You are on page 1of 36

347 AQUI NAS ON SEPARATE SUBSTANCES

« Documenti e studi sulla tradi zi one fi losofi ca medi evale» XXI I (2011)
GREGORY T. DOOLAN
Aquinas on Separate Substances
and the Subject Matter of Metaphysics
On more than one occasi on i n hi s wri ti ngs, Thomas Aqui nas provi des an
answer to a questi on that seems to remai n unanswered i n Ari stotl e’s
Metaphysics : I s metaphysi cs a uni versal sci ence whose subject matter i s
bei ng qua bei ng, or i s i t a speci al sci ence whose subject i s one type of bei ng,
namely, separate substance
1
? I n the course of answeri ng thi s questi on,
Thomas i s careful to show how the separate substance that he calls God i s
related to the subject matter of metaphysi cs. Hi s treatment of thi s topi c has
recei ved much attenti on from scholars
2
. What has received less attention,
1
I n Book I V, c. 1 of the Metaphysics, Ari stotle presents the subject matter of thi s sci ence as
bei ng qua bei ng and, hence, as uni versal i n scope (1003a20-31). I n Book VI , c. 1, however, after
rei terati ng thi s vi ew, he proceeds to show that i t belongs to thi s sci ence to study what i s
separable and i mmovable and, hence, di vi ne. For thi s reason he refers to thi s sci ence as
‘theology’ and also calls i t ‘fi rst phi losophy’, noti ng that i t deals wi th the hi ghest genus. As
Ari stotle hi mself observes, thi s leads to the questi on whether fi rst phi losophy i s i ndeed
uni versal, or whether i t studi es only one type of bei ng, what he terms ‘separate substance’
(1025b1-1026a32). I n short, the questi on ari ses whether Ari stotle i s i denti fyi ng two di sti nct
sci ences or a si ngle, uni fi ed sci ence. — For di scussi ons of thi s problem, see I . DÜRI NG, Aristoteles.
Darstellung und Interpretation seines Denkens, C. Wi nter - Uni versi tätsverlag, Hei delberg 1966,
pp. 594-599 ; E. KÖNI G, Aristoteles’ erste Philosophie als universale Wissenschaft von den APXAI,
« Archi v für Geschi chte der Phi losophi e », 52, 1970, pp. 225-246; J . OWENS, The Doctrine of Being
in the Aristotelian Metaphysics, Ponti fi cal I nsti tute of Medi aeval Studi es, Toronto 1978
3
, esp. pp.
XI I I -XXVI I , 35-67 ; I D., The Doctrine of Being in the Aristotelian Metaphysi cs — Revisited, i n P.
MOREWEDGE ed., Philosophies of Existence, Ancient and Medieval, Fordham Uni versi ty Press, New
York 1982 ; A. MANSI ON, L’objet de la science philosophique supreme d’après Aristote, Métaphysique,
E, I, i n Mélanges de Philosophie Grecque offerts à Mgr Diès, Vri n, Pari s 1956, pp. 151-168 ; I D.,
Philosophie première, philosophie seconde et métaphysique chez Aristote, « Revue phi losophi que
de Louvai n », 56, 1958, pp. 165-221 ; M. FREDE, The Unity of General and Special Metaphysics :
Aristotle’s Conception of Metaphysics, i n I D., Essays in Ancient Philosophy, Uni versi ty of Mi nnesota
Press, Mi nneapoli s 1987, pp. 81-95.
2
See, e.g., S. NEUMANN, Gegenstand und Methode der theoretischen Wissenschaften nach
Thomas von Aquin aufgrund der Expositio super librum Boethii De Trinitate, « Bei träge zur
Geschi chte der Phi losophi e und Theologi e des Mi ttelalters », 41/2, 1965, pp. 7-20 ; J . C. DOI G,
Science première et science universelle dans le ‘Commentaire de la métaphysique’ de saint Thomas
d’Aquin, « Revue phi losophi que de Louvai n », 63, 1965, pp. 41-96 ; I D., Aquinas on Metaphysics :
A Historico-Doctrinal Study of the Commentary on the Metaphysics, Ni jhoff, The Hague 1972, pp.
55-94 ; J . COUNAHAN, The Quest for Metaphysics, « The Thomi st », 33, 1969, pp. 519-572 ; J . F.
348 GREGORY T. DOOLAN
however, is how he considers those other separate substances, what theologians
call ‘angels’, to be related to that subject matter
3
. I ndeed, Thomas himself
does not address thi s topi c i n detai l. To the extent that he does address i t, hi s
consi derati ons present seemi ngly i nconsi stent vi ews. I n thi s arti cle, I i ntend
to show that despi te these facts, one can nevertheless di scern i n Thomas’s
wri ti ngs a coherent and consi stent account of how created separate substances
are related to the subject matter of metaphysi cs.
Aqui nas provi des us wi th two major ex professo treatments regardi ng the
subject matter of thi s sci ence: i n hi s early commentary on Boethi us’s De
Trinitate (ca. 1257-1259) and in his later commentary on Aristotle’s Metaphysics
(ca. 1270-1271/1272)
4
. I t is in these two works that we find his clearest
account of how the sci ences study the separate substances, both God and the
angels. For that reason, I wi ll begi n wi th a summary and analysi s of the
relevant passages i n each work. Havi ng done thi s, I wi ll then show how, for
Thomas, created separated substances can be both the causes of the subject
matter of metaphysi cs and i ncluded under i t.
I
TEXT 1: I N DE TRINITATE, Q. 5
I n hi s commentary on Boethi us’s De Trinitate, Thomas dedi cates Questi ons
5 and 6 to exami ni ng the di vi si on and methods of the sci ences. I n q. 5, a. 1 the
fi rst topi c that he consi ders i s whether i t i s fi tti ng to di vi de speculati ve
WI PPEL , Metaphysical Themes in Thomas Aquinas, The Catholi c Uni versi ty of Ameri ca Press,
Washi ngton, D. C. 1984, pp. 55-67 ; I D., The Metaphysical Thought of Thomas Aquinas,The
Catholi c Uni versi ty of Ameri ca Press, Washi ngton, D.C. 2000, pp. 3-22 ; R. MCI NERNY, Praeambula
Fidei : Thomism and the God of the Philosophers,The Catholi c Uni versi ty of Ameri ca Press,
Washi ngton, D.C. 2006, pp. 210-218 ; L. DEWAN, O. P., What Does It Mean to Study Being ‘as
Being’ , i n Form and Being : Studies in Thomistic Metaphysics,The Catholi c Uni versi ty of Ameri ca
Press, Washi ngton, D.C. 2006, pp. 13-34 ; A. ZI MMERMANN, Ontologie oder Metaphysik ? Die
Diskussion über den Gegenstand der Metaphysik im 13. und 14. Jahrhundert, 2
nd
rev. ed., Peeters,
Leuven 1998, pp. 200-223. See thi s last work for an overvi ew of other medi eval accounts of the
subject matter of metaphysi cs.
3
The most thorough presentati on of Thomas’s phi losophi cal account of the angels i s offered
by J . Colli ns i n hi s work The Thomistic Philosophy of the Angels, The Catholi c Uni versi ty of
Ameri ca Press, Washi ngton, D.C. 1947. For a more recent although less thorough treatment of
Thomas’s angelology, see T. SUAREZ-NANI , Les anges et la philosophie : Subjectivité et fonction
cosmologique des substances séparées à la fin du XIII
e
siècle, Vri n, Pari s 2002 (Études de
phi losophi e médi évale 82), esp. pp. 27-53, 103-142.
4
Dating of Thomas’s texts follows J .-P. Torrell’s Saint Thomas Aquinas, vol. I , The Person and His
Works, rev. ed., trans. R. Royal, The Catholic University of America Press, Washington, D.C. 2005.
349 AQUI NAS ON SEPARATE SUBSTANCES
science into three parts : natural, mathematical, and divine
5
. Thomas concludes
that thi s i s i ndeed a fi tti ng di vi si on si nce i t i s based upon the degree to whi ch
the objects consi dered are separated from matter and moti on. As he explai ns,
some objects of speculati ve knowledge depend upon sensi ble matter both to
be and to be understood, as flesh and bones must be i ncluded i n the defi ni ti on
of man. Such objects are studi ed by physi cs, or natural sci ence. Other objects
depend upon sensi ble matter only to be, but not to be understood si nce i t does
not enter i nto thei r defi ni ti on, as wi th li nes and numbers. Such are the objects
studi ed by mathemati cs
6
.
Fi nally, Thomas explai ns, there are objects that do not depend upon
matter because they can exi st wi thout i t, and he i denti fi es two ways i n whi ch
thi s can occur
7
. Either they never exist in matter, as is the case with God and
the angels ; or they exi st i n matter i n some i nstances but not i n others, as i s
the case wi th substance, quali ty, bei ng (ens), potency, act, one and many, and
so forth. The sci ence that studi es both sorts of objects, he tells us, i s theology
or di vi ne sci ence because the pri nci pal object consi dered i n i t i s God. Lest we
wonder whether he i s referri ng to revealed theology, Thomas adds that thi s
sci ence i s also called by another name: ‘metaphysi cs’. Thi s name, he explai ns,
means ‘beyond physi cs’ (trans physicam) because i t i s learned after the study
of physi cs. And i t i s also called ‘fi rst phi losophy’ because all of the other
sci ences follow thi s one, recei vi ng thei r pri nci ples from i t
8
.
I n thi s fi rst arti cle, then, we fi nd Thomas clearly stati ng that i t belongs to
metaphysi cs to study the angels — at least i n part. For we also fi nd hi m
i denti fyi ng two classes of objects that thi s sci ence studi es. The fi rst class
5
Super Boetium De Trinitate (hereafter In De Trin.), q. 5, prologus, in SANCTI THOMAE DE AQUINO
Opera Omnia, vol. 50, Commissio Leonina - Vrin, Roma - Paris 1992, p. 136, lin. 1-4. For discussions
of Questions 5 and 6 in this work, see P. PORRO ed., Tommaso D’Aquino, Commenti a Boezio, Rusconi,
Milan 1997, pp. 55-367 ; NEUMANN, Gegenstand und Methode der theoretischen Wissenschaften cit. ; L.
ELDERS, Faith and Science : An Introduction to St. Thomas’ Expositio in Boethii De Trinitate, Herder,
Rome 1974 ; H. WEI DEMANN, Metaphysik und Sprache : Eine sprachphilosophique Untersuchung zu
Thomas von Aquin und Aristoteles, Karl Albert Publi shi ng House, Freiburg-Munich 1975; WI PPEL,
Metaphysical Themes cit., pp. 69-104 ; I D., Metaphysical Thought cit., pp. 8-9, 17, 23-35. See also A.
Maurer’s translation and notes on this text in his work, The Division and Methods of the Sciences, 4
th
ed., trans. by A. MAURER, Pontifical I nstitute of Mediaeval Studies, Toronto 1986. Regarding the
influence of Avicenna in parts of this work, see WI PPEL, Metaphysical Themes cit., pp. 37-53.
6
In De Trin., q. 5, a. 1, ed. ci t., p. 138, li n. 141-154.
7
Thomas leaves unstated the conclusi on that such objects would thus also not depend upon
sensi ble matter to be understood.
8
In De Trin., q. 5, a. 1, ed. cit., p. 138, lin.154-167. Thomas concludes this article by noting that
it is impossible for there to be any objects that depend upon matter to be understood but not for them
to be since the intellect by its nature is immaterial. Thus, there is no fourth type of science. I n short,
the division of speculative science stated at the outset is fitting ed. cit., p. 138, lin.168-172.
350 GREGORY T. DOOLAN
(consisting of God and the angels) entirely excludes matter ; for that reason, it
has been termed by some scholars as ‘positively immaterial’. By contrast, the
second class (consisting of substance, being, and the like), does not entirely
exclude matter ; rather, it consists of objects that can be in matter but need not
be, and for that reason it has been described by some scholars as ‘negatively
immaterial’ or ‘neutrally immaterial’
9
. We are left, then, with the question of
how God and the angels, both of which are positively immaterial objects, relate
to the negatively immaterial objects that metaphysics also studies.
Thomas provi des an answer to thi s questi on i n q. 5, a. 4, where he
i denti fi es the subject matter of metaphysi cs. The questi on posed i n thi s
arti cle i s whether di vi ne sci ence concerns those thi ngs that are separate from
matter and moti on
10
. Thomas begi ns hi s response by asserti ng that any
sci ence i s only perfected through a knowledge of the pri nci ples of i ts subject
matter. Havi ng noted thi s fact, he proceeds to explai n that there are two types
of pri nci ples : those that are complete natures i n themselves, and those that
are not. As examples of the former type of pri nci ple, he gi ves the heavenly
bodi es and the elements. Followi ng the physi cs of hi s ti me, he explai ns that
the heavenly bodi es are pri nci ples of terrestri al bodi es and that the elements
are pri nci ples of mi xed bodi es. Moreover, both the heavenly bodi es and the
elements are complete natures i n themselves. For that reason, they can be
studi ed i n two respects : they can be studi ed i n one sci ence si mply i nasmuch
as they are pri nci ples of other thi ngs, but they can also be studi ed i n another
sci ence that consi ders them i n thei r own ri ght. Thus, there i s a sci ence that
studi es the heavenly bodi es i ndependently of terrestri al bodi es (the sci ence
we would today call astronomy), and there i s also a sci ence that consi ders the
elements i ndependently of mi xed bodi es (a branch of the sci ence we would
today call chemi stry). I n contrast to these sorts of pri nci ples, those pri nci ples
that are not complete natures i n themselves can only be studi ed i n one
sci ence: the sci ence i n whi ch they are treated as pri nci ples of other thi ngs.
Thomas gi ves the examples of uni ty as the pri nci ple of number, a poi nt as the
pri nci ple of li nes, and form and matter as the pri nci ples of natural bodi es
11
.
He next notes that all bei ngs, i nasmuch as they share i n bei ng (in ente),
have certai n pri nci ples i n common that are the pri nci ples of all bei ngs. Ci ti ng
Avi cenna, he notes that these pri nci ples can be called common i n two ways :
by predi cati on or by causali ty
12
. Principles are common by predication when
9
See, e.g., M. A. GL UTZ, Being and Metaphysics, « The Modern Schoolman », 35, 1958, pp.
271-285, p. 276 ; WI PPEL , Metaphysical Themes ci t., pp 30, 72-73 ; I D., Metaphysical Thought ci t.,
pp. 8-9, 52-53.
10
In De Trin. q. 5, prologus, ed. ci t., p. 136, li n. 6-9.
11
In De Trin., q. 5, a. 4, ed. ci t., p. 153, li n. 80-107.
12
AVI CENNA, Sufficientia, I , c. 2, Veni ce 1508, f. 14va, li n. 6-30.
