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32. Our Knowledge of the Divine Persons

1. We cannot come to the knowledge of the Trinity by reason alone, that is, by the natural and unaided efforts of the human mind. By our natural reason, we can know that God exists; that he is the First Cause of all; that he is one, infinite, simple, immutable, etc. But that the one God subsists in three really distinct Persons is a truth that can be known only by supernatural means. This is a truth beyond the reach of human reason to know, to prove, or to disprove. We know this truth by divine revelation, and accept it by supernatural faith; we take it upon the authority of God himself.

2. Once we know the truth, we naturally tend to discuss it. In our discussion we use such terms as we have, knowing that these are imperfect and inadequate. Some scholars think that we ought not name properties of the divine Persons, using abstract words. But this is a mistaken view. We cannot discuss the divine Persons in concrete terms alone. And we are thoroughly justified in using abstract words, and, by their use, ascribing properties to the divine Persons, provided that we use terms that are neither mistaken nor misleading.

3. Five notable abstract terms are used with reference to the divine Persons: (a) innascibility, or unbegottenness, is proper to the First Person; (b) paternity is also proper to the Father; (c) filiation is proper to God the Son; (d) spiration is not proper to any one Person, but is common to the Father and the Son; (e) procession is proper to the Holy Ghost.

4. Disagreement about terms used with reference to God's unity and trinity may arise among scholars without involving any heresy, provided the Church has not spoken on the precise points at issue, and also provided that the terms employed are not plainly misleading or erroneous.

"Whoever wants to stand alone without the support of a master and guide will be like the tree that stands alone in a field without a proprietor. No matter how much the tree bears, passers-by will pick the fruit before it ripens. "
St John of the Cross, OCD - Doctor of the Church

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"For what would it profit us to know the whole Bible by heart and the principles of all the philosophers if we live without grace and the love of God?"
Thomas á Kempis

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"Before a man chooses his confessor, he ought to think well about it, and pray about it also; but when he has once chosen, he ought not to change, except for most urgent reasons, but put the utmost confidence in his director."
St Philip Neri

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