Wonders never cease.

Well, the little book won out. Lesson for the boys in marketing: you want to be the official Catholic book of summer? Stick a guy in the ocean on your cover. Seriously, I’m delighted and humbled. They’re trying to develop discussion questions for it – any suggestions from the brilliant Godsbody readers?

By the by, this gives me a chance to thank the good folks (Matt and Ed) who commented on the book in this post. Thanks, guys! Evangelism is a tricky matter, but the older I get, the better I get at recognizing genuine opportunities to extend Ye Olde Invitation To Consider The Possibility Of The Faith. I find I don’t have to look for ’em – they find me.

(And AC – the roach chapter was actually lifted from my first ms., which was about being a young father. My dad argued for its insertion into Scapulars. “But it doesn’t fit with the rest of the book!” I whined. “Doesn’t matter,” he replied. “It has to go in.” Whaddya know, the old man was right.)

Yay, little book!

Comments

  1. Hooray! Congratulations!

  2. notrelatedtoted says

    Congats!

  3. Anonymous says

    I voted for your book, and Easter of 2007 I joined the Holy Roman Catholic Church. A lot of things led me to the Church, including but not limited to Catholic writers and public intellectuals, the last two Pope’s (I am too young to remember anyone before PaulVI), and the faith itself. But your book was part of the conversion journey. It showed that orthodoxy was compatible with a sense of humor and a taste for popular culture. The quality and honesty of the writing didn’t hurt either. Many Thanks.

  4. I think there’s actually something to sticking a guy in the ocean on a cover. Your published did well in finding an image that invokes a visceral response. It definitely surpasses all the other book covers. Who hasn’t felt like our lonely swimmer, facing the unfathomable depths of an ocean that stretches beyond our understanding? And then you get nailed with the title, a poetic allusion to our desire for a life line to God in the midst of the waves.

    It has the striking ability to create a sense of solidarity with the reader. In the end you may not identify with the author. But, for that moment when cover finds you, you think, ‘I’m not wearing a scapular, but that feels like me.’

    I know the old proverb: don’t judge a book…but for our life and times, your cover reaches the heart.

    And that’s just good advertising. Or that’s good art.

  5. Cubeland Mystic says

    Great job Matt! So what’s next?

  6. heyswank says

    The old man was very, very right. I have quoted that chapter many a time since I’ve read the book. Oh, the wisdom that comes in young parenthood (not to mention young marriage!).

    Questions are a tricky matter, my friend. Having studied literature for a number of years, you’d think I’d be able to, pretty rapidly, come up with some good ones. I fail you here. But I promise to keep thinking about it. 🙂

    Oh, and congratulations. Well deserved!

  7. Axios! It is a well-deserved honour.

  8. Matthew Lickona says

    Thanks very much, everyone. I’m honored and humbled. Zachary – oh yes, it’s a fine cover and a fine title, and I have Loyola to thank for both. CM – you know the motto: “Fail on many fronts.” I’ll let you know when something breaks my way/gets finished. Anon – that’s fantastic. So glad the little book helped play a part, however small. Welcome to the party! (As for the quality of the writing, I had really good editors, the old man first among them.)

  9. CrimsonCatholic says

    I had looked forward to reading your little book since I met you in O.C., but I had delayed beginning until I could finish some reading by Thomists. I’ll just say that I love it so far, because I don’t want to embarrass you with too much gushing.

    I will say that I may be the only person in the world who got a chuckle out of your account of being chastised by your brother about interpreting the Angelic Doctor as too much of an Aristotelian. The reason I thought it was so funny is that I just finished Praeambula Fidei by Ralph McInerny, which is basically an extended critique of people (particularly Gilson) who insist that Thomas’s Christianity was a corrective to Aristotle’s metaphysics. If you believe McInerny (and I do), then you had the right answer, and Mark talked you out of it!

    — J.P.

  10. mark thomas lickona says

    McInerny is notorious for giving Aristotle far too much credit for the genius of St. Thomas’ work. He even thinks St. Thomas got his famous “real distinction” between esse and essentia from Aristotle. He’s quite wrong–embarrassingly wrong, actually, because even students of Philo 101 know that A. didn’t believe there could really be such a thing as “being” apart from things-that-are, i.e., concrete substances (check Meta X). But of course this is precisely what St. Thomas asserts in I-I Q. 44 a. 1, resp., namely, that there is indeed such a thing as being subsisting in itself (He’s named YHWH). This is why the Christian may put Plato to good but qualified use (just as he may put A. to good but qualified use). I have this on the authority of much more knowledgeable Thomists than myself, such as Stephen Long at St. Thomas in Minnesota–but another remarkable expert in the “Platonism” of St. Thomas is TAC alum and Matt’s fellow classmate Steve Nazarean (who, I was given to understand, was himself “talked out” of pursuing a thesis on this subject. Thankfully, from what I can tell from our last conversation, it wasn’t enough to scare him off the subject for long.)

    P.S.: I’ve never talked Matt into or out of anything.

  11. CrimsonCatholic says

    I’ve never talked Matt into or out of anything.

    As a big brother, I hear that!

    I’ll dodge any disputation of the rest so as not to commandeer the blog for my own selfish purposes. I’ll leave to McInerney the task of defending himself against the charge of being “embarrassingly wrong” and returning fire, which he does in the book.

  12. Matthew Lickona says

    Hey there, Crimson,
    Happened to be online when your comment came down the pike. Please feel free to commandeer the blog, especially the comments section. That’s when things get interesting, as other people are usually more intelligent than I am. Leave Mac out of it – if you’ve got a reply for Mark, fire away! (We try to keep things civil, but that shouldn’t preclude spirited disagreement!)

  13. mark thomas lickona says

    As I said, it was Steve Long who told me of McInerny’s claim concerning the RD, which I would say is indisputably false. (Academics often find ways to dispute the indisputable, however.) Then again, Ralph may have backed off that claim since. So maybe he’s no longer embarrassingly wrong. But as I’m sure Steve Nazaren (correct spelling, says Matt) would agree, anyone who would deny that St. Thomas is as much Platonist as Aristotelean (i.e., both and neither) precisely because he is a Christian, and such must distinguish all pagans, while perhaps not embarrassingly wrong, is indeed wrong.

  14. mark thomas lickona says

    For the record, Mr. Long didn’t merely report RM’s claim but found it untenable as well (which judgment I’ve been failing to indicate). I make this clarification because, despite appearances to the contrary, I do not consider my own authority entirely sufficient.

  15. mark thomas lickona says

    Speaking of my dependence on other authority…it’s Steve Nazaran. (I misread Matt’s original correction.)

    Another one for the record: Matt wrote in SWS that I felt that Matt’s education at TAC had compromised our fraternal unity. I had felt that…but that’s past perfect now.

  16. mark thomas lickona says

    In an attempt to address the book in question…

    From amazon.com:

    After setting forth different attitudes toward proofs of God’s existence and outlining the difference between belief and knowledge, McInerny examines the texts in which Thomas uses and explains the phrase “preambles of faith.” He then turns his attention to the work of eminent twentieth-century Thomists and chronicles their abandonment of the preambles. He draws a contrast between this form of Thomism and that of the classical Dominican commentators, notably Cajetan, arguing that part of the abandonment of the notion of the preambles as philosophical involves a misreading and misrepresentation of Cajetan.

    McInerny concludes with a positive rereading of Aristotle’s Metaphysics and Aquinas’s use thereof. In the end, the book argues for a return to the notion of Aristotelico-Thomism–Thomistic philosophy as the organic development of the thought of Aristotle.

    Apparently McInerny’s “positive re-reading” of the Metaphysics is one that positively ignores the elephant in the middle of the room, namely, the difference between A. and St. Thomas on being. It’s this radical difference that undermines any attempt to treat the thought of St. Thomas as an “organic development” of the thought of Aristotle. That’s like saying a building is an “organic development” of mud and stone. (The mud and stone are there, yes, but did they “give rise” to the building? Or are they merely materials that serve the vision of the master builder?) It’s also like saying that the Christian tradition is an “organic development” of philosophy–when in fact the Fathers of the Church (whom St. Thomas’ Summa was intended to defend against dialecticians like Peter Abelard) have “robbed the coffers of Egypt” to illuminate the Christian mysteries. (It’s noteworthy that the sed contra of I-I Q. 2 a.2–the “preamble” to the “preambles of faith”–is YHWH, i.e., Being Itself, Who Aristotle knew not.)

    The problem is not that we’ve misrepresented Cajetan the Thomistic commentator. The problem is that Cajetan and his children have misrepresented St. Thomas.

  17. CrimsonCatholic says

    Well, as long as I have the host’s blessing, what the hey! In reverse order of the posts…

    Apparently McInerny’s “positive re-reading” of the Metaphysics is one that positively ignores the elephant in the middle of the room, namely, the difference between A. and St. Thomas on being.

    To the extent that being is udnerstood as the object of the science of metaphysics (as opposed to the science of theology, i.e., God as revealed), I don’t think there is a great deal of difference between them, except in terms of realizing the full implications. Thus, for example, it appears to me that Aristotle’s understanding of the eternity of motion leads him to understand the Prime Mover’s infinite power too narrowly. That was an area in which his inability to get past the physically concrete examples hurt him. He could not really conceive of a formal infinity, an infinity not merely of potential (like infinite motion) but of act.