351 AQUI NAS ON SEPARATE SUBSTANCES
they can be predi cated of many thi ngs, as the term ‘form’ i s common to all
forms because i t can be predi cated of all forms. Ci ti ng Ari stotle’s Metaphysics,
Thomas explai ns that i n thi s sense there are pri nci ples common to all bei ngs
secundum analogiam
13
. By contrast, pri nci ples are common by causali ty
when the causal pri nci ple of many thi ngs i s numeri cally one. Followi ng the
physi cs of hi s day, he gi ves as an example the sun, whi ch i s numeri cally one
thi ng and yet i s the pri nci ple of all generable thi ngs. Si mi larly, there are
certai n thi ngs that are each one i n number and yet are the pri nci ples of all
existing thi ngs. I n thi s way, he explai ns, the pri nci ples of acci dents are
reduced to the pri nci ples of substance, and the pri nci ples of corrupti ble
substances are reduced to the i ncorrupti ble substances. All bei ngs, therefore,
are reduced to certai n pri nci ples followi ng an ordered gradati on
14
. Looking
to the summi t of thi s ordered gradati on, he explai ns,
«And since that which is the principle of being (essendi) for all things must be
maximally a being (maxime ens), as is said in Metaphysics I I , such principles [i.e.,
of all beings] must be most perfect. Hence, they must be maximally in act, so that
they have no potency or the least potency since act is prior and superior to
potency, as is said in Metaphysics I X. And for this reason, they must be separate
from matter, which is in potency, and from motion, which is the actuality of that
which exists in potency. And such [principles] are divine things (res divinae),
since, as is said in Bk VI of the Metaphysics, “if the divine exists anywhere, in such
a nature it exists” especially, namely, in what is immaterial and immobile»
15
.
Thus far i n thi s arti cle, Thomas has not expli ci tly i denti fi ed these ‘di vi ne
thi ngs’ by name. Thei r key characteri sti c that he has i denti fi ed, however, i s
that they are separate from matter and moti on. Si nce these pri nci ples are not
common merely by predi cati on, we can conclude that the ‘di vi ne bei ngs’ are
13
See Metaphysics, XI I , 4, 1070a31-33 ; 5, 1071a30-35.
14
In De Trin., q. 5, a. 4, ed. ci t., p. 153, li n. 108-131.
15
In De Trin., q. 5, a. 4, ed. ci t., pp. 153, li n. 131-154, li n.143 : « Et qui a i d quod est
pri nci pi um essendi omni bus oportet esse maxi me ens, ut di ci tur i n I I Metaphysi cae, i deo
hui usmodi pri nci pi a oportet esse completi ssi ma ; et propter hoc oportet ea esse maxi me actu,
ut ni hi l vel mi ni mum habeant de potenti a, qui a actus est pri or et poti or potenti a, ut di ci tur i n
I X Metaphysi cae ; et propter hoc oportet ea esse absque materi a, quae est i n potenti a, et absque
motu, qui est actus exsi stenti s i n potenti a. Et hui usmodi sunt res di vi nae, qui a ‘si di vi num
ali cubi exsi sti t, i n tali natura’, i mmateri ali sci li cet et i mmobi li , maxi me ‘exsi sti t’, ut di ci tur i n
VI Metaphysi cae ». Emphasi s added i n translati on. Unless otherwi se noted, all translati ons are
my own. See Metaphysics, I I , 2, 993b26-31 ; I X, 8-12, 1049b4-1051a33 ; VI , 1, 1026a20. — That
Thomas’s reference to ‘such pri nci ples’ (huiusmodi principia) refers to pri nci ples of all bei ngs
(principia omnia entium) i s clear from the li nes that precede and follow thi s observati on. See In
De Trin., q. 5, a. 4, ed. ci t., pp. 153, li n. 108-113 ; 154, li n. 143-148.
352 GREGORY T. DOOLAN
not the negati vely i mmateri al objects such as ‘substance’ and ‘bei ng’ (ens) that
Thomas i denti fi es i n q. 5, a. 1. Rather, they must be posi ti vely i mmateri al, and
i n fact he says as much as the passage conti nues. Sti ll, from thi s quoted
passage alone, we can i nfer that Thomas i s not only i denti fyi ng God as
somethi ng ‘di vi ne’, but the angels as well
16
. This reading is confirmed by his
observati on that these pri nci ples ei ther have no potency or the least potency
possi ble. Only God has no potency; hence, the reference to bei ngs wi th the
least potency possi ble i s a reference to the angels. I n reply to the fourth
objecti on, Thomas explai ns that God’s essence i s pure actuali ty whereas the
essence of an angel, i n contrast, i s really di sti nct from i ts esse and thus stands
i n potency to i ts esse. Sti ll, an angel does lack the potency of matter and so,
also, the potency that moti on entai ls. Thus, of all bei ngs that possess potency,
angels have the least
17
. And it is because they are separate from matter and
moti on that Thomas i ncludes them together wi th God as ‘di vi ne bei ngs’.
Having identified the immaterial nature of the causal principles of all
beings, Thomas continues in the body of article 4 by returning to his earlier
distinction between two sorts of principles and how they are studied in the
sciences. He notes that the ‘divine things’ are not only principles of all beings,
but they are also complete natures in themselves. Thus, like the heavenly bodies
and the elements, they can be studied in two ways: as principles and as things
in their own right. Nevertheless, he identifies an obstacle to studying them in
this latter way — not an obstacle due to the things themselves but one that is
due to the limitations of the human mind. I n themselves, these principles are
in fact most knowable, but our intellects stand to them as the eye of the owl does
to the light of the sun. Through the light of natural reason, we can only reach
these ‘divine things’ to the extent that we are led to them by their effects. I t is
in this way, Thomas explains, that the philosophers attain knowledge of these
first principles
18
. «Hence, such divine things are not treated by philosophers
except insofar as they are the principles of all things»
19
. Thus, he concludes,
16
We mi ght wonder, then, why the fi rst li ne of the above quoted passage speaks i n terms of
a si ngle pri nci ple of all thi ngs. Thi s i s because Thomas i s there referri ng to the pri nci ple of the
esse of all thi ngs (principium essendi omnibus), whereas earli er i n q. 5, a. 4 he had referred
i nstead to the pri nci ples of all beings (principia omnium entium). See In De Trin., q. 5, a. 4, ed.
ci t., p. 153, li n.111, 120, 122-123, 126, 130-131. As wi ll be di scussed below, Thomas concludes
that only God can be the di rect and i mmedi ate cause of esse.
17
In De Trin., q. 5, a. 4, ad 4, ed. ci t., pp.155, li n. 263 - 156, li n. 304. See also De ente et essentia
(hereafter De ente), c. 4, in SANCTI THOMAE DE AQUINO Opera Omnia, vol. 43, Commissio Leonina,
Rome 1976, pp. 376, li n. 90 - 378, li n. 201.
18
In De Trin., q. 5, a. 4. Offering scriptural support for this position, Thomas cites Romans I ,
20 : « I nvisibilia Dei per ea quae facta sunt intellectu conspiciuntur » (ed. cit., p. 154, lin. 156-157).
19
In De Trin., q. 5, a. 4, ed. ci t., p. 154, li n. 157-159 : « Unde et hui usmodi res di vi nae non
tractantur a phi losophi s ni si prout sunt rerum omni um pri nci pi a ».
353 AQUI NAS ON SEPARATE SUBSTANCES
they are treated in the science that studies what is common to all beings, the
science that has as its subject matter being inasmuch as it is being (ens in
quantum ens). And it is this science that philosophers call ‘divine science’
20
.
Despite the limitation on the part of the human intellect, Thomas notes that
there is another way by which these ‘divine things’ can be known — not as their
effects reveal them but, rather, as they reveal themselves. And in this way, they
can be studied as they subsist in themselves rather than simply as the principles
of all things. Having drawn this distinction, he identifies two types of theology
or divine science. One is the divine science that we have already addressed here
and in q. 5, a. 1. This science does not consider ‘divine things’ as its subject
matter but only as the principles of its subject matter ; it is the theology of the
philosophers, which is also called ‘metaphysics’. The other type of theology,
however, does consider ‘divine things’ as its very subject matter, and this is the
theology taught in the science that he terms ‘Sacred Scripture’
21
.
Thomas notes that both of these sciences consider things that are separate
from matter and motion, but he is careful to add that they do so in different
ways since something can be separate in one of two ways. According to the first
way, a thing by its very nature is incapable of existing in matter and motion.
This is the positive mode of immateriality that he had described in q. 5, a. 1. As
in that article, here in article 4 he again identifies God and the angels (Deus et
angeli) as examples of the sorts of things that are positively immaterial.
According to the second way, it does not belong to the nature of a thing to exist
in matter and motion ; rather such things are sometimes found separate from
these conditions, and sometimes not. This is the negative mode of immateriality
that he had described in q. 5, a. 1. Offering a shorter list of the examples given
in that article, he now identifies being (ens), substance, potency and act. As he
explains, these things are separate from matter and motion in this second way
because they do not depend upon either matter or motion according to being
(secundum esse) in the way the objects of mathematics do, which exist in
sensible matter even though they can be understood without it
22
.
Havi ng drawn thi s di sti ncti on, Thomas outli nes how the two ki nds of
theology study the two ki nds of i mmateri al thi ngs. Phi losophi cal theology
studi es as i ts subject matter thi ngs that are separated i n the second sense (the
negati vely i mmateri al), but i t studi es thi ngs that are separated i n the fi rst
sense (the posi ti vely i mmateri al) only as the principles of i ts subject matter.
By contrast, the theology of sacred scri pture treats thi ngs separated i n the
20
In De Trin., q. 5, a. 4, ed. ci t., p.154, li n. 143-157.
21
Ibid., p. 154, li n. 157-182.
22
Ibid., p. 154, li n. 182-198. Cf. ibid., ad 5, p.156, li n. 305-313.
354 GREGORY T. DOOLAN
fi rst sense as i ts subject matter, but also consi ders thi ngs that exi st i n matter
and moti on to the extent that they are needed to make ‘di vi ne thi ngs’ clear
23
.
We now have a better sense of how Thomas consi ders both God and the angels
to be studi ed i n metaphysi cs : they are not treated as i ts very subject matter ;
rather, they are treated si mply as the pri nci ples or causes of that subject
matter, whi ch i s what Thomas terms ens commune, bei ng i n general
24
.
Thus far in article 4 Thomas has simply grouped God and the angels
together as positively immaterial beings, making no explicit distinction between
them as they are either in themselves or as principles of other beings. I n his
reply to the third objection, however, he identifies an important difference
regarding how God and the angels are studied. Thomas explains that the divine
science received through divine inspiration does not treat angels as its subject
matter ; qualifying what he had said in the responsio, he notes that the angels
are only included in that science as among those things that make its subject
matter clear. Thus, angels are treated in the science of Sacred Scripture as
other creatures are. «But in the divine science that the philosophers teach », he
adds, «the angels (which they call ‘I ntelligences’) are considered from the same
perspective (eadem rationem) as the first cause, which is God, insofar as they
are also secondary principles of things, at least through the motion of the
spheres. But no physical motion can happen to them»
25
.
Unfortunately, Thomas provi des no explanati on here regardi ng ei ther
what i t means for the angels to act as secondary pri nci ples or how they do so
through the moti on of the spheres. I wi ll return to these two asserti ons below
to consi der them i n li ght of what Thomas says elsewhere about the angels. For
now, suffi ce i t to say that i n hi s commentary on Boethi us’s De Trinitate, he
concludes that both God and the angels are studi ed i n metaphysi cs, not as i ts
subject matter (whi ch i s ens commune), but as the pri nci ples of that subject
matter, although angels are i n some sense only secondary pri nci ples.
TEXT 2: IN METAPHYSICAM, PROEMIUM
I n the Proemi um to hi s commentary on Ari stotle’s Metaphysics, Thomas
observes that when several thi ngs are ordered toward one thi ng, that one
thi ng i s the rule or ruler of those others. Thus we fi nd that all of the arts and
23
In De Trin., q. 5, a. 4, ed. ci t., p. 154, li n. 198-206.
24
See In De Trin., q. 5, a. 1, ad 7, ed. ci t., p. 141, li n. 338-342.
25
In De Trin., q. 5, a. 4, ad 3, ed. ci t., p. 155, li n. 239-250 : « Sed i n sci enti a di vi na quam
phi losophi tradunt consi deratur de angeli s quos i ntelli genti as vocant, eadem rati one qua et de
pri ma causa, quae Deus <est>, i n quantum i psi eti am sunt rerum pri nci pi a secunda, saltem per
motum orbi um. Qui bus qui dem nullus motus physi cus acci dere potest ».
355 AQUI NAS ON SEPARATE SUBSTANCES
sci ences are ordered toward one end, namely, to man’s perfecti on, whi ch i s
happi ness. I t i s for thi s reason that one of these sci ences governs the others,
and thi s sci ence i s appropri ately called ‘wi sdom’, for i t belongs to the wi se
man to set others i n order. Thomas goes on to show that i t belongs to the most
i ntellectual sci ence to govern the other sci ences, and he shows that thi s
sci ence i s consequently concerned wi th the most i ntelli gi ble thi ngs (maxime
intelligibilia). What are these thi ngs ? To answer thi s questi on, he proceeds to
outli ne three ways i n whi ch somethi ng can be consi dered ‘most i ntelli gi ble’
26
.
(1) The fi rst way follows from what i s known. As Thomas explai ns, those
thi ngs from whi ch the i ntellect acqui res certi tude seem to be more i ntelli gi ble.
Now, the i ntellect acqui res certi tude i n sci ence from causes ; thus, knowledge
of causes seems to be the most i ntellectual sort of knowledge, and the sci ence
that consi ders the fi rst causes seems to be the hi ghest and ruler of the other
sci ences. (2) The second way follows from the mode of knowledge. Here,
Thomas i denti fi es what i s ‘most i ntelli gi ble’ by compari ng the i ntellect wi th
the senses. Sense knowledge i s a knowledge of parti culars whereas i ntellectual
knowledge seems to di ffer i n that i t comprehends uni versals. For that reason,
the sci ence that i s most i ntellectual consi ders the pri nci ples that are most
uni versal. These are bei ng (ens) and what follow upon bei ng, for example, one
and many, potency and act. Such pri nci ples should not remai n enti rely
unexami ned because wi thout a complete knowledge of them, one cannot have
a knowledge of those thi ngs that are proper to any genus or speci es. And yet,
i t does not belong to any one of these parti cular sci ences to study these
uni versal pri nci ples ; si nce these pri nci ples are needed for knowledge of every
class of bei ngs, they would for the same reason be treated by every parti cular
sci ence. I t remai ns, therefore, that they are treated i n one uni versal sci ence
and that thi s sci ence i s most i ntellectual. As such, Thomas concludes, i t
governs all of the rest
27
.
(3) Finally, the third way in which we can take things to be ‘most intelligible’
follows from the knower hi mself. Whatever has i ntellecti ve power does so
because i t i s free from matter. As Thomas explai ns, however, the i ntellect and
what i s i ntelli gi ble must be proporti oned to each other si nce the i ntellect and
the i ntelli gi ble are one i n act. What i s most i ntelli gi ble, therefore, must be
separated from matter i n the fullest sense. But what i s separated from matter
i n the fullest sense are thi ngs that can be abstracted from sensi ble matter
enti rely and not only from desi gnated matter. To i llustrate what he means,
Thomas draws some poi nts of contrast. The natural forms consi dered by
26
In duodecim libros Metaphysicorum Aristotelis expositio (hereafter In Meta.), M.-R.
