Category Archives: on the Summa

comments on portions from the Summa Theologia of St. Thomas Aquinas

Summa Comparison Texts

So my brain needed a good, relaxing bath in sound reasoning after walking down memory lane with the Modern Western Philosophy crew.  A dip in the Summa, of course, was just what the Doctor ordered.  Of course, what that meant was trying to find a few texts that would be likely to come into direct conversation with the texts I’d picked as an intro to that tradition.

Here’s what I found, with no particular explanation.  I’m hoping our Summer Seminar conversation will make the connections.

In our knowledge there are two things to be considered. First, that intellectual knowledge in some degree arises from sensible knowledge: and, because sense has singular and individual things for its object, and intellect has the universal for its object, it follows that our knowledge of the former comes before our knowledge of the latter. Secondly, we must consider that our intellect proceeds from a state of potentiality to a state of actuality; and every power thus proceeding from potentiality to actuality comes first to an incomplete act, which is the medium between potentiality and actuality, before accomplishing the perfect act. The perfect act of the intellect is complete knowledge, when the object is distinctly and determinately known; whereas the incomplete act is imperfect knowledge, when the object is known indistinctly, and as it were confusedly. A thing thus imperfectly known, is known partly in act and partly in potentiality, and hence the Philosopher says (Phys. i, 1), that “what is manifest and certain is known to us at first confusedly; afterwards we know it by distinguishing its principles and elements.” Now it is evident that to know an object that comprises many things, without proper knowledge of each thing contained in it, is to know that thing confusedly.

(source: Summa Theologica)

the Essence of God, the pure and perfect act, is simply and perfectly in itself intelligible; and hence God by His own Essence knows Himself, and all other things also. The angelic essence belongs, indeed, to the genus of intelligible things as “act,” but not as a “pure act,” nor as a “complete act,” and hence the angel’s act of intelligence is not completed by his essence. For although an angel understands himself by his own essence, still he cannot understand all other things by his own essence; for he knows things other than himself by their likenesses. Now the human intellect is only a potentiality in the genus of intelligible beings, just as primary matter is a potentiality as regards sensible beings; and hence it is called “possible.” Therefore in its essence the human mind is potentially understanding. Hence it has in itself the power to understand, but not to be understood, except as it is made actual. For even the Platonists asserted than an order of intelligible beings existed above the order of intellects, forasmuch as the intellect understands only by participation of the intelligible; for they said that the participator is below what it participates. If, therefore, the human intellect, as the Platonists held, became actual by participating separate intelligible forms, it would understand itself by such participation of incorporeal beings. But as in this life our intellect has material and sensible things for its proper natural object, as stated above (Question [84], Article [7]), it understands itself according as it is made actual by the species abstracted from sensible things, through the light of the active intellect, which not only actuates the intelligible things themselves, but also, by their instrumentality, actuates the passive intellect. Therefore the intellect knows itself not by its essence, but by its act.

(source: Summa Theologica)

Since the human intellect in the present state of life cannot understand even immaterial created substances (Article [1]), much less can it understand the essence of the uncreated substance. Hence it must be said simply that God is not the first object of our knowledge. Rather do we know God through creatures, according to the Apostle (Rm. 1:20), “the invisible things of God are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made”: while the first object of our knowledge in this life is the “quiddity of a material thing,” which is the proper object of our intellect, as appears above in many passages (Question [84], Article [7]; Question [85], Article [8]; Question [87], Article [2], ad 2)

(source: Summa Theologica)

This doctrine is wisdom above all human wisdom; not merely in any one order, but absolutely. For since it is the part of a wise man to arrange and to judge, and since lesser matters should be judged in the light of some higher principle, he is said to be wise in any one order who considers the highest principle in that order: thus in the order of building, he who plans the form of the house is called wise and architect, in opposition to the inferior laborers who trim the wood and make ready the stones: “As a wise architect, I have laid the foundation” (1 Cor. 3:10). Again, in the order of all human life, the prudent man is called wise, inasmuch as he directs his acts to a fitting end: “Wisdom is prudence to a man” (Prov. 10: 23). Therefore he who considers absolutely the highest cause of the whole universe, namely God, is most of all called wise. Hence wisdom is said to be the knowledge of divine things, as Augustine says (De Trin. xii, 14). But sacred doctrine essentially treats of God viewed as the highest cause—not only so far as He can be known through creatures just as philosophers knew Him—”That which is known of God is manifest in them” (Rm. 1:19)—but also as far as He is known to Himself alone and revealed to others. Hence sacred doctrine is especially called wisdom.

(source: Summa Theologica)

A thing can be self-evident in either of two ways: on the one hand, self-evident in itself, though not to us; on the other, self-evident in itself, and to us. A proposition is self-evident because the predicate is included in the essence of the subject, as “Man is an animal,” for animal is contained in the essence of man. If, therefore the essence of the predicate and subject be known to all, the proposition will be self-evident to all; as is clear with regard to the first principles of demonstration, the terms of which are common things that no one is ignorant of, such as being and non-being, whole and part, and such like. If, however, there are some to whom the essence of the predicate and subject is unknown, the proposition will be self-evident in itself, but not to those who do not know the meaning of the predicate and subject of the proposition. Therefore, it happens, as Boethius says (Hebdom., the title of which is: “Whether all that is, is good”), “that there are some mental concepts self-evident only to the learned, as that incorporeal substances are not in space.” Therefore I say that this proposition, “God exists,” of itself is self-evident, for the predicate is the same as the subject, because God is His own existence as will be hereafter shown (Question [3], Article [4]). Now because we do not know the essence of God, the proposition is not self-evident to us; but needs to be demonstrated by things that are more known to us, though less known in their nature—namely, by effects.

(source: Summa Theologica)

It is impossible for any created intellect to see the essence of God by its own natural power. For knowledge is regulated according as the thing known is in the knower. But the thing known is in the knower according to the mode of the knower. Hence the knowledge of every knower is ruled according to its own nature. If therefore the mode of anything’s being exceeds the mode of the knower, it must result that the knowledge of the object is above the nature of the knower. Now the mode of being of things is manifold. For some things have being only in this one individual matter; as all bodies. But others are subsisting natures, not residing in matter at all, which, however, are not their own existence, but receive it; and these are the incorporeal beings, called angels. But to God alone does it belong to be His own subsistent being. Therefore what exists only in individual matter we know naturally, forasmuch as our soul, whereby we know, is the form of certain matter. Now our soul possesses two cognitive powers; one is the act of a corporeal organ, which naturally knows things existing in individual matter; hence sense knows only the singular. But there is another kind of cognitive power in the soul, called the intellect; and this is not the act of any corporeal organ. Wherefore the intellect naturally knows natures which exist only in individual matter; not as they are in such individual matter, but according as they are abstracted therefrom by the considering act of the intellect; hence it follows that through the intellect we can understand these objects as universal; and this is beyond the power of the sense. Now the angelic intellect naturally knows natures that are not in matter; but this is beyond the power of the intellect of our soul in the state of its present life, united as it is to the body. It follows therefore that to know self-subsistent being is natural to the divine intellect alone; and this is beyond the natural power of any created intellect; for no creature is its own existence, forasmuch as its existence is participated. Therefore the created intellect cannot see the essence of God, unless God by His grace unites Himself to the created intellect, as an object made intelligible to it.

(source: Summa Theologica)


In names predicated of many in an analogical sense, all are predicated because they have reference to some one thing; and this one thing must be placed in the definition of them all. And since that expressed by the name is the definition, as the Philosopher says (Metaph. iv), such a name must be applied primarily to that which is put in the definition of such other things, and secondarily to these others according as they approach more or less to that first. Thus, for instance, “healthy” applied to animals comes into the definition of “healthy” applied to medicine, which is called healthy as being the cause of health in the animal; and also into the definition of “healthy” which is applied to urine, which is called healthy in so far as it is the sign of the animal’s health. Thus all names applied metaphorically to God, are applied to creatures primarily rather than to God, because when said of God they mean only similitudes to such creatures. For as “smiling” applied to a field means only that the field in the beauty of its flowering is like the beauty of the human smile by proportionate likeness, so the name of “lion” applied to God means only that God manifests strength in His works, as a lion in his. Thus it is clear that applied to God the signification of names can be defined only from what is said of creatures. But to other names not applied to God in a metaphorical sense, the same rule would apply if they were spoken of God as the cause only, as some have supposed. For when it is said, “God is good,” it would then only mean “God is the cause of the creature’s goodness”; thus the term good applied to God would included in its meaning the creature’s goodness. Hence “good” would apply primarily to creatures rather than to God. But as was shown above (Article [2]), these names are applied to God not as the cause only, but also essentially. For the words, “God is good,” or “wise,” signify not only that He is the cause of wisdom or goodness, but that these exist in Him in a more excellent way. Hence as regards what the name signifies, these names are applied primarily to God rather than to creatures, because these perfections flow from God to creatures; but as regards the imposition of the names, they are primarily applied by us to creatures which we know first. Hence they have a mode of signification which belongs to creatures, as said above (Article [3]).

