Dec 29, 2021·edited Dec 29, 2021Author

While the object of the intellect is the essences of things, Aquinas does suggest that the human intellect ultimately has its object in the divine, since the rational mind is not content with rest until it has arrived at the final-cause of all such things. Aquinas' teaching often has to be read in its wholeness in order to avoid drawing conclusions from a small sample of his work. For instance, I've encountered some theologians who are disciples of Scotus claim that Aquinas subordinates God's will to His knowledge. The argument proports that Aquinas notion of God actually determines God to act in a very specific manner, and therefore is not actually free. This is a claim that can easily be dismissed by virtue of Aquinas' notion of Divine Simplicity when understood properly. The same can be said of Aquinas when speaking plainly about what we know immediately about the phenomenon of the intellectual appetite. The intellectual appetite is satiated by the essence of things, and this is understood naturally to us. However, in considering man's quest for happiness, he cannot find perfect satiation of his intellectual appetite until he arrives at a possession of the ultimate cause, which is Uncreated (God). Thus, to Aquinas, the ontological configuration of the intellect and will is such that it can only rest in the knowledge and love of God.

Aquinas states it as such:

"I answer that, Every agent, of necessity, acts for an end. For if, in a number of causes ordained to one another, the first be removed, the others must, of necessity, be removed also. Now the first of all causes is the final cause. The reason of which is that matter does not receive form, save in so far as it is moved by an agent; for nothing reduces itself from potentiality to act. But an agent does not move except out of intention for an end. For if the agent were not determinate to some particular effect, it would not do one thing rather than another: consequently in order that it produce a determinate effect, it must, of necessity, be determined to some certain one, which has the nature of an end. And just as this determination is effected, in the rational nature, by the "rational appetite," which is called the will; so, in other things, it is caused by their natural inclination, which is called the 'natural appetite.' "

(Summa Theologica I, II, Q1 A2).

And later;

"I answer that, Absolutely speaking, it is not possible to proceed indefinitely in the matter of ends, from any point of view. For in whatsoever things there is an essential order of one to another, if the first be removed, those that are ordained to the first, must of necessity be removed also. Wherefore the Philosopher proves (Phys. viii, 5) that we cannot proceed to infinitude in causes of movement, because then there would be no first mover, without which neither can the others move, since they move only through being moved by the first mover. Now there is to be observed a twofold order in ends—the order of intention and the order of execution: and in either of these orders there must be something first. For that which is first in the order of intention, is the principle, as it were, moving the appetite; consequently, if you remove this principle, there will be nothing to move the appetite. On the other hand, the principle in execution is that wherein operation has its beginning; and if this principle be taken away, no one will begin to work. Now the principle in the intention is the last end; while the principle in execution is the first of the things which are ordained to the end. Consequently, on neither side is it possible to go to infinity since if there were no last end, nothing would be desired, nor would any action have its term, nor would the intention of the agent be at rest; while if there is no first thing among those that are ordained to the end, none would begin to work at anything, and counsel would have no term, but would continue indefinitely."

(Summa Theologica I, II, Q1, A. 4)

Much of what Aquinas writes can be nuanced elsewhere - so statements he makes cannot be concretized and universally applied with haste. There is a great deal of integration and other angles to understand what exactly he is saying. As Matt Fradd puts it, Aquinas is a bit of a slippery fish. If you try to hold onto some content of Aquinas too tightly (apply it too concretely) its meaning slips right out from under your feet.

As for Galatians 4, here are some things Aquinas states on the subject:

..."The reason for this is that the time in which Christ was humiliated and in which the faithful were exalted turns out to be the same. Hence he says, 'But, when the fulness of the time was come,' i.e. after the time fixed by God the Father for sending His son had been accomplished. This is how it is taken in Luke 2:6: 'Her days were accomplished, that she should be delievered.' This time is called 'full' because of the fulness of the graces that are given in it, according to Psalm (64:10): 'The river of God is filled with water; thou hast prepared their food: for so is its preparation." Also because of the fulfillment of the figures of the Old Law: 'I am not come to destroy but to fulfill' (Mt. 5:17). And because of the fulfillment of the promises: 'And he shall confirm the covenant with many, in one week' (Dan. 9:27). However, the fact that he likewise says, 'But, when the fulness of time was come,' in other places of scripture where the time respecting Christ is said to be accomplished, should not be explained in terms of a necessity imposed by fate, but in terms of a divine ordinance, concerning which Psalm 118:91) states: 'By thy ordinance the day goeth on; for all things serve thee.'

Two reasons are given why that time was pre-ordained for the coming of Christ. One is taken from His greatness: for since He that was to come was great, it was fitting that men be made ready for His coming by many indications and many preparations. "God, who, at sundry times and in diverse manners, spoke in times past to the fathers by the prophets, and last of all in these days hath spoken to us by his Son' (Heb 1:1). The other is taken from the role of the one coming: for since a physician was to come, it was fitting that before his coming, men should be keenly aware of their infirmity, both as to their lack of knowledge during the Law of nature and as to their lack of virtue during the written Law. Therefore it was fitting that both, namely, the Law of nature and the written Law, precede the coming of Christ.

