"The good of the grace of one soul is greater than the good of the nature of the whole universe"
- St Thomas Aquinas Ia IIa, q.24, a. 3, ad 2

REALITY—A Synthesis Of Thomistic Thought

by Reginald Garrigou-Lagrange, O. P.


The principle which dominates all questions on distinction and subordination of faculties, and which, consequently, dominates all moral theology, is formulated as follows: Faculties, habits, and acts are specifically distinguished by their formal object, or more precisely, by their formal object which (quod) they attain without medium and their formal object by which (quo) the object is attained. This principle, which clarifies all psychology, all ethics, all moral theology, is one of the three fundamental truths of Thomism. As formulated, in the seventeenth century, by A. Reginald, [656] it runs thus: [657] A relative thing becomes specifically distinct by the absolute thing to which it is essentially proportioned. Thus sight is specifically distinct from the other senses by its proportion to color, hearing by its proportion to sound, intellect by proportion to intelligible reality, will by proportion to the good which it loves and wills. [658].

From this principle it follows that the soul faculties are really distinct realities, not identified with the soul itself. In other words, when the soul knows, it knows, not immediately of itself, but by its accidental faculty of intellect, and wills by its faculty of will, and so on. This truth is not a mere habit of daily speech. It lies in the very nature of things. The essence of the soul is certainly a real capacity, a real potency, but since it is not its own existence, it receives from God that substantial existence to which it is proportioned. This existence is an act different from the act of understanding or willing, because a thing must be before it can act. Therefore, just as the soul's essence is a real capacity for existence, so must the soul have potencies, faculties, real capacities for knowing the truth, for loving the good, for imagining, for feeling emotion, for seeing, hearing, and so on.

In God alone are all these things identified: essence, existence, intelligence, understanding, willing, loving. In the angel, as in man, essence is not existence, essence is not faculty, intellect is not its successive acts, nor will its successive volitions. [659].

In place of this real distinction Scotus demands a distinction formal-actual ex natura rei. Here, too, Thomists answer, that a medium between real distinction and mental distinction is impossible. If a distinction is anterior to our mental act, it is real, otherwise it is merely mental.

Suarez, [660] here again, seeks a medium between Aquinas and Scotus. He thinks the distinction between soul and soul faculties is not certain, only probable. This position too derives from his departure from St. Thomas in the doctrine of potency and act.

How do the soul faculties derive from the soul? As characteristics derive from essence, so all soul faculties, intellective, sensitive, and vegetative, derive from the one human soul. But the reason why the intellective faculties so immeasurably transcend the sense faculties lies in their respective formal object. Sense faculties, however perfect, since they are limited to here and now, can never reach the inward raison d'etre of a thing, never grasp necessary and universal principles, speculative or practical. In this transcendent power of the intellective faculty lies the proof for the spirituality of the soul. [661].

Thus also the will, by its formal object, is distinguished from sense appetite, concupiscible and irascible. [662] The will is a spiritual power, directed by the intellect, and specifically distinguished by universal good, which cannot be known by sense faculties, whereas sense appetite, illuminated only by these sense faculties, is specifically proportioned to sensible good, delectable or useful. Hence sense appetite as such can never desire that rational good which is the object of virtue.

This profound distinction, this immeasurable distance, between will and sense appetite goes unrecognized by many modern psychologists, who follow Jean Jacques Rousseau.

Does each faculty have its own special and determinate corporeal organ? Each sense faculty does, and hence the immediate subject of all sense faculties is, not the soul, but the human composite, soul and body united. But intellect and will, being independent of the organism, which is particular and limited, have as their subject, not the human composite, but the soul alone. [663].

We cannot here dwell on the intellectual act. [664] Let us merely note that its adequate object is intelligible being in its fullest amplitude, by reason of which amplitude man can, in the natural order, know God, the first cause, and, in the supernatural, can be elevated to the immediate vision of the divine essence. Since its proper object, however, is the essence of the sense world, our intellect can know God and all spiritual beings only by analogy with the sense world, the lowest of intelligible realities, to know which it needs the sense faculties as instruments. In this state of union with body, its manner of knowing the spiritual world is not immediate like that of the angel. So its very definition of the spiritual is negative. Spiritual, it says, is what is immaterial, i. e.: non material. And this negative mode of knowing the spiritual shows clearly that its proper sphere is in the world of sense.

