Decree of the Sacred Congregation for Studies with commentaries by Pedro Lumbreras, O.P., S.T.Lr., Ph.D. and footnotes by Dr. William H. Marshner
After our most Holy Father Pius X ordered in the Motu Proprio Doctoris Angelici, on June 29, 1914, that in all schools of philosophy the principles and main teachings of Thomas Aquinas be held, some teachers from various institutions proposed some theses for this Sacred Congregation to examine, which theses they had been accustomed to teach and defend as being those of the Holy Teacher [St.Thomas], especially in metaphysics.
They are as follows:
Potency and Act so divide being that whatsoever exists either is a Pure Act, or is necessarily composed of Potency and Act, as to its primordial and intrinsic principles. *
Commentary: Every actual subsisting being—inanimate bodies and animals, men and angels, creatures and Creator—must be either Pure Act—a perfection which is neither the complement of Potency, nor the Potency which lacks further complement—or Potency mixed with Act—something capable of perfection and some perfection fulfilling this capacity. This statement is true both in the existential and in the essential order. In each of these orders the composition of Act and Potency is that of two real, really distinct principles, as Being itself; intrinsic to the existing being or to its essence; into which, finally, all other principles can be resolved, while they cannot be resolved into any other. [Summa Theologiae, Iª q. 77 a. 1; Sententia Metaphysicae, lib. 7 l. 1 et lib. 9 l. 1 et l. 9]
* The noun ens means either “a being” or the whole set of them. A being is “a thing which is,” hence a thing which is “in being” and hence in that set. Without qualifiers, “a being” is a thing which exists. Given a qualifier, a being is “a thing which is such-and-such.”
Act, because it is perfection, is not limited except by Potency, which is capacity for perfection. Therefore, in the order in which the Act is pure, it is unlimited and unique; but in that in which it is finite and manifold, it comes into a true composition with Potency. *
Commentary: Since Act means perfection, perfection belongs to Act by reason of itself; imperfection, then, by reason of something else. Limits, therefore, belong to Act but on account of Potency. Consequently, if an Act is pure, it is perfection without limits, and gives no ground for distinction and multiplicity. On the contrary, any finite or manifold Act is mixed with Potency: for it is only as subjected in Potency that it is limited and multiplied according to the capacity of the subject. [Summa Theologiae, Iª q. 7 a. 1 et a. 2; Contra Gentiles, lib. 1 cap. 43; Super Sent., lib. 1 d. 43 q. 2]
* A thing’s “act” need not be an action it does. It can be the thing’s operative status or its current “actual” state.
Wherefore, in the exclusive domain of existence itself God alone subsists, He alone is the most simple. Everything else, which participates in existence, has a nature whereby existence is restricted, and is composed of essence and existence as of two really distinct principles. *
Commentary: If there is any being, the actuality of whose existence—for existent means actual—is not received into the potentiality of essence, such a being subsists of itself, because it is perfection without limits; it is unique, because it excludes composition of any kind; it is the most simple Being: God. All other things, the actuality of whose existence is received into the potentiality of the essence, participate in existence according to the capacity of the essence, which limits in this way the actuality of existence. Essence and existence hold in them the place of Potency and Act in the existential order, and are two real and really distinct principles, which intrinsically constitute the compound, the existing being, in the order of existence. [Summa Theologiae, Iª q. 50 a. 2 ad 3; Contra Gentiles, lib. 1 cap. 38 et cap. 52 et cap. 53 et cap. 54; Super Sent., lib. 1 d. 19 q. 2 a. 2; De ente et essentia, cap. 5; De spiritualibus creaturis, a. 1; De veritate, q. 27 a. 1 ad 8]
* Factors are “really” distinct when they are not just “conceptually” distinct (so as to be named or described differently) but are “thing-wise” distinct, i.e. distinct as one thing from another. The adverb ‘realiter’ comes from the noun ‘res’, which means a “thing.” In scholastic Latin, not every “thing” was an object (objectum), because an object was so called in relation to a faculty: object of sight, object of thought, object of desire. A “thing” didn’t have to be the object of any such faculty.
Being, which derives its name from existence, is not predicated univocally of God and creatures; nor yet merely equivocally, but analogically, by the analogy both of attribution and of proportionality. *
Commentary: If the actuality of existence is in God a Pure Act and is in creatures an Act mixed with Potency, Being cannot be predicated of God and creatures in an identical way: God is self-existing, creatures have their existence from God. Still, because the effect in some manner reproduces its cause, Being does not belong to God and creatures in a totally different sense. Being, as predicated of God and creatures is an analogous term. Its analogy is first that of attribution, since Being appertains to creatures as far as they have it from God, to whom it appertains by essence; and is secondly that of proportionality, since the actuality of existence is intrinsic to God and creatures as existing beings. [Summa Theologiae, Iª q. 13 a. 5; Contra Gentiles, lib. 1 cap. 32 et cap. 33 et cap. 34; De potentia, q. 7 a. 7]
* A term is applied to different things “univocally” when its definition is kept constant, as in “strong ox” and “strong man;” a term is applied to them “equivocally” when it is applied under unrelated definitions, as in “fast day” and “fast car;” a term is applied to them “analogously” when it is applied under related definitions, as in “healthy man” and “healthy diet” (analogy of attribution) or when it captures a “proportion,” such as, God’s power : God’s effects :: a creature’s power : the creature’s effects.
There is, moreover, in every creature a real composition of subsisting subject with forms secondarily added—that is, accidents; but such a composition could not be understood unless the existence were received into a distinct essence. *
Commentary: The compound of essence and existence is itself the subject or Potency of a further complement or Act: this Act or complement is but an accidental perfection. The new composition is a real one, as the addition itself is real. It can be observed in every creature. Bodies have quantity, spirits have faculties and operations upon which, furthermore, quality follows; every creature has some relation to the Creator. But this real composition of accidents and subsisting compound lacks a philosophical basis if we put aside the composition of essence and existence. The subsisting being cannot be the subject of accidental Act except in so far as it is Potency; but existence is not Potency. The actuality, then, of existence and that of accident come together in the same substantial essence only because this essence is a Potency really distinct from both Acts. [Summa Theologiae, Iª q. 3 a. 6; Contra Gentiles, lib. 1 cap. 23; Contra Gentiles, lib. 2 cap. 52; De ente et essentia, cap. 5]
* A “subsisting” thing is a concrete whole (not abstract and not a part) having what it takes to exist “on its own.” An accident, by contrast, is not apt to exist on its own, outside the subject in which it inheres. Typically, an accident exists by inhering. The composition of a subject/substance with its accidents enriches the being of the subject without altering its essence; hence it would be unintelligible if the subject’s being and its essence were not really distinct.
