Friday, November 30, 2007

This Just In-Unicity of Substantial Form Condemned!

Well, according to Roger Marston. Here's a quote I came across in Gilson's history but haven't been able to track down the latin. This is a quote from one of Roger Marston's Quodlibets, reporting an incident that Gilson thinks happened around 1270. p. 417

"I was in Paris, and I heard it with my own bodily ears, at the inception of the Precentor of Peronne, before master Gerard of Abbeville, in the presence of brother Thomas Aquinas, of brother John of Peckham and of about twenty-four other doctors in sacred theology, when this opinion was solemnly excommunicated as contrary to the teaching of the Saints, particularly of Augsutine and Anselm, as was made manifest by the opposition."

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Avicebron on the Vastness of the Intelligible World

Et omnino debes ut cum uolueris imaginari has substantias, et qualiter tua essentia est diffusa in illis et qualiter est comprehendens illas, ut erigas tuum intellectum ad ultimum intelligibile et ut purges eum et mundicifes ab omni sorde sensibilis et ut expedias illum a captiuitate naturae et ut accedas cum ui intelligentiae ad ultimum quod tibi possibile est apprehendere de certitudine substantiae intelligibilis, donec quasi denuderis a substantia sensibili et fias quasi ignarus eius. et tunc quasi includes totum mundum corporalem intra tuam essentiam et pones eum quasi in uno angulorum animae tuae; quia quando hoc feceris, tunc intelliges minoritatem sensibilis secundum magnitudinem intelligibilis.

"And when you want to imagine these [spiritual] substances, and how your essence is diffused in them and how it comprehends them, you ought to lift your intellect to the ultimate intelligible and purge it and purify it from every coarse sensible thing and loose it from the captivity of nature, and so that you may draw near with the power of intelligence to the ultimate thing which it is possible for you to apprehend of the certitude of intelligible substance, until as it were you may be stripped of every sensible substance and may be as it were unaware of them. And then as it were you will include the whole corporeal world within your own essence and will hold it to be as it were in one corner of your soul; for when you do this, then you will understand the littleness of the sensible world compared to the magnitude of the intelligible."

Avicebron, Fons vitae Tr. III.56.

Monday, November 26, 2007

Bridges on Petrus Thomae

Here's a quote, mostly for Michael, about Petrus Thomae. Not terribly flattering, perhaps. But probably worth editing (and besides; all his treatises are short which is good since I want some experience before jumping into, say Richard of Middleton or William of Ware)

Bridges on Petrus Thomae, from Identity and Distinction in Petrus Thomae OFM
p. v-vi:
“Petrus Thomae, as he emerges from oblivion, is seen to be within the shadow of Duns Scotus. The scope of his work, the brilliance of his mind both suffer by comparison. In relation to Scotus Petrus Thomae is a minor figure. Yet he takes on importance from the fact that he is an immediate successor of Scotus, one of the first links after Scotus in the chain of the Franciscan tradition in theology and philosophy. He reflects the doctrine of Scotus and at times contributes to a better understanding of the Subtle Doctor. But as the structure and design of the doctrine of Petrus Thomae is uncovered, it is found that his doctrinal edifice is more than a reproduction by less skilled hands of the architectural masterpiece that Scotus designed and executed. Masterpiece though Scotus’ work was, it nevertheless was not perfect and complete in every detail. No philosophy to date has been, nor, I think, will any philosophy in the course of human life and progress be perfect beyond perfecting. The scope of reality is too vast, the depths to be searched too profound, for any single mind to comprehend and expound completely and perfectly. But there are outstanding men who appear from time to time who open up new insights and push human understanding onward. John Duns Scotus was one such, to remain close to the man we propose to study. He not only reached new understanding and insight himself, but he inspired and directed his followers to new advances. Petrus Thomae was one of the first who launched out into original speculation under the inspiration of Duns Scotus.

There would appear to be two types of mind bent upon philosophy. One might be called the passive mind, which approaches the philosophy developed by another and expends its full capacity in understanding. The majority of a great philosoher’s disciples are endowed with this type of mind. The other type of mind has over and above this understanding the gift of insight, the active ability to advance beyond what it has learned from others. And this is most truly the philosophical mind. Petrus Thomae had some of this gift. He was not as richly endowed as Scotus; but he did have the ability not only to assimilate what Scotus taught him, whether personally or through his works, and not only to assay critically other philosohies and attakcs upon his own or his master’s position, but he had a certain amount of that philosophical insight, that active ability to go on where others had pointed but had not read.

The man this study presents, then, is not only a mirror of Scotistic philosophy; he is a philosopher in the fullest sense. This is not to say, however, that he is an outstanding philosopher. His gift is not of the order of a Scotus; that much is certain. But much more must be uncovered in the history of Franciscan thought before a final estimate of his true stature and importance can be made.

p. 174:
“Ordinarily Scotus is considered to have a style difficult of comprehension. Much of this difficulty comes from a technical terminology and a closeness of reasoning. Once this terminology is mastered it becomes easier to follow the line of reasoning. But even then thought always takes precedence over style. In comparsion to Scotus, it must be said that Peter often shows less clarity. It is true that this is not as readily perceived in the more carefully thought out works. But in the other works, even when paraphrasing the thought of Scotus there is no improvement. Of course one must remember that no critical edition of Peter’s work is available. Until such is available it will be impossible to judge how much of this difficulty is due to Peter and how much to successive scribes. But even after a critical editoin is published I believe that it will be evident that Scotus possessed the clearer, sharper, more penetrating mind; but that Peter, one of the first of his disciples, is far from the least of them.”

Sunday, November 25, 2007

The Solemnity of Our Lord Christ the King

Rex tremendae maiestatis
qui salvandos salvas gratis,
salva me, fons pietatis

King of tremendous majesty
Who saves those to be saved for free,
Save me, fount of piety.

