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Chapter IV -- 10

St Thomas then turns to questions of the nature of the human conscience.[1] While these are very important questions for moral theology, let us here simply say that St Thomas distinguishes two aspects of conscience: one (‘synderesis’) a habit which always inclines towards the good; the other (‘conscience’), an act by which we judge our own actions on the basis of our knowledge. The reader may recall from Chapter I that St Macrina had posited that one of the three powers of the mind (nous) which preserved the image of God in man was man’s power to discriminate the good from the worse. Here, we see that St Thomas has avoided calling the conscience in either of its two aspects a power of the human soul, that is, a power of the intellect. It is not clear to us why he did this. It is clear, however, that he is consciously limiting the powers of the intellect to one: the reason.

St Thomas then turns to the appetitive powers.[2] Here, St Thomas introduces the parts of the soul that we have already encountered as the temper (thumos) and desire (epithumia), and he also discusses the will.

St Thomas distinguishes between the intellectual and the appetitive powers of the soul.[3] In the terminology of the Cappadocians, the intellectual power of the soul is the mind (nous).

St Thomas distinguishes between the intellectual appetite and the sensitive appetite.[4] In the terminology of the Cappadocians, the sensitive appetite corresponds to the passionate part of the soul, the temper (thumos) and the desire (epithumia) taken together. We shall later see that in St Thomas the intellectual appetite is the will.

St Thomas, referring both to St Gregory of Nyssa and to St John of Damascus in support of his position, divides the sensitive appetite into the irascible appetite and the concupiscible appetite.[5] This of course corresponds to the temper (thumos) and the desire (epithumia) in St Gregory of Nyssa, as we have already seen in Chapter II, and also to the same powers in Evagrius Pontikos, as we have seen in Chapter III and will see, with regard to Evagrius Pontikos’ ascetical psychology, in Volume II. It is important to grasp that there is a fundamental point of contact here between the psychology of St Gregory of Nyssa and the Cappadocians, and the psychology of St Thomas. Of course, as we have already seen, this division of the soul into the mind (nous), temper (thumos) and desire (epithumia) ultimately derives from Plato. We will see, however, that St Thomas handles these parts of the soul somewhat differently than do the sources we have already studied, especially when he deals with the concept of ‘passion’.

St Thomas establishes that the temper and the desire obey the reason.[6] This doctrine we saw in Chapter II to be established by St Macrina, and it is clear that it derives both from Plato and from Aristotle. Of course, it is not certain that all these authors had the same conception of the reason that St Thomas has.

St Thomas then turns to the will.[7]

St Thomas establishes that the will by natural necessity adheres to its final good, beatitude, the Beatific Vision.[8] This is a doctrine of St Augustine reinterpreted by St Thomas in Aristotelian metaphysical categories. It might be remarked here that by comparison with St Thomas, St Augustine has a much more open and supple system: St Thomas is a logician dealing with categories of Aristotelian metaphysics, while St Augustine is first and foremost a psychologist, and one working within the Neoplatonic tradition. What for St Augustine is a moral injunction—that all men ought to seek after beatitude—has become in St Thomas a logical statement of the metaphysical structure of the human will.

St Thomas then develops his doctrine of the will.[9] He draws an important analogy between the operation of the intellect and the operation of the will: The intellect necessarily gives its assent to those first principles of reason or epistemology—the law of the excluded middle, the law that the whole is greater than the part, the law of cause and effect and so on—that we have already mentioned and that the intellect apprehends intuitively: the intellect cannot do otherwise than assent to these principles. However, when the intellect considers contingent propositions, whose negation does not necessarily imply the negation of these first principles, then it does not of necessity give its assent. Notwithstanding, in the case of propositions whose negation necessarily entails the negation of first principles, then of necessity the intellect gives its assent to those propositions.

Similarly, the will does not necessarily adhere to goods which have no necessary connection to beatitude, the Beatific Vision. There are goods which have a necessary connection to beatitude and which attach man to God, but until the certainty of the experience of the Beatific Vision demonstrates that necessary connection, the will does not attach itself to God necessarily, nor to those things which are of God. But in St Thomas, this experience of the Beatific Vision is attainable only after death. The will of the man who sees God in essence inheres by necessity in God, just as now by necessity we wish to be blessed, to experience beatitude, to experience the Beatific Vision.

