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

359. Vestiges of Averroïsm. -- It is evident from the ideology of Bacon and Marston that the discussions on the active intellect had given rise to an equivocal terminology in the schools, since for some this meant a faculty of the soul, for others God Himself, for the Averroïsts an independent substance. Even in scholastic circles, where the active intellect was regarded as a faculty of the soul, pars animae, concessions were made to the formulas of Averroïsm, though not to its doctrine. As an illustration of this we may refer to two texts from St. Thomas, which have often been interpreted in a wrong and unfavourable sense. The first is from an article in the Summa Theologica,{1} where the doctrinal question "utrum intellectus agens sit aliquid animae" is plainly proposed and no less plainly answered: "respondeo dicendum quod intellectus agens de quo Philosophus loquitur, est aliquid animae". Which does not prevent us, continues St. Thomas in answer to a difficulty drawn from texts of Aristotle, from calling God, as First Cause, the intellectus agens of our souls. But he takes care to add that we are also endowed with created active intellects, the work of the Increated active intellect. For otherwise man alone would be an exception to the law that contingent beings carry within them the principle of their activities.{2} The thought of the Angelic Doctor is perfectly clear: only prejudice could lead to a misconstruction of it.

The second text, occurring in the Commentary on Book II. of the Sentences,{3} refers to an attempted adaptation of the same formula to a point in theology. Having remarked that most philosophers after Aristotle agree in recognizing a substantial distinction between the active and the possible intellects, and make supreme happiness consist in the union of man with the active intellect, St. Thomas adds: "Quidam catholici doctores, corrigentes hanc opinionem et partim sequentes, satis probabiliter posuerunt ipsum Deum esse intellectum agentem; quia per applicationem ad ipsum anima nostra beata est". The latter words and the whole context show that there is question here of the supernatural order. These theologians call God the intellectus agens, inasmuch as the possession of Him by the understanding constitutes beatitude. In the natural order God is not the intellectus agens of our souls. St. Thomas takes care to demonstrate this, in the same article, lest he should be misunderstood. And he concludes with these words: "Et ideo, remotis omnibus praedictis erroribus, dico . . . intellectum possibilem . . . in diversis diversum esse, et multiplicari secundum divisionem materiae in diversis individuis . . . et superaddo etiam intellectum agentem esse in diversis diversum".{4}

{1} Pars Ia, q. 79, a. 4.

{2} "Nulla autem actio convenit alicui rei, nisi per aliquod principium ei inhaerens. . . . Ergo oportet virtutem quae est principium hujus actionis (scil. facere actu intelligibilia) esse aliquid in anima."

{3} Dist. 17, q. 2, art. 1, in c.

{4} Has Père Delorme (op. cit., p. 12) not read this passage? How can he invoke St. Thomas in support of Bacon's ideology? Cf. 352, n. 3.

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