    That means Aristotle’s understanding of subsistent being isn’t perfect, but given that St. Thomas corrected Aristotle explicitly on that point, it’s hardly controversial to say that. After all, St. Thomas rejects Aristotle’s argument from the necessary eternity of motion to the Prime Mover as being merely probable and not certain. But St. Thomas’s argument even in that correction is a metaphysical one, not a theological one. And that is more or less the position McInerny takes, not that St. Thomas completely went along with Aristotle, but that he corrected him within the scope of the science of metaphysics. Again, I don’t think it shows that one needs to understand God as an object of theology to understand Him as a subject of metaphysics, although St. Thomas’s own introduction shows it doesn’t hurt.

    It’s also like saying that the Christian tradition is an “organic development” of philosophy–when in fact the Fathers of the Church (whom St. Thomas’ Summa was intended to defend against dialecticians like Peter Abelard) have “robbed the coffers of Egypt” to illuminate the Christian mysteries.

    McInerny chastises Abelard for basically committing the same mistake that most modern commentators do, which is to misinterpret Aristotle. Conflating existence and essence doesn’t appear to be anything that Abelard got from Aristotle. Rather, Abelard looks a great deal more like the Neoplatonic interpreters of Aristotle in the East, who couldn’t seem to keep those two straight.

    That is, incidentally, a large reason for my antipathy to this whole line of reasoning. If one takes St. Thomas as endorsing a basically Christian Neoplatonic concept of being, as one might see in Pseudo-Dionysius, John Damascene, or Maximus the Confessor, then Aquinas certainly appears to have blundered into some serious errors that the Eastern Fathers had to filter out. I think the anti-Western critiques of David Bradshaw (Aristotle East and West), Eric Perl, and John Jones would hit their targets with charges of Origenism and the like far too easily.

    On the other hand, the Aristotelian metaphysics accepted in its fullness, as opposed to the diluted hybridization that the Middle- and Neo-Platonists tried to produce, does not face these vulnerabilities. By my lights, it is only because Aristotle was incompletely received, and tainted with Platonic errors, that so many philosophical heresies arose in the East. While Eastern thinkers, particularly St. Maximus, were ingenious at getting around these problems, it remains the case that they were problems that oughtn’t necessarily have cropped up in the first place. I would submit that Thomas’s reinterpretation of Eastern Fathers in this Aristotelian metaphysics demonstrates how the Aristotelian metaphysics can capture even what is good in the Eastern Neoplatonic system. And if the Westen tradition has preserved a more-or-less Aristotelian mindset on these matters, albeit with some corrections such as the ones I mentioned to Aristotle’s conceptual limitations, then one can argue that the West has always maintained an internally consistent metaphysical framework that is immune to charges of Origenism, which only arose because of the Neoplatonic influence.

    Suffice it to say that my read of the scholarship on the Eastern Fathers is that St. Thomas has misread them in terms of their own intent, but I strongly suspect that he has done so in a way that preserves their aim. But if it is indeed true that St. Thomas’s metaphysics is common with the Eastern Fathers, rather than being a peripatetic corrective to them, then I confess that I have difficulty seeing how St. Thomas has not erred substantially in, inter alia, his doctrine of divine simplicity. As you might expect, this makes me extremely wary of any attempt to saddle St. Thomas with having been significantly influenced by Neoplatonism, as contrasted with giving a critical Aristotelian re-read of Neoplatonism.

  18. mark thomas lickona says

    CC:

    I think it’s facile to suggest that but for A.’s doctrine of the eternity of motion (or his “inability to get past the physically concrete examples”), A. would have arrived at subsistent being (or something like it). It’s because he “couldn’t get past the concrete” (or, to speak Thomistically, finite being) that he held the doctrine of the eternity (i.e., the perenniality) of motion–that is, forms do not endure, but rather pass away with substances, leaving the flux of the substratum as the only constant (presumably temporally if ontologically). And he “couldn’t get past the concrete” because he began by rejecting Plato–so really it’s more accurate to say that he wouldn’t go past the concrete (though I seem to recall that somewhere in the Meta he conceded that in the end you had to, somehow–saying that even if there were Forms, Plato was still wrong about them, or something like that).

    McInerny has always characterized A.’s doctrine of the eternity of the cosmos (inside which cosmos the PM is the final agent in the great cosmic chain of agents) as something ad extra, as though if you subtracted that, A. would be St. Thomas. But you can’t subtract it; it is inherent in his fundamental proposal that all being is concrete–which is to say, finite. While the PM cannot accurately be referred to as concrete, yet he is a particular being, albeit the ultimate being in the cosmos–and as such is finite, even as he is not individuated by matter–e.g., his influence is mediated through other movers, his intellect monistic, i.e., he thinks only “of himself.” To put it crudely, A. is all about things moving other things, and the PM is the upshot of needing a first thing to move all the others. In short, how can Aristotle be Aristotle and arrive at a transcendent absolute like subsistent Being?

    Again, A.’s “nothing but things/all finite, all the time” proposal has its genesis in the rejection of Plato, “Mr. Transcendent Absolute.” But St. Thomas does not reject Plato. Q. 6 is an example of St. Thomas’ both-and-neither here: Plato was right about the Ideas, Aristotle right in saying they were not subsistent in themselves (but rather subsisted in the divine intellect). He actually quotes Psuedo-D more than Aristotle. The doctrine of participated being is on full display in Q. 4, which doctrine is at the very heart of St. Thomas’ “analogy of being.” And from what standpoint does St. Thomas pick and choose between philosophers to describe both terms of this analogy? From the standpoint of a Christian, who has inherited the mysteries and can distinguish all things by them (including the Fathers–thus saving them from Abelard’s Sic et Non).

  19. mark thomas lickona says

    P.S.:

    Conflating existence and essence doesn’t appear to be anything that Abelard got from Aristotle.

    The “real distinction” between existence and essence refers not to St. Thomas’ correction of some conflation of the two by Aristotle. It refers to St. Thomas’ distinguishing of Aristotle on being: Aristotle believed existence and essence were separable only in reason (i.e., there’s no such thing as “being” apart from things-that-are), whereas St. Thomas points out in Q. 4 that they are really separable–because an essence has its being by reason of its participation in Being, i.e., its being is given to it, is not proper to it, and as such is in re distinct and separable from it.

  20. CrimsonCatholic says

    And he “couldn’t get past the concrete” because he began by rejecting Plato–so really it’s more accurate to say that he wouldn’t go past the concrete (though I seem to recall that somewhere in the Meta he conceded that in the end you had to, somehow–saying that even if there were Forms, Plato was still wrong about them, or something like that).

    I think it would be most accurate of all to say that Aristotle thought he didn’t NEED to go past the concrete, because he thought that his argument from the eternity of motion sufficed. As I read McInerny, he isn’t saying that the eternity of the universe is merely an extraneous addition to Aristotle. It is a mistake, and it has consequences in narrowing his view of the Prime Mover. I will freely concede, therefore, that Aristotle did not fully apprehend the difference between essence and existence as a real distinction in finite things; he simply saw a distinction between a thing and its motion, because that was all that he really bothered to consider. But the question is “What would Aristotle have done if he had not made this mistake?” I don’t think it’s “facile” to speculate about what conclusion he might have reached if he had not made this mistake. Indeed, I think this is exactly what St. Thomas did.

    From what I gather of St. Thomas’s treatment of Pseudo-Dionysius, he essentially takes the “Areopagite” as an enlightened Aristotelian. He reframes the entire notion of Neoplatonic participation in terms of Aristotle’s act/potency, as participation in the Prime Mover’s act of being rather than in some self-subsistent form. As far as I can tell, Plotinus wouldn’t have recognized his own doctrine of “participation” in Aquinas. ISTM that both Pseudo-Dionysius and St. Maximus Confessor are operating in a basically Plotinian concept of participation, supplemented in some way by Aristotle’s concept of energeia as the distinctive operation of some particular nature, but not to the extent of truly viewing it as actus purus, the act of being itself. This was typical of the attempts in Middle- and Neo-Platonism to harmonize Aristotle with Plato.

    I think you’ll find the use of Aristotle substantially different in the Neoplatonic Eastern tradition, and it seems to me that Aquinas’s position is fundamentally alien to this approach. There is a massive distance between participation in Being (really, “the One beyond being” in the Neoplatonic sense) and participation in the act of being. For examples of what I see as the version of Aristotelian in the East, I would commend Arkadi Choufrine, Gnosis, Theophany, Theosis; Henny Fiska Hagg, Clement of Alexandria and the Beginnings of Christian Apophaticism; Michel Rene Barnes, The Power of God: Dunamis in Gregory of Nyssa’s Trinitarian Theology; David Bradshaw, Aristotle East and West; Eric David Perl, Methexis :–creation, incarnation, deification in Saint Maximus Confessor (diss.); Andrew Louth, St John Damascene: Tradition and Originality in Byzantine Theology. The East clearly used Aristotle, but it does not appear to me that they were still hung up on this idea of logoi from Plato. They didn’t really open up to the full implications of Aristotle’s rejection of forms qua eternally existing independent entities, which is why you see the real essence/energies distinction asserted in the East practically from the get-go (notably in Clement, the Cappadocians, Cyril, Pseudo-Dionysius, Maximus, John Damascene, and Gregory Palamas). Obviously, the real distinction between essence and energies is verboten in Western metaphysics, and that is precisely because the West follows Aristotle on this point: participation does not require a real distinction between God’s essence and energies. There does not need to be a real distinction between participable forms and the divine essence for finite being to exist, and that is simply classic (groan) Aristotle.

