Congar on Essentialism in Aquinas

Any attempt to present him [Thomas] as an ‘essentialist, that is, as being conscious of and as affirming first of all the common divine essence, and only secondarily the Persons in that essence, would be to betray the balance of his theology.  Such an interpretation should no longer be possible since the appearance of the studies by A. Malet, H.F. Dondaine, E. Bailleux, M.-J. le Guillou and others.  This interpretation has all too frequently been based on the fact that Thomas’ study of the Trinity of persons in the Summa is preceded by a study of the divine essence.  Surely, however, it is hardly possible not to proceed in this way from the point of view of teaching? Is this procedure not justified in the economy of revelation itself?  Did John Damascene not begin with the unity of ‘God’?  Thomas had a very lively sense of the absolute character of God, his transcendence, his independence and his sufficiency.  In his mystery, which is both necessary and absolute, God knows and loves himself.  He communicates his goodness with sovereign freedom in the free mystery of creation and of the ‘divine missions’ through which creatures, who are made ‘in his image’, are included in that life of knowledge and love and are in this way ‘deified’. (Yves Congar, I Believe in the Holy Spirit, pp. 116, 117)

Most of this flies in the face of Karl Rahner’s assertions in The Trinity (See pp. 16, 17) that the medieval-Latin tradition of beginning with the divine essence before discussing the Persons sets up an abstract metaphysical God who is impersonal and altogether different from the God of the Bible.

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