Archive for July, 2008

CT 41: The Son Equal to the Father in Existence and Essence

Thursday, July 31st, 2008

In Chapter 41, Thomas continues examining the nature of the Divine Word:

Since natural existence and the action of understanding are distinct in us, we should note that a word conceived in our intellect, having only intellectual existence, differs in nature from our intellect, which has natural existence. In God, however, to be and to understand are identical. Therefore the divine Word that is in God, whose Word He is according to intellectual existence, has the same existence as God, whose Word He is. Consequently the Word must be of the same essence and nature as God Himself, and all attributes whatsoever that are predicated of God, must pertain also to the Word of God.

An idea in my head, in my intellect, exists in a different way than my intellect does. In particular, my intellect is decades old, but I’m always acquiring new ideas. But God’s intellect is the same as His essence, and His understanding of a particular thing is also the same as His essence, as we established some chapters ago; and so His Word, His understanding of Himself, is of the same essence as Himself. The Father and the Son are one.

It’s ironic that as we get to the part that pure reason cannot encompass, Thomas becomes easier to understand–because although I’ve not seen his arguments, I’m familiar with the conclusions.

CT 40: Generation in God

Wednesday, July 30th, 2008

I feel like Thomas is giving us bite-sized chunks, but at least now I see why he was going on about biological vs. intellection conception. Chapter 40 says:

Hence in the rule of Catholic faith we are taught to profess belief in the Father and Son in God by saying: “I believe in God the Father, and in His Son.” And lest anyone, on hearing Father and Son mentioned, should have any notion of carnal generation, by which among us men father and son receive their designation, John the Evangelist, to whom were revealed heavenly mysteries, substitutes “Word” for “Son,” (John 1:14) so that we may understand that the generation is intellectual.

I’ve not much to say about this; it seems fairly clear.

It occurs to me that Thomas is showing how conception in the intellect is similar to conception in biology…but that in fact, it’s really the other way around. Biological generation is an icon of the relationship between the Father and the Son.

CT 39: Relation of the Word to the Father

Tuesday, July 29th, 2008

Having defined the notion of a conception of the intellect analogously to the biological conception of offspring, Thomas now proceeds to distinguish between the two notions in Chapter 39:

But here a point of difference must be noted. What is conceived in the intellect is a likeness of the thing understood and represents its species; and so it seems to be a sort of offspring of the intellect. Therefore, when the intellect understands something other than itself, the thing understood is, so to speak, the father of the word conceived in the intellect, and the intellect itself resembles rather a mother, whose function is such that conception takes place in her.

This is more or less a repeat of what Thomas said in CT 38, though I find it interesting that the concept, the interior word, represents the species of the thing understood. That doesn’t seem entirely right to me. If I see my wife Jane, and form a concept of her in my intellect (as if I didn’t already have such a thing), that concept is very specific to her. Though perhaps that simply means that Jane is in a class by herself.

But anyway:

But when the intellect understands itself, the word conceived is related to the understanding person as offspring to father. Consequently, since we are using the term “Word” in the latter sense, that is, according as God understands Himself, the Word itself must be related to God, from whom the Word proceeds, as Son to Father.

Aha! The concept is the “child” of the object understand; and when the object understood is the intellect that is doing the understanding, then that intellect is the “father” of its own understanding of itself, of that interior word which is indeed its own understanding of itself.

So, by analogy, it is fitting to refer to the Eternal Word as the Son and to God as the Father. Neat.

Tuesdays with St. Thomas: Happiness

Tuesday, July 29th, 2008

Over the next 40 weeks, Jeff Vehige is going to be working through the First Part of the Second Part of the Summa Theologiae. The first installment is up today.

CT 38: The Word as Conception

Monday, July 28th, 2008

Chapter 38 appears to be sort of a connector between the previous and subsequent chapters, and I confess I don’t see the point of it:

What is contained in the intellect, as an interior word, is by common usage said to be a conception of the intellect.

OK; this is a reasonable definition; let’s move on.

A being is said to be conceived in a corporeal way if it is formed in the womb of a living animal by a life-giving energy, in virtue of the active function of the male and the passive function of the female, in whom the conception takes place. The being thus conceived shares in the nature of both parents and resembles them in species.