Not that it's my business casting judgment (I am after all a creatura judicanti responsura), but most of the changes to our Church Caledar made some decades back seem pointless or worse. Ordinary Time, anyone? I think there's an exception to be made, however, for today's feast. November being the month of meditation upon death, of prayer for the faithful dead and for hearing Requiems, as well as the end of the Liturgical year, ending it a celebration of the Crucified God's kingship over all creation seems eminently fitting. Send the year out with a bang, not a whimper! Not only that, but it provides an excellent transition into the next year and perhaps points out some often-overlooked points. Advent is, of course, the season of purification anticipating Christimas, but with Christmas being more and more hyped up every year, Advent's eschatological dimension seems more and more rarely noticed. Its function is not simply to help us spiritually recapitulate old Israel's waiting and longing for the Messiah's first advent, but also the heighten and make explicit our anticipation of the second. Today's Solemnity seems to tie together November's liturgical focus with December's, and help us to make our Advent not only an anticipation of Christmas, but also an anticipation of our own death, judgment, resurrection, and (hopefully) participation in Christ's kingship of the universe.

That's all my preaching for today. We can all get back to our liturgical griping now.

The Finitude of Trinitarian Persons

Now that I have finished two of my three major papers for the semester I have gone back to studying for exams. In the middle of a detailed series of questions on the nature of the status of the accidents in the Eucharist following the conversion (in which Scotus argues that inherence is not part of the essence of an accident, and that therefore accidents inhere only by a further addition of inherence, which leads to a twofold distinction of accidents into accidens intrinsecus adveniens and accidens extrinsecus adveniens), I came across the following quote in which the subtle doctor argues for that the Trinitarian persons are finite. This view of course as far as I can tell is the standard view; having come from an almost non-creedal (at least in the traditional sense of creed...they were quite fond of the 'no creed but the bible' line although they held numerous extra-biblical doctrines) branch of Christianity I found this fact quite surprising, but it does make sense once one thinks about it. The persons are finite in the sense that one is not the other; they themselves are the boundaries of the others.

Incidentally, In all this reading on the Eucharist I have gotten quite the dialectical experience. I started with Thomas. But in the Leonine edition the text of Thomas is accompanied by that of Cajetan's commentary, most of which is simply an attack on Scotus and Durandus. Moving to Scotus, however, one finds that his text is printed next to 16th or 17th century commentaries, who spend a lot of time attacking Cajetan and the Thomists. So it makes for exciting reading.

In any case, here is what Scotus says about the Trinity.

Ordinatio IV d. 12 q. 2 (Wadding XVII 574-5):
"...nulla enim perfectione formaliter infinita caret aliqua persona divina, quia tunc non esset simpliciter perfecta; sed quaelibet caret aliqua relatione originis; ergo nulla relatio est formaliter infinita, et hoc patet ex ratione perfectionis simpliciter, quia secundum Anselmum Monol. 15 'Est illud quod in quolibet melius est ipsum quam non ipsum' non autem potest relatio esse simpliciter nobilior suo opposito, quia relativa sunt simul natura."

translation: For a person does not lack some formally infinite perfection, because then he would not then be absolutely perfect; but whichever person does lack a relation of origin. Therefore no relation of origin is formally infinite, and this is clear from the definition of perfection unqualifiedly, because according to Anselm in chapter 15 of the Monologium "[perfection] is that which it is better to have than not to have"; relation, however, cannot be unqualifiedly more nobler than its opposite, because relatives are simultaneous in nature

Saturday, November 24, 2007

Peter Olivi on Aristotle

Not all scholastics, nor even Franciscans, had the same stance on how much authority or philosophical deference to give to the pagan philosophers. Scotus, Ockham, or Gonsalvus Hispanus, for instance, all of whom wrote commentaries on Aristotle, clearly held the Philosopher in very high regard, even while being willing to disagree with him. Olivi, on the other hand, although his positions on many subjects anticipate Scotus and are as a rule in line with the general Franciscan tradition, claims not to give a fig for Aristotle--even while quoting him and taking his arguments into consideration. The other day I came across these rather harsh remarks:

Aristoteles etiam non hic videtur ibi sentire, licet mihi non sit cura quid hic vel alibi senserit; cuius enim auctoritas et cuiuslibet infidelis et idolatrae mihi est nulla, et maximae in iis quae sunt fidei christianae aut multum ei propinquam.

"Aristotle also does not seem to think this way about this matter, although it's of no concern to me what he thought about this or anything else, whose authority (as that of any infidel and idolator) is nothing to me, and especially in those matters which belong to the Christian faith or touch nearly on it."

Ad decimum dicendum quod christiano viro sola scriptura sacra et fides catholica debet esse in robor et culmen auctoritatis; et ideo posito quod omnes pagani falso dicti philosophi contrarium senserint aut aliqui eorum, non est mihi cura.

"To the tenth argument it should be said that for a Christian man only the scriptures and the Catholic faith ought to be the core and summit of authority, and therefore even if all the pagan so-called philosophers thought the contrary, or some of them, it does not concern me."

--Peter John Olivi. Quastiones in secundum librum Sententiarum, ed. B. Jansen (Bibliotheca Franciscana Scholastica Medii Aevi 4-6), 3 vol. Quaracchi: Ad Claras Aquas, 1922, 1924, 1926. v. 1, Quaestio XVI.

Friday, November 23, 2007

C.S. Lewis on John Jewel (1522-71)

"One of Jewel's very minor works in Latin, the early Oratio contra Rhetoricam would be of great literary interest if we could be sure that it was seriously intended. We should have to salute a man who stood almost alone in maintaining that rhetorical study is a total waste of time, that rhetoricians are neither better understood nor more believed than natural speakers, and that an art which bad causes need far more than good ones is the ruin of states. The Oratio has been so taken by an eminent scholar, but I cannot agree with him. What first awakes suspicion is the absence of all arguments drawn from religion. Its whole atmosphere is that of literary paganism. And towards the end we find a passage which, from such a man at such a date, must surely be ironical. It might be translated thus:

Our owne country men not many yeares sithence whan they had no shadowe, I saie not of eloquence but of verie Latine and clene language, whan Cicero lay despised and scorned in kennels and darke corners and Scotus blocked vp the gate and entrie of all the scholes, how well learned neuerthelater, of how sharpe iudgment in philosophie, how graue in diuinity they were esteemde? Oh blessed vniversitie! Oh the goode worlde! For than naught might be done against oure sentence, than might we make peace and warre and stirre vp tumultes and sette prynces by the eares.

