QUESTION 32: OF THE ACTIVE PRINCIPLE IN CHRIST'S CONCEPTION
We shall now consider the active principle in Christ's conception:
concerning which there are four points of inquiry:
(1) Whether the Holy Ghost was the active principle of Christ's
(2) Whether it can be said that Christ was conceived of the Holy Ghost?
(3) Whether it can be said that the Holy Ghost is Christ's father
according to the flesh?
(4) Whether the Blessed Virgin cooperated actively in Christ's
Article 1: Whether the accomplishment of Christ's conception should be attributed to the Holy Ghost?
Objection 1: It would seem that the accomplishment of Christ's conception
should not be attributed to the Holy Ghost, because. as Augustine says
(De Trin. i), "The works of the Trinity are indivisible, just as the
Essence of the Trinity is indivisible." But the accomplishment of
Christ's conception was the work of God. Therefore it seems that it
should not be attributed to the Holy Ghost any more than to the Father or
Objection 2: Further, the Apostle says (Gal. 4:4): "When the fulness of time
was come, God sent His Son, made of a woman"; which words Augustine
expounds by saying (De Trin. iv): "Sent, in so far as made of a woman."
But the sending of the Son is especially attributed to the Father, as
stated in the FP, Question , Article . Therefore His conception also, by reason
of which He was "made of a woman," should be attributed principally to
Objection 3: Further, it is written (Prov. 9:1): "Wisdom hath built herself a
house." Now, Christ is Himself the Wisdom of God; according to 1 Cor.
1:24: "Christ the Power of God and the Wisdom of God." And the house of
this Wisdom is Christ's body, which is also called His temple, according
to Jn. 2:21: "But He spoke of the temple of His body." Therefore it
seems that the accomplishment of Christ's conception should be attributed
principally to the Son, and not, therefore, to the Holy Ghost.
On the contrary, It is written (Lk. 1:35): "The Holy Ghost shall come
I answer that, The whole Trinity effected the conception of Christ's
body: nevertheless, this is attributed to the Holy Ghost, for three
reasons. First, because this is befitting to the cause of the
Incarnation, considered on the part of God. For the Holy Ghost is the
love of Father and Son, as stated in the FP, Question , Article . Now, that the
Son of God took to Himself flesh from the Virgin's womb was due to the
exceeding love of God: wherefore it is said (Jn. 3:16): "God so loved the
world as to give His only-begotten Son."
Secondly, this is befitting to the cause of the Incarnation, on the part
of the nature assumed. Because we are thus given to understand that human
nature was assumed by the Son of God into the unity of Person, not by
reason of its merits, but through grace alone; which is attributed to the
Holy Ghost, according to 1 Cor. 12:4: "There are diversities of graces,
but the same Spirit." Wherefore Augustine says (Enchiridion xl): "The
manner in which Christ was born of the Holy Ghost . . . suggests to us
the grace of God, whereby man, without any merits going before, in the
very beginning of his nature when he began to exist was joined to God the
Word, into so great unity of Person, that He Himself should be the Son of
Thirdly, because this is befitting the term of the Incarnation. For the
term of the Incarnation was that that man, who was being conceived,
should be the Holy one and the Son of God. Now, both of these are
attributed to the Holy Ghost. For by Him men are made to be sons of God,
according to Gal. 4:6: "Because you are sons, God hath sent the Spirit of
His Son into your [Vulg.: 'our'] hearts, crying: Abba, Father." Again, He
is the "Spirit of sanctification," according to Rm. 1:4. Therefore, just
as other men are sanctified spiritually by the Holy Ghost; so as to be
the adopted sons of God, so was Christ conceived in sanctity by the Holy
Ghost, so as to be the natural Son of God. Hence, according to a gloss on
Rm. 1:4, the words, "Who was predestinated the Son of God, in power," are
explained by what immediately follows: "According to the Spirit of
sanctification, i.e. through being conceived of the Holy Ghost." And the
Angel of the Annunciation himself, after saying, "The Holy Ghost shall
come upon thee," draws the conclusion: "Therefore also the Holy which
shall be born of thee shall be called the Son of God."
Reply to Objection 1: The work of the conception is indeed common to the whole
Trinity; yet in some way it is attributed to each of the Persons. For to
the Father is attributed authority in regard to the Person of the Son,
who by this conception took to Himself (human nature). The taking itself
(of human nature) is attributed to the Son: but the formation of the body
taken by the Son is attributed to the Holy Ghost. For the Holy Ghost is
the Spirit of the Son, according to Gal. 4:6: "God sent the Spirit of His
Son." For just as the power of the soul which is in the semen, through
the spirit enclosed therein, fashions the body in the generation of other
men, so the Power of God, which is the Son Himself, according to 1 Cor.
