St. Thomas Aquinas:
Quaestiones disputatae de veritate, q. 14 ("On faith")
Article 1: What is it to believe?
Now it is claimed by Augustine in On the Predestination of the Saints
[chap. 2], and it is maintained in the Gloss on the passage "Not
that we are sufficient to think" (2 Cor 3:5), that to believe is to
cogitate with assent.
HOWEVER, IT SEEMS INAPPROPRIATE TO SAY THIS:
1. One who knows is distinct from one who believes, as is evident from
Augustine in On Seeing God [letter 147, chaps. 2 and 3]. But one
who knows, insofar as he knows, cogitates about something and assents to
it. Therefore, believing is inappropriately described when one claims that
to believe is to cogitate with assent.
2. Further, cogitating conveys a sort of investigation. For to cogitate
is, as it were, to 'agitate [the mind] with', i.e., to reason discursively
and to compare one thing with another. But investigation is ruled out by
the nature of faith. For as Damascene says [in On the Orthodox Faith
II, chap. 2], faith is not an examined consent. Therefore, it is incorrect
to say that to believe is to cogitate with assent.
3. Further, to believe is an act of the intellect. But to assent seems
to pertain to desiring; for we are said to consent to something by means
of desire. Therefore, assent does not pertain to believing.
4. Further, no one is said to be cogitating unless he is actually considering
something, as is evident from Augustine, On the Trinity [chap. 7].
But one is said to believe even if he is not actually cogitating about
anything--e.g., a believer who is sleeping. Therefore, to believe is not
5. Further, a simple light is a principle of a simple cognition. But
faith is a sort of simple light, as is evident from Dionysius in On
the Divine Names, chap. 7. Therefore, the believing that arises from
faith is a simple cognition, and so it is not the sort of cogitation which
bespeaks a comparing cognition.
6. Further, faith as it is commonly spoken of assents to a first truth
because of that truth itself. But one who assents to something by means
of a comparison assents to it not because of itself but because of something
else to which he compares it. Therefore, in believing there is no comparing
and hence no cogitating.
7. Further, faith is called more certain than every science and every
cognition. But because of their certitude principles are cognized in the
absence of cogitating and comparing. Therefore, believing occurs in the
absence of cogitating.
8. Further, a spiritual power is more efficacious than a corporeal power;
therefore, a spiritual light is more powerful than a corporeal light. But
an external corporeal light perfects the eye so that it immediately cognizes
visible bodies when its innate light was not sufficient for this. Therefore,
it is in the absence of any cogitating or comparing that the spiritual
light which comes from God will perfect the intellect so that it cognizes
even those things for which natural reason is not sufficient. And so believing
occurs in the absence of cogitating.
9. Further, philosophers locate the cogitative power in the sentient
part [of the soul]. But to believe belongs only to the mind, as Augustine
says. Therefore, to believe is not to cogitate.
One should reply that Augustine adequately describes believing. For
the essence of believing, along with its differences from all the other
acts of the intellect, can be demonstrated through this sort of definition
of it. This is evident as follows:
I. According to the Philosopher [Aristotle] in On the Soul
[III, 5], there are two operations of our intellect. The first is
an operation by which the intellect formulates the simple quiddities of
things, e.g., what it is to be a human being or what it is to be an animal.
Now neither the true nor the false per se are found in this operation,
just as they are not found in noncomplex spoken words. The second operation
of the intellect is that in accord with which it composes and divides by
affirming and denying. And it is in this operation that the true and the
false are found, just as they are also found in a spoken complex, which
is a sign of this operation.
Now believing is found not in the first operation but
rather in the second. For we believe things that are true and disbelieve
things that are false. This is why among the Arabs the first operation
of the intellect is called imagination, whereas the second is called
faith, as is evident from the words of the Commentator [Averroes]
in On the Soul III, [comment 21].
II. Now since the possible intellect is, taken by itself, in
potency with respect to all intelligible forms--in just the way that primary
matter is in potency with respect to all sensible forms--it is also, taken
by itself, no more determined to adhering to a composition than to adhering
to [the corresponding] division, or vice versa.
However, anything that is determined to two things is such that it is
determined to one of the two only through something that moves it. But
the possible intellect is moved by only two things, viz., (i) by its
proper object, which is an intelligible form, viz., what a thing is,
as is claimed in On the Soul III, and (ii) by the will, which
moves all the other powers, as Anselm says [in On Similitudes, chap.
