Papist Orthodoxy

November 30, 2009

Analogy in St. Thomas’ Philosophy

Filed under: Philosophy, Uncategorized — Tags: , , — Antiochian-Thomist @ 1:55 am

Philosophy, the love of wisdom, is a general title covering many particular disciplines which should lead its practitioners to the knowledge of the highest things from a human perspective. From the proper Christian perspective, it should culminate in and serve as a handmaid to theology for true knowledge and wisdom culminates in its highest, first, and final cause which is God. One difficulty man encounters is that he cannot know God as He knows Himself. Man must proceed from God’s effects, viz. the created material order. Even with divine revelation, that same revelation is put in the words of human language, the tongues of men. Thus it was also for the Incarnation of the Word and His redemption of mankind. Christ spoke by similitude, using analogy and parables to instruct man about God. But the infinite God is beyond the powers of the finite intellects of men. Therefore we can only get to God by a likening of Him to His effects. As all men are meant to know God in some way, to philosophize in a meaningful manner requires man to use analogy, likening the highest object of our inquiries, God, to His effects, the sensible order. Thus it was for the Common Doctor, St. Thomas Aquinas. Thomas rooted his philosophy in the common, sensible, and named experiences of men rendering it accessible to everyone, and by use of analogy, unified his philosophy into an integrated whole which brought man from the his common, sensible experiences to the highest considerations of things divine.

Aristotle distinguishes between things named equivocally and univocally.1 Equivocal terms are terms which have more than one meaning, these meanings themselves having no apparent relation to each other. Univocal terms carry its meaning throughout its various uses. St. Thomas, in view of the end for which he wrote, refined Aristotle’s distinctions by employing analogous terms, terms which have more than one meaning, those meanings having some sort of relation to each other by way of comparison. D.Q. McInerny sums it up well when he says:

An analogous term might be described as a hybrid between a univocal term and an equivocal term. Analogous terminology, and behind that analogous thinking, is based upon the act of comparison, which is one of the most elemental movements in human reasoning.2

So it was that the Common Doctor, in seeking to keep an accessible consistency in his philosophy, employed analogous terms drawing comparisons between the sensible order, that order which is first known to man, and its cause – God. In order to illustrate this claim more clearly, let us look at St. Thomas’ considerations of “act” and “potency”.

In the De Potentia of the Disputed Questions, St. Thomas first asserts that one cannot consider act apart from potency for the terms are correlated. By way of a similitude, it would be difficult to consider “up” apart from “down”. Then, Thomas considers act as twofold: 1) as form, and 2) as operation. The first is first absolutely, but the second is first by our sensible experience:

I answer that to make the point at issue clear we must observe that we speak of power in relation to act. Now act is twofold; the first act which is a form, and the second act which is operation. Seemingly the word ‘act’ was first universally employed in the sense of operation, and then, secondly, transferred to indicate the form, inasmuch as the form is the principle and end of operation.3

So he begins with the sense experience wherein man sees ‘act’ as an operation – something doing something. The formal aspect of ‘act’ received its nomenclature from the operation even though the form as the principle of the operation is the cause of that operation. St. Thomas asserts that the term was literally “carried over” or “transferred” (translatum). Thus the first meaning or understanding of the term ‘act’, viz. its operation, was stretched, as it were, to encompass the cause of the operation, viz. the form, for the cause is related to the effect, the form is related to the operation. Now we have a term that has multiple but related meanings as we proceed “up”.

But before Thomas proceeds up, he proceeds “across”, for his next consideration is potency or power. He draw a similitude (similiter) with act and asserts that potentia is twofold as well drawing a direct relation with the respective twofold consideration of actus. Immediately following upon the above quotation, St. Thomas goes on to say:

Wherefore in like manner power is twofold: active power corresponding to that act which is operation—and seemingly it was in this sense that the word ‘power’ was first employed:— and passive power, corresponding to the first act or the form,—to which seemingly the name of power was subsequently given.4

Thus what was first attributed to actus by experience was similarly first attributed to potentia. If a thing acts, it follows that it has the power to act. This potency, to distinguish it, was give the appellation, “active potency” (potentia activa). Likewise, as the term, actus, was ‘transfered’ to encompass the cause which is the form, so the term, potentia, was transferred to encompass that sufferable or perfectible aspect of the form and was entitled, “passive potency” (potentia passiva). Whence it is that, by way of example, Orville the pianist can become the better pianist.5 Therefore, that which is prior absolutely received its name from its effect or operation.

This series of ‘stretching’ or ‘transferring’ from the action to the principle of action by way of analogy must find a termination; and so it does in the first act. However, as St. Thomas ascends he must begin a series of negations by which those things which cannot be attributed to God’s nature must be sloughed. As we see in Thomas’ arguments for the existence of God, that which is “able to be” must be brought into being by that which is (in act) already.6 And as God cannot suffer change and as He must be perfect, He cannot admit of a passive potency. We see how he argues this in the second part of his corpus of the same question we have been treating thus far:

Now, just as nothing suffers save by reason of a passive power, so nothing acts except by reason of the first act, namely the form. For it has been stated that this first act is so called from action. Now God is act both pure and primary, wherefore it is most befitting to him to act and communicate his likeness to other things: and consequently active power is most becoming to him: since power is called active forasmuch as it is a principle of action.7

An operation can only occur because of the form, i.e. an act can only be performed by something in act. But as we ascend up the material order to God, we must negate that passive power, for God cannot suffer or be perfected because He is perfect in Himself. Therefore, God has not passive potency but active potency, for though He cannot suffer, He is able to perform or not perform operations as He is the first principle of action.

