JMC : The Physical System of St. Thomas / by G.M. Cornoldi, S.J.



THIS principle of St. Thomas's school is high importance and pregnant with the most momentous consequences. The scientists and philosophers of the modern sort do not even deign to notice it, but set it aside as an antiquated axiom of Peripatetic philosophy: and therefore they often fall into gross errors. Here we must remark that by the word movetur we mean, not only all bodies that are in local motion, but also every being whatsoever that by its motion, whatever it may be, passes from a potential to an actual state: for, as we have said, every change is motion.

In fact, when anything passes from potential being to actual being, its actual being is contingent, and might not have been. It therefore is a thing begun, an effect. But anything begun must have in its principle a sufficient reason of its being, as every effect has in its cause. This act therefore cannot have in itself the reason of its being, because if it could, the act, which as yet is not, would be its own cause. But that is impossible: therefore the cause of the act must be sought outside the act. That which moves the acting thing from being potential to being actual is hoc ipso not in potentia but in actu. But, if this mover were first potentially so, and then actually, it would hoc ipso require a sufficient reason of its own act, prior to that act in time, or at least in nature. This therefore can be repeated each time; and unless we stop at one that moves without passing from the potential to the actual, we shall have to admit an infinite series of movers and moved, because all these movers were potential before they were actual. But this infinite series is nonsense; firstly, because it would constitute in the concrete an infinite number, which is intrinsically absurd, and secondly because the whole series would be a thing reasoned on without a sufficient reason, and an effect without a cause. Therefore we must admit the existence of a First Mover Who is immoveable, i.e. immutable.

This is the Aristotelian argument by which we may rise to a knowledge of God, the Infinite, Necessary and therefore Immoveable or Immutable Being, Whose most beautiful definition, Actus Purus, given by Aristotle, was indicated by God Himself to Moses in the words, Ego sum qui sum, thereby excluding all potentiality; because that which is in potentia to be, cannot be said to BE, simpliciter, but will be what it will be by passing from potentially being to being actually.

If we consider existing things, we find that all are mutable because they are contingent, and therefore that all of them, in order to pass from potentially being to actually being, need to be moved by God, the Immoveable First Mover.

But created things, it may be said, are animate and inanimate. Inanimate things, that cannot move themselves, evidently, as you say, depend on something else to be moved or changed by: and unless we go on ad infinitum with a fantastic series of movers and moved, we must come at last to a supreme immoveable Mover, who is God. But living creatures move themselves, and therefore do not require to be moved by another, having in themselves the principle of their motion.

But we say in reply that a living creature does not move itself secundum se totum. One part moves the other, or one faculty is moved by another. Hence in the living creature there is the moved and there is the mover. But how about that which in the living creature is the mover? Is that immoveable? Or is it first a mover in potentia and then an actual mover? Evidently the latter; and therefore the motion of living creatures is primarily caused by the Immoveable First Mover, God.

God moves everything according to its nature. Irrational things He moves by determining them to particular objects; either because they are quite without knowledge, or because they have only a sensitive knowledge of particulars. In these therefore God determines the potentia to the act. Moreover He moves, and by causing determines, the will of rational creatures to the good which is their specific object, and which the intellect knows in the Universal, The will therefore cannot in its acts tend otherwise than to that which has in itself some reason of being good in a universal sense. Now since Almighty God, by causing, determines the will to the universal ratio of Good, the will would in fact be quite determined by God, if the object that adequately and fully contains the universal ratio of the Good were manifested to the intellect; but when the object manifested to the intellect presents a limited participation of Good, the will is not then determined by Him. It then is free. It may either not choose the particular good, or (inasmuch as it is not determined by God to that limitation of Good which it knows in the particular) it may determine itself to Choose that limitation of good. Therefore, when the will chooses a finite bonum, it must always be said to have been moved by God, because moved it was by Him to the Universal Bonum without determination to the particular. We must observe, however, that since the will can never, in its acts, go beyond its own specific object, which is the Good to which it is determined by God, it never can reject a particular good as a good, but only as limited and therefore deprived of greater good; thus by reason of this privation, being an evil, and therefore not within the sphere of its formal and specific object, which is the Good. In rejecting evil, the will inclines to its contrary -- good, whereto it is moved by God, Who, as its Mover, inclines it always to the Good, which more or less is to be found in every particular obj ect whatsoever. When a man sins, he wills the sin by reason of its being an apparent good, which he apprehends therein ; and God moves him to this ratio of good, while the disordered will freely wills the bad object that participates of it. Thus it is that God, as the first Immoveable Mover, moves and determines the will to its specific object -- the universal Good, apprehended in every particular obj ect, -- but does not determine it to sin.

From this we can see that, although the inclination or motion towards the Universal Good never can be repudiated by the will, because without that it cannot will anything, nevertheless this inclination and motion is not in fact necessitated or determined at the presence of any finite good, (as it is at the presence of the Infinite Good, in which the whole ratio of good is contained,) but is in proportion to that limited ratio of good which the particular object presents. Therefore the Angelic Doctor writes as follows He says firstly Deus movet voluntatem hominis, sicut universalis motor, ad universale objectum voluntatis, quod est bonum; et sine hoc universali motione homo non potest aliquid velle, sed homo per rationem determinat se ad volendum hoc, vel illud, quod est vere bonum, vel apparens bonum.{1} This motion cannot be called universal except so far as it regards all the motions that God gives to all the singular acts. The universal bonum is the ratio boni to which the will must tend in every particular act. By sine hoc, &c., he points out, not that it must precede in time every act whatsoever of the will, but that it necessarily is to be found in every act of the will. Determinat se, &c., &c., means, that with this in sensu composto, Divine motion moving it, the will determines itself to each particular bonum, and therefore that the Divine Motion is not the determinator.

