Tuesday, September 13, 2016

St. Thomas on the Instrumental Causality of the Sacraments (IIIa, q. 62, a. 3)


Lately, I've been reviewing St Thomas' questions on the sacraments in general (de sacramentis in genere), in Summa theologiae IIIa pars, qq. 60-65. was simply blown away by the depth of his discussion on the topic of the instrumental causality of the sacraments in q. 62, a. 3.

For St. Thomas, the sacraments are not a mere occasion for God to cause grace, but are God's instrumental cause of grace, and thus relate to God as an instrument to the principal agent.  And since the being and action of the instrument is not its own, but that of the principal agent, whereas the principal agent acts in himself, so the power transmitted in a sacrament is God's own power, and hence the sacrament possesses power only transitorily, only as long as God utilizes it as a sacrament/instrument. 

Now, there are two types of instruments: conjoined instruments and separate instruments. Conjoined instruments, like the hand, move separate instruments, like a cane.  God, the Word, existing from eternity is the principal Agent who confers grace, utilizing both the conjoined instrument of His own sacred humanity and the separate instrument of the sacraments.

Here is the text of Summa theologiae IIIa, q. 62, a. 3 (taken from the Dominican House of Studies Priory page):

Whether Christ as man had the power of producing the inward sacramental effect?

Respondeo dicendum quod interiorem sacramentorum effectum operatur Christus et secundum quod est Deus, et secundum quod est homo, aliter tamen et aliter. Nam secundum quod est Deus, operatur in sacramentis per auctoritatem. Secundum autem quod est homo, operatur ad interiores effectus sacramentorum meritorie, et efficienter, sed instrumentaliter. Dictum est enim quod passio Christi, quae competit ei secundum humanam naturam, causa est nostrae iustificationis et meritorie, et effective, non quidem per modum principalis agentis, sive per auctoritatem, sed per modum instrumenti, inquantum humanitas est instrumentum divinitatis eius, ut supra dictum est.  I answer that, Christ produces the inward sacramental effect, both as God and as man, but not in the same way. For, as God, He works in the sacraments by authority: but, as man, His operation conduces to the inward sacramental effects meritoriously and efficiently, but instrumentally. For it has been stated (Question [48],Articles [1],6; Question [49]Article [1]) that Christ's Passion which belongs to Him in respect of His human nature, is the cause of justification, both meritoriously and efficiently, not as the principal cause thereof, or by His own authority, but as an instrument, in so far as His humanity is the instrument of His Godhead, as stated above (Question [13]Articles [2],3; Question [19]Article [1]).
Sed tamen, quia est instrumentum coniunctum divinitati in persona, habet quandam principalitatem et causalitatem respectu instrumentorum extrinsecorum, qui sunt ministri Ecclesiae et ipsa sacramenta, ut ex supra dictis patet. Et ideo, sicut Christus, inquantum Deus, habet potestatem auctoritatis in sacramentis, ita, inquantum homo, habet potestatem ministerii principalis, sive potestatem excellentiae. Quae quidem consistit in quatuor. Primo quidem, in hoc quod meritum et virtus passionis eius operatur in sacramentis, ut supra dictum est. Et quia virtus passionis copulatur nobis per fidem, secundum illud Rom. III, quem proposuit Deus propitiatorem per fidem in sanguine eius, quam fidem per invocationem nominis Christi protestamur, ideo, secundo, ad potestatem excellentiae quam Christus habet in sacramentis, pertinet quod in eius nomine sacramenta sanctificantur. Et quia ex institutione sacramenta virtutem obtinent, inde est quod, tertio, ad excellentiam potestatis Christi pertinet quod ipse, qui dedit virtutem sacramentis, potuit instituere sacramenta. Et quia causa non dependet ab effectu, sed potius e converso, quarto, ad excellentiam potestatis Christi pertinet quod ipse potuit effectum sacramentorum sine exteriori sacramento conferre.   Nevertheless, since it is an instrument united to the Godhead in unity of Person, it has a certain headship and efficiency in regard to extrinsic instruments, which are the ministers of the Church and the sacraments themselves, as has been explained above (Article [1]). Consequently, just as Christ, as God, has power of "authority" over the sacraments, so, as man, He has the power of ministry in chief, or power of "excellence." And this consists in four things. First in this, that the merit and power of His Passion operates in the sacraments, as stated above (Question [62]Article [5]). And because the power of the Passion is communicated to us by faith, according to Rm. 3:25: "Whom God hath proposed to be a propitiation through faith in His blood," which faith we proclaim by calling on the name of Christ: therefore, secondly, Christ's power of excellence over the sacraments consists in this, that they are sanctified by the invocation of His name. And because the sacraments derive their power from their institution, hence, thirdly, the excellence of Christ's power consists in this, that He, Who gave them their power, could institute the sacraments. And since cause does not depend on effect, but rather conversely, it belongs to the excellence of Christ's power, that He could bestow the sacramental effect without conferring the exterior sacrament.

A very good and relatively-recent article that goes into some of these themes is Benoît-Dominique de la Soujeole, OP, "The Economy of Salvation: Entitative Sacramentality and Operative Sacramentality," Thomist 75 (2011), 537-53.

Saturday, July 23, 2016



The Scholasticum is a new institute for the study of Scholastic Theology and Philosophy, headquartered at Bagnoregio, Italy, the town of the Seraphic Doctor, St. Bonaventure of Bagnoregio.  With the Scholasticum, now traditional Catholic students of philosophy and theology have the most fantastic opportunity to receive a thoroughly Catholic formation in scholastic thought!!!

The Institute is dedicated to the promotion of the greater appreciation and understanding of Medieval Theology and Philosophy as it was taught at the University of Paris in the mid-13th century.  The focus of the Scholasticum’s courses of study is medieval thought, especially the thought of the Angelic and Seraphic Doctors, St. Thomas Aquinas, and St. Bonaventure of Bagnoregio.