Thomas explores this consideration of negation further to solidify and unify his argument, and he also takes the time to note the human need for analogous terminology:

We must also observe that our mind strives to describe God as a most perfect being. And seeing that it is unable to get at him save by likening him to his effects, while it fails to find any creature so supremely perfect as to be wholly devoid of imperfection, consequently it endeavours to describe him as possessing the various perfections it discovers in creatures, although each of those perfections is in some way at fault, yet so as to remove, from God whatever imperfection is connected with them.8

In short, we can only know God through his effects and name him analogously. As we believe and endeavor to describe Him as perfect, our attributions are imperfect, for no human term can adequately describe God; even our positive assertions ultimately fail. To illustrate this, the Common Doctor goes on the give the example of “being”, “substance”, and “subsistence”. “Being” describes something as complete but without the notion of “subsistence”. The term, “substance”, denotes subsistence but as also the subject of something else. Yet we still ascribe “being” and “substance” to God. We do this because our first experience with beings and substance are in the sensible order of creation. As we proceed up and as we carry over or transfer terms, we negate aspects that would be erroneous to attribute to God. Thus, though we see being as simple but inhering in something, when we speak of God, we keep the notion of simplicity as we slough the notion of inherence. Likewise, when we speak of substance as attributed to God, we keep the notion of that continuing or persisting existence while sloughing the notion of “standing under” as individual of a species or as species of a genus.9 With this illustration, St. Thomas goes on to conclude his arguments regarding act and potency in respects to God thusly:

In like manner we ascribe to God operation by reason of its being the ultimate perfection, not by reason of that into which operation passes. And we attribute power to God by reason of that which is permanent and is the principle of power, and not by reason of that which is made complete by operation.

To restate, after we have seen His effects in the created order, we ascribe operation and power, act and (active) potency, to God but not as they are exhibited in His effects, but by abstracting from the material order and negating any imperfections associated with the terms. Thus, by way of analogous naming, St. Thomas has taken us from our sensible experiences and our common usage of terms and, while preserving and expanding those terms, brought us to a better understanding of God, however indirect.

This is just one illustration of many of how the Common Doctor proceeds from effect to cause using fundamental knowledge of the material order to considerations of divine things. St. Thomas uses analogy throughout his whole philosophical system, and in so doing, unites it together into an integrated whole that proceeds from common experience and nomenclature. Truly, he could not do otherwise. Equivocal terminology would not advance knowledge as various definitions of one term are unrelated. Univocal terminology would be just as unsuccessful, for the one-to-one relation of definition to term could not apply in every circumstance, especially when treating of God. God and nature are not a computer programs which can be discerned by way of language bricks, those univocal terms which seem only to work as technical terminology in the mechanical arts. The relation cannot be one-to-one, lest we say that God is being without subsistence, or that He is a substance that is the subject of something else. Nonetheless, if philosophy is properly undertaken, it should lead us to God as from effect to cause. St. Thomas’ use of analogous terminology in his philosophy allows us to do this. The Common Doctor gives an example of the veracity of St. Paul’s declaration:

For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. Ever since the creation of the world his invisible nature, namely, his eternal power and deity, has been clearly perceived in the things that have been made.10


The text in Latin of the De Potentia used for this essay.

From Question 1, article 1, corpus.

Respondeo. Ad huius quaestionis evidentiam sciendum, quod potentia dicitur ab actu: actus autem est duplex: scilicet primus, qui est forma; et secundus, qui est operatio: et sicut videtur ex communi hominum intellectu, nomen actus primo fuit attributum operationi: sic enim quasi omnes intelligunt actum; secundo autem exinde fuit translatum ad formam, in quantum forma est principium operationis et finis. Unde et similiter duplex est potentia: una activa cui respondet actus, qui est operatio; et huic primo nomen potentiae videtur fuisse attributum: alia est potentia passiva, cui respondet actus primus, qui est forma, ad quam similiter videtur secundario nomen potentiae devolutum. Sicut autem nihil patitur nisi ratione potentiae passivae, ita nihil agit nisi ratione actus primi, qui est forma. Dictum est enim, quod ad ipsum primo nomen actus ex actione devenit. Deo autem convenit esse actum purum et primum; unde ipsi convenit maxime agere, et suam similitudinem in alias diffundere, et ideo ei maxime convenit potentia activa; nam potentia activa dicitur secundum quod est principium actionis. Sed et sciendum, quod intellectus noster Deum exprimere nititur sicut aliquid perfectissimum. Et quia in ipsum devenire non potest nisi ex effectuum similitudine; neque in creaturis invenit aliquid summe perfectum quod omnino imperfectione careat: ideo ex diversis perfectionibus in creaturis repertis, ipsum nititur designare, quamvis cuilibet illarum perfectionum aliquid desit; ita tamen quod quidquid alicui istarum perfectionum imperfectionis adiungitur, totum a Deo amoveatur. Verbi gratia esse significat aliquid completum et simplex sed non subsistens; substantia autem aliquid subsistens significat sed alii subiectum. Ponimus ergo in Deo substantiam et esse, sed substantiam ratione subsistentiae non ratione substandi; esse vero ratione simplicitatis et complementi, non ratione inhaerentiae, qua alteri inhaeret. Et similiter attribuimus Deo operationem ratione ultimi complementi, non ratione eius in quod operatio transit. Potentiam vero attribuimus ratione eius quod permanet et quod est principium eius, non ratione eius quod per operationem completur.


Aquinas, St. Thomas. Quaestiones disputatae de potentia dei. Corpus Thomisticum, Universidad de Navarra, Fundación Tomás de Aquino. 2006

_______. Quaestiones disputatae de potentia dei. translated by the English Dominican Fathers, Westminster, Maryland: The Newman Press, 1952, reprint of 1932, Html edition by Joseph Kenny, O.P.

