JMC : On Universals / by Matteo Liberatore, S.J.

Chapter II.



7. A Universal, by the fact of its expressing an essence, implies absolute necessity, because an essence, as such, cannot be other than what it is. Man cannot be other than a rational animal, nor can a triangle not have three angles and three sides. it is their existence only that is contingent. A man may not exist; but if he does exist, he cannot exist otherwise than as a man.{1} The reason why essences are immutable is this: They are copies of the Divine archetypes; and a copy, as such, must be in conformity with the model. Before essences could be mutable, one or other of two absurdities must take place. Either the Divine archetypes must change, or created things, while continuing to exist, must cease to he imitations of them. Both hypotheses are absurd.

About this there is no dispute between us and Monsignor F***, except that he denies the necessity of real essences, by supposing essence and existence to be the same. "If the essences," he says, "prescinded from their own existence, they would not exist: they would be nothing."{2}

Here there is a twofold confusion. In the first place, he assumes that prescinding from a thing is the same as not having it. This is not true. Man, as man, prescinds from being well or ill nevertheless a man must be either well or ill. Again, taking existence for an example, certain it is that we can think of the sun's essence without thinking of its existence; yet we certainly should not thereby annihilate the sun. The essence is that which is expressed by the definition, and the definition of a thing prescinds of itself from the existence of it. Hence St. Thomas teaches that Omnis essentia vel quidditas intelligi potest, sine hoc quod aliquid intelligatur de esse suo facto. Possum enim intelligere quid est homo vel phoenix, et tamen ignorare an esse habeant in rerum natura. Ergo patet quod esse est aliud ab essentia vel quidditate: nisi forte sit aliquo res cujus quidditas sit suum esse; et haec res non potest esse nisi una et prima; quia impossibile est ut fiat plurificatio alicujus, nisi per additionem alicujus differentiae.{3}

And this leads us to consider Monsignor F*** assertion, that if the existence of the essence were taken away, the essence would be nothing. Therein lies the second confusion. Certainly, if the essence were taken away, not by simple abstraction but by positive removal, there would be no essence left; but that would be as verified in rerum natura, not as a quiddity conceived. If I think of some other world that does not exist, the abject thought of is unquestionably nothing as to its real being; and yet it is not absolutely nothing, because, when I think of it, I am thinking of something, not of nothing. Let us not forget that existence is twofold -- real in itself, ideal in the mind. But Monsignor F*** had to confuse them, in order to make out that Essences, by the mere fact of being essences, have a true existence outside the mind and apart from real subsistence.

8. ETERNITY. Time expresses duration, and so does Eternity. Duration belongs to existence, for it is nothing more than perseverance in existing. Therefore duration differs according to the diversity of existence. A mutable existence endures mutably; and this mutable duration we call Time. An existence quite free from mutation endures invariably: and this invariable duration is called Eternity. A universal, i.e. an essence abstractly conceived, not having, as such, an existence of its own, cannot be said to be either temporal or eternal. Subjectively considered, it may be said to be both the one and the other, according to the quality of the mind in which it subsists. Thus it may he called eternal, as being in the mind of God, and temporal as being in the mind of man. Objectively, the universal, inasmuch as the understood essence is considered absolutely, may be called eternal negatively, i.e. by abstraction from all determinate time. St. Thomas' teaching about that is unmistakable. "That a thing," he says, "is everywhere and always, may be understood in two ways. One way is, that it has in itself that by which it extends itself to all time (positive eternity) and to every place, as it is proper to God to be everywhere and always. The other way is, that it has not in itself anything to determine it to a given place and a given time (negative eternity); as materia prima is said to be one, not by having one form, as man is one by the unity of his form, but by not having any distinguishing form. And, in this way, every universal is said to be everywhere and always, inasmuch as universals prescind from place and time."{4} Again, he says, "Universals are said to be everywhere and always, by a taking away (per remotionem -- and remotio is to St. Thomas synonymous with negation,) rather than by position; for it is said to be everywhere and always, not as being in every place and at all times, but as abstracting from that which determines place and time."{5} Could the holy Doctor have expressed himself more clearly?

And yet (so great is the force of prejudice) Monsignor F***, while declaring that he wishes to follow St. Thomas in this, persists in maintaining that the eternity of Universals is positive. "Universals," he says, "are eternal, not only as known ab aeterno by God, but also in themselves.{6} And, because I had brought against the Rosminian Theory the above-quoted passages,{7} he, in reply, tries to interpret them in a curious way. As to the first, he says that St. Thomas does not affirm the eternity of universals to be negative, but only that they prescind from all determination of time. Now the holy Doctor said, not only that universals prescind from determinations of time, but also that per hunc modum universale dicitur esse ubique et semper, IN QUANTUM universalia abstrahuntur ab hic et nunc and this IN QUANTUM expresses the reason why the perpetuity of which he is speaking is proper to universals. Monsignor F*** adds that I must have been aware of this passage not proving anything, because I added a second. Surely it has yet to be shown that henceforth a whole demonstration is to be upset by having in it two arguments or two evidences: for if the fact of bringing forward a second authority or a second argument shows that the first proves nothing, the fact of bringing forward the first would show that the second proves nothing. And so, for the future, we should always have to prove a thesis by one argument only, and confirm it by only one authority. But let us pass on to see what his judgment about the second passage is.

Wishing (he says) to seek it at the source, he there found that St. Thomas adds et praeterea universalia non sunt subsistentia. In this he supposes himself to have found support, when, on the contrary, he ought to have seen that it deals another blow at his system.