Besides the absolute accidents there is also a relative accident, or ‘toward something.’ For although ‘toward something’ does not mean, by its own nature, anything inhering in something, frequently, however, it has a cause in things, and, therefore, a real entity distinct from the subject. *
Commentary: In addition to the absolute accidents—which modify the subject in itself—there is a relative accident—which affects the subject with respect to something else. The proper nature of predicamental relation consists in the very habitude to something else; relation, as relation, does not indicate inherence in something, but reference toward something. We may think of a merely logical relation. This is not always the case. For often we have a real subject, and a real and distinct term, and a real foundation, no one of which, however, is that very habitude which relation means. [Summa Theologiae, Iª q. 28 a. 1]
* This thesis addresses the important contention that, while some relations are just products of thought (like x is better liked than y), others are real (like x is the father of y). The real relations are thing-like (realis) because they are “there” whether anyone thinks of them or not.
The spiritual creature is as to its essence altogether simple. Yet there remains a twofold composition in it: that, namely, of essence with existence and that of substance with accidents.
Commentary: The essence of angels is only Act, for the actuality of the form is not received into the potentiality of matter. Angels, indeed, are but intellectual substances, since to understand is a wholly immaterial operation. The last statement of the thesis has already been justified. [Summa Theologiae, Iª q. 50 a. 1 ff.; De spiritualibus creaturis, a. 1]
The corporeal creature, on the contrary, is in its very essence composed of Potency and Act. Such a Potency and Act of the essential order are designated by the names of matter and form.
Commentary: Besides the composition in the existential and accidental order, bodies are composed also in the order of essence. Bodies, indeed, are extended and active, divisible and yet one, multiplied in individuals while keeping specific unity, subject to substantial changes, which by different and often contrary successive properties are made known. Consequently, there must be in bodies an intrinsic principle as the basis of extension, division, numerical multiplicity, the permanent subject of the substantial change; and another intrinsic principle as the foundation of the activity, unity, specific likeness, the successive phases of the change. The first principle, passive, undetermined, incomplete, potential, the root of extension, the support of the substantial change, is material and substantial. The second, active, determining, completing, term of the substantial change, is substantial and formal. Matter and form, then, constitute the essence of bodily substance: neither one is an essence, a substance, a body: each is but a part of the compound, which is a single essence, a single substance, a single body. [De spiritualibus creaturis, a. 1]
Neither of those parts has existence, properly speaking; nor is produced or destroyed; nor is placed in a Category except by way of reduction, as a substantial principle. *
Commentary: Since existence is the Act of essence, neither matter nor form can be granted an existence of its own; the existence belongs to the compound. And because production brings things into existence, and destruction deprives them of it, the term of production or destruction is likewise the compound. Finally, since matter and form are substantial principles, they cannot be collocated among accidents. But neither can they be placed directly in the category of substance, for it is the complete substance, which is classed there. They fall, then, into the category of substance by reduction, as principles of substance, as substantial Potency and substantial Act. [Summa Theologiae, Iª q. 45 a. 4; De potentia, q. 3 a. 5 ad 3]
* This thesis points out the deep differences between a genuine “thing which is” and a mere factor “whereby it is.” The latter is not an item of what-there-is but of how-it-is. What is produced, destroyed, and put into one of Aristotle’s ten categories is “what there-is,” not “how it is.” If Aquinas’s metaphysics had been “first order,” he would have included in “what there is” only sub-stances, and their matter and form would have been only the “how they are” of a material substances. But like Aristotle, of course, he included not only substances but also sizes, qualities, relations, etc. Thus in all ten Categories, a Thomist can distinguish what-there-is (in that category) from how-it-is. The later is called a “mode.” Thus a “heat” of 90˚ C. differs in mode from a “boiling” heat.
Although extension into integral parts follows corporeal nature, it is not, however, the same for a body to be a substance and to be extended. For substance of itself is indivisible; not certainly after the manner of a point, but after the manner of that which is outside the order of dimension. On the other hand, quantity, which makes substance to be extended, really differs from substance, and is a veritable accident. *
Commentary: To have integral parts—homogeneous, distinct and outside of each other, united together at the extremities—is a proper sequence of matter, one of the essential principles of body. Still, body as a substance implies only essential parts, matter and form—heterogeneous, within each other, united together by compenetration. Substance, of itself, is indifferent to any quantity, and may even exist, miraculously, without any quantity. It is, then, of itself indivisible: not simply as a point—unextended by privation, —but as something devoid of dimension—unextended by negation. Substance is indebted to quantity for its integral parts; but as there is a real distinction between subject-of-existence and extended-into-parts, between the persevering support of successive quantities and these quantities in succession, substance is not really identical with quantity. Faith teaches us that in the Holy Eucharist the substance of bread disappears, but not its quantity. Quantity, therefore, is a genuine accident. [Contra Gentiles, lib. 4 cap. 65; Super Sent., lib. 1 d. 37 q. 2 a. 1 ad 3; Super Sent., lib. 2 d. 30 q. 2 a. 1]
* This thesis is against Descartes’ identification of being a body with being extended. To be extended is to have component or “integral” parts lying outside one another, and thus to occupy “so much” space or to be “so big.” Well, a bodily substance like a rabbit can be big or small. Thus, what it takes to be a rabbit is “outside the series of dimensions.”
