In 1 Sent. 3.1.4

Commentary on the First Book of the Sentences of Peter Lombard, Distinction III, Question 1, Article 4.

Whether philosophers by natural knowledge knew the Trinity from creatures

To the fourth we thus proceed.


  1. It seems that philosophers were able to come to the Trinity by natural knowledge from creatures. For Aristotle says, at the beginning of On the Heavens “And through this very number,” sc. the triple, “we bring ourselves to magnify the one eminent God by the properties of those things which were created.” Similarly, even Plato, in the Parmenides, speaks often of the paternal intellect, and many other philosophers (do so as well).
  2. Further, philosophers were able to come to knowledge of those things which shine forth in creatures. But in the soul there is expressed a likeness of the Trinity of Persons. Therefore it seems that through the powers of the soul, which philosophers considered much, were able to come to a knowledge of the Trinity of Persons.
  3. Again, Richard of Saint Victor, On the Trinity, Book I, Chapter 4, says: “I believe without doubt that for every single explanation of truth, which it is necessary that there be, not in the mode of probability, but even necessary arguments are not lacking.” But it is necessary to know the Trinity. Therefore, it seems that philosophers were able to have the rational basis (rationem) for knowledge of this.
  4. Again, It is said in the Gloss on Romans I, that philosophers did not come to knowledge of the Third Person, sc. the Holy Spirit, and the same holds (in the Gloss) on Exodus, VIII, where it is said that the magicians of Pharaoh failed in the third sign. Therefore, it seems at least that they came to knowledge of two of the (Divine) Persons.

Hebrews XI, 1: “Faith is the substance of surpassing things, proof of things unseen.” But, that God is three and one is an article of faith. Therefore, it is not apparent by reason.


I respond that it should be said that through natural reason, one is not able to come to a knowledge of the Persons of the Trinity; and so philosophers knew nothing about this except perhaps through revelation or through hearing (about it) from others. The reason for this is that natural reason cannot know God except from creatures. Everything, however, which is said about God on the basis of creatures pertains to the Essence and not the Persons (of God). And so from natural reason one does advance only to the attributes of the Divine Essence. Nevertheless, philosophers, knowing power, wisdom and goodness, were able to know the (Divine) Persons according to the things ascribed to them.

Replies to objections

  1. According to the exposition of the Commentator (Averroes), Aristotle does not intend to posit a trinity of persons in God. Rather, because of the fact that in all creatures there appears the triple perfection, sc. a beginning, middle and end, so the ancients used to honor God with triple sacrifices and prayers. Plato, however, is said by many to have learned of divine things from reading the books of the Old Law, which he found in Egypt. Or perhaps he calls the Divine Intellect a paternal intellect because in itself it somehow conceives the idea of the world, which is an archetype of the world.
  2. The likeness of the Trinity which shines forth in the soul is in all ways imperfect and defective, just as the Master (Peter Lombard) will say below. But it is called expressed by comparison to the likeness of a footstep (vestigium).
  3. If the saying of Richard is understood universally, that every true thing can be proved by reason, it is expressly false, for the first principles are known intuitively (per se nota) and not proved. If there are somethings known in themselves which are hidden to us, they can be proved through things more known to us. Now, the things more known to us are the effects of the principles. However, from the effects of creatures, the Trinity of Persons cannot be proved, as was said. And so it remains that it (knowledge of the Trinity) can in no way be proved; and so all reasons in support of the Trinity are rather sorts of arguments for its fittingness (magis adaptationes quaedam), than necessary conclusions. The distinction of the Persons having been removed from the intellect by this impossibility, nevertheless, there will remain in God the highest goodness, blessedness and charity.
  4. Philosophers did not come to a knowledge of two of the Persons (of the Trinity) in so far as things proper to the Persons, but only with respect to things pertaining to the persons; and not insofar as such things pertain (because this knowledge of them depends on properties) but insofar as they are attributed to the Divine Essence.And if it is objected that similarly (philosophers) came to a knowledge of goodness which pertains to the Holy Spirit (just as [they came] to a knowledge of power and wisdom which pertain to the Father and the Son) it should be said that they did not know goodness with respect to the most powerful effect of Him, namely the Incarnation and Redemption. Or (it could be said that) they did not even intend the veneration of Divine Goodness which they did not even imitate, as they had venerated Power and Wisdom.

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