Friday, 9 March 2012

Spring Cleaning

When we started this escapade back in the dim distant days of 2009, it was not at all clear to us how to use the blog to support our activities. Stuff just got written and put up on the blog based on the materials that Steve and I prepared for our face-to-face sessions. As time went by, the sort of structure that we wanted and the amount and scope of the material appropriate emerged from just doing it. By about the time we got to Ia.q12 I was beginning to feel comfortable with what we were posting. However, I’ve been keenly aware for some time that the material for the first few questions in the summa is inadequate in comparison to the later stuff.

So, it’s time for a bit of a revision. Before proceeding on to the hexaemeron, I’ll be posting revisions of at least the first eleven questions (and maybe more). We’ll see how blogger copes with the revisions, but I’ll try not to lose any of the original comments!

If any of you out there reading this stuff want to suggest some revisions to these particular questions, now is the time to get your comments in!

Thursday, 8 March 2012

Question 64 - The Punishment of the Demons

Why this Question Matters.

After having discussed the fall of the bad angels, it would seem quite natural to ask what happens next. This final question in the so-called “Treatise on the Angels” deals with the condition of the fallen angels after the fall. Possibly the most important question asked here is whether the bad angels, having fallen, can repent; this is the subject of the second article.

The Thread of the Argument

A1: Are the fallen angels, or demons, deprived of all knowledge of the truth? It seems clear that the demons must be cut off from at least some aspects of supernatural knowledge in their refusal of grace, but does their isolation from the truth extend further; perhaps even to their natural knowledge?

Aquinas distinguishes between two forms of cognition of the truth. On the one hand he identifies natural knowledge, on the other knowledge attributable to grace. He further distinguishes two sub-types of the latter: speculative knowledge that concerns divine things revealed to someone; and affective knowledge which produces love for God. Aquinas claims that of these three types of knowledge, the first is undiminished in the demons, the second is diminished, and the third is entirely absent.

The demons’ natural knowledge is not diminished because, being simple spiritual forms, to take something away from their nature in the way that we might have a foot removed is impossible without changing their nature. To change their nature would be to make them something they are not. The second type of cognition is a gift of grace, so that it is not surprising that it is at least diminished in the demons; but why is it not taken away entirely? God may reveal to them whatever He wishes to reveal for His purposes. Of the third type, which pertains to charity and to wisdom, no trace is left in the demons.

A2: Having turned away from God, as described in Ia.q63, is it possible for a demon to “change its mind” and to turn back to God, or is it obstinate in its evil? The objections suggest a number of powerful reasons that would support the idea that the demons can turn back to God after their fall. For example, freedom of choice would appear to be fundamental to creatures with a rational nature and to deny them the ability to turn back to God would appear to contradict this. Similarly, God’s mercy is infinite; therefore it is within His power to turn a demon back to Him.

Aquinas begins his reply by referring to Origen who argued in concurrence with the first objection that, because of their free wills, the demons could turn back to God. But having done this Aquinas immediately states that such a position is incompatible with the catholic faith and that one must firmly hold that the will of the good angels is confirmed in the good and that of the demons is obstinate in evil. The reason for this lies in the nature of the angels. As immaterial beings they do not have to go through a process of deciding something and they can never learn anything new as they immediately know all that they can naturally know. Even their supernatural knowledge is immediately assimilated. John of Damascus put it succinctly: the fall is to the angels as death is to humans. Humans are able to repent during their earthly life but once death comes, there is no repentance. For the angels, their one moment of decision is decisive.

To the argument from the freedom of the will, Aquinas answers that the nature of this freedom differs according to the nature of the intellectual creature. A human’s free will is flexible with respect to opposites both before and after the act of choice; the angel’s free will is only flexible with respect to opposites before the act of choice. This line of thought also explains why God’s mercy will not extend to the fallen angels. God’s mercy is applied to those who repent; but the demons are incapable of repentance.

A3: Passions such as fear, sorrow and joy cannot exist in the angels in the same way that they exist in us because they are passions that are proper to the sentient appetite. So if one asks whether the demons are sorrowful for their condition, one has to be careful to define what this might mean. If we take sorrow as an example, then it is possible to give it a transferred meaning that applies to any will, human or angelic. One simply identifies it with that resistance of the will to situations that exist (and which the will wishes did not exist) and vice versa. With this analogous meaning, it is quite proper to attribute sorrow to the demons. They are deprived of the beatitude that they desire and their evil will is frustrated by the good in many things.