So it follows that our possible intellect is related in diverse ways
to the parts of a contradiction.
A. For sometimes it is not inclined more to the one part than
to the other. This is either (i) because of an absence of things
that move it, as in the case of those problematic matters concerning which
we have no arguments [one way or the other], or (ii) because of an apparent
equality of the things that move it to the one part and the other.
And this is the condition of one who is in doubt [dubitare],
i.e., one who fluctuates between the two parts of the contradiction.
B. On the other hand, it is sometimes the case that (i) the intellect
is inclined more to one part than to the other, but that (ii) that which
inclines the intellect does not move it sufficiently to determine it totally
to the one part. Thus the intellect accepts the one part and yet is
always in doubt with respect to the opposite part. And this is the condition
of one who opines [opinari], i.e., one who accepts the one
part of the contradiction with a wariness about the other.
C. Now sometimes the possible intellect is determined in such
a way that it adheres totally to one part. But it is determined
in this way sometimes by the intelligible object and sometimes by
i. It is determined in this way by the intelligible object sometimes
mediately and sometimes immediately.
It is determined immediately when the truth of intelligible propositions
is infallibly apparent at once on the basis of the intelligible things
themselves. This is the condition of one who understands principles
(intelligere), which are immediately known once their terms
are grasped, as the Philosopher says [in Posterior Analytics I].
And so just on the basis of what a thing is the intellect is immediately
determined to propositions of this sort.
On the other hand, it is determined mediately when, after the
definitions of the terms have been grasped, the intellect is determined
to one part of a contradiction by the power of the first principles. And
this is the condition of one who knows [scientifically] (scire).
ii. But sometimes the intellect cannot be determined to one part
of a contradiction either immediately through the definitions of the terms,
as in the case of principles, or [mediately] by the power of the first
principles, as in the case of demonstrated conclusions. Instead, it is
determined by the will, which chooses to assent determinately and
precisely to one part because of something that is sufficient to move the
will but not sufficient to move the intellect--and this because it seems
good or fitting to assent to that part. And this is the condition of the
one who believes, as when one believes what a man says because it
seems proper or beneficial to do so.
And it is also in this way that we are moved to believe what someone
says because the reward of eternal life is promised to us if we believe;
and the will is moved by this reward to assent to the things that are said,
even though the intellect is not moved by what is understood. And this
is why Augustine, [in Commentary on John, chap. 26, "No one
can come ..."], says that an unwilling man is capable of other things,
but only a willing man is capable of believing.
III. From what has been said it is evident that assent is
not found in the operation of the intellect by which it formulates the
simple quiddities of things, since there is no truth or falsity there.
For we are said to assent to something only when we cleave to it as true.
Similarly, one who is in doubt does not have assent, since he does
not cleave to the one part more than to the other. Similarly, one who opines
does not have assent, since his acceptance is not fixed firmly with
respect to one of the two parts. Rather, as Isaac and Avicenna claim, a
fixed judgment (sententia) is a distinct or absolutely certain conception
of one of the two parts of a contradiction; but 'to assent' (assentire)
is taken from sententia. Now one who understands (intelligere)
does have assent, since he cleaves with absolute certainty to one part;
however, he does not have cogitation, since he is determined
to one of the two parts in the absence of any comparison. On the other
hand, one who knows (scire) has both cogitation and
assent; however, the cogitation causes the assent and the assent
terminates the cogitation. For on the basis of the very comparison
of the principles with the conclusions he assents to the conclusions by
tracing them back to the principles, and there the movement of the one
who is cogitating is fixed and put to rest. For in knowledge (scientia)
the motion of reason begins from an understanding (intellectus)
of the principles and is terminated in that same understanding by means
of a tracing back. And so the person in question does not have the assent
and the cogitation on equal footing, as it were; instead, the cogitation
leads to the assent, and the assent puts the cogitation to rest.
But in faith the assent and the cogitation are, as it were, on
equal footing. For the assent is caused not by the cogitation
but, as was said above, by the will. But because the intellect
is not at all terminated in one part in such a way that it is brought to
its proper terminus, which is the vision of something intelligible,
it follows that its motion has not yet been put to rest. Instead, it still
has cogitation and investigation concerning those things which it believes,
even though it assents to them with absolute firmness. For just taken by
itself, the intellect is not satisfied and it is not terminated in one
part; rather, it is terminated only from the outside. And this is
why the intellect of one who believes is said to be captivated. For it
is being held fast by something else's terminus and not by its own proper
terminus (2 Cor 10:5, "... bringing the intellect into captivity").