What can this be but an insinuation that none could seriously attack (as Jewel has been ostensibly attacking) the new Ciceronianism, unless he were a Papist and a scholastic? The whole Oratio is a laboured academic joke of the kind not then uncommon. Jewel was no more seriously condemning rhetoric than Erasmus was seriously praising folly."

--English Literature in the Sixteenth Century Excluding Drama, 306-307

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Scotus and Universal Hylomorphism

This topic is somewhat enigmatic; the twentieth century historical-critical scholarship on the topic is agreed that Scotus denies spiritual matter, while nineteenth-century, based on the false attribution of the De rerum principio, assumed he held to it. The usual contemporary claim, example below (from the online Standford encyclopedia article on Scotus by Thomas Williams), is that the doctrine is denied in Lectura II d. 12; when I read this passage I found it not to be the case. But it is a sort of dogma in the scholarship at the moment. What I have seen is that Scotus generally refers to it when it comes up as "alia opinio" and may mention strengths/weaknesses it has, but doesn't definitively reject or hold it.

Second, Scotus denies "universal hylemorphism," the view that all created substances are composites of form and matter (Lectura 2, d. 12, q. un., n. 55). Universal hylemorphism (from the Greek hyle, meaning ‘matter’, and morphe, meaning ‘form’) had been the predominant view among Franciscans before Scotus. Saint Bonaventure, for example, had argued that even angels could not be altogether immaterial; they must be compounds of form and "spiritual matter." For matter is potentiality and form is actuality, so if the angels were altogether immaterial, they would be pure actuality without any admixture of potentiality. But only God is pure actuality. But as we have already seen in his affirmation of the existence of prime matter, Scotus simply denies the unqualified equation of matter with potentiality and form with actuality. Prime matter, though entirely without form, is actual; and a purely immaterial being is not automatically bereft of potentiality.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007


On that note...try this gem from Milbank. I won't subject it to the usual ridicule. The Cambridge Phantasists are clearly committed to a hyper-negative theology, almost as a first principle. So of course they won't like the ten lines Scotus devotes to criticizing negative theology.

Milbank, "Beauty and the Soul" in Theological perspectives on God and Beauty, p. 3:

"In the High Middle Ages, the possibility and experience of seeing the invisible in the visible, or of seeing the invisible as invisible (this is the necessary other aspect), was generally assumed and pervaded life, art and understanding. Therefore, there was no specific discipline of "aesthetics," which only arose in the eighteenth century. Beauty took care of herself.

By contrast, one mark of modernity is that we still, indeed, acknowledge the invisible, yet we only stand on its brink, and only acknowledge it as unknown. We continue to see the invisible as invisibile, but we have lost the counterpoint: seing the invisible in the visible. In consequence, we only see the invisible as visible in the sense that we are blinded by it: seing what we see when we close our eyes. Bedazzlement now no longer betokens an excess of saturated form. Thus Duns Scotus's famous rebuke to Dionysius: Negationes etiam non summe amamus misunderstands, certainly, the Dionysian hyper-positive divine provocation of negation of our highest conceptions (even of divinity itself) yet may apply, indeed, to the modern cult of the sublime. Without this cult, we moderns remain agnostic concerning the unknown; with this cult, we hypostaize and consecrate the unknownness as the force of nullity."

Not terribly interesting, to be sure, and totally out of context (a charge which I often accuse "them" of); but I was tickled by the passage as it is one of my favorite quotes from Duns Scotus, a passage which I incorporated into my recent Derrida paper. Like Scotus, and obviously under his influence, I am becoming more and more critical of negative theology. And participation as well, for that matter.


Barrett Wendell, in his admirable book on writing, points out that clearness and vividness often turn on mere specificity. To say that Major André was hanged is clear and definite; to say that he was killed is less definite, because you do not know in what way he was killed; to say that he died is still more indefinite because you do not even know whether his death was due to violence or to natural causes. If we were to use this statement as a varying symbol by which to rank writers for clearness, we might, I think, get something like the following: Swift, Macaulay, and Shaw would say that André was hanged. Bradley would say that he was killed. Bosanquet would say that he died. Kant would say that his mortal existence achieved its termination. Hegel would say that a finite determination of infinity had been further determined by its own negation.

--Blanshard, "On Philosophical Style"

Scotus is obscure, but he's not obscure like that.

Sunday, November 18, 2007


Here's a quote from his 1968 essay Differance:

“Différance is not only irreducible to any ontological or theological--ontotheological--reappropriation, but as the very opening of the space in which ontotheology--philosophy--produces its system and its history, it includes ontotheology, inscribing it and exceeding it without return.”

Friday, November 16, 2007

Sokolowski on Necessity and Scotus

From Fr. Sokolowksi's Eucharistic Presence, p. 47-48. A book I found rather disappointing, mainly for its rather uncritical reliance on Thomas's metaphysics of eucharistic conversion. But he does touch on matters of interest here on this blog.

"In biblical belief, the whole, which is so dense and final outside biblical revelation, is now seen as existing 'contingently' and God is seen as existing 'necessarily.' But when we make this transposition, we must avoid thinking that the domain of the necessary in the world is now somehow dissolved, that everything worldly is diluted into the worldly contingent. [there follows a diagram I am omitting]

To turn everything in the world into the contingent in this way would be to equate the contingency that marks the world as a whole with the contingency that is found as part of the world. The consequence of such a confusion, of course, would be another confusion regarding necessity; the necessity by which God exists would be equated with the necessity that is part of the world, and the divine choice to create would be assimilated to events that take place within the contingent domain of the world. God's choice would then appear as a 'merely contingent' event and would take on the quality of being arbitrary. Cajetan criticzes Scotus for making this mistake. He says, 'How uncultivated and upstart (quam rudis et novus) is Scotus's way of speaking...when he calls the divine will 'the first contingent cause.' It is nefarious (fas quippe non est) to speak of contingency in the divine will.' All such confusions follow if the shifting senses of necessity and contingncy are not clearly recognized.