A4: The phrasing of the title of the final article in this question may raise eyebrows: is the air the place of punishment for the demons? Indeed, the body of the question refers to the aer caliginosus (“misty air” or “dark atmosphere”). The sense of this strange phrase is to ask whether the punishment of the demons is restricted to hell or whether it extends to earth. The demons are hidden from us in the normal course of events, so presumably they inhabit the parts of earth’s atmosphere hidden from us.

Aquinas answers by claiming that the good of lower creatures is mediated by higher creatures and this can come about in two ways. In the first way people are induced towards the good by the good angels. In the second way they are induced towards the good by resistance to temptation from the bad angels. Therefore there must be some bad angels on hand to tempt us! This situation will endure up until the last judgement, when all the demons will be consigned to hell. Until then, some demons will be punished in hell; others will serve their time on earth.

In the reply to the third objection Aquinas mentions the opinion that the punishment of the demons may be postponed until the last judgement. The argument against this position is one of symmetry: the good angels are able to minister to us here on earth without any diminution of their heavenly glory. By symmetry, the demons must be able to tempt us on earth with no diminution of their punishment.

Handy Concepts

  • The fallen angels are not deprived of their natural knowledge, but some elements of their supernatural knowledge are diminished and some are extinguished altogether.
  • The fall of the bad angels and the glory of the good angels are both irrevocable.
  • Although passions cannot exist in angels (good or bad) one can meaningfully talk of the bad angels being sad about their condition.
  • The good angels minister to us here on earth; likewise the bad angels tempt us. Therefore the punishment of the demons is both here on earth and in hell before the last judgement.
  • In the fourth article Aquinas argues that divine providence is mediated through the angels. It appears unclear from the text whether he means that all of providence is mediated through the angels, but the implication from the Doctor Angelicus is there. Aquinas will return to this topic at the end of the first part of the summa in Ia.qq103-119 when he discusses the Divine governance of creatures.


  • Although Aquinas does not mention the temptation of Job in the first article, perhaps this is an example of what he was thinking about when he argues that God may reveal to the demons what He wishes for His purposes.

Saturday, 3 March 2012

Question 63 - The Sin of the Angels

Why this Question Matters.

The questions leading up to this one have built a picture of the angels as quite extraordinary creatures. But it is part of Christian doctrine that some of the angels, the devil chief among them, turned away from God and fell. The obvious question arises: if the angels were so perfect how come some of them fell from their lofty heights? In this question, Aquinas addresses this issue. He does so in a tour-de-force of theology, building up the tension by chipping away piece by piece at the problem before arriving at the final answer in the third article. The sin of the fallen angels was to aspire to the beatific vision through their own natural powers, spurning God’s gift of grace which would have given them this vision anyway. The remainder of the question picks up loose ends such as when the angels sinned, how mighty were those that fell, and how many of them there were.

The Thread of the Argument

A1: The perfection of the angels raises the nagging doubt that they couldn’t possibly sin. One line of reasoning, voiced in the third objection, is that it is natural to the angels that there is a movement of love towards God; but in loving God they cannot sin. Aquinas has already laid the ground for an answer to this objection in the previous question: the angels turn towards God in the natural sense of God as creator and sustainer, but they need supernatural grace to turn towards the God of the beatific vision. However, the fourth objection seems more pointed: the fact that the angels have infallible knowledge would mean that there is no such thing for them as an apparent good that is not, in fact, a real good. Therefore angels cannot desire anything that is not in fact a real good, therefore they cannot sin.

Aquinas, following Christian doctrine, affirms that, in its natural state, any rational creature is capable of sin; to be incapable of sin requires a gift of grace from God. In order to address the problem of sin in angels, Aquinas takes the point of view that sin can often be seen as an act that deviates from the rectitude that the act ought to have. Now, where does the rectitude that an act ought to have come from? If the rule about the correctness of how a craftsman cuts something lay within the craftsman, then any old rubbish that he produces would have to be considered correct. But of course, the rule does not come from within; the craftsman’s cut can be correct or incorrect by an objective rule. More generally, the rectitude of a creature’s act derives from God’s will. So, it is only in God’s will that there can be no sin; in its natural condition any creature’s act can be misaligned with the rectitude supplied by God’s will.

But this explanation, although it argues that creatures cannot be sinless in their natural condition, seems inadequate to explain how the angels can sin. In the reply to the fourth objection, Aquinas turns to the angels in particular.

He argues that sin can exist in the choice of the free will of a rational creature in two ways: first of all, it can be the choice of something evil, like an act of adultery chosen for the apparent good of pleasure; but in a second way, it can be the choice of something in itself good but chosen as misaligned with the rule of rectitude. For this second type of sin, Aquinas gives the example of praying in church (itself a good) but in a way forbidden by the Church (therefore misaligned with right order). Angels cannot sin in the first way because of their infallible knowledge; but they are capable of sinning in the second way when they choose a proper good without ordering that good to the rule of God’s will.

