Sunday, 16 February 2014

Question 102 – The Location of Human Beings in Paradise

Why this Question Matters

What of the Garden of Eden itself? What was it and why does the Genesis account place the first human in paradise rather than on a normal part of the earth?

The Thread of the Argument
A1: Was the Garden of Eden really a physical place with a geographical location that we could visit today? Perhaps the Genesis account should be interpreted purely spiritually so that we think of it purely in terms of the perfect state of existence of the first human beings. St Augustine identified these two alternatives as common opinions of his day and a third intermediate position in which a spiritual reality was founded upon a physical reality. This last position was the one that he held and St. Thomas follows him in this opinion; when interpreting something presented in scripture as an historical reality we are free to delve into the spiritual realities flowing from that account but we must not lose sight of the foundational role played by the historical account. Aquinas follows other Church Fathers in placing the Garden of Eden in the East, in the noblest places on Earth.

There are some obvious objections that Aquinas must answer. If the Garden of Eden is a physical location then why has nobody found it? Aquinas gives the rather weak answer that it is cut off from our sight by physical obstacles; by mountains and hot regions. Again, the Garden of Eden held the Tree of Life and the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil; scripture tells us that these were spiritual realities, therefore the garden must itself have been spiritual. Aquinas rejects such an interpretation, insisting that they were physical trees that held a certain spiritual power.

A2: Aquinas asks the seemingly strange question of whether paradise was a place fit for human habitation. The point of the question appears to come from the alternatives proposed in the objections: as men and angels were created ordered towards beatitude, they should have been made inhabitants of the place of the blessed, the empyrean heaven beyond the fixed stars; man being a composite of body and soul implies that he should either inhabit heaven (as soul) or an earthly place where all other animals live (as body).

Aquinas answers by arguing that paradise was suited to man because it was a very nice place whose properties supported the infused supernatural power of the soul in maintaining the incorruptibility of the body. Humans were not placed in the empyrean heaven as they were not fitted for it as part of their nature (in the absence of the supernatural gift of grace); they were placed in the Garden of Eden as it was suited to both body and soul.

A3: Genesis 2:15 states that God put man into the Garden of Eden to cultivate it and to guard it. This seems odd; what was there to guard it from? Similarly Genesis 3:17 suggest that man’s need to cultivate the soil was a punishment for the sin of the fall. Aquinas argues that cultivation in the Garden of Eden would have been a pleasant task free of the burden imposed after the fall; similarly, man was guarding the Garden of Eden for himself, lest he lose it by sinning.

A4: Genesis 2:15 says that God created the first man and subsequently put him in paradise. It seems rather strange that the first man was not actually created in paradise in the first place; Eve was, after all. Aquinas answers that paradise was certainly fit for human habitation, and fit for human habitation in the initial state of innocence. However, the initial state of human beings was not part of their nature but a supernatural gift of God; to create the first human in the Garden of Eden would have made it seem that the initial state of innocence was part of human nature. Having created the first man with the supernatural gift of grace given to the species, rather than the individual in particular, God created woman from the first man in the Garden of Eden having established the principle of the species.

Handy Concepts

  • The account of the Garden of Eden is to be interpreted as a spiritual reality founded upon an historical reality.
  • The Garden of Eden was perfectly suited to the human composite of body and rational soul in the state of innocence.


  • In answer to the third & fourth objections to the first article Aquinas omits mention of the Cherubim and the flaming sword left by God to guard the Tree of Life; could he not have argued that although the Garden of Eden was a physical place, nonetheless it remains hidden to us because of these guards?

Saturday, 15 February 2014

Question 101 – The Condition of Progeny with Respect to Knowledge

Why this Question Matters

We saw Aquinas argue in 1a.q99.a1 for a natural development of bodily coordination for children born in the state of innocence. Here he turns his attention to the question of their intellectual development. What would have been the state of knowledge and the ability to reason for children born before the fall?

The Thread of the Argument

A1: In Ia.q94.a3 Aquinas argued that Adam and Eve, created in their maturity, would have had full scientific knowledge (that is, knowledge of the principles of things). Would the same have applied to children born before the fall?

Aquinas claims that perfection in scientific knowledge was an individual accident of the first human beings, associated with their creation at maturity. The sources of revelation give us no information about what would have been the case with children born before the fall, so to answer this question we have to argue from the natures of things. In the case of human beings, it is natural for them (Ia.q84.a6) to accumulate knowledge through the sensible perception of things. There is no reason not to apply this fact to children who would have been born before the fall, so we should conclude that they would have had to grow in knowledge as we do; the only difference would have been that their rectitude would have meant that their growth in knowledge would have been unhindered by any of the difficulties that face us.

A2: What about the faculty of reason; would children born in the state of innocence have had the full use of their reason immediately upon their birth? Aquinas’s answer is a parallel to the answer of the first article; the use of reason depends to some extent on the sensory powers (Ia.q84.a7), so if they are not fully developed then the use of reason will remain to some extent in potentiality. Following the reasoning of Ia.q99.a1, the brain and the sensory powers are not fully developed in the new born and therefore the power of reason is not fully developed in them.

Handy Concepts

  • Children born in the prelapsarian Garden of Eden would have had to develop in knowledge and in the use of reason as this is part of human nature. Their graced existence would have made this development a lot easier than it is for us.

A Century!

Woohoo! A hundred questions done. Only 402 to go...

Or is it 503?

Question 100 – The Condition of Progeny with Respect to Justice

Why this Question Matters

Adam and Eve were created in a state of original justice. Would this supernatural gift of grace have been passed on to their progeny had the fall not intervened? And if such progeny did inherit this state, would they have been confirmed in that state to such an extent as they would necessarily achieve the beatific vision?

The Thread of the Argument

A1: In Ia.q95.a1 Aquinas argues that human beings were originally created in a state of grace that conferred upon them a sort of rectitude rendering them upright in the sight of God; a state of original justice. In this article he offers more precision to this argument by considering the question of whether such a state would have been passed on to children born to humans in this state. The major argument against such a state being passed on in generation is that it would then seem to be something natural to the human being; therefore continuing after the fall.

Aquinas observes that humans by their nature generate what is similar to themselves and that any proper accidents (that is, accidents that follow from the very nature of the species) do pass to progeny. On the other hand, children do not have to be like their parents in non-proper accidents. For example, children inherit the ability to laugh, as this follows from the nature of being a human; but Fred may sport a handsome tan when neither of his parents do. The gift of original justice, however, is a special case. It is a supernatural gift given to the species, but it does not follow on from the nature of the species itself. So in the prelapsarian state of innocence, original justice is proper (in an analogous sense) to the species and is therefore passed down to children from their parents. In reply to the second objection Aquinas points out that it is therefore not passed down, strictly speaking, by the process of generation but rather is infused by God as soon as the body of the child is ready for it.

Having recognized the state of original justice as being a supernatural gift to the species, it immediately follows that original sin is a sin that affects the whole species, as it is associated with the removal of the supernatural gift of grace from the species. So when we say that human nature was not changed by the fall we are saying that what is natural to the species was not changed, but the supernatural gift to the species was lost.

A2: We saw back in 1a.q64.a2 that when an angel takes the decision, at the moment of its creation, for or against God, that decision is irrevocable; the angel is confirmed in its decision. Aquinas now asks about the state of justice for progeny born before the fall; would they have been confirmed in this state of justice? That is, would they of necessity have been unable to turn away from God and away from the state of justice?

Angels differ from humans in that human beings have freedom of choice both before an act of choice and after that act. If an angel turns to or from God, that choice is immediately binding forever; if a human turns to or away from God in this life it is always open to them to change their mind and reverse the decision. However, those granted the beatific vision are confirmed in that vision; a human being cannot turn away from the ultimate good once it has been granted. The initial state of innocence did not involve the gift of the beatific vision, therefore human beings (whether Adam or Eve as originally created, or any of the progeny that might have been generated from them in such a state) in the state of innocence retained the free will ability to turn away from God.

Handy Concepts

  • Original justice was a supernatural gift to the human species that was lots in the fall.
  • Human free-will allows for a turning to or away from God; until the gift of the beatific vision is given, this decision is reversible.


  • Understanding the precise relation of human nature and the gift of grace in the state of innocence is important to understanding the twentieth century controversy over the supernatural. Aquinas’s position that this supernatural gift of grace is analogously proper to human nature but does not follow on from human nature itself is a subtlety that can be missed.

Question 99 – The Physical Condition of Progeny

Why this Question Matters

The Garden of Eden before the fall was a place of grace and perfection for the first human beings. Would that perfection have led to the children of Adam and Eve (and their progeny after them) to have been born in a state of physical perfection? Returning to a theme of Ia.q92, would female children have been born is such a prelapsarian state, or is the sexual diversity that we see after the fall a consequence of the fall?

The Thread of the Argument

A1: One of the characteristics of human babies that distinguishes them from most of the rest of the animal kingdom is their lack of physical coordination upon birth; they are basically helpless and entirely dependent upon their parents. Is this condition a by-product of the fall of man? Would babies born in the Garden of Eden have been physically co-ordinated? After all, it seems that there was no imperfection in paradise and such an uncoordinated condition is surely a lack of perfection.

Aquinas starts his answer by distinguishing between knowledge that we have by supernatural revelation and knowledge gained through observation about the nature of things. In the absence of revelation about some subject, we should favour the latter in tackling a question like this. In this case, it is clear that it is part of the nature of human beings to be born the way that they are with brains that are yet to undergo the sort of development needed for full physical coordination. On the other hand, if we look to the sources of supernatural revelation on this question (such as Ecclesiastes 7:30), then all we see is the claim that “God made man upright”. But this, of course, should only be applied to Adam and Eve; created in their maturity, they did have such mental and physical rectitude.

A2: Returning to the theme of Ia.q92.a1, Aquinas asks whether any females would have been born in the state of innocence. The objections are of a similar nature to those appearing in that former question. For example, Aristotle’s teaching that a female is an “inadvertent male” caused by something going amiss in the developmental process combined with the perfection of the initial state would seem to rule out female births.