1:24: "Christ, the Power of God," through the Holy Ghost formed the body
which He assumed. This is also shown by the words of the angel: "The Holy
Ghost shall come upon thee," as it were, in order to prepare and fashion
the matter of Christ's body; "and the Power of the Most High," i.e.
Christ, "shall overshadow thee---that is to say, the incorporeal Light of
the Godhead shall in thee take the corporeal substance of human nature:
for a shadow is formed by light and body," as Gregory says (Moral.
xviii). The "Most High" is the Father, whose Power is the Son.
Reply to Objection 2: The mission refers to the Person assuming, who is sent by
the Father; but the conception refers to the body assumed, which is
formed by the operation of the Holy Ghost. And therefore, though mission
and conception are in the same subject; since they differ in our
consideration of them, mission is attributed to the Father, but the
accomplishment of the conception to the Holy Ghost; whereas the
assumption of flesh is attributed to the Son.
Reply to Objection 3: As Augustine says (Questions. Vet. et Nov. Test., qu. 52): "This
may be understood in two ways. For, first, Christ's house is the Church,
which He built with His blood. Secondly, His body may be called His
house, just as it is called His temple . . . and what is done by the Holy
Ghost is done by the Son of God, because Theirs is one Nature and one
Article 2: Whether it should be said that Christ was conceived of [de] the Holy Ghost?
Objection 1: It would seem that we should not say that Christ was conceived of
[de] the Holy Ghost. Because on Rm. 11:36: "For of Him [ex ipso] and by
Him, and in Him, are all things," the gloss of Augustine says: "Notice
that he does not say, 'of Him' [de ipso], but 'of Him' [ex ipso]. For of
Him [ex ipso], are heaven and earth, since He made them: but not of Him
[de ipso], since they are not made of His substance." But the Holy Ghost
did not form Christ's body of [de] His own substance. Therefore we should
not say that Christ was conceived of [de] the Holy Ghost.
Objection 2: Further, the active principle of [de] which something is
conceived is as the seed in generation. But the Holy Ghost did not take
the place of seed in Christ's conception. For Jerome says (Expos. Cathol.
Fidei) [*Written by Pelagius]: "We do not say, as some wicked wretches
hold, that the Holy Ghost took the place of seed: but we say that
Christ's body was wrought," i.e. formed, "by the power and might of the
Creator." Therefore we should not say that Christ's body was conceived of
[de] the Holy Ghost.
Objection 3: Further, no one thing is made of two, except they be in some way
mingled. But Christ's body was formed of [de] the Virgin Mary. If
therefore we say that Christ was conceived of [de] the Holy Ghost, it
seems that a mingling took place of the Holy Ghost with the matter
supplied by the Virgin: and this is clearly false. Therefore we should
not say that Christ was conceived of [de] the Holy Ghost.
On the contrary, It is written (Mt. 1:18): "Before they came together,
she was found with child, of [de] the Holy Ghost."
I answer that, Conception is not attributed to Christ's body alone, but
also to Christ Himself by reason of His body. Now, in the Holy Ghost we
may observe a twofold habitude to Christ. For to the Son of God Himself,
who is said to have been conceived, He has a habitude of
consubstantiality: while to His body He has the habitude of efficient
cause. And this preposition of [de] signifies both habitudes: thus we say
that a certain man is "of [de] his father." And therefore we can
fittingly say that Christ was conceived of the Holy Ghost in such a way
that the efficiency of the Holy Ghost be referred to the body assumed,
and the consubstantiality to the Person assuming.
Reply to Objection 1: Christ's body, through not being consubstantial with the
Holy Ghost, cannot properly be said to be conceived "of" [de] the Holy
Ghost, but rather "from [ex] the Holy Ghost," as Ambrose says (De Spir.
Sanct. ii.): "What is from someone is either from his substance or from
his power: from his substance, as the Son who is from the Father; from
his power, as all things are from God, just as Mary conceived from the
Reply to Objection 2: It seems that on this point there is a difference of
opinion between Jerome and certain other Doctors, who assert that the
Holy Ghost took the place of seed in this conception. For Chrysostom says
(Hom. i in Matth. [*Opus Imperf., among the supposititious writings]):
"When God's Only-Begotten was about to enter into the Virgin, the Holy
Ghost preceded Him; that by the previous entrance of the Holy Ghost,
Christ might be born unto sanctification according to His body, the
Godhead entering instead of the seed." And Damascene says (De Fide Orth.
iii): "God's wisdom and power overshadowed her, like unto a Divine seed."