(source: Summa Theologica)

God understands Himself through Himself. In proof whereof it must be known that although in operations which pass to an external effect, the object of the operation, which is taken as the term, exists outside the operator; nevertheless in operations that remain in the operator, the object signified as the term of operation, resides in the operator; and accordingly as it is in the operator, the operation is actual. Hence the Philosopher says (De Anima iii) that “the sensible in act is sense in act, and the intelligible in act is intellect in act.” For the reason why we actually feel or know a thing is because our intellect or sense is actually informed by the sensible or intelligible species. And because of this only, it follows that sense or intellect is distinct from the sensible or intelligible object, since both are in potentiality.

Since therefore God has nothing in Him of potentiality, but is pure act, His intellect and its object are altogether the same; so that He neither is without the intelligible species, as is the case with our intellect when it understands potentially; nor does the intelligible species differ from the substance of the divine intellect, as it differs in our intellect when it understands actually; but the intelligible species itself is the divine intellect itself, and thus God understands Himself through Himself.

(source: Summa Theologica)

It is necessary to suppose ideas in the divine mind. For the Greek word {Idea} is in Latin “forma.” Hence by ideas are understood the forms of things, existing apart from the things themselves. Now the form of anything existing apart from the thing itself can be for one of two ends: either to be the type of that of which it is called the form, or to be the principle of the knowledge of that thing, inasmuch as the forms of things knowable are said to be in him who knows them. In either case we must suppose ideas, as is clear for the following reason:

In all things not generated by chance, the form must be the end of any generation whatsoever. But an agent does not act on account of the form, except in so far as the likeness of the form is in the agent, as may happen in two ways. For in some agents the form of the thing to be made pre-exists according to its natural being, as in those that act by their nature; as a man generates a man, or fire generates fire. Whereas in other agents (the form of the thing to be made pre-exists) according to intelligible being, as in those that act by the intellect; and thus the likeness of a house pre-exists in the mind of the builder. And this may be called the idea of the house, since the builder intends to build his house like to the form conceived in his mind. As then the world was not made by chance, but by God acting by His intellect, as will appear later (Question [46], Article [1]), there must exist in the divine mind a form to the likeness of which the world was made. And in this the notion of an idea consists.

(source: Summa Theologica)

For it is clear that whatever is received into something is received according to the condition of the recipient. Now a thing is known in as far as its form is in the knower. But the intellectual soul knows a thing in its nature absolutely: for instance, it knows a stone absolutely as a stone; and therefore the form of a stone absolutely, as to its proper formal idea, is in the intellectual soul. Therefore the intellectual soul itself is an absolute form, and not something composed of matter and form. For if the intellectual soul were composed of matter and form, the forms of things would be received into it as individuals, and so it would only know the individual: just as it happens with the sensitive powers which receive forms in a corporeal organ; since matter is the principle by which forms are individualized. It follows, therefore, that the intellectual soul, and every intellectual substance which has knowledge of forms absolutely, is exempt from composition of matter and form.

(source: Summa Theologica)

We must assert that the intellect which is the principle of intellectual operation is the form of the human body. For that whereby primarily anything acts is a form of the thing to which the act is to be attributed: for instance, that whereby a body is primarily healed is health, and that whereby the soul knows primarily is knowledge; hence health is a form of the body, and knowledge is a form of the soul. The reason is because nothing acts except so far as it is in act; wherefore a thing acts by that whereby it is in act. Now it is clear that the first thing by which the body lives is the soul. And as life appears through various operations in different degrees of living things, that whereby we primarily perform each of all these vital actions is the soul. For the soul is the primary principle of our nourishment, sensation, and local movement; and likewise of our understanding. Therefore this principle by which we primarily understand, whether it be called the intellect or the intellectual soul, is the form of the body. This is the demonstration used by Aristotle (De Anima ii, 2).

But if anyone says that the intellectual soul is not the form of the body he must first explain how it is that this action of understanding is the action of this particular man; for each one is conscious that it is himself who understands. Now an action may be attributed to anyone in three ways, as is clear from the Philosopher (Phys. v, 1); for a thing is said to move or act, either by virtue of its whole self, for instance, as a physician heals; or by virtue of a part, as a man sees by his eye; or through an accidental quality, as when we say that something that is white builds, because it is accidental to the builder to be white. So when we say that Socrates or Plato understands, it is clear that this is not attributed to him accidentally; since it is ascribed to him as man, which is predicated of him essentially. We must therefore say either that Socrates understands by virtue of his whole self, as Plato maintained, holding that man is an intellectual soul; or that intelligence is a part of Socrates. The first cannot stand, as was shown above (Question [75], Article [4]), for this reason, that it is one and the same man who is conscious both that he understands, and that he senses. But one cannot sense without a body: therefore the body must be some part of man. It follows therefore that the intellect by which Socrates understands is a part of Socrates, so that in some way it is united to the body of Socrates.

The Commentator held that this union is through the intelligible species, as having a double subject, in the possible intellect, and in the phantasms which are in the corporeal organs. Thus through the intelligible species the possible intellect is linked to the body of this or that particular man. But this link or union does not sufficiently explain the fact, that the act of the intellect is the act of Socrates. This can be clearly seen from comparison with the sensitive faculty, from which Aristotle proceeds to consider things relating to the intellect. For the relation of phantasms to the intellect is like the relation of colors to the sense of sight, as he says De Anima iii, 5,7. Therefore, as the species of colors are in the sight, so are the species of phantasms in the possible intellect. Now it is clear that because the colors, the images of which are in the sight, are on a wall, the action of seeing is not attributed to the wall: for we do not say that the wall sees, but rather that it is seen. Therefore, from the fact that the species of phantasms are in the possible intellect, it does not follow that Socrates, in whom are the phantasms, understands, but that he or his phantasms are understood.

Some, however, tried to maintain that the intellect is united to the body as its motor; and hence that the intellect and body form one thing so that the act of the intellect could be attributed to the whole. This is, however, absurd for many reasons. First, because the intellect does not move the body except through the appetite, the movement of which presupposes the operation of the intellect. The reason therefore why Socrates understands is not because he is moved by his intellect, but rather, contrariwise, he is moved by his intellect because he understands. Secondly, because since Socrates is an individual in a nature of one essence composed of matter and form, if the intellect be not the form, it follows that it must be outside the essence, and then the intellect is the whole Socrates as a motor to the thing moved. Whereas the act of intellect remains in the agent, and does not pass into something else, as does the action of heating. Therefore the action of understanding cannot be attributed to Socrates for the reason that he is moved by his intellect. Thirdly, because the action of a motor is never attributed to the thing moved, except as to an instrument; as the action of a carpenter to a saw. Therefore if understanding is attributed to Socrates, as the action of what moves him, it follows that it is attributed to him as to an instrument. This is contrary to the teaching of the Philosopher, who holds that understanding is not possible through a corporeal instrument (De Anima iii, 4). Fourthly, because, although the action of a part be attributed to the whole, as the action of the eye is attributed to a man; yet it is never attributed to another part, except perhaps indirectly; for we do not say that the hand sees because the eye sees. Therefore if the intellect and Socrates are united in the above manner, the action of the intellect cannot be attributed to Socrates. If, however, Socrates be a whole composed of a union of the intellect with whatever else belongs to Socrates, and still the intellect be united to those other things only as a motor, it follows that Socrates is not one absolutely, and consequently neither a being absolutely, for a thing is a being according as it is one.

There remains, therefore, no other explanation than that given by Aristotle—namely, that this particular man understands, because the intellectual principle is his form. Thus from the very operation of the intellect it is made clear that the intellectual principle is united to the body as its form.

