Corpus Christi – A

For St. Thomas Aquinas, “presence” is a key element in friendship. Thomas relates the Incarnation itself to Jesus’ desire to be with us: “…this belongs to Christ’s love, out of which for our salvation, He assumed a true body of our nature… because it is the special feature of friendship to live together with friends…” (3a. 75, 1).

Oftentimes, we think of religion as our obligations to God. Thomas opens up another approach, Jesus’ desire to be with us, even as a friend.

The Eucharist is the concrete presence of Christ with us, “The presence of Christ’s true body and blood.” This is not a symbolic presence but, rather, the Eucharist “contains Christ Himself crucified, not merely a signification or figure, but also in very truth” (3a 75, 1). We perceive Christ’s presence not by the senses or by understanding but by “faith alone“.

Does it make a difference that Jesus is really present in the Eucharist and not in some spiritual sense? In our time, we could say that it is like the difference between a friend personally coming to see us and a friend sending an e-mail or texting a message.

Even our hope of eternal life focuses on Jesus’ presence: “He promises His bodily presence as a reward…” (3a. 75, 1). Eternal life is being with Jesus.

His presence with us now prepares us for His future presence: “Yet meanwhile in our pilgrimage He does not deprive us of His bodily presence but unites us with Himself in this sacrament through the truth of His body and blood. Hence, He says: ‘Whoever eats My flesh and drinks My blood, abides in Me and I in him’ (Jn 6:57).”

Because of Christ’s desire for friendship with us in the Eucharist, this is the sacrament of charity: “Hence this sacrament is the sign of supreme charity and lifts up our hope, from such familiar union of Christ with us” (3a. 75, 1).

We are united not only with Christ the Person but we are united with the members of Christ’s Body: “The thing signified is the unity of the mystical body of Christ which is an absolute required for salvation” (3a. 73, 3). The Eucharist binds us with our brothers and sisters in Christ.

The Eucharist itself is the source of the charity: it is “the sacrament of charity because it symbolizes charity and brings it about” (3a, 78, 3). The Eucharist gives us the charity that we need.

As Christ lives in us, we are transformed by His presence. Christ doesn’t just come and go without any effect on us: “The particular effect of this sacrament is the change of the person into Christ, as the Apostle said: ‘I live, yet not I, Christ truly lives in me’ (Gal. 2:20).” Thomas explains: “There is a difference between bodily food and spiritual food. Bodily food is changed into the substance of the person who eats it … but spiritual food changes man into itself” (3a, 73, 3).

Because the Eucharist contains Christ’s Body, all the other sacraments are directed to it: “The Eucharist is the summit of the spiritual life and all the sacraments are ordered to it … They sanctify us and prepare us to receive the Eucharist or to consecrate it” (3a. 73, 3).

In this way, the Eucharist perfects the other sacraments: “This sacrament, which contains Christ Himself… is perfective of all the other sacraments…” (3a. 75, 1).

The Eucharist is the sacrament of the Passion of Christ because in it a man is brought to spiritual perfection in being closely united with Christ who died for us. Hence, just as Baptism is called the ‘sacrament of faith,’ which is the beginning of spiritual life, so the Eucharist is called the ‘sacrament of charity,’ which is the bond of perfectness, as we read in Colossians: ‘Over all these put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony’ (Col 3:14)” (3a. 73, 3 ad 3).

Denis Vincent Wiseman, O.P.

References to the Summa Theologiae of St. Thomas Aquinas give the part of the Summa, the question and the article. If the passage is found in a response to an objection that Thomas has introduced in the first part of the article, the Latin word “ad,” meaning “to,” is added with the number of the objection. Most of the references in this homily are from the third part of the Summa Theologiae, question 75, articles 1 and 3.

Trinity Sunday – A

 Probably every people have realized there is a God and many of the things they realized about God were true. They sensed that the Creator was good. Actually, God was better than they thought.

In today’s first reading, Exodus 34: 4-6, 8-9, the Israelites have come to Mount Sinai, where they will encounter God. The people didn’t want God to speak to them for fear that they might die so they asked Moses to speak for them.

As God passed before Moses, the Lord proclaimed “The Lord, the Lord, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness.” Moses understood that God was merciful and gracious but the extent of His mercy was beyond what Moses could imagine.

Moses knew that the people could only survive their journey through the desert if God was with them. He begged God to come with them, even though the people were rebellious, “go in the midst of us, although it is a stiff-necked people and pardon our iniquity and take us for your inheritance.” We know the stories of the many times, they rebelled in the journey into the land of Canaan. Over and over, they experienced mercy.

Nevertheless, God’s goodness and mercy was more than they imagined. When St. Paul speaks of God, he speaks of “The God and Father of the Lord Jesus…” (2 Corinthians 1:3, 11:31) and the Letter to the Ephesians blesses, “the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ…” (Eph 1:3).

Who is the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ? First of all He is an intelligent and loving being. God is not some impersonal powerful force who shoots out thunder and lightning. He is not a distant God who is habitually unhappy with everything He has created. 

