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Trinitarian charity: Aquinas and Lombard on charity and the Holy Spirit

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  01 September 2021

Nicholas Ogle*
University of Notre Dame, Notre Dame, IN, USA
*Corresponding author. Email:


This paper examines Aquinas’ reception of Peter Lombard's disputed thesis that the charity with which we love God and neighbour is not a virtue, but rather the Holy Spirit himself. Through a close reading of the four passages where Aquinas engages directly with the thesis, I show how this reception evolved over the course of his career, such that he gradually came to incorporate the trinitarian insight underlying Lombard's thesis into his doctrine of created charity. Although this doctrine is often viewed as an outright rejection of Lombard's thesis, I argue that it is in fact a substantial development of it that was made possible by Aquinas’ assimilation of Aristotelian naturalism.

Research Article
Copyright © The Author(s), 2021. Published by Cambridge University Press

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1 per se tantum sine alicuius virtutis medio operatur, Lombard, Peter, Sententiae in IV libris distinctae, editio tertia, 2 vols, ed. Brady, Ignatius (Grottaferrata: Editiones Collegii S. Bonaventurae ad Claras Aquas, 1971)Google Scholar: I, d. 17, c. 6, n. 8. Unless otherwise indicated, I follow the English translation of Philipp W. Rosemann in ‘Fraterna dilectio est Deus: Peter Lombard's Thesis on Charity as the Holy Spirit’, in Kelly, Thomas A. F. and Rosemann, Philipp W. (eds), Amor Amicitiae: On the Love that is Friendship: Essays in Medieval Thought and Beyond in Honor of the Rev. Professor James McEvoy (Dudley, MA: Peeters, 2004), pp. 412–24Google Scholar.

2 In his commentary on the Sentences, Bonaventure lists eight places where Lombard ‘diverged from common opinions and adhered to a less probable position’, of which distinctio 17 is the first (Commentaria in IV libros Sententiarum Petri Lombardi, lib. II, dist. 44, dubium 3, in S. Bonaventurae Opera theologica selecta, editio minor, vol. 2 (Quaracchi: Ex typographia Collegii S. Bonaventurae, 1938), 1058; quoted in Rosemann, ‘Peter Lombard's Thesis’, p. 410). For a helpful, though rather cursory discussion of Aquinas’ various positions on these disputed theses, see Edward A. Synan, ‘Brother Thomas, The Master, and the Masters’, in St Thomas Aquinas, 1274–1974: Commemorative Studies (Toronto: Pontifical Institute of Medieval Studies, 1974), pp. 219–42.

3 Adolf von Harnack, Lehrbuch der Dogmengeschichte, 4th edn, vol. 3 (Darmstadt: Wissenschaftliche Buchgesellschaft, 1964 [1910]), p. 620; quoted in Rosemann, ‘Peter Lombard's Thesis’, p. 410. Among thirteenth-century scholastics who rejected the thesis were Stephen Langton, William of Auxerre, Alexander of Hales, St Albert the Great, St Bonaventure and St Thomas Aquinas. For a detailed survey of twelfth-century scholastic adherents to Lombard's thesis, see Aage Rydstrøm-Poulsen, The Gracious God: Gratia in Augustine and the Twelfth Century (Copenhagen: Akademisk, 2002), pp. 393–434.

4 Rydstrøm-Poulsen, The Gracious God, p. 470. Rosemann cites Rydstrøm-Poulsen approvingly in ‘Peter Lombard's Thesis’, p. 434.

5 An important exception to this widespread interpretation of Lombard's theology can be found in the work of Marcia Colish, who in her 2-volume study of Lombard warns against drawing ‘too much of a contrast between Peter and Thomas’, Peter Lombard (New York: E. J. Brill, 1994), p. 501, n. 66. Colish, however, is perhaps guilty of reading too much of Aquinas into Lombard. For a critical analysis of Colish's study, see Philipp W. Rosemann, ‘New Interest in Peter Lombard: The Current State of Research and Some Desiderata for the Future’, Recherches de Theologie et Philosophie Medievales, 72/1 (2005), pp. 137–45.

