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The Philosophy of Thomas Aquinas

On-line since: 31st January, 2017

II

MAN AND THE INTELLIGIBLE WORLD

I n the second address [p. 65] Rudolf Steiner shows how the most supreme problem, the “relationship of the universals to individual things,” can only be understood if we realize its connexion with the tradition, founded by the Areopagite, Plotinus, Augustine and Erigena, of the reality of an intellectual world” permeated by “immaterial intellectual beings.” This background of spiritual history showing the struggle over the problem of the universal forms of being and knowing is made wonderfully clear in the quoted Commentary, especially in the 4th Chapter (on the Good, on Light, on the Beautiful, on Love, on Transports, and on Zeal) in the seventh section of which the question is examined: “What are the movements of Angels and of souls?” Thomas develops not only a knowledge-theory, but also a knowledge-Eurythmy, which, when one has once been caught up in its fanciful play, gleam also through the most abstract, theoretical thought-processes of the “Summa Theologica” or the Commentary on Aristotle. This movement playing on the understanding makes not only clear but also capable of experience how the controversy over the universals is for Thomas a problem of drawing the line between the “intellectual world” of the “immaterial, intellectual beings,” which let their lowest margins, as it were, shine down so that the human soul can experience them, and the kingdom of the human soul, bound to matter, and assigned to the “straight” understanding [p. 66]. (The universals, which in the intellectual world are circular and curve-movements, become visible to human thinking only in straight-lined projections.) There is, unfortunately no space to dwell on this knowledge-Eurythmy, with its effects of Gothic window tracery.

Instead we shall give you an exposition of the “intellectual world,” in which Thomas sees the immaterial intellectual beings, which he calls the Angels [p. 65]. This has an important historical significance, because in it purely earthly-logical concepts of the understanding are built up to contain the knowledge of a world the contents of which were formerly revealed to supernatural vision. As evidence of this really “Gothic” strife, a few passages are given from the “Compendium Theologiae,” which Thomas wrote for his fellow-monk Reginald.

It belongs to divine goodness that it bestows its own likeness on creatures ... to complete divine goodness it is fitting now not only that God is in himself good but that he leads back the other beings to goodness. God therefore imparts both qualities to the creature, that it should be in itself good and that one should lead the other to the good. Thus he brings creatures to the good the one through the other. The first are necessarily the higher creatures: for that which receives from a creator the likeness of form and creative power is more perfect than the other which receives the likeness of form, but not the creative power. Just as the moon receives the sun's light more completely — because it not only receives but itself gives light — than the shadowed bodies, which receive but give no light. Thus God guides the lower creatures through the higher ... (Chap. 124).

Because the intellectual creatures are placed over the others, it is obvious that the latter are guided by God through the former. And since among the intellectual creatures some are placed over others, the lower are guided by God through the higher. Thus it comes about that man, who has the lowest position in the order of Nature among the intellectual substances, is led through higher spirits, who because they bring divine messages to man, are therefore called Angeli, that is, Messengers. And also among the Angels the lower are governed by the higher according to the circumstance that among them various Hierarchies, that is, sacred dignities, and among the separate Hierarchies various ranks, are distinguished (Chap. 125).

And because every operation of an intellectual substance as such proceeds from the intellect, the variety of the operation, among the intellectual substances, the variety of behaviour, and the variety of rank, must be considered as resting on various types of intelligence. But the more sublime and serene the intellect is the higher and more universal is the reason which it perceives for its functionings. We speak of “higher” because the higher intellect has more universal intelligible species.

The first manner of using the intellect which intellectual substances attain derives from the fact that they have a share, in the first Cause itself, namely, in God, of the functional reasons, and consequently of its works, since God ordains the smaller activities through his reasons. And this is characteristic of the First Hierarchy, which is divided into three Orders, according to the three types of being, through which every active art shows itself: first the End, which excludes the reasons of the works; secondly, the reasons of the works, in so far as they exist in the Artist's spirit; and thirdly, the adapting of the works to the effects. Now it behoves the highest Order, in the highest good itself, which is the ultimate object of things, to be instructed in the effects; therefore, they are called “Seraphim,” from the warmth of love, for they glow at the same time, or burn: and the object of love is the good. It behoves the second Order to contemplate the effects of God's acts in his own intelligible reasons, in so far as they are in God; wherefore they are called “Cherubim,” after the fullness of knowledge. It behoves the third Order in God himself to consider how creatures share the intelligible reasons as applied to the effects, wherefore they are called “Thrones,” from having God in themselves.