Secondly, he applies it as to His dignity as heir, when he says, "God sent his son," namely, his own natural Son; and if a son, then an heir also. He says, 'his Son,' i.e. His own, natural, only begotten but not adopted, Son. ...(John 3:16)....

(St. Thomas' Commentary on Galatians)

A lot more can be said on that topic, but I highly recommend giving Aquinas' commentary on Sacred Scripture a good read. He is very capable of weaving other passages of scripture together and offering synonymous phrases to help us understand its meaning.

As regard the primacy of the will versus the intellect, Aquinas seems to clearly suggest that it is better to love God than to know Him, so in this sense, the intellectual appetite (will) is greater than the intellect, in relationship to beholding God. This makes sense, to me and is a good nuance.

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Thanks Fr. Chris,

I do have Thomas' commentary on Galatians in which I did look up when asking this question, which is why I asked the general question about Salvation History. You write quoting Thomas, " the other is taken from the role of the one coming: for since a physician was to come, it was fitting that before his coming, men should be keenly aware of their infirmity, both as to their lack of knowledge during the Law of nature and as to their lack of virtue during the written Law. Therefore it was fitting that both, namely, the Law of nature and the written Law, precede the coming of Christ."

And also, "Also because of the fulfillment of the figures of the Old Law: 'I am not come to destroy but to fulfill' (Mt. 5:17). And because of the fulfillment of the promises: 'And he shall confirm the covenant with many, in one week' (Dan. 9:27)."

The narrative of Salvation History and the law seems intertwined with the coming of Christ and in the context of Galatians 3 being enslaved to the law. I suppose from Andrew's comment is arriving whether the point is primary vs. ancillary within the metaphysical understanding in theology.

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Thanks, I catch your point with the Augustinian/Franciscan connection with Bonaventure and Henry of Ghent, they are who I am most familiar with within the scope of Theology.

On the topic of exegesis, of course, naturally, there is going to be some tension especially with different books and even letters written by the same authors, you make a beautiful illustration with the doctrine of the Immaculate Conception. Naturally, the exegete in their analysis of the text needs to take a contextual examination of the proposed periscope, which more or less we can articulate some understanding that Galatians is written earlier than Romans and after First Thessalonians, which could lead to Romans having some pedagogical development in the text from St. Paul.

The text being a letter, we cannot know some of the occasions of the letter because we do not know the conversation on the other side from the readers (the church of Galatia), so the best aspect is to do a detailed analysis on the text itself with terms and phrases like "in the fullness of time." The periscope cannot be tweeted in a vacuum, but I'd like to treat it within the text itself and perhaps that can lead to more of a development of understanding the text, St. Paul, and Duns Scotus.

In Chapter 3 of Galatians, St Paul writes, (vv. 24-26)

So then, the law was our guardian until Christ came, in order that we might be justified by faith. But now that faith has come, we are no longer under a guardian, for in Christ Jesus you are all sons of God, through faith.

The interpretation of the Gal 4:4 must be read under this previous periscope. St. Thomas Aquinas in his commentary on Galatians and his treatment of (4:4) quotes this above particular passage. Aquinas refers to the law, which is referenced in Gal 4., as an element in which serves as training (under the law) for when Christ arrived.

I suppose my hang-up with Scotus on this topic is what I see is minimizing of Salvation History--the narrative theology, which you and I have discussed, so I must be not understanding Scotus correctly, can you help clarify for me?

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Ah, now I see where the problem lies! Put simply, it is the problem of the relationship between metaphysics and salvation history. Interestingly enough, this has become a widely debated topic in both Catholic and Protestant circles (cf. on the Catholic side, Joseph Ratzinger’s Principles of Catholic Theology and The Theology of History in St. Bonaventure).

I will restrain myself from giving a long response to this problem, but just know that in order to address it properly and adequately it would require a series of articles, perhaps even a book lol.

Briefly though, in a Scotistic mind-set, metaphysics has a priority or preeminence over salvation history. In other words, salvation history is encased within metaphysics (or meta-history), not the other way around. The theological understanding of history must always begin with predestination, viz., with an understanding of the divine counsels or the signs of the divine will (signa voluntatis divinae), not destination. Thus, the interpretation or hermeneutics of history, sin and redemption is only possible by beginning from above, desuper, in terms of a series essentialiter ordinata (a series essentially ordered), viz., an order first determined in the mind of God. An interpretation beginning from below, in terms of a series accidentaliter ordinata (a series accidentally ordered), viz., an order first determined by mere temporal succession, will always fall short of the full reality or meaning of the signs of the divine will.

It is the secular mind-set that locates the speculative center of theology in a series accidentally ordered. In such a mind-set, the meaning of types, symbols and experience can only be determined in reference to time. The Incarnation comes after the fall (historically or chronologically); therefore, redemption from sin is its primary motivation.