We must also observe that the metaphysical categories found in Aristotle and other pagan philosophers, and the patterns of thought found in natural religion, must be transposed into analogies when taken into Christian discourse and Christian metaphysics. It is not just that we have to add new categories or new names; the old names have to be newly understood. 'Necessity' and 'contingency,' 'divine' and 'worldly,' take on a transposed sense. And the issue that helps us determinte the new, analogous senses is the issue of how the world and God are to be understood: although the world does obviously exist, it might not have existed, with no lessening of the perfection of being, since God would still be in undiminished goodness and

Note the similar uncritical reliance on the lesser light of Cajetan here, that figure which so aggravates contemporary Thomists, either for or against. From what I've read in his commentary on the Summa I have not been terribly impressed. Apparently if one wants to read good Thomistic analysis of Scotus one must go to Capreolus, who in some fashion demonstrated (according to a dominican I was reading some time ago) the way in which one can be begin with the concept of a creature and move through it to a concept of God that is analogous (ie, getting around one of Scotus's arguments, either two or three, for the necessity of univocity to ground theological discourse and avoid equivocity).

The obvious reply to the Sokolowski passage is to point out Scotus's notion of the disjunctive transcendentals, in which the entirety of being is divided into either necessary or contingent. God of course falls on the necessary side, creation on the contingent; this is perhaps similar to Sokolowski's presentation of the biblical view. Yet Scotus is also concerned to safeguard divine freedom; to deny that God creates contingently is to leave the door open (if not to positively embrace) for the claim (inspired by the arab philosophers, et al.) that God creates necessarily, the problem for the intellectualist/Thomist view. So it seems Scotus can both affirm that God is necessary being and that he is the first contingent cause (recall Scotus's rejection of the Aristotelian proposition "omne quod movetur, ab alio movetur"). This is not to say God's will acts alone without reference to anything else (I suspect that this what 'arbitrary' means in discussions like this), but in his view intellect and will are essentially ordered co-causes of volitional acts.

Now, Sokolowski wasn't making a particularly rigorous criticism of Scotus, and it is somewhat unfair to single him out, but it illustrates a further point I have been pondering lately. Note that Sokolowski's comments are basically all Thomistically-inspired. Much of his book is Thomism with a phenomenological gloss. I on the other hand, am philosophically and personally committed to the positions of Duns Scotus. Both are widely divergent systems of explaining facts about the world as well as elements of the deposit of faith. Both (and this is one of my purposes in maintaining this blog) are positions that catholics can hold. So what does one do with this fact that they contradict? Gloss over the contradictions, or simply try to reduce one system to heresy (the Garrigou-Lagrange method0? Garrigou-Lagrange once wrote that since they contradict, they can't both be true (PNC). But their basic arguments about a given area of philosophy or theology all depend on principles higher up the chain till one reaches their first principles (which I think differ as well, unless one wants to posit the depost of faith as the first principle). Much of what happens in the literature, scholarly or otherwise, is simply to analyze the opposing school through the lens of the one one accepts, and obviously it won't come off making sense. I'm not advocating relativism here, as I do think one of these systems is largely more correct than the other. But the problem isn't new with me, either. This is what really can be called the "dissolution of scholasticism," which happened in the 15th-16th centuries (I am unclear if the the late 14th century was involved, though it seems to be prior to the "second scholasticism" represented by Suarez and spanish Thomism). At the end of the middle ages we have a situation where there were four viae, being of the nominalists, the Scotists, the Thomists and the Albertists, all of whom had different first principles (so the claim is; very very little scholarship has been done on this), and simply stopped debating each other. Everything was conducted within the respective school, and university legislation was passed to keep out rival schools. I would like to think that this is a purely contingent historical accident not related to philosophy itself or the philosophies of the schools, but am not sure. I suppose I should study and try to figure out in practice what the first principles really are, and if they are incompatible. Thoughts anyone?

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?

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Scotus on the Sabbath

Here's a short quote I came across yesterday, from a discussion about whether the ten commandments are part of the natural law. The answer is yes, albeit in different ways (the fact that God has at certain times dispensed people from the second table makes it probelmatic). Scotus distinguishes two ways in which something can be part of the natural law: as practical principles are known to be necessarily true from knowledge of their terms, and as being highly consonant to these per se nota propositions. The first table is part of natural law in the first way; the first two precepts being have no other Gods and do not take the name of the Lord in vain. The third precept, the sabbath, is problematic, and may actually be of the second table. The second table is part of the natural law in the second way, as it is highly consonant with it, but it does not necessarily follow as it is about contingent things. Somewhere I remember reading that the items of the first table have the divine nature as their object and so are necessary, while those of the second look to contingent matters.

So in the long run, this question of Scotus has nothing to do with Sabbath-Sunday debates (which turn on Church authority and very early church history, anway) currently played out among those who dialogue with groups such as the Seventh-Day Adventists.

In other news, while reading a question on the connection of the moral virtues, Scotus repeated the traditional claim that virtues can only be formed by repeated acts consonant with right reason. His "voluntarism" is of an entirely different nature than the Cambridge phantasists and Fr. Schall deign to report.

Ordinatio III d. 37 q. un. n. 21:

"The third precept of the first table, which is of observing the sabbath, is affirmative as far as to showing some worship to God at a determinate time; but as far as to the determination of this time or that, it is not part of the law of nature strictly speaking. Likewise, neither is it of the law of nature strictly speaking asf ar as to the other part, the negative, which is included there, by which a servile act is prohibited, for a determinate act, prohibiting one from then showing worship to God: for that act is not prohibted unless because it is impeding or holding back from that worship which is commanded.

n. 24: if however this third commandment is not of the law of nature strictly, then it should be judged about it, with respect to this, just as of the commandments of the second table."