In the Quaestiones Disputatae{2} St. Thomas expresses the same conception thus: Natura rationalis, quae est Deo vicinissima, non solum habet inclinationem in aliquid sicut habent inanimata, nec solum movens hanc inclinationem quasi aliunde eis determinatam, sicut natura sensibilis; sed ultra hoc habet in potestate ipsam inclinationem, ut non sit ei necessarium inclinari ad appetibile apprehensum, SED POSSIT INCLINARI VEL NON INCLINARI; et sic ipsa inclinatio NON DETERMINATUR ei AB ALIO, SED A SEIPSA. This means that when the intellect apprehends a particular and sees in it a ratio boni, (to which God moves us, the ratio boni being the formal and specific object of the will,) then the will is inclined thereby to the participated good in the particular object; but such inclining does not determine the will to the said particular object. The intellect may think of something else that has some ratio boni, and experiencing in the will the Divine inclining, choose the same: or it may think of other things.

Hence, on this most important point, St. Thomas tells us that, when the will is in potentia to act, i.e. is not acting, it cannot be moved by itself alone. God, the First immoveable Mover, moves it, not as He moves irrational beings, but, as its rational nature requires, determining it to its universal or formal object, the Good, i.e. the ratio boni; but not determining it to those finite participations of Good, or of the ratio boni, which are found in particulars.

After this exposition of the great principle that quod movetur, i.e., what passes from the potential to the actual, ab alio movetur, and that the primum movens, i.e. God, est immobile, we can appreciate that wonderful saying of the Angelic Doctor, that all created nature is the instrument of God. Instrumentum enim est causa quodammodo effectus principalis causae, non per formam vel virtutem propriam, sed in quantum participat aliquid de virtute principalis causae per motum ejus, sicut dolabra non est causa rei artificiatae per formam vel virtutem propriam, sed per virtu tern artificis a quo movetur et eam quo quomodo participat.{3} But though the principal cause moves the instrumental, the latter does something in accordance with its own nature. Nisi res naturales aliquid agerent, frustra essent eis formae et virtutes naturales collatae; sicut si cultellus non incideret, frustra haberet acumen.{4}

While showing that all creatures are instruments of God, though they operate according to their own virtues, we must carefully consider how God operates in all things and applies them to their operations. St. Thomas, with an angelic penetration, teaches us that God is the cause of all Being, and that creatures determine the mode of the Divine Causality. Secundum ordinem causarum, he says, est ordo effectuum. Primum autem in omnibus effectibus est esse; nam omnia alia sunt determinationes ipsius. Igitur esse est proprius effectus primi agentis, et omnia alia agunt ipsum in quantum agunt in virtute primi agentis; secunda autem agentia, quae sunt quasi particulantia et determinantia actionem primi agentis, agunt sicut proprios effectus alias perfectiones quae determinant esse.{5} The attributes of Being are the True and the Good: and because omne ens est verum, et omne esse est bonum, these are the two transcendental attributes of Being. Hence when any intellect tends to the true, that tendency is the effect of the first Mover, God, and is particularized and determined by the intellect embracing this or that truth: and when any appetite -- intellective, sensitive, or natural -- tends to the Good, this tendency will be an effect of the first Agent, God, which is particularized and determined to this or that bonum. The first Mover will always be the immediate cause of the tendency to Being, which is true and good. Therefore, while the secondary agent particularizes and determines that tendency, God applies it to the True and the Good.

But this particularizing or determining will be necessary in some cases, free in others. When the particularizing must be one, it will be necessary. When it may be manifold, it will not be necessary. If the form with which the object is apprehended is of one particular object only, there cannot be a choice of more: and therefore there is a necessary actuation to that particular object whereto the First Mover moves it: but if the form by which the object is presented is the Bonum Universale, clearly the agent cannot be necessitated to a particular bonum, because that form may answer to an indefinite number of things. Now, whenever a man uses his reason, a corporeal singular bonum is presented in sense or in imagination. But then, together with that, the reason of the Universal Bonum is apprehended by the intellect, because the singular is known indirectly by a sort of reflection, and in it is known a limited participation of Good universally, of which the intellect has the idea. Therefore, since the will follows the intellect, which would be determined per se and necessitated, if the total ratio boni were presented in the concrete bonum, the will must remain not determined, but free, -- free to determine itself to any object whatsoever that may present itself as having some participation of Good.

Therefore, as the fact that God is the Infinite Being and the First Being does not exclude created beings, who participate of Being, from existing in their singularity, neither does the fact of His being the first and universal Cause prevent the existence of secondary causes diversely participating of the first and universal Causality. Hence in a recent work, Concordia tra la libertà e la divina motione, the author, following St. Thomas, laid down the Divine Moving towards the Universal Bonum as the specific and universal object of the human will; and he proved that the will freely particularizes and determines the Divine motion itself to particular objects or bona, so that the tendency impressed by God to the Universal ratio boni is the same tendency with which the will freely determines itself to the participated ratio, limited to the particular object. St. Thomas, as the above-quoted author shows, admits that God may also move us in a particular manner to a particular bonum: but this is an exception. God does not, in that case, act as Motor Universalis.{6} This much, I think, is sufficient in explanation of the principle that whatever is moved is moved by something else, and that the first Mover is immoveable. Against this demonstration we have not as yet heard any important objection.

{1} 18 2ae Q. ix. a. 6 ad 8.

{2} Q. xxii. De Veritate, De appetitu boni et voluntate, a. 4.

{3} Quaest. Disp. iii., De Pot., a. 9.

{4} Ibid.

{5} Contra Gent., iii. 66.

{6} Giovanni Maria Cornoldi, S.J., Quale secondo San Tommaso, sia la concordia della Mozione Divina colla libertà umana. Roma, 1890.

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