The God of Jesus Christ is a God who loves, beginning with the Son whom He brings forth from all eternity, His only-begotten. He sees everything He has created through His love.

Jesus tells us: “The Father loves the Son” (Jn 5:12) and prays, “You loved Me before the foundation of the world” (Jn 17:34). The Synoptics declare the Father’s words: “This is My beloved Son, with whom I am well-pleased; listen to Him!” (Mt 3:17; Mt 17:5).

We know the Father through Jesus, who announces: “I know Him for I come from Him and He sent Me” (Jn 7:19)

According to John, Jesus makes the Father known: “No one has ever seen God, the only God, who is at the Father’s side; He has made Him known“(Jn 1:18). Matthew and Luke affirm: “No one knows the Father except the Son and anyone to whom the Son chooses to reveal Him” Mt 11: 27).

According to St. Thomas Aquinas, even in Old Testament times, God spoke through His Word: “In the past, the Only Begotten Son revealed knowledge of God through the prophets, who made Him known to the extent that they shared in the eternal Word. They said things like, ‘The Word of God came to me.’ But now the Only Begotten Son has made Him known to the faithful… ‘God, who in many and varied ways, spoke to the fathers in past times through the prophets, has spoken to us in these days in His Son’ (Heb 1:1).  This teaching surpasses all other teachings in dignity, authority and usefulness, because it was handed on by the Only Begotten Son, who is first Wisdom”  (Thomas Aquinas, Commentary on the Gospel of St. John, 221).

Today’s Gospel presents a beloved passage on the Son’s revelation of the Father: “God so loved the world that He gave His only-begotten Son that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life. For God sent the Son into the world, not to condemn the world but that the world might be saved through Him” (Jn 2:16-17).

Thomas comments on our experience of God’s love: “The cause of all our good is the Lord and divine love. For to love is … to will good to someone. Therefore, since the will of God is the cause of things, good comes to us because God loves us. And God’s love is the cause of the good of nature … It is also the cause of the good which is grace: ‘I have loved you with an everlasting love, and so I have drawn you’ i.e. through grace (Jer 31:3)” (Commentary on John, 477).

Thomas notes the words of St. Gregory, “The proof of love is given by action.”  Thomas comments: “It is God who loves and loves immeasurably …God has given us the greatest of gifts, His only Begotten Son” (Commentary on John, 477).

Similarly, in his Summa Theologiae, Thomas asserts: “Of all the gifts which the Father gave to humanity… the chief is that He gave His Son” (Ia2ae, 102, 3) and “The Son is given from the Father’s love” (1a. 38, 2, ad 1).

Jesus reveals the Father’s love for the world and His desire to save all who believe in Him. Jesus tells us about the Father who rushes out to embrace the Prodigal Son (Luke 15:11–32).

Jesus Himself reveals the Father, as He informs the apostle Thomas: “If you had known me, you would have known my Father also; henceforth you know Him and have seen Him.” (Jn 14:7). Aquinas explains: “Every created word is some likeness of the Word, and some likeness, though imperfect, of the divinity is found in every thing, either as an image or a trace … It is the Word alone, the only-begotten Word, which is a perfect word and a perfect image of the Father, that knows and comprehends the Father” (Commentary on John, 1879).

Jesus’ whole human existence reveals the Father’s desire for us. Paul tells us that Jesus emptied Himself and took the nature of a servant. Luke tells us that the Son of God was born in the humblest circumstances. Matthew tells us that His life was threatened even as a child.

Jesus resisted any attempts to make Him king and played down His role as the Messiah because He did not want to buy into the popular notions of a warrior Messiah. Instead, He announced: “The Son of Man did not come to be servedbut to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many” (Matthew 20:28). Likewise, He insisted: “I am in the midst of you, as one who serves” (Lk 23:27).

On the night before He died, He washed the feet of His disciples. Could even Moses have imagined such love from God?

And of course, the greatest testimony to God’s love for us was Jesus’ death on the Cross, this defeat of evil through love and submission to His Father. Paul asserts: “God shows His love for us because when we were still sinners … Christ died for us” (Rom 5:8). St. Thomas comments: “We know [by Christ’s Passion] how much God loves us and we are stirred to love Him in return, and there lies the perfection of human salvation” (3a. 46, 3).

Writing early in the third century, Tertullian tells us that some people rejected Christianity because the Christians proclaimed a crucified man as God’s Son. Paul affirms: “For the foolishness of God is wiser than human wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than human strength” (1 Cor 1:27).

Thomas explains: “Something divine seems to be foolish, not because it lacks wisdom but because it exceeds human wisdom …And ‘the weakness of God is stronger than men,’ because something in God is not called weak on account of lack of strength but because it exceeds human power, just as He is called invisible, inasmuch as He transcends human sight … This could refer to the mystery of the Incarnation, because that which is regarded as foolish and weak in God on the part of the nature He assumed transcends all wisdom and power” (Thomas Aquinas, Commentary on the First Letter to the Corinthians, 62).

