Saturday, January 30, 2010

Aquinas on the Angst of the philosophers

"Alexander and Averroes laid it down that the final happiness of man is not in such knowledge as is possible to man through the speculative sciences, but in a knowledge gained by conjunction with a separately subsistent intelligence, which conjunction they conceived to be possible to man in this life. But because Aristotle saw that there was no other knowledge for man in this life than that which is through the speculative sciences, he supposed man not to gain perfect happiness, but a limited measure of happiness suited to his state. In which it sufficiently appears how hard pressed on this side and on that these fine geniuses were [(quantam angustiam patiebantur hinc inde eorum praeclara ingenia)]. From [which] stress of difficulty [(angustiis)] we shall find escape in positing, according to the proofs already given, that man can arrive at true happiness after this life, the soul of man being immortal. In this . . . state the soul [(in quo statu anima (no 'disembodied'!))] will understand in the way in which pure spirits [(substantiae separatae)] understand. The final happiness of man then will be in the knowledge of God, which the human soul has after this life according to the manner in which pure spirits [(substantiae separatae)] know Him."

St. Thomas Aquinas, Summa contra Gentiles III.48.[16], trans. Rickaby (, modifications and underscoring mine.  Latin from Corpus Thomisticum here:  angustia Pesch translates as Angst ("Das Streben nach der beatitudo bei Thomas von Aquin im Kontext seiner Theologie: historische und systematische Fragen," Freiburger Zeitschrift für Philosophie und Theologie 52, no. 3 (2005): 431), but "difficulty, distress, [and] perplexity" (Andrews, A copious and critical Latin-English lexicon (1868)) would be a consequence of finding oneself, no matter how brilliant, between a rock and a hard place (angustiam . . . hinc inde) philosophically.  There is no entry for angustia in Schütz's Thomas-Lexikon as reproduced here (, but "difficulty, distress" are the equivalents given in the Lexicon of Saint Thomas Aquinas by Deferrari and Barry (for what little that may be worth).

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Pesch on the only satisfactory answer to "the question of meaning"

“this God does not want ‘to enjoy’ (frui!) his own beatitude [(beatitudo)] without us”.

Otto Hermann Pesch, “Das Streben nach der beatitudo bei Thomas von Aquin im Kontext seiner Theologie: historische und systematische Fragen,” Freiburger Zeitschrift für Philosophie und Theologie 52, no. 3 (2005): 452 (427-453).

Monday, January 25, 2010

Arnold on intimations of antiquity

"These are no medieval personages; they belong to an older, pagan, mythological world.  The very first thing that strikes one, in reading the Mabinogion, is how evidently the medieval story-teller is pillaging an antiquity of which he does not fully possess the secret; he is like a peasant building his hut on the site of Halicarnassus or Ephesus; he builds, but what he builds is full of materials of which he knows not the history,or knows by a glimmering tradition merely;--stones 'not of this building,' but of an older architecture, greater, cunninger, more majestical."

Matthew Arnold, The study of Celtic literature (London:  Smith, Elder, & Co., 1891 [1867]), 51.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

White on the Incarnation

"only because of the uniqueness of the form of causality that is proper to God as Creator is he alone free to 'become' human, to assume a created nature hypostatically, without being in any way alienated from what he is eternally.  The substrate of the hypostatic union is the existent person of God the Son.  Therefore, if there is a hypostatic union, the causality entailed cannot transpire in a pre-existent material subject in which change is effectuated.  Rather, this union is the new presence of God in creation existing as man, with a human soul and body.  The subject is the Son.  Just as creation does not effectuate a change in the creature, but gives existence to it, so too the Incarnation is not an intra-worldly change, but the gift of God existing in human flesh.  Precisely because God alone can act at the level of existence in a causal fashion, therefore he alone can become incarnate in the being of man (at the deepest level of created reality) without ceasing to exist as God.  It is truly God the Son (the author of life, in whom we live and move and have our being) who is present in history, yet without any loss of his deity. . . .
"This is a non-trivial matter, for if by contrast we remove the appeal to the analogy of creative causality from our understanding of the divine and human natures of Christ that are united in his person, then we must conceive of the union of God's divine and human natures not in a trans-historical fashion (aided by recourse to an analogical doctrine of creative causality), but rather by appeal to a likeness from causal becoming in a pre-existent subject.  The hypostatic union of the natures will then have to be 'narrated' by a movement of the Son from being God alone into being human, understood after the fashion of the change from one specific state or contrary to another within a common genus, whether this be the genus of 'nature,' 'relation,' or 'operation.'  The non-relativity (and non-mutual reciprocity) of the divine and human natures will be lost.  Instead, God will be understood in a narrative fashion, through historical becoming, as one who is eternally relative in his deity to the human nature of Christ.  Therefore, the Incarnation will not be conceivable without ascribing history to the very life of God in se, and the very notion of the 'immanent Trinity' will be threatened. . . . [And] if God is only intelligible in himself as the triune God in relation to the historical economy (which includes moral evil, suffering, and death), then these latter attributes of history are also in some real sense intrinsically necessary to the developing identity of the historical God.  In this case, the results of the abandonment of a classical metaphysics of divine causality are in fact disastrous, not only for the speculative contemplation of the Trinitarian mystery itself, but also for our ethical and soteriological understanding of the agency of God."