Friday, November 9, 2007

Conventional History

Here's a tiresome discussion, illustrative mainly of the sorts of ideas still floating about outside of the few scholars who actually read Scotus. These quotes are from a history of philosophy The Mediaeval Mind, A History of the Development of Thought and Emotion in the Middle Ages, by Henry Osborn Taylor in Two Volumes, Volume II., MacMillan Co., New York, 1911; pp. 509-524. From

A note from the end:

"In discussing Duns Scotus, I have given less from his writings than has been my wont with other philosophers. And for two reasons. The first, as I frankly avow, is that I have read less of him than I have of his predecessors. With the exception of such a curious treatise as the (doubtful) Grammatica speculativa (tome i. of the Paris edition); and the elementary, and comparatively lucid, De rerum prinipio (tome iv. of the Paris edition) — with these exceptions Duns is to me unreadable. My second reason for omitting excerpts from his writings, is that I wished neither to misrepresent their quality, nor to cause my reader to lay down my book, which is heavy enough anyhow! If I selected lucid and simple extracts, they would give no idea of the intricacy and prolixity of Duns. His commentary on the Sentences fills thirteen tomes of the Paris edition! No short and simple extract will illustrate that! On the other hand, I could not bring myself by lengthy or impossible quotations to vilify Duns. It is unjust to expose a man’s worst features, nakedly and alone, to those who do not know his better side and the conditions which partly explain the rest of him."

And the beginning:

"The opening years of the fourteenth century, so fatal for the papacy, were also portentous for scholasticism. The Summa of Thomas was impugned by Joannes Duns Scotus, whose entire work, constructive as well as critical, was impressed with qualities of finality, signifying that in the forms of reasoning represented by him as well as Thomas, thought should advance no farther. Bacon’s attack upon scholastic methods had proved abortive from its tactlessness and confusion, and because men did not care for, and perhaps did not understand, his arguments. It was not so with the arguments of Duns Scotus. Throughout the academic world, thought still was set to chords of metaphysics; and although men had never listened to quite such dialectic 510 orchestration as Duns provided, they liked it, perceived its motives, and comprehended the meaning of its themes. So his generation understood and appreciated him. That he was the beginning of the end of the scholastic system, could not be known until the manner of that ending had disclosed itself more fully. We, however, discern the symptoms of scholastic dissolution in his work. His criticism of his predecessors was disintegrating, even when not destructive. His own dialectic was so surpassingly intricate and dizzy that, like the choir of Beauvais, it might some day collapse. With Duns Scotus, scholasticism reasoned itself out of human reach. And finally with him also, the wholeness of the scholastic purpose finally broke. For he no longer maintained the union of metaphysics and theology. The latter, to be sure, was valid absolutely; but, from a speculative, it has become a practical science. It neither draws its principles from metaphysics, nor subordinates the other sciences, — all human knowledge — to its service. Although rational in content, it possesses proofs stronger than dialectic, and stands on revelation.


There had always been men who maintained similar propositions. But it was quite another matter that the severance between metaphysics and theology should be demonstrated by a prodigious metaphysical theologian after a different view had been carried to its farthest reaches by the great Aquinas. Henceforth philosophy and theology were set on opposite pinnacles, only with theology’s pinnacle the higher. In spite of the last circumstance, the coming time showed that men cannot for long possess in peace two standards of truth — philosophy and revelation; but will be driven to hold to the one and ignore the other. By breaking the rational union of philosophy and theology, Duns Scotus prepared the way for Occam. The latter also asserts vociferously the superiority of the divine truth over human knowledge and its reasonings. But the popes are at Avignon, and the Christian world no longer bows down before those willing Babylonian captives. Under such a blasted condition of the Church, how should any inclusive Christian synthesis of thought and faith be maintained?


Having thus tested whatever was presented by human reason, and accepting what was declared by Scripture or the Church, Duns proceeds to build out his doctrine as the case may call for. No man ever drove either constructive logic or the subtilties of critical distinctions closer to the limits of human comprehension or human patience than Duns Scotus. And here lies the trouble with him. The endless ramification and refinement of his dialectic, his devious processes of conclusion, make his work a reductio ad absurdum of scholastic ways of reasoning. Logically, eristically, the argumentation is inerrant. It never wanders aimlessly, but winding and circling, at last it reaches a conclusion from some point unforeseen. Would you run a course with this master of the syllogism? If you enter his lists, you are lost. The right way to attack him, is to stand without, and laugh. That is what was done afterwards, when whoever cared for such reasonings was called a Dunce, after the name of this most subtle of mediaeval metaphysicians."

Thursday, November 8, 2007

Festum: Continuatio

Quotidiana B. I. Scoti Commemoratio

O Doctor Subtilissime, Ioannes, qui Deiparae Custos fidus fuisti; quamque Adam non foedaverat, Immaculatam clarius tu primus perpexisti; nostri tuam da mentibus doctrinam datam coelitus ad Matris laudem Christi.
v. Protege nos, Virgo praeservata ab omni macula.
R. Ut liberati a peccatis omnibus, per te perveniamus ad Praeservatorem tuum.


Deus, qui per Immaculatam Virginis conceptionem dignum Filio tuo habitaculum praeparasti: et qui per hoc lucis mysterium Seraphicam S. Francisci Religionem illustrare, atque in ea gloriosum Doctorem Subtilem Ioannem Scotum mirificare dignatus es: praesta quaesumus; ut qui ex morte Filii Mariae praevisa, eam ab omni labe praeservasti, nos quoque mundos eius intercessione ad te pervenire concedas. Per eumdem Christum Dominum nostrum. Amen.