Aquinas dismisses the objections out of hand in the same way that he answers the objections of Ia.q92.a1: sexual diversity is part of the intention of nature and contributes to the perfection of the species. Both sexes would have been born in the initial state of innocence.

Following a line of thinking derived from the understanding of the reproductive process current at that time, the second objection claims that the active power in generation is male and that like will produce like unless it is impeded, either by the male principle being defective or by the female matter being unreceptive. The perfection of the initial state of innocence implies that neither of these conditions could occur and that therefore all births would have been of male children. Aquinas denies that sexual differentiation occurs that way, suggesting that an extrinsic accident is responsible for the differentiation. A coda to his answer is that, in the initial state of innocence, the human soul would have been able to be the source of that accident; the sex of the offspring could have been chosen by thinking about it!

Handy Concepts

  • In the Garden of Eden children would have been born as we are, lacking the physical coordination typical of babies born after the fall.
  • Sexual diversity was part of the creation of human beings and is natural to the species that both sexes be present.

Question 98 – Concerning the Conservation of the Species

Why this Question Matters

Aquinas has been concerned with aspects of Adam and Eve’s being as individuals in the state of innocence before the fall. Now he turns to questions about the human species. Had the fall been delayed so that in the state of innocence Adam and Eve had children, and perhaps those children themselves produced progeny there are a number of questions we can ask about these children. In this question Aquinas will turn his attention to how children would have come about in the first place. In subsequent questions Aquinas will ask about their physical state (Ia.q99), their state of original justice (Ia.q100) and their intellectual state (Ia.q101).

The Thread of the Argument

A1: Would human beings have generated other human beings (for example, by procreation) in the initial state of innocence? At first sight one might have thought not, as this prelapsarian paradise appears to be a state of perfection that doesn’t require any form of growth. As the first human beings would have been immortal in this state, there would have been no need for generation in order to conserve the species. Moreover, when we look at the world as it is, we see that generation and corruption seem to go together; as there was no corruption in the initial state of innocence, neither would there have been generation. Against this, of course, God enjoined the first human beings to “go forth and multiply”; a process that would seem to necessitate generation of some sort.

In his answer Aquinas observes that human beings are a sort of mixture; corruptible as far as we are bodily, incorruptible as far as we are spiritual. Also, when we consider the ends of nature we see that incorruptible creatures belong to the intention of nature individually; whereas corruptible creatures belong to the intention of nature not individually but for the sake of the species to which they belong. So when we consider human beings as bodily animals, we have to recognize that generation is part of our nature; something that does not substantially change with the fall. As spiritual creatures, on the other hand, we are ordered individually and per se towards our ends in the beatific vision.

A2: Would the generation of new individuals in the state of innocence have been by sexual intercourse? Aquinas’s immediate answer to this follows the pattern of the answer he gave in the previous article. Human beings were created with sexual diversity; we can simply observe that sexual diversity by its nature is ordered towards procreation of the species. As the fall did not alter human nature, we can infer that generation would have been by means of sexual intercourse in the state of innocence had it occurred.

Aquinas doesn’t leave it there though, and what he continues on to argue has important implications for a much misunderstood area of Christian doctrine. One of the consequences of the fall is that, in our post-lapsarian state, the natural goodness of sexuality is deformed by an attendant concupiscence, which is a sort of disordered and extreme desire for sensuality. Expanding on this theme in the answer to the third objection, Aquinas even argues that the disordered desire of concupiscence may actually subtract from the pleasure naturally associated with sexual intercourse. In the state of innocence humans were graced with the gift of integrity, ordering all the lower powers under the power of reason; sexual intercourse in such a state would have been more sensual than it is to us. In our present state our lower powers are not under the control of reason; their self-indulgence subtracts from what could be experienced or achieved were everything ordered to the same end under the power of reason. The analogy that Aquinas gives is of one who is temperate in the consumption of food compared to the glutton. The former may gain more sensual pleasure from the moderate consumption of food than the latter does from his intemperate consumption.

Finally Aquinas points out that the state of sexual continence is a state that turns away from concupiscence, from this disordered desire, rather than a state that turns away from sexuality per se. It is in this regard that sexual continence is so praised by the Church. A natural consequence of this is that in the initial state of innocence such a state of sexual continence would not have been praiseworthy as there was no concupiscence from which to turn; fecundity would have existed without disordered desire.

Handy Concepts

  • Generation is natural, as bodily creatures, to the human species. Therefore there would have been generation in the Garden of Eden had the fall not intervened.
  • Human beings were created with sexual diversity ordered towards procreation; the generation of new individuals in the state of innocence would have been by means of sexual intercourse.
  • Concupiscence may be seen in contrast to the rectitude of the original human beings. It is a state of extreme sensual disorder. We recall from Ia.q81.a2 that the concupiscible power is the power of the sensitive appetite that is ordered to seeking out what is attractive to the senses and fleeing from what is harmful. Concupiscence is a disorder of the concupiscible power.
  • Christian teaching on sexual continence is based on a turning away from concupiscence rather than on a turning away from sexuality.


  • In the first article Aquinas observes that the point of individual corruptible creatures, that is the intention that nature has for them, is ordered towards the conservation of the species to which the individual belongs. This concord well with modern ideas of the survival of the gene.
  • The answer to the fourth objection to the second article quotes St. Augustine to the effect that sexual intercourse in the state of innocence would have led to no corruption of virginal integrity. Presumably this is argued for as being a type of the virgin birth of Jesus from Mary. What happened to Mary, in being the second Eve, directs our attention to what would have happened to Eve in childbirth in the state of innocence.
  • Throughout this section Aquinas observes that the sources of revelation don’t tell us an awful lot about the hypothetical situation of children born before the fall. In the absence of such information, Aquinas’s method is to turn to an understanding of human nature. Human nature was not changed, although it may have been obscured, at the fall and therefore things true about our nature after the fall were true of our nature before the fall.

Sunday, 9 February 2014

Question 97 – Man’s Physical State in Paradise

Why this Question Matters

After consideration of the intellect and will of the first humans in the Garden of Eden, it is now time to turn the questions concerning their bodily state. In particular, this question gives a treatment of the preternatural gifts of bodily immortality and impassibility.

The Thread of the Argument
A1: One of the so-called preternatural gifts given by God to human beings in the Garden of Eden was immortality. In this article Aquinas justifies seeing this as a special gift of grace consistent with, but not part of, human nature. To do so, he identifies three ways in which something may be incorruptible (as bodily corruption is the basis of mortality). In the first way a creature such as an angel does not have any matter at all and is therefore incorruptible by its very nature. Aquinas, being consistent with the cosmology of the time, puts the celestial bodies in this category by arguing that their matter is ordered only to a single form. With such an ordering it is impossible for the matter to take on any other form and therefore the form/matter combination of a celestial must be incorruptible. The second possibility is that something is incorruptible because of the nature of its form. The third possibility is that something is kept from corruption by an efficient cause maintaining it in its current state. It is this last possibility that applies to the immortality of humans in the Garden of Eden. By a special gift of grace the initial humans were kept from corruption so long as they remained subject to God.

A2: A second gift given to Adam and Eve was the gift of impassibility, which when applied to the first human beings refers to their ability to remain free from any suffering. The point of this article is that the notion of impassibility is subject to two different definitions and it is only one of them that applies here; the objections to this article are built on understanding impassibility by means of the other definition. The proper meaning as it is understood here is that of being acted on in such a way as to remove the object of the action from its natural disposition; some form of suffering, for example. The more general meaning refers to not being the subject of any action; it is in this sense that only God is impassible.

A3: Did Adam and Eve have to eat and drink to maintain themselves in the Garden of Eden? They were, after all, impassible and immortal and therefore not eating would have had not have caused suffering or death. However, the Genesis account of creation tells us that the first humans were ordered to eat of the trees of the garden. Therefore if they didn’t they would have sinned and would have lost their immortality and impassibility; so this argument fails.

Aquinas could have simply answered this question by observing that human beings are by their nature bodily animals and it is in the nature of such animals to preserve their being by the consumption of food and drink. But he want to go further in order to differentiate between human beings in their initial state of innocence in the Garden of Eden and human beings in their glorified bodily state after the general resurrection. To do so, he identifies the dual nature of the human soul: it is both something that gives life to a bodily animal as well as being a subsistent spiritual being with an immaterial intellective power. In the initial state of innocence the soul acts towards the body as the former, giving bodily life to an animal being, with all the things that go with that state. But after the general resurrection, the soul will give something of its other spiritual nature in order to glorify the body and to give immortality and impassibility; to give human beings spiritual bodies. In this state, human beings will not have to eat or drink.

A4: In the Garden of Eden Adam and Eve were forbidden from eating of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil and it was their failure to obey that injunction that is associated with the complex series of actions that is the fall of man. They were, however, enjoined to eat of all the other trees of the garden and one of those trees was the Tree of Life. They were driven from paradise lest they continue to eat of the Tree of Life in their enhanced state of knowledge. Was the Tree of Life the cause of their immortality whilst in the state of innocence?

Aquinas answers that the Tree of Life prevented the first humans from dying but that it was not a cause of immortality absolutely speaking. By this he means that the power that enables the body to stay in being is a power of the soul itself. What the fruit of the Tree of Life was able to do was to fortify the body in such a way that the power of the soul to conserve the body was not impeded. But each fruit from the Tree of Life was itself a material body and therefore its power to do this was finite and limited. It was not the case that a single bite from the fruit of the Tree of Life would confer immortality but rather that it had to be taken repeatedly as a food in order for the effect to continue.

Handy Concepts

  • Adam and Eve were given the preternatural gifts of immortality and impassibility in their initial state of innocence.
  • The bodily state of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden was a state consistent with human nature. Therefore they ate and drank as we do.
  • The Tree of Life conferred immortality in the sense of removing impediments to the conserving power of the soul; it had to be eaten repeatedly as food in order for this effect to continue.


  • The connection between the fruit of the Tree of Life and the Eucharist should be clear in Aquinas’s treatment in the fourth article. They are both live-giving, in different but analogous senses.

