Substance;

“Or that the Divine Essence by the manifestation or evolution of Itself becometh all things;

“Or, finally, that God is the universal or indefinite being which by self-determination doth constitute the universe of things distinguished into genera, species, and individuals, let him be anathema.

“5. If any one shall not confess that the world and all things contained therein, both spiritual and material, have been as to their entire substance produced out of nothing by God;

“Or shall say that God created not by will free from all necessity, but necessarily, just as He necessarily loveth Himself;

“Or shall deny that the world was made for the glory of God, let him be anathema.”

The definition of the Council is directed (1) against Atheism, and especially against Materialism; (2) against Pantheism; (3) against certain modern opinions mentioned in detail in can. 5. The Council develops the idea of God positively through the attributes which manifest His absolute greatness as Supreme Being, and then defines His absolute independence of and entire distinction from all other beings. Lastly, the Council firmly establishes His absolute dominion over the universe.




WE have now to inquire whether, among our conceptions of God, there is some one which may be considered as the foundation of all the others.

I. A direct and intuitive representation of the Divine Substance as It is in Itself, is manifestly impossible. Our knowledge of God is restricted to His attributes which we see reflected in creatures, and which we refer to the Divine Substance; but the Substance itself we have no power to apprehend. Whatever God is or has in Himself, He is or has of Himself without external cause, and it is all one and the same with His Substance. There are, however, certain elements in our conception of God which, when compared with the others, may be considered as fundamental and as the root from which the latter spring. The fundamental conception of a substance may be formed either from the consideration of its being, or from the consideration of its activity, notably its vital activity. In the former case, the substance is termed “essence,” to signify what it really is; in the latter case, it is called “nature”—that is, the source or principle of activity. The nature of a thing is sometimes styled its “physical essence,” an expression also used to signify all that belongs essentially to a substance. The essence itself, considered as the root of the essential properties, is called the “metaphysical essence.” Among modern theologians the question of the fundamental conception of God is spoken of as the question concerning the metaphysical essence of God, or the essence which distinguishes Him from all other beings, and accounts for all His essential properties.

II. When we wish to distinguish God from all other beings we think of Him as a substance existing of itself—a substance which owes its existence to no external principle, but possesses existence essentially and absolutely. In other words: Aseity (aseitas, αὐτουσία) is the first distinguishing attribute which we conceive of the Divine Substance, and from which we infer the other Divine attributes. “I am Who am:” that is to say, “I am of Myself and absolutely, in contradistinction to all other beings which have a derivative and precarious existence.” Aseity excludes not only all external principles, but also the notion that God is constantly giving Himself existence (“das absolute Werden” or the “Selbstverwirklichung,” Self-realization, of Günther). God cannot produce Himself any more than any other being can. When He is said to be His own cause, or Self-caused, this only means that He does not require or admit of any cause.

III. There is a still deeper and more exhaustive conception of the Divine Substance contained in the expressions, “God is His own existence;” “God’s essence is existence;” “God is Being;” ὁ ὤν, He Who is, Jehovah. The Schoolmen express this by saying, “God is a pure act (actus purus);” that is, pure actuality without any admixture of potentiality. Every perfection possible in any being is actually possessed by God, and is only possible in others because it actually exists in Him. The name Jehovah, understood in this sense, is really the essential name of God. This Divine Actuality is the foundation of God’s Simplicity and Infinity. His Simplicity consists in the identity of possibility and reality, and His Infinity means that every possible perfection is actually possessed by Him.

We must bear in mind throughout that the conceptions of essence and substance as applied to God are only analogous, because the essences which we know are not identical with existence. Hence the expressions: “God is αὐτοούσιος, ὑπερούσιος, and ἀνούσιος,” that is, God is His own Essence, is above all essences, and is without essence.

IV. Just as the Divine Substance exists of Itself, so does It act of Itself. It is the sole, adequate principle of Its whole Life; It cannot be conceived as animated or vivified, but must be considered as Absolute Life. The Divine Substance is Its own Life, Life pure and simple, Life in its absolute fulness and perfection. Moreover, the Divine Nature must be conceived as absolutely and in the highest degree Spiritual. When we speak of created nature, we distinguish the life-giving principle from the lifeless matter. We term the former “Spirit” when we consider it, not so much as animating matter, but as active and self-subsistent. Hence immaterial and intellectual substances are said to have a spiritual nature and to be spirits. Much more, then, is the Divine Life, which is absolutely independent and immanent, a spiritual Life.

The above description contains the generic difference between the Divine Nature and created nature—viz. the manner in which God possesses His Life; and also contains the fundamental characters which make the Divine Life most eminent and sublime—viz. the absolute immateriality and consequent intellectuality of the Divine Substance. When we designate the Divine Nature as a spirit (John 4:24), we express Its immateriality and intellectuality, the former being the source of the latter. The word “Spirit,” in its eminent signification, is applicable to God’s exalted nature purely and simply, because God is not only the uncreated and highest possessor of a spiritual nature, but also the noblest form of spiritual nature.


I. A being is perfect when it possesses all the qualities of which it is capable, or which are suitable and due to it. Created beings do not receive their perfection with their substance; they acquire it by exerting their own internal energy, or by means of external agents. They thus attain their end, τέλος, which is the completeness of their being, or perfection, τελειότης. The perfection of created beings is always relative; that is to say, it can never embrace more than the good qualities due to a particular class of things, nor can it reach such a high degree that there is not some higher degree possible.

II. Just as God is an absolute Being—that is, without any origin or beginning, independent, necessary, essentially existing—so is He also absolutely all that He can or ought to be by His Nature. He is essentially perfect (αὐτοτέλης); He is self-sufficient for His perfection (αὐτάρκης); He possesses in His Substance, without any internal evolution or external influence, entire perfection.

III. God’s perfection is absolute, not only in the sense that whatever constitutes Divine perfection belongs essentially to Him, but also because His perfection embraces every existing or conceivable-perfection (παντελής). He is the perfect principle of all things, and must therefore be, not only self-sufficient, but also capable of bestowing their perfections on all things, and must possess in Himself every kind of perfection. This existence of all perfections in God, this fulness of being, implies more than the possession of creative power and ideal knowledge. It implies that He possesses in His own perfection, which is the source and exemplar of all created perfection, a real and complete equivalent of this perfection. This equivalent is the fund from which He draws His universal power and universal knowledge. Cf. Exod. 33:14; τὸ πᾶν ἐστιν αὐτός, Ecclus. 43:29; Acts 17:25; Rom. 11:36, etc.

The manner in which the particular perfections of created things exist in the universal perfection of God is expressed in the language of the Schoolmen by the terms “Virtually” and “Eminently.” Created things are not contained in God materially, and do not flow from Him as water from a spring, but are produced by His power (virtus); and, besides, He possesses in Himself a perfect equivalent of their perfections, which is their type or model. Again, God does not contain the perfections of His creatures exactly as they exist outside Him. He contains them in their purity, free from all admixture of imperfection; He contains them in a perfection of a higher character—as, for instance, the sense of vision is included in the higher power of understanding. The manifold perfections of creatures are consequently concentrated in one Divine Perfection, which is not, indeed, a combination of them all, but contains and surpasses them all by reason of its richness and value.

IV. The Divine perfection alone is essential and universal, and is the acme of all perfection (ὑπερτέλης, αὐτὸ τὸ τέλος). There does not exist, nor can we conceive, anything above God by means of which God’s perfection can be measured or defined. His perfection is the principle, and hence the measure and object, of all other perfections, which are indeed perfections only in as far as they resemble and participate in the Divine perfection. Moreover, it can never be exhausted or equalled by created perfections; hence it is incomparable and all-surpassing. Cf. Ps. 34:10; Isai. 44:7, and 40:15–17.


I. All the Divine attributes which designate something necessarily contained in God, designate the Divine Substance Itself, and not something distinct from It, inhering in it after the manner of an accident. This principle applies to the attributes of Unity, Truth, Beauty; and also to the Divine essential Activity—such as Self-consciousness and Self-love; because all of these necessarily belong to the integrity of the Divine Essence and Nature. It is also true of the Divine intellectual and volitional acts concerning contingent things; for although these acts are not essential to God, still they are not accidents of His Substance, but are the Divine Substance Itself as related to contingent objects. But the principle is true only to a certain extent in the case of attributes which express Divine external action—that is, active influence on creatures; because the power and will to act are in God, whereas the action itself (actio transiens), and still more its effect, are external to Him. Lastly, this principle cannot be applied to attributes expressing a relation between creatures and God—such as Creator, Redeemer, Rewarder; because these relations are not in God but outside Him. They need not belong to Him from all eternity, as may also be said of attributes designating Divine external actions, because their basis is not eternal. Essential attributes, on the contrary, and also attributes expressing something in God, even if not essential, belong to Him from all eternity. All this is the common teaching of the Fathers and theologians, and is based upon the dogmas of the Simplicity and Unchangeableness of God (cf. infra, §§ 63, 65).

II. It is evident that attributes expressing external relations of God to His creatures, such as Creator, Redeemer, Rewarder, are not identical with each other, but are separate rays emanating from a common centre. Again, the attributes designating the Divine Substance are not necessarily identical with each other. Although all of them express the same Divine Object, nevertheless each of them corresponds with a particular conception of our mind, arrived at in different ways and from different starting-points. They are not, therefore, identical subjectively. They also differ objectively—that is, as regards what they represent. None of the attributes represent the Divine Substance as such and in its totality, but only under some particular aspect, and such aspects are manifold, even in finite things.

III. There are various ways of classifying the Divine attributes. The arrangement which we propose to follow is based upon the fact that God is a being, and a living, spiritual being. A created being has composition of some sort; it has limits, and it is subject to change. It forms part of the universe; it exists in space and in time. It can be seen by bodily or mental eye; it can be grasped by a finite mind, and can be expressed in language. All of these qualities imply some sort of imperfection; hence, none of them can belong to God. Their contradictories must be predicated of Him, and these are styled His Negative attributes. Again, every created being is in itself one, true, good, and beautiful, and externally it has power and is present to other beings. These attributes, although imperfect in creatures, do not themselves imply imperfection. Hence they may be predicated of God as Positive attributes. Lastly, God, being a spirit, must have the two faculties of a spirit—intelligence and will.

The following table will make this arrangement clear:—

A.     Attributes belonging to God as a Being:

(a)    Negative attributes:


















(b)    Positive attributes:

(α)   Internal:

(1)    Unity;

(2)    Truth;

(3)    Goodness;

(4)    Beauty.

(β)    External:

(1)    Omnipotence;

(2)    Omnipresence.

B.      Attributes belonging to God as a living, spiritual Being:

(a)    Intelligence;

(b)    Will.




I. THE physical Simplicity, or, in other words, the immateriality and incorporeity, of God is included in His absolute Simplicity, and may be proved by the same arguments. It may be also demonstrated by special proofs; and there are certain special difficulties to which it gives rise, and which demand solution.

1. The Divine immateriality, or spirituality, is practically set forth in the Old Testament by the prohibition of material representations of God (Deut. 4:16). Our Lord Himself says: “God is a Spirit, and they that adore Him must adore Him in spirit and in truth” (John 4:24). Wherever Scripture speaks of God as invisible, infinite, immutable, omnipresent, and the rest, His immateriality is evidently implied. And from the earliest days of the Church this attribute was laid down as a fundamental dogma against the pagans, as may be seen in the writings of the Apologists. Tertullian and Lactantius indeed ascribed to God a body, or spoke of His form and figure; but they did so in opposition to the Gnostics, or to the pantheism of the Stoics, who maintained that the Divine Substance was indefinite, vague, empty, and formless, like the air, and thus perverted the true notion of spirituality.

2. The proofs from reason for the Divine Simplicity are most conclusive, but they need not be dwelt on here. The first active principle of all things cannot be itself capable of resolution into simpler elements, because the latter ought to be anterior to it in time or at least in nature, and moreover would require an external cause to bring them together. Again, the attributes of pure actuality, infinity, omnipresence, and the rest, which flow from the nature of the first principle, are all incompatible with physical composition.

II. The attribute of metaphysical Simplicity excludes from God every kind of composition, and consequently every difference between potentiality and actuality, or between realities completing each other. Hence this attribute requires that God should not only possess all that is perfect, but that He should also be His perfection, and that all that is real in Him should be one indivisible reality: “One Supreme Thing” (Fourth Lateran Council, Cap. Damnamus). Conversely, if God is one indivisible reality, it follows that no composition exists in Him. Even before the Fourth Lateran Council, this doctrine was defined more in detail by Eugenius III. in the Council of Rheims against Gilbert.

1. Holy Scripture teaches the absolute simplicity of God when it says that God is the Life, Truth, Wisdom, Light, Love, not that He has these qualities. There is no reason for not taking these expressions in their literal sense; on the contrary, the literal sense is required by the peculiar nature of God. Besides, Scripture uses them to point out that God is the sole original possessor of these perfections. It could not say with truth that “God is Light, and in Him there is no darkness,” if He were not Light in its greatest purity and perfection—that is, if the perfections connoted by the term “Light” were not all one and the same identical perfection, as indeed is expressed by the very name Jehovah.

2. Internal reasons for the Divine Simplicity were also given by the Fathers. Without absolute Simplicity, they say, God could neither be absolutely infinite nor absolutely immutable. And again, Simplicity is in itself a great perfection, because it connotes the excellence of the perfection of which it is predicated, and the completeness and thoroughness of the manner in which it is possessed. Aseity and absolute necessity can only belong to a Being absolutely simple, because the several parts of a composite being would be dependent on each other. God being absolutely independent and self-sufficient, we cannot conceive Him as a subject perfected and completed by anything whatsoever. See these arguments developed by St. Anselm, Monolog., cc. xvi., xvii.; St. Thomas, I., q. 3, a. 7; Scotus in I. Sent. d. 8; St. Bernard, De. Consid., l. v., c. 7.

III. We subjoin a list of the kinds of composition excluded by the metaphysical Simplicity of God, but which are found even in spiritual creatures.

1. Composition of essence and existence, is excluded because the Essence of God is to exist. In created things this kind of composition is the source of all other kinds of composition. Its exclusion from God is in like manner the source of the exclusion of all composition from Him.

2. The composition of essence and hypostatic characters is also excluded; that is to say, the Divine Essence is not determined by any individual character, as, for instance, the human essence is determined by special marks or characters in each human individual.

3. There is likewise excluded the composition of substance and its various accidents.

4. Lastly, the Divine Simplicity excludes any composition that might result from the real difference between several activities, such as between knowing, willing, and acting, between immanent and transient operation, and between necessary and contingent acts. All activity in God is one simple act.

IV. Physical simplicity is not exclusively proper to God; it also belongs to all created spirits, and constitutes their likeness to the Creator. Metaphysical simplicity, on the contrary, belongs to God alone. Created spirits, elevated by grace, may be made, to some extent, partakers of the simplicity of the Divine Life, but their elevation itself implies a composition of a peculiar kind, viz. that of a spiritual substance with an external accidental perfection. The simplicity of the life by which the created spirit shares supernaturally in the Simplicity of the Divine Life, consists in its being freed from the influence of creatures; and being enabled to know God immediately in Himself, and to know and love everything else in Him and for Him.

V. The attribute of Simplicity excludes from the Divine Substance everything that implies composition. If there were no other distinctions but such as entail composition, distinction could no more be attributed to God than composition. There are, however, distinctions which do not imply composition, but are based upon and are necessitated by the very simplicity and perfection of their object. Thus in God distinctions may be established which do not conflict with His Simplicity, because they are made, not between separate elements, but between different ways of looking at one and the same perfection. Such differences are even necessary in God, for without them the real distinction between the three Persons, and the essential difference of attitude in God’s activity within and without could not exist. An exaggerated notion of the Divine Simplicity was condemned by Pope John XXII. See Denzinger, lxvi. 23, 24.

Distinctions of the kind last mentioned are called in theological language Mental distinctions (distinctiones rationis) because the thing distinguished, although objectively one and the same, is represented in our mind by different conceptions. Such distinctions, therefore, really exist only in our mind; but they are not mere subjective fictions, because the perfection of the object furnishes an objective foundation for them. Hence they are called “distinctiones rationis ratiocinatæ,” or “cum fundamento in re.” They thus occupy a position between Real distinctions implying objective composition, and Merely-mental distinctions having no objective value (distinctiones rationis ratiocinantis).


I. The Infinite—that is, the endless or limitless—may be conceived under three different aspects, which are thus expressed in the language of the Schoolmen: (1) that than which nothing greater can be conceived (quo nihil majus cogitari potest); (2) that which contains all conceivable greatness or magnitude (quod continet omnem magnitudinem quæ cogitari potest); (3) that which is incomparably and immeasurably greater than anything conceivable (quod est incomparabiliter vel incommensurabiliter majus omnibus aliis quæ cogitari possunt).

II. God was defined by the Vatican Council to be “Infinite in understanding and will and all perfection” (sess. iii., chap. 1). This is to say, (1) God cannot be thought of as greater, better, or more perfect than He is, nor can any other being be conceived greater, better, or more perfect than God; (2) there is no limit to the Divine perfection, because God contains all conceivable perfections, and the fulness of His Being attains the utmost limits of possible being both intensively and extensively, that is, God has every conceivable perfection and every conceivable form and degree of each perfection; and (3) the plenitude of the Divine Being is such that no sum of finite perfections, however great, can either equal or measure it—on the contrary, finite being and its indefinite increase and multiplication are possible only on account of God’s inexhaustible plenitude of Being. The absolute substantial infinity of God evidently implies that He is infinite (1) not only as compared with a certain kind of created beings, but as infinitely transcending all conceivable degrees and kinds of perfection; (2) not only in some one attribute but in all; (3) not only as to the magnitude or multitude of the objects of His activity, but also as to the perfection of His Essence and activity, Intellect, and Will in themselves.

The Divine Infinity in Substance and perfection may be shown both à posteriori and à priori. Assuming as certain the infinity of certain particular attributes (e.g. omnipotence and omniscience) and their identity with God’s Essence, and with all the other attributes, the infinity in Substance and perfection plainly follows. And à priori, this infinity is contained in the Divine Aseity; no limitation can be in God because no external principle can determine it, nor can it be due to internal incapacity for greater perfection. The infinity of particular attributes is based upon the infinity of the Substance because they are identical with it, and because their infinity is essentially contained in the plenitude of being required by the essence of the substance. Cf. Toletus, in I., q. 7.

Hence we infer: I. The notion of Divine Infinity excludes the possibility of things existing independently outside God, but not of things existing dependently on Him.

2. Things outside the Divine Substance cannot be added to the Divinity so as to produce, either a greater being, or at least a greater aggregate of beings. Hence God plus the universe, is not more than God alone. For the same reason it cannot be said that the Incarnation added being to the Divinity; for the human nature of Christ is only united to the Divine Person inasmuch as God produces it and a Divine Person possesses it.

3. The Divine Infinity does not prevent God’s knowledge, volition, and activity from being extended to objects outside Him (ad extra). Such extension does not imply any real expansion or motion ad extra, but only an ideal intention or direction; much less does it imply an increase from without, as it only bears upon things entirely dependent on God.

III. Absolute Infinity of Substance and perfection is an attribute proper to God alone; no substance, no perfection outside God can be infinite in the strict sense of the term, because infinity is incompatible with dependence. The infinite dignity of God can, it is true, be communicated by hypostatic union to a created nature; but Infinity does not therefore cease to belong to God alone. This communication is effected, not by the production of a new and independent dignity, but by the assumption of a human nature by a Divine Person, Who makes it His own and is adored in it. Spiritual creatures resemble God in the simplicity of their substance; they are also like Him in comparative infinity, inasmuch as they are not limited to the same extent as material creatures, and inasmuch as their intellectual faculties can know all things, even the Divine Infinity, and can embrace in their general conceptions an immense multitude of possible beings. They participate still more in the Divine Infinity by means of grace and glory, whereby they are elevated above all sensible nature, nay, above their own nature, and are enabled to apprehend, if not to comprehend, the Infinite Being of God Himself.


I. God is absolutely immutable: no change whatever can affect the Divine Substance; He is always absolutely the same in Substance, Attributes, and Life.

1. “I am the Lord, and I change not” (Mal. 3:6); “the Father of lights, with Whom there is no change nor shadow of alteration” παραλλαγὴ ἢ τροπῆς ἀποσκίασμα (James 1:17; cf. Ps. 101:27, 28, and Heb. 1:11, 12; Rom. 1:23; 1 Tim. 1:17, 6:16; Wisd. 7:27, etc.).

2. Tradition, too, abounds with similar testimonies. The Councils and Fathers take for granted the Divine Immutability as an article of Faith in their disputes with the Arians, who opposed the Son of God to the Father as the changeable to the unchangeable; they demonstrate it against the Gnostics and Manichæans, who taught the emanation of creatures from God; against the Stoics, who maintained the passivity of God; against the Eutychians and Patripassiani, who affirmed a conversion of the Divine Nature into the human nature, or conversely. After the Creed, the Council of Nicæa added the words, “The Catholic and Apostolic Church anathematizes those who say that the Son of God is variable (ἀλλοιωτόν) or changeable (τρεπτόν).” Moreover, this doctrine is a prominent feature of all apologetics against the heathen. It is a favourite theme of St. Augustine (cf. De Civ. Dei, l. xi., cc. 10, 11, and l. xii., c. 17).

3. The rational proofs of the Divine Immutability are derived from the very Essence of God, which is Being pure and simple, excluding all beginning and end; from the independence and self-sufficiency of the Divine Essence, which exclude all external influence and all internal reasons requiring or producing change; from the Divine Simplicity, which excludes all composition or decomposition consequent upon mutability; from the Divine Infinity, which is incompatible with increase and decrease, or substitution of one state of being for another in the Divine Substance; and, lastly, from the necessity by which God actually is all that He can be, which excludes the possibility of acquisition or loss. These arguments, especially the last named, would seem at first sight not to apply to God’s contingent acts of thought and will. But it is absolutely necessary that His cognition and volition of things outside Him should be themselves determined, because indetermination would involve imperfection; and if this determination in God (ad intra) is absolutely necessary, its direction on this or that particular object cannot be something with a beginning or end. Moreover, although these intentions or directions of the Divine Intellect and Will upon contingent objects do not constitute the essential Being and Life of God, and although the Divine Essence and Life are entirely independent of them, still, as a matter of fact, they are contained in the Divine Essence and Life, and consequently they must participate in the immutability of these.

By basing the immutability of God’s free decrees upon the necessity of His whole Being, we have also given the principle for explaining the apparent contradiction between the Divine Immutability and the freedom of God’s Will. It is evident that the power of changing a decision once freely taken is not essential to freedom; on the contrary, consistency belongs to the ideal of freedom. Now, in order to produce a change in God, a free determination should cause a new act or new existence in such a way as to be opposed to the Divine Simplicity and Infinity. But, as we have already seen (§ 64, II.), this is not the case. Indeed, the difficulty of accounting for free will in God arises less from His Immutability than from His Simplicity, Infinity, and Necessity, although, when rightly understood, these very attributes are the foundation of His freedom. The following thesis supplies the key to the solution of the other difficulties.

II. “God, although immutable in Himself, is the principle of all mutable beings and of all the changes which take place in them; wherefore God’s essential Immutability does not exclude the variability of His external activity and of His relations to creatures. Everything, however, which would involve any change in the Divine Substance must be excluded, notably all newness of volition or motion in execution, and every affection and determination received from without.” This doctrine is of Faith, and is also theologically and philosophically evident; but theologians differ in their way of expressing and applying it.

1. The works of the Divine Omnipotence are not eternal. Creation and all the acts of Providence are measured by time, and therefore, when the effect commences, the Divine action (ad extra) that causes it commences likewise. But the realization, in time, of the eternal decree is not a formal change in the producer, nor does it presuppose such a change. God does not produce effects by means of forces or instruments, but by simply enacting His Omnipotent Will. Much less do the attributes of Creator, Lord, and the rest, based upon God’s external activity, involve a change in Him (cf. St. Augustine, De Civ. Dei, l. xii., c. 17; Abelard, Introd., l. iii., c. 6).

2. Again, God enters into various relations with His creatures, notably in the Incarnation and by means of the operation of His grace. These relations constitute a variation which proceeds from God, and in a certain manner also terminates in Him. But here, also, the creature alone is substantially and inwardly affected by the change; grace brings the creature nearer to God, and in the case of the Incarnation the creature is elevated to unity in Person and dignity with God, Who Himself is neither elevated nor lowered in the process (cf. St. Augustine, Lib. 83 Quæst., q., 73, De Incarn.).

3. Thirdly, God takes notice of the changes which occur in creatures, and disposes His operations accordingly. It would seem, therefore, that such changes in creatures react on the Creator, and affect even His inmost life. But the real motive determining the Divine operations is in God Himself; that He is disposed differently, according to the good or evil conduct of creatures, does not entail a variety of acts or dispositions in Him. His infinite love for the Supreme Good is at the same time love for the good among His creatures, and hatred and anger against the wicked. Moreover, His pleasure or displeasure bestowed at various times has really existed from all eternity in Him, but is manifested in time. Repentance, indeed, seems to be most incompatible with the Divine Immutability. Holy Scripture sometimes denies its existence in God, but at other times attributes it to Him. We must therefore understand that the Divine operations or affections manifest themselves externally, in various times and circumstances, in such a manner as to resemble human repentance. Cf. St. Augustine, Ad Simplicium, q. ii., n. 2.

III. Absolute immutability belongs to God alone. It cannot be communicated to creatures, because they are by their very essence subject to change. However, by means of grace all defective mutations natural to creatures can be prevented, and even made impossible; and when this takes place the immutability which belongs to God is, to some extent, communicated to His creatures. But this communicated immutability is never absolute, because it does not exclude multiplicity and progress in the creature’s inner life. We should note that a sort of immutability belongs by nature to all spiritual creatures, viz. the incorruptibility of their substance and the immortality of their life.


I. The attribute which we have now to consider is a complement of the Divine Simplicity. It excludes from God the possibility of entering into composition with any other substance, form, or matter, and of His being numbered or classed with other things. Hence, too, the exclusion of the Pantheistic system, which would degrade the perfection of the Divinity below that of created spirits. The Vatican Council asserts this attribute by stating that God is “ineffably exalted above all things that exist or can be conceived” (sess. iii., chap. 1).

II. God can no more enter into necessary or substantial composition with any other substance than He can admit of composition within Himself; for the component substance would have to become part of the Divine Substance, and would thus destroy its Simplicity. God cannot become identical with other substances, because either these substances would cease to be distinct from each other, or there would be an end of the Divine Simplicity.

1. God cannot be the matter or substratum of all things, because His Substance is eminently one, simple, and indivisible. He cannot, again, be the root of all things in the sense that things partake of His Substance and live by His own proper energy.

2. Nor can He be the soul or substantial form of the universe, even in such a way that His Substance only partially acts as soul of the world, and has an independent existence besides. All these hypotheses directly contradict the attributes of Simplicity, Immutability, and Infinity, not to mention various absurdities which they involve.

3. God cannot, even in a supernatural manner, form part of a composition resulting in the production of a nature. Hence in the Incarnation there is neither unity of nature nor loss of independence or self-sufficiency on the part of the Divine Person Who makes the human nature His own, and submits it to Himself. A union of this kind, viz. by active assumption and dominion, and without any fusion of the united natures, is not excluded by any Divine attribute; on the contrary, it is possible only on the ground of the Absolute Being, Power, and Dominion.

4. God cannot be reckoned or classed with other beings, because He has nothing in common with them. No general notion can embrace God and His creatures. Even the notions of substance and being have different meanings when applied to God, and when applied to creatures.

III. Although the absolute simplicity of the Divine Substance exalts it above all created substances, nevertheless this same attribute renders it possible for God to permeate creatures with His Substance in a manner far more intimate than one creature could penetrate and permeate another. That innermost presence of which the Apostle speaks: “Who is above all, and through all, and in us all,” ὁ ἐπὶ πάντων καὶ διὰ πάντων καὶ ἐν πᾶσιν (Eph. 4:6), is an immediate consequence of the creation and preservation of all things. In a certain degree it extends to all things, but it increases according to the increase of God’s influence on creatures. An intimate union with Him requires the elevation of the creature to a supernatural state, and is therefore limited to certain classes of creatures. We shall treat further on of the Hypostatic Union by which God the Son unites to Himself a human nature, and also of the intellectual union of the Divine Substance with the blessed in the Beatific Vision.


I. The dogma of the Divine Immensity and Incircum-scriptibility (ἀχώρητος) is based upon the fact that God is entirely independent of space and place. He has no formal extension, nor is He contained in any definite room or place; He is exalted above space and place; His virtual extension is such that no formal extension whatsoever can exceed, equal, or measure it; no space, real or possible, can include His Immensity; all space, real and possible, is included in Him. Consequently, God is everywhere in an eminent manner; we cannot conceive Him absent from any existing place, and if any new space came into existence, God would be there also.

1. In Holy Scripture the attribute of Immensity appears more in its concrete form of Omnipresence as opposed to the circumscribed presence of creatures. “The Lord He is God in Heaven above and in the earth beneath” (Deut. 4:39). “Whither shall I go from Thy Spirit? or whither shall I flee from Thy face? If I go up into heaven, Thou art there; if I go down into hell, Thou art present. If I take my wings early in the morning, and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea, even there also shall Thy hand lead me, and Thy right hand shall hold me. And I said, Perhaps darkness shall cover me, and night shall be my light in my pleasures. But darkness shall not be dark to Thee, and night shall be as light as the day: the darkness thereof and the light thereof are alike to Thee” (Ps. 138:7–12). “Am I, think ye, a God at hand, saith the Lord, and not a God afar off? Shall a man be hid in secret places, and I not see him, saith the Lord? Do not I fill heaven and earth, saith the Lord?” (Jer. 23:23, 24). “Peradventure thou wilt comprehend the steps of God, and wilt find out the Almighty perfectly? He is higher than heaven, and what wilt thou do? He is deeper than hell, and how wilt thou know? The measure of Him is longer than the earth, and broader than the sea” (Job 11:7–9). See also 1 Kings 8:29; Isai. 40:12, etc.

2. The Fathers very often insist upon this attribute. We must here confine ourselves to referring to the most important passages: St. Gregory the Great, Moral, in Job, l. ii., c. 8, on the words, “Satan went forth from the presence of the Lord;” St. Hilary, De Trinitate, l. i., near the beginning. Abelard has put into verse the text of St. Gregory. We give it as containing an abridgment of the doctrine of the Fathers.

“Super cuncta, subtus cuncta, extra cuncta, intra cuncta:

Intra cuncta nec inclusus, extra cuncta nec exclusus,

Subter cuncta nec subtractus, super cuncta nec elatus;

Super totus possidendo, subter totus sustinendo,

Extra totus complectendo, intra totus es implendo;

Intra nusquam coarctaris, extra numquam dilataris,

Subtus nullo fatigaris, super nullo sustentaris.”

(Rythm. De Trin., v. 3 sqq.)

3. The Divine Exaltedness above, and Independence of space and place result from the spirituality of the Divine Substance. Immensity, in its full import, is a necessary condition of the absolute Immutability of God. For either God is essentially excluded from space, or He is in some definite space, or He fills and exceeds all space. The first alternative is absurd. As to the second, if God were in a definite place and not outside it, He would have to move in order to pass from place to place, which would be inconsistent with God’s sovereign self-sufficiency and immobility. Moreover, the Divine Immensity is a consequence of the Divine Omnipotence. For even granting the possibility of action from a distance, this action cannot be conceived in God in Whom action and substance are identical. But as God has the power of producing every possible creature, no place can be thought of for a creature where God is not already present in Substance and in Essence. The immensity of the virtual extension is based on the infinite plenitude of the Divine Being which implies the capability of being present to all things.

II. The attributes of Immensity and Ubiquity belong to God alone; they cannot be communicated to creatures any more than the Divine Substance itself. We can, however, conceive a creature endowed with a sort of ubiquity in the sense of filling all the space really existing. Moreover, a created spirit, and even a material body, can be supernaturally endowed with the power of Replication—that is, the capability of being in several places at the same time. Concerning the Replication of the Body of Christ in the Holy Eucharist, more will be said in the treatises on the Incarnation and Holy Eucharist.


I. The Divine Eternity signifies (1) that the duration of God is above and independent of time, inasmuch as He has neither beginning nor end and is in no wise limited by time, but coexists with and exceeds all time; (2) that the Divine duration is absolutely without change or succession, and is in no way affected by the flow of time; (3) that the duration of God is absolutely and essentially indivisible: it admits of no past or future, but is an ever-standing present. The simplicity and virtual extension of God’s duration are a superabundant equivalent for all real and possible time. All this is admirably summed up in the well-known definition given by Boëthius (De Consol Phil., l. v., prop. 6): “Æternitas est interminabilis vitæ tota simul et perfecta possessio”—”Eternity is the possession, perfect and all at once, of life without beginning or end.” That is to say, God’s activity is absolutely changeless, but yet is life indestructible; all limit is excluded from this life, but yet endlessness is a consequence of Eternity rather than its essence; and this life is possessed “all at once,” to show that there is no succession in it, but that God in His everpresent “now” enjoys everything that He could have possessed or can ever possess.

1. Holy Scripture, as might be expected, refers frequently to God’s Eternity. The very name “He Who is” implies the necessity of endless and ever-present existence. “I the Lord, I am the first and the last” (Isai. 41:4). “Grace be unto you and peace from Him that is, and that was, and that is to come” (Apoc. 1:4). “Before the mountains were made, or the earth and the world was formed; from eternity and unto eternity Thou art God” (Ps. 89:2, cf. Ecclus. 42:21). “Amen, amen, I say to you, before Abraham was made, I am” (John 8:58). “In the beginning, O Lord, thou didst found the earth, and the heavens are the work of Thy hands. They shall perish but Thou remainest; and all of them shall grow old like a garment; and as a vesture shalt Thou change them and they shall be changed. But Thou art always the self-same, and Thy years shall not fail” (Ps. 101:26–28). “A thousand years in Thy sight are as yesterday which is past” (Ps. 89:4). “One day with the Lord is as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day” (2 Pet. 3:8).

2. Among the Fathers St. Augustine should be especially consulted. “Eternal life,” he says, “surpasses temporal life by its very vivacity; nor can I perceive what eternity is except by the eye of my mind. For by that I exclude from eternity all change, and in eternity I perceive no portions of time, because these are made up of past and future movement. But in eternity nothing is past or future, because what is past has ceased to be, and what is future has not yet begun; whereas eternity only is,—not was, as though it were not still, not will be, as though it were not yet (‘Æternitas tantummodo est, nec fuit, quasi jam non sit, nec erit, quasi adhuc non sit’). Wherefore it alone can most truly say of itself: ‘I am who am;’ and of it alone can be said, ‘He Who is sent me to you’ “ (De Vera Relig., c. 49; see also In Psalm. cxxi., n. 6; Tract. in Joannem, xcix.).

II. God, in virtue of His Eternity, bears certain relations to time and to temporal events. His duration has no beginning, succession, or end, but it necessarily coexists with, precedes, and exceeds all real time. The Divine Eternity, having the simplicity of the Divine Essence and being only virtually extended, coexists in its entirety with every single moment of time, just as the central point of a circle coexists with all the points of the circumference. Hence temporal things have no successive duration in the eye of God; that is, in comparison with the Divine Eternity, they do not come and go, and pass by or along parts of it. In God’s sight they have neither past nor future, but are eternally present. Thus the points of a circumference in motion change their positions relatively to other points but always remain at the same distance from the centre. This, however, does not involve the eternal existence of events and things. Their eternal presence in God’s sight is owing, not to a duration coextensive with eternity on the part of creatures, but to the fact that the Divine Eternity encompasses and embraces all created duration, in the same way as the virtual extension of the Divine Substance encompasses and embraces all space. God sees and knows as actually standing before Him in His presence all things of all times, so that the Divine knowledge cannot rightly be called either memory or foreknowledge.

III. Eternity in the strict sense of the word belongs to God alone, and is the result of His independent and necessary mode of existence. Both reason and Scripture manifestly teach this. But it is not certain whether duration without beginning or end is incommunicable to creatures. Weighty theologians admit the possibility of a being created from all eternity; but it is of faith that no such being exists. Duration without end can of course be communicated to creatures, and will be the lot of all rational beings made according to God’s image and likeness. Nay, in a supernatural manner, God can elevate them even to a participation in the simplicity of His eternal Life, inasmuch as He grants them a life the object of which is His own eternal Substance, and which therefore participates in the simple immobility and uniformity of the Divine Life. Cf. St. Thomas, Contra Gentes, l. iii., c. 61.


I. Vision is properly the act of the noblest of our senses; but, analogically, the term is also applied to the knowledge acquired by the mind’s eye, particularly to the knowledge acquired by direct, immediate intuition of an object. All created things are visible, if not to all, at least to some created beings. But God is invisible to the bodily eye of creatures, even independently of His Simplicity, because He is a pure Spirit. This invisibility is a matter of faith; so much, at the least, is implied by the texts which will be quoted.

II. God is also invisible to the mental eye of angels and of men, and indeed of every conceivable created spirit; but it is possible for Him to make Himself visible to the supernaturally illuminated eye of created spirits. “Who alone hath immortality and dwelleth in light inaccessible (φῶς οἰκῶν ἀπρόσιτον), Whom no man hath seen nor can see” (1 Tim. 6:16). Here the eminent perfection of God, His inaccessible light, is given as the cause of His Invisibility. “No man hath seen God at any time” (John 1:18). “We see now through a glass in a dark manner: but then face to face. Now I know in part; but then I shall know even as I am known” (1 Cor. 13:12). “The invisible (τα ἀόρατα) things of Him from the creation of the world are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made” (Rom. 1:20); that is to say, God is invisible, unknowable in Himself, but is seen mediately and indirectly through the medium of creatures. See also above, sect. 56.

The reason why God is invisible to the bodily eye is because He is physically simple; His absolute metaphysical simplicity and immateriality make Him invisible to the mental eye also. These attributes establish such a disproportion between the Divine Essence and the intellectual faculties of creatures, that God cannot be the object of such faculties. “It is impossible,” says St. Thomas, “for any created intellect by its own natural powers to see the Divine Essence. For cognition takes place so far as the object known is in the subject knowing. But the former is in the latter according to the manner of existence of the latter; wherefore all knowledge is in accordance with the nature of the subject knowing. If, therefore, the mode of existence of the object to be known is of a higher order than that of the subject knowing, the knowledge of this object is above the nature of the subject.… The knowledge of Self-existing Being is natural to the Divine Intellect alone; for no creature is its own existence, but all creatures have a participated, dependent existence. The created intellect therefore cannot see God by means of His Essence, except in so far as God by His grace unites Himself to the created intellect as knowable by it” (I., q. 12, a. 4).

III. At first sight the arguments given would seem to prove that God is altogether unknowable to any creature. If the bodily eye cannot behold a created spirit because the latter is simple, much less can a spirit gaze upon God whose simplicity is infinitely more above the simplicity of a created spirit than this is above matter. This difficulty is answered by St. Thomas, Contra Gentes, l. iii., c. 54: “The Divine Substance is not beyond the reach of the created intellect as being entirely extraneous thereto (as for instance sound is to the eye, or as an immaterial substance is to the senses), for the Divine Substance is the first thing intelligible (primum intelligibile), and is the principle of all intellectual cognition. It is outside the created intellect only as exceeding the powers of the latter, in the same way as in the domain of the senses excessive light is blinding and excessive sound is deafening (excellentia sensibilium sunt extra facultatem sensuum). Whence the Philosopher (Aristotle) says in the second book of the Metaphysics, that our intellect is to the most manifest things what the eye of the owl is to the sunlight. The created intellect, therefore, requires to be strengthened by some Divine light in order to be able to gaze on the Divine Essence.” See also I., q. 12, a. 4 ad 3.

God enables the created intellect to behold His Substance by elevating and refining its cognitive powers and by impressing Himself upon them as intelligible form. This elevation and “information” of the intellect is possible by reason of His infinite Simplicity. The elevation, indeed, is but an assimilation to His infinitely simple Intellect, and can therefore only be communicated by God in virtue of His Simplicity; whereas the “information” is possible because God’s Substance is infinitely more simple than that of created spirits, so that He can infuse Himself into them and unite Himself so intimately with them as to become their vivifying form. See, on this point, St. Thomas, Contra Gentes, l. iii., c. 51.

IV. To gaze on God is so much above the nature of the human mind in its present state of union with the body, that, according to the common teaching, such a vision could not take place without producing either an ecstasy or the suspension, if not the complete extinction, of the natural life. Hence the vision of God cannot be granted to man during this mortal life unless as an exception or special privilege. This privilege, however, as far as we know with certainty, exists only for the human soul of Christ, which, in virtue of the Hypostatic Union, is from the beginning in the bosom of God with the Divine Person.

What we have said easily explains the meaning of Exod. 33:20: “Thou canst not see My Face; for man shall not see Me and live.” In the Old Testament the expression, “to see God face to face,” is often used in connection with any clear manifestation, internal or external, of God or of His Angels; e.g. Gen. 32:30; Exod. 33:11.


I. In the Church’s language the term “comprehend” (comprehendere, καταλαμβάνειν, χωρεῖν) sometimes designates intuitive knowledge, as opposed to mediate, indirect, or abstract knowledge; sometimes adequate knowledge—that is, knowledge exhaustive of its object, embracing whatever is knowable in and of the object. As the simplicity of God makes Him invisible to all beings except Himself, so does His infinity make Him incomprehensible to all but Himself. The adequate comprehension of the Divinity cannot be communicated, even in the Beatific Vision, to any creature. This is of faith as defined in the Fourth Lateran Council (cap. Firmiter), and again in the Vatican Council (sess. iii., chap. 1), where God is described as incomprehensible as well as immense and omnipotent. Besides, the term Incomprehensible, as applied to God in Holy Scripture and Tradition, has always been taken to imply the absolute impossibility of being adequately known by any creature.

II. The Divine Incomprehensibility is often spoken of in Holy Scripture in connection, not, indeed, with the Beatific Vision, but with man’s limited knowledge. Nevertheless, the reasons which show the impossibility for man adequately to know God, apply also to the case of the blessed in Heaven. “O the depth of the riches of the wisdom and of the knowledge of God! How incomprehensible are His judgments and unsearchable are His ways! For who hath known the mind of the Lord? Or who hath been His counsellor? Or who hath first given to Him and recompense shall be made him?” Rom. 11:33–35; see also Job 11:1–9; Ecclus. 43:30 sqq.; Ps. 144:3. The doctrine of the Fathers may be found in Petavius (De Deo, vii. 3, 4) and Ruiz (De Scientia Dei, disp. vi.).

III. The inner and formal reason of God’s Incomprehensibility lies in His infinity. An infinite object surpasses the powers of a finite mind; and as the “light of glory” granted to the blessed in Heaven still leaves them finite, it does not enable them to fully grasp the Infinite. In the language of the Schoolmen, a blessed spirit sees the Infinite but not infinitely (infinitum non infinite); and sees the whole of it, but not wholly (totum non totaliter).


I. An object may be ineffable in two ways. First, the knowledge we have of it may be defective, and consequently the expression of it must be defective; or, secondly, language may be inadequate to express the knowledge really possessed.

1. God is ineffable or inexpressible inasmuch as no created mind has an adequate knowledge of Him. In this sense the Divine Ineffability is a corollary of the Divine Incomprehensibility, and is likewise a matter of faith. We have already explained in § 56 how, notwithstanding the attribute of Ineffability, man is able to speak about God and to give Him various names.

2. God is also ineffable in the sense that no created mind can give to the highest knowledge of God an expression adequate to convey it to other minds. In this sense the Divine Ineffability is a corollary of the Divine Invisibility. Moreover, a created medium cannot be adequate to convey a knowledge of the Infinite as it is in itself. The kind of ineffability in question belongs also, to a certain extent, to the supernatural knowledge of God sometimes communicated to saints even in this life—a knowledge which they cannot express in words; like St. Paul, who “heard secret words which it is not granted to man to utter” (2 Cor. 12:4).

II. It is highly probable, though by no means certain, that in the Beatific Vision the knowledge of the blessed is not a mental representation (species expressa), as in all other acts of intellectual cognition. If this is the case, God is ineffable to such a degree that not only is an adequate expression of Him impossible, but even any sort of expression of Him as He is in Himself.

III. To Himself, however, God is not ineffable. He produces in Himself an adequate expression of His Being which is His consubstantial Word (λόγος.) By means of this Word, Who is, as it were, the Face of God, the blessed see the Divine Essence as it is in itself.