"Subsistens," according to St. Thomas, is the same as "in se existens;" and therefore St. Thomas, by denying that Universals sunt subsistentia, denies their existing in se -- denies their existing separate from the mind and separate from singulars: which is diametrically opposite to the Rosminian Theory. In these words we have another argument against the positive eternity of Universals, inasmuch as the holy Doctor shews therein that not having an existence of their own (non sunt subsistentia), they cannot have a duration of their own, but only that of the subject in which they exist. If the subject is temporal, as the human mind is, their existence is temporal. If the subject is eternal, their existence is eternal. This eternal subject is no other than the Divine Intellect; and therefore in the Divine Intellect only are universals eternal. Quia solus intellectus divinus est aeternus, in ipso solo veritas aeternitatem habet.{8} If in ipso solo, therefore not elsewhere, and therefore not in itself.

Hence Monsignor F***'s argument, that "in order to admit this negative eternity of Universals, we must also attribute to the same universals a negative existence,"{9} falls to the ground. We need only not attribute to them any existence of their own, and attribute to them a purely ideal existence, i.e. an existence not in themselves, but in the mind that conceives them. That mind ab aeterno is the Divine mind, which conceived them in regarding the Divine Essence as imitable. Our minds are in time, and conceive universals by abstraction from created beings, which are real imitations of the Divine archetypes

9. UNITY. Monsignor F***, intent on magnifying Universals, gives them a Unity of their own, as he had given them an existence of their own. "Every universal," he says, "is one in itself."{10} This is coming back to the Platonic ideas; and it follows naturally, because unum et ens convertuntur. That which has existence in itself has unity in itself.

But to make St. Thomas an accomplice, and represent him as what he is not, is a different affair. To attain this end Monsignor F*** takes a passage that treats of something else, and applies it to the case in question. St. Thomas, to prove the Unity of God, uses the following argument among others: -- Esse abstractum est unum tantum; ut albedo, si esset abstracta, esset una tantum. Sed Deus est ipsum esse abstractum, quum sit suum esse. Impossibile est igitur esse nisi unum Deum.{11} That St. Thomas is here speaking of the real order, and that he takes abstractions to mean separatum and subsisting in itself, is quite clear. The minor alone would show this; for it says, Sed Deus est ipsum esse abstractum. He tells us then, that what really exists in itself, separated from any subject, must be one, because no form is multiplied otherwise than by reason of the multiplied subjects. Thus, for instance, whiteness is manifold, because the subjects in which it inheres are many: but it would be one, if it existed separate, abstracta, in itself. Now what has this to do with Universals which, as such in actu, have an ideal existence only, and therefore cannot have a Unity of their own, but only in the mental concept? Nay St. Thomas denies the unity, as he denies the multiplicity of what is contained in Universals -- i.e. of the essence regarded absolutely. "Si quaeratur," he says, "utrum ista natura (for instance humanity, considered per se) possit dici una vel plures, neutrum concedendum est; quia utrumque est extra intellectum humanitatis, et utrumque potest sibi accidere. Si enim pluralites esset de ratione ejus, nunquam posset esse una; cum tamen una sit secundum quod est in Socrate. Similiter, si unitas esset de intellectu et ratione ejus, tunc esset una et eadem natura Socratis et Platonis, nec posset in pluribus plurificari.{12}

The word, the mental concept that we form when we conceive a universal, is one -- for instance, animal rationale, if we mean man, or vivens sensitivum, if we mean animal; but in the nature thus abstractly apprehended we do not conceive either unity or multiplicity. We prescind from both the one and the other and only conceive the constituent characteristics of the essence.

{1} Contingentia dupliciter possunt considerari: uno modo, secundum quod contingentia sunt; alio modo, secundum quod in eis aliquid necessitatis invenitur. Nihil enim est adeo contingens, quin in se aliquid necessitatis habeat. Summa, p. 1, Q. lxxxvi. a. 3. This necessity in creatures is, however, always imparted. Quaedam necessaria habent causam suae necessitatis; et sic hoc ipsum quod impossibile est ea aliter se habere, habent ab alio. Summa, 1a 2ae Q. xciii. a. 4 ad 4.

{2} Vol. 1, p. 62.

{3} Opusc. De Ente et Essentia, c. v.

{4} Aliquid esse semper et ubique potest intelligi duplicitor. Uno modo, quia habet in se unde se extendat ad omne tempus et ad omnem locum; sicut Deo competit esse ubique et semper. Alio modo, quia non habet in se quo determinetur ad aliquem locum vel tempus; sicut materia prima dicitur esse una, non quia habet unam formam, sicut homo est unus ab unitate unius formae, sed per remotionem omnium formarum distinguentium. Et per hunc modum quodlibet uuiversale dicitur esse ubique et semper, in quantum universalia abstrahuntur ab hic et nunc. Summa, p. 1, Q. xvi., a. 7 ad 2.

{5} Universale dicitur esse ubique et semper magis per remotionem quam per positionem. Non enim dicitur ubique esse et semper eo quod sit in omni loco et in omni tempore, sed quia abstrahit ab his quae determinant locum et tempus determinatum. Quodlib. xi., Q. 1, a. 1 ad 2.

{6} Vol. 1, p. 67. St. Thomas expressly says: -- Si nullus intellectus esset aeternus, nulla veritas esset aeterna. -- Summa, p. 1, Q. xvi., a. 7.

{7} Della Conoscenza Intellettuale, vol. ii., c. 8.

{8} Summa, p. 1, Q. xvi., a. 7. In the answer to the fourth objection, speaking of truth as uttered by us, which he calls temporaneous, he adds: Ante quam hujusmodi veritas esset, non erat verum dicere veritatem talem esse, nisi ab intellectu divino, in quo SOLUM veritas est aeterna.

{9} Vol. 1, p. 64.

{10} Vol. 1, p. 76.

{11} Contra Gentiles, lib. 1, c. 42.

{12} Opusc. De ente et essentia, c. 4.

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