Aristotle. Categories. H.P. Cooke (translator), Loeb Classical Library, Campbridge, Massachusetts; London, England: Harvard University Press, 1949 & 1996.

McInerny, D.Q. The Philosophy of Nature. Lincoln, Nebraska: Alquin Press, 2001.

McInerny, Ralph. “Analogy”. The third lecture for the course, “Introduction to Thomas Aquinas”, given by Dr. McInerny for the International Catholic University (Notre Dame, Indiana) working in conjunction with Holy Apostles College & Seminary (Cromwell, Connecticut), 2002.

1Aristotle. Categories, 1a, 1-10

2D.Q. McInerny. The Philosophy of Nature, chapter 3, p. 80.

3St. Thomas Aquinas. De Potentia, q.1, a.1, co.


5Dr. Ralph McInerny. “Analogy”. The third lecture for the course, “Introduction to Thomas Aquinas”, given by Dr. McInerny for the International Catholic University working in conjunction with Holy Apostles College & Seminary (2002).

6St. Thomas Aquinas. Summa Theologiae, I, q.2, a.3, co.

7St. Thomas Aquinas. De Potentia, q.1, a.1, co.



10Romans. 1:19-20

October 13, 2009

The Metaphysical & Theological Implications in the Difference Between Ens Simpliciter & Ens Moblile

Filed under: Cosmology -- Philosophical Physics, Metaphysics, Philosophy — Tags: , , — Antiochian-Thomist @ 6:49 pm

Through the natural light of reason by which we come to know the causes of things and through divine revelation gratuitously given for the benefit of corrupted man we know that we composite creatures are not our own existence. However, man sees things even in the material order darkly and dimly, and his powers of perception beyond the material order are feeble at best. Further to work past the material order is a struggle most tedious and tiresome leaving many an individual holding such exercises as distasteful with the result that many resist such attempts to come to understand anything beyond the natural order of things. We are often like the poor souls in Plato’s cave analogy:

And if, said I, someone should drag him thence by force up the ascent which is rough and steep, and not let him go before he had drawn him out into the light of the sun, do you not think that he would find it painful to be so haled along, and would chafe at it..?1

But as distasteful as this exercise can be, it is worth it. What we can know is perhaps little, but what we can know is also certain when understood within their (and our) proper limitations. We exist -this we know. We need not undergo a Cartesian meditation to achieve certitude in this claim. We change -this we also know. Experience shows this to be the fact. But what implications are there in the consideration that existence is not the same as material being, or that there is existence apart from material being? What implications come with the consideration of motion/change? The consequences are literally beyond measure that forces an intellectual concession of a perennial truth accompanied by a moral consequence that necessarily follows upon such an intellectual concession. The fact that ‘to be’ (ens simpliciter) and ‘to be changeable’ (ens mobile) are not the same leads to the metaphysical and theological implication that there is an unchangeable being which we call God and that He is our last end for which we must act. Let us proceed, then, in this exercise by considering changeable being, motion, and then unchangeable being.

Changeable Being.

To maintain any solidity in the endeavor, let us proceed in ways more secure and assured for our purposes by considering first the things we know and then moving to the the things that we either know not, or know very little, or know with less certainty. For as is the common experience of a man when faced with a problem that he must solve and who will analyze the object as a general whole and work back through more particulars until he ultimately reaches that which he was investigating, so let us also proceed from those things more generally known to us to those things more known by nature. As Aristotle says:

The natural way of doing this is to start from the things which are more knowable and obvious to us and proceed towards those which are clearer and more knowable by nature; for the same things are not ‘knowable relatively to us’ and ‘knowable’ without qualification.2

Proceeding thusly we first come to know those things which present themselves to the five senses, for it is through the senses that the soul is informed. Those things that we perceive are first those things which are in some way whole and therefore general in a qualified sense, for it is not usually the case that we first experience the constituent parts of things before we come to know the whole, but that we first have a general perception of the whole and then work toward the constituent parts. In those instances where we encounter parts before the whole, we often walk confusedly until the general whole has been assembled in the mind before we rest in any certitude. Therefore, the wisdom of the Philosopher’s counsels are manifest:

Thus we must advance from generalities to particulars; for it is a whole that is best known to sense perception, and a generality is a kind of a whole, comprehending many things within it, like parts.3

But those general/whole things that we encounter are, quite frankly, things, which is to say that we encounter beings that exist, whether it be ‘man’, ‘dog’, ‘rock’, ‘cup’, etc. The first thing present to the mind via the senses is not so much the ‘thisness’ of the thing as it is the thing itself. Thus the first thing we know is not the existence of the thing but the existent thing. Therefore, we perceive a whole being without necessarily an initial and immediate consideration of the existence of the thing apart from the thing itself, for we could know it otherwise lest somehow we come first know things apart from senses. Furthermore, it can be added that what is first known is known without distinction between the material being and its act of existence. This, then, is our first understanding of being, viz. material being, which can only be known if its is real and is sensed. Thus the Common Doctor asserts that, “nothing can be called a being unless it is something positive in reality.”4

After the first experiences of material beings, we come to know them through the experiences of the senses as changeable or movable. We observe growth and diminution, coming to be and passing from existence, but we are still left with the concept of existence long after the material things’ existence has changed. For example, long after a subject has passed from being, as in death, we can still consider the subject and its act of existence, not only as the subject it was, but as the kind of subject it was, as when we consider Socrates, not as dead or as Socrates, but as man. Further, we notice not only substantial changes but accidental ones as well where the subject persists after the change. An example of this is the man who at one point is ignorant of geometry and later comes to know geometry. The man, as the subject, persists after the change from ignorance to knowledge, but his existence is now of a different quality, viz. that of the geometer. Another example of this is when we consider locomotion. A subject was once at A and is now at B; but after the subject is at B, its previous existence at A can still be considered and ruminated upon, not only as once being at A but as potentially being at A in the future. Finally, where it is that with sense perception also comes imagination whereby sensible things are brought to the intellect via phantasms, man has the ability to contrive things in the imagination that have no substantial existence in physical reality. Such is the case with Aristotle’s famous ‘goat-stag’ or the architect’s future cathedral. It is not real or not yet real; but its existence can be imagined. In these and in nigh-to-innumerable experiences like these, consideration of the experiences themselves and through themselves reveal that existence can be considered apart from material beings, that ‘to be’ is not the same as ‘to be changeable’.