Festum beati Ioannis Duns Scoti

Today's the day, folks, the anniversary of the death of the subtle doctor. He died on November 8, 1308 in Cologne, where his body still lies in the Minorite church. Sadly, despite the copious entries in Schafer's Bibliographia of prayers, songs, etc. composed in honor of Duns Scotus, I cannot post any as they are all from nineteenth and early twentieth-century journals that Notre Dame does not carry. So in honor of the feast (well, it's more of an optional memorial) I am reposting the previous post of prayers for his canonization.

O Most Holy Trinity, Who exalts the humble and confuses the proud,
You Who grant gifts of wisdom and charisms of holiness
To the simple ones of heart, Graciously sanctified your servant,
Blessed John Duns Scotus,
By His Holiness John Paul II on March 20, 1993,
"Doctor Subtilis" of the Order of Friars Minor.
For through him you first realized the Immaculate Mother of God;
Openly defending her exemption from Original Sin.
He modeled his life on that of Jesus Christ, Intensely loving Him and bravely serving Him
Through the apostolate of science; Illuminating, with humility and simplicity,
To all people the mysteries of the Faith, And showing heroic fidelity
To the Church and the Pope. Through Christ our Lord. Amen.

(Prayer for the canonization of Blessed John Duns Scotus:)
Glory be to the Father, etc. (3 times)
Most Blessed Trinity, glorify Your Servant Blessed John Duns Scotus, The defender of the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary. We beg you, hear us!

Tuesday, November 6, 2007

Odd Remark of Brentano

Sadly, the time has come to replace Michael's serious research post. That's Robert Brentano in the title, of The Two Churches, a study of England and Italy in the Thirteenth century. Not terribly exciting, but he did furnish me with an odd, humerous quote:
p. 229: "And although the thirteenth century was not the golden age of the relic, Thomas Aquinas, lying on his deathbed at Fossanova, thinking his last syllogism, can hardly have been unaware of eyes contemplating his body, minds thinking what a splendid relic he was about to become."
Scotus's feast day approaches, so I'll try to rustle up some poetry in his honor, or at least a prayer. I promise not to post on various oratorio's or comedies (yes, that's right...see Schafer's Bibliography for details) composed in his honor.

Friday, November 2, 2007

Some Free Research

Here are some of the fruits of today's research. I offer it here because it may (or may not) be of interest to any of the Smithy's readers, and is otherwise not easy to find.

Richard of Middleton. Commentarium super quartum Sententiarum. Venice: Bonetus Locatellus, 1499.

II. Sent. dist. III art. 1 q.1. In discussing the nonsimplicity of the angels Richard asks first whether the angels are composed of essence and existence. He concludes that in a certain respect they are, but not in a way that precludes or renders unnecessary a composition of the angelic essence from matter and form.

“Respondeo quod eo modo quo essentia angeli et suum esse differunt, est ibi compositio ex essentia et esse.” If the angel’s essence and existence differ only notionally (secundum rationem), then it only has a notional composition. But this can’t be the case because the two are not simply interchangable in predication: “[Hic] praedicatio est falsa: essentia angeli est suum esse.” According to Hugo, Didascalicon i.6, only in God are essence and existence the same.

How then should we understand the relation of essence to existence in angels? Richard first recognizes three ways in which the essence can be said to be in potency to its existence: 1) The essence without existence can be understood as simply lacking the perfection of actuality (carentiam perfectionis actualitatis); 2) or as having some intelligible matter, that is, a nature not simply potential, but potential with respect to the form of the angel; 3) or as having some purely potential nature (aliquam naturam pure potentialem).

1) The first option posits no positive reality (non dicat aliquid reale positivum) other than the essence itself. Nothing can enter into composition with a privation or negation, nor can a privation or a negation be an essence or part of an essence. This option then is equivalent to declaring that the actual being of the essence of the angel is really the same as that essence, differing by nothing positive, which Richard rejects as insufficient.

2) The second way still posits nothing of the essence of the angel besides actuality: “quia sicut possibilitas formae non esset eius essentia, sic nec possibilitas materiae; sed tantummodo constitutum ex actualitate materiae in completa, et actualitate formae complete: et sic ad hoc sequeretur quod actuale esse angeli esset realiter idem quod eius essentia, non pars eius.”

3) The third way is more probable, supposing that we could posit some purely potential nature in the angelic essence which would need the addition of an extrinsic principle of existence to be. “Sed sicut patebit inferius illud quod est loco materiae in angelo non est natura pure potentialis: et ideo illi opinioni non consentio.”

Others say that for an angel to exist some “absolute thing” must be added to the angel’s essence which is neither a part nor an accident of the essence, but something nobler than the essence, “quid nobilius essentia”, since the essence itself has more “possibility” than its being.

But others say, what Richard himself agrees more with, “quibus magis consentio”, that actual existence adds nothing absolute over the essence of the angel himself, but only a real relation to the giver of his being, “tantummodo realem relationem ad datorem ipsius esse.” Existence cannot be anything accidental to the substance, because it is natural for substance to exist, “substantia nata est existere in se.” An accident is that whose nature is to exist in another (and not as a part of that other), nor can it exist per se, except miraculously. Therefore, if actual existence were some absolute thing besides the essence of the angel itself, since it would not the sort of thing that could exist in itself, but in the essence, it would be a certain (quoddam) accident of the essence, “quod est inconveniens”, because then, since existence is supposed to be something more actual than the essence, an accident would have more actuality than its subject, which is inconvenient.

Because of this Richard declares that existence adds nothing real to the essence beyond a relation to God insofar as He is the giver of existence itself. Essence therefore bespeaks absolutely what existence bespeaks in relation to the giver of that existence. Therefore this predication is unacceptable: the existence of a creature is its essence. “A run” is not the same thing as “running”, since “a run” denotes something absolute, whereas “running” is said in relation to a runner.

“Concedendum est quod in angelo et in omni creata substantia est aliqua realis compositio ex essentia et esse.”

II. Sent. dist. III art. 1 q.2.

“Secundo quaeritur utrum angelorum essentia sit compositum ex materia et forma.”

