Whether Father, Son, and Holy Spirit May Be Substantially Predicated of the Divinity

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Boethius (480-524)

Whether Father, Son, and Holy Spirit May Be Substantially Predicated of the Divinity

Translated by H. F. Stewart and E. K. Rand

Anicius Manlius Severinus Boethius most honourable, of the illustrious order of ex-consuls, patrician, to John the deacon.

The question before us is whether Father, Son, and Holy Spirit may be predicated of the Divinity substantially or otherwise. And I think that the method of our inquiry must be borrowed from what is admittedly the surest source of all truth, namely, the fundamental doctrines of the catholic faith. If, then, I ask whether He who is called Father is a substance, the answer will be yes. If I ask whether the Son is a substance, the reply will be the same. So, too, no one will hesitate to affirm that the Holy Spirit is also a substance. But when, on the other I hand, I take together all three, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, the result is not three substances but one substance. The one substance of the Three, then, cannot be separated or divided, nor is it made up of various parts combined into one: it is simply one. Everything, therefore, that is affirmed of the divine substance must be common to the Three, and we can recognize what predicates may be affirmed of the substance of the godhead by this sign, that all those which are affirmed of it may also be affirmed severally of each of the Three combined into one. For instance if we say “the Father is God, the Son is God, and the Holy Spirit is God,” then Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are one God. If then their one godhead is one substance, the name of God may with right be predicated substantially of the Divinity.

Similarly the Father is truth, the Son is truth, and the Holy Spirit is truth; Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are not three truths, but one truth. If, then, they are one substance and one truth, truth must of necessity be a substantial predicate. So Goodness, Immutability, Justice, Omnipotence and all the other predicates which we apply to the Persons singly and collectively are plainly substantial predicates. Hence it appears that what may be predicated of each single One but not of all Three is not a substantial predicate, but of another kind—of what kind I will examine presently. For He who is Father does not transmit this name to the Son nor to the Holy Spirit. Hence it follows that this name is not attached to Him as something substantial; for if it were a substantial predicate, as God, truth, justice, or substance itself, it would be affirmed of the other Persons.

Similarly the Son alone receives this name—nor does He associate it with the other Persons, as in the case of the titles God, truth, and the other predicates which I have already mentioned. The Spirit too is not the same as the Father and the Son. Hence we gather that Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are not predicated of the Divinity in a substantial manner, but otherwise. For if each term were predicated substantially it would be affirmed of the three Persons both separately and collectively. It is evident that these terms are relative, for the Father is some one’s Father, the Son is some one’s Son, the Spirit is some one’s Spirit. Hence not even Trinity may be substantially predicated of God; for the Father is not Trinity—since He who is Father is not Son and Holy Spirit—nor yet, by parity of reasoning, is the Son Trinity nor the Holy Spirit Trinity, but the Trinity consists in diversity of Persons, the Unity in simplicity of substance.

Now if the Persons are separate, while the Substance is undivided, it must needs be that that term which is derived from Persons does not belong to Substance. But the Trinity is effected by diversity of Persons, wherefore Trinity does not belong to Substance. Hence neither Father, nor Son, nor Holy Spirit, nor Trinity can be substantially predicated of God, but only relatively, as we have said. But God, Truth, Justice, Goodness, Omnipotence, Substance, Immutability, Virtue, Wisdom and all other conceivable predicates of the kind are applicable substantially to divinity.

If I am right and speak in accordance with the Faith, I pray you confirm me. But if you are in any point of another opinion, examine carefully what I have said, and if possible, reconcile faith and reason.

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