The same can be clearly shown from the nature of the human species. For the nature of each thing is shown by its operation. Now the proper operation of man as man is to understand; because he thereby surpasses all other animals. Whence Aristotle concludes (Ethic. x, 7) that the ultimate happiness of man must consist in this operation as properly belonging to him. Man must therefore derive his species from that which is the principle of this operation. But the species of anything is derived from its form. It follows therefore that the intellectual principle is the proper form of man.

But we must observe that the nobler a form is, the more it rises above corporeal matter, the less it is merged in matter, and the more it excels matter by its power and its operation; hence we find that the form of a mixed body has another operation not caused by its elemental qualities. And the higher we advance in the nobility of forms, the more we find that the power of the form excels the elementary matter; as the vegetative soul excels the form of the metal, and the sensitive soul excels the vegetative soul. Now the human soul is the highest and noblest of forms. Wherefore it excels corporeal matter in its power by the fact that it has an operation and a power in which corporeal matter has no share whatever. This power is called the intellect.

It is well to remark that if anyone holds that the soul is composed of matter and form, it would follow that in no way could the soul be the form of the body. For since the form is an act, and matter is only in potentiality, that which is composed of matter and form cannot be the form of another by virtue of itself as a whole. But if it is a form by virtue of some part of itself, then that part which is the form we call the soul, and that of which it is the form we call the “primary animate,” as was said above (Question [75], Article [5]).

(source: Summa Theologica)

Leisure and Labor–notes from the conference at St. Gregory’s University

As St. Gregory’s University in nearby Shawnee, Oklahoma, welcomes its new president, Michael Scaperlanda, we nearby academically-inclined folks get to enjoy a conference designed to offer shape and scope to the direction St. Gregory’s is heading–and it’s encouraging!

Alas, keynote speaker Fr. James V. Schall was sick, and not able to read his own paper, but it was read by the learned and witty Dr. Wilfred McClay in his stead, with comments offered by Dr. Marcel Brown, Dr. Kyle Harper, and a stimulating discussion from the audience.


And the conversation really did continue at the reception afterward.

There were too many good turns and reflections in the original paper and the total conversation to remember, and I won’t wear you out trying to recount them all in my wandering fashion–nor would I do justice to the “you had to be there” quality of such a good discussion, if I tried.  You’ll just have to come join the conversation when you can.

But there was one really good thread that I wish we’d had even more time to pull.  Fr. Schall’s talk included a discussion of the “uselesness” of much that is still true and good to learn, distinguishing it from the merely instrumentally “useful” nature of other things.  In commenting later, someone linked “leisure” (as conceived by Pieper, especially–note the forward written by Schall) to the “uselessness” of learning, and linked these in turn to the need for a “contemplative” as well as an “active” component to life.

But in that process, I really found myself wanting to jump up and press for some distinctions.  (I have now decided that, given a chance to teach an appropriate audience, especially in a Socratic classroom, I will certainly ritualize the cry, “Distinguo!”)

Specifically, teaching and study are considered to be part of the active life, not part of the contemplative life.  The relationship between these things, as external actions that prepare us for well-ordered, peaceful adoration of God in a state of readiness to obey Him, is less like the relationship between toaster and toast (instrument and object) than like the relationship between preparing a cup of tea for my wife when she’s reading and enjoying the repose I’ve cooperated in making more completely fit, or perhaps better yet by responding gratefully to God who arranged the giant gaseous ball that sends the rays that warm her and that help the tea grow (and all other things on this Earth).  It is less like working to put gas in the car to drive it down the road on vacation; more like repeatedly fueling the car and driving through the night and seeing my family’s back porch as I roll in the driveway.

In other words, the active life–to include teaching and study, that is, including leisure activities as well as “work” in our modern sense, whether professional or “labor”–is not of a kind with the contemplative, just arranged as the product of a process of manufacture, as commodity to factor.

Instead, the active life reaches many goods, and commensurates those goods in order to achieve the economies that let us recombine those goods in order to achieve goals; but this system of nominally commensurable exchanges does not reach all goods–we say vulgarly, “Money can’t buy me love”–because some goods have directly to do with the good of friendship with God, a good which is too basic to our nature (on the one hand) and too far beyond our powers of estimation and comprehension (on the other) to ever build the right theoretical or practical structure to grasp or “buy into” on the basis of activity alone.

But that means that our definition of “useful” needs some modification, so that we can understand how the active life can aid the contemplative life.  We can approach this in steps:

  • Some activities, including some teaching and study, yield only nominal goods that are not essentially good (false goods); they are truly useless.
  • Some activities, including some teaching and study, yield goods convertible only for other goods that are part of the active life; they are useful only in the utilitarian sense, but that sense is not negligible, as such activities can help us and help others toward truly liberal goods.
  • Some activities, including some teaching and study, yield goods that actually prepare us for and provide expanded opportunity for the contemplative life (or “leisure”); they are useful in the liberal sense, the sense intended by the liberal arts (and these therefore include more mechanical arts than many think).  These activities, or “liberal arts” properly so called, are not themselves contemplations or the goods of contemplation, but like driving through the night they are definitely related to the enjoyment of the goods of seeing one’s family home (and higher goods yet).
  • Contemplation, however, is our increasing capacity for enjoyment of friendship with God, sincere and constant prayer, docility to His leading in public and private, and readiness to cooperate in His movements (as when He directs us to some good activity); it is useless in the utilitarian sense, as its goods are not convertible for other goods that are part of the active life.  It is useless in the liberal sense, as it is the enjoyment of that for which we have gained and used both utilitarian and liberal goods.

This paradoxical double sense of “useless,” however, should alert us that a conversion from merely utilitarian to properly liberal activity is an essential property of our becoming capable of friendship with God, of gaining the opportunity and readiness to truly enjoy this transcendent good.

Where we find ourselves describing the contemplative life as useless in the utilitarian sense, our words are trivially true but dangerously wrongheaded:  all utilitarian goods ultimately (at the horizon of death) “cash out” either in liberal goods that make possible the enjoyment of friendship with God, or they prove to be false goods.

Put differently, we are either growing and shaping our active lives so as to make it more possible for ourselves and others to enjoy the goods of friendship with God, and thus converting the mixture of true and false goods that are judged useful in the utilitarian sense into liberal goods that fructify in enjoyment of friendship with God (and being converted from a utilitarian to a liberal conception of what is useful); or we are stunting and misshaping our active lives so as to convert its goods only into others of its kind, while specifically treating as useless those activities that would make the true enjoyment of those goods possible, thus making those goods truly useless to ourselves and others.

“For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.”

Here, enjoy some Hugh of St. Victor on the divisions of the liberal arts:


Wait, so…pets in Heaven? (Part One)

OK, actually, no.  Not in Heaven, where I have a pretty hard time making sense of them.  But most people forget that the destination of all those rescued by Jesus and fitted by Him for an eternally satisfying friendship with God is not Heaven, but the New Earth–that is, a bodily life that continues beyond the Beatific Vision (and we do mean “vision“).  We believe, that is, in the resurrection of the body and life everlasting.

So my most excellent friend and Thomistic sharpshooter Matt and I had a conversation about this, and I began in the position of objecting to the premise that animals would be in heaven at all; then Matt got me to entertain the possibility that “pets” were not really considered in typical analysis, here, and my own experience of animal behavior after years of living with Sarah’s lizards kicked in, and we spent the rest of the night working out the theory…so almost nothing here is original to me, as an idea, but this is my way of working the thought out weeks later.  If I get something wrong, blame me–unless Matt is nearer, in which case blame Matt.

We can say a little more that is interesting about this, in fact.  Let’s turn to the Ox:

Man’s perfect Happiness consists in the vision of the Divine Essence. Now it is impossible for anyone seeing the Divine Essence, to wish not to see It. Because every good that one possesses and yet wishes to be without, is either insufficient, something more sufficing being desired in its stead; or else has some inconvenience attached to it, by reason of which it becomes wearisome. But the vision of the Divine Essence fills the soul with all good things, since it unites it to the source of all goodness; hence it is written (Psalm 16:15): “I shall be satisfied when Thy glory shall appear”; and (Wisdom 7:11): “All good things came to me together with her,” i.e. with the contemplation of wisdom. In like manner neither has it any inconvenience attached to it; because it is written of the contemplation of wisdom (Wisdom 8:16): “Her conversation hath no bitterness, nor her company any tediousness.” It is thus evident that the happy man cannot forsake Happiness of his own accord. Moreover, neither can he lose Happiness, through God taking it away from him. Because, since the withdrawal of Happiness is a punishment, it cannot be enforced by God, the just Judge, except for some fault; and he that sees God cannot fall into a fault, since rectitude of the will, of necessity, results from that vision as was shown above (I-II:4:4). Nor again can it be withdrawn by any other agent. Because the mind that is united to God is raised above all other things: and consequently no other agent can sever the mind from that union. Therefore it seems unreasonable that as time goes on, man should pass from happiness to misery, and vice versa; because such like vicissitudes of time can only be for such things as are subject to time and movement.