    To put it another way, all St. Thomas really did was to correctly perceive the connection between energeia/dynamis, participation, and being itself, from which actus purus and subsistent existence follows immediately. Aristotle missed this because of his own mistake, not seeing the complete implications of his doctrine. The Eastern Fathers missed this because they were attempting to reconcile Aristotle with Plotinus. But St. Thomas, having the benefit of St. Albert’s training and a bit of creative speculation on infinite being by Richard Fishacre, finally saw where Aristotle had erred and corrected him, thus producing a metaphysical system that was the crowning glory of human reason. Nothing supernatural was requires, only a flawless application of the faculty of natural reason by someone who was standing on the shoulders of giants.

  21. mark thomas lickona says

    CC:

    OK, you win. I have no idea what you’re talking about. (“To put it another way, all St. Thomas really did was to correctly perceive the connection between energeia/dynamis, participation, and being itself, from which actus purus and subsistent existence follows immediately“…???) But it looks the participation thing got to you (it should have). So let’s look at this (which, from what I can make out, is a contradiction of what I’ve asserted about participation in St. Thomas)…

    There is a massive distance between participation in Being (really, “the One beyond being” in the Neoplatonic sense) and participation in the act of being.

    ..and compare it to this, from I, Q. 4, a. 2, resp. (check out the authority of Psuedo-D here, BTW):

    Secondly, from what has been already proved, God is existence itself, of itself subsistent. Consequently, He must contain within Himself the whole perfection of being. For it is clear that if some hot thing has not the whole perfection of heat, this is because heat is not participated in its full perfection; but if this heat were self-subsisting, nothing of the virtue of heat would be wanting to it. Since therefore God is subsisting being itself, nothing of the perfection of being can be wanting to Him. Now all created perfections are included in the perfection of being; for things are perfect, precisely so far as they have being after some fashion. It follows therefore that the perfection of no one thing is wanting to God. This line of argument, too, is implied by Dionysius (Div. Nom. v), when he says that, “God exists not in any single mode, but embraces all being within Himself, absolutely, without limitation, uniformly;” and afterwards he adds that, “He is the very existence to subsisting things.”

    If this is St. Thomas saying anything other than that subsisting things have their being because they participate in Being Itself, that the existence they have is God’s existence–and not that they merely “participate in the (generic) act of being” (like all players on a team participate in the same generic act), i.e., because of God’s action on things, à la the PM, they “act” like God “acts,” exist as God exists, univocally not analogically, contra St. Thomas–cf. again Q. 4, a. 2, resp.)–well, I’ll eat my hat (and I’m bald). But in case it’s still not clear, ad. 3 from Q. 4, a. 3: Likeness of creatures to God is not affirmed on account of agreement in form according to the formality of the same genus or species, but solely according to analogy, inasmuch as God is essential being, whereas other things are beings by participation. And Q. 6, a. 4, resp.: Hence from the first being, essentially such, and good, everything can be called good and a being, inasmuch as it participates in it by way of a certain [analogical] assimilation which is far removed and defective; as appears from the above (Q. 4, a. 3).

    St. Thomas simply didn’t “get it all” from Aristotle. He created a new synthesis of the Platonism of the Fathers and Aristotle through the philosophical innovations of subsistent existence, the real distinction, and the analogy of being. To say he merely stood on Aristotle’s shoulders is to denigrate his genius–let alone to depreciate the role that the deposit of faith played in guiding his intellect. “Nothing supernatural was required?” If that were true, why would that be a good thing?

  22. mark thomas lickona says

    P.S.: It wasn’t his “mistake” about the eternity of motion that “narrowed” his view of the PM. It was his narrowness concerning the nature of existence (“no ‘being’ apart from things-that-are”), due to his unqualified rejection of Plato, that resulted in both his “God” (the “last thing” that moves all the other things in the cosmos, generically and univocally like all other things-that-are; see above comment) AND his doctrine of the substratum as the only ontological (and temporal) constant (for reasons I’ve described above).

  23. mark thomas lickona says

    P.P.S.: No more secondary-source-talk. From now on, let’s talk about St. Thomas using the texts of St. Thomas.

  24. CrimsonCatholic says

    I have no aversion to using primary sources, but it would seem that the Pseudo-Areopagite is the source that we ought to be considering. For St. Thomas says, “Since therefore God is the first effective cause of things, the perfections of all things must pre-exist in God in a more eminent way. Dionysius implies the same line of argument by saying of God (Div. Nom. v): ‘It is not that He is this and not that, but that He is all, as the cause of all.’

    Secondly, from what has been already proved, God is existence itself, of itself subsistent (3, 4). Consequently, He must contain within Himself the whole perfection of being.

    This line of argument, too, is implied by Dionysius (Div. Nom. v), when he says that, ‘God exists not in any single mode, but embraces all being within Himself, absolutely, without limitation, uniformly;’ and afterwards he adds that, ‘He is the very existence to subsisting things.'” (I, Q.4, a. 2, ans.)

    But I find it difficult to see how Ps.-Dionysius implied any such thing. From On the Divine Names 5:
    2. These Names which reveal the Providence of God our Discourse would now consider. For we make no promise to express the Absolute Super-Essential Goodness and Being and Life and Wisdom of the Absolute Super-Essential Godhead which (as saith the Scripture) hath Its foundation in a secret place [368] beyond all Goodness, Godhead, Being, Wisdom, and Life; but we are considering the benignant Providence which is revealed to us and are celebrating It as Transcendent Goodness and Cause of all good things, and as Existent as Life and as Wisdom, and as productive Cause of. Existence and of Life and the Giver of Wisdom, in those creatures which partake of Existence, Life, Intelligence, and Perception. We do not regard the Good as one thing, the Existent as another, and Life or Wisdom as another; nor do we hold that there are many causes and different Godheads producing different effects and subordinate one to another; but we hold that one God is the universal Source of the emanations, [369] and the Possessor of all the Divine Names we declare; and that the first Name expresses the perfect Providence of the one God, and the other names express certain more general or more particular modes of His Providence. [370]
    and
    4. Having now dealt with this matter, let us consider the Good as that which really Is and gives their being to all things that exist. The Existent God is, by the nature of His power, super-essentially above all existence; He is the substantial Cause and Creator of Being, Existence, Substance and Nature, the Beginning and the Measuring Principle of ages; the Reality underlying time and the Eternity underlying existences; the time in which created things pass, [373] the Existence of those that have any kind of existence, the Life-Process of those which in any way pass through that process. From Him that Is come Eternity, Essence, Being, Time, Life-Process; and that which passes through such Process, the things which inhere in existent things [374] and those which under any power whatever possess an independent subsistence. For God is not Existent in any ordinary sense, but in a simple and undefinable manner embracing and anticipating all existence in Himself. Hence He is called “King of the Ages,” because in Him and around Him all Being is and subsists, and He neither was, nor will be, nor hath entered the life-process, nor is doing so, nor ever will, or rather He doth not even exist, but is the Essence of existence in things that exist; and not only the things that exist but also their very existence comes from Him that Is before the ages. For He Himself is the Eternity of the ages and subsists before the ages.

    Now surely Dionysius is not saying that God is identifiable with His Providence; indeed, he says quite the opposite: that Providence is purely the expression of God’s good will. Nor is he, in saying that God is the cause of all things, saying that all perfections pre-exist in God. On the contrary, he says that God transcends all such perfections. Indeed, he says quite pointedly that “[God] doth not even exist, but is the Essence of existence in things that exist; and not only the things that exist but also their very existence comes from Him that Is before the ages.” Dionysius is as clear as he could be that God Himself does not exist and that even the existence in which created things participate is part of God’s Providence and not of God’s own essence. This is where Dionysius’s concept of hyperousios ousia drastically diverges from St. Thomas’s idea; there is no analogy between energies and essence AT ALL. It’s one of these cases where one wonders how St. Thomas could have even thought that he was correctly interpreting his authority.

    The problem becomes particularly pesky in that if one takes St. Thomas’s account of divine simplicity that identifies God’s Providence with His essence, then Dionysius’s entire Neoplatonic metaphysics of transcendence breaks down. Certainly, Dionysius would NEVER identify Very Being with God’s own essence. Indeed, this was the very problem that Origen encountered, and it led him (and Plotinus) to conclude (or at least imply) that creation was a kind of natural emanation.

