Sunday, April 26, 2015

Natural Science and Substantial Forms

From Super Boethium De Trinitate
By Thomas Aquinas
Lectio 2, Q. 5, A. 2 (Translated by Armand Mauer; Toronto, 1953)


Does Natural Philosophy Treat of What Exists in Motion and Matter?

We proceed as follows to the second article:

It seems that natural science does not treat of things that exist in motion and matter, for

1. Matter is the principle of individuation, Now, according to Plato’s doctrine, which is followed by Porphyry, no science treats of individual things but only of universals. Therefore, natural science does not treat of what is in matter.

2. Again, science pertains to the intellect. But the intellect knows by abstracting from matter and from the conditions of matter. Therefore, no science can treat of what is not abstracted from matter.

3. Again, as is clear in the Physics, the First Mover is considered in natural science. But The First Mover is free from all matter. Therefore, natural science does not treat only of what is in matter.

4. Again, every science has to do with what is necessary. But whatever is moved, as such is contingent, as is proved in the Metaphysics. Therefore, no science can treat of what is subject to motion; and so neither can natural science.

5. Again, no universal is subject to motion; for as is said in the beginning of the Metaphysics, it is not man in general who is healed, but this man. But every science concerns that which is universal. Therefore natural science does not treat of what is in motion.

6. Again, some of the things with which natural science deals are not subject to motion; for instance, the soul, as is shown in De Anima, and the earth, as is proved in the De Caelo et Mundo. What is more, all natural forms neither come into being nor perish, and for the same reason they are not subject to motion, except accidentally. This is shown in the Metaphysics. Therefore everything that physics considers is in motion.

7. Again, every creature is mutable for, as Augustine says, true immutability belongs to God alone. So if it is the task of natural science to consider what is in motion, it will be its business to consider all creatures, which clearly appears to be false.

On the contrary, it is the work of natural science to reach conclusions about natural things. Now, natural things are those in which there is a principle of motion; and, as the Metaphysics says, wherever there is motion there must be matter. So natural science treats of what is in motion and matter.

Moreover, these must be some speculative science dealing with what is in matter and motion, for otherwise the teaching of philosophy, which is knowledge of being, would be incomplete. Now no other speculative science treats of these things, for neither mathematics nor metaphysics does so. Therefore, natural science treats of them.

Moreover, the fact is clear from the statements of the Philosopher in the Metaphysics and the Physics.

Reply: It was the difficulty of this problem that drove Plato to posit Ideas. Believing that all sensible things were always in flux, as Cratylus and Heraclitus taught, he thought there can be no science concerning them, as the Philosopher says in the Metaphysics. So he claimed that there were substances separated from the sense world, which might serve as the objects of science and of definitions. He made this mistake because he failed to distinguish what is essential from what is accidental. For it happens that by accident even the wise often fall into error, as is said in the Sophistic Refutations. Now, as is shown in the Metaphysics, we find in a sensible substance both the whole or the composite itself, and also its nature (ratio) or form; and it is the composite that is essentially generated and corrupted and not the nature or form, except accidentally. As the Metaphysics says, “It is not house that is made, but this house.

Now anything can be thought of without all the items that are not essentially related to it. Consequently, forms and natures, though belonging to things existing in motion, are without motion when they are considered in themselves; and so they can be the objects of sciences and of definitions, as the Philosopher says. As he proves, the sciences of sensible reality are not based upon the knowledge of certain substances separated from the sense world.

Natures of this kind, which are the objects of the sciences of real beings, are thought of without motion; and so they must be thought of without those conditions by reason of which motion belongs to mobile things. Now, because every motion is measured by time, and the primary motion is local motion (for without it there is no other motion), a thing must be subject to motion inasmuch as it exists here and now; and it exists under these conditions insofar as it is individuated by matter having determinate dimensions. Consequently, natures of this kind, which make possible sciences of things subject to motion, must be thought of without determinate matter and everything following upon such matter; but not without indeterminate matter, because on its notion depends the notion of form that determines matter to itself. Thus the nature of man, which his definition signifies and which is the object of science, is considered without this flesh and these bones, but not absolutely without flesh and bones. And because individuals include determinate matter in their nature, whereas universals include common matter, as is said in the Metaphysics, the above-mentioned abstraction is not said to be the abstraction of form from matter absolutely, but the abstraction of the universal from the particular.

Natures of this sort, thus abstracted, can be considered in two ways. First, in themselves; and then they are thought of without motion and determinate matter. This happens to them only by reason of the being they have in the intellect. Second, they can be viewed in relation to the things of which they are the natures; and these things exist with matter and motion. Thus they are principles by which we know these things, for everything is known through its form. Consequently, in natural science we know mutable and material things existing outside the soul through natures of this kind; that is to say, natures that are immobile and considered without particular matter.

Replies to opposing arguments:

Reply to 1. Matter is the principle of individuation only insofar as it exists with determinate dimensions, and in this sense natural science indeed abstracts from matter.

Reply to 2. The intelligible form is a thing’s quiddity, for, as the De Anima says, the object of the intellect is the quiddity of a thing. Now, as is said in the Metaphysics, the quiddity of a universal composite, like man or animal, includes within itself common but not particular matter. So the intellect regularly abstracts from determinate matter and its conditions; but in natural science it does not abstract from common matter, although matter itself is considered in natural science only in relation to form. For this reason the natural scientist is more concerned with form than with matter.