Moses had to climb a mountain to encounter God. Through Jesus the Father gives us His Spirit to dwell within us, guiding us by grace. Jesus announced to His disciples: “The Paraclete, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in My name, He will teach you all things and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you” (Jn 14:26).

Thomas explains the role of the Spirit enabling us to understand:

“Just as the effect of the mission of the Son was to lead us to the Father, so the effect of the mission of the holy Spirit is to lead the faithful to the Son. The Son, since He is begotten Wisdom, is Truth itself … And so the effect of this kind of mission [of the Spirit] is to make us sharers in the divine wisdom and knowers of the truth. The Son, since He is the Word, gives teaching to us; but the Holy Spirit enables us to grasp it” (Commentary on John, 1958).

The Spirit makes it possible for us to comprehend what Jesus tells us:

“No matter what a person may teach by his exterior actions, he will have no effect unless the holy Spirit is present to the heart of the listener, the words of the teacher will be useless … This is true even to the extent that the Son Himself, speaking by means of His human nature, is not successful unless He works from within by the Holy Spirit” (Commentary on John, 1958).

We are all indebted to the preaching of St. Peter and St. Paul. Yet, after his denial of Jesus, Peter knew his weakness very well. Paul asked the Lord to take away a particular weakness he experiences, which he called a “sting of the flesh,” he was told, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me” (2 Cor 12:8-9).

We are strong because we have “the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ and the love of God and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit” (2 Cor 13:13). St. Thomas reflects: “The grace of Christ, by which we are made just and are saved; the charity of God the Father, by which we are united with Him; and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit distributing divine gifts to us” (Thomas Aquinas, Commentary on the Second Letter to the Corinthians, 545).

Denis Vincent Wiseman, O.P.

References to Thomas Aquinas’ Summa Theologiae, give the part of the Summa, the question and the article.. If the reference is a reply to an objection that had been raised earlier, the reference will offer “ad…” with the number of the objection.

References to St. Thomas Aquinas, Commentary on the Gospel of St. John, Part I, may be found in the translation by Fr. James A. Weisheipl, O.P.  and Fr. Fabian Larcher, O.P., Albany, NY: Magi Books, 1980.

References to St. Thomas Aquinas’ Commentary on the Gospel of John, Part II, may be found in the translation by Fr. James A. Weisheipl, O.P. and Fr. Fabian R. Larcher, O.P., published by St. Bede’s Publications.

References to St. Thomas Aquinas’ Commentaries on First and Second Corinthians are taken from the translations of Fr. Fabian R. Larcher, O.P., edited by J. Mortensen and E. Alarcón. The translation, found in Volume 38 of the Biblical Commentaries, was published by the Aquinas Institute for the Study of Sacred Doctrine, Lander, Wyoming, in 2012

Pentecost – A

The Holy Spirit is always giving gifts, whether for us as individuals or for the common good, but some of these are uniquely referred to as the “Gifts of the Holy Spirit.” They are “permanent” gifts, as the Catechism of the Catholic Church explains:

The moral life of Christians is sustained by the gifts of the Holy Spirit. These are permanent dispositions which make man docile in following the promptings of the Holy Spirit. The seven gifts of the Holy Spirit are wisdom, understanding, counsel, fortitude, knowledge, piety, and fear of the Lord. They belong in their fullness to Christ, Son of David. They complete and perfect the virtues of those who receive them. They make the faithful docile in readily obeying divine inspirations (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 2nd edition, 1830-1831, p. 450.

The gifts are wisdom, understanding, counsel, fortitude, knowledge, piety, and fear of the Lord. Six of these names come from the Hebrew text of Isaiah 11:3. The seventh is found in the Septuagint (the Greek translation of the Old Testament) and the Vulgate (the Latin translation) version of the Old Testament.

In their original context they describe the qualities of the ideal Davidic king, whom Christians understand to be Jesus. By extension, the gifts are also given to those who are “in Christ” by Baptism.

In addition to the passage in Isaiah, the New Testament speaks of the variety of ways by which the Spirit gives interior gifts in a lasting way, habitually counseling, revealing, inspiring, empowering and transforming believers and drawing them to the Son and Father. These New Testament gifts are expressions of the Gifts of the Spirit upon us.

 The Holy Spirit’s presence is permanent. Jesus said to the apostles, “He will remain in you and be in you” (Jn 14:17). Paul writes, “The charity of God is poured forth in our hearts by the Holy Spirit Who is given to us” (Rom 5:5).

We might get the impression that the way that the Spirit gives a person one of these gifts, for example, wisdom, is similar to the way that a new chip can be installed in our computer.

Actually, the Gifts of the Holy Spirit are not things that we possess. The “gifts” are dispositions that open us to the action of the Holy Spirit, for instance to act wisely, as inspired by the Spirit. Thomas C. O’Brien says that the teaching on the “Gifts” is “a key to St. Thomas’ theology of the Christian life.” As O’Brien explains, “Before Thomas, no one had characterized the Gifts by reference to the promptings of the Spirit.” (Thomas C. O’Brien, in Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologiae, vol. 31, 144-145, note d).

