“Active and Passive Potency” in Thomistic Angelology by Howard P. Kainz Ph. D. (auth.)

By Howard P. Kainz Ph. D. (auth.)

A. "SEPARATE elements" AND lOR" ANGELS"? it truly is attention-grabbing to notice that, in an expressly theological treatise similar to the Summa theologiae, St. Thomas quite often makes use of the time period "angel", rather than "separate substance"; whereas in works with a much less particular theological purpose - e. g. the Summa contra gentiles and the De substantiis separatis 1 - he in most cases prefers the time period "separate substance". yet at any cost there's no doubt that the 2 phrases, "separate sub­ stance" and "angel" have a definite interchangeability and equivalence within the works of St. Thomas. In different phrases, "the separate substance" is resembling "the angel, insofar as its life and attributes are knowable via human cause alone". And this has led Karl Barth 2 to cost that St. Thomas' angelology is essentially a philosophical presenta­ tion, with little relevance to theology. 1 we'd say that those works are "philosophical" insofar as arguments from cause are emphasised in them, instead of arguments from revelation or religion. despite the fact that, as Lescoe issues out (in the advent to his variation of the De substantUs separatis, p. 8), the treatise on separate ingredients leads as much as theological subject-matter in Ch. 's XVII ff- particularly, an exposition of Catholic instructing as present in Sacred Scripture, the Fathers, and particularly Dionysius. And Chenu keeps that the Summa contra gentiles is essentially a theological paintings, since it not just leads as much as theological subject-matter in Bk.

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However, if we look more closely at prime matter, we see that it is not pure passivity, pure potency. It is always part of a real, composite corporeal essence; and therefore cannot even be thought of in abstraction from its real corporeal existence. I cannot think of "prime matter", and at the same time entertain a doubt in my mind as to whether it has actual material existence; for by definition, prime matter is a principle of actual corporeal beings. The size and type of corporeal being makes no difference.

I. 19 cr. , ad. II. 20 S. , I, Q. 41, Art. 6, ad 1. , II, Ch. 60 : "Item. Sicut nihil ... 18 17 THE THOMISTIC DOCTRINE ON POTENCY 37 The power of action within a creature would seem to be able to be best described as the ability of a thing to accomplish its natural or freely intended end with a minimum of hindrance or obstacles 22. For example, a powerful fighter would be able to obtain more by brute strength than another person 23. But this power of action is neither self-sufficient nor self-explanatory.

For example, substantial form is passive to the reception of esse, but active in relationship to prime matter; the agent intellect is "active" with regard to all other human faculties, but "passive" with regard to the illumination offaith, which requires an "obediential" capacity of the intellect as its prerequisite 59. But the cognition of these relativities is facilitated if one understands the fundamental distinction of active from passive potency - to which all other distinctions are subordinated - and which is itself the fundamental "relativity".

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