6 Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologiae [hereafter ST] 2/2.23.2. Translations from the Summa Theologiae are taken from the Blackfriars Latin-English text (New York: Blackfriars in conjunction with McGraw-Hill Book Co., 1964), which uses the 1947 translation by the Fathers of the English Dominican Province.

7 Cf. ST 2/2.23.2: dicebat propter excellentiam caritatis.

8 Though I lack the space to discuss at any sufficient length Aquinas’ doctrine of instrumental causality, it is important to note here that in taking this view Aquinas does not thereby deny a passive ‘moment’ in the operation of the indwelling Holy Spirit on the soul. However, for him this moment is not itself sufficient to bring about the exterior act of charity. Rather, this requires a distinct act commanded by the will, which can nonetheless only be brought to completion with God's further assistance. Whereas in the former mode (gratia operans) the soul is simply moved, in the latter mode (gratia cooperans) the soul is not only moved, but also moves itself. For an insightful discussion of this topic, see Daria Spezzano, The Glory of God's Grace: Deification According to St Thomas Aquinas (Naples, FL: Sapientia Press, 2015), pp. 332–3.

9 Jean-Pierre Torrell, Spiritual Master, vol. 2 of Saint Thomas Aquinas, trans. Robert Royal (Washington, DC: Catholic University of America Press, 2003), p. 182.

10 Karl Barth, Church Dogmatics I/2, ed. G. W. Bromiley and T. F. Torrance (Edinburgh: T&T Clark, 1960), p. 375. We should note, however, that Barth is equally critical of what he describes as the ‘“docetic” anthropology’ implicit in Lombard's thesis.

11 ST 1.45.6, co. Of course, Lombard also holds this Augustinian view. This doctrine was the subject of a heated debate in the 1920s between the Thomists Franz Zigon and Johann Stufler SJ. For a detailed summary of the debate, see Geertjan Zuijdwegt, ‘“Utrum caritas sit aliquid creatum in anima”: Aquinas on the Lombard's Identification of Charity with the Holy Spirit’, Recherches de Théologie et Philosophie Médiévales 79/1 (2012), pp. 42–53.

12 Karl Rahner suggests that this is a result of Aquinas’ division of the doctrine on God into two separate treatises, De Deo Uno and De Deo Trino, which ‘became customary only after the Sentences of Peter Lombard were superseded by the Summa of St. Thomas’. In contrast, ‘the Master of the Sentences subsumed the general doctrine of God under a doctrine of the Trinity’. Karl Rahner, The Trinity (New York: Crossroads, 1997), p. 16.

13 The scriptural task is taken up effectively by Daniel A. Keating in ‘Justification, Sanctification, and Divinization in Thomas Aquinas’, in Thomas Weinandy, Thomas G., Daniel A. Keating and John P. Yocum (eds), Aquinas on Doctrine: A Critical Introduction (New York: T&T Clark, 2004), pp. 139–58.

14 Gilles Emery, ‘Theologia and Dispensatio: The Centrality of the Divine Missions in St. Thomas's Trinitarian Theology’, The Thomist 74 (2010), p. 526.

15 Ibid., p. 560.

16 processio temporalis non est alia quam processio aeterna essentialiter. Thomas Aquinas, Scriptum super libros sententiarum, ed. P. Mandonnet and M. F. Moos, 4 vols (Paris, 1933–47), I Sent., d. 16, q. 1, a. 1, co.

17 Emery, ‘Theologia and Dispensatio’, p. 528.

18 Ibid., p. 526.

19 Ibid., p. 527.

20 Spiritum enim Sanctum, qui est Amor Patris et Filii, dari nobis, est nos adduci ad participationem Amoris, qui est Spiritus Sanctus, a qua quidem participatione efficimur Dei amatores, Thomas Aquinas, Super Epistolam ad Romanos Lectura, in Super Epistolas S. Pauli Lectura, vol. 1, ed. R. Cai (Rome: Marietti, 1953), no. 392. My translation.

21 Torrell, Spiritual Master, p. 180.

22 Jean-Pierre Torrell, The Person and his Work, vol. 1 of Saint Thomas Aquinas, revised edn, trans. Robert Royal (Washington, DC: Catholic University of America Press, 2005), p. 66, n. 52.