St Thomas next establishes that the intellect is a higher power than the will.[10] This is a very important assertion for St Thomas to make for the sake of his development of psychology. That is, the relation between intellect and will is very important in St Thomas’ psychology, and it is very important for him to establish that the intellect is the highest power in man in order for him to develop his theory of action the way he wants. St Thomas’ doctrine of the superiority of the intellect over the will was a matter of some dispute among Scholastics after his death, as was his doctrine of the nature of the will. Recall that St Thomas has just previously systematically assimilated all the intellectual powers of man to the reason, which he understands to be the manipulation, by means of Aristotelian syllogistic, of propositions based on concepts abstracted from sense-perception.

St Thomas then establishes that the will moves the intellect.[11] This is to be understood, St Thomas makes clear, in the sense that by an act of will we can set about learning mathematics.

St Thomas establishes, again quoting St Gregory of Nyssa and St John of Damascus, that the will is to be found in the intellectual part of the soul, whereas the temper and the desire are to be found in the irrational (that is to say, the passionate) part of the soul.[12] Hence, we have a division of the soul into intellect, temper and desire, and the will is placed with the intellect: the temper and the desire have no necessary connection to the will.

St Thomas turns to ‘free decision (liberum arbitrium)’, what we would ourselves approach today with the notion of ‘freedom of the will’.[13] St Thomas establishes that man has ‘free decision’.[14] Note that he has already said the man’s will adheres necessarily to beatitude, the Beatific Vision, but that before the experience of the Beatific Vision, man’s will is not held necessarily in any one particular good.

St Thomas establishes that free decision is the same thing as the will.[15] In this he is taking his own final position on a mediæval subject of debate.

We will return to a discussion of the will below, when we turn to St Thomas’ theory of action.

St Thomas then begins his analysis of human cognition.[16] He establishes that the soul can know material objects by means of the intellect. He will now proceed to delineate how, in his own system, the intellect knows a material object.

St Thomas rejects the notion that the soul knows all things by means of ‘species’ which are naturally innate to it.[17] In this regard he quotes Aristotle to the effect that when a man is born, his intellect is a tabula rasa—a blank tablet. If a man had innate ‘species’, or innate ideas, then his mind would not be a tabula rasa. As we have already remarked, this would exclude the notion of the collective unconscious of C. G. Jung if that were taken to be a separate set of innate ideas or archetypes within each individual man.

In an interesting development for bioethics, St Thomas remarks that since the intellect does not use any bodily organ in its operation, it is not impeded in its functioning by a lesion to any bodily organ.[18] Hence, according to the letter of a Thomist analysis, brain death cannot be a valid model for the death of a man: the higher part of the human soul, the intellect, not being dependent on any bodily organ, cannot be damaged in its functioning by damage to any bodily organ, even the brain. For, St Thomas says, the powers of the human soul which are exercised by the use of a bodily organ are the senses, the imagination, and, in general, all the powers of the sensitive part of the soul. He then remarks that for a person to acquire new knowledge, or even to use old knowledge, it is necessary for the soul to use the imagination and the other powers of the sensitive soul, those which depend on the body for their operation. For, he says, when the use of the imagination is prevented by a lesion to a bodily organ, as in ‘frenzy’, or, similarly, when the use of the memorative power is prevented, as in ‘lethargy’, then a man is prevented from exercising his understanding, even in those things in which he has already acquired the relevant knowledge. We ourselves have seen this in the case of a certain person suffering from damage to the brain: his spiritual condition remains what it was before the damage, but he is prevented from exercising his faculties by the damage to the organ.

St Thomas closes his analysis with an important remark:

However, if the proper object of our intellect were the separated form [such as the angel], or if the form of sensible things did not subsist in particular material objects, as the Platonists say, it would not be necessary that, in order to understand, our intellect should have constant recourse to phantasms [that is, sense-perceptions of objects or the recollections of such sense-perceptions].[19]

But the Philokalia is based on the proposition that it is possible for the human intellect to attain to such intuitive apprehensions of intelligible realities without the aid of phantasms. Indeed, the method taught by the Philokalia is a method of divesting oneself of phantasms so as to attain to such intuitive apprehensions of intelligible realities.

