Aquinas as Aristotelian commentator, by Joseph Owens

Santo Tomás de Aquino - Cornelio Fabro - instituto verbo encarnado

St_Thomas_Aquinas_23[St. Thomas Aquinas 1274-1974 Commemorative Studies, vol 1, 213-238; Pontifical Institute of Mediaeval Studies, Toronto 1974.]


The role of St. Thomas Aquinas as an Aristotelian commentator still proves puzzling. Certainly his work in this respect is not the detached and theologically neutral undertaking that is found in moderns such as Bonitz, J. A. Stewart, or Sir David Ross. No matter how closely his attitude is concerned with explaining the Aristotelian text just as the text stands, it is consistently sensitive to any deviations of the teaching from the integrity of Christian faith and of orthodox theology. In fact, it does not at all give the impression that it is going out of its normal way when it corrects the Aristotelian tenets in the light of revealed doctrine. Rather, it proceeds as though correction of this type is a legitimate and integral part of its overall method.[1]

Does not this savor strongly of an out and out theological method? Should it not mean that the Aristotelian commentaries of Aquinas are to be classed as works of sacred theology rather than of philosophy? Is not the procedure in them theological through and through, in contrast to a genuinely philosophical treatment of the Aristotelian text? Does not this mean theology only?

However, hesitation arises at once in confrontation with this apparently extreme stand. The overwhelming predominance of the discussion in the commentaries deals with the Aristotelian thought and not with professedly theological issues. Moreover, on the supposition of outside interference the theological interest is not the only observable intrusion into the commentaries. A partly new conception of the sciences seems to dominate the whole discussion.[2] Metaphysics seems placed in an Avicennian framework, ethics and politics in traditional Christian grooves, and logic in the setting of the three Scholastically accepted intellectual activities. Would not this new philosophical coloring have to be regarded as changing the character of the commentaries just as much as the theological concern? Or is it to be viewed as in some way connected with, and subsumed under, the theological orientation?

The above observations suggest at least that in these writings of Aquinas the task of a commentator was not understood to be a disinterested and historically exact explanation of the Aristotelian views. It was not a function to be detached from concern for revealed Christian truth. There can be little doubt that St. Thomas grasped in large part the true import and thrust of the Stagirite’s tenets. He did not hesitate for a moment to acknowledge that Aristotle accepted the eternity of the world and the actuation of the heavenly bodies by spiritual souls in the sense that these tenets were strictly essential to the Aristotelian metaphysics.[3] He was continually aware that Aristotle in the Ethics was concerned only with this-worldly contentment. Yet he undertakes to show how the Aristotelian teachings blossom out into thoroughly Christian flora. Does not this procedure mean much more than that in the commentaries “theological considerations color his interpretations?[4] Will it anywhere allow one to view the Aristotelian commentaries as articulating “positions which are rejected in his basically theological writings?[5]

One may sharpen the question still further. Can the procedure in the Aristotelian commentaries be regarded as in any way basically philosophical, in contrast to that of the “basically theological writings”? Are the theological coloring and additions and reservations merely intruded from outside as occasion demands, in order to make the Stagirite’s doctrine palatable in a Christian milieu and safeguard it from censure-prone ecclesiastical authority? Or must these commentaries be classed as authentically theological documents? In a word, is Aquinas as an Aristotelian commentator writing as a philosopher or as a theologian?

The tendency to view the Aristotelian commentaries as basically philosophical writings is of course deep-seated. Allegedly according to the mind of St. Thomas they fill the role of a Summa Philosophica for beginners,[6] providing students with a complete and suitable course of philosophy,[7] presenting Thomistic philosophy in words of the Angelic Doctor himself.[8] The hermeneutical principle would be: “For Thomas interpreted Aristotle’s thought not only in the light of its inner consistency, but also by taking into account the results of subsequent philosophical research.”[9] Seen from this standpoint, the work is properly philosophical.

There is obviously a problem, then, in regard to the nature of the Thomistic commentaries on Aristotle. In its broadest framework, the issue is whether these commentaries are essentially philosophical or theological documents. Within the procedure proper to the one or the other discipline, as the case may be, the question has to be faced how Aquinas can so patently understand the real meaning of the Aristotelian text and yet explain it in a way that is not Aristotle’s, or even opposed to Aristotle’s conception of its implications. Comparatively little work has as yet been devoted to this problem. At a Scholastic congress in 1950 it was noted that the number of studies published on these commentaries was minimal, totaling less than fifty, and almost exclusively mere articles.[10] The situation has not improved notably in the intervening years. The topic is still wide open for investigation.

The meaning of the word “commentary” is practically of no help in regard to the issue. It is wide enough to cover explanation of the basic document, notes on it, reflections on it, development of questions arising from it, In the last sense it became regularly applied to works on the Sentences of Peter Lombard, in which the basic text served merely as a springboard for wide-ranging articles on subiects of current interest. But the word did not enter into the titles of these writings of Aquinas in their original form. Rather, they were called Expositiones. They were presented as explanations of the Aristotelian works. This throws the problem back to the kind of explanation found in the Thomistic undertaking. Is it philosophical or theological in character? Does it respect the original meaning scrupulously, or merely use that meaning as a springboard for its own new interests? Basically, is it explaining Aristotle or is it doing something else? Or is it in some way an amorphous combination of these possibilities?

The last suggestion does not seem to be at all acceptable, for the inspiration of the Thomistic commentaries on Aristotle seems to be unitary throughout. They do not give the impression of an amalgam of disparate elements. Rather, their procedure appears to be a self consistent enterprise, constituting an authentic literary genre. No impression of anything amorphous or fragmentary is given in the course of these writings. The command of the situation seems firm from start to finish. The attitude shown in them is that of a man engaged in a thoroughly coherent task. He is apparently doing his work in a manner recognized and accepted in his milieu. He may embody in his technique of literal commentary a distinct improvement over his predecessors in handling the Aristotelian doctrine, but in his use of pagan thought in a Christian atmosphere he appears to be carrying on a unity of method that had been achieved through a long history of intelligent effort. The procedure has the marks of something undertaken with a well thought and consciously adopted purpose. Prima facie, accordingly, it has every right to be approached with this assumption. It is not to be dismissed lightly on the strength of present-day formal and stereotyped norms. Rather, grass roots investigation in the commentaries themselves is indicated in order to see whether or not the above assumption will be borne out.

A close scrutiny of the commentaries, then, is the way to obtain correct answers about their nature. The Aristotelian commentaries of Aquinas are twelve in number. The earliest chronological indication for any of them is the reign of Pope Urban IV (1261-1264). This is for the commentary on the Metaphysics, a commentary that was not finished before 1272. The other Aristotelian commentaries are dated variously between 1266 and 1273.[11] The commentary on the Metaphysics, consequently, would seem to stretch in one way or another through the whole chronological period in which Aquinas was engaged in producing these writings on Aristotle. It may therefore quite safely be approached as the proper commentary in which to begin an investigation of the procedure of Aquinas. Later the results can be tested in briefer fashion against the method shown in the other Aristotelian commentaries.


The commentary of Aquinas on the Metaphysics covers the first twelve of the fourteen books traditionally grouped under the title.[12] A short Proem introduces the study that is to be dealt with, locating it in the science that naturally dominates all the others. The Proem uses as its springboard some observations from Aristotle’s Politics, with two explicit references. It also draws upon, but without express references, a number of characteristic Aristotelian teachings from the De Anima, the Analytics, and the Metaphysics itself. These various tenets are brought to bear upon the one notion “intellectual in the highest degree” (maxime intellectualis)[13] as the distinguishing feature of the science that is being introduced. The assembling of so many roving tenets under the one unifying principle shows a thorough mastery of the philosophical materials, and an innate ability to organize them successfully from a new and personal viewpoint. It marks Aquinas himself as the “author” of the work about to be undertaken, in the medieval sense of the auctor. He is the one who will be doing the thinking and passing the judgments and presenting the work as his own, no matter how liberally he is drawing upon someone else for material, help, and inspiration. Such at least is the function of the commenting writer as suggested by this Proem.