Matter as subjected to quantity is the principle of individuation or numerical distinction—impossible among pure spirits—whereby individuals of the same species are distinct from each other. *
Commentary: The principle of individuation cannot be the essence, for Peter is not humanity; nor some extrinsic mode added to the composite substance, for this mode, if accidental, cannot constitute an individual which is a substance and substantially differs from other individuals, and, if substantial, cannot be received but into some already constituted individual substance; nor the existence, for existence actualizes, does not modify reality and is received, moreover, into a substance which is an individual substance. Though that principle must be intrinsic to the substance, it is not the form, because form is a principle of specific and common unity rather than of numerical multiplicity and incommunicability. This principle is matter. Yet not matter of itself, since of itself it is undetermined and capable of being in this and that individual, while the principle of individuation is a determining principle, and renders the subject incommunicable. Matter, as subjected to quantity, is such a principle. For, as related to quantity, it is conceived as divisible into homogeneous parts, and, as related to this quantity, it is conceived as incapable of some other quantity, and, then, as incommunicable to anything else related to different quantity. It is because pure spirits are not composed of matter and form, but are simple forms, Act only which exhausts by itself all the perfection of the essential order, that they cannot be multiplied in the same species: the individuals, indeed, would differ on account of their form, and a difference on the part of the form makes a difference in the species. [Contra Gentiles, lib. 2 cap. 92 et cap. 93; Summa Theologiae, Iª q. 50 a. 4; De ente et essentia, cap. 2]
* Signate matter is the source of individuation in a kind because it is “just enough” matter to make one instance of the kind. Thus an atom of chlorine and an atom of sodium is “just enough” matter to make one instance of salt. Thus, too, a single cell with the right DNA is “just enough” matter to make one instance of a virus, or one instance of a horse.
It is also quantity that makes a body to be circumscriptively in one place and to be incapable, by any means, of such a presence in any other place. *
Commentary: Since quantity makes a body to be extended, and, thus, to have its parts outside of each other, it makes the whole body to occupy some place so that each part of the body occupies a different portion of the place. We have, therefore, some commensuration of the dimensions of the body with the dimensions of the place; and this we call a circumspective presence. But just on account of this commensuration quantity makes a body to be incapable of circumscriptive presence in more than one place; for the dimensions of the body are equal, not greater than the dimensions of the first place, and, since those dimensions are exhausted by this place, it is not possible for the same body to occupy simultaneously a second place. This impossibility is, therefore, a metaphysical one: not even by a miracle can we conceive of any such bilocation. [Summa Theologiae, IIIª q. 75; Super Sent., lib. 4 d. 10 q. 1 a. 3]
* This thesis is relevant to the Eucharist, wherein Christ’s body is in many tabernacles at once but is not “circum-scriptively” in those many places, because His body’s substance is in the Eucharist without its accident of size or quantity.
Bodies are divided into two classes: some are living, others without life. In living bodies, in order to have intrinsically a moving part and a moved part in the same subject, the substantial form, called the soul, requires an organic disposition, or heterogeneous parts.
Commentary: Not all bodies are endowed with life: but some are. As living bodies, they have within themselves the principle and the term of their movement. This is to be understood, not as if the whole body, or one and the same part of the body, were both the mover and the moved, but that by nature one part is ordained to give and another part to receive the motion. The different parts, then, must be arranged into some hierarchy, and must be coordinated, not only as regards the whole, but even with respect to each other: all the parts, accordingly, cannot be homogeneous. The soul, substantially informing the organism, informs all the parts, and each of them according to the function each has in the whole. [Summa Theologiae, Iª q. 18 a. 1 et a. 2 et q. 75 a. 1; Contra Gentiles, lib. 1 cap. 97; Sententia De anima]
Souls of the vegetative and sensitive order, properly speaking, do not subsist and are not produced, but merely exist and are produced as a principle whereby the living thing exists and lives. Since they depend entirely on matter, at the dissolution of the compound, they are indirectly destroyed.
Commentary: The substantial form does not subsist in the organic bodies of plants and irrational animals, because it has no operation independent of matter; it is but a principle of substance. A principle, however, that, in giving matter the complement wanted by matter for making up the compound—which properly exists and lives—is called the principle of existence and life. Its relation to production and destruction has been previously explained. [Summa Theologiae, Iª q. 75 a. 3 et q. 90 a. 2; Contra Gentiles, lib. 2 cap. 80 et cap. 82]
On the contrary, the human soul subsists by itself, and is created by God when it can be infused into a sufficiently disposed subject, and is incorruptible and immortal by nature.
Commentary: The human soul, independent of material conditions for some of its operations, is by itself a simple and complete substance. It is, then, produced from nothing, or created, and created by God, as we shall see. Naturally ordained to inform the human body, it is created when infused into the body. But, since the reception of any form presupposes a convenient disposition in the receiving matter, the infusion of the human soul implies a sufficient disposition of the human body. Such a disposition is not likely to be found in a body recently formed: vegetative and sensible souls would precede the human soul, as the servants precede the master for preparing a lodging worthy of him. Being simple, the human soul cannot be directly destroyed. Being subsisting, it can neither be destroyed indirectly upon the destruction of the compound. [Summa Theologiae, Iª q. 75 a. 2 et q. 90 et q. 118; Contra Gentiles, lib. 2 cap. 83 ff.; De potentia, q. 3 a. 2; Sententia De anima, a. 14]
This same rational soul is so united to the body as to be its single substantial form. By it man is man, and animal, and living, and body, and substance, and being. Soul, therefore, gives man every essential degree of perfection. It communicates to the body, furthermore, the act of existence whereby itself exists.
Commentary: Every one is aware of the intrinsic and mutual influence, which exists in man between body and soul. Their union is not accidental. Body and soul come together as two constituent principles of a single nature, that of man. The human soul, the substantial form of body, gives matter, the substantial potency of soul, the first substantial act. By itself, then, it informs and determines the undetermined matter to a particular species. It gives to the compound all the perfection, which is implied in this species. And it is subsisting; it communicates its existence directly to the compound, indirectly to the body. [Summa Theologiae, Iª q. 76; Contra Gentiles, lib. 2 cap. 56 et cap. 68 et cap. 69 et cap. 70 et cap. 71; Sententia De anima, a. 1; De spiritualibus creaturis, a. 3]
Faculties of a twofold order, organic and inorganic, naturally spring from the human soul. The subject of the organic, to which sense belongs, is the compound. The subject of the inorganic is the soul alone. The intellect, then, is a faculty intrinsically independent of any organ.