(S.Th. II.I.5.4)

The final state, as Aquinas sees it, is most wholly summed up in the Beatific Vision, the ability to look upon God “face to face” and to be satisfied in friendship with Him as only a fully perfected human creature can–and, in fact, as only this particular human creature can; for the essence of a rational soul is to become itself precisely by its own free and morally significant responses to the Creator’s actualization of its being.  God makes me capable of choosing to become what God has created me to become only in the specific ways that His work of Creation and Redemption and my willing participation in His Being, my cooperation with grace, my “obedience of faith,” make real.  I can only be truly happy as, and insofar as, I become habituated too my creaturely relation to my Creator–something which requires the special work of a Redeemer, if it is to be perfected.


So this is the essence of happiness, for any human creature.  And St. Thomas does not want us to suffer on our way to this happiness by entertaining delusions that we might become attached to and grieve, even relatively harmless ones like expecting Heaven to be a bucolic scene like the “outing in the park” from Mary Poppins:

It is written (1 Corinthians 15:53): “This corruptible must put on incorruption, and this mortal must put on immortality“; and consequently the world will be renewed in such a way as to throw off all corruption and remain for ever at rest. Therefore it will be impossible for anything to be the subject of that renewal, unless it be a subject of incorruption. Now such are the heavenly bodies, the elements, and man. For the heavenly bodies are by their very nature incorruptible both as to their whole and as to their part: the elements are corruptible as to their parts but incorruptible as a whole: while men are corruptible both in whole and in part, but this is on the part of their matter not on the part of their form, the rational soul to wit, which will remain incorrupt after the corruption of man. on the other hand, dumb animals, plants, and minerals, and all mixed bodies, are corruptible both in their whole and in their parts, both on the part of their matter which loses its form, and on the part of their form which does not remain actually; and thus they are in no way subjects of incorruption. Hence they will not remain in this renewal, but those things alone which we have mentioned above.

Or more succinctly, and avoiding for the moment the obviously flawed science by which Thomas was informed that “heavenly bodies are…incorruptible” (a confusion about the scale at which physics and metaphysics interact–and it should be pointed out that what we have learned since is just that we don’t yet know that scale, thanks to lots of data from astronomy, relativity, quantum mechanics, and string/M theory), Thomas held that, when all the matter in the universe was “recycled” by ages of flux and the renewal that leads to the New Earth, there was nothing except the matter of plants and “dumb animals” that could account for “this animal’s” presence on the New Earth.

That would lead to the question whether God might create “a cow” rather than restore “this cow,” of course (and this gets into the problem of supposing the New Heavens and New Earth is a new act of Creation, which at least is beyond anything Scripture and Tradition give us any reason to suspect).  But the foundational answer to the “will any of these animals be on the New Earth” question is “well, how would you know which ‘dumb animal’ it was?”  Whatever might happen, it would not be the subsistence of “this animal” across time; the human soul does have a basis for being “this human” in the Resurrection, even if all the body’s matter is completely “recycled” (though, personally, I have a sneaking suspicion there is at least some particle of bodily matter from each human who has ever existed that will still be present in “this human’s body” in the Resurrection).  The “beasts of the field” do not.

And Thomas also thought that it didn’t make sense to imagine conditions in the Resurrection that were too much like conditions now, because his understanding of perfected humans obviated all eating, sleeping, excretion, etc.  Now, it seems to me that I can believe we won’t “need” food in the sense that would make us hungry or prone to starve, but we might be capable of “enjoying” food, and even doing so without waste.  Nonetheless, Thomas reasons that because such things are needed to carry forward the purposes of this age, but are not needed for a perfected humanity, such things will not be present in the New Earth:

those natural operations which are directed to cause or preserve the primary perfection of human nature will not be in the resurrection: such are the actions of the animal life in man, the action of the elements on one another, and the movement of the heavens; wherefore all these will cease at the resurrection. And since to eat, drink, sleep, beget, pertain to the animal life, being directed to the primary perfection of nature, it follows that they will not be in the resurrection.

[…] When Christ partook of that meal, His eating was an act, not of necessity as though human nature needed food after the resurrection, but of power, so as to prove that He had resumed the true human nature which He had in that state wherein He ate and drank with His disciples. There will be no need of such proof at the general resurrection, since it will be evident to all.

(ST III.81.4)

This would be a good time to note that most of this discussion takes place in the “Third Part” or “Supplement,” much of which is authored by students of Thomas after his death.  It attempts to complete the project by drawing conclusions from earlier works by Thomas; it is less richly informed by the developing understanding of Thomas, though, and in fact seems in places to make characteristic mistakes of later interpreters of Thomas.  Nonetheless, we’ll need to assume for the  moment that Thomas meant “this or something like this,” and perhaps we can discuss the matter with The Ox in the Resurrection, should the opportunity arise.

Thomas also offers a number of specific conclusions about the distinction between animals and humans:

  • The “image of God” is not found in animals (or other creatures without rational souls);
  • The “trace of the Trinity” does appear in Creation, including animals;
  • Animals do have something properly called “hope” (surprised me!);
  • Animals cannot properly “command” others;
  • Animals cannot properly “consent” to anything;
  • Animals cannot properly “use” other things;
  • Animals can be said to “enjoy” things imperfectly, but not in the perfect sense;
  • Animals do not properly “intend” anything, or “choose” anything, nor are their actions properly “voluntary.”
  • Animals are not properly called “persons“;
  • Animals do not have subsistent souls, as mentioned above.

And I take it as given, then, that it makes little to no sense to imagine that any “beasts of the field” now living will be present in the New Earth, as there would be no basis for asserting the identity of their being in this age and their being in the next.

OK, I’m going to have to break this, now….but with that background, can you imagine where one might find a plausible case on good Thomistic grounds for pets in the Resurrection?

Handy guide to Analogy

This is hardly the last word on the subject, but it seemed useful to provide a clear example, so that I wouldn’t confuse myself and everyone else when we talk about the distinction between analogical and univocal predication.


Key thing here:  as I hope you can see, this does not mean we resign clear definitions and prefer vague metaphors.  It does mean that we pay attention to the metaphysical “facts of life” that found and bound our ability to understand and discuss an intelligible universe.


God, Freedom, and what we moderns don’t know about Will

Pretty decent question from a student on Reddit:

I am doing an undergraduate exposition of the Free Will of God, as examined by St. Thomas Aquinas in his Summa, Question 19.3. I have been reading this over and over again, as well as looking into other questions of the Summa. Does anyone have a simple explanation, and/or some links to articles, books, or lectures written on this subjects?


To which I reply as follows:

Make sure you carefully understand the response to I.19.1 before you try to deal with 19.3, among other things. It sounds like you’re wrestling with this the right way. The challenge is that almost every relevant term is defined differently in the “default” philosophy of our day than in St. Thomas’s work.

Look at

Notice that will follows intellect, and is analogous to the “natural appetite,” that is, the tendency for everything to be what it is. Rocks are rock-like by “natural appetite,” that is, they tend to be rock-like as long as something else does not supervene on their nature and convert their rock-like-ness into something else.

Intellectual natures are more complicated; they have a “natural appetite” to consider their circumstances and habits and choose things that may alter them, so they may in many cases be capable of “converting” themselves, though not so as to cease to be that kind of intellectual being.

When an intellectual nature, with all this “natural appetite” for considering and choosing and potentially converting, acts according to that nature, it does so according to that nature; moral freedom is not a rupture of nature, but the act proper to an intellectual nature.

With God, the situation is even more interesting–at once more complicated and far, far more simple.