    But I would prefer to think that St. Thomas was coming at Dionysius from an entirely different metaphysical perspective. And I believe that metaphysical perspective was not Neoplatonic participation, but rather, that it was a concept of participation modeled on Aristotle’s notion of act and potency, so that existence/perfection is received in the substratum (that’s what I mean by participation in the “act of being,” modeled on act being received). That is clearly a level of abstraction higher than Aristotle, and in that I completely agree with your assessment of Aristotle’s narrow view (which I would argue is because he doesn’t see the need that would broaden it). But St. Thomas is clearly NOT broadening Aristotle’s view by recourse to Neoplatonic metaphysics, because his view is nothing like the Neoplatonic view of Ps.-Dionysius, which maintains an absolute distinction between the entirely unknowable essence and the energies (Providence).

    But I think that St. Thomas was simply reinterpreting Dionysius through the lens of his own Aristotelian metaphysics, and I have an example for why I think so. St. Thomas makes the following statement in his Commentary on the Metaphysics IV, lect. 2, n.553 (quoting from McInerny’s translation, any typos mine):
    Note that the word ‘man’ is imposed from the quiddity or nature of man, and the word’ thing’ from unspecified quiddity, whereas the word’ being is imposed from the act of existing, and the word ‘one’ from order or indivision. For what is one is undivided being. It is the same thing that has the essence and a quiddity thanks to the essence and which is undivided in itself. Hence these three terms, ‘thing,’ ‘being,’ and ‘one,’ signify something in every way identical, but according to different meanings.

    Now what is odd about this passage, if one thinks that Aristotle doesn’t recognize the essence/existence distinction, is what St. Thomas doesn’t say. In the middle of a comment on the Metaphysics, on a subject on which St. Thomas allegedly differs drastically from Aristotle (assuming Aristotle is alleged here to be saying that these are all one), St. Thomas says nothing! To think that a commentator as careful as St. Thomas would just neglect to criticize Aristotle on what is alleged to be the Christian cornerstone of his metaphysics strains credibility to say the least. It is more plausible to think that he really doesn’t disagree with Aristotle on this point. In that cases, it is simply that Aristotle takes too narrow a view of what transcendent being is (in terms of including all essences as ideas), despite rightly recognizing that it is a derived act just as motion must be derived from a source. To see St. Thomas as Aristotelian would explain why he is thinking outside of the box of Neoplatonic participation and why he therefore takes Dionysius to be saying things that he surely isn’t. When St. Thomas see “participation,” he is thinking like Aristotle, not Plotinus.

  25. mark thomas lickona says

    We’re arrived at the end of this conversation—both because I’m starting to repeat myself, which is getting tiring, and because I don’t feel like continuing this conversation in the archives of Matt’s blog.

    Pointing out that St. Thomas proof-texts (“abuses,” if you will) Pseudo-D to support his (unique) system of participation in Being itself (i.e., his “analogy of being”) doesn’t change the fact that St. Thomas builds the whole ST on the (never-seen-before) analogy between Being and the beings that participate in Being (the other texts I’ve cited are only a few examples of how St. Thomas states this doctrine “in his own words” without reference to Pseudo-D), and that it is a schema of analogical participation equally foreign to Aristotle as to Pseudo-D. There’s no reconciling an Aristotelean formulation like “[God’s] act is received in the substratum” (like form is received in matter) with “God pre-possseses and is the very existence of things.” In the former, our existence is the result of God acting on something (something not-Him); in the latter, our existence is the result of God being God, i.e., being Being, in which all “beings” (already) are (and therefore nothing is not-Him). In the former, both God and things arising from (i.e., things “generated” from) the substratum exist in the same generic, univocal sense (God is, and thanks to his action on me, I am, like the sun is hot and what it heats is hot, or like a father is a man and his son is a man—and so while he is perfectly in act and I am imperfectly in act, my act being reduced from potency, still we are each members of the genus “beings in act” or “things that are”); but St. Thomas points out that God is beyond any genus (cf. Q. 4, a. 3), and this because God is not a being, but Being itself; therefore I do not exist in the same (univocal) way as God exists, because “my being” is not “my” being at all, it is God’s (or rather it is God, Who is Being itself), and it is Being itself of which I partake (according to my “certain assimilation” of Being itself, my particular finite mode of being; cf. Q. 6, a. 4, resp.). In other words, the essence that is “me” does not in itself exist (cf. Q. 6, a. 3., resp.), but rather has in God the existence which God, who does indeed exist in Himself as Being itself, has pre-possessed. Not to mention that there IS no “substratum” for St. Thomas, since “matter” and “form” have been “con-created” in every individual being from the beginning (cf. Q. 45, a. 4), when there was only void (i.e., no substratum of pre-existing matter)…

    So if St. Thomas doesn’t get his schema of participation, his analogy of being, from either Platonism or Aristotle, from where does he get it? From being a Christian, one who knows YHWH, He Who Is, in whom “we live and move and have our being.” And yet Aristotle may be used to describe the other term of the analogy of being, because there really is another term, because Christians do not hold that the world is mere shadow (à la Plato) but rather “He saw that it was good,” i.e., creation has a distinct existence and integrity vis-à-vis the Creator.

    As for your “argument from silence” (St. Thomas didn’t say anything here, meaning he agrees with Aristotle): Not only is an “argument from a negative” the weakest kind you can make (the contrary conclusion of which can hardly be a “strain on credulity”), e.g., “He’s not at work today, therefore he’s dead,” but it doesn’t obtain even what it hopes to obtain: agreement between Aristotle and St. Thomas on transcendent being. For the last time, Aristotle didn’t take “too narrow” a view of transcendent being—he took no view of it at all (his was the opinion that there is no “being” apart from things-that-are, cf. Meta X). The passage St. Thomas is commenting on is not treating transcendent being (being qua being, being in itself), but rather entirely concerns particular being (“man”=”one man”=”one existent man”) and the multiple species of it. Again and again, it’s not as though Aristotle didn’t have a category of “being” distinct from the category of “essence”—it’s just that it was only a category for him–it itself wasn’t (really) “one” as “an existent man” is (really) “one.”

    Like I said, I’m repeating myself.

    Peace out.

  26. CrimsonCatholic says

    As Mark rightly says, there’s nothing to be gained in repeating disputed premises, so I won’t repeat myself either.

    Or I should say that I won’t repeat what I said about St. Thomas. On the other hand, after having read several more chapters of Swimming with Scapulars, I will repeat that Matthew is an exceptional author. It’s evident that I haven’t managed to get my point across (pre-existent substrata? I thought I had said literally the opposite!). But I’ve lost count of how many times that I’ve said to myself that Matt latched onto the perfect phrase to convey the point.

    My favorite story was your method for choosing a career. I didn’t think it was the least bit loony. Given how little one knows about oneself and about the demands of any actual career, I think it’s crazy NOT to ask for help from someone with a heavenly perspective. It’s just that most people don’t know how little they know (at least, I sure didn’t!).

  27. mark thomas lickona says

    Dude…for the record, you said very little about (or rather, from) St. Thomas. When I asked you to, you went to Pseudo-D instead, which was, for reasons I’ve explained, besides the point. If you could ever have talked St. Thomas’ (non-Dionysian) analogy of being with me–to the point of showing, say, that St. Thomas’ God and Aristotle’s God are both equivocal agents, meaning that A. really was on the verge of St. Thomas’ doctrine of Being itself–then maybe you could have scored points. But maybe that’s because it couldn’t have been done, because in fact the abyss that yawns between the PM and Being itself is the abyss between being and Being–not because A. only cared about motion, not even merely because he rejected Plato, but because he was a philosopher, and as such would have been averse to anything like the “both/and” of the analogy of being (all beings both “are” and “are not”), which is essentially paradox, that is, essentially mysterious–which is just the sort of domain where the philosopher is scandalized and the theologian is at home. The pagan, finally, prefers a Zeus to YHWH.

  28. CrimsonCatholic says

    I didn’t realize we were on the record, but like any good Californian ought to do, I will ride the wave and work on my summation.

    you said very little about (or rather, from) St. Thomas. When I asked you to, you went to Pseudo-D instead, which was, for reasons I’ve explained, besides the point.

    Then please pardon me for misunderstanding what the point was. I had thought that the point was that St. Thomas had obtained his ontological analogy from selectively appropriating from Plato (via Ps.-Dionysius et al.) and Aristotle, while distinguishing himself from both. That is how I took the following statements at least:
    This is why the Christian may put Plato to good but qualified use (just as he may put A. to good but qualified use).

    But as I’m sure Steve Nazaren (correct spelling, says Matt) would agree, anyone who would deny that St. Thomas is as much Platonist as Aristotelean (i.e., both and neither) precisely because he is a Christian, and such must distinguish all pagans, while perhaps not embarrassingly wrong, is indeed wrong.

    It’s also like saying that the Christian tradition is an “organic development” of philosophy–when in fact the Fathers of the Church (whom St. Thomas’ Summa was intended to defend against dialecticians like Peter Abelard) have “robbed the coffers of Egypt” to illuminate the Christian mysteries.