Reply to 3. Natural science does not treat of the First Mover as its subject or as part of its subject, but as the end to which natural science leads. Now the end does not belong to the nature of the thing of which it is the end, but it has a relation to it; as the end of a line is not the line but is related to it. So also the First Mover is of a different nature from natural things, but it is related to them because it moves them. So it falls under the consideration of natural science, not in itself, but insofar as it is a mover.

Reply to 4. Science treats of something in two ways: in one way, primarily and principally; and in this sense science is concerned universal natures, which are its very foundation. In another way it treats of something secondarily, as by a sort of reflection; and in this sense it is concerned with the things whose natures they are, inasmuch as, using the lower powers, it relates those natures to the particular things possessing them. For a knower uses a universal nature both as a thing known and as a means of knowing. Thus, through the universal nature of man we can judge of this or that particular man. Now, all universal natures of things are immutable; and so, in this respect, all science is concerned with what is necessary. But some of the things possessing these natures are necessary and immutable, whereas others are contingent and subject to movement, and in this respect sciences are said to be concerned with the contingent and mutable.

Reply to 5. Although a universal is not mutable, it is nevertheless the nature of a mutable thing.

Reply to 6. Although the soul and other natural forms are not themselves subject to motion, they are moved accidentally, and they are, moreover, the perfections of mutable things; and for this reason they come within the domain of natural science. But even though the earth as a whole is not moved (for it happens to be in its natural place, where a thing is at rest in virtue of the same nature through which it is moved to a place), nevertheless, when its parts are outside their proper place, they are moved to a place. Thus the earth falls within the domain of natural science both by reason of the immobility of the whole earth and by reason of the movement of its parts.

Reply to 7. The mutability characteristic of all creatures is not with respect to any natural motion, but with respect to their dependence on God, separation from whom entails destruction of their very being. And that dependence falls under the consideration of metaphysics rather than under that of natural philosophy. Spiritual creatures, moreover, are mutable only with regard to choice; and this sort of motion is not the concern of the natural philosopher but rather of the metaphysician.

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Source: Dominican House of Studies, Super Boethium De Trinitate.

■ Recommended reading: 
Boethius and Aquinas, by Ralph McInerny


■ See also: "Boethius," in A History of Western Philosophy Vol. II, by Ralph McInerny. The Jacques Maritain Center.

Friday, April 24, 2015

Maritain — Substantial Forms and Evolution

"Substantial Forms and Evolution"
From The Range of Reason, Chap IV
By Jacques Maritain

WITH REGARD TO the third specific issue — substantial forms and finality — we may wonder whether any vindication of substance, substantial form and finality, however persuasive in itself it may be, can really convince a Pragmatist thinker. For the latter is indeed diposed to admit that we have signposts "telling us what behavior we may expect of things" and "enabling us to adjust successfully to the things that behave." But precisely the "behavior" that substance and substantial form lead us to expect and enable us to adjust ourselves to, is, if I may say so, the intelligible behavior, the very intelligibility of things insofar as their reality is analyzed in terms of being and resolved into the root intelligibility of being; whereas the behavior to which the Pragmatist philosopher is eager to adjust himself is the sense-perceivable behavior of things analyzed in terms of becoming and inter-activity, and resolved in the observability and measurability of "scientific" phenomena.

In the same way, finality, as Doctor Sheldon rightly observes, is the primary reason for becoming, and the deepest stimulus in the drama of the universal process, but I doubt whether we can realize this if we philosophize on the level of the empirico-mathematical explanation of phenomena and not on the level of metaphysics' abstractive intuition. And finality implies that the process tends toward an "end," toward a point where there is no longer any motion, but only repose and possession, so that the universal process and dynamism which permeates the cosmos and which carries along, so to speak, each agent beyond its own particular ends, making creation groan after its accomplishment, has its ultimate reason in the transcendent finality by virtue of which He Who is the self-subsisting Being is desired and loved by every being more than itself. Would such a view be acceptable to Pragmatist philosophy?

On the other hand, whereas I believe that it is perfectly right to emphasize the need for Thomistic philosophy, in the various phases of its conceptualization, to give greater scope to the general idea of dynamism and evolution — the real conquest of modern thought — and to deepen in this connection the traditional notion of substantial form, I think, nevertheless, that such statements should be further developed in order to remain true.

Substance is not a static inert substratum; it is the first root of a thing's activities and, while remaining the same as to its substantial being, it ceaselessly acts and changes — through its accidents, which are an expansion of itself into another, non-substantial, dimension of being. But as substance it does not change. As long as a material substance is not "corrupted" and transformed into another, it is immutable in its metaphysical — merely intelligible and non- experiential — reality of substance. Man's nature, while keeping its fixed specific determination, owing to a substantial form which is spiritual and subsisting, is, of course, capable of an endless increase of knowledge and intellectual achievement — this is the privilege of reason. But the root power and natural strength of the human intellect are not able to go beyond the capacities of reason and to pass into the degree of intellectuality of the least of the angels.