The second manner of using the intellect consists in considering the reasons of the effects, so far as they lie in universal causes; and this is characteristic of the Second Hierarchy, which is also divided into three Orders according to the three types of being, which belong to the universal causes, preferably if they function according to the intellect. Of these it behoves the first to pre-ordain what is to be performed, wherefore among the active artists the highest arts are those that are thus pre-arranged, and these are called the architectonic arts; and so the first Order of this Hierarchy are named “Dominations,” for it becomes the lord to organize and ordain. The second type of the universal reasons is a Something, which gives the first urge to the work, and so has the first place in carrying it out; and therefore the second Order of this Hierarchy is called “Principalities,” according to Gregory, or “Virtues” according to Dionysius, so that they may be known as “Virtues” because the first step of a performance or operation is the most virtuous. The third, which is found in the universal causes, is something which overcomes the difficulties of performance, wherefore the third Order of this Hierarchy is that of the “Powers” whose office is to overpower everything which could stand in the way of the execution of the divine command, and for this reason we ascribe to them also the task of restraining daemons.

The third manner of using the intellect consists in studying the reasons of the effects in the effects themselves. And this is the property of the Third Hierarchy, which is placed just above us human beings, who are forced to receive our knowledge of the effects from the effects themselves. This Hierarchy also contains three Orders, of which the lowest are called “Angels,” because they bring to man as a message whatever pertains to their guidance; wherefore they are also called the guardian-angels of men. Above them is the Order of “Archangels,” who bring to men as a message whatever surpasses the human reason, such as the mysteries of faith. The highest Order of this Hierarchy is called, according to Gregory, “Virtues,” because they perform works which surpass Nature, thus substantiating the message which comes to us as super-rational; wherefore miracle-working is attributed to the “Virtues” But according to Dionysius the highest Order of this Hierarchy is named “Principalities,” so that they may be known as Princes who stand at the head of separate peoples, the Angels known as guides of individual men, and the Archangels as the Spirits who bring to individual men as a message whatever concerns the common welfare.

And because a lower power performs its work in virtue of a higher, the lower rank carries out the requirements of the upper, in so far as it derives its virtue for the work from the upper; and the higher ranks have the qualities of the lower, but in a greater degree. For this reason, everything in them is, as it were, communal; but they receive their particular names in accordance with the functions of each order. The lowest Order has reserved to it the common name, as it functions by virtue of all the others. And because it is the business of the higher Orders to act on the lower, and the intellectual function is one of instruction or teaching, it is said of the higher angels, in so far as they instruct the lower, that they purify these, illumine and perfect them. Purify, in so far as they abolish nescience; illumine, in so far as they strengthen with their light the intellects of the lower Angels, so that they can comprehend higher things; and perfect, since they lead the lower Angels to the perfection of higher knowledge. For these three things belong to the acquisition of knowledge, as Dionysius says. But thereby is nothing lessened that enables all Angels, even the lowest, from looking upon the divine Essence. For when each of the holy Spirits looks upon God according to his own essence, one sees him more perfectly than another, — as can be understood from what has been said. And by how much more perfect a cause is seen to be by so much richer are seen to be its effects. The higher Angels in God thus instruct the lower in the divine effects, which they recognize first, but not in the Essence itself, which all look upon without mediation (Chap. 126).

The subtle thought which is employed in constructing this faultless logical column has provided in this treatise an example of what Rudolf Steiner calls “the highest flowering of logical judgment,” the “highest flowering of logical technique” [p. 51]. This “Gothic” thought-technique illustrates — looking into the past — that “it remained an article of faith with Thomas, that in higher regions was to be found the revelation of these abstract concepts,” for to look into an “open Heaven” did not require such Gothic arches. But looking into the future, there is revealed in this tremendous struggle of thought the urge of the question — reached but not solved by Scholasticism — “How can human thought develop itself upward to a vision of the spiritual world? ... How can thought be made Christian? ...” [p. 76.]




Last Modified: 03-Jul-2017
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