For God, the contemplation and the choosing are all perfect in their beginning, so that when God contemplates He is not really considering before acting, and only acting when the consequences are predictable; rather, God contemplates and actualizes all things (including all the contingencies and the natures according to which those contingencies are resolved, in almost endless complexity) in the same act as God exists. God, just in being God, also considers all possibilities and also actualizes all actualities, and is never in any of His considerations balked or given reason to convert any of His perfect habits in any way.

And therefore God is absolutely free, as He considers and actualizes all things according to His own act of being God, and in that same act of being a God who is good considers and actualizes what is best, including all the layers of possibility and contingency (and folded within those all the back-and-forth of Creation, Fall, Redemption, calling, conversion, Heaven, Hell) that resolve themselves according to the participation of some natures in that freedom of God.

Our own freedom is far less than God’s, because it is essentially the portion of God’s total freedom that He has, because it is perfectly in accord with His considering and actualizing all good things, allotted to us; He has decided that, whatever we make of it, our degree of participation in His freedom is an essential good of creating us. This does not constrain His freedom; it is His freedom, in making us, participated by us as our more limited and contingent freedom.

And we cannot have this freedom except as participation in His freedom, which means that when we choose to abuse His gift of opportunity to cooperate with Him, to enter freely into His friendship, we choose the loss of continued capacity to choose and a gradual descent into a more merely, almost subhumanly, appetitive and irascible state of being.

Hope that helps. Also, I’m going to blog this, so be honest with your prof when you work on your paper.

Plurivocity, not Equivocation

Just to help folks keep their bearings, here’s what Thomas has to say about the four senses of Scripture.  Note how they relate to “equivocation” and also to the “literal sense”:

On the contrary, Gregory says (Moral. xx, 1): “Holy Writ by the manner of its speech transcends every science, because in one and the same sentence, while it describes a fact, it reveals a mystery.”

I answer that, The author of Holy Writ is God, in whose power it is to signify His meaning, not by words only (as man also can do), but also by things themselves. So, whereas in every other science things are signified by words, this science has the property, that the things signified by the words have themselves also a signification. Therefore that first signification whereby words signify things belongs to the first sense, the historical or literal. That signification whereby things signified by words have themselves also a signification is called the spiritual sense, which is based on the literal, and presupposes it. Now this spiritual sense has a threefold division. For as the Apostle says (Hebrews 10:1) the Old Law is a figure of the New Law, and Dionysius says (Coel. Hier. i) “the New Law itself is a figure of future glory.” Again, in the New Law, whatever our Head has done is a type of what we ought to do. Therefore, so far as the things of the Old Law signify the things of the New Law, there is the allegorical sense; so far as the things done in Christ, or so far as the things which signify Christ, are types of what we ought to do, there is the moral sense. But so far as they signify what relates to eternal glory, there is the anagogical sense. Since the literal sense is that which the author intends, and since the author of Holy Writ is God, Who by one act comprehends all things by His intellect, it is not unfitting, as Augustine says (Confess. xii), if, even according to the literal sense, one word in Holy Writ should have several senses.

Reply to Objection 1. The multiplicity of these senses does not produce equivocation or any other kind of multiplicity, seeing that these senses are not multiplied because one word signifies several things, but because the things signified by the words can be themselves types of other things. Thus in Holy Writ no confusion results, for all the senses are founded on one — the literal — from which alone can any argument be drawn, and not from those intended in allegory, as Augustine says (Epis. 48). Nevertheless, nothing of Holy Scripture perishes on account of this, since nothing necessary to faith is contained under the spiritual sense which is not elsewhere put forward by the Scripture in its literal sense.

(source: Summa Theologica I.1.10)

The Importance of Analogy (or, how to avoid dualism and make learning possible)–Part 4

So, we’ll need to review a bit, and then let’s talk about God.

Univocal predication is impossible between God and creatures….Thus also this term “wise” applied to man in some degree circumscribes and comprehends the thing signified; whereas this is not the case when it is applied to God; but it leaves the thing signified as incomprehended, and as exceeding the signification of the name. Hence it is evident that this term “wise” is not applied in the same way to God and to man. The same rule applies to other terms. Hence no name is predicated univocally of God and of creatures.

Neither, on the other hand, are names applied to God and creatures in a purely equivocal sense, as some have said. Because if that were so, it follows that from creatures nothing could be known or demonstrated about God at all; for the reasoning would always be exposed to the fallacy of equivocation. Such a view is against the philosophers, who proved many things about God, and also against what the Apostle says: “The invisible things of God are clearly seen being understood by the things that are made” (Romans 1:20). Therefore it must be said that these names are said of God and creatures in an analogous sense, i.e. according to proportion.

(source: Summa Theologica I.13.5 respondeo)

Now, if this were a slightly different sort of philosophical journey, I might say, “And Zhaozhou achieved satori.”

But back in the real world….


This sounds difficult, I grant.  But remember what we’ve already seen:

  • When the child learns the word “Bug!” for a beetle, and applies it to insects, raisins, and the dog (but not the VW Beetle), the child is using language “analogously,” and will learn by specification which analogies are fit and which are not;
  • When the child learns to use “bug” for a range of insects, and to exclude butterflies and spiders, the child begins to use “bug” univocally;
  • When big sister teases the child by saying “Look out! there’s a bug in front of you!” when they stand in front of a VW Beetle, the child is confused because big sister has used “bug” equivocally.

In other words, we speak in analogies when we are learning; we discover the proper scope of terms, the fitness of certain common understandings across various applications in various contexts.  In the sense that our learning never ceases to be informed by how we learn it, that every body of knowledge (or clump of understanding, or field, or discipline, or science, or art) has its own coherence and purpose, its own “formal principle” derived from some more comprehensive and fundamental understanding, our learning and conversation are therefore always fundamentally analogous and only univocal or equivocal by specialization, derivation, or corruption (especially in the case of deluding equivocations).

We can speak univocally when and to the extent that we share a scope, context, and purpose with another, provided of course that the object of our discussion actually fits that scope, context, and purpose.  Any conversation about that fitness, however, would have to be conducted by analogy.

And here is the terribly important point:  disregarding the fundamental role of analogy and insisting on univocal discourse generally leads us to equivocate, and we either end up pushing opposing “not…but…” statements whose opposition is founded in an equivocation; or we end up agreeing on apparently univocal utterances that are founded on an invisible equivocation that we all assume without examination.  [Here read the brief excursus on modern and postmodern, if you like.]

So every understanding–every set of observations and claims, everything we are able to make some definite and univocal statements about–is bounded by certain judgments of fitness.  We can speak univocally about how one tree relates to another; we have learned what in each tree is analogous to every other tree, and are competent to make judgments of fitness about “how different is too different”–judgments we make by analogy, and which become definitions.  These definitions form the boundaries of sets of univocal claims, or particular “sciences.”  Because we are always, to some extent, learning, these judgments are always potentially reformable; yet each set of understandings contains some elements which must be true, or nothing else about them makes sense–and each contains some definite judgments without which that set of understandings fails to cohere.  The latter are called “formal principles,” and the former can have several names, depending on the kinds and sources of knowledge fitting to that science.  These include “intuitions,” “axioms,” “dogmas,” and the like.

Which brings us, at last, to the knowledge of God.

Like any other kind of learning, the learning that is involved in growing to understand God, getting to know Him well enough to become His friend, necessarily happens by analogy.  But with the knowledge of God, three related things happen to make it necessary to say that we can only speak of God by analogy.

First, and simplest, we are never going to have exhausted the knowledge of God.  True, if St. Thomas is right, there will come a time when we fully understand God’s relationships to all things–this is one way of describing the Beatific Vision, the ability to behold God as He really is, that is, to look upon God’s essence.  Yet St. Thomas also points out that even in this gazing upon God as He really is, we will not exhaustively comprehend God; there will always be more to His self-understanding than even our wholly perfected understanding can possibly keep in mind.  Therefore, even when we have the fullest possible capacity to make univocal statements about our knowledge of God, that knowledge itself will remain analogical in nature; those claims will be perfectly true claims about what can be known of God, but will always imply “and more” in a way that requires us to reason differently about those than we might about the cultivation of fruit trees.

Second, and only slightly more complex, the knowledge of God necessarily articulates with all our other understandings by analogy.  Remember that we discussed how each science, each set of understandings that we are able to state as univocal claims within a certain scope, context, and purpose, is necessarily bounded by judgments of the “fitness” that relate the scope, context, and purpose to the objects considered–that each body of knowledge is itself founded and bounded by analogy to other sciences, specifically to sciences that cover a broader scope at a higher level of explanation.