I. GOD, by reason of the perfect simplicity of His Substance and Being, is one in a supreme and unique manner: “maxime unus,” as St. Thomas says, or “Unissimus” according to St. Bernard. He is the primarily One; that is, not made one, but eminently one by His own Essence, immeasurably more one than anything beneath Him. And this Oneness of God has a particular excellence from its being on the one hand infinitely comprehensive, and on the other hand perfectly immutable and always the same. Hence the Fathers call God, not only one, but “The Unity,” Ipsa Unitas, ἑνάς, μονάς.

II. In virtue of the absolute perfection of His Unity, God is absolutely unique; there can be no other being above or beside Him; He necessarily stands alone above all other beings. His absolute simplicity excludes especially the possibility of multiplication of His Essence. “I am Jehovah, and there is none else; there is no God besides Me” (Isai. 45:5). The proofs of this Unicity or Uniqueness are best given by St. Thomas, Contra Gentes, l. i., c. 42. Of these we may mention one; viz. that from the Divine Infinity God exhausts the plentitude of being; no being independent of Him can be conceived or can exist. If there were another God, neither would be the highest being, and so neither would be God at all.

III. God, by His eminent and all-perfect unity, is the foundation and highest ideal of the unity of all other beings. He is at the same time, by the plenitude and richness of His unity, the principle and ideal of multiplicity and variety. By His eternal immutability He is the centre round which other beings gravitate, and by which they are held together. He is at once the Alpha and Omega of all things.


I. As God is essentially the most simple, infinite, and immutable perfection, He possesses the attribute of ontological or objective truth in an infinite degree. The act by which the Divine Essence knows itself is not merely a representation of the Divine Essence to the Divine Mind: it is identically one and the same with His Essence. Hence God is the clearest and purest truth. Again, as the perfection of the Divine Essence is infinite, it is also infinitely knowable, and fills the Divine Mind with a knowledge than which no greater can be conceived; wherefore God is the highest and completest truth. Moreover, the Divine truth participates in the immutability of the Divine Essence, and therefore God is the immutable truth. Lastly, as God is His own Being, so is He also His own truth, and truth pure and simple; that is, He necessarily knows Himself as He is, and His knowledge is independent of everything not Himself.

This doctrine is but a repetition, in another form, of the doctrine on the Divine Essence. It is implicitly contained in John 14:6, “I am the way, the truth, and the life,” and 1 John 5:6, “Christ is the truth (ἡ ἀλήθεια).”

II. God is, further, the First Truth (prima veritas). No truth is before Him or above Him. As First Cause He is the foundation of the objective truth of all things existing, and also of the possibility of all things possible. He is the prototype, the ideal, of all things, and consequently the measure of the truth they contain. He is, as it were, the mirror or the objective light, in which all things can be known better than in themselves, although not necessarily by us. Hence it follows (1) that we can know nothing as true except by some influence of the First Truth on our mind; (2) that the affirmation of any truth implies the affirmation of the First and Fundamental Truth; and (3) that the negation of God implies the negation of all objective truth, thus not only making all knowledge uncertain, but changing it into falsehood and deception.


I. Whatever creatures are or possess, comes to them from without; hence they are not sources of goodness, but rather subjects capable of being made good by the accession of new perfections. Creatures never contain in themselves all their goodness; their internal goodness is but part of their total goodness, or is a means of acquiring and enjoying external goods. God, on the contrary, being essentially the fulness of perfection, appears to our mind as good,—containing eminently all that is worth desiring or possessing. He is not perfectible by the accession of external goodness. All extra-Divine goodness is merely a communication or outflow from the Divine abundance of perfection. He is not a good of some kind or class; He is the Good pure and simple, the essential Goodness.

II. The infinite Essence of God is not only the good of God Himself, wherein He finds all He can desire and possess, but is, besides, the good of all other things; that is to say, it is the inexhaustible source from which all other things draw their goodness, and which all other things, because of their self-insufficiency, desire to possess. The Divine Goodness is the good of all others, because it contains more than the equivalent of all others, and produces all others, and is what we desire, or tend to, when we desire all other goods. It is, moreover, the only necessary and all-sufficient good, and the sovereign and highest good; it is the first and fundamental good, and the end and object of all good; all other goods must be desired as coming from God, and must be possessed as a participation of the Divine Goodness itself.

III. It is especially in relation to His intelligent creatures that God appears as the highest Good, and as the end of all goodness. He is the good of irrational creatures, inasmuch as He communicates to them existence and its concomitant created perfections; whereas to reasonable creatures He communicates Himself, to be possessed by means of knowledge and love. In this capacity God is the highest good of His reasonable creatures, standing out above all their other goods, surpassing them all in perfection, and alone able to gratify all the desires and to realize all the aspirations of the created mind. He stands out as the end of all other goods because these either are not objects of enjoyment or are not merely such, but at the same time means for attaining the fruition of the Divine Good. The Schoolmen express this doctrine by saying that God is bonum fruendum, “the Good to be enjoyed;” whereas creatures are bona utenda, “goods to be used.”

The classical texts from the Fathers on the Divine Goodness are St. Augustine, De Trinitate, l. viii., n. 4, 5; Dionysius (Vulg.), De Div. Nom., c. iv., esp. § 4; St. Anselm, Proslog., cc. 23–25.

IV. God is also eminently good and lovable, because He actually possesses in an infinite degree whatever is good and lovable, and because nothing outside Him is good and lovable except in as far as it partakes of the Divine Goodness.


I. God is the highest Good, and consequently the most beautiful good. This implies that God is not desired merely as a means to an end, but as desirable in Himself, on account of His essential perfection; that God is not merely lovable on account of the benefits He bestows, but lovable in Himself and for His own sake; and that He is admirable not merely on account of His works, but on account of His internal perfection.

II. God is, moreover, the absolute Beauty, and the self-subsisting Ideal of all that is beautiful, because in His infinite perfection He contains eminently whatever can make creatures the object of pleasurable contemplation. To Himself God is the object of eternal joy, and the delight which He finds in the contemplation of Himself moves Him to impress beauty upon His external works. To His intellectual creatures He is the only beauty which can fully satisfy their craving, the ideal of which all created beauty is a faint copy.

The Divine Beauty, however, is not the result of the harmony of parts or of anything that presupposes composition. God’s Beauty resides in the absolute simplicity of His perfection, in virtue of which each element of it is refulgent with the beauty of all.

Holy Scripture usually mentions the Divine Beauty as Glory. Cf. Wisd. 13:3, and also 7, 8; Ecclus. 24. Among the Fathers, see St. Basil, Reg. Fus., Disp. interr. ii.; St. Hilary, De Trin., l. i.; Dion. (Vulg.), De Div. Nom. c. iv., § 7.

III. The Divine Beauty contains the type of all that is beautiful in creation. We find it copied with various degrees of perfection in every work of God’s power and wisdom. It appears most faintly in the beauty of mathematical proportions, which contain a certain unity in multiplicity, but abstracted from all reality. The inorganic substances, especially the nobler metals and gems, represent more of the Divine prototype. But the best image of the Divine Beauty, in the inorganic world, is light. Light not only has its own beauty, it also lends beauty to all other material things. Its rarity is the nearest approach, as far as our sensitive knowledge goes, to the Divine simplicity. Organic beings represent the Divine Ideal of beauty in the manifold energies proceeding from the unity of their organization. Created spirits reflect the Divine Beauty in their life and motion, knowledge and love.

The Divine Beauty shines most perfectly and sublimely in the Blessed Trinity, which is the highest development of Divine perfection; in It we can easily detect all the elements of beauty, viz. unity and multiplicity, the splendour of perfection and life, the resemblance of the image to the ideal or prototype. In fact, there is no greater unity in multiplicity than the perfect identity of the Three Divine Persons; no more perfect unfolding of essential perfection and life than the trinitary fecundity in God, wherein the whole Divine Essence is communicated—the whole wisdom of the Father uttered in His Word, the whole love of the Father and the Son poured forth in the Holy Ghost; and there is no greater resemblance of any image to its prototype, than the resemblance of the Divine Word to the Eternal Father. By appropriation, beauty is especially attributed to God the Son, because He is the splendour of the glory of the Father, the perfect expression of the Divine perfection.



I. The possession of absolute power is necessarily included in the infinite perfection of God. As this power immediately flows from the Divine Essence, its attributes correspond with those of the Divine Essence. Hence it is without beginning, independent, necessary, self-sufficient, self-subsisting and essential to God; absolutely simple, that is, purely active and communicating perfection, without any composition in itself; infinite, including all conceivable power; perfectly immutable; present in all space at all times. All this is contained in the words, “I believe in God the Father Almighty (παντοκράτορα).”

II. The Creeds, the Fathers of the Church, and Theologians, following Holy Scripture, consider creation out of nothing as the specific work of the Divine Omnipotence. Created causes, which receive their being from without, can only act on something already existing; they never are the total causes of the effects produced. The power of God, on the contrary, not only modifies pre-existing things, but brings things forth out of nothing as to their whole substance, and maintains them in existence in such a way that they depend on Him not only for the first, but for every, moment of their existence. Without the Divine Being no other being would even be conceivable as existing. This doctrine is condensed in the Greek word παντοκράτωρ, which, in the Septuagint, the New Testament, and the Greek Creeds, takes the place of the Latin omnipotens. This latter implies a power to or above all things, whereas the former designates a power holding and supporting all things (omnitenens), and hence ruling all things and penetrating all things.

III. God possesses the power to give existence to whatever is possible—that is, to whatever does not involve contradiction. Things intrinsically possible become possible extrinsically on account of the Divine Power, which is able to transfer them from non-existence to existence. “I know that Thou canst do all things” (Job 42:2); “With man this is impossible: but with God all things are possible” (Matt. 19:26). As to the intrinsic possibility of things, which results from the compatibility of their various elements, the Divine Mind alone can grasp its extent; for many things must appear feasible to an infinite intellect, which to the finite mind seem simply impossible, or indeed have never entered it. “Who is able to do all things more abundantly than we desire or understand, according to the power that worketh in us” (Eph. 3:20).

The Divine Omnipotence is infinite in itself or subjectively, and also externally or objectively. Its interior infinity is evident; its objective infinity must be understood in the sense that no greater power is conceivable than the Divine Omnipotence, and that no number, however great, of finite productions can exhaust the Divine Power. Although the effects produced are finite, still the Power which produces them manifests itself as infinite; for the creation and preservation of things suppose in the Creator an infinite fulness of being or perfection, which is also, at the same time, the foundation of the inexhaustibility of the Divine Power. Thus the production of the smallest creature points to a Force which rules the very essence of things, and on which, therefore, all being depends for its existence.

Omnipotence does not imply the power of producing an infinite being, because the notion of a being at once infinite and produced is self-contradictory. Although, however, God cannot create the infinite, He can and does manifest His Omnipotence in communicating His own infinity. Such a communication takes place, within, to the Second and Third Persons of the Trinity; without, to the humanity of Christ, which, through the Hypostatic Union with the Divine Person, acquires an infinite dignity; likewise to spiritual creatures who, by means of grace and glory, are made participators of the infinite beatitude of God Himself. Again, God cannot undo the past, because to do so would involve a contradiction; but He can prevent or annul all the consequences of actions done, e.g. the consequences of sin. Furthermore, Omnipotence does not imply the power of committing sin, because sin is something defective. In like manner the power to suffer, or to perform actions involving motion or change in the cause, is not included in Omnipotence.

IV. The Divine Omnipotence is the source, the foundation, the root, and the soul of all powers and forces outside God. It is the source from which they spring; the foundation upon which they rest; the root which communicates to them their energy; the soul co-operating immediately with them, and intimately permeating their innermost being. Thus the Divine Force appears in the inorganic world as the principle of all motion; in the organic world as the principle of vital activity; and, above all, in the spiritual world as the principle of intellectual and spiritual life. Spirits alone receive their being immediately from God; their life alone cannot be made subservient to a higher life; they alone are able to be so elevated and ennobled as to have a share with God in the fruition of His own Essence.

V. The power to produce every possible thing is manifestly a perfection proper to God alone, and cannot, even supernaturally, be communicated to creatures. Not only is the power to create all things peculiar to God, but also the power to produce one single thing out of nothing; because such power presupposes in its possessor the infinite fulness of being. That, as a matter of fact, no creature has co-operated, even as an instrument, in creation is, according to the common teaching of theologians, of faith; that no creature can so co-operate is theologically and philosophically certain, although many difficulties of detail can be brought against this doctrine. See, on this special point, Kleutgen, Phil., diss., ix., chap. iv., 1005; St. Thomas, Contra Gentes, l. ii., c. 21; and Suarez, Metaph., disp. 26.


I. God, the absolute cause of the innermost essence of created things, is present to them in the most intimate manner. He is not only not separated from them by space, but He penetrates, pervades, and permeates their very substance. The Divine presence in spirits has a character exclusively proper to itself. As spirits have no parts and fill no space, presence in them necessarily means more than coexistence with them in the same place; it implies a penetration of their substance possible only to the simple substance of the infinite Author of things. So much is of faith. A controversy, however, has arisen as to the manner in which God is present in creatures. Theologians of the Thomist School, starting from the principle that a cause must be in the place where it produces its effect, maintain that the contact of God with creatures consists formally in creative action. On the other hand, the followers of Duns Scotus and others, admitting the possibility of action from a distance, maintain that God is not necessarily present to creatures because He is their Creator; and, consequently, these theologians describe the Divine Omnipresence as formally consisting in the absence of local distance between the substance of the Creator and that of the creature. The Thomist view is more logical and attractive; the Scotist view reduces the existence of God in creatures to a simple coexistence.

The existence of God in creatures must not be conceived as a mingling of the Divine and the created substances, for this would be opposed to the Divine Simplicity; nor as an inclusion of the Creator in the creature, for this would be against His Immensity. God’s presence in the existing world is not a limit to His Omnipresence, for He embraces all possible worlds. As God is in all things, so all things are in God,—not, indeed, filling and pervading or even touching the Divine Substance, but upheld by it as their first principle. Things are contained in God because by His virtual Immensity He fills all space, and because by His Omnipotence He actually upholds all existence.

II. Holy Scripture insists more on the extension of the Divine Omnipresence, which corresponds to the Divine infinity and immensity, than on the intensive presence above described. Still, this also is clearly pointed out in many places, especially in Eph. 4:6: “One God and Father of all, who is above all, and through all, and in all” (ἐπὶ πάντων, καὶ διὰ πάντων, καὶ ἐν πᾶσιν). Cf. Rom. 11:36, and Col. 1:16, 17; Heb. 4:12, 13.

Since the power of penetrating the innermost substance of spirits is an attribute proper to the Divine Omnipresence, the Fathers insist particularly upon this point. In the controversy with the Arians and with the Macedonians, the indwelling of the Holy Ghost or of the Son in created spirits is often brought forward as an evident proof of the Divinity of the Son and of the Holy Ghost (see Petav., De Trin., l. ii., c. 15, n. 7 sqq.; Thomassin, De Deo, l. v., c. 5). Many Fathers and Theologians touch upon this point when dealing with the question how far the devil can penetrate the human soul (Peter Lomb., II. Sent., dist. 8, p. ii.). They hold that the innermost recesses of the soul are a sanctuary to which God alone has access, into which the devils cannot introduce their substance, and which is accessible to them only in as far as the soul conforms itself to their evil suggestions.

III. The whole doctrine of the Divine Omnipresence has been summed up by St. Gregory the Great in the formula, “God is in all things by essence, power, and presence”—Deus est in omnibus per essentiam, potentiam, et præsentiam (Mor. in Job, l. ii., c. 8),—which St. Thomas expounds as follows: “God is in all things by His power, inasmuch as all things are subject to His power; He is in all things by His presence, inasmuch as all things are bare and open to His eyes; He is in all things by His Essence, inasmuch as He is in all things as the cause of their being” (I., q. 8, art. 3).

IV. Just as the soul, although present in all parts of the body, does not act with the same energy in every part, so also God, though present in all creatures, does not fill them all with the same perfection nor act in all to the same extent. The supreme degree of Divine presence is attained in the supernatural life of the soul and of the blessed. The indwelling of God in the sanctified soul fills it with a new life, of which God Himself is the soul: the creature participates in the life of the Creator. God is present in the rest of the world as in His kingdom, but in the sanctified soul as in His temple, where He manifests His glory and majesty (1 Cor. 3:17). Creatures not so filled with the Divine presence, e.g. the souls of sinners and the damned in hell, appear, as it were, far from God, cast out and abandoned, although even in them also God exists and manifests His power and sovereign dominion.

V. The active presence of God in all things created extends, of course, to all space and every place. Created spirits, who are not bound by the limits of space, occupy a portion of space, inasmuch as they are not distant from it; but the space is not dependent on them. God, on the contrary, is not only not far from any space, but so fills it that its very existence is dependent on His active presence. The Divine presence so encompasses all things and all space that it is impossible for God to act at a distance, while, at the same time, His presence enables distant things to act upon each other. God, the unchangeable, is the principle of all change; and God, the immovable, is the principle of all motion. From the nature of the presence of God we gather that it must extend to all times as well as to all things. If the possibility and existence of creatures depend on the active power of God, their continued duration or time depends on it also, so that whenever a thing exists or is possible, God is present. Holy Scripture calls God “the King of ages” (1 Tim. 1:17), distinguishing Him from the kings of this world, who rule but for a time, and to whose power time is not subject, as it is to the power of God.




I. FAITH and reason alike teach us that God is a living God, that His life is spiritual, personal, and pure—not mixed with other forms of life as the life of man is. But the attribute of life applies to God only analogically. Life, as we conceive it, is a mixed and not a simple perfection; it involves a transition from potentiality to actuality; the immanent activity proceeds from the substance, and remains in it to perfect it. Still it is not essential to immanent activity to commence in the substance and to subsist in it as in its subject; the immanence is greatest when the action is identical with the substance. Hence life is attributed to God analogically, but possessed by Him in the most proper and eminent manner.

II. Unlike creatures which possess life, God is Life. It is not imparted to Him from without, but He imparts it to all things, and is the fundamental life, the life of all that lives. In this respect He is eminently the supreme Spirit (“the God of the spirits of all flesh,” Num. 16:22), inasmuch as we conceive spirits as having independent life and as infusing life. Created pure spirits bear to God a relation somewhat similar to the relations of the body to the soul, their life-activity being caused, preserved, and moved by the Divine Life. Hence the dictum: “God is the life of the soul, as the soul is the life of the body” (Deus vita animæ sicut anima corporis).

The Old Testament speaks of the Living God, whereas the New Testament calls Him the Life. Cf. John 14:6; 1 John 5:20; John 1:4, and 5:26; Acts 17:22 sqq.; etc.

III. A proper and adequate expression of the specific character of the Divine Life as the highest form of spiritual life, is Wisdom. Holy Scripture very frequently thus designates the life of God, and uses the name of Wisdom as a proper name of God, even oftener than that of Being (ὁ ὧν) and Living. The appellation of Wisdom is most appropriate, because Wisdom designates the perfection of spiritual life as manifested in the acts of the intellect and of the will, and in external actions. Hence Wisdom implies the most perfect knowledge of the highest truth, and the most perfect love of the highest good, as also a just appreciation of all other things in reference to the Supreme Truth and Goodness, and, consequently, the capability of ordering and disposing all things in accordance with their highest ideal and last end. When speaking of creatures, we give the name of Wisdom, not to the sum-total of their living activities, but only to the highest of them; in God, on the contrary, in Whom there is no multiplicity or division, Wisdom expresses the full perfection of Life.


I. That God possesses most perfect intellectual knowledge is contained in the very idea of the Divinity. The First Principle of the order of the universe, the Source and Ideal of all knowledge, must necessarily be possessed of wisdom. “O Lord, Who hast the knowledge of all things” (Esth. 14:14); “The Lord knoweth all knowledge” (Ecclus. 42:19; 1 Kings 2:3; Rom. 11:33; Col. 2:3; Ecclus. 1:1, 5, etc.).

II. God is His knowledge: in Him there is no real distinction between the faculty and the act of knowing, nor between these two and their object. Even when His knowledge extends to things outside Him, the adequate reason for such extension of the Divine knowledge is in God Himself; nothing external affects, moves, determines or influences it in any way. This is of faith, because it is evidently contained in the simplicity and independence of God, and because it is formally expressed in the propositions: God is Wisdom, God is Light. As God is the Light of all other spirits (“the light which enlighteneth every man,” John 1), so also is He Himself the sun, in the light of which He sees all things (Ecclus. 42:16).

III. The mode of action of the Divine knowledge is essentially different from that of the knowledge of creatures. The created mind knows itself as it knows other things; the knowledge of its own being is only the starting-point, and a condition of the rest of its knowledge, not its source and root. God, on the contrary, possesses in His Essence an object which itself determines and produces His knowledge from within, and is sufficient to fill the Divine Intellect and to extend the Divine knowledge to all things knowable. The Divine Essence can act this part in the process of the Divine knowledge, because it is intimately and essentially present to the Divine Intellect—nay, is identical with it; because, again, it presents to the infinite faculty of knowing an adequate object, an object of infinite perfection; and, lastly, because, inasmuch as it is the essential principle of all that exists outside God, the perfect knowledge of it implies the perfect knowledge of all that is or can be. The knowledge which God has of things outside Him, does not presuppose in these things an existence independent of the Divine knowledge; on the contrary, God knows them as caused and produced by His knowledge. In fact, things exist because God, seeing their possibility in His own Essence, decrees that they shall exist either by an immediate act of His Omnipotence or through the agency of created causes. In the language of the Schoolmen this doctrine is briefly expressed by saying that the Divine Essence is the “formal object” of the Divine knowledge, and that all other things knowable are its “material object.” This point of doctrine (viz. that the Divine Essence is the formal and primary object of God’s knowledge, and that other things knowable are its material and secondary object) is a development of defined dogmas, and is commonly taught by theologians. St. Thomas (I., q. 14, a. 8), puts it as follows: “The things of nature stand midway between God’s knowledge and ours. We receive our knowledge from natural things, of which God, through His knowledge, is the cause: wherefore, as natural things precede our knowledge of them and are its measure, so God’s knowledge precedes them, and is their measure; just as a house stands midway between the knowledge of the architect who designed it and the knowledge of him who knows it only after seeing it built.”

IV. By reason of its identity with the Divine Essence, the Divine knowledge possesses the highest possible perfection. It is in a unique manner an intellectual knowledge, because it attains its object from within, from its Essence and Nature, unlike human knowledge which penetrates to the essence and nature of things only by observing their external phenomena. It is in a unique manner an intuitive knowledge, because it adequately comprehends its object in a single act, free from abstractions, conjectures, or ratiocinations; it comprehends all possible beings in the very foundation of their possibility; things are present to the Divine intention before they are present to themselves. Moreover, the Divine knowledge is comprehensive and adequate, inasmuch as it grasps the inmost essence of things in the most exhaustive manner. Lastly, it is an eminently certain and unerring knowledge: uncertainty and error being incompatible with intuition and comprehensiveness of knowledge. All these attributes are of faith, because implied in the infinite perfection of the Divine intellect, and are clearly set forth in many texts of Holy Scripture. “The eyes of the Lord are far brighter than the sun, beholding round about all the ways of men and the bottom of the deep, and looking into the hearts of men, into the most hidden parts” (Ecclus. 23:28; cf. Job 28:24; Heb. 4:13, etc.).

V. The negative attributes of the Divine perfection shine with an especial splendour in the Divine knowledge. Thus God’s knowledge is intrinsically necessary—that is, it necessarily embraces whatever is knowable. Although, as regards contingent objects, this necessity is only hypothetical, still it cannot be said that God’s knowledge of things contingent is itself contingent, because such an expression might imply an indetermination on the part of the Divine knowledge. It is absolutely simple: God knows Himself and all things outside Him in one indivisible act. It is infinite in intensity as well as in extension—that is, it is the deepest and the richest knowledge; nothing is hidden from it; it embraces an infinite object in the Divine Essence, and an infinite number of things in the domain of possibility. It is immutable: nothing can be added to or withdrawn from it. It is eternal, having neither beginning nor end nor succession, not only as regards truths of an eternal character, but also as to things temporary which are eternally visible to the eternal eye of God. The Divine Immensity and Omnipresence add another perfection to the science of God, inasmuch as they bring all things knowable into immediate contact with the Divine Intellect. Lastly, the Divine knowledge is in a special manner incomprehensible and inscrutable to the created mind, notably to the mind in its natural state. We are unable to comprehend not only its depth and breadth, but also the manner in which the Divine Intellect lays hold of things external and renders them present to itself without being in the least dependent on them or waiting for them to come into existence; and, further, we are unable to understand how He sees, in one and the same act, cause and effect, and how the intuition of a free agent involves the intuition of its free acts. A cognition of this kind is utterly beyond and above the methods of finite cognition, and indeed is partly in direct opposition to the laws which regulate created knowledge. This ought to be kept well in view in order to meet the difficulties connected with this question. Cf. Ecclus. 42:16 sqq.; St. Aug., De Trin., l. xv., c. 7; St. Peter Damian, Ep., iv., c. 7, 8.

VI. The absolute perfection of the Divine knowledge is expressed by the term Omniscience: God knows all that is knowable, and as far as it is knowable. The domain of the Divine Science comprises, therefore, (1) God Himself; (2) the metaphysically possible; (3) the things created by God; (4) the motions and modes of being of creatures as caused either by God or by creatures themselves; (5) especially the free activity of creatures, the knowledge of which constitutes the exalted and incomprehensible privilege of the Divine Omniscience.

As to (4) we should bear in mind that the activity of creatures, with all its actual and possible modifications, is as much dependent on God as their substance is. God knows this activity from within, from its very cause; whereas the created mind only knows it from its external manifestations or effects. We shall treat of (5) in the following section.


The difficulties which the Divine knowledge of free actions presents to our mind, arise from our inability to understand the peculiar process of God’s cognition, which is indeed more peculiar in this than in other matters. A complete solution of the difficulties is impossible. All that we can hope to do is to remove apparent contradictions by clearly pointing out the difference between the way in which God knows, and the way in which the created mind acquires its knowledge. It is not without a purpose that Revelation so often insists upon the knowledge of the free actions of man as the exclusive and wonderful privilege of God,—a knowledge in which the Divine Light illumines the most secret and dark recesses.

The knowledge which God possesses of the free actions of His creatures is distinguished by the three following characteristics: (1) God knows these actions in themselves, as they are in the mind and heart of their author, from within and so far à priori; (2) God has this knowledge from all eternity—that is, before the actions take place; (3) in the Divine Intellect the knowledge of free actions is logically preceded by the knowledge that, under certain conditions and circumstances dependent on the Divine decree, such actions would take place. The above three characteristics are termed respectively (1) “searching of hearts,” (καρδιογνωσία); (2) “knowledge of future free acts;” (3) “knowledge of conditional acts” (scientia conditionatorum or futuribilium). At each of these three degrees of Divine knowledge our difficulties increase; as far, however, as they are soluble, they find a solution in a correct exposition of the first point, especially of the relation of causality between God and created spirits.

I. It is of faith (1) that God knows the free actions of His creatures from within, before they are manifested without, exactly as they exist in the consciousness of the free agent, and even more adequately than the free agent himself knows them; (2) that God alone possesses this knowledge; (3) that, as God knows external free actions from within—that is, from the inner disposition of the agent,—so also does He know the inner free act from and in its principle, which is the free will of the creature; and this free will is entirely the work of God, and can have no tendency, no motive, no act independently of its Creator.

1. As Scripture proofs of 1, we select the following texts: “The eyes of the Lord are far brighter than the sun, beholding round about all the ways of men, and the bottom of the deep, and looking into the hearts of men, into the most hidden parts” (Ecclus. 23:28). “The Lord searcheth all hearts, and understandeth all the thoughts of minds” (1 Paral. 28:9). “For Thou only knowest the hearts of the children of men” (2 Paral. 6:30). “The heart is perverse above all things, and unsearchable, who can know it? I, the Lord, Who search the heart and prove the reins: Who give to every one according to his way, and according to the fruit of his devices” (Jer. 17:9, 10). Cf. Acts 1:24; and 15:8). “The Lord hath looked from heaven; He hath beheld all the sons of men.… He Who has made the hearts of every one of them, Who understandeth all their works” (Ps. 32:13–15).

2. As to the exclusiveness of this knowledge, Holy Scripture indeed speaks mostly of the hearts of men as being hidden from other men. The emphatic expressions used must, however, according to the unanimous teaching of the Fathers, be also applied to the angels, to whom the thoughts of men and of other angels are also imperviable. Cf. Suarez, De Angelis, l. ii., c. 21. This doctrine involves the important consequence, that the devil can no more know whether the tempted consent to temptation than he can force them to consent.

3. Creatures and their activity, including their free activity, are intrinsically dependent on God; that is, they cannot act unless God moves and co-operates with them. Hence free actions appear to the Eye of God as the course of a motion originated and supported by Him: good actions run the course which He intended; bad actions deflect from it. Consequently, God sees the free actions of His creatures, like their other actions, not as independent external manifestations, but in their origin and root—that is, in the free will and its activity of which He is the Creator and Conservator. Thus the action of the creature does not enlighten the Divine Intellect; but, on the contrary, on account of its dependence on God, the action is itself enlightened by the Divine Mind. Now, it must be remembered that God knows all effects by His knowledge of their causes, a knowledge which penetrates to their uttermost capabilities. He therefore knows the actual determinations of free will as they are elicited by the free will dependent on, and moved by, Him. This knowledge, therefore, is not inferred from the previous state of the will, or from the motives communicated to it by God; for if such a conclusion could be drawn, there would be a necessary connection between the previous disposition of the will and the subsequent determination, and consequently no freedom. The formal objective reason (ratio formalis objectiva) why God sees the free determination is the dependence of the free will on God.

All schools of Theology agree in this explanation of the manner in which God knows the free actions of creatures. Some, however, lay too much stress on the point that God knows the free actions in and through His action on the will; while others give too much prominence to the idea that the free actions are known by God in themselves, as they proceed from the created will. But both parties agree that the first description can be applied without restriction only to the knowledge of good actions; and that the second description applies, without reserve, only to bad actions, which, in as far as they are bad, do not proceed from God at all, but from the created will.

This explanation enables us to see how the knowledge which God has of free actions does not interfere with their freedom. The free will of the creature indeed determines and causes an object of the Divine knowledge, but not the knowledge itself. On the contrary, God is determined by His own Essence to the knowledge of the free acts in question. His knowledge proceeds from Himself; as Creator and Conservator He contemplates in the same act the substance of the creature, its energies and faculties, the impulse by which He enables it to act, and all the actions that actually result, or may result, from this impulse. Hence the reason why God knows the free actions of His creatures is the relation of causality and dependence between Creator and creature. God, however, does not determine free actions in the same manner as He determines other actions of creatures. Just as the self-determination of the will is consequent upon the causal influence of God, so also is it known to God by reason of the same influence. God, therefore, knows the free actions of His creatures in His own Essence, the adequate knowledge of which includes the perfect knowledge of all things dependent on it.

If this be rightly understood, the following proposition will also be clear:—”God’s certain knowledge of the free determination of the will is not the cause of this determination; nor is the determination of the will the reason why God knows it.” The fact that a free determination takes place is merely a condition of God’s knowledge of it; nevertheless, it is a necessary condition—necessary in order that God, by means of His causal influence, may extend His knowledge to that particular determination of the will.

This doctrine is thus expressed by St. John Damascene, Contra Manich., c. 79: “The foreknowing power of God has not its cause in us; but it is because of us that He foresees what we are about to do: for if we were not about to do the things, God could not have foreseen them, because they were not going to be. The foreknowledge of God is true and infallible indeed; but it is not the cause why we do certain things: on the contrary, because we are about to do certain things, God foreknows them.”

II. Like all other Divine knowledge, the knowledge of the free actions of creatures is eternal. Hence God knows the free actions of His creatures before they are performed, and knows them even better than the creatures themselves do. He further contemplates them as perpetually present with the reality they acquire when accomplished in the course of time. The Vatican Council (sess. iii. c. 1) says “All things are bare and open to His eyes, even the things which will take place by the free action of creatures.” Prescience of this kind is exclusively proper to God, a touchstone of Divinity. Cf. Ps. 138:1 sqq.; Ecclus. 39:24, 25; and 23:28, 29. “Show the things that are to come hereafter, and we shall know that ye are gods” (Isai. 41:22, 23). Every one of the many prophecies contained in Holy Writ is a proof of the Divine Foreknowledge. “Every prophet is a proof of the Divine Foreknowledge”—”Præscientia Dei tot habet testes quot habet prophetas” (Tertull., C. Marcion). St. Augustine (Ad Simplicium, 1. ii., q. ii., n. 2) gives a classical description of the way in which God sees future things as present.

God’s Foreknowledge must be eternal because all that is in God is necessarily eternal. Besides, if God knew the free actions of His creatures only in time, the decrees of His Providence ought to be made in time also. The possibility of an eternal Foreknowledge is evident from the à priori nature of the knowledge, for God knows future things in their eternal cause. Further, He contemplates the future as actually present, because to Him there is no time; things temporal stand before His undivided eternity with their temporal character and are seen always as they are when they actually exist.

The Divine Foreknowledge is an eternal contemplation and therefore does not interfere with the liberty of the created will. The fact that God sees what we do, no more alters the nature of our acts than the fact that they are seen or remembered by ourselves or by others. The knowledge which God has of free actions is the same before, during, and after their performance. Besides, the Divine Knowledge, being à priori, apprehends free actions formally as such, that is, as proceeding from the will by free determination. If it only grasped the action as a material fact, the knowledge would be false or incomplete. Foreknowledge would only interfere with liberty of action if it supposed a necessary influence of God on the human will, or if it had the character of a conclusion necessarily following from given premisses.

III. The knowledge of the actions which would be performed by free agents if certain conditions were fulfilled, cannot be denied to God. It is in itself an unmixed perfection, and, moreover, it is necessary for the perfect ruling of the world by Divine Providence. In fact, without such knowledge, God could not frame His decrees concerning the government of rational creatures, or, if He did, He would deprive them of their liberty (cf. Hurter, De Deo, No. 87).

1. Holy Scripture fully supports this doctrine. God being asked by David if the men of Ceila would deliver him into the hands of Saul, answered positively, “They will deliver thee.” But David having fled, he was not delivered into the hands of his enemy (1 Kings 22:1–13). See other instances of the Divine knowledge of future actions dependent on unfulfilled conditions (Jer. 38:15 sqq.); “Woe to thee, Corozain, woe to thee, Bethsaida: for if in Tyre and Sidon had been wrought the miracles that have been wrought in you, they had long ago done penance in sackcloth and ashes” (Matt. 11:20–23). Cf. Franzelin, De Deo, p. 449 sqq.

2. The Fathers often deal expressly with the present questions in connection with Providence. In the controversies with the Manichæans and Gnostics, they all admit without hesitation that God foreknew the sins which Adam and Eve, Saul, Judas, and others would commit under given conditions. Not one of these Fathers tries to justify God for creating these men, or for conferring dignities upon them, on the plea of ignorance of what would happen under the circumstances. Cf. the commentaries on Wisd. 4:11: “He was taken away lest wickedness should alter his understanding, or deceit beguile his soul;” esp. St. Gregory of Nyssa, in the sermon on this text (Opp., torn, ii., pp. 764–770), and St. Augustine (De Corr. et Gratia, c. viii.). (See infra, p. 372, and Vol. II. p. 242.)


I. Idea, ἰδεά, commonly signifies the mental representation which the artist has of his work (ratio rei faciendæ). The ideal is the highest conception of a thing. In the language of the Church, the expressions idea, exemplar, forma, species, εἶδος, are often used synonymously.

1. All the works of God are produced with perfect knowledge of what they ought to be, and all are intended to represent and manifest the Supreme Being, Beauty, and Goodness. Hence all the works of God are works of wisdom, or rather works of His wise art. “Thou hast made all things in wisdom” (Ps. 103:24). “Wisdom is the worker of all things” (Wisd. 7:21). Philosophically and theologically this doctrine is expressed as follows: God operates ad extra by artistic ideas, and all that is outside God is essentially a product and an expression of a Divine Idea.

2. The Ideas of the Divine Wisdom are, however, very different from the ideas which guide the human artist. The former are truly creative ideas, modelling not only the external appearance of things, but setting up and informing their very essence; and, being identical with God, they have in themselves the power of actuating themselves. They are absolutely original ideas, drawn from, and identical with, the Divine Substance, essentially proper to God and eternal (λόγοι οὐσιώδεις, rationes æternæ). The ideas of the created artist, on the other hand, are only relatively original; even his noblest inspirations are mostly determined by external circumstances.

3. The foundation of the Divine ideas is the infinitely perfect Divine Essence, containing in itself the perfections of all things, imitable ad extra in finite things, and comprehended as so imitable by the infinite Intellect of God. All beings outside God are, by their essence, a participation, i.e. an imperfect copy or imitation, of the Divine Being: hence their types or ideas must exist in the Divine Essence, and must be the object of the contemplation of the Divine Mind. Moreover, because of the simplicity of the Divine Substance, the ideas, their foundation and the mind contemplating them, are all one; and therefore created things are contained in God, not only as in an abstract mental representation, but as in their real model and type.

4. How many ideas are there in God? Materially there is only one idea in Him, as there is only one ideal for all things together as well as for each in particular. In His absolutely simple and infinitely rich Essence, God contemplates in one idea the type of all possible imitations ad extra. Formally speaking, however, He has as many ideas as He knows to be possible representations of His Essence.

5. Although God knows evil, still there is no ideal of evil in the Divine Mind. For evil is not a positive formation, but a difformity or deformation of things; it is not a work of the Divine Wisdom nor a work of God at all.

6. The creative power of the Divine ideas enters into action only when God decrees so by an act of His Will.

II. 1. It is essentially a work of the Divine Wisdom to give order, harmony, and organization to the things representing the Divine Ideas; to unite them in one harmonic whole, in which each holds its proper place, and each and all tend to the end proposed by the Creator. Holy Scripture calls this ordaining operation a measuring, numbering, and weighing: “Thou hast ordered all things in measure, and number, and weight” (Wisd. 11:21).

2. A further attribute of the Divine Wisdom is to determine the ideal perfection to which creatures should tend as to their ultimate object, and to establish the laws by which this object is to be aimed at and attained. The laws that regulate the movements of creatures are implanted in their nature, and are, as it were, identified with their substance, thus offering an image of the eternal law in God. To rational creatures especially, the Divine Wisdom prescribes laws for the right direction of their actions towards their end. These laws are “written in the heart” (Rom. 2:14, 15), and read there by means of the light of reason. The Divine Wisdom appears here as “doctrix disciplinæ Dei,” as a guide and educator, leading man on to the participation of the All-Wise life in God.

On the relation between the eternal law in God and the natural law, see St. Thomas, 1 2, q. 91, a. 2.

III. The infinite perfection of the Divine Wisdom involves the knowledge of all the ways and means of realizing the ultimate object of creation. God knows which acts and operations should be produced or prevented, and He knows how to direct every action and operation to its end, so that nothing upsets His plans, but everything is made subservient to them. In this sense the spirit of eternal wisdom is called πανεπίσκοπον and ἀκώλυτον, overseeing all things, unimpeded (Wisd. 7:23), and of Wisdom itself it is said: “She reacheth from end to end mightily, and ordereth all things sweetly” (Wisd. 8:1). The perfection of the Divine Providence is best seen in its dealings with the free will of man. Freedom of action, including freedom to commit sin, would undermine the stability of any but an infinite Providence. God, however, Who foreknows the future and its contingencies, Who has the power to bring about or to prevent even the free actions of His creatures, and to Whose Will all things are subservient—God is able to direct evil actions to good ends, and thus to attain His own wise objects.


I. That God has a Will, and a most perfect Will, is evident to faith and reason alike. The will is an essential of a living spirit; without it there could be in God no power, no beatitude, no sanctity, or justice.

II. The fundamental property of the Divine as opposed to the created will, is its real identity with the Divine Substance. “Will,” says St. Bonaventure (in I. Sent., dist. 45, a. 1), “is in God in a more proper and complete manner than in us. For in us it is a faculty distinct from our substance and actually distant from its object; whereas in the Divine Will there is no difference whatsoever between substance, power, act and object.” Hence in God there can be no successive acts of will, no desires, or tendencies. The essential act of the Divine Will consists in the delight with which God embraces and contains Himself as the Highest Good. This delight extends to things outside Him, only, however, in order to bring them into existence; not to derive from them any increment of perfection or happiness. In itself the act of the Divine Will is possession and fruition; in its relation to external goods it can but freely distribute its own abundance.

III. An immediate consequence of the identity of God’s Will with His Substance, is that with Him there can be no question of a cause moving the will, or of anything influencing it from without: the uncreated act, by which all things are created, cannot be subject to such influences. It is indeed essential to the Divine Will, even more than to the will of creatures, to act for an object, and consequently to determine Itself to the choice and disposition of appropriate means to attain the intended object. The object, however, is not a cause moving the Divine Will, but the reason why the Divine Will moves Itself. In God, the first motive and the ultimate object of His Will are really identical with His Will; they are His Essence considered as the supreme objective Good. All subordinate motives and objects are dependent on the primary one; they are only motives and objects because God wills them to be such. Hence subordinate motives and ends do not act on the Divine Will in itself; they are but the reason why It directs Itself upon some particular object, and orders or disposes it in some particular manner. The free actions of creatures are but circumstances in creation, brought about or permitted by God Himself, and of which He takes notice for His own sake; they are by no means external causes moving the Divine Will to action.

The supreme goodness of the Divine Will is the reason and the rule determining the direction of the Divine volition to definite objects. God loves His own goodness and therefore He wills its glorification and communication ad extra, and determines by what means these objects are to be attained. Thus the love of God for Himself causes Him to will things outside Him, just as the desires and inclinations of our will cause us to act; with this difference, however, that in God the satisfaction of such desires is neither a want nor a cause of new volitions.

The doctrine here stated is common among the theologians, although they differ in the way of expressing it. See Ruiz, De Voluntate Dei, disp. xv.

IV. Another consequence of the identity of Will and Substance in God is the peculiar relation between the Divine Will and its objects, and between the objects themselves. The love of self is, with creatures, a condition and the starting-point of all their volitions. As, however, the objects of their desires exist outside and independently of them, and as their perfection and felicity are themselves dependent on the possession of external goods, the love of self is not a sufficient object for all their volitions; it is itself but part of higher aims and objects. But God is Himself the proximate and principal object of His volition. All other things the Divine Will attains without being in any way determined or perfected by them; they are either not intended for themselves at all, or at most as subordinate ends. “The Lord hath made all things for Himself” (Prov. 16:4). God has created the world “of His own goodness, not to increase His happiness or to acquire but to manifest His goodness by means of the good things which He bestows on creatures” (Vatican Council, sess. iii., ch. 1).

The manner in which God’s Love of Self determines His love of creatures is as follows:—

1. As the Infinite Good is most communicable, fruitful, and powerful, the love of it implies love of communicating it.

2. Again, as it is the Supreme Beauty, and is capable of being copied and multiplied, the love of it excites a love of reproducing it.

3. The supreme dignity and majesty of the highest Good is worthy of honour and glory; hence God is induced to create beings able to give Him honour and glory.

Thus all things find the motive of their existence in the Divine Self-Love; and in it, too, they find their ultimate object. They are made in order to participate in the goodness of God, and to cling to Him with love; to reproduce His beauty, to know and to praise it; to submit to His majesty by honouring and serving Him.

From this genesis and order of God’s volitions we infer another difference between the manner in which the Divine Will and the created will bear upon their objects. The created will, when willing things as means and instruments to other ends, does not value them in themselves, but only inasmuch as they are means. God, on the contrary, although His creatures are only means to His glory, intends really and truly that they should possess the perfections communicated to them, and He takes pleasure in the goodness, beauty, and dignity, which make them copies of the Divine ideal; nay, He offers Himself as the object of their possession and fruition. Hence we perceive the benevolence, esteem, and appreciation with which God honours the goodness and dignity of His creatures. There is no selfishness on His side and no degradation on the side of creatures, although they are but means for the glory of God.

V. Another consequence of the identity of Will and Substance in God is that all the positive and negative attributes of the Divine Substance must be applied to the Divine Will. It is absolutely independent, simple, infinite, immutable, eternal, omnipresent, etc.


