The Ways to Wisdom
Aquinas Day By Day


Aquinas’s topic: Logic of concepts: the nine accidental categories [predicamenta]

Scripture:  “You spread the table before me in the sight of my foes; you anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows. Only goodness and kindness follow me all the days of my life; and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord forever.”  Psalm 23

Aquinas’s text:  Scripta in Sententiis Bk. 1, d. 8.4.3c, written 1252-6

In this early text, Br. Thomas takes up the relation between God and the ten categories.  In the previous article he concluded that God is not in the category of substance, here he asks “Are the other categories said of God?”  In order to answer this question he draws a sketch of the fundamental nature of the nine accidents. 

Aquinas’s response:

Whatever is found in creatures, when predicated of God is predicated by way of perfection, as Dionysius says.  This is also true for all other causes and things caused.  It is necessary that all imperfection be removed from what is involved in predications about God.  Now in each of the nine categories I find two features:  the notion of accident and the proper notion of that genus, such as quantity or quality.  Now the notion of accident includes imperfection; because the existence of an accident is to “exist in” and to “depend on” and consequently produces a composition with its subject. Therefore, under the aspect of accident nothing can be predicated of God. And if we consider the proper notion of any genus, each of the other genera, other than relation, implies imperfection.  For quantity possesses its proper nature in relation to its subject, since quantity is the measure of a substance, quality is a disposition of a substance, and the same thing is clearly true for all the other categories.  Therefore, the notion of genus is removed from predication about God for the same reason that the notion of accident was removed.  But if we consider their species, then some species, under the differences that complete them, imply some sort of perfection, for example, knowledge, virtue, and things like this.  Therefore, these are predicated of God, following the proper notion of their species but not the notion of their genus.  But “relation,” even as a genus, does not imply some dependency on its subject, but refers to something outside it.  Therefore, relation is found in God, even as a genus.  For this reason, there are only two modes of predication about God, namely, that based on substance and that based on relation.  For a mode of predication is not based on a species contained under a genus, but on the genus.

[Introductions and translations © R.E. Houser]

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