Thomas on the putative lies of Patriarchs

Thomas, following Augustine:

[T]he deeds of certain persons [esp the Patriarchs of the Old Testament -ed.] are related as examples of perfect virtue: and we must not believe that such persons were liars.

Summa Theologiae

But Jacob is a Patriarch, and central to his story is his telling his Father that he was Esau.

Thomas responds, famously:

Jacob’s assertion that he was Esau, Isaac’s first-born, was spoken in a mystical sense, because, to wit, the latter’s birthright was due to him by right: and he made use of this mode of speech being moved by the spirit of prophecy, in order to signify a mystery, namely, that the younger people, i.e. the Gentiles, should supplant the first-born, i.e. the Jews.


But it is requisite to prophecy that the intention of the mind be raised to the perception of Divine things (here) making it a sort of inspiration such that the words being said are properly divine words. It is not necessary that the words be true in the literal sense to be true in the mystical sense, as is clear from the prophecy of Caiaphas

“[I]t is better for you that one man die for the people than that the whole nation perish.” Caiaphas did not say this on his own. Instead, as high priest that year, he was prophesying that Jesus would die for the nation (John 11:51) Caiaphas’s words were clearly false as to what he was suggesting i.e. “better for a nation to railroad a guy to execution after a show trial than have Romans enter it and corrupt its racial purity.” But the mystical sense of the words are true even given the falsity of the literal sense.

Formal and total abstraction of Ens

Abstraction is formal when we abstract a form from matter and total when we abstract a whole from its subjective parts. Formal abstraction considers just line (in the mathematical sense) without considering, say, the edge of the desk in which it exists in the world; total abstraction considers animal without considering the monkey or cow that is an animal.

While being is only imperfectly abstracted, Thomas is clear that the total abstraction of being is the first concept of the intellect, and the lest perfect concept it can form. JOST says that the total formal abstraction of being is God, or the object most perfective of intellect cf. Cursus Theologicus Q. IV, Disp. 5 art. 1. p. 177 (Start at “igitur D. Thom” or first full paragraph) Cajetan makes the same argument in his commentary on 1.82.3 para XII.

Physicalism-dualism: a chiasmus

1.)The Democritean claim: The objects of knowledge are physical and the cause of knowledge is its object. But physical things can only cause other physical things, so knowledge is physical.

2.) Plato’s refusal: If knowledge were physical it would be changeable without being mistaken, but knowledge changes only when mistaken. Knowledge is therefore not physical.

3.) Aristotle’s triangulation: Human knowledge knows physical objects by non-physical means. We know a changeable object which has been elevated, not in its mode of being but in its mode of being known, to the unchangeable order.

4.) Descartes’s return to Plato: If our mind were physical it would necessarily be acted upon by the external world, but the mind is not necessarily acted on by the external world since we can conceive of minds knowing even if the external world did not exist. Mind is therefore not physical.

5.) Hume’s copy principle: Human knowledge is sensation and its copies, but sensations and copies are physical so knowledge is physical.

Abstraction from matter

This red. Assume it’s a painted wall. Point to it. Tap its surface significantly.

The thing you’re talking about can’t exist except as this concrete particular. Destroy this wall, destroy this color.

But then someone walks in with the paint swatch book, holds it up to your red and tells you that it’s Bordeaux, or sample 44-r from the Lowe’s color book. So he’s describing this red in a way that does not require it to be this red. As Thomas puts it, he’s describing something that only exists in this matter (this subject/this wall) but not as existing in this wall. This is abstraction from matter.

But if “your description of this red doesn’t require it to be this red” there has to be a distinction somewhere. This red is Bordeaux, but so considered it only requires some surface or another to exist on, not necessarily this one. Thomas calls this requiring common matter as opposed to individuating matter.

It’s only by individuating matter that the things of experience exist here and now in the physical universe, so a cognitive act actualized by common matter is not actualized by what exists here and now in the physical universe. In fact, common matter exists from the mind’s own elevation of an object existing in individuating matter, specifically its elevation of a sense object existing in the individuating matter first of the world and then of the central nervous system. The elevating power is an agent intellect.

So our experience of spiritual being is as immediate as our experience of common matter, even though common matter is of itself an elevation of what exists only with individuating matter, here and now in the physical universe.

Ens Simpliciter and Secundum Quid

Start here:

God is the cause of existence

The cause of the existence of this fire is Timmy playing with matches

Timmy playing with matches is God

1.) So what is the distinction between (a) being as caused by creatures and (b) being as caused by God? (a) is always this actual being as opposed to that one, where the difference is a change from the potency within the first actual being to the actuality of the second one. (b) is being not as opposed to another being from whose potency it might arise but being as opposed to non-being.

