Saturday, 25 February 2012

Question 60 - Angelic Love

Why this Question Matters.

In Ia.q59.a1 Aquinas divided appetite into three classes: the natural, the sensory and the intellectual. What characterized the natural appetite was the lack of any presupposition of awareness. Sensory appetite involves the movement towards what is sensed and intellectual appetite (or will) the movement towards the good, perceived as good. In appetite there is a certain affinity between subject and object; and back in Ia.q20.a1 Aquinas insisted that this affinity, when it is in act, is love “the primary movement of the will and of every appetitive capacity”. In this question Aquinas is going to look at love in the angels from the point of view of what is in act prior and posterior to the act of free choice. Thus in the five articles of this question, we get a refinement of the notion of “natural” love preceding free choice; the idea of love as after a free choice; an enquiry into the egoistic and altruistic aspect of love; and finally, the most profound aspect of love in its orientation towards the creator.

The Thread of the Argument

A1: The first article asks whether there is a “natural love” in the angels. One’s first thought might be to attempt to take this question as referring to the idea of a natural inclination as defined in Ia.q59.a1. Doing this would lead to the denial of a “natural love” as angels are purely intellectual and therefore inclined to things purely by their wills. But here Aquinas is actually asking whether there is a love that follows on from the nature of an angel, before any free choice of the will. The answer to this question is in the positive. Aquinas quotes St. Augustine in the sed contra to the effect that there is natural knowledge in the angels (they don’t have to learn everything in the way we do) and love follows on knowledge. Then he argues that every nature is the subject of some tendency, which is its natural appetition, or love. The mode of this differs in different creatures according to their mode of being; in the angels their mode of being is intellectual and therefore their natural love takes the form of willing.

A2: One might also ask whether angels can choose to love something. After all, their knowledge of natural things is infallible and they don’t have to go through a process of working things out, so it is unclear what choices might be left to them (c.f. Ia.q59.a3).

Answering in the affirmative, Aquinas makes a comparison with humans. Our natural willing is for our ultimate end. On the other hand, our willing by choice is of those things that help us attain that end. So, our natural love is of the good which we desire as our end; our love of choice is of the goods that we desire in view of that end. Now, the human intellect does not, by its nature, know all that it is capable of understanding; we have to work things out. There’s a sort of duality going on here: our wills proceed from the general (the good in general) to the particular (individual goods that will help us attain that end) whereas the intellect works from the particular towards the general. The intellect makes speculative judgements about what is true and false, but also practical judgements about how particular things or actions stand in relation to our final end. In the angels the speculative judgements are infallible and do not involve any cogitation, but as they are creatures falling short of perfection, some choices may still need to be made with respect to practical judgements. There may still be pro- and con- to consider for any practical judgement relating to their ultimate end. Therefore we can say that angels do love by choice as well as by nature.

A3: This article and the next form a pair and may also be seen as preparatory to the fifth article. This article considers the love that an angel has for itself, the next considers the natural love an angel has for other angels and the fifth considers the natural love an angel has for God. Here Aquinas asks whether angels love themselves both naturally and through choice.

Aquinas starts his answer by making a distinction: one the one hand we have love considered as desire (or concupiscence) and on the other hand love considered as friendship. In the latter we love a thing as willing the good for it (or as a subsistent good); in the former we love as willing it for some other (or as an accidental or inhering good). So, for example, we desire knowledge because we wish to have it for ourselves, rather than willing that knowledge may itself be good.

In humans, as in angels, there is a natural desire for fulfilment; but so also are there choices made in reaching for our fulfilment. So in angels and in humans there is both a natural and a chosen love for our own selves; but this is the love of friendship rather than the love of desire.

A4: The types of natural love that exist between individuals will depend on the actual bond between those individuals. So, the nature of the love of friendship between family members may be seen to be different than that between citizens of the same city or between human beings in general. If we consider only the natural love that exists between angels then we can see that they must love each other because they are of one kind. One may doubt that this shows that they love each other as themselves. However, the sense that Aquinas is using here is shown by the answer to the first objection. An angel knows himself as having the nature of an angel and recognizes another angel as having the same nature; the type of love of friendship that Aquinas is using here follows upon this knowledge. If we try to take a wider sense of knowing and loving the other as self, we have to recognize that an individual knows himself through his own essence and cannot know another through their essence. Therefore, in the wider sense defined by this knowledge, one individual cannot love another as self as the individual does not possess the knowledge required for this love.

A5: Finally Aquinas argues that an angel’s natural love for God is stronger than the natural love that it has for itself. His argument is based on an analogy of the natural movement of those things that lack reason. For such things that belong by their very nature to something else move more intensely towards that thing than they move towards themselves. As an example of this Aquinas claims that a part naturally exposes itself to danger for the sake of conserving the whole; a principle of altruism is embedded naturally within such things. As “reason imitates nature” we also see that an individual citizen is willing to lay down their life for the good of the community in times of war, for example. Now, God is the universal good containing within Himself all creatures and therefore all creatures have a natural inclination towards Him stronger than they have towards themselves. In particular, this applies to the angels.

The first objection claimed that since the nature of God is utterly different from the nature of an angel, therefore the love of friendship of an angel based on the similarity of nature cannot be stronger towards God than towards even another angel, let alone itself. Aquinas replies that the idea that love of friendship is based on similarity of nature applies only within creation; God is the whole reason for the being of things and the natural love that things have for God is based on them being a part of this whole.

The fourth objection makes the important argument that it would appear that it is supernatural charity that allows us to love God more than we love ourselves; in other words, it is a supernatural grace, given to us by God, rather than a natural movement that lies behind such love. Aquinas demurs; God is the universal good upon which everything depends and that is the basis for the natural love of creatures for their creator and sustainer. The supernatural love that creatures have for their creator is based in the beatific vision as end that creatures may be gifted by God.

Handy Concepts

  • In this question, “natural love” refers to the inclination of the creature that follows on from the nature of the creature.
  • Even though angels have an infallible knowledge, they love through choice as well as naturally.
  • There is a distinction between the love of desire and the love of friendship. The first is egoistic; the second altruistic even though it may be directed towards the good of the self. Humans and angels have both a natural love of friendship and chosen love of friendship for themselves; the latter constituted by the choices made to promote individual good.
  • The fourth article differentiates between the type of love one individual may have for another. If we recall the gospel injunction to “love your neighbour as yourself”, we must recall that once we have considered the question of “who is my neighbour?” we must consider the question of “how can I love someone that I know nothing about?” Aquinas’s answer is that we must distinguish between types of love; in general the love we have for neighbour is, by default, love of neighbour as being of the same nature as ourselves.
  • The natural love of angels (and of humans) for God is stronger than natural love for self. This is based on the fact that creatures are but a part of creation depending utterly on God for being.
  • In the reply to the first objection in the fifth article Aquinas makes much of the natural inclination of a part towards the whole; for example the individual naturally loves its species more than itself.


  • The distinction in the third article between the love of desire and the love of friendship, identifying self-love as the love of friendship, might be compared to those with certain personality disorders. One symptom of these might be self-love considered as love of desire.
  • In the fourth article Aquinas identifies that angels have a love of friendship for each other based on a likeness of kind. What he does not consider is the fact that angels are individual within their own species; does this have an effect on the strength or nature of the friendship between angels?
  • The reply to the fourth objection of the fifth article distinguishes between the natural inclination that creatures have for their creator as creator and the supernatural inclination that rational creatures have for their creator based on the beatific vision of God as end. This idea of the two ends of humans, the natural and the supernatural, underlies the theological argument over the supernatural in the twentieth century.

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