If there is any God, though, then God must be the Creator; the Creator’s intention and action must be the broadest scope, the inescapable context, the final purpose of every other object of our knowledge; and therefore the science of knowing God, that is, the set of univocal claims that we can make about what we can know of God’s intention, and action, must always stand in the relation of an analogy to every other kind of knowledge we have.

The only thing that could possibly found and bound such a set of claims would be knowledge of God; and having already used up all the other ways of knowing, we must acknowledge that here we enter upon a species of knowing which is both direct revelation and defined knowledge.  The sources of that definite knowledge, data of Creation and Redemption history, include the very words given to the prophets and apostles, the specific words of Christ, and what we have successfully learned from these in ways God has given humans the ability and authority to define.  The direct revelation stands behind these, and draws them forth, and also works in each of us who by God’s grace receive the infused theological virtue of faith, and continue in the obedience of faith, being drawn into friendship with God; this direct revelation is utterly inseparable from the definite knowledge, for only when they are conjoined do they provide us with a proper analogy–the analogy of Being upon which the analogy of Faith is built, and to which it refers.

Our claims about God can only be stated by analogy because it is knowledge of God that provides the analogies by which all learning, and therefore all systems of univocal claims, are possible.  Explicitly or tacitly, to understand God’s intentions and actions, to be drawn into friendship with Him, provides the scope, context, and purpose for all possible knowledge.  As the apex of all knowing, it is therefore pure analogy, insusceptible of reduction to univocal claims; all univocal claims about what we know of God cohere only under this analogy, as do all possible claims of any form about any other knowledge.


Third, and most complex, though hinted by the other two, our very condition as creatures who think in created brains and whose understanding is ordered to friendship with God requires that analogy, not univocal speech, be the apex of our knowledge of God, hence of all things.  As creatures, our understanding is built up according to rules encoded in Creation (like physical laws, changeability over time), in our metaphysically human being (our ability to conceive what our body cannot directly perceive or do, our capacity to intentionally reform our habits based on intentions conceived in the mind), or in our physical human being (like the relationship between brain structure and the nature of imagination, the variability of human senses, the pleasure/pain principle in our appetites and arousals, or our capacity for learning and repeating vocables).

Whatever capacity to understand God’s intentions and actions we have must, therefore, be a feature of our existence as human creatures who are physically and metaphysically continuous with the whole of Creation; the capacity of the Creation to participate in the life of the Creator is itself a manifestation of those intentions and actions which we are made to understand.  We cannot repudiate our creaturely being, in order to choose another; we cannot have a way of knowing that is unrelated to our manner of learning.  It is therefore impossible to think that our knowledge could be greater than our kind of being is capable of, though it is indeed possible that our capability in a graciously improved and in a perfected state is much greater than we naturally seem capable of.

The kind of knowledge we can have of God is, necessarily, the kind possible within the mind–let us focus on the brain itself, when we say that, though the principle holds for whatever is metaphysically “beyond the brain” about our knowing, too.  But this kind of knowledge must, itself, be an unfolding of the Creator’s intention that we come to know Him in an act of creating us such that we can know Him and actually continuing our existence as creatures who come to know Him (and intervening, too, but that is a separate matter for us, at a different level of explanation).  In other words, my being a human creature knowing God’s intentions and actions is, itself, a manifestation of those intentions and actions; my knowledge of those intentions and actions must necessarily stand in a relation of analogy, rather than a relation of univocal reduction, if that knowledge is to be thought possible.

Indeed, my understanding God can never be only my successful reduction of divine revelation to definitions, nor can it be an attempt to experience divine revelation as undefined:  Scylla gains me a univocal system but steal from me the necessary warrants for my belief, without which it will harden into despair and provoke unbelief in others; Charybdis gains me a moment’s freedom from the reductive habit, but steals from me the capacity to believe what I have learned, without which it will harden into unbelief and provoke despair in others.

My understanding God is always a divine revelation that what knowledge of God I have definitely gained is, itself, a manifestation of God’s intention and action in creating me; that I may “love God with my mind” as indeed with every other part of my creaturely being.

Anything less, in the end, is one kind or another of dualism, some kind of despairing of or striving after gnosis.

I hope, in a future post, to discuss the application of analogy to specific kinds of understanding God, and to language theory and allegory and poesis, the topics which engage my attention most fully.  But for now, we’ll mark this one concluded, and I hope somebody will ask good questions and provide sound criticisms to help me improve my understanding.

Because that would be a work of mercy, and an act of friendship, and a sign of the love of God being poured out in your heart.  Many thanks.

Further Interlude, still on Analogy, from the Ox

Just in case you did not, in fact, read it all:

Univocal predication is impossible between God and creatures. The reason of this is that every effect which is not an adequate result of the power of the efficient cause, receives the similitude of the agent not in its full degree, but in a measure that falls short, so that what is divided and multiplied in the effects resides in the agent simply, and in the same manner; as for example the sun by exercise of its one power produces manifold and various forms in all inferior things. In the same way, as said in the preceding article, all perfections existing in creatures divided and multiplied, pre-exist in God unitedly. Thus when any term expressing perfection is applied to a creature, it signifies that perfection distinct in idea from other perfections; as, for instance, by the term “wise” applied to man, we signify some perfection distinct from a man’s essence, and distinct from his power and existence, and from all similar things; whereas when we apply to it God, we do not mean to signify anything distinct from His essence, or power, or existence. Thus also this term “wise” applied to man in some degree circumscribes and comprehends the thing signified; whereas this is not the case when it is applied to God; but it leaves the thing signified as incomprehended, and as exceeding the signification of the name. Hence it is evident that this term “wise” is not applied in the same way to God and to man. The same rule applies to other terms. Hence no name is predicated univocally of God and of creatures.

Neither, on the other hand, are names applied to God and creatures in a purely equivocal sense, as some have said. Because if that were so, it follows that from creatures nothing could be known or demonstrated about God at all; for the reasoning would always be exposed to the fallacy of equivocation. Such a view is against the philosophers, who proved many things about God, and also against what the Apostle says: “The invisible things of God are clearly seen being understood by the things that are made” (Romans 1:20). Therefore it must be said that these names are said of God and creatures in an analogous sense, i.e. according to proportion.

Now names are thus used in two ways: either according as many things are proportionate to one, thus for example “healthy” predicated of medicine and urine in relation and in proportion to health of a body, of which the former is the sign and the latter the cause: or according as one thing is proportionate to another, thus “healthy” is said of medicine and animal, since medicine is the cause of health in the animal body. And in this way some things are said of God and creatures analogically, and not in a purely equivocal nor in a purely univocal sense. For we can name God only from creatures (Article 1). Thus whatever is said of God and creatures, is said according to the relation of a creature to God as its principle and cause, wherein all perfections of things pre-exist excellently. Now this mode of community of idea is a mean between pure equivocation and simple univocation. For in analogies the idea is not, as it is in univocals, one and the same, yet it is not totally diverse as in equivocals; but a term which is thus used in a multiple sense signifies various proportions to some one thing; thus “healthy” applied to urine signifies the sign of animal health, and applied to medicine signifies the cause of the same health.

(source: Summa Theologica I.13.5 respondeo)

Interlude, still on Analogy, from the Ox

Carefully read all of the Angelic Doctor’s words on the subject of the names of God before going on:

as regards absolute and affirmative names of God, as “good,” “wise,” and the like, various and many opinions have been given. For some have said that all such names, although they are applied to God affirmatively, nevertheless have been brought into use more to express some remotion from God, rather than to express anything that exists positively in Him. Hence they assert that when we say that God lives, we mean that God is not like an inanimate thing; and the same in like manner applies to other names; and this was taught by Rabbi Moses. Others say that these names applied to God signify His relationship towards creatures: thus in the words, “God is good,” we mean, God is the cause of goodness in things; and the same rule applies to other names.

Both of these opinions, however, seem to be untrue for three reasons.

First because in neither of them can a reason be assigned why some names more than others are applied to God. For He is assuredly the cause of bodies in the same way as He is the cause of good things; therefore if the words “God is good,” signified no more than, “God is the cause of good things,” it might in like manner be said that God is a body, inasmuch as He is the cause of bodies. So also to say that He is a body implies that He is not a mere potentiality, as is primary matter.