Further, there is divergence in some details from the strict Aristotelian description of the philosophical notions involved. Actuality and potentiality, for instance, are presented as consequent upon being, just as are unity and multiplicity — “ea quae consequuntur ens, ut unum et multa, potcntia et actus” (In Metaph., Proem.). In this regard Aristotle himself gives details about the way the most general “forms” follow upon being.[14] He regards unity and multiplicity as basic, but does not mention actuality and potentiality. Rather, actuality and potentiality name original instances of being, not subsequent properties.[15]

Somewhat similarly the formal substances that in Aristotle were described as “absolutely separate” (Metaph., H 1, 1042a29-31) are designated in this Proem as separate “secundum esse,” in contrast to the mathematicals, which are separate “secundum rationem.” This places the division in an obviously remodeled cast, for in Aristotle the mathematicals were described as things not separate, though taken in abstraction and separated by thought from movement.[16] Against an Arabian background the things that are separate “secundum esse” are distinguished as “Deus et intelligentiae,” quite apparently understood in the biblical sense of God and angels. Together these separate substances are looked upon as the common and universal causes of common being — “ens commune, quod est genus, cuius sunt praedictae substantiae communes et universales causae” (In Metaph., Proem).

What has happened here? There is an unmistakable effort to keep God and the angels from playing the role of subject to the science of metaphysics. Sacred theology had already appropriated God as its specifying subject.[17] This subject accordingly had to be different from the subject of any of the other sciences. The Avicennian framework was at hand to exclude God and the highest causes from the subject of metaphysics, and substitute instead the common aspect of being.[18] It safeguarded the distinction between metaphysics and sacred theology. But why did not only God but also the “intellectual substances” (Deus et intellectuales substantiae) have to be left outside the subject of metaphysics? Surely the exclusion of God alone would have been enough to provide for the specification of sacred theology. Why, moreover, the interest in showing that in this context metaphysics bears entirely upon things separate from matter “secundum esse et rationem,” not only things that can never be in matter, but also aspects that are able to be found without matter, such as common being?[19]

These preoccupations suppose a conception of metaphysics in which separate substances, apart from distinction into God and angels, functioned as the subject of metaphysics. This conception was well enough known at the time through the position of Averroes.[20] But there was enough in the Aristotelian text to substantiate it in the description of metaphysics as “theological science.”[21] The title “theology” had to be accorded it, and was allowed it by Aquinas on the ground that it deals with the separate substances in the way already explained, namely as the causes of common being.[22] The alternate Aristotelian title “first philosophy” was similarly admitted for the same reason, namely that it treated of these first causes of things.[23] Both these ways of expressing the nature of the science had accordingly to be accepted and the infection localized. The new standpoint would leave the divine as the specifying subject of only sacred theology, and yet acknowledge that it was studied, though in a different way, by the philosophical pursuit. This made the traditional title “metaphysics” free to designate the science from the viewpoint of its specification by its own subject, common being, which is “transphysical” insofar as it is common to material and immaterial things alike: “Metaphysica, inquantum considerat ens et ea quae consequuntur ipsum. Haec enim transphysica inveniuntur in via resolutionis, sicut magis communia post minus communia” (Proem). The term “metaphysics,” consequently, can still imply a science of what is separate from matter, though at the cost of introducing a technical notion of “separate” that is not to be found in the Aristotelian treatises. How could any common notions be regarded in the Aristotelian context as “separata a materia secundum esse”? To be separate in the sense contrasted with “separate in notion,” they would have to be substances, and for Aristotle nothing common or universal can be a substance in the setting of the Metaphysics (Z 13, 1038b8-35).

What is the significance of this change in location for the subject of metaphysics? If for Aristotle primary philosophy or theological science dealt with the separate substances in the sense of the divine beings, and with all other things on account of their reference to this primary instance of being, does not the change become a complete reversal in perspective?[24] For Aquinas common being, from which the divine is excluded, becomes the subject of metaphysics. The divine is treated of by the science only because of the reference it has to common being, namely in its role of the cause of common being. Yet the one formula “separata a materia secundum esse et rationem” serves for Aquinas as the means of expressing his own conception of the subject of metaphysics in words that would apply equally well to the subject of the Aristotelian theological science.

How has this change come about? In his commentary on Boethius’ De Trinitate, Aquinas had occasion to deal with the notion of theology against both the Aristotelian and the Christian backgrounds. Boethius, following Aristotle, had written that while natural philosophy and mathematics are types of non-abstract science (inabstracta), theology is in contrast to them abstract and separable (abstracta atque separabilis), since there is no matter nor movement in the substance of God (Boethius, De Trin., c. 11.). In Aristotelian fashion Aquinas takes up the consideration of this subject in the plural as res divinae — divine things (V, 4, resp. 3; p. 194.14). The use of the plural, though taken from Aristotle, is supported by the Scriptural way of referring to the “invisible things of God” (ibid., line 22 — from Rom., 1:20) and “the things that are of God” (p. 195.1 — from 1 Cor., 2:11). In this way the Aristotelian plural in referring to the divine is made to bear upon the unique Christian God.

So understood these divine things can be considered in two ways, as far as the specification of theology for Aquinas is concerned. They can be considered in their role of the common principles of all things. In this way alone can they be treated of by the philosophers, in the science that has as its subject being qua being and which is called by them the divine science. In the second way the divine things are considered insofar as they are things that subsist in themselves, and not as manifested through effects. Procedure in the first of these two ways gives rise to philosophical theology or metaphysics. Procedure in the second way is that of the theology of sacred scripture. Both deal with things separate from matter secundum esse, though separate respectively in two different ways, namely as things that can never be in matter, such as God and the angels, or as things that can be without matter though sometimes found in matter. Objects separate in the first way constitute the subject of sacred theology, while they function only as the principles of the subject of philosophical theology (pp. 194.14-195.27).

This conception of the science of metaphysics is merely repeated in the Proem to the commentary on the Metaphysics, without any significant addition or change. But the chronologically prior development of the doctrine, in the course of the commentary on Boethius, shows clearly enough the issue that is at stake. If God as he exists in himself is allowed to function as the subject of metaphysics, no room will be left for a further science about God arising from divine revelation.[25] The preoccupation is to make the intellectual world safe for sacred theology. The concern of the Christian theologian is crystal clear. It is allayed by making a new type of separate objects specify metaphysics, while the divine is left free to specify sacred theology. The task was rendered comparatively easy and the results readily acceptable in the framework already established by Avicenna. But is the key feature in the new notion of separate object, namely separate in being (secundum esse), characteristically Avicennian? It is hardly Aristotelian. In the “Proem” to the commentary on the Metaphysics the topic is introduced through contrast with the separation of the mathematicals: “Et non solum secundum rationem, sicut mathematica, sed etiam secundum esse, sicut Deus et intelligentiae.” In this contrast, esse can scarcely mean anything other than existence. If it had the formal sense that it would have in its regular Aristotelian use in a setting like this, it would not set up a contrast. In the Aristotelian use of the infinitive of the verb “to be” in similar contexts, the formal aspects of a thing were signified. For instance, the dividing and uniting by a point or instant are the same thing but differ in ei=nai (Ph., IV 13, 222al6-20). Here and elsewhere in Aristotle (See Bonitz, Ind. Arist., 22104-61) the infinitive is used synonymously with logos, in the sense of a formal aspect. Used with “separate,” it would accordingly mean separate in notion, and not separate secundum esse in the additional meaning desired here by Aquinas. Esse would have to retain the Boethian meaning of definition.[26] The force of the secundum esse in its present use by St. Thomas calls for considerably more, then, than the formal Aristotelian meaning. Nor can the Boethian text that provides the take-off point for the discussion be expected to furnish the metaphysical basis for the new concept of separation secundum esse et rationem.

What new factor, then, is at work in the development of the formula “separata a materia secundum esse et rationem” (In Metaph., Proem.) to describe the subject of metaphysics? The context strongly suggests the meaning of existence: “…non solum illa quae nunquam in materia esse possunt, sicut Deus et intellectuales substantiae, sed etiam illa quae possunt sine materia esse, sicut ens commune.” The prima facie meaning suggested by these words is that objects like God and the intellectual substances can never exist in matter, and that an object like common being is able to occur without matter. The reference seems clearly enough to bear on existential status, rather than on anything pertaining to the notions themselves. The verb is accordingly translated as “exist” without any hesitation in the English renditions “those things which can never exist in matter” and “those things which can exist without matter” (tr. Rowan). In the pertinent passages in the commentary on Boethius the existential bearing had been expressed so strongly as to leave it beyond doubt.[27]

In the Boethian commentary the meaning of esse had even in the article on the specification of divine science been clearly given its sharp Thomistic force as the actuality of essence.[28] Is this notion brought into the commentary on the Metaphysics? Does it bear upon the presentation of the subject of the science as common being distinct from divine being, in the recognizable Avicennian framework? If so, does it mean that the notion of separation secundum esse gives the subject of metaphysics a status that it could not possibly have had in Avicenna?