I am convinced that the hylomorphic theory involves no incompatibility with the discoveries of modern physics; and the suggestion that "the Scholastic should lay more stress on recent physics and less on chemistry" seems to me highly commendable. Surely, as Doctor Sheldon writes, "it would present his Thomistic cosmology in a fairer light, bringing out its power of adaptation and progressive character." Nevertheless, I should like to point out that it would be illusory to seek a verification of the hylomorphic theory in modern physics, for the one and the other are at work on different levels of thought, and the entities constructed by the physico-mathematical explanation of matter involve a great deal of symbolization: they sound like entia rationis grounded in the nature of things rather than like ontological realities.

Finally, as concerns evolution, I believe that the evolutive process of nature and the notion of substantial form can and must be reconciled. Yet Doctor Sheldon put his finger on the crucial point when he wrote: "The difficulty is to see how, if a substantial form is fixed and definite, it can contain a principle that allows for its own transformation, not merely into another substantial form, but into a greater one." This difficulty is a logical impossibility indeed; no substantial form can be transformed into another; when a substantial change occurs, the new substantial form is drawn out ("educed") the potentiality of matter according to the ultimate root dispositions introduced in matter by the physical agents which modify atomic structure and cause the transmutation of an element, or, in the case of compounds, by the activities of the very substances which are in the process of "corruption," and which will cease to exist at the instant in which the new substance comes into being.

The new substance can be more "perfect" — imply a higher degree of integration and individuality — in the ontological scale of physical nature, not only because matter (prime matter) "aspires" to the full actualization of all the forms it contains potentially, but because the new more perfect" substance results from an atomic redistribution which, in its capacity of an "ultimate disposition," requires the "eduction" of a higher form, or because, in the case of compounds, this new "more perfect" substance is the integration, in a new formal and subsisting unity, of the activities brought about in matter by the antecedent substances which "generate" it at the instant when they destroy each other (and whose forms remain virtually in the new substantial form then educed). This also presupposes that the entire cosmos and the interaction of all its energies co-operate in the production of the new substance, that is, in the "eduction" of the new substantial form.

Now, when it comes to the biological realm, a new problem arises; new living organism has of necessity the same specific substantial form as the organism or organisms from which it proceeds. How then, is biological evolution to be conceived in terms of substantial forms? I think there are two possible ways of explaining it. First of all, species (the ontological species, not the taxonomic species dealt with in botany, zoology or genetics) could be understood in a more dynamic as well as in a more extensive manner. When I say "a more extensive manner," I mean that such large groups as those which classification terms families, orders, etc., should perhaps be considered as belonging to one and the same ontological species. When I say "a more dynamic manner," I mean that the substantial form, in the realm of life, could be considered as protruding, in its virtualities, beyond the capacities of the matter it informs in given conditions, like, for example, an architectural style or poetic idea which we might imagine as thrown into matter and working it by itself. In short the substantial form would then be viewed as an ontological impulse realizing itself in various patterns along the line of a certain phylum. Yet such evolution could, of course, only take place within the limits of the phylum or the ontological species in question.

Secondly, concerning the hypothetical origin of the various phylums themselves, if now we take into account the transcendent action of the First Cause, we may obviously conceive that (particularly in those formative ages when the world was in the state of its greatest plasticity, and when the divine influx was penetrating nature and completing the work of creation) that existence-giving influx of God, passing through created beings and using them as instrumental causes, was able — and is still able — to heighten the vital energies which proceed from the form in the organism it animates, so as to produce within matter, I mean within the germ-cells, dispositions beyond the limits of that organism's specificity. As a result, at the moment of generation a new substantial form, specifically "greater" or more elevated in being, would be educed from the potentiality of matter thus more perfectly disposed.

These much-too-summary considerations may give perhaps some idea of the manner in which the fact of evolution (leaving aside what concerns the origin of man which entails quite different problems)* is to be integrated into Scholastic philosophy. Would such a way of thinking have a meaning from the Pragmatist point of view? That is another question.


* The profound ontological break in continuity introduced, beneath the apparent continuity with which science deals, by the advent of a spiritual soul which can come to exist only as immediately created by God, presupposes not only the above-mentioned action of the creative influx, the principal agent of evolution, passing through nature, but also a special intervention of God to create a spirit, a soul "in His own image" which is the entelechy of a new living species, and by virtue of which the body of the first human being also represents, metaphysically speaking, an absolute beginning, and has God alone as its engendering cause and Father, even if the body in question resulted from the infusion of a human soul into a pre-ordained animal cell — which, by the very fact of the infusion was changed in its very essence, to the point of being contra-distinguished to the whole animal realm.

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

St. Anselm — the "Father of Scholasticism"


"As prior and abbot, Anselm made the Benedictine monastery of Bec the center of a true reformation in Normandy and England. From this monastery he exercised a restraining influence on popes, kings, the worldly great, and entire religious orders. Raised to the dignity of Archbishop of Canterbury and primate of England, he waged a heroic campaign in defense of the rights and liberties of the Church. As a result he was deprived of goods and position and finally banned from the country. He journeyed to Rome, and at the Council of Bari supported Pope Urban II against the errors of the Greeks. His writings bear eloquent testimony to his moral stature and learning, and have earned for him the title of "Father of Scholasticism"."

—from The Church's Year of Grace, by Pius Parsch.

Meditations of St. Anselm, by English Miniaturist. 
12th century Manuscript (Ms. Auct. D.2.6); Bodleian Library, Oxford.