I. First of all it is certain that liberty of choice cannot be attributed to all the volitions of the Divine Will. God’s absolute perfection necessarily includes the absolutely perfect action of His Will, necessarily directed to the Divine Essence as the highest good. The necessity of this act is even greater than the necessity which proceeds from the nature of creatures and compels them to act; because it is founded in, and identical with, the Divine Essence. For this very same reason, however, the act of the Divine Will includes the perfection essential to acts of the will, viz. the acting for an end with consciousness and pleasure; for God knowingly and willingly loves His own lovableness.

II. Liberty of choice is attributable to the Divine Will only in respect to external things; and, as these are dependent for their existence on a Divine volition, this creative volition itself is in the free choice of God. This is defined by the Vatican Council, “God created the world of freest design” (sess. iii., chap, 1), “If any one shall say that God did not create with a will free from all necessity, but did so as necessarily as He loves Himself; let him be anathema” (can. v.).

1. Holy Scripture fittingly describes the liberty of choice in God: “Who worketh all things according to the counsel of His will” (Eph. 1:11); and again, “Who has predestinated us … according to the purpose of His Will” (1:5). See also Rom. 9:18; 1 Cor. 12:11; John 3:8.

2. The following considerations contain the proofs from reason and the solution of difficulties.

(a.) God is perfectly free to create or not to create beings outside of Himself. Such beings are neither necessary in themselves nor necessary to the beatitude or perfection of God; they can only serve to his external glory, which, however, is not necessary to Him because His essential glory is all-sufficient. If, indeed, God creates, He must do so for His own glory, and it is the love of His own glory that moves Him to create. But if He wills not to create, He is not bound to intend His external glory. The Love of Himself moves Him to create, in as far as it appears to Him fitting that He should be glorified by creatures and should be enabled to find delight in external glory. But there is no necessity here, because God might assert his Self-Love in another way, viz. by abstaining from producing other beings, and thus proving Himself the sole necessary and absolutely self-sufficient Being. This consideration gains additional force from the dogma that the Trinity is an infinite communication, ad intra, of the Divine perfections.

(b.) Again, God is free to create the world with any degree of perfection He chooses; He is not bound to create a world of the greatest possible perfection. If He is free to create or not to create, He is likewise free to create any of the many worlds alike possible and unnecessary to Him. Moreover, however perfect a created world be conceived, it would always be finite, and therefore a still more perfect one could be conceived. Hence, if God was bound to create the most perfect world possible, He would be unable to create at all, because a world at once finite and incapable of higher perfection involves a contradiction. All that can be said is this: once God has determined upon creating a world, His own moral perfection requires that He should realize the idea in a fitting manner, and ordain everything to His own glory. Thus God is bound by His wisdom and goodness to ordain particular things to the ends of the whole world of His choice, and the whole world to His own glory.

(c.) God is free in His choice of the particular beings through which the general object of creation is to be attained; and also in the determination of the position which each particular being is to occupy in the universe, and in the degree of perfection to be granted to them. This principle applies especially to the creation of beings of the same kind. No man has a better claim than any other to be called into existence or to be distinguished by particular gifts. Holy Scripture often mentions this point in order to set forth God’s absolute dominion over His creatures, and over His gifts to them, and to excite the gratitude of men for the gifts so freely bestowed upon them by the Divine bounty. It ought, however, to be borne in mind that, if God favours some creatures with extraordinary gifts, He refuses to none the perfections required by their nature. “And I went down into the potter’s house, and behold he was doing a work on the wheel. And the vessel was broken which he was making of clay with his hands: and turning he made another vessel, as it seemed good in his eyes to make it. Then the word of the Lord came to me, saying: Cannot I do with you as this potter, O house of Israel? saith the Lord. Behold as clay is in the hand of the potter, so are you in My hand, O house of Israel. I will suddenly speak against a nation, and against a kingdom, to root out, and to pull down, and to destroy it” (Jer. 18:3–7). Cf. Ecclus. 33:10 sqq.; Rom. 9:20 sqq.

III. Although the Divine volition of finite things is free from antecedent necessity, it is subject to the necessity consequent upon the Divine wisdom, sanctity, and immutability. Once God has freely decreed certain objects, He is bound, by “consequent necessity,” to decree likewise all that is necessarily connected as means or otherwise with these objects. The older Theologians give to this “Willing” of God, regulated by His wisdom, sanctity and immutability, the name of voluntas ordinata, in contradistinction to the voluntas simplex, a willing which has its only foundation in the Divine liberty.

The willing of an end does not always entail the necessary willing of particular means. The same end may often be attained by various means; and besides the necessary means, others merely useful or ornamental may be chosen. Hence the Divine Will, even when acting in consequence of a previous decree, has scope left for freedom. There is, then, in God a twofold simple volition, viz. the willing of ultimate ends and the willing of certain means thereto. Yet, this simple willing is not arbitrary—that is, entirely without reason,—and therefore unwise and unholy. The wisdom and sanctity of a choice do not always require a special reason for the preference given; it is sufficient that there be (1) a general reason for making a choice, (2) the consciousness that the choice is really free, and (3) the intention to direct the object of the preference to a wise and holy end; and all these conditions are all fulfilled in the Divine simple Volition. These notions are important on account of their bearing on the difficult question of predestination.


I. The Divine perfection excludes all affections which imply bodily activity, excitement of the mind, passivity, and, à fortiori, passions which dim the mind and upset the will. When speaking of the affections of the Divine Will, we consider its acts in as far as they bear on their objects in an eminent manner, a relation analogous to that which our will bears to its objects when moved by our various feelings. Affections not essentially connected with imperfection, such as love and delight, exist formally in God; other affections, which imply imperfection, or a certain unrest, such as fear and sadness, are only improperly or metaphorically attributed to Him. In other words, God contains formally only such affections as are determined by His own Essence. The Divine Will cannot be affected by anything external; hence, if by analogy with ourselves we distinguish many affections in God, they ought not to be conceived as really distinct or conflicting, but as virtually contained in the one act of the Divine Substance. Between the affections which have God Himself for their immediate object, such as complacency in His goodness, love, benevolence, and joy, it is almost impossible to find even a virtual distinction. The other Divine affections, which have creatures for their object, spring from the former, and are ramifications of the Divine Self-Love.

II. With the aid of these principles, it will be possible to determine in detail which affections can be attributed to the Divine Will.

1. The affection most properly attributable to the Divine Will is delight in what is good and beautiful. The primary object of this Divine complacency is the infinite Goodness and Beauty of the Divine Essence; the secondary objects are its created representations. From the complacency in what is good, the hatred or abomination of what is wicked is inseparable. This affection is connected, in created wills, with a feeling of disgust and displeasure, increasing with the degree of appreciation of the evil attained. This painful sensation, however, is not essential to the abomination of evil. It does not exist in God, Who knows that by His power and wisdom evil itself is made subservient to the ultimate end of creation.

2. A benevolent inclination towards Himself, the Highest Good, and towards the beings which participate in His Goodness, is another formal and proper attribute of the Divine Will. The contrary affection, viz. hatred or malevolence, is impossible in God. Hatred consists in wishing some one evil precisely as evil; it takes pleasure in the evil of the person hated, and strives, to a greater or lesser extent, to destroy the hateful object. Such an affection is not only unworthy of God and incompatible with His absolute repose and beatitude, but is also contrary to the nature of the Divine Will, inasmuch as the latter operates on creatures only to communicate the Divine Goodness to them. God continues His benevolence to sinners, even when they are damned in hell, for He wills their natural good even in hell, and does not begrudge them happiness; He wills their punishment only inasmuch as by it the order of the whole of creation, of which the sinners are members, is maintained; and the sinners themselves receive the sole good available to them, viz. the forced submission to the order of God’s universe. When Scripture speaks of God’s hatred of sin, or uses similar expressions, the “hatred of what is wicked” ought always to be understood, and not mere malevolence.

3. Other affections formally attributable to the Divine Will are joy and delight in God’s infinite Beauty and Goodness, as enjoyed by Himself or shared by His creatures. Pain and sadness, on the contrary, are affections entirely incompatible with the repose and happiness of the Divine Will, and are only metaphorically applicable to God. The same is true of pity, the noblest kind of sadness. God acts, indeed, as if He felt pity; but, although the effect is there, the affection is wanting. The desire for things not yet possessed is likewise impossible in God.

4. If hatred and sadness can find no room in the Divine Will on account of the imperfections they imply, much more must affections like hope and fear, respect and admiration, anger and repentance be excluded. Holy Scripture hardly ever attributes hope or fear to God, but often anger and repentance. This way of speaking is adopted in order to make the actions of God intelligible to the reader. God acts as we conceive an angry man would do under the same circumstances.

III. Love is foremost among the Divine affections; it is the type upon which all His other affections are modelled. God is Love, all Love, and Love pure and simple; whatever is against love is against the Nature of God, and is essentially excluded from Him; whatever is according to love, is according to the inclination and disposition of the Divine Nature. Hence the meaning of the expressions: “God, Whose nature is goodness” (St. Leo), and “God is charity (ἀγάπη),” 1 John 4:8. Love, caritas, ἀγάπη), and bonitas here must be taken as expressing benevolent love, by which we wish well to other beings just as we do to ourselves. Love, as here described, is indeed foremost among, and characteristic of, all Divine affections; but it is not their living root and their real principle. This is Love only in as far as by love we understand the complacency which God finds in the infinite Goodness of His Essence, and which takes the form of the noblest kind of love, charity.

IV. God’s benevolent love of His creatures is characterized by the following properties:—

1. God’s benevolent love of creatures actually existing is, in substance, His love of Himself freely directed towards determinate beings which receive their existence in virtue of His Love.

2. It is a gratuitous love, freely bestowed without any claim on the part of the creature, and without any profit on the part of God.

3. By reason of its origin in the Divine Wisdom and Self-Love, God’s love of creatures is essentially wise and holy, directed towards their salvation, and necessarily subordinating them to the highest good. It is, therefore, infinitely different from a blind and weak tenderness, which would sacrifice to the capricious desires of creatures their own salvation and the honour of God. Such tenderness is unworthy of God; it would be impure love, not deserving the name of charity. Holiness is an essential element in pure love, and if we distinguish pure love from holy love it is only in order to point out the absolute gratuity of the former.

4. The Divine Love of creatures is eminently intimate. It is identical with God’s Love of Himself, and embraces creatures in their innermost being, and tends to unite them with Him in the fruition of His own perfection. Hence arises the unitive force proper to Divine Love. The love of creatures for each other brings them together, but the Love of God for creatures unites the creature to the Creator.

5. The Divine Love is eminently an ecstatic love—that is, God causes His Love, and with His Love His goodness, to expand and to overflow ad extra, and to pervade and replenish His creatures. Humanly speaking, it may even be said that, in the Incarnation, God, out of love for His creatures, “empties” Himself (Phil. 2:7), inasmuch as, without sacrificing His internal glory and absolute honour, He renounces, in His adopted humanity, all external glory. The “ecstasis” of the Divine Love aims at bringing the beloved creatures into the closest union with God; whence that famous circle of the Divine Love described by Dionysius the Areopagite, De Div. Nom., c. iv.

6. The Divine Love is eminently universal and all-embracing. On the part of God the love is the same for each and all its objects, because in the Divine act itself there are no degrees. But it manifests itself in various degrees, so that, on the part of the beloved objects, more love is shown to the better ones than to the less perfect. In this respect God loves one object more than another, because He has willed the one to be better than the other, and has adorned the one with choicer gifts than the other.

7. The Divine Love is eminently fertile and inexhaustible.

8. Lastly, the negative attributes of infinity, immutability, and eternity belong also to the act of Divine Love, although its external manifestations are subject to the limitation, mutability, and temporality of their objects.

All the distinguishing properties of the Divine Love shine forth most brilliantly in the supernatural “love of friendship” which God has for His rational creatures. By this supernatural love, He loves them as He loves Himself, elevating them to the participation in His own beatitude, and giving Himself to them in many ways. It is that “charity or love of God” which the New Testament chiefly and almost exclusively recommends.


I. In God there can be no moral imperfection, no sin or anything approaching thereto. With Him, the impossibility of sinning or participating in sin is absolute and metaphysical, not only because the possibility of sinning would destroy His infinite perfection, but especially because of the nature of sin. Sin consists in preferring one’s self to God; in other words, in opposing personal interests to the Supreme Good and giving them preference. But such opposition is impossible with God, because His own Self and His interests are identical with the Supreme Good. This immaculate purity and absolute freedom from all sin is termed Sanctity or Holiness, in the sense of the classical definition given by the Areopagite: “Holiness is purity free from all fault, altogether perfect and spotless in every respect.” In order to complete the concept of sanctity, it is necessary to add that God is inaccessible to sin or to contact with sin, because He positively abominates it with an abomination proportionate to the esteem He has for the Supreme Good which sin despises—that is, with an infinite abomination. Hence the Divine purity is infinite, and implies an infinite distance between God and sin. Holy Scripture frequently insists upon the Divine sanctity as here described. “God is faithful and without iniquity, He is just and right” (Deut. 32:4); “Is God unjust (ἄδικος)? God forbid” (Rom. 3:5, 6). See, also, Rom. 9:14; 1 John 3:9; Hab. 1:13; Ps. 5:5, and 44:8.

God’s infinite detestation of sin entails the impossibility not only of willing sin as an end, but also of intending it positively as a means to other ends; He can only have the will to permit sin, and to make use of such permission as an occasion to bring about good. To permit sin, when able to prevent it, would, indeed, be against moral perfection in a created being, because the creature is bound to further the honour of God as much as lies in its power, and also because it is unable to repair the disorder inherent in sin. God, on the other hand, may dispose of His honour as He chooses, not, indeed, by sacrificing it, but by furthering it in any way He pleases, either by preventing sin or by converting or punishing the sinner. Both of these ways manifest God’s abomination of sin, and are, therefore, independently of other reasons, eligible means for the manifestation of His glory. Consequently, although sin is always an evil, the permission of sin is, on the part of God, a positive good. It may even be said that the permission of sin is better than its entire prevention.

When Holy Scripture uses expressions which seem to imply that God positively intends evil, they must be understood in the above sense. Unlike man, who permits evil only when he cannot prevent it, God, in His Wisdom and power, predetermines the permission of evil and ordains it to His ultimate ends. Cf. St. Thorn., 1 2, q. 79: “Utrum Deus sit causa peccati.”

II. Positively speaking, the moral perfection of God consists in the essential and immutable direction of His Will on Himself as the supreme object of all volition, and in the infinite love and esteem of Himself included in this act, the perfection of which is enhanced by the fact that the highest Good, the ultimate object of all volition, is, for the Divine Will, the immediate and only formal object, and that all other goods are objects of the Divine Will only because and in as far as they are subordinated to the highest good. A more pure, exalted, and constant volition of what is good cannot be conceived.

In its positive aspect also the moral perfection of God is called Holiness. This name is applied to the moral goodness of creatures when considered as a direction of the will towards the highest moral object, viz. the absolute dignity and majesty of God; and the designation is the more appropriate the more the creature disposes its whole life according to the exaltedness of such an object, and develops greater purity, energy, and constancy in morals. It is, therefore, evident that sanctity is the most, and indeed the only, convenient name for the moral perfection of God.

III. God’s absolute moral perfection necessarily implies the possession of all the virtues of creatures. It is, however, evident that many of these cannot exist actually in the Creator. Thus, for instance, religion and obedience, which imply submission to a higher being; faith and hope, which presuppose a state of imperfection; and temperance, which requires a subject composed of mind and matter, are all alike impossible in God. They are only virtually contained in the Divine perfection, viz. inasmuch as they express esteem for the highest good and for the good order of things. Some moral virtues, such as fortitude and meekness, are metaphorically attributed to God, only to bring out the absence of the opposite vices of pusillanimity and anger. Those virtues alone belong formally to the moral perfection of God which manifest and bring into operation the excellence of their subject; and they belong to Him in an eminent manner, so that all the Divine virtues are purely active and regal virtues.

The royal character of the Divine virtues appears in their exercise, in their diversity, and in their organic relations, which, in the moral life of God, are widely different from what they are in creatures. In creatures, all virtues, even those which have an external object, tend to increase the inner perfection of the virtuous subject. Not so with God; His perfection would be the same if He abstained from the exercise of any external virtue; and as the only virtue essential to His perfection (viz. self-love and self-esteem) is pure act identical with the Divine Essence, it cannot be spoken of as exercised—that is, as passing from potentiality to actuality. The virtues of creatures are manifold because they bear upon many objects and admit of various degrees of perfection. In God only one object, absolutely simple and perfect, is attained by the Divine Will, and consequently a diversity of virtues can only be based upon the remote and secondary objects of the Divine volitions. The organic unity of the virtues of creatures consists in the subordination of all others under the Love of God, which, like a bond of perfection, embraces and contains them all. But in God all virtues are one, because He can will nothing but Himself and things that are subordinated to Him as their supreme good. His infinite Love is the root from which all His other virtues spring, as it is also the root and essence of His Sanctity. The ramifications of the Divine Charity can, however, be considered as special moral virtues, because they represent special forms, or a special exercise of the Divine Goodness. The moral virtues in God are united more closely than in man, so much so that even the two most opposed of them, mercy and justice, are never exercised separately.

The Divine virtues which are directed to external objects—that is, the moral virtues—can be reduced to goodness, justice and truth, the last being taken in the sense of moral wisdom and veracity. These three are the fundamental types of all the other moral virtues in God: they are manifested in all His moral actions, and represent the principal directions into which the more special moral virtues branch off. We have already dealt with the nature of the Divine Goodness in the chapter on Divine Love; it remains, therefore, to determine the absolute character of the Divine Justice, so far as it differs from created justice and is exercised in union with Divine goodness and truth. It is precisely its inseparability from Goodness and Truth which frees the Divine Justice from the restrictions and the dependence of created justice.


I. Taken in its widest sense, justice may be defined as the rectitude of the will; that is, the disposition of the will and its acts in accordance with truth. In this sense, justice expresses the moral character of all the Divine virtues, including goodness. It differs from justice in creatures in that it is not a conformity with a higher rule, but a conformity or agreement with the Essence and Wisdom of God Himself, or, as the Theologians express it: “condecentia divinæ bonitatis et sapientiæ.” Taken in a narrower sense, as distinct from goodness, justice designates in God and creatures a virtue which observes or introduces a certain order in external actions, and especially adapts the actions to the exigencies of the beings to which they refer. Created justice supposes an existing order, and the beings to which it adapts its actions are always more or less independent of the agent; whereas Divine Justice deals with an order established by God, and with beings entirely dependent on Him. Hence Divine Justice can have no other object than to dispose the works of God in a manner befitting His excellence and leading to His glory. This character is best expressed by the term “Architectonic Justice,” which implies that it is not ruled or bound by any claim existing in its object, but that it consists in the conformity of determinate Divine actions with the archetypes of the Divine works existing in the Divine Mind. Thus the human artist works out his plans, not in order to satisfy the exigencies of the work of art, but to reproduce and realize his own conceptions. If the Divine Artist, unlike the human, deals with personal beings, this does not destroy the architectonic character of His Justice, for personal dignity has a claim on the Divine Justice only in as far as the Divine Wisdom effects the beauty and perfection of His works by treating each being according to its own nature, and by giving each of them exactly that place in the general order of things which its intrinsic value demands. The only real right which stands in the presence of the Divine Will, and determines the whole order of its action, is the right of Divine Majesty: to the Divine Majesty all external works of God must be subjected, to it all the beings coming within the sphere of the Divine Justice must be directed.

II. Human justice and goodness differ in this, that justice is prompted to act by a duty towards another being, whereas goodness acts freely on its own impulse. The Architectonic Justice of God, on the contrary, involves no moral necessity of satisfying the claims of any other being; whatever moral necessity it involves originates in God Himself, Who is bound to act in accordance with His Wisdom, His Will, and His Excellence. In this sense Holy Scripture often calls the Divine Justice “truth,” viz. God is just, because He is true to Himself. His Wisdom requires Him to make all things good and beautiful, and consequently to give each being what its nature demands, and to assign to each that position in the universal order which corresponds with the ultimate object of creation and with the dignity of the Divine Wisdom; His sovereign Will requires that the ends intended should be always attained in one way or another, and consequently that the means necessary to these ends be forthcoming; His excellence and dignity require Him to dispose all His works in a manner tending to the manifestation and glorification of His own goodness; above all, His truthfulness and fidelity demand that He should not deny Himself in those acts by which He invites His creatures to expect with confidence a communication of His truth and of His possessions, for if creatures were deceived in their confidence, God would appear contemptible to them. God can bind Himself to actions which in every respect are free and remain free even after they are promised. Such obligation, however, is not in opposition to perfect freedom and independence, because it is always founded upon an act of the Divine goodness. Nor does this latter circumstance interfere with the strictness of the obligation, because the respect which God owes to Himself is infinitely more inviolable than any title arising from anything outside Him. Hence, although creatures have no formal claims on God, they have a greater certainty that justice will be done to them than if they really possessed such claims. “For My name’s sake I will remove My wrath afar off, and for My praise I will bridle thee, lest thou shouldst perish.… For My own sake, for My own sake, I will do it, that I may not be blasphemed” (Isai. 48:9, 11; cf. Deut. 7:9 and 32:4; 1 John 1:9).

III. Another consequence of the architectonic character of the Divine Justice is its very intimate connection with the Divine goodness. God’s Justice crowns and perfects His goodness, which would be essentially imperfect if the beings called into existence by it were not disposed and maintained in the order upheld by the Divine Justice. Sometimes certain acts of the Justice of God are attributed to His Justice alone, as distinguished from His goodness; for instance, the punishment of sinners and the permission of sin. But these acts are also acts of goodness, not so much towards the individual as towards the universe as a whole, the beauty and perfection of which require that at least incorrigible sinners should be reduced to order by punishment. As to the permission of sin, it is quite compatible with the perfection of the universe that free scope should be given to the failings of creatures and to their liberty of choice between good and evil; it is in harmony with the nature of reasonable creatures, and affords the Creator manifold opportunities for manifesting His power, wisdom, and goodness.

IV. If we compare the Divine Justice, as extended to mankind, with the several forms and functions of human justice, it evidently appears as a royal, that is a governing and Providential, Justice. It embraces all the functions necessary for the establishment, enforcement, and maintenance of order in a community, viz. legislative, distributive, administrative, and judicial. Commutative justice, however, has no place in God, because it can only be exercised between beings more or less independent of each other. “Who hath first given Him and recompense shall be made him?” (Rom. 11:35). Nevertheless, certain functions of the Divine Justice, notably those which belong to justice as distinguished from goodness, bear an analogy with commutative justice, and are spoken of in this sense by Holy Scripture. The analogy consists in the fact that God and every rational creature stand to each other as personal beings, and that, on the ground of this mutual relation, a certain interchange of gifts and services, and a certain recognition of “mine and thine” are conceivable. There are three functions of the Divine Justice which are better understood if considered from this point of view than from that of providential Justice alone.

I. In rewarding good actions, God treats them as services done to Himself, and gives the reward as a corresponding remuneration on His side. If He has promised it in a determinate form, creatures possess a sort of title to it, and He cannot withhold it without depriving them of what is their due. But this right and property are themselves free gifts of God, because He makes the promise freely and He freely co-operates with the creature performing the good action, which, moreover, He can claim as His own in virtue of His sovereign dominion over all things. As St. Leo beautifully observes, “God rewards us for what He Himself has given us” (Sua in nobis Dens dona coronat). Thus He is in no way a debtor to creatures, because He is in no way dependent upon them.

2. The punishment of evil is, likewise, more than a reaction of Providential Justice against the disturbance of order. God treats sin as an offence against His dignity, an injustice by which the sinner incurs the duty of satisfaction, a debt which he is bound to pay even when he repents of his sin. Hence the Vindictive Justice of God is more than, the guardian of the moral order in general; it is particularly an “Exacting” Justice by which God guards His own rights. This distinction is important, because the vindictive action of God against incorrigible sinners is a necessary consequence of His wisdom, whereas the exaction of satisfaction is a free exercise of His right, and, as such, is subject to the most varied modifications.

3. Lastly the permission of sin might be brought under the head of analogical commutative justice, inasmuch as it is a “leaving to each one what is his own.” Evil and sin have their origin in the fact that creatures are nothing by themselves, and possess nothing but what is freely given them by God; whence the permission of evil and sin is, on the part of God, a leaving the creature to what is its own, and may therefore be considered as an act of “Permissive” Justice. When God allows the nothingness and the defectibility of the creature to come, so to speak, into play, He manifests His own primary right as much as when He punishes sin; for He manifests Himself as alone essentially good, owing no man anything and needing nothing from any man.

V. From these explanations it follows that the Divine Justice in all its functions, but especially in the three last-named, presupposes, and is based upon, the exercise of the Divine goodness. The Divine goodness, therefore, pervades and influences the whole working of the Divine Justice. God always gives greater rewards than justice requires; He always exacts less and punishes less than He justly could exact and punish; and He permits fewer evils than He could justly permit. Theologians commonly ascribe this influence of God’s goodness on His justice more to His Mercy or merciful bounty, not only because it manifests itself even in favour of those who make themselves unworthy of it, but also because it is chiefly determined by God’s pity on the natural misery of the creatures. In fact, God rewards beyond merit, and punishes or exacts satisfaction below what is due, on account of the limited capabilities of creatures; He softens His vindictive justice in view of the frailty of the sinner, and He restricts the permission of evil in view of the misery which evil entails upon creatures.

The intimate union of Justice and goodness in God prevents His permitting sin as a means of manifesting His vindictive Justice, just as He wills good in order to manifest His retributive justice. The manifestation of vindictive justice is the object of the punishment of sin; it is only the object of the permission of sin in as far as the permission of continuation or increase of sin is the punishment of a first fault. The first fault or sin can only be permitted by the Justice of God in as far as He thereby intends the maintenance of the order of the universe and of Divine and human liberty on the one hand, and on the other the manifestation of the nothingness of creatures and of the power of God, Who is able to make sin itself subservient to His glorification. With equal reason it might be said that God permits first sins in order to manifest His mercy, not only to those whom He preserves from sin, but especially that kind of mercy which can be shown to sinners only.


I. The Divine goodness towards creatures assumes different names according to the different aspects under which it is considered. It is called Magnificence, Loving-kindness (pietas, gratia), Liberality, and Mercy. Of all these, the last named is the most beautiful and the most comprehensive, including, as it does, the meaning of all the others. The Divine Liberality in particular must be viewed in connection with the Divine Mercy in order to be seen in its full grandeur. In the service of Mercy, the liberality of God appears as constantly relieving some want on the part of creatures; as undisturbed by the worthlessness or even the positive unworthiness of the receiver of its gifts, nay, as taking occasion therefrom to increase its activity; as preventing the abuse or the loss of its free gifts through the frailty of the receivers. Whence we see that the supernatural graces bestowed upon creatures before they committed any sin, as well as afterwards, are attributable to the Divine Mercy. But the preservation from and the forgiveness of sin, are especially described as acts of God’s Mercy, because they imply a preservation or relief from an evil incurred through the creature’s own fault. In this respect, the Divine Mercy appears as Forgiving-kindness, Indulgence, Clemency, Meekness, Patience, and Longanimity. Holy Scripture often accumulates these various names in order to excite our hope and kindle our love of God. “The Lord is compassionate and merciful: long-suffering and plenteous in mercy. He will not always be angry, nor will He threaten for ever. He hath not dealt with us according to our sins: nor rewarded us according to our iniquities. For according to the height of the heaven above the earth: He hath strengthened His mercy towards them that fear Him” (Ps. 102:8 sqq.; see also Ps. 144:8; Wisd. 11:24 sqq.; 12:1 sqq.).

The mercy of God is infinite in its essential act; but its operations ad extra have limits assigned to them by the wise decrees of the Divine freedom. In this sense we should understand the text, “He hath mercy on whom He will, and whom He will He hardeneth” (Rom. 9:18).

II. Veracity and truth stand midway between the goodness and justice of God, inasmuch as, on the one hand, their object is the dispensing of a free gift to man, and inasmuch as, on the other hand, they imply the moral and hypothetical necessity to act in a certain manner.

1. The Divine Veracity, in general, consists in this, that God cannot directly and positively cause error in creatures, any more than He can directly cause sin. When God formally addresses His creatures and exacts their faith in His words, He cannot lead them into error. This Veracity is eminently a Divine virtue, not only because mendacity is incompatible with His sanctity, but also and especially because it is infinitely more opposed to the nature and dignity of God than it is to human nature and dignity; for a lie on God’s part would be an abuse, not of a confidence founded on ordinary motives, but of a confidence founded on sovereign authority.

2. The same must be said of the Divine fidelity in the fulfilment of promises. A promise once made by God, is irrevocable because of the Divine immutability. God is also faithful in a wider sense, viz. the Divine Will is “consequent” in its decrees, carrying out whatever it intends. “He who hath begun a good work in you will perfect it” (Phil. 1:6). Both forms of fidelity usually act together, especially in the administration of the supernatural order of grace; so that in this order the simple prayers of man have, to a certain extent, as infallible a claim on the Divine goodness and mercy as the good works of the just have on the Divine Justice. “He that sent Me is true” (John 8:26); “God is not as a man that He should lie, nor as the son of man that He should be changed. Hath He said then, and will He not do? hath He spoken, and will He not fulfil?” (Numb. 23:19. Cf. John 3:33; Rom. 3:4; Ps. 144:13; Heb. 10:23; 2 Tim. 2:13; Matt. 24:35). Although every word of God is equal to an oath—an oath being the invocation of God as a witness of the truth—still God, condescending to human frailty, has given to His chief promises the form of an oath, swearing however by Himself as there is no higher being. “God, making promise to Abraham, because He had no one greater by whom He might swear, swore by Himself” (Heb. 6:13).


I. In all rational beings, the will is the determining principle of their external activity, the perfection of which is proportioned to the perfection of the will and of the person willing. The Divine Will, being in itself absolutely perfect and identical with the Divine Wisdom, Power, and Dignity, possesses the highest possible efficacy in its external operations: all being and all activity proceed from it, and are supported by it, so that nothing is done without its influence or permission. Sovereign control over every other will is exercised by the Divine Will, and is the brightest manifestation of its internal perfection. We are about to study this particular aspect of the Divine Will in its bearing upon the created will: its general efficacy has been dealt with in the section on Omnipotence.

II. The Divine Will exhibits to the created will the ideal of moral perfection and sanctity to be aimed at; and, in virtue of the absolute excellence and dominion of God, the decrees of His Will impose upon the created will a law which creatures are in duty bound to fulfil. The power of God is the only power which can impose a duty in virtue of its own excellence; wherefore also every duty ought to be founded upon the power of God as upon its binding principle. The created will is essentially dependent on no other will than the Divine, and no other will than the Will of God is absolutely worshipful. On the other hand, our notion of duty implies that we are bound to do, not only what we apprehend as most in harmony with the exigencies of our nature, but also what a superior Will, to which we are essentially subjected, and which we apprehend as absolutely worshipful, commands us to do. Other law-givers can only impose obligations inasmuch as they represent God and act in His name; the exigencies of our nature are binding upon us only inasmuch as they express the Will of the Creator. Even the eternal rule of the Divine Wisdom, whereby God knows what is fitting for His creatures, only becomes law through the Divine Will commanding creatures to conform to it.

III. Again, the Divine Will acts on the created will in such a way as to move it intrinsically; that is, it influences the genesis and the direction of the acts of the human will. The created will owes its very existence and energy to the Will of God. Hence its active liberty or self-determination is the fruit of the activity of the Divine Will. The exercise of created liberty cannot be conceived independently of a Divine motive influence, so much so, that the good actions of the creature are in the first place actions of God. For the same reason, the Divine Will can move the human will, not merely from without by presenting to it motives or inducements to act, but also physically from within, so as to incline or even to impel the will to certain acts. Hence, again, the Divine Will has the power to prevent, by direct influence, all the acts of the human will which God will not permit, and to bring about all the acts which He desires to be performed, even so as to cause a complete reversion of the inclinations existing in the created will. All this God does without interfering with created freedom. He aims at and obtains the free performance of the acts in question. “It is God Who worketh in you, both to will and to accomplish, according to His good will” (Phil. 2:13; cf. Isai. 26:12; Prov. 21:1; Rom. 11:23). This doctrine should inspire us with great confidence when praying for the conversion of obstinate sinners, or for our own conversion from inveterate evil habits: “Ad Te nostras etiam rebelles compelle propitius voluntates!” (Secret. Dom. iv. post Pent). Cf. St. Thorn., I. q. 111, a. 2.

IV. Although, absolutely speaking, the decrees of the Divine Will are always efficacious and can never be frustrated through the interference of any other will, it is nevertheless true that, in more than one respect, not all that God wills is actually accomplished. The created will sometimes opposes the Will of the Creator, resisting it and rendering His intentions vain. We cannot, however, say that the created will overcomes the Divine Will, or that the latter is powerless. In order completely to understand this point the decrees of the Divine Will should be considered separately in their principal features.

1. The decrees relating to the moral order of the world are not always fulfilled in their first and original form—that is, as expressing the moral law which God commands His creatures to follow: for creatures are physically free to refuse submission to the moral law of God. But by so doing they neither overcome the Divine Will nor do they prove it powerless. The Divine Will is not overcome, because from the beginning its decree is directed upon the alternative that either the creature shall voluntarily submit to the law, or shall be forced into submission to it by the Divine Justice. Nor is the Divine Will made powerless, because the power proper to the Divine decree is the imposition of an obligation, an obligation which binds the sinner even when he despises it. The ruling or governing decrees of the Divine Will are still less impaired by sin, because the permission of sin is included in these same decrees. Thus God always is the conqueror of sin and sinners.

2. The Divine decrees relating to the last end of rational creatures, in as far as they express the first and original intention of the Divine Will (which is that all men should be saved, 1 Tim. 2:4), are likewise liable to be frustrated through the refusal of co-operation on the part of creatures. But here also the Divine Will asserts its power. The salvation of all mankind is subordinate to a higher object, viz. the glorification of God through rational creatures. But this higher object is always attained, either by the salvation or the just punishment of man. Furthermore, the will to save all mankind is not proved powerless by the refusal of co-operation on the part of man, because its essential efficacy only consists in making salvation possible to all men; nor does its sincerity require that God should procure unconditionally the co-operation of man. Besides, it is not want of power that prevents God from enforcing co-operation, but His free Will.

3. Lastly, the Divine decrees relating to the performance of acts dependent on human co-operation may also be frustrated in as far as they only conditionally intend the performance of these acts. The decrees do not always include the will to enforce co-operation, but only to assist it and to render it possible. Whenever the will to enforce co-operation is included, co-operation is infallibly secured, for, in this supposition, God makes such use of His power as to incline the will of man freely to co-operate in the desired action.

V. Are all good actions which actually take place the effect of a Divine decree enforcing free co-operation? This is a question of detail, which cannot be solved offhand by invoking the infallible efficacy of the Divine Will, and which it would be rash to answer at once in the affirmative. Some would hold that, besides the Divine decrees which God intends to be infallibly efficacious, there may be others likewise efficacious, although not intended to be so infallibly. Considering the way in which God wills, assists, and renders possible the good deeds of man, it is not easy to admit that only those good deeds should really be performed which God unconditionally desires to be performed. If this were the case, it would seem as if God were not in earnest when He renders possible a good deed without at the same time securing its actual accomplishment. To avoid this semblance it is best not to admit a Divine decree unconditional at the outset, but rather a general decree (or intention) conditional at the outset and made absolute by the prevision of the actual fulfilment of the condition. There still remains room for the display of a special mercy in the infallible prevention of abuses of freedom; whereas, on the other hand, the frustration of the conditional decree is exclusively attributable to the misuse of freedom. More on this subject will be found in the treatise on Grace.

In theological language the above doctrine is shortly formulated as follows: The Divine Will is not always fulfilled as Voluntas Antecedens, i.e. considered in its original designs, as they are before God takes into account the actual behaviour of created wills; it is always fulfilled as Voluntas Consequens, i.e. considered in its designs as they are after taking into account the actual behaviour of free creatures. The Voluntas Antecedens is a velle secundum quid (= conditional); the Voluntas Consequens is a velle simpliciter (= absolute). It should be noted that the terms Voluntas Antecedens and Consequens are not always used in the same sense by all theologians, because they do not all consider the same object as their term of comparison. See St. Bonaventure (in I. Sent., dist. 47, a. 1) for a beautiful exposition of the doctrine here in question.


I. As Holy Scripture expresses the whole perfection of the intellectual life of God by calling Him “the Truth,” so it describes the whole perfection of the life of His Will by calling Him “Holy,” pure and simple, or the “Holy of Holies.” “I the Lord your God am holy” (Lev. 19:2; cf. 1 Pet. 1:16). The Holiness of God, however, is more than a direction of His Will upon, and conformity with, the good and the beautiful: it is the most intimate effective union with the most perfect objective goodness and beauty. God is “the Holiness” as He is “the Truth.”

The proposition, “God is the Holiness,” implies the three following constituents:—

1. The life of the Divine Will is Holiness pure and simple and pre-eminently, because it is directed entirely, immediately, and exclusively on the infinite Goodness and Beauty of the Divine Essence, and is united with the Divine Beauty and Goodness in every conceivable manner, as complacency, love, and fruition; hence the same attributes—such as simplicity, infinity, and immutability—are applicable to both the life of the Divine Will and the goodness and beauty of the Divine Substance.

2. The life of the Divine Will is essential Holiness, because it is essentially identical with the objective Goodness and Beauty of God, and not merely united to them.

3. It is Holiness by nature; that is, the Divine Nature contains Holiness as its proper energy. Holiness is a constituent element of the Divine Nature, whereas created nature possesses only a capacity for holiness. Thus, the Divine Holiness is a substantial Holiness, and God is Holiness just as He is Truth and Life.

It is evident that the eminent sanctity of God, as above described, is an attribute proper to Him alone.

II. As God is the substantial Holiness and, à fortiori the substantial Goodness, He is the Ideal and the source of all pleasure and love, of all joy and delight, of all the tendencies and appetites of creatures, which only acquire their goodness by adhering to goods outside and above them, and, in the last resort, by adhering to the Creator. Hence God’s Goodness and Holiness, immovable in themselves, are the principle of all motion and of all rest in created life; and the life of creatures is but an exhalation from and a participation of the Substantial Goodness of God. This applies more particularly to the life of spiritual creatures, whose goodness consists in conformity with the life of God, and is the work of the life-giving influence of the Divine Goodness. God’s bounty manifests its power and fecundity most in the supernatural order, by leading His spiritual creatures to a participation of His own life—”partakers of the Divine Nature” (2 Pet. 1:4). That participation, however, by which the blessed spirits see God face to face and are filled with His own beatitude, is but accidental to them; it makes them godlike, but not gods.


I. God possesses, or rather is, infinite Beatitude and Glory. The life of God essentially consists in the most perfect knowledge and love of the most perfect goodness and beauty; a knowledge and love which confer the highest possible satisfaction, fruition and repose—that is, the greatest beatitude. On the other hand, the activity of the Divine Life is resplendent with all the beauty of the Divine Intellect and the Divine Substance, and is therefore the highest Glory. In a word, God is Beatitude and Glory, because He is Truth and Holiness. For this reason Scripture calls Him “the Blessed God” (ὁ μακάριος, 1 Tim. 1:11, 6:15); and often points out that He alone possesses glory pure and simple, because He alone is deserving of praise pure and simple. A created spirit neither possesses nor is entitled to a felicity and glory like the Divine. Even the felicity to which it is naturally or supernaturally destined is not intrinsically connected with its nature, but is acquired from without, under the helping and sustaining influence of God. The supernatural glory given by God to His creatures by admitting them to a participation of His own Beatitude, is a splendid manifestation of the Divine Glory, which again gives God the greatest external glory, and confers upon the creature the highest conceivable honour.

II. A deeper insight into the Divine Beatitude and glory will be gained from the following considerations.

1. The reason why the Divine Felicity is absolute is because God is Himself, and possesses in Himself, whatever can be the object of beatifying possession and fruition. He is the highest good; His Knowledge and Love of Himself adequately embrace Himself as the highest good, and thus constitute infinite honour, glory, and praise. Created beings can but imitate the glory which God draws from Himself. The possession of external goods adds nothing to the Divine Beatitude: they contribute to it only in so far as God knows and loves His power and dominion, of which external goods are manifestations; consequently they may not even be called accidental beatitude, because they are only an external revelation of the internal beatitude. The beatitude of created spirits is essentially relative. It is proportioned to their capacities and merits, and consists in the possession and fruition of external goods, in the last instance, of God, on which they are dependent for their felicity. To be loved and honoured by God is an element essential to the beatitude of creatures; nay, the highest delight of the beatified spirits is not caused by the fact that they possess the highest good, but by the fact that God possesses the highest Beatitude and Glory; they rejoice in their own felicity because they know that it contributes to the Glory of God.

2. The Divine Glory is also absolute, not only because it is the highest Glory, but because it finds in God Himself an object of infinite beauty and splendour. Outside of God, there is nothing to which He owes any honour or glory; the glory which creatures deserve is a free gift of His Goodness, and is, in the last resort, the Glory of God Himself. Hence the glory of created spirits is purely relative.

Since the Beatitude and Glory of God are absolutely perfect in themselves, no Divine operation can tend to complete or to increase them. When God operates, He can only communicate out of His own perfection. But this communication takes place in two directions—without and within. The necessary operation within, by which the fulness of God’s Beatitude and Glory is communicated and revealed, forms the fundamental idea of the mystery of the Blessed Trinity.



THE whole doctrine of the Trinity has been extensively dealt with by the Fathers who opposed the Arian heresy. The classical writings are the following: St. Athanasius, Contra Arianos Orationes Quatuor (on the Divinity of the Son; see Card. Newman’s annotated translation), and Ad Serapionem Epistolæ Quatuor (on the Divinity of the Holy Ghost); St. Basil, Contra Eunomium (especially the solution of philosophical and dialectical objections—the genuineness of the last two books is questioned), and De Spiritu Sancto ad Amphilochium; St. Gregory of Nyssa, Contra Eunomium; Didymus, De Trinitate and De Spiritu Sancto; St. Cyril of Alexandria, Thesaurus de SS. Trinitate; St. Hilary of Poitiers, De Trin. (a systematic demonstration and defence of the dogma); St. Ambrose, De Fide Trinitatis (specially the consubstantiality of the Son), and De Spiritu S.; St. Augustine, De Trinitate—the latter part of this work (bks. viii.–xv.), in which St. Augustine goes farther than his predecessors, is the foundation of the great speculations of the Schoolmen. St. Anselm first summed up and methodically arranged in his Monologium the results obtained by St. Augustine; Peter Lombard and William of Paris (opusc. de Trinitate) developed them still further; Richard of St. Victor, in his remarkable treatise De Trinitate, added many new ideas. The doctrine received its technical completion at the hands of Alexander of Hales, i., q. 42 sqq.; St. Bonaventure in l. i., Sent.; and St. Thomas, esp. I., q. 27 sqq.; C. Gentes, l. iv., cc. 2–26, and in Qq. Dispp. passim. All the work of the thirteenth century was summed up by Dionysius the Carthusian in l. i., Sent. After the Council of Trent, we have excellent treatises, positive and apologetic: Bellarmine, De Verbo Dei; Gregory of Valentia, De Trinitate; Petavius; Thomassin; but the best of all the positive scholastic treatises is Ruiz, De Trinitate. Among modern authors, Kuhn, Franzelin, and Kleutgen deserve special mention. On the Divinity of the Son, see Canon Liddon’s Bampton Lectures. Cardinal Manning has written two valuable works on the Holy Ghost: The Temporal Mission of the Holy Ghost; The Internal Mission of the Holy Ghost. For the history of the Dogma, see Card. Newman’s Arians; Schwane, History of Dogma (in German), vols. i., ii.; and Werner, History of Apologetic Literature (in German).

We shall treat first of the Dogma itself as contained in Scripture and Tradition; and afterwards we shall give some account of the attempts of the Fathers and Schoolmen to penetrate into the depths of the mystery.




THE mystery of the Trinity, being the fundamental dogma of the Christian religion, was reduced to a fixed formula in apostolic times, and this primitive formula, used as the symbol of faith in the administration of Baptism, forms the kernel or germ of all the later developments.

