QUESTION 27: THE PROCESSION OF THE DIVINE PERSONS
Having considered what belongs to the unity of the divine essence, it
remains to treat of what belongs to the Trinity of the persons in God.
And because the divine Persons are distinguished from each other
according to the relations of origin, the order of the doctrine leads us
to consider firstly, the question of origin or procession; secondly, the
relations of origin; thirdly, the persons.
Concerning procession there are five points of inquiry:
(1) Whether there is procession in God?
(2) Whether any procession in God can be called generation?
(3) Whether there can be any other procession in God besides generation.
(4) Whether that other procession can be called generation?
(5) Whether there are more than two processions in God?
Article 1: Whether there is procession in God?
Objection 1: It would seem that there cannot be any procession in God. For
procession signifies outward movement. But in God there is nothing
mobile, nor anything extraneous. Therefore neither is there procession in
Objection 2: Further, everything which proceeds differs from that whence it
proceeds. But in God there is no diversity; but supreme simplicity.
Therefore in God there is no procession.
Objection 3: Further, to proceed from another seems to be against the nature
of the first principle. But God is the first principle, as shown above
(Question , Article ). Therefore in God there is no procession.
On the contrary, Our Lord says, "From God I proceeded" (Jn. 8:42).
I answer that, Divine Scripture uses, in relation to God, names which
signify procession. This procession has been differently understood. Some
have understood it in the sense of an effect, proceeding from its cause;
so Arius took it, saying that the Son proceeds from the Father as His
primary creature, and that the Holy Ghost proceeds from the Father and
the Son as the creature of both. In this sense neither the Son nor the
Holy Ghost would be true God: and this is contrary to what is said of the
Son, "That . . . we may be in His true Son. This is true God" (1 Jn. 5:20). Of the Holy Ghost it is also said, "Know you not that your members
are the temple of the Holy Ghost?" (1 Cor. 6:19). Now, to have a temple
is God's prerogative. Others take this procession to mean the cause
proceeding to the effect, as moving it, or impressing its own likeness on
it; in which sense it was understood by Sabellius, who said that God the
Father is called Son in assuming flesh from the Virgin, and that the
Father also is called Holy Ghost in sanctifying the rational creature,
and moving it to life. The words of the Lord contradict such a meaning,
when He speaks of Himself, "The Son cannot of Himself do anything" (Jn. 5:19); while many other passages show the same, whereby we know that the
Father is not the Son. Careful examination shows that both of these
opinions take procession as meaning an outward act; hence neither of them
affirms procession as existing in God Himself; whereas, since procession
always supposes action, and as there is an outward procession
corresponding to the act tending to external matter, so there must be an
inward procession corresponding to the act remaining within the agent.
This applies most conspicuously to the intellect, the action of which
remains in the intelligent agent. For whenever we understand, by the very
fact of understanding there proceeds something within us, which is a
conception of the object understood, a conception issuing from our
intellectual power and proceeding from our knowledge of that object. This
conception is signified by the spoken word; and it is called the word of
the heart signified by the word of the voice.
As God is above all things, we should understand what is said of God,
not according to the mode of the lowest creatures, namely bodies, but
from the similitude of the highest creatures, the intellectual
substances; while even the similitudes derived from these fall short in
the representation of divine objects. Procession, therefore, is not to be
understood from what it is in bodies, either according to local movement
or by way of a cause proceeding forth to its exterior effect, as, for
instance, like heat from the agent to the thing made hot. Rather it is to
be understood by way of an intelligible emanation, for example, of the
intelligible word which proceeds from the speaker, yet remains in him. In
that sense the Catholic Faith understands procession as existing in God.
Reply to Objection 1: This objection comes from the idea of procession in the
sense of local motion, or of an action tending to external matter, or to
an exterior effect; which kind of procession does not exist in God, as we
Reply to Objection 2: Whatever proceeds by way of outward procession is
necessarily distinct from the source whence it proceeds, whereas,
whatever proceeds within by an intelligible procession is not necessarily
distinct; indeed, the more perfectly it proceeds, the more closely it is
one with the source whence it proceeds. For it is clear that the more a
thing is understood, the more closely is the intellectual conception
joined and united to the intelligent agent; since the intellect by the
very act of understanding is made one with the object understood. Thus,
as the divine intelligence is the very supreme perfection of God (Question , Article ), the divine Word is of necessity perfectly one with the source
whence He proceeds, without any kind of diversity.