CATHAL A, R. M. SPI AZZI edd., Mari etti , Turi n-Rome 1950, Proemi um, p. 1.
27
Ibid.
356 GREGORY T. DOOLAN
natural sci ence are understood uni versally because they are abstracted from
desi gnated matter, but these forms cannot be abstracted from sensi ble matter
enti rely. Unli ke natural forms, mathemati cal objects can be separated i n
thought, not si mply from desi gnated matter but also from sensi ble matter
(secundum rationem), although they cannot be separated from i t i n thei r
exi stence (secundum esse). Those thi ngs, however, that are i n the fullest sense
separated from matter are so both i n thought and i n thei r exi stence as well.
As examples, Thomas li sts God and the I ntelli gences. Hence, he concludes,
the sci ence that consi ders such thi ngs seems to be the most i ntellectual and
governs all the rest
28
.
I n this threefold consideration, then, Thomas presents three classes of
objects that are most intelligible: (1) the first causes, (2) the most universal
principles, such as being (ens) (principles referred to in In De Trin. as common
by predication), and (3) God and the I ntelligences. He then proceeds to show
that this threefold consideration should be attributed to one and the same
science. First, he identifies classes 1 and 3, noting that it is the separate
substances that are the universal and first causes of being (universales et primae
causae essendi). Next, he observes that the proper causes of any genus and the
genus itself are studied by the same science, as natural science studies both
natural bodies as well as the principles of natural bodies. Thus, it belongs to
one and the same science to consider separate substances as the common and
universal causes of the ‘genus’ that is being in general (ens commune)
29
.
I n referring to being in general in this way, Thomas does not mean to
suggest that it is a genus in the proper sense of the term, as he will make clear
later in this Commentary
30
. Rather, he simply means that class 2 is the subject
matter of the science in which God and the I ntelligences are treated as first
causes. As he explains, although this science considers all three classes of
objects, it nevertheless only considers being in general as its subject matter
(subiectum). For in any science, causes are not studied as the very subject
matter of the science; rather, they are studied only insofar as they are the
causes of that subject matter. Knowledge of the causes of some genus is,
instead, the end or goal of any science. And yet, Thomas explains, even though
being in general is the subject matter of this science, the science as a whole is
concerned with what is separate from matter, both in existence and in thought.
Things are said to be separate from matter in both respects, not only because
they can never exist in matter (as is the case with God and the intellectual
28
In Meta., ed. ci t., p. 1.
29
Ibid., pp. 1-2.
30
See In III Meta., lect. 8, nn. 430-435, ed. ci t, p. 122. For Ari stotle on thi s topi c, see
Metaphysics, I I I , 3, 998b21-28.
357 AQUI NAS ON SEPARATE SUBSTANCES
substances), but also because they are capable of existing apart from matter
(such as being in general). As he notes, it would not be possible for such things
to be separate from matter if they depended upon it in order to exist
31
.
Thomas concludes thi s consi derati on by noti ng that thi s sci ence i s gi ven
three names correspondi ng to the three classes of objects menti oned above.
I t i s called ‘di vi ne sci ence’ or ‘theology’ because i t studi es God and the
I ntelli gences. I t i s called ‘metaphysi cs’ because i t studi es bei ng (ens) and
those thi ngs that follow upon bei ng: i n other words, thi ngs that are beyond
the physi cal (transphysica). And i t i s called ‘fi rst phi losophy’ because i t
studi es the fi rst causes of thi ngs
32
.
CONCLUSIONS
I n these two texts that we have considered, Thomas expresses a consistent
view regarding the subject matter of metaphysics, a view that spans most of his
career. Although his treatments of this topic appear in commentaries on the
works of other authors, the ideas expressed are nonetheless Thomas’s own.
This is clear from the context of the discussion. His consideration of the subject
matter of metaphysics in his commentary on Boethius’s De Trinitate occurs in
the context of a question commentary rather than a literal one. And his
consideration in his commentary on Aristotle’s Metaphysics occurs in the
Proemium, where Thomas is writing in his own name. I n both works, he comes
to the following conclusion : it belongs to metaphysics to study what is separate
from matter and motion. This includes what I have referred to as the positively
immaterial (the separate substances) as well as the negatively immaterial
(principles such as being and substance). Nevertheless, metaphysics does not
treat the separate substances as its very subject matter, even though this
science may be termed ‘divine science’ or ‘theology’. Rather, it studies both God
and the angels as the causes of its subject matter, which is being in general.
From these two texts, we now have a clearer pi cture of how the angels are
studi ed i n metaphysi cs. Nevertheless, Thomas’s account rai ses further
questi ons. Although he does not consi der the separate substances to be the
very subjects of metaphysi cs, he does consi der them to be bei ngs. Hence, i t
seems that they ought to be i ncluded under the ‘genus’ of ens commune. Thi s
possi bi li ty leads to the followi ng questi ons : (1) Does Thomas i ndeed consi der
angels to be i ncluded under the subject matter of metaphysi cs ? (2) And i f so,
how does he thi nk they can be pri nci ples of a subject matter under whi ch they
are i ncluded ? I wi ll address these two questi ons i n the secti ons that follow.
31
In Meta., Proemi um, ed. ci t., p. 2.
32
Ibid.
358 GREGORY T. DOOLAN
I I
I n consi deri ng thi s fi rst questi on, we encounter an aporia from the texts
consi dered so far. On the one hand, Thomas presents the separate substances
si mply as the causes of ens commune and does not expli ci tly present them as
i ncluded under i t. I n fact, i n hi s commentary on the De Trinitate he goes so far
as to say that «such di vi ne thi ngs are not treated by phi losophers except
insofar as they are the principles of all things »
33
. This statement would seem
to suggest that Thomas does not vi ew ei ther God or the angels as i ncluded
under the subject matter of metaphysi cs. On the other hand, i n both
commentari es he presents bei ng (ens) and substance as pri nci ples that i n
some i nstances exi st apart from matter, even though i n other i nstances they
do not. Thi s would seem to suggest that Thomas does vi ew the separate
substances as i ncluded under the subject matter of metaphysi cs si nce they are
preci sely bei ngs and substances that exi st apart from matter
34
.
The soluti on to thi s aporia rests i n part i n maki ng a di sti ncti on between the
two di fferent types of separate substances i denti fi ed by Thomas : God and the
angels. Ti me and agai n throughout hi s corpus, he concludes that God i s not
i ncluded under any genus
35
. I t might seem, however, that God must at least
fall under the genus substance si nce, as one objecti on notes i n the De potentia,
the fundamental characteri sti c of substance i s to exi st per se (per se existere),
a characteri sti c that most fully belongs to God. As Thomas explai ns i n reply,
however, ens per se i s not the defi ni ti on of substance si nce bei ng (ens) i s not
a genus. Because substance i s one of the most uni versal genera, i t cannot
properly be defi ned. Sti ll he proposes a worki ng defi ni ti on, explai ni ng that
«‘substance’ i s a thi ng to whose qui ddi ty i t belongs to be (esse) not i n
another ». Thi s defi ni ti on, however, i s not appli cable to God si nce hi s qui ddi ty
i s not di sti nct from hi s act of bei ng (esse). Hence, Thomas concludes, God i s
33
In De Trin., q. 5, a. 4, ed. cit., p. 154, lin. 157-159. Emphasis added. For the Latin, see n. 19 above.
34
See above, nn. 8 and 31. See also In De Trin., q. 5, a. 4, ad 5, ed. ci t., p. 156, li n. 305-313.
I n hi s Commentary on Ari stotle’s Metaphysics, Thomas makes thi s poi nt more clearly. There, he
explai ns that i t belongs to thi s sci ence to study all substances i nasmuch as they are substances
(In III Meta., lect. 6, n. 398, ed. ci t., p. 112). Cf. In XI Meta., lect. 1, n. 2152-2153, ed. ci t., p. 510 ;
In XII Meta., lect. 2, n. 2427, ed. ci t., p. 570.
35
See, e.g., Scriptum super Sententiis I (hereafter In I Sent.) d. 8, q. 4, a. 2, ed. P.
MANDONNET, Lethi elleux, Pari s 1929, vol. I , pp. 221-223 ; Summa contra gentiles (hereafter
SCG), I , c. 25, i n SANCTI THOMAE DE AQUINO Opera Omnia, vol. 13, Commi ssi o Leoni na, Rome
1918, p. 76 ; Quaestiones disputate De potentia (hereafter De pot.), q. 7, a. 3, i n Quaestiones
disputatae, ed. M. PESSI ON, Mari etti , Turi n-Rome 1949, vol. I I , pp. 193-194 ; Summa theologiae
(hereafter ST), I , q. 3, a. 5, i n SANCTI THOMAE DE AQUINO Opera Omnia, vol. 4, Ex Typographi a
polyglotta, Rome 1888, pp. 43-44.
359 AQUI NAS ON SEPARATE SUBSTANCES
not i ncluded i n the genus substance
36
. And so, even though he is immaterial,
God i s not an example of the sort of i mmateri al substance that would be
i ncluded under the subject matter of metaphysi cs, ens commune.
More to the point, Thomas holds that in no respect is God included under
ens commune
37
. We find him arriving at this conclusion, among other places,
in his commentary on the Liber de causis (1272). I n the course of addressing the
conclusion in Proposition 6 that the First Cause transcends all description,
Thomas explains that the unknown author of this work offers three arguments
to prove this proposition. These arguments follow the three ways in which
something can be known : (1) as an effect is known in its cause, (2) as something
is known through itself, and (3) as a cause is known through its effect. Looking
at the second of these three ways, Thomas notes that the author makes clear
why the First Cause is above things that are sensible, imaginable, and corruptible.
What that author does not make clear in this Proposition is why God is also
above intelligible, sempiternal things (res intelligibiles sempiternas). Thomas
adds that Proclus, however, proves this point by saying that all intellectual, or
rational, thought is thought about beings (entia)
38
: As Aquinas explains,
« What i s fi rst grasped by the i ntellect i s ens ; that i n whi ch the character of ens
i s not found i s i ncapable of bei ng grasped by the i ntellect. Hence, si nce the
Fi rst Cause i s above ens, i t follows that the Fi rst Cause i s above i ntelli gi ble,
sempi ternal thi ngs. Now, accordi ng to the Platoni sts, the Fi rst Cause i s above
ens i nasmuch as the essence of goodness and uni ty (whi ch i s the Fi rst Cause)
also exceeds Separated-Ens-I tself (ipsum ens separatum), as was sai d above.
But accordi ng to the truth of the matter, the Fi rst Cause i s above ens i nasmuch
as i t i s I nfi ni te-Esse-I tself. Ens, by contrast, i s called ‘that whi ch fi ni tely
parti ci pates esse’, and i t i s thi s that i s proporti onate to our i ntellect, whose
object i s ‘that whi ch i s’ (quod quid est) as i s sai d i n De anima, I I I …»
39
.
36
De pot., q. 7, a. 3, obj. 4, ed. ci t., p. 193 ; ibid., ad 4, p. 194 : « Substantia est res cuius
quidditati debetur esse non in aliquo » (i tali cs i n ori gi nal). Cf. other texts ci ted i n n. 35 above. —
I f God i s not i ncluded i n the genus substance, we mi ght wonder why Thomas refers to hi m as a
‘separate substance’. I n the same arti cle from the De potentia, Thomas explai ns i n reply to the
seventh objecti on : « Li cet Deus non perti neat ad genus substanti ae quasi i n genere contentum,
— si cut speci es vel i ndi vi duum sub genere conti nentur, — potest tamen di ci quod si t i n genere
substanti ae per reducti onem, si cut pri nci pi um, et si cut punctum est i n genere quanti tati s
conti nuae, et uni tas i n genere numeri ; et per hunc modum est mensura substanti arum omni um,
si cut unitas numerorum » (q. 7, a. 3, ad 7, ed. ci t., p. 194).
37
On thi s poi nt, Thomas i s uni que among hi s medi eval contemporari es. See ZI MMERMANN,
Ontologie oder Metaphysik ? ci t., esp. pp. 251-381.
38
PROCL US, Proposi ti on 123, i n Proclus : The Elements of Theology, 2
nd
ed., translated wi th
commentary by E. R. DODDS, Oxford Uni versi ty Press, Oxford 1963, pp. 108-110.
39
Sancti Thomae de Aquino Super Librum de causis expositio (hereafter In Lib. de caus.), ed.
H. D. SAFFREY, Soci été Phi losophi que, Fri bourg-Louvai n 1954, Prop. 6, pp. 46, li n. 13 - 47, li n.
360 GREGORY T. DOOLAN
This passage is of interest to us here for three reasons. (1) First, it shows that
Thomas considers God to be, in a sense, beyond being (ens). Clearly, however,
he does not accept what the Platonists mean when they speak of God in this
way. According to Thomas, God is not beyond being principally because he is
Goodness I tself or Unity I tself ; rather, he is beyond being principally because
as Esse I tself he is infinite
40
. Unlike these Platonists, then, Thomas is not
claiming that God is not a being. To the contrary, because he considers God to
be Ipsum Esse, Thomas concludes that God is the maxime ens
41
. I n short, the
contrast that he is drawing here is not one between being (ens) and non being
(non ens), but between finite being (ens finitum) and infinite being (ens
infinitum). Only the former constitutes the subject matter of metaphysics.
Thus, we find him elsewhere explicitly contrasting ens commune with ens
increatum
42
. (2) The second point of interest regarding this passage follows
from the first : God is beyond ens commune not simply because he is its cause
but because he is infinite in being (esse). I ndeed, as we will see below, it is only
because God is infinite that he can be the first cause of all beings. (3) Finally,
the third point of interest for us in this passage is Thomas’s conclusion that God
transcends sempiternal things because he transcends ens (commune). This
means that, in contrast to God, sempiternal beings (namely, things that are
above time and motion) such as angels do not transcend being in general
43
.
I t i s clear, then, that i f any separate substances are i ncluded under ens
commune, i t i s the angels. For unli ke God, angels are i ncluded under a genus
22 : « I llud enim quod primo acquiritur ab intellectu est ens, et id in quo non invenitur ratio entis
non est capabile ab intellectu ; unde, cum causa prima sit supra ens, consequens est quod causa
prima sit supra res intelligibiles sempiternas. Causa autem prima, secundum PLATONI COS quidem,
est supra ens in quantum essentia bonitatis et unitatis, quae est causa prima, excedit etiam ipsum
ens separatum, sicut supra dictum est. Sed secundum rei veritatem causa prima est supra ens in
quantum est ipsum esse infinitum, ens autem dicitur id quod finite participat esse, et hoc est
proportionatum intellectui nostro cuius obiectum est quod quid est ut dicitur in III° De anima…».
