ND   JMC : History of Medieval Philosophy / by Maurice De Wulf

329. Matter and Form. -- Here Scotus openly appeals to the authority of Avicebron (221), whom he took to be a Christian philosopher.{1} He teaches, firstly, that all contingent beings are composed of matter and form; and he thus refers to its true source this theory, which his predecessors had fathered upon St. Augustine: in this he is at one with St. Thomas (255 and 286).

Scotus next distinguishes three kinds of primary matter: "materia primo prima, secundo prima, tertio prima". Materia primo prima is the indeterminate element of contingent things, apart from union with any form. Devoid of all determinateness, it has nevertheless reality, in so far as it constitutes the term of God's creative activity. Matter does not exist in Nature in this initial state of absolute indeterminateness -- as materia primo prima -- but God's omnipotence could call it into separate existence. By its first union with a substantial form, matter appears endowed with the attributes of quantity: as materia secundo prima. Subject now to the substantial changes of Nature it corresponds with what St. Thomas calls materia prima simply.{2} Materia tertio prima, which serves as basis for accidental changes, is of minor importance, corresponding to the materia secunda of Thomism.

This materia primo prima gives the system of Scotus a marked individuality, for it is a something endowed with a real{3} unity. Spiritual and corporeal substances thus possess not merely a homogeneous common element; a veritable community of essence envelops them all. In this sense it may be said that all contingent things share in a common element into which they plunge their roots, notwithstanding the individual differences between them.{4} God, Infinite Actuality, on the one hand, on the other a created universe, knit with essential unity deep down in the very foundations of its contingency:{5} such is the philosophical expression of that mysterious bond of union between all creatures, from which the sweet and tender effusions of St. Francis of Assisi derived their inspiration. The materia primo prima became, later on, a favourite target for Thomists in their attacks on the great rival system of metaphysics.

Scotus likewise extended the notion of form. Every substantial form is a principle of intrinsic determination, but not necessarily of complete determination, of its matter. After a form has spent all its perfection on given matter, the compound so formed can in turn serve as potency or matter for an ulterior substantial form from which it will receive a higher mode of being. We have thus a whole hierarchy of determining principles, from generic and specific forms down to the individual form itself which is the last and highest, and which gives the being its final perfection.{6}

{1} He knew no other Jewish philosophers than Avicebron and Maimonides. Avicebron's influence reveals itself chiefly in the De Rerum Principio (GUTTMANN, op. cit. (229), pp. 159 sqq.).

{2} De Rer. Principio, q. 8, art. 3, 19, p. 51: "Voco materiam prima primam subjectam quamdam partem compositi habentem actum de se omnino indeterminatum . . . sed ilIum actum habet a Deo efficiente; actum vera talem vel talem, habet a forma per quam et cum qua subsistit in composito. . . . Dicitur autem materia secundo prima, quae est subjectum generationis et corruptionis quam mutant et transmutant agentia creata."

{3} Not a numerical unity; see recent study of P. PARTHENIUS MINGES, Der angebliche exzessive Realismus, pp. 16 sqq.

{4} De Rer. Principio, q. 8, art. 4, p. 52 sqq.: "Ego autem ad positionem Avicembronis redeo, et primam partem, scilicet quod in omnibus creatis per se subsistentibus tam corporalibus quam spiritualibus sit materia, teneo". Again, "Si ergo quaestio quaeret an omnia habentia materiam habeant unigeneam, vel univoce participant materiam, loquendo de materia imo ima quae est in omnibus, dico quod sic".

{5} Ibid.: "Ex his apparet, quod mundus est arbor quaedam pulcherrima, cujus radix et seminarium est materia prima, folia fluentia sint accidentia; frondes et rami sunt creata corruptibilia, flos anima rationalis; fructus naturae consimilis et perfectionis natura angelica. Unicus autem hoc seminarium dirigens et formans a principio est manus Dei, aut immediate . . . aut mediantibus agentibus creatis."

{6} De Rer. Principio, q. 8, art. 4, 28, p. 53 b: "Nunc autem in tota apere naturae et artis etiam ordinem hunc videmus, quod omnis forma sive plurificatia semper est de imperfecta et indeterminato ad perfectum et determinatum. . . ."

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