This is also why it is the case that in one who believes, though
not in one who understands or knows, there can arise a movement
with respect to the contrary of that which he holds with absolute firmness.
So, then, it is through assent that believing is separated off
(i) from the operation by which the intellect sees simple forms, i.e.,
quiddities and (ii) from doubt (dubitatio) and (iii) from
opinion (opinio); on the other hand, it is through cogitation that
it is separated off from understanding (intellectus), whereas
it is separated off from knowledge (scientia) by the fact
that it has cogitation and assent on an equal footing, as it were.
REPLY TO OBJECTIONS POSED AT THE BEGINNING:
AD 1. The reply to the first objection is evident from this.
AD 2. To the second objection one should reply that the reason why faith
is not called an examined consent is that the assent (or consent)
of faith is not caused by an investigation on the part of reason. However,
this does not rule out its being the case that in the intellect of one
who believes there remains some cogitation or investigation concerning
the things which he believes.
AD 3. To the third objection one should reply that the will, though
not the intellect, is referred back to a preceding power, viz., to the
intellect. And the reason why assent properly pertains to the intellect
is that it conveys a certain absolute adherence to that to which
one assents. On the other hand, consent properly belongs to the
will, since to consent is to 'think together with another', and
so consent is said to be ordered to or compared with something that precedes
AD 4. To the fourth objection one should reply that because (i) habits
are cognized through acts and because (ii) habits themselves are the principles
of acts, habits are sometimes denominated by the names of their acts. And
so the names of the acts are sometimes taken as proper names, as it were,
for the acts themselves, and they are sometimes taken as names for the
habits. So 'believing', insofar as it conveys the act of faith, always
includes actual considering, but this is not the case insofar as
'believing' is taken for the habit. So one who is sleeping is said
believe insofar as he has the habit of faith.
AD 5. To the fifth objection one should reply that faith includes something
of perfection and something of imperfection. The firmness itself
which pertains to assent bespeaks perfection, whereas what bespeaks imperfection
is the lack of vision in virtue of which a movement of cogitation
still remains in the mind of the one who believes. Therefore, that which
bespeaks perfection, viz., assenting, is caused by the simple light, which
is faith; but to the extent that that light is not perfectly participated
in, the imperfection of the intellect is not totally removed, and so the
movement of cogitation remains in the intellect without being put to rest.
AD 6. To the sixth objection one should reply that this argument proves
or establishes that cogitation* is not a cause of the assent of
faith, but it does not prove that cogitation* does not accompany the
assent of faith.
AD 7. To the seventh objection one should reply that 'certitude' can
convey two things. One is a firmness of adherence, and in this sense
faith is more certain than any understanding or knowledge, since the first
truth, which causes the assent of faith, is a more powerful cause than
is the light of reason, which causes the assent of understanding and of
knowledge. But 'certitude' also conveys the evidentness of that
to which one assents, and faith does not have certitude in this
sense, whereas understanding and knowledge do. And this is why understanding
does not involve cogitation.
AD 8. To the eighth objection one should reply that the argument would
go through straightforwardly if we participated perfectly in the
spiritual light in question--which will happen in heaven, where we will
see perfectly those things which we now believe. But the fact that the
things which that light perfects us to know do not appear manifestly [in
our present state] derives from our defective participation in that light
and not from the efficacy of the spiritual light itself.
AD 9. To the ninth objection one should reply that the cogitative power
is that which is the highest in the sentient part [of the soul], where
the sentient part attains to the intellective part in a certain way, so
that it participates in that which is lowest in the intellective part,
viz., discursive reasoning--and this according to the rule of Dionysius
in On the Divine Names, chap. 2, that the beginnings of the secondary
things are conjoined to the ends of the primary things. Thus this cogitative
power is called particular reason, as is evident from the Commentator
in On the Soul III, [comment 58]. But this is the case only in human
beings. In brute animals natural judgment takes the place [of particular
reason]. And so universal reason itself, which is in the intellective part
of the soul, is called cogitation because of a similarity in these
Alfred J. Freddoso
University of Notre Dame