40
Cf. ST, I , q. 7, a 1, ad 3, ed. ci t., vol. I V, p. 72. For other texts where Thomas descri bes God
as beyond bei ng (super or supra ens), see Scriptum super Sententiis II (hereafter In II Sent.), d.
2, q. 1 a. 1 ad 1, ed. P. MANDONNET, Lethi elleux, Pari s 1929, vol. I I , p. 64 ; In librum beati Dionysii
De divinis nominibus expositio (hereafter In De div. nom.), c. XI I I , lect. 3, n. 994, ed. C. PERA
Mari etti , Turi n-Rome 1950, p. 369.
41
See, e.g., the Fourth Way i n ST, I , q. 2, a. 3, ed. ci t., vol. I V, p. 32 ; In De Trin., q. 5, a. 4,
ed. ci t., pp. 153, li n. 131 - 154, li n. 143.
42
Quaestiones disputatae de veritate (hereafter, De ver.), q. 10, a. 11, ad 10, i n SANCTI THOMAE
DE AQUINO Opera Omnia, vol. 22.2, Commi ssi o Leoni na, Rome 1972, pp. 337-338, li n. 306-316.
See also In V De div. nom., lect. 2, nn. 655-660, ed. ci t., pp. 244-245. There, Thomas shows that
God transcends esse commune. Si nce esse commune i s equal i n scope to ens commune, hi s
arguments i n thi s text also i mply that God transcends ens commune.
43
Regardi ng Thomas’s understandi ng of the meani ng of ‘sempi ternal’ i n the Liber de causis,
see In Lib. de caus., Prop. 11, ed. ci t., p. 73, li n. 2-8.
361 AQUI NAS ON SEPARATE SUBSTANCES
because thei r essence i s di sti nct from thei r act of exi sti ng (esse). And i nasmuch
as angels subsi st i n thei r parti ci pated acts of exi sti ng, the genus under whi ch
they are i ncluded i s substance
44
. Unlike God, moreover, angels are created
bei ngs. As such, they must be i ncluded under ens commune. I f thi s i s true,
whatever pertai ns to the nature of bei ng i n general also pertai ns to angels
i nasmuch as they are bei ngs. And, i n fact, when Thomas consi ders the
pri nci ples of act and potency i n the Summa contra Gentiles (hereafter ‘SCG’)
he observes, «Matter and form di vi de natural substance, but potency and act
di vi de ens commune. And for thi s reason, whatever follows potency and act as
such i s common to materi al substances and to created immaterial substances
— such as to recei ve and to be recei ved, to perfect and to be perfected »
45
.
And yet, as we have seen i n hi s commentary on the De Trinitate, Thomas
expli ci tly says of God and the angels that «such di vi ne thi ngs are not treated
by phi losophers except i nsofar as they are the pri nci ples of all thi ngs »
46
. This
strong statement would seem to i ndi cate that metaphysi cs treats angels only
44
See In Lib. de caus., Prop. 7, ed. ci t., p. 49, li n. 23-28 ; In De Trin., q. 6, a. 3, ed. ci t., p. 168,
li n.133-136 ; Quaestio disputata De spiritualibus creatures (hereafter De spir. creat.), a. 1, ad 10,
i n SANCTI THOMAE DE AQUINO Opera Omnia, vol. 24.2, Commi ssi o Leoni na - Vri n, Rome -Pari s 2000,
pp. 17-18, li n. 574-581 ; ibid., a. 5, p. 61, li n. 195-214 ; ST, I , q. 88, a. 2, ad 4, ed. ci t., vol. VI , p.
367. Regardi ng how Thomas thi nks genus and speci es are to be taken i n separate substances, see
SCG, I I , c. 95, ed. ci t., vol. XI I I , pp. 568-569. — Thomas explai ns that sensi ble substances and
created i mmateri al substances fall under the same genus accordi ng to the logi cal order si nce
they are grasped accordi ng to the same i ntelli gi ble i ntenti on. Nevertheless, the two are not
i ncluded under the same genus accordi ng to the order of reali ty si nce they di ffer i n thei r degrees
of actuali ty. Thus, the phi losopher of nature and the metaphysi ci an, who consi der essences as
they exi st i n reali ty, treat bodi es and angels as falli ng under di fferent genera. See In De Trin.,
q. 6, a. 3, ed. ci t., p. 168, li n. 133-153 ; De spir. creat., a. 2, ad 16, ed. ci t., p. 32, li n. 456-471 ;
Quaestio disputata De anima (hereafter Quaes. disp. de an.), q. 7, ad 17, i n SANCTI THOMAE DE
AQUINO Opera Omnia, vol. 24.1, Commi ssi o Leoni na - Vri n, Rome -Pari s 1996, p. 62, li n. 475-489 ;
ST, I , q. 88, a. 2, ad 4, ed. ci t., vol. VI , p. 367. — Despi te thi s observati on, Thomas sti ll presents
the metaphysi ci an as treati ng both bodi es and angels as substances (see n. 34 above). I do not
take hi m to mean that the metaphysi ci an treats the two as substances i n equi vocal ways. As
Thomas explai ns, some thi ngs treated by the logi ci an as uni vocal accordi ng to the logi cal order
are i n fact analogi cal accordi ng to the order of reali ty (In I Sent., d. 19, q. 5, a. 2, ad 1 ed. ci t.,
p. 492). Thi s i s the case, I would argue, wi th respect to the term ‘substance’ when predi cated of
both bodi es and angels : the logi ci an treats the two as substances i n a uni vocal way, whereas the
metaphysi ci an treats them as substances i n analogi cal ways.
45
SCG, I I , c. 54, ed. ci t., vol. XI I I , p. 392 : « Unde materi a et forma di vi dunt substanti am
naturalem: potenti a autem et actus di vi dunt ens commune. Et propter hoc quaecumque qui dem
consequuntur potentiam et actum inquantum huiusmodi, sunt communia substantiis materialibus
et i mmateri ali bus creati s : si cut recipere et recipi, perficere et perfici ». Emphasi s added i n
translati on. Cf. In IX Meta, lect. 1, n. 1171, ed. ci t., p. 301. For di scussi on of the quoted passage,
see N. KRETZMANN, The Metaphysics of Creation : Aquinas’s Natural Theology in Summa contra
genti les II, Oxford Uni versi ty Press, New York 2001, p. 267.
46
In De Trin., q. 5, a. 4, ed. ci t., p. 154, li n. 157-159. For Lati n, see above, n. 19.
362 GREGORY T. DOOLAN
as pri nci ples of i ts subject matter and not as i ncluded under i t. Gi ven the
relati onshi p between angels and ens commune that we have already i denti fi ed,
Thomas appears to be contradi cti ng hi mself. One possi ble explanati on for
thi s seemi ng i nconsi stency i s that the above quoted statement i s merely a
youthful one that he abandons i n hi s later wri ti ngs : i n the later commentary
on the Metaphysics, we do not fi nd such excl usi onary l anguage. Thi s
explanati on, however, does not account for the seemi ng i nternal i nconsi stency
wi thi n the commentary on the De Trinitate i tself. For i n thi s very same work
Thomas not onl y emphasi zes that separate substances are treated i n
metaphysi cs solely as pri nci ples, but he also i denti fi es the subject matter of
metaphysi cs as the negati vely i mmateri al ens commune, whi ch i s someti mes
found apart from matter and someti mes not
47
. Thus, even if we consider this
work alone, he seems to i mply there that a ‘di vi ne bei ng’ such as an angel both
i s and i s not i ncluded under the subject matter of metaphysi cs.
I would argue that a better explanation for this seeming inconsistency is
that the above quoted statement about ‘divine things’ needs to be read in a
qualified sense. When Thomas says that «such divine things are not treated by
philosophers except insofar as they are the principles of all things», I take him
to be referring to the divine things inasmuch as they are ‘divine’ — in other
words, inasmuch as they are separate substances. When they are considered as
such, they can only be treated by the metaphysician as causal principles. The
same separate substances, however, can also be considered in another respect,
namely, simply inasmuch as they are substances. This twofold manner in which
I contend the separate substances can be studied is in fact identified by Thomas
himself in his commentary on the Metaphysics. I n Book VI I of Aristotle’s own
work, the Stagirite observes that it is for the sake of separate substances that
he is trying to define sensible substances (1037a10-20). I n commenting on this
passage, Thomas goes beyond the literal tenor of the text to explain how
metaphysics studies both sensible and separate substances:
« I n thi s sci ence we attempt to study sensi ble substances “for the sake of these”,
that i s, for the sake of i mmateri al substances, si nce the i nvesti gati on concerni ng
sensi ble and materi al substances belongs i n a certai n way to physi cs, whi ch i s
not First Philosophy but second, as was said in Book I V. I ndeed, First Philosophy
i s about the fi rst substances, whi ch are i mmateri al substances. I t exami nes
these not only i nasmuch as they are substances, but i nasmuch as they are such
substances, namely, i nasmuch [as they are] i mmateri al. I t does not, however,
exami ne sensi ble substances i nasmuch as they are such substances, but
i nasmuch as they are substances, or also bei ngs, or i nasmuch as we are led by
47
See In De Trin., q. 5, a. 4, ed. ci t., p. 154, li n. 175-198.
363 AQUI NAS ON SEPARATE SUBSTANCES
them to an understandi ng of i mmateri al substances. Conversely, the physi ci st
studi es materi al substances, not i nasmuch as they are substances, but i nasmuch
as [they are] materi al and have i n them a pri nci ple of moti on »
48
.
According to Thomas, then, metaphysics considers the separate substances
in two respects : as immaterial and as substances. As we have seen, it is when
the separate substances are considered as immaterial that they are treated as
the principles of ens commune. I n his Commentary on the De Trinitate, Thomas
explains that the principles of all beings must be most perfect and supremely
in act, with no potency or the least potency possible. This is why he concludes
that the first principles must be immaterial
49
. And, I would argue, this is why
he states in the same work that the philosophers do not study ‘divine things’
except insofar as they are principles; for inasmuch as those beings are ‘divine’
(that is, immaterial), they can only be studied as principles. When the separate
substances are considered as substances, however, they are not treated as
principles but simply as beings. This is because it is not of the nature of
substances as substances to be the first principles of all beings
50
.
Thi s di sti ncti on that Thomas draws, however, should not be read as
suggesti ng that all i mmateri al substances can be studi ed i n these two respects.
As we have seen, he holds that God i s not i ncluded under any genus, even the
genus substance : metaphysi cs does not exami ne God as a substance but,
rather, only as the pri nci ple of substances
51
. Thus, i t i s only created i mmateri al
substances that metaphysi cs exami nes i n these two respects. I n short, the
separate substances to whi ch Thomas i s referri ng i n thi s text are the angels.
I nsofar as they are i mmateri al, they are treated i n metaphysi cs as pri nci ples
of i ts subject matter, ens commune. But i nsofar as they are substances or
bei ngs, they are treated as objects i ncluded under that subject matter.
48
In VII Meta., lect. 11, n. 1526, ed. ci t., p. 369 : « I n hac eni m sci enti a tentamus determi nare
de substanti i s sensi bi li bus “hui us grati a”, i dest propter substanti as i mmateri ales, qui a speculati o
ci rca substanti as sensi bi les et materi ales quodammodo perti net ad physi cam, quae non est
pri ma phi losophi a, sed secunda, si cut i n quarto habi tum est. Pri ma eni m phi losophi a est de
primis substantiis quae sunt substantiae immateriales, de quibus speculatur non solum inquantum
sunt substanti ae, sed i nquantum substanti ae tales, i nquantum sci li cet i mmateri ales. De
sensi bi li bus vero substanti i s non speculatur i nquantum sunt tales substanti ae, sed i nquantum
sunt substanti ae, aut eti am enti a, vel i nquantum per eas manuduci mur i n cogni ti onem
substanti arum i mmateri ali um. Physi cus vero e converso determi nat de substanti i s materi ali bus,
non i nquantum sunt substanti ae, sed i nquantum materi ales et habentes i n se pri nci pi um
motus ». Emphasi s added i n translati on.
49
See pp. 350-351 above.
50
I f i t were, then even materi al substances would be fi rst pri nci ples i nasmuch they are
substances, whi ch Thomas does not hold.
51
See pp. 358-359 above.
364 GREGORY T. DOOLAN
Returni ng to our two major questi ons rai sed above, we now see the answer
to the fi rst, whi ch had asked whether Thomas consi ders angels to be i ncluded
under the subject matter of metaphysi cs. Sti ll, he does also treat them as
pri nci ples of thi s subject matter, whi ch bri ngs us to the second major
questi on, namely, how i s i t possi ble for the angels to be i ncluded under a
subject matter of whi ch they are pri nci ples ? I t would seem that these two
roles are mutually contradi ctory, for i f the angels are i ndeed causes of ens
commune, then i t appears that they are somehow causes of themselves. As
Thomas notes, however, nothi ng can be the (effi ci ent) cause of i ts very
exi stence
52
. How, then, are we to resolve these seemingly contradictory roles
of the angels i n hi s metaphysi cal system?
One soluti on i s that we could read hi s reference to the ‘di vi ne’ status of the
angels as a nuanced way of referri ng si mply to God whi le sti ll accommodati ng
the Ari stoteli an tradi ti on. Thi s readi ng i s suggested by J oseph Owens. Wri ti ng
on Aqui nas’s role as an Ari stoteli an commentator, Owens acknowledges the
dual status Thomas ascri bes to the angels wi thi n hi s metaphysi cal system. As
creatures, Owens explai ns, the angels are i ncluded under common bei ng (ens
commune) and are part of the subject matter of metaphysi cs, but as pri nci ples
they are not part of that subject. He presents Thomas’s di sti ncti on between
these two roles as follows :
« When the separate i ntelli gences are contrasted wi th common bei ng as i ts
cause or pri nci ple, then, they are vi ewed as coalesci ng i n nature wi th the
Chri sti an God. I n the Ari stoteli an tradi ti on they were called di vi ne, and from
thi s vi ewpoi nt would for a Chri sti an have to coi nci de wi th the one supreme
God. When on the other hand they are regarded as angels and accordi ngly as
creatures, they are all composed of actuali ty and potenti ali ty, and i n thi s way
exhi bi t uni ty and multi pli ci ty »
53
.
Owens appears to treat Thomas’s i nclusi on of the angels among the
‘common and universal causes’ of ens commune as simply an acknowledgement
of an Ari stoteli an tradi ti on
54
. Following this reading, when Thomas treats the
52
See, e.g., ST, I , q. 2, a. 3, ed. ci t., vol. I V, p. 32 ; In III Meta., lect. 8, n. 441, ed. ci t., p. 123.
53
J . OWENS, Aquinas as Aristotelian Commentator, i n St. Thomas Aquinas on the Existence of
God : Collected Papers of Joseph Owens, C.Ss.R., State Uni versi ty of New York Press, Albany
1980, p. 234, n. 19. Wi thi n thi s note, he references a pri or note i n whi ch he offers a somewhat
di fferent and even confli cti ng i nterpretati on. There he observes that « apparently Aqui nas
experi enced li ttle di ffi culty i n seei ng the Ari stoteli an separate substances coalesce i n the one
Chri sti an God, or on the contrary i n regardi ng them as God and angels together, or i n speaki ng
of them as God and the i ntelli gences accordi ng to the Neoplatoni c tradi ti on as found i n the
Arabi ans » (ibid., p. 234, n. 17).