OK. And so?

In a similar manner, what the intellect comprehends is formed in the intellect, the intelligible object being, as it were, the active principle, and the intellect the passive principle. That which is thus comprehended by the intellect, existing as it does within the intellect, is conformed both to the moving intelligible object, of which it is a certain likeness, and to the quasi-passive intellect, which confers on it intelligible existence. Hence what is comprehended by the intellect is not unfittingly called the conception of the intellect.

Oh. It never would have occurred to me to link the word “conception”, an idea, with the word “conception”, as when a child is conceived. But OK, it’s a reasonable metaphor.

A quick glance ahead shows that Thomas, having indicated the similarity, is next going to draw some distinctions. But that’s the next post.

CT 37: The Word in God

Sunday, July 27th, 2008

Public discourse in our day is awash with vague metaphor. We use words for general effect, to convey some general sense, rather than with precision. And so sometimes I’m surprised to discover that some theological term that I’ve used for years, and taken to be largely metaphorical, is in fact, both concrete and precise.

In Chapter 37, Thomas begins to discuss the relation between God and His Word. “God’s Word,” of course, we understand to be the Second Person of the Trinity, Christ Jesus, through whom everything was made that was made. But according to Thomas, the Son is God’s Word in a very real and precise sense.

We take from the doctrine previously laid down that God understands and loves Himself; likewise, that understanding and willing in Him are not something distinct from His essence. Since God understands Himself, and since all that is understood is in the person who understands, God must be in Himself as the object understood is in the person understanding.

We understand with our intellect; and our understanding is within us, within our intellect. Being a software engineer, I have a reasonably good understanding of how the laptop on which I’m typing this post works. That understanding doesn’t reside in the laptop; the laptop will function whether I understand it or not. That understanding doesn’t float out in the air somewhere. Nor (per Thomas and Aristotle) does it reside in my brain, though we’re accustomed to talking that way; it resides in my intellect, which is a function of my soul, rather than a function of my body. Thus, there is a real sense in which this laptop is within me. Thomas would say that understanding is understanding of form; hence, what is in my intellect is the form of the laptop.

That’s what the intellect does: it collects and manipulates and understands forms.

Now, God understands Himself; therefore the form of God is within God’s intellect; and since God understands perfectly, it is perfectly so.

But the object understood, so far as it is in the one who understands, is a certain word of the intellect; we signify by an exterior word what we comprehend interiorly in our intellect. For words, according to the Philosopher, are signs of intellectual concepts [De interpretatione, I, 1, 16 a 3].

I understand an object with my intellect; my intellect contains the object understood, or rather, its form. This interior understanding is represented to the world outside my intellect as a word, which is a sign of the concept: e.g., the word “laptop”. This word exists both within and without, that is, I understand not only my laptop, but also the word “laptop”, which I use as a sign for the understanding.

Hence we must acknowledge in God the existence of His Word.

This implies that the Son, the Second Person of the Trinity, is the exterior sign of God’s understanding of Himself. An exterior sign to who? To creation. Even at this most fundamental level, therefore, we see that the Son is a Mediator begin God and His creation.

OK, now this is way cool.

CT 36: Philosophical Character of this Doctrine

Saturday, July 26th, 2008

Chapter 36 marks a turning point.

The truths about God thus far proposed have been subtly discussed by a number of pagan philosophers, although some of them erred concerning these matters. And those who propounded true doctrine in this respect were scarcely able to arrive at such truths even after long and painstaking investigation. But there are other truths about God revealed to us in the teaching of the Christian religion, which were beyond the reach of the philosopher. These are truths about which we are instructed, in accord with the norm of Christian faith, in a way that transcends human perception. The teaching is this: although God is one and simple, as has been explained, God is Father, God is Son, and God is Holy Spirit. And these three are not three gods, but are one God. We now turn to a consideration of this truth, so far as is possible to us.

As Thomas discusses at length in the Summa Contra Gentiles, which I’ve also been dipping into, there are three kinds of truth about God:

  • Those truths about God that we can arrive at by the natural light of reason, given our understanding of the world God created.
  • Those truths that we could never arrive at by the natural light of reason, that were revealed to us by God’s grace–insofar as we are capable of understanding them.
  • Those truths that we can in principle arrive at by the natural light of reason, but that God also revealed, because they are important and because doing so is arduous and fraught with error.