But these expressions are easily explained. Because Chrysostom and
Damascene compare the Holy Ghost, or also the Son, who is the Power of
the Most High, to seed, by reason of the active power therein; while
Jerome denies that the Holy Ghost took the place of seed, considered as a
corporeal substance which is transformed in conception.
Reply to Objection 3: As Augustine says (Enchiridion xl), Christ is said to be
conceived or born of the Holy Ghost in one sense; of the Virgin Mary in
another---of the Virgin Mary materially; of the Holy Ghost efficiently.
Therefore there was no mingling here.
Article 3: Whether the Holy Ghost should be called Christ's father in respect of His humanity?
Objection 1: It would seem that the Holy Ghost should be called Christ's
father in respect of His humanity. Because, according to the Philosopher
(De Gener. Animal. i): "The Father is the active principle in generation,
the Mother supplies the matter." But the Blessed Virgin is called
Christ's Mother, by reason of the matter which she supplied in His
conception. Therefore it seems that the Holy Ghost can be called His
father, through being the active principle in His conception.
Objection 2: Further, as the minds of other holy men are fashioned by the Holy
Ghost, so also was Christ's body fashioned by the Holy Ghost. But other
holy men, on account of the aforesaid fashioning, are called the children
of the whole Trinity, and consequently of the Holy Ghost. Therefore it
seems that Christ should be called the Son of the Holy Ghost, forasmuch
as His body was fashioned by the Holy Ghost.
Objection 3: Further, God is called our Father by reason of His having made
us, according to Dt. 32:6: "Is not He thy Father, that hath possessed
thee, and made thee and created thee?" But the Holy Ghost made Christ's
body, as stated above (Articles ,2). Therefore the Holy Ghost should be
called Christ's Father in respect of the body fashioned by Him.
On the contrary, Augustine says (Enchiridion xl): "Christ was born of
the Holy Ghost not as a Son, and of the Virgin Mary as a Son."
I answer that, The words "fatherhood," "motherhood," and "sonship,"
result from generation; yet not from any generation, but from that of
living things, especially animals. For we do not say that fire generated
is the son of the fire generating it, except, perhaps, metaphorically; we
speak thus only of animals in whom generation is more perfect.
Nevertheless, the word "son" is not applied to everything generated in
animals, but only to that which is generated into likeness of the
generator. Wherefore, as Augustine says (Enchiridion xxxix), we do not
say that a hair which is generated in a man is his son; nor do we say
that a man who is born is the son of the seed; for neither is the hair
like the man nor is the man born like the seed, but like the man who
begot him. And if the likeness be perfect, the sonship is perfect,
whether in God or in man. But if the likeness be imperfect, the sonship
is imperfect. Thus in man there is a certain imperfect likeness to God,
both as regards his being created to God's image and as regards His being
created unto the likeness of grace. Therefore in both ways man can be
called His son, both because he is created to His image and because he is
likened to Him by grace. Now, it must be observed that what is said in
its perfect sense of a thing should not be said thereof in its imperfect
sense: thus, because Socrates is said to be naturally a man, in the
proper sense of "man," never is he called man in the sense in which the
portrait of a man is called a man, although, perhaps, he may resemble
another man. Now, Christ is the Son of God in the perfect sense of
sonship. Wherefore, although in His human nature He was created and
justified, He ought not to be called the Son of God, either in respect of
His being created or of His being justified, but only in respect of His
eternal generation, by reason of which He is the Son of the Father alone.
Therefore nowise should Christ be called the Son of the Holy Ghost, nor
even of the whole Trinity.
Reply to Objection 1: Christ was conceived of the Virgin Mary, who supplied the
matter of His conception unto likeness of species. For this reason He is
called her Son. But as man He was conceived of the Holy Ghost as the
active principle of His conception, but not unto likeness of species, as
a man is born of his father. Therefore Christ is not called the Son of
the Holy Ghost.
Reply to Objection 2: Men who are fashioned spiritually by the Holy Ghost cannot
be called sons of God in the perfect sense of sonship. And therefore they
are called sons of God in respect of imperfect sonship, which is by
reason of the likeness of grace, which flows from the whole Trinity.