Reply to Objection 3: To proceed from a principle, so as to be something outside
and distinct from that principle, is irreconcilable with the idea of a
first principle; whereas an intimate and uniform procession by way of an
intelligible act is included in the idea of a first principle. For when
we call the builder the principle of the house, in the idea of such a
principle is included that of his art; and it would be included in the
idea of the first principle were the builder the first principle of the
house. God, Who is the first principle of all things, may be compared to
things created as the architect is to things designed.
Article 2: Whether any procession in God can be called generation?
Objection 1: It would seem that no procession in God can be called generation.
For generation is change from non-existence to existence, and is opposed
to corruption; while matter is the subject of both. Nothing of all this
belongs to God. Therefore generation cannot exist in God.
Objection 2: Further, procession exists in God, according to an intelligible
mode, as above explained (Article ). But such a process is not called
generation in us; therefore neither is it to be so called in God.
Objection 3: Further, anything that is generated derives existence from its
generator. Therefore such existence is a derived existence. But no
derived existence can be a self-subsistence. Therefore, since the divine
existence is self-subsisting (Question , Article ), it follows that no generated
existence can be the divine existence. Therefore there is no generation
On the contrary, It is said (Ps. 2:7): "This day have I begotten Thee."
I answer that, The procession of the Word in God is called generation.
In proof whereof we must observe that generation has a twofold meaning:
one common to everything subject to generation and corruption; in which
sense generation is nothing but change from non-existence to existence.
In another sense it is proper and belongs to living things; in which
sense it signifies the origin of a living being from a conjoined living
principle; and this is properly called birth. Not everything of that
kind, however, is called begotten; but, strictly speaking, only what
proceeds by way of similitude. Hence a hair has not the aspect of
generation and sonship, but only that has which proceeds by way of a
similitude. Nor will any likeness suffice; for a worm which is generated
from animals has not the aspect of generation and sonship, although it
has a generic similitude; for this kind of generation requires that there
should be a procession by way of similitude in the same specific nature;
as a man proceeds from a man, and a horse from a horse. So in living
things, which proceed from potential to actual life, such as men and
animals, generation includes both these kinds of generation. But if there
is a being whose life does not proceed from potentiality to act,
procession (if found in such a being) excludes entirely the first kind of
generation; whereas it may have that kind of generation which belongs to
living things. So in this manner the procession of the Word in God is
generation; for He proceeds by way of intelligible action, which is a
vital operation:---from a conjoined principle (as above described):---by
way of similitude, inasmuch as the concept of the intellect is a likeness
of the object conceived:---and exists in the same nature, because in God
the act of understanding and His existence are the same, as shown above
(Question , Article ). Hence the procession of the Word in God is called
generation; and the Word Himself proceeding is called the Son.
Reply to Objection 1: This objection is based on the idea of generation in the
first sense, importing the issuing forth from potentiality to act; in
which sense it is not found in God.
Reply to Objection 2: The act of human understanding in ourselves is not the
substance itself of the intellect; hence the word which proceeds within
us by intelligible operation is not of the same nature as the source
whence it proceeds; so the idea of generation cannot be properly and
fully applied to it. But the divine act of intelligence is the very
substance itself of the one who understands (Question , Article ). The Word
proceeding therefore proceeds as subsisting in the same nature; and so is
properly called begotten, and Son. Hence Scripture employs terms which
denote generation of living things in order to signify the procession of
the divine Wisdom, namely, conception and birth; as is declared in the
person of the divine Wisdom, "The depths were not as yet, and I was
already conceived; before the hills, I was brought forth." (Prov. 8:24).
In our way of understanding we use the word "conception" in order to
signify that in the word of our intellect is found the likeness of the
thing understood, although there be no identity of nature.