Here, Thomas is ending his discussion of those things of the first kind and moving on to those things of the second.

CT 35: The Foregoing Truths Embraced in One Article of Faith

Friday, July 25th, 2008

In Chapter 35, Thomas relates the things he’s proven so far to the words of the Creed:

From all the details of doctrines thus far discussed, we can gather that God is one, simple, perfect, and infinite, and that He understands and wills. All these truths are assembled in a brief article of our Creed, wherein we profess to believe “in one God, almighty.” For, since this name “God” (Deus), is apparently derived from the Greek name Theos, which comes from theasthai, meaning to see or to consider, the very name of God makes it clear that He is intelligent and consequently that He wills. In proclaiming that He is one, we exclude a plurality of gods, and also all composition; for a thing is not simply one unless it is simple. The assertion that He is almighty is evidence of our belief that He possesses infinite power, from which nothing can be taken away. And this includes the further truth that He is infinite and perfect; for the power of a thing follows the perfection of its essence.

I don’t have much to say, here. I do wonder about the emphasized phrase. What does “the perfection of its essence” mean? A being can possess various perfections; this seems to be saying that a being that possesses a perfection as part of its essence is more powerful than one that doesn’t. But it does it really matter whether the perfection is essential or accidental? Or is Thomas referring to the extent to which a being’s essence is perfected, the extent to which it possesses perfections on top of its essence, and the more so the more powerful?

Anybody?

CT 34: Identity between God’s Will and His Willing

Thursday, July 24th, 2008

In Chapter 34, we get another puzzler:

Hence it is also clear that the divine will is the very act of willing in God. As has been pointed out, God’s will is identical with the good willed by Him. But this would be impossible if His willing were not the same as His will; for willing is in the will because of the object willed. Accordingly God’s will is His willing.

I’m thinking this is a first act/second act thing, as we saw in CT 31. “God’s will” is first act, God’s capability of willing, as God’s intellect is first act, God’s capability of understanding. “God’s willing” is His exercise of His will, second act, as God’s understanding is second act.

Now, Thomas says that God’s will is identical with the good willed by Him, that is, the object willed. This was stated in the previous chapter, I guess, though it wasn’t obvious to me at the time. But anyway, God’s willing of the object willed (second act) stands between God’s will (first act) and the object willed; and so if they are identical, God’s willing must be identical with both.

Thomas continues:

Again, God’s will is the same as His intellect and His essence. But God’s intellect is His act of understanding, and His essence is His existing. Therefore His will must be His act of willing. And so we see clearly that God’s will is not opposed to His simplicity.

This appears to be making the argument that God’s first act and second act in any aspect are always identical…which implies that God’s essence is first act and his existing is second act. Interesting.

But the main point, of course, is that God’s willing, His ability to will specific things, does not detract from His simplicity. God is One.

CT 33: Identity of God’s Will with His Intellect

Wednesday, July 23rd, 2008

The obvious next step at the end of CT 32 was to establish the identity of God’s volition with His intellect…and hence, with His existence and His essence, and Thomas takes that step in Chapter 33:

Evidently God’s will cannot be anything other than His intellect. For, since a good that is apprehended by the intellect is the object of the will, it moves the will and is the will’s act and perfection. In God, however, there is no distinction between mover and moved, act and potency, perfection and perfectible, as is clear from the truths we have already gained. Also, the divine intellect and the divine essence are identical. Therefore the will of God is not distinct from the divine intellect and God’s essence.

The intellect understands a good, and through the will moves things to achieve that good. The apprehended good is the “final cause”, the end in view, the perfection reached through the act of will. We established previously that God has volition, has a will; but God is simple, as we already established, and therefore His intellect and His will must be one, with no distinction between them. He Is, He Knows, and He Wills, eternally.

Another consideration: among the various perfections of things, the chief are intellect and will. A sign of this is that they are found in the nobler beings. But the perfections of all things are one in God, and this is His essence, as we showed above. In God, therefore, intellect and will are identical with His essence.

Not much to say, here; this is simply the next logical step in the progression.