Question 96 – Man’s Dominion in the Initial State of Innocence

Why this Question Matters

The Genesis account of creation records that God gave dominion over the rest of material creation to human beings in a state of innocence. In this question Aquinas enquires into what that dominion consisted in and relates it to the natural order of creation towards God. In making this enquiry he asks a number of questions that are strictly speaking, given the fact of the fall, hypothetical concerning what human beings would be like in a state of innocence in paradise.

The Thread of the Argument

A1: Aquinas finds underlying reasons behind the raw assertion of Genesis 1:26 of the dominion of humans over the animals with three variations on notions of the hierarchy of creation. In the first place he argues that there is a natural order to creation in which the more perfect makes use of the less perfect. As humans sit at the pinnacle of material creation it is therefore natural to them to have dominion over the rest of it. The second argument looks at creation from the point of view of God’s providence whereby lower things are governed by higher things. Finally, looking at the actual properties of man and of the other animals shows one that man has a general ability to make prudent decisions whereas animals lower than humans are only able to make prudential decision in circumstances to which they are adapted; their prudence shows a certain degree of participation in prudence. Aquinas then argues that whatever is such-and-such by participation is subject to that which is such-and-such through its essence.

A2: Aquinas reads Genesis 1:26 as giving humans dominion over all creatures, not just the animals. But there’s an immediate problems with this: what does it mean to have dominion over a daisy, for example? One can see the effect of man’s dominion in the herding of cattle or in the breaking-in of a horse under the influence of human reason; but ordering a daisy around is likely to end in little but frustration.

Aquinas responds by pointing to the way in which human beings have, in a sense, all of creation within themselves. Human beings have reason, like the angels; we have sentient powers, like the other animals; we have natural powers, like plants; we have a material body, in the same way that inanimate objects are material. In human beings the rational powers have dominion over the sentient powers and parallel to this we have dominion over animals by means of the command of reason. Similarly man has dominion over his natural powers and the body itself; but for these the dominion is not one of reason but of use. Therefore we should look for the parallel dominion that man has over the vegetable and the inanimate in the way in which we can make unimpeded use of them for our purposes.

The reply to the second objection brings up, and rejects, the point of view that in paradise animals all got along together just fine without killing and eating each other. Indeed, some have argued that cuisine in paradise was exclusively vegetarian. Aquinas argues that, although man’s first sin may have led to the “fall of creation”, animal natures were not changed in that event (in much the same way that human nature was not changed, but darkened, by the fall). As it is in the nature of animals to fit into a predator prey hierarchy, they would have been eating each other in paradise. Indeed, in domesticating animals, humans would have fed other animals to some of the domesticated animals.

A3: The state of innocence in paradise would seem, at first sight, to also imply a state of equality between human beings; surely, after all, those things that gives rise to inequality between human beings are associated with the consequences of the fall. On the other hand, we recognize at the very least sexual diversity in the very creation of human beings itself. Had there been more than two human beings in paradise, then there would have been diversity of age as well. We can go further than these simple examples: human beings are created with free will and therefore have the freedom of choice of their intellectual and moral development, whatever tools they are born with. There is also no reason to suspect that they would all have been made physically identical (within the sexes); it is perfectly possible for there to be diversity within a perfect creation. Having established that there could be diversity amongst human beings in paradise, we should recognize that the purpose of creation is ordered towards God and that ordering may be most effectively realized through the specialization associated with diversity; as the reply to the third objection observes, God was perfectly free to raise some to a greater degree and some to a lesser degree to achieve His purpose. Such diversity across the range of human attributes must be recognized as a certain form of inequality; but one that does not imply imperfection in creation.

A4: The third article established that there could be inequality amongst human beings in paradise; the obvious question arises as to whether that inequality would have led to dominion of one human being over another. To answer this question we have to recognize a distinction in what we mean by dominion. One way of looking at dominion is to see it in terms of a master and slave relationship. In this form of dominion the master has dominion over the slave for the good of the master and of his purposes. It is this type of dominion that could not have occurred in the state of innocence as this cannot occur without some form of suffering on behalf of the slave; even if the suffering is simply that of having to give entirely to someone else what ought to be one’s own.

The second way of looking at dominion is to see it more generally in terms of governance. In this form of dominion the ruler has dominion over the subject for the benefit of the subject, or for the common good. Humans being social animals is entirely consistent with organizing themselves for the achievement of common ends by means of a governing hierarchy. This second form of dominion of one human being over another is entirely consistent with the state of innocence.

Handy Concepts

  • Human beings have dominion over the rest of material creation. The animals are subject to our reason; plants and inanimate objects are subject to our use.
  • The state of innocence in paradise is consistent with inequality between human beings.
  • The state of innocence in paradise is consistent with the dominion of one human being over another, but only in the sense of governance to benefit the governed and the common good.

Wednesday, 29 January 2014

Question 95 – The First Man’s Will: Grace and Justice

Why this Question Matters

In the previous question, Aquinas discussed the state of the first human being’s intellects in the state of innocence before the fall. It is natural then that he should turn to a treatment of the wills of Adam and Eve in the same state.

The Thread of the Argument

A1: As was remarked in the preamble to this section, that Adam and Eve were created in a state of grace is a standard tenet of Christian theology. This is precisely Aquinas’s subject in this article, but he is not concerned with the fact of Adam and Eve’s state of grace in the Garden of Eden but of exactly when they received that grace; was it coincident with their creation, or was it a gift that followed later?

In their initial state, Adam and Eve were created in a state of rectitude; that is, their reason was subject to God, their lower powers were subject to their higher powers and their bodies were subject to their souls. This fact is given to us in the content of divine revelation (for example, in Ecclesiastes 7:30). Aquinas observes that, although such a state of rectitude is consistent with a human nature, it is not in itself natural. If it were itself part of human nature then it would have remained after the fall. Therefore this state of rectitude must be considered to have stemmed from a supernatural gift of grace. As Adam and Eve were created in this state of rectitude, they must therefore have been created in grace. One should notice that Aquinas doesn’t claim that every grace that they had in paradise was received at their creation; indeed, in the reply to the fourth objection he allows for the possibility that the first humans made progress in merit by the gift of additional graces.

A2: In the Ia-IIae of the summa, Aquinas will devote an entire treatise to the human passions (Ia-IIae.qq22-48). In anticipation of this Aquinas asks about the passions of the first humans in the state of innocence. If we at least think informally about what passions are, we might suspect that the initial state of rectitude is inconsistent with the existence of at least some of them. Indeed, this is the position that Aquinas will argue for.

It’s important to understand that Aquinas considers the passions to be parts of the sensitive appetite; they are not associated with the will which is the intellectual appetite. The passions have objects that can be good or bad: so love and joy, in the appetitive sense, are passions whose objects are good; the objects of fear and sorrow are bad. In paradise, there were no present or threatening evils, nor were any goods absent. Therefore passions whose objects are bad or which relate to a desire for an absent good were not present in the initial state of human beings. Even those passions that were present in Adam and Eve were present in a different way than they are present in us. In us it is perfectly possible for a passion with good object to exist in a disordered way; in the initial state of rectitude only the passions that were consistent with the judgement of reason were present.

The reply to the second objection makes some remarks about the human body and soul being impassible in the state of innocence. Exactly what this means and why it is so will be dealt with in detail in Ia.q97.a2.

A3: As with the passions, Aquinas will spend considerable effort discussing human virtue (Ia-IIae.qq55-70). These are stable dispositions (habitus as Aquinas calls them) towards the good and away from evil. Aquinas asks whether Adam had all of the virtues in the state of innocence.

As the objections identify, many of the virtues are ordered towards constraining immoderation of the passions or in combating evil. If we follow the pattern of the previous article on the passions then we might expect Aquinas to argue that virtues wholly associated with the good existed in Adam in the state of innocence and that those associated with combating some form of evil did not. This is roughly the path that Aquinas takes, but with an important caveat: the modes of existence of the passions and of the virtues are different and this has consequences for how this question should be answered. In the absence of its object a passion, which is simply a movement of the sensitive appetite, does not exist. In contrast, a habit is a stable disposition of the soul that exists as a habit (that is, precisely as that stable disposition) even if it is not in act.

With this distinction in mind, we can identify that certain virtues such as charity and justice, which involve no imperfection, existed absolutely speaking in Adam in the state of innocence. On the other hand, some virtues, such as faith and hope, involve some imperfections (in this case absence of things seen or had) that are not necessarily inconsistent with the state of innocence. Adam and Eve did not enjoy the beatific vision in paradise, so faith and hope could exist in them. Finally some virtues, such as repentance, sorrow and shame, are associated with objects that are inconsistent with the state of innocence. These virtues were present in Adam as stable dispositions but they did not exist in actuality.

A4: In Ia-IIae.q114 Aquinas will turn his attention to the notion of merit. Merit is a tricky and often misunderstood theological concept that is associated with a human being’s cooperation with the grace of God. As God created humans with free-will and allows them the exercise of this free-will, humans in receipt of certain gifts of grace can cooperate with them or resist them (otherwise humans simply become divine puppets). Provided that we recognize that the ability to cooperate with grace is itself a grace, then the term merit is applied to the eternal consequences of the gift of grace and cooperation with grace considered as rewards. Much more detail will be given in the Ia-IIae, but for now Aquinas simply inquires as to whether Adam’s deeds were more or less meritorious than ours can be.

The objections suggest that Adam’s deeds were done in circumstances that made good works supremely easy and that therefore we require greater gifts of grace to progress in merit than Adam required. As grace is at the root of merit this means that Adam’s deeds were less efficacious for meriting than ours. Aquinas answers by making a distinction in ways of understanding how we might approach a notion of quantification of merit. The first approach is to look at the root of merit in charity and grace; the reception of greater grace corresponds to the bringing forth of greater charity which corresponds to a greater degree of participation in the beatific vision. The second approach to the notion of quantifying merit is to look at it from the point of view of quantifying the works that flow from the corresponding gifts of grace, both absolutely (i.e. simply how much is done) and proportionally (i.e. how much is done considered in proportion to how much is available). So when we try to quantify merit we can think in terms of the amount of grace received or in terms of the absolute or proportional amount of work done in consequence of that grace. The former way should be seen as primary (or essential) to the notion of merit and the latter as secondary (or incidental).