Thomas recognizes that we are usually disposed by virtue to act in a good way in human affairs: “Human virtue perfects a human person in what is natural for him to be moved by his reason in his interior and exterior actions” (1a2ae. 68, 1). However, over and above the virtues, we are given the “gifts’ so that we can be disposed beyond our reason: “A human person needs higher perfections to be disposed to be moved by God. these perfections are called gifts, not only because they are infused by God, but also because of them a person is disposed to become responsive to Divine inspiration” (1a2ae. 68, 1).

Thomas affirms: “The Gifts of the Holy Spirit are habits (dispositions) by which a person is perfected to obey readily the Holy Spirit” (1a.2ae. 68, 3). Thomas emphasizes that these gifts do not make a person a passive instrument of the Spirit: “A human person is not an instrument which is just acted upon; for he is acted upon by the Holy Spirit so that he acts by himself, in so far as he has freewill” (1a2ae. 68, 3 ad 2).

The Gifts presuppose the virtues of faith, hope and charity, which are the means by which we are united with God:

The mind of a person is not moved by the Holy Spirit, unless in some way it is united with Him, as an instrument is not moved by the craftsman, unless there be contact or some kind of union between them. The primary union of humans with God is by faith, hope and charity: and, consequently, these virtues are presupposed to the gifts, as their roots…  derived from them (1a2ae. 68, 4, ad 3).

The Gifts of the Holy Spirit are connected together in charity. Thomas states: “Whoever has charity has all the Gifts of the Holy Spirit, none of which one can possess without charity” (1a2ae. 68, 5). Thomas affirms: “Wisdom and understanding and the others are gifts of the Holy Spirit, as they are enlivened by charity” (1a2ae. 68, 8 ad 3).

Denis Vincent Wiseman, O.P.

References to the Summa Theologiae give the part of the Summa, the question and the article. If the reference is a response to an objection that Thomas has raised, the reference will indicate “ad,” meaning “to” the objection. This reference is found in the third part of the Summa, question 68, and various articles.

Ascension – A

The second reading for the Solemnity of the Ascension, Ephesians 1:17-23, begins, “The God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of Glory…” (Eph 1:17). Jesus healed many people and taught many wonderful mysteries but His greatest teaching was revealing God to us, not a God upon whom we project our fears or the God of our needs but the God of “our Lord Jesus Christ.”

If we look closely at this passage, we can recognize a comparison between what has happened to Jesus, in His death, Resurrection and Exaltation and what will happen to ourselves. The Letter asks that we may be granted special gifts to go beyond living by what is apparent, that God “… may give you a spirit of wisdom and of revelation in the knowledge of Him” (Eph 1:17). St Thomas Aquinas maintains that all believers already have the gifts of faith hope and charity but we ask for additional gifts to know God on a deeper level.

We need the spirit of wisdom, which only God can give: “Who ever knew Your counsel, unless You had given wisdom, and sent Your Holy Spirit from above” (Wis. 9:17). Wisdom is the knowledge of divine realities, the gift “to know Him more clearly.” We ask for the gift of understanding, which Thomas tells us “consists in the revelation of spiritual mysteries that God alone can give” (Thomas Aquinas, Commentary on the Letter of St. Paul to the Ephesians, 50).

Ephesians requests that “having the eyes of your hearts enlightened …” (Eph 1:18). Looking over our own lives, we may realize that only slowly did Jesus’ teachings sink in. For whole periods of our lives, we just didn’t “get it.” The things we did and said followed from our lack of understanding.

Ephesians tells us that wisdom and understanding are needed that, “… you may know the great hope to which He has called you” (Eph 1:18). Our existence has a purpose beyond survival and personal achievements. The wisdom and understanding that come from God give us hope. Paul affirms, “We are saved by hope” (Rom. 8:24).

We are, according to Ephesians, “called to hope.” Thomas maintains that the virtue of hope concerns “an immense reality”: “This hope is of utmost importance because it concerns the greatest realities” (Commentary on Ephesians, 53). The First Letter of Peter declares, “He has given us a new birth to a living hope, by the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead” (1 Pet. 1:3).

The First Letter of Peter gives attention to Baptism when it speaks of a “new birth” that gives us “a living hope.” This hope is founded on “the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead.”

The Letter to the Hebrews encourages us to “hold fast” to this hope: “That we who have fled for refuge may have strong encouragement to hold fast to the hope set before us. This we have as a sure and firm anchor of the soul, which enters [the sanctuary] behind the veil” (Heb. 6:18-19).

Other New Testament Letters speak of present challenges in light of the future gifts: “The sufferings of this time are not worthy to be compared with the glory to come that shall be revealed in us” (Rom. 8:18); “for this slight momentary affliction is preparing for us an incomparable eternal weight of glory” (2 Cor. 4:17).