Thomas Joseph White, O.P., "How Barth got Aquinas wrong: a reply to Archie J. Spencer on causality and Christocentrism," Nova et vetera: the English edition of the international theological journal 7, no. 1 (Winter 2009):  264-266 (241-269).

Another of the well-known Thomistic asymmetries

"Although it may be admitted that creatures are in some sort [(aliquo modo)] like God, it must in no way [(nullo . . . modo)] be admitted that God is like creatures".

St. Thomas Aquinas, Summa theologiae 4, trans. FEDP.  Latin here:

Not even among creatures can the predication of being &/ causality be univocal

"The most important and most problematic of the characterizations of Thomism concerns the third point immediately mentioned above:  the idea that God and creatures might be understood in Thomism as species of a common genus by appeal to either the concept of being or of causality.  Due to his rhetorical style, it is difficult to tell how aware Barth is of the depth of miscomprehension of classical and medieval thought that this characterization represents.  Spencer, at any rate, repeats the charge as if it were unproblematic.  Yet leaving aside for the moment any question of [2] God, according to both Aristotle and Aquinas, as well as other influential medievals such as Scotus and Suarez, being and causality, even in [1] realities we experience immediately, are never themselves confined to realization within a single genus.  To think that they could be is in fact to have fundamentally misunderstood one of the most basic structures of classical metaphysics, such that a charge like this one renders a serious dialogue between Thomists and Barthians nearly impossible.  For contrary to this account . . . of the 'analogia entis,' it is precisely against such an idea (of generic predication) that Aristotle focused upon the metaphysical truth that notions such as being, oneness, goodness, and truth (all of which he names explicitly in this respect) are not in any one genus of being, but said analogously of the diverse genera of being, by proportionality.  Being is ascribed analogically to substances, natures, qualities, quantities, relations, operations, and so on because it is not reducible to any one of the categorical modes of being.  The analogical and transcendental structure of being by its very nature implies the impossibility of the idea that being could be signified in a generic fashion.  Furthermore, because there are four causes for Aristotle and Aquinas (formal, material, final, and efficient), causality itself is understood also without reference to one genus, and is understood only in a diversified fashion.
"What I have mentioned here refers, of course, only to [1] created beings.  When it comes to the question of signifying [2] God analogically, even greater problems emerge with the Barthian portrait of St. Thomas.  For, in fact, as Thomist historians commonly emphasize, Aquinas is quite insistent that even the transcendental notion of being (which is non-generic) only signifies the 'common being' (ens commune) that is found in all creatures.  It does not in itself signify God in any way, insofar as God is not a member of ens commune.  Consequently, God is not an object within the science of being as such (such that he could be considered as a 'being' alongside ontic creatures), but can only be approached tangentially by the human mind as the transcendent cause of all that exists.  This is why we must say, for Aquinas, that not only is God not in a genus of being whatsoever (such as substance, or quantity, or operation, or relation), but he is not even a member of the set of all beings as such.  He utterly transcends all that exists, all that is common to being, all that has being (signified variously as ens commune, or esse commune)."

Thomas Joseph White, O.P., "How Barth got Aquinas wrong: a reply to Archie J. Spencer on causality and Christocentrism," Nova et vetera:  the English edition of the international theological journal 7, no. 1 (Winter 2009):  252-254 (241-269).  "Not only is God not a member of any genus of being.  In addition, he can only be understood as the transcendent cause of the subject of metaphysics (ens commune), that is to say, as the cause of everything that depends for its existence on another, and who is himself uncaused" (not causa sui!) (243n3).