Quintessential Divine Attributes
by Jim J. McCrea
It is understood theologically that the three persons of the Trinity are distinguished by their "relations of origin." The Father begets the Son and the Son is begotten by the Father (this begetting is not physical but eternal and purely spiritual, as light emanating from light. God is utterly simple pure spirit). In fact, the only distinguishing factor between the Father and the Son is that the Father begets and the Son is begotten. In all other things they are the same. By extension, the only distinguishing factor between the Father and the Son, and the Holy Spirit, is the fact that the Holy Spirit proceeds from the Father and the Son and not the other way around. In all other respects the Holy Spirit is the same as the Father and the Son. Because their differences are relative only and not absolute, when we consider them in their absolute being, they are exactly one and the same. Hence they are one being, hence they are one God.
However, is there more to it than that?
Can differences between the persons of the Trinity be postulated in addition to their *mere* relations of origin without violating the traditional theological understanding of the Trinity?
To answer this, let us look at the fact of the persons of the Trinity as being one being - or as being one God.
The fundamental attribute of God as God is *aseity.* Aseity is the property of self-existence. God exists because He is existence itself. Because of this, He does not require an explanation for His existence above and outside of Himself. That answers the question "who created God?" In this, we say that God is *necessary.* Created beings (e.g. us) are not necessary, but *contingent.* In this, it is not the nature of created beings to exist, but the existence they have must come from the necessary being who is God. Any created being that exists can possibly not exist. God, on the other hand, cannot not exist.
From God's aseity flows His infinite attributes. If He is being or existence itself (cf. Exodus 3:14 - God's name is "I AM"), He must have everything that being or existence can possibly imply. As a result, He is infinite power, goodness, intelligence, beauty, etc. (He would not contain evil because evil is not a positive being, but is the absence of being where it is due).
As the attributes of God as God flow from aseity, it can be postulated that special attributes flow from the relations of origin of the persons of the Godhead - so that as each relation of origin is different for each person of the Trinity, making Him the person of the Trinity He is, these special attributes that flow from these relations of origin would also be different for each person.
They are not the attributes of God as God, such as infinite beauty, power, intelligence etc. Those are common to all three persons of the Trinity. They also would not constitute differences in virtue because each person of the Trinity must have all the virtues in a pre-eminent way. What then would constitute their differences?
Each person would be different in *personality.* Now this is nothing as crude as the notion that the Father is strict and vengeful whereas the Son is kind and merciful. These personalities would be beyond the attributes of God as God that can be accessed through reason and philosophy (such as the fact that God is all powerful and all good). They would be beyond the attributes given by Revelation in the Church (such as the fact that God the Son became man). In fact, no human name or concept could be attributed to them. They would be mystery in the strict sense, known only by the blessed in heaven. These would be *quintessential divine attributes* because they go beyond the attributes of God as understood by philosophy and theology on this earth. They are attributes of personality because they belong to individual persons and not to the being - or the "what" - of God as a whole.
But something of that can be given to souls on this earth. Those who have attained to the Mystical Marriage (Seventh Mansion), may be given an intellectual vision of the Trinity (an intellectual vision is that which is given directly to the intelligence without an image. It is a pure imageless concept). In such an intellectual vision, a different "flavor" for each of the three persons of the Trinity may be discerned, although describing these flavors would be exceedingly difficult.
The different persons of the Trinity having different divine personalities is consistent with each of the persons having all perfection and goodness that is common to all three persons. We can give an example to clarify this. Suppose that we consider two men: one is quiet and reflective and the other is talkative and out-going. Each are equally virtuous, having everything that belongs to the integrity of a man, but their personalities are completely different. By analogy, the same situation may exist within the Godhead.
The quintessential divine attributes of personality within the Trinity combine into a oneness of virtue, goodness, and being. This is an expression of the *analogy of being.* With the analogy of being, the different elements that constitute a thing or situation have sameness and difference between them at the same time in the appropriate balances (without contradiction). Any excess of difference over sameness would constitute the evil of *equivocity* (clashing elements or elements at enmity with one another), and any excess of sameness over difference would constitute the evil of *univocity* (dull uniformity or unnatural fusion between elements).
Anything that is a reflection of the good, the true, and the beautiful conforms to the analogy of being. It becomes evil or inappropriate to the degree that it veers into either univocity or equivocity (most often, both, under different aspects).
Now, there exists a corollary to this principle. The greater the difference combined into the greater the union, the greater the goodness, truth, and beauty that is expressed - that is, the greater the analogy of being.
The twentieth century philosopher Dietrich von Hildebrand delineated a concept known as the *coincidentia oppositorum* The coincidentia oppositorum maintains that what is in conflict on a natural level is capable of being united on a supernatural level. For example, the natural man tends to fall into either excessive harshness or excessive softness - either becoming the macho or the wimp. But the man who has been supernaturalized shows indomitable strength in standing for principle, but great yielding and kindness when it comes to persons.
With the coincidentia oppositorum, the higher the level of being, the more divergent the properties that can be combined without conflict. Heaven, which has a far higher degree of being than earth, expresses the coincidentia oppositorum to a far higher degree than what is possible on earth. Things can exist in heaven that are impossible on earth. For example, there would be objects that combine the majestic splendor of a mountain with the delicate beauty of a violet.
The geniuses of music, literature, and art, are able to delight us with their profundity because they have the gift of combining enormous difference with supreme unity in their work. They have the gift of applying the analogy of being to a very high degree.
Our delight in heaven would be far higher than even that, in seeing objects that combine in a profound unity, opposites of beauty such as the majestic splendor of a mountain and the delicate beauty of a violet. That expresses the analogy of being to a far higher degree than anything possible on earth.
The beatific vision, in which we see the Trinity face to face in heaven, would give infinite delight, as we would see the personalities of the persons of the Trinity (their quintessential divine attributes) infinitely different from each other, combined into an infinite unity of an identity of being. The Trinity is the infinite analogy of being, and hence is infinitely good, true, and beautiful.
The analogy of being in anything created, that expresses the good, the true, and the beautiful, is nothing but a reflection of the infinite analogy of being which is the Trinity - the analogy of being that has existed from all eternity, before all worlds.
** Footnote 1 - True humor of the incongruous (as opposed to mocking humor) is the sudden realization of extreme opposites put together into a supreme unity. The overflow of joy into the human organism from that sudden realization results in laughter.
** Footnote 2 - These quintessential attributes of the persons of the Trinity would be purely relational - that is, they would only be intelligible in relation to each other and would not stand on their own. This is analogous to how a key is only intelligible in relation to a lock and both are only intelligible in relation to opening or activating something.