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Summary Against Modern Thought: The Diversity Of Merits & Demerits

Written by William M Briggs

See the first post in this series for an explanation and guide of our tour of Summa Contra Gentiles. All posts are under the category SAMT.

Previous post.

Some interesting consequences about the nature of the soul here, which we flesh out later (get it?). Also, more proof that Equality is not part of the system. origen

Chapter 44 That distinction among things did not result from the diversity of merits or demerits (alternate translation)

1 IT remains now for us to show that the distinction among things did not result from different movements of the free-will of rational creatures, as Origen maintained in his Peri Archon. For he wished to refute the objections and errors of the early heretics, who strove to prove that the different nature of good and evil in things is owing to contrary agents.

But on account of the great difference which he observed both in natural and in human things, which difference apparently is not preceded by any merits,–for instance that some bodies are lightsome, some dark, that some are born of pagans, some of Christians,–he was compelled to assert that all differences to be found in things have proceeded from a difference of merits, in accordance with the justice of God.

For he says that God, of His mere goodness, first made all creatures equal, all of them being spiritual and rational: and these by their free-will were moved in divers ways, some adhering to God more, and some less, some withdrawing from God more, and some less; and in this way there resulted through divine justice, various grades in spiritual substances, so that some were angels in their various orders, some human souls in their various states, some demons in their various states: and on account of the diversity among rational creatures, he said that God had established diversity among corporeal creatures, so that the more noble spiritual substances were united to the more noble bodies, and thus the corporeal creature would minister in all other various ways to the diversity of spiritual substances.

Notes Link to Peri Archon. Also take delight in the word lightsome.

2 But this opinion is clearly convicted of falsehood. For among effects, the better a thing is, the more does it obtain precedence in the intention of the agent. Now the greatest good in things created is the perfection of the universe, consisting in the order of distinct things: because in all things the perfection of the whole takes precedence of the perfection of each part. Wherefore the diversity of things results from the principal intention of the first agent, and not from a diversity of merits.

3 Again. If all rational creatures were created equal from the beginning, we must say that one of them does not depend on another in its action. Now that which results from the concurrence of various causes, one of which does not depend on another, is casual. Therefore according to the aforesaid opinion, this distinction and order of things is casual: and this is impossible, as proved above.

Notes Equality is not natural—nor desirable.

4 Moreover. That which is natural to a person, is not acquired by him by his will: for the movement of the will, or free-will, presupposes the existence of the willer, and for this his nature is required.

Accordingly, if the various grades of rational creatures were derived from a movement of the free-will, all rational creatures would have their respective grade not naturally but accidentally. But this is impossible. For since the specific difference is natural to each thing, it would follow that all created rational substances are of one species, namely angels, demons, human souls, and the souls of the heavenly bodies (which Origen supposed to be animated). That this is false is proved by the diversity of natural actions: because the mode by which the human intellect naturally understands is not the same as that which sense and imagination, or the angelic intellect and the soul of the sun demand: unless perhaps we picture the angels and heavenly bodies with flesh and bones and like parts, so that they may have organs of sense, which is absurd. It follows, therefore, that the diversity of intellectual substances is not the result of a diversity of merits which are according to movements of the free-will.

Notes Neuroscientists and philosophers against free will take note! Free-will presupposes the existence of the willer. Deny free will, deny the existence of the willer—and of the nature or essence of the willer. Take particular notice of what Aquinas says of angels.

5 Again. If things that are natural are not acquired by a movement of the free-will; whereas the union of a rational soul with such a body is acquired by the soul on account of preceding merit or demerit according to the movement of the free-will; it would follow that the union of this soul with this body is not natural. Therefore neither is the composite natural. Yet man and the sun and the stars, according to Origen, are composed of rational substances and such and such bodies. Therefore all these things which are the noblest of corporeal substances, are unnatural.

Notes Part of this argument shows that we are soul-body, not soul + body. We can’t have acquired a soul accidentally by merit of our will. It has to be there on purpose, as part of our nature.

6 Again. If the union of this rational substance with this body is becoming to this rational substance not as such a substance, but as having so merited, its union with this body is not an essential but an accidental union. Now, a species does not result from things united accidentally, because from such a union there does not result a thing essentially one: for white man or clothed man is not a species. It would follow, therefore, that man is not a species, nor yet the sun, nor the moon, nor anything of the kind…

Notes Hello nominalism.

8 Further. Since there can be no multitude without distinction, if from the beginning rational creatures were formed in any number, they must have had some diversity. Therefore one of them had something which another had not. And if this was not the result of a difference in merit, for the same reason neither was it necessary for the difference of grades to result from a difference of merits…

Notes Redux: Equality is not natural—nor desirable.

11 Again. If the diversity of the corporeal creature results from the different movements of the rational creature’s free-will, we shall have to say that the reason why there is only one sun in the world, is because only one rational creature was moved by its free-will in such a way as to merit to be united to such a body. Now it was by chance that only one sinned thus. Therefore it is by chance that there is only one sun in the world, and not for the need of corporeal nature…

Notes Thomas seems to be describing a kind of idealism of the Deepak Chopra, name-it-and-claim-it kind.

15 Origen seems not to have taken into consideration that, when we give a thing not as a due, but as a free gift, it is not contrary to justice if we give unequal things, without weighing the difference of merits, since payment is due to those who merit. Now God, as stated above, brought things into being, not as though it were due to them, but out of mere bounty. Therefore the diversity of creatures does not presuppose diversity of merits.

Notes Redux redux: Equality is not natural—nor desirable.

16 Again, since the good of the whole is better than the good of each part, it does not befit the best maker to lessen the good of the whole in order to increase the good of some of the parts: thus a builder does not give to the foundation the goodness which he gives to the roof, lest he should make a crazy house. Therefore God the maker of all would not make the whole universe the best of its kind, if He made all the parts equal, because many degrees of goodness would be wanting to the universe, and thus it would be imperfect.

Notes Redux redux redux.

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