Reply to Objection 3: Not everything derived from another has existence in
another subject; otherwise we could not say that the whole substance of
created being comes from God, since there is no subject that could
receive the whole substance. So, then, what is generated in God receives
its existence from the generator, not as though that existence were
received into matter or into a subject (which would conflict with the
divine self-subsistence); but when we speak of His existence as received,
we mean that He Who proceeds receives divine existence from another; not,
however, as if He were other from the divine nature. For in the
perfection itself of the divine existence are contained both the Word
intelligibly proceeding and the principle of the Word, with whatever
belongs to His perfection (Question , Article ).
Article 3: Whether any other procession exists in God besides that of the Word?
Objection 1: It would seem that no other procession exists in God besides the
generation of the Word. Because, for whatever reason we admit another
procession, we should be led to admit yet another, and so on to
infinitude; which cannot be. Therefore we must stop at the first, and
hold that there exists only one procession in God.
Objection 2: Further, every nature possesses but one mode of self-communication; because operations derive unity and diversity from their terms. But procession in God is only by way of communication of the divine nature. Therefore, as there is only one divine nature (Question , Article ), it follows that only one procession exists in God.
Objection 3: Further, if any other procession but the intelligible procession
of the Word existed in God, it could only be the procession of love,
which is by the operation of the will. But such a procession is
identified with the intelligible procession of the intellect, inasmuch as
the will in God is the same as His intellect (Question , Article ). Therefore in
God there is no other procession but the procession of the Word.
On the contrary, The Holy Ghost proceeds from the Father (Jn. 15:26);
and He is distinct from the Son, according to the words, "I will ask My
Father, and He will give you another Paraclete" (Jn. 14:16). Therefore in
God another procession exists besides the procession of the Word.
I answer that, There are two processions in God; the procession of the
Word, and another.
In evidence whereof we must observe that procession exists in God, only
according to an action which does not tend to anything external, but
remains in the agent itself. Such an action in an intellectual nature is
that of the intellect, and of the will. The procession of the Word is by
way of an intelligible operation. The operation of the will within
ourselves involves also another procession, that of love, whereby the
object loved is in the lover; as, by the conception of the word, the
object spoken of or understood is in the intelligent agent. Hence,
besides the procession of the Word in God, there exists in Him another
procession called the procession of love.
Reply to Objection 1: There is no need to go on to infinitude in the divine
processions; for the procession which is accomplished within the agent in
an intellectual nature terminates in the procession of the will.
Reply to Objection 2: All that exists in God, is God (Question , Articles ,4); whereas the
same does not apply to others. Therefore the divine nature is
communicated by every procession which is not outward, and this does not
apply to other natures.
Reply to Objection 3: Though will and intellect are not diverse in God,
nevertheless the nature of will and intellect requires the processions
belonging to each of them to exist in a certain order. For the procession
of love occurs in due order as regards the procession of the Word; since
nothing can be loved by the will unless it is conceived in the intellect.
So as there exists a certain order of the Word to the principle whence He
proceeds, although in God the substance of the intellect and its concept
are the same; so, although in God the will and the intellect are the
same, still, inasmuch as love requires by its very nature that it proceed
only from the concept of the intellect, there is a distinction of order
between the procession of love and the procession of the Word in God.
Article 4: Whether the procession of love in God is generation?
Objection 1: It would seem that the procession of love in God is generation.
For what proceeds by way of likeness of nature among living things is
said to be generated and born. But what proceeds in God by way of love
proceeds in the likeness of nature; otherwise it would be extraneous to
the divine nature, and would be an external procession. Therefore what
proceeds in God by way of love, proceeds as generated and born.
Objection 2: Further, as similitude is of the nature of the word, so does it
belong to love. Hence it is said, that "every beast loves its like"
(Ecclus. 13:19). Therefore if the Word is begotten and born by way of
likeness, it seems becoming that love should proceed by way of generation.
Objection 3: Further, what is not in any species is not in the genus. So if
there is a procession of love in God, there ought to be some special name
besides this common name of procession. But no other name is applicable
but generation. Therefore the procession of love in God is generation.