    But St. Thomas does not reject Plato. Q. 6 is an example of St. Thomas’ both-and-neither here: Plato was right about the Ideas, Aristotle right in saying they were not subsistent in themselves (but rather subsisted in the divine intellect). He actually quotes Psuedo-D more than Aristotle. The doctrine of participated being is on full display in Q. 4, which doctrine is at the very heart of St. Thomas’ “analogy of being.” And from what standpoint does St. Thomas pick and choose between philosophers to describe both terms of this analogy? From the standpoint of a Christian, who has inherited the mysteries and can distinguish all things by them (including the Fathers–thus saving them from Abelard’s Sic et Non).

    etc.

    Now as I understood your argument, and Lord knows I might have failed to understand it as I have failed to understand many arguments in the past, you seem to be arguing that St. Thomas must pick and choose from Plato and Aristotle without embracing either, lest he become some sort of crypto-pagan. And my point was that wherever St. Thomas got his argument, it clearly wasn’t appropriated from Plato, or at least not from his authoritative interpreter of Neoplatonism. But you say that where the ontological analogy is “on full display” in Q.4, which is precisely where he claims to have found it in Pseudo-Dionysius. So I must apologize for not seeing how the citation of Q.4 serves your argument that St. Thomas obtained his doctrine from Platonism.

    If I have misunderstood, which I may well have done, then this argument did not experience a sudden change. But as I understood it, your argument was then transmogrified to the assertion that “that it is a schema of analogical participation equally foreign to Aristotle as to Pseudo-D.” And I would, of course, entirely agree that the ontological analogy of St. Thomas is entirely foreign to Ps.-Dionysius, but perhaps you see that I see myself as attempting to hit a moving target. Was St. Thomas picking and choosing from Aristotle and Plato according to Christian preconceptions or not? Well, one might say he thought he was choosing between Plato and Aristotle given how he read Pseudo-Dionysius (albeit incorrectly). But then it would be equally interesting to know whether St. Thomas thought that he was following Aristotle, particularly when it seems that he thought he was and that there was no contradiction between the two so that he needed to take issue with the Philosopher (or indeed, to make the very choice you say he must be making as a Christian). If he did, then St. Thomas is guilty of the very error of which you accuse the crypto-pagans; he does not distinguish himself from them by his belief in YHWH.

    Hence, my citation of St. Thomas was directed to the proposition that he did not see himself as being all that different from Aristotle. An argument from silence it may have been, but an argument from silence is surely better than no argument at all, and that appears to be what you have presented for the proposition that St. Thomas was consciously distinguishing Aristotle’s understanding of being from his own belief in YHWH. For those scoring at home, that would seem to pile up a pretty significant score against the “Christians can’t be pagan philosophers” argument. And speaking of scoring…

    If you could ever have talked St. Thomas’ (non-Dionysian) analogy of being with me–to the point of showing, say, that St. Thomas’ God and Aristotle’s God are both equivocal agents, meaning that A. really was on the verge of St. Thomas’ doctrine of Being itself–then maybe you could have scored points.

    But the point wasn’t that Aristotle believed this, only that he should have but for a mundane mistake of natural reason. For Aristotle thought he had demonstrated the existence of the Prime Mover merely by the certain that motion was infinite, but if he had the benefit of St. Thomas’s denial of eternal motion, then he would have had to show the certain existence of a Prime Act of Being. As I said, it was only because Aristotle thought he could show the certain existence of a Prime Mover that he did not perceive the need for more. Indeed, the Metaphysics X doesn’t say anything contrary to this, because it doesn’t even reach the question. Perhaps if you can explain what is defective in that argument from Aristotle, or why it is that St. Thomas never appears to challenge Aristotle on the grounds that he does not know YHWH, then it might be easier for me to understand your argument.

    To put it bluntly, I think what is really being argued here is simply the a priori dichotomy you have created between philosophy and theology. Simply put, St. Thomas can’t follow Aristotle’s metaphysics, because that would make him a pagan in your sight (although that would, in my view, be an accurate reductio ad absurdam of your view). Apart from citing Vatican I on faith and reason, I don’t know how better to protest against that belief, but I will say unambiguously that I do not believe it and I do not see any dogmatic reason to believe it. Perhaps I am simply embarrassingly wrong, and I am in open (albeit unintended) dissent against the teaching of the Church, but I do not see where Christian faith is in the least necessary for correct metaphysics.

  29. mark thomas lickona says

    CC:

    Yes, I think it’s fair to say you misunderstood me. The fact that I quoted, in that same post on Q4, other AOB passages from the ST that did not use (or even restate) PD would have been reason enough to conclude that I didn’t think ST relied on PD for his AOB. Where is there discussion of univocality, genera, equivocality and analogy in PD? For that matter, where is there participatory language in Aristotle? Isn’t St. Thomas obviously synthesizing in the process of formulating his AOB?

    One of our differences seems to have been that you think there was no (true) synthesis here, that St. Thomas merely re-cast the Platonic doctrine of participation as “act received in the substratum,” i.e., as something Aristotelean (still can’t find a ST cite for this sort of formulation of participatory existence, BTW)—whereas I tried to show that such a formulation doesn’t comport with St. Thomas’ selective but manifest appropriation of Platonic language concerning participation in Being in service of his AOB. True, St. Thomas didn’t explicitly reject Aristotle on subsistent Being (NB: Apart from the fact that A. doesn’t implicate transcendent being in the passage on which St. Thomas is commenting, commentary was traditionally not the place for disputation in any event). But must he not have been aware that A. held that there was no act without form, no “being” apart from things-that-are, meaning that he would indeed have been consciously distinguishing A. in affirming Being itself and the AOB? (Again, see Q. 6, a. 4: He actually distinguishes both Plato and Aristotle in the process of building the AOB—and maybe even asks for too much support from A. here, as he did from PD earlier.)

    Finally, with regard to Aristotle himself, all I will say (again) is that, whether A. is demonstrating the eternality of motion or demonstrating the termination of the series of cosmic movers, A. always and everywhere takes form (i.e., things) as his final ontological object, the PM being the “final form” or “final thing” (again, for A. it’s all about things moving things, “things” being of the first order: as he says, “Each kind of motion necessarily involves the presence of the things that are capable of that motion” [Phys VIII , 1]). But “things” are exactly where St. Thomas metaphysically doesn’t stop (meaning you can’t read any of the “five ways” as recapitulations of arguments in the Physics, but that’s a whole other conversation–though you might check out Joseph Owens on this point). In short, it doesn’t come down to where you fall on the eternity of motion; it comes down to where you “stop” ontologically. For A., it’s “things” (you might say “the many,” as opposed to Plato’s “One”). Indeed, if you have form (things) as your final ontological object, it seems that you must conclude, as he did, that motion/the world is eternal—though I think the termination of the series of movers falls apart because of this very ontological limitation (maybe contra Owens?)—but this too is a whole other conversation.

    Now why doesn’t St. Thomas stop at “things”? Again, as we’ve already agreed, he’s not “getting it all” from the Platonists, and certainly not from Aristotle (who does stop at “things”), so from where? Allow me to speak in defense of my good standing in the Church when I say that it’s no heresy to hold that while philosophy reaches, only revelation satisfies—for philosophy reduces reality to give you, at best, either Plato (no “many”, only “the One”) or Aristotle (no “One”, only “the many,” with the PM as the “last of the many”)—because reason, finally, arrives at paradox (even A. was forced to admit the problem with denying Forms, but he also didn’t see how you couldn’t, without denying the reality of substances) and cries out in agony—the reduction of the paradox to one term or the other (philosophy) being the relief. It’s only the Christian, who has received paradox, i.e., mystery, as revealed truth, who can “work with it,” using whatever conceptual vocabulary will apply to fully capture and affirm both terms of the paradox, i.e., fully affirm all of reality. The Church’s creedal history is nothing but this very process of describing paradox (one ousia, three prosopoi; one prosopon, two hypostases); in St. Thomas, the paradox is the paradox of existence, described using the analogy of being (in which both “the One” and “the many” may be affirmed, since every being “is” and “is not”–a teaching that actually SAVED me from heresy).

    I meant merely to review the record, but I started having fun. But in case my fun is another’s vexation, let this be an end.

  30. CrimsonCatholic says

    OK, I see that I really didn’t understand what you were saying. And even now, I don’t really “get” it in terms of really understanding the motivation, perhaps because I never thought of mystery or paradox as an agonized state, a “problem” as it were. It sounds like we might have very different views on the subject generally. But one of the wonderfully liberating things about being in the bosom of the Catholic Church is that She takes all kinds. 🙂

    But now that I see more of what you are after in terms of evidence, I would cite On Being and Essence for the proposition that St. Thomas does not see Aristotle’s statement limiting being to things-that-are as excluding the transcendent. Chapter 1 says:
    As the Philosopher says in V Metaphysicae cap. 7 (1017a22-35), being has two senses. In one sense, being signifies that which is divided into the ten categories; in another sense, that which signifies the truth of propositions. The difference between these is that, in the second sense, anything can be called a being about which an affirmative proposition can be formed, even if the thing posits nothing in reality. In this way, privations and negations are called beings, as when we say that affirmation is opposed to negation, or that blindness is in the eye. But in the first sense, nothing can be called a being unless it posits something in reality, and thus in this first sense blindness and similar things are not beings.

