Monday, November 12, 2007

Fr. Emery on Thomas on Spiritual Matter

Here's one for Michael, from Gilles Emery, OP, "Trinity, Church, and the Human Person". A collection of essays we are reading through the ethics and culture center (all translations, often awkward, from Emery's original french).

"By definition, form is act. This definition excludes the possibility of any matter entering into the composition of the soul itself, as was suggested by St. Bonaventure, among others. Following the Jewish philosopher Avicebron, and more distantly, St. Augustine, the Franciscan master effectively taught that the soul contains some kind of matter, a spiritual matter (materia spiritualis) that bears witness to its creataurely status. St. Thomas criticizes this conception of the soul for its metaphysical inconsistency. Since the soul is created, it includes composition: a composition not of matter and form, but of essence and participated existence. Like every creature, its essence (what it is) is not identical with its exiwtence, which it receives from God at the moment of creation."

This is in an essay on the unicity of the substantial form in Thomas. Like all of Fr. Emery's essays, its framed within contemporary debate; the point is that Thomas doesn't fall prey to contemporary claims that posit a dichotomy between dualism and biblical wholism (ie, various protestants). Once again, we learn that Thomas really is relevant in today's world. Emery is better than most Thomist scholars, despite the criticisms (far more extensive than what i've whined about before), in that he at least mentions the fact that there were other theologians than st. Thomas, and sometimes even quotes them in latin. But there're ultimately just the frame for Thomas's greatness. The usual tedious historiographical tale. I'm still reading the essay, and so far Emery hasn't mentioned the Eucharist, one of the fault lines in which the unicity thesis is shown to be implausible. One also wonders what St. Thomas would have made of organ transplants; the organ is still alive, but removed from the body which is actualized by the single substantial form. I am tempted to say that the only options are substantial form and form of the corpse. Presumably the latter, as it is a form and therefore has some actuality that might continue on in an organ separated from its original body, though being taken into a second body seems problematic. All in all, the Scotist line seems easier to maintain, with various bodily organs, bones, CNS, being separate forms of some kind, all ordered in potency-act relations to higher forms until you reach the rational soul at the top. An organ removed from this setup would have its own actuality once separated from the chain.

separate question: does Thomas think that the intellect is active, functioning (ie, are we thinking) at all times?


Michael said...

Emery is right that Bonaventure is metaphysically inconsistent given Thomistic definitions. Of course, Bonaventure has different conceptions about the nature of form and matter than Thomas does, and is plenty consistent on his own terms.

Lee Faber said...

It's the usual line in these essays. The shadowy Franciscans are brought up as straw men for Thoms to beat down. Fr. Emery does quote Bonaventure from time to time, though in the text i quoted he refers to the question on the soul, not the one in d. 2 where he gives a more rigorous argument.

But yes, most of what Emery says about Thomas only makes sense if one accepts all of Thomas's first principles about essence and existence, etc.

But at least he is aware of other medieval thinkers besides Thomas.