Seen from the point of view of the first way of quantifying merit, works done in the state of innocence are more efficacious for merit than post-lapsarian works; the state of innocence corresponds to an extraordinarily copious outflowing of grace from God. The same reasoning applies to a quantification based on the absolute quantity of good works; in the state of innocence the extraordinary outpouring of grace facilitated much greater works. However, seen from the point of view the proportional quantity of works, we see that the weakness of human beings after the fall implies that the graced works that they do achieve should be seen in the context of the widow of Mark 12:41. In giving a tiny amount she was giving all that she had; in this sense we can understand post-lapsarian works are more efficacious for grace than pre-lapsarian.

Handy Concepts

  • Adam and Eve were created in a state of grace. This state did not preclude them from progressing in grace with additional gifts.
  • Only passions consistent with the good existed in paradise.
  • Only virtues consistent with or commensurate to the good existed in actuality in paradise; virtues associated with the suppression of evil were only habitually present.
  • Adam’s works were more efficacious of merit that are ours, seen from the point of view the grace standing behind them and also from their sheer quantity of goodness. Seen from the point of view of proportionality, our works mat be considered more efficacious.


  • In the second article Aquinas introduces us to the passions, which are movements of the sensitive appetite. Much more will be said later in the Treatise on the Passions. For now we might wish to remember that English words like love can be associated with a movement of the sensitive appetite but also with a movement of the intellectual appetite. One must be careful of equivocation!

Monday, 27 January 2014

Question 94 – The State of the First Man with Respect to Intellect.


The final section of the Treatise on Man is dedicated to consideration of questions about the state of being of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden. It is well known in Christian teaching that they were created in a state of grace, a state which they lost at the fall. This simple statement leaves unanswered many questions about what that initial state was, and about what were the consequences of the fall in leaving that state of grace. Therefore Aquinas dedicates the next three questions (Ia.q94 on the intellect and Ia.q95-6 on the will) to the state of man’s soul in the initial state of grace; then there are five questions (Ia.q97-101) on bodily issues. The treatise is rounded off by a question (Ia.q102) on paradise.

Why this Question Matters

As human beings are uniquely bodily intellectual creatures, it is natural for Aquinas to start his consideration of the state of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden with questions about their intellects. Created in a state of grace and possessing some extraordinary gifts consistent with human nature, one naturally wonders how the fall from paradise was possible. We will have to wait until IIa-IIae.q163 for Aquinas’s approach to that question, but in the meantime here he lays the groundwork by discussing the state of the intellect of the first human beings.

The Thread of the Argument

A1: Adam’s existence in the Garden of Eden was so wonderful it is natural to ask whether he had the beatific vision of God while in paradise. That is, did Adam see God through His essence? Aquinas quickly recalls that anyone who has the beatific vision cannot turn away from that vision; as Adam sinned, one must infer that he did not have that vision of God.

However, Adam did have a cognition of God that is higher than we do in our present fallen state, albeit less perfect than that of the beatific vision. Aquinas explains that in his initial state Adam was created upright (Latin rectus); in this state of rectitude all his lower powers were subject to his higher powers. To expand on this we should notice, along with St. Paul, that one of the features of our current state of existence is that our powers are often at odds with one another. We may will to do something but find ourselves unable to do it; what we want with our heart may be very different from what we want with our head. Adam didn’t have this problem; all of his intellectual, sensory and bodily powers were aligned to common purpose. This means that Adam was not distracted by his senses to spend too much time thinking about sensible things to the detriment of the consideration of intelligible things. Now God is more clearly understood through his intelligible effects (that is, effects that are directly intelligible to the intellect) than through His sensible effects; we have seen from the first questions of the summa how hard it is to arrive at the intelligible effects of God though reasoning about created sensible things! So in the first state of grace man’s natural knowledge of God’s intelligible effects was not masked by sensible tittle-tattle. Aquinas goes on to quote Augustine to the effect that the first man, walking with God in paradise,  may also have been directly illuminated with knowledge of these intelligible effects. Again, Adam’s rectitude would have meant that this divine illumination was clearly received rather than masked by sensible considerations.

In his reply to the third objection, Aquinas goes further: Adam did not have to arrive at a cognition of God by demonstrations rooted in knowledge of God’s effects (as we have to do). Instead, he had an immediate cognition of God though his effects. Human beings, including Adam, have to see God through a mirror, as it were. For us in our present state that mirror is darkly obscured and we arrive at natural knowledge of God through great effort and with much trial and error. For Adam, that mirror was clear; clear enough for him to see God immediately in all His effects.

A2: If Adam did not have a vision of God through His essence, then perhaps he could see angels through their essences. After all, we have seen (in Ia.q89.a2) that a separated soul has a perfect intellective understanding of other separated souls and an imperfect understanding of the higher separated substances. Surely the state of Adam’s soul must have been at least on a level with separated souls in this regard?

Aquinas answers by distinguishing between two different ways of looking at the state of the soul. In the first way we can distinguish between the two natural modes of existence of the soul: the first being when it is joined with the body; the second when it is separated from the body. The second distinction is between the states of integrity (before the fall) and corruption (after the fall). The mistake lying behind the thesis that Adam had a vision of the angels through their substance is that of making the wrong distinction between Adam’s soul and our souls. Adam’s soul was in a state of integrity but was still joined to his body. This means that the mode of operation of the soul of Adam is like that of ours: it is ordered to the abstraction of intelligible species from phantasms presented to it by the sense. Adam was just better at it than we are.

Our natural mode of cognition with soul joined to the body is sufficient to have cognition of the quiddity of exterior things and from thence to have cognition of our own act of understanding (Ia.q87.a3). However, this type of cognition is simply insufficient to make a leap up to the cognition of the angels.

A3: Aquinas asks in this article whether Adam had scientia (sometimes translated as knowledge and sometimes as scientific knowledge) of everything. The structure of the article will make it clear that Aquinas is going to answer this in the affirmative. Since this is such a startling claim, it is important to understand exactly what he means by scientia.
Scientia is the knowledge of things in their causes, which one might informally refer to as understanding or an ability to understand; in particular, scientia is a knowledge of universals rather than of particulars. The claim that Adam had this sort of understanding of everything is not the claim that Adam knew every fact that there is to know but that rather he had an intellect equipped with the knowledge of universals sufficient to understand everything that he did experience.

Even this is an extraordinary claim because it seems to set Adam apart from all other human beings. As we grow up we have to accumulate  these universals in our intellects through experience; if Adam already had them, without having to accumulate them, it seem that he either had to have a sort of connatural knowledge that we do not have or that he received them through a process of divine infusion, rather like the angels.

Aquinas is quite ready to defend such a position. Adam has such scientia though direct infusion from God; the fact that he is the very first human being makes him unique with respect to the rest of us and therefore we shouldn’t be surprised that he has this very special gift. Adam didn’t have to progress through life accumulating such universal knowledge, but he did have to accumulate particular knowledge and put it into the context of that universal knowledge.

Aquinas’s fundamental reason for supporting such a position lies in the principle that actuality is prior to potentiality. In order for something to move from potentiality to actuality there has to be something actual that is the cause of that move. God created things in a state of perfection, not only so they existed in themselves, but so they might also be the principles of subsequent things. God created Adam in a perfect bodily state (that is, as a fully formed adult) so that he could be the principle of generation of subsequent human beings; He created his soul with complete scientia so that Adam might lead subsequent human beings in knowledge. So Adam had all the first principles of knowledge virtually containing everything that can be known naturally by human beings.

In addition to such natural universal knowledge, Aquinas claims that Adam had sufficient knowledge of the supernatural to direct him to his ultimate end.

A4: In the Genesis account of the fall, the serpent deceives Eve into eating the apple from the tree of knowledge. The deception is a subtle one that turns on an equivocation of God’s warning to Adam and Eve that they will die if they touch the tree, but it is a deception nonetheless. So it seems perfectly obvious that despite their graced existence in the Garden of Eden that Adam and Eve were capable of being deceived.

Aquinas’s startling conclusion in this article goes against this line of reasoning, claiming that they could not be deceived in their initial state of grace. Before justifying his conclusion he outlines another opinion in which a distinction is made between a sort of cursory assent to a false belief and a firm assent. Some have argued, he claims, that the first humans in their original state could not be deceived in the latter sense, but could be deceived in the former sense concerning non-scientific knowledge (recalling that they had possession of all scientific knowledge).

Aquinas rejects even this position. In the state of innocence it was not possible for humans to acquiesce to any positive falsehood; this would have been simply inconsistent with such a graced existence. A falsehood in the intellect is an evil in the same way that a truth is a good and no such evil could be present. A second line of reasoning argues that in the state of rectitude all of man’s faculties were aligned with each other and co-operating; the only way that the intellect is deceived is if it is deceived by a lower power (as the intellect is infallible with respect to its own proper object), and this cannot therefore happen.

So how could Eve have been deceived? Aquinas answers, via Augustine, that the deception was preceded by a prior sin; that of a “love for her own power and a proud presumptuousness regarding that power”. In other words, there had already been a movement of the will away from God and the fall itself was complex of sins that culminated in the disobedience of eating the apple. The deception occurred after the state of innocence had started to be corrupted.

Other objections suggested that humans naturally are apt to make mistaken judgements, for example, about things in the distance that stretch the abilities of the senses or about future contingents or the interior thoughts of others. For the former, Aquinas argues that man would not have been deceived as he would have been aware of the limits to the sense data available to him and would have therefore made an appropriate judgement. For the latter, two answers are given: the first that Adam would have made contingent judgements not committing himself to a definite answer; the second that God would have assisted him in such circumstances.

Handy Concepts

  • In the Garden of Eden Adam and Eve were created in a state of grace and bodily integrity. Thus all their faculties were united rather than divided against one another as they are in our postlapsarian state. Despite these gifts of grace neither Adam nor Eve benefited from the beatific vision; however, they did have an immediate cognition of God though his effects.
  • Adam and Eve did not have a direct cognition of angels through their substance; the first humans’ cognitive apparatus worked in the same way as ours.
  • Adam had an intellect equipped with the knowledge of universals (scientia) sufficient to understand everything that he experienced.
  • Adam and Eve before the fall had such perfect rectitude of body and mind that they were not capable of being deceived. The deception of the serpent occurred after the fall had already started.