I. The original form of the Creed is: “I believe in one God Father Almighty, … and in Jesus Christ His only Son, our Lord, … and in the Holy Ghost.” Father and Son are manifestly distinct Persons, hence the same is true of the Holy Ghost. They are, each of Them, the object of the same act of faith and of the same worship, hence They are of the same rank and dignity. Being the object of faith in one God, the Son and the Holy Ghost must be one God with the Father, possessing through Him and with Him the same Divine Nature. The Divinity of the Son and of the Holy Ghost is not expressed separately, because it is contained sufficiently in the assertion that they are one God with the Father. Besides, the repetition of the formula “and in one God” before the words Son and Holy Ghost, would be harsh, and would obscure the manner in which the Three Persons are one God.

II. The heresies of the first centuries, which had Jewish, pagan, and rationalistic tendencies, distorted the sense of the Catholic profession in three different directions.

1. The Antitrinitarians (Monarchians and Sabellians,) denied the real distinction between the Persons, looking upon Them simply as three manifestations or modalities (πρόσωπα) of one and the same Person.

2. The Subordinatians insisted too much on the real distinction between the Persons and on the origin of the Son and the Holy Ghost from the Father. They held that the Son and the Holy Ghost were the effect of a Divine operation ad extra, and thus were inferior to God, but above all other creatures.

3. The Tritheists taught a system aiming at the maintenance of the distinction of Persons and the equality of Nature and dignity, but “multiplying the nature” at the same time as the Persons, and thus destroying the Triunity.

III. Pope Dionysius (A.D. 259–269), in the famous dogmatic letter which he addressed to Denis of Alexandria, lays down the Catholic doctrine in opposition to the above-named heresies. The Bishop of Alexandria, in his zeal to defeat the Sabellians, had laid so much stress on the distinction of the Persons, that the Divine unity seemed endangered. The Pope first confutes the Sabellians, then the Tritheists, and lastly the Subordinatians. We possess only the last two parts, relating to the unity and equality of Essence or to the “Divine Monarchy.” They are to be found in St. Athanasius, Lib. de Sent. Dion. Alex. (See Card. Newman’s Arians, p. 125.) The letter of Pope Dionysius lays down the essential lines afterwards followed in the definitions of the Councils of Nicæa and Constantinople concerning the relations of the Son and the Holy Ghost to the Father. The last-named Council was, moreover, guided by the “Anathematisms” of Pope Damasus, which determine the whole doctrine of the Divine Trinity and Unity more in detail than the epistle of Pope Dionysius. The Councils, on the contrary, deal only with one of the Persons: that of Nicæa with the Son, that of Constantinople with the Holy Ghost.

IV. The Council of Nicæa defined, against the Arians, what is of faith concerning the Son of God, positively by developing the concept of Sonship contained in the Apostles’ Creed, and negatively by a subjoined anathema. The text of the Nicene Creed is: “And [I believe] in one Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of God, the only begotten and born of the Father, God of God, Light of light, true God of true God, begotten, not made, consubstantial (ὁμοούσιον) with the Father by whom all things were made, which are in heaven and on earth.… Those who say: there was a time when the Son of God was not, and before He was begotten He was not—and who say that the Son of God was made of nothing, or of another substance (ὑποστάσεων) or essence, or created, or alterable, or mutable—these the Catholic and Apostolic Church anathematizes.”

V. The Council of Constantinople defined, against the Macedonians, what must be believed concerning the Holy Ghost. The text is: “And in the Holy Ghost, the Lord and Life-Giver (τὸ πνεῦμα τὸ ἅγιον, τὸ κύριον, τὸ ζωοποιόν), Who proceedeth (ἐκπορευόμενον) from the Father, Who together with the Father and the Son is adored and glorified, Who spake by the Prophets.” The words, “Who proceedeth from the Father,” indicate the reason why the Third Person is equal to the two others, viz. by reason of His mode of origin. The procession from the Son is not defined explicitly, because it was already implied in the procession from the Father and was not denied by the Macedonians.

VI. Although the “Anathematisms” of Pope Damasus are anterior in date to the Council of Constantinople, and were taken as the basis of its definitions, still the last of them may be regarded as a summing up and keystone of all the dogmatic formulas preceding it. Like the formula of Pope Dionysius, it is directed against Tritheism and Subordinatianism. See the text in Denzinger, n. 6, or better in Hardouin, i. p. 805.

VII. The Athanasian Creed, dating probably from the fifth century, expounds the whole dogma of the Trinity by developing the formula, “One God in Trinity, and Trinity in Unity.” It teaches that the Persons are not to be confounded nor the Substance divided, and especially that the essential attributes—”uncreated,” “immense,” “eternal,” etc.—belong to each of the Persons because of the identity of Substance, but that these attributes are not multiplied any more than the Substance to which they belong: “not three uncreated, but one uncreated.”

VIII. The most complete symbol of the dogma formulated in patristic times, is that of the eleventh Synod of Toledo (A.D. 675), which expounds the Catholic doctrine as developed in the controversies with earlier heresies. First, following the older symbols, the Synod treats of the Three Divine Persons in succession; then, in three further sections, it develops and sets forth the general doctrine, viz. (1) the true unity of Substance, notwithstanding the Trinity of Persons; (2) the real Trinity of the Persons, notwithstanding the unity of Substance; and (3) the inseparable union of the three Persons, demanded by their very distinction.

In later times the dogma received a more distinct formulation only in two points, both directed against most subtle forms of separation and division in God.

IX. The Fourth Lateran Council declared, in its definition against the abbot Joachim (cap. Damnamus), the absolute identity of the Divine Substance with the Persons as well as with Itself; pointing out how the identity of Substance in the Three Persons makes it impossible for there to be a multiplication of the Substance in the several Persons, which would transform the substantial unity of God into a collective unity: “There is one Supreme, Incomprehensible, and Ineffable Thing (res) which is truly Father, Son, and Holy Ghost, Three Persons together and each of Them singly.”

X. On the other hand, the unity of the relation by which the Holy Ghost proceeds from the Father and the Son was defined more precisely in the repeated declarations of the Second Council of Lyons and that of Florence against the Greeks. The Greeks, in order to justify their ecclesiastical schism, had excogitated the heresy of a schism in the relations between the Divine Persons; for this and nothing else is the import of the negation of the procession of the Holy Ghost from the Father and the Son.

XI. The compact exposition given by the Council of Florence in the decree Pro Jacobitis establishes with precision (1) the real distinction of the Persons, based upon the difference of origin; (2) the absolute unity of the Persons, and Their consequent immanence and equality; (3) especially Their diversity and unity as principles (“Pater est principium sine principio.… Filius est principium de principio,” etc.).

XII. Among decisions of more recent date, we need only mention the correction of the Synod of Pistoia by Pius VI., in the Bull Auctorem fidei, for having used the expression “Deus in tribus personis distinctus” instead of “distinctis;” and the declarations of the Provincial Council of Cologne (1860) against the philosophy of Günther.

XIII. According to the above documents, the chief points of the dogma of the Trinity are the following:—

1. The one God exists truly, really, and essentially as Father, Son, and Holy Ghost; that is, the Divinity, as Substance, subsists in the form of three really distinct Hypostases or Persons, so that the Divinity, as Essence and Nature, is common to the Three.

2. The three Possessors of the one Divinity are not really distinct from Their common Essence and Nature, as, for instance, a form is distinct from its subject; They only represent three different manners in which the Divine Essence and Nature, as an absolutely independent and individual substance, belongs to Itself.

3. A real difference exists only between the several Persons, and is based upon the particular personal character of each, which consists in the particular manner in which each of Them possesses or comes into possession of the common Nature.

4. The diversity in the manner of possessing the Divine Nature lies in this, that only one Person possesses the Nature originally, and that the two Others, each again in His own way, derive it. The First Person, however, communicates the Divine Nature to the Second Person and to the Third Person, not accidentally but essentially, and These latter receive the Divine Nature likewise essentially; because the Nature, being really identical with the Three Persons, essentially belongs to, and essentially demands to be in, each of Them.

5. The diversity existing between the Three Persons implies the existence of an essential relation between each one and the other two, so that the positive peculiarity of each must be expressed by a particular name, characterizing the Second and Third Persons as receiving, and the First as giving, possession of the common Nature.

6. Although the Three Persons, being equal possessors of the Godhead, have a distinct subsistence side by side, still They have no separate existence. On the contrary, by reason of Their identity with the one indivisible Substance and of Their essential relations to each other, none of Them can be conceived without or separate from the other two. Technically this is expressed by the terms circumincessio (= περιχώρησις, coinherence), cohærentia (= συνάφεια), and ἀλληλουχία (= mutual possession).

7. For the same reasons, the most intimate and most real community exists between the Persons as to all that constitutes the object of Their possession. This applies not merely to the attributes of the Divine Substance, but also to the peculiar character of each Person, viz. the producing Persons possess the produced Person as Their production, and are possessed by This as the necessary originators of His personality. Hence, notwithstanding the origin of one Person from another, there is neither subordination nor succession between Them.

8. The activity of a person is attributed to his nature as principium quo, and to the person himself as principium quod. Hence the Divine activity, in as far as it is not specially directed to the production of a Person, is common to the Three Persons. Further, the Divine Nature being absolutely simple and indivisible, the activity proper to the Three Persons is also simple and indivisible; that is, it is not a co-operation, but the simple operation of one principium quo.

9. Thus the Three Persons, as they are one Divine Being, are also the one Principle of all things, the one Lord and Master, the Divine Monarchy (μόνη ἀρχή).




IN the Old Testament, the dogma of one God, Creator, and Ruler of the world is the doctrine round which all others are grouped; the Trinity of Persons is only mentioned with more or less distinctness in connection with the Incarnation. In the New Testament, on the contrary, the mystery of the Trinity is the central point of doctrine; it is here, therefore, that we must begin our investigation. We shall first consider the texts treating of the three Divine Persons together, and afterwards those treating of each Person in particular. We shall prove from Scripture the Personality of each Person as distinguished from the others by the mode of origin, and then the Divinity of each, from which the essential identity of the Three Persons flows as a consequence.

I. In the Gospels the Three Persons are mentioned at four of the most important epochs of the history of Revelation, viz. (1) at the Annunciation (Luke 1:35); (2) at the Baptism of our Lord and the beginning of His public life (Matt. 3:13, sqq.); (3) in the last solemn speech of our Lord before His Passion (John 14, 15, 16); and (4) after His Passion and before His Ascension, when giving the Apostles the commandment to preach and to baptize (Matt. 28:19). Of these texts, the third is the most explicit as to the distinction of the Persons; the fourth points out best the distinction and unity, and declares at the same time that the Trinity is the fundamental dogma of the Christian Faith. The second text gives us the most perfect external manifestation of the Three Persons: the Son in His visible Nature, the Holy Ghost as a Dove, the Father speaking in an audible Voice.

1. Luke 1:35: “The Holy Ghost (πνεῦμα ἅγιον) shall come upon thee, and the power of the Most High shall overshadow thee, and therefore also the Holy which shall be born of thee shall be called the Son of God.” The “Most High” is here God as Father of the Son, according to ver. 32: “He shall be great, and shall be called the Son of the Most High.”

2. St. Matthew (3:16, 17), relating the baptism of Christ, says, “And Jesus, being baptized, forthwith came out of the water: and, lo, the heavens were opened to Him: and He saw the Spirit of God descending, as a dove, and coming upon Him. And, behold, a voice from heaven, saying, This is My beloved Son, in Whom I am well pleased.”

3. In the speech after the Last Supper, as recorded by St. John, three passages occur which may be connected thus: “I will ask the Father and He shall give you another Paraclete, that He may abide with you for ever, the Spirit of truth (14:16).… “But when the Paraclete shall come, Whom I will send you from the Father, the Spirit of truth, Who proceedeth from the Father, He shall give testimony of Me (15:26).… But when He, the Spirit of truth, shall come, He will teach you all truth: for He shall not speak of Himself, but what things soever He shall hear, He shall speak.… He shall glorify Me, because He shall receive of Mine and will declare (it) to you. All things whatsoever the Father hath, are Mine; therefore I said that He shall receive of Mine and declare it to you” (16:13–15).

4. The command to baptize: “Go ye therefore and teach all nations; baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost” (Matt. 28:19). The form of Baptism is here given as the first thing to be taught to the receiver of the Sacrament. The import of the teaching is this: the three subjects named, Father, Son, and Holy Ghost, are They by Whose authority and power Baptism works the forgiveness of sin and confers sanctifying grace, and are They for Whose Majesty the baptized are taken possession of and put under obligation—in other words, to Whose honour and worship they are consecrated. The latter meaning is more prominent in the Greek formula εἰς τὸ ὄνομα, the former more in the Latin in nomine. Hence (a) the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost are three Persons, because only persons possess power and authority. (b) They are distinct Persons, because distinguished by different names. (c) They are equal in power and dignity, and all possess Divine power, because they all stand in the same relation to the baptized: forgiving sin, conferring sanctifying grace, exacting worship and submission of the kind required in baptism, are Divine prerogatives. (d) The singular number, “in the name,” indicates that the Divine Dignity which this formula expresses is not multiplied in the Three Persons, but is undivided, so that the one Divine principle and end proposed to the baptized is likewise but one Divine Being. Cf. Franzelin, De Trin., thes. iii.

II. From the Epistles four passages are commonly selected in which the Three Persons appear at the same time as distinct and of the same Essence. The strongest would be the comma Johanneum (1 John 5:7), the authenticity of which is, indeed, disputed, but which, on Catholic principles, may be defended. See, on this point, the exhaustive dissertation of Franzelin, l.c, thes. iv., and Wiseman’s Letters on 1 John 5:7.

1. “No man can say the Lord Jesus but by the Holy Ghost. Now, there are diversities of graces, but the same Spirit; and there are diversities of ministries, but the same Lord [= Christ, the Son of God]; and there are diversities of operations, but the same God [= the Father], Who worketh all in all” (1 Cor. 12:3–6).

2. “The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, and the charity of God, and the communication of the Holy Ghost be with you all” (2 Cor. 13:13).

3. “To the elect … according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, unto the sanctification of the Spirit, unto obedience and sprinkling of the blood of Jesus Christ” (1 Pet. 1:1, 2).

4. “Who is he that overcometh the world, but he that believeth that Jesus is the Son of God? This is He that came by water and blood, Jesus Christ; not in water only, but in water and blood. And it is the Spirit which testifieth that Christ is the truth. For there are three who give testimony in heaven, the Father, the Word, and the Holy Ghost: and these three are one. And there are three that give testimony on earth, the spirit, the water, and the blood: and these three are one. If we receive the testimony of men, the testimony of God is greater” (1 John 5:5–9).

The sense of the context is not without difficulty. It depends upon the question whether St. John had in view the error of the Gnostics, who attributed to Christ an apparent, not a real body; or that of the Cerinthians, who distinguished Christ the Son of God from the man Jesus, and taught that, at the Baptism, the Son of God descended upon Jesus, but left Him again at the Passion. In the first supposition, St. John had to prove the reality of the humanity of Christ; and, in this case, the water is the water that flowed from His side on the cross, and the “spirit” of vers. 6 and 8 is the spirit (= soul) which Jesus gave up on the cross (cf. John 19:30, 34, 35). In the second supposition (which is to us by far the more probable) the point was to prove the unity, constant and indissoluble, of Jesus with the Son of God; and, in this case, ver. 6 means: This Jesus, Who is the Son of God, came as Son of God in the blood of His Passion as well as in the water of the Jordan, and has shown what He is by sending the Holy Ghost and His gifts on the day of Pentecost as He had promised. In each of these three events, a testimony was given in favour of the dignity of Jesus as Son of God and Christ: at His Baptism, the voice of the Father; at the Passion, the affirmation of Jesus Himself; on the day of Pentecost, the Holy Ghost fulfilling the promises made by Jesus. St. John points to this continued threefold testimony as a proof of the continued unity of Christ, and he strengthens and explains the uniformity of this testimony on earth, by adding (ver. 7) that it corresponds with the three Heavenly Witnesses, from Whom it proceeded, and each of Whom had His share in it. In this connection, the unity asserted in ver. 7 need not be of the same order as that of ver. 8, viz. the unity of testimony; on the contrary, as it contains the highest reason of the latter, it must be of a higher order. At any rate, the Witnesses of ver. 7 appear as Persons giving testimony, whereas the witnesses of ver. 8 appear as the instrument or the vehicle of the testimony. Hence the unity of the witnesses in ver. 8 can be no other than a unity or uniformity of testimony; but the unity of the personal Witnesses, affirmed without any restriction, must be taken as an absolute and essential unity, in consequence of which They act in absolute uniformity when giving testimony—that is, They appear as one Witness, with one and the same authority, knowledge, and veracity. This is still more manifest from ver. 9, where the former testimonies are simply described as “the testimony of God,” and opposed to the testimony of man; consequently the Heavenly Witnesses must be One, because They are the one true God.

III. The doctrine contained in the above texts is further strengthened and developed in the passages relating to one or other of the Three Persons. The Personality and Divinity of the Father require no special treatment, because they are unquestioned, and, besides, are necessarily implied in the personal character of the Son. As to God the Son, His distinct Personality and origin from God the Father are so clearly contained in the name of Son, that only the identity of Substance requires further proof. But both Personality and identity of Essence must be distinctly proved of the Third Person, Whose name, Spirit, is not necessarily the name of a person, but rather the name of something belonging to a person.


I. The doctrine of the New Testament on the Son of God centres in the idea of His true and perfect Sonship: if true Son, He is of the same Essence as the Father; if of the same Essence as God the Father, He is God just as the Father is.

The texts treating expressly of the Divinity of the Son are chiefly found in St. John’s Gospel and in his First Epistle, especially in the introduction to chap. i. of the Gospel, and in three speeches of the Son of God Himself: (1) after healing the man who had been eight and thirty years under his infirmity (5:17 sqq.); (2) in defence of His Divine authority, in the continuation of His description of the Good Shepherd (10:14); (3) in the sacerdotal prayer after the Last Supper (17), in explanation of His position as mediator. Other classical texts are Heb. 1 and Col. 1:13–20.

II. The Filiation of the Son of God is a filiation in the strictest sense of the word—that is, a relation founded upon the communication of the same living essence and nature.

1. This first results from the manner in which the name “Son of God” is used in Holy Scripture. That name is, indeed, also applied to beings not of the same essence as the Father, in order to express an analogical sonship, based upon adoption, love, or some other analogy. In such cases, however, the name is used as a common noun, and never applied in the singular, as a distinctive name to any single individual, as it is applied to the Person called Word of God, Jesus, and Christ. On the other hand, this Person is distinguished, as being the Son of God (ὁ υἵος θεοῦ) and the only begotten (μονογενής) Son of God, from all creatures, even the highest angels and the beings most favoured by grace; so that His Sonship is given as the ideal and the principle of the adoptive sonship granted to men or angels. Hence, when applied to the Son of God, the term “Son” must be taken in its strict and proper sense, there being no reason to the contrary.

In illustration of these propositions, see, for instance, Gal. 4:7; Apoc. 21:7; Exod. 4:22. “For to which of the Angels hath He said at any time, Thou art My Son?” etc. (Heb. 1:5). The comparison of the real with the adoptive sonship is found in the beginning of the Epistle to the Hebrews and of the Gospel of St. John (see Heb. 1:1, 3, 5, 6; John 1:12). The Jews who did not acknowledge Jesus as the Messiah, considered it as arrogance on His part to call Himself “the Son of God” even in the weaker sense, but they treated His claim to be the Son equal to the Father as blasphemy (John 5:18), and demanded His death on that count (Matt. 26:63; Luke 22:66–71; John 19:7).

The difficulty which some find in John 10:35, 36, where, according to them, Christ claims no other sonship than that granted to creatures, vanishes if we compare Christ’s words with the accusation which He was repelling. The Jews had said, “We stone Thee because that Thou, being a man, makest Thyself God.” To this Jesus replies, “The fact of My being a man does not essentially prevent Me from being also God. And if God called His servants gods, à fortiori, the name must be given to the Man to Whom the Father has given power over the whole world, Whom He has constituted the Heir of His dominions, and Who, in the Psalm quoted, stands out as God before the gods. And if I call Myself the Son of God, it is because I claim to be that Heir of God Who, in the Psalm, is introduced as the Judging God.” Cf. Franzelin, De Verb. Incarn., th. vii.

2. The Filiation of the Son of God is further determined in its true character by the epithets which Holy Scripture gives it. The Son of God is called “True Son” (1 John 5:20); “the own (ἰδίος) Son” (Rom. 8:32); the “only-begotten Son,” unigenitus, μονογενής (John 3:16, and 1:14); “the beloved Son” (Matt. 3:17, and Col. 1:13); “the only-begotten Son Who is in the bosom of the Father,” and there alone beholds God (John 1:18); “the Son born of the Father” (Heb. 5:5, from Ps. 2:7); “ex utero genitus” (Ps. 109:3, in the Vulg.); “proceeding from God,” ἐγὼ γὰρ ἐκ τοῦ θεοῦ ἐξῖλθον (John 8:42). If sometimes the Son of God is called “First-born” among many brethren, or from the dead, or of all creatures, the sense is that the Son of God, as only true Son, is not merely begotten by His Father before any creature received existence, but that He also is the exemplar, the principle, and the last end of all beings (Apoc. 3:14), and especially of the adoption of rational beings into the Sonship of God. This idea is magnificently set forth in Col. 1:12–19, the classical text on the primogeniture of Christ: “Giving thanks to God the Father, … Who hath translated us into the kingdom of the Son of His love; … Who is the image of the invisible God, the First-born of every creature: for in Him were all things created in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible: … all things were created by Him and in Him (εἰς αὐτόν): and He is before all, and by Him all things consist.” On the ground of this original primogeniture now follows the other: “And He is the Head of the body, the Church: Who is the Beginning, the First-born from the dead: that in all things He may hold the primacy, because in Him it hath well pleased the Father that all fulness should dwell.”

These passages fully show that the formal and proper reason why Christ is called Son of God is not His wonderful generation and regeneration as man. Texts which seem to imply this ought to be interpreted so as to agree with the above.

3. The reality and perfection of the Sonship is further described when the Son is presented as the most perfect image of the Father, reproducing the glory, the Substance the Nature and the fulness of the Divinity of the Father, equal to the Father, and a perfect manifestation or revelation of His perfection. “His Son … Who, being the brightness of His glory, and the figure of His substance, and upholding all things by the word of His power” (Heb. 1:3); “Who, being in the form of God, thought it no robbery to be equal to God” (Phil. 2:6; see also Col. 1:15, 20, and 2:9; John 14:9).

II. The Son of God is represented in the New Testament as God just as His Father is, all the names and attributes of God being bestowed upon Him.

1. The substantive nouns “God” and “Lord,” are given to the Person Who is also named the Son of God, in such a manner that nothing but the possession of the Divine Essence can be signified by them.

(a) The name “God,” Θεός, besides the express affirmation that “the Word was God” (John 1:1), is applied at least five times to the Person of God the Son: John 20:28 (ὁ θεός μου); Heb. 1:8, quoting from Ps. 44, where ὁ θεός renders the Hebrew Elohim; “Waiting for the coming of the great God and our Saviour” (Tit. 2:13); “That we may know the true God, and may be in His true Son: This is the true God, and life eternal” (1 John 5:20; also Rom. 9:5). These expressions are the more significant because in the New Testament the name ὁ θεός is exclusively reserved for God. Besides this, there are in the New Testament many quotations from the Old Testament in which texts undoubtedly referring to God, because the ineffable name Jehovah is their subject, are applied to Christ For instance Heb. 1:6 = Ps. 96:7; Heb. 1:10–12 = Ps. 101 (or 102 in the Hebrew); Mal. 3:1, quoted by Mark 1:2, Matt. 11:10, Luke 7:27. The explanation of the name Jehovah as “the First and the Last,” given in the Old Testament, is, in the New Testament, repeatedly applied to Christ, with the similar expressions, “Beginning and End,” “Alpha and Omega,” “Who is, Who was, and Who is to come” (Apoc. 1:17; 21:6; 22:13).

(b) The name “Lord” is more commonly given to the Son of God than the name God. When the Father and the Son are mentioned together, and the Father is called God, the Son is always called the Lord. The reason of this difference, after what has been said above, is not that the Son of God ought not to be called God as well as Lord. Where the Son is named Lord, He appears as manifesting in His Incarnation the dominion or sovereignty of God, Whose ambassador He is, and as the holder of a special sovereignty in His quality of Head of creation generally and of mankind in particular. On the other hand, God the Father, as the “unoriginated” holder of the Divine Nature, may be emphatically called God. Moreover, the way in which Holy Scripture applies the name of Lord to the Son of God, and the way in which it qualifies the same, clearly show that this name expresses in Christ a truly Divine excellence and dignity, just as the name God expresses the Divine Essence and Nature. Consequently, Lord in the New Testament is equivalent to Adonai in the Old. In the Old Testament the title “the Lord” had become a proper name of God; it would, therefore, never be applied without restriction and as a proper name to a person who did not possess the same Divine dignity. But no restriction is made; on the contrary, Christ is called “the only sovereign Ruler and Lord”—Dominator et Domimis, ὁ μόνος δεσπότης καὶ κύριος—(Jude 4); “the Lord of glory” (1 Cor. 2:8); “the Lord of Lords and King of Kings” (Apoc. 17:14, and elsewhere). The sovereignty of the “Lord of all” necessarily extends to all that comes from God, and is the foundation of the unity of the Christian worship in opposition to the worship of many lords by the heathen (cf. 1 Cor. 8:5, 6).

2. Not only are the substantive nouns “God” and “Lord” given to the Son of God, but likewise all the predicates which express attributes proper to God alone, are stated of Him. Christ Himself (John 16:15) claims all such predicates: “All things whatsoever the Father hath, are Mine.” And again, “All things that are Mine are Thine, and Thine are Mine” (17:10). “What things soever (the Father) doeth, these the Son also doeth in like manner” (5:19).

In detail, the Son is described as equal to the Father in the possession of that being and life in virtue of which God is the principle of all being and of all life outside of Him; in the possession of the attributes connected with such essential being and life; and particularly in the Divine dignity which makes God the object of adoration. “All things were made by Him [the Word], and without Him was made nothing that was made” (John 1:3; cf. Col. 1:16, 17; 1 Cor. 8:6; John 8:25). “As the Father raiseth up the dead and giveth life, so the Son also giveth life to whom He will.… For, as the Father hath life in Himself, so He hath given to the Son also to have life in Himself” (John 5:21, 26; 1 John 1:2, etc.).

The texts in which the Son is represented as the principle through Whom (per quem, διʼ οὗ) all things are made, and the Father as the principle from Whom (ex quo, ἐξ οὗ) all things are made, do not deny the equality of the Son with the Father, but point to the different manner in which the Son possesses the Divine Nature, viz. as principium de principio; that is, as communicated to Him by the Father. This remark also solves most of the apparent difficulties arising from texts where Christ seems to object to certain Divine attributes being given to Him, as John 5:19; 7:16; Matt. 20:28. In Mark 13:32 the question is not whether the end of the world is known to the Son of God, but whether the knowledge is communicable.

The eternity of the Son is indicated where He is said to have existed before the world (John 1:1; 17:5, 18; 8:58); His omnipresence by the assertion that He is in heaven and on earth; His omniscience by His knowledge of the hearts of men and His prevision of the future; His omnipotence appears in the miracles which He worked by His own power, and also in the forgiveness of sin; He proclaims Himself the sovereign Teacher, Lawgiver, and Judge when He says, “All power is given to Me in heaven and in earth” (Matt. 28:18; John 5:22).

3. If the Son of God is truly such, if He is God and Lord, if He possesses the attributes proper to God alone, Divine honour should certainly be paid to Him. We find Him laying claim to this honour, “that all may honour the Son as (καθὼς) they honour the Father” (John 5:23). And the Apostle declares that it is due: “In the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of those that are in heaven, on earth, and under the earth” (Phil. 2:10). See Card. Newman’s Athanasius, i. p. 144. On the Divine attributes and works of Christ, consult Bellarmine, Controv. de Christo, l. i., c. 7, 8; Greg. of Valentia, De Trin. l. i. On His Divine dignity see Franzelin, De Verb. Incarn., th. v.; Knoll. De Deo, § 86.

III. The likeness of the Essence of the Son to that of the Father, implied in His Sonship and Divinity, necessarily consists in a perfect and indivisible unity of Essence. For there can be but one God, and the Son is spoken of as the God (ὁ Θεός), consequently as one with the Father. The same unity of Essence is formally affirmed by Christ: “I and the Father are one,” ἕν ἐσμεν (John 10:30). “Believe the works, that you may know and believe that the Father is in Me, and I in the Father” (ibid. 38). The unity could not be affirmed so absolutely if it did not refer to real identity of being; and the mutual immanence or περιχώρησις, of which the Saviour speaks (10:38) is only conceivable on the hypothesis of absolute identity of Essence and Nature.

IV. The whole doctrine on the Son of God is magnificently summed up in the prologue to the Gospel of St. John. The Evangelist represents the Second Person of the Trinity as He was before and independently of the Incarnation, viz. as He is in Himself. He is introduced as ὁ λόγος, Verbum, the Word, emphatically, in which the fulness of the Divine Wisdom is substantially expressed and personified, which, therefore, is one and the same substance with God, and not a new being. This Word is “with God”—that is, a Person distinct from the God Who speaks the Word; but, being the expression of His truth and wisdom, the Word is of the same Substance as the Divine Speaker. As a Person by Himself, but yet of the same Substance as God, the Word is “God” (θεός, without the article)—that is, possessor of the Divine Nature, and as truly God as the Divine Person of Whom and with Whom the Word is. As possessor of the Divine Nature, the Word is the principle of all extra-Divine existence, life, and knowledge, and therefore in Himself “the Life” that enliveneth all, and “the Light” that enlighteneth all. The Word existed “in the beginning”—that is, before any created thing,—and was Itself without beginning, like the Divine Wisdom of which It is the expression; and It existed, positively and eminently “in the beginning”—that is, before all creatures, of which the Word of Wisdom is the principle and which are made by Its power. The Word, therefore, is not created or made in time, but generated from all eternity out of the Wisdom of the Father as His only Word, and hence It is called “the only begotten of the Father” (ver. 14), Who indeed came down into the flesh with the plenitude of His grace and truth, but, at the same time, remained in the bosom of the Father (ver. 18).

V. It cannot be denied that the New Testament presents many difficulties against the Filiation, Divinity, and identity of Essence of God the Son. In general these difficulties arise from expressions used in a symbolical, analogical, or metaphorical sense, the true literal sense of which ought to be determined from the nature of the subject-matter; or they arise from the fact that the Son of God is commonly spoken of as God-man, and consequently is made the subject of many new attributes which could not be predicated of Him if He was only God. Other predicates, attributable to Him in virtue of His Divinity or of His origin from the Father, receive, as it were, a new shade or colouring when applied to the God-man, and are expressed in a way otherwise unallowable. In some passages, e.g. those relating to the sending of the Son by the Father, all the above causes of difficulties are at work. This Divine mission is entirely unlike human missions; it refers to the Person of the Son either before the Incarnation, or in the Incarnation, or to the functions of His human nature after the Incarnation. In the first two cases the mission is not an act of authority on the part of the Father, but rests simply on the relation of origin between Father and Son. In the last case only such an authority can be understood as is common to Father and Son over the human nature in Christ (cf. infra, § 108). The same reflections apply to all the texts in which the Son is said to “receive” from the Father, to obey Him, to honour Him, or, in general, to acknowledge that the Father is His Divine principle. Such texts admit of various interpretations, which accounts for the diversity of explanations given by the Fathers and the Theologians.


The impersonal character and the vagueness of the name “Spirit,” “Ghost,” “Spirit of the Father,” etc., by which Holy Scripture designates the Third Person of the Trinity, make it necessary to prove that this name really designates a distinct Person—that is, (1) that the Holy Ghost or the Spirit of God is not a mere attribute, accident, or quality going out from God to creatures, but a spiritual substance, distinct from the beings to whom the Holy Ghost is given; and (2) that the Holy Ghost is not merely the substantial vital force or energy of the Father and the Son, but a possessor of the Divine Substance, distinct from the other two Persons. To this must be added the definition of the mode of origin of the Holy Ghost, upon which depends His distinct Personality and His Divinity.

I. The first of the two points mentioned is evident from the fact that the Holy Ghost is represented as the free-acting cause of all the gifts of God to man. “All these things one and the same Spirit worketh, dividing to every one according as He will” (1 Cor. 12:11). Again, the Holy Ghost is often described as a subject distinct from creatures, knowing, searching, willing, teaching, sending, approving, consoling, indwelling, and generally acting as an intellectual Being.

II. The second point, viz. that the Holy Ghost is a Person really distinct from the Father and the Son, is evident from the fact that the Holy Ghost is represented as acting side by side with, and as distinct from the other two Persons, and is proposed with Them as an object of worship; from the relations to the other Persons which are attributed to Him, and which are such as can exist only between distinct Persons—for instance, receiving and giving and being sent; and from the manner in which He is mentioned together with the Father and the Son as being another Person (see texts in § 92, I. 3). The proper personality of the Holy Ghost is especially characterized in the texts which represent Him as not only being in God like the spirit of man is in man, but being from God (Spiritus qui ex Deo est, ἐκ τοῦ Θεοῦ, 1 Cor. 2:12); and proceeding from the Father (John 15:26) as the breath proceeds from man, and consequently as having His origin in the Father like the Son.

III. The Substantiality and Personality of the Holy Ghost being proved, His Divinity results clearly from Scripture, which states that the Spirit of God is as much in God and as much the holder of the Divine Life as the spirit of man is in man. But the spirit of man is but the innermost part of his whole substance, whereas the Spirit of God, in Whom there are no parts, must be the same whole Substance as the Divine Persons from Whom He proceeds. Thus, if the name Son implies a likeness of Essence to the Father, the name Spirit is still more significant, as it implies unity or identity of Essence with the Persons from Whom the Spirit proceeds. The classical text is 1 Cor. 2:10 sqq.: “To us God hath revealed [those things] by His Spirit: for the Spirit searcheth all things, yea, the deep things of God. For what man knoweth the things of a man, but the spirit of a man that is in him? So the things also that are of God, no man knoweth, but the Spirit of God. Now we have received not the spirit of this world, but the Spirit that is of God, that we may know the things that are given us from God.”

The Divinity of the Spirit of God, the Holy Ghost, is further confirmed by the following considerations.

1. Although the Holy Ghost is never called “God” purely and simply in Scripture, He is often represented as the same subject which, in the context or in some other text, is undoubtedly the one true God. The identity of the “Spirit” with the “Lord” is formally asserted in 2 Cor. 3:17; for this reason He is characterized in the symbol of Constantinople as “Lord.”

Instances of texts identifying the Holy Ghost with God: 1 Cor. 3:16; cf. 1 Cor. 6:19; Acts 5:3, 4; 28:25, etc.

2. The Divine Nature of the Holy Ghost is set forth in the Divine properties, operations, and relations predicated of Him, especially in relation to rational creatures.

(a) The attributes in question principally refer to the vivifying influence of the Holy Ghost on created spirits: He dwells in the inmost part of the soul and fills it with the fulness of God; He is the principle of life, and especially of the supernatural and eternal life of man which is founded upon a participation in the Divine Nature; He dwells in man as in His temple, and receives Divine worship. But such relations to creatures are proper to God alone, Who alone can make His creatures participators of His nature, and Who alone, in virtue of His simplicity and immensity, penetrates the secret recesses of created spirits. Moreover, Holy Scripture, in order to characterize the supernatural gifts of God, particularly the supernatural life of grace, as a participation of the Divine Life and coming immediately from God, represents them as the gifts and operations of the Holy Ghost. For this reason the Fathers who opposed the Macedonians appealed to these attributes of the Holy Ghost more than to others, and the Council of Constantinople added the title of Life-giver (vivificans, ζωοποιός) immediately after the name of Lord.

Passages from Scripture corroborating our argument are very numerous; John 6:64, with 2 Cor. 3:6; Rom. 8:11; 1 Cor. 6:11; 2 Cor. 3:18; Rom. 5:5; John 14:26; Acts 1:8; Rom. 8:14 sqq.; Matt. 10:20, etc.

(b) The Divinity of the Holy Ghost results from two other attributes which He receives in Holy Scripture, and which are embodied in the Creed. The first is that He is an object of adoration, “Who together with the Father and the Son is adored and glorified.” This is implied in all the texts which describe man as the “temple” of the Holy Ghost. “Adorability” being the expression of Divine dignity and excellence, Holy Scripture connects with it the manifestation of Divine authority, attributing to the Holy Ghost the inalienable right to forgive sins and to entrust the same power to others; and, further, the power to dispense all supernatural powers, notably the mission and authorization of persons endowed with such powers. “Receive ye the Holy Ghost: whose sins you shall forgive, they are forgiven” (John 20:22). “The Holy Ghost said to them, Separate me Saul and Barnabas for the work whereunto I have taken them” (Acts 13:2). “Take heed to yourselves, and to all the flock, over which the Holy Ghost hath placed you bishops, to rule the Church of God” (Ibid. 20:28).

(c) Further, the Divine attribute of knowing all the secrets of creatures and their future free acts is ascribed to the Holy Ghost. This the Creed expresses, by saying that the Holy Ghost “spake through the prophets.” Moreover, the original knowledge and the communication of the mysteries hidden in God and of all Divine truth is likewise ascribed to the Holy Ghost. The reason which the Apostle gives for this is that the Spirit of God is in God. Hence we have a double argument in favour of His Divinity: viz. the Holy Ghost is in man as God alone can be in man, and He is in God as God alone can be in Himself. See 1 Cor. 2:10–12. Compare also, “For prophecy came not by the will of man at any time: but the holy men of God spoke inspired by the Holy Ghost” (2 Pet. 1:21); 1 Cor. 14:2; Dan. 2:28.

3. Lastly, the Divine Nature of the Holy Ghost is manifested by His relation to the human nature of the Son of God. Whatever is Divine and supernatural in Christ, His attributes as well as His operations, is referred to the Holy Ghost as its principle; the whole of the Divine unction in virtue of which the man Jesus is “the Christ” (the anointed) is attributed to the Holy Ghost, so as to make Him the medium of the Hypostatic Union and of its divinizing effects upon the humanity of Christ. Hence also the resurrection and glorification of Christ are attributed to the Holy Ghost as well as to the Father (Rom. 8:11). Christ is led by the Spirit into the desert (Luke 4:1); He casts out devils in the Spirit (Matt. 12:28). See Luke 4:18; Heb. 9:14; Matt. 12:31, 32.

IV. The origin of the Spirit from Father and Son is also clearly stated in the New Testament. It is implied in the phrase “Spirit of God;” for this, according to 1 Cor. 2:12, is equivalent to “Spirit out of, or from, God” (ex Deo, τὸ πνεῦμα τὸ ἐκ τοῦ Θεοῦ). But as the Son is God as well as the Father, and as both are but one God, the Spirit of God is necessarily “from” the Father and the Son as from His principle. This argument is abundantly confirmed by Holy Scripture, especially in the speech of our Lord after the Last Supper.

1. The Holy Ghost is called the Spirit of the Son, as well as the Spirit of the Father. “God hath sent the Spirit of His Son into your hearts, crying, Abba, Father” (Gal. 4:6; cf. Rom. 8:9; 1 Pet. 1:11; Phil. 1:19). The expressions, “Spirit of Jesus or of Christ,” may, indeed, be taken as referring to the indwelling of the Holy Ghost in the humanity of Christ; this indwelling, however, is not an accidental one: the Holy Ghost is the own Spirit of Christ.

2. Christ expressly declares that the Holy Ghost, as “Spirit of truth,” takes and receives from the Son what the Son has received from the Father and possesses in common with the Father. “But when the Spirit of truth shall come, He will teach you all truth: for He shall not speak of Himself; but what things soever He shall hear, He shall speak: and the things that are to come He will show you. He shall glorify Me: because He shall receive of Mine, and will declare it to you. All things whatsoever My Father hath are Mine. Therefore I said, He shall receive of Mine, and declare it to you” (John 16:13–15).

3. Christ further declares that the Son, in the same manner as the Father, sends the Holy Ghost, which is only possible if the Holy Ghost has His eternal existence in God, from the Son as well as from the Father. “But when the Paraclete shall come, Whom I will send you from the Father, the Spirit of truth, Who proceedeth from the Father, He shall give testimony of Me” (John 15:26; see also 16:7). Note that “sending” cannot be understood as an act of authority, except in the wider sense of causing, in any way whatsoever, another person to act. Applied to the Persons of Holy Trinity, the Father cannot be sent (nor does Holy Scripture ever speak of the Father as being sent); the Son and the Holy Ghost are sent by the Father, and the Holy Ghost is sent by the Son, inasmuch as the Son is begotten by the Father, and the Spirit proceedeth from both: the relations of origin are the only conceivable foundation of missions on the part of the Divine Persons. (See infra, p. 343.)

4. Finally, the constant order in which the Three Persons are named, in the form of Baptism, and in 1 John 5:7, can only be satisfactorily accounted for by saying that the Holy Ghost proceeds from the Son. St. Basil thus comments on this point: “Let them learn that the Spirit is named (in the form of baptism) with the Son as the Son with the Father. For the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost are given in the same order. Therefore, as the Son stands to the Father, so the Holy Ghost stands to the Son according to the traditional order of the formula of Baptism. If, then, the Spirit is joined to the Son, and the Son to the Father, it is clear that the Spirit also is joined to the Father.… There is one Holy Ghost, enounced, He also, in the singular number, joined through the one Son to the one Father, and completing through Himself the Blessed Trinity, to be glorified for evermore” (De Spiritu S., c. xvii. 18).


We learn from the New Testament that many texts in the Old Testament point to the Blessed Trinity, although in themselves (and probably in the minds even of the inspired writers) the meaning attributed to them as quoted in the Gospels and Epistles is not evident. There are, however, many passages unmistakably referring to God the Son, and describing Him with a distinctness and fulness almost equal to anything in St. John and St. Paul. As an instance, we may refer to the doctrine on the “Logos” or Son of God in John 1 and Heb. 1, as compared with Prov. 8 and Wisd. 7.

It is natural to expect more references to the Son than to the Holy Ghost in the Old Testament, because it prepares and announces the coming and manifestation of the Son in the Incarnation. Where the Son is spoken of as the “Begotten Wisdom,” Sapientia genita, the Spirit Who proceeds from Him is designated, with sufficient clearness, by the term Spiritus sapientiæ, the Spirit of Wisdom. The central point, however, of all the teachings of the Old Testament on the Trinity is the Second Person. The allusions to, or more distinct expositions of the mystery of the Trinity in the Old Testament are of more interest to the commentator on Holy Scripture, and to the historian of Dogma, than to the dogmatic theologian, who finds his demonstration perfect in the New Testament, and rather throws light upon than receives light from the older references. For this reason we shall reduce the present section to the smallest compass, confining ourselves to the outlines, and giving references to material for deeper studies.

The Second of the Divine Persons appears in the Old Testament in three progressive forms, distributed over three periods. The first period is prelude to the future sending of the Son, and is found in the theophanies in the times of the Patriarchs, Moses, and the Judges. At this first stage, the Second Person bears the general and indefinite character of an ambassador, coming from God, representing God, and Himself bearing the name of God. The second form is the direct prophecy of the Incarnation of a Divine Person, including the information that a son of David shall be at the same time Son of God and God, and that, in virtue of His Divine Sonship, He shall appear as King and Priest pre-eminently, and as the spiritual spouse of souls. The third form exhibits a comprehensive description of the Divine origin and essence of the Second Person, upon which His threefold functions as man are founded.

I. The “Angel of the Lord, Jehovah, Elohim,” spoken of in all the theophanies in question, is probably a created Angel, acting directly in the name of God. Still, upon the whole, the theophanies make the impression that a higher Divine envoy is at work, Whose instrument the created Angel is, and to Whom the titles “Angel of Jehovah,” etc., really belong. Among the Fathers a diversity of opinion exists as to particular theophanies, but, on the whole, they agree in recognizing in them manifestations of the Son of God. See Franzelin, De Trin., th. vi. Cf. Gen. 16:7, 8, 13; 18:1–19; 19:24; also 22:11, 14; 31:3, 11, 13; Exod. 3:2 (Heb. and Greek); 13:21; 14:19; 23:20; 33:14.