The rejection of the Avicennian notion of being, regarded as adding something by way of accident to the essence, is explicit in the commentary on the Aristotelian Metaphysics. In explaining the Aristotelian tenet that the substance of a thing is unitary and existent in virtue of its own self and not in virtue of something added, Aquinas takes the occasion to note that Avicenna’s view is different. But Avicenna is wrong, for the being of a thing though other than its essence is not to be understood as something superadded in the fashion of an accident. Rather, it is as it were constituted by the principles of the essence.[29]

The characteristically Thomistic view of being pervades this passage. It means that the being of a finite thing is other than the thing itself, yet is caused by the very essence of the thing, so that nothing is more essential to a thing than its being. Not other by way of subsequent accident, the being can be other only by way of a prior actuality.[30] The disturbing feature is that this uniquely Thomistic doctrine is being used as a norm for judging in the course of a commentary on Aristotle. It is used ostensibly to defend Aristotle’s tenet that the substance of a thing is existent in virtue of its own self. At the same time the tenet of the Aristotelian passage that “an existent man” (ens homo) is a merely verbal reduplication of what is contained in “a man” (homoIn IV Metaph., lect. 2, no. 550) is waved aside by the blunt assertion that the being of a thing is other than its essence (no. 558). The assertion is made with all the assurance that it need not be defended here, and that it is accepted by the readers without argument.

This shows that the notion of being by which both Aristotle and Avicenna are being judged in the commentary is the notion developed in Aquinas’ own thinking. According to that notion the nature of being is found only in a unique primary instance. It is not a nature that could be shared either univocally or in analogically ranged degrees.[31] As a nature it cannot be common. Wherever it is found outside its primary instance it is other than the nature it actuates. In consequence the nature of being cannot function as common being nor be ranged as an instance under the notion of common being. Rather, as the cause of all the things that exhibit common being it is to be regarded in this respect as the cause of common being. With the subject of metaphysics in the wake of Avicenna distinguished from God and the highest causes, and now with Aquinas designated as common being, the kind of metaphysics introduced in the Proem to the Aristotelian commentary of Aquinas becomes clear. The notion of metaphysics presented as the entry into the Aristotelian thought is that of Aquinas himself. In its light, then, one need not be surprised to find judgment passed on Aristotle and Avicenna, as well as on Averroes and any other thinker.

The frequently made assertion that Aquinas was interested only in truth and not in the author making the statements now comes into focus as regards the Aristotelian Metaphysics. For St. Thomas human truth consisted in the correspondence of intellect with things,[32] and his own metaphysics was the way in which his own thinking corresponded to things on the metaphysical level. It was accordingly the one truth in which he could present metaphysical tenets, no matter whose words he was using.

Viewed in this light, then, the kind of philosophical truth being propounded in the commentary on the Metaphysics should be the truth developed and expressed in the metaphysical thinking of Aquinas himself, to the extent the text of the Metaphysics gives occasion to do so. The care to safeguard the interests of sacred theology in the delineation of the subject of metaphysics has already shown the dominant thinking of the Christian theologian. The particular metaphysical cast into which the Proem throws the discussion that is to ensue, now indicates further the intention to present the meaning of the Aristotelian treatises in a general framework that cannot be that of Aristotle himself. How this complicated orientation works out in practice may best be seen from a study of the details that emerge as the commentary pursues its course.

The opening paragraphs (nos. 1-4) add to the thought three well developed philosophical reasons, not found in the present passage but taken from authentic Aristotelian reasoning in other works. They substantiate the opening sentence of the Metaphysics, which Aristotle himself presents merely as a readily acceptable observation. This procedure does not differ in any essential way from a modern commentator’s use of Aristotelian tenets from other treatises or from fragments to explain a doctrine stated succinctly in a particular sentence. In the paragraphs that follow, other Aristotelian works such as De Anima and the Ethics continue to be drawn upon to explain tenets of the present treatise, and an outside author, Cicero (no. 11) is called upon for help. All this is still standard practice among commentators today. By and large the commentary continues this presentation of the meaning found in the text, adding information judged relevant such as the names of the seven sages of ancient Greece, and representing Thales as “committing his ‘disputationes’ to writing” (no. 77) quite as any eminent medieval Master would do. So far things proceed as in the usual understanding of a commentary, with the virtues and the faults of its epoch.

Only at rare intervals does the alien framework imposed by the Proem make itself apparent. In this, Aquinas seems to feel himself fully in accord with Aristotle, who could make what was obscure in a preceding philosopher appear as something admirable. That was achieved by articulating “distinctly and manifestly” what the earlier philosopher wanted to say, that is, “what his intellect was tending towards, but which he was unable to express” (no. 196). In corresponding fashion Aquinas, as has just been seen (supra, nn. 31-34), explains the Aristotelian identity of being and thing in the light of his own tenet that a thing is other than its being, even though being is essential to the thing. In a severe criticism of Averroes he seems nevertheless to acquiesce in the position that knowledge of the separate substances (plural) is the goal of human intellection,[33] and in the context of the distinction of the primary philosophy from both mathematics and the philosophy of nature he continues to speak of these substances in the plural (nos. 1163-1164; 2263-2267), although apparently equating them with God as the subject matter of theological science.[34] In this setting he feels obliged to go out of the text’s way to note that the primary philosophy is not concerned with separate things only, but also with sensible things. Then comes the revealing concession: “unless perhaps we may say, as Avicenna says, that these common objects of which this science treats, are called separate secundum esse … because they do not of necessity have their existence in matter, as do the mathematicals.”[35]

This last text can leave little doubt that Aquinas is well aware of the plain meaning of the Aristotelian passages. Separate substances, namely divine things, are the subject treated of by the primary philosophy, which is on that account theological science. One has therefore to add sensible substances, unless one wishes to use the Avicennian framework in which notions like common being are called separate secundum esse.

This conclusion is confirmed by the reference to the beginning of Book G for the way in which the science of the primary being is the science of common being.[36] The Aristotelian framework is clearly recognized. In it the nature of the primary instance specifies the science. The secondary instances are treated of by the science in virtue of their reference to the primary instance. In the Avicennian framework, on the contrary, the common aspect specifies the science, and the divine is treated of in the science only because of reference to the common aspect, namely as its cause.

The Thomistic metaphysics of existence, however, requires that the reference to common being be explained in terms of efficient causality. The differences of the Thomistic commentary from the original Aristotelian meaning become especially apparent when details of this reference are under consideration. Aquinas acknowledges without hesitation that in Aristotle’s view the first principles in the genus of substances, the heavenly bodies, are besouled (nos. 2476 and 2536), and that the eternity of motion and time is essential in Aristotle’s own procedure regarding the immaterial substances (no. 2496). These two tenets he himself rejects. Aristotle’s reasons accordingly are not regarded as cogent for establishing his conclusions. Nevertheless the conclusions themselves follow with necessity when the bringing of the world into existence is the operative factor in the reasoning (no. 2499). What can this mean if not that the Aristotelian conclusions, in order to be cogent, have to be based upon the existential actuality uppermost in Aquinas’ own metaphysical thinking? The shying away from the Aristotelian eternity of the world, a possible philosophical alternative, indicates also the dominance of theological motivation in this problem.

Correspondingly the necessary perpetuity of cosmic motion, based by Aristotle on final causality, is explained as depending in its totality upon the will of God. The illustration used is that artifacts are assimilated to the artisan insofar as in them the artisan’s will is fulfilled.[37] The nature of the Aristotelian reference to the first causes by way of assimilation seems clearly enough recognized, but it is explained in terms of efficient causality originating from will. Further, an Avicennian and ultimately Neoplatonic consideration that a unique first principle can cause only a unitary effect is dealt with in terms of existence as an acquired actuality. It is set aside on the ground that the one efficient cause can understand a multiplicity of things and cause them accordingly (no. 2559). In the same setting the Aristotelian doctrine that a separate substance has only itself as its intelligible object, is explained as meaning that God “by understanding himself understands all other things” (no. 2614) and “by knowing himself knows all things” (no. 2615). The reason given is that as first principle he contains all things in his power. Further, the order of the universe is a working out of what is in the intellect and the will of the primary movent (no. 2631), and all natural things obtain their inclinations towards their goal from the primary intelligent being (no. 2634). Against this clearly etched background of Thomistic metaphysics the explicit assertions about divine providence made in the course of the commentary (nos. 1215-1222) fall into place. The overall theological interest also comes to the fore in this regard with the statement that on account of the philosophical conclusions all things may be said according to the Catholic faith to be subject to divine providence.[38]

With the foregoing data from the survey of the commentary on the Metaphysics, one is in a position to formulate the questions about the kind of procedure the work involves. Quantitatively, the overwhelming percentage of the book confines itself to explanation of the Aristotelian text just as the text stands, with recourse to other Aristotelian treatises and to other writers for elucidation as the occasion demands. Taken apart as just in itself, this almost total extent of the commentary does not prima facie differ in spirit from what is understood today as a philosophical commentary or interpretation. It can accordingly be cited and used to advantage by modern commentaries on Aristotle as though it were exactly of the same literary genre as they. Any noticeable divergences can be accounted for in terms of the different literary style and approach and background of the two epochs, medieval and modern. The treatment in the Aristotelian text would from this perspective be thoroughly philosophical in character.