Our confidence in the future is based not on our resources but on God’s power: “ … that you may know… what is the exceeding greatness of His power towards us, who believe, according to the working of His great might” (Eph 1:19).

God’s manifestations of power upon His Son is the model of what God will do in us, as Thomas affirms: “As the life of Christ is the form and exemplar of our justice, so Christ’s glory and exaltation is the form and exemplar of our glory and exaltation” (Commentary on Ephesians, 56).

Thomas asserts that what God did for the Son, He will do for us: “The divine activity in Christ is the form and exemplar of the divine activity in us … according to ‘the working’ of the might of His power, meaning the powerful might of God, ‘which He worked in Christ,’ exalting Him who is the head. Understand that in this way He will mightily act in us” (Commentary on Ephesians, 57).  

Paul affirms: ‘We await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, who will transfigure our wretched body to be like His glorious body by the power which enables Him to subject all things to Himself’” (Phil. 3:20-21).

As God acted on His Son, so will He act for us by the same strength, “the strength which God the Father showed in raising Christ from the dead” (Eph 1:20). Paul expresses this confidence in the Letter to the Romans: “And, if the Spirit of Him that raised up Jesus from the dead dwells in you; He that raised up Jesus Christ from the dead shall quicken also your mortal bodies, because of His Spirit that dwells in you” (Rom. 8: 11).

Jesus is not only raised but also He is exalted: “God seated Him at His right hand in heaven” (Eph 1:20). Thomas Aquinas reminds us that this is a figurative way of speaking:

“Considered in relation to God, He is seated at His right hand; this is not to be thought of as a bodily organ—‘God is a Spirit’ (Jn. 4:24)—but as a metaphorical way of speaking… When we say that Christ Jesus is seated at the right hand of God, it should be understood that according to His humanity He partakes of the Father’s choicest blessings, and according to His divinity it is understood as equality with the Father. ‘The Lord spoke to my Lord: Sit at My right’ (Ps. 110: 1); ‘And the Lord Jesus, after He had spoken to them, was taken up into heaven and sat on the right hand of God’ (Mk 16:19)” (Commentary on Ephesians, 60).

Thomas recognizes that we will not only share Christ’s Resurrection but also His exaltation: “In Scripture we frequently read that we will be exalted in the likeness of Christ’s exaltation. For example, ‘…provided we suffer with Him, so as also to be glorified with Him’ (Rom 8:17); ‘He who conquers I will grant him to sit with Me in My throne; as I Myself have conquered and sat down with My Father on His throne’” (Rev 3:21).

Christ is “above every name that is named,” indicating that Christ has been exalted above every spiritual creature: “He gave Him a name which is above all names” (Phil. 2:9). “Every creature is totally subject to the power of Christ”: ‘All power is given to Me in heaven and in earth’ (Mt 28:18); ‘For in subjecting all things to Him, He left nothing not subjected to Him’” (Heb. 2:8).

Everything is said to be “under His feet,” meaning “every creature is totally subject to the power of Christ” (Commentary on Ephesians, 65). Matthew states: “All power is given to Me in heaven and in earth” (Mt 28:18) and the Letter to the Hebrews declares: “For in subjecting all things to Him, He left nothing not subjected to Him” (Heb. 2:8).

Because Christ is exalted over all, we can have confidence in Christ’ power on us in the future but also in the present: “the wealth of His glorious heritage to be distributed among the members of the church” (Eph 1:18).

In the present, Christ is “the head of the Church, which is His body” (Eph 1:22). Thomas reflects: “He speaks of the relation of the Church to Christ at which is His body, inasmuch as she is subject to Him, receives His influence, and shares the same nature with Christ. ‘Just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ. For in one Spirit were we all baptized into one body’ (1 Cor. 12:12-13)” (Commentary on Ephesians, 70).

The natural body has hands, feet, mouth, which have different activities but each is related to the soul and activated by the soul. Christ is related to His body as its fullness, in a similar way: “The soul itself is the cause and principle of these members and what they are, the soul is virtually. For the body is made for the soul and not the other way around. From this perspective, the natural body is a certain fullness of the soul; unless the members exist with an integral body, the soul cannot exercise fully its activities” (Commentary on Ephesians, 71).

Thomas draws out the relationship between Jesus as the head and the Church which is His body:

“Since the Church was instituted on account of Christ, the Church is called the fullness of Christ. Everything which is virtually in Christ is, as it were, filled out in some way in the members of the Church. For all spiritual understanding, gifts, and whatever can be present in the Church—all of which Christ possesses superabundantly—flow from Him into the members of the Church, and they are perfected in them. So he adds who is filled all in all since Christ makes this member of the Church wise with the perfect wisdom present in Himself, and He makes another just with His perfect justice, and so on with the others” (Commentary on Ephesians, 71).

Denis Vincent Wiseman, O.P. 

References to St. Thomas Aquinas’ Commentary on Ephesians are taken from the translation of Fr. Fabian R. Larcher, O.P. and M. L. Lamb, edited by J. Mortensen and E. Alarcón. The translation, found in Volume 39 of the Biblical Commentaries, was published by the Aquinas Institute for the Study of Sacred Doctrine, Lander, Wyoming, in 2012, pages 202-213.