II. In David’s time, when the Messiah was prophesied as prefigured by Solomon, the Son of David (2 Kings 7), He is also marked out as Son of God: first in the prophecy of Nathan (2 Kings 7), to which Ps. 88 is similar in its typical form; then, in a more marked form, in Pss. 2 and 109, where His Sonship is attributed to Divine generation, and His eminent dignity of King and Priest is founded upon His Sonship. In Ps. 44 the Messias is represented as God and as the Divine Spouse of souls. His Divine Sonship is only mentioned a few times more in later books of Scripture, e.g. Prov. 30:4; Micheas 5:2, and Ecclus. 51; but His Divinity is asserted very frequently. It ought, however, to be remarked that the Messias always appears as the Ambassador and as the Anointed of God; hence, when He is mentioned as God, He must be conceived, as in Ps. 44, as a Person distinct from and originated in the God Who sends and anoints Him. The signification which we attribute to the above passages of Holy Scripture is confirmed by the fact that in the New Testament many of them are expressly applied to Christ, and adduced as proofs of His Divinity. Cf. Isai. 7:14, with Matt. 1:23; Isai. 40:3–11, with Mark 1:3; Baruch 3:36–38; Zach. 11:12, 13, with Matt. 27:9; 12:10, with John 19:37.

III. Whereas the Psalms (and similarly the Prophets and the first three Gospels) represent the Second Person in God as Son of God, and as God, the Sapiential books describe, under the title of Divinely begotten Wisdom, His Divine origin and essence with such comprehensiveness that nearly all the utterances of the New Testament may be considered as a repetition or a summing up of the older Revelation. The subject designated as “Wisdom,” is represented as the substantial exhalation and the personal representative of the Divine Wisdom, begotten and born of God from all eternity; as splendour, mirror and image of God, distinct from God as from His principle, but of the same Essence, and therefore existing in God and with God; executing and governing with Him all His external works, and hence the principle and prince of all things, their source and ideal, the mediator and the initiator of that participation in Divine Life which consists in wisdom.

These figures are, on the one hand, an introduction to or a preparation for the fuller understanding of the Incarnation, and, on the other hand, a commentary on the words of the Psalms concerning the Divine Sonship and the Divine Nature of the Messias. The figures of the three Sapiential books correspond with the three principal elements of the prologue to the Gospel of St. John; and again, each of them corresponds with one of the three principal passages in the Psalms, so as to set forth, in order, how the Anointed of the Lord, in virtue of His Divine origin and essence, is, in Ps. 2, the King pre-eminently; in Ps. 109, the Priest according to the order of Melchisedech; and in Ps. 44 the beatifying Spouse of Souls. In Prov. 8. Wisdom appears as the born Queen of all things, who has dominion because she has made all things (cf. John 1: “The Word by Whom all things were made”); in Ecclus. 24. Wisdom appears as the born priestly Mediator between God and man, who possesses the priesthood of life—not of death, like the Levitical priesthood—and who, therefore, is the real Mother of life (cf. John 1, the Logos as Life and full of grace); lastly, in Wisd. 7, 8, Wisdom appears as a Bridegroom, entering into the closest connection with souls, filling them with light and happiness (as in John 1, the Word as Light which enlighteneth every man). And, as in these three expositions there is an unmistakable progress of tenderness and intimacy, so there is a progress in the spirituality, sublimity, and completeness in the exposition of the Divine origin and essence of the Eternal Wisdom. In Prov. 8, Wisdom simply appears as begotten from all eternity; in Ecclus. 24, as the Word proceeding from the mouth of the Most High; and in Wisd. 7, as the splendour of the glory of God, one with God in essence and existence.

During the last centuries before the Christian era, the Jewish theology had substituted the Chaldaic name Memrah (= Word) for the name Wisdom. The change may have been due to Ecclus. 24, describing Wisdom as proceeding from the mouth of God, or to the influence of the Greek philosophy (cf. Plato’s Logos). Memrah was made equivalent (parallel) to the several names of the Angel of the Lord (= Maleach Jehovah, Schechinah, Chabod). Thus, the name of Word, as signifying the mediator between God and the world, was well known to the Jews when St. John wrote his Gospel, and this circumstance explains the use of the term by the Evangelist. See Card. Newman, Arians, 196, and Athanasius, ii. 337.




I. Sufficient proof for the primitive profession of the dogma of the Trinity is afforded by the formula of Baptism, by the Doxologies in universal use, and by the confessions of the martyrs. The Doxology, “Glory to the Father and to the Son, and to (or with) the Holy Ghost,” is an act of worship giving Divine honour to all and each of the three Persons. The “Acts of the Martyrs” contain, in very great number, professions of faith either in the Three Persons together or in each one of Them.

II. The Faith of the Church in the mystery of the Trinity manifested itself especially in the conflict with the ante-Nicene heresies. Not only did the Church assert the distinction of the Persons, but she also defended the absolute unity and indivisibility of the Divine Substance, from which the Sabellians and their allies took the chief argument in favour of their heresy. The whole conflict turned on this point: that the unity of God ought not to destroy the distinction of the Persons, and that the distinction of the Persons ought not to destroy the unity of God. The position taken up by the Church sufficiently shows how far she was from admitting a distinction in the Substance of the Persons. Whenever, as in the case of Denis of Alexandria, a writer used expressions that might imply such substantial distinction, protests were heard on all sides, and Denis himself retracted his unguarded expressions by order of Pope Dionysius. The ecclesiastical literature anterior to the Council of Nicæa contains many expositions of the Catholic dogma on the Trinity, sometimes with considerable development. The principal ones are to be found in the writings against the Sabellians and against the Gnostics of various forms, and in the Apologies against the heathen. See Card. Newman, Arians, ch. ii.

III. Although the substance of the dogma was well known to the faithful, and better still to the Catholic Fathers and Doctors, who lived before the Council of Nicæa, it is none the less to be expected that their writings did not treat the subject with the same definiteness and accuracy of expression as later writers. It would, however, be going too far to admit that the Fathers had, in general, an obscure or a wrong conception of the unity of Substance in the Divine Persons; in such a fundamental dogma, such an error in such quarters would be incompatible with the infallibility of the Church. Among schismatic writers it is, of course, quite possible to find wrong conceptions of the dogma. As a matter of fact, from the time of Tatian, who afterwards became a formal heretic, certain writers so misunderstood the dogma that their utterances did prepare the way for the Arian heresy. Nevertheless, if we except the Philosophumena of Hippolytus and several utterances of Origen (which are, however, annulled by opposite utterances of the same author), we have no greater fault to find, even with uncatholic writers, than a superficial knowledge and inadequate exposition of the unity of Essence in the Three Persons. All the expressions which were seized upon by later opponents of the dogma, and were most harshly judged by Catholic theologians, occur in the writings of the most orthodox of the Fathers, and admit of an orthodox interpretation.

The special difficulties met with in the ante-Nicene writings, even the orthodox, lie in the following points:—

1. The authors often lay so much stress upon the character of the Father as source and principle of the other two Persons, that they almost seem to conceive the Father alone as God pure and simple, and God above all (Deus super omnia), and to attribute Divinity to the other Persons in a less perfect degree. Holy Scripture itself, however, generally uses the term God, the God (ὁ Θεός, etc.) for the Father alone.

2. Instead of stating the identity of Substance, they often speak merely of a substantial connection, or simply of a community of power and authority, of activity and love, or of the unity of origin. They do so in order to refute Ditheism, a system which admits two Gods, the one independent of the other. But here, also, Holy Scripture had set the example, especially John 5 and 10.

3. The generation of the Son is sometimes described as voluntary, in order to exclude from it a blind and imperative necessity. This, however, admits of a correct interpretation, and is found likewise in post-Nicene writers.

4. Following up Prov. 8, they represent the generation of the Son as intended in connection with the creation of the world by and through Him. But some (e.g. Tertullian, C. Prax., cc. v.–vii.) speak with more precision of a double generation, or rather of a conception and a generation of the Logos. The conception is explained as the eternal origin from the Father (λόγος ἐνδιάθετος); the generation as His temporal mission ad extra, and His manifestation in the creation of the world (λογός προφορικός verbum prolatitium): hence Hippolytus and Tertullian sometimes seem only to apply the name of Son to the Logos after His external manifestation in creating the world, or after the Incarnation, which, as a birth, they oppose to the eternal conception.

5. Lastly, the Fathers point out that the Son and the Holy Ghost are visible, whilst the Father is invisible. This visibility, however, is only intended to prove the distinction of the Persons, and not a difference in the Essence. In fact, the Son and the Holy Ghost both appeared under sensible forms or symbols, whereas the Father never so manifested Himself, it being unbecoming to His character, as principle of the Son and the Spirit, to be sent by another. The personal characters of the Second and Third Persons make it right for Them to be sent as manifesting the Father.

“We need not by an officious piety arbitrarily force the language of separate Fathers into a sense which it cannot bear; nor by an unjust and narrow criticism accuse them of error; nor impose upon an early age a distinction of terms belonging to a later. The words usia and hypostasis were naturally and intelligibly, for three or four centuries, practically synonymous, and were used indiscriminately for two ideas which were afterwards respectively denoted by the one and the other.” Card. Newman, Arians, p. 444; cf. Franzelin, th. xi.


I. The term ὁμοούσιος, “consubstantial,” was used by the Council of Nicæa to define the identity of substance in God the Father and the Son. When applied to the consubstantiality of a human father and his son, it implies only a specific identity of substance; that is, that father and son are of a like substance, but are not numerically one and the same substance. The Arians, applying the human sense to the term, argued that the Council admitted three Divine Beings or three Gods. Protestant writers, and even some Catholic theologians, have lately repeated the Arian calumny, wherefore we deem it necessary to show briefly, from the post-Nicene tradition, the numerical identity of the one Essence in the Three Persons, in virtue of which the Father, the Son, and the Spirit are one and the same God.

II. The simple fact that the dogma of the Trinity admits of no other Christian interpretation than that the Three Persons are one God, suffices to prove that the Catholic Church held the dogma in this sense, during the fourth as well as during all other centuries. The same may, however, be gathered also from the following considerations.

1. The Homoousion consequent upon generation, is thus explained by the Fathers against the sophisms of the Arians. In the Divine generation, the Substance of the Father is communicated to the Son as it is in human generation, with this difference, however, that, on account of the simplicity and indivisibility of the Divine Substance, it is communicated in its entirety, whereas the human father only communicates and parts with a portion of his substance (cf. St. Athan., De Decr. Nic. Syn., nn. 20, 23, 24). In God, as in man, generation implies a communication of life. But in man the communication consists in giving a new life; in God the communication necessarily consists in the giving of the same identical life. For if the life received by the Son were a new life, it would not even be similar to the eternal life of the Father; and, consequently, the generation would not be Divine. The difference, then, in the substance and life of the Father and the substance and life of the Son, is merely in this: the Father possesses them as uncommunicated, the Son possesses the same as communicated or received (St. Basil, C. Eunom., 1. ii., at the end). These two arguments show also that, in the mind of the Fathers, no specific unity is possible in God, but only numerical identity of substance and life.

2. The attributes which the Fathers give to the unity of the Divine Persons are such as to mark it as identity of Essence and not merely as specific unity. They describe it as substantial and indivisible coherence and inseparability, far above the unity which similarity or relationship establishes between human persons, and more like the organic unity of parts of the same whole, such as the unity of root, stem, and branch; or of body, arm, and finger. But, considering the simplicity of the Divine Substance, a coherence such as described can only be conceived as the simultaneous possession of the same Substance by the Three Persons. The Fathers further compare the unity of the Divine Persons to the inherence and immanence of the qualities and faculties of created minds in the substance of the mind; pointing out, at the same time, this difference, that the Son and the Holy Ghost are not accidents of the Father, but are His own Substance, as inseparable from the Father as His own Wisdom and Holiness (cf. St. Athanasius, Or. Contra Arianos, iv., n. I sqq.; and St. Gregory of Nazianzum, Or., 31 (al. 37), n. 4). They describe the mutual co-inherence of the Persons as consequent upon their consubstantiality, and as being the principle of the unity of Divine actions (see Petav., De Trin., 1. iv., c. 16). They oppose the unity of essence as it exists in God to that which exists between human persons—that is, to a specific or mental unity (see St. Greg. of Naz., l.c., n. 14, 16). Lastly, they use the strongest terms at their disposal to describe the unity of the three Divine Persons as the most perfect possible identity of substance (Kilber, De Deo, disp. v.).

3. That the Fathers taught the absolute unity of the Divine Essence appears also from the way in which they spoke of the mystery of the Trinity. Far from being the greatest of all mysteries, it would not be a mystery at all if the unity of the Persons were not more than a specific unity (St. Basil, De Sp. S., c. 18; St. Greg. of Nyssa, Or. Cat., n. 3). The doctrine of the Fathers holds the right mean between the errors of the Jews and the Sabellians on the one hand, and those of the Arians and pagans on the other. For with the former it denies the multiplication of the Divine Nature, yet without denying the distinction of Persons; with the latter it admits the distinction of Persons, yet without limiting their unity to a similarity or likeness of essence (St. Greg, of Nyssa., l.c.). The Fathers represent the unity of Essence as admitting of no other distinction than that based upon the divers relations of origin; so that there would be no difference whatsoever, except for this relation of origin and the consequent manner of possessing the Divine Essence. But, if the Essence itself were multiplied, the Persons would be three distinct Persons of the same species, independently of their origin (St. Greg. Naz., Or., 31 (al. 37), n. 3).

4. Finally, the two great controversies in connection with the Council of Nicæa throw much light on the present question. They are the controversy with the Semi-Arians, against whose ὁμοιούσιος (similarity of Substance) the Catholics successfully defended the ὁμοούσιος; and the controversy among the Catholics themselves on the question “whether not only one οὐσία, but also one ὑπόστασις, ought to be affirmed of the Trinity.” The Latin doctors, who translated ὑπόστασις by substantia (and some Greeks who understood it in the same sense) objected to the expression “three hypostases,” because it seemed to imply a trinity of Substances, and consequently a triplication of the Essence. The Greeks, however, explained that such was not the meaning they wished to convey by the expression used, but that they agreed with their Latin opponents on the point of doctrine. They had used the words, “three hypostases,” only because the Greek τρία πρόσωπα (which corresponds with the Latin tres personœ) had been misused by the Sabellians to confuse the real distinction of the Divine Persons. (See Kuhn, § 29; Franzelin, th. ix., n. ii.; Card. Newman, Arians, 365, 432.)

This question was thoroughly debated in the seventh century, when the doctrine of Tritheism was formally brought to the fore, and when the discussions on the two natures of Christ and His twofold operation made a thorough investigation of the unity of the Divine Essence necessary. The opponents of the Monothelites, notably Sophronius, and the Councils held against them, leave no doubt as to what was the doctrine of the Church.

III. The absolute numerical and substantial unity of the Divine Essence is essentially connected with the received expression that the Three Persons are one God and not three gods. If the Essence was divided or distributed among three persons, there would be three gods. Nor could any other form of unity, added to such merely specific unity, prevent the division of essence. No community of origin, of love, of operation, of compenetration, will prevent separate substances from being separate substances. Besides, a perfect unity of operation cannot be conceived in separate substances, any more than perfect compenetration or inexistence: hence, where these are, there is unity of substance. If, therefore, the Fathers sometimes give the community of origin, of love, and operation, etc., as a reason why the Three Persons are one God, they do not intend to give the adequate and formal reason, which is, according to the teaching of the Fathers themselves, the absolute unity and identity of the Divine Essence, expressed in the ὁμοούσιος.

IV. In consequence of the absolute identity of Essence or Substance, the Three Persons, although each of Them is God, are not three Gods, but one God. “We are forbidden by the Catholic Religion to say that there are three Gods or three Lords” (Athanasian Creed). According to a rule common to all languages, the plural of substantive nouns and predicates signifies not only a plurality of subjects designated by the nouns, but also a multiplication of the substance named, in each of the many subjects. This is because in all languages substantive nouns designate the substance and the subject in which it is. But in God, the Substance expressed by the noun God is not multiplied or distributed among the subjects who hold it; therefore the Three Persons are one God, not three Gods. (Cf. St. Thomas, I., q. 39.) The same law of language applies to verbal nouns like Creator, Judge, but not to adjective and verbal predicates like living, saving. (See Card. Newman, Arians, p. 185; St. Athan., ii. 438.)


I. Just as the Arians misused the Homoousios of Nicæa against the consubstantiality of the Son with the Father, so did the Greek schismatics misuse the words “Who proceedeth from the Father,” used by the Council of Constantinople to define the consubstantiality of the Holy Ghost with the other two Persons. They read the definition as if it excluded the Son from all participation in the communication of the Divine Essence to the Holy Ghost. It is, however, easy to show that the Greek Fathers of the fourth century, to whom the schismatics especially appeal, founded all their argument in favour of the origin of the Holy Ghost from the Father and His consubstantiality with the Father, on the assumption that the Third Person proceeds from the Son. Thus the schismatics, who reproach the Latin Church with making a change in the symbol, are themselves guilty of distorting the true sense of the symbol, of forsaking the guidance of their orthodox Fathers, and of embracing the cause of the Macedonians.

II. We shall here reproduce the doctrine of the Greek Fathers of the fourth century on the procession of the Holy Ghost. This will afford us a twofold advantage. (1) The difference of conception and expression which exists between the Latin and Greek Fathers on this subject will be made clear, and possible misunderstandings will be obviated; (2) the proper value of the Greek mode of conceiving and expressing the procession of the Holy Ghost will be rightly understood.

We shall divide this section into three parts: (A) The doctrine of the Greek Church on the Divinity of the Holy Ghost. (B) The Greek manner of conceiving and expressing the procession, compared with the Latin conception and expression. (C) The origin and tendency of the negation of the procession of the Holy Ghost from the Father and the Son, which is properly the “heresy of the schism.”

A.—The Doctrine of the Eastern Church of the Fourth Century on the Origin of the Holy Ghost as the Foundation of His Consubstantiality with the Father and the Son

III. In order to get at a right understanding of this doctrine, it is necessary to bear in mind the question at issue between the Church and the “Pneumatomachi” (or Macedonians), viz. whether the Holy Ghost had such an origin from God that, by reason of His origin, He received, not a new essence, but the Essence of God. The Pneumatomachi, most of whom were Semi-Arians, conceded more or less the consubstantiality consequent upon generation (at least the Homoiousios); but they thought that in God, as also in man, no other consubstantiality was possible but that founded upon generation. Hence they argued that the Holy Ghost, in order to be consubstantial with the Father and the Son, ought to be generated by either of Them, which would cause the Holy Ghost to be either the son of the Father and the brother of the Son, or the son of the Son and grandson of the Father (St. Athan., Ad. Serap., i., n. 15 sqq.; iii., n. I sqq.). As, however, both suppositions are absurd, it follows that the Holy Ghost must have an origin similar to that of the other things which are made through (διὰ) the Son; and therefore no consubstantiality with the Father, no Divine Nature can be claimed for the Holy Ghost (cf. Franzelin, th. xxxviii.).

Against this heretical opinion the Divinity of the Holy Ghost could be defended in two ways.

IV. The first way, more suited to a dogmatic definition, was to affirm directly what the opponents denied, namely, the origin of the Holy Ghost from the Substance of the Father, and then to show that, though not generated, the Holy Ghost proceeds from the Father as really as the Son proceeds from Him. This way was chosen by the Council of Constantinople, which—combining the texts (John 15:26), “Who proceedeth from the Father,” παρὰ τοῦ πατρός, and (1 Cor. 2:12) “the Spirit Who is of God,” ἐκ τοῦ θεοῦ—defined that the Holy Ghost proceeds from the Father.

It was not necessary to assert here the procession of the Holy Ghost from the Son, because the adversaries did not deny it, but, on the contrary, maintained it, and because the assertion of the origin of the Holy Ghost from the Father determined at once the relation of principle which the Son bears to the Holy Ghost. Moreover, according to the Pneumatomachi, the procession of another Person from the Father was, as a matter of course, effected through that Person Who proceeds from Him as Son. It was not even fitting or advisable for the Council to mention the procession from the Son. The object of the Council was to put the origin of the Holy Ghost on a footing with the origin of the Son with respect to consubstantiality with the Father; the opponents were imbued with Arian ideas, and denied the Divinity of the Son; hence they could not be refuted by affirming the procession of the Holy Ghost from the Son. Besides, the Council wished to found its definition upon Holy Scripture, but the texts which formally teach the procession from the Father do not mention the procession from the Son. If it had wished to mention the Son, the Council ought to have appealed to other texts, e.g. in which the Holy Ghost is said to receive (take) from the Son. This is really done in the more explicit symbol given by St. Epiphanius in the Ancoratus (n. 121), a symbol much used in the East, and perhaps adopted by the Council as the basis of its definition. The Ancoratus was written A.D. 374; that is, seven years before the Council. It is not impossible, however, that, after the Council, Epiphanius made some additions to the Symbol in harmony with the definition. The text is, “And we believe in the Holy Ghost, Who spake in the Law and preached in the Prophets and descended on the Jordan, Who speaketh in the Apostles and dwelleth in the Saints. And this is how we believe in Him: He is the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of God, the perfect Spirit, the Paraclete, uncreated, Who proceedeth from the Father and receiveth [or taketh, λαμβανόμενον (middle voice)] from the Son, and is believed to be from the Son (το ἐκ τοῦ πατρός ἐκπορευόμενον, καὶ ἐκ τοῦ ὑιοῦ λαμβανόμενον καὶ πιστευόμενον).”

In the West, where the position taken up by the Pneumatomachi was not so well understood or borne in mind as in the East, the definition of the Council of 381 was soon found fault with; and whenever the Eastern doctors were asked for fuller explanations, they gave it in the terms of the Symbol of St. Epiphanius. Several Eastern Churches have adopted the same symbol in their Liturgy (cf. Van der Moeren, pp. 175 and 178).

V. The second way to oppose the Pneumatomachi was to argue from their own affirmation, viz. “that the Holy Ghost has His origin from and through the Son,” and to show how this origin from the Son is such that it implies consubstantiality with the Son and with the Father. This method was adopted by most of the Fathers. If they had denied or had not acknowledged the procession of the Holy Ghost from the Son, they could have reproved the Macedonians for admitting it. At any rate, they would have had an easy answer to the objection that the third Person, owing His origin to the Son, is grandson to the Father; viz. by stating that the Holy Ghost in no wise proceeds from the Son, but only from the Father. But the Fathers do neither; on the contrary, they accept the procession from the Son as a matter of course, and make a true conception of this procession from the Son the central point of the whole controversy with the Pneumatomachi. The line of defence taken by the Fathers is invariably to correctly determine the nature of the origin of the Holy Ghost from the Son. We shall consider it (1) in its positive aspect; (2) in its apologetic or defensive aspect.

I. The thesis of the Fathers

(a.) The Fathers first show negatively that the origin of the Holy Ghost through the Son is not like the origin of creatures through the Son, but should be conceived as an origin from the Son, or as the production of a hypostasis of the same kind as its principle, proceeding from the Substance of the Son, and therefore inseparably united with Him. They state that the Holy Ghost proceeds from the Son as the Son proceeds from the Father, viz. as principle of creation, and especially as principle of the supernatural sanctification of creatures, and of the conformation with the Son and the union with the Father implied in the process of sanctification. Hence it is in and through the Holy Ghost that the Son creates, sanctifies, and elevates creatures to conformity and union with Himself. But this would be impossible if the Substance and power of the Son were not communicated to the Holy Ghost—that is, if the Holy Ghost were not of and in the Substance of the Son (cf. St. Athan., Ad Serap., 1. i.; St. Basil, Ep., 38 (al. 43), n. 4, etc.). The Fathers call the Holy Ghost, in opposition to the external works, the power and activity (virtus et operatio, ἐνέργεια), and sometimes also the quality (ποιότης) of the Son. These expressions are used of the Son in relation to the Father; but when applied to the Holy Ghost in relation to the Son, the Fathers illustrate their signification by comparing the Son to a flower, of which the Holy Ghost is the perfume, or to a mouth, an arm, a branch, of which the Holy Ghost is the breath, the finger, the flower. They further convey the notions of consubstantiality by comparing the relations of the two Persons to honey and its sweetness, to a spring and its waters, to water and its steam, to a ray of light and its radiance, to fire and its heat (cf. Petav., 1. vii., c. 5 and 7).

(b.) The Fathers declare positively that the origin of the Holy Ghost from the substance of the Son must be put on the same level as the origin of the Son from the Father, and that the precedence of the Son as principle of the Holy Ghost does not destroy the equality and real unity between these two Persons any more than the precedence of the Father as principle of the Son causes any real inequality between Father and Son. They lay so much stress on this parallel that they apply to the procession of the Holy Ghost from the Son all the expressions used to describe the generation of the Son from the Father (except “begotten” and “Son”), although they are aware that this makes it more difficult to answer the question why the Holy Ghost is not the son of the Son. (See St. Basil, C. Eun., 1. v.) In countless places they call the Holy Ghost the Word (verbum = ῥῆμα, not λόγος), the Effulgence, the Image (εἰκών), the Countenance, the Seal, the Figure, and the Form (χαρακτήρ, μορφή) of the Son; all of which expressions convey the idea of consubstantiality between the Holy Ghost and the Son, as much as when they are used of the Son in relation to the Father. (See Petav., 1. vii., c. 7; Franzelin, th. xxxvii.)

(c.) In the third place the Fathers show that, since the Holy Ghost stands to the Son as the Son to the Father, He must also proceed from the Father through the Son, and that, though not generated like the Son, He none the less receives through the Son, as really as the Son Himself, the Substance of the Father. The substantial connection of the Holy Ghost with the Father through the Son, and vice versâ, is illustrated by the comparisons given above (a), the three Persons standing in the relation of root, flower, and odour,—light, ray, and radiance, etc.; the Son and the Holy Ghost are to the Father as His mouth and the breath proceeding from it, or as His arm and finger. The Son is the Truth and Wisdom of the Father; the Holy Ghost is the Spirit of Wisdom and of Truth. Cf. St. Athan., Ad. Serap., i., n. 19–21; and the chapter of St. Basil, C. Eunom., 1. v., inscribed, “That, as the Son stands to the Father, so the Holy Ghost stands to the Son.”

2. The defence of the Fathers against the Pneumatomachi is founded upon the above principles.

(a.) The first objection, urged principally by Eunomius, was that the order of origin in the Trinity involved a descending order in the excellence and nature of the Three Persons, and an essential difference between the substances. To this the Fathers had but one answer: that the Holy Ghost was no more inferior to the Son for proceeding from Him, than the Son was inferior to the Father for being generated by Him; and that the difference of origin implied no other difference whatsoever, except the difference of origin itself. St. Basil treats this point expressly in the beginning of his third book against Eunomius. See Franzelin, th. xxxv.

(b.) The second objection was that, if the Holy Ghost stood to the Son as the Son to the Father, the Holy Ghost ought to be the son of the Son, and the grandson of the Father. The Fathers do not evade this difficulty by stating that the Holy Ghost is only related to the Son inasmuch as He possesses the same Substance, and not by any relation of origin; on the contrary, they expressly affirm that the Holy Ghost is really from the Father through the Son. (St. Basil, C. Eunom., 1. v.: “Why is the Holy Ghost not called the Son of the Son? Not because He is not of God through the Son.”) They only point out that human relations cannot be unreservedly applied to God; that the expression “Son of the Son” leads to absurd consequences, e.g. to the supposition that in God, as in man, an indefinite series of generations is possible; that each Person in the Trinity must be as unique and individual in His personality as the Divine Substance; that, lastly, generation is not the only kind of origin, wherefore also Holy Scripture compares the origin of the Holy Ghost to the origin of the breath from the mouth. The essential difference between Divine and human generation lies in this: that man generates as an isolated substance independent of his own progenitor, whereas the Son of God can only work in unity with His Father, and so communicate the Divine Substance common to Father and Son. (St. Athan., Ad. Serap., i. 16.) Hence the expression, “through the Son,” when applied to the origin of the Holy Ghost, does not mean quite the same as when applied to human relations.

(c.) The third objection ran thus: If the Holy Ghost proceeds from the Father as really and truly as from the Son, He ought to be the son of the Father and the brother of the Son. To this the Fathers answered that the Holy Ghost does not proceed from the Father in the same way as the Son does; and that He does not proceed from the Father alone and in every respect directly, but through the Son; the Holy Ghost being not only the Spirit of the Father, but also the Spirit of the Son. (Cf. St. Basil, Ep., 38.)

VI. From the line of argument followed by the Fathers who lived at the time of the Second Council (A.D. 381), it is evident that the words of the Symbol, “Who proceedeth from the Father,” are not intended to mean from the Father alone, but through the Son from the Father and from the Father through the Son; which formula is, with the older Greeks, the standing and self-evident commentary on the words of the Symbolum. The interpretation, “from the Father alone,” is a falsification as bad as and akin to the Protestant interpretation of the words, “Man is justified by faith without the works of the law,” leaving unheeded the other words, “Charity which worketh through faith.” Nay, by suppressing “through the Son,” the formula “proceedeth from the Father” would be deprived of its natural sense as it presented itself to the mind of the Fathers. For, in that case, the Father, as Father, would have no relation to the Holy Ghost, and the Holy Ghost ought either to be a son of the Father, or the Father ought to have another personal character besides that of Fathership. (Franzelin, th. xxxvi.)

B.—The Eastern manner of conceiving and expressing the Procession of the Holy Ghost compared with the Western

II. It is well known that the Eastern Fathers differ from the Western in their way of expressing the Procession of the Holy Ghost. The former commonly use the formula, ἐκ τοῦ πατρὸς διὰ τοῦ υἱοῦ, “from the Father through the Son;” the latter, ex Patre Filioque, “from the Father and the Son.” No real difference of meaning, however, underlies these different expressions, as is sufficiently proved by the fact that Greek Fathers, who had most occasion to express the dogma in short formulas, especially St. Epiphanius and St. Cyril of Alexandria, use the Latin formula times out of number; and Latin doctors, like Tertullian and St. Hilary, frequently use the Greek expression. Besides, the Western Church never objected to the formula used in the East, but attributed a correct sense to it, although it might lead Latin scholars to a misunderstanding far from the mind of the Greeks.

VIII. As a matter of fact, the Greek formula has a sound sense and a natural origin, and has even a certain advantage over the Latin formula. It owes its origin to the fact that Holy Scripture, whenever it mentions the Divine operations, represents the Father as the principle out of which (ex quo, ἐξ οὗ) all things come, and the Son as the principle through or by means of which (per quod, διʼ οῦ) all things are made, or as the way by which all things come from and return to the Father. Moreover, the course which the controversy with the Pneumatomachi took, rendered the frequent use of this exposition natural. The sound meaning of the formula is that it represents the Father and the Son, not as two principles acting separately, but as two principles operating one in the other, or as one principle; and that it sets forth the particular position of the Father and the Son as principles of the Holy Ghost, viz. that the Son produces the Holy Ghost only as “principle from a principle” (principium de principio), whereas: the Father is “principle without a principle” (principium sine principio) and “principle of a principle: (principium principii) of the Holy Ghost. From this appears the relative advantage of the Greek formula. It clearly unfolds the meaning which lies hidden in the “ex Patre et Filio,” and which has to be expounded by the addition of “tanquam ab uno principio,” and “licet pariter ab utroque, a Patre principaliter” or “originaliter.” Its sole disadvantage is that it does not point out as clearly as the Latin formula the parity of the participation of Father and Son in the Spiration of the Holy Ghost.

IX. The special stress which the Greek Fathers laid on the formula διʼ υἱοῦ has a deeper reason in their manner of conceiving the dogma of the Trinity,—a conception which might be described as organic. To the Greek Fathers the two productions in God, Generation and Spiration, appear as a motion proceeding in a straight line, the Spiration originating in the Generation, and being intimately and essentially connected with it, so that not only does the Spiration essentially presuppose the Generation, but the Generation virtually contains the Spiration, tends towards it, and has its complement in it. They consider the productions in the Trinity as a motion of the Divinity, by which the Divinity passes first from the Father to the Son and then to the Holy Ghost, and so passes, as it were, through the Son. In harmony with this view, they chose their illustrations of the mystery from analogies in organic nature, in which one production leads to another, e.g. root, stem, and flower. The deeper reason for this conception is, however, to be found in this, that the Greek Fathers considered the production of the Son as a manifestation of the wisdom of the Father, and the production of the Holy Ghost as a manifestation of the sanctity of God which is founded upon His wisdom. In other words: they considered the Holy Ghost (according to John 15) as the Spirit of Truth Who proceedeth from the Father.

From this point of view, the production of the Holy Ghost, in as far as it was attributed to the Father, appeared as carried on by means of the generation of the Son, but going beyond this generation. Hence it was termed, as distinguished from the generation, προβολή or ἔκπεμψις (a sending forth). All the terms used exclusively to characterize either the generation of the Son or the spiration of the Holy Ghost, are explained and accounted for by the above remarks on the organic conception of the productions in the Trinity. It was the more necessary for the Greek Fathers to hold fast to a terminology based upon their “organic” conception, because any deviation from it (coupled with their formula that “the Holy Ghost stands to the Son as the Son stands to Father,” viz. as Word and Image) would easily have led to a misconception of the organic coherence of both productions, and would have made the Holy Ghost the grandson of the Father. For if, conjointly with the expression διά (through), they had used the expression ἐκ (from the Son), this might have conveyed the meaning that the Holy Ghost is of the Son exactly as the Son is of the Father, viz. by generation, and consequently that He is not directly, but only indirectly, produced by the Father. The “from” seemed to separate the Son from the Father in the production of the Holy Ghost, and was looked upon as inconvenient because it does not represent the Holy Ghost as the Spirit which is equally the Spirit of the Father and the Son. For the same reason it was deemed incorrect to call the Son the principle (αἰτία), pure and simple, of the Holy Ghost, because this seemed to imply that the Son, in the production of the Holy Ghost, acted as a principle separate from the Father, as a human son does. Therefore the Son was usually represented as only an intermediate principle, through which the Holy Ghost received His personality, whereas the Father was designated as the only principle pure and simple, from which the Holy Ghost proceeded as well as the Son. This mode of expression, however, meant only that the Holy Ghost proceeds from the Son inasmuch as the Son Himself, in virtue of His Sonship, is and remains in the Father, which the Latin Fathers express when they say, “Son and Father are but one principle of the Holy Ghost.”

X. The Latin conception, as developed after St. Ambrose and St. Jerome, may be termed the “personal” conception of the productions in the Trinity. It does not, like the Greek, consider the production of the Holy Ghost as a continuation of the production of the Son, but as an act in which the Person produced by generation, by reason of His unity and equality with His principle, brings into play His personal union with His principle: both, acting side by side as equals, communicate what is common to Them to the Holy Ghost. Here the Holy Ghost is the bond and the pledge of mutual love between Father and Son, or between the original model and its copy. From this point of view, nothing was more natural than to say that the Holy Ghost proceeds from Father and Son, and to find fault with a formula which made no mention of the Son. It would seem equally strange to see the Greeks put the Holy Ghost in immediate relation with the Son alone as “image of the Son;” but nobody would think of finding in the expression, “ex Patre et Filio,” a separation of the Two Persons in the act of producing the Third. The only objection of the Latin Church to the formula, “through the Son,” was that it might lead to the notion of the Son as the mother of the Holy Ghost (cf. St. Augustine, In Joan., tract. 99). The Latin Fathers, therefore, avoided the formula “through the Son,” lest the Holy Ghost should appear to be the Son of the Father and of the Son; whereas the Greeks avoided the formula, “from the Son,” lest He should be thought the grandson of the Father.

For the history of the introduction of the word Filioque into the Symbol, see Hergenröther, Photius, i., p. 692 sqq.; Franzelin, thes. xli.

XI. From what has been said, it is evident that there was no contradiction between the older Eastern and the Western Church as regards the Procession of the Holy Ghost. The former taught the Catholic doctrine as decidedly as the latter. The difference of expression was, indeed, likely to lead to misunderstandings; but, like the former misunderstandings concerning the terms “hypostasis” and “persona,” they could easily have been brought to a satisfactory issue, had it not been for the schismatic jealousy of the Greeks, who by degrees advanced from a mutilation of the Latin formula to the negation of the Eastern doctrine.

C.—The Heresy of the Schism

XII. A formal and absolute denial of the Procession of the Holy Ghost from God the Son is to be found nowhere among the older orthodox Fathers of the Greek Church. If Photius had any forerunners, they certainly were Greek heretics, Nestorians and Monothelites, who dragged this point into the controversy in order to cast suspicion on their opponents. As to the Nestorians (especially Nestorius himself, Theodore of Mopsuestia, and even Theodoret), it is most probable that they rejected the “through the Son” in the same sense as the Fathers had rejected it in the Macedonian controversy, viz. created or generated through the Son. In fact, the Nestorians accused St. Cyril of holding the views of the Macedonians. The Monothelites, on the contrary, attempted by their criticisms of the Latin formula, to show that the Western Church favoured Macedonianism—perhaps they also misinterpreted the Greek formula—but St. Maximus refuted them. Certain monks of Jerusalem, jealous of the Franks, were the first to openly deny the ancient doctrine (A.D. 808). Photius, by the proclamation of his schism, disregarding the tradition of the Greek not less than of the Latin Church, made the negation of the Procession of the Holy Ghost from the Son his fundamental dogma. On the Nestorians and Theodoret, see Card. Newman, Historical Sketches, vol. ii.; Kuhn, § 32; and Franzelin, th. xxxviii. On the audacious sophisms of Photius, see Hergenröther, Photius, iii., p. 400 sqq.

XIII. As the Photian schism has been the greatest and most enduring of all the schisms that have rent the Church, we are not surprised to find that the heresy which it invented should carry schism and division even into God Himself. All schisms, in the pretended interest of the monarchy of Christ, have rejected His visible representative on earth, and have thus destroyed the economy (οἰκονομία) of the Church. The Photian heresy, in the pretended interest of the monarchy of God the Father, rejects the character of the Son as principle; but in so doing it tears, rends, and destroys the living unity (economy) which, according to the Greek and Latin Fathers, exists in the Trinity.

The divisions and rents which the heresy of the schism introduces into the Trinity are the following: (a) It destroys the immediate and direct union of the Holy Ghost with the Son, for this union can only consist in the relation of origin; at the same time it deprives the Holy Ghost of His attribute of “own Spirit of the Son.” (b) It destroys the perfect unity of Father and Son, in virtue of which the Son possesses everything in common with the Father, except Paternity, (c) It tears asunder the indivisible unity of the Father, by dividing the character of Paternity from the character of Spirator, or προβολεύς, and so giving Him a double Personality, (d) It annihilates the fixed order and succession, in virtue of which the Three Persons form one continuous golden chain. (e) It destroys the organic coherence of the two productions in the Trinity so much insisted upon by the Greek Fathers themselves. (f) Above all, it destroys the perfect concatenation of the Divine Persons, in virtue of which each of Them stands in the closest relation to the other two and forms a connecting link between them (cf. St. Basil, Ep., 38, n. 4). Thus the Greek Fathers point out the intermediate position of the Son between the Father and the Holy Ghost: the Son goes forth from the Father, and sends forth from Himself the Holy Ghost, so that, through the Son, the Father is in relation with the Holy Ghost and vice versâ. The Latin Fathers, on the other hand, describe the Holy Ghost as the exhalation of the mutual love of Father and Son, which binds Them together like a band, “vinculum,” “osculum amplexus.” (g) Lastly, the heresy of the schism curtails and mutilates the Trinity in its very Essence. For the Father is Father only inasmuch as He gives the Son whatever He Himself possesses and can give by generation, including His entire fecundity, with the exception of the special character of Paternity. The Son is perfect Son only if He is equal and like to the Father in the Spiration of the Holy Ghost, and if, in particular, the Spirit of the Father is communicated to Him by the very act of generation and not by a new act of the Father. The Holy Ghost, too, is only conceivable as perfect Spirit and as a distinct Person if the Son is His principle. For it is an axiom accepted by the Fathers, that all personal differences in God, being founded upon the relations of origin, exist only between the principle and its product. No distinction is conceivable in God which does not include the most intimate union of those that are distinct. And as, according to the Greek Fathers, the Father produces the Holy Ghost only through the Son and not side by side with the Son, the Holy Ghost would remain in the Son and be identical with Him if He did not proceed from the Son.


I. Tradition, like Holy Scripture itself, had at first no common name for the three Subjects which are distinguished in the Deity. Even the dogmatic definitions of the third and fourth centuries repeat the names of Father, Son, and Holy Ghost; and when the collective noun τριάς (the Three) is used, no name is added to designate the Three generally. In the course of time, however, when heresy had made it necessary to assert the unity of God as a unity of essence (οὐσία, used almost exclusively by the Greek Fathers) and of nature (natura, the favourite term of Latin writers), or, in a word, as a unity of substance, it also became necessary to determine for the three Subjects (Whose unity of essence was asserted) a name which should express in a convenient manner Their relation to the Substance, viz. that They are distinct bearers and holders of one Essence and Nature.

Even in the third century, Origen used for this purpose the term ὑπόστασις, and Tertullian, Persona. This usage, however, became general only with the Fathers of the fourth century, and by slow degrees. St. Gregory of Nazianzum often uses circumlocutions, e.g. “They in whom is the divinity, etc.” Many controversies preceded the universal acceptance of the two terms; their full etymological sense and the relation they bear to each other were only fully understood after they had come into general use. Harmony of expression and thought was obtained by translating the Greek ὑπόστασις by subsistentia (used by the Fathers in the concrete sense of subsistent, by the Schoolmen in the abstract sense of subsistence) and by suppositum. Both forms are found in St. Ambrose; but the second only became general in the schools of the Middle Ages. On the controversy concerning the terms Hypostasis and Substantia, see Petav. 1. iv., c. 4; Kuhn. § 29; Card. Newman, Arians, p. 432.

II. Ὑποστασις. when used concretely, designates in general something existing in and for itself, and consequently having and supporting in itself other things, of which it is the substratum or suppositum. Hence, an hypostasis is a substance and not a mere accident. But not every substance is an hypostasis. Substances which are parts of a whole, as, for instance, the arm of the body, are not so designated, but only substances which constitute a total or a whole in themselves. Nor is the hypostasis the substantial essence in as far as this is common to the several individuals of the same kind or species (substantia secunda), for the substantial essence does not exist in itself, but in the individuals of which it is predicated. Hence the concept of hypostasis implies an individual substance separate and distinct from all other substances of the same kind, possessing itself and all the parts, attributes, and energies which are in it (substantia prima integra in se tota). The relations between an hypostasis and its essence and nature are that the essence and nature, when and because possessed by the hypostasis, are individualized and incommunicable; the hypostasis is always the bearer (subject or suppositum) of the nature; in other words, the hypostasis has the nature. If we consider a substance formally as possessing itself, it is identical with the hypostasis; if we consider it as possessed, it is, like essence and nature, in the hypostasis.

Person is defined “an individual rational substance,”—that is, the hypostasis of an intellectual nature and essence. The note “intellectual” or “rational,” restricts the concept of hypostasis to one kind of hypostasis, the most perfect of all, viz. that of substances wholly or partially spiritual. The perfection which distinguishes a personal hypostasis from a material one consists not only in the perfection of the substance itself but also in the manner of possessing it: a person is more than the bearer, he is the holder of his substance and is “sui juris”—that is, in his own right and power.

Impersonal hypostases have no proper right over their parts, no free use of them. They are but “things” without a “self.” Persons, on the contrary, have, in virtue of their spiritual nature, a higher dignity which commands respect, and thus gives them a right over what they possess; they are conscious beings and are thus able to enjoy their various properties and to dispose of them for their own purposes. Besides, persons have a greater independence or self-sufficiency than impersonal hypostases. Their spiritual substance is imperishable and cannot be absorbed by another hypostasis; although they can be made subordinate to other persons, still they never can be treated as mere things and means; lastly, on account of the respect which one person owes to another, they are kept more apart than other hypostases of the same kind, and are not liable to be absorbed by others.

III. As to the applicability of the terms “Hypostasis” and “Person” to God, it is clear that they can only be applied analogically: whatever perfection they express is eminently present in God; whatever imperfection they imply, must be excluded from Him.

1. The perfection of a hypostasis consists in its not forming part of a whole or being an attribute of a substance, but rather the bearer and holder of a complete substance, essence, and nature. A person is an hypostasis endowed with dignity and conscious power, possessing his property immutably, and making it the end and object of his actions; equal to and not absorbable by the other holders of the same nature, and entitled to be respected by them in the same measure as he is bound to respect himself. All this is eminently applicable to the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost.