Commentary: The immediate principles of operation are distinct from the soul: they are accidents, as the operations themselves. But their root is the soul, for they are vital faculties, and the soul is the principle of life. They are divided into two classes, according to the mode in which they spring from the human soul; subsisting by itself, and the form of body. In the latter case we have those faculties whose act is performed by means of bodily organs. Not only the vegetative faculties, but the sensitive likewise, are among them; for their object is extended. As organic faculties, they have for their subject the animated organism, which is neither the soul alone, nor the body alone, but the compound. There are some other faculties whose operations are far above matter, and, accordingly, cannot be subjected in the organism, even as animated: they are termed inorganic and are subjected in the soul alone. Intellect is such a faculty. Though extrinsically dependent on the imagination and indirectly on the organism, it is intrinsically independent of them. [Summa Theologiae, Iª q. 77 et q. 78 et q. 79; Contra Gentiles, lib. 2 cap. 72; Sententia De anima, a. 12 ff.; De spiritualibus creaturis, a. 11]
Intellectuality necessarily follows immateriality, and in such a manner that the degree of intellectuality is in proportion to the remoteness from matter. The adequate object of intellection is being as such; but the proper object of the human intellect, in the present state of union, is restricted to the essences abstracted from material conditions. *
Commentary: Intellectuality means ability to reproduce in oneself the forms of the objects known, without any injury to the proper form. Matter determines forms to be but in this individual: no form can be known except as abstracted from matter; no subject can be intelligent except as independent of matter. A greater intellectuality corresponds to a greater immateriality, and, since matter stands for potency, to a greater act. In the summit of intellectuality the Pure Act is fixed; next, the Act mixed with Potency in the order of existence; then, the Act mixed with Potency in the very order of essence. A form cannot be reproduced except in so far as it is. Being is knowable in itself, and everything is knowable in so far as it is being. Still, the mode of operation is according to the mode of being, and since the being of our soul, in the present condition, communicates with the body, the connatural object of our knowledge is now the forms taken from the matter. [Summa Theologiae, Iª q. 14 a. 1 et q. 89 a. 1 et a. 2; Contra Gentiles, lib. 1 cap. 59 et cap. 72 et lib. 4 cap. 2]
* A thing’s quiddity is an answer to the question, “What is it?” Any useful answer goes beyond mere sense-impressions of the thing, so as to be a way of “understanding” it. Thus the “proper object” of human understanding in this life (where our minds are dependent on our senses) is a what-it-is of one or another empirical thing. (‘Quiddity’ is often a synonym of ‘essence’, but this is misleading unless one is working in a science, where the ‘What is it?” question is looking for an answer which is not just a “handle” on the thing but something as close as possible to its real make-up or scientific definition.)
We, therefore, receive our knowledge from sensible things. But since no sensible thing is actually intelligible, besides the intellect which is properly intelligent we must admit in the soul an active power which abstracts the intelligible forms from the phantasms. *
Commentary: Our knowledge proceeds, at present, from sensible things. This gives a reason for the union of soul and body. Upon the injury of some organs our mental operation becomes impossible; nor is it by chance that this is associated with sensible images. A sensible image, however, is not intelligible; for intelligible means immaterial. The intellect, which properly understands is a passive faculty: it receives the intelligible forms, and does not make the forms to be intelligible. The abstractive faculty, notwithstanding, belongs to the soul alone, for it brings its object to the realm of the immaterial. It is, moreover, an intellectual faculty, for its function is to make something intelligible. It is called the active intellect. [Summa Theologiae, Iª q. 79 a. 3 et a. 4 et q. 85 a. 6 et a. 7; Contra Gentiles, lib. 1 cap. 76 ff.; De spiritualibus creaturis, a. 10]
* This “active power” is called the agent intellect. It performs an operation upon the data of the senses, called abstracting. The intellect which is “formally said to understand” is called the passive or possible intellect. It is so called because it “receives” the abstracted kind into itself (as species impressa) and is thereby put “into act” to understand this kind; whereupon it can “do” the act of understanding, in which it expresses this abstracted kind to itself as a concept (species expressa). Thus any case of understanding “what something is” is a case of bringing it under a concept.
Through these species we directly know the universal; the singular we know by the senses, and also by the intellect through a conversion to the phantasms; we rise by analogy to the knowledge of the spiritual. *
Commentary: Since matter individualizes the forms, the forms become universal when abstracted from matter: it is the universal, then, we know directly. The singular implies material conditions and is known directly by the senses, dependent on matter themselves, and indirectly by the intellect, which, in taking the universal from the individuals, perceives the individuals, which offer the universal. Starting from the material abstracted essences we arrive at the nature of pure spirits. We affirm of those spirits some positive perfections noticed in the inferior beings, and these we affirm of them in a higher degree, while we deny of them some, or all, the imperfections to which those perfections were associated in the material objects. [Summa Theologiae, Iª q. 85 et q. 86 et q. 87 et q. 88]
* Since the intelligible kind received and expressed is an abstracted kind, the content of a concept is a universal. Hence the understanding of a universal is antecedent to (not the sensation of, but) the understanding of a particular. A spiritual entity, however, provides no sense data, and hence “what it is” admits of no abstraction. If it is not divinely revealed, it can only be conjectured via analogical reasoning from (and with) concepts reached as discussed above.
The will follows, does not precede, the intellect; it necessarily desires that which is offered to it as a good which entirely satisfies the appetite; it freely chooses among several good things that are proposed as desirable by the wavering judgment. Election, then, follows the last practical judgment; still, it is the will which determines it to be the last.