Thursday, April 16, 2015

The Things That Are and Are Not Caesar’s

From Right And Reason: Ethics Based on the Teachings of Aristotle & St. Thomas Aquinas. 
By Fr. Austin Fagothey, S.J.


THE state has from the natural law the right to the means necessary to accomplish its end. One of these means is revenue, and the ordinary way of raising revenue is by taxes. The state therefore has the right to tax its citizens. But this right is not unlimited. The state has the right only to the taxes it needs or forecasts that it will need, and acts against justice by demanding more. Legislators have a strict moral obligation not to impose too heavy a tax burden on the people, and those in charge of public funds are morally accountable for their use.

There is also a moral obligation to distribute the tax load as justly as possible. The only practical method is to make taxes proportionate to the citizen’s ability to pay, since there are many who not only cannot give anything but actually need help from the state. How the taxes ought to be arranged so as to fulfill the end of distributive justice is a matter for political and financial experts, and is beyond the scope of ethics as such.

If the state has the right to impose taxes, the citizen has the duty to pay taxes. In exercising its right the state must observe distributive justice; conversely, the citizen’s duty to pay taxes is one of legal justice. One who is not too poor to pay some taxes yet pays none whatever is plainly failing in an important duty concerning the common good. But there are so many indirect taxes today that no one could avoid paying some taxes. Whether a man could fulfill his whole tax obligation in this way would depend on the amount and kind of his wealth.

Is one morally obliged to pay all the taxes imposed? If the tax is clearly unjust, there can be no moral obligation. The judgment that taxes are unjust must not be made hastily; people are always complaining about taxes even when there is no doubt of their necessity. On the other hand, the complete lack of conscience shown by too many public officials in spending the people’s money makes the conviction all but inevitable that the state has not the right to all the revenue it asks. We must therefore distinguish between the duty of paying this or that particular tax, a duty that is often not at all clear.

Are particular tax laws, then, purely penal laws? Those who reject the term entirely must give a negative answer. But those who admit purely penal laws in some sense, whether they mean only so-called laws that are mere directives or whether they mean real laws, with a disjunctive obligation, consider it a solidly probable opinion that some particular tax laws are purely penal. Taxes have become too numerous and complicated for the ordinary citizen to handle, are accompanied by disproportionate penalties, and are often deducted at the source so that the citizen is not even trusted to do his duty; the state shows that it simply wants its money and makes no appeal to the public conscience. These are the usual indications of a purely penal law. It is therefore difficult to see a moral fault in a man who in general meets his tax obligations and supports the state, but occasionally evades a tax here and there, provided that in doing so he does not resort to such practices as lying or bribery. Conduct of this kind is certainly not recommended and a truly upright man would despise such pettifoggery.

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ONE of the ironies of history is the need for a Bill of Rights. The state, which exists to safeguard its citizens in the free exercise of their natural rights, has been a notorious violator of them. The history of the last few centuries portrays the victory of the people in their long struggle to get back from the state fundamental rights the state had usurped and liberties it had suppressed. Hardly had the victory been achieved when totalitarianism arose as the most ruthless destroyer of freedom yet to appear.

From Chap. 26, "Civil Law," pp. 423-426.

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

God, Eternity, and Time

● “God is pure act without any admixture of potentiality.”

Compendium Theologiae, 11.

● "God is infinite, comprehending in Himself all the plenitude of perfection of all being, He cannot acquire anything new, nor extend Himself to anything whereto He was not extended previously. Hence movement in no way belongs to Him."

Summa Theologica, I, q. 9, a. 1

● "God alone is altogether immutable; whereas every creature is in some way mutable. Be it known therefore that a mutable thing can be called so in two ways: by a power in itself; and by a power possessed by another. For all creatures before they existed, were possible, not by any created power, since no creature is eternal, but by the divine power alone, inasmuch as God could produce them into existence. Thus, as the production of a thing into existence depends on the will of God, so likewise it depends on His will that things should be preserved; for He does not preserve them otherwise than by ever giving them existence; hence if He took away His action from them, all things would be reduced to nothing, as appears from Augustine (Gen. ad lit. iv, 12). Therefore as it was in the Creator's power to produce them before they existed in themselves, so likewise it is in the Creator's power when they exist in themselves to bring them to nothing. In this way therefore, by the power of another—namely, of God—they are mutable, inasmuch as they are producible from nothing by Him, and are by Him reducible from existence to non-existence."

Summa Theologica, I, q. 9, a. 2

● “After dividing higher being in general, into three grades, in which the first is above eternity, which belongs to the first cause, the second with eternity, which belongs to an intelligence, and the third  below eternity and above time, which belongs to the soul, the author of this book begins here to investigate these three grades.”

Commentary on the Book of Causes (Liber de Causis), Proposition 6.

● "As we attain to the knowledge of simple things by way of compound things, so must we reach to the knowledge of eternity by means of time, which is nothing but the numbering of movement by "before" and "after." For since succession occurs in every movement, and one part comes after another, the fact that we reckon before and after in movement, makes us apprehend time, which is nothing else but the measure of before and after in movement. Now in a thing bereft of movement, which is always the same, there is no before or after. As therefore the idea of time consists in the numbering of before and after in movement; so likewise in the apprehension of the uniformity of what is outside of movement, consists the idea of eternity.

"Further, those things are said to be measured by time which have a beginning and an end in time, because in everything which is moved there is a beginning, and there is an end. But as whatever is wholly immutable can have no succession, so it has no beginning, and no end.

