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Vermigli on the Divine Ideas

August 15, 2008

I found this passage from Vermigli’s commentary on Aristotle’s Nicomachean Ethics very interesting.  In the context he is discussing the theory of Plato’s Ideas and their relevancy to the topic of the Good.  This clearly shows the Platonic influence on Vermigli’s thinking, which is mediated through Augustine – he even says at one point that because Dionysius accepted Plato’s theory of Ideas “his opinion is not thoroughly absurd.” In this passage he discusses how God’s essence, which is one, can be the exemplar of many things.  He says:

The concept of ideas is derived from existing crafts; a craftsman cannot create anything without an archetype, neither can a painter or sculptor produce anything he has not previously conceived in his mind.  What is different, though, is that craftsmen devise creations in their minds through some industry and labor, while God has such ideas naturally implanted in him. Moreover, such ideas are distinguished in the minds of the craftsmen materially, whereas in God they are differentiated only rationally …. We say therefore that the divine nature is one and uniform and that it is most perfect; moreover, even if creatures imitate it they do not imitate it in its entirety, nor in the same manner or extent.  Therefore, just as the divine essence is referred to as a pattern for various species, at the same time different degrees of perfection may be noticed or distinguished in it, although not materially but theoretically.  Thus, since God considers himself a pattern to be imitated and mirrored in his creations in various degrees according to their characteristics, he is said to be contemplating his own ideas that, even if hidden from us, are rendered clear through the things he produces.  Therefore in the letter to the Hebrews, it is said, “By faith we understand that the world was created, so that what is seen was made out of things that do not appear.”  And in the letter to the Romans it says, “Since the creation of the world and through those things that have been made, the invisible nature of God is revealed” to philosophers. (Peter Martyr Vermigli, Commentary on Aristotle’s Nicomachean Ethics, pp. 140, 142)

After this digression from the main topic Vermigli even speaks of the Ideas as important for his doctrine of providence and predestination – it’s too bad that Frank James doesn’t mention this in his book Peter Martyr Vermigli and Predestination.  I find this all very interesting, especially because Vermigli must have been aware of St. Thomas’s use of the Ideas in the mind of God to explain Aristotle’s noesis noeseos.

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