Even within the strictly philosophical explanation, however, at times the judgments are made and the decisions are given on the strength of the Thomistic metaphysics of existence. These occasions are few, comparatively, but they are concerned with philosophically important issues. They are not marked off by any indications that they are intrusions from the outside. Rather, they seem part of the normal flow of thought. Do they show that the whole thrust of the commentary is to propound Thomistic thought, into which the great body of Aristotelian philosophy is skillfully absorbed? Is this the bearing given it by the Proem in making common being rather than separate substance the subject of the metaphysics about to be explained?

Further, does the theological concern that is implicit in the Proem affect the general character of the treatment throughout the commentary? Does it effectively alter the rank of the Aristotelian primary philosophy as supreme among the sciences? Is it the source of the assertions about the negotiable status of the Aristotelian reasons for the eternity of the world and the besouled nature of the heavenly bodies, and of those positive claims about divine providence? Is it all-pervasive enough to change the totality of the philosophy in the commentary, both Aristotelian and Thomistic, into the wine of theology? Or may it be dismissed as an over-scrupulous and unjustifiable propensity of a Christian theologian to go out of his way in order to insert corrections of doctrinal error and unorthodox tendencies piecemeal wherever he finds these aberrations, no matter what happens to be the real nature of the materials with which he is dealing?

With the questions already formulated, a brief glance at the other Aristotelian commentaries of Aquinas is now in order before attempting the answers.


In the commentary on the Ethics, the subject of moral philosophy is discussed not in a Proem but at the beginning of the commentary proper. It is located in human activity directed towards a purpose. On the basis of man acting first as an individual, secondly as a member of a family or household, and thirdly as a citizen, it allows moral philosophy to be divided into three parts (no. 6). The first part is treated of in the Ethics (no. 7). Aristotle’s concern with political philosophy in the ethical treatises in explained away by stating that “the doctrine of this book contains the first elements of political science” (no. 31), and “the reflections of the present science pertain to political science, because in this science the principles of political science are given” (no. 225). The philosophy in the Aristotelian Ethics is accordingly regarded as a science in some way different from the Aristotelian political science. It is placed in a framework in which a general moral science is divided into three parts, of which the first is concerned with the activities of the individual man, and the third with those of civil society. The second is left for economics, understood as the science of running a household or estate.

Can any preoccupation be recognized behind this refusal to accept Aristotle’s political science as the whole of moral philosophy?[39] The threefold division of moral philosophy has a deep background in Christian tradition, through Albert the Great and Hugh of St. Victor to Cassiodorus and Boethius.[40] In spite of the very notion of “moral,” implying its it does the basis of mores, i.e. customs developed in a common culture, this division allows a morality to a man just as an individual. With Aquinas, moreover, care is taken to restrict the absolute dominance of political science as described in Aristotle. Political science is dominant “not absolutely, but in the order of active sciences that are concerned with things human” (no. 31). Above them all is the divine science, which envisages the ultimate end of the whole universe. The Aristotelian Ethics, on the other hand, deals only with the imperfect happiness attainable in the present life on earth.[41]

The preoccupation, accordingly, seems to be to safeguard the supernatural happiness of the beatific vision as the ultimate end of man. This supreme goal is something to be attained by each man as an individual. Hence there can be a morality that applies to each man as an individual, and not just as a member of political society. The Aristotelian Ethics, in finding that human happiness consisted essentially in intellectual activity, offered a welcome means to express the theological doctrine of the beatific vision. But what was said in the Ethics about the requirements for the contemplative happiness, namely, friends, good looks, affluence, full life span on earth, and so on, did not apply in any obvious sense to the Christian ultimate end. The whole of the Aristotelian happiness had therefore to be located in the imperfect happiness of the present life, subordinated entirely to a higher happiness even in its role of end for human activity. With this framework of Christian tradition made manifest, the commentary of Aquinas on the Ethics is able to proceed in the same way as the one on the Metaphysics. It occupies itself with explaining the text just as the text stands, with only the occasional indication in passing that it is placing the whole consideration in a Christian setting.[42]

The commentary on the Physics experiences no special difficulty in accepting mobile being as the subject for natural philosophy. It places the topic, however, in the framework of abstraction from matter, contrasting definition with existence: “… there are some things whose being depends on matter, and that cannot be defined without matter.”[43] In that framework a creationist metaphysics is presupposed and freely used (nos. 2001-2008). The first cause is the efficient cause of the whole being, both matter and form.[44] Movement can accordingly be regarded as beginning in an indivisible moment, not requiring any prior movement (no. 2054).

The problem in which the creationist metaphysics surfaces so clearly is admittedly theological. It is the frankly acknowledged (nos. 2041, 2043) conflict of the Aristotelian eternal world with the Christian belief that the world began in time. The Aristotelian reasons are recognized as valid where movement has to originate through another movement, but not where things begin to exist through the production of their whole being by the first cause of being (nos. 2044-2045). The truth here held on faith cannot in consequence be efficaciously attacked by the Aristotelian arguments (no. 2044). Averroes is blamed for making occasion of these arguments to attack the faith (no. 1990), and the reader’s confidence in him is softened by showing how the Arabian commentator’s understanding of Aristotle’s method is “ridiculous” (no. 1970). It makes everything appear confused and without order, and his basic reason is “entirely frivolous” (no. 1972).

The genre of theological polemic is unmistakable in this manner of handling the problem of the world’s eternity. Nevertheless, just as in the commentaries on the Metaphysics and on the Ethics, the manifestations of sacred theology and existential metaphysics are very rare.[45] The procedure in its near entirety consists in explanation of the text just as the text stands, quite in accord with the procedure in the other two commentaries. Yet it can bring in the theological and existential considerations without any indications or feeling of an alleged change to a different type of treatment. They all seem to be integral parts of the enterprise, rather than intrusions from outside.

The Proem to the commentary on Perihermeneias (De Interpretatione) divides the science of logic according to the three activities of the intellect, namely simple apprehension, enunciation (“Judgment” – nos. 31-32), and reasoning. The first two of these activities are expressly taken from an Aristotelian division, and the third is regarded as added (no. 1). Logic is without hesitation projected as a science.[46] Mention of essence or quiddity as understood “absolutely” through simple apprehension seems to presuppose the metaphysical doctrine of existence as grasped through judgment. Existence as the specifying object of judgment seems likewise understood in the explanation of truth (no. 31). Existence is explicitly presented as the actuality of every form, either substantial or accidental (nos. 71-73). Likewise unmistakable is the existential dependence of all effects on the divine will, in the explanation of God’s knowledge of future contingents (nos. 195-197), and the theological motif of safeguarding the Christian notion of providence.

In the commentary on the Posterior Analytics[47] the theological concern does not appear, but the existential metaphysics seems back of the contrast of definition with being (nos. 15-10) and of the distinction between being and substance in all things except in God (nos. 402-463), as well as of the requirement of a cause for the existence of all necessary beings except the one first principle (no. 480). Undoubtedly a theological interest can be detected behind this last requirement, but the language remains strictly philosophical and does not allow any theological motif to appear openly. Logic is presented as a science in the Proem (no. 2), and the Aristotelian treatises on it are located in the framework of the three activities of the human intellect (nos. 4-6).