2. The imperfections of created hypostases are (a) that they are not absolutely independent, their principle and last end being outside of and above them; (b) persons who possess the same nature, do not possess numerically one nature, but only similar natures; so that the distinction of created persons implies a distinction and separation of their substances; (c) hence the distinction between created persons is independent of their origin one from the other, and does not of necessity imply a connection based upon mutual esteem and love. In opposition to this, the Divine Persons are (a) absolutely independent, Their perfection and dignity being absolutely the highest; (b) the unity of substance in the Trinity is perfectly undivided, excluding the possibility of multiplication, so that the difference of Persons is merely a distinction of the Persons themselves and not of Their substance; (c) the distinction between the Divine Persons is essentially and exclusively founded upon Their relations of origin, and causes Them to be essentially bound together, and necessitates the most intimate mutual esteem and love.

IV. In consequence of these differences, the concepts of Hypostasis and Person must be modified when applied to the Deity. The notion that a person is the bearer and holder, distinct from other bearers and holders, of a rational nature, is applicable to the uncreated as well as to the created person; but not so the definition of a hypostasis as a subsisting and individual substance.

In a certain sense, it must be said of God that His Substance subsists and is individual, even apart from the distinctions between the Three Persons. Without supposing this, we cannot understand the subsistence and individuality of the several Divine Hypostases. Not only does the Divine Substance exist essentially, but it also essentially exists in itself and for itself, so that it can be in no manner part of another substance, but only be possessed by itself. Further, being unique in its kind and excluding multiplication, it also is, by reason of its unicity, eminently individual. Hence, if the notion of “subsistent and individual substance” be used to characterize the Divine Hypostases, the subsistence (that is, the independence and self-possession) must be conceived, not in opposition to the dependence of partial substances, but in that peculiar form in which it exists in the individual holders of the Divine Substance; and the individuality must not be conceived, as in creatures, only in opposition to the notion of a common genus, but in opposition to the communicability of a single indivisible object to distinct holders. In other words: the notions of subsistence and individuality must be so modified as to agree with the form or manner in which the one Divine Substance is possessed by the three Divine Persons.

V. Although the Divine Persons are Persons in the highest sense of the term, they are essentially related to each other; that is, each of them separately possesses the Divine Nature only inasmuch as He stands to another in the relation of principle to product or vice versâ, and consequently each single Person possesses the Divine Nature for Himself only in as far as He possesses it at the same time for and from the other two Persons. Otherwise there would be no distinction of the Persons, nor would the Persons have that intimate union among Themselves which is required by their absolutely perfect personality. Moreover, because the relations of the Persons to each other are the one thing which determines the difference in the possession of the same Divine Nature, these mutual relations in God are not only, as in created persons, a distinctive attribute of each Person, but they constitute the fundamental character of the personality of each Person.

From what has been said, the specific notion of the Divine Persons may be completely determined as follows. The Divine Persons are more than simply related to each other; They are nothing else but “subsisting relations,” that is, relations identical with the Divine Substance, and representing it as subsisting or appertaining to itself in a distinct manner. Conversely, it may be said that the Persons are the one Divine Substance under a determined relation—that is, as having, through the relation of origin, three particular forms of possessing Itself. This essential relativity of the Divine Persons is not indeed expressed by the term person, but the thing signified by the term is in fact a subsisting relation or the substance under a determined relation; the proper names of the Persons—Father, Son, and Holy Ghost (i.e. Spirit of the Father and the Son)—clearly express their relations. (Cf. St. Thomas, I., q. 29, a. 3.)


I. According to Tertullian, the differentiation (œconomia) of the Divine Persons presupposes the Monarchy, that is the unity and unicity of the Divine Essence and particularly the unity and unicity of one Person, in whom the Divine Essence is present originally, not as communicated or received. The differentiation is brought about by the First Person being essentially a producing and communicating Person, producing the other Persons from Himself, and communicating His essence to Them.

II. The active production and communication of the First Person is twofold, and consequently the corresponding procession (πρόοδος) is also twofold, namely, the generation (γέννησις) which has its foundation in the First Person alone; and the procession in a narrower sense (spiratio, πνεῦσις or προβολή) when expressing the action; processio, ἐκπόρευσις, when considered passively), which has its common foundation in the First and Second Persons.

III. Hence a threefold positive fundamental form of possessing the Divine Nature (τρόποι ὑπάρξεος); viz. (1) communicating possession, or possession for self and for others; (2) two forms of receiving possession, or possession for self and from others. Of these latter the one is distinguished from the other inasmuch as it partakes of the communicating form. These three fundamental forms are the three distinguishing personal characters of the three Persons (ἰδιώματα ὑποστατικά, characteres personales et constituentes), from which they also take their names—the Father from the Fathership (πατρότης, paternitas), the Son from the Sonship (ὑιότης, filiatio), and the Holy Ghost from the Spiration (πνεῦσις, spiratio).

The Active Spiration is not a personal, constituent character like Paternity and Filiation, because it is not a fundamental form of possession, existing side by side with Paternity and Filiation, but is only an attribute of these. But Active Spiration is an attribute in such a manner that it is contained in the complete concept of Paternity and Filiation, and unfolds the full signification of these two characters. The Father, as principle of the first production in the Deity, is also principle of the second production; and the Son, as product of the first production, is also principle of the second. The Father generates the Son as Spirator (Pater generat Filium Spiratorem), and the Son is one with the Father in Spiration as in all other things The Father as Father being also Spirator, and the Son as Son being likewise Spirator, it follows that the Father is principle of all communications, and is a communicating principle only; that the Son is principle of only one communication, and is at the same time a receiving and communicating principle.

IV. As from the twofold production in God results a threefold form of possession, so from the same there result four real relations (relationes, σχέσεις), or two mutual relations. Each production gives rise to two relations, viz. of principle to product and vice versâ: generation is the foundation of the relation of Father to Son and of Son to Father; spiration is the foundation of the relation of Father and Son to the Holy Ghost, and of the relation of the Holy Ghost to Father and Son. And of these real relations there are only four, because the spiration proceeds from Father and Son as from one principle, so that Father and Son bear to the Holy Ghost one indivisible relation. The relations are real, not merely logical, because they are founded upon a real production, and are the condition of the real being of the principle and of the product. Whence they have essentially a twofold function: the differentiation of the terminus a quo and the terminus ad quem, and the connecting of both terms; or rather, they only distinguish, in as far as at the same time they represent, the Persons distinguished as appertaining one to another, and so bind Them together, that if one ceased to be, the corresponding one would likewise cease. This also applies to the relation of Father and Son to the Holy Ghost; for although They are not Father and Son on account of the Spiration, still without the Spiration They would not be all that They are by essence.

V. The special marks or characters which distinguish each of the three Persons from the other two, are called in theology proprietates, ἰδιώματα, or ἰδιότητες; and considered as objects of our knowledge, “Distinguishing and Personal Notions” (notiones distinguentes and personales, ἔννοιαι or γνωρίσματα διακριτικά and συστατικά); in the language of the schools they are termed simply notiones divinœ or notiones.

These notions are five in number, viz. the four relations as positive notions, to which is added the “Ingenerateness,” or “Innascibility” of the Father as a negative notion. This last characterizes the peculiar position of the Father more distinctly as First Principle in the Deity, and thus completes the notion of paternity. The negative notions that might be predicated of the Son and of the Holy Ghost (viz. that the Son is not Father, and the Holy Ghost is not Spirator) are not taken into account, because they do not complete the notions of Filiation and Spiration, but result at once from these notions. The positive notions may be conceived and expressed in a variety of ways, e.g. the Sonship as “being spoken as a Word,” or as generation in its active or passive sense. These differences of expression, however, do not alter the number of notions.

Three of the five notions appertain to the Father—Ingenerateness, Paternity, and Active Spiration; two to the Son—Filiation and Active Spiration; one to the Holy Ghost—Passive Spiration.

VI. Thus there are in God:—

1.      One Nature;

2.      Two Productions;

3.      Three Persons;

4.      Four Relations; and

5.      Five Notions.




A PURELY scientific explanation of the Trinity is impossible; the only possible explanation is a theological one, starting from at least one revealed principle. That principle is “the inner fecundity of the Divine Life,” the determination of which is the object of the present portion of our treatise.

I. That the plurality of Persons is brought about and can be brought about only by the production of two of Them from the First Person, is certain from Revelation, and (given the real distinction of the Persons) is also evident to reason. The teaching of Revelation is already known to us. As regards reason we observe that, as the Divine Substance cannot be multiplied, the distinction of the Divine Persons necessarily rests upon the distinct possession of the same Substance; and a difference in the manner of possessing the Divine Nature is necessarily founded upon the distinction between giving and receiving.

II. It is likewise certain from Revelation, and evident to reason, that the Divine productions are essentially acts of life. For the products are living Persons, generated and spirated, and life can only be communicated by a living principle.

III. Since the nature of a being is the principle of the acts of its life and of the communication of life, we must hold that in God the principle (principium quo) of the inner communications of life is His Divine Nature; that is, the Divine Nature as formally identical with the acts of knowing and willing.

IV. The communication of life being the essential outcome of the absolutely actual and purely spiritual life-activity of God, its form is necessarily different from any form of productivity observable among creatures: it is neither a reproduction of the Divine Essence in the Persons produced, nor a production of organs destined to enlarge and develop the sphere of life. The form of the Divine productivity can only be conceived as an immanent radiation and outpouring of the force and energy of the Divine Life, expressing itself in distinct subjects; so that the Divine Life, by reason of this very manifestation of itself ad intra, communicates itself to the Divine Persons. Hence the foundation of the Divine fecundity or productivity is the superabundant fulness of the Divine Life; and, as God is the absolute Spirit, that is Life itself, His fecundity is, unlike that of any being outside of Him, infinitely productive.

From this also appears the deep meaning of the old Roman doctrinal formula: “The three Persons are one Spirit” (ἑν πνεῦμα).

V. In order to arrive at a more concrete determination of the productivity of the Divine Life, we must consider it as the absolute and substantial Wisdom—that is, the most perfect Knowledge of the highest Truth and the most perfect Love of the highest Good. According to this, the communication of life in God must be effected by means of acts of the Divine Intellect and Will in such a manner that the products of the communication manifest, represent, and complete the Divine Knowledge and Volition, and that the products are but the inner manifestation and the adequate expression or outpouring of the substantial Wisdom of God. Now, Wisdom contains two, and only two, distinct forms of life-activity, viz. Knowledge and Volition, and is itself a combination of the Living Truth with the Living Holiness. Hence the two productions which we know by Faith to exist in God, must be distributed between these two forms of life in such a manner that one of them must be the expression and completing terminus of the absolutely perfect Knowledge, or the manifestation of the Living Truth; and that the other must be the outpouring and terminus of the absolutely perfect Volition and manifestation of the Holy Love or the absolute Holiness of God. The productions, however, are not distributed in such a way as to be independent of one another, which would happen if the one manifested only the Knowledge of truth and the other only Love and Holiness. They are even more intimately connected in God than knowing and willing in created minds. The expression of Knowledge is essentially the expression of a Knowledge which breathes holy Love; and the outpouring of Love is essentially of a Love full of wisdom. Thus, in both productions, although in a different manner, the whole of the Divine Wisdom is manifested. (Cf. St. Aug., De Trin., l. xv., n. 8 sqq., Franzelin, th. xxvi.)

VI. The proposition, “The communication of life in God is based upon a twofold manifestation of the Divine Wisdom,” is more than a working hypothesis; it is the only admissible one, and claims the character of a fixed principle for the declaration and the evolution of the dogma. Holy Scripture indicates this clearly enough, and Tradition has from the very commencement treated it as such. It is, therefore, of such a degree of certitude that to deny it would be temerarious and erroneous.

I. The character of the first production as inner expression of the Divine Knowledge, is set forth in Holy Scripture with all possible distinctness. The Second Person’s proper name is “the Word” (Λόγος, Verbum), and the name “Wisdom” is appropriated to Him; to Him alone are applied the terms “image” (εἰκών), “figure” (χαρακτήρ), “mirror,” “radiance,” and “splendour” (ἀπαύγασμα) of God, terms which in themselves imply an expression of the Divine Knowledge, and which, taken in conjunction with the names Λόγος and Wisdom, can imply no other meaning. In this manner the first production was conceived and declared even in ante-Nicene writers, but more especially by the Fathers of the fourth century.

2. The character of the second production as a manifestation of the Divine Volition, is not so formally set forth in Holy Scripture. Still it is sufficiently indicated, negatively and indirectly, by the non-application of the names of the intellectual production to the Third Person, and by the appropriation of the first of these names (Word) to the Son; whence the second production, which must be analogous to the first, is necessarily a manifestation of the other form of life in God, viz. of the Divine Will. And also, positively and directly, in the two elements of the name of the Third Person (“Holy,” “Ghost”), and in the description of the many functions and operations attributed to Him, which all characterize Him as the representative of Divine Love. In Scripture and in early Tradition alike, the character of the production of the Holy Ghost is only hinted at; in the fourth century it received a certain amount of development during the controversies on the Divinity of the Holy Ghost. The exposition of the Greek Fathers is slightly different from that of the Latins. The Greeks represent the Holy Ghost as a manifestation of the absolute sanctity of the Divine Will, as the Spirit of Holiness, and “Subsisting Holiness.” The Latin Fathers represent Him as the hypostatic manifestation of the Love of the Divine Will existing between Father and Son; He is the “Spirit of Mutual Love and Unity,” or “Subsisting Union.” These two views differ only on the surface. The Sanctity, common to Father and Son, from which the Holy Ghost proceeds, is the Love of the supreme goodness and beauty of the Divine Essence, and as such includes Love of the Persons Who possess that Essence. On the other hand, the mutual Love of Father and Son is Love of their communion in the possession of the supreme goodness and beauty; hence this Love is but Sanctity conceived in a more concrete manner. The unity of the two views is best expressed thus: “The Father loves in the Son, as in the resplendent image of His Goodness, the Supreme Beauty; and the Son loves in the Father, as in the principle of His Beauty, the Supreme Goodness.”


I. The chief difficulty of the doctrine of the Divine Productions consists in clearly determining how a real production in the Divine Intellect and Will is to be conceived.

The Divine Intellect and the Divine Will essentially possess their entire actual perfection, and are identical with the acts of knowing and willing. Hence a production by the acts of knowing and willing similar to that which takes place in the created mind (viz. by a transition from potentiality to act), is impossible in God. The First Person does not acquire His wisdom through the Generated Wisdom, but possesses in His own Essence Wisdom in its fullest actuality. In the created mind, all productions are the result of a faculty passing from potentiality into actuality; this being impossible in God, we cannot conclude from His acts of thought and volition that these acts result in the production of any reality. This is also the reason why the reality of the Divine Productions cannot be known by reason alone, but must be learned from Revelation. The only conceivable form of a Divine Production is that, in virtue of the superabundant fulness of the actuality of the Divine Knowledge, a manifestation of it is brought about and a fruit produced. This is the element which Revelation adds to our natural knowledge of the perfection of Divine Life, and which connects the doctrine of the Trinity with the doctrine of the Nature of God.

II. The character of the first production in God as a manifestation and an exercise of the Divine knowledge is fittingly pointed out in Holy Scripture by the names of “Word” and “Image” (John 1; Heb. 1). “The Word” designates the product formally as the expression of the knowledge; “the Image” designates it as the expression or copy of the object of the Divine knowledge—that is, the Divine Essence. The inner manifestation and expression of knowledge is called Word and Image in analogy with the external word and image which manifest our knowledge externally. But, whereas in man we apply the names “word” and “image” to the act of knowledge itself because our mental representation is distinct from its principle and from its object; in God, Whose actual knowledge is identical with its principle and its object, the terms “Word” and “Image,” in their proper sense, can only be applied to the manifestation of the knowledge and to the expression which results from the manifestation. The sense of both names is contained in the representation of the intellectual product as radiation and splendour of the Divine Light; for God is Light, especially inasmuch as He is the substantial Truth—that is, the “adequation of the highest knowable with the highest knowledge,”—and hence the “splendour and radiance” of this Light is necessarily the expression of the Divine knowledge as well as of the Divine Essence. Moreover, this way of designating the intellectual production illustrates how the Divine knowledge necessarily produces an expression of itself, not from any want, but by virtue of its essential fecundity.

III. Holy Scripture indicates the character of the second production in God as a manifestation and exercise of His Love, by representing its product as an “Aspiration” and “Gift” or “Pledge” of Love. Just as thought naturally craves to express itself, so love naturally desires to pour itself forth; the external out-pouring of love is manifested by an aspiration or sigh coming from the heart, and by the gifts which pass from the lover to the beloved as pledges of his love. In like manner the internal effusion of love, in as far as the effusion can and ought to be distinguished from love itself, must be considered as an internal aspiration, gift, and pledge. Holy Scripture applies the names of gift and pledge to the Holy Ghost only in relation to creatures; but we have to determine the operation of the Divine Love independently of creatures, and must therefore study it in its own essence.

The Divine Love must be viewed in a threefold manner:

I. First, and above all, as God’s complacency with Himself as the supreme Goodness and Beauty. The product of the Love in this sense does not yet appear as a pledge or gift, but rather as an aspiration or as a sigh of love, in which Love breathes forth its ardour and energy, or as the seal of love (Cant. 8:6: “Put me as a seal upon thy heart”). It is in this sense that the Greek Fathers conceive the Holy Ghost when, in analogy with the odour of incense or of plants, they describe Him as the odour of the sanctity of God.

2. Divine Love may be considered as the mutual love of Father and Son for each other, as founded upon their common possession of the supreme Goodness and Beauty. In this respect the manifestation of Love appears as the final act or complement of the living communion of Father and Son: the manifestation still bears the character of an aspiration, but at the same time it conveys the notion of a bond or link, which, as a bond (vinculum, nexus) of love, is called “Pledge” (pignus, arrha, inasmuch as in the pledge the lover possesses the beloved, or gives himself to be possessed by the beloved), and “kiss” (osculum) and “embrace” (amplexus, by St. Aug.).

3. God loves Himself as the infinitely communicable and diffusive Good; consequently His Self-Love contains a readiness to communicate His goodness—that is, supreme liberality. In this respect the Divine Love acts as giver, and the fruit of the Liberality of Divine Love is called Gift. This name, however, is not quite adequate, because at first sight it signifies only that the inner product of the Divine liberality should manifest it ad extra, as a gift to others, whereas the self-giving Love of God cannot pour out its entire plenitude on its product without making this the object and the subject of the communication. In other words, the term “Gift” supposes the existence of a receiver, whereas the communication of Love in God produces both Receiver and Gift.

In every one of these three ways, the effusion of the Divine Love appears as an effusion of Divine delight, happiness, and suavity; as a bright burning flame rising from the fire of Divine Love; as the burning breath escaping from a loving heart. Hence the manifestation of Love in God is as much a breathing of Love and a flame of Love, as the manifestation of knowledge is a radiation of knowledge.


I. However necessary it may be to distinguish in God the expression of knowledge from knowledge itself, and the effusion of love from love itself, it is equally necessary not to separate or divide the expression from the knowledge or the effusion from the love. As we are dealing with productions in God which have their principle and their terminus in God Himself, expression and knowledge, effusion and love are not only intimately connected, but are identical, are one and the same thing. Hence the Divine Knowledge is not only in its inner word as the thought of man is in the external word (i.e. as in its sign), or as the idea of the artist is in his work (i.e. as in its representation): the Divine Knowledge lives and shines forth in its expression exactly as it does in itself, being so produced in its expression as to completely pass into it. In like manner, the Love of God is in its inner effusion not only as a force in its effects or as human love in an external pledge, but in such a way that it burns and flows in its effusion as it does in itself; the effusion being such as to completely contain the outpoured Love.

II. The identity just described constitutes the supreme perfection, the unique reality and absolute immanence of the Divine Word and Spiration of Love. The inner Word of God is more than a Word eminently full of life and wealth, and the Divine Spiration of Love is more than a Spiration full of life and holy delight: the Divine knowledge being not a reflex of truth but Substantial Truth, its expression, identical with itself, is also a Substantial Word, the substantial expression of the Absolute Truth, and is this Truth itself. And the life of the Divine Will being not a tendency to what is good, but Substantial Goodness and Holiness, its inner effusion, identical with itself, is also a Substantial Spiration and outflow of the Absolute Goodness and Holiness, and is this Holiness itself. In God, therefore, the Word of knowledge and the Spiration of love are not immanent in the same way as they are in the human mind (e.g. as accidents in their subjects), but in such a way as to be identical with the substance that produces them; they are not so much in the substance as they are the substance itself, and they also have the substance in themselves. Hence the only difference conceivable between the principle and the terminus of a production in God is that they each possess and represent the Absolute Truth and the Absolute Goodness in a different manner.

III. Hence the life and reality of the particular products can be further determined as follows:—

1. As essential and substantial Truth, the Life of the Divine Intellect is, on the one hand, identical with the Divine Nature as principle of knowledge—that is, with the Divine Intellect itself; on the other hand, it is identical with the formal object of the Divine Intellect, viz. the Divine Essence. Consequently the expression of the Divine knowledge must re-produce, not only the knowledge, but also the knowing intellect, and not only an ideal representation of the Divine Essence, but the Divine Essence itself. Hence the expression of the Divine knowledge is not a mere word—that is, a manifestation of the knowledge or some image of it—but a real and substantial image of nature and essence, containing not only a manifestation of, but the Divine Nature and Essence itself. And the internal speech of God is a real radiation of His own Nature and Essence, just as His external speech gives to created things their nature and essence.

2. As essential and substantial Goodness and Holiness, the life of the Divine Will, or Love, is, on the one hand, identical with the Divine Nature as principle of the Divine Will; on the other hand, with the goodness and holiness of the Divine Essence as the formal object of the Divine Will. Consequently the effusion of Divine Love must contain, not only the Love, but also the Will of God; and not only an affective union with the Supreme Goodness, but the Supreme Goodness itself. Hence the effusion of the Divine Love is not only an expression of the affection, not only an affective surrender to the object of love and liberality, but (a) a spiration, wherein the Divine heart pours out its own Life and its whole Essence; (b) a pledge of love, wherein the loving persons are united, not only symbolically, but really and in the most intimate manner, because their whole life and their whole goodness are really, truly, and essentially contained therein; and (c) a fruit of the Divine Liberality, containing, on the one hand, that Liberality itself—that is, the Divine Will and its life, and, on the other hand, the whole riches of the real goodness—that is, of the Essence and power of God; which therefore is the principle and the source of all other Divine gifts, the “Gift of all gifts,” in the same manner as God is the “Good of all goods.”


I. If the internal Divine productions are true productions and their products are substantial products, the productions must be conceived as communications of the Divine Nature from one subject to another, consequently as productions of other subjects, who are put in full possession of the Divine Nature and thus are Divine Hypostases and Persons.

1. The perfect actuality of the Divine Life, which requires that its product be nothing but a manifestation of its wealth of life, likewise requires that this manifestation should not take place by producing a perfection in a subject already existing. The production can only tend to communicate the perfection of the producer to another subject; and as it communicates the whole perfection—that is, the essence and nature—of the producer to the produced subjects, the latter are necessarily true receivers, and hence possessors of the Divine Nature and Essence, or Divine Hypostases and Persons.

2. Where there are productions there is also a producing subject (the principle which acts, principium quod), to which the nature (the principle by or through which the subject acts, principium quo) belongs; consequently there is a hypostasis. On the other hand, in every production the product must be really distinct from the producing Principle. But, by reason of the Divine simplicity, there can be such real distinction between the producer and his products as would entail a composition of several realities in the same subject or hypostasis. Consequently the internal productions in God must result in such a distinction between the producers and the products as will oppose the products to the producers as hypostases to distinct hypostases.

3. The products of the Divine productions are substantial products; they are the Divine Substance itself. If, then, by reason of the productions, a difference must still exist between the product and its principle, it can only be that the Substance is possessed by each of Them in a different manner: in other words, that in each of Them the Substance appertains to itself, or subsists, in a different manner. Consequently the Divine productions essentially tend to multiply the modes of subsistence of the Divine Substance, and to make the Divine Substance subsist, not only in one, but in three modes.

Moreover, the three Hypostases in God are also essentially Persons, and Persons of the most perfect kind, because their Substance is the most self-sufficient of all substances, their Nature the most spiritual of all natures, their Essence the noblest of all essences.

II. Assuming that the internal productions in God are the result of His active cognition and volition, it can be strictly demonstrated à priori that there are necessarily three Divine Persons. There cannot be less than three because the communication and manifestation of the Divine Life would be incomplete, if either the intellect or the will remained barren. Nor can there be more than three because, in this case, either other productions would take place besides those admitted by the internal manifestation of knowledge and will; or the productions would not be perfect and adequate manifestations of knowledge and volition; or, lastly, the acts of knowing and willing would be multiplied as well as the products.

The Trinity of the Divine Persons is, therefore, not accidental, but based upon the nature of the Divine fecundity, which would be manifested incompletely in less than three Persons and cannot be manifested in more than three, because in three it manifests and exhausts its full wealth.

III. Likewise, in the above hypothesis, the Three Persons appear essentially in the fixed order of succession determined by their origin as revealed in Scripture. For the production by knowledge supposes, from its nature, but one knowing Person as principle, yet, at the same time, through the intermediation of the fecundity of the knowledge, tends to give fecundity to the love which proceeds from the knowledge. The production by love from its very nature, presupposes the existence of two persons, because, in God, love can only be fruitful in as far as it proceeds from a fruitful knowledge, is essentially mutual love between the first Person and His Image, and takes the form of a gift of two persons to a third. But the order of origin does not imply an order in the Nature, Essence, or Substance of the Persons, because in kind and in number there is but one Nature. In general, the order of origin does not imply that what stands first in the order actually exists, or even is possible, before or without what stands last; or that the last is in any way dependent on or subordinate to the first. For the producing Persons cannot be conceived in their particular being without the relationship to their Product, nor can the first production be conceived without the second, which is consequent upon it; and as the producing Persons are related just as necessarily to their Products as the Products are to Them, the subordination and dependence otherwise existing between Product and Principle is here obviated.

IV. There can be no question of an order of dignity between the Divine Persons, as if the producing Persons possessed either a higher dignity than their Product or authority over it. For, although the character of principle is a true dignity (ἀξίωμα), or rather constitutes the personal dignity and personal being of the Persons Who possess it, still it is no less a dignity for the produced Persons to be the end and object to which the communicative activity of the others is directed essentially, or that the whole being of the Producers is as essentially for the Products as the whole being of the Products is essentially from the Producers. In other words, in God there is no order founded upon degrees of personal dignity, but upon the various ways, determined by the relationships of origin, of possessing the same supreme dignity, viz. the essential possession of the Godhead.

V. The reasons why the first production in God is alone termed “generation” are manifold. Some are taken from the inconveniences that would arise from applying the same name to both productions. All the others may be reduced to the fact that the first production alone has a special likeness to the generation of bodies, considered as a natural operation (operatio per modum naturæ), and as a “building up” and “representative” operation. As regards the mode of operation, the likeness rests upon this, that the first production, being carried out by the intellect, is similar to the mode of operation of nature, as opposed to operation by free will; in a more special sense, it proceeds from its principle spontaneously and essentially, and is effected through the fundamental life-force of the Divine Nature. On the part of its tendency the first production possesses the specific type of generation, in as far as in it the communication of life is effected by the expression of an intellectual word and the impression of a real image, and consequently it has essentially the tendency to express and represent, in the most perfect manner, the essence of its principle. Again, it is not only generation really and truly, but generation in the purest and highest sense of the word, because it is free from all the imperfections of material generation, and, most of all, because it perfectly realizes the fundamental idea of all generation, viz. the attestation or representation of what the progenitor is. It produces, in the most sublime sense of the word, a “Speaking Likeness,” in which the whole Essence of the Progenitor is substantially, vitally, and adequately contained and represented. The second production is not named “generation,” because all the elements which stamp the first production as true generation are taken precisely from the specific character of this first production, and are not found in the second.

VI. The first production, being alone a generation, its product may be illustrated in many ways by a comparison with the product of plant generation. The eternal Word is at the same time the Germ, the Flower, and the Fruit of the Divinity: the Germ, because He is the original manifestation of the Divine power; the Flower, as manifesting the Divine beauty and glory; and the Fruit, as concentrating the whole fecundity and the wealth of Divinity, through which all other Divine productions go forth, so that all being, form, and perfection in creation are virtually contained in it. As that which first springs from the root, viz. the stem, produces and supports all the other products, and therefore is called in Latin robur, we understand why the Son is so often called the “Strength (virtus) of the Father.” The analogy of the blossom or flower further illustrates why Holy Scripture represents the Son as the “Figure” or “Face” of the Father, and the analogy of the fruit explains why the Son, and the Son alone, is represented as the “Food” or “Bread of life” of created spirits. Cf. Ecclus. 24:17–24.

VII. The dogmatic name “Procession” (ἐκπόρευσις) is not considered by the Latin doctors as the specific name for the second production in God: they use it for want of another expressing a more definite character. In order to determine its signification they combine it with the term “Spiration,” in the sense of animal breathing, in as far as this indicates partly the mode of operation of the second production (processio sive impulsus amoris, motus ab anima) partly the nature of the act by which it is effected, viz. the transitive mutual love of two Persons (Patris in Filium, Filii in Patrem). The Greek Fathers, on the other hand, use the term ἐκπόρευσις to designate a special form of substantial emanation, analogous to the emanation which takes place in plants side by side with generation, and is effected by the plants themselves and their products, viz. the emission of the vital sap or spirit of life in the form of fluid, oily substances in a liquid or ethereal state, such as balsam and incense, wine and oil, and especially the odour or perfume of the plant which is at the same time an ethereal oil and the breath of the plant. Hence, to designate the active production of the Holy Ghost, the Greek doctors seldom use the name πνίειν (spirare, to breathe); they prefer the expressions προβάλλειν, ἐκπέμπειν, προχέειν, with the corresponding intransitive expressions ἐκφοιτᾶν, ἀναβλύζειν, πηγάζειν. The two conceptions complete and illustrate each other: they show that the procession in God is an emission in the highest sense of the word, viz. the emission of an affection and of a gift, not, however, of a mere affection and an empty gift, but the most perfect and most real outpouring of the substantial love of God, which is at once Substantial Goodness, Holiness, and Happiness, and the crown and complement of the entire Divine Life.

From its analogy with the emission from plants, the name “Procession” (ἐκπόρευσις), besides its principal meaning which refers to the form of the procession as a motion directed outward, receives a twofold secondary meaning, the one relating to the principle, the other to the terminus or object of the motion. This secondary meaning shows the emission as a transmission, and is also applicable to the Holy Ghost. For, as the fluids emitted by a plant proceed immediately from the product of generation (the stem, flower, and fruit), but originally from the principle of generation (the seed or root), and consequently pass through the product of generation; so also in God, the effusion of His Substantial Holiness essentially flows through His Substantial Truth from the principle of the latter. This the Greek doctors convey by the terms προβάλλειν, ἐκπέμπειν and ἐκπορεύεσθαι. And just as the fluids emitted by plants have a particular facility and tendency to spread and diffuse themselves outward, so also the Holy Ghost, in His quality of Effusion and Gift of the Divine Love, and as the completing act of the Divine fecundity within, bears a particular relation to the outward diffusion of Divine Love and donation of Divine gifts, and especially represents the all-filling and all-penetrating power of the Divine Love (Rom. 5:5).


I. The name “generation,” is given to the first production in God, because it is “a true communication of intellectual life to another subject, or a production of one person from another,” whence also its Principle is termed “Father” and its Product “Son.” In mankind, the father, and not the mother, is the proper active principle of generation; and the son, not the daughter, is the product of generation perfectly like the father. The paternity in the Divine generation is not only real but is paternity in the highest sense. The Divine Father transfers His life into His Son, exclusively by His own power, whereas the human father only prepares a communication of life, which, in reality, is accomplished through the influence of a higher vital principle. Moreover, the Divine Father does not require the cooperation of a maternal principle in order to perfect His Product: His generation is absolutely virginal. In short: God the Father, as such, is the sole and adequate principle of the perfect Son. Thus the Eternal Father is, in the strictest sense, the “own” Father (Pater proprius) of His Son, and the eternal Son, the “own” Son (Filius proprius) of the Father. For the same reason the Paternity of the Eternal Father is the ideal and type of “all paternity in heaven and on earth” (Eph. 3:15)—that is, of any paternity of God respecting creatures and of all paternity among creatures. And the Sonship of the Eternal Son is the ideal and type of all sonship, but particularly of the sonship of adoption, which consists in the creature being made by grace partaker of the life which belongs to the Son by nature.

II. The second production in God, as far as it is a real communication of life to another person, has no analogue in human nature. It has, however, an analogue in the tendency to communicate one’s own life to another person, and this is “the emission of the breath from the heart.” which, notably in the act of kissing, gives a most real expression to the tendency of love towards intimate and real communion of life. More than this is not required to show that the corresponding act in God is a real communication of life, and that its Product is a real Person. What in the creature is a powerless tendency or striving, is in God an efficacious operation; wherefore, as the Spirit or Breath of God not only awakens and fosters, but gives life when emitted and imparted to creatures, so also the internal emission of this Spirit is necessarily a real communication of life. This becomes still more evident if we consider that the emission of the Divine Spirit of life is not destined to bring about a union of love between two loving hearts existing separately, but flows from one heart, common to two Persons, to manifest and enact their absolute unity of life, and consequently must tend to communicate life to a Third Person, distinct from the First and Second. The emission of the human breath is inferior to generation as an analogue for a Divine communication of life, because it does not produce a new person; but, on the other hand, it has the double advantage of being more apparent and visible, and of standing in closer connection with the higher life of the human soul, notably with love.

By reason of this analogy of origin there can be no human personal name designating the Third Person in the Trinity as the name “Son” designates the Second. On the other hand, however, the name “Spirit,” or “Ghost,” in the sense of immaterial being, cannot be His proper name, because in this sense it is common to the Three Persons. The proper name of the Third Person is taken from the impersonal emission of breath (πνεῦμα spiritus) in man, and receives its personal signification in God by being conceived as “Spiritus de Spiritu,” the life-breath of the purest Spirit. Where the spirating subject is a pure spirit, its whole substance and life are necessarily contained in the substantial breath (spirit) which it emits; and thus this breath is not only something spiritual, but is a Spiritual Hypostasis or Person. The relation of the Spirit of God to the spiritual Nature of its Principle and its Essence is expressed by the name “Holy Ghost,” because the purest spirituality of God culminates in the Substantial Holiness of the Divine Life.

The connection of the name “Ghost” or “Spirit” with the human breath is generally taught by the Fathers. Its relation to the spirituality of the spirating (breathing) person is especially pointed out by the Greek doctors, although they do not describe the origin as spiration as often as the Latin writers; it corresponds with their organic conception of the Holy Ghost as the “Perfume” and “Oil” of the Godhead. The Latin Fathers, on the other hand, although they more frequently use the term spiratio, do not lay much stress on the original meaning of spirit, but give great prominence to the idea of the osculum (kiss) as a bond of union. They used to say, following St. Augustine, that the Third Person is properly called “Spirit,” because the other Two, whose communion He is, are commonly so called. By both Greeks and Latins, however, it is always noted that the name Spirit, applied to the Third Person, ought, like the name Son, to be taken relatively, that is as the Spirit of Somebody. The Greeks lay more stress on the genitive of origin (viz. origo per emanationem substantialem ex principio), whereas the Latin doctors rather point out the genitive of possession, considering, as it were, the Holy Ghost as the common soul of the two Persons united in love.

III. Although no human person furnishes an adequate analogue for the Third Person in the Blessed Trinity, still we can point to one who approaches as near as the diversity between Divine and human nature allows. This human person is no other than the bride, who as spouse and mother, stands between father and son in the communication and representation of human nature, and is as essentially the third member of the human community, or the connecting link between father and son, as the Holy Ghost is the Third Person in the Divinity.

I. The analogy is easily understood if the bride be considered in her ideal, ethical position in the human family, as wife and mother. Here she stands out as the representative of the union of father and son; as the focus in which the mutual love of father and son centres; as love personified and as the soul of the family. The differences arising from the diversity of Divine and human nature are: (a) In the Trinity the Personified Love is only a bond—not a mediator—between Father and Son, and, consequently, is not the mother of the Son. (b) The Person of Love cannot be considered as the wife of the Father, because this Person is not a co-principle with Him, but only proceeds from Him. (c) The Person of Love stands in the same relation to the Son as to the Father; hence, as regards origin, the Son comes between the Father and the Substantial Love of Both. The intermediate position of the human mother between principle and product; her function of nourishing, fostering, cherishing and quickening, and of being the centre where the love of father and child meet, find their analogue in the relations of the Holy Ghost to the external products of Father and Son, viz. to created natures.

2. Considering the wide differences between the “Person of Love” in God and in mankind, human names cannot be unreservedly applied to the Holy Ghost. The names “mother” or “wife” must be excluded altogether; the name “bride” might be applied in the restricted sense that the Holy Ghost is the original and bridal partner of Father and Son. He is a bridal partner, because in virtue of their love He constitutes a substantial unity with them; He is a virginal partner, because He is with Father and Son, not as supplying a want of their nature, but as a Gift; He is the bridal partner of Both, because He bears the same relationship of origin to the Father and to the Son.

3. The constituents of the analogy in question are sufficiently expressed by the name “Holy Ghost” (which in Hebrew is of the feminine gender רוּחַ, ruach, like anima in Latin), inasmuch as it designates the Third Person of the Trinity precisely as the focus of a mutual love that is purely spiritual, chaste, and virginal. We may further remark that the name Holy Ghost is derived from the name Ghost common to the other Two Persons, just as the name Eve, with respect to her relationship of origin, was derived from that of man (Gen. 2:23). Moreover, the proper name which Adam gave to the wife taken from his side to signify her maternal character, is not only analogous in construction, but quite synonymous with the name Ghost; for Eve (חַוָה) signifies life, or, more properly, the outflowing life, the breath, i.e. that which, in analogy with the breath, quickens and fosters by its warmth. And as herein is expressed the ideal essence of the universal mothership of the first woman (“And Adam called the name of his wife Eve, because she was the mother of all the living”), so also it expresses the characteristic of the Holy Ghost as principle of all the life of creation; wherefore also the Holy Ghost in this respect is called the “Fostering Spirit.”

This analogy is completed by the origin of the first woman, an origin different from generation but similar to the origin of the Holy Ghost, and symbolizing the origin of the mystic bride of God. For the “taking” of Eve from the side of Adam, that is, from his heart, can only signify an origin by loving donation on the part of Adam, although this donation only gave the matter which, by the supernatural intervention of God, was endowed with life. Now, according to all the Fathers, the origin of Eve was the type of the origin of the Church, the virginal bride of Christ, from the side of her Bridegroom, nay, from His very Heart, and by virtue of His own vital force through the effusion of His life’s Blood. But, on the other hand, the effusion of the Blood of Christ being the vehicle and the symbol of the effusion of the Holy Ghost, and the Church, by reason of her moral union with the Holy Ghost, being the bride of Christ, we have here an illustration of the character of the eternal procession of the Holy Ghost Himself, which bears the closest relation to the emission of the breath from the heart.

IV. In order to preserve all the force of this human analogy, and, at the same time, to do away with its inherent imperfections and to point out the elements which do not appear in it, Revelation itself represents the Holy Ghost, with regard to this origin and position, under the symbol of an animal being, viz. the Dove. He appeared in the form of a dove on the Jordan (Matt. 3:16), but already in the narrative of creation (Gen. 1:2) this form is hinted at. The dove, in general, is the symbol of love and fidelity, especially of chaste, meek, patient, and innocent love, and so it illustrates nearly all the attributes of the Spirit of Wisdom, described in Wisd. 7, that is, in one word, His Holiness. But the Divine Dove represents also the Holy Ghost as the Spirit of God—that is, as the Spirit proceeding from Father and Son and uniting Them. Like a dove, the Holy Ghost ascends from the heart of Father and Son, whilst in Him they breathe their Love and Life or Soul; and, like a dove, with outspread wings and quiescent motion, He hovers over them, crowning and completing their union, and manifesting by His sigh the infinite felicity and holiness of Their love. In short, this image shows the Holy Ghost as the hypostatic “Kiss,” “Embrace,” and “Sigh” of the Father and the Son, that is, in His character of Their virginal Bride.

The same image also represents the Holy Ghost in His relation of “Virginal Mother” to creatures. As a dove He descends from the heart of God upon the creature, bringing down with Him the Divine Love and its gifts, penetrating creatures with His warming, quickening, and refreshing fire, establishing the most intimate relations between God and them, and being Himself the pledge of the Love which sends Him and of the love which He inspires; and lastly, in the supernatural order, penetrating into the creature as into His temple to such a degree that the creature in its turn becomes the virginal bride of God and the virginal mother of life in others, and thus receives itself the name of dove—a name applied especially to the Blessed Virgin Mary, the Church, and the virgins of Christ, and generally to all pious souls (Cant. 2:10).


I. The intellectual origin of the Divine Persons accounts not only for their personal characters but also for their perfect unity, which is commonly considered under the five different forms mentioned in the title of this section, and comprehends their Essence, Life and external operations their Dignity, Power, and Perfection. The unity of identity in Essence—that is, the absolutely simple unity of the Divine Essence itself—contains the germ of the other forms, and gives to these other forms of unity in God a perfection which they have nowhere else. Similarity and equality, inseparability and interpenetration, are but so many inadequate conceptions of one and the same essential identity. The several forms of unity express certain relations between the Divine Persons. But these relations are of a different kind from the relations of origin, of which they result. Theologians term them relationes rationis, in contradistinction to the relationes reales,—that is, the relation of origin.

II. In detail the several forms of unity of the Divine Persons are originated and formed as follows:—

1. From the fact that in God the produced Persons are the innermost manifestation of His Nature and Life, there follows, first of all, a similarity entailing more than a mere agreement of qualities, viz. a similarity extending to the very Essence; and, as there are no accidents in the Divine Nature, but all perfections are contained in its Essence, the similarity is perfect in all and excludes all dissimilarity (ὁμοιότης κατὰ οὐσίαν ἀπαράλλακτος. Cf. Card. Newman, Athan., ii. 370).

2. As the produced Persons are, further, an exhaustive manifestation of their Principle, which completely expresses and diffuses Itself in Them, we have as a consequence the equality (identity of quantity) between the Divine Persons. Quantity in God is not a material quantitative greatness, but the virtual internal greatness of perfection and power, which is infinite (cf. § 64).

3. Similarity in kind, combined with equality of quantity, or, generally speaking, intrinsic and universal agreement, is sufficient, even in creatures, to justify the expression, “The one is what the other is,” viz. they are something more than similar and equal. In this sense the Greeks apply to creatures the term ταυτότης, which, in etymology, though not quite in sense, is equivalent to identity. The identity, however, of creatures, e.g. of the members of the same family, is but partial and very imperfect. In God, on the contrary, the identity of the Three Persons is absolutely perfect. For the internal and exhaustive manifestation of the Divine Nature is not a multiplication but a communication of It to the produced Persons, and is therefore present in all and is identical with each of Them; consequently, as to what They are, the Persons are not only similar, equal, and related, but are purely and simply the same. The notion of identity, without destroying the distinction of the Persons, completes the notions of similarity and equality, at the same time presenting them under a form peculiar to God. The Divine Persons are similar and equal, not by reason of like qualities and quantities possessed by Them, but by reason of the possession—in all alike essential, perfect, eternal, and legitimate—of the quality and quantity of one Substance. On the other hand, the identity of Essence adds to simple similarity, which may exist between separate things, the notion of intimate connection; and to simple equality in quantity, the notion of intrinsic penetration. Further, it completes the notion of this connection and penetration by representing them as effected, not by some combination or union, but by the Essence of the Three Persons being one and undivided.

4. The inseparable connection of the Divine Persons with one another is brought about in the most perfect manner by Their relations of origin. The produced Persons cannot even be conceived otherwise than in connection with their Principle, and, being the immanent manifestation of a substantial cognition and volition, They remain within the Divine Substance and are one with It. The producing Principle, likewise, cannot be conceived as such, and as a distinct Person, except inasmuch as He produces the other Persons; and These, being the immanent Product of His Life, are as inseparable from their Principle as His life itself.