Commentary: Will is not prior but posterior to the intellect, in dignity, in origin, in acting. The posteriority in acting is chiefly intended here. Every act of the will is preceded by an act of the intellect; for the act of the will is a rational inclination, and while inclination follows a form, rational inclination follows the intellectually apprehended form. The intellect, in presenting to the will some apprehended good, moves it as to the specification of its act. If the presented good is the absolute or universal good, the will desires it of necessity. If it is good mixed with evil, relative or particular good, it is partially attractive and partially repulsive. The will may desire it, or may not. Once the intellect has settled on the practical excellency of some particular good, the will must accept such an object. Yet, it is the will, which freely committed itself to the determination of the intellect; it is the will, which freely sustained the intellect in its unilateral consideration; and it is the will, which freely wants the process not to be submitted to a further revision. [Summa Theologiae, Iª q. 82 et q. 83; Contra Gentiles, lib. 2 cap. 72 ff.; De veritate, q. 22 a. 5; De malo, q. 11]
That God exists we do not know by immediate intuition, nor do we demonstrate it a priori, but certainly a posteriori, that is, by things which are made, arguing from effect to cause.
- from things, which are in movement and cannot be the adequate principle of their motion, to the first mover immovable;
- from the procession of worldly things from causes, which are subordinated to each other, to the first uncaused cause;
- from corruptible things, which are indifferent alike to being and non-being, to the absolutely necessary being;
- from things, which, according to their limited perfection of existence, life, intelligence, are more or less perfect in their being, their life, their intelligence, to Him who is intelligent, living, and being in the highest degree;
- finally, from the order, which exists in the universe, to the existence of a separate intelligence which ordained, disposed, and directs things to their end.
Commentary: Since the proper object of our intellect is the essences of material things, it is clear we have no immediate intuition of God’s spiritual essence, and, consequently, neither of His existence. Since the notion we have of His essence is an abstract notion, the existence implied in that notion belongs to the essential order and in no way to the actual. Still, we can demonstrate His existence with a rigorous demonstration, which goes from the effects to their ultimate cause. St. Thomas furnishes five proofs, already classical. Things are in movement; whatsoever is moved is moved by something else; above the moved-movers is some immovable-mover. Things are efficient causes of others; they are not the efficient cause of themselves; outside the caused-causes is some uncaused-cause. Some beings did not always exist, some will not always exist: their existence is not essential to them; above beings, which do not exist of necessity, is a necessary being. Things are more or less perfect than others; the less perfect has not in itself the reason of that perfection; above things, which are limited in their perfection is some being supremely perfect. Things which lack intelligence act for some end; an intelligent being only could adapt and direct them to this end; there is an universal governing intelligence. [Summa Theologiae, Iª q. 2; Contra Gentiles, lib. 1 cap. 12 et cap. 31 et lib. 3 cap. 10 et cap. 11; De veritate, q. 1 et q. 10; De potentia, q. 4 et q. 7]
The Divine Essence is well proposed to us as constituted in its metaphysical concept by its identity with the exercised actuality of its existence, or, in other terms, as the very subsisting being; and by the same token it exhibits to us the reason of its infinity in perfection.
Commentary: Nothing in the Divine Essence itself can have the character of a constituent, for the Divine Essence is most simple. It is only according to our mode of understanding that we may ask which among the different perfections attributed to God is conceived as first, so as to distinguish God from creatures and to give ground to all the other divine perfections. That first perfection is the real identity of essence and existence: the subsisting being. By that God is distinct from creatures. In that is based any other perfection belonging to Him; for existence means act, and existence which is not received into essence means act without potency, perfection without limits. [Summa Theologiae, Iª q. 4 a. 2 et q. 13 a. 11; Super Sent., lib. 1 d. 8 q. 1]
By the very purity of His being God is, therefore, distinguished from all finite beings.
- Hence, in the first place, it is inferred that the world could not have proceeded from God except through creation;
- secondly, that the creative power, which directly ‘affects being as being,’ cannot be communicated, even miraculously, to any finite nature; and,
- finally, that no created agent exercises any influence on the being of any effect except through a motion received from the first cause.
Commentary: God’s essence is God’s existence; God is distinct from creatures whose essence is potency for existence. The world proceeds from God as the contingent from the necessary being. It proceeds by means of creation, for no emanation is possible in the pure act. Since creation implies the production of being from non-being, it is contradictory to suppose a creature exercising any causality in creation; it could not exercise that causality which belongs to the principal cause, for being is an universal effect, above the proportion consequently of any particular cause; not that causality which belongs to the instrumental cause, for there is nothing presupposed to creation upon which the instrument could exercise its efficiency. Finally, since every agent, by its act, moves toward the effect, this movement cannot be conceived independently of the first mover. The agent depends on God for its existence, for its powers, for the conservation of that existence and of these powers. It depends also on God for the very exercise of these powers. Because in exercising these powers the agent passes from Potency to Act, its faculties do not move except in so far as they are moved; there must be a motion coming from the immovable mover. This motion is received into the agent previously to the agent’s motion; it is properly called pre-motion. And since it moves the agent to the exercise of its powers, it is properly called physical pre-motion. [Summa Theologiae, Iª q. 44 et q. 45 et q. 105; Contra Gentiles, lib. 2 cap. 6 et cap. 7 et cap. 8 et cap. 9 et cap. 10 et cap. 11 et cap. 12 et cap. 13 et cap. 14 et cap. 15 et lib. 3 cap. 6 et cap. 7 et cap. 8 et cap. 9 et lib. 4 cap. 44; De potentia, q. 3 a. 7]
These are the theses Catholic professors must teach. They are the foundation upon which all the philosophical teaching must be based. And if professors recommend to their students any textbook that does not correspond to these theses, they must point that out. Because Catholic professors are reminded not only that “they cannot set St. Thomas aside, however slightly, especially in Metaphysics, without grave detriment,” but also that “they did not receive the faculty of teaching to communicate to their pupils their own opinions, but to impart to them the doctrines most approved by the Church.”
Given at Rome
July 27, 1914
Benedetto Cardinal Lorenzelli, Prefect
Monsignor Ascenso Dandini, Secretary
* * * * *
The Twenty-Four Fundamental Theses Of Official Catholic Philosophy
By P. Lumbreras, O.P., S.T.Lr., Ph.D.