To be a changeable being is to be a being in potency under a certain aspect. In short, it is to be a movable being. But what is motion? Aristotle defines motion as “the fulfillment of what exists potentially, insofar as it exists potentially.”5 St. Thomas states more simply that “motion is nothing else than the reduction of something from potentiality to actuality.”6 By these definitions, motion encompasses all change and is not merely reduced to locomotion. Therefore, insofar as a being has the potentiality of being something else (qualitatively, substantially, or otherwise), and insofar as that same being is in the process of becoming that something else, it is in motion. Examples of this are easy to come by. The block of marble being carved into a statue, the man walking across the room, the tree that starts as a sapling but is growing into a full oak -these are all examples of motion as each are in potency to what it is becoming and is in the process of being actualized. In short, they are being reduced from potentiality to actuality.

To consider change or motion, one must consider not just the act of motion, which is a coming to be, nor just the thing moved, but one must also consider the mover, for to be a material being, which is to say a changeable or movable being, is to be a moved being. It is therefore clear and manifest that there are things in the world that are moved, either by a mover or, apparently, by itself. However, Aristotle and St. Thomas both assert that whatever is moved is moved by another. Certainly this is clear in the cases of material beings which do not possess a principle of motion in themselves. However, what of those beings that do possess a principle of motion in themselves? Are they moved by another? In short: yes.

In his cogent and concise summation of Aristotle’s Physics, St. Thomas points out a pithy and packed reality pregnant with meaning and implication in his question on the existence of God. The Common Doctor says:

Now whatever is in motion is put in motion by another, for nothing can be in motion except it is in potentiality to that towards which it is in motion; whereas a thing moves inasmuch as it is in act. For motion is nothing else than the reduction of something from potentiality to actuality. But nothing can be reduced from potentiality to actuality, except by something in a state of actuality. Thus that which is actually hot, as fire, makes wood, which is potentially hot, to be actually hot, and thereby moves and changes it. Now it is not possible that the same thing should be at once in actuality and potentiality in the same respect, but only in different respects. For what is actually hot cannot simultaneously be potentially hot; but it is simultaneously potentially cold. It is therefore impossible that in the same respect and in the same way a thing should be both mover and moved, i.e. that it should move itself. Therefore, whatever is in motion must be put in motion by another. If that by which it is put in motion be itself put in motion, then this also must needs be put in motion by another, and that by another again.7

So as stated before, those things which have not a principle of motion in itself are obviously moved by another. But in the quotation above, St. Thomas includes all movables, both those which have a principle of motion in themselves and those which have not, as being subject to a mover apart from the moved. This is better understood when one considers that whatever is moved must itself be divisible.8 In short, those things that are called self-moving are not primarily self moving because they must move in virtue of their parts, for they cannot move through themselves simply. If these self movers could move themselves through themselves primarily, their motion would not be dependent upon the motion of another. But movables are divisible and the moved are so moved through their parts. So, in movable beings, if the part is moved, so is the whole. If the part is at rest, so is the whole. If a man moves by virtue of his feet and legs, the whole man is moving. If the man is to be truly at rest, all of his parts must truly be at rest. But his motion and rest depend on his parts. Thus he moves himself secondarily, as it were, and not through himself primarily. His motion, then, must primarily come from another. Therefore, whatever is moved is moved by another.9

This can be illustrated by an example most pertinent to our designs. Coming to be is a motion for artificial and natural material beings alike. In the case of an artifice such as a cathedral, its motion is received from the architect and the workers. Similarly, the coming into existence of a man and his sustainment therein is not a motion found in the man, for the man does not exist nor is he his own existence. The primary motion is therefore from another.

Though whatever is moved is moved by another, we cannot go on to infinity lest we have that infinite regress by which we would never have the moved. Thus St. Thomas says in the Summa Contra Gentiles:

If it is moved, it is moved by another mover. We must, consequently, either proceed to infinity, or we must arrive at some unmoved mover. Now, it is not possible to proceed to infinity. Hence, we must posit some prime unmoved mover.10

He further states in the Summa Theologica:

But this cannot go on to infinity, because then there would be no first mover, and, consequently, no other mover; seeing that subsequent movers move only inasmuch as they are put in motion by the first mover; as the staff moves only because it is put in motion by the hand. Therefore it is necessary to arrive at a first mover, put in motion by no other; and this everyone understands to be God.11

With the understanding that whatever is moved is moved by another, we rapidly come to the unmoved mover, the cause of all motion.

The Unchangeable Being.