The commentary on the De Anima locates its study in the framework of the sciences in which first philosophy deals with things that either are or can be without matter.[48] The existential setting is still clearer in the explanation of cognition through spiritual existence in contrast to natural existence (nos. 43, 159, 282-284, 553), and in the twofold existence to which the common nature is in this way open (nos. 378380). Theological interests are evident in the distinction of God from the other separate substances, from the viewpoint of intellection (no. 726), and in the explanation of the two intellects as powers of the soul (734-745). On the other hand, no existential stress is here laid on the Aristotelian dictum that for living things to live is to be.[49]

The commentary on De Sensu et Sensato likewise uses the framework of separation secundum esse et rationem (no. 1), and of the twofold existence of the natures of things (nos. 213, 291). The commentaries on De Memoria et Reminiscentia and Meteorologica seem occupied solely with the explanation of the Aristotelian text. That on De Caelo et de Mundo invokes the Catholic faith for the creation of the world in time (nos. 64-66, 287), and in these passages and elsewhere (no. 91) repeats that God causes the heavens as an intelligent agent. The reasons given by Aristotle hold only against an original production of things by way of motion, and in no way militate against the teaching of the Catholic faith. The supreme God is distinguished from the other separate substances (nos. 295, 334), and is viewed as conserving a nature (no. 295), and as the cause that imparts existence and motion (nos. 291, 295, 299, 334). Aristotle is asserted to have regarded God as the maker, and not only the final cause of the heavenly bodies (no. 91). The commentary on De Generatione et Corruptione (Proem, no. 2) uses the framework in which as in metaphysics the common genus considered by a science is contradistinguished from the cause of that genus. In the commentary on the Politics (Proem, no. 6) the subject matter is regarded as contained under that of the moral sciences in general, and as the culminating point of the philosophy that is concerned with things human (no. 7). The doctrine, including the discussion on slavery (nos. 47-96), is explained just as it stands in the text. The error of the Gentiles in anthropomorphizing the separate substances created by the one supreme God (no. 30; cf. no. 154) and similarly in calling great rulers gods (no. 84), is noted. The same overwhelming quantitative predominance of explanation of the text as it stands, with occasional appearance of the already noted theological and existential considerations, is accordingly, observable in these commentaries (the commentaries in this paragraph have been cited according to the numbers used in the Marietti editions).

On the whole, then, one may say that the other commentaries continue to manifest the pattern shown in the commentary on the Metaphysics. The sciences are made to fit into the framework in which metaphysics deals with common being as subject and separate substance as cause of the subject. The recognition of a moral science for individual actions, distinct from political philosophy, is added. The theological interests of creation, of the supremacy of God over the other separate substances, and of universal divine providence, are safeguarded wherever occasion demands. Polytheism is branded an error. Finally, the Thomistic metaphysics of existence, in the relation of existence to common nature and in the understanding of efficient causality as the bestowal of existence, seems taken for granted throughout.


The above survey makes it clear that, except for quantitatively minimal proportions, the Aristotelian commentaries of Aquinas are made up of explanations of the text just as it stands, with discussions of its background and of the various opinions of others about it. In all this the Aquinas commentaries do not range outside the limits of the modern notion about what a commentary should be. But in two thirds of these commentaries on Aristotle there are passages that show an overriding theological concern. In two thirds of them there are likewise passages that reveal a definitely existential metaphysics, something not found in the Aristotelian texts. Finally, three quarters of the commentaries have passages that locate their subject matter in a framework of the sciences rather different from that of Aristotle.

How is this situation to be assessed? May one close one’s eyes to the comparatively small number of passages that introduce theological and existential considerations, as well within the percentage limit to be expected in any commentator with strong religious convictions and definite metaphysical tendencies of his own? May one regard the passages that locate the Aristotelian treatises within the then contemporary classification of the sciences as a quite normal failure to see outside the perspective of the times, much as a modern commentator is hardly blamed for putting Aristotle into frameworks like those of ontology, psychology, or philosophy of science? May all these passages as it were be mentally excised and the other ten commentaries be allowed to join the two in which no indication of theological or existential interest appears, and in which no attempt is made at science classification? In this case the Aristotelian commentaries of Aquinas would be straight philosophical explanations of the text, with all the restrictions and merits and faults of their times.

Can one, though, legitimately make this mental excision of the passages that jar with the interpretation? Do not these passages, relatively few in number as they are, set rather the whole tone of the commentaries? Certainly in their own settings they show no signs of being intrusions into the general procedure of the thought. They read as though they belong to the same original inspiration, and unable to be regarded as alien incursions except on norms that were not those of the writer. They flow forcefully from what seems to be a unitary source.

If so, what is that source? It could hardly be the metaphysical or epistemological interest. These could not be for Aquinas the inspiration of the overriding theological concern. Sacred theology, on the contrary, could be and normally would be the source of existential and epistemological inquiries for him. His most penetrating metaphysical thought is found in the commentary on the Sentences and other professedly theological works. His most extensive study of the classification of the sciences is in his commentary on Boethius’ De Trinitate. For him sacred theology, as the absolutely highest wisdom, has the office of judging and orienting the results of all the other sciences.[50] It has every right, accordingly, to survey their results as occasion demands. Exactly that, it seems, has been done in the Aquinas commentaries on Aristotle. In these commentaries, then, may one say that Aquinas continues his dedication to the work of theological wisdom,[51] and that in them he continues to change what was water in the other sciences into the wine of theology?[52] The use of a new existential metaphysics may be taken as established. But that is still on the philosophical level. It does not just in itself prove theological motivation. Its structure is thoroughly philosophical. May the philosophical structure be regarded as remaining intact while its content functions as a part, in fact by far the greatest part quantitatively, of a colloidal theological enterprise?

The colloidal nature of wine allows the water to be extracted from it and replaced without too much difficulty. The overwhelmingly preponderant part of the commentaries may be extracted in similar fashion from the theological setting given it by the comparatively few theological passages. Extraction of philosophical statements from professed theological works such as the Summa Theologiae and the commentary on the Sentences has been standard practice for centuries. Likewise the four Aristotelian commentaries in which no theological assertions occur may be viewed in isolation from the whole work of Aquinas and be regarded as merely philosophical commentaries. But in doing so is one encountering the real St. Thomas? Is one understanding what he is doing? Is one at all in tune with the spirit of faith endeavoring to understand all the things with which it comes in contact?

A more vivid objection arises from the quantitative proportions of the theological and philosophical passages. Can a few drops of wine be expected to change into itself a chain of rather large lakes? Here the metaphor seems to break down. The biological simile of a few clusters of living cells affecting the whole medium would be more in order. At any rate, the medieval mind experienced no difficulty in seeing an author express as his own the material taken nearly one hundred per cent from other writers. Peter Lombard, for instance, could be regarded as the author of everything in his four books of Sentences, even though practically all the material was taken from others.[53] As long as the writer was asserting mastery over material used and was organizing and directing it towards his own purpose, he was expressing it as his own. There is accordingly not too much difficulty in regarding St. Thomas, in taking on the duties of the wise man (CG, 1, 2), as considering himself to be pursuing the work of sacred theology throughout the whole course of his commentaries on the Aristotelian text.

It is, of course, much easier to apply this conception of philosophy changed into theology to a work like the Contra Gentiles,[54] than to writings that are professedly commentaries on a pagan philosopher. Yet is the difference that crucial? The theologian is writing in the service of faith (supra, n. 55). He sees a wealth of rationally developed truth in the pagan source. What better way to bring it into the service of faith than by exploring it painstakingly word for word, presenting it as a whole, and allowing it thereby to further the understanding of the Christian conception of things? Does not this accomplish the purpose much better than a piecemeal citation of convenient passages? And will not this perspective allow the four commentaries in which there is no express mention of theological interests to be viewed as an integral part of the whole enterprise? Will they be any less theological in character than the long passages within the other commentaries in which no explicit mention of theological concern is found?

But may not the Thomistic commentaries on Aristotle be regarded as Christian philosophy, genuinely philosophical in character yet brought under Christian goals? The notion of Christian philosophy is a difficult one. It has received many interpretations in recent years.[55] If it is to be kept strictly on the philosophical level, however, it cannot use revealed truths as principles for its reasoning.[56] It cannot give them a probative function. Yet the Thomistic commentaries on Aristotle are dominated by this properly theological direction. The creation of the world in time is taught as the way the case actually is. The besouled nature of the heavenly bodies is rejected. Perfect human happiness, the first principle of ethics, is located definitely in the beatific vision. Divine providence is a “must”. These considerations dominate the Thomistic interpretation of Aristotle in the commentaries. They seem to generate theology, not philosophy. The purpose is to defend revealed truth, not just Christian philosophical truth.