But with Christ it is different, as stated above.
The same reply avails for the Third Objection.
Article 4: Whether the Blessed Virgin cooperated actively in the conception of Christ's body?
Objection 1: It would seem that the Blessed Virgin cooperated actively in the
conception of Christ's body. For Damascene says (De Fide Orth. iii) that
"the Holy Ghost came upon the Virgin, purifying her, and bestowing on her
the power to receive and to bring forth the Word of God." But she had
from nature the passive power of generation, like any other woman.
Therefore He bestowed on her an active power of generation. And thus she
cooperated actively in Christ's conception.
Objection 2: Further, all the powers of the vegetative soul are active, as the
Commentator says (De Anima ii). But the generative power, in both man and
woman, belongs to the vegetative soul. Therefore, both in man and woman,
it cooperates actively in the conception of the child.
Objection 3: Further, in the conception of a child the woman supplies the
matter from which the child's body is naturally formed. But nature is an
intrinsic principle of movement. Therefore it seems that in the very
matter supplied by the Blessed Virgin there was an active principle.
On the contrary, The active principle in generation is called the
"seminal virtue." But, as Augustine says (Gen. ad lit. x), Christ's body
"was taken from the Virgin, only as to corporeal matter, by the Divine
power of conception and formation, but not by any human seminal virtue."
Therefore the Blessed Virgin did not cooperate actively in, the
conception of Christ's body.
I answer that, Some say that the Blessed Virgin cooperated actively in
Christ's conception, both by natural and by a supernatural power. By
natural power, because they hold that in all natural matter there is an
active principle. otherwise they believe that there would be no such
thing as natural transformation. But in this they are deceived. Because a
transformation is said to be natural by reason not only of an active but
also of a passive intrinsic principle: for the Philosopher says expressly
(Phys. viii) that in heavy and light things there is a passive, and not
an active, principle of natural movement. Nor is it possible for matter
to be active in its own formation, since it is not in act. Nor, again, is
it possible for anything to put itself in motion except it be divided
into two parts, one being the mover, the other being moved: which happens
in animate things only, as is proved Phys. viii.
By a supernatural power, because they say that the mother requires not
only to supply the matter, which is the menstrual blood, but also the
semen, which, being mingled with that of the male, has an active power in
generation. And since in the Blessed Virgin there was no resolution of
semen, by reason of her inviolate virginity, they say that the Holy Ghost
supernaturally bestowed on her an active power in the conception of
Christ's body, which power other mothers have by reason of the semen
resolved. But this cannot stand, because, since "each thing is on account
of its operation" (De Coel. ii), nature would not, for the purpose of the
act of generation, distinguish the male and female sexes, unless the
action of the male were distinct from that of the female. Now, in
generation there are two distinct operations---that of the agent and that
of the patient. Wherefore it follows that the entire active operation is
on the part of the male, and the passive on the part of the female. For
this reason in plants, where both forces are mingled, there is no
distinction of male and female.
Since, therefore, the Blessed Virgin was not Christ's Father, but His
Mother, it follows that it was not given to her to exercise an active
power in His conception: whether to cooperate actively so as to be His
Father, or not to cooperate at all, as some say. whence it would follow
that this active power was bestowed on her to no purpose. We must
therefore say that in Christ's conception itself she did not cooperate
actively, but merely supplied the matter thereof. Nevertheless, before
the conception she cooperated actively in the preparation of the matter
so that it should be apt for the conception.
Reply to Objection 1: This conception had three privileges---namely, that it was
without original sin; that it was not that of a man only, but of God and
man; and that it was a virginal conception. And all three were effected
by the Holy Ghost. Therefore Damascene says, as to the first, that the
Holy Ghost "came upon the Virgin, purifying her"---that is, preserving
her from conceiving with original sin. As to the second, he says: "And
bestowing on her the power to receive," i.e. to conceive, "the Word of
God." As to the third, he says: "And to give birth" to Him, i.e. that she
might, while remaining a virgin, bring Him forth, not actively, but
passively, just as other mothers achieve this through the action of the
Reply to Objection 2: The generative power of the female is imperfect compared to
that of the male. And, therefore, just as in the arts the inferior art
gives a disposition to the matter to which the higher art gives the form,
as is stated Phys. ii, so also the generative power of the female
prepares the matter, which is then fashioned by the active power of the
Reply to Objection 3: In order for a transformation to be natural, there is no
need for an active principle in matter, but only for a passive principle,
as stated above.