5. The intimate unity of the Divine Persons appears at its highest perfection when conceived as interpenetration and mutual comprehension. The Greek περιχώρησις, and the Latin circuminsessio (better circumincessio), are the technical terms for the Divine interpenetration. Περιχωρεῖν has a fourfold construction: περιχωρεῖν εἰς ἄλληλα, ἐν ἀλλήλοις, διʼ ἀλλήλων, and ἄλληλα; the first three correspond with the meanings “invade,” “pervade,” of χωρεῖν, the last with its meaning of “hold” or “comprehend.” The circumincession, or comprehensive interpenetration, implies the following notions. Each Person penetrates and pervades each other Person inasmuch as each Person is in each other Person with His whole Essence, and possesses the Essence of each other Person as His own; and again, inasmuch as each Person comprehends each other Person in the most intimate and adequate manner by knowledge and love, and as each Person finds in each other Person His own Essence, it follows that it is one and the same act of knowledge and love by which one Divine Person comprehends and embraces the other Persons. “Each of the Three Who speak to us from heaven is simply, and in the full sense of the word, God, yet there is but one God; this truth, as a statement, is enunciated most intelligibly when we say Father, Son, and Holy Ghost, being one and the same Spirit and Being, are in each other, which is the doctrine of the περιχώρησις” (Card. Newman, Athan., ii., p. 72; cf. Franzelin, th. xiv.).

By reason of these several forms of unity arising from the unity of Essence, the Divine Persons constitute a society unique in its kind: a society whose Members are in the most perfect manner equal, related, and connected, and which, therefore, is the unattainable, eternal, and essential ideal of all other societies.

III. The unity of the Divine Persons, in all its forms, embraces as subject-matter Their inner Being and Life, and also Their operations ad extra. As regards the power necessary to these operations, and the various elements concurring in its exercise (viz. idea, decree, execution), the activity of each Person is in the most perfect manner similar, equal, and identical with that of the other Persons, and consequently is exercised so that all the Persons operate together, inseparately and inseparably, not only in external union, but intrinsically, in each other, so as to be but one absolutely simple activity.

The absolute simplicity of the Divine activity is not impaired by the scriptural and traditional expression “that the Divine operation proceeds from the Father through the Son in the Holy Ghost.” This expression is intended to convey the meaning that the Divine operation or activity is perfectly common to the Three Persons, but is possessed by each of Them in a particular manner, viz. in the same manner in which they possess the principium quo of action—that is, the Divine Nature. Another signification of the same formula will be explained in the following section.


I. Although all the names, attributes, and operations which do not refer to the personal relations of the Divine Persons are, by reason of the unity of Substance, common to them all, it is, nevertheless, the constant style of Holy Scripture and Tradition to ascribe certain names, attributes, and operations to particular Persons so as to serve to distinguish one Person from another. The process by which something common to all the Persons is attributed as peculiar to one of Them, is called Appropriation (κόλλησις). Such appropriation, of course, does not exclude the other Persons from the possession of what is appropriated to one. Whatever is appropriated is not even more the property of one Person than of another. The only object of appropriation is to lay special stress on, or to bring out more distinctly, the possession of some of the common attributes by one Person, so as to illustrate either this particular Person or the attributes in question, by showing their connection. For this purpose it is sufficient that the Person in question, by reason of His personal character, bears a special relationship to the attribute, and is, therefore, not only its owner but also its representative.

The appropriations are so indispensable that without them it would be impossible to give a vivid picture of the Trinity. They are useful and indispensable to represent each Person as distinguished from the other Persons, since we always associate separate persons with separate properties and operations; they are especially useful and necessary to bring out the Persons of the Father and the Holy Ghost as distinct from the Son Who appeared among us in a human nature with properties and operations exclusively His own; they further serve to distinguish the Divine Persons from other and imperfect beings bearing the same names; this is notably the case in the appellations “Pater æternus,” “Filius sapiens,” “Spiritus sanctus.” The appropriations also help to illustrate and represent the Divine attributes and operations in life-like form, and especially to represent the Divine Unity as essentially living and working in distinct Persons.

II. The appropriations in use in Holy Scripture and in the language of the Church, may be grouped under the following categories:—

1. Of the substantive names, “God” is appropriated to the Father as the “Principle of Divinity;” “Lord” to the Son, as the natural heir of the Father, Who, in the Incarnation, has received from the Father a peculiar dominion over creatures. Hence the Son is commonly called “Son of God,” and the Holy Ghost “Spirit of God,” or “Spirit of the Lord.” The Holy Ghost bears no other appropriated Divine name, because His proper name (Spirit), if not considered as expressing His relationship to Father and Son, is in itself a substantive Divine name, and, in a certain sense, only becomes a proper name by appropriation, viz. inasmuch as, like the air in the wind, the Divine Substance reveals in its spiration the full energy of its Spiritual Nature. In 1 Cor. 12:4, however, “Spirit” may be taken as an appropriation on a line with “God” and “Lord.”

2. The names designating properties of the Divine Being and Life are distributed among the Three Persons either in the form of adjectives (“one,” “true,” “good,”) or of nouns (“unity,” “truth,” “goodness”), so as to correspond with their active or passive relations of origin. The Second and Third Persons receive only positive predicates, because the special nature of Their origin is always taken into account, whereas to the Father, as Ingenerate or Unbegotten, negative predicates are likewise appropriated, e.g. eternity. To the Father are appropriated, in this respect, essential being, then eternity and simplicity, also power and goodness in the sense of productive and radical fecundity, because these attributes shine forth with more splendour in the Unbegotten Principle of the Trinity. To the Son, as the Word and intellectual Image of the Father, is appropriated Truth (objective and formal, § 73) and resplendent Beauty. To the Holy Ghost, as the Aspiration, Pledge, and Gift of the eternal Love, is appropriated Goodness, as well in its objective sense of what is perfect, amiable, and beatifying (§ 74), as in the formal sense of holiness, bounty, and felicity. As, however, unity may be considered under many respects, unity pure and simple is ascribed to the Father, unity of equality to the Son, and unity of connection to the Holy Ghost.

3. With regard to the Divine operations ad extra, the appropriations receive various forms and directions. As regards the power, wisdom, and goodness manifest in all Divine operations, power, as efficient cause, is appropriated to the Father; wisdom, as exemplar cause, to the Son; and goodness, as final cause, to the Holy Ghost. Considering, in analogy with created activity, the order or evolution of the Divine operations, the decree (= resolution, will) to operate is appropriated to the Father; the plan of the work to the Son; the execution and preservation to the Holy Ghost. With regard to the hypostatic character of the individual Persons, the Father is said, by appropriation, to produce the substantial being (= the substance) and the unity of all things by creation, and to perform works of power, such as miracles; the Son is said to give all things their form and to enlighten all minds, likewise to confer dignities and functions; the Holy Ghost vivifies, moves, and guides all things, sanctifies spirits and distributes the charismata.

4. In connection with these, there are other appropriations founded upon the general relation of the creature to God, and especially on the relations of intellectual creatures with their Creator. As all things exist of the Father through the Son in the Holy Ghost, so intellectual creatures are made the children of the Father through the Son to Whom they are likened, in the Holy Ghost with Whom they are filled. Thus they also can direct their worship to God the Father through the Son in the Holy Ghost, the Son and Holy Ghost being not only the object of worship, but, at the same time, mediators of the worship offered to the Father from Whom They originate and Whose glory They reveal, and with Whom They receive the same worship because They are one with Him. The Father especially is represented as receiving the Divine worship offered to God by the Incarnate Son as High-priest, although the sacrifice of Christ is offered to Himself and to the Holy Ghost as well as to the Father. Here, however, we go beyond simple appropriations, and enter the domain of the mission of the Divine Persons, of which we shall speak in the following section.

A beautiful exposition of appropriations is found at the end of St. Augustine’s De Vera Religione, “Religet ergo nos religio, etc.” See also St. Thom., I., q. 39, arts. 7, 8.


I. Revelation often speaks in general terms of a coming of God to and into His creatures, and of a manifesting Himself to, and dwelling in, them. This coming and indwelling is especially set forth in connection with the two Divine Persons Who have Their eternal origin from another Person, and it is represented so as to make this temporal procession appear as a continuation of Their eternal procession. In consequence of this, the Person from Whom another proceeds assumes towards the One Who proceeds the same position as exists between a human sender and his envoy; and for this reason the procession ad extra of a Divine Person is spoken of as a “Mission.”

II. The external mission of Divine Persons admits of none of the imperfections inherent in human missions. The perfect equality of the Divine Persons excludes the notion of authority in the Sender, and, in general, any influence of the Sender on the Sent other than the relation of origin. Again, the perfect coinherence or interpenetration (περιχώρησις) of the Divine Persons excludes the idea of any separation of the Person sent from His Sender, and of any separate activity or operation in the mission. Lastly, the immensity and omnipresence of the Trinity exclude the possibility of any local change caused by the temporal mission of one of the Persons. The procession ad extra can be brought about only by a new manifestation of the substantial presence of the Person sent, and consequently by a new operation taking place in the creature, whereby the Divine Person reveals Himself externally or enters into union with the creature.

III. To lay too great stress on what we have just said might lead to a false notion of the missions of Divine Persons. It must not be thought that the whole mission consists in a Divine Person coming down to the creature merely as representative of an operation appropriated to Him but common to the Three Persons, thus infusing not Himself but merely His operation into the creature, and consequently not proceeding ad extra in the character of a Person distinct from His Principle as well as from His operations. As a matter of fact, in many texts of Holy Scripture the mission of Divine Persons implies no more than that They reveal themselves in creatures as bearers of an activity appropriated to Them and as Principle of an operation in the creature. Such is the case, for instance, where, in the spiritual order, every supernatural influence of God on the soul is ascribed to a coming of the Son or the Holy Ghost. But the theologians of all times agree in considering this kind of mission as an improper one, and assert the existence of another, to which the name of mission properly belongs.

IV. The manifestation ad extra of a Divine Person, in a mission properly so called, takes place in a twofold manner. Either the Divine Person appears in a sensible form or image really distinct from Himself, which makes the Person Himself and His presence in the creature apparent,—this is called a Visible or External Mission; or the Divine Person really enters into an intellectual creature, uniting Himself with it in such intimate, real, and vivid manner, that He dwells in it, gives Himself to it, and takes special possession of it,—this is called an Invisible or Internal Mission.

Both forms are found in their greatest possible perfection in the Incarnation of the Son of God. In His Incarnation the Son of God contracts with a created nature, at the same time intellectual and visible, a union which is proper to Himself alone, exclusively of the other Divine Persons, and by reason of which the visible body in which He appears is not only a symbol of His Person, but is His own body. Besides, the Incarnation was at the same time a mission of the Son of God in His own human nature and to all men, among whom He dwelt visibly. The Incarnation stands alone as a pre-eminent mission. In other missions the visible and invisible are not necessarily connected, nor do they exist in the same perfection. A visible mission, indeed, never takes place without an invisible one, but invisible missions are not always accompanied by visible manifestations. Besides, excepting the Incarnation, visible missions are not real but symbolical; the invisible ones are real: but whilst in the Incarnation we have an hypostatic union with the substance of a created nature, here we have the hypostatic presence of the Divine Person in the life of the creature, which presence includes an intimate relation between the Divine and the created person, making them, as it were, belong to each other; wherefore this kind of mission is termed “Missio secundum gratiam” or, better, “secundum gratiam gratum facientem.”

V. The invisible mission of God the Son and God the Holy Ghost, especially the latter, to the souls of the just, being such a consoling mystery, it is of the utmost importance to gain a clear conception of it; viz. to understand as far as possible, how in this mission a Divine Person enters the soul, not figuratively but really, in the proper and strict sense of the word.

In order that the coming of a Divine Person to the soul may be really personal, two things are required. It is not enough that the Person should come as principle of a new operation; it is necessary that His Substance should become present to the soul in a new manner, otherwise the mission or coming would be personal only in a figurative sense. As, however, the Divine Substance and activity are common to all the Persons, the presence of the Substance of a Divine Person is not sufficient to enable us to say that He is present as a distinct Person, or as distinct from His Sender. If the hypostatic character of the Person sent is not brought to the fore, His mission is not strictly personal, but must be considered as an appropriation. Moreover, the coming of a Divine Person into the soul must be conceived from the point of view of a living union of the Person with the soul, or of an intimate presence of the Divine Person in the supernatural life of the soul, in virtue of which the Divine Person gives Himself to the soul and at the same time takes possession of it. Holy Scripture constantly speaks of an intimate, holy, and beatifying union as the consequence of the coming of a Divine Person into the soul; the Person is given to the soul and the soul becomes His temple (cf. Rom. 5:5; 1 Cor. 3:16). Hence, the personal mission of the Divine Persons consists in a donation of themselves to the soul and in a taking possession of the soul; their personal presence in the soul implies a relation of most intimate and mutual appurtenance between the Divine and the human person.

VI. We have, then, to show how, in the communication of supernatural life by means of sanctifying grace (gratia gratum faciens), a personal presence in the soul, and a personal relationship of the Divine Person to the soul, is to be conceived. The demonstration may be effected in two directions, considering, on the basis of Holy Writ, the relation of the Divine Person to the supernatural life of the soul: (1) as its exemplar principle, or (2) as its final object. Both relations, however, are closely connected, and ought to be considered together in order to arrive at an adequate conception of the personal presence and relationship.

1. The supernatural life of the soul consists, in its inmost essence, in a participation in the Divine Life—that is, in a knowledge and love of such an exalted kind as is proper only to the Divine Nature; it has, therefore, its root and ideal (= exemplar) in God Himself. Hence, God, when communicating supernatural life, must approach the soul in His Substance in a more special manner, distinct from every other Divine influence; so that, if He were not already substantially present as Creator, He would become so present as Giver of supernatural life. Moreover, this communication of God’s own life to the soul appears as an imitation, a continuation, and an extension of that manifestation and communication of life which produces the Son and the Holy Ghost. The irradiation of supernatural knowledge into the soul is essentially an imitation and an extension of the internal radiation of Divine knowledge terminating in the Eternal Word and Image, and so implies a speaking of His Divine Word into, and impression of this Divine Image upon, the soul. The infusion or inspiration of supernatural love is an imitation and an extension of the internal effusion of Divine Love terminating in the Holy Eternal Spirit, and thus implies an effusion of the Divine Spirit into the soul. Hence, just as the supernatural life results from an internal and permanent impression of the Divine Substance on the soul—as from the impression of a seal,—so also the Products of the Divine Life impress themselves on the soul in an innermost presence. Consequently, the Persons proceeding ad extra, enter into a living relationship with the soul, not only as to their Substance, but also as to their personal characters. They are personally united to the soul, inasmuch as They permeate the life of the soul, manifest Their personal glory in it, and live in it.

This view of the Divine missions is alluded to in the following texts:

(a) The mission of the Son: “My little children, of whom I am in labour again, until Christ be formed in you” (Gal. 4:19); “That Christ may dwell by faith in your hearts” (Eph. 3:17).

(b) The mission of the Holy Ghost: “The charity of God is poured forth in our hearts by the Holy Ghost Who is given to us” (Rom. 5:5); “In this we know that we abide in Him and He in us, because He has given us of His Spirit” (1 John 4:13). To these must be added all the texts which represent the Holy Ghost as living in us, or us as living in Him, as if He were the breath of our life. Thus: “But you are not in the flesh, but in the spirit, if so be that the Spirit of God dwell in you. Now, if any man have not the Spirit of Christ [= the Spirit of Love], he is none of His” (Rom. 8:9); “For whosoever are led by the Spirit of God, they are the sons of God. For you have not received the spirit of bondage again in fear; but you have received the spirit of adoption of sons [= in filial love], whereby we cry, Abba, Father” (ibid., 14, 15); “We have received not the spirit of this world, but the Spirit that is of God” (1 Cor. 2:12).

2. The knowledge and love which constitute supernatural life (like the Divine knowledge and love of which they are a copy), have for their proper object God Himself, as He is in Himself. As in the Divine Life, so in the supernatural life of the soul, the Divine Essence is the object of possession and fruition, and must therefore be substantially present to the soul in a manner not required by the natural life of the soul. This presence attains its perfection only in the Beatific Vision and in beatific charity, but it already exists in an obscure and imperfect manner in our present state of cognition and charity (cognitio et caritas viœ). For if the Divine Substance becomes an object of intimate possession and fruition to the soul, the Divine Persons Themselves, each with His original characters, likewise become the object of the soul’s possession and fruition by knowledge and love, and They enter the soul as such object. The Son is given to the soul as the Radiance and Image of the glory of the Father, in order that in Him and through Him, the soul may know and possess the Father. And the Holy Ghost is given as the Effusion and the Pledge of the infinite Love that unites Father and Son, and of God’s Fatherly love for His creatures; as the Blossom of the Divine sweetness and loveliness, as the personal “osculum Dei,” which the soul receives as the adopted daughter of the Father and bride of the Son, and which is the food and the fuel of the soul’s love to God. This is the deeper sense of the words, “That the love wherewith Thou hast loved Me may be in them, and I in them” (John 17:26). Consequently, both Persons are given to the soul as an uncreated Gift, and the created gift of sanctifying grace has precisely this object—to enable the soul to receive and to enjoy the uncreated Gift.

As the object of supernatural knowledge and love, the Divine Persons are also the final object, or the end, of the soul, in which the soul finds rest and beatitude, but which likewise claims from the soul honour and glorification. Now, each Divine Person, in His hypostatical character, can claim an honour especially directed to Himself, and a special manner of dominion over creatures; hence, although the Three Persons always enter the soul together, and take possession of it and live in it as in Their consecrated temple, nevertheless each of Them does so in a manner peculiar to Himself. This indwelling is especially proper to the Holy Ghost, because He is the representative of the Divine sanctity and the model of the sanctity of the soul; and further because, being pre-eminently the personal Gift of the Divine Love, He naturally receives and accepts the love by which the soul gives itself to God. The Holy Ghost being pre-eminently the “Sweet Host” of the soul, is also the Holy Lord and Master Who transforms it into His temple and takes possession of it in the name of the Father and of the Son. (See Scheeben’s Mysteries, § 30; and Card. Manning’s two works on the Holy Ghost).


I. We have shown (in § 57) that the real existence of the Three Persons in one God cannot be demonstrated by created reason. From this it follows that our conceptions of the Trinity of Persons can be but analogical and imperfect, and even more obscure and imperfect than our conceptions of the Divine Essence and Nature. It is, consequently, a matter of course that our reason should find it always difficult, and sometimes impossible, to comprehend the possibility of the several Divine attributes and of their coexistence in God. However, correct and accurate conceptions of the analogical notions enable us not only to see the necessary connection between several attributes, but also to show that no evident contradiction exists between them. Most of the contradictions which the Arians, the Socinians, and the modern Rationalists pretend to detect in the mystery of the Trinity, present hardly any difficulty, because they are based either upon misrepresentation or misconception of the dogma.

Our modern Rationalists are far more superficial than their predecessors. They think they raise a serious objection when they say that one cannot be equal to three! As if the dogma stated that one God is three Gods or one Person three Persons! Most of the difficulties of detail may be met by an accurate statement of the dogma, such as we have been attempting to give. We only touch here upon the chief difficulties which may still remain.

II. These difficulties are in reality but two—viz. (1) the real distinction of the Persons, notwithstanding their identity with one and the same absolutely simple Essence; and (2) their perfect equality in every perfection, notwithstanding the origin of one Person from another. The first difficulty rests on the axiom: Things identical with the same thing are identical with each other; and the second on the principle that origin implies inferiority.

1. The first difficulty is solved thus: Although Person and Essence in God are “One Supreme Thing, altogether simple,” still, Person and Essence no more represent the same side of this “Supreme Thing” than cognition and volition. “Person” is the Supreme Thing as possessing itself; “Essence” is It as object of possession. Hence it is not absolutely inconceivable that a substance as wealthy as the Divine should possess Itself in several ways; and if so, It must also be able to manifest Itself in several Possessors, Who, as such, are no more identical among Themselves than the forms of possession are identical. If, further, each Person is identical with the Essence, He is only identical as a special form of possession of the Essence, and thus, from the axiom, “Things which are identical with the same thing are identical with each other,” it only follows that They all possess the same Essence through identity with the same; and not that They are also identical in the form of possession.

2. The second difficulty is solved thus: An origin in God is the result, not of an accidental, but of an essential act—that is, of an act identical with its principle as well as with the Divine Essence, and essential to both principle and Essence; but this being admitted, it is not at all evident that the produced possession ought not to be likewise essential, but merely accidental, or merely by connection and not by identity with the Divine Essence. Moreover, the communication of the Nature by the Father does not result from a power and wealth founded on His personality, but from the power of the common Nature, which essentially tends to subsist not in one but in three Persons, and manifests this power equally in the Three Persons, although in a different form in each.


I. Considered in relation to our natural knowledge of God, the dogma of the Trinity has a certain philosophical importance, inasmuch as it adds clearness and precision to our notions of a living and personal God, perfect and self-sufficient, operating ad extra with supreme freedom, power, and wisdom. The dogma thus prevents pantheistic and superficial deistic theories on God and the world. Still, however useful it may be from this point of view, its revelation cannot be said to be necessary, as such necessity would destroy the transcendental (supernatural) character of the dogma.

II. The revelation of the Trinity has its proper and essential significance in relation to our supernatural knowledge of God (1) as object of beatific fruition, (2) as object of glorification (objectum fruitionis beatificans, objectum glorificationis).

1. The beatitude of intellectual creatures consists in their knowledge of God and in the love of God consequent upon such knowledge. Wherefore, the greater the knowledge the greater the beatitude, and vice versâ. Hence the revelation of the Trinity has, in general, a substantial value inasmuch as it essentially increases our knowledge of God. It has also a special value, because, unlike natural knowledge, it shows God as He is in Himself, and discloses His internal life and activity, thus making the knowledge by Faith an anticipation of and introduction to the immediate vision of the Divine Essence and a pledge of its reality. The revelation of the Trinity further leads us into the knowledge of an internal manifestation of God’s greatness and power, goodness and love, beatitude and glory, which represents God as the highest Good in quite a new light, far above anything that external manifestations could teach us, and therefore producing, even in this life, a love full of delight, unknown to natural man. In the trinitary origins especially, the Divine fecundity and tendency to communication appear as objectively infinite, whereas the unity of the Three Persons reveals the beatitude of God as possessing in a wonderful manner the element which is the flower and condiment even of created happiness—that is, the delight of sharing one’s happiness with others.

2. The knowledge of God, coupled with the admiring love which it begets, constitutes also the external glorification of God by His intellectual creatures; the glorification increases in perfection with the perfection of the knowledge. The influence which the knowledge of the Trinity exercises on the perfection of God’s glorification by creatures affects its very essence. It discloses the internal greatness and glory of God as an object of our admiration and adoration; it proposes for our worship not only the Divinity as a whole, but each of the Holders and Possessors of the Godhead, and so enables us to worship the Divine Persons separately; it reveals in God an infinite, real, self-glorification, the Divine Persons as Principle or Product glorifying each other in the most sublime manner—the Father glorified in the Son as His perfect Word and Image, and Both in the Holy Ghost as the infinite Effusion of their Love—infinitely more than in any external manifestation. The revelation of the internal Divine self-glorification renders it possible to creatures to join in the honours which the Divine Persons receive from each other, and thus to complete their finite worship by referring it to an infinite worship. This is done especially in the formula: “Glory be to the Father, through the Son, in the Holy Ghost.”

III. The revelation of the Trinity is of great importance for the right understanding of the supernatural works of God in the world. These works bear such a close and essential relation to the internal productions in God, that their essence, reason, and object can be understood only when they are considered as an external reproduction, and a real revelation ad extra, of the internal productions and relations of God. The supernatural works which here come under consideration are the union of God with His creatures (1) by Grace, (2) by the Incarnation.

1. Grace elevates the creature to be the adoptive son of God. The adopted son, as such, is admitted by grace to a participation in the dignity and glory of the natural Son. As in human relationships we cannot conceive adoptive sonship without referring to natural sonship, so likewise in the supernatural order the adoptive sonship of the children of God cannot be rightly understood without referring to the Sonship of the only-begotten Son of God. Hence the natural Sonship in God is the ideal of all adoptive sonship on the part of God. It is also the foundation of the possibility of adoptive filiation; for only from the fact that in God there exists a substantial communication of His Nature, and not from His creative power, we gather the possibility of a participation in the Divine Nature. The natural filiation in God must likewise be considered as the proper motive and object of the adoptive filiation. It is God’s love of His only-begotten Son, and the delight He finds in His possession, that urge Him to multiply His Son’s image ad extra. Thus He intends to bring into existence His adoptive children in order that they may glorify His paternity and His only-begotten Son. In the adoptive filiation we must consider also the manner in which it is brought about, viz. by gratuitous love. From this point of view, adoptive sonship has its ideal, the ground of its possibility, its motive, and its final object in the procession of the Holy Ghost, as a communication by means of the purest love and liberality. Further, it bears to the Person of the Holy Ghost this essential relation, that the Holy Ghost is the Pledge and Seal of the communion of God with His adoptive sons, just as in God He is the Pledge and Seal of the Love between Father and Son. As the grace of adoptive sonship, considered in its origin, is a reflex of the Trinitarian productions and relations, so it has the effect of introducing the creature into the most intimate communion and fellowship with the Divine Persons: “That our fellowship may be with the Father and with His Son Jesus Christ” (1 John 1:3).

From this it follows that the triune God is the God of the life of grace, and that a full and perfect development of the life of grace is impossible without the knowledge of the Trinity. Hence in the New Testament, where the life of grace first appears in its fulness, the relations of man to God and man’s communication with God are always attributed to one or other of the Divine Persons. For the same reason, the naming of the Three Persons is as essential in the Sacrament of regeneration and adoption as the faith and confession of the Trinity are the normal condition of its reception. Hence also the Fathers pointed out that the faith of Christians in God the Father transcends reason and opens the way to adoptive sonship. Cf. St. Hilary, De Trin., l. i., c. x. sqq.; St. Peter Chrysol., Serm. 68 (in Orat. Dom.): “Behold how soon thy profession of faith has been rewarded: as soon as thou hast confessed God to be the Father of His only Son, thou thyself hast been adopted as a son of God the Father.”

2. Whereas in grace we have first an invitation and then, secondarily, a continuation of the Trinitarian productions and relations, the Incarnation is first of all and in the strictest sense a continuation ad extra of the eternal origin of the Son of God and of His relation to the Father and the Holy Ghost. The Incarnation must not be conceived merely as God or any one of the Divine Persons taking flesh, but as the incorporation of a Person gone forth from God, and precisely of that Person Who, as Word and Image of God, is the living testimony by which He reveals Himself internally and externally; Who, as Son of God, is the born heir of His kingdom; through Whom God reigns over and governs the world; Who, as the First-born of all creatures, is naturally called to be, in His humanity, the head of the whole universe; Who, lastly, through His hypostatic mission ad extra, can bring the Holy Ghost, Who proceeds from Him, in special connection with His mystical body, and thus make the “seal and bond of the Trinity” the seal and bond of transfigured creation.



GOD, One in Substance and Three in Person, infinitely perfect and infinitely happy in Himself—of His own goodness and almighty power, not to increase His happiness, not to acquire but to manifest His perfection—freely made out of nothing spiritual and material beings, and man composed of both matter and spirit. These creatures He endowed with every perfection required by their various natures. Angels and men, however, received gifts far surpassing all that their nature could claim. God raised them to a supernatural order of existence, making them not merely creatures but His adopted children, and destining them to a supernatural union with Him. Hence this book will be divided into two parts. In the first part, entitled Creation, we shall speak of the origin and the natural end and endowments of creatures. In the second part we shall speak of the Supernatural Order to which angels and men were raised.



ALL things outside God have God for their origin and end. They may be grouped, as already noticed, under three heads: spiritual, material, and composite. We shall therefore divide this part into five chapters: The Universe created by God (ch. i.) and for God (ch. ii.); Angels (ch. iii.), the Material World (ch. iv.), and Man (ch. v.).



THE Fathers treat of Creation in their writings against the pagans and Manichæans. Among the Schoolmen, see St. Anselm, Monol., cc. 5–9; Peter Lomb., ii., Dist. 1, and the commentaries thereon by Ægidius and Estius; St. Thorn., I., q. 45, and Contra Gentes, ii., I sqq.; Suarez, Metaph., disp. 20; Kleutgen, Phil., diss. ix., chap. 3.


I. Our conception of God as the only Being existing necessarily, implies that all other beings must, in some way or other, owe their existence to Him. It also implies that these other beings owe their whole substance, with all its accidents and modifications, mediately or immediately, to God. Again, the Divine Substance being simple and indivisible, things outside God cannot be produced from or made out of it: they can only be called into existence out of their nothingness, by the power of God. “God exists of Himself” is the fundamental dogma concerning God; the fundamental dogma concerning all things else is that “they are produced out of nothing by God.” Thus the Vatican Council, following the Fourth Lateran Council, says, “This one God, of His own goodness and almighty power, … at the very beginning of time made out of nothing both kinds of creatures, spiritual and corporal” (sess. iii., c. 1). And again, “If any one doth not confess that the world and all things contained therein, both spiritual and material, have been, as to their whole substance, produced out of nothing by God: let him be anathema” (can. 5). This definition is merely an explanation of the first words of the Apostles’ Creed, by which, from the very earliest ages, the Church confessed the Almighty God to be the Maker, ποιητής, of heaven and earth, of all things visible and invisible. The Latin Church has always attached to the verb creare the meaning of “production out of nothing;” the Greek Church possessed no such specific name, whereas in Hebrew the verb בָרָא already had the fixed signification which the Latin creare afterwards acquired.

When Creation is described as a production from, or out of, nothing (de nihilo or ex nihilo, ἐξ οὐκ ὄντων), the “nothing” is not, of course, the matter out of which things are made. It means, “out of no matter,” or, “not out of anything,” or, starting from absolute non-being and replacing it by being. The formula is also amplified into, Productio rei ex nihilo sui et subjecti; by the Greek Fathers, often, ἐκ μηδαμοῦ καὶ μηδαμῶς ὄντων.

II. Holy Scripture, both in the Old and in the New Testament, gives abundant and decisive testimony to the dogma of the creation of all things out of nothing.

1. This dogma is implicitly contained in the scriptural descriptions of the Divine Essence, of the Divine Power, and of God’s absolute dominion over the world. If God in His external works were dependent on pre-existing matter, He could not be described as Being pure and simple, as Almighty pure and simple, as entirely self-sufficient; God would not be “the First and the Last,” “the Beginning and the End,” pure and simple—that is, of all things—if outside of Him anything existed independently of Him.

2. Over and over again Holy Writ represents God as the Principle of all that is, never mentioning any exception. He is the Founder (e.g. Ps. 77:69, 88:12, 102:22), the Supporter, and Conservator of heaven and earth; He is the Author of the spiritual as well as of the material world (Col. 1:16). Pre-existing matter, which, indeed, in the case of simple beings like spirits, would be impossible, is nowhere spoken of. Many scriptural expressions, e.g. Heb. 11:3, can be understood of the fashioning of unformed matter already existing; yet this operation is described as entering into the very substance, so that it supposes a dominion over matter which can belong to none but its Creator.

3. Creation is further clearly contained in the narrative of the first chapter of Genesis. The narrative purposes to give a full account of the origin of the world; had any matter existed previously to the Divine operation, it ought certainly to have been mentioned. Yet the production of heaven and earth is given as the first creative action, as the foundation of the subsequent operations, and, besides, we are told that the earth “was void and empty.” This clearly indicates that before the creation of heaven and earth no finite thing whatever existed. Again, the Hebrew verb בָרָא, although not necessarily designating a production out of nothing, is never used except to express an action proper to God alone, notably the operations of His sovereignty, absolute independence, and infinity. In the narrative of Gen. 1 this verb is used to describe the first production; it does not occur again in the account of the subsequent operations except at the creation of man, ver. 27, because the soul of man is produced out of nothing, and in ver. 21, possibly to indicate that the animals are not the product of water and air but of the almighty Word of God. If we compare the first words of Genesis, “In the beginning God created,” with the first words of the Gospel of St. John, “In the beginning was the Word,” and also with Prov. 8:22 sqq., we are forced to conclude that time itself began with the creation of heaven and earth, and consequently that, before this creative act, nothing whatsoever existed outside of God. Hence the sense of Gen. 1:1, is undoubtedly expressed correctly by the mother of the Machabees when speaking to her son: “Look upon heaven and earth, and all that is in them: and consider that God made them out of nothing (ἐξ οὐκ ὄντων, 2 Mach. 7:28).

III. To the unprejudiced mind the dogma of creation is as plain as the dogma of a self-existing, personal God. The two notions are correlative. Things outside of God must, from the fact that they do not exist necessarily, depend for their existence on some other being, which can be no other than the self-existing God. The notion of creation, or production out of nothing, is free from even a shadow of contradiction, whereas every other notion concerning the origin of things involves a contradiction. It is, we admit, quite a peculiar conception, without any analogy in the operations of creatures; yet our reason plainly tells us that creative power is a necessary attribute of God. Cf. Book II., § 76.

The axiom, Ex nihilo nihil fit (Out of nothing, nothing is made), cannot be urged against the dogma of creation. It is true, indeed, that by nature or art nothing can be made out of nothing, but it is certainly not proved that no being whatever can produce things out of nothing. Scientists who reject the true axiom, Omne vivum ex vivo, and hold that matter endows itself with life, ought to be the last to raise such an objection.

IV. Active creation, implying, as it does, infinite power, is an attribute of God alone. Consequently, all beings outside of God are created directly by Him and by Him alone, without the intervention of any other creature. That no creature, even acting as an instrument of God, has ever actually created anything, was defined by the Fourth Council of the Lateran: “There is one true God, … the Creator of all things visible and invisible.” It is also theologically certain that no creature has the power to create, because this power has ever been asserted by the Church and by the Fathers to be an exclusive attribute of God, in the same way as eternity and omnipresence. The question “whether a creature could be used as an instrument in the act of creation” is answered differently by different theologians. The best authorities and the best arguments are in favour of the negative. See Bannez, in I., q. 45; St. Thomas, De Pot., q. 3, a. 4.


I. Holy Scripture implies throughout, and explicitly states over and over again, that all things created have a beginning in time. When the world was first called into being time was not yet, because there existed nothing capable of undergoing change. Hence time and the world began at the same moment; or, “the world was created in the beginning of time,” as it is usually expressed in the language of the Church; “God, at the very beginning of time, made both kinds of creatures” (Vat. Council, sess. iii., c. 1). Thus the formula “production out of nothing” has the twofold meaning, “Things not existing of themselves receive existence,” and “things not yet existing or not existing before, begin to be.” Holy Scripture points out the temporal beginning of the world, especially in order to contrast it with the eternity of God, of the Word of God, and of the election by grace. E.g. Ps. 89:9; John 17:5; Eph. 1:4. “In the beginning was the Word” (John 1:1); that is, the Word was before things began to be (cf. Prov. 8:22). In the narrative of Creation, Gen. 1:1, the words “in the beginning” evidently mean the very beginning of time. This meaning is an obvious one; it fits in with the context; it is admissible and is often insinuated in other texts, e.g. John 1:1.

II. If the World came into being with time, the external efficacy of the Divine act which caused it to be, had likewise a beginning. From this, however, it does not follow that the creative act itself, as it is in God, had a beginning. The creative act, considered as existing in God, is nothing but the Divine decree to call the world into existence. This act is necessarily eternal, because it is part of the Divine Life; but it is also an act of the free Will of God, and therefore God is absolutely free to fix a time for its realization.

III. To defend the Catholic dogma that, as a matter of fact, the world had a beginning, it is certainly not necessary to demonstrate the impossibility of the opposite opinion. It is enough to show that a beginning in time is possible, and that the necessity of eternal existence cannot be proved. These two propositions are evident; for, if a thing does not exist necessarily, still less does it necessarily exist always; and God, in Whose power it is to determine all the conditions under which His works are to exist, can evidently determine a time for the beginning of their existence.

IV. Can our reason conceive a creation from all eternity? As the Catholic dogma just stated remains intact whichever way this vexed question be answered, we leave it to the disputations of philosophers. The reader will find it amply debated in St. Thomas, I., q. 46, art. 1, Contra Gentes, l. ii., c. 31, sqq.; De Pot., q. iii., a. 17; Capreolus in I Sent., d. i.; Cajetan in I., q. 46, a. 2; Estius in 2 Sent., d. i., § 11. These maintain the possibility of eternal creation. The following deny it: Albertus Magnus, Henry of Ghent, and most modern theologians. Greg, of Valentia, in I., disp. iii., q. 2, proposes an intermediate opinion.


I. No created beings can continue to exist unless God sustains and preserves them. The Divine Conservation required for the continuance of created existence, is not merely negative, but positive: that is to say, it is not enough for God not to destroy creatures; He must exercise some active influence on them. Again, this positive conservation is not indirect—i.e. a mere protection against destructive agencies—but a direct Divine influence on the very being of the creature, such that, if this influence were withdrawn, the creature at once would return into nothing. Hence the Divine Conservation affects even the incorruptible substances of spirits; it affects matter and form, and the connection of both: in short, it is co-extensive with the creative act. Conservation, like creation, implies a direct action of the Divine Power and the immediate presence of God in all things that He conserves. The Catechism of the Council of Trent, and the generality of theologians explain the dogma by two familiar analogies: things depend for their continued existence on the preserving influence of God in the same manner as a non-luminous body depends for its light on the source of light, and as the life of the body depends on the influence of the soul.

We must not believe that God is the Creator and Maker of all things in such a way as to consider that, when the work was completed, all things made by Him could continue to exist without the action of His infinite power. For, just as it is by His supreme power, wisdom, and goodness that all things have been brought into being: in like manner, unless His continuous providence aided and conserved them with that same force whereby they were originally produced, they would at once fall back into nothing. And this Scripture declares when it says (Wisd. 11:26), “How can anything endure, if Thou wouldst not? or be preserved, if not called by Thee?” (See also Roman Catechism, or Catechism of the Council of Trent, pt. i., chap. 2, n. 21.) Other passages of Holy Scripture bearing on the question are the following. “But if Thou turn away Thy face they shall be troubled; Thou shalt take away their breath, and they shall fail, and shall return to their dust” (Ps. 103:29); “Last of all hath spoken to us by His Son, … by Whom He made the world, … upholding all things by the word of His power” (Heb. 1:2, 3); “My Father worketh until now, and I work” (John 5:17). St. Paul refers to the passive relation, the being upheld, in the words, “In Him we live, and move, and be” (Acts 17:28).

II. The necessity of positive Conservation and its peculiar character of a preserving activity result from the fact that the existence of creatures can in no way be due to the creatures themselves: what is not, cannot give itself being. The fact that a creature actually exists, does not change its contingent character; although it exists, it does not exist necessarily, but depends on an external cause as much for its continuous as for its initial existence. The “derivative existence” of creatures stands to the “self-existence” of God in the same relation of dependence as the rays of light to the source of light, and as the acts of the soul to the substance of the soul. From this point of view, the preserving influence of God on His creatures at once appears as a continuous creation.

III. From the necessity and nature of this Divine influence, it follows that God, absolutely speaking, can destroy His creatures by simply suspending His creative action (cf. Ps. 103:29). A creature, on the contrary, cannot destroy itself or any other creature as to its whole substance: neither by suspending a positive conserving influence, which the creature does not possess, at least as regards the substance of things; nor by a positive action opposed to and more powerful than the Divine conserving action. Created forces can only change the conditions upon which the preservation of substantial forms depends: when these conditions cease, God ceases His conserving influence. Cf. St. Thomas, I., q. 104, a. 3, and De Potentia, q. 5, art. 3.

Although, speaking absolutely, God could annihilate His creatures, it is most probable that He never will destroy any of the direct and immediate products of His creative power. Of spiritual creatures, it can be demonstrated that their eternal conservation by God is a moral necessity; as to material things, however, our reason only leads us to presume that the Divine Will, which gave them existence and conserved them until now, will never change: no reason being known why it should. “God made not death, neither hath He pleasure in the destruction of the living; for He created all things that they might be; and He made the nations of the earth for health; and there is no poison of destruction in them” (Wisd. 1:13, 14)


The absolute and universal dependence of creatures on God implies that they can no more act as causes without a positive Divine influence than, without such influence, they can begin or continue to exist. God, Who conserves their substance, also concurs in their operations, so that all positive reality caused by the activity of creatures owes its being directly to the action of God co-operating and co-producing with the created cause.

I. Some notion of this Divine co-operation may be gathered from an explanation of the technical terms in which the Schoolmen describe it. They call it “Concurrence” (concursus) to signify a participation in the motion (cursus) of another being; “physical” co-operation, to distinguish it from moral co-operation, which consists in inducing another person to perform an action; “natural” or “general,” as opposed to the supernatural and special concurrence required to elevate our actions to the supernatural order; “immediate” or “direct,” because the Concurrence in question directly bears upon the energy and action of creatures, and not merely upon their substance and faculties. It is further described as “a Concurrence in the operations and effects of the secondary causes,” because it embraces both the act and the effect of the cause, God working at the same time through and with the creature. The expression “the action of God in every thing that acts” conveys the idea that God intrinsically animates the created cause, working with and by it as the soul animates the body. The Divine Concurrence must not, however, be thought of as a force added to, or operating side by side with the creature, but as the animating, Divine soul of its own powers and faculties.

1. Upon the whole, the above notion of the Divine Concurrence is admitted by all theologians, however much they may differ as to its further development. The Fathers find it in Holy Scripture; and it is a necessary consequence of the relation of dependence of the creature on God. “Not only does God watch over and administer every thing that exists: the things that are moved and that act He also impels by intrinsic power to motion and action in such a way that, without hindering the operation of secondary causes, He (as it were) goes before it (præveniat), since His hidden might belongs to each thing, and, as the Wise Man testifies, ‘He reacheth from end to end mightily, and ordereth all things sweetly.’ Wherefore it was said by the Apostle, when preaching to the Athenians the God Whom they worshipped unwittingly: ‘He is not far from every one of us, for in Him we live and move and be’ “ (Catechism of the Council of Trent, pt. i., ch. ii., n. 22). Holy Scripture refers to the Divine Concurrence in the texts which ascribe to God the operations of creatures, or which directly attribute to Him the effects of created activity. “There are diversities of operations, but the same God Who worketh all in all” (ὁ ἐνεργῶν τὰ πάντα ἐν πᾶσιν, 1 Cor. 12:6); “My Father worketh until now, and I work” (John 5:17); “It is He Who giveth to all life, and breath, and all things.… Although He be not far from every one of us; for in Him we live and move and be” (Acts 17:25, 28); “Of Him, and by Him, and in Him are all things” (ἐξ αὐτοῖ καὶ διʼ αὐτοῦ καὶ εἰς αὐτὸν τὰ πάντα, Rom. 11:36).

2. The intrinsic reason for the necessity of the Divine co-operation with secondary causes lies, speaking generally, in the absolute dependence of all derivative being on the Essential Being. Nothing in the creature that deserves the name of being can possibly be independent of the Creator. But if the effects of created activity were not directly and immediately attributable to God, they would, to some extent, be independent of Him. This appears most clearly in the generation of living things. Here new and substantial beings receive an existence, the commencement and continuation of which are so peculiarly and eminently the work of God, that they cannot be conceived independently of Him.

II. The principle which proves the necessity of the Divine Concurrence, defines also its measure and its extent.

I. Everything that exists, all positive and real being, all manifestations of a power good in itself, are dependent for existence on the direct operation or co-operation of God. But whatever is defective, inordinate, or morally wrong—in other words, whatever is not-being connected with the effects produced or with the action of the created cause—is not attributable to the Divine Concurrence: the defect or deficiency in either the act or its effect must be ascribed to some defect or deficiency in the secondary cause which God does not prevent or remove. In the production of effects physically or morally defective, God co-operates somewhat in the way that the soul co-operates in the imperfect motion of a lame foot. The motion, not the lameness, is the work of the soul; in like manner, the positive being or reality to which an imperfection attaches, is the work of God, but not the imperfection. Thus, sin comes from God in as far as it is a positive act and a real being, but not in as far as it is a deviation from justice. Cf. St. Thomas, De Malo, q. iii., a. 2; and the commentators on 2 Sent. dist. 37.