The distinction between “personal” works of Aquinas and commentaries is obvious and has to remain. In the “personal” works he sets his own order of discussion. In the commentaries he is bound by the order in the text before him. Correspondingly, the theological character of the works will vary. A commentary on a philosophical study will not be theological in the same way and to the same extent that the Summae and the Quaestiones Disputatae are theological. The material that is brought into theological service will manifest at far greater length its philosophical structure. The question therefore is not “theology or philosophy?” It concerns theology and philosophy found together. The question is whether the theology or the philosophy gives the work as a whole its characteristic specification. Here, just as in a colloidal solution, the issue of degrees enters. The Summa Theologiae is more manifestly theological than the Summa contra Gentiles, and both are more so than the Aristotelian commentaries. But the best philosophy in Aquinas is to be found in the most theological of his writings. Its cogency and its worth as philosophy are not at all diminished. Yet the anvil on which it was hammered into shape was theology.

This limited and selective participation in philosophy by the theologian is still a problem today. Aquinas at the height of his theological career devoted a decade to the interpretation of Aristotle. There is no indication that this was a side interest or a hobby. Rather, the theologian seemed to feel the need of philosophical guidance from Aristotle for his own theological work. Was this guidance, with all its prudential selection and its specially directed development, not incorporated into the theological enterprise? And may it not remain genuinely philosophy as material used by a theologian, while functioning on the theological level as the most apt medium for developing and expressing an overall theological conception of things?

[1] E.g., In XII Metaph., lect. 5, Cathala-Spiazzi nos. 2496-2499; In VIII Phys., lect. 2,Angeti-Pirotta nos. 2041-2044; In I Eth., lect. 9, Spiazzi no. 113; In I Periherm., lect. 14,Spiazzi nos. 195-197; In III de An., lect. 9, Pirotta no. 726; In I de Cael. et Mund., lect. 6, Spiazzi nos. 64-66. Cf: “Sehr beachtenswert ist die Art und Weise, wie Thomas oft ganzunauffällig an der nikomachischen Ethik Korrekturen vornimmt und auf die Ideen und Ideale des christlichen Ethos hinweist. … Es ließen sich These Belege von Korrekturen, die Thomas oft ganz unauffällig an Aristoteles vornimmt, noch bedeutend vermehren.” Martin Grabmann, “Die Aristoteles Kommentare des heiligen Thomas von Aquin,” in Mittelalterliches Geistesleben(Munich 1926), pp. 305-306. “In the present case where the reader is the theologian Saint Thomas, the Stagirite’s works are read through Christian eyes.” M.-D. Chenu, Towards Understanding Saint Thomas. tr. A.-M. Landry and D. Hughes (Chicago1964). p. 209. However, Grabmann (p. 282) can maintain that Aquinas was striving to present an “objective picture” of the Aristotelian doctrine. On the way a medieval commentator may claim to be giving an entirely objective interpretation, and yet not “remain within the bounds of what he had intended in principle,” see Chenu, pp. 206-207, n. 9, in reference to Albert the Great.

[2] E.g., In Metaph. Proem; In I Eth., nos. 2-7; In Periherm., Proem, no. I; In de Gen. et Cor.,Proem, Spiazzi no. 2.

[3]In XII Metaph., lect. 5, no. 2496; cf. lect. 10, no. 2598. In VIII Phys., lect. 2, no. 2043. In I de Cael. et Mund., lect. 6, no. 64. On the requirement of souls for the Aristotelian heavenly bodies, see In II de Cael. et Mund., lect. 13, nos. 415-419; cf. In VIII Phys., lect. 21, no. 2479,and In XII Metaph., lect. 4. nos. 2476 and 2536. For the Ethics, see infra, n. 43.

[4]Victor Preller, Divine Science and the Science of God (Princeton 1967), p. 22.

[5]Preller, ibid. The “articulating” of the positions rejected does not necessarily mean their acceptance by Aquinas in the commentaries. Preller’s attitude is: “The closest that Aquinas comes to manifesting a purely philosophical intention is in his commentaries on Aristotle.” Ibid.

[6]J. Isaac, “Saint Thomas interprète des oeuvres d’Aristote,” Acta Congressus Scholastici Intemationalis Romae 1950 (Rome 1951), p. 356. This would extend to present-day beginners in philosophy.

[7]“… procurer a la jeunesse estudiantine un cours complet de philosophie adapte à ses besoins.” Isaac, ibid. Against these views, see Chenu, p. 214.

[8]Isaac, p. 355.

[9]E. Cantore, “Critical Study: The Italian Philosophical Encyclopedia,” The Review of Metaphysics, XXIV (1971), 515.

[10]See Isaac, p. 355. Some interesting possibilities for exploration in regard to the “management” of the Aristotelian philosophy in the commentaries are suggested by A. C. Pegis, “St. Thomas and the Nicomachean Ethics,” Mediaeval Studies, 25 (1963), 1-25.

[11]See Angelus Walz, Saint Thomas d’Aquin, adaptation française par Paul Novarina (Louvain Paris 1962), pp. 165-166; 221-222. Chenu, pp. 223-224.

[12]For a short survey of the general procedure in the commentary of Aquinas on the Metaphysics, see John P. Rowan, St. Thomas Aquinas, Commentary on the Metaphysics of Aristotle. 2 v. (Chicago 1961), I, viii-xxiii. The commentary will be referred to according to the numbers in the edition of M.-R. Cathala, revised by R. M. Spiazzi, S. Thomae Aquinatis. In Duodecem Libros Metaphysicorum Aristotelis Expositio (Turin & Rome 1964). These numbers arc likewise used in Rowan’s English translation of the commentary.

[13]“…scientia debet esse naturaliter aliarum regulatrix, quae maxime intellectualis est …causarum cognitio maxime intellectualis esse videtur… Unde et illa scientia maxime estintellectualis, quae circa principia maxime universalia versatur… Unde scientia, quac de istisrebus considerat, maxime videtur esse intellectualis.” In Metaph., Proem.

[14]Metaph., G 2, 1003b28-1004a20. Actuality and potentiality had been described as attributes following upon being by Albert, Metaph., I, tr. 1, c. 2; ed. Borgnet, VI, 5b. Cf. also Avicenna, Metaph., 1, ID, (Venice 1509) fol. 70r2.

[15]Metaph., D 7, 1017b1-9; E 2, 1026bl-2.

[16]Cf. Ph., II 2, 193b33-34, and Metaph., E 1, 1026a9-15; K 7, 1064a32-33. The status of the mathematicals had been handed down as that of things dealt with in a science that is sine motu in abstracta, things that cannot be separated (separari non possunt) from matter and motion. Boethius, De Trin., c. 11; ed. Stewart and Rand (London & New York 1926), p. 8.11-14.

[17]See Aquinas, In Boeth. de Trin., V, 4, Resp.; ed. Bruno Decker (Leiden 1955), pp.194.14 – 195.27. At p. 195.15 “God and angels” (cf. p. 165.27) is used in the context in which “God and the intelligences” occurs in the Proem to the commentary on the Metaphysics. In In I Sent., d. 36, q. 2, a. 1, Solut. (ed. Mandonnet, 1, 839) the separate movents of the spheres in Averroes seem to be entirely absorbed into the Christian notion of God. Apparently Aquinas experienced little difficulty in seeing the Aristotelian separate substances coalesce in the one Christian God, or on the contrary in regarding them as God and angels together, or in speaking of them as God and the intelligences according to the Neoplatonic tradition as found in the Arabians: “… Platonici ponebant… ordinem superiorum intellectuum separatorum, quiapud nos consueverunt intelligentiae vocari.” In II de Cael. et Mund., lect. 4, Spiazzi no. 334.

[18]See Avicenna, Metaph., I, 1 (Venice 1508), fol. 70rl-vl. St. Thomas seems well enough aware that the Avicennian framework has to be used as an alternate to saying that the primary philosophy treats of the separate substances and then having to add “non tamen solum ea; sed etiam de sensibilibus, inquantum sunt entia, philosophus perscrutatur. Nisi forte dicamus, ut Avicenna dicit, quod huiusmodi communia de quibus haec scientia perscrutatur, dicuntur separata secundum esse…” In Metaph., lect. 1, no. 1165. At In I Sent., Prol. q. 1, a. 3, qa. 3.Solut. 1 (v. I, p. 12), metaphysics was regarded as divine from the viewpoint of subject in contrast to source of illumination: “Metaphysica autem considerat causas altissimas per rationes ex creaturis assumptas. Unde ista doctrina magis etiam divina dicenda est quam metaphysica: quia est divina quantum ad subjectum et quantum ad modum accipiendi; metaphysica autem quantum ad subjectum tantum.” Here the highest causes and the divine are regarded as subject in the wide sense that they are things treated of by metaphysics, even though its source of inspiration is not divine. There is no occasion here for contrasting the subject of the science with the causes and principles of the science from the viewpoint of the science’s specification, with reference to Aristod philosophical theology.