  • In the first article Aquinas distinguishes between the sensible effects and the intelligible effects of God; perhaps this distinction is not crystal clear. We can take it for granted that God is fully capable of communicating some element (consistent with man’s capacity) of His intelligibility to humans by divine illumination. However, this distinction between sensible and intelligible effects appears to pertain to cognition of God though His created effects. Also, these appear not to be different classes of effects associated with different types of created effect. Rather, Aquinas is differentiating between sensible and intelligible effects in the same thing. We have seen that we can infer, through a process of hard logical demonstration, that God’s sensible effects lead us to certain aspects of His intelligibility. What Aquinas appears to be arguing here is that Adam had a sort of intuitive immediate access to what is intelligible about God through His creation, rather than having to go through our process of argument. Adam saw God through a clear mirror rather than one darkened by sin and obscured by our focus on the sensible aspects of the material world.
  • The obvious and very standard question arises that if Adam was so gifted, why did he fall? If he was gifted with free will as well as the gifts of grace and rectitude, why was his free will not a subject of that rectitude?
  • Adam and Eve were created in grace and were given the preternatural gifts (such as the rectitude and infused scientia described above but also immortality and the absence of concupiscence). The latter gifts are gifts that are consistent with human nature whereas the former gift exceeds human nature. After the fall, we do not possess the preternatural gifts and we can only hope for the gifts of grace by faith and our end in the beatific vision. In the spirit of filling a gap, theologians have speculated on what a human being created in a state of pure nature or in a state of unimpaired nature would look like. The former state consists of the absence of grace and of the preternatural gifts but also the absence of sin; the latter state lacks the gifts of grace but possesses the preternatural gifts and benefits from the absence of sin.

Sunday, 26 January 2014

Question 93 – Man Made to the Image of God.

Why this Question Matters

“And he said: Let us make man to our image and likeness”. These words of Genesis 1:26 have often fascinated exegetes. What is its fundamental meaning and why is there a distinction between likeness and image? Aquinas introduces this question as being about the purpose or end of humanity’s creation insofar as humans are made in God’s image and likeness. He is concerned to understand what it means for something to be made in the image and likeness of God but he also wants to understand how the image of God in man relates to man’s ultimate purpose.

The Thread of the Argument

A1: In Genesis 1:26 we read that man was made in the image and likeness of God. This allows Aquinas a straightforward answer to the question of whether the image of God exists in man! However, he takes the opportunity to add a little precision. After Augustine, he differentiates between a likeness, in which there is some sort of resemblance to a prototype and an image, which is definitely modelled on the prototype. So the concept of an image contains the concept of a likeness, but the reverse does not hold. Going further, we must differentiate between an image and a perfect image. In the latter there is a notion of equality; a perfect image has the same dignity or function as its prototype. This idea of equality is lacking from a (non-perfect) image.

Aquinas concludes that man is definitely modelled on the prototype of God is some way and therefore can genuinely be called an image of God. But the image of God that man is falls short of being a perfect image; following Col. 1:15, only the “Firstborn of every creature” is the “Image of the invisible God”. Aquinas makes a linguistic distinction based on the Latin of the Vulgate version of the bible: man is made to the image of God (ad imaginem Dei) rather than in the image of God. This distinction signifies that the approach to the image of God in man is actually an approach to something in the far distance.

A2: Aquinas makes use of the first article’s distinction between image and likeness to address whether the image of God is unique to man amongst the animal kingdom. He argues that something is an image of a prototype rather than just a likeness when it is either in the same species as the prototype (rather than just in the same genus) or when it shares a proper accident like shape with the prototype. So, the son of a father is an image of his father; a bronze statue of a great queen is an image of the queen herself. We can identify a sort of hierarchy of likeness: an arbitrary thing is like God in that both it and God exist; an animal is like God in that they are both living; a human being is like God in that they are both intellective. It is this last likeness that raises human beings to the level of being made to the image of God.

A3: Human beings occupy a puzzling place in the hierarchy of creation. Lying at the boundary between the spiritual and the material they are the lowest of the intellectual creatures, beneath the hierarchy of angels, and yet they are especially favoured by God. As they are lower in the hierarchy of intellectual being, does this mean that the image of God is found to a greater degree in angels than in man? Or rather, does humanity’s favoured relationship with the creator mean that the image of God is stronger in man?

Aquinas answers by making a distinction. We can think of being the image of God in two ways. In the first and primary way, being in the image of God relates to the intellectual nature of the creature. As such angels bear the image of God more strongly than man as they are the more perfectly intellectual creatures. However there is also a secondary sense, and in this secondary sense the image of God is stronger in man than in the angels. This latter sense lies in a sort of imitation of God that is not open to the angels: the examples that Aquinas gives are of the way that man come from man in analogy to how God is from God and in the way that the human soul in present in the body in analogy to the way that God is present to the created world.

A4: We’ve seen that the first woman was made from the rib of Adam, so perhaps we should ask whether only some human beings are made in the image of God rather than in the image of Adam. If we also consider that only some are predestined to eternal glory and that sin destroys the image of God within man, then perhaps we would be inclined to this position.

In answering this question Aquinas takes the opportunity to distinguish between different senses of the image of God in man. The first sense identifies the image of God in man with man’s intellectual nature that allows him to understand and to love God. In this sense, all humans carry the image of God; this is the image corresponding to creation. The second sense is that of the justified human; this is an image corresponding to re-creation in which they have a habitual but imperfect understanding and love of God. In the third sense, the gloried in heaven have a perfect understanding and love of God and an image of likeness of glory.

Therefore we can rightly say that all human beings are made in the image of God in the first sense; but not every human being is made in the image of God in the latter two senses.

A5: As God is both divine substance and Trinity of divine persons, an obvious question to ask is whether the image of God in man pertains to the substance of God or to the persons of the Trinity. The questions is framed in such a way that the objections support the idea that the image is to do with the substance of God. Three of the objections are based on discussions by other Church Fathers, but the third argues that as knowledge of the Trinity is an object of faith beyond natural reason this could not be consistent with having a Trinitarian impression within our minds because this would allow us knowledge of the Trinity by introspection as an alternative to revelation.

Aquinas replies that the distinction between the divine persons is intrinsic to the divine nature and therefore any image worth its name should both be of the divine substance whilst maintaining the distinction of persons, even if this distinction is only representational or vestigial. Counter to the third objection we have to remember that the image of God in man is not perfect image. Following Augustine we can identify Trinitarian aspects of our own minds, but these are simply not enough for us to demonstrate the existence of the divine Trinity.

A6: In the second article, Aquinas argued that it was in our intellective natures that our likeness to God becomes sufficient to be considered an image. Other creatures bear some likeness to God in that they exist or in that they are alive but this can only be considered as a vestigial image. He now asks whether it is only because of that intellective nature that we carry the image; or are there any other aspects of human beings that correspond to the image?

Aquinas is firmly of the opinion that this image is only rooted in the intellectual nature of human beings, arguing that the way in which other creature are like God does not rise to the level of an image. In the uncreated Trinity there is a procession of the Word from Him who speaks and a procession of Love from both of these (Ia.q28.a3). In human beings this is mirrored by the coming forth of a word (expressing a concept) from the intellect and by the coming forth of love from the will. In non-human living creatures this does not happen, or rather what happens in the higher non-intellectual creatures is only a trace of what happens in humans.

A7: Aquinas has firmly asserted that the image of God in man is associated exclusively with the intellect. Can more be said? Is it the mere fact that human have intellects that are capable of thinking that founds the image of God, or is it something more? Following on from the analogy established in the sixth article, Aquinas claims that the image of God in man is to be found in the intellect as it is in act; that is, as it is actually thinking. The Trinitarian structure of human thought, wherein the mind expresses a word and the will expresses with love, is found most fully when the mind is actually thinking. We can, however, say that the image of God exists in the intellect in a secondary way with regard to the habits and powers of the intellect when it is not actually in act; we can consider the acts of the soul to exist virtually in the powers of the intellect to act.

A8: So far in this question Aquinas has taken the image of God in man to refer to the image of the Trinity insofar as it is reflected in the structure of the intellect in act. Perhaps it is possible that this image does not simply refer directly to God as its object. After all, the acts of our intellects that give this Trinitarian correspondence don’t simply happen when we’re thinking about God; they work whenever we’re thinking about any object whatsoever!

To answer this Aquinas goes back to his understanding of the divine processions. The Word of God is begotten of the Father insofar as He knows himself, and Love proceeds insofar as He loves Himself. So when we look for the image of God in man we must look for acts of the intellect that mirror this mode of divine procession and which therefore imply a likeness that corresponds sufficiently close to be an image. As Aquinas puts it, we’re looking for a representation (as far as is possible in a creature) that corresponds to the species of the divine persons. When we think about things other than God, like a rock or a horse, it is clear that there is a specific difference between these objects of the intellect and between any species that might be representational of the Trinity. Therefore, the divine image in man is associated with the word that is conceived when we are thinking about God and the love that is derived from that word. We might also note that the procession of the divine persons in God is associated with a self-contemplation. So to a certain extent the same is true in the intellect of man; self-contemplation also corresponds in a way to the image of God but only insofar as this self-contemplation is leading towards God.

A9: The final article in this question is dedicated to a more detailed examination of how likeness is distinguished from image when we are considering humanity made in the image and likeness of God. Aquinas has already observed that the idea of a likeness is more general than that of an image and that a likeness can be considered an image if it is sufficiently close to represent the actual species of the prototype in some sense. One might also note that the more general concept of likeness corresponds to a certain degree to the transcendental notion of unity, or of being one. Something that is the likeness of something else can be considered one with that something else in a certain sort of way.