Students at the Scholasticum will be able to attend courses either residentially or online to complete three different academic programs, inspired by the cycle of studies of similar name at the University of Paris in the mid-13th century (click on the links to see course lists):

The Baccalaureatus Philosophicus Cycle, focusing on Medieval and Scholastic Philosophy.

The Baccalaureatus Biblicus Cycle, focusing on Medieval Biblical Studies.

The Baccalaureatus Sententiarius Cycle, focusing on Medieval Scholastic Theology, through an in-depth study of Peter Lombard's Sentences and through the exercise of quaestiones disputatae

Residential students will also be able to breathe in the incredible atmosphere of Bagnoregio, the birthplace of the Seraphic Doctor, St. Bonaventure.

Town of Bagnoregio, Italy
The Scholasticum is officially housed in the Convento S. Francesco d’Assisi.  The Institute will be offering lodging for students, both lay and ecclesiastical, who wish to study with us in the traditional face-to-face modality of instruction.  The Convent will also house our administration and library and serve as a center for all our future academic and cultural activities.  Arrangements are being made to make the Traditional Latin Mass available on a daily basis in the convent chapel.

I truly believe that this Fall, when the Institute opens its doors and thrives, it will make history and will affect the whole Church.  It is the institution of higher learning that we traditional Catholic scholars have been waiting for and dreaming of.  I am blessed to be among the faculty; I will be offering graduate philosophy courses on Plato and Aristotle, as well as a course on the Sentences.   I hope you will join me and our stellar scholastic-minded faculty in this worthy endeavor

Visit the website to register!!!

Sancte Thoma et Sancte Bonaventura, orate pro nobis!!!

Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Quaeritur: Can Circumstances Change the Species of a Human Act? (Part 1)


Quaeritur: Can circumstances change the species (i.e., moral object) of a human act or do they only change the degree of the species of a human act?

Technically, the circumstances in a human act are always accidental to the object of the act; whereas it is the object (the thing that is done) in an act that primarily gives the act its essence or species (see ST I-II.18.2).  For example, suppose I steal some money from someone: who I steal from, how much I steal, etc. are considered circumstances, and therefore are accidental to the object or essence of the act, which was theft.  Whether I steal $5 or $5,000, it's still theft.  And whether I steal from a stranger or from my uncle, it's still theft.  These circumstances do not affect the essence of the act.

However, there are factors in a human act which seem to be circumstantial, but in reality are not circumstances at all, but are "conditions for the object," as St. Thomas calls them (see ST I-II.18.10c).  For example, if you 'steal' a wallet, but that wallet happens to belong to you in the first place, the fact that it belongs to you is not really a circumstance, but a 'condition for the object', and it makes the act not theft at all; rather, the essence of the act is that you're taking what is yours.  Or to use St. Thomas' example, if you steal from a holy place, like a church, you're definitely committing theft, but additionally, the fact that you're doing it from a holy place adds another object to the act, namely, that of sacrilege.  That apparent circumstance is not a circumstance in the sense of an accident; it adds another species to the act.  (And, if you're wondering, yes, a human act can have more than one moral species, unlike a natural thing, like a plant or animal, which can only have one species.)

So stealing from a church is actually two sins, theft and sacrilege? Or is it still one – sacrilegious theft?

Two sins.  And both have to be confessed.  In other words, it's not enough to say merely "I stole something from a building," or "I committed sacrilege at the church"; one has to confess having stolen from the church, both theft and sacrilege.  And so with other acts that involve multiple species of sin, as when one does one bad thing for the sake of another.

In ST I-II.18.6 St. Thomas explains that when one does one evil for the sake of another, the evil that is the end relates to the evil means as form to matter: for example, when one steals in order to commit adultery---which incidentally is the reverse of Aristotle's example in the Ethics: adultery for the sake of theft---the two sins come together in one act.  In St. Thomas' example the theft is material and the adultery is formal, whereas in Aristotle's example, the adultery is material, the theft is formal.  Cf. Garrigou-Lagrange, Beatitude (commentary on Summa Theologiae Ia-IIae, available through ITOPL), p. 274: 

One who steals in order to commit adultery is an adulterer rather than [i.e., moreso than] a thief, because adultery, the subjective purpose, is the form of which theft is the material.  In this case there are two sins specifically distinct, to be declared in confession.

Thank you, Doctor!  Clear as usual!

You're welcome!  Also, feel free to use our Quaestiones Disputatae forum.  Your questions can actually help many people in that forum and you can also benefit from the input of other traditional Catholic scholars who join in.

Monday, May 30, 2016

Call for Papers: "Annual Fall Workshop on Aquinas and the 'Arabs'"

As many of you know, much of my published research focuses on St. Thomas' Arabic sources.  For a number of years I've been attending and presenting at conferences held by the Aquinas and the 'Arabs' International Working Group.  Recently I was asked to take the role of secretary in the research group's executive committee.  One of my first tasks as secretary was to co-organize a conference (the first such event I organize) with Richard Taylor, director of the research group.  The conference will be held at Marquette University (Milwaukee, Wisconsin) on September 16-17.  Below is the Call for Papers:

Wednesday, May 11, 2016

Announcing The Scholasticum

Over in Rome, a group of medieval scholars (including yours truly) is in the process of founding an accredited, graduate-level Medieval Institute for the Study of Scholastic Theology and Philosophy, aptly named The Scholasticum.  Things are looking really promising, and if you have found the contents of this blog interesting, it'd be worth it for you to take a look.  Here's the promotional flyer.  (Please address any questions to the contact information on the website: https://www.studium-scholasticum.org/contact-us/.)