DE&E: Chapter 4:3

In this paragraph, Thomas discusses some basic facts about form, matter, and their relation, in response to his assertion that “the intelligences have form and existence, and in this place form is taken in the sense of a simple quiddity or nature.” That is, and angel is its essence. Thomas explains this as follows:

It is easy to see how this is the case.

And for a wonder, this is true.

Whenever two things are related to each other such that one is the cause of the other, the one that is the cause can have existence without the other, but not conversely.

Right. You can’t have my eldest son without the prior existence of Jane and me. You can’t have Middle Earth without the prior existence of Tolkien. But Jane and I might not have had any kids, and Tolkien might never have imagined Middle Earth.

Now, we find that matter and form are related in such a way that form gives existence to matter, and therefore it is impossible that matter exist without a form; but it is not impossible that a form exist without matter, for a form, insofar as it is a form, is not dependent on matter.

Right. I can imagine a cat, down to its whiskers and feline disdain, but there is no cat present (I’m allergic). Forms can exist without matter; in my intellect, in this case. But Thomas isn’t talking about forms existing in the intellect; he’s talking about existence in the real world. The form of a cat exists in the real world only when there’s a cat.

When we find a form that cannot exist except in matter, this happens because such forms are distant from the first principle, which is primary and pure act.

The first principle being God, of course.

Hence, those forms that are nearest the first principle are subsisting forms essentially without matter, for not the whole genus of forms requires matter, as said above, and the intelligences are forms of this type.

“…subsisting forms essentially without matter,” i.e., immaterial substances, which are, in fact, forms, there being nothing else for them to be.

Thus, the essences or quiddities of these substances are not other than the forms themselves.

If the essence of a being is a form, and the being is a form to begin with, it makes sense that it would be its essence.

OK. So far so good. An angel has an essence; can it also have accidents? Can it change, gaining and losing accidents? And how can it change without matter? (I notice that no one’s jumping in to answer questions like these, which is appropriate; I’ll get to the answers eventually. Where I need help is knowing when I’ve gone off track, for which I thank everyone for their help!)

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