As stated earlier, Aristotle’s use of the term motion encompasses all change. But we have come to the unmoved mover. If the mover is Himself unmoved, we have then come to a being that does not admit of change. If He does not admit of change, then He does not admit of potentiality. A potentiality in material beings is that they potentially could ‘not be’ for they are not the same as their existence. As the unmoved mover does not admit of potentiality in any respect, non-existence is therefore impossible for Him. St. Thomas confirms this:

…The first being must of necessity be in act, and in no way in potentiality. For although in any single thing that passes from potentiality to actuality, the potentiality is prior in time to the actuality; nevertheless, absolutely speaking, actuality is prior to potentiality; for whatever is in potentiality can be reduced into actuality only by some being in actuality. Now it has been already proved that God is the First Being. It is therefore impossible that in God there should be any potentiality.12

However, it was also stated that ‘to be’ is not the same as ‘to be changeable’. For God, the unmoved mover, to be the first cause of motion, He must of necessity be. But in all other cases, coming to be as a motion must be caused by another. In God there is no motion which is to say, as above, He admits of no potentiality. Therefore, God does not differ from His existence. The Common Doctor demonstrates this well:

Existence is that which makes every form or nature actual; for goodness and humanity are spoken of as actual, only because they are spoken of as existing. Therefore existence must be compared to essence, if the latter is a distinct reality, as actuality to potentiality. Therefore, since in God there is no potentiality, as shown above (S.T. I, Q.3, a.1), it follows that in Him essence does not differ from existence. Therefore His essence is His existence.13

There are more necessary conclusions to be drawn about the existence of God, and those relate to the response of rational material creatures to this sublime reality of His existence. In other words, there are moral consequences that necessarily follow upon the recognition of the existence of God. For if God exists -and He does of necessity- and if God is the cause of all things -and He is- then it follows that God is the proper and final end of the entire material order, including that of man. For as all nature acts for an end14 so too does the rational nature of man15 and this he does by the operation of his will. Therefore, as all creatures have their existence by way of a participation, and as the highest object of the intellect of man is the unmoved mover, the first being, God, so too the highest object of the will of man and that for the sake of which man must act must be God. For, as St. Thomas asserts:

It is impossible for any created good to constitute man’s happiness. For happiness is the perfect good, which lulls the appetite altogether; else it would not be the last end, if something yet remained to be desired. Now the object of the will, i.e. of man’s appetite, is the universal good; just as the object of the intellect is the universal true. Hence it is evident that naught can lull man’s will, save the universal good. This is to be found, not in any creature, but in God alone; because every creature has goodness by participation. Wherefore God alone can satisfy the will of man, according to the words of Psalm 102:5: “Who satisfieth thy desire with good things.” Therefore God alone constitutes man’s happiness.16


This exercise provides just the briefest of sketches into the implications of existence as apart from material being from the philosophical perspective and serves as merely the rudimentary summation of a few concepts whose profundity has filled countless volumes of works by intellects of the highest of calibers. It is enough to show that differences between what it is ‘to be’ and ‘to be changeable’ have profound implications that can be knowable from the natural progression of philosophical reasoning which leaves man with little room for excuses. Further, considering the end for the sake of which these considerations show, it makes that steep climb out of Plato’s cave every bit worthwhile, for we can now see the prophetic truth in Plato’s words about the one who escapes the cave:

Well then, if he recalled to mind his first habitation and what passed for wisdom there, and his fellow bondsmen, do you not think that he would count himself happy in the change and pity them?17


Aquinas, St. Thomas. Commentary on Aristotle’s Physics. Notre Dame, Indiana: Dumb Ox Books, 1999.

_______. On Being and Essence. Toronto, Ontario, Canada: Pontifical Institute of Mediaeval Studies, 1968.

_______. Summa Contra Gentiles. Notre Dame, Indiana: University of Notre Dame Press, 1975.

_______. Summa Theologica (in English, 5 vols., Notre Dame, Indiana: Christian Classics,


Aristotle. Physics. (Richard McKeon, ed., The Basic Works of Aristotle, New York: Random

House, 1941.

Plato. Republic. (Edith Hamilton and Huntington Cairns, eds., The Collected Dialogues of Plato,

Princeton, New Jersey: Princeton University Press, 1989.

1Plato. Republic, VII, 515e.

2Aristotle. Physics, I, 184a15.

3Aristotle. Physics, I, 184a25.

4St. Thomas Aquinas. De Ente et Essentia, Chapter 1, paragraph 2.

5Aristotle. Physics, III, 1, 201 a10.

6St. Thomas Aquinas. Summa Theologica, I, Q.2, a.3.

7St. Thomas Aquinas. Summa Theologica, I, Q.2, a.3.

8Aristotle. Physics, VI, 4.

9St. Thomas Aquinas. Summa Contra Gentiles, Book I, Chapter 13.

10 ibid.

11 St. Thomas Aquinas. Summa Theologica, I, Q.2, a.3.

12 St. Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologica, I, Q.3, a.1.

13 St. Thomas Aquinas. Summa Theologica, I, Q.3, a.4.

14 Aristotle. Physics, II, 5.

15 St. Thomas Aquinas. Summa Theologica, I-II, Q.1, a.2.

16 St. Thomas Aquinas. Summa Theologica, I-II, Q.1, a.8.

17 Plato. Republic, VII, 516 c.

September 27, 2009

St. Thomas Aquinas by Jacques Maritain

Filed under: Doctrine, Philosophy — Tags: , , , — Antiochian-Thomist @ 9:28 am

The entire treatise, including the chapter shown below, can be found here.

IV. The Common Doctor

Because Thomas illuminated the Church more than all
the other Doctors
. — John XXII (1318).

The Church declared Thomas’ doctrine to be her own.
— Benedict XV (1921).

