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Chapter IV -- 19

The final topic we wish to consider before we turn to a general discussion of St Thomas’ anthropology and psychology is St Thomas’ treatment of the passions. St Thomas begins his ‘Treatise on the Passions’ in ST Ia IIae, 22. We ourselves simply wish to distinguish St Thomas’ treatment of the passions from the treatment of the Greek ascetical Fathers.

St Thomas first establishes that the soul has passions.[1]

St Thomas then establishes that the passions are in the sensitive appetite (i.e. in the passionate part of the soul: the desire and the temper) not in the rational appetite (i.e. the will).[2]

St Thomas points out that the passions are movements of the sensitive appetite and can only exist where there is a modification to the body. That is, the passions cannot exist without a bodily substrate. This is not the position of Evagrius Pontikos, although it does raise a number of interesting and important questions.

St Thomas establishes that the passions of the concupiscible appetite (i.e. the desire) are different from the passions of the irascible desire (i.e. the temper), just as those two powers of the soul are different.[3] St Thomas’ analysis follows the logic that, the passions being movements of a power of the soul, the movements must follow the nature of the power. The object of the concupiscible power (i.e. desire) is the good and the bad, or, simply put, what is enjoyable or unpleasant; the object of the irascible power (i.e. temper) is the good and the bad under the aspect of the difficult or arduous: the irascible power operates in cases in which the good is difficult to attain or in cases in which the bad is difficult to avoid. Therefore all the passions which view in an absolute way the good and the bad pertain to the concupiscible power: joy, sadness, Eros (amor), hatred and such-like. Whichever passions, however, consider the good and the bad in respect of its arduousness, as something which can be attained or avoided only with a certain difficulty—these passions pertain to the irascible power: bravery, fear, hope and such-like.

This is a somewhat different analysis of the passions from the analysis of Evagrius Pontikos that we will study in Volume II.

St Thomas establishes that considered in themselves, the passions, taken by him to be simple movements of the soul, cannot be considered to be either morally good or morally bad.[4] Only insofar as they are considered with regard to their submission to the command (imperio) of the reason, can there be moral good or moral badness in them. This is one of the bases of the naturalism of St Thomas that we referred to.

St Thomas establishes that not all the passions of the soul are morally bad.[5] Here he has an interesting discussion on the difference between the Stoics and Aristotle in the matter of the goodness or badness of the passions: the Stoics, says St Thomas, treated all the passions as bad, whereas the Peripatetics treated the moderate passions as good. St Thomas comments that while on the surface there appears to be a great difference between these two points of view, in fact if we consider the intentions of the authors, there is little or no difference. St Thomas’ argument revolves around his analysis of Stoic psychology and terminates in the assertion that by ‘passion’ the Stoics meant every motion of the soul which surpassed the limits of reason. This is how he glosses Cicero. However, according to St Thomas’ analysis, the Peripatetics treated as passions all the movements of the sensitive part of the soul; and as good those which were moderated by reason, as bad only those which were beyond the moderation of reason. St Thomas agrees with this point of view. St Thomas concludes by observing that the passions should not be called illnesses or disturbances of the soul unless they are not subject to the moderation of reason.

While this may be a faithful rendition of Aristotle, the concept of passion in the Greek ascetical tradition is different.

The Greek ascetical tradition, based on Evagrius Pontikos, takes a negative view of the passions, more in line, it seems, with the Stoics. In the Greek tradition, the passion is a disorder of a power or part of the soul, which disorder is a result of the Fall of Adam. The goal of the ascetic is to restore that part of the soul which functions in a disordered way, as manifested by the operation of the passion, to its functioning according to nature, as God created Adam, as Adam and Eve lived in Paradise before they fell. Hence, in the Greek ascetical tradition, a number of passions are identified which in fact constitute the most general types of sin. That is how, through St John Cassian, the disciple of Evagrius Pontikos, the passions entered into mediæval Scholastic thought: as the Seven Deadly Sins.[6]

The passion, in the Greek ascetical tradition, is an operation of a part of the soul contrary to nature, and the goal of the ascetic is to restore that part of the soul to its operation according to nature. This is the ascetical program leading to dispassion (apatheia) that we discussed earlier. It is noteworthy that dispassion (apatheia) is defined by Evagrius in the Treatise on the Practical Life[7] as the divestiture of the passions of, and the simultaneous acquisition of the virtues of, the passionate part of the soul, the desire and the temper. Dispassion (apatheia) is considered by him to bring about the complete ascetical separation or autonomy of the soul from the body.