54
Ibid., pp. 4-5.
365 AQUI NAS ON SEPARATE SUBSTANCES
angels as ‘di vi ne’, he i s no longer treati ng them as angels ; i ndeed, Owens
seems to suggest that he i s no longer treati ng them at all. I f Owens i s correct,
the reference to the angels as ‘di vi ne’ i s i n fact si mply a reference to God si nce
a Chri sti an such as Thomas supposedly consi ders only God to be ‘di vi ne’. I n
li ght of thi s readi ng, there i s no contradi cti on i n Thomas’s account of the
angels’ relati on to the subject matter of metaphysi cs : angels are only i ncluded
under ens commune and are not i ts cause.
Owens’s reading would indeed resolve our problem, but I would argue that it
is not borne out by the text. Nowhere does Thomas indicate that the angels
somehow ‘coalesce’ or ‘coincide’ with the divine nature
55
. To the contrary, his
explicit language indicates that he considers there to be a number of separate
substances as the causes of ens commune. As we saw in his commentary on the
De Trinitate, moreover, Thomas explicitly identifies the angels as such causes,
noting, «in the divine science that the philosophers teach, the angels (which they
call ‘I ntelligences’) are considered from the same perspective as the first cause,
which is God, insofar as they are also secondary principles of things…»
56
. I n this
quotation, we not only see a clear affirmation of the role of angels as principles
of the subject matter of metaphysics, but also intimations of a possible solution
to our problem regarding the relation of angels to that subject. According to
Thomas, they are secondary principles of things. I n other words, even though
they are principles of ens commune, they are not so in the same way as is God.
To answer our second major question, then (namely, how angels can be included
under a subject matter of which they are causes), we need to consider what the
causality of these secondary principles of ens commune entails
57
.
I I I
As we have just seen, Thomas consi ders the fi rst cause of all bei ngs to be
God. He does not, however, consi der ens commune si mply to be an effect of
God ; as Thomas makes clear, i t i s i n fact the proper effect (proprius effectus)
55
I ndeed, Owens hi mself does not provi de any ci tati ons to support thi s readi ng.
56
See above, p. 354. In De Trin., q. 5, a. 4, ad 3, ed. ci t., p. 155, li n. 239-250. For the Lati n,
see n. 25 above.
57
Zi mmerman, unli ke Owens, emphasi zes the role of the angels as secondary pri nci ples.
Nevertheless, he sti ll reaches a conclusi on si mi lar to Owens. He does not not speak of the angels
as coalesci ng i n nature wi th God, but i nstead explai ns that « das Verhältni s der abgetrennten
Substanzen zum Subjekt der Metaphysi k ei n wesentli ch anderes i st als das Verhältni s Gottes zu
di esem Subjekt. Di e abgetrennten Substanzen erwei sen si ch nämli ch als Zwei tursachen, und als
solche gehören si e zum Sei enden i m allgemei nen. Sie sind nicht Ursachen des Seienden als
solchen, sondern es ergi bt si ch, daß si e als ei n Tei l des Sei enden bezei chnet werden müssen. Gott
alleine ist Ursache des Seienden im allgemeinen » (ZI MMERMANN, Ontologie oder Metaphysik ? ci t.,
pp. 217-218). Emphasi s added. Cf. ibid., p. 222.
366 GREGORY T. DOOLAN
of effect of God
58
. This is because esse, the pri nci ple i n every fi ni te bei ng by
whi ch i t is a bei ng, i s i tself God’s proper effect. As he explai ns i n Summa
theologiae (hereafter ST), I , q. 45, a. 5, those effects that are more uni versal
are reduced to causes that are more uni versal. Si nce esse i tself i s the most
uni versal effect, i t must therefore be the proper effect of the fi rst and most
uni versal cause, whi ch i s God
59
. I f we consider the relationship between ens
and esse i n terms of Thomas’s doctri ne of parti ci pati on, i t becomes clearer
why ens commune, also, must be God’s proper effect. I n hi s commentary on
Boethi us’s De hebdomadibus, Thomas explai ns that ens parti ci pates i n esse,
although not i n the way the less common parti ci pates i n the more common.
The reason i s that ens and esse are both most common (communissimum). I n
other words, they are equal i n scope. Ens, however, i s concrete, whereas esse
i s abstract. Hence, Thomas concludes, the former parti ci pates i n the latter as
the concrete parti ci pates i n the abstract
60
. I t is because esse i tself i s God’s
proper effect, therefore, that ens commune i s as well, for i nasmuch as he i s the
cause of the former, he i s the cause of the latter.
From his earliest writings, Thomas holds that to cause esse in an absolute way
(absolute) or simply (simpliciter) is nothing less than to create since to create is
to make something out of nothing, that is to say, out of absolute nonbeing (non
ens)
61
. Only God, however, can create. Among the philosophical reasons that
Thomas commonly gives to support this position is that the distance between
being and absolute nonbeing is infinite; hence an infinite power is required to
bring something into existence from absolute nonbeing. Since only God is
infinite, Thomas concludes that only God has the power to create
62
.
Thomas acknowledges that some authors who have agreed wi th thi s
conclusi on (such as Avi cenna and Peter Lombard) held that God’s creati ve
power can nevertheless be communi cated to a created bei ng, namely, to an
I ntelli gence or angel. I n thi s way, a created agent could act as an i nstrumental
cause of creati on. Thomas, however, rejects thi s posi ti on as well. As he
explai ns i n ST, I , q. 45, a. 5, a secondary i nstrumental cause parti ci pates i n
the acti on of a superi or cause, but only by means of somethi ng proper to i tself
58
See, e.g., ST, I -I I , q. 66, a. 5, ad 4, ed. ci t., vol. VI , p. 436.
59
ST, I , q. 45, a. 5, ed. ci t., vol. I V, p. 469.
60
Expositio libri Boetii De ebdomadibus, c. 2, i n SANCTI THOMAE DE AQUINO Opera Omnia, vol.
50, Commi ssi o Leoni na - Vri n, Rome - Pari s 1992, p. 271, li n. 95-113.
61
In II Sent., d. 1, q. 1, a. 2, ed. ci t., pp. 16-20 ; SCG, I I , c. 16, ed. ci t., vol. XI I I , pp. 299-300 ;
ST, I , q. 45, a. 1, ed. ci t., vol. I V, pp. 464-465.
62
Scriptum super Sententiis IV (hereafter In IV Sent.), ed. M. F. MOOS, Lethielleux, Paris 1947,
d. 5, q. 1, a. 3, ad 5, vol. I V, pp. 210-211 ; SCG, I I , c. 21, ed. cit., vol. XI I I , p. 313; ST, I , q. 45, a. 5,
ad 3, ed. cit., vol. I V, p. 469 ; De pot., q. 3, a. 4, ed. cit., pp. 46-47; Compendium theologiae, c. 70, in
SANCTI THOMAE DE AQUINO Opera Omnia, vol. 42, Commissio Leonina, Rome 1979, p. 103, lin. 1-14.
367 AQUI NAS ON SEPARATE SUBSTANCES
through whi ch i t di sposes the effect of the pri nci pal agent. Thus, a saw cuts
wood by the form that i s proper to i tself, di sposi ng the wood to the form of a
stool, whi ch i s the proper effect of the pri nci pal agent. I f an i nstrument such
as a saw di d not act accordi ng to anythi ng proper to i tself, then i t would not
be able to di spose an effect for the pri nci pal agent and thus would be
poi ntless. All effects other than that of creati on, however, presuppose the
proper effect of God’s creati ng because that effect i s esse taken absolutely ;
thus, God’s creati ve act presupposes nothi ng on whi ch an i nstrument could
act di sposi ti vely. And so, Thomas concludes, i t i s i mpossi ble for created
bei ngs (i ncludi ng angels) to create, even as i nstrumental causes
63
.
I n SCG, I I , c. 21, Thomas offers several other arguments in support of the
conclusion that only God can create. I n one of these, he clarifies the different
ways in which God and creatures are causes of beings. Thomas explains that
effects correspond proporti onately to thei r causes ; thus effects i n act
correspond to actual causes and effects in potency to potential causes. Similarly,
particular effects correspond to particular causes and universal effects to
universal causes. But esse is the first effect, which is clear given its universality.
Therefore, the proper cause of esse is the first and universal agent, namely,
God. Thomas then explai ns that other agents are not the cause of esse
absolutely (causa essendi simpliciter), but are only the cause of being this
(causa essendi hoc), such as ‘being man’ or ‘being white’. By contrast, esse taken
absolutely (esse simpliciter) is caused through creation, which presupposes
nothing since something cannot preexist that is outside of being taken absolutely
63
ST, I , q. 45, a. 5, ad 3, ed. ci t., vol. I V, p. 469. Accordi ng to Avi cenna, God i mmedi ately
creates the Fi rst I ntelli gence, whi ch i n turn creates three thi ngs : the Second I ntelli gence, the
body of the outermost heavenly sphere, and the soul of that sphere. The Second I ntelli gence, i n
turn, creates the Thi rd I ntelli gence, the body of the next heavenly sphere, and i ts soul. Thi s
medi ated creati on conti nues unti l the Tenth I ntelli gence (or Acti ve I ntellect) whi ch does not
create another i ntelli gence but i nstead creates the elements that consti tute the sublunar world,
together wi th the forms found i n nature (hence, i n Lati n thi s last i ntellect i s referred to as the
dator formarum). Avi cenna holds, moreover, that thi s enti re chai n of creati ve causali ty occurs
necessari ly. For hi s account of creati on through secondary causes, see hi s Philosophia prima, Bk
I X, c. 4 i n Avicenna Latinus : Liber de Philosophia Prima sive Scientia Divina V-X, ed. S. VAN RI ET,
Peeters - Bri ll, Louvai n-Lei den 1980, pp. 481-484. — Thomas reads Peter Lombard, by contrast,
as holdi ng that although God creates everythi ng i mmedi ately and freely, i t would have been
metaphysi cally possi ble for hi m to share thi s creati ve act wi th creatures as i nstrumental causes.
Thomas argues agai nst thi s possi bi li ty i n hi s later works, however i n hi s early Commentary on
the Sentences, he i s more open to i t. See In II Sent., d. 1, q. 1, a. 3, ed. ci t., pp. 21-22 ; In IV Sent.,
d. 5, q. 1, a. 3, ad 5, ed. ci t., pp. 210-211. — For other texts where Thomas rejects the possi bi li ty
of i nstrumental creati ve causes, see the texts ci ted i n n. 62 above. For hi s expli ci t rejecti ons of
angels as i nstrumental creati ve causes, see, e.g., In II Sent., d. 1, q. 1, a. 3, ad 1, ed. ci t., p. 22 ;
De pot., q. 3, a. 4, ad 12, ed. ci t., p. 48 ; ST, I , q. 65, a. 3, ed. ci t., vol. V, pp. 150-151.
368 GREGORY T. DOOLAN
(ens simpliciter). Agents other than God instead cause ‘this being’ or ‘such
being’ (hoc ens vel tale) since it is out of a preexistent being that ‘this being’ or
‘such being’ is made
64
. I ndeed, from the time of Thomas’s earliest writings he
identifies God as the ‘cause of being’ (causa essendi), but created agents as
what he terms the ‘cause of becoming’ (causa fiendi or fieri)
65
.
These observati ons regardi ng the causa essendi have led some scholars to
conclude that Thomas consi ders God to be the only cause of esse i n created
bei ngs
66
. I f thei r readi ng i s correct, God would be the only pri nci ple of bei ngs
qua bei ngs and, hence, the only cause of ens commune. Thi s readi ng thus
appears to exclude the angels enti rely as causes of the subject matter of
metaphysi cs. And yet, Thomas sti ll treats them as such causes, even when
affi rmi ng God as the only causa essendi. As we have seen, i n hi s commentary
on the De Trinitate Thomas suggests that there i s only a si ngle pri nci ple of
esse. Nevertheless i n the same sentence he i ndi cates that there are many
pri nci ples of all bei ngs
67
. Moreover, in that work he also observes that in
metaphysi cs the angels «are consi dered from the same perspecti ve as the fi rst
cause, whi ch i s God, i nsofar as they are also secondary pri nci ples of thi ngs »
68
.
I n other words, the angels, li ke God, are pri nci ples of ens commune, although
i n a secondary way. Sti ll, we have also seen Thomas conclude that there
cannot be any i nstrumental or secondary causes of creati on. We mi ght ask,
then, how i t i s possi ble for there to be secondary pri nci ples of ens commune ?
An answer i s suggested i n a recent pi ece by J ohn F. Wi ppel enti tled
Creatures as Causes of Esse. I n thi s pi ece Wi ppel shows that even though
created agents cannot produce esse from nothi ngness, ei ther as pri nci pal or
as i nstrumental causes, they can produce i t i n another respect, namely, i n the
64
SCG, I I , c. 21, ed. cit., vol. XI I I , p. 313. See KRETZMANN, Metaphysics of Creation cit., pp. 99-100, 116.
65
Thomas gets this distinction from Avicenna. See AVI CENNA, Philosophia prima I X, c. 4, in
Avicenna Latinus : Liber de Philosophia Prima sive Scientia Divina V-X, ed. S. VAN RI ET, Peeters -
Brill, Louvain - Leiden 1980, pp. 481-484. For Thomas’s use of this distinction, see In I Sent., d.
7, q. 1, a. 1, ad 3, ed. cit., pp. 177-178 ; De ver., q. 5, a. 8, ad 8, ed. cit., p. 160, lin. 324-339 ; De pot.,
q. 5, a. 1, pp. 131-132 ; ST, I , q. 104, a. 1, ed. ci t., vol. V, pp. 463-464. On hi s use of thi s di sti ncti on,
see C. FABRO, Participation et causalité selon s. Thomas d’Aquin, Publi cati ons Uni versi tai res,
Louvai n 1961, pp. 340 ff. ; F. X. MEEHAN, Efficient Causality in Aristotle and St. Thomas, The
Catholi c Uni versi ty of Ameri ca Press, Washi ngton, D.C. 1940, pp. 317 ff.
66
See, e.g., É. GI LSON, The Christian Philosophy of St. Thomas Aquinas, trans. L. K. Shook, C.S.B.,
Random House, New York 1956 ; reprint, University of Notre Dame Press, Notre Dame, I ndiana
1994, p. 123 (page citations are to the reprint edition) ; H. RENARD, Philosophy of God, Bruce,
Milwaukee 1949, p. 20 ; J . ANDERSON, The Cause of Being, Herder, St. Louis 1952, pp. 20, 28-30.
67
See pp. 350-351 above. See In De Trin., q. 5, a. 4, ed. ci t., pp. 153, li n. 131 - 154, li n. 143.
For the Lati n, see n. 15 above.