Scotus, however, will say just the opposite. He locates the speculative center of theology in a series essentially ordered. According to this mind-set, the meaning of types, symbols and experience are to be determined first in reference to the signs of the divine will, not time. The Incarnation is the first of the signs of the divine will (first in intention), but comes later in history (last in execution, where last means precisely the “fullness of time,” the end of history in the middle of history because with the Incarnation history has reached its “metaphysical”’ culmination, purpose or end) viz., after the fall. In the first instance, then, the understanding of the Incarnation cannot be determined in reference to time, viz., with the fact that it occurs historically after the fall, but rather in reference to the signs of the divine will. It is only there that we can understand its inner ratio, its inner intelligibility and meaning. Thus, Scotus is by no means minimizing salvation history; on the contrary, he is saving it from being misinterpreted.

Another way of looking at this is in reference to the senses of Scripture: the literal and spiritual sense. For Scotus, the literal sense (salvation history) is contained within the spiritual sense (metaphysics, or better theological metaphysics based on typology), not the other way around. The literal sense itself is determined by the spiritual sense, which is the reason why it is typological in character. There could be no types and anti-types if the literal sense was not determined in this way, viz., if the signs and symbols of Scripture were not further signified by God. The secular mind-set, on the other hand, either dismisses the spiritual sense a priori or at least subordinates it to the literal sense. This is a big mistake.

Much of this response is a summarization of the thought of Fr. Peter M. Fehlner, OFM Conv., to whom I am indebted for much of my own theological thought.

Works Referenced

Fr. Peter M. Fehlner, FI (later OFM Conv.), I Am the Immaculate Conception, Redemption and Coredemption, Recirculation and Recapitulation in the Light of Metaphysics: Bonaventurian Exemplarism and Scotistic Univocity, accessed online via Google Drive.

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Hi Andrew, thanks for the clarification. Im very interested in the debate between the primacy of the will vs the intellect and would love to discuss this more with you sometime. Your response did somewhat address my question, but in some ways it seems it has just been pushed back another step. If the Incarnation is tied to the Immaculate Conception, then is Mary’s birth in the World not intended by God at a specific moment in history? Does not Mary’s birth get tied to the birth of her parents, and then their parents and so on? I don’t see how the immaculate conception could be intended by God apart from the particulars of history, unless we were going to say Mary could have been born at any point in history to different parents than she was. That brings up a lot of metaphysical and identity questions though and I guess my question to you would be is that how you look at it? Could Mary have been born at any point in history to different parents since God’s intended the Incarnation and Immaculate Conception apart from the considerations of history and whether Man would sin?

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Dec 29, 2021·edited Dec 29, 2021Author

Hi Nate, thanks for your questions. The debate over the primacy of the will vs. the intellect is an interesting one. I've studied it at length, as it is important for understanding some of the differences between the Thomistic and Franciscan schools of thought. I'd be happy to discuss it with you sometime.

Returning to the topic at hand, I am not intending to say that Mary's birth in the world was not ordained by God at a specific moment in history, specifically the "fullness of time." Rather, I am saying that it is God's providential ordering of history (based on the ordering of his decrees) that makes that specific moment in history the right time. Nothing on the side of history can necessitate that specific moment in history being the right time.

This is why Scotus distinguishes between necessary theology (theologia necessaria) and contingent theology (theologia contingentibus). Necessary theology treats of God in Himself, viz., ad intra, whereas contingent theology treats of God's establishment of the economy of salvation ad extra. Everything that pertains to contingent theology (i.e. creation, redemption, incarnation, immaculate conception, etc.) is dependent upon the divine will.

All of contingent theology is rooted in the decrees of the divine will, which are themselves contingent. Since they are contingent, they could not have been or they could have been otherwise. Nothing, for instance, necessitates that God create the world the way he did, nor does anything necessitate that God must become man. Similarly, nothing necessitates that Mary be born of Joachim and Anne; she could have been born of different parents. Every contingent of history, including the future existence of creaturely decisions (though this is another question which I will not go into), are dependent upon the divine will. If this were not the case, then God would not be independent, but rather dependent upon some fixed necessary order which he would then conform his divine will to.

Furthermore, for Scotus, the possibility of the finite, even in the mind of God, that is, its intelligibility, is not determined by natural necessity, but only by the fittingness or rationality or order which it enjoys among the intentions of the divine will as such. It is the divine will that establishes an order or logic among each of the finite possibles. The ideas of the created possibles are not located in some kind of fixed types prior to any predestinating signs in the divine will, for this would make the divine will dependent on something not God.

Remember, the Immaculate Conception is first of all a divine decree, prior to its historical realization. All I am trying to do here is present things in a certain order: first, the divine decrees; second, their historical realization. The divine decrees are not dependent on some fixed future history that God merely foreknows; rather, the divine decrees establish that history in the first place. If God does not decree Joachim and Anne to exist, then they do not exist. They have no existence apart from the divine will. Otherwise, they pre-exist God in some way.

Hopefully this response is of some help to you. It is not as organized as I would have liked. Also, I may not have directly answered your questions. If not, I do apologize.

God bless!

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