If we think about other transcendentals such as good, then we may identify a helpful analogy. The idea of the good can be consider under two aspects, one prior to and the other consequent from a particular individual. That is, a particular human being can be considered as a particular good (at the very least insofar as he exists) prior to consideration of any other human beings. But that individual man can be also be considered as consequently good if he is a particularly good example of his species. The same is true when we consider the concept of likeness: likeness can be considered as prior and preliminary to image and can also be considered as subsequent to image insofar as the likeness signifies a certain perfection of the image.

This approach gives us two ways of distinguishing likeness and image. In the first instance, we can consider likeness to be preliminary to image and therefore to be found in more things. In the second way, we can consider likeness subsequent to image insofar as the image is a more vivid or perfect likeness of its prototype.

Handy Concepts

  • Human beings are made in the image and likeness of God. Likeness is a generality of resemblance that attains more precision in the notion of image and yet more precision in the notion of perfect image. The image of God in man is an image that reflects both the divine unity of substance and the blessed Trinity of persons.
  • The image of God in man is associated with man’s intellectual nature, and more specifically with the acts of the intellect. More specifically still it is in acts of the intellect that are associated with the contemplation of God that give the firmest relation to the image of God in man.
  • Although as related simply to intellectual natures, the image of God is found to a greater degree in the angels, there is a secondary sense in which man images God more perfectly than the angels.


  • Aquinas lays the foundation for his ideas about the image of God in man on a distinction between likeness and image. A likeness is a sort of resemblance; it is sufficient to become an image if the likeness represents the species of what is being represented. But, as is pointed out in the first article, the approach that any created likeness can make towards God is a very distant one. One might ask whether anything created can, at such a distance, really resemble God in a sufficiently close way to meet Aquinas’s criterion of image. Likewise, in the other direction one might argue that lots of things in creation show principles of unity and of tri-unity in such a way as to resemble God. Aquinas’s solution to these problems is to identify that which is unique to man in creation in resembling God; the intellect.
  • Having introduced this question as investigating the purpose or end of man’s production in the image and likeness of God, Aquinas doesn’t actually spend much time discussing this! Most of the discussion is about an understanding what it means to be in the image and likeness of God. Perhaps Aquinas’s answer to this latter question implicitly answers the former and he takes this as obvious. Man images God insofar as man has an intellectual nature contemplating God: in being made in the image of God, man turns to God in intellectual contemplation in this life and in the beatific vision in the next.

Monday, 20 January 2014

Question 92 – The Production of Woman.

Why this Question Matters

After the creation of Adam, it is natural for Aquinas to turn his attention to the creation of Eve. At the most fundamental level, this question is about the role of sexual differentiation in the creation of human beings; why are there two sexes? Aquinas, of course, was writing before thought had been given to the competitive advantage offered by sexual reproduction. He frames his answers in the context of his hierarchical understanding of creation in which every part of nature has its place. Thus considered, he is seeking to understand woman’s role in creation, especially in relation to man.

The Thread of the Argument

A1: According to the Genesis creation account, God creates a man (Adam) and then He creates a woman (Eve). Aquinas asks the rather curious question: was the creation of this woman fitting? What he is trying to get at in asking this is an understanding of women’s role or place in that creation; we have to remember that for Aquinas everything has its place and nothing in nature is in vain. Against the objections posed, Aquinas is firm: scripture tells us that it is “not good for man to be alone”; in fulfilling the destiny of humanity, there is an essential sexual complementarity. For Aquinas this is most expressed in the role of woman in generation; a term that should not be limited in meaning to the idea of simply producing children, but in everything to do with nurturing the well-being and continuity of the species.

After a quick scan through the hierarchy of sexual differentiation amongst living things, Aquinas concludes that the sexual differentiation of humans is ordered to an appropriate differentiation of the tasks that facilitate their highest task, which is intellectual contemplation.

The first objection raises the biological idea of Aristotle that females are “males gone wrong”; if they are such, they would have had no place in God’s perfect creation. Briefly, the idea here is that in generation the active male principle (contained in the semen) is implanted in the passive female principle and would naturally become a male child if some power does not intervene to divert this development from its course to produce a female child. Aquinas’s answer is ingenious: he says that what happens in a particular nature (that in the powers and forces that bring about the development of the child, in this case the male semen) is irrelevant. What matters is that the creation of a female child is ordered to the intention of nature. In other words, what matters is what God intends for nature as a whole. How he brings it about is His business.

The second objection is based on the observation of the subjection of women to the power of men. In his answer, Aquinas differentiates between two types of subjection. The first type is servile subjection, in which the one subjecting makes use of the one subjected for the former’s own purposes. The second is civil or economic subjection in which the subjection is for the good of those subjected. The first type of subjection did not exist before the fall, and should not be seen as just; the second did, and reflects the hierarchy of creation ordered to the common good. Aquinas argues that man is more naturally endowed with the power of rational discernment and therefore is ordered more fittingly to the position of power.

The third objection is that woman provides an occasion of sin for a man and therefore it would have been unfitting for God to put such a distraction in Adam’s way in the Garden of Eden. Aquinas’s reply raises a smile: if God had removed all things from the world that man had managed to turn into occasions of sin, there really wouldn’t be much left!

A2: The second question of fittingness is to try and understand why Eve is described by scripture as being made from Adam. This didn’t happen in the creation of other animals and doesn’t happen in the natural generation of any animal; why didn’t God create woman in the same way that He created man?

Aquinas gives four reasons. In the first place, having the entire human race originate from one adds to the dignity of that one. Second, the mutual realization that Eve came from Adam would bind them together more strongly. Third, the subjection of Eve to Adam is mirrored in this relationship of origin. Fourth, such an origin provides a figure for the Church taking her origin from Christ.

A3: It was fitting for Eve to be created of Adam; but why from a rib? There doesn’t seem any natural way in which a rib can be made into a woman, wouldn’t it detract from Adam’s perfection and wouldn’t it hurt?

Aquinas identifies two reasons for why this formation was fitting. In the first place, taking a part from Adam’s body signified the intimately close union between man and women. Choosing a part, such as a rib, from the middle of the body symbolizes that neither would the woman dominate over the man nor would the man subject the women to servile subjection.

The rib was made into a woman by a miraculous addition to the matter of the rib, not through some natural process. Losing a rib did not detract from Adam’s perfection because that rib contributed to Adam’s perfection as the source of the species rather than as an individual.

A4: Eve was made from the rib of Adam, but does this imply that Eve’s creation was not directly performed by God but mediated through some other powers? Aquinas argues that the only method of natural generation of a human being is though generation from the matter involved in the male or female seed. Therefore to bring about Eve’s creation from a different form of matter involves direct divine intervention.

Handy Concepts

  • Irrespective of the process by which woman is generated her position is ordered towards the fulfilment of nature and is therefore of equal dignity to that of man.
  • Man and women are sexually differentiated in order to share out the necessary tasks that facilitate intellectual contemplation.
  • Eve was created from the rib of Adam by direct divine intervention.


  • Aquinas’s views on women are sometimes misunderstood, in particular misreading his answer to the first objection of the first article as supporting the view that women are formed inadvertently. Aquinas is not concerned at all with the physical biology of reproduction, but with the metaphysical place of woman in creation: the former is irrelevant, the latter is what matters.
  • This is a question in which close attention to the Latin text is useful. In particular, one must pay careful attention to where the words homo and vir are used: vir means a male person, homo can mean a male person but is often used to simply denote a person of either sex. Indeed, homo and its derivatives can be used to denote humanity in general. So in Genesis 2:18 where we are told that it is “not good that man for man to be alone”, the Latin word used derives from homo, suggesting that we are being told that it is not simply the particular human being Adam that needs a partner, but that companionship is fundamental to humanity. Similarly, in the first article, we are told that humans are ordered towards intellectual contemplation.
  • In answering the second objection to the first article Aquinas claims that woman is naturally civilly subject to man because the discernment of reason naturally abounds more in man. The underlying idea being that, before the fall, the rational hierarchical governance of humanity is the form of governance that will promote the common good most effectively; and therefore the more rational should be in charge. Unfortunately Aquinas leaves his answer at this level of generality but with the little coda recognizing that there are differences between individuals (even before the fall). He does not address how the relationship of subjection might be modified between an individual man and an individual woman by the variation of powers of rationality between individuals. After all, Aquinas would have been well aware of the effective rule of some queens!
  • Aquinas describes the notion of civil subjection tersely. One must be careful reading him not to impose modern notions of subjection on his implicit scheme.

Sunday, 12 January 2014

Question 91 – The Production of the First Man’s Body.

Why this Question Matters

Aquinas has treated of the creation of the human soul in Ia.q90. Now it is the turn of the human body. Was the first human body created ex nihilo or was it formed out of pre-existing matter; and did God form this body immediately or through some form of mediation?

The Thread of the Argument

A1: According to (the Vulgate version of) Genesis 2:7, God made man from the “slime of the earth”; in other words, man’s body was formed out of pre-existing matter rather than ex nihilo. One might have thought it more appropriate for the body of man to be created entirely ex nihilo, like his soul, given his central place in creation, but Aquinas argues against this.

He argues that man’s perfection derives from his particular place in the hierarchy of creation; within man is, in a certain sense, a composition of all things in that creation. Man has within himself a rational soul from the genus of immaterial subsistent beings; he is uniquely balanced in his constitution; he is bodily, made out of matter. Humans are a sort of “miniature world” and it is in this that they have their perfection. Therefore it is perfectly fitting that they are formed from the slime of the earth.

A2: We have seen in the previous question that God creates each human soul immediately ex nihilo. In contrast, the first article of this question argued that the human body is created out pre-existent matter. Is it also true that the creation of the body is mediated in some way or is the actual formation of the human body like that of the soul, performed immediately by God? The bulk of the objections to this article focus on the fact that if something can come to be through created causes (that themselves, of course, come to be by God’s primary causality) then there is no need to posit immediate formation by God.

Aquinas answers that the very first human body had to be made immediately by God as the appropriate previous material principles were not present in order to make such a body through created causes. Once the first human body was created it provides the material principle for the formation of further such bodies.