I would wish that no one misunderstand the intention of this chapter, in which, considering the philosophy of Saint Thomas in abstraction from the theology, which latter maintains an intrinsic and essential relationship with faith, I try to characterize the attitude of the Catholic Church in regard to this philosophy. In publishing it I am fully aware that it would be absurd to try to replace by the argument from authority or by a kind of constraint the reasons of intrinsic evidence which alone can motivate scientific adherence to a system of philosophy. It is not in religious faith nor in the authority of the Church that Thomist philosophy has its principles and its raison d’être, and one would be greatly deceived if he were to see in it a doctrine reserved for clerics and for sacred offices. It is a philosophy, it is founded on evidence alone, it lives by reason alone. Of itself it belongs to the same secular cycle as the liberal arts. I even think that the time has come for it to spread into every order of secular speculative activity, to leave the walls of the school, the seminary or the college in order to assume in the whole world of culture the role that befits a wisdom of the natural order: its place is among its sister sciences, it must converse with politics and anthropology, history and poetry; formed in the open air, in the free conversations of peripateticism, it desires, though all the while remaining apart from the traffic of men, to take an interest in everything that concerns the life of men, it is essential for it to keep contact with sensible experience; to maintain its own vitality it needs a vast breathing space and incessant exchanges.

But the body politic, with all its secular culture, is enveloped by the Church as the earth is enveloped by the heavens; the Christian lay is part of the Church. The more lay it becomes, and the more it advances boldly toward the most exposed frontiers, the more will the perennial philosophy, to preserve its integrity, have to remain in continuity with the superhuman sources without which the human weakens, with the sacred wisdom which transcends it and whose native land is the contemplative activity of the Church. This is why it was normal and consonant with the eternal order that, venturing into the universe, it should first be commissioned by the Papacy.

This predilection of the Church, these recommendations, these exhortations of the Popes, do not constitute and do not claim to constitute an intrinsic demonstration of the truth of Thomism. They are extrinsic arguments and guarantees, signs which induce in the intelligence of the believer a well-founded confidence. Unbelievers, no doubt, are unmoved by them; nay more, such recommendations rather render suspect to them a philosophy thus patronized. For all that, the Church does not lower her voice; she does not mind compromising philosophers with her company and that of Jesus Christ; she doubtless considers that if these unbelievers do not listen to First Truth, they would listen still less to metaphysical reasonings, because their hearts are prejudiced; let them take scandal at seeing a science honored by faith, she regards their scandal as pharisaical. In any event, it would be ridiculous to present before them evidence based on the feeling of the Church in favor of one philosophy.


September 22, 2009

Palamas: Dormition of the Theotokos

Filed under: Doctrine, Liturgy, Sacred Scripture and Theology — Tags: , , , , , — Antiochian-Thomist @ 12:23 am

A Homily on the Dormition of Our Supremely Pure

Lady Theotokos and Ever-Virgin Mary

by St. Gregory Palamas

Both love and duty today fashion my homily for your charity. It is not only that I wish, because of my love for you, and because I am obliged by the sacred canons, to bring to your God-loving ears a saving word and thus to nourish your souls, but if there be any among those things that bind by obligation and love and can be narrated with praise for the Church, it is the great deed of the Ever-Virgin Mother of God. The desire is double, not single, since it induces me, entreats and persuades me, whereas the inexorable duty constrains me, though speech cannot attain to what surpasses it, just as the eye is unable to look fixedly upon the sun. One cannot utter things which surpass speech, yet it is within our power by the love for mankind of those hymned, to compose a song of praise and all at once both to leave untouched intangible things, to satisfy the debt with words and to offer up the first fruits of our love for the Mother of God in hymns composed according to our abilities.

If, then, “death of the righteous man is honorable” (cf. Ps. 115:6) and the “memory of the just man is celebrated with songs of praise” (Prov. 10:7). How much more ought we to honor with great praises the memory of the holiest of the saints, she by whom all holiness is afforded to the saints, I mean the Ever-Virgin. Mother of God! Even so we celebrate today her holy dormition or translation to another life, whereby, while being “a little lower than angels” (Ps. 8:6), by her proximity to the God of all, and in the wondrous deeds which from the beginning of time were written down and accomplished with respect to her, she has ascended incomparably higher than the angels and the archangels and all the super-celestial hosts that are found beyond them. For her sake the God-possessed prophets pronounce prophecies, miracles are wrought to foreshow that future Marvel of the whole world, the Ever-Virgin Mother of God. The flow of generations and circumstances journeys to the destination of that new mystery wrought in her; the statutes of the Spirit provide beforehand types of the future truth. The end, or rather the beginning and root, of those divine wonders and deeds is the annunciation to the supremely virtuous Joachim and Anna of what was to be accomplished: namely, that they who were barren from youth would beget in deep old age her that would bring forth without seed Him that was timelessly begotten of God the Father before the ages. A vow was given by those who marvelously begot her to return her that was given to the Giver; so accordingly the Mother of God strangely changed her dwelling from the house of her father to the house of God while still an infant . She passed not a few years in the Holy of Holies itself, wherein under the care of an angel she enjoyed ineffable nourishment such as even Adam did not succeed in tasting; for indeed if he had, like this immaculate one, he would not have fallen away from life, even though it was because of Adam and so that she might prove to be his daughter, that she yielded a little to nature, as did her Son, Who has now ascended from earth into heaven.

Find the rest of the homily here.

September 21, 2009

The Ground of Union: Deification in Aquinas and Palamas. By A.N. Williams

I’ve been asserting this for years. Now someone has done a scholarly work supporting it. God bless A.N. Williams! — Antiochian-Thomist


THE GROUND OF UNION: DEIFICATION IN AQUINAS AND PALAMAS. By A.N. Williams. New York: Oxford University, 1999. Pp. 222.

(Partial Review)

Any effort toward understanding and union between Christian Churches of the East and the West involves an objective examination of the central issues and theological concepts. Williams explores the main writings of two representative medieval thinkers and theological spokesmen whose image and method have generally been misinterpreted or misused, whether out of sincere ignorance or deliberate polemics. Conventional academic scholarship and ecumenical dialogue have sharply differentiated between the “Palamite” and “Scholastic” ways.