Sixth Sunday of Easter – A

In departing from His disciples, Jesus says that He will ask the Father to send the “Spirit of Truth” to those who “love Me and obey My commandments.” Thomas Aquinas understands this to mean, “You don’t express your love for me by tears but by obedience to My commands, for this is a clear sign of love” (Commentary on the Gospel of John, 1908).

Thomas asks whether love and obedience are a necessary preparation for the Holy Spirit? St. Paul implies that the Spirit brings love, “The love of God has been poured into our hearts by the Holy Spirit” (Rom 5:5) and “For all who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God” (Rom 8:14).

Do we deserve to receive the Spirit because we love the Son? St. Thomas gives us some light:

No one can love God unless he has the Holy Spirit: because we do not act before we receive God’s grace, rather, the grace comes first: ‘He loved us first’ (1 Jn 4:10). We should say, therefore, that the apostles first received the Holy Spirit so that they could love God and obey His commands. But it was necessary that they make good use, by their love and obedience, of this first gift of the Holy Spirit in order to receive the Spirit more fully. And so the meaning is, If you love Me, by means of the Holy Spirit, whom you have, and obey My commandments, you will receive the Holy Spirit with greater fullness (Commentary on the Gospel of John, 1909).

What is Jesus’ role in relation to us at present? Thomas reflects:

Our Lord Jesus Christ, as a human being, is the mediator between God and humankind, as we see in 1 Timothy 2:5. And so as a human being He approaches God and asks heavenly gifts for us, and coming to us, He lifts us up and leads us to God. And so, because He had already come to us, and by giving us the commandments of God had led believers to God, He still had to return to the Father and ask for spiritual gifts: ‘Approaching God by Himself He is able to save forever’ [Heb 7:25]. He does this by asking the Father; and He says this, I will pray the Father: ‘When He ascended on high He led a host of captives and He gave gifts to men’ (Eph 4:8) (Commentary on the Gospel of John, 1910).

St. Thomas observes: “Note that it is the same person who asks that the Paraclete be given and who gives the Paraclete. He asks as a human being, He gives as God” (Commentary on the Gospel of John, 1910).

Thomas understands “Paraclete” to mean “consoler.” Thomas affirms that the Father will give the Paraclete, “but not without the Son.”

Thomas states, “The Holy Spirit… is the Consoler, since He is the spirit of love. It is love that causes spiritual consolation and joy: ‘The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy’ (Gal 5:22). The Holy Spirit is our advocate: ‘We do not know how to pray as we ought, but the Spirit Himself intercedes for us with sighs too deep for words’”(Rom 8:26).

Jesus says, “I will give you another Paraclete.” Thomas recognizes that the First Letter of John describes Jesus as our advocate: “We have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous” (1 Jn 2:1).  Thomas demonstrates that both the Son and the Spirit are consolers and advocates:

Yet the Son and the Holy Spirit are not consolers and advocates in the same way, if we consider the appropriation of persons. Christ is called an advocate because as a human being He intercedes for us to the Father; the Holy Spirit is an advocate because He makes us ask. Again, the Holy Spirit is called a consoler because He is formally love. But the Son is a consoler because He is the Word. The Son is a consoler in two ways: because of His teaching and because the Son gives the Holy Spirit and incites love in our hearts (Commentary on the Gospel of John, 1912).

According to Thomas, once the Spirit is given, He remains:

The Spirit is truly given because it is given forever. Thus he says, to be with you forever, even the Spirit of truth. When something is given to a person only for a time, this is not a true giving; but there is a true giving when something is given to be kept forever. And so the Holy Spirit is truly given because He is to remain with them forever. He is with us forever: in this life He enlightens and teaches us, bringing things to our mind; and in the next life He brings us to see the very reality (Commentary on the Gospel of John, 1914).

Thomas questions whether we receive the Spirit in the same way that Christ received the Spirit. Thomas answers: “Certain gifts of the Holy Spirit are necessary for salvation; these are found in all the saints and always remain in us, as charity, which never leaves (1 Cor 13:8), since it will continue into the future. Other gifts are not necessary for salvation, but are given to the faithful so they can manifest the Spirit: ‘To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good’” (1 Cor 12:7) (Commentary on the Gospel of John, 1915).

The Spirit gives the gift of lasting charity to the saints but “It is peculiar to Christ that the Spirit is always with Him by the second type of gift, for Christ always has a plenitude of power to work miracles and to prophesy, and so on” (Commentary on the Gospel of John, 1915).

Thomas explains that the Spirit is “a most excellent gift because He is the Spirit of truth” (1916). He is called “Spirit” “… to show the subtlety or fineness of his nature, for the word ‘spirit’ is used to indicate something which is undiscoverable and invisible. And so what is invisible is usually referred to as a spirit. The Holy Spirit also is undiscoverable and invisible” (Commentary on the Gospel of John, 1916).