68
In De Trin., q. 5, a. 4, ad 3, ed. ci t., p. 155, li n. 239-250. For the Lati n, see n. 25 above.
369 AQUI NAS ON SEPARATE SUBSTANCES
generati on of materi al substances. He remi nds us of Thomas’s oft stated
di ctum that ‘form gi ves bei ng’ (forma dat esse). By thi s di ctum, Thomas does
not mean to suggest that form effi ci ently causes the esse of a bei ng, but rather
that i t formally causes esse. A substance, for example, exi sts substanti ally
because of i ts substanti al form
69
. Natural substances, however, come into
bei ng because thei r forms are educed from matter by natural agents
70
. Since
form gi ves bei ng (esse), Wi ppel concludes that created agents must i n some
sense be causes of esse even i n thei r role as causes of becomi ng (causae fiendi).
Thi s i s not to say that they are the sole cause of esse or that they cause esse
taken absolutely. As Thomas explai ns i n SCG, I I I , c. 66, esse i s i ndeed the
common effect of every agent (for every agent makes somethi ng actually to
be), but created agents produce thi s effect only because they are ordered
under the Fi rst Agent and act wi th i ts power
71
. Wippel thus concludes,
« From thi s i t follows that, for Thomas, whenever a new substance i s effi ci ently
caused by a natural or created agent, that agent’s causati on appli es both to the
act of bei ng i tself (esse) of the new substance and to a parti cular determi nati on
of esse as reali zed i n that substance. Causati on of the parti cular determi nati on
(thi s or that ki nd of form) i s owi ng to the created effi ci ent cause i nsofar as i t
operates by i ts own i nherent power as a pri nci pal cause. Causati on of the act
of bei ng i tself (esse) i s assi gned to i t as an i nstrumental cause acti ng wi th the
power of God and to God hi mself as the pri nci pal cause of the same. From thi s
i t follows that one should not mai ntai n that Thomas deni es that created causes
can effi ci ently cause the act of exi sti ng or the act of bei ng, at least i n the
process of bri ngi ng new substances i nto bei ng »
72
.
I n short, created agents can be i nstrumental causes of esse — not as
pri nci ples of creati on, but as pri nci ples of generati on. Thus, they can be
consi dered causes of esse i n thei r very role as causae fiendi. What i s more
69
J . F. WI PPEL , Thomas Aquinas on Creatures as Causes of Esse, i n Metaphysical Themes in
Thomas Aquinas II, The Catholi c Uni versi ty of Ameri ca Press, Washi ngton, D.C. 2007, pp. 175-
179, 192. Regardi ng the appli cati on of thi s di ctum to substanti al form, see In I Sent., d. 17, a.
1, a. 1, ed. ci t., p. 393 ; SCG, I I , c. 68, ed. ci t., vol. XI I I , p. 440. For other appli cati ons, see, e.g.,
In I Sent., d. 24, q. 1, a. 3, ed. ci t., p. 582 ; De ver., q. 29, a. 8, ad 8, ed. ci t., p. 871, li n. 312-315 ;
Quaes. disp. de an., q. 10, ad 2, ed. ci t., p. 92, li n. 286-293 ; De ente, c. 4, ed. ci t., p. 376, li n. 45-
46 ; De principiis naturae, c. 1, i n SANCTI THOMAE DE AQUINO Opera Omnia, vol. 43, Commi ssi o
Leoni na, Rome 1976, p. 39, li n. 32-35 ; In V Meta., lect. 2, n. 775, ed. ci t., p. 213. For more texts
and for di scussi on about thi s di ctum, see FABRO, Participation et causalité ci t., pp. 349-362.
70
Regardi ng Thomas’s doctri ne of natural causali ty and the educti on of form, see De pot.,
q. 3, a. 8, ed. ci t., p. 62.
71
SCG, I I I , c. 66, ed. ci t., vol. XI V, p. 188.
72
WI PPEL, Creatures as Causes of Esse ci t., p. 193.
370 GREGORY T. DOOLAN
si gni fi cant, however, i s that Thomas eventually comes to consi der at least
some created agents to meri t the name causa essendi. As Wi ppel shows, thi s
new stance results from a clari fi cati on of termi nology that Thomas offers i n
the Prima pars of the Summa theologiae (1265-1268). I n q. 104, aa. 1-2, he
di scusses the di sti ncti on between a causa fiendi and a causa essendi i n the
context of exami ni ng the preservati on (conservatio) of created bei ngs. Gi ven
the i mportance of these arti cles for our consi derati on of angeli c causali ty, i t
i s worth exami ni ng them here i n some detai l.
I n arti cle 1 Thomas addresses whether creatures need to be preserved by
God. He begi ns by noti ng that we must affi rm, accordi ng to both fai th and
reason, that creatures do i ndeed need to be preserved by God. He then
proceeds to offer phi losophi cal reasoni ng i n support of thi s conclusi on,
noti ng that somethi ng can be preserved i n one of two ways : ei ther i ndi rectly
and per accidens, or di rectly and per se. The sort of preservati on that i s
indirect and per accidens occurs when one thing preserves another by removing
some cause of corrupti on. Thus, for example, someone who protects a chi ld
from falli ng i nto a fi re i s sai d to preserve the chi ld accordi ng to thi s fi rst type
of preservati on. And i n thi s sense, Thomas concludes, God i s sai d to preserve
some thi ngs but not everythi ng si nce certai n thi ngs are not subject to
corrupti on. As a result, they do not requi re the removal of any corrupti ve
i nfluences for them to be preserved i n exi stence
73
. I n contrast to this type of
preservati on, the sort that i s di rect and per se occurs when somethi ng depends
upon a cause for i ts preservati on i n such a way that wi thout that cause, the
thi ng would be unable to exi st. And i n thi s way, Thomas concludes, all
creatures depend upon a di vi ne preservati on because the exi stence (esse) of
every creature i s from God. Hence, wi thout the work of the di vi ne power
preservi ng creatures i n exi stence, they could not subsi st even for a moment,
but would i nstead be reduced to nothi ng
74
.
Thomas then offers further evi dence i n support of thi s conclusi on. As he
explai ns, every effect depends upon i ts cause i nsofar as that cause i s i ts cause.
Some agents, however, are only causes of thei r effect’s comi ng into bei ng
(secundum fieri) but not as regards i ts bei ng (secundum esse). We fi nd thi s i n
the case of both arti fi ci al thi ngs and natural thi ngs. Gi vi ng an example drawn
from art, Thomas notes that a bui lder causes a house to come i nto bei ng, but
he does not di rectly cause i ts very bei ng (esse). Rather, the bei ng of a house
depends upon i ts form, whi ch consi sts i n the composi ti on and order that
73
Although Thomas does not i denti fy here any such i ncorrupti ble bei ngs, angels would be
an example si nce they do not possess an i ntri nsi c pri nci ple of corrupti on, vi z., matter.
74
ST, I , q. 104, a. 1, ed. ci t., vol. V, pp. 463-464.
371 AQUI NAS ON SEPARATE SUBSTANCES
follows from the natural capaci ty (naturalem virtutem) of certai n thi ngs.
Clari fyi ng what he means by ‘natural capaci ty’, Thomas notes that a cook
cooks food usi ng a certai n natural acti ve capaci ty, namely, that of fi re. So,
too, the bui lder bui lds a house usi ng cement, stones, and ti mbers : materi als
that, gi ven thei r natural capaci ty, are appropri ate both to the composi ti on
and order of a house as well as to i ts preservati on. Hence, Thomas concludes,
the bei ng of a house depends upon the nature of these thi ngs just as i ts comi ng
i nto bei ng depends upon the acti on of the bui lder
75
.
I n thi s example of the house, we fi nd a di sti ncti on drawn between two
types of causes based upon the way i n whi ch the effect depends on them. The
bui lder i s merely a causa fiendi because the house does not depend upon hi m
i n order to remai n i n exi stence. Hence, he i s not a di rect and per se cause of
i ts preservati on. I mpli ci t i n thi s di scussi on i s the conclusi on that no causa
fiendi preserves i ts effect i n that way. By contrast, the form and matter of the
house are causae essendi because the house does i n fact depend upon them as
di rect and per se causes of i ts preservati on : should ei ther i ntri nsi c pri nci ple
be removed, the house would cease to exi st. I n thi s example, however, Thomas
has only provi ded us wi th i nstances of causae essendi i n the realm of art and
only as regards materi al and formal causali ty. But he next notes that these
consi derati ons also apply to natural thi ngs, and here he turns hi s attenti on to
effi ci ent causali ty. I f some agent i s not the cause of form as such (formae
inquantum huiusmodi), Thomas explai ns, i t wi ll not be the per se cause of
bei ng (esse) that results from such a form; rather, i t wi ll only be the cause of
the effect’s comi ng i nto bei ng. Wi th thi s observati on, he reveals the sort of
effi ci ent cause that i s capable of acti ng as a causa essendi, namely, one that
can cause ‘form as such’. He then proceeds to i denti fy what sort of agent can
cause form i n thi s way
76
.
When two thi ngs belong to the same speci es, Thomas explai ns, one cannot
be the per se cause of the other’s form i nasmuch as i t i s such a form (talis
forma) ; for i f that agent could do so, i t would then also be the cause of i ts own
form si nce the agent would have the same nature as i ts effect. I t can, however,
be the cause of such form i nasmuch as the form i s i n matter, or, to be more
preci se, i nasmuch as ‘thi s’ matter acqui res ‘thi s’ form. Thi s i s the way man
generates man, and fi re generates fi re. And such a cause i s a cause of
becomi ng (causa secundum fieri). Havi ng noted thi s, Thomas explai ns that
whenever an effect recei ves the li keness (impressio) of the agent accordi ng to
the same nature (ratio) as i t i s found i n that agent, then the effect depends
75
Ibid.
76
Ibid.
372 GREGORY T. DOOLAN
upon the agent for its coming into being, but not for its very being. This sort
of agent is what he elsewhere refers to as a ‘univocal cause’. I n contrast to the
effects of such an agent, other effects do not receive the agent’s likeness
according to the same nature. We find this to be the case with all those agents
that make things according to a species that is not like their own. Thomas
offers an example from the physics of his time, noting that the heavenly bodies
are the causes of the generation of terrestrial bodies that are unlike them in
species. Such agents he elsewhere terms ‘equivocal causes’ or ‘analogical
causes’. And he explains here that this sort of agent can be the cause of form
not only as it is received in mater, but of form as such. Therefore, Thomas
concludes, it is not only a causa fiendi but also a causa essendi
77
.
Havi ng drawn all of these di sti ncti ons, Thomas proceeds to show that God
i s a causa essendi upon whi ch all bei ngs conti nuously depend for thei r
preservati on as long as they exi st. For our purposes, however, i t i s suffi ci ent
to note the pri nci pal characteri sti cs that he ascri bes to a causa essendi i n thi s
text. 1) Fi rst, Thomas presents i t as the sort of cause upon whi ch an effect
depends di rectly and per se for i ts preservati on. I n thi s respect, he has
extended the noti on of a causa essendi from hi s treatment of i t i n earli er texts,
where he had i denti fi ed i t si mply as an agent that produces esse i n an absolute
way
78
. 2) Second, in considering natural effects, Thomas concludes that a
causa essendi i s the cause of the effect’s form as such, as well as i ts form
comi ng to be i n matter. I n short, he concludes that such an agent i s a uni versal
cause, causi ng the very nature of the effect. I t i s i n i ts role as a uni versal cause,
then, that an agent preserves i ts effect di rectly and per se, si nce the effect
depends (i n part) upon i ts form as such to remai n i n exi stence. 3) Fi nally,
Thomas i denti fi es a causa essendi as belongi ng to a hi gher speci es than i ts
effect ; i n other words, he presents such an agent as an analogi cal cause. I t i s
thi s thi rd and fi nal characteri sti c that accounts for the second and fi rst,
namely, for the agent’s abi li ty to be a uni versal cause and to preserve i ts effect
i n exi stence. What i s perhaps of most i nterest to us, however, i s the example
that Thomas gi ves of the heavenly bodi es. Although hi s example stems from
77
Ibid., ed. ci t., p. 5, li n. 464. Regardi ng the nature of uni vocal causali ty, see, e.g., In I Sent.,
d. 35, q. 1, a. 4, ad 1, ed. ci t., p. 820 ; De pot., q. 7, a. 5, ed. ci t., p. 198 ; ST, I , q. 13, a. 5, ad 1,
ed. ci t., vol. I V, p. 147 ; Sententia super Physicam (hereafter In Phys.), I I , c. 7, lect. 11, i n SANCTI
THOMAE DE AQUINO Opera Omnia, vol. 2, Ex typographi a polyglotta, Rome 1884, p. 88. Regardi ng
the nature of equi vocal or analogi cal causali ty, see, e.g., SCG, I , c. 29, ed. ci t., vol. XI I I , p. 89 ;
De ver., q. 10, a. 13, ad 3, ed. ci t., p. 345, li n. 158-170 ; ST, I , q. 4, a. 2, ed. ci t., vol. I V, pp. 51-
52. For some di scussi on about both modes of causali ty, see FABRO, Participation et causalité, pp.
338 ff. ; WI PPEL , Metaphysical Thought ci t., pp. 517-518 ; MEEHAN, Efficient Causality ci t., p. 320.
78
Regardi ng Thomas’s developed noti on of the causa essendi i n thi s text, see FABRO,
Participation et causalité ci t., pp. 377-378 ; WI PPEL, Creatures as Causes of Esse ci t., pp. 189, 193.
373 AQUI NAS ON SEPARATE SUBSTANCES
an outdated physi cs, i t nevertheless reveals hi s conclusi on that i n a certai n
respect, at least some created bei ngs can act as causes of esse.
Thi s conclusi on i s confi rmed i n ST, I , q. 104, a. 2, i n whi ch Thomas
consi ders whether every creature i s preserved by God i mmedi ately. He begi ns
the arti cle by rei terati ng the two ways i n whi ch a thi ng i s preserved i n bei ng
(in esse) by another. I n one way, somethi ng i s preserved i ndi rectly and per
accidens because another thi ng removes or i mpedes the acti on of some
corrupti ve i nfluence. I n another way, somethi ng i s preserved di rectly and per
se because i ts bei ng (esse) depends upon another as the bei ng of an effect
depends upon a cause. And accordi ng to both ways, Thomas tells us, some
created bei ng i s found to be preserved by another. Regardi ng the fi rst way, i t
i s clear that among corporeal thi ngs there are many causes that i mpede the
acti ons of corrupti ve i nfluences. He offers as but one example the fact that
salt i mpedes meat from rotti ng
79
.
Regarding the second way in which one thing is preserved by another,
Thomas states that there are also found some effects that depend upon certain
creatures for their being (esse). Now, when there are many causes existing in
an ordered series, the effect depends first and foremost (principaliter) upon the
first cause and secondarily on all of the intermediary causes. Therefore the first
direct and per se cause of an effect’s preservation is its principal cause. All of
the intermediaries are secondary causes of the preservation, with the higher
ones that are closer to the first cause acting as causes more so than the lower
ones. For this reason, the preservation and permanence of corporeal things is
attributed to superior causes (that is, to created secondary causes). As in the
prior article, Thomas offers as an example the dependence that natural things
have on the motion of the heavenly bodies. Thus, he concludes, God preserves
certain things in being (esse) through certain intermediate causes
80
.