From an Orthodox perspective, it is improper that certain authors employ the term “heart” as a stick to brandish against the allegedly “rationalistic” West. Aquinas contrasts “cordis affectus” with “intellectus,” but it would be unfair to attribute to him a narrow use of “affectus.” Furthermore his use of “intellectus” implies the Greek “noesis,” which is certainly not identical with discursive reasoning. Whether the heart is or is not neglected in the West, it should not be used as an antonym for “reason.” The charge of “rationalism” leveled against Western theology, in contrast to the alleged “heartfulness” of Eastern theology, is as tenuous as it is paradoxical. Any simplistic condemnation or justification of one theological method over or against another will invariably reveal deeper complexities and essential exceptions.

W. obliges both Orthodox and Western theologians to review their critical attitude and apologetic approach toward one another’s methodology. She offers a sharp criticism of contemporary writers whose tone is negative, even “bitter,” often “determined to misread the texts and authors [they] purport to analyze” (14). She is even critical of “more nuanced and sophisticated [theologians, who are] no less hostile to what they suppose to be Western theological method” (18). She has read and researched numerous monographs and articles by modern theologians, and her access to more remote writers and publications is admirable.

W.’s purpose is to address in a comparative fashion, even to challenge “the charges of opposition of East and West in the doctrine of deification” (33). She has selected one or more major texts from each of her authors: the Summa theologiae of Aquinas, and the Triads and Capita physica of Palamas. Though aware of the dangers of a selective …



“Williams makes a significant contribution [towards] enabling [. . .] a recognition of the extent to which the theme and sometimes the language of deification recur throughout the history of Christian theology. [This] could prove to be a major step in overcoming misunderstanding between East and West, [. . .] an invaluable service [. . .] well worth the effort of careful reading.”–St. Vladimir’s Theological Quarterly

Product Description
This book attempts to resolve one of the oldest and bitterest controversies between the Eastern and Western Christian churches: namely, the dispute about the doctrine of deification. A. N. Williams examines two key thinkers, each of whom is championed as the authentic spokesman of his own tradition and reviled by the other. Taking Aquinas as representative of the West and Gregory Palamas for the East, she presents fresh readings of their work that both reinterpret each thinker and sho an area of commonality between them much greater than has previously been acknowledged.

September 20, 2009

A Good Opportunity for a Good Education

Filed under: Philosophy, Uncategorized — Tags: , , , , — Antiochian-Thomist @ 11:35 pm

This is an unadulterated plug for an online program dedicated to the study of the traditional scholastic philosophy of St. Thomas Aquinas, the Common Doctor of the Church. Be aware that I receive no material compensation for this advertisement. The program is “Sapientis est Ordinare“.   I encourage everyone to have a look at this organization and the educational opportunity they are offering.  — Antiochian-Thomist

The Society of Scholastics (from their website):

We are an intellectual association committed to restoring the philosophic doctrines, didactic principles, and scientific synthesis of the great masters of the classical universities, the Scholastics. We hold Thomas of Aquin to be the paradigm of Scholastic scholars and we apply ourselves to renewing the great scientific tradition forged by his Commentators throughout the centuries.

With a strong emphasis on Logic, the division and subordination of the sciences, and strict methodology, we defend our attention to detail with the axiom:
‘A small error in principle is a large error in conclusion.’

Sapientis est Ordinare (from the website):

Sapientis is an online course of studies based entirely on the principles of Aristotelian Thomism. Its goal is to lead students to the complete grasp of the natural and artificial orders in the universe and of our moral duties resulting from this order.

The Relevance of St. Thomas Aquinas

Filed under: Doctrine, Philosophy, Sacred Scripture and Theology — Tags: , , , , , — Antiochian-Thomist @ 7:42 pm

From the website:

Pope John Paul II wrote: “‘Let us follow the example of the Angelic Doctor’ is what Leo XIII advises [Aeterni Patris]. That is what I also repeat.” Any solution to the crisis of faith and thought in the Church must involve a rediscovery of Thomas Aquinas. Tim Kelly provides an authoritative introduction to the thought of Thomas of Aquino.

When one listens carefully to what the Church teaches about St Thomas Aquinas, consistently throughout eight centuries, one can be forgiven for being alarmed. She has done something more radical, more far-reaching and serious, than simply commend him. This is summed up by Pope John XXII: “His doctrine could only be described as miraculous…because he has enlightened the Church more than all of the other doctors. By the use of his works a man could profit more in one year than if he studies the doctrine of others for his whole life“.

The Church has effectively set aside for all times a single holy doctor and saint from all the other teachers in the Church’s history. But could not this breed a dangerously restricted, one-dimensional understanding of her teaching tradition? Might there not be perhaps a hint of exaggeration, an unusual lack of sobriety, in her magisterial declarations regarding Thomas? Does not the mediation of the splendour of Catholic Truth require a chorus of many voices, a synchronisation that is polyphonic and varied in its expression? After all, besides St Thomas Aquinas, we have thirty-two other doctors, thirty-two other holy teachers with eminens doctrina, insignis vitae sanctitas, et Ecclesiae declaratio (i.e. eminent doctrine, a high degree of sanctity, and official proclamation by the Church). Is it not right, therefore, and not more truly Catholic, to attend to the great harmony of the whole? Is not the Church alerting us to precisely this when it elevates to the rank of doctor the likes of the fourth century poet St Ephraem the Syrian, or little Thérèse of Lisieux, to stand alongside the mighty scholarship of Ambrose, Gregory the Great, Jerome and Augustine?

Furthermore, since grace perfects human nature and does not replace it, does not the communion of saints contain the most wondrously varied and diverse human natures imaginable, all of them proclaiming in a most eminent manner the unique and unrepeatable character of every human soul? Therefore, does not each saint, and among them each holy doctor, make a contribution to theology that is correspondingly unique and unrepeatable, and which therefore commands our attention? And so, is there not, perhaps, something a little crass in John XXII’s pronouncement that we will profit more in a year of studying St Thomas’s works than a lifetime studying the others?