As we saw in Chapter I, St Macrina herself actually put forward two models of the passions, the one that is quite similar to the Greek ascetical model which we have just outlined, the model of the ascetical writers that we will consider, and the other, more theoretical and based on Aristotle. However, we think that St Thomas has a more naturalistic attitude to the passions than we find even in St Macrina’s second, Aristotelianizing model, since St Macrina retains a fundamentally Platonizing point of view.

St Thomas next establishes that the passion augments or diminishes the goodness or badness of an act[8]—in accordance surely with the nature of the act and the nature of the passion, since in St Thomas the passions are not necessarily bad. This is a necessary remark for him to make given that he will later turn to moral theology.

St Thomas establishes that that there are passions which are good or bad in their kind (species), that is, by their very nature.[9] His argument depends on the notions that an intrinsically good passion is one whose object itself is in conformance with, or according to, reason, such as modesty; and that an intrinsically bad passion is one whose object itself is contrary to reason, such as envy. Note the dependence of St Thomas’ argumentation on the notions ‘in conformance with, or according to, reason’ and ‘contrary to reason’. These should be compared to the notions in the Greek Fathers ‘in conformance with, or according to, nature’ and ‘contrary to nature’.

St Thomas establishes that the passions of the concupiscible power (i.e. desire) are logically prior to the passions of the irascible power (i.e. temper).[10] This is so because the passions of the irascible power deal with the difficulty of attaining the good or of avoiding the bad, whereas the initial desire for the good and the initial aversion from the bad are matters of the concupiscible power. Curiously enough, in Skemmata 41,[11] Evagrius has the same opinion that the desire is prior to the temper, although he does not give the same reason as St Thomas:

41 Of the thoughts, some lead while others follow. And those thoughts lead which are from <desire (epithumia)>, whereas those thoughts follow which are from the temper (thumos).

Evagrius then goes on with a somewhat more refined psychological analysis than St Thomas:

42 Of those thoughts which lead, some again go before whereas others follow. And those go before, then, which are from gluttony, whereas those follow which are from fornication.

43 Of those thoughts which follow the first thoughts, some lead whereas others follow. And those lead which are from sorrow (lupe), whereas those follow which are from wrath (orge), if indeed, according to the proverb, ‘A sorrowful word stirs up wraths.’ [Cf. Prov. 15, 1.]

St Thomas establishes that love or Eros (amor) is the first or chief passion of the concupiscible part.[12] It should be noted that the Latin word amor can be translated ‘love’ in the sense of charity or spiritual love (Greek: agape) or in the sense of impassioned love, desire or Eros (Greek: eros). It is not always clear in what sense that St Thomas wants us to take ‘amor’. For in this article St Thomas quotes St Augustine as follows: ‘All passions are caused by Eros (amor); for Eros (amor) desiring to have that which is loved (amatur) is desire; having and enjoying it, however, it is joy (laetitia).’[13] St Thomas continues: ‘Therefore Eros (amor) is the first passion of the concupiscible power.’[14]

This approach of St Thomas—and of St Augustine—is interesting for its similarity to Evagrius Pontikos’ treatment of the nature of the passions in Treatise on the Practical Life, Chapter 4:

4 Whatever one loves (eros) he certainly aspires to, and what he aspires to he struggles to attain. And desire is the beginning of every pleasure; desire, then, begets sense-perception, for that which is without a share in sense-perception is also free of passion.[15]

It was with this passage of Evagrius Pontikos in mind that we have rendered amor by Eros in translating passages from the Summa.

St Thomas establishes that hope is the first or chief passion of the irascible power.[16]

St Thomas establishes that the four principal passions are joy, sadness, hope and fear.[17] St Thomas observes, although he does not accept that point of view, that in this list St Augustine puts desire in place of hope.