23 Zuijdwegt, ‘Utrum caritas’.

24 Rydstrøm-Poulsen, The Gracious God, p. 482. Or, as Rik Van Nieuwenhove puts it in his recent Introduction to Medieval Theology, Lombard's thesis ‘blurs the distinction between creature and the transcendent God’. Rik Van Nieuwenhove, An Introduction to Medieval Theology (New York: CUP, 2012), p. 154.

25 See e.g. his teaching on operating and cooperating grace in Sent. II, d. 27, c. 2, n. 3.

26 Erich Przywara, Analogia Entis: Metaphysics: Original Structure and Universal Rhythm, trans. John Betz and David Bentley Hart (Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans, 2014), pp. 387–8. See also Giulio Silano's introduction to his translation of The Sentences, Book 1: The Mystery of the Trinity (Toronto: Pontifical Institute of Mediaeval Studies, 2007), pp. xxviii–xxix.

27 Rosemann, Peter Lombard, p. 89.

28 Zuijdwegt, ‘Aquinas on the Lombard's Identification of Charity’, p. 72.

29 In this dating, I follow Leonard E. Boyle, who argues that the Lectura Romana is part of a a reportatio from Aquinas’ lectures on the Sentences delivered at the Dominican studium at Santa Sabina in Rome in 1265–6. For more details, see ‘Alia lectura fratris Thome’, Mediaeval Studies 45 (1983), pp. 418–29.

30 Neutrum autem horum effici poterit, nisi caritas sit habitus creatus. I Sent., d. 17, q. 1, a. 1, co. English translation from Thomas Aquinas, On Love and Charity: Readings from the ‘Commentary on the Sentences of Peter Lombard’, trans. Peter A. Kwasniewski, Thomas Bolin and Joseph Bolin (Washington, DC: Catholic University of America Press, 2008).

31 For a detailed discussion of these arguments, and of how they develop over the course of Aquinas’ career, see Dominic Doyle, ‘Is Charity the Holy Spirit? A Study of Thomas Aquinas’ Disagreement with Lombard’, in Questions on Love and Charity: Summa Theologiae, Secunda Secundae, Questions 23–46, ed. Robert Miner (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2016), pp. 313–35.

32 caritatem esse habitum creatum in anima; quae quidem efficienter est a tota Trinitate, sed exemplariter manat ab amore, qui est spiritus sanctus. I Sent., d. 17, q. 1, a. 1, co.

33 Aquinas’ movement beyond the context of Lombard's discussion in the Sentences was not unusual. By the time he received the text, due to its use in the schools it had developed to a point that went far beyond the letter of Lombard's original. As Marie Dominique Chenu notes, ‘In a half-century, [the Sentences] passed from a regime of glossing to one of questions increasingly posited, treated, and organized outside the original text.’ Toward Understanding Saint Thomas (Chicago, IL: H. Regnery Co., 1964), p. 270.

34 Oportet igitur aliquem habitum caritatis creatum esse in anima, secundum quem spiritus sanctus ipsam inhabitare dicitur. I Sent., d. 17, q. 1, a. 1, sed contra 3.

35 bene et faciliter. Thomas Aquinas, Lectura Romana in Primum Sententiarum Petri Lombardi, ed. Leonard Boyle and John Boyle (Toronto: PIMS, 2006): d. 17, q. 1, a. 2, co. English translation from On Love and Charity, trans. Kwasniewski, pp. 61–3.

36 sicut in aliis virtutibus infusis, Spiritus Sanctus facit duos effectus: in quantum movet ad actum, et in quantum supra hoc dat agenti quod bene et faciliter operetur. Et propter hoc aliter dicendum est et melius, quod caritas est ipse Spiritus Sanctus quo diligimus Deum effective, et secundum hoc est quid increatum quia est ipse Spiritus Sanctus; est autem quid creatum in quantum secundum ipsam caritatem Deum formaliter diligimus. Lectura Romana d. 17, q. 1, a. 2, co.

