Intellectus in actu

One axiom in the Aristotelian wisdom tradition is intellectus in actu est intellecta in actu, or that the intellect in act is the things it knows in act. Nazarius and Ferrara say the axiom has been understood to mean either (1) the concept actualizes the intellect so that it might know the object or (2) the object itself actualizes the intellect. Nazarius attributes the first reading to Gregorio Valentia SJ, but he notes that this reading means that the object is related to intellection only by an extrinsic denomination and, indeed, it seem to give us an account of knowledge with only a per accidens relation to an object. (1) seems to have a tendency to the opinion that knowledge a concept modifying mind or an accident of mind. Gabriel Vazquez SJ (1549-1604) might have believed this, which would help to explain why Descartes in the next generation would take a similar definition of knowledge for granted but who would then, in good logic, wonder how knowledge could be objective. If knowledge is just the accident of some subject like the red on an apple, why bother to posit anything other than the that? The problem, of course, is that the other in question is the objective world. Nazarius, however, sees this as a fundamental problem in the definition of knowledge, and therefore denies that knowledge is primo and per se the physical modification of the cognitive power. He rather starts from Thomas’s appropriation of Avicenna’s absolute consideration, saying that any nature, say apple must of itself be indifferent to presence in mind or reality since if it belonged to its definition to exist in one then it would either be unintelligible or inherently contradictory. And so intellectus in actu est intellecta in actu is a statement about the nature of the actuality of the absolute consideration (see Johannes Paulus Nazarius OP, on q. 14 here.)

Conflict theories

Say your evidence of the conflict between science and religion is the disagreement between Nineteenth and Twentieth Century Evolutionists and Book-of-Genesis literalists or the disagreement between geologists and the same literalists about the age of the earth. So then the conflict between A and B means that A and B both have differing, incompatible global views of some shared set of given facts. This same sort of conflict, of course, also arises between (a) Catholics and Protestants, (b) early Twentieth Century determinists and quantum theorists, (c) Eighteenth Century Newtonians and Cartesians. Just as (a) was a debate about what Christianity is (b) and (c) were debates about what science is. So (a) is a conflict between Christianity and Christianity (b) and (c) are conflicts between Science and Science. But then we know right off the bat that we have problems talking about the conflict between Science and Christianity since both are in conflict with themselves.

So then we regroup and say that every Christianity needs to explain at least some natural and historical things by appeals to the absolute authority of sacred texts and Science needs to explain natural and historical things naturalistically. This gets us closer to a conflict, especially when we talk about scientific accounts of history. The Christian tradition has relatively little problem rolling in evolution or a multi-billion year earth since we have mystical accounts of Genesis since before the Fifth Century. For example, Augustine’s Literal Account of Genesis is not what anyone would confuse with a Bible-Belt creationist museum exhibit denying the existence of dinosaurs. But the desire to give historical accounts of Scripture are more problematic. For example if some critical scholar treats the sermon on the mount as though it were never spoken by Christ it’s hard to see how this could jibe with any familiar form of Christian faith and it certainly can’t jibe with the first sentence of Dei Verbum 19:

Holy Mother Church has firmly and with absolute constancy held, and continues to hold, that the four Gospels just named, whose historical character the Church unhesitatingly asserts, faithfully hand on what Jesus Christ, while living among men, really did and taught for their eternal salvation until the day He was taken up into heaven (see Acts 1:1).

Although, in a move that is typical for Vatican II documents, it seems to work just fine with the sentence that occurs almost immediately after it:

The sacred authors wrote the four Gospels, selecting some things from the many which had been handed on by word of mouth or in writing, reducing some of them to a synthesis, explaining some things in view of the situation of their churches and preserving the form of proclamation but always in such fashion that they told us the honest truth about Jesus.

Dei Verbum 19

But maybe the conflict is between those who, after agreeing that the Bible has at least surface level inconsistencies, split into those who take these as genuine contradictions no matter how insignificant and those who take the readings as compatible no matter how strained, and even if no solution suggests itself after years of struggle. This seems closer to a bona fide struggle between Science and Faith which forces us to make a choice about which one will be the handmaid of the other. Even this is too crude, though, since establishing a formal error or contradiction is not as easy as, say, reading that Joseph’s father has two different names in different Gospels and very few will confuse history with a hard science.