Nobody can deny that the Church has full authority to regulate the teaching of philosophy in Catholic educational institutions. Pope Leo XIII said: “The only-begotten Son of the Eternal Father, who came on earth to bring salvation and the light of divine wisdom to men, conferred a great and wonderful blessing on the world when, about to ascend again into heaven, He commanded the Apostles to go and teach all nations, and left the Church which He had founded to be the common and supreme teacher of the peoples.”1 And Pius X: “Let no sincere Catholic dare to doubt the truth of this statement of the Angelic Doctor: ‘The regulation of studies belongs chiefly to the authority of the Apostolic See, by which the universal Church is governed, whose welfare is promoted by general study.'”2 The reason is obvious. For since there was given to the Church a certain number of truths spoken certainly by God, but to men and consequently in our human language, it is a duty on the part of the Church, not only to keep intact such a sacred deposit, but also to explain it as much as possible, and to defend it by means of human reason. The Church, therefore, has an absolute and exclusive right to pronounce judgment on the accordance of any system of philosophy with revealed dogma; to determine which of the various philosophical systems is more suitable for the right explanation of this dogma and offers the most solid basis for its safeguard and vindication. “The Apostle warns us,” Leo XIII declares, “that the faithful of Christ are often deceived in mind ‘by philosophy and vain deceit.’ For this reason the supreme pastors of the Church have always held that it is part of their office to advance, with all their power, knowledge truly so called; but at the same time to watch with the greatest care that all human learning shall be imparted according to the rule of the Catholic faith. Especially is this true of philosophy, on which the right treatment of other sciences depends in great measure.”3 Furthermore, since the professors in Catholic institutions receive from the Church their right to teach, and teach, consequently, in the name of the Church, the Church is evidently entitled to control their teaching, and to determine for them a line of doctrine to be followed in their teaching. It is Pius X, who addressing the professors of Christian philosophy and sacred theology reminds them that “they did not receive the faculty of teaching to communicate to their pupils their own opinions, but to impart to them the doctrines most approved by the Church.”4
There arises then a true and strict obligation for all Catholic teachers, the day the Church fixes a body of philosophical doctrine to be taught by them. Catholic teachers must fulfill such an obligation, and must teach the doctrine the Church wants them to teach, and must teach it with that favor, that praise, that commendation which the Church demands.
It may be objected that this ecclesiastical interference might become an obstacle to further progress, or to any improvement in philosophical sciences. This is not true. If, as intelligent Catholics, we are sure of the divine assistance which guides the Church in all her doctrinal judgments, especially when this doctrinal judgment concerns the universal body of Catholic teachers, then it would seem that this very definite system should give us greater help and confidence in real advancement, since we know how to advance in the right way. Such a system would insure us against false progress, and ratify, assure and encourage true progress. It was in the use of such a power conferred upon the Church and in the accomplishment of his duty to teach the faithful, that Pope Leo XIII, on August 4, 1879, restored the scholastic philosophy. “If anyone look carefully,” he says, “at the bitterness of our times, and if, further, he consider earnestly the cause of those things that are done in public and in private, he will discover with certainty the fruitful root of the evils which are now overwhelming us, and of the evils which we greatly fear. The cause he will find consists in this—evil teaching about things human and divine — has come forth from the schools of philosophers; it has crept into all orders of the State; and it has been received with the common applause of very many. Now, it has been implanted in man by nature to follow reason as the guide of his actions, and, therefore, if the understanding goes wrong in anything, the will easily follows. Hence it comes about that wicked opinions in the understanding flow into human actions and make them bad.”5 And afterwards: “Here and there a certain new kind of philosophy has taken the place of the old doctrine; and because of this, men have not gathered those desirable and wholesome fruits which the Church and civil society itself could have wished. The aggressive innovators of the sixteenth century have not hesitated to philosophize without any regard whatever to the Faith, asking, and conceding in return, the right to invent anything that they can think of, anything that they please. From this it quickly followed, of course, that systems of philosophy were multiplied beyond all reason, and that there sprang up conflicting and diverse opinions even about some of the chief things, which are within human knowledge. From a multiplicity of opinions men very often pass to uncertainty and doubt; while there is no one who does not see how easily their minds glide from doubt into error.”6
Such a deplorable condition was not the exclusive lot of non-Catholic students of philosophy. For the same Pope adds: “But, since man is drawn by imitation, we have seen these novelties lay hold of the minds of some Catholic philosophers, who, undervaluing the inheritance of ancient wisdom, have chosen rather to invent new things than to extend and perfect the old by new truths, and that certainly with unwise counsel, and not without loss to science; for such a manifold kind of doctrine has only a shifting foundation, resting as it does on the authority and will of individual teachers. For this reason it does not make philosophy firm and strong and solid, like the old philosophy, but, on the contrary, makes it weak and shallow.”7
As the only remedy, the Roman Pontiff desires the scholastic philosophy to be implanted everywhere. “The Doctors of the Middle Ages,” he says, “whom we call scholastics, set themselves to do a work of very great magnitude. There are rich and fruitful crops of doctrine scattered everywhere in the mighty volumes of the holy Fathers. The aim of the scholastics was to gather these together diligently, and to store them up, as it were, in one place, for the use and convenience of those that come after.”8 And, having quoted the authority of Sixtus V, who said that God had enriched and strengthened His Church by the founding of scholastic theology, whose study must always be of great assistance, “whether it be for the right understanding and interpretation of Scripture, or for reading and expounding the Fathers with greater safety and profit, or for laying bare and answering different errors and heresies,” Leo XIII expresses himself in these terms: “Although these words seem to bear reference solely to scholastic theology, nevertheless they may plainly be accepted as equally true of philosophy and its praises. For the noble endowments which make the scholastic theology so formidable to the enemies of truth—to wit, as the same Pontiff adds, that ready and close coherence of cause and effect, that order and array as of a disciplined army in battle, those clear definitions and distinctions, by which light is distinguished from darkness, the true from the false, expose and strip naked, as it were, the falsehoods of heretics wrapped around by a cloud of subterfuges and fallacies —those noble and admirable endowments, We say, are only to be found in a right use of that philosophy which the scholastic teachers have been accustomed carefully and prudently to make use of even in theological disputations. Moreover, since it is the proper and special office of the scholastic theologians to bind together by the fastest chain human and divine science, surely the theology in which they excelled would not have gained such honor and commendation among men if they had made use of a lame and imperfect or vain philosophy.”9
The warning of Pope Leo XIII was not sufficiently heeded. And years after, his successor, Pope Pius X, was obliged to condemn an error which had spread not only among the Church’s open enemies, but among many who belonged to the Catholic laity, and, what is far more lamentable still, to the ranks of the priesthood itself, who lacked, as the Pope testifies, the firm protection of philosophy and theology. This error is known under the name of Modernism.
