Sunday, January 27, 2008

Alexander of Hales on the Angels and the Growth of Metaphysics

“What we have seen as the most salient weakness of William of Auxerre’s angelology emerges as the most noteworthy strength of the angelology of Alexander of Hales. His focus on the metaphysical status of angels is what gives his teaching its special character. In addition, that teaching makes it clear that, by the time Alexander had written his Glossa on the Sentences of Peter Lombard (1220-25), Aristotelian metaphysics has settled in for the duration and was informing the thought of scholastic theologicans not hitherto regarded as hospitable to this new philosophy. . . . Given their nature as purely spiritual beings, he asks, how can angels be understood as created substances? How can such beings be distinguished from the deity? And how can they have location? In answering these questions, Alexander shows his awareness of the fact that the term substantia is defined differently by different schools of philosophy. At the same time, the definition that clearly sets the terms of the debate, for him, is the Aristotelian one. He acknowledges the fact that angels, understood as simple and spiritual beings, simply do not square with the Aristotelian notion of creatures as substances made up of matter and form. He sees, and poses, this problem quite clearly. Given the philosophy of Aristotle, which he refuses to fudge, angels are a metaphysical anomaly; from an Aristotelian perspective, simplicity and pure spirituality would appear to be attributable to the deity alone. Alexander’s solution to this dilemma—and it is a solution that forecasts the essence-existence distinction applied to angels later in the century by Thomas Aquinas—is to invoke the distinction made by Boethius between the quo est, or essential character of being, and its quod est, or current manifestation of its being, which can differ in actuality from its quo est. This possibility extends to angels, and to all other creatures, while it does not apply to God . . .”

--Colish, M. “Early Scholastic Angelology,” Recherches de théologie et philosophie médiévales 62 (1995), 106-107.

7 comments:

Lee Faber said...

Interesting. Dietrich refuses to identify the "intelligences" of the philosophers with the christian angels, and leaves them as separate classes of intellects per se.

Lee Faber said...

I've been starting to think lately that I should probably get a hold of the summa Halensis and read it.

Michael said...

Yeah, right after you finish Bonaventure's In Sententiarum.

Lee Faber said...

you didn't have to go there, man.

Michael said...

After the smackdown you gave me on the predestination thread, I most certainly had to.

Taylor Marshall said...

Lee,

I'd love to read a post on the individuation of angels in Scotus. Have you written one?

Taylor Marshall

Lee Faber said...

Taylor,

I'm afraid I haven't gotten around to it yet. Eventually i will, but in the meantime see Ord. II d. 2. Scotus has some interesting comments about how, contra Aquinas, angels and humans have the same kind of intellect.