"Thus eternity is known from two sources: first, because what is eternal is interminable—that is, has no beginning nor end (that is, no term either way); secondly, because eternity has no succession, being simultaneously whole."

Summa Theologica, I, q. 10, a. 1

● "It is manifest that time and eternity are not the same. Some have founded this difference on the fact that eternity has neither beginning nor an end; whereas time has a beginning and an end. This, however, makes a merely accidental, and not an absolute difference because, granted that time always was and always will be, according to the idea of those who think the movement of the heavens goes on for ever, there would yet remain a difference between eternity and time, as Boethius says (De Consol. v), arising from the fact that eternity is simultaneously whole; which cannot be applied to time: for eternity is the measure of a permanent being; while time is a measure of movement."

Summa Theologica, I, q. 10, a. 4

● “Since we are asking what time is, we must begin by inquiring how time pertains to motion, It is clear that time does pertain to motion because we sense motion and time together. It happens that sometimes we perceive a passage of time, even when we are in the dark and do not see the motion of any exterior body. And if we do not suffer any alteration in our bodies from an exterior agent, we will not sense any motion of a sensible body. Nevertheless, if some motion occurs in our soul, for example, a succession of thoughts and images, it immediately seems to us that some time has passed. Thus by perceiving some sort of motion, we perceive time. And conversely, when we perceive time, we also perceive motion. Hence, since time is not motion itself, as was proven, it follows that time pertains to motion.”

Commentary on Aristotle’s Physics, Book 4, Lect. 17.

● "Two things are to be considered in time: time itself, which is successive; and the "now" of time, which is imperfect. Hence the expression "simultaneously-whole" is used to remove the idea of time, and the word "perfect" is used to exclude the "now" of time."

Summa Theologica, I, q. 10, a. 1, ad 5

● "The "now" that stands still, is said to make eternity according to our apprehension. As the apprehension of time is caused in us by the fact that we apprehend the flow of the "now," so the apprehension of eternity is caused in us by our apprehending the "now" standing still. When Augustine says that "God is the author of eternity," this is to be understood of participated eternity. For God communicates His eternity to some in the same way as He communicates His immutability."

Summa Theologica, I, q. 10, a. 2, ad 1

● “The “now” of time is not time, the “now” of eternity is really the same as eternity.”

—Commentary, I Sentences, 19, 2, 2.

●  "On the part of cognition or knowledge it should be noted that in knowing things that take place according to the order of time, the cognitive power that is contained in any way under the order of time is related to them in another way than the cognitive power that is totally outside of the order of time. The order of place provides a suitable example of this. According to the Philosopher in IV Physicorum [11:219a 14], before and after in movement, and consequently in time, corresponds to before and after in magnitude. Therefore, if there are many men passing along some road, any one of those in the ranks has knowledge of those preceding and following as preceding and following, which pertains to the order of place. Hence any one of them sees those who are next to him and some of those who precede him; but he cannot see those who follow behind him. If, however, there were someone outside of the whole order of those passing along the road, for instance, stationed in some high tower where he could see the whole road, he would at once see all those who were on the road—not under the formality of preceding and subsequent (i.e., in relation to his view) but all at the same time and how one precedes another.

"Now, our cognition falls under the order of time, either per se or accidentally; whence the soul in composing and dividing necessarily includes time, as is said in III De anima [6: 430a 32]. Consequently, things are subject to our cognition under the aspect of present, past, and future. Hence the soul knows present things as existing in act and perceptible by sense in some way; past things it knows as remembered; future things are not known in themselves because they do not yet exist, but can be known in their causes—with certitude if they are totally determined in their causes so that they will take place of necessity; by conjecture if they are not so determined that they cannot be impeded, as in the case of those things that are for the most part; in no way if in their causes they are wholly in potency, i.e., not more determined to one than to another, as in the case of those that are indeterminate to either of two. The reason for this is that a thing is not knowable according as it is in potency, but only according as it is in act, as the Philosopher shows in IX Metaphysicae [9: 1051a 22].

"God, however, is wholly outside the order of time, stationed as it were at the summit of eternity, which is wholly simultaneous, and to Him the whole course of time is subjected in one simple intuition. For this reason, He sees in one glance everything that is effected in the evolution of time, and each thing as it is in itself, and it is not future to Him in relation to His view as it is in the order of its causes alone (although He also sees the very order of the causes), but each of the things that are in whatever time is seen wholly eternally as the human eye sees Socrates sitting, not in its causes but in itself."

Commentary, I Peri Hermeneias, Lesson 14

● "Thus eternity is totally at once, just as a point lacks parts that are distinct in location. For a point can be compared to a line in two ways: first as included in the line, whether at the beginning, middle or end, secondly as existing outside a line. A point within a line cannot be present to all the parts of the line, but in different parts of the line different points must be designated. But a point outside the line can view all parts of the line equally, as in a circle, whose central point is indivisible and faces all the parts of the circumference and all of them are somehow present to it, although not to one another.

"An instant, which is a limit of time, is comparable to the point included in a line. It is not present to all parts of time, but in different parts of time different instances are designated. Eternity is something like the point outside a line, like the centre of a circle. Since it is simple and indivisible, it comprehends the whole passage of time and each part of time is equally present to it, although one part of time follows another."