In fact, one suspects that the social sciences or softer sciences are where the more significant conflicts with Christianity will arise. Christianity has had run-ins with Biology and Astrology, but they resolve relatively quickly and amount to little. But the conflicts it has with history-with-scientific-pretensions have proved more significant and intractable, as are its conflicts with social science of the sort that Steven Pinker has spent the last twenty years arguing about, i.e. that a secular, technological, enlightened society is more conducive to human happiness than the Christendom it replaced. Here again the argument is over who is the handmaid: Christianity to technology and secularism or technology to Christ? On this score, however, it’s not clear that one can arbitrate a disagreement about technological and Christian views of the ultimate end of human life by simply pointing to graphs showing various forms of technologically assisted social well-being, to say nothing of the disagreement that Christianity has with enlightenment about whether human happiness is properly located in this life. So sure, if we decided sometime around 1750 to dedicate more of out time, talent and treasure toward achieving happiness in this life we might be non-surprised to discover we achieved it (Thanks Steven!) but whether this came at too high a cost of other forms of human excellence and happiness is not something we are now in a position to quantify.

Joy in suffering

Charity is friendship with God and friends rejoice at their friends’ success. Now to exist at all is a divine success, and even the moral evils arising from defective agents are ordered to divine success. So charity simpliciter causes one to rejoice in everything whether good or evil.

When we suffer evil, however, it tends to dominate our focus. When we are wronged or in pain or depressed or abused or sick it is very difficult to think about anything other than the wrong, pain, depression, abuse, sickness… but at some level of growth in charity the soul becomes capable of a keeping sufficient focus on God so as to rejoice even in its own suffering through evil’s order to the divine flourishing and the manifestation of his excellence. The saint’s rejoicing in suffering is therefore not masochism or a perverse fascination with self-degradation but the strength of one who sees the moral impossibility of his soul being deprived of its good. This is a feature of charity as such, which is why Gerrigou can teach that – without denying the reality of mortal sin- charity is of itself not something that can be lost. Charity of itself says with Paul that nothing can separate us from the love of God, neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons since he who rejoices even in suffering will necessarily rejoice always.

Disputed question on God + creatures

(My summary, with some additions, of an argument in Petro de Comitibus’s Tractatus de beatudine a. 5, page 20 here.)

Whether God alone is greater than God and creatures?

Obj. 1: It seems that the complex of God and creatures is better than God alone. For what has more good is better, and the complex of God and creatures has all the good of God alone and the additional good of creatures.

Obj. 2: Further, If God alone is better than God and creatures then God alone is better than God.

Obj. 3 What is more desired is better, but one desires God and a created good more than God alone. Therefore, God and a created good is better.

I answer that: God alone is better than God and creatures, for God alone is pure act and so has no imperfection while the complex of God and creatures has imperfection on the side of the creatures considered as part of a complex.

Ad. 1: Even assuming finite goods could be added to an infinite one they would not make it greater, but the addition of imperfection to what has no imperfection makes it worse.

Ad. 2: God alone is greater than God considered somehow in union with imperfection.

Ad. 3: The desire for a participated good is not an addition to the desire for the good in which it participates since a will seeing both the participating and participated good does not carry itself to both but immediately to the participated, in the same way that if John loves Mary he will look at her picture when she is absent, but he will not stare at Mary and her picture when she is present.


Heaven is in one sense above us, but as the sky surrounds the whole earth heaven is also behind what lies in front of and behind us, beneath what supports us, and surrounding all things.

The conscious vs. the physical

-We’re puzzled by consciousness because immateriality has degrees of which sensation is the lowest.

-(a) I see the tiger right before (b) he eats me. In both cases the tiger imposes his form on another.

-For a material thing as material to receive the form of another is to lose the form it has.

Hypothesis: Energy is mysterious because it wants matter to have an actuality proper to consciousness. So too when conserved quantity is seen as a sort of substance. This is incoherent sense we ultimately get a sort of “natural violence.” Physics is unknowingly borrowing from the non-physical domain for intelligibility of something that remains physical.

-Newton wanted vis to be a sort of intrinsic form of motion. There is an incoherence here between the form being intrinsic and it nevertheless both imposed and sloughed off. Sensation can do this while matter cannot. But if the physical as simply the preservation of the form of another it would be natural for a form to be both intrinsic, i.e. perfective of it and nevertheless violent, i.e. opposed to something else that is no less intrinsic to it. So in this the salient difference between the physical and the sensitive is that the physical is perfected by by another by having the operation of another while the sensitive is perfected by another by having an operation of its own.

Genesis 50:20

The verse summarizes the totality of providence and salvation history:

You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives.

The NIV here solves the first problem of the passage with the same verb being used for “you” and “God” (the Hebrew hasab and the LXX boulae) but the RSV hits a clearer note with you meant evil against me; but God meant it for good. The KJV goes with but as for you, ye thought evil against me; but God meant it unto good, and the Vulgate uses first cogitare and then vertere.

The Vulgate rendering of the last clause is hard to beat for its doctrinal evocativeness: salvos faceret multos populos, which sounds like an epigram for the Incarnation.

