Of God and His Creatures

See Chap. LXXVI. Alexander, Avicenna, and Averroes, are all at one against St Thomas, in affirming the one universal intellect. Thus Averroes writes (in Aristot., De anima, III, v): "We agree with Alexander in his mode of explaining the active intellect; and differ from him as to the nature of the potential intellect." If Alexander and Avicenna do not expressly affirm the oneness and universality of the potential intellect, the reason is, because they thought it enough to affirm the universality of the 'active intellect'; and did not so clearly as Averroes and St Thomas (see Chap. LX) mark off from the spiritual 'potential intellect' the organic and perishable 'passive intellect' (ho de pathêtikos nous phthartos. De anima, III, v, 3). In this dispute about the one universal intellect these two questions should be kept distinct:

A. On the former question I observe that there is no complete and coherent account of nous in Aristotle, so that any commentator who will give such a complete account is obliged to overshoot his author. The question then comes to this: On which side is Aristotle's meaning eked out with least violence to what he actually says? My opinion is that St Thomas is the better Aristotelian in speaking of the human soul in this world, and Averroes in speaking of the soul in the next world. I think that Aristotle would have admitted that the intellectual soul is in the body, and is individually multiplied in the bodies of individual men. Averroes's theory of the continuatio (ittisâl), or union of the individual passive intellect with the universal potential intellect, is to me far fetched, inconsistent with the sound sense of Aristotle, a remnant of Moorish mysticism (although Averroes himself was no mystic) rather than a development of Greek philosophy. But coming to the existence of the intellectual soul after death, I fear that the following words of Averroes declare the mind of Aristotle more faithfully than St Thomas's doctrine of the permanence of as many separate souls as there have been bodies. "Of all things the soul is most like light; and as light is divided by the division of illuminated bodies, and then becomes one when the bodies are taken away, such is the state of souls in their relation with their bodies" Destructio destructionum, disp. 1, p. 21, ed. 1574). See note p. 128.

B. For a Catholic, the second question is settled by the decree of the fifth Council of Lateran under Leo X in 1513 against the Averroists of the age: "The soul is immortal, and individually multipliable, and multiplied according to the multitude of the bodies into which it is infused." No Catholic can deny the immortality of the individual soul, or hold any view subversive of individual responsibility, as though saint and sinner alike were automata, administered by an intelligence and will foreign to themselves. The one really Universal Intellect is that of God; and the Divine Mind works upon our mortal minds, not formally, as a constituent of them, but efficiently, as guiding them, while respecting their native liberty. In his work, De animae beatitudine cap. iii, Averroes says very justly that the active intellect is so called, not merely in an efficient, but in a formal sense. "The active intellect is a cause in regard of the potential intellect not only by way of efficiency and movement, but also by way of final perfection, that is, by way of form and consummation" (p. 151). It would then be pantheism, which even Averroes avoids, to make God the 'active intellect' of the world, in the Aristotelian sense. But God is the efficiently illuminating intellect of all other intellects. The modus operandi whereby God acts upon the minds of mortal men, whether indirectly through sensible objects, or in any more direct way, is an interesting and comparatively unexplored region of psychology. The intellectual is allowed on all hands to be the universal; and the universal is our natural avenue to the divine. "Material forms," says Averroes, "when abstracted in the soul from their matters, become science and understanding; and understanding is nothing else than forms abstracted from matter, nothing else than a comprehension of things understood, nothing else than a comprehension of the order of the world" (Destructio destructionum, disp. 6, p. 86). He goes on to show how intellect is impeded and retarded by having to study these forms in matter.

Mental experience, a witness too little heard in this discussion, reveals to us this fact, that the more absorbed we are in intellectual occupation, the more forgetful we are of ourselves. Aristotle places happiness in contemplation; and contemplation is a process of being universalised and de-individualised. The pathê of our animal organism, our bodily needs and apprehensions, drive us back upon ourselves. Happiness puts us out of ourselves: misery is a painful consciousness of self. Some such painful isolation in the next world, some state in which the soul is driven in upon itself, excluded from the universal truth and universal good, and as it were crushed within its own individuality, may be the penal consequence of selfishness and sin.

Phantastic and objectionable on many points as Averroes is, there is a world of thought in Averroism; and his great opponent St Thomas owes not a little to the Commentator. Renan indeed goes the length of saying: Albert (Albertus Magnus) doit tout à Avicenne; Saint Thomas, comme philosophe, presque tout à l'Averroisme (Averroes et l'Averroisme p. 236).

The reader may consult Roger Bede Vaughan's St Thomas of Aquin (Longmans, 1875), vol. I, pp. 300, 301, for Averroes's doctrine of the passive and active intellect; and vol. II, pp. 799-809, for an analysis of St Thomas's Opuculum de unitate intellectus.

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