[19]From the viewpoint of inclusion under common being, the angels as creatures have to be regarded as part of the subject of metaphysics, along with spiritual souls. This allows common aspects such as being, unity and plurality, actuality and potentiality, to be found sometimes in matter, sometimes apart from matter. When the separate intelligences are contrasted with common being as its cause or principle, then, they are viewed as coalescing in nature with the Christian God (see supra, n. 17). In the Aristotelian tradition they were called divine, and from this viewpoint would for a Christian have to coincide with the one supreme God. When on the other hand they are regarded as angels and accordingly as creatures, they are all composed of actuality and potentiality, and in this way exhibit unity and multiplicity. For Aquinas, in consequence, both actuality and potentiality are said to follow upon common being, as though by way of a property without which common being cannot be found.

[20]“Et qui dicit quod prima Philosophia nititur declarare entia separabilia esse, peccat. Haec enim entia sunt subjecta primae Philosophiae.” Averroes, In I Phys., comm. 83G (Venice 156fol. 47vl. “Thus, Averroes is the permanent substrate of his commentary on the Metaphysics”– Chenu, p. 215. Cf. supra, n. 18.

[21]Aristotle, Metaph., E 1, 1026al9; K 7, 10603.

[22]“Dicitur enim scientia divina sive theologia, inquantum praedictas substantias considerat.” In Metaph., Proem. Cf. “Sic ergo theologia sive scientia divina est duplex. Una, in qua considerantur res divinae non tamquam subiectum scientiae, sed tamquam principia subiecti, et talis est theologia, quam philosophi prosequuntur, quae alio nomine metaphysica dicitur.” In Boeth. de Trin., V, 4, Resp.; ed. Decker, p. 195.6-9. Cf. V, 1, Resp., p. 166.1-6.

[23]“Dicitur autem prima philosophia, inquantum primas rerum causas considerat.” In Metaph., Proem.

[24]The two opposed interpretations of the Metaphysics, labeled the “ontological” versus the “theological” interpretation, persist through medieval into modern times. A discussion of the problem may be found in my study The Doctrine of Being in the Aristotelian Metaphysics, 2nd ed. (Toronto 1963), pp. 25-26, 35-67.

[25]See Aquinas, In I Sent., Prol., q. 1, a. 1. ed. Mandonnet, 1, 6-8, especially “quamvis philosophia determinet de existentibus secundum rationes a creaturis sumptas, oportet tamen esse aliam quae existentia consideret secundum rationes ex inspiratione divini luminis acceptas”. Ibid., ad 1m; p. 8.

[26]In Isog. Porphyr., editio secunda, IV, 14; ed. Brandt (CSEL, vol. 48), p. 273.13-15.

[27]Cf.: “Quaedam vero sunt, quae quamvis dependeant a materia secundum esse, non tamen secundum intellectum, quia in eorum diffinitionibus non ponitur materia sensibilis, sicut linea et numerus. Et de his est mathematica. Quaedam vero speculabilia sunt, quae non dependent a materia secundum esse, quia sine materia esse possunt, sive numquam sint in materia, sicut Deus et angelus, sive in quibusdam sint in materia et in quibusdam non. In Boeth. de Trin., V,1, Resp.; p. 165.21-27. Here the esse is contrasted with the definitions, and means existing in contradistinction to essence. Translation by the English term “existence” is accordingly justified: “Now there are some objects of speculation which depend on matter with respect to their existence, for they can exist only in matter … There are some objects of speculation, however, which although depending on matter with respect to existence, do not depend on it with respect to their concept, because sensible matter is not included in their definitions.” The Division and Methods of the Sciences, tr. Armand Maurer, 2nd ed. (Toronto 1958), pp. 7-8.

See also: “Non enim intelligit lineam esse sine materia sensibili, sed considerat lineam et eius passiones sine consideratione materiae sensibilis. V, 3, ad 1m; p. 186.26- 28. Cf.: V, 4, Resp.; p. 195.11-12. Ibid., ad 7m; p. 199.14-21.

[28]“Sed quia non habet esse a seipso angelus, ideo se habet in potentia ad esse quod accipit a Deo, et sic esse a Deo acceptum comparatur ad essentiam eius simplicem ut actus ad potentiam. Et hoc est quod dicitur quod sunt compositi ex ‘quod est’ et ‘quo est,’ ut ipsum esse intelligatur ‘quo est.’” — In Boeth. de Trin., V, 4, ad 4m; p. 198.16-20. This is exactly the same doctrine of existence as is found in De Ente et Essentia, c. IV (ed. Roland-Gosselin,pp. 34.4-36.3), and in In I Sent., d. 8, q. 5, a. 2, Solut. (ed. Mandonnet, I, 229-230).

[29]“Esse enim rei quamvis sit aliud ab eius essentia, non tamen est intelligendum quod sit aliquod superadditum ad modum accidentis, sed quasi constituitur per principia essentiae.” In IV Metaph., lect. 2, no. 558. Cf. “… cum nihil sit essentialius rei quam suum esse.” In I Sent.,d. 8, expositio 1ae partis; I, 209.

[30]A discussion of this topic may be found in my article. “The Causal Proposition —Principle or Conclusion?” The Modern Schoolman, 32 (1955), 323-327.

[31]See In I Sent., Prol., q. 1, a. 2, ad 2m; I, 10.

[32]E.g.: “… quae quidem correspondentia, adaequatio rei et intellectus dicitur; et in hoc formaliter ratio veri perficitur. Hoc est ergo quod addit verum supra ens, scilicet conformitatem, sive adaequationem rei et intellectus.” De Ver., I, 1c.

[33]“Et ratio sua, quam inducit, est valde derisibilis… Deficit enim haec ratio. Primo quidem in hoc, quod cognitio intellectus nostri non est finis substantiarum separatarum, sed magis e converso.” In II Metaph., lect. 1, no. 286.

[34]“Unde sunt causa entium secundum quod sunt entia, quae inquiruntur in prima philosophia, ut in primo proposuit. Ex hoc autem apparet manifeste falsitas opinionis illorum, qui posuerunt Aristotelem sensisse, quod Deus non sit causa substantiae caeli, sed solum motus eius.” In VI Metaph., lect. 1, no. 1164. Cf. no. 1168, and In XI Metaph., lect. 7, nos. 2264-2265.

While there need not be any doubt that for Aristotle the separate substances are the cause of being for the sublunar world, the Aristotelian text explains this in the order of final causality. Yet Aquinas, showing clear understanding of the way the influence of the separate substances reaches the sublunar world through moving the heavenly bodies, speaks in a way that would strongly suggest the exercise of efficient causality by the separate substances: “Sic enim a substantiis separatis immobilibus ponit Aristoteles procedere et fieri et esse inferiorum, inquantum illae substantiae sunt motivae caelestium corporum, quibus mediantibus causatur generatio et corruptio in istis inferioribus.” In I Metaph., lect. 15, no. 237.

[35]In VI Metaph., lect. 1, no. 1165, my translation. Text supra, n. 18.

[36]“… eadem enim est scientia primi entis et entis communis, ut in principio quarti habitum est.” In VI Metaph., lect. 1, no. 1170. Cf. “Eadem enim est scientia quae est de primis entibus, et quae est universalis. Nam prima entia sunt principia aliorum.” In XI Metaph., lect. 11, no.2267. “Et quia ad illam scientiam pertinet consideratio entis communis, ad quam pertinet consideratio entis primi, ideo ad aliam scientiam quam ad naturalem pertinet consideratio entis communis; et eius etiam erit considerare huiusmodi principia communia.” In IV Metaph., lect. 5, no. 593.

[37]In XII Metaph., lect. 7, no. 2535. The metaphor of “assimilation” seems to have a Neoplatonic background. On the notion of necessity dependent upon the will of the maker, see my article “‘Cause of Necessity’ in Aquinas’ Tertia Via,” Mediaeval Studies, 33 (1971), 22-23, 13-39, 44-45.

[38]“Et propter hoc secundum fidem catholicam dicitur, quod nihil fit temere sive fortuito in mundo, et quod omnia subduntur divinae providentiae.” In VI Metaph., lect. 3, no. 1216. This means clearly enough that on account of the reasons set forth in Aristotle one is able to apply the vocabulary of the Catholic faith to the situation that is being considered.