I n thi s arti cle, then, we fi nd Thomas concludi ng that at least some created
bei ngs can be causes of esse (causae essendi), not as creati ve causes but as
preservi ng ones. He reaffi rms thi s conclusi on i n hi s reply to obj. 1. Although
God i mmedi ately created everythi ng, he establi shed an order i n the creati on
of thi ngs, so that certai n thi ngs depend upon others. Thus, some thi ngs are
preserved i n bei ng by secondary causes. Nevertheless, Thomas remi nds us,
thei r causali ty presupposes a pri nci pal preservi ng cause, and thi s i s God
81
. I n
reply to obj. 3, he offers some more detai l regardi ng how secondary causes
can preserve thei r effects. One created bei ng can only cause another to
acqui re a new form or di sposi ti on by means of some sort of change. Thi s i s
79
ST, I , q. 104, a. 2, ed. ci t., vol. V, p. 467.
80
Ibid.
81
Ibid., ad 1, ed. ci t., vol. V, p. 467.
374 GREGORY T. DOOLAN
because a created bei ng always acts upon some presupposed subject. After i t
has i ntroduced a form or di sposi ti on i n the effect, however, the created agent
can preserve i t wi thout an addi ti onal change to the effect
82
.
We might ask at this point whether Thomas considers angels to be created
causes of esse in the sense described in this article. We already know that he does
not think they can produce esse out of absolutely nothing, either as principal or
as instrumental causes. Thus, to return to our original topic of interest, angels
cannot be principles of the subject of metaphysics as creative causes. But could
they somehow be principles of ens commune as instrumental causes by preserving
esse ? Unfortunately, in these two articles from q. 104 Thomas does not tell us
whether he considers angels to be causae essendi in this way. The only example
he offers of created causes of esse are the heavenly bodies. Still, this very
example provides us with some insight into his views regarding the angels. I t
will be recalled that in his earlier Commentary on Boethius’s De Trinitate,
Thomas had observed that metaphysics considers the angels «from the same
perspective as the first cause, which is God, insofar as they are also secondary
principles of things, at least through the motion of the spheres…»
83
. To grasp the
significance of this enigmatic phrase, we need to consider in more detail the
causal role that Thomas attributes to these heavenly bodies.
The reason that he i denti fi es these bodi es as causes of esse i s that, as we
have seen, he consi ders them to be of a hi gher nature than terrestri al
substances. As he di scusses later i n ST, I , q. 115, a. 3, the heavenly bodi es are
the most i mmovable among physi cal thi ngs because (accordi ng to the vi ew of
the ti me) the only type of moti on that they undergo i s local moti on — i n other
words, they are i ncapable of alterati on or corrupti on. Wi th thi s i n mi nd,
Thomas explai ns that i n all of nature, what i s moved proceeds from what i s
unmoved. Thus, the more i mmovable somethi ng i s, the more i t i s the cause of
what i s movable. For that reason, the movements of sublunar or terrestri al
bodi es are caused by the movements of the heavenly ones
84
. What i s more, he
holds that terrestri al bodi es requi re the acti on of the heavenly bodi es to
produce form as such. Thi s i s because, accordi ng to Thomas, the acti ve
pri nci ples of terrestri al bodi es are si mply acti ve quali ti es of the elements,
such as hot and cold, which provide only material dispositions to the substantial
82
Ibid., ad 3, ed. ci t., vol. V, p. 467.
83
In De Trin., q. 5, a. 4, ad 3, ed. ci t., p. 155, li n. 239-250. I tali cs added. For the Lati n, see
n. 25 above.
84
ST, I , q. 115, a. 3, ed. ci t., vol. V, p. 542. For a detai led consi derati on of Thomas’s doctri ne
of the heavenly bodi es and how i t fi ts i nto hi s account of the uni verse, see T. LI TT, Les corps
célestes dans l’univers de Saint Thomas d’Aquin, Publications Universitaires - Béatrice Nauwelaerts,
Louvai n - Pari s 1963. Regardi ng the i ncorrupti ble nature of these bodi es, see pp. 44-90.
Regardi ng thei r causali ty i n regard to lower bodi es, see pp. 110-148.
375 AQUI NAS ON SEPARATE SUBSTANCES
forms of natural bodi es. Consequently, terrestri al bodi es are i ncapable of
causi ng form as such ; above these materi al di sposi ti ons, therefore, are
needed some acti ve pri nci ples, and those are the heavenly bodi es. Thomas
concludes that terrestri al agents do i ndeed generate thei r own effects by
movi ng those effects towards thei r speci fi c nature, but do so only as
i nstruments of the heavenly bodi es. I t i s for thi s reason that Ari stotle observes
that man and the sun generate man
85
. And the reason he holds that the
heavenly bodi es can act as such uni versal causes i s that the uni versal natures
of terrestri al bodi es exi st as acti ve powers i n these hi gher bodi es. Moreover,
i t i s because such acti ve powers are present i n the heavenly bodi es that they
are also able to preserve terrestri al bodi es i n bei ng (esse)
86
.
Nevertheless, Thomas does not thi nk that the heavenly bodi es can exerci se
such causali ty on thei r own. Rather, he holds that they do so as i nstruments
of hi gher causes. Agai n followi ng the physi cs of hi s day, he explai ns that
because the moti on of the heavens i s rotati onal and conti nuous, i t cannot be
accounted for by an acti ve pri nci ple of nature, but requi res an i mmateri al,
i ntellectual mover. The ulti mate cause of thi s moti on i s God, who i s the pri me
mover, but Thomas holds that we cannot demonstrati vely prove ei ther that
God moves the heavens i mmedi ately or that he does so through the angels
acti ng as i ntermedi ari es. Sti ll, he concludes that i t i s more consi stent wi th the
order of thi ngs that God moves the heavens through angeli c i ntermedi ari es,
a presumpti on that Thomas adopts throughout hi s wri ti ngs
87
. Thus, the
85
ST, I , q. 115, a. 3, ad 2, ed. ci t., vol. V, p. 542. Regardi ng the reference to Ari stotle, see
Physics, I I , 2, 194b13-14.
86
ST, I , q. 115, a. 3, ad 3, ed. cit., vol. V, p. 542. Cf. ST, I -I I , q. 85, a. 6, ed. cit., vol. VI I , p. 116. Cf.
Sententia super librum De caelo et mundo, I I , lect. 9, n. 375, in SANCTI THOMAE DE AQUINO Opera Omnia,
vol. 3, Ex typographia polyglotta, Rome 1886, p. 153. Regarding the role of the heavens as preserving
causes, see Quaestiones disputatae De malo, q. 5, a. 5, ad 6, in SANCTI THOMAE DE AQUINO Opera Omnia,
vol. 23, Commissio Leonina - Vrin, Rome -Paris 1982, p. 142, lin. 304-311. Cf. ibid., ad 13, p. 143, lin.
379-381; De pot., q. 5, a. 1, ad 7, ed. cit., p. 132. — For a discussion of the heavenly bodies’ role as
equivocal (or analogical) and universal causes, see LI TT, Les corps célestes cit., pp. 149-173.
87
See, e.g., SCG, I I I , c. 23, ed. cit., vol. XI V, pp. 56-57 ; De ver., q. 5, a. 8, ed. cit., p. 159, lin.
242-256. I n De 36 articulis Thomas is asked explicitly by the Venetian lector whether one can prove
infallibly that angels move the heavens. Thomas writes to him in reply with a rare use of the first
person pronoun, saying that « libri philosophorum hujusmodi probationibus abundant quas ipsi
demonstrationes putant. Mihi etiam videtur quod demonstrative probari potest quod ab aliquo
intellectu corpora caelestia moveantur, vel a Deo immediate vel mediantibus angelis. Sed quod
mediantibus angelis ea moveat magis congruit ordini rerum quem Dionysius infallibilem asserit,
ut inferiora a Deo per media secundum cursum communem administrentur » (in SANCTI THOMAE DE
AQUINO Opera Omnia, vol. 42, Commissio Leonina, Rome 1979, p. 339, lin. 26-35). See J . A.
WEI SHEI PL, The Celestial Movers in Medieval Physics, « The Thomist », 24, 1961, pp. 321-326. —
Similarly, Thomas does not think that one can demonstratively prove whether the heavens are
animate and moved by souls that are united to them or whether they are inanimate and moved
376 GREGORY T. DOOLAN
heavenly bodi es act as uni versal causes through thei r moti ons, but only
because the angels move them, employi ng those bodi es as thei r i nstruments.
Thomas presents the di sti ncti on between the proper and i nstrumental
acti ons of the heavenly bodi es i n De veritate, q. 5, a. 10. I n thi s arti cle, he
consi ders whether human acts are governed by di vi ne provi dence through the
i nstrumentali ty of the heavens. The fourth objecti on asserts that the heavenly
moti ons are i ndeed pri nci ples of human acts because they leave an i mpressi on
on the human soul. They do so, i t i s argued, not through thei r proper power,
but through the power of spi ri tual substances, whi ch act as pri nci pal agents
movi ng the heavenly bodi es as thei r i nstruments
88
. I n reply, Thomas explains:
«The instrument of a spiritual agent does not act in accordance with a spiritual
power except as it acts in accordance with a bodily power ; but in accordance with
[its] bodily power, a heavenly body can act only on a body. For that reason,
furthermore, [its] action which is in accord with a spiritual power extends to the
soul only incidentally (per accidens), namely through a mediating body. But its
action extends to a body in both ways: by its bodily power it moves elemental
qualities (namely, hot and cold and the like), whereas by its spiritual power, it moves
with respect to the species (movet ad speciem) and with respect to those effects
following the entire species which cannot be reduced to elemental qualities»
89
.
si mply by the angels. Both opi ni ons, he notes, have the character of probabi li ty. Nevertheless,
he fi nds the latter possi bi li ty to be more fi tti ng and, hence, more li kely. Thus, he adopts i n hi s
wri ti ngs the posi ti on that the heavenly bodi es are i nani mate and are moved i mmedi ately by the
angels. On thi s poi nt, see De spir. creat., a. 6, ed. ci t., p. 69, li n. 186-231. — I n the same arti cle,
Thomas presents a twofold order of angeli c movers : some are movers of the heavenly bodi es and
are uni ted to them as movers to the moveable (rather than as thei r souls), whereas others act as
the ends of these movements (ed. ci t., pp. 69, li n. 232 - 70, li n. 243). Thomas’s di sti ncti on
between these two orders of angels i s not meant to supplant the tradi ti onal Chri sti an hi erarchy
of angels that consi sts of ni ne orders and i s based upon thei r general offi ces. Here he i s si mply
consi deri ng the angels that presi de over the heavenly bodi es (ST, I , q. 110, a. 1, ad 3, ed. ci t., vol.
V, p. 511). — For an overvi ew of Thomas doctri ne of the angels as movers of the heavenly bodi es,
see SUAREZ-NANI , Les anges et la philosophie ci t., pp. 103-142.
88
De ver., q. 5, a. 10, obj. 4, ed. ci t., p. 168, li n. 28-41.
89
De ver., q. 5, a. 10, ad 4, ed. cit., p. 171, lin. 214-228 : « I nstrumentum spiritualis agentis non
agit secundum virtutem spiritualem nisi ex hoc quod agit secundum virtutem corporalem;
secundum autem virtutem corporalem corpus caeleste non potest agere nisi in corpus ; et ideo
etiam actio quae est secundum virtutem spiritualem non potest pertingere ad animam nisi per
accidens, scilicet corpore mediante. Sed in corpus utroque modo actio eius pervenit : ex virtute
enim corporali movet qualitates elementares, scilicet calidum et frigidum, et huiusmodi, sed ex
virtute spirituali movet ad speciem et ad effectus consequentes totam speciem qui non possunt in
qualitates elementares reduci ». — Thomas offers a more detailed account of the relationship
between natural agents, the heavenly bodies, and the separate substances in De operationibus
occultis naturae, in SANCTI THOMAE DE AQUINO Opera Omnia, vol. 43, Commissio Leonina, Rome
1976, p. 183-186 ; see esp. pp. 184, lin. 100 -186, lin. 158.
377 AQUI NAS ON SEPARATE SUBSTANCES
I n thi s passage, then, we see Thomas i denti fy the ways i n whi ch the
heavenly bodi es act on both the human soul and the body. What i s of i nterest
to us i n our consi derati on of the angels, however, i s si mply the latter poi nt.
As we have already seen, he holds that the heavenly bodi es act as uni versal
causes of terrestri al bodi es, causi ng form as such. I n doi ng so, they also
preserve those lower bodi es i n bei ng (esse). For thi s reason, Thomas comes to
treat the heavenly bodi es i n ST, I as i nstrumental causae essendi. I n the above
quoted passage, he makes clear that the heavenly bodi es are also i nstruments
i n thei r role as uni versal causes of form. As he explai ns, i t i s only accordi ng
to the spi ri tual power of the heavenly bodi es that they move thi ngs wi th
respect to thei r speci es, i n other words, that they cause form as such. Whereas
the bodi ly power of the heavens i s proper to them, thi s spi ri tual power i s not.
I n short, accordi ng to Thomas, the heavenly bodi es are uni versal causes of
form only i nsofar as they are i nstruments of spi ri tual substances
90
.
Even though in ST, I , q. 104 Thomas does not explicitly identify the angels
as causae essendi, then, we can infer from his example of the heavenly bodies
that he does indeed consider them to be such
91
. And it is for this reason, I would
argue, that he includes the angels as principles of ens commune. Even in his
early commentary on the De Trinitate where Thomas does not explicitly identify
a role for creatures as preserving causes, this reading is at the very least
consonant with his observation that the angels are treated in metaphysics as
«secondary principles of things, at least through the motion of the spheres…».
Nevertheless, we should not conclude from all of this that he thinks the angels
can cause esse only through employing the heavenly bodies as instruments.
According to Thomas, these created separate substances are capable of causing
motion in terrestrial bodies immediately and, hence, we can infer, they are also
capable of preservi ng those bodi es i mmedi ately
92
. I t is for this reason, I
90
I n ST, I , q. 65, a. 4 Thomas explains that corporeal forms are derived from immaterial forms
in the angelic intellect, which in turn are reduced to the ideas in the mind of God (ed. cit., vol. V,
pp. 152-153). Thomas is careful, however, not to deny the efficacy of natural agents : neither the
angels nor the heavenly bodies inform lower bodies by emanation (per influxum), but only by
motion (per motum) (ibid., including ad 1-3, vol. V, pp. 152-153). — Regarding the relation of this
angelic causality both to natural agents and to divine exemplarism, see G. T. DOOLAN, The Causality
of the Divine Ideas in Relation to Natural Agents in Thomas Aquinas, « I nternational Philosophical
Quarterly », 44, 2004, pp. 393-409 ; I D., Aquinas on the Divine Ideas as Exemplar Causes, The
Catholic University of America Press, Washington, D.C. 2008, pp. 156-190.