St Thomas, quoting St Augustine, accepts the doctrine that the soul knows all things in the eternal reasons that exist in the Divine mind, but under St Thomas’ interpretation, this means that the human mind participates in a certain fashion in the divine light, not that it actually apprehends, before death and the Beatific Vision, those eternal reasons that are in the Mind of God.[20] It is important for us to spend some time on St Augustine’s notion.

Let us begin with the eternal reasons in the Mind of God. These are the essences of things, what the thing was intended by God from all eternity to be. These of course are the Platonic forms or Ideas transposed into the Mind of God. As Gilson writes:

Since they subsist in the intelligence (intelligence) of God, the Ideas [= eternal reasons] necessarily participate in his essential attributes. Like him, they are eternal, immutable and necessary. They are indeed not formed creatures, but, on the contrary the forms of all the rest. For them, therefore, there is not at all birth and end, but they are on the contrary the causes of all that which is born and ends.…[21]

Now the first important relation is that between the body of man and these Ideas. We learn from Gilson that the soul is an intermediary between the body extended in space and incapable of apprehending the divine Ideas, and the divine Ideas themselves, to which the soul is closely related since the soul is a spiritual nature. The soul takes from the divine Ideas and confers on the body the fact of being what it is: if the body did not participate in the divine Ideas, it would not be what it is; but if it participated in them as immediately as the soul did, it would be soul. It is by means of the soul that the body participates in the supreme Life, which is at the same time a wisdom and an immutable truth.[22]

The next thing we must understand is St Augustine’s theory of knowledge: the mind, the eye of the soul, sees intelligibly by means of the divine light that God shines on intelligible things, just in the way that a man sees physically by means of the physical light that the sun shines on material things. It would be fruitless to depart from this metaphor in attempting to understand the nature of the divine illumination.

Now, concerning the rational part of the soul that is illumined by this divine light, we learn from Gilson that the intellectual mind (mens intellectualis), a thing distinct from the illumination that comes from God to enable the soul to see intelligible truths, is ‘sometimes [given by Augustine] the technical name of intelligentia or of intellect, and he even expressly specifies that this intellect is a creature distinct from God, since God creates it, and the contingent is distinguished from the uncreated and from the immutable’.[23]

Concerning the operation on the mind of the divine illumination, Gilson writes:

How is this divine illumination exercised on the mind (pensée)? It is here that the true difficulties commence, and one cannot extricate himself from them except by distinguishing two cases: that in which we know created objects by the divine light, without seeing that light itself, which is the normal case; and that in which we see this light itself, which is the case of mystical experience. In the first case, the principal character of the light is to be immediate, that is to say, that it be exercised on the mind (pensée) without passing through any intermediary. It is thus that God presides over the human mind (pensée), something that Augustine again expresses when he recalls that if the soul is not God, nonetheless, there is nothing in creation which is closer to God than the soul.[24]

Note in the last part of the quotation t

he anthropocentric orientation of St Augustine, similar to what we have already remarked in St Maximos the Confessor.

Next, note that the possibility of mystical experience is held open.

Finally, this apprehension by the mind (pensée), given the immediacy of the operation of the divine light on it, is to be understood as intuitive. For, as Gilson has already remarked, in St Augustine the intelligence is an interior sight by which the mind apprehends the truth which the divine light uncovers to it. There is nothing in what St Augustine is saying that could be construed to be ratiocination. However, we will see just below that Gilson would want us to understand that in the normal everyday case, this intuitive apprehension is not to be considered a mystical apprehension of the eternal reasons or of the divine light.