Secondly, because it would follow that all names applied to God would be said of Him by way of being taken in a secondary sense, as healthy is secondarily said of medicine, forasmuch as it signifies only the cause of the health in the animal which primarily is called healthy.

Thirdly, because this is against the intention of those who speak of God. For in saying that God lives, they assuredly mean more than to say the He is the cause of our life, or that He differs from inanimate bodies.

Therefore we must hold a different doctrine–viz. that these names signify the divine substance, and are predicated substantially of God, although they fall short of a full representation of Him. Which is proved thus. For these names express God, so far as our intellects know Him. Now since our intellect knows God from creatures, it knows Him as far as creatures represent Him. Now it is shown above (I:4:2) that God prepossesses in Himself all the perfections of creatures, being Himself simply and universally perfect. Hence every creature represents Him, and is like Him so far as it possesses some perfection; yet it represents Him not as something of the same species or genus, but as the excelling principle of whose form the effects fall short, although they derive some kind of likeness thereto, even as the forms of inferior bodies represent the power of the sun. This was explained above (I:4:3), in treating of the divine perfection. Therefore the aforesaid names signify the divine substance, but in an imperfect manner, even as creatures represent it imperfectly. So when we say, “God is good,” the meaning is not, “God is the cause of goodness,” or “God is not evil”; but the meaning is, “Whatever good we attribute to creatures, pre-exists in God,” and in a more excellent and higher way. Hence it does not follow that God is good, because He causes goodness; but rather, on the contrary, He causes goodness in things because He is good; according to what Augustine says (De Doctr. Christ. i, 32), “Because He is good, we are.”

(source: SUMMA THEOLOGIAE: The names of God (Prima Pars, Q. 13), emphasis added)

Can we be Ignorant of the Natural Law?

I answer that, As stated above, there belong to the natural law, first, certain most general precepts, that are known to all; and secondly, certain secondary and more detailed precepts, which are, as it were, conclusions following closely from first principles. As to those general principles, the natural law, in the abstract, can nowise be blotted out from men’s hearts. But it is blotted out in the case of a particular action, in so far as reason is hindered from applying the general principle to a particular point of practice, on account of concupiscence or some other passion, as stated above. But as to the other, i.e. the secondary precepts, the natural law can be blotted out from the human heart, either by evil persuasions, just as in speculative matters errors occur in respect of necessary conclusions; or by vicious customs and corrupt habits, as among some men, theft, and even unnatural vices, as the Apostle states (Rom. i), were not esteemed sinful.

(source: Summa Theologica)

In which I stayed up too late

In which I stayed up too late citing Aquinas and Locke,

and could really have used the sleep,

and some dinner.


In the sections of the Essay Concerning Human Understanding that are dedicated to empirical science, Locke shows at length how the whole scholastic method of philosophy is intrinsically hostile to empirical science. He was no fool; he knew at whose works he was really aiming. And while I, like you, have made the journey from nominalism to realism, I think we can have realism without the scholastic method of philosophy, and if we value empirical science we must do so.

In short, you seem to think the only really important fight is between Aquinas and Augustine, who occupies the more militantly anti-rationalist space on Aquinas’ metaphysical “Right,” to use a political metaphor. But there is also space on Aquinas’ metaphysical “Left,” and the question between you and I is whether the golden mean lies where Aquinas is, or further to his Left.

(source: Et Seq. | Hang Together)

I’m just struggling to understand your stake in all of this, Greg.  I do understand that Locke had to make choices in a pretty highly charged environment, and we both have friends who have to do the same, but I really don’t see how that figures into a general understanding of their place in the history of ideas.

More to the point, I’m not sure why we’re discussing this when the salient fact remains that there is no significant difference between “Pain-Capable Unborn Child Act” and “Kicking Unborn Child Act” to discuss; it makes no difference what level of medical knowledge you have, if you are committed to ignoring it to save a false principle.

From my perspective, Augustine and Aquinas are high points in an unfolding of Christian understanding of all things; Augustine’s work was perhaps the most developed expression of the relationship of divine revelation to all human knowing available, and the most tightly integrated with the period from Christ through the great Councils recognized by all Christians, and the most capable in using secular/pagan categories of understanding and rhetoric to relate revelation to all areas of thought and life.

There is a vulnerability in the tradition after Augustine, as there always is after a seminal thinker achieves a durable synthesis:  reduction to a flawed, less-than-the-reality-discussed, syllabus of rote points.  In the case of Augustine, the achievement and limitations of Boethius in transmitting the Platonic elements of the tradition combined with Augustine’s own Platonic antecedents and stylistic preferences.  (We also have to include the popularity of Dionysius the Aeropagite [pseudo-Dionysius] and the constant inroads of Gnostic/Manichaean/Paulician/Bogomil/Cathar heresy, as well.)  The difficulty in tying the Platonic tradition down–of recapturing the synthesis that seemed possible when reading Augustine–was the lack of articulation with reality.  As a result, unbalanced secularization or spiritualization threatened the effort to articulate divine truth with human lived experience in every area of life–politics, medicine, cosmology, sanctification, agriculture, etc.

What Aquinas achieved, I am convinced, was to recover Augustine from that reduction–to defend against that vulnerability to dualistic misinterpretation–by judicious application of Aristotle.  Aristotle had improved on Plato precisely by better articulating the junctures of world/mind, matter/form, real/ideal; he made it “philosophical” to build up an understanding of real things from observations of their properties.

Aquinas was not a scientist, himself, nor primarily concerned with such knowledge.  Nobody would claim that he was.  Albert the Great, his mentor, was profoundly interested in such knowledge, and defends empirical study, but spent his career bringing all the knowledge already recorded in Aristotle forward to a Western Europe that had been groping about for some sufficiently rich understanding of the world.

I see no reason to conclude that Aquinas believed himself to have advanced a best or final method of primary research, either. Continue reading »

Et Seq.

Quoth my very estimable host and interlocutor:

The idea that Aquinas is somehow a patron of the empirical sciences seems to me to involve an unjustified assumption that any advance in learning must somehow owe a debt to Aquinas.

I have to intervene, here.  I really don’t see how any such false enthymeme is involved.  I can think of no standard account of the significance of Aquinas for thought that does not involve his defense of natural reason, which proceeds from the readily known to the finally to-be-known, by means of a synthesis of Aristotle (from whom attention to particular beings as such, rather than as mere examples of ideals) and Augustine (from whom attention to the method of coming to understand eternal realities by means of both things and words, culminating in charity rather than comprehension).  I mean, Aquinas is not a scientist, himself, to be true.  In fact, I would argue that he is only a philosopher insofar as he finds it necessary to prevent theology students from following speculations into error, and to defend the proper use of natural reason in the elucidation of truth.  But it is precisely insofar as he found it obligatory and was chiefly notable for that defense of a true synthesis over against rival bifurcating errors (true to the Dominican emphasis on anti-dualist polemic) that Aquinas became first controversial and then essential to philosophy.

Here’s how things look to those of us who don’t take your line. From the moment modern empirical science began to develop, the Thomas Aquinas Fan Club began to spit on it. For centuries, they did everything in their power to destroy it. (Locke was denied a chair at Oxford because he wanted to do empirical science – in fact, medical science – and the Platonists couldn’t put up with that.) And now, with the Thomas Aquinas Fan Club having been proved disastrously wrong about empirical science, suddenly y’all want us all to forget about that, and you even strut around claiming credit (“you can’t have Francis Bacon without Aquinas” – really?) for developments that you did everything in your power to discredit and prevent.

(source: Follow-Through! | Hang Together)

I really don’t want to offer a ham-handed criticism of your History of Ideas, here, but I can’t follow you either on the standard-ish Heideggerian line, or on the line I learned as a teenager reading my way through as much of the Britannica Great Books and the Harvard Five-Foot Shelf of Books as I could–starting with Locke, then wending my way back to Descartes, then forward again…and especially not on the line I’ve been following since I reached the conclusion of my post-structuralist inquiry and tipped over into metaphysical realism (quite by accident, from my own point of view; I knew theology and ecclesiology demanded Real Presence, and the rest followed as a matter of analogical fitness).