A2: Having established that angels can sin by choosing a proper good without ordering that good to God’s will, Aquinas asks what specific sins of this type can exist in the angels. His answer is that the sins of the bad angels lie in pride and envy.

Sin can exist in creatures in two ways: it can exist as guilt and it can exist as an inclination. The devils can clearly be guilty of sin in that they tempt others to do evil deeds. But as far as sin-as-inclination is concerned, they can only sin in what they are drawn towards. Angels are simply not drawn towards bodily goods (or apparent goods), so cannot be guilty of sins such as lust. But they can be drawn towards goods appropriate to the spiritual creature. As we saw in the first article, the only way that these spiritual goods can be sinful is if they are chosen in a way misaligned with the rule of their superior, God. It is this that is the sin of pride: choosing not to submit to the rectitude defined by their superior.

As a consequence of the sin of pride, the sin of envy can exist in an angel as well. Envy occurs when the rational creature is saddened by the good of another, insofar as the other’s good is seen as an obstacle to his own good. In the case of the bad angels, their envy arises in the desire to be uniquely excellent. God choosing humanity for His own glory can be seen as an example of which the devils would be envious as they would not be uniquely chosen to reflect His glory.

A3: So, the sins of the bad angels lay in pride and envy. But can we be more particular? What sort of pride and envy? Aquinas considers the devil himself; the devil sinned by wishing to be like God.

Aquinas has to specify exactly what this means because it’s pretty clear that a creature cannot desire (in any concrete sense) what it cannot possibly be. The devil’s infallible knowledge will reveal to him that he is a finite creature and that God is infinite being; he will realize the infinite gulf between them and the fact that it cannot be crossed. As the third objection puts it, one would have to be out of one’s mind in order to wish to be the equal of God.

The first point to be made is that “to be like God” can be understood in two ways: to be equal to God and to be similar to God. Clearly, the reasoning above shows that the devil could not have wished equality with God. If we turn our attention to the idea of similarity with God we see that here also there are two possibilities. The rational creature can desire to be similar to God in a way apt or not apt to its nature. Now, although it is possible to be sinful even with respect to the first of these possibilities, Aquinas focusses on the second way as far as the devil is concerned.

The devil did not desire to be like God in the sense of not being subject to anyone; as God is naturally known to be the source of being of everything, this would involve desiring one’s non-existence! However, his sin lay in willing his ultimate end in the beatific vision of God to be achievable through the power of his own nature rather than receiving it as a gift of God; he desired to be like God in having the power to give the beatific vision. In other words, the devil desired what he would have received anyway as the gift of God; but the fact that it would have been a gift was too much for his pride.

In the middle of his response Aquinas bolsters the argument that the devil could not have wished actual equality with God by claiming that truly wishing to be something of a higher order would be impossible. A donkey has no desire to be a horse because in becoming a horse it would lose its being as a donkey. The idea here appears to be that the desire of a creature is ordered to the perfection of its being, rather than to the replacement of its being with some higher order of being. I may desire to fly like a bird, but this does not mean that I wish to become a bird; I may wish the perfections that I see in other creatures, but that does not mean that I wish to lose my being.

A4: Is it possible that some of the fallen angels were bad by their very nature? Aquinas argues that because the demons are intellectual substances, and every intellectual nature is ordered towards the universal good, they cannot have any natural inclination to evil. Creatures that are ordered towards particular goods (like humans) can tend naturally towards evil but only because the evil is conjoined to a particular good; the evil occurs per accidens. Another way in which badness might be called “natural” for some humans is when their badness occurs in either of the following two ways. The first possibility is that doing bad things has become habitual to a person; badness has become “second nature” to them. The second way is that the sentient part of the soul might be ordered towards a disordered passion; so we might call someone “naturally” angry or lustful.

A5: When did the devil fall? In this article and the next, Aquinas asks whether the devil (or other demons) fell in the instant of their creation or whether there was a period of time between their creation and their fall. We have seen in the previous article that the demons did not fall through a fault of their nature but by a choice of their will. The main problem for the idea that they fell in the instant of their creation is that scripture appears to discount the idea: the devil and the fallen angels are part of creation and as created are therefore good (from the account in Genesis); also they are portrayed as having fallen from a position of favour.