St Thomas doctrine of the four principal passions is completely different from the doctrine of the eight most general passions of Evagrius Pontikos that underlies much of the Philokalia and even much of the ascetical tradition of the West. In part this is a question of terminology, since in the West the eight most general passions of Evagrius reappear even in mediæval times as the Seven Deadly Sins; in part there is a basic difference in St Thomas’ psychology, which is derived not only from St Augustine but also from Aristotle. For St Thomas has posited that the passions of the concupiscible and irascible powers of the soul are neither good nor bad in themselves, but only insofar as they are or are not moderated by the control of the reason. Evagrius Pontikos, however, clearly views the passions to be tendencies of the ascetic to sin, tendencies which are excited by a demon which thereby brings about a temptation. The good passions that St Thomas identifies, Evagrius certainly recognizes, but not as passions: they are either virtues or the natural seeds of the virtues. St Mark the Ascetic, it would appear, has the same understanding of the matter as Evagrius,[18] for his analysis of temptation is sufficiently close to that of Evagrius for it to be incomprehensible if the passions are considered to be neither good nor bad except insofar as they are subject to the reason.

For the Roman Catholic interested in the spirituality of the Philokalia, there is a basic difference in the psychological analysis of temptation and sin: St Thomas views sin as the immoderate use of a movement of the soul he calls a passion, an immoderate use that stems from a lack of control over the movement by the reason, always to be understood as ratiocination, even ratiocination expressing itself in practical syllogisms. The ascetical tradition of the Philokalia, however, treats sin as commencing with the excitation of one of the eight most general passions; this excitation manifests itself as the appearance in the field of consciousness of the ascetic of an image, which image is charged with passionate content. The ascetic is expected always to reject the image, thus to reject the temptation. We discussed this earlier.[19] In the models of temptation and sin of Evagrius, of St Mark the Ascetic and of St Hesychios, the image is never considered good or even neutral: its goodness or even neutrality is considered spurious. Although, it seems to us, a Thomistically-trained monk could adapt himself to the model of temptation of the authors represented in the Philokalia, he would have to be aware that St Thomas is conducting a completely different analysis of the psychology of the passions.

It is in the analysis of the passions that St Thomas’ naturalism manifests itself most clearly, and it is apparent that this naturalism derives from Aristotle.

Gilson describes St Augustine’s own doctrine of the four passions as follows:

All the sensible movements of the soul are reduced to four fundamental passions: desire (cupiditas), joy (laetitia), fear (metus) and sorrow (tristitia); for to desire is to consent to a movement by which the will inclines towards an object; to rejoice is to delight in the possession of the object obtained; to fear is to cede to the movement of the soul which recoils before an object from which it turns away; to experience sorrow, finally, is not to consent to a movement which actually has been suffered. Thus every movement of the soul tends either towards a good so as to acquire or conserve it, or away from an evil so as to avoid or avert it; but the free movement of the soul to acquire or to conserve something is the will itself; all the movements of the soul therefore depend on the will.[20]

This is very important, for it is quite different from St Thomas’ own analysis, although St Thomas evidently has derived his own analysis from St Augustine’s. It seems to us that St Augustine’s analysis is closer to that of the Philokalia.

We have finished our presentation of the anthropology and psychology of St Thomas Aquinas, and it remains for us to discuss it.

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[1] ST Ia IIae, 22, 1.

[2] ST Ia IIae, 22, 3.

[3] ST Ia IIae, 23, 1.

[4] ST Ia IIae, 24, 1.

[5] ST Ia IIae, 24, 2.

[6] Actually, the number in Evagrius is eight: in the West two passions were assimilated into one deadly sin.

[7] See Volume II.

[8] ST Ia IIae, 24, 3.

[9] ST Ia IIae, 24, 4.

[10] ST Ia IIae, 25, 1.

[11] See Volume II.

[12] ST Ia IIae, 25, 2.

[13] De Civit. Dei, 14.

[14] Ibid.

[15] See Volume II.

[16] ST Ia IIae, 25, 3.

[17] ST Ia IIae, 25, 4.

[18] Without for all that having any obvious doctrinal dependence on Evagrius.

[19] Under ST Ia IIae, 10, 3,

[20] Gilson Aug p. 171.


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