Gilson continues:

On the other hand, that to which the soul is immediately submitted in God is certain ‘intelligible realities’, res intelligibiles, which are none other than the divine Ideas themselves. St Augustine designates them by different names, such as ideae, formae, species, rationes or regulae. In every way, these Ideas are the archetypes of every species or of every individual created by God; in fact, everything has been created according to a certain model, and the type to which man belongs is obviously not the same as the type to which the horse belongs; every thing has therefore been created according to its proper model and, since everything has been created by God, these models of things, or Ideas, could not exist otherwise than in the mind (pensée) of God. If, therefore, one brings together these two complementary conclusions, one obtains this third conclusion: in its operations, the human intellect is immediately submitted to the Ideas of God.

What Gilson is saying here is that the immediate effect on the mind of the divine illumination is that the mind is ‘submitted’ to the eternal reasons or Ideas in the Mind of God. Now Gilson goes on to discuss the question of how the mind is submitted to the eternal reasons in the Mind of God, how it experiences them:

A first interpretation of the Augustinian response would consist of saying that, for the human mind (pensée), to be submitted to the divine Ideas is nothing else than to see them. The texts to support this thesis are not lacking. St Augustine sometimes speaks of a vision by the mind (pensée) of the divine Ideas: ‘They can be seen (intueri) by his interior and intelligible eye.’[25] He specifies that we see the truth not only by God but in him, which amounts to saying that it is in the very divine truth that we see the truth and that it is the view of this divine truth that permits us in turn to conceive truths in our very selves. The question is therefore to know if St Augustine in reality accords us a direct view of the Ideas of God and of the knowledge in God of things that necessarily would result from this vision. If the question is posed in this way, it must be replied that in the order of normal knowledge, not mystical, there is for us neither an intuition of the eternal reasons nor a sight of the very light of God.[26]

Note that the meaning of the last sentence is that the immediate apprehension of the created object in the light of God, which we have taken to be intuitive in the philosophical sense, is in the normal case not to be identified with an intuition of the eternal reasons themselves nor with an intuition of the very light of God. These things are matters of higher mystical experience.

Before we continue it is well to make some remarks. St Thomas Aquinas is dismissing all of this.[27] When he says that we see things in the eternal reasons in the sense that the mind participates in a certain fashion in the divine light, he has in view a completely different psychology and a completely different theory of knowledge. He means that the human mind, by the very fact of its existing, in some fashion participates in the divine light, and so has its own natural, created light by which it illuminates what it sees. There is no room in St Thomas Aquinas’ theory of cognition for the divine illumination that St Augustine teaches. Moreover, because of his doctrine of the abstraction of the concept from the data of sense-perception by means of the soul’s own natural created light, St Thomas cannot accept that the eternal reasons play a role in ordinary human cognition. However, St Thomas does not want to dismiss completely the existence of these eternal reasons in the Mind of God. Hence his statement that we can see them only after death in the Beatific Vision.

Next, it is well to realize that although both St Augustine and Evagrius Pontikos have a doctrine of the reasons (Latin: rationes; Greek: logoi) of created things, St Augustine places them in the Mind of God, whereas Evagrius does not, at least not in the same way. Evagrius identifies the reasons (logoi) with the wisdom of God, different from God’s nature, a wisdom that is embedded in creation the way the art of the artist is embedded in his work. He places these reasons (logoi) at the metaphysical level that St Augustine places ‘number’: as the principle of the divine ordering and articulation of the material creation. The result is that while both St Augustine and Evagrius assert that the mystic or contemplative can contemplate the reasons of created things, for St Augustine this is a very high contemplation, whereas for Evagrius, it is the beginning of contemplation: second natural contemplation, a contemplation of the imperfect mind (nous).

Moreover, there is no developed doctrine in Evagrius of the illumination by the divine light as part of the process of cognition or even as a precondition for the intuitive apprehension of the reasons (logoi) during the course of second natural contemplation. He does make a passing reference in the Kephalaia Gnostica I, 35 to such illumination, but any use he might make of the notion is merely implicit. Evagrius approaches the matter somewhat differently from St Augustine. On this matter, Evagrius’ theory of cognition is somewhat closer to that of St Thomas, as we shall discuss further on. Moreover, Evagrius emphasizes the role of the Holy Spirit in contemplation only in the higher stages of natural contemplation, in first natural contemplation, the contemplation of angels.