To take just one pull at untying this knot, the Platonists who set up an opposition between natural reasoning and divine revelation came primarily from among the Franciscans and Augustinians (and received the doubtful succour of the “double truth” Averroists like the Siger), and they were against Albert the Great (whose risky and often inaccurate work, as well as his mentoring of Aquinas, was CRUCIAL to the unfolding of Western interest in empirical science) and Aquinas and the Dominicans from the first, although Aquinas defended the mendicants as a whole when they were under attack. The endless bifurcations that happen whenever Platonic thought touches down on planet Earth without a careful set of Aristotelian (or Aristotle-like) distinctions–when rhetoric is conceived as the opponent of dialectic rather its unfolding–are precisely what Albert and Aquinas were set against.  I mean, really, Aquinas is the textbook example of a theorist of the concord of reason and revelation!

That “Thomism” lapsed into something rather less than what Aquinas made of it is pretty unremarkable–see under any “ism” derived from the work of a seminal thinker.  Wooden copying of cherry-picked conclusions is pretty much what we lesser minds end up doing with the greats, after all.  It is important to notice that “High Scholastic” thought is almost entirely dominated by opponents of Aquinas, though; and that the new Aristotelian thought he championed was what rescued Augustine from Platonic reduction and reversed the poles of aprioristic Ptolemaic thought.

What Aquinas did not do was simply take the other side of a Platonic bifurcation between Ideal and Real, or assimilate revelation to one and reason to the other.  He argued that natural reason could operate on its own because it was created, and the revelation was necessary to complete the created purpose of natural reason.  BOTH were divine gifts to real humans, and BOTH gave humans access to reality.

at the Charite Museum, Berlin.  disgusting.

Again, you really have to take the measure of the narrowing of the discourse that happened from the 13th century to the time of Locke.  Locke’s argument with the Platonists was an intramural argument among Ockhamist, Scotist, Platonist inheritors of the Franciscan/Augustinian heritage, and that argument tended to center on the priority or the subsequent harmony of two faculties presumed to have radically different principles.  Within that strain, Locke is a pre-eminent champion of the possibility of concord, but his efforts are limited by his need to justify himself in terms of that narrowed discussion.

More empirical facts are better than fewer, but they are not a good apart from and incommensurable with other goods, such as the respect for the integrity of human bodies that should have prevented a science from founding itself on stolen corpses and bodies in Bell jars.


This Reply doth most certainly warrant Further Reply. Quoth Greg:

Thanks for this! I will now shamelessly take the bait.

Although I share your appreciation for the improvement that the Middle Ages represented as compared to what came before, I cannot refrain from saying that the battle against bigotry does not seem to me to have reached its apex at that time. [Insert clichéd, oversimplified and historically half-literate references to medieval marginalization, abuse and torture of outsiders here]

It’s also worth noting that we owe our knowledge of the personhood of the embryo entirely to modern science. Thomas Aquinas condemned abortion on grounds that it was contraceptive, because he did not know it was homicide. If you’re glad that you know the embryo is an infant human, thank Francis Bacon.

(source: This Exam Only Needs One Question | Hang Together)

Hah!  Bait strictly accidental, sir.  I couldn’t consistently speak my mind on the subject without putting it that way, although I almost edited it out because I realized it might accidentally resonate with a remark you made in your post about “natural rights” at ETS.  (I’m sorry I didn’t try to attend, now that I know you did.  I may well try to put together a paper for next year–I’ve kept my membership, but haven’t had opportunity to make much use of it, lately.)

As I plan to make a post soon about the “downstream from culture” point and the controversial status of “natural rights” logic in religious discourse (and how “fundamental human rights” and “civil rights” may complicate that picture), I’ll disengage your riposte to my “Christendom” remark as follows:

First, I suspect that we, being both half-breed children of the Enlightenment and Christendom, would agree that the hegemony of post-Christian Western thought has produced evils that even the ancient empires could scarcely rival:  the rationalist regimes of the 20th Century, and their quasi-religious totalitarian counterparts, and even the wars of the supposedly englightened nations, more than keep up with the corvee labor of the Egyptians, the genocides of the Assyrians, or the wars of the Macedonians and Romans, Huns and Vandals.  If you prefer the 17th to the 13th Century, I still hardly think you’ll prefer Mao or Margaret Sanger (or Attila or Peter Singer or Alexander) to Aquinas or More (or Locke or Burke).  And if you prefer to see Aquinas as a swerve on a path that leads more truly through Locke, and I have come to see Locke as a swerve back toward a path more truly drawn forward through Aquinas, then we only prove that we are half-breeds, as our common cause in the post-Christian West is our repudiation of its most distinctive strains in favor of those elements most attributable to its Christian patrimony.

Further, I cannot imagine in what respect Aquinas, Bacon, Locke, or pretty much anyone even tangentially related to the tradition that ran through Aquinas could find themselves at odds on the point in question.  As you say, Aquinas and Christians generally got the moral question right (the moral difference between contraception and abortion is real, as is the moral difference between blasphemy and sacrilege, but less important than the truth that these are all acts that pit us against the gracious work of God, and cut us off from its merits and benefits), quite without benefit of more recent science.  It beggars belief to imagine that the protege of Albertus Magnus and great Dominican defender of Aristotelianism (against a settled Platonist reduction of Augustinian theology that had repeatedly proved vulnerable to dualist misinterpretation) would suddenly *reverse* the course he had charted in theses that were mistakenly (and briefly) condemned and in his controversy against the “double truth” theory of Siger of Brabant; he would hardly suddenly decide that honest understanding of nature was *not* coordinate with honest understanding of revelation!  You can’t have Francis Bacon without Aquinas, the better-formed product of the same 13th-Century University of Paris that produced the brilliant but troubled Franciscan Roger Bacon (and the route forward from Aquinas would have been better if Scotus, Ockham, and others of the Schoolmen hadn’t been so radically deficient in their understanding of his synthesis).

In sum, Aquinas believed, based on the best science available to him, that “quickening” was the point at which a truly human being–a living soul–was verifiably present in a woman’s womb.  In slightly different ways, so did Augustine and St. Jerome, if we are right to rely on popular snippets of their more obscure works.  All roundly condemned “abortion” thus [mis]understood as contraceptive rather than technically homicidal, and all considered abortion homicidal at least from the moment human life could be detected by ordinary means, so it’s really a question of using scientific data to help us decide *which* mortal sin to avoid and *how* to help heal the guilty soul).  I can conceive of no morally or scientifically significant difference between refusing to even vote on the Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act and refusing to even vote on the Kicking Unborn Child Protection Act.

In any case, I know that you will unhesitatingly agree that none of this in any way exculpates the post-Christian West insofar as, with modern embryology to tell us better, we not only refuse to accept the data when it leads us more certainly to more correct conclusions about the humanity of infants, but also enshrine as a “human right” the willful and publicly-funded slaughter of these innocent, language-learning, pain-capable, helpless humans.

Whoever knows what is right to do and fails to do it….

(source: James 4:17 RSVCE – Whoever knows what is right to do and – Bible Gateway)

The Arrow of Allegory: final causes and deflationary readings

Certain teachers and homilists consistently rub me the wrong way, reading Biblical texts in ways that seem to mean less after their explications than before.

Maybe you know the kind I mean. They teach about the Resurrection, and they do so with utter conviction that Jesus Christ really did rise from the dead. But somehow it all turns out to “really be about” how believing in the Resurrection helps us to help each other and be open to new ideas.

the Gnostic Ogdoad, a manifestation of dualism--the only way from God to humans is through concepts untainted by material embodiment

the Gnostic Ogdoad, a manifestation of dualism–the only way from God to humans is through concepts untainted by material embodiment

And, if you’re listening often enough, you notice that the same conclusion follows from every passage. Sometimes it corrects a misapprehension: the account of the rich man and Lazarus really should be read more emphatically in terms of the identity of the rich man’s failure of charity (in ignoring Lazarus) with his failure of faith (along with his unbelieving brothers) and his lack of well-founded hope (“in hell he lifted up his eyes”). The tendency I grew up with, of looking at this account primarily as an exposition of the nature of Hell, was arguably less helpful.

Nonetheless, the parable of the Pearl of Great Price should surely not be read so that our joy in finding the Gospel is merely or most emphatically an example of our joy in finding any of the gifts God gives us, though certainly every gift of Creation is finds its ultimate goodness united to the Gospel purpose of the Creator who calls us together in one Body with His Son. Continue reading »