Therefore the next position that Aquinas considers is whether the angels were able to sin at the very first instant of their creation but in fact did not do so until later. He considers an argument against this, based on an analogy with the instantaneous state of temporal motions in the material world, but he is not satisfied with this, precisely because it is an analogy that does not seem to be appropriate. Better is the argument that observes that the operation of anything in the very first instant of its existence comes to the thing from the agent that is giving it its being. So, in order for there to be a defective movement in the first instant of existence of a patient, the agent would have to be defective in some way. This is clearly not possible in the case of God and therefore it must be impossible for the angels to have sinned in the first instant of their creation.

A6: The previous article has shown that the angels could not have fallen in the very first instant of their creation. This must surely imply that there was an interval of time between their creation and their fall. However, if we recall the discussion in Ia.q53.a3 concerning the angels’ movement in time, we may be prepared for a more subtle answer. Indeed, Aquinas reports that there are two opinions on the matter. The first opinion, that he considers the more likely, is that the devil sinned immediately after the first instant of his creation. The second opinion is that nothing prevented there from being an interval between creation and fall.

But even if the demons fell immediately after their creation, does this not imply that there must be an interval of time between the two events as the second opinion holds? In the reply to the fourth objection, Aquinas argues that this implication need not hold. When we consider time as it flows in the (classical) material world, then between any two times, there is another time; that is, the flow of time is continuous. But for the angels, time is not necessarily continuous: for them, “time” is the succession of intellective and affective operations. This allows for the possibility of their creation in one discrete “instant” and for their fall in the next instant. In the first instant they were good; in the second bad.

A7: Were the angels that fell the riff-raff amongst the angels, or were some of them amongst the most important? More pointedly, Aquinas asks whether the highest angel that fell was the highest amongst all the angels. There are two opposing arguments working in answering this question: the higher an angel in the hierarchy the less prone it would be to sinning; yet the higher the angel, the greater the motive towards sinning. The former comes from the fact that the nearer an angel is to God the more perfect it is; but the latter comes from the fact that the sin of the angels lay in the pride that suggested to them that they could achieve beatitude through their own natures. Being closer to God by nature would strengthen the idea that they could achieve this by their own powers.

Aquinas does not deny the force of the first argument and identifies St John Damascene as one of the Fathers of the Church who held that this consideration was the stronger. Yet he considers the second argument as the more probable; the sin of the angels arose solely from free choice rather from their proneness to sin.

The second objection pointed out that if the highest angel sinned this would imply that God’s plan was frustrated by His noblest creation; this would seem absurd. Aquinas answers this by recalling the key note of predestination: He knew how all would turn out and has glory from the goodness He shows to those he saves as well as glory from the justice He shows to those who are punished. God is not at all frustrated by the fall of the angels.

A8: The fact that the first angel sinned caused the other angels to sin; not by coercion but by example. In addition, all the demons are subject to the devil himself. Aquinas argues that when a rational creature sins at the suggestion of another, he is then subject to that other’s power as part of the punishment for the sin. The fact that all the demons sinned at the same instant is no obstruction to the sin of the first being a cause of sin in the others; angels come to decisions instantaneously.

A9: What proportion of the angels sinned? Did more sin than not, or vice-versa? Aquinas argues that because sin is unnatural to the angels and that things that are contrary to nature are the less frequent, then fewer angels sinned than did not sin.

Handy Concepts

  • Sin can sometimes be seen as an act that deviates from the rectitude that the act ought to have.
  • Even though for the angels an apparent good is necessarily a real good, they are still capable of sin. They can sin in the choice of something which is truly good in itself, but which is objectively misaligned with the rule of rectitude willed by God.
  • Choosing not to submit to the rectitude defined by a superior is the sin of pride. In the angels this first sin of pride led to the sin of envy; their desire to be uniquely excellent.
  • Pride and envy was instantiated in the devil by his willing his ultimate end in the beatific vision of God to be achievable through the power of his own nature rather than receiving it as a gift of God.
  • The fallen angels were not naturally bad.
  • The devils did not fall in the very instant of their creation. Aquinas gives two opinions: on the one hand that there was an interval of time between their creation and their fall; on the other hand that they fell in the instant after their creation. Aquinas considers the latter to be the more probable opinion and reminds us that this makes sense because for the angels, time is not necessarily continuous.
  • Aquinas thinks that the highest angel that fell was the highest of all the angels. However, he does allow for other opinions held by eminent theologians.
  • The first angel to sin provided an exemplar cause for the other angels to sin even though they all fell in the same instant.
  • Fewer angels fell from grace and glory that achieved the beatific vision.


  • If the rule about the correctness of how a craftsman cuts something lay within the craftsman, then any old rubbish that he produces would have to be considered correct. Some might be reminded of the case of modern art.