De Rationibus Fidei, 10.

~St. Thomas Aquinas

Triumph of St. Thomas Aquinas, by Benozzo Gozzoli
Tempera on panel, 1471; Musée du Louvre, Paris.

A description of cognitive agents

"INTELLIGENT beings are distinguished from non-intelligent beings in that the latter possess only their own form; whereas the intelligent being is naturally adapted to have also the form of some other thing; for the idea of the thing known is in the knower.

"Hence it is manifest that the nature of a non-intelligent being is more contracted and limited; whereas the nature of intelligent beings has a greater amplitude and extension; therefore the Philosopher [Aristotle] says (De Anima iii) that "the soul is in a sense all things."

"Now the contraction of the form comes from the matter. Hence, as we have said above (Q. 7, A. 1) forms according as they are the more immaterial, approach more nearly to a kind of infinity. Therefore it is clear that the immateriality of a thing is the reason why it is cognitive; and according to the mode of immateriality is the mode of knowledge. Hence it is said in De Anima ii that plants do not know, because they are wholly material. But sense is cognitive because it can receive images free from matter, and the intellect is still further cognitive, because it is more separated from matter and unmixed, as said in De Anima iii. Since therefore God is in the highest degree of immateriality as stated above (Q. 7, A. 1), it follows that He occupies the highest place in knowledge."

~St. Thomas Aquinas: Summa Theologica, I, Q, 14, A. 1.

Aristotle, by Enea Vico.
Engraving, 1546; British Museum, London.

Saturday, April 4, 2015

Meditations & Readings: Holy Saturday


From the descent of Christ to hell we may learn, for our instruction, four things:

1. Firm hope in God. No matter what the trouble in which a man finds himself, he should always put trust in God s help and rely on it. There is no trouble greater than to find oneself in hell. If then Christ freed those who were in hell, any man who is a friend of God cannot but have great confidence that he too shall be freed from whatever anxiety holds him. "Wisdom forsook not the just when he was sold, but delivered him from sinners; she went down with him into the pit and in bands she left him not" (Wis. x. 13-14). And since to His servants God gives a special assistance, he who serves God should have still greater confidence. "He that feareth the Lord shall tremble at nothing, and shall not be afraid: for he is his hope" (Ecclus. xxxiv. 16).

2. We ought to conceive fear and to rid ourselves of presumption. For although Christ suffered for sinners, and went down into hell to set them free, he did not set all sinners free, but only those who were free of mortal sin. Those who had died in mortal sin He left there. Wherefore for those who have gone down to hell in mortal sin there remains no hope of pardon. They shall be in hell as the holy Fathers are in heaven, that is for ever.

3. We ought to be full of care. Christ went down into hell for our salvation, and we should be careful frequently to go down there too, turning over in our minds hell's pain and penalties, as did the holy king Ezechias as we read in the prophecy of Isaias, "I said: In the midst of my days I shall go to the gates of hell" (Is. xxxviii. 10). 

Those who in their meditation often go down to hell during life, will not easily go down there at death. Such meditations are a powerful arm against sin, and a useful aid to bring a man back from sin. Daily we see men kept from evildoing by the fear of the law's punishments. How much greater care should they not take on account of the punishment of hell, greater in its duration, in its bitterness and in its variety. "Remember thy last end and thou shalt never sin" (Ecclus. vii. 40).

4. The fact is for us an example of love. Christ went down into hell to set free those that were his own. We, too, therefore, should go down there to help our own. For those who are in purgatory are themselves unable to do anything, and therefore we ought to help them. Truly he would be a harsh man indeed who failed to come to the aid of a kinsman who lay in prison, here on earth. How much more harsh, then, the man who will not aid the friend who is in purgatory, for there is no comparison between the pains there and the pains of this world. "Have pity on me, have pity on me, at least you my friends, because the hand of the Lord hath touched me" (Job xix. 21).

We help the souls in purgatory chiefly by these three means, by masses, by prayers, and by alms giving. Nor is it wonderful that we can do so, for even in this world a friend can make satisfaction for a friend.
(In Symb.)
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St. Thomas Aquinas. Meditations for Lent. Passages selected from the works of St. Thomas by Fr. Mezard, O.P.; translated here by Fr. Philip Hughes. London: Sheed and Ward, 1937. 139-141.

Descent into Limbo (detail), by Ventura Salimbeni.
Oil on canvas, 1600-10; private collection.

Friday, April 3, 2015

On Philosophy and Theology

Procedural Distinction Between Philosophy and Theology

“Just as the beginning of natural knowledge consists in a knowing about creatures as a result of sense perception, so the beginning of the knowledge that is given from above consists in the knowing of the first truth by means of infused faith. As a consequence, the process from such beginnings follows different orders. The philosophers, who follow the order of natural cognition, place the scientific knowledge of creatures before the divine science; that is, the philosophy of nature comes before metaphysics. On the other hand, the contrary procedure is followed among the theologians, so that the consideration of the Creator precedes the consideration of creatures.”

(St. Thomas: Exposition of Boethius on the Trinity, Prologue.)