Obection 1) Then angels couldn’t understand forms abstracted from matter, but they do.
Reply: angels do understand forms abstracted from matter, and this is not prevented by their having their own matter. The abstracted form is received in a subject having matter (the angel); but it doesn’t follow that the abstracted form is in the intellect materially. Every abstracted species is rather an accidental form in the intellect. The angel understands something composed of matter and form by a similitude of the composite, which is not itself composed of matter and form.

2) Since a form exists more truly in an intellect than in an external thing (in re extra), then since a form can make an extramental thing such-and-such, e.g. hot or black, much more would the same form make the intellect hot or black, if it had matter just as the extramental thing. Reply: The form of heat is not more truly in the angelic intellect than it is in fire, for it is in fire according to the truth of its essence, but in the intellect by its similitude. . . . As fire is hot by the reality of heat, so proportionally the intellect is similar to heat by a similitude of heat. [Therefore the angel does not become hot when understanding heat.]

3) An angel is created by one creation. But two things are not created by one passive creation. Therefore the essence of an angel is not composed of two things. Reply: Two things are created in the creation of an angel. But matter and form are two things constituting one essence, therefore not two things in act but only in potency.

4) Matter is only necessary where there is a possibility for its being something. But angels were created out of nothing, not out of anything preexisting; nor is there in an angel now anything which has a possibility to be something else. Reply: Richard replies that matter is not only necessary to account for the possibility of substantial change, but also to account for the possibility of movement of any kind.

In the body of this question Richard first considers whether the composition of essence and existence he has just recognized in the angel can dispense with the need to posit a composition of matter and form in the angelic essence. For some say that the essence of an angel is not composed of matter and form, whether the matter in question is of the same kind (unigenea) as the matter of corporeal things or not. For that essence is not purely actual, but is possible in some way, nor is it necessary that every kind of possibility requires matter. For every created form, insofar as it is from God, is dependent on him and hence possible.

. . . [here I skip a paragraph where Richard quotes authorities apparently in agreement with this formulation]

But this attempt to dispense with matter in angels rests on a false foundation (falso fundamento). For matter is not said to be necessary in order that something (res) may be possible with respect to the first cause, but in order that it may be possible with respect to itself, or to something inferior to itself. But an angel, when it moves itself from one will to another will (de uno velle ad aliud velle), and from one thought (cogitatione) to another, and even from one place to another, is possible in some way with respect to itself, since to be moved is as such to be possible with respect to the mover. [The authorities quoted deny that angels have the same matter as corporeal things, which Richard agrees with.]

Nor should those denying spiritual matter rely on the authority of Aristotle, Avicenna, or the author of the Liber de causis, for they thought that the intelligences never began, and that they were in no way possible, except with respect to the first cause, and that they were wholly immutable (nullo modo mutabiles). It’s no wonder, then, that, remaining in this error, they denied matter in the angels. (Et ideo non fuit mirum si, in hoc errore permanentes, in eis negaverunt materiam.) If the philosophers had believed that the intelligences began to be, and were mutable, and could move themselves, they would have without a doubt admitted that there was matter in them.

“Videtur igitur mihi dicendum quod essentia angeli composita est ex materia et forma, extendendo [nomen] materiae ad omnem naturam possibilem ex qua et alia natura magis actuali constituitur unum per essentiam.” For one and the same thing cannot be both agent and patient with respect to the same thing. An agent acts insofar as it is in act, and not insofar as it is in potency; and a patient receives (patiatur) insofar as it is in potency, and not insofar as it is in act. Otherwise one and the same thing would be simultaneously in act and not in act, and in potency and not in potency, and contradictories would be true. . . . But to move is to act and to be moved is to receive (pati). Therefore something cannot be both moving and moved with respect to one and the same thing. Since, therefore, an angel moves itself from one will to another, and from one thought to another, and from one place to another, if he were a simple immaterial form he would be both moving and moved with respect to the same thing. Therefore, in his essence there is one thing through which he moves himself, and another thing through which he is moved; the first thing we call form, [the second we call matter] accepting matter as was said at the beginning of this opinion.

[Richard quotes the standard authorities in support of this position, Boethius, Augustine, etc.]

II. Sent. dist. III art. 2 q.1.

“utrum materia angelorum sit unigenea cum materia corporalium.”

Richard argues that things can only be said to have matter univocally when they can be transmuted into each other. All of the elements can be changed into each other; all bodies can be broken down and recomposed into any other kind of body. But bodies can never be changed into spirits, nor vice versa. The matter of angels is determined to receive only spiritual forms, and the matter of bodies to receive only corporeal forms. They are not therefore the same kind of matter.

“Ad secundum dicendum quod materia non ideo dicitur natura potentialis quod nullam penitus habeat actualitatem propriam, ut dicunt quidam; sed quia materia generabilium et corruptibilium tenet infimum actualitatis gradum: rem in potentia ad substantialem formam. Unde non est inconveniens dicere quod materia angelorum plus habeat de propria actualitat quam materia corporum, quamvis ita sit potentialis, respectu magnae actualitatis formae angelicae: sicut materia corporum, respectu parvae actualitatis formae corporeae.” Furthermore, even if matter could be said to be pure potency, this would not require that all matter be univocal, more one kind of matter could be “pure potency”, but only with respect to corporeal forms, and another kind could be “pure potency”, but only with respect to spiritual forms.

That's all for today, folks!

Moving Day

I'm moving into some new digs today, with the result that lately I've been packing and not reading. Here's a quote, which I don't have time to translate, but enjoy.
Ordinatio III d. 32 q. unica nn. 19-22

I have added a very rough translation, which precedes the latin. The text is somewhat relevant to my previous post on Fr. Schall, as one sees the will having both metaphysical priority and willing in accordance with reason. So what exactly is voluntarism? Is it a useful term? I would say yes, as long as we don't use it as a blanket cipher for Scotus and Muslim fundamentalists; As we should remember that "intellectualism" does not indicate exactly the same thing in Thomas, his predecessors or successors.