[39]When the three Aristotelian Ethics are read strictly against their original Greek pagan background, there can be little if any doubt that they make moral and political philosophy coincide. Political science is the discipline that envisages the supreme good of man and directs to it all other human activities (E N, I 2, 1094a27-b7), the good of the individual and the political society is one and the same (2, 1094b7-10), and moral philosophy is a political study (bl0-11; MM I 1, 1181b28-1182a1). The Politics is regarded as continuing the same discipline pursued in the Nicomachean Ethics (X 9, 1180b28-1181b24). However, for the view that Aristotle himself broke with “cette confusion platonicienne de la morale et de la politique,” see R. A. Gauthier and J. Y. Jolif, L’Ethique à Nicomaque (Louvain & Paris 1958-1959), II, 2.

[40]See Joseph Mariétan, Problème de la classification des sciences d’Aristote à St. Thomas (Paris 1901), pp. 67 (on Boethius); 80-81 (Cassiodorus); 137 (Hugh of St. Victor); 172-173 (Albert the Great). With Albert the vocabulary is exactly the same as that used by Aquinas. In Hugh of St. Victor the term solitaria occurs instead of monastica, and is used as an alternate for ethica and moralis in designating the science — see Disdasc., II, 19, (ed. Buttimer) pp.37.22-38.9; VI. 14, p. 131.15-17. The focus is on the exercise of the virtues, these being regarded as the acts of individuals. Boethius, though still under the influence of Aristotle in giving political science the leading rank among the branches that deal with groups, had given the branch that deals with virtues the first place in introducing the threefold division. See texts and comment in Mariétan, pp. 66-67, im. 3-4 and 1-2. “Virtues” and the “care of the republic” are accordingly regarded as two different objects for the specification of sciences.

[41]In I Eth., lect. 2, no. 31; lect. 9, n. 113; lect. 10, no. 129; lect. 15, no. 180; lect. 16, no. 202;lect. 17, no. 212; In III Eth., lect. 18, no. 590; In IX Eth., lect. 11, no. 1912; In X Eth., lect.12, no. 2115; lect. 13, no. 2136. The scientia divina at no. 31 is quite clearly meant in reference to Aristotle’s assertion of the supremacy of metaphysics at Metaph. A 2, 982al6-19and b4-7, yet the wording remains open to the still higher role of sacred theology in this regard. More surprising, however, is the way Aristotle’s secondary happiness, the life of the active virtues, is at no. 2115 located as happiness in this life in contrast to “separate” happiness in the only too obvious sense of happiness after death: “Et per consequens felicitas, quae in hac vita consistit, est humana. Sed vita et felicitas speculativa, quae est propria intellectus, est separata et divina.” In the commentary on the Sentences, however, the Aristotelian happiness in this life was ranged under contemplation: “Contemplatio autem Dei est duplex. Una per creaturas, quae imperfecta est, ratione jam dicta, in qua contemplatione Philosophus, X Ethic., … felicitatem contemplativam posuit, quae tamen est felicitas viae, et ad hanc ordinatur tota cognitio philosophica, quae ex rationibus creaturarum procedit.” In I Sent., Prol., q. 1, a. 1, Solut.; ed. Mandonnet, 1, 7-8. The same is suggested at In X Eth., lect.11, no. 2110.

[42]E.g., the reference to the supreme God as the giver of happiness at In I Eth., lect. 14, no.167. Cf. no. 169, lect. 10, no. 120, and lect. 18, no. 223. See also the example of St. Lawrence at In III Eth., lect. 2, no. 395.

[43]In I Phys., lect. 1, no. 3. Cf. nos. 1-6. The framework is dependence or lack of dependence on matter secundum esse, secundum rationem. Ibid., no. 3.

[44]“Ex hoc ergo quod omne particulate agens presupponit materiam quam non agit, non oportet opinari quod Primum Agens Universale, quod est activum totius entis, aliquid praesupponit quasi non creatum ab ipso.” In VIII Phys., lect. 2, no. 2000. This is considered to be in accord with the meaning (intentio – no. 2001) of Aristotle and with his knowledge of the principle of all being (totius esse – no. 2(X)7). The efflux is not movement or change, but emanation from an agent who is acting voluntarily (nos 2046-2047).

[45]E.g., the truth that God made other things on account of himself, yet without need of them for his happiness, In VIII Phys., lect. 2, no. 2051; and the assertion that he can have eternal understanding of non-eternal things, no. 2047. Also the difference of the faith from the position of Anaxagoras, at lect. 3, no. 2067.

[46]“Cum autem Logica dicatur rationalis scientia, necesse est quod eius consideratio verseturcirca ea quae pertinent ad tres praedictas operationes rationis.” In I Periherm., Proem., Spiazzi no. 2. On the problem of logic and the Aristotelian division of the sciences, see Mariétan, pp. 20-25; 179-181.

[47]On the bearing of the term “Analytics” for Aquinas, in the sense of bringing a judgment back to the first principles upon which its certainty rests, see In I Post. Anal., Proem, Spiazzino. 6.

[48]In I de An., lect. 2, Pirotta no. 28. Though the commentary on Book I of the De Anima is the report of a lectio of Aquinas, it is accepted as authentic Thomistic doctrine; see preface in Pirotta edition (Turin 1925), pp. xi-xii.

[49]In II de An., lect. 7, no. 319. In the commentary on the Sentences a strongly existential explanation of the text had been given: “Alio modo dicitur esse ipse actus essentiae; sicut vivere, quod est esse viventibus, est animae actus; non actus secundus, qui est operatio, sed actus primus.” In I Sent., d. 33, q. 1, a. 1, ad 1m; ed. Mandonnet, I, 766. Similarly at In II de Cael. et Mund., lect. 4, no. 334, vivere is explained as having two meanings, namely existence (esse) and operation.

A discussion of the different instances of the use of this Aristotelian passage by Aquinas maybe found in A. E. Wingell, “Vivere Viventibus Est Esse in Aristotle and St. Thomas,” The Modern Schoolman, 38 (1961), 85-120.

[50]ST, I, 1, 6c. Cf.: Ita, cum finis totius philosophiae sit infra finem theologiae, et ordinatus ad ipsum, theologia debet omnibus aliis scientiis imperare et uti his quae in eis traduntur.” In I Sent., Prol., q. 1, a. 1, Solut.; ed. Mandonnet, I, 8.

[51]Cf. expression of this dedication in the Contra Gentiles: “Assumpta igitur ex divina pietate fiducia sapientis officium prosequendi, …propositum nostrae intentionis est veritatem quam fides Catholica profitetur, pro nostro modulo manifestare… et quomodo demonstrativa veritas fidei Christianae religionis concordet”. CG, 1, 2.

[52]“Unde illi, qui utuntur philosophicis documentis in sacra doctrina redigendo in obsequium fidei, non miscent aquam vino, sed aquam convertunt in vinum.” In Boeth. de Trin., 11, 3, ad5m; ed. Decker, p. 96.18-20. On the topic, see A. C. Pegis, “Sub Ratione Dei. A Reply to Professor Anderson,” The New Scholasticism, 39 (1965), 141-157.

[53]So, for St. Bonaventure, In I Sent., Proem, q. 4, the writer of the Sentences was exercising the function not of a scribe or of a compiler or of a commentator, but of an author: “Talis fuit Magister, qui sententias suas ponit et Patrum sententiis confirmat. Unde vere debet dici auctor huius libri”. Ibid. Resp. This theme in Bonaventure is discussed in John Quinn, The Historical Constitution of St. Bonaventure’s Philosophy (Toronto 1973).

[54]See Pegis, art. cit., pp. 143-146.

[55]See Maurice Nédoncelle, Is There a Christian Philosophy? tr. Illtyd Trethowan (New York 1960), pp. 85-114.

[56]Aquinas states clearly the difference between the two procedures, philosophical and theological: “Vel procedunt ex principiis fidei, …Ex his autem principiis ita probatur aliquid apud fideles sicut etiam ex principiis naturaliter notis probatur aliquid apud omnes. Undeetiam theologia scientia est”. ST, II-II, 1, 5, ad 2m.

The work of James C. Doig, Aquinas on Metaphysics (The Hague 1972), appeared after this paper had been completed. Its study of the nature of Aquinas’ commentary on the Metaphysics bears out the views of the present article, though it does not trace the reasons for the unity of Aquinas’ treatment to his theological activities.

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