On the Use of Philosophy by the Theologian

“As sacred doctrine is based on the light of faith, so is philosophy founded on the natural light of reason. Hence, it is impossible for items that belong to philosophy to be contrary to those that pertain to faith; but the former may be defective in comparison to the latter. Yet, they contain some likenesses and some prolegomena to the latter, just as nature is a preamble to grace. If any point among the statements of the philosophers is found contrary to the faith, this is not philosophy but rather an abuse of philosophy, resulting from a defect in reasoning. So, it is possible, from the principles of philosophy, to refute an error of this kind, either by showing that it is an impossibility, or by showing that it is not a necessary conclusion. Just as items of faith cannot be proved demonstratively, so items that are contrary to them cannot demonstratively be shown to be false; yet it is possible to show that they are not necessarily convincing.

"And so, we can use philosophy in sacred doctrine in three ways: (1) to demonstrate items that are preambles to faith, such as those things that are proved about God by natural processes of reasoning: that God exists, that God is one, and similar points about God or creatures that are proved in philosophy and which faith takes as established; (2) to make known those items that belong to the faith by means of certain similitudes; thus Augustine (in his book On Order, 9-12) uses many likenesses taken from philosophical teachings to show something about the Trinity; and (3) to oppose statements against the faith, either by showing that they are false, or by showing that they are not necessarily true.”

(St. Thomas: Exposition of Boethius on the Trinity, II, 3.)

Source: Translated by Vernon J. Bourke in The Pocket Aquinas.

Read more: Super Boethium De Trinitate by Thomas Aquinas.

Boethius teaching his students.
Initial in a 1385 Italian manuscript of the Consolation.

Meditations & Readings: Good Friday


That Christ should die was expedient.

1. To make our redemption complete. For, although any suffering of Christ had an infinite value, because of its union with His divinity, it was not by no matter which of His sufferings that the redemption of mankind was made complete, but only by His death. So the Holy Spirit declared speaking through the mouth of Caiaphas, "It is expedient for you that one man shall die for the people" (Jn. xi. 50). Whence St. Augustine says, "Let us stand in wonder, rejoice, be glad, love, praise, and adore since it is by the death of our Redeemer, that we have been called from death to life, from exile to our own land, from mourning to joy."

2. To increase our faith, our hope and our charity. With regard to faith the Psalm says (Ps. cxl. 10), "I am alone until I pass" from this world, that is, to the Father. When I shall have passed to the Father, then shall I be multiplied. "Unless the grain of wheat falling into the ground die, itself remaineth alone" (Jn. xii. 24).

As to the increase of hope St, Paul writes, "He that spared not even his own Son, but delivered him up for us all, how hath he not also, with him, given us all things?" (Rom. viii. 32). God cannot deny us this, for to give us all things is less than to give His own Son to death for us. St. Bernard says, "Who is not carried away to hope and confidence in prayer, when he looks on the crucifix and sees how Our Lord hangs there, the head bent as though to kiss,
the arms outstretched in an embrace, the hands pierced to give, the side opened to love, the feet nailed to remain with us." 

"Come, my dove, in the clefts of the rock" (Cant. ii. 14). It is in the wounds of Christ the Church builds its nest and waits, for it is in the Passion of Our Lord that she places her hope of salvation, and thereby trusts to be protected from the craft of the falcon, that is, of the devil. 

With regard to the increase of charity, Holy Scripture says, "At noon he burneth the earth" (Ecclus. xliii. 3), that is to say, in the fervour of His Passion He burns up all mankind with His love. So St. Bernard says, "The chalice thou didst drink, O good Jesus, maketh thee lovable above all things."

The work of our redemption easily, brushing aside all hindrances, calls out in return the whole of our love. This it is which more gently draws out our devotion, builds it up more straightly, guards it more closely, and fires it with greater ardour. 

3. Because our salvation is wrought in the manner of a sacrament, we dying to this world in a likeness to His death, "So that my soul chooseth hanging, and my bones death" (Job vii. 15). St. Gregory says, "The soul is the mind's aspiration, the bones are the strength of the body's desires. Things hanged are raised thereby from the depths. The soul, then, is hanged to things eternal that the bones may die, for it is with the love of eternal life that the soul slays the strong attraction earthly things possess for it."

It is a sign that a soul is dead to the world when a soul is despised by the world. Again, to quote St. Gregory, "The sea keeps the bodies that are alive in it. Once they are dead it quickly casts them up."
(De Humanitate Christi, cap. 47.)
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St. Thomas Aquinas. Meditations for Lent. Passages selected from the works of St. Thomas by Fr. Mezard, O.P.; translated here by Fr. Philip Hughes. London: Sheed and Ward, 1937. 137-139.

Crucifixion, by Bernardino Luini.
Oil on canvas, c. 1530; The Hermitage, St. Petersburg.

Wednesday, April 1, 2015

Meditations & Readings: Maundy Thursday


It was most fitting that the sacrament of the body of the Lord should have been instituted at the Last Supper.

1. Because of what that sacrament contains. For that which is contained in it is Christ Himself. When Christ in His natural appearance was about to depart from His disciples, He left Himself to them in a sacramental appearance, just as in the absence of the emperor there is exhibited the emperor's image. Whence St. Eusebius says, "Since the body he had assumed was about to be taken away from their bodily sight, and was about to be carried to the stars, it was necessary that, on the day of His last supper, He should consecrate for us the sacrament of His body and blood, so that what, as a price, was offered once should, through a mystery, be worshipped unceasingly."