A3: When we look at human beings in comparison to the rest of the animal kingdom we note that other animals possess attributes or tools that would come in very handy if we possessed them too. If man is at the pinnacle of the animal kingdom, can we really therefore say that the human body is appropriately constituted for such a position?

The key to the answer is that something is made as best as it can be made with respect to the end intended for it. There really is no point in making the furriest, fluffiest hammer as this really doesn’t help a hammer to be a good hammer. In the case of the human body, its proximate end is to receive a rational soul, and to that end it is appropriately constituted. One might object that this does not answer the question of why we might not have better version of what we already possess: for example, wouldn’t having a better sense of sight be an unqualified advantage? Aquinas replies that we must take into account the balance of the constitution of any animal; in humans this balance is set to achieve what humans are designed to achieve.

The reply to the third objection to this article contains an amusing discussion about why it is appropriate that human beings have an upright stature.

A4: This final article, on the description of the production of man by scripture, takes the unusual form of a set of objections simply followed by answers, without any formal central reply. It’s simply a collection of miscellaneous questions with no great uniting theme. The reply to the second of these objections associates Aquinas with the Trinitarian interpretation of the plurality contained in the phrase “let us make man” of Genesis 1:26. The other objections and their replies are straightforward.

Handy Concepts

  • Whereas all human souls are created ex nihilo by God, the first human body was formed out of pre-existing matter. The very first human bodies were formed immediately by God, but subsequent bodies come to be by material principles.
  • The attributes that human bodies possess are appropriate to the end that human beings are oriented towards.


  • In the second article Aquinas appears to be arguing that the very first human body has to have been created immediately by God as it is the very first exemplar of its kind and could not have been formed out of pre-existing objects by created causes. There is similar to the idea that like must create like and anything entirely new must be newly created by God. At this point one must naturally wonder what Aquinas would have made of the material part of the concept of evolution; of new forms of living being coming to be out of old forms.
  • In the third article, Aquinas’s argument that the balance of our constitution would be put out of kilter by an excessive ability in, for example, the senses, seems to require more justification. Perhaps things like a thick hide or excessive fur might be seen as incompatible with human ends, but this reasoning doesn’t seem to apply to all bodily attributes.

Question 90 – The Production of Man with Respect to his Soul.


Although Aquinas’s Treatise on Human Nature extends from question 75 through to question 102, one often finds commentaries on this treatise curtailed at question 89. This marks what might be seen as a boundary between Aquinas’s “philosophical” treatment of man and his scriptural or theological treatment. Modern tastes might see the first part of the treatise as having more lasting importance that the second, but Aquinas probably thought of this first part as preparatory for the second part. Such neglect of the second part is regrettable since even if one were to disagree with the conclusion of the master, one would be very foolish to neglect his method.

Aquinas breaks this section of the treatise into four parts. In the first three questions, Ia.q90-2 he considers the origins of human beings, in Ia.q93 he considers the goal of the production of humans, in Ia.q94-101 he will consider their status and condition when they were first produced and in Ia.q102 he will consider their location when they were first produced.

Why this Question Matters

As the human being is a composition of body and soul as form and matter, the first line of enquiry that Aquinas takes about the coming to be of humans is to ask about the origin of the soul. He will turn to the production of the body in the next question and will pay particular attention to the initial production of woman in the question after that.

The Thread of the Argument

A1: The first article deals with the question of whether the human soul originates as part of God’s substance; one might read Genesis 2:7, wherein God breathes life into Adam, as supporting this point of view. But as Aquinas points out, this is a claim that is, on the face of it, implausible. At the very least one must observe that the human soul is in potentiality with respect to certain things; something that is not true of God’s substance. Clearly Aquinas, in raising this strange idea, is dealing with an opinion current in his day and wishes to squash it with no further ado.

Aquinas identifies the erroneous opinion as arising from two ancient positions. Firstly those who considered that all things in the world are bodies would naturally be drawn to an opinion that the soul must be a body that is derived from the body of God.  Secondly, those who realised that immaterial substance exists but did not progress beyond the idea that the form of God provided the form of everything (a sort of world soul) would also hold this opinion. The discussion of Ia.q3 demolished these positions and therefore such an idea of the origin of the human soul vanishes as well.

In the reply to the first objection, one should note Aquinas interpreting the breathing of Adam’s soul as figurative language for the production of the soul.

A2: When we think about a material object we can think of the object in terms of various compositions: matter and form, actuality and potentiality, essence and existence. For such an object we think of its potentiality in terms of the matter out of which it is made and of its actuality in terms of the form that makes it what it is. Similarly we can think of the form of the object as that which gives being to the object. If we turn to something like the human soul, then we might be tempted to transfer this reasoning without change and think of the human soul as being made out of some sort of spiritual matter, made to be what it is by a spiritual form suited to such spiritual matter. This latter theory, often associated with figures such as St. Bonaventure, is rejected by Aquinas. As we have seen in Ia.q75 & q76, Aquinas considers the human soul to be a subsistent form that informs the human body; the composition of actuality and potentiality in the soul is not a composite of matter and form, rather the soul is a form that informs the body. A subsistent form is not made of anything; it either subsists entirely on its own (in the case of the angels) or it is what makes something what it is (in the case of the human being).

So whereas we can rightly think of material objects coming to be by being made out of something that previously exists, we cannot transfer this reasoning to immaterial subsistent forms such as the soul. Such forms have to be created out of nothing. Something material comes to be by its form being received into an already existing material object that is in potentiality to receive the new form. This cannot happen for the human soul (and for angels); there simply is nothing pre-existing to receive anything.

A3: One might ask whether the human soul is created directly by God or whether some form of intermediation occurs. The human soul lies at the lowest point of the hierarchy of immaterial being and therefore one might think that the beings higher up the hierarchy bear some of the labour of creation.

Aquinas rejects this as contrary to the faith: God alone is able to create ex nihilo. If angels were involved as intermediaries in the creation of the human soul then they would be making the soul out of something received from higher in the hierarchy. This would no longer be a genuine creation but a making out of something pre-existing.

A4: Was the soul of Adam created before his body and are the souls of subsequent human beings created before their corresponding bodies? Throughout history, there have been those that claim the soul is created first and then fitted into its body. Most famously Origen held this view, believing souls to be metaphysically complete in themselves and then subsequently tied to human bodies. As Aquinas points out, even St. Augustine can be interpreted as supporting some form of this view.

Aquinas argues that God “instituted the first things in a state of natural perfection” and that as the soul is naturally the form of the body then the soul is not created before, and in isolation from, the body. He handles the obvious objection, that the soul is subsistent and remains in being after the death of the body, by observing that the death of the body is a defect of the body, a defect that is not supposed to exist when the soul is created.

Handy Concepts

  • The human soul is created immediately by God out of nothing.
  • The human soul does not pre-exist the body as this would create the soul in a state lacking its natural perfection.


  • In the fourth article, Aquinas puts a lot of weight on the principle that God creates things in a natural state of perfection and that the soul, although subsistent in its own right, requires a body to be in such a state of perfection. The state of the soul after death and before the general resurrection is in a strange state of tension; naturally able to subsist, but in a state not natural to it.
  • The fourth article argues that the soul does not pre-exist the body, but does not touch upon the question of whether the body pre-exists the soul! Aquinas took the view that matter could only receive a form if it was in a state suitable to that reception. On the basis of the biological understanding of that period, such a reception would not occur at the point of biological conception; instead there would be a succession of vegetative, animative and finally rational souls in the development of the embryo. Modern biological understanding has shown that the developmental course is set as soon as the embryo’s DNA is established; put in medieval terms, such a newly conceived embryo can be receptive of its rational form even if many of its powers are obstructed until bodily development proceeds. The Church has never given a doctrinal definition of the point at which the human soul is infused, but most modern Christian philosophers would now argue that it is at the point of biological conception.

Sunday, 5 January 2014

Question 89 – A Separated Soul’s Cognition.

Why this Question Matters

So far in the Treatise on Human Nature, Aquinas has been almost exclusively concerned with the operations of the soul whilst it is joined with the body during its earthly existence. We saw, however, that the soul is a subsistent form (Ia.q75.a2) capable of existing separate from the body. This fact raises some obvious questions about what the soul can understand when it is separated from the body. In such a state are there any cognitive operations at all, or does the soul enter some form of suspended animation? If it can have some sort of cognitive understanding, then what sort? What might the objects of such a post-mortem understanding be; can the separated soul gain new knowledge or is it restricted to reflection upon what it learned on earth? What of its knowledge of what is going on amongst those people and things that the soul left behind at death? This question is entirely dedicated to a consideration of questions of this sort.

The Thread of the Argument

A1: Once the soul is separated from the body, the soul no longer has available to it any of the bodily organs associated with cognition; all that is left is the immaterial intellect. Can such a separated soul continue to have intellectual cognition? Certainly nothing new is coming in via sense organs, as they are bodily and no longer available to the separated soul. Even worse, there is no longer the power of the imagination available to the intellect, so the agent intellect can no longer shine a light on any phantasms in order to abstract quiddity. There may, of course, be the possibility of a supernatural form of cognition granted by a gift of grace; but if we are simply thinking in terms of the possible natural cognition available to the separated soul, then it is hard to see how this can function after death. The sed contra presents a perplexing counter-argument: one of the distinguishing aspects of the human soul is that it can exist separated from the body; it is a subsistent form. As a subsistent form it must have its own proper operations that do not depend on the separated body; surely therefore, the intellect must be able to operate once the body is gone because intellectual cognition is proper to the soul.

Aquinas agrees that this is perplexing but goes on to argue that the soul has two modes of understanding. The first mode of understanding occurs when the soul is united with the body and consists in the abstraction of form from material objects via the illumination of phantasms by the agent intellect. This first mode of understanding should be considered as the natural mode of understanding for a soul because it is natural for a soul to be united with a body. But still, a soul can subsist independent of a body; corresponding to this second state of being, there is a second operation of the intellect, a different mode of understanding. The first mode of understanding corresponds to the cognition of intelligible species after they are abstracted from their material being; the second mode of understanding is ordered to the cognition of those things that are intelligible absolutely speaking. That is, of those forms that do not have to be abstracted from a material mode of being.