2. As to the nature of the Divine Concurrence and the manner in which God influences the activity of creatures, great controversies exist among Theologians. The burning question is how God influences free will. According to the followers of Molina, the Divine Concurrence is a mere co-operation, or an influence acting side by side with the created cause. The school of St. Thomas holds that it is a true moving of the creature—that is, an impulse given to the creature before it acts (impulsus ad agendum). St. Thomas himself resolves the Divine Concurrence into these four elements: “God is the cause of all and every action (1) inasmuch as He gives the power to act; (2) inasmuch as He conserves this power; (3) inasmuch as He applies it to the action; and (4) inasmuch as by His power all other powers act” (De Pot., q. iii., a. 7). He borrows the notion of applying the power to act to the action, from the application of a tool to its work (“as the carpenter applies his saw to divide a log”). The application by God of the created power to its object differs greatly, however, from the application of a tool to its work. The latter action is merely external and accomplished by local motion, whereas the former is internal and proceeds from God as its life and its energizing principle. A better analogy is afforded by the impulse which the root gives to the life of the plant.

The theory of St. Thomas, as originally proposed by him, appears at first sight more in harmony with the language of Revelation and of the Church, and expresses better the dependence of the Creature on God. The mystical depth of the Thomistic theory and the difficulty of expounding its innermost nature in set sentences tell in its favour rather than against it, for the same difficulty and mystery are met with when we pass from a mere machine to a living organism. The only serious objection against the theory is that it seems to destroy the self-determining and self-acting power of creatures. But this objection draws all its force from a misconception. The Divine motion is not external and mechanical, like the motion of a tool; but organic, like the motion imparted to a living plant by the action of its root. Such an organic action, far from destroying the self-acting power of the being to which it gives an impulse, is really the foundation and necessary condition of this power.

To enter into a detailed discussion of the two conflicting systems would be beyond the scope of the present work. Further information may be found in the commentaries on I., q. 105.




I. WE may here take it for granted that every creature has, in a way, its end in itself. Creatures are either good already or tend to be good; they possess and enjoy the good which is in them, and find the fulfilment of their tendencies in the union with the good to which they tend.

At the same time, however, dogma and reason alike show that the highest and final object of creatures as such is not in themselves, but in the glorification of the Creator. “If any one shall say that the world was not created for the glory of God, let him be anathema” (Vat. Council, sess. iii., c. I, can. 5). The council, indeed, does not expressly define that the glory of God is the final object; but this is self-evident. For if the “world” purely and simply—that is, with all its component parts and elements—is made for the glory of God, all its particular ends and objects must be subordinate to this one great end. Besides, God cannot be other than the highest and final object.

If we consider in detail the essential relation of creatures to God as their final object, we find, first, that they are ordained to represent, by means of their own goodness and beauty, the supreme goodness and beauty of the Creator; secondly, that they exist for the service of God, Whose property they are, and on Whom they depend; thirdly, that God is the good to which they ultimately tend, and in which they find their rest. In each of these three respects the manifestation of the Divine glory appears in a particular form: the majesty of God’s inner perfection and beauty is reflected in the being of creatures; the majesty of His power and dominion is manifested in their submission to Him; and the majesty and glory which accrue to Him from His being the good of all that is good and the centre of all being, shine forth in the union of creatures with Him as the resting-place of all their tendencies.

This doctrine is abundantly set forth in Holy Scripture. “I am Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the end, saith the Lord God” (Apoc. 1:8); “Of Him, and by Him, and in (unto) Him, are all things” (Rom. 11:36); “For Whom are all things, and by Whom all things” (διʼ ὁν τὰ πάντα καὶ διʼ οὗ τὰ πάντα, Heb. 2:10). God’s actual destination of everything for His own purpose is expressed in Prov. 16:4: “The Lord hath made all things for Himself.” The accomplishment and fulfilment of His purpose is that all should be most intimately united to Him: “Afterwards the end, … and when all things shall be subdued unto Him, then the Son also Himself shall be subject unto Him that put all things under Him, that God may be all in all” (τὰ πάντα ἐν πᾶσιν, 1 Cor. 15:24–28).

II. What we have said of the relation of creatures generally to God as their Final Object, applies with greater force to rational creatures. These, even more than irrational creatures, have in themselves a final object; they cannot be used as mere means for the benefit of other creatures, but have a dignity of their own, and are, therefore, entitled to everlasting duration. They, as it were, belong to themselves, and they use for their own purposes what they are and possess; the beatitude towards which they tend is a perfection connatural to them. The salient point of their perfection consists in the fact that they cannot be subjected purely and simply to any other creature, so as to be used for its sole benefit. Their final or highest object, however, is in God. Without some relation to Him rational life would necessarily be imperfect, and, besides, the possession of God constitutes the beatitude of rational beings. Their whole being, their life and activity, and even their own beatitude, must be referred to the glory of God. Creatures endowed with reason ought, more than others, to publish, by means of their natural and supernatural likeness to God, the beauty of their Prototype. Their whole life should be spent in the service of their Master, and all their aspirations ought to tend to union with Him. They alone are able to give Him true honour and worship, based upon true knowledge and love.

The supreme felicity of rational creatures consists in the possession of God. This does not, however, imply that the felicity of the creature is the highest object, and that the fruition of God is a means thereto. The beatitude to be attained by the rational creature really consists in a perfect union with God by means of knowledge and love, which union contains at the same time the highest felicity of the creature and the most perfect glorification of the Creator; the highest happiness of the blessed is afforded precisely by the consciousness that their knowledge and love of the internal beauty of God are the means of His external glorification.

This doctrine also is expressed in countless passages of Holy Scripture. “The Lord hath chosen thee … to make thee higher than all nations which He hath created to His own praise, and name, and glory” (Deut. 26:18, 19); “Filled with the fruit of justice, through Jesus Christ, unto the glory and praise of God” (Phil. 1:11); “Who hath predestinated us unto the adoption of children through Jesus Christ unto Himself, according to the purpose of His will, unto the praise of the glory of His grace” (Eph. 1:5, 6); “Thou art worthy, O Lord our God, to receive glory and honour and power, because Thou hast created all things, and for Thy will they were and have been created” (Apoc. 4:11).

Nothing shows better that the felicity of creatures is an object subordinate to the glory of God, than the fact that those who, through their own fault, fail to glorify Him by obtaining eternal felicity for themselves, are compelled to glorify Him by manifesting His justice. The glory of God is, then, the final object of all things, and to this end all others are subservient.

III. Besides glorifying God in their imperfect way, material things have also to serve rational creatures in the attainment of their perfection and final felicity. They belong not only to the kingdom of God, but also to the kingdom of man. “The world is made for man,” that man may use it for the glory of his Creator. The expression “All things in creation are made to reveal or manifest the glory of God,” must not be understood of rational creatures only. Creatures reflect in themselves and represent the Divine perfections just as a work of art itself represents and reveals the ideal of the artist, whether it be taken notice of by men or not. Hence worlds unknown to man and angels would still manifest the glory of their Maker and attain the final object of all things, the glorification of God. “The heavens show forth the glory of God, and the firmament declareth the work of His hands” (Ps. 18:2).

The hierarchy of creation, and of the ends of man in particular, is beautifully expressed by Lactantius. “The world was made,” he says, “that we might be born. We were born that we might know God. We know Him that we may worship Him. We worship Him that we may earn immortality. We are rewarded with immortality that, being made like unto the angels, we may serve our Father and Lord for ever and be the eternal kingdom of God” (Instit. vii. 6).


I. A necessary consequence of the absolute dependence of the world on its Maker is that the world must be governed by God, and conducted by Him to its final destination. He owes it to His wisdom so to govern the world as to attain the end which He Himself has ordained for it. (Supra, pp. 219, 224.)

The government of the world by God is the function of Divine Providence, inasmuch as it consists in conducting all things to their end by providing for each and all of them the good to which they ultimately tend.

II. The existence of an all-governing Providence is a fundamental article of Faith. Our reason, our conscience, cannot separate the idea of an all-penetrating Providence from the idea of God. Holy Writ speaks of Providence almost on every page. (Cf., e.g., Ps. 138 and Matt. 6:25 sqq.) The Vatican Council has also defined it in outline: “God watcheth over and governeth by His Providence all things that He hath made, reaching from end to end mightily and ordering all things sweetly” (sess. iii., c. 1).

III. We subjoin some characteristics of the Divine Government of the World, in its bearing upon the natural order of things.

1. The government of the world by God is both general and special; that is to say, it affects the world as a whole as well as every creature in particular. It is not carried out by intermediate agents: God Himself directly watches over, leads, and controls every single thing and its every motion. He takes a special care of personal beings whose end is supreme felicity and whose duration is everlasting. In virtue of His Wisdom and Infinite Power, He not only establishes general laws and provides the means for obeying them, but also regulates and arranges the particular circumstances and conditions under which every creature is to act. Thus no creature can be placed in a position or subjected to circumstances not foreseen, preordained, or at least permitted, by Divine Providence, or not in harmony with the general plan of the universe. Hence God’s government of the world attains its end unerringly, with perfect certainty, in general as well as in particular: all things and events ultimately procure the glory of God, and nothing of what He absolutely intends fails to happen, nor does anything happen which He absolutely intends to prevent. This, however, does not interfere with the free will of rational creatures, because their freedom is itself part of the Divine plan and is governed by God in harmony with its nature.

2. Although God, in the government of the world, wills and promotes the good of every single creature, still, in order to attain the great final object of all, He permits and even intends individual creatures not to attain their own particular object, and thus to suffer for the general good. Even the greatest of evils, sin, which is in direct opposition to the glory of God, can be permitted by Him, because He is able to make it subservient to His ends and to glorify Himself by punishing it.

3. The action of God’s Providence appears most strikingly in the organization and harmonious working of material nature. It is not so well seen in the government of personal beings, because free will is a disturbing element which prevents us from discerning uniform laws of conduct.

4. The greatest difficulty arises from the permission of evil, for which, in our limited sphere of knowledge, we can hardly account. We know, however, that all events are in the hand of God and that nothing happens without His knowledge and permission. Although, therefore, in particular cases we fail to see the reason of God’s government, we must none the less bow down before His infinite Wisdom, Goodness, and Justice. Such humble submission and filial confidence are, in rational creatures, the best disposition for receiving the full benefit of God’s loving Providence.


I. The world is the realization of an artistic ideal, because God created it according to a well-conceived plan, with the intention, not of deriving profit from it, but of producing a work good and beautiful in itself. But the Divine ideal is God Himself; its external representation is, therefore, the representation and image of the Divine Majesty and Beauty.

II. Hence all things bear some likeness to God, and possess some degree of goodness and beauty. In as far as they come from God, they must be good and beautiful; but as they also come from nothing, their goodness and beauty are necessarily imperfect; they are perfect only as far as God has endowed them with being.

III. No single creature can adequately express the Divine Ideal. Hence the almost infinite variety and multiplicity of created forms, each of which reproduces and manifests something of the infinite perfection of God. Of the fundamental forms of being known to us, viz. the spiritual and the material, the former are a real image of their ideal, whilst the latter only contain obscure vestiges of it. Moreover, spiritual creatures, unlike material ones, are conscious of their likeness to God. In man the two forms of likeness to the Divine ideal are combined and concentrated in such a manner that the lower is completed and perfected by the higher, and offers it a wide field for the display of its activities. The soul of man animating the body is an image of the action of God on the world; the fecundity of man, resulting in the construction of a new being like unto himself, represents the inner fecundity of God. In pure spirits the likeness to God is purer and more sublime, but in man it is more complete and comprehensive.

IV. Notwithstanding their immense multiplicity and variety, all created beings are bound up into one whole, tending as it were in a mass to the one final object of all, and together representing a harmonious picture of the Divine Ideal.

V. Is this world, taken as a whole, the best of possible worlds? In the treatise on God, we have already shown that God was not bound to create the best of possible worlds, and that a world than which no other could be more perfect is an absurdity. Still we may safely say that this world is better than any which a creature could excogitate; that, by means of the Incarnation, it affords God the highest possible glorification, and thus attains its end better than any other; and, lastly, that, given the final object preordained by God and the component parts of the world, the arrangement of things and their government by God are the best conceivable.



NONE of the Fathers has written a complete treatise on the Angels. The work De Cælesti Hierarchia, attributed to Dionysius the Areopagite, is the only one which deals with the subject, and it is the source and the model of all the speculations of the Schoolmen. Of these may be consulted with advantage Petr. Lomb., 2 Sent., dist. 2 sqq.; William of Paris, De Universo, par. ii. (very complete and deep); Alex, of Hales, 2. p., qq. 19–40, and St. Bonaventure on the Lombard, l.c.; St. Thomas, the Angelic doctor, I., qq. 50–64; Qq. Dispp. De Spirit. Creaturis; Contra Gentes, l. ii., cc. 46–55, 91–101; and Opusc. xv., De Substantiis Separatis. Suarez, De Angelis, is the most comprehensive work on the subject. The doctrine of the Fathers is summarized by Petavius, De Angelis (Dogm., tom. iii.).


I. The name “Angel,” ἄγγελος,—that is, messenger or envoy,—designates an office rather than a nature; and this office is not peculiar to the beings usually called Angels. Holy Scripture, however, and the Church have appropriated this name to them, because it represents them as standing between God and the rest of the universe, above man and nearer to God on account of their spiritual nature, and taking a share in the government of this world, although absolutely dependent on God. In this way the term “Angel” is even more expressive of their nature than the terms “spirit,” or “pure spirit,” because these latter, if not further determined, are applicable also to God. In order to prevent the belief that all superhuman beings are gods, the documents of Revelation, when speaking of these higher beings, always style them Angels, or Zebaoth—that is, the army of God. Evil spirits, being sufficiently distinguished from God by their wickedness, are often called “spirits,” “bad and wicked spirits,” and sometimes also “angels.” The Greek name δαίμων (“the knowing or knowledge-giving”) is applied, in Holy Writ, exclusively to the spirits of wickedness, because they resemble God only in knowledge, and only offer knowledge to men in order to seduce them.

II. We conceive the Angels as spiritual beings of a higher kind than man, and more like to God; not belonging to this visible world, but composing an invisible world, ethereal and heavenly, from which they exercise, with and under God, a certain influence on our world.

III. The existence of Angels is an article of Faith, set forth alike in innumerable passages of Holy Scripture and in the Symbols of the Church. Scripture does not expressly mention the Angels in its narrative of Creation, but St. Paul (Col. 1:16) enumerates them among the things created through the Logos, and divides these “invisible beings” into Thrones, Dominations, Principalities and Powers. From Genesis to the Apocalypse the sacred pages everywhere bear witness to the existence and activity of the Angels. It is most probable that their existence was part of the primitive revelation, the distorted remains of which are found in polytheism. Unaided reason can neither prove nor disprove the existence of pure spirits; but it can show the fittingness of their existence. Cf. St. Thomas, I., q. 50, a. 1; C. Gentes, l. ii., c. 46.

IV. It is likewise an article of Faith that the Angels were created by God. They are not emanations from His Substance, or the result of any act of generation or formation, but were made out of nothing. All other modes of origin are inconsistent with the spiritual nature of God and of the Angels themselves. Nor can they be eternal or without origin, because this is the privilege of the Infinite. Cf. Ps. 148:2 sqq.; Col. 1:16; Matt. 22:30. However, inasmuch as the real reason why Angels are not procreated by generation is their immateriality, and inasmuch as this immateriality is an article of Faith, it follows that we are bound to believe that no Angel has been generated.

V. The Fourth Lateran and the Vatican Councils have defined that Angels were not created from all eternity, but that they had a beginning. “God … at the very beginning of time made out of nothing both kinds of creatures, spiritual and corporal, angelic and mundane” (sess. iii., C. I).

That the creation of the Angels was contemporaneous with the creation of the world, is not defined so clearly, and, therefore, is not a matter of Faith. The words “simul ab initio temporis,” according to St. Thomas (Opusc. xxiii.), admit of another interpretation, and the definition of the Lateran Council was directed against errors not bearing directly on the time of the creation of the Angels. The probabilities, however, point in the direction of a simultaneous creation: the universe being the realization of one vast plan for the glory of God, it might be expected that all its parts were created together.

VI. It is not easy to decide where the Angels were created. Although their spiritual substance requires no bodily (corporeal) room, still, considering that they are part and parcel of the universe, it is probable that they were created within the limits of the space in which the material world is contained. As they are not bound or tied to any place, it is vain to imagine where they dwell. When Scripture makes heaven their abode, this only implies that they are not tied to the earth, like man, but that the whole of the universe is open to them.


The attributes of the Angels, like the nature of their substance, are to be determined by a comparison with the attributes of God on the one hand, and with the attributes of man on the other. As creatures, the Angels partake of the imperfections of man; as pure spirits, they partake of the perfections of God.

I. The angelic substance is physically simple—that is, not composed of different parts; but it is not metaphysically simple, because it admits of potentiality and actuality, and also of accidents (§ 63). It is, moreover, essentially immutable or incorruptible; Angels cannot perish by dissolution of their substance, nor can any created cause destroy them. For this reason they are essentially immortal, not, indeed, that their destruction is in itself an impossibility, but because their substance and nature are such that, when once created, perpetual conservation is to them natural. As to accidental perfections, Angels can acquire and lose them. Observe, however, that the knowledge they once possess always remains, and that a loss of perfection can only consist in a deviation from goodness.

Angels differ from the human soul in this, that they neither are nor can be substantial forms informing a body. When they assume a body, their union with it is neither like that of soul and body, nor like the hypostatic union of the two natures in Christ. The assumed body is, as it were, only an outer garment, or an instrument for a transitory purpose. Cf. St. Thomas, I., q. 51; Suarez, 1. iv., 33 sqq.

II. As regards relation to space, Angels, having like God no extended parts, cannot occupy a place so that the different portions of space correspond with different portions of their substance, nor do they require a corporal space to live in, nor can any such space enclose them. On the other hand, they differ from God in this, that they can be present in only one place at a time, and thus can move from place to place. Their motion is, however, unlike that of man; probably it is as swift as thought, or even instantaneous.


I. The life of the Angels is purely intellectual, without any animal or vegetative functions, and therefore more like the Divine Life than the life of the human soul. The whole substance of an Angel is alive, whereas, in man, one part is life-giving and another life-receiving. The angelic life is inferior to the Divine in this, that the Angel’s life is not identical with its substance; and also in this, that it is susceptible of increase and decrease in perfection. So far all Theologians agree. But they differ very considerably as to how Angels live—that is, how and what they think and will. Leaving aside the abstruse speculations on this subject, we shall here only touch on the few points in which anything like certitude is attainable.

II. It is certain from Revelation that the natural intellect of Angels is essentially more perfect than the human, and essentially less perfect than the Divine Intellect. Thus Scripture makes the knowledge of Angels the measure of human knowledge, e.g. 2 Kings 14:20; and in Mark 13:32, Christ says that even the Angels—much less man—do not know the time of the last judgment The Fathers call the angels νόας, intelligentias,—that is, beings possessed of immediate intuitive knowledge; but man they call λογικός, rationalis—that is, a being whose knowledge is for the most part inferential: whence the superiority of angelic knowledge is manifest. Compared to the Divine Knowledge, the imperfection of the angelic, according to Scripture and the Fathers, consists in this, that the Angels cannot naturally see God as He is, by immediate, direct vision; that they cannot penetrate the secrets either of the Divine decrees, or of the hearts of man, or of each other; much less do they know future free actions. Cf. §§ 69 and 80.

III. As to the will of the Angels, we can only gather from Revelation that it naturally possesses the perfection of the human will, but at the same time also shares to some extent in the imperfections of the latter. The angelic will is free as to the choice of its acts, and is able to perform moral actions and to enjoy true happiness. But it is not, by virtue of its nature, directed to what is morally good; its choice may fall on evil. This much can be gathered from what is revealed on the fall of the Angels.

IV. It is evident that the Angels are able to perform all the actions of man, except those which are peculiar to man on account of his composite nature. Revelation, moreover, introduces Angels acting in various ways: they speak, exhort, enlighten, protect, move, and so forth. It is also beyond doubt that the power of Angels is superior to that of man, both as regards influence on material things, and on man himself. As to the mode of action, we know but little with certainty. The Angel acts by means of his will, like God; but he neither creates out of nothing, nor generates like man. The only immediate effect an Angel can produce by an act of his will, is to move bodies or forces so as to bring them into contact or separate them, and thus to influence their action. Bodies are moved from place to place locally; spirits or minds are only moved “intentionally;” that is, the Angel who wishes to act upon our souls or upon other spirits, puts an object before them and directs their attention towards it. The power of Angels over matter exceeds that of man as regards the greater masses they are able to move and the velocity and exactness or appropriateness of the motion. These advantages enable them to produce effects supernatural in appearance, although entirely owing to a higher knowledge of the laws of nature and to superior force. As this power belongs to the angelic nature it is common to both good and bad Angels.

Angelic speech would seem to consist simply in this, that the speaker allows the listener to read so much of his thoughts as he wishes to communicate. Hence Angels can converse at any distance; the listener sees the thought of the speaker, and thus all possibility of error or deception is excluded.

V. Angels have over the body of man the same power as over other material bodies. Over the human mind, however, their power is circumscribed within narrow limits. They cannot speak to man as they speak to each other, because the mind of man is unable to grasp things purely spiritual. But, by their power over matter, they can exercise a great influence on the lower life of the soul, and thus indirectly on its intellectual life also. They can propose various objects to the senses, and also move the sense-organs internally; they can act on the imagination, and feed it with various fancies; and lastly, as the intellect takes its ideas from the imagination, Angels are enabled to guide and direct the noblest faculty of man either for better or for worse.


I. We are certain, from Revelation, that the number of Angels is exceedingly great, forming an army worthy of the greatness of God. This army of the King of heaven is mention in Deut. 30:2 (cf. Ps. 67:18); then in the vision of Daniel (7:10), and in many other places.

II. If the Angels can be numbered, there must exist between them at least personal differences; that is to say, each angel has his own personality. But whether they are all of the same kind, like man, or constitute several kinds, or are each of a different kind or species, is a question upon which Theologians differ.

III. The Fathers have divided the Angels into nine Orders or Choirs, the names of which are taken from Scripture. They are: Seraphim, Cherubim, Thrones, Dominations (κυριότητες), Virtues (δυνάμεις), Powers (ἐξουσίαι), Principalities (ἀρχαί), Archangels and Angels. The first two and the last two orders are often named in Holy Writ; the five others are taken from Ephes. 1:21 and Col. 1:16. It seems clear enough, especially if we take into account the all but unanimous testimony of the Fathers, that these names designate various Orders of Angels; whence it follows that there are at least nine such Orders—not, however, that there are only nine. Considering, however, that for the last thirteen centuries the number nine has been accepted as the exact number of angelical Choirs, we are justified in accepting it as correct.

It is impossible to determine the differences between the several Orders of Angels with anything like precision. The three highest Orders bear names which seem to point to constant relations with God, as if these Angels formed especially the heavenly court; the three lowest express relations to man; the three middle ones only point to might and power generally.

The fallen angels probably retain the same distinctions as the good ones, because these distinctions are, in all likelihood, founded upon differences in natural perfections. Scripture speaks of “the prince of demons” (Matt. 12:24), and applies some of the names of angelic Orders to bad angels (Eph. 6:12).

On the supernatural life of the Angels, see infra, § 153.




THE things of this world come within the domain of Theology only in as far as they are the work of God, and have relations with Him and with man. The general truths bearing on this matter may be found out even by natural reason; but they have also been revealed to us, and have thus become the subject-matter of Theology. But Theology is concerned with the natural truths in question only in as far as they have a religious significance—that is, in as far as they express the relations of natural things to God or to man as their end and object. The general truths revealed, especially in Genesis, refer to the origin, the nature, and the end or final object of the material world.

I. The Material world owes its existence to a creative act of God; the several species of things, their differences, their position and functions in the universe, are, upon the whole, the direct work of God, Who has made them according to a well-defined plan. Neither the angels nor mere natural evolution made the world what it is. Organic beings, which now propagate themselves by means of generation, owe their existence neither to spontaneous generation nor to unconscious evolution of inorganic matter and forces; each species has been created to represent a Divine exemplar, and has received the power to perpetuate itself by producing individuals of the same species. This doctrine is most expressly contained in the narrative of creation in Genesis.

II. The material beings composing the universe are good in substance and nature, and are perfectly adapted to the ends for which they were created. This is the Catholic dogma opposed to Manichæism, which held the things of the material world to be not only imperfect, but even bad. On this point the words of Genesis are plain enough: “God saw all things that He had made, and they were very good” (1:31).

III. The end or object of material beings is the glory of God and the service of man. Man is in no wise the servant of the inferior world; his will is not deprived of freedom and ruled by the laws of nature.

That God created the world, made it good, and made it for the service of man, is contained in the narrative of the origin of the world in the Book of Genesis. But the Church has never defined, and consequently has left open to discussion, how far the Mosaic narrative, besides these three points, is of a doctrinal character, and how far it is simply rhetorical or poetical. The scope of the present work forbids us to enter into a detailed discussion of this subject. In the following section we shall state briefly what appears to us to be the better opinion.


I. The work of the six days, the Hexahemeron, lies between the creation of the chaos, or first creation, and the commencement of the regular government of the world by God. It is the work of formation, or second creation described as “the making of the world out of formless matter” (κτίζειν τὸν κόσμον ἐξ ὑλῆς ἀμόρφου, Wisd. 11:18), and alluded to by St. Paul: “By faith we understand that the world was framed by the word of God: that from invisible things visible things might be made” (πίστει νοοῦμεν κατηρτίσθαι τοὺς αἰῶνας ῥήματι Θεου, εἰς τὸ μὴ ἐν φαινομένων τὸ βλεπόμενον γεγονέναι, Heb. 11:3). In this sense the Hexahemeron is properly a “Cosmogony,” in the ancient meaning of the word, viz. the history of the formation and ornamentation of this visible universe, of which the earth is the centre and man the king. It is not a cosmogony in the modern sense, because it does not deal with the formation and ornamentation of other worlds than ours; nor a Geogony, because it deals only with the external aspect of the earth.

II. The object of the Mosaic narrative being to represent the Cosmos as a Divine work of art,—made not with hands, but by the Word of God, Who is the expression and image of the Divine Power and Wisdom,—we must expect to find the particular productions represented as parts devised for the perfection of the whole work. And, in fact, in the order observed by Moses, the work of each day appears as part of a magnificent picture in which all the things of this visible world find their place. The first half of the narrative describes the formation and placing of the chief components of the Cosmos, which lay latent in the fluid chaotic mass. They are disposed in concentric spheres, beginning with the outermost: light, the atmosphere, and the solid earth. Then follows, in the second half, the adorning and filling in of this framework: the heavenly bodies shed their light on it; living things appear, beginning with the lowest and closing with man. The production of plants forms the transition between the work of formation and the work of ornamentation. The division of the six days’ work into the work of separation during the first three days, and the work of ornamentation during the three last days, has been in favour since the Middle Ages.

The general plan of the Cosmos centres in the idea that the world is a dwelling-place for man. The Divine Architect first produces the raw material in an obscure and formless mass; He afterwards creates light, and spans the roof of the house, and gives it a solid floor; here He places the vegetable kingdom as an ornament and as a storehouse for the food of living creatures; then an inexhaustible supply of light is shed abroad; next come the beings destined for the service of man, having their abode in the waters and in the air; and lastly, the animals which dwell in the same house as man himself. The beauty of a work of art combined with the usefulness of a dwelling-place—such is the character of the Cosmos.

III. The narrative is a genetic explanation of the work of creation—that is, an enumeration of its parts in the order in which they necessarily or naturally succeeded one another. Whether we consider the work of the six days as six separate creations or as six tableaux of one instantaneous creative act, the order of nature must be observed. If God made things successively, He could not make them otherwise than in the order which their nature requires; if He made them in one moment of time, the Sacred Writer had no other foundation for a successive narrative than this same order of nature. The more we study the separate parts of the Divine work, the better we see how they fit into each other, and how exactly the narrative gives to each the place it holds in nature.

IV. The best Catholic authorities on the present question are so persuaded that the intention of the writer of Genesis was to give a genetic account of the architectonic order of the world, that they deem it admissible that the whole act of creation occupied only one instant of time, and that the division of it into six days is but a way of presenting to the reader “the order according to the connection of causes” rather than the order “according to the intervals of time” (St. Aug., De Gen. ad Lit., 1. v.). Such is the opinion of St. Augustine, and St. Thomas thinks it highly probable (I., q. 66, a. 1). Without examining what may be said for or against it, we may notice that St. Augustine has, until lately, found few followers. See Reusch, The Bible and Nature; Bp. Clifford, Dublin Review, April, 1883; Dr. Molloy, Geology and Revelation; Zahm, Bible, Science, and Faith, chap. iv.

V. It is quite possible and even probable that the Mosaic narrative is of a highly poetical character. In language simple and true, it puts before the reader a vivid and sublime picture of the artistic work of the Creator. Then according to Heb. 11:3, its aim is to show how the component parts of the cosmos were brought by the Creator from darkness to light, i.e. made visible. This poetical conception finds expression in the “evening and morning” of which the days are composed. The Hebrew words for evening and morning are etymologically equivalent to confusio and apertio. At the very beginning of the narrative the opposition between darkness and light appears, and seems to point out that in all other works the same idea is adhered to. Again, the writer’s intention of making the Creation week the model of the human week may have led him to give to the periods of the former the same number and name as those borne by the periods of the latter. Lastly, it is possible that the writer received his inspiration by means of a prophetic vision, in which the several phases of Creation were pictured before his mind. If so, his narrative would naturally be of a poetical character: the divisions he adopts and the name of days which he applies to them may be no more than a means of conveying to the reader the number and splendour of the visions of his mind. These and similar considerations, quite independently of natural science, have induced the theologians of all times to allow a very free interpretation of the six days’ duration. See Dublin Review, April, 1883.

VI. Natural Science has also undertaken to give an account of the origin of things. The interest which Theology takes in this natural history of Creation is purely apologetic, and consequently does not come within our province.

Elaborate attempts have been made to reconcile the two accounts. Veith and Bosizio held that the six days were days of twenty-four hours; the destructions of flora and fauna, the remains of which are now found in the crust of the earth, are placed by them in the times between Adam and the Flood. Buckland, Wiseman, Westermaier, Vosen, and Molloy admit the destruction of a world before the Hexahemeron. Others, as Pianciani, Hettinger, Holzammer, and Reusch, place the catastrophes within the six days of creation, but take the “days” to be long periods. Reusch, however, in the third edition of his work, acknowledges the impossibility of thus establishing a harmony between natural and supernatural cosmogony, because natural science admits the simultaneous origin of plants and animals, and their continued simultaneous existence. Bishop Clifford and other Catholic writers cut the knot by considering the so-called Mosaic cosmogony, not as a narrative, but as a hymn in which various portions of creation are commemorated on the days of the week. See the Dublin Review, l.c. On this question, see also Proteus and Amadeus, letter viii.

It is best, however, to state frankly that it is not the object of Revelation to teach natural science. In the words of St. Augustine (quoted by Leo XIII., in the Encyc. Providentissimus Deus), “The Holy Ghost, speaking through the Sacred Writers, did not wish to teach men matters which in no way concerned their salvation” (De Gen. ad Litt., II. ix. 20). St. Jerome, too, declares that many things are related in Scripture according to the opinions prevalent at the time, and not according to actual fact (In Jerem. Proph. xxviii.). And St. Thomas distinctly states that Moses suited his narrative to the capacity of his readers, and therefore followed what seemed to be true (I q. 70, a. I). See supra, p. 56. Lagrange, Historical Criticism and the Old Testament, 3 Lect.



THE commentaries of the Fathers on the Hexahemeron, especially St. Ambrose and St. Gregory of Nyssa. St. Aug., De Gen. ad Lit., op. perf., 1. vi. sqq., and in his writings against the Manichæans, esp. De Duabus Animabus Petr. Lomb., 2 Sent., dist. 16 sqq., with comm. of St. Bonav., Ægidius, and Estius; William of Paris, De Anima; St. Thom., I., qq. 75–93; Cont. Gent., l. ii. 56 sqq. Suarez, De Opif., l. iii. sqq., and De Anima; Benedict Pereyra, in Genesim, l. iv. sqq.; Kleutgen, Philos., diss. viii.

The theological doctrine on Man may be treated under three heads:—

A.—Man as the image and likeness of God.

B.—The origin and substantial character of man’s nature.

C.—The characteristics of man’s life.


I. The change of phrase from “Let there be” to “Let Us make,” when God is about to create man, and the description of man as the image of the Creator, give to this last and crowning creation a special solemnity. The notion of man as the image of God is the perfect theological idea of man. God Himself looks upon man, not like philosophers, as an animal endowed with reason, but as His own likeness. This idea exhibits man’s essence and destiny in direct relation to God. It affords a basis for a deeper conception of human nature in itself, and also as regards its natural and supernatural evolution and final perfection in short, it describes the ideal man, as realized by Divine institution in Adam.

The text (Gen. 1:26) is so full of meaning that many explanations of it are given by the Fathers and by Theologians, each seeming to view the text under a different aspect and to find in it a new meaning. The text runs: “Let Us make man to Our image (בְצַלְמֵני) and likeness (בִדְמוּתֵניSept. κατʼ εἰκόνα καὶ καθʼ ὁμοίωσιν): and let him have dominion over the fishes of the sea, and over the fowls of the air, and the beasts, and the whole earth, and over every creeping creature that moveth upon the earth. And God created man to His own image, and to the image of God created He him; male and female created He them.”

The Hebrew Zelem is, like our word image, something concrete, originally meaning a shadow; it is also used to designate the idols of false divinities. Demuth, on the contrary, is something abstract, well-rendered by ὁμοίωσις in the Septuagint—a similitude or likeness. The conjunction of the terms “image” and “likeness” is found nowhere else in Holy Scripture, except Gen. 5:3. Wherever the same idea is expressed in other passages, only one of the two terms is employed—a clear proof that they are considered as synonymous by the sacred writers. “God created man to His own image, to the image of God (Elohim) created He him” (Gen. 1:27). “God created man; He made him to the likeness of God (B’Demuth) (Gen. 5:1). “Whoso sheddeth man’s blood, his blood shall be shed: for man was made to the image of God” (Gen. 9:6). The Hebrew text evidently shows that man is the image of God, and not merely has this image in him.

II. From this we are enabled to determine the precise sense of the text in the following manner:—

1. It is evident that the expression “image and likeness of God” signifies a distinct perfection belonging to the nature of man, or rather constituting man’s specific essence as distinguished from all other visible beings, and therefore not capable of being lost by sin. Indeed, man is described in the same terms before and after his fall, The literal sense of the text contains no more than this. It must, however, be granted that, in their fullest meaning, the words “image” and “likeness,” especially the latter, also refer to the supernatural likeness of man to God. Those Fathers who expound the “likeness” in the sense of a supernatural similitude to God, speak from the standpoint of the New Testament. The first readers of Genesis, for whom the book was primarily written, certainly were unable to detect in it any but the natural and literal sense given above.

2. The expression, “to make to the image,” may also be understood of a destination of man to become similar to God either by following the good inclinations of his nature or by yielding to a supernatural influence. But such is not the literal and proper sense; the text declares what man is, not what he ought to become. His higher destiny is a necessary consequence of his being an image of God. His power to attain his natural destination—that is, his aptitude to lead a moral life—is part of the nature which God has created in him; and, inasmuch as it is neither acquired nor freely accepted, it is not lost by sin, but remains as long as human nature itself. Sin, however, may suspend or impair man’s moral faculty.

3. Although man is really the image of God, and not merely destined to become such, still he is an image only in a relative and analogical sense. The Son of God alone is God’s absolute and perfect Image; and also the Ideal, or Exemplar, after which man is made (Heb. 1:3; 2 Cor. 4:4).

The words of Gen. 1:26, give a definition of man as a whole; for they apply to the compound of body and soul afterwards described, Gen. 2:7: “And the Lord God formed man of the slime of the earth, and breathed into his face the breath of life; and man became a living soul.” Thus, by his body, which is the organ and temple of the soul, man is an image, a shadow (Zelem, simulacrum) of God; by his spiritual soul he bears a real likeness to Him; and as animated body, he is the living image and likeness, or the living effigy of the living God. As visible and living image of God, man is the crown of visible creation (the Cosmos of the Cosmos, Const. Apost., vii. 3, 4; viii. 7), and, as such, even animals must revere and fear him.

III. The ante-Nicene Fathers considered man’s body as the image of God. In the fourth century, however, when anthropomorphic heresies arose, the custom prevailed of insisting almost exclusively on the likeness which the soul bears to God. The reasons for this change are obvious. The body is the image of God only in as far as it is informed, animated, and worked by the soul; besides, there was danger of conceiving the Ideal after whose likeness man is made, as being itself a body. Again, in the Arian controversies, the terms εἰκών and imago, as applied to the Son of God, the Image of the Father, had received a fixed meaning, viz. a likeness such as exists only between the Persons of the Trinity.


I. The definition of man given in Genesis shows better than any other the excellence and dignity of his essence, position, and destiny among and above the rest of creation.

1. The image of God is seen in man from the fact that man is able and is destined to rule the whole visible world and to turn it to his service. His dominion is an imitation of Divine Providence, with the limitations that necessarily distinguish the rule of a creature from that of the Creator (Ps. 8) This attribute of regal dignity and dominion essentially implies Personality in man. None but a personal being can be the end of other beings, can possess itself, enjoy happiness, and use other things for its own ends. The excellence of personality is founded upon intellect and will. For this reason, the Fathers find the likeness of man to God expressed most vividly in these two faculties. Holy Scripture itself points out in several places the dignity which accrues to man from his being the image of God (cf. Gen. 9:6 and James 3:9).

2. The human soul bears a further likeness to God in the spirituality of its substance; and this is the principal point of similarity, from which all others spring. The soul is created a spirit in order to be like to God; its spirituality implies incorruptibility and immortality, by which it is placed above all things material and perishable, and partakes of the Divine immutability and eternity (see Wisd. 2:23). The same attribute is the reason why the soul cannot be procreated by generation, but is the direct product of an act of creation. Hence the Apostle said, “Being, then, the offspring of God” (Acts 17:29)—to point out the substantial likeness of the soul to God.

3. Lastly, the intellectual life of man has the same contents (= subject-matter), the same direction, and the same final object as the life of God Himself. In fact, the soul is enabled and destined to know and to love God Himself, and so to apprehend its Divine prototype and to be united with Him. “Man is after God’s image,” says St. Augustine (De Trin., xiv. 8), “by the very fact that he is capable of God and can be a partaker of Him.” As the soul receives immediately from God its being and life, so also it has in God alone its direct final object and its rule of life; that is to say, no fruition except the fruition of God can fill the soul; no one but God can claim the possession of the human soul; no will, except the will of God, can bind the free will of the soul.

II. A comparison of man with the Angels as to the perfection of representing the image and likeness of God, shows that, in several respects, man is a more perfect likeness of his Maker than even the Angels. The latter, of course, represent the Divine Substance and the Divine intellectual life in greater perfection; but man has several points in his favour.

1. Just as God, intrinsically present in all things, gives being and activity to all things by a continuous act of creation, so does the soul of man, intrinsically present in his body, hold together and develop its organization, and generate new human organisms, thus possessing a plastic activity not given to the Angels.

2. As the All-present Creator breathes life into His creatures, the human soul communicates life to the vegetative and animal organs of the body, and disposes the new organisms for the reception of life; a privilege also denied to the Angels.

3. The beauty of the world manifests the beauty and grandeur of God: so the noble form and beauty of the human body reproduce and manifest the beauty of the soul The works of the Angels, on the contrary, are only works of art: they are not their own in the same way as the body is the soul’s own, and they bear no intrinsic relation to the internal beauty of their authors.

4. The Divine Concurrence, in virtue of which God is the Author of all that is done by His creatures, and especially of their moral actions, is imaged in the concursus or co-operation of the soul with the body: most actions of the body are so intimately bound up with those of the soul that they form but one action attributable to the soul. Angels, on the contrary, have but the power to move bodies from without as something distinct from themselves.

5. Lastly, as God is the final object of all that is, so the soul of man is the final object of man’s body: the body exists entirely for the soul, and has no dignity or worth except in as far as it is subservient to the soul. But the human body is the highest and most perfect organism of the material world, a microcosm, containing in itself a compendium of all other organisms: hence the whole material world, in and through the human body, bears a relation to the human soul, and through the medium of the human soul is, as it were, consecrated and brought into relation with God. Thus the spirit of man is not only the king, but also the priest of the world. The relation of the material world to the Angels is merely external; they have no other point in common than that they are created by, and for the glory of, the same God.

Man is, therefore, more than the Angels, the image and likeness of God. To man alone this title is given purely and simply in Holy Writ. In the later books of the Old Testament (Wisd. 7:26), and in the New Testament, Christ, as the Son of God, is also called the Image of God (2 Cor. 4:4), in order to place Him in dignity above all creatures whatever, just as the same title places man above all visible creatures. The Son of God, however, is the Image of the Father in a deeper sense than man: the Son is an absolute, man a relative, likeness. Notwithstanding this essential difference, the external image, man, corresponds so perfectly with the internal image, the Word, that man is, as it were, a reproduction of the Word. In the Incarnation the Internal Image entered the external and the external image was drawn into the Internal by hypostatic union, thus achieving the most astonishing of Divine Works.


From what has been said, it is clear that man is the image of God by reason of his peculiar nature. Holy Scripture suggests two further questions on this subject, viz. Are man and woman in the same degree the image of God? Is the distinction of Persons in God reproduced in His created Image?

I. As to the first question, it is evident that both man and woman are the image of God in as far as both possess the same human nature. The text Gen. 1:27, affirms this explicitly; and in Gen. 2:18–20, the woman is distinguished from the animals as being a help like unto or meet for man—that is, of the same nature.

It is, nevertheless, true that of man alone Scripture says, directly and formally, that he is made to the likeness of God. Hence St. Paul teaches: “The man indeed ought not to cover his head, because he is the image and glory of God; but the woman is the glory of the man. For the man is not of the woman, but the woman of the man. For the man was not created for the woman, but the woman for the man” (1 Cor. 11:7–9). Woman, then, having received human nature only mediately through man, and to be a helpmate to man, is not an image of God in the same full sense as man. Woman, considered as wife—that is, in a position of subjection and dependence,—is in no wise an image of God, but rather a type of the relation which the creature bears to the Creator and Lord.

II. The question whether the Trinity is copied in man originates from the text Gen. 1:26: “Let Us make man to Our image,” which is commonly understood as having been spoken between the Three Divine Persons. This form of speech certainly does not exclude a likeness of man to the one nature of God, for it admits the sense, “Let Us make man to Our image by giving him a nature like unto Our own.” As a matter of fact, Scripture adds directly, “In the image of God created He them.” The post-Nicene Fathers have found no other sense in this text; on the contrary, from the fact that one man is the copy of a nature common to three persons, they conclude the unity of substance and nature in God. But does the human image of the Divine Nature bear also a likeness to the Trinity? As the Divine Persons are not distinct substances but only distinct relations, they can be represented only by some analogous relation in man. The text of Genesis is silent on the existence of such relations. If, however, on theological grounds we can show that they do exist, it is safe to say that, in the intention of God, the text Gen. 1:26, 27, has this meaning. Man’s likeness to the Trinity cannot be of such perfection that a single human nature is common to three distinct persons. On the other hand, the three so-called faculties of the soul—memory, understanding, and will—do not present a sufficient likeness, because the three corresponding attributes in God are not each of them peculiar to a Person, but are merely appropriated. The likeness must be found in some productions of human nature. Now, here man offers a twofold similarity to the Trinity. First, in common with the Angels, his mind produces acts of knowledge and love which, especially when they are concerned with God, represent the origins and relations of the Divine Persons as to their spiritual and immanent, but not as to their hypostatic, character. Secondly, the production of sons by generation, and the production of the first woman out of the side of man, afford a likeness to the origins and relationships in the Trinity, as considered in their hypostatic character. In other words, man’s mental acts show forth the identity of Nature in the Trinity, while his generative act shows forth the distinction of Persons. This twofold likeness to the Trinity once more shows man in the centre of creation as the complete image of God.


The words of Gen. 2:7, in which the creation of the first man is described, contain the essential constitution of human nature: “And the Lord God formed man from the slime of the earth, and breathed into his face the breath of life, and man became a living soul.” Man is composed of a body taken from the earth, and of a spiritual soul breathed into the body by God. The body is made for the soul and the soul for the animation of the body: from the union of both results a living nature, akin alike to the living things on earth and to the living God.

I. As to the body of man, the Church, basing her doctrine on its revealed origin, teaches that it is composed of earthy or material elements; that its organization as a human body is not the result of either chance or the combined action of physical forces, but is formed after a clearly defined Divine Idea,