"The third is apparent, because there is one power and one first object, and he has one infinite act adequated to himself. Nor is it necessary for that one act to be of all things, as if all things were required for the perfection of this act, but only from the perfection of this act follows this which perfectly tends into the first term; it tends also into all things around which the first term is the total means of acting. Essentia alone is able to be the first means of acting both to the divine intellect and the divine will, because if something else could be the first means, that power would be lowered.

From this it follows that there is not inequality in God's loving of all things, by conparing the act to the agent.

But by comparing the act to connotated objects (?) or to those things over which it passes, there is inequality, not only because those willed things are inequal or inequal goods are willed for them, but also because according to every grade something passes over; for every rationally willing agent, first wills the end, and second immediately that which attains the end, and third other things which are more remotely ordered to attaining the end. so also god most rationally, although not by diverse acts, but by a single act, insofar as he in various ways tends over ordered objects, first wills the end, and in this there is a most perfect act and his intellect is perfect and his willed is blessed; in the second he wills those things which are immediately ordered into him, namely by predestining the elect, who immediately attain him, and this as if by relfecting, by willing others to love the same object with himself; for he first loves himself ordinately (and as a consequence not disordinately by zeal or jealousy), in the second he wills others to have co-lovers, and this is to will others to have his own love in themselves - and this is to predestinate them, if he should willthem to have a good of this sort finally and eternally; third however he wills those which are necessary for attaining this end, namely the goods of grace; fourth he wills - on account of them - other things which are more removed, for example, this sensible world for others so that they might serve them, and so it is true what is said in Book II of the Physics, "in a certain way man is the end of all things," indeed of sensible things, because on account of him willed by God as if in the second instant of nature, are all sensible th ings willed as if in the fourth moment; that also which is nearer to the ultimate end, is accustomed to be called the end of those which are more removed. Either therefore because God willed the sensible world to be as ordered to predestined man, or because he more immediately willed man to love himself than that the sensible world should be, man will be the end of the sensible world.

And so appears the inequality of willable things - as far as the things willed - not as volition is of the one willing, but as it passes over the aforesaid objects. nevertheless, that inequality is not in act on account of the presupposed goodness in whatever objects other than himself, which is a quasi reason wherefore such and such a thing is to be willed, but the reason is in the divine will alone; for because he accepts something in such a grade, therefore they are good in such a grade, not vice versa. Or if it be granted that in them - as they are shown by the intellect - there is some grade of essential goodness, according to which rationally they ought to please the will ordinately, at least this is certain that they are pleasing, as far as actual existence, merely from the divine will, without any reason determining on their part."
In Latine:

tertium apparet, quia una est potentia et unum obiectum primum, et habet unum actum infinitum adaequatum sibi. Nec oportet istum unum actum esse omnium, quasi omnia requirantur ad prefectionem huius actus, sed solummodo ex perfectione huius actus consequitur hoc quod perfecte tendit in primum terminum; tendit etiam in omnia circa quae primus terminus est totalis ratio agendi. Tam autem intellectui divino quam voluntati sola essentia potest esse prima ratio agendi, quia si aliquid aliud posset esse prima ratio, vilesceret illa potentia.

Ex hoc patet quod non est inaequalitas Dei in diligendo omnia, comparando actum ad agentis.

Sed comparando actum ad connotata sive ad ea super quae transit, est inaequalitas, non tantum quia illa volita sunt inaequalia vel inaequalia bona sunt eis volita, sed etiam quia secundum ordinem quemdam transit super ea: nam omnis rationabiliter volens, primo vult finem, et secundo immediate illud quod attingit finem, et tertio alia quae sunt remotius ordinata ad attingendum finem. Sic etiam Deus rationabilissime, licet non diversis actibus, unico tamen actu, in quantum ille diversimode tendit super obiecta ordinata, primo vult finem, et in hoc est actus suus perfectus et intellectus eius perfectus et voluntas eius beata; secundo vult illa quae immediate ordinantur in ipsum, praedestinando scilicet electos, qui scilicet immediate attingunt eum, et hoc quasi reflectendo, volendo alios condiligere idem obiectum secum: qui enim primo se amat ordinate (et per consequens non inordinate, zelando vel invidendo), secundo vult alios habere condilegentes, et hoc est velle alios habere amorem suum in se, - et hoc est praedestinare eos, si velit eos habere huiusmodi bonum finaliter et aeternaliter; tertio autem vult illa quae sunt necessaria ad attingendum hunc finem, scilicet bona gratiae; quarto vult – propter ista – alia quae sunt remotiora, puta hunc mundum sensibilem pro aliis ut serviant eis, ut sic verum sit illud II Physicorum “homo quodammodo est finis omnium,” sensibilium quidem, quia propter ipsum volitum a Deo quasi in secundo signo naturae, sunt omnia sensibilia volita quasi in quarto signo; illud etiam quod est propinquius fini ultimo, consuevit dici finis eorum quae sunt remotiora. Sive ergo quia in ordine ad hominem praedestinatum vult Deus mundum sensibilem esse, sive quia quodammodo immediatius vult hominem amare se quam mundum sensibilem esse, homo erit finis mundi sensibilis.

Et ita patet inaequalitas volibilium – quantum ad ipsa volita – non ut volitio est ipsius volentis, sed ut transit super obiecta modo praedicto. Nec tamen ista inaequalitas in actu est propter bonitatem praesuppositam in obiectis quibuscumque aliis a se, quae sit quasi ratio quare sit sic vel sic volenda, sed ratio est in ipsa voluntate divina sola: quia enim ipsa acceptat aliqua in tali gradu, ideo ipsa sunt bona in tali gradu, non e converso. Vel si detur quod in eis – ut ostensa sunt ab intellectu – sit aliquis gradus bonitatis essentialis, secundum quem rationabiliter debent ordinate complacere voluntati, saltem hoc certum est quod beneplacentia eorum, quantum ad actualem exsistentiam, mere est ex voluntate divina, absque aliqua ratione determinante ex parte eorum.