91
I n support of thi s readi ng, see De ver., q. 5, a. 8, ed. ci t., p. 159, li n. 242-256, where Thomas
di scusses the medi ati ng role of the angels i n God’s provi denti al governance of corporeal thi ngs.
92
Thomas expli ci tly rejects Ari stotle’s doctri ne that the separate substances are li mi ted to
acti ng on lower bodi es through the moti ons of the heavens. Nevertheless, Thomas i s careful to
note that the angels are only capable of causi ng motion i n the lower bodi es i mmedi ately ; they
cannot di rectly i nform those bodi es i mmedi ately, he argues, because only God or a proxi mate
378 GREGORY T. DOOLAN
suspect, that in the early De Trinitate commentary, he adds the qualifier ‘at
least’ (saltem) when noting that the angels are «secondary principles of things,
at least through the motion of the spheres », implying that the angels could act
upon terrestrial bodies in other ways, perhaps even directly
93
.
Still, if we follow this reading, the class of beings for which the angels can act
as preserving causes of esse is a limited one. They could only preserve creatures
in being by giving them form. According to Thomas, however, certain beings
cannot be generated but are created immediately by God, namely, the heavenly
bodies, human souls, and also the angels themselves. Thus, it is impossible for
any created agent to give these beings form or to preserve them in being.
Furthermore, no created being can be the cause of itself
94
. Hence, if we follow
Thomas’s reasoning, angels can only be causes of esse by preserving bodies in
existence — or to be more precise, by preserving terrestrial bodies in existence.
Two objecti ons mi ght be leveled at thi s poi nt agai nst my readi ng that
Thomas i ncludes the angels as pri nci ples of ens commune i n thei r role as
preservi ng causes : fi rst, si nce they are not preservi ng causes of all created
bei ngs (or even of all types of created bei ngs), i t seems that the angels could
not possi bly be causes of ens commune, bei ng i n general ; second, si nce they
can only preserve terrestri al bodi es i n bei ng, i t seems that i n thi s causal role
the angels would be physi cal pri nci ples rather than metaphysi cal ones.
I n response to the first objection, it must be granted that no individual angel
could be the proper and principal cause of ens commune ; nor could all of the
angels taken together, since only God causes ens commune in this way
95
. Why
then does Thomas speak in the plural, refering to the separate substances as
causing ens commune, and to the ‘divine things’ as causing all beings ? The
answer, I would argue, is that his reference to these causes is a collective
corporeal agent can do that. See ST, I , q. 110, a. 1, ad 2 ; a. 2 ; a. 3 ad 2, ed. ci t., pp .510-513 ; De
ver., q. 5, a. 8, ed. ci t., p. 159, li n. 242-256. See also COL L I NS, The Thomistic Philosophy of the
Angels ci t., pp. 305-321 ; SUAREZ-NANI , Les anges et la philosophie ci t., pp. 137-142. — I t should
be noted, furthermore, that gi ven thi s departure from Ari stotle, Thomas also departs from hi m
regardi ng the number of separate substances. Accordi ng to Thomas thei r number cannot be
di scerned si mply from observi ng the heavenly movements si nce i t i s possi ble that there are more
angels than ei ther those movements or the heavenly bodi es themselves. Gi ven the ontologi cal
di gni ty of the angels, he argues that i t i s more fi tti ng to conclude that they exi st i n an exceedi ly
great number, i ncomparably surpassi ng materi al substances. On these poi nts, see De substantiis
separatis, c. 2, i n SANCTI THOMAE DE AQUINO Opera Omnia, vol. 40, Commi ssi o Leoni na, Rome 1968,
p. 46, li n. 188-212 ; ST, I , q. 50, a. 3, ed. ci t., vol. V, pp. 88-89.
93
In De Trin., q. 5, a. 4, ad 3, ed. ci t., p. 155, li n. 239-250. Emphasi s added. For the Lati n,
see n. 25 above.
94
See In II Sent., d. 1, q. 1, a. 4, ed. ci t., pp. 23-27 ; ST, I , q. 45, a. 5, ad 1, ed. ci t., vol. I V,
p. 469 ; q. 104, a. 1 and ad 1, ed. ci t., vol. V, pp. 463-464 ; a. 2, ad 2, ed. ci t., vol. V, p. 467 ; COL L I NS,
The Thomistic Philosophy of the Angels ci t., p. 293.
95
See above, pp. 365-366.
379 AQUI NAS ON SEPARATE SUBSTANCES
reference and not a distributive one. I n other words, Thomas is not claiming
that each and every separate substance is the cause of ens commune, or that
each and every ‘divine thing’ is the cause of all beings. Rather, he is saying that
these agents act as such causes when taken collectively, with God included.
This is not to say that Thomas views God as somehow dependent upon the
angels either to produce or to preserve creatures in being. Rather, it is to claim
that Thomas considers the angels to be principles of ens commune as contributing
causes in their instrumental role of preserving esse
96
.
The fact that he does not consider angels to be causes of esse in all beings does
not detract from their role as metaphysical principles. This becomes clear when
we consider the goal of metaphysics. Thomas identifies it as a knowledge of the
principles and causes of ens commune, but he also identifies it in other terms,
observing that in metaphysics «are sought the principles and causes of beings
inasmuch as they are beings »
97
. As instrumental agents that preserve esse, the
angels are just that : principles and causes of beings precisely inasmuch as they
are beings. Thus, in reply to the second objection mentioned above, it does not
matter that the angels only preserve terrestrial bodies: the esse of a corporeal
being is still a metaphysical principle since it is a principle of the being qua being.
Hence, the angels as per se causes of esse must themselves also be metaphysical
principles and not physical ones (i.e., not merely causes of change or motion)
98
.
96
They are contri buti ng causes that God has freely chosen to employ as i nstruments,
although he could have chosen to preserve thi ngs wi thout them. See ST, I , q. 104, a. 2, ed. ci t.,
vol. V, p. 467. Regardi ng the effi ci ent cause as a contri buti ng cause (causa adiuvans), see In II
Phys., lect. 5, n. 5, ed. ci t., vol. I I , pp. 68-71 ; In V Meta., lect. 2, n. 768, ed. ci t, p. 212. — Accordi ng
to my readi ng, i t mi ght seem as though the heavenly bodi es would also have to be treated as
pri nci ples of the subject matter of metaphysi cs si nce Thomas treats them, too, as causes of esse
(at least i n hi s later wri ti ng). There i s a key di sti ncti on, however, that I would poi nt out between
the heavenly bodi es and the angels as such causes. Thomas i ndeed consi ders both agents to be
i nstrumental causes of esse i n thei r role as uni versal agents. However, he i denti fi es the angels
as pri mary and proper causes of form as such, whereas he presents the heavenly bodi es as only
secondary and i nstrumental causes of i t. Thi s i s because the angels act through a spi ri tual power
proper to themselves, whereas the power proper to the heavenly bodi es i s merely a corporeal
power through whi ch they are the i nstruments of the angels spi ri tual power. Thus, the role of
the heavenly bodi es as causes of esse i s further removed and more i nstrumental than that of the
angels. Followi ng Thomas’s account, the angels are i nstrumental causes of esse through thei r
proper power of causi ng form as such, whereas the heavenly bodi es are i nstrumental causes of
esse through bei ng i nstrumental causes of form as such. I n short, the heavenly bodi es as causes
of esse are merely i nstruments of i nstruments (see n. 89 above).
97
In VI Meta., lect. 1, n. 1145, ed. ci t. p. 295 : « … i n i sta sci enti a i nqui rantur pri nci pi a et
causae enti um, i nquantum sunt enti a ». Cf. ibid., n. 1164, p. 297. See ARI STOTL E, Metaphysics, VI ,
1, 1025b3-7. Cf. In XI Meta., lect. 7, n. 2267, ed. ci t., p. 536.
98
Although both the esse of a created bei ng and the effi ci ent cause of that esse are
metaphysi cal pri nci ples, Thomas consi ders the former to be a pri nci ple i ntri nsi c to the creature
and the latter one, extri nsi c to i t.
380 GREGORY T. DOOLAN
We are at last in a position to answer the second major question of this article,
which asked how angels can be included under a subject of which they are
causes. This question arose because it seemed at first that this dual status would
entail the angels being causes of themselves — an account that Thomas would
clearly reject as contradictory and impossible. As I have argued, even though he
considers angels to be principles of ens commune, he considers them to be so
only as contributing causes in their role as secondary, instrumental causes of
esse through preserving terrestrial bodies in being. Following my reading, then,
there is no contradiction in saying that angels are both principles of the subject
matter of metaphysics and included under it, because the manner in which they
are such principles does not entail their being principles of themselves.
I V
On more than one occasi on i n hi s wri ti ngs, Thomas di scusses what he
consi ders to be the metaphysi cal role of the separate substances. As we have
seen, however, he never provi des a detai led account of how those created
separate substance, the angels, are related to the subject matter of metaphysics.
Nevertheless, i t i s possi ble to di scern from hi s vari ous wri ti ngs hi s li kely
vi ews on thi s matter, whi ch I have attempted to do i n thi s arti cle. I n the course
of thi s consi derati on, I arri ved at a number of conclusi ons. I n the i nterest of
clari ty, i t i s worth bri efly summari zi ng these fi ndi ngs.
1. Accordi ng to Thomas, metaphysi cs studi es both ens commune and
separate substances, but he consi ders the subject matter of thi s sci ence to be
only ens commune. The separate substances, both God and the angels, are
i nstead the pri nci ples or causes of that subject matter.
2. Although Thomas refers to the separate substances collecti vely as
pri nci ples of ens commune, he holds that God and the angels are i ts causes i n
di fferent respects. God i s the proper cause of ens commune because only he
can produce bei ng out of absolute non-bei ng, whi ch i s to say that only God
can create; by contrast, I have argued, for Thomas the angels are contri buti ng
causes of ens commune i n thei r role as i nstrumental causes of esse. Thi s role
for the angels only becomes clear by the ti me the later ST, I i s wri tten. There,
Thomas argues that some created agents can act as causes of the preservati on
of other created bei ngs, and i n thi s way these agents can be i nstrumental
causes of esse (causae essendi) i n those other bei ngs. From what we have seen,
i t follows that the angels act as just such causes by movi ng the heavenly
bodi es. By doi ng so, they preserve lower bodi es i n bei ng
99
. Although Thomas
99
As we have also seen, however, Thomas thi nks that the angels are capable of movi ng lower
bodi es i mmedi ately. Hence, i t would be possi ble for them to preserve such bodi es wi thout usi ng
the heavens as thei r i nstruments.
381 AQUI NAS ON SEPARATE SUBSTANCES
only expli ci tly enunci ates thi s noti on of created bei ngs as causae essendi i n
hi s later wri ti ngs, i t i s nonetheless consonant wi th hi s earli er ones, and so too
i s the noti on of angels as preservi ng causes. For thi s reason, I have argued,
Thomas notes i n the early commentary on Boethi us’s De Trinitate that i n
metaphysi cs, the angels «are consi dered from the same perspecti ve as the
fi rst cause, whi ch i s God, i nsofar as they are also secondary pri nci ples of
thi ngs, at least through the moti on of the spheres »
100
.
3. Although God i s not i ncluded under the subject matter of metaphysi cs,
the angels are. For Thomas, God i s studi ed i n metaphysi cs solely as the
pri nci ple or cause of i ts subject matter. Thi s i s because God, as i nfi ni te esse,
transcends every genus and, hence, transcends ens commune as well. By
contrast, the angels are fi ni te bei ngs and so are i ncluded both under the genus
substance and under ens commune. Thus, Thomas presents these created
separate substances as treated by the metaphysi ci an i n two respects : as
substances and as separate. As separate, or i mmateri al, the angels are studi ed
i n metaphysi cs only as pri nci ples of ens commune ; as substances, however,
they are studi ed i n that sci ence as fi ni te bei ngs i ncluded under ens commune.
4. Fi nally, I have argued, thi s dual status of the angels i n relati on to the
subject matter of metaphysi cs i nvolves no contradi cti on si nce the manner i n
whi ch they are pri nci ples of ens commune does not entai l thei r causi ng
themselves. As noted just above, Thomas does not consi der the angels to be
the proper causes of ens commune ; moreoever, he does not even consi der
them to be the i nstrumental causes of all bei ngs. I nstead, i f we follow hi s li ne
of reasoni ng i n ST, I , q. 104, the angels are i nstrumental causes of esse i n
terrestri al bodi es by preservi ng those bodi es i n bei ng. I n thi s respect, they are
the causes of some bei ngs as bei ngs, and not of themselves si nce as separate
substances they are clearly not terrestri al bodi es.
Contrary to Owens, then, I would mai ntai n that when Thomas refers to
separate substances as pri nci ples of ens commune, he i ntends more than
si mply to acknowledge the Ari stoteli an metaphysi cal tradi ti on. Thomas
i ncludes the angels wi th God among such pri nci ples, not because they
somehow «coalesce i n nature wi th the Chri sti an God », as Owens mai ntai ns,
but because Thomas truly vi ews them to be such pri nci ples. Nevertheless, he
also truly vi ews the angels as falli ng under ens commune. Thus, for Thomas,
the angels are both pri nci ples of the subject matter of metaphysi cs and are
i ncluded under i t. They are so, however, i n di fferent respects. I t i s these
di fferent respects that have recei ved li ttle attenti on unti l now and that I hope
to have made clearer i n thi s arti cle
101
.
100
In De Trin., q. 5, a. 4, ad 3, ed. ci t., p. 155, li n. 239-250. For the Lati n, see n. 25 above.
101
I am grateful to the followi ng people for thei r comments on earli er drafts of thi s pi ece:
J ohn F. Wi ppel, Kelly Doolan, Therese Cory, and Travi s Cooper.
382 GREGORY T. DOOLAN
ABSTRACT
Scholars who consi der Thomas Aqui nas’s metaphysi cs have dedi cated much
attenti on to hi s account of how the separate substance known as God i s related to the
subject matter of metaphysi cs, ens commune. Li ttle attenti on, however, has been pai d
to hi s account of how created separate substances, whi ch theologi ans call ‘angels’, are
related to thi s subject matter. I ndeed, Thomas hi mself does not address thi s topi c i n
detai l. To the extent that he does, hi s consi derati ons seem somewhat i nconsi stent. On
the one hand, he presents created separate substances as pri nci ples or causes of ens
commune, suggesti ng that they are not i ncluded under thi s subject matter. On the
other hand, he also treats them as substances or bei ngs, suggesti ng that they are
somehow i ncluded under ens commune. Thi s arti cle attempts to show that despi te
Thomas’s seemi ngly contradi ctory treatment of thi s topi c, one can nevertheless
di scern i n hi s wri ti ngs a coherent and consi stent account of how created separate
substances are related to the subject matter of metaphysi cs.
GREGORY T. DOOLAN, The Catholi c Uni versi ty of Ameri ca
doolan@cua.edu