Now, one of the demands of the Modernists was the “reform of philosophy, especially in the seminaries: the scholastic philosophy is to be relegated to the history of philosophy among obsolete systems, and the young men are to be taught modern philosophy which alone is true and suited to the times in which we live.”10
But Pius X, a man of our days, living in our own century, and conscious of present progress, not less than of present evils, condemned such a tendency, as a Modernistic one. And coming to the remedies to be applied to such a critical situation he says: “In the first place, with regard to studies, We will and ordain that scholastic philosophy be made the basis of the sacred sciences.”11
Scholastic philosophy, however, is a very large name. For there were many who strove in the Middle Ages for the establishment of a rational philosophy in conformity with dogma and with a view of affording assistance to the theological studies. Since then we have had several systems of philosophy among the schoolmen. And each system has its opinions. And these opinions are never uniform, often contradictory.
When the Pope, therefore, decrees the teaching of Scholastic Philosophy, does he mean indifferently any of those systems of philosophy? Are all the scholastic teachings, in the mind of the Pope, on an equal basis in this regard?
Certainly not. For there is one schoolman specially mentioned in the pontifical documents; and there is a system of scholastic philosophy, which is individually praised, and praised with special recommendation by the Roman Pontiffs. “Far above all other scholastic Doctors,” Leo XIII says, “towers Thomas Aquinas, their master and prince. Cajetan says truly of him: ‘So great was his veneration for the ancient and sacred Doctors that he may be said to have gained a perfect understanding of them all.’ Thomas gathered together their doctrines like the scattered limbs of a body, and moulded them into a whole. He arranged them in so wonderful an order, and increased them with such great additions, that rightly and deservedly he is reckoned a singular safeguard and glory of the Catholic Church. His intellect was docile and subtle; his memory was ready and tenacious; his life was most holy; and he loved the truth alone. Greatly enriched as he was with the science of God and the science of man, he is likened to the sun, for he warmed the whole earth with the fire of his holiness, and filled the whole earth with the splendor of his teaching. There is no part of philosophy, which he did not handle with acuteness and solidity. He wrote about the laws of reasoning; about God and incorporeal substances; about man and other things of sense; and about human acts and their principles. What is more, he wrote on these subjects in such a way that in him not one of the following perfections is wanting: a full selection of subjects; a beautiful arrangement of their divisions; the best method of treating them; certainty of principles; strength of argument; perspicuity and propriety in language; and the power of explaining deep mysteries. Beside these questions and the like, the Angelic Doctor, in his speculations, drew certain philosophical conclusions as to the reasons and principles of created things. These conclusions have the very widest reach, and contain, as it were, in their bosom the seeds of truths well-nigh infinite in number. These have to be unfolded with most abundant fruits in their own time by the teachers who come after him. As he used his method of philosophizing, not only in teaching the truth, but also in refuting error, he has vanquished all errors of ancient times; and still he supplies an armory of weapons, which brings us certain victory in the conflict with falsehoods ever springing up in the course of years. Moreover, carefully distinguishing reason from faith, as is right, and yet joining them together in a harmony of friendship, he so guarded the rights of each, and so watched over the dignity of each, that, as far as man is concerned, reason can now hardly rise higher than she rose, borne up in the flight of Thomas; and faith can hardly gain more and greater helps from reason than those which Thomas gave her.”12 And again: “There is nothing which We have longer wished for and desired than that you (the Bishops), should give largely and abundantly to youths engaged in study the pure streams of wisdom which flow from the Angelic Doctor as from a perennial and copious spring.”13
This same principality was granted to St. Thomas’ philosophy by Pius X. “Let it be clearly understood above all things,” he says, “that the scholastic philosophy We prescribe is chiefly that which the Angelic Doctor has bequeathed to us, and We, therefore, declare that all the ordinances of Our Predecessor on this subject continue fully in force, and, as far as may be necessary, We do decree anew, and confirm, and ordain that they be by all strictly observed. In seminaries where they may have been neglected let the Bishops impose them and require their observance, and let this apply also to the Superiors of religious institutions.”14 And the Pope ends this paragraph with these precise words: “Further let professors remember that they cannot set St. Thomas aside, especially in metaphysical questions, without grave detriment”; words which come again a short time after with some little, but meaningful modification: “Let professors remember that they cannot set St. Thomas aside, however slightly, especially in metaphysical questions, without grave detriment.”15
Still, St. Thomas’ philosophy is not simply the chief one within the official Scholasticism, but it is the only one.