This teaching on the nature of human intelligence leads us to the nature of human freedom. [665] Of this freedom there are two opposed definitions, one Thomistic, the other, Molinistic. Molina [666] gives this definition: That agent is free, who, granting all prerequisites for acting, can either act or not act. Now this definition, standard among Molinists, however simple and satisfactory it seems at first sight, is in reality linked necessarily with Molina's theory of scientia media. [667].

What does Molina mean by the phrase "granting all prerequisites for acting"? His explanations show that the phrase includes, not merely what is prerequired by priority of time, but also what is prerequired by priority of nature and causality. It includes therefore the actual grace received at the very moment of performing a salutary act. Hence this definition, Molina explains, does not mean that the free will, under efficacious grace, preserves the power of resisting even while, in fact, it never does resist. What it does mean is this: Grace is not of itself efficacious, it is efficacious only by our own consent, pre-known by God (pre-known by God's scientia media of future conditional things).

Molina's definition, in the eyes of Thomists, is defective because it leaves out of consideration the object which specifically distinguishes the free act. It neglects the fundamental principle, that all faculties, habits, and acts are what they are by their specific relation to their respective object.

Now if, on the contrary, we consider the specific object of free will, we will recall the words of St. Thomas: "If we set before the will an object, which from any point of view is not good, the will is not drawn to it by necessity." [668] These words contain, equivalently, the Thomistic definition of free will which runs thus: [669] Freedom is the will's dominative indifference in relation to any object which reason proposes as in any way lacking in good.

Let us dwell on this definition. Reason proposes an object which, here and now, is in one way good but in some other way not good. Faced with such an object the will can choose it or refuse it. The will, as faculty, has potential indifference; as act, it has actual indifference. Even when the will actually chooses such an object, even when it is already determined to will it, it still goes freely toward it, with its dominating indifference no longer potential but actual. Indeed, in God, who is supremely free, there is no potential indifference, but only an actual and active indifference. Freedom arises from the disproportion which exists between the will, specifically distinguished and necessitated by universal good, and this or that limited and particular good, good in one way, not good in another way.

Against Suarez, Thomists pronounce thus: It is impossible that God, even by His absolute power, could necessitate the will to choose an object which reason proposes as indifferent. Why? Because it is self-contradictory, that the will should necessarily will an object which reason says is in some way not good, and which therefore is absolutely disproportioned to the only object which can necessitate the will. [670].

Here enters the twenty-first of the twenty-four theses. [671] "The will follows, it does not precede the intellect. And the will necessarily wills only that object which is presented to it as good from every angle, leaving nothing to be desired. But the will chooses freely between good things presented by mutable judgment. Hence choice follows indeed the last practical judgment, but it is the will which makes that judgment to be the last."

How does the will make the last practical judgment to be the last? It does this by accepting it as last, instead of turning to a new consideration which would result in an opposed practical judgment. Intellect and will are thus reciprocally related, with a kind of matrimonial relation, since voluntary consent, ending deliberation, accepts the judgment here and now present as last. Intellectual direction is indispensable, since the will is of itself blind: nothing can be willed unless foreknown as good.

Suarez, [672] on the contrary, following Scotus, maintains that voluntary choice is not necessarily preceded by a practical judgment immediately directive. The will, when faced with two good objects, equally or unequally good, can, he says, freely choose either of them, even though the intellect does not propose that one as here and now the better. Using their principle as measuring-stick, Thomists reply: Nothing can be preferred here and now, unless foreknown as here and now better. That something not really better can here and now be judged better depends, of course, on the evil disposition of man's appetites, intellectual and sensitive. [673].

We have elsewhere examined at great length this problem: [674] the special antinomies relative to freedom; the reciprocal influence of the last practical judgment and free choice; comparison of Thomist doctrine with the psychological determinism of Leibnitz, on the one hand, and on the other, with the voluntarism of Scotus, followed partly by Suarez.

In a brief word, the essential thing for St. Thomas is that the intellect and will are not coordinated, but mutually subordinated. The last practical judgment is free when its object (good from one viewpoint, not good from another) does not necessitate it. Freedom of will, to speak properly, is to be found in the indifference of judgment.

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