    The term essence is not taken from being in the second sense, for in this sense some things are called beings that have no essence, as is clear with privations. Rather, the term essence is taken from being in the first sense. Thus in Metaphysicae V, com. 14, the Commentator explains the cited text from Aristotle by saying that being, in the first sense, is what signifies the essence of a thing. And since, as said above, being in this sense is divided into the ten categories, essence signifies something common to all natures through which the various beings are placed in the various genera and species, as humanity is the essence of man, and so on.

    Since that through which a thing is constituted in its proper genus or species is what is signified by the definition indicating what the thing is, philosophers introduced the term quiddity to mean the same as the term essence; and this is the same thing that the Philosopher frequently terms what it is to be a thing, that is, that through which something has being as a particular kind of thing. Essence is also called form, for the certitude of every thing is signified through its form, as Avicenna says in his Metaphysicae I, cap. 6. The same thing is also called nature, taking nature in the first of the four senses that Boethius distinguishes in his book De Persona et Duabus Naturis cap. 1 (PL 64, 1341B), in the sense, in other words, that nature is what we call everything that can in any way be captured by the intellect, for a thing is not intelligible except through its definition and essence. And so the Philosopher says in V Metaphysicae cap. 4 (1014b36) that every substance is a nature. But the term nature used in this way seems to signify the essence of a thing as it is ordered to the proper operation of the thing, for no thing is without its proper operation. The term quiddity, surely, is taken from the fact that this is what is signified by the definition. But the same thing is called essence because the being has existence through it and in it.

    I take this as St. Thomas saying that Aristotle understands the essence to be a thing in reality through which and in which things exist. So on existence, St. Thomas goes on to say in Ch. 4 (I’ve gotta quote long here, sorry):
    Nevertheless, in separate substances there is a composition of form and existence, and so in the Liber de Causis, prop. 9, com., it is said that the intelligences have form and existence, and in this place form is taken in the sense of a simple quiddity or nature.

    It is easy to see how this is the case. Whenever two things are related to each other such that one is the cause of the other, the one that is the cause can have existence without the other, but not conversely. Now, we find that matter and form are related in such a way that form gives existence to matter, and therefore it is impossible that matter exist without a form; but it is not impossible that a form exist without matter, for a form, insofar as it is a form, is not dependent on matter. When we find a form that cannot exist except in matter, this happens because such forms are distant from the first principle, which is primary and pure act. Hence, those forms that are nearest the first principle are subsisting forms essentially without matter, for not the whole genus of forms requires matter, as said above, and the intelligences are forms of this type. Thus, the essences or quiddities of these substances are not other than the forms themselves.

    Although substances of this kind are form alone and are without matter, they are nevertheless not in every way simple, and they are not pure act; rather, they have an admixture of potency, and this can be seen as follows. Whatever is not in the concept of the essence or the quiddity comes from beyond the essence and makes a composition with the essence, because no essence can be understood without the things that are its parts. But every essence or quiddity can be understood without understanding anything about its existence: I can understand what a man is or what a phoenix is and nevertheless not know whether either has existence in reality. Therefore, it is clear that existence is something other than the essence or quiddity, unless perhaps there is something whose quiddity is its very own existence, and this thing must be one and primary. For, there can be no plurification of something except by the addition of some difference, as the nature of a genus is multiplied in its species; or as, since the form is received in diverse matters, the nature of the species is multiplied in diverse individuals; or again as when one thing is absolute and another is received in something else, as if there were a certain separate heat that was other than unseparated heat by reason of its own separation. But if we posit a thing that is existence only, such that it is subsisting existence itself, this existence will not receive the addition of a difference, for, if there were added a difference, there would be not only existence but existence and also beyond this some form; much less would such a thing receive the addition of matter, for then the thing would be not subsisting existence but material existence. Hence, it remains that a thing that is its own existence cannot be other than one, and so in every other thing, the thing’s existence is one thing, and its essence or quiddity or nature or form is another. In the intelligences, therefore, there is existence beyond the form, and so we say that an intelligence is form and existence.

    Everything that pertains to a thing, however, either is caused by the principles of its own nature, as risibility in man, or else comes from some extrinsic principle, as light in the air from the influence of the sun. Now, it cannot be that existence itself is caused by the very form or quiddity of the thing (I mean as by an efficient cause), because then the thing would be its own efficient cause, and the thing would produce itself in existence, which is impossible. Therefore, everything the existence of which is other than its own nature has existence from another. And since everything that is through another is reduced to that which is through itself as to a first cause, there is something that is the cause of existing in all things in that this thing is existence only. Otherwise, we would have to go to infinity in causes, for everything that is not existence alone has a cause of its existence, as said above. It is clear, therefore, that the intelligences are form and existence and have existence from the first being, which is existence alone, and this is the first cause, which is God.

    Everything that receives something from another is in potency with respect to what it receives, and that which is received in the thing is its act; therefore, a quiddity or form that is an intelligence is in potency with respect to the existence that it receives from God, and this received existence is received as its act. And thus there are found in the intelligences both potency and act but not matter and form, unless in some equivocal sense. So too to suffer, to receive, to be a subject and everything of this type that seem to pertain to things by reason of their matter are said of intellectual substances and corporeal substances equivocally, as the Commentator says in De Anima III, com. 14. Furthermore, since, as said above, the quiddity of an intelligence is the intelligence itself, its quiddity or essence is itself the very thing that exists, and its existence received from God is that by which it subsists in the nature of things; and because of this some people say that substances of this kind are composed of what is and that by which it is, or of what is and existence, as Boethius says in De Hebdomadibus (PL 64, 1311 B-C).

    Now, it seems to me that St. Thomas has here adopted a participatory notion of existence and essence based directly on Aristotle’s view of causality, act, and potency, and it also seems that St. Thomas believes that Aristotle holds this distinction, only erring in the idea of immaterial separate substances, which is a difficult metaphysical concept even under the best of circumstances. And he even uses the same image from Ps.-Dionysius regarding the sun in the Summa, giving that illustration the same gloss that he does here. It does not appear that St. Thomas has appealed a priori to a concept of subsistent being, but rather, he has appealed to the same concept of causality that Aristotle did, simply pointing out that it is possible for things to be intelligibly different on Aristotle’s own principle despite lacking admixture with matter. It seems that Aristotle himself must necessarily have conceded at least one thing that was unmovable, i.e., the Prime Mover. It isn’t so much that Aristotle has trouble conceiving of immovable being, but rather, that he has difficulty understanding how there can be more than one. That is why his vision was so limited to the material; he has no concept of a spiritual world. But that strikes me as a metaphysical error, much like errors regarding intelligence to which St. Thomas is responding here, and so I don’t see where revelation is necessary to correct.

    I don’t expect to convince you entirely by this analysis, because we evidently have different ideas about why Aristotle said what he said, but I hope this helps to illuminate what I had in mind. I apologize for not answering your question more directly as to why I thought St. Thomas had derived his notion of ontological participation from Aristotle; I misunderstood your criticism.

  31. mark thomas lickona says

    Of course existence is received by finite beings in St. Thomas’ participatory scheme; it is given by Being itself to beings who do not properly possess it, but only by participation. If you’re looking for this line in De Ente to serve as an indication of St. Thomas’ re-casting of participation as “act received in the substratum,” i.e., act reduced from potency, e.g., the potency of primary matter, you’ll be disappointed. Here again is St. Thomas “letting Aristotle talk,” as Joseph Owens says, while maintaining his own understanding and usage of the Aristotelean terminology (just as the Church has so often used the language of the philosophers). Neverminding the impossibility of reconciling such a formulation with direct participation in Being itself, which is manifestly St. Thomas’ schema, this is simply not the way beings come to be (come to begin their participation in Being) for St. Thomas–especially not immaterial separate substances (which A. only erred in identifying as the heavenly bodies when in fact they are the angels, a.k.a. “the intelligences”). Rather, beings are created, i.e., from nothing–matter and form being con-created in every being: Creation does not mean the building up of a composite thing from pre-existing principles; but it means that the “composite” [“scare quotes” his] is created so that it is brought into being at the same time with all its principles (Q. 45, a. 4, ad. 2; the whole of Q. 45 is essential reading). I don’t think Aristotle had anything like this conception of causality. Creation ex nihilo as a metaphysical principle (i.e., as a corollary to self-subsisting being)? Sounds like theology at its best.

  32. CrimsonCatholic says

    If you’re looking for this line in De Ente to serve as an indication of St. Thomas’ re-casting of participation as “act received in the substratum,” i.e., act reduced from potency, e.g., the potency of primary matter, you’ll be disappointed. Here again is St. Thomas “letting Aristotle talk,” as Joseph Owens says, while maintaining his own understanding and usage of the Aristotelean terminology (just as the Church has so often used the language of the philosophers).