Thomas recalls the words of the Gospel: “The Spirit blows where it wills, and you hear the sound of it, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes” (Jn 3:8).

“Spirit” also indicates power: “He is also called the Spirit to indicate His power, because He moves us to act and work well. For the word ‘spirit’ indicates a certain impulse, and that is why the word spiritus can also mean the wind” (Commentary on the Gospel of John, 1916).

He is the “Spirit of Truth” because “This Spirit proceeds from the Truth and speaks the truth, for the Holy Spirit is nothing else than Love” (Commentary on the Gospel of John, 1916).

Thomas reflects that the Spirit proceeds from the Son, who is Truth:

The Holy Spirit leads to the knowledge of the truth, because He proceeds from the Truth, who says, ‘I am the way, and the truth, and the life’ (Jn 14:6). In us, love of the truth arises when we have conceived and considered truth. So also in God, Love proceeds from conceived Truth, which is the Son. And just as Love proceeds from the Truth, so Love leads to knowledge of the truth: ‘He [The Holy Spirit] will glorify Me because He will receive from Me and declare it to you’ (Jn 16: 14).

Thomas recalls the words of Paul: “No one can say ‘Jesus is Lord’ except by the Holy Spirit” (1 Cor 12:3). Thomas comments: “It is a characteristic of the Holy Spirit to reveal the truth because it is love which impels one to reveal His secrets: ‘I have called you friends, for all that I have heard from My Father I have made known to you’ (15:15)”.

The world cannot receive the Spirit. Thomas reflects on those who love the “world”: “As long as they love the world they cannot receive the Holy Spirit, for He is the love of God. And no one can love, as his destination, both God and the world: ‘If anyone loves the world, love for the Father is not in him’ (1 Jn 2:15).

The world neither sees nor knows the Spirit. Thomas considers why this is the case: “For spiritual gifts are not received unless they are desired…  And they are not desired unless they are somehow known. Now there are two reasons why they are not known. First, because one does not want to know them; and secondly, because one is not capable of such knowledge” (Commentary on the Gospel of John, 1919).

Thomas refers to Augustine: “Worldly love does not have invisible eyes which alone can see the invisible Holy Spirit” (Treatise on John, 74, ch. 4). Paul affirms: “The sensual person does not perceive those things pertaining to the Spirit of God” [1 Cor 2:14].

Believers will be given the Spirit: “The Holy Spirit is given to believers: he says, you, who are moved by the Holy Spirit, will know Him: ‘Now we have received not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit which is from God’ (1 Cor 2:12). This is because you scorn the world: ‘We look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen’ (2 Cor 4:18).”

Jesus announces that the Spirit will dwell in them: “Note how intimate His indwelling is, for He will be in you, that is, in the depths of your heart: ‘I will put a new Spirit within them’ (Ez 11:19)” (Commentary on the Gospel of John, 1920).

Jesus promises His disciples “I will come to you” (Jn 14:18). Jesus was present in the Incarnation: “Christ Jesus came into the world” (1 Tim 1:15). There are two other bodily comings. The first is between the Resurrection and the Ascension. The second is when Jesus comes in judgment: “This Jesus, who was taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw Him go into heaven” (Acts 1:11).

Thomas declares: “His third coming is spiritual and invisible, that is, when He comes to His faithful by grace, either in life or in death” (Commentary on the Gospel of John, 1923).

Jesus announces “I will come to you” (Jn 14:18) and “I will see you again” (Jn 16:22). These are the three ways: “Again, I will come to you at the end of the world: ‘The Lord will come to judge’ [Is 3:14]. And again I will come at your death to take you to Myself: ‘I will come again and will take you to Myself’ (Jn 14:3). And again, I will come to you, visiting you in a spiritual way: “We will come to Him and make our home with Him” (Jn 14:23).”

Jesus tells the disciples “I live and you shall live” (Jn 14:19). Thomas comments: “I will live after the resurrection: ‘I died, and behold I am alive for evermore’ (Rev 1:18). Thomas reminds us of Paul’s words: “’We shall always be with the Lord’ (1 Thess 4:17).

Thomas interprets Jesus to mean: “You will see me because I live and you will live also. This is like saying: Just as I have a glorified life in My soul and in My body, so will you ‘Christ will change our lowly body to be like His glorious body’ (Phil 3:21). He says this because our glorified life is produced by the glorified life of Christ: ‘For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive’ (1 Cor 15:22).”

Thomas understands Jesus’ words, “On that day you will know that I am in the Father” (Jn 14:20) to be referring to the day of the Resurrection: “ they will know this by the knowledge of faith, because then having seen that He has arisen and is among them, they will have a most certain faith about Him, especially those who would receive the Holy Spirit, who would teach them all things” (Commentary on the Gospel of John, 1927).

Jesus told the disciples: “The Father who dwells in Me does the works” (Jn 14:10) and “He who believes in Me will also do the works that I do” (Jn 14:12). Thomas asks whether this means that Jesus is less than the Father just as the disciples were less than Jesus? Thomas responds: “When Christ says, I am in my Father, He means by a consubstantiality of nature: ‘I and the Father are one’ (Jn 10:30); ‘And the Word was with God’ (Jn 1:1).”

