Stuffy Uncle Thomas and His Theological Boxes

[Disclaimer: this is one of those “I-haven’t-finished-the-book-yet-so-it-might-still-be-coming” posts. So please don’t reply with comments of the “you-idiot-just-read-this-section-that-comes-later” variety.]

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The natural desire of the rational creature is to know everything that belongs to the perfection of the intellect, namely, the species and the genera of things and their types, and these everyone who sees the Divine essence will see in God. But to know other singulars, their thoughts and their deeds does not belong to the perfection of the created intellect nor does its natural desire go out to these things…”

Thomas Aquinas, ST Ia, Q. 12, A. 9, Ad. 4

This sounds like a certain kind of intellectual dictating what is right and good to the rest of the world, namely, “knowing everything,” by sorting and categorizing things. There is another kind of knowledge, though, the knowledge that revels in particularity, or what Aquinas here calls “singulars.”

This passage is key for understanding a genre mistake of Thomas. His method of discourse has no conceptual space for history, fiction, poetry, contextualization, the depth of a human person, or any other kind of particularity, except the unintentional particularity of the Latin language. [Oops Thomas!] This is embodied in the very structure of his argumentation, organized as it is into little sorting boxes.

I know I have a long way to go in ST, but until we get to the Incarnation, Aquinas’ theology of history, or his explication of things in their particularity, it’s going to be tough going for me.

One final pea shooter shot at the greatest theologian of all time: Thomas, you say that “the natural desire of the rational creature is to know everything.” Well, that may be true for an enneagram 5, but surely it is not the only truth for all people everywhere? Why wouldn’t you say that “the natural desire of the rational creature is to be known, or to be loved?” And how, HOW, does sorting things into “species” and “genera” enable you to love your neighbor? It might in some occasional instances, but not as a general rule! On the contrary, what you say “does not belong” to us — “to know other singulars, their thoughts and their deeds” — is a basic action of Christian love!

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2 thoughts on “Stuffy Uncle Thomas and His Theological Boxes

  1. I’ve read still less Thomas than you, but it’s interesting to wonder whether stress is here to be placed on the word “natural” in the quotation. Maybe natural intellectual desire doesn’t seek after particularity — still a dubious claim for any enneagram type, to my mind — but infused virtue *is* concerned with it. In that case, it would be unfair to claim that this doesn’t allow for Christian love, since that isn’t strictly natural anyway. It would seem that infused faith, too, has to be concerned with particularity, since it receives specific historical beliefs about Jesus of Nazareth, etc.

    That would actually be a kind of interesting way to picture the limitations of nature: that it can only yield a kind of abstract desire and not the love of neighbor, for which grace is needed. Remember the man who complains to Father Zossima that he loves mankind in general but can’t spend fifteen minutes with any particular person without hating their guts?

    As I say, unlikely that this reading could fit Aquinas as a whole, so it’s not really a gloss on this passage. We could call it instead a heteroglossia.

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