2.) Thomas would have seen the initial syllogism as committing the fallacy of secundum quid and simpliciter, where existence in the (b) sense is said simpliciter and in the (a) sense is secundum quid. The fallacy would be the same as the one in play in these three premises:

Lassie’s father is the cause of a dog.

The cause of a dog is a cause of a species.

The cause of species is natural selection

All the premises are true but we are blocked from equating Lassie’s father and natural selection since natural selection causes species simpliciter whereas Lassie causes a species only secundum quid by himself also being one. In other words, natural selection explains in the existent order a species in its opposition to another species whereas Lassie does not.

3.) The difference might be visualized as one thing explaining another in the same domain and one thing explaining another by explaining the domain itself. God exists and creatures exist just as Lassie causes species and Natural selection causes species. To say something of a subject simpliciter is not the same thing as to say it of the subject secundum quid.

Holiness is presence

The Trinity sanctifies creatures by its presence within them.

ex: The temple is made holy by the presence within it.

Holiness or sanctity is imputed, or brought about by an agent in any way, only if the imputation terminates in real presence. To impute holiness to a place is to effectively determine the Holy One to be present in it.

In the Protestant tradition, this means that an imputed righteousness differs from holiness; in the Catholic tradition which makes holiness intrinsic to righteousness this means that holiness cannot be imputed. I make the point to diffuse polemic since the point is to talk about holiness, not do apologetics.

Aristotle’s view of foundations

Aristotle grounds metaphysics on energia and entelikia, taken into Latin as actus but which is not a term lying around in any language ready to be taken up and perfectly mapped over its semantic field. We have to make Aristotle’s entelikia just as he did, by noticing the connection among realities not immediately evident.

That action perfects a principle is evident, that the intrinsic principle of this is nature is the definition of nature. But the thing is its nature, and is so perfected by its good through action, giving a vision of the foundation of being as nature as identified with an intrinsic principle perfected by an operation seeking its good. Among the particular natures these goods are finite and often zero-sum, i.e. one cannot nourish cows without killing grass, but the per se and intrinsic order of the particular natures is to their own good.

But natures as an intrinsic principles are also parts of a larger whole, and so taken nature is the larger system – the ecosystem, environment, universe – involving extrinsic causes that themselves are expressions of natures and which are handing over actus or energia to lower causes by extrinsic influx. This extrinsic order of causes comprise agents, exemplars (Aristotle’s paradigmata) and final causes. This is the order of universal nature beyond the order of the particular natures comprising it, and that physical science presupposes and seeks to articulate this domain is evident.

Christian vs. Contemporary sexual ethics

1.) The first difference is that there is a bona fide ethics of sexuality for Christians: Lust, fornication, impurity, same-sex desire, are all objects of moral condemnation and chastity, spousal love, marriage etc. are all sacramental, holy, and part of the divine plan.

2a.) The Christian has an ethics of sexual activity because sexual desire is a matter of rational and theological authority. The Christian stands in judgment of his desire.

2b.) The Christian approaches sexuality through a series of paracletic exhortations received in faith from those speaking at the highest level of mystical prayer, taken to be in a position to know what makes man happy. Whoever looks at a woman with lust has already committed adultery with her in his heart. For freedom God has set you free… let not your members serve impurity. Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit who dwells in you? Glorify God with your body. Walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh. For the flesh desires what is contrary to the Spirit, and the Spirit what is contrary to the flesh. The acts of the flesh are obvious: sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery… I warn you, as I did before, that those who live like this will not inherit the kingdom of God.

3.) The absence of contemporary sexual ethics is precisely absence of authority over desire. Sexual desire is taken as conferring identity – hetero, homo, pan, whatever – that must be respected, celebrated, protected, indulged. We can have no ethics because we can have no judgment of desire but only acceptance of it. Those who might find some “perversion” to be “icky” still see their own desires as conferring on them an “identity” that God gave them making them who they are. This is lust.

4a.) For the Christian this is the fundamental error of the contemporary sexual un-ethics is that desire is not to be judged by a mystic in a better position than ourselves to know what makes one happy and what God intends. If it is only a question of voluntary action, of what we want to do or what feels natural to us then there is no ethics, and this is the fundamental stance that contemporary persons are trained to take toward sexual activity. If the “right amount to drink on a weekend” is whatever one feels it should be, there can be no ethics of drinking, only the celebration of our identity as teetotalers, Alcoholics, spring-breakers, Baptists, etc. In the same way, whether we take ourselves as “heterosexual” or “homosexual” or parasexual, if the desire is taken as conferring identity then reason and theology must give way. I am understood not as a rational animal but as an animal moved by passions and desire. This too is lust.

4b.) The dividing thesis: as passions a matter of rational and theological authority?

