The Ways to Wisdom
The Ways to Wisdom
Aquinas Day By Day


Aquinas’s topic:  Logic of judgment: composition and division

Scripture:  “It does not concern me in the least that I be judged by your or any human tribunal; I do not even pass judgment on myself; I am not conscious of anything against me, but I do not thereby stand acquitted; the one who judges me is the Lord.”  1 Cor 4: 3-4

Aquinas’s text:  Summa theologiae 1.58.4

Here Br. Thomas explains how angels know truth by comparing them with the way humans do so.  He took the phrase “composing and dividing” from Aristotle.

Aquinas’s question:  Do the angels understand by composing and dividing?

Aquinas’s response:

Just as when the intellect reasons the conclusion is compared with its principle, so when the intellect composes and divides, the predicate is compared with the subject. For if our intellect at once saw in the principle the truth of the conclusion, it would never understand discursively and by reasoning things out. Likewise, if out intellect at once in apprehending the quiddity of the subject had knowledge of all that can be attributed to the subject or removed from it, then it would never understand by composing and dividing, but only by understanding what it is.  Therefore, it is clear that it is for the very same reason that our intellect understands by discursively and also understands by composing and dividing, namely, for the reason that in the first apprehension of something newly apprehended it cannot at once see all that is virtually contained in it. This comes from the weakness of the intellectual light within us, as was said. Consequently, since in an angel there is perfect intellectual light, since it is a pure and clear mirror, as Dionysius [the Aeropagite] in On the Divine Names, it follows that as an angel does not understand by reasoning something through, so likewise it does not understand by composing and dividing.

Respondeo dicendum quod, sicut in intellectu ratiocinante comparatur conclusio ad principium, ita in intellectu componente et dividente comparatur praedicatum ad subiectum. Si enim intellectus statim in ipso principio videret conclusionis veritatem, nunquam intelligeret discurrendo vel ratiocinando. Similiter si intellectus statim in apprehensione quidditatis subiecti, haberet notitiam de omnibus quae possunt attribui subiecto vel removeri ab eo, nunquam intelligeret componendo et dividendo, sed solum intelligendo quod quid est. Sic igitur patet quod ex eodem provenit quod intellectus noster intelligit discurrendo, et componendo et dividendo, ex hoc scilicet, quod non statim in prima apprehensione alicuius primi apprehensi, potest inspicere quidquid in eo virtute continetur. Quod contingit ex debilitate luminis intellectualis in nobis, sicut dictum est. Unde cum in Angelo sit lumen intellectuale perfectum, cum sit speculum purum et clarissimum, ut dicit Dionysius, IV cap. de Div. Nom.; relinquitur quod Angelus, sicut non intelligit ratiocinando, ita non intelligit componendo et dividendo. Nihilominus tamen compositionem et divisionem enuntiationum intelligit, sicut et ratiocinationem syllogismorum, intelligit enim composita simpliciter, et mobilia immobiliter, et materialia immaterialiter.

[Introductions and translations © R.E. Houser]

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The Center for Thomistic Studies at the University of St. Thomas is the only graduate philosophy program uniquely focused on the thought of St. Thomas Aquinas in the United States. The Center is founded on the Church’s insistence of the perennial value of the thought of Aquinas as the new millennium proceeds.
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