Unfortunately this argument leaves Aquinas with an awkward question to answer. If the human soul is capable of a mode of understanding that does not require the abstraction of form from phantasms, why bother with a mode of understanding that does when the soul is united with the body? To deal with this Aquinas appeals to the hierarchy of intellectual being. Beings higher up the hierarchy understand things in more generality through simpler forms; beings lower in the hierarchy understand in more particularity through a larger number of more specific forms. It requires a stronger intellect to receive perfect cognition through simpler forms, so an intellect lower in the hierarchy, and therefore weaker, would receive a less perfect cognition if it were required to receive that cognition through simpler forms. As the human intellect lies at the bottom of the hierarchy of intellectual being, it is natural to it to receive the most specific of forms; that is, forms abstracted from material being.

In the reply to the third objection Aquinas makes an important clarification. The separated soul no longer has cognition through the abstraction of forms from material being, nor does it have cognition solely through the forms that are retained in the passive intellect from the time of its bodily existence. Its new mode of understanding is like that of the other separated immaterial substances, coming from a participation in the divine light of God. In this mode of understanding it is turned towards higher things. One might be inclined to say that the soul’s first mode of understanding is natural and that the second is supernatural; but this would be a mistake. The soul, although naturally united to the body, also has a natural mode of existence separate from the body; likewise the corresponding second mode of understanding is itself natural to the soul.

A2: We’ve seen that the separated soul has a secondary mode of understanding beyond the normal mode that operates when the soul is united to the body. The next series of questions to address must concern what the soul understands through the natural operation of this secondary mode. Does it, for example, have an intellective understanding of other separated immaterial substances?

When united to the body the soul has an understanding of itself only insofar as it is in act (Ia.q87.a1); when separated from the body it obtains understanding not from a turning towards phantasms but by turning towards things that are intelligible in their own right. Therefore, in such a mode of understanding, the soul understands itself through itself. We can generalize this observation to see how the soul in this mode of understanding has cognition of immaterial separated substances. Separated intellectual substances have an understanding of other separated substances in a mode in accordance with their own substance. Therefore a separated soul has perfect cognition of other separated souls; these being at the same level of the hierarchy of intellectual being as the soul. It has a less perfect and indistinct understanding of intellectual beings, such as angels, that are higher in the hierarchy.

A3: We recall that angels have a perfect cognition of natural things through species received from the divine light (Ia.q55). As the separated human soul looks a little bit like an angel, albeit lower in the hierarchy of immaterial intellectual being, perhaps we can say that the separated human soul has cognition of all natural things. This is true to a certain extent according to Aquinas, who will steer a middle course between the objections and the multiple counterarguments in the sed contra. Following the pattern established in the second article of this question, separated souls do have cognition of all natural things, but it is a general and indistinct cognition befitting the position of the soul in the hierarchy of being.

A4: We saw in Ia.q86.a1 that the human soul united with its body does not have cognition of singulars. Does the situation change when the soul is separated from the body? At first sight, as the objections point out, it would seem not. After all, the only cognitive power that remains in the separated soul is the intellect and it’s the same intellect that was present when united with the body. Similarly, we’ve seen above that the separated soul only has a general and indistinct cognition of natural things; therefore it surely cannot understand singulars. On the other hand, the intellect of the separated soul receives species directly from divine illumination; surely it must be up to God to determine what the separated intellect can conceive.

Aquinas treads a middle ground. The separated soul has cognition of some singulars but not all. To argue this point, Aquinas reminds us of the two modes of intellective understanding: the first is through abstraction of form from phantasms; the second is through an influx of forms directly from God in divine illumination. It is indeed through this latter mode of understanding that the human soul can understand singulars. We saw in Ia.q14 that God has cognition of all things, universal and singular, through His essence. He infuses knowledge of singulars and universals as He pleases into the angels, therefore He is able to do the same for the separated human soul.

Separated human souls are not as well off as the angels, though, in this regard. Although angels can have perfect and proper cognition of things, the separated soul is constrained by its mode of being. It is restricted to a cognition of certain singulars that have a particular relationship to the soul: those previously understood; those with an affective tie; those determined by a natural or by a divine ordination.

A5: This article and the next form a pair. Aquinas is concerned with the question of whether scientific knowledge (that is, demonstrative knowledge and reasoning) gained during an earthly life is retained after the soul is separated from the body by death. The second objection to the sixth article generalizes from scientific knowledge to any knowledge at all: “…there is no way in which a separated soul will be able to have an act of intellective understanding through intelligible species acquired here”. In this article, Aquinas asks whether the habit of scientific knowledge gained during the earthly life remains in the separated soul; in the next article he will ask the corresponding question about the act of scientific knowledge. If we recall the difference between habit and act then we will understand that in this article he is asking whether the expertize to reason scientifically is retained and in the next whether an actual act of scientific reasoning can occur, based on knowledge gained during the bodily existence of the soul.

The way that the intellect acquires habits of scientific understanding involves repeated acts of the intellect turning towards phantasms produced by the imagination; so the habit of scientific knowledge involves a habitual component that is proper to the passive intellect but also an aptitude within the sentient powers for working with the intellect, facilitating the act of scientific understanding. Of course, when the soul is separated from the body, this latter sentient aptitude is no longer present, but the habitual power within the passive intellect is. Aquinas supplies a small coda to his reply to answer those who might argue that the forms present in the intellect might be destroyed at the separation of soul from body; he argues that the mechanisms by which such destruction might occur simply do not apply in this situation.

A6: Having seen in the fifth article that the intellectual component of the habit of scientific knowledge remains in the separated soul after death, we must now ask whether this habit can be brought to an actual act of scientific knowledge. After all, the act of scientific knowledge in this life depends upon an interaction between the immaterial intellective powers of the soul and the material sentient powers. The latter are simply not present after death and so it is quite conceivable that such habitual knowledge remains dormant until the general resurrection!

Having set up the machinery of two different modes of understanding for the intellect in the articles above, it is not surprising that Aquinas turns to this in answer to this article. The intellect no longer turns to the retained species using phantasms of the imagination, rather it understands them in the light of divine illumination; that is, in the mode appropriate to the separated soul.

A7: When the soul is united with the body during our earthly existence we depend on our senses to gather information about material being. In these circumstances, spatial separation between our senses and a putative object of cognition impedes our coming to an understanding of that object. This remains true even in this age of tremendous technological advances in remote sensing; if the equipment is turned off or pointed in the wrong direction, we will know nothing of the remote object!

Does the same remain true when the soul is separated from the body? Aquinas claims that the situation here is quite different from that of our bodily existence. The separated soul has intellective understanding of singulars through an influx of divine light; the divine light is not subject to the restrictions of distance in the way that physical light is. Therefore spatial distance simply does not impede the cognition of the separated soul.

A8: One of the questions of perennial interest to people of many faiths concerns the relationship between the souls of the departed and those who remain in the land of the living. The Christian scriptures give answers that can be interpreted in multiple ways and it not clear that they unambiguously answer the question of whether, through the normal course of affairs, the souls of the dead have knowledge of what is happening amongst the living. Perhaps they do, but maybe their attention is fully turned to higher things and they only gather such knowledge when new separated souls arrive to join them or if God has some particular reason for enlightening them.

If we look at Aquinas’s understanding of the operation of the intellect after death, then this too is open to answers either way. On the one hand, the soul can no longer abstract new knowledge from phantasms derived from the senses; but on the other hand, as the soul is illumined by the divine light it is perfectly possible that this includes illumination about what is happening on earth. Perhaps the illumination includes information about those specifically related or involved with the separated soul whilst in earth. Aquinas turns to Gregory the Great and to Augustine to see if the opinion of the Fathers can offer direction on this question. Gregory seems confident that the souls of those in heaven do look down upon those on earth; but Aquinas argues with his reasoning. Augustine disagrees, though states that his opinion is precisely an opinion and others may wish to disagree.

At the last Aquinas leaves a definite answer to this question open, but the structure of his answer and the replies to the objection suggest that he favours the opinion that, in the normal course of affairs, separated souls have their attention turned to higher things and that they have knowledge of earthly affairs only through God’s ordination through the divine light.

Handy Concepts

  • The human soul has two modes of intellective understanding. When united with the body, the first mode of intellection occurs through the abstraction of forms from the phantasms provided by the senses. When separated from the body, the second mode of intellective understanding occurs in which divine illumination replaces the absent senses.
  • Through the second mode of intellective understanding the separated soul can have a direct intellective understanding of other separated immaterial substances. The perfection of this understanding depends upon the level of the object of intellection in the hierarchy of intellective being. So, the separated soul can have a perfect understanding of other separated souls, but its understanding of beings higher in the hierarchy is indistinct.
  • In the condition of separation from the body, the soul can have a general and indistinct cognition of all natural things and it can have a precise understanding of certain types of singular.
  • The habit and act of scientific intellection remain in the human soul after separation from the body insofar as these are particular to the immaterial intellect. The act of scientific knowledge can occur by means of the divine light.
  • The question of whether separated souls have knowledge of what is going on back on earth seems open to alternative opinions.


  • Although Aquinas does not explicitly say it in the first article, it would seem that a natural consequence of his argument is that the secondary mode of intellectual understanding available to the separated soul by necessity results in a less perfect and more indistinct cognition than that resulting from the primary mode. Although the blessed in heaven are in receipt of a perfection of their natures by supernatural means, their intellects remain human intellects restricted by their natures.
  • Aquinas talks of the separated soul as having a general and indistinct cognition of things through the species received by divine light; but he doesn’t elaborate what this actually means.
  • The second mode of intellective understanding operates after the separation of the soul from its body; but can it, and does it ever, operate whilst in this earthly life?
  • One might be concerned that Aquinas’s theory of the cognition of separated souls is in some ways arbitrary; designed to fit into his understanding of the hierarchy of intellectual being rather than being based on philosophical argument. But, as with his angelology, the data that he has to work with are sparse. Human cognition in this life is restricted to the abstraction of material forms from material beings and from what can be deduced from that. Our knowledge of cognition in the afterlife is only hinted at in the sources of revelation.