5.) We contemporary persons have no sexual ethics because sexuality, we think, is what we are to give way to or give in to. What else could acceptance and celebration mean? The desires we find in ourselves are seen as “God” or “how God made me”, i.e. it is (a) the titanic force that cannot be restrained, and (b) is no one’s business but our own anyway. The first is presented as romantic and mysterious but is in fact degrading and debasing; the second is patently non-empirical and childish. Our sexual desires create family-strength bonds and so tie us to others and tie those others to those to whom we are already so tied. Our lovers and spouses have a way of showing up on holidays, vacations, family cabins, family pictures, etc. Sexual activity cannot be ever just our own business.

6.) The desire for family is judged by whether the action extends family, and the human family extends not by our being overcome by titanic forces that “God” somehow “places in us” but by coupling, inseminating, impregnating, bearing and raising. Desires outside of this sphere are simply mistaken.

7.) Lust is thus fundamentally a rejection of authority and faith, and so a handing over of what are, in fact, our higher powers to our lower ones. There is a demonic inversion of the true God in excelsis who reveals and stands in authority over nature, and these natural powers are themselves renamed and usurp the name of “God.”


Generically, faith is an intellectual assent, or a way in which an intellect takes something as true.

In faith, the something taken as true is the knowledge of a higher intellect than our own. Faith is opposed to science, which is knowledge equal to some intellect. My faith is thus my assent to a science higher than my own.

It is irrational to take my science as more certain than my faith since this is to prefer the lower form of knowledge to the higher; it is irrational to prefer science to faith for the same reason.

The natural stance of human beings is faith to what is higher, science to what is equal. We know what to believe in by the same means we know what to have science of. We have faith in those is a better position to know than ourselves and knowledge of what we know in ourselves. Without faith nothing above us can come to be known. To limit ourselves to science without faith is to rule out any ascent to higher levels of understanding.

The supernatural virtue of faith is our assent to the First Truth, or the highest truth known to the highest intellect, namely truth as known to the divine intellect that can neither deceive nor be deceived.

Nert-neirt in Patrick’s Lorica

Patrick’s Lorica invokes a series of nert(genitives). The eDIL puts nert in the same semantic field as the Latin virtus. I here don’t seek to translate the term, i.e. in target what the original author intended but rather target the metaphysics or being behind of the field of meanings that the author could intend. All languages will chop up the metaphysics of power, virtue, strength in different ways, but I’m here looking for the truth of the matter.

The metaphysics of nert or virtus starts with active power, vigor or strength, or the repugnance to passivity, infirmity or being overcome. This agency or active power manifests a fount of action within the agent himself, or from power as an interior sap, substance or nature to power as flower, reproduction or operation. The structure of being involved here is that power to act upon the world or not be overcome by it spring from a source or principle within the what acts or is not overcome.

X’s stability, action and repugnance to being overcome is good for X, irrespective of how it stands to all other than X. Regardless of what the fire destroys, its vigor and power is good for the fire. The structure of power goes from operation to principle to goodness of what acts.

The goodness of divine agents and of imperfect agents differs in with respect to what they effect:

Now the end of the agent and of the patient considered as such is the same, but in a different way respectively. For the impression which the agent intends to produce, and which the patient intends to receive, are one and the same.

Some things, however, are both agent and patient at the same time: these are imperfect agents, and to these it belongs to intend, even while acting, the acquisition of something.

But it does not belong to the First Agent, Who is agent only, to act for the acquisition of some end; He intends only to communicate His perfection, which is His goodness; while every creature intends to acquire its own perfection, which is the likeness of the divine perfection and goodness. Therefore the divine goodness is the end of all things

Summa Theologiae, 1.44.4

The end of the agent and patient is the same. What goes forth from the principle and what is received are the same perfection in different modes. Imperfect agents have this one perfection in diverse matter or parts of matter, and it is possible for the diverse matter to be such that one matter is not perfected by the perfection: the heat of the fire might destroy the structure of the building, the vigor of the disease might feed on the strength of the body. But the will of God is the source of all being, whether active or passive, and so where his power comes forth into another, this other, so far as it acts in accord with its being and puts its powers to use without the corruption of abuse, will be completely in accord with the will of God.

The will which does evil, in other words, is not the will whose powers come forth from God, just as the car that runs over persons is not the car designed by the factory. All power used that is other than God is perfected by God and in God, but all power abused is from nothing, i.e. it is not the expression of being as active or passive, but as privitive.

Where a power is abused it is also perfected by God, sometimes by a redemption raising it out of privation to a good in itself, sometimes by a punishment that sets it in good relation to the whole even if it is not good in itself. But whereever abuse ceases, there also all is perfected by God’s nert or virtus.

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