    No, I think St. Thomas directly corrected Aristotle on this point; that’s why he gives such extensive attention to both Aristotle and his Muslim interpreters on the question of how multiple immaterial entities (and particularly souls and angels) can exist. But it doesn’t appear that St. Thomas thinks that Aristotle’s understanding of being is therefore vitiated (e.g., Thomas agrees that there is no being but substance). And Owens’s view is the very one that McInerny would in turn consider “embarrassingly wrong,” so the appeal to Owens’s authority in this instance won’t be any more convincing to me than my appeal to McInerny is to you. It appears to me from his own text that St. Thomas is not merely letting Aristotle speak in ch. 1 but outright endorsing Aristotle’s view along with that of Boethius.

    Where St. Thomas appears to think that Aristotle and Averroes have erred is that they simply doesn’t understand immaterial substance well enough. And it’s not that they haven’t thought about immaterial substance; they just got it wrong. This is nothing more than Aristotle himself admits; he knows he doesn’t have it quite right in terms of forms not subsisting at all, but he recognizes that the Platonists are surely wrong. That error also limits their understanding of immaterial infinity, and that is key to understanding the divine nature in relation to created things.

    Now certainly, a solid version of creatio ex nihilo effectively allows one to peek ahead at the answer, meaning that one has to think more carefully about immaterial entities. But simply thinking about immaterial entities isn’t enough. As Augustine notes, the Neoplatonists did this, improving quite a bit on the Demiurge concept of pre-existent matter (as if matter were its own principle) considerably by the use of eternally self-subsistent forms, but they still made errors sufficiently persuasive to talk Christians like Origen into believing that pre-existent souls and the fall into matter weren’t heresies. Certainly, creatio ex nihilo was helpful in pointing out that even immaterial entities were created, but then, so was Aristotle’s critique of forms as eternally subsistent. ISTM that Aristotle is more right that Plato, in that he denies the eternal existence of forms qua subsistent, and that St. Thomas is more right than Aristotle, in that he sees the possibility for immaterial subsistent form, i.e., that matter is not the only sort of potency. And there is no question that St. Thomas can “cheat” because he already knows the answer: matter is created, and spiritual entities (separate subsistent immaterial forms) are created. But that doesn’t mean that the error wasn’t metaphysical, even if Christian belief makes it easier to spot. Indeed, I would say that the simple recognition of immaterial separate substances puts one more than halfway to creatio ex nihilo, since it shows that even immaterially separate substances, which exist eternally, still depend on another being for their existence.

    To put it another way, you said “A. only erred in identifying as the heavenly bodies when in fact they are the angels, a.k.a. ‘the intelligences.'” From my perspective, that’s the whole ball game; that is THE metaphysical error that engenders all the others. It is impossible that Aristotle “only” erred on this point, because an error on this point produces all the other errors that you cite. If you don’t recognize immaterial separate substances, then you don’t recognize that separate substances need an explanation qua subsistent. That’s why, e.g., Aristotle doesn’t see the need for the substratum (prime matter, say) to be created, even if it is eternal. All that needs to be explained is its motion, hence, his analysis of act and potency only extends to motion, even though he recognizes in principle that existence is not the same as essence, he doesn’t recognize the act of existence itself as something that requires explanation. And like you said, Aristotle knows that there is something wrong, but he knows the Platonists aren’t right either. From my perspective, it’s not a question of two paradoxical yet true accounts of the one and the many; it’s just that Plato made the first mistake, Aristole fixed that one on material substance but made a new one on immaterial substance, and St. Thomas fixed Aristotle’s error on immaterial substance.

    Sorry if I am giving you more grief than you deserve. I am just extremely concerned about the prevalence of Kantian presuppositional approaches in theology, as if there is some Christian “worldview” superior to atheist “worldviews” (a la Francis Schaeffer, Cornelius Van Til, et al.). Clearly, Christians know things that others do not, but there is much truth that anybody can know regardless of whether they know revelation or not. And I believe that God as subsistent existence is well within that grasp; YHWH simply reveals what we should have already known, and indeed, it is how we should recognize YHWH as God.

  33. mark thomas lickona says

    But it doesn’t appear that St. Thomas thinks that Aristotle’s understanding of being is therefore vitiated (e.g., Thomas agrees that there is no being but substance).

    It does indeed appear thus. Subsistent esse is not a substance–not even an infinite immaterial substance.

    The “whole ball game” is not Aristotle’s “mundane mistake of natural reason” concerning immaterial separate substances (i.e., whether there are any, whether such a substance could be infinite) because:

    1) A. did believe there were ISSs, namely the movers of the spheres, not to mention the PM, the unmoved mover of these movers;

    2) a) because A. would never, following “natural reason,” have made the move to an infinite ISS–not because revelation was needed, but because an “in-finite substance,” which is to say, an “in-finite form,” an “in-finite thing,” is a contradiction in terms (this is why A.’s arguments against “infinite as thing/substance” in Phys III, 5 succeed: if the infinite is an actual thing, it must be de-finite; indeed no-thing is infinite, not even God, but that’s because he’s not-a-thing);

    2) b) because, as I’ve said, St. Thomas has left “substance” behind in moving to subsistent esse, i.e., Being itself. For if SE/BI were a substance (i.e., an infinite ISS), then God would belong to the genus “substance.” But St. Thomas says God is beyond genus (check the cite i’ve already given). Indeed it only stands to reason (!) that BI would be beyond genus, since that’s where beings (things) belong, and that’s precisely what God (Being) is not.

    All that needs to be explained is…motion, hence, his analysis of act and potency only extends to motion, even though he recognizes in principle that existence is not the same as essence, he doesn’t recognize the act of existence itself as something that requires explanation.

    For reasons I’ve already spelled out by way of my (umpteenth) quotation from the Summa (Q. 45), if he ever thought existence needed explaining, he couldn’t have explained it in terms of act and potency. But of course he didn’t think it needed to be, and not because he didn’t recognize ISSs (he did), but because he didn’t recognize existence as (really) separable from essence/substance (which of course St. Thomas did, because he recognized Being itself, which is beyond substance)–i.e., A. was, finally, ontologically stuck on substance, on forms, on things, and that’s what the “whole ball game” really comes down to. (I think I’ve said this before.)

    Now why was Aristotle stuck and St. Thomas not? I’ve said that before too.

    The real question is: Why am I not tired yet?

    Actually, maybe I am.

  34. mark thomas lickona says

    P.S.: St. Thomas makes clear in Q. 7 a. 2 that there is no contradiction between denying the possibility of an “in-finite form/substance/thing” and the affirmation of immaterial substances (e.g., the angels). For while immaterial substances possess “formal infinity,” i.e., in-finitude relative to matter, yet they are indeed finite, i.e., of a determinate nature, a determinate mode of being. God, on the other hand, is not in any way finite, for he is not a (determinate) being, but Being itself, and is thus absolutely and not merely relatively (e.g., formally) infinite.

  35. mark thomas lickona says

    P.P.S.: In reviewing the structure of the Prima Pars, it doesn’t appear that St. Thomas gets his leg up on Aristotle re: being by any insight he has into immaterial separate substances. Rather the “five ways” are St. Thomas plunging right into the problem of existence, which leads to Being itself and participation of beings in it, with the question of immaterial finite beings as a matter to be investigated as a consequence of identifying the infinity of Being itself. In other words, immaterial separate substances are manifestly not his staring point for arriving at his more penetrating conclusions on Being relative to Aristotle, but rather they are a derivative consideration of the nature of existence (of Being). (Unless we have reason to believe that St. Thomas wouldn’t even have thought to frame the problem of existence in the way that he did without “inside information” on separated substances? Sounds like my point–only I would say that the “inside information” was on YHWH…)

    OK, hanging up now.

  36. mark thomas lickona says

    One more note on argumentative order:

    From what I can tell it’s more accurate to say that the way A. describes the PM is a logical (i.e., necessary) implication of the eternity of motion–which eternity is itself a logical implication of how A. describes motion itself–than to say that the eternity of motion is a premise that conditions (but might not have conditioned) how A. described the PM. In other words, the eternity of motion is neither A.’s “controlling” or “generative premise”–it’s A.’s description of motion itself.

    Now how does A. describe motion? As one thing acting on another thing–i.e., if anything is moving, there’s some-thing that existed before that movent’s motion to start it up (and one before that starter’s motion to start it), and there’s always some-thing existing at the end of a thing’s motion to stop it, if it ever stops (and some-thing after that “stopper” to stop it, if it ever stops)–so as far back or as far forward in time as you care to look, there’s always some-thing.

    So given the fact that any motion at any moment of any kind (including the stopping of motion, which is itself a kind of motion) means that there must always be some-thing acting on some-thing else, how is this always the case? Because of perishable things? No, because perishable things do not always exist. So it must be because of some imperishable (i.e., immaterial, separate) thing…

    …but this thing is still a thing. We don’t get beyond substance (things) with the Prime Mover, and this is because our fundamental working premise, namely “motion is one thing acting on another,” doesn’t get beyond things. But why is A.’s fundamental premise so limited? Is it because A. only cared about accounting for motion, not for existence? Actually, that’s not really accurate, because “coming into existence” and “going out of existence” are for A. also kinds of motion. In other words, the PM is most certainly an account of the existence of substances (i.e., their coming-to-be and passing-away)–but not an account of substantial existence itself, i.e., what does it mean for a substance, a thing, to “exist,” and how does any-thing (i.e., every-thing) exist at all?

