Sunday, October 26, 2014

Aquinas on the eminently active or operational character of the contemplative life

Andrea di Cione (Orcagna),
Strozzi Altarpiece (1357, detail),
S. Maria Novella, Florence.
Source:  Wikimedia Commons.
"the good that is the activity [(operatio)] itself, in which the will rests, takes precedence over the will's resting [(quietatio voluntatis)]  in it."

"principalius bonum est ipsa operatio in qua quietatur voluntas, quam quietatio voluntatis in ipso."

     Thomas Aquinas, Summa theologiae I-II.4.2.Resp., trans. McInerny.  Recall that
  • the blessed God is a pure act of self-contemplation, and that therefore
  • "Each [created] thing is perfect insofar as it is actual" ("Unumquodque autem intantum perfectum est, inquantum est actu") (I-II.3.2.Resp.), and that therefore
  • "happiness must consist in man's ultimate act" ("Oportet ergo beatitudinem in ultimo actu hominis consistere"), and that
  • "activity is the ultimate [(or second)] act of the agent" ("operatio est ultimus actus operantis"), so that
  • "'happiness is an activity in accord with perfect virtue'" ("'felicitas est operatio secundum perfectam virtutem'") (I-II.3.6.arg. 1, quoting Aristotle).
Recall, further, that Aquinas links this up with a discussion of the active and contemplative lives in particular (to speak only of these few articles of the Summa ( 4), rather than the treatise on the active and contemplative life proper (II-II.179-182)):
"perfect happiness [(beatitudo perfecta)] is promised us by God, when we will be like the angels in heaven. . . . With respect to that perfect happiness, the object ceases, because by one and continuous and sempiternal activity [(una et continua et sempiterna operatione)] in that state of happiness [the mind of] man [(mens hominis)] is joined to God.  But in the present life, to the degree that we fall short of the unity and continuity of such an activity [(unitate et continuitate talis operationis)], to that degree we fall short of happiness.  But there is some participation of happiness, and so much the greater, insofar as the activity [(operatio)] can be more continuous and one [(magis continua et una)].  Therefore, in the active life [(activa vita)] which is concerned with many things, there is less of the notion of happiness than in the contemplative life [(vita contemplativa)], which turns on one thing, that is, the contemplation of truth [(veritatis contemplationem)].  And if at times man does not actually engage in this activity [(Et si aliquando homo actu non operetur huiusmodi operationem, And if at some time or other a man does not in fact engage in an operation of this kind)], he is always ready to do so, and because taking time out for sleep or some natural activity [(occupationis)] is ordered to it, it seems to be a continuous activity [(operatio continua)]."

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