On the contrary, Were this true, it would follow that the Holy Ghost Who
proceeds as love, would proceed as begotten; which is against the
statement of Athanasius: "The Holy Ghost is from the Father and the Son,
not made, nor begotten, but proceeding."
I answer that, The procession of love in God ought not to be called
generation. In evidence whereof we must consider that the intellect and
the will differ in this respect, that the intellect is made actual by the
object understood residing according to its own likeness in the
intellect; whereas the will is made actual, not by any similitude of the
object willed within it, but by its having a certain inclination to the
thing willed. Thus the procession of the intellect is by way of
similitude, and is called generation, because every generator begets its
own like; whereas the procession of the will is not by way of similitude,
but rather by way of impulse and movement towards an object.
So what proceeds in God by way of love, does not proceed as begotten, or
as son, but proceeds rather as spirit; which name expresses a certain
vital movement and impulse, accordingly as anyone is described as moved
or impelled by love to perform an action.
Reply to Objection 1: All that exists in God is one with the divine nature. Hence
the proper notion of this or that procession, by which one procession is
distinguished from another, cannot be on the part of this unity: but the
proper notion of this or that procession must be taken from the order of
one procession to another; which order is derived from the nature of the
will and intellect. Hence, each procession in God takes its name from the
proper notion of will and intellect; the name being imposed to signify
what its nature really is; and so it is that the Person proceeding as
love receives the divine nature, but is not said to be born.
Reply to Objection 2: Likeness belongs in a different way to the word and to
love. It belongs to the word as being the likeness of the object
understood, as the thing generated is the likeness of the generator; but
it belongs to love, not as though love itself were a likeness, but
because likeness is the principle of loving. Thus it does not follow that
love is begotten, but that the one begotten is the principle of love.
Reply to Objection 3: We can name God only from creatures (Question , Article ). As in
creatures generation is the only principle of communication of nature,
procession in God has no proper or special name, except that of
generation. Hence the procession which is not generation has remained
without a special name; but it can be called spiration, as it is the
procession of the Spirit.
Article 5: Whether there are more than two processions in God?
Objection 1: It would seem that there are more than two processions in God. As
knowledge and will are attributed to God, so is power. Therefore, if two
processions exist in God, of intellect and will, it seems that there must
also be a third procession of power.
Objection 2: Further, goodness seems to be the greatest principle of
procession, since goodness is diffusive of itself. Therefore there must
be a procession of goodness in God.
Objection 3: Further, in God there is greater power of fecundity than in us.
But in us there is not only one procession of the word, but there are
many: for in us from one word proceeds another; and also from one love
proceeds another. Therefore in God there are more than two processions.
On the contrary, In God there are not more than two who proceed---the
Son and the Holy Ghost. Therefore there are in Him but two processions.
I answer that, The divine processions can be derived only from the
actions which remain within the agent. In a nature which is intellectual,
and in the divine nature these actions are two, the acts of intelligence
and of will. The act of sensation, which also appears to be an operation
within the agent, takes place outside the intellectual nature, nor can it
be reckoned as wholly removed from the sphere of external actions; for
the act of sensation is perfected by the action of the sensible object
upon sense. It follows that no other procession is possible in God but
the procession of the Word, and of Love.
Reply to Objection 1: Power is the principle whereby one thing acts on another.
Hence it is that external action points to power. Thus the divine power
does not imply the procession of a divine person; but is indicated by the
procession therefrom of creatures.
Reply to Objection 2: As Boethius says (De Hebdom.), goodness belongs to the
essence and not to the operation, unless considered as the object of the
Thus, as the divine processions must be denominated from certain
actions; no other processions can be understood in God according to
goodness and the like attributes except those of the Word and of love,
according as God understands and loves His own essence, truth and
Reply to Objection 3: As above explained (Question , Article ; Question , Article ), God
understands all things by one simple act; and by one act also He wills
all things. Hence there cannot exist in Him a procession of Word from
Word, nor of Love from Love: for there is in Him only one perfect Word,
and one perfect Love; thereby being manifested His perfect fecundity.