CT 78: Order and Degree in Intellectual Operation

So we have a variety of intellectual substances–e.g., angels–each of which is in a species of its own, with its own distinct nature; and Thomas gives me the definite impression that these substances are strictly ordered. In Chapter 78, Thomas avers that just as the substances are ordered from greatest to least, so their intelligence, their ability to understand, is ordered from greatest to least:

Since the nature of a being’s activity is in keeping with its substance, the higher intellectual substances must understand in a more perfect way, inasmuch as they have intelligible species and powers that are more universal and are more unified. On the other hand, intellectual substances that are less perfect must be weaker in intelligence, and must have species that are more numerous and less universal.

It’s not quite clear to me what Thomas is getting at, describing species as “more universal and more unified” on the one hand, and as “more numerous and less universal” on the other. I have to assume that he is presuming that there are multiple genera of intellectual substances, and that some genera contain a few species while others contain many species; and that the few species are more universal in that their definitions are simpler, with fewer conditions, while the many are less universal, and more specific. This is consistent with what else we’ve seen: God is most universal, infinitely perfect, and One; individual men are particular, not notably perfect, and many. So there’s a scale here.

I think this is probably an example of Thomas glossing over the details for the sake of simplicity.

2 Responses to “CT 78: Order and Degree in Intellectual Operation”

  1. You are confusing the different species of angels (an ontological distinction) with the technical term species (an epistemelogical term). “Species” refers to the medium through which the angel knows, since it doesn’t know things through its essence – that is proper to God alone. Cf I,55,1 and 2.

    Where we derive the species (or likeness) from material things, the angels have them connaturally, that’s just the way they’re made. And because they are graded among themselves according to higher and lower, so these connatural species through which they know are higher or lower, as they have greater or lesser universality and unity – think comprehension and extension and their inverse relation.

  2. Will says:

    Ooooooh. OK, that makes a heck of a lot more sense. Angels perceive (if that’s the right word) essences directly; and the higher the angel, the more fully they comprehend them. God, higher than any angel, comprehends them perfectly.