The statement, “’you in Me’ means that the disciples are in Christ.” Something protected or shielded is in the thing, such as a thing contained in a container or the affairs of a kingdom in the hands of the king.

The Acts of the Apostles states of God, “in Him we live and move and have our being” (Acts 17:28).  Thomas explains Jesus’ words “And I in you, remaining within you, and acting and indwelling within you by grace” (Commentary on the Gospel of John, 1930). This is what the Letter to the Ephesians stated: “that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith” (Eph 3:17) and what Paul was asserting: “You desire proof that Christ is speaking in me” (2 Cor 113:3).

Thomas acknowledges St. Hilary’s explanation:

And you in me, that is, you will be in me through your nature, which I have taken on: for in taking on our nature He took us all on: He did not take hold of the angels, but He did take hold of the seed of Abraham” (Heb 2:16). And I in you, that is, I will be in you when you receive My sacrament, for when one receives the body of Christ, Christ is in him: ‘He who eats My flesh and drinks My blood abides in Me, and I in him’ (Jn 6:56). (De Trinitate, 8).

Thomas offers additional explanation: “and you in me, and I in you,” that is, by our mutual love, for we read: “God is love, and he who abides in love abides in God, and God abides in him” (1 Jn 4:16).

Jesus proclaims: “He who has My commandments and keeps them, he it is who loves Me.” Thomas reflects:

Note that true love is love which appears and proves itself by actions: for love is revealed by its actions. Since to love someone is to will that person something good and to desire what this person wants, one does not seem to truly love a person if he does not accomplish the will of the beloved or do what he knows this person wants. And so one who does not do the will of God does not seem to truly love Him (Commentary on the Gospel of John, 1932).

Thomas refers to Augustine’s words: “The person who keeps the commandments in his memory and keeps them in his life, who has them in his speech and keeps them in his conduct, who has them by hearing them and keeps them by doing them, who has them by doing and persisting in doing them, this is one who loves Me” (Commentary on the Gospel of John, 1933) (Tractate on John, 75, ch. 5).

Thomas questions whether Jesus’ words, “He who loves Me will be loved by My Father” could indicate that God loves us because we love Him. He answers: “Assuredly not; for we read: ‘not that we loved God, but because He has first loved us’ (1 Jn 4:10).

Thomas refers back to Jesus’ teaching, “He who has My commandments and keeps them, he it is who loves Me.” Thomas explains: “This does not mean that one keeps the commandments and as a result of this loves. But rather, one loves, and as a result of this, keeps the commandments” (Commentary on the Gospel of John, 1934).

Thomas concludes:

In the same way, we should say here that one is loved by the Father, and as a result he loves Christ, and not that one is loved because he loves. Therefore, we love the Son because the Father loves us. For it is a characteristic of true love that it draws the one loved to love the one who loves him: ‘I have loved you with an everlasting love, and therefore I have drawn you having compassion on you’ (Jer 31:3) (Commentary on the Gospel of John, 1934).

Thomas notices that the Father’s love is with the Son’s love: “Because the Father’s love is not without the Son’s love, since it is the same love in each, ‘Whatever the Father does, that the Son does likewise’ (Jn 5:19).”

Thomas asks why Jesus says “I will love him” since God loves from all eternity. Thomas concludes: “We should answer that love, considered as being in the divine will, is eternal; but considered as manifested in the accomplishment of some work and effect, is temporal. So the meaning is: and I will love him, that is, I will show the effect of My love, because I will manifest myself to him: for I love in order to manifest Myself” (Commentary on the Gospel of John, 1935).

God reveals Himself to those whom He loves:

Note that one’s love for another is sometimes qualified and sometimes absolute. It is qualified when one wills the other some particular good; but it is absolute when one wills the other all good. Now God loves every created thing in a qualified sense, because he wills some good to every creature, even to the demons, for example, that they live and understand and exist. There are particular goods. But God loves absolutely those to whom he wills all good, that is, that they have God Himself. And to have God is to have truth, for God is Truth. But truth is had or possessed when it is known. So God, who is Truth, truly and absolutely loves those to whom He manifests Himself. (Commentary on the Gospel of John, 1936).

Thomas responds to the question whether the Father will reveal Himself:

For the Son manifests Himself and the Father at the same time, because the Son is the Word of the Father: “No one knows the Father except the Son” (Mt 11:27). If in the meantime the Son manifests Himself to anyone in some way, this is a sign of God’s love. And this can be a reason why the world will not see Him, because He will not manifest Himself to it because it does not love Him (1937).

Denis Vincent Wiseman, O.P.

References to St. Thomas Aquinas’ Commentary on the Gospel of John may be found in the translation by Fr. James A. Weisheipl, O.P. and Fr. Fabian R. Larcher, O.P., published by St. Bede’s Publications.