Beatific vision

The beatific vision is opposed to the vision of what is distinct from its existence, or of what has being with qualification: potency, accidents, past, future, existence in now, imperfection, defect, evil. The sub-beatific vision, in other words, is the vision of the viator or the vision of what we see now, remember, and anticipate at later times.

The beatific vision is of pure actuality and so of that which is entirely communicable. It continues in the sense that it does not cease, it does not continue in the sense of having some part of itself that is not now. It is infinite by containing all and not because it is time’s endless finitude or the piling up of distinct perfections. It is not the repetition, memory, or anticipation of an experience. In seeing it we will not call what we see good, perfect, eternal, just, wise, holy, present in all, above all, triune, one, incarnate or purely spiritual, but a single name signifying all of these. Obviously, the revealed properties to a better job at pointing to the radical divide between the beatific and the sub-beatific vision.

If some person in time could live infinitely in time and see one who was blessed, he would see him there for infinite time. But infinite time will not exist and is probably contradictory. History culminates and all that cannot enter into the Aevum or Eternity will be all there is. Time itself exists only for a time.

For us, being is at least a partial jumble extending to incompatible contraries. The sub-beatific vision is at least a partial jumble of the incompatible.

Seeing the universe as distinct from its esse

1.) To see (a) the universe and its parts as finite being where (b) being, without qualification, means existence or esse. Both (a) and (b) are per se nota. We all (c) if being is finite it is received because (d) what is unreceived in a subject is infinite. (c) is true if (d) is. The Complutenses foreground this argument. We see the distinction in seeing the finite, and the finite as received.

2.) Premise (d) arises from a theory that form of X is limited as X by its subject.

3.) Being without qualification of itself is one and in act, so the multiplication of form is from potency. To relate to things as multiple or even as multiplicable is to place them in potency or as ordered to it. We see the reception of esse in multiplication or multiplicability.

4.) “Self caused existence” is contradictory so if existence is caused is it must be caused by another. This other must simply be the act of existence with nothing else that exists only by qualification, say, with potency or accidents or a future or a past, and certainly without defects or evils. So to see potency or accidents or to know a future or a past in something that arises is to see received esse distinct from the essence.

Thomistic Naturalism

The third of John Damascene’s arguments for the existence of God:

[T]he very continuity of the creation, and its preservation and government, teach us that there does exist a Deity, who supports and maintains and preserves and ever provides for this universe. For how could opposite natures, such as fire and water, air and earth, have combined with each other so as to form one complete world, and continue to abide in indissoluble union, were there not some omnipotent power which bound them together and always is preserving them from dissolution?

De fide Orthodoxa I c. 3

Thomas not only knew this argument but probably had it memorized, but he neither gave it as a proof for God’s existence or even his governance. Why not? Likely because John assumes that some natural order does not reduce to natural causes, whereas Thomas believes all do. Call this Thomas’s Naturalism.

First, John sets out the argument through question and suggestion, which suggest he takes it as hypothetical, probable, or missing key premises. But there are no shortage of those who take John’s probable or hypothetical premise as axiomatic: the intrinsic tendencies of things tend to destroy and conflict other natural orders or, the natures of things have no tendency of themselves to some natural orders, like the order of the universe.

Now Thomas seems to suggest a sympathy with the premise in his argument for the divine government:

[I]n nature things happen always or nearly always for the best; which would not be the case unless some sort of providence directed nature towards good as an end; which is to govern. Wherefore the unfailing order we observe in things is a sign of their being governed; for instance, if we enter a well-ordered house we gather therefrom the intention of him that put it in order, as Tullius says (De Nat. Deorum ii), quoting Aristotle [Cleanthes].

ST 1. 103. 1

But the last argument he gives in the article clarifies exactly how he wants natural activity to be understood:

[T]hat which creatures receive from God is their nature, while that which natural things receive from man in addition to their nature is somewhat violent. Wherefore, as the violent necessity in the movement of the arrow shows the action of the archer, so the natural necessity of things shows the government of Divine Providence.

In other words, it belongs to human art precisely as human to impose an order on natures lacking a tendency to that order. Divine art makes natural order arise from natural causes acting for an end, so much so that if we posit natures whose operation is contrary (like water smothering fire) we need to also posit some more universal natural order or law in which these operations harmonize. This is the point of Aristotle’s response to the argument that rain cannot fall to water crops since it would just as soon rot crops in silos.

Again, Thomas’s position is a sort of Naturalism since he holds that every natural order reduces to natural causes. Where Thomas differs from contemporary Naturalism is that he denies that the first cause in the natural order is the first cause absolutely.

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