The the rest of the article here.

September 6, 2009

A Latin's Lament Over Gennadios Scholarios

Filed under: Doctrine, Philosophy — Tags: , , , — Antiochian-Thomist @ 6:47 pm

The following article was reproduced from the weblog, Eirenikon.

The Lord Byron Foundation for Balkan Studies

“Overcoming the Schism,” Chicago, May 8-10, 1998

Fr. Hugh Barbour, O. Praem.

In August of 1994, I was happy to be one of the many Latin clerics who over the years, in divisa or in borghese, have made a pilgrimage to the Holy Mountain of Athos, the Garden of the Mother of God. On the feast of the Lord’s Transfiguration I was able to set foot on that peninsula where souls and bodies hidden from the world, but known to God and His angels, share still in the bright glory of that mystery narrated in the Holy Gospels. I made this pilgrimage with the blessing of my abbot after attending an international meeting of some clergy. On Athos I expected to be refreshed and edified, and I was, after having had to breathe deeply the “schismatic” atmosphere of a sadly typical postconciliar gathering of ecclesiastics, some of whom were merely juridically Roman Catholic, for whom God and the things of God could scarcely be said to hold the primacy, and the Pope not at all.

In a shop by the docks at the little western port of the Mountain I found a postcard representation of an icon depicting a touching and curious scene: “The Lamentation over Constantine Palaiologos” written at the Old Calendarist hesychasterion of the Mother of God of the Myrtle Tree in Attica. In the icon the emperor reposes on a bier with a candle as two women mourn on either side, one kneeling, written as “Orthodoxy” and the other, “Hellas”, standing with her hand to her mouth in a gesture of reverence, calling to mind the original sense of the imperial Roman adoratio. A touching scene, I say, because it brings to mind the magnificent “courage born of despair,” as even the malicious Gibbon puts it, with which the last of the Roman emperors died leading the defense of his New Rome, yet still a curious one, since this Constantine XII died in communion with the see of Old Rome, having received the Eucharistic viaticum on the morning of the halosis at a uniate liturgy, the last to be served in the Church of Holy Wisdom.

Even more curious was the figure “Hellas” for nothing could be less Byzantine, less Orthodox, less imperial, than the use of this term to name the nation of Greek-speaking Romaioi. To Orthodox Byzantium “hellenic” meant secular, pagan, something worse than heterodox, to be anathematized in the synodikon on the first Sunday of Great Lent. At the time of the fall of the City a “hellene” was one who exceeded even the utilitarian impiety of the Florentine latinophrones by promoting the Florentine Platonic revival.

The figure of Orthodoxy, undoubtedly the most important in the image, was in very strange company indeed, with anomalies more than anachronistic. That this icon was the work of Old Calendarists who clearly intended it to be the expression of a rigorously Orthodox historical sensibility indicates a fact, more relevant than ever, which those of us – inter quos ego – who sympathize with the zealots, Catholic and Orthodox, must keep in mind. It is this: We must be vigilant to ensure that in our understanding and defense of right belief and right worship we do not adopt the ideological preoccupations of political and philosophical movements, sometimes those of our friends and allies, which are foreign to our faith and its tradition, lest we undermine the very thing we are striving to preserve. We must examine carefully the understanding and instincts of the best representatives of our twin tradition, Eastern and Western, especially at the points in history when they are explicitly opposing each other or together combating the same contemporary errors. The happy result of this can be a genuine ecumenism, an ecumenism of the “anti-ecumenical,” innocent of ideology or indifferentism. Dom Gerard Calvet, abbot of the traditional Benedictine abbey of the Madeleine, Le Barroux in Provence has said: “The true ecumenism is that of Tradition… the more I deepen my understanding of Tradition, the more I rediscover other men.” [1]

After the pilgrimage to the Holy Mountain, I went to Serres in Macedonia near the Bulgarian border, to the monastery of the Holy Forerunner, to the tomb of Gennadios Scholarios, first Patriarch of Constantinople under Turkish domination, to pay a debt of gratitude to him by praying for the repose of his soul, just having completed in 1993 a study of his thought for a doctorate at a Roman university. The monastery which was the place of his retirement, from which he hoped (and hopes still!) to rise in the parousia, is now flourishing after many years without a monastic community. There are nuns there, the spiritual daughters of the great Father Ephraim, abbot of Philotheou on Athos, who has founded a number of observant communities in Greece and most recently in Arizona at a desert town ominously – for the Orthodox at least – named Florence.

Two kind nuns accompanied me to the katholikon where they were amazed and a bit reluctant to see me venerate the relics of the monastery, and stood by with a certain sceptical vigilance as I prayed a rosary more romano at the epitaph of the patriarch, one on each side, as I knelt there. They simply did not know what to expect from a Latin priest, but they were willing and charitable enough in their watchfulness. Here was another touching and curious scene. Yet it was a scene more truly indicative of the state of things past and present and future than that written on the postcard icon. This was a living icon of the clarity about Tradition just commended, with the tense, but kind-hearted akrivia which ought to characterize the relations between Roman Catholics and Eastern Orthodox. No one of us had made a compromise, but something true had really brought us together.

The nuns represented the living tradition of Orthodoxy, the kneeling priest, the faith of the Roman Catholic Thomist. What did the patriarch lying in death, surrounded by his modern mourners represent? We will now see. The rest of my conference will draw out the implications of this brief act of piety on behalf of the departed patriarch. Let it be a kind of historical-theological “Lamentation over Gennadios Scholarios,” a threnos which may not only move us at the thought of the beauty and the possibilities that once were, but also shed light on our duties at the present hour.