2. Because without faith in the Passion there can never be salvation. Therefore it is necessary that there should be, for ever, among men something that would represent the Lord s Passion and the chief of such representative things in the Old Testament was the Paschal Lamb. To this there succeeded in the New Testament the sacrament of the Eucharist, which is commemorative of the past Passion of the Lord as the Paschal Lamb was a foreshadowing of the Passion to come.* 

And therefore was it most fitting that, on the very eve of the Passion, the old sacrament of the Paschal Lamb having been celebrated, Our  Lord should institute the new sacrament.

3. Because the last words of departing friends remain longest in the memory, our love being at such moments most tenderly alert. Nothing can be greater in the realm of sacrifice than that of the body and blood of Christ, no offering can be more effective. And hence, in order that the sacrament might be held in all the more veneration, it was in His last leave-taking of the Apostles that Our Lord instituted it.

Hence St. Augustine says, "Our Saviour, to bring before our minds with all His power the heights and the depths of this sacrament, willed, ere He left the disciples to go forth to His Passion, to fix it in their hearts and their memories as His last act."

Let us note that this sacrament has a threefold meaning:

(i) In regard to the past, it is commemorative of the Lords Passion, which was a true sacrifice, and because of this the sacrament is called a sacrifice.

(ii) In regard to a fact of our own time, that is, to the unity of the church and that through this sacrament mankind should be gathered together. Because of this the sacrament is called communion.

St. John Damascene says the sacrament is called communion because by means of it we communicate with Christ, and this because we hereby share in His body and in His divinity, and because by it we are communicated to and united with one another.

(iii) In regard to the future, the sacrament foreshadows that enjoyment of God which shall be ours in our fatherland. On this account the sacrament is called viaticum, since it provides us with the means of journeying to that fatherland. And on this account, too, the sacrament is also called Eucharist, that is to say, the good grace, either "because the grace of God is life eternal," or because it really contains Christ who is the fullness of grace. In Greek the sacrament is also called Metalipsis, that is, Assumption, for through the sacrament we assume the divinity of the Son of God.
(De Humanitate Christi.)

* Quod est rememorativum praeteritae Dominicas Passionis, sicut et illud fuit future praefigurativum.

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St. Thomas Aquinas. Meditations for Lent. Passages selected from the works of St. Thomas by Fr. Mezard, O.P.; translated here by Fr. Philip Hughes. London: Sheed and Ward, 1937. 134-137.

The Last Supper, by Juan de Juanes.
Panel, 1560s; Museo del Prado, Madrid.

Meditations & Readings: Holy Week—Wednesday


"He putteth water into a basin, and began to wash the feet of the disciples, and to wipe them with the towel wherewith he was girded" (Jn. xiii. 5).

There are three things which this can be taken to symbolise.

1. The pouring of the water into the basin is a symbol of the pouring out of His blood upon the earth. Since the blood of Jesus has a power of cleansing it may in a sense be called water. The reason why water, as well as blood, came out of His side, was to show that this blood could wash away sin.

Again we might take the water as a figure of Christ's Passion. "He putteth water into a basin," that is, by faith and devotion He stamped into the minds of faithful followers the memory of His Passion. "Remember my poverty, and transgression, the wormwood and the gall" (Lam. iii. 19).

2. By the words and began to wash it is human imperfection that is symbolised. For the Apostles, after their living with Christ, were certainly more perfect, and yet they needed to be washed, there were still stains upon them. We are here made to understand that no matter what is the degree of any man's perfection he still needs to be made more perfect still; He is still contracting uncleanness of some kind to some extent. So in the Book of Proverbs we read, "Who can say My heart is clean, I am pure from sin" (Prov. xx. 9).

Nevertheless the Apostles and the just have this kind of uncleanness only in their feet. 

There are however others who are infected, not only in their feet, but wholly and entirely. Those who make their bed upon the soiling attractions of the world are made wholly unclean thereby. Those who wholly, that is to say, with their senses and with their wills, cleave to their desire of earthly things, these are wholly unclean.

But they who do not thus lie down, they who stand, that is, they who, in mind and in desire, are tending towards heavenly things, contract this uncleanness in their feet. Whoever stands must, necessarily, touch the earth at least with his feet. And we, too, in this life, where we must, to maintain life, make use of earthly things, cannot but contract a certain uncleanness, at least as far as those desires and inclinations are concerned which begin in our senses.

Therefore Our Lord commanded His disciples to shake off the dust from their feet. The text says, "He began to wash," because this washing away on earth of the affection for earthly things is only a beginning. It is only in the life to come that it will be really complete. 

Thus by putting water into the basin, the pouring out of His blood is signified, and by His beginning to wash the feet of His disciples the washing away of our sins.

3. There is symbolised finally Our Lord's taking upon Him the punishment due to our sins. Not only did He wash away our sins but He also took upon Himself the punishment that they had earned. For our pains and our penances would not suffice were they not founded in the merit and the power of the Passion of Christ. And this is shown in His wiping the feet of the disciples with the linen towel, that is the towel which is His body.
(In John xiii.)
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St. Thomas Aquinas. Meditations for Lent. Passages selected from the works of St. Thomas by Fr. Mezard, O.P.; translated here by Fr. Philip Hughes. London: Sheed and Ward, 1937. 132-134.

Washing of the Feet, by Giovanni Agostino da Lodi.
Panel, 1500; Gallerie dell'Accademia, Venice.

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