    As I’ve suggested earlier, I think the limitations of A.’s metaphysics makes his demonstration of the termination of the series of (imperishable) movers inconclusive–in other words, his description of motion (including the motions of coming-to-be and passing-away), namely “one thing acts on another thing,” both logically requires the necessity of the eternity of motion and makes impossible arriving at a “first mover” (a “first thing”)–meaning that the “five ways,” if they succeed, can’t be recapitulations of Aristotle (how they are not is, again, another conversation). And how did St. Thomas “break out” of “substances/things” (so as to succeed where A. failed)? Because, I think, he was, as a Christian, able to accept both “poles” of the paradox of existence, i.e., both terms of the analogy of being (i.e., Being and beings, the latter of which, relative to Being, in which they participate, both “are” and “are not”).

  37. CrimsonCatholic says

    It’s odd that when I look at practically the same texts from the Prima Pars that you are citing, I come to the opposite conclusion. In particular, it looks to me as if St. Thomas does explain why Aristotle did not come to the same conclusion and that he does not attribute this to his understanding of being as such, but rather, to his notion of creation being identified with time such that he does not adequately account for ISSs and formal infinity.

    I would cite Q.7, a.1, ans. and RO 3, a. 3, ans. (“Now it is manifest that…”) and RO2; Q.44, a.1, RO2, a.2, RO1 and RO2; Q.45, a.2, RO2; Q.46, a.1, ans. and ROs 2, 3, and 7, a.3, RO2; and Q.47, a.3, RO1. In all of these instances, it appears that the problem is that Aristotle is looking at the reason for becoming while taking order and unity for granted rather than looking for a cause of the unity. Instead, Aristotle restricted himself to correcting defective explanations for the existence of motion (Q.46, a.1, ans.), rather than completely articulating the first principle in itself. Nonetheless, Aristotle affirms the existence of immanent unity (Q.47, a.3, RO1); he just doesn’t adequately explain it. Thus, he never actually makes the analogical use of act and potency that St. Thomas does in Q.45, a.2, Obj. 2 and RO 2.

    Now, your argument appears to be that Aristotle didn’t have this concept of analogy in the first place. But he seems to have recognized explicitly that his concept of explanation had extensions beyond pure application to motion, such as in mathematics (Q.44, a.1, Objs. 2 and 3 and ROs 2 and 3). The reason that Aristotle appears not to have made the extension is that he believed that he had a certain argument for the existence of matter and the celestial objects (Q.46, a. 1, RO3). It appears to be that St. Thomas considers his failure to investigate this matter that causes God’s formal infinity not to occur to him (Q.7, a.1).

    Now does St. Thomas say any of this outright? No. That is why I have to necessarily rely on an argument from silence; we are asking a question that St. Thomas does not appear to answer directly. But I can’t see where it is “embarrassingly wrong” at any rate. It explains why the Five Ways are innovations over Aristotle without being different in kind to his metaphysical method, rather than having an external source in Platonism or Christian revelation.

    But as I said, I think the real problem is this notion of “poles” in the “paradox of existence,” which I find to be a troubling concept at best and dangerously ambiguous at worst. “God is no particular and finite thing” seems relatively straightforward, and “God is the cause of all particular and finite things,” while metaphysically complicated, does not seem contradictory. There does not seem to be any contradiction implicit in “God’s mode of existence is the source of all other modes of existence.”

    Sorry for having been, and likely continuing to be, only sporadically available. I am on vacation, so I haven’t been in front of a computer much. Just wanted to let you know in case something else occurs to you in response to what I said.

  38. mark thomas lickona says

    Given where A. stops ontologically (substance), A. does indeed “completely articulate the first principle” of the cosmos of substances, with which cosmos the FP is continuous (!), namely the unmoved mover, which is indeed for A. an im-material (therefore separate) substance (as are the movers of the spheres), and which as a substance cannot be infinite (A. is not one of the ancient philosophers who regarded the first principle as infinite, but rather he rejects all their arguments in Phys iii, v); rather for A. the infinite only exists potentially, as in the (purely abstract) realm of mathematics. And if by “formal infinity” you mean what St. Thomas means by it, even FI wouldn’t have gotten A. to a (truly) “complete articulation of the first principle,” since God/Being itself is not formally infinite (i.e., infinite relative to matter) but absolutely infinite. And anyway, A. wouldn’t have had a problem with FI, since that’s precisely what his ISSs (the sphere-movers and the PM) would have.

    In other words, A. does not merely fail to go beyond motion, does not merely describe the first principle qua mover when he could have considered it “in itself.” For what more can be said of A.’s God “in itself” than that it is the perfect (i.e., the uniquely immaterial, unmoved, entirely actual) being? To say more, you’d have to move beyond “beings” (i.e., substances) to…(subsistent) Being. And why didn’t he? Well, what’s the alternative? How could you affirm the concrete reality of substances if you admitted anything like Plato’s transcendent, absolute Forms (or “unities”), such as Being seems to be? (BTW, not only does St. Thomas employ a notion of perfect, pre-“contracted” form in Q. 7 a. 1–which sounds very much like his affirmation of Ideas in Q. 15–but Aristotle’s affirmation that there is one unmoved mover is a far cry from the “immanent unity” of Being itself, as the PM only moves the most proximate mover immediately, but all subordinate movers mediately; here again is St. Thomas “letting A. talk.”) To affirm both positions would be contradictory, right? But then, perhaps it would only be an apparent contradiction, i.e., a paradox, for which St. Thomas’ “analogy of being” (i.e., the analogy between beings and Being, the participation of the former in the latter meaning that beings both “are” and “are not”) would uniquely account.

    Another weirdness in your cites: St. Thomas does not make any use, let alone “analogical use,” of “potency” and “act” in his description of creation in Q. 45–he subtracts them by “withdrawing” motion/change from the description! So how could A.’s “concept of explanation” have been “extended” to explain what only self-subsistent being can explain, namely the creation of everything, including matter (which is only ever con-created with form in the creation of every being), from nothing? Again, it’s because A. only acknowledged substances, only acknowledged “things moving other things,” that he only had (and could only have) generation of every-thing by/from some-thing else as an account for any-thing’s existence, as St. Thomas implies in Q. 46, a. 1, ad3. And “God’s mode of existence”?? How can existence itself “have” “a mode” of existence? And God’s “formal infinity”? He doesn’t have “formal infinity”! Read the quaestio! In general, I don’t see a single one of your cites as evidence of your account of Aristotle’s argumentative deficiency, or even of your description of St. Thomas’ position. So either I’m out of it or you are, and so whichever it is, I’m out of here.

  39. CrimsonCatholic says

    And if by “formal infinity” you mean what St. Thomas means by it, even FI wouldn’t have gotten A. to a (truly) “complete articulation of the first principle,” since God/Being itself is not formally infinite (i.e., infinite relative to matter) but absolutely infinite.

    One would have to distinguish quantitative formal infinity (like the infinity of number) from qualitative formal infinity (an infinite degree of power), which I don’t believe Aristotle does, but which St. Thomas does. God has qualitative formal infinity (which is what I think you mean by “absolutely infinite”), but not quantitative formal infinity. I agree that Aristotle did not believe there could be an actual formal infinity, and I agree that he (wrongly) considered such infinity as was possessed by the celestial bodies to be this sort of potential infinity. That was exactly the defective argument for the eternity of motion that he thought was certain, and therefore, he was never impelled to think of the need for a qualitative formal infinity. I don’t know what Aristotle would have done if he had, but it seems to me that St. Thomas thinks he would have obtained the right answer. But I am evidently not expressing this well at all, so I would offer Fran O’Rourke’s Pseudo-Dionysius and the Metaphysics of Thomas Aquinas, because O’Rourke says what I have been trying to say here better than I have apparently said it.

    So how could A.’s “concept of explanation” have been “extended” to explain what only self-subsistent being can explain, namely the creation of everything, including matter (which is only ever con-created with form in the creation of every being), from nothing?

    You just extend the various modalities of act to the idea of existence (absolute infinity/ absolute formal actuality) itself. That defines the act of existence, and both form and matter must exist.

    And God’s “formal infinity”? He doesn’t have “formal infinity”!

    He has a qualitatively infinite mode of existence (infinite degree of perfection). I don’t see why one needs to have the concept of subsistent being to understand that; one simply needs to understand what infinite act is. I don’t think Aristotle ever got there, but I don’t think that it was impossible for him to do so.

    Anyway, like you said, we appear to be so far apart that it’s difficult to have dialogue, so rather than trying to explain myself further, I’d just say to check out O’Rourke. Thanks for your patience, and bye for now.

  40. I got late, but there is something I don't understand: How is it possible to say that God is the being of creatures without entering wholeheartedly in pantheism?

  41. And, as declaration of principle, philosophy does not stop where Plato and Aristotle stopped, because Aquinas is a philosopher, and has a philosophy, the philosophy of being. Truly, historically speaking, it owes to the faith. But philosophically speaking, it stands on its own, tbat is, on reason.

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