Gilson remarks: ‘To see the ideas of God would be to see God…’[28] Evagrius Pontikos has a different point of view. He does not inject the reasons (logoi) into the Mind of God in the same way that St Augustine does, so he is free to separate the contemplative vision of the reasons (logoi) of created objects in second natural contemplation from the contemplative vision of God himself in Theology.

Gilson also remarks: ‘To see things in the ideas of God would again be to know them without having need of looking at them.’[29] Following St Isaac the Syrian’s interpretation of Evagrius Pontikos on the role of the senses in contemplation,[30] we understand that in Evagrius the contemplation of the reason (logoi) requires the sensible presence of the object whose reason (logos) is to be contemplated. This seems to be due to the placement by Evagrius of the reasons (logoi) in the wisdom of God, which in our view is to be taken in Evagrius as the ‘essential form’ of creation similar to the ‘number’ by which God orders creation in St Augustine rather than as the Mind of God, or even, God forbid, as a fourth person of the Holy Trinity. That is, in Evagrius one does not apprehend the reasons (logoi) in the Mind of God but in creation itself: just as he himself says in the Kephalaia Gnostica, we perceive the art of the architect in his work of art. But in Evagrius, despite this placement of the reasons (logoi), the contemplation of these reasons (logoi) in second natural contemplation is what Gilson would call a mystical apprehension: given the severe ascesis that Evagrius himself presupposes for this contemplation, it cannot be a matter of the course of ordinary human cognition. The differences on this matter between St Augustine and Evagrius Pontikos are due to their different applications of Platonic concepts in their treatments of the reasons (Latin: rationes; Greek: logoi) of created things.

To return to the Summa, the basis of St Thomas’ own approach is this: according to St Thomas, intellectual knowledge comes only from the senses.[31]

St Thomas continues in the same vein: the intellect cannot know in act by means of the intelligible species that it has in its power, not applying itself to the phantasms, which are the sense-perceptions of objects or recollections of those sense-perceptions.[32] We will discuss St Thomas’ theory of cognition in more detail below. Let it suffice here that what he means is that, in reasoning about the concepts that it has in its power, the intellect must have recourse to recollections of the sense-perceptions of the objects from which the concepts were abstracted: no man is capable of reasoning purely abstractly.

St Thomas establishes that the intellect is prevented from operating by the impediments which fall upon the senses.[33] St Thomas here seems to mean that since the reason operates on the data of the senses, it is prevented from operating by impediments to the functioning of those senses.

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[1] ST Ia, 79, 12 and 13.

[2] ST Ia, 80.

[3] ST Ia, 80, 1.

[4] ST Ia, 80, 2.

[5] ST Ia, 81, 2.

[6] ST Ia, 81, 3.

[7] ST Ia, 82.

[8] ST Ia, 82, 1.

[9] ST Ia, 82, 2.

[10] ST Ia, 82, 3.

[11] ST Ia, 82, 4.

[12] ST Ia, 82, 5.

[13] ST Ia, 83. In rendering liberum arbitrium by ‘free decision’, we have been influenced by J. B. Korolec’s article, ‘Free Will and free choice’ in the Cambridge History of Later Medieval Philosophy—see Medieval p. 630.

[14] ST Ia, 83, 1.

[15] ST Ia, 83, 4.

[16] ST Ia, 84, 1.

[17] ST Ia, 84, 3.

[18] ST Ia, 84, 4.

[19] Ibid.

[20] ST Ia, 84, 5.

[21] Gilson Aug p. 109.

[22] Ibid. p. 64.

[23] Ibid. p. 107.

[24] Ibid. pp. 108–9.

[25] De div. quaest. 83, qu. 46, 1–2; translated by us from the Latin.

[26] Ibid. p. 110.

[27] ST Ia, 84, 5.

[28] Ibid. p. 111.

[29] Ibid. p. 111.

[30] Isaac p. 23, fn. 29—see the discussion of this interpretation in Section 5 of Chapter III, above, under the discussion of Kephalaia Gnostica III, 8.

[31] ST Ia, 84, 6.

[32] ST Ia, 84, 7.

[33] ST Ia, 84, 8.


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