37 Zuijdwegt, ‘Aquinas on the Lombard's Identification of Charity’, p. 63. Similarly, Doyle notes that ‘the initial blunt rejection of Lombard's position gives way to a charitable restatement of the truth that Thomas sees to lie behind Lombard's undifferentiated identification of charity with the Holy Spirit’. See Doyle, ‘Is Charity the Holy Spirit?’, p. 321.

38 Zuijdwegt, ‘Aquinas on the Lombard's Identification of Charity’, p. 64.

39 For a thorough discussion of these arguments, and how they differ from those of the Scriptum and Lectura Romana, see Doyle, ‘Is Charity the Holy Spirit?’, pp. 322–6.

40 Nec tamen per hoc excluditur quin spiritus sanctus, qui est caritas increata, sit in homine caritatem creatam habente, movens animam ad actum dilectionis, sicut Deus movet omnia ad suas actiones, ad quas tamen inclinantur ex propriis formis. Et inde est quod omnia disponit suaviter, quia omnibus dat formas et virtutes inclinantes in id ad quod ipse movet, ut in illud tendant non coacte, sed quasi sponte. S. Thomae Aquinatis Quaestiones Disputatae, vol. 2. De Virtutibus: De Caritate, ed. P. Bazzi et al. (Turin: Marietti, 1965): a. 1, co. English translation from Disputed Questions on Virtue, trans. Jeffrey Hause and Claudia Eisen Murphy (Indianapolis, IN: Hackett Pub. Co., 2010). Here I follow Zuijdwegt's translation of sed quasi sponte rather than Hause and Murphy's.

41 Though we lack the space for discussion of Aquinas’ doctrine of habitual and actual grace, this study would further benefit from a comparison with Bernard Lonergan and Joseph Wawrykow's work on the role of operative auxilium in Aquinas’ mature thought. In God's Grace and Human Action: ‘Merit’ in the Theology of Thomas Aquinas (Notre Dame, IN: University of Notre Dame Press, 1995), Wawrykow builds on Lonergan's study of operative grace in the thought of St Thomas Aquinas – later published as Grace and Freedom (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2000). Wawrykow argues that in his later works Aquinas’ focus is no longer exclusively on habitual grace as a form in the soul, but also on God's prevenience as mover of the free will by the grace of operative auxilium. This corresponds well with our finding that Aquinas moves from an exclusive focus on created charity to an appreciation of the importance of the Holy Spirit's dynamic role in graced human action as uncreated charity.

42 in ipso dono gratiae gratum facientis, spiritus sanctus habetur, et inhabitat hominem. Summa Theologiae 1.43.3, co. In Sancti Thomae Aquinatis opera omnia, vols 4–12. Leonine Edition. (Rome: R. Garroni, 1886–1906). English translation adapted from that of the Fathers of the English Dominican Province (New York: Benzinger Brothers, 1947).

43 gratia gratum faciens disponit animam ad habendam divinam personam. ST

44 humana mens sit mota tantum et nullo modo sit principium huius motus. ST 2/2.23.2, co.

45 Quod implicat contrdictionem: cum amor de sui ratione importet quod sit actus voluntatis. ST 2/2.23.2, co. Cf. ST 1/2.114.4, co.

46 moveat Spiritus Sanctus voluntatem ad actum diligendi sicut movetur instrumentum. ST 2/2.23.2, co.

47 non tamen est in ipso agere vel non agere. ST 2/2.23.2, co.

48 domina sui actus. ST 1/ For a helpful survey of Aquinas’ account of the will, see Gallagher, David, ‘The Will and its Acts’, in Pope, Stephen J. (ed.), The Ethics of Aquinas (Washington, DC Georgetown University Press, 2002), pp. 6989Google Scholar.

49 creatura rationalis seipsam movet ad agendum per liberum arbitrium. ST 1/2.114.1, co.

50 dilectio caritatis est radix merenda. ST 2/2.23.2, co.

51 Sed oportet quod sic voluntas moveatur a spiritu sancto ad diligendum quod etiam ipsa sit efficiens hunc actum. ST 2/2.23.2, co.

52 Coccia, Mario, ‘Credit Where Credit is Due: St. Thomas Aquinas Versus Peter Lombard on the True Nature of Charity’, Doctor Angelicus 5 (2005), p. 167Google Scholar.

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