Leo XIII had expressed this before: “We, therefore, while We declare that everything wisely said should be received with willing and glad mind, as well as everything profitably discovered or thought out, exhort all of you, Venerable Brothers, with the greatest earnestness to restore the golden wisdom of St. Thomas, and to spread it as far as you can, for the safety and glory of the Catholic Faith, for the good of society, and for the increase of all the sciences. We say the wisdom of St. Thomas; for it is not by any means in our mind to set before this age, as a standard, those things which may have been inquired into by Scholastic Doctors with too great subtlety; or anything taught by them with too little consideration, not agreeing with the investigations of a later age; or lastly, anything that is not probable. Let, then, teachers carefully chosen by you do their best to instill the doctrine of Thomas Aquinas into the minds of their hearers; and let them clearly point out its solidity and excellence above all other teaching. Let this doctrine be the light of all places of learning, which you may have already opened, or may hereafter open. Let it be used for the refutation of errors that are gaining ground.”16
But it was Pius X who gave the most express and conclusive interpretation: “Since We have said (in the Motu Proprio ‘Sacrorum Antistitum‘) that Aquinas’ philosophy was chiefly to be followed, and We did not say solely, some thought to comply with, or at least not to oppose Our will in taking the philosophy of any of the Scholastic Doctors indiscriminately, even when such a philosophy was in repugnance to the principles of St. Thomas. But these their mind has greatly deceived. It is quite evident that when We set St. Thomas up as the leader of scholastic philosophy, We have wished this to be understood especially of his principles, upon which such a philosophy is established. Because as we must reject that old opinion which held as irrelevant for the faith what anyone thinks about creatures, if he thinks rightly about God—since an error on the nature of creatures originates false knowledge of God—so we must keep reverently and inviolately St. Thomas’ principles on philosophy, from which flows such a doctrine on creatures as is in harmony with faith; by which all errors of all ages are refuted; by which we are made aware of those attributes which must be given to God and to nothing else but Himself; and by which both the diversity and the analogy between God and creatures is skillfully illustrated… Neither sane reason will neglect, nor religion will allow that such a wonderful richness of science—which he received from his predecessors and with his almost angelic genius he himself ameliorated, increased and used to prepare, illustrate and defend the sacred doctrine for human minds—suffer any loss. Particularly, for if the Catholic truth be destitute of this valuable help, in vain would anyone seek help from that philosophy whose principles are common with, or not opposed to Materialism, Monism, Pantheism, Socialism and Modernism… Consequently We have already instructed all teachers of philosophy and sacred theology that to deviate a single step from St. Thomas, especially in metaphysical questions, would not be without great detriment. Now furthermore We say that those who have perversely interpreted or absolutely despised the principles and chief propositions of St. Thomas’ philosophy, those not only do not follow St. Thomas, but wander also widely from him.”17 And the Pope, overcoming some objection which could be made from pontifical documents praising some other Doctor or philosopher, adds: “If We or any of Our Predecessors have ever approved the doctrine of some other author or saint, even as to recommend and ordain its divulgation and defense, it is easily understood that the same is to be approved, inasmuch as it is consonant with the principles of St. Thomas, or at least not opposed to them.”18
Such a disposition of the Popes became finally a formal universal precept, since the promulgation of the Canon Law: “Religious who have already studied their humanities should devote themselves for two years at least to philosophy, and four years to theology, following the teaching of St. Thomas in accordance with the instructions of the Holy See.”19 And “The study of philosophy and theology and the teaching of these sciences to their students must be accurately carried out by professors according to the arguments, doctrine, and principles of St. Thomas, which they are inviolately to hold.”20
Nevertheless, St. Thomas did not write a textbook on philosophy, neither did he draw up a list of the fundamental principles of his philosophy.
Hence we have many philosophical books, which claim to reflect the mind of St. Thomas, though they contain opinions contrary to each other. We know of several scholastic doctors, who appropriate for themselves the title of Thomists and whose teaching is contradictory in many points. And we are aware that some of the doctrines, which by one school are supposed to be fundamental in the Thomistic Philosophy, are neglected and may be rejected by another school.
Pope Leo XIII had admonished on this subject: “But lest the false should be drunk instead of the true; or lest that which is unwholesome should be drunk instead of that which is pure; take care that the wisdom of Thomas be drawn from his own fountain, or at any rate from those streams which, in the certain and unanimous opinion of learned men, yet flow whole and untainted, inasmuch as they are fed from the fountain itself. Take care, moreover, that the minds of the young be kept from streams which are said to have flowed from thence, but in reality have been fed by unhealthy waters from other springs.”21
Yet, such a distinction was anything but easy, on account of the traditional prejudices of every School.
Hence a further official declaration was necessary.
The Congregation of Studies published on July 27, 1914, a document whose title is as follows: “Certain theses, contained in the doctrine of St. Thomas Aquinas, and proposed by masters of philosophy, are approved.” Here is the introduction: “After the Holy Father Pope Pius X, by the Motu Proprio ‘Doctoris Angelici‘ published on June 29, 1914, wisely prescribed that in all the schools of philosophy the principles and major propositions of Thomas Aquinas should be sacredly held, not a few masters, appertaining to different institutions, proposed to this Sacred Congregation of Studies for examination some theses which they were accustomed to teach and defend as conformable to the holy Doctor’s principles, especially in metaphysics. This Sacred Congregation, having duly examined the above mentioned theses, and submitted them to the Holy Father, at the command of His Holiness, replies that they clearly contain the principles and major propositions of the holy Doctor.”22
By a later document, these same theses were all officially declared to contain the genuine teaching of St. Thomas.23 And to the question whether they should be imposed upon Catholic schools to be held, the Congregation answered: “Proponantur veluti tutae normae directivae.”24 Proposed, not imposed: since it is philosophy, not faith, which is concerned.
But they must be proposed; namely, taught. For we have such an interpretation in the following words of Pius X: “The chief doctrines of St. Thomas’ philosophy cannot be regarded as mere opinions—which anyone might discuss pro and con, but rather as a foundation on which all science of both natural and divine things rests. If they are taken away, or perverted in any way, then this necessarily follows: that the students of sacred studies will not perceive even the meaning of those words whereby the divinely revealed dogmas are uttered by the teaching of the Church.”25
These theses must be taught as a sure guide of direction; sure guide of direction on the philosophical official teaching in the Church; sure guide of direction on the support, which faith derives from philosophy; and sure guide of direction on philosophical truth.
These theses are twenty-four in number. All of them are concerned with metaphysics, since it was chiefly upon the metaphysical teaching of St. Thomas that the Popes insisted. In the next issue we intend to publish a short treatise on these theses.
1 Encycl. “Aeterni Patris,” August 4, 1879.
2 Motu Proprio “Doctoris Angelici,” June 29, 1914.
3 Enc. “Aeterni Patris.”
4 M. P. “Doctoris Angelici.”
5 Enc. “Aeterni Patris.”
10 Encycl. “Pascendi,” September 8, 1907.
12 Enc. “Aeterni Patris.”
14 Enc. “Pascendi.”
15 Motu Proprio “Sacrorum antistitum,” September 1, 1910.
16 Encycl. “Aeterni Patris.”
17 M. P. “Doctoris Angelici.”
19 Canon 589.
20 Canon 1366, 2.
21 Enc. “Aeterni Patris.”
22 Acta Apost. Sedis, August, 1914.
23 Acta Ap. Sed., May, 1916.
25 M. P. “Doctoris Angelici.”