CT 75: Intellectual Substances

Incorporeal substances, those really existing beings who consist of form only, with no matter, must also be intellectual. Once again, in Chapter 75, Thomas is speaking of angels:

The substances mentioned above, which are called immaterial, must also be intellectual. A being is intellectual for the reason that it is free from matter. This can be perceived from the very way it understands. The intelligible in act and the intellect in act are the same thing. But it is clear that a thing is intelligible in act because it is separated from matter, we cannot have intellectual knowledge of material things except by abstracting from matter. Accordingly we must pronounce the same judgment regarding the intellect; that is, whatever is immaterial, is intellectual.

This point is implicit in everything Thomas has covered so far; this is basic Aristotelian logic. We sense things by their appearance, but we know them by their form, which we must abstract from matter. The concept I have in my mind and the form of the being I know are one and the same! (If you deny this, you fall either to the Scylla of Platonic Idealism on the one hand, or the Charybdis of Nominalism on the other.) And since that form is abstracted from matter, it is immaterial, the intellect that knows it must also be immaterial.

In short, given the intellectual basis of Thomas’ thought this is a fairly straightforward point, even if it seems weird to us. But then, our modern modes of thinking are steeped in Nominalism.

Furthermore, immaterial substances hold the first place and are supreme among beings; for act naturally has precedence over potency. But the intellect is clearly superior to all other beings; for the intellect uses corporeal things as instruments. Therefore immaterial substances must be intellectual.

Act is greater than potency, and matter is the principle of potency, so immaterial beings are greater than material beings. And intellect is superior to corporeal beings, because it can make use of them, but the reverse is not true. Somehow these points combine to indicate that the immaterial must be intellectual. I don’t see it; the argument seems backwards in some way. But I’m just beginning my study of Aristotelian logic.

Moreover, the higher a thing is in the scale of being, the closer it draws to likeness with God. Thus we observe that some things, those pertaining to the lowest degree, such as lifeless beings, share in the divine likeness with respect to existence only; others, for example, plants, share in the divine likeness with respect to existence and life; yet others, such as animals, with respect to sense perception. But the highest degree, and that which makes us most like to God, is conferred by the intellect. Consequently the most excellent creatures are intellectual. Indeed, they are said to be fashioned in God’s image for the very reason that among all creatures they approach most closely to likeness with God.

All creatures are made in the likeness of God; this must clearly be true, since their purpose is to manifest His Perfections, and they can only do so by being like Him. Of all material creatures, we human beings are most like God, and we are so especially in that which distinguishes us from all other animals, our intellect; and it’s reasonable that those beings greater than us, more like God, would retain intellect while losing matter.

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