Simone Porzio (†1554): An Aristotelian between Nature and Grace

Paul Grendler reviews a recent monograph from a work by Eva del Soldato on Simone ImagePorzio (Simon Portius in Latin) that sheds a bit more light on this important Renaissance philosopher. Portius was infamous in the 16th century for denying, along with his teacher Pietro Pomponazzi, that one may prove the immortality of the soul by rational demonstration. Needless to say there was little tolerance for this view in the rest of Europe at that time where his conclusion that reason cannot prove the immortality of the soul was seen as the equivalent of denying the immortality of the soul outright. Soldato, Grendler tells us, explains that Porzio’s philosophy was a bit more complicated than that:

Born in Naples, Porzio studied with Agostino Nifo and obtained doctorates of arts and medicine in 1520 and theology in 1522 at the University of Pisa. He taught at the University of Pisa until 1525, then natural philosophy at the University of Naples from 1529 to 1545, natural philosophy at the University of Pisa from 1545 to 1553, after which returned to Naples and died in 1554. In his second Pisan period he enjoyed the favor of Duke Cosimo I and participated in the activities of the Accademia Fiorentina, where he associated with Giambattista Gelli, who translated some of his works into Italian.

It is true that Porzio was a strict Aristotelian who argued strongly that the soul was mortal. But in other works, including lectures available only in manuscript, he addressed different topics and offered a wider range of views. In treatises on love and Petrarch’s poetry Porzio saw love in Aristotelian terms as unrestrained passion and a form of living death in which man loses reason. He concluded that the solution was faith in Christ, and the gift of faith depends on grace. In several short works based on Aristotle’s zoological works Porzio demonstrated his philological skill and knowledge of the ancient Greek commentators on Aristotle. He argued that the pseudo-Aristotelian work De coloribus was written by the ancient Theophrastus. In a treatise on pain he argued that pain came from the dispositions of soul and body rather than sense experience.

Porzio exhibited a strong fideistic tendency in several short works that dealt with ethical-theological concerns. In a short treatise on celibacy, Porzio wrote that although marriage is the solution for concupiscence, it was different for a priest, who was higher than a common man. Porzio showed the influence of Desiderius Erasmus and, possibly, evangelical views coming from Juan de Valdés, in treatises on prayer and the Our Father. In his Pisan lectures on Aristotle’s De anima Porzio expressed doubt about purgatory, for which there was no scriptural support, and Lenten fasting.

~ Paul F. Grendler, “Un aristotelico tra natura e grazia (review),” The Catholic Historical Review 98:2 (April 2012).

Ficino vs. Vincenzo on Man’s Ultimate End: Intellect or Will?

Vincenzo Bandello's letter to Lorenzo de' Medici
Vincenzo Bandello’s treatise addressed to Lorenzo de’ Medici

In the mid-1960s the late Renaissance scholar Paul Oskar Kristeller uncovered a manuscript by the Dominican Vicar General Vincenzo Bandello (†1507) addressed to Lorenzo de’ Medici concerning the teaching of Lorenzo’s close confidant, the famous Renaissance Platonist Marsilio Ficino (†1499) on the subject of human beatitude – the full title of the text is, Opusculum fratris Vincentii de Castro Novo Ordinis Predicatorum ad magnificum ac generosum virum Laurentium Medicem quod beatitudo hominis in actu intellectus et non voluntatis essentialiter consistit. This text is interesting for various reasons but primarily that it provides an example of the contrast between Late Medieval and Renaissance philosophy, specifically with respect to the debate between Thomists and Scotists over whether man’s ultimate end consists in an act of the intellect or of the will and how the terms of this debate changed during the Renaissance.  The title betrays the fact that according to Fra Vincenzo, the ultimate end of man consist essentially in an act of the intellect and not an act of the will. Though Vincenzo and Ficino are indebted to Thomas Aquinas’s philosophical synthesis in crucial aspects, both however, sought to justify their positions with reference to the classical sources, Vincenzo to Aristotle, Ficino to Plato. Kristeller explains in more detail:

For both of them, the ultimate happiness of man consists in a conjunction of the soul with God that is permanently attained, on the part of the blessed, in the future life. Both of them also take it for granted that the intellect and will are involved in the attainment of this ultimate happiness which includes the vision and fruition of God on the part of the soul and presupposes the love and desire of the soul for its ultimate end […] [One] basic difference [between the two] concerns the theory of pleasure. Fra Vincenzo stands firm on the Aristotelian theory presented in the last book of the Nicomachean Ethics that pleasure is the accompanying perfection of an activity, and hence should not be coonsidered as a primary good or end of desire. Ficino, on the other hand, was at one time deeply influenced by the hedonism of Epicurus and Lucretius, and actually refers in his letter to his early treatise De voluptate, in which his views on this subject are developed. Moreover, he was influenced by the Neoplatonic view that the good, and the appetite directed towards it, have both a higher and broader metaphysical significance than the order of truth and intellect. [For Ficino] the intellect grasps its object through images or species … and when its object is God, the intellect lowers and narrows it to conform with its own capacity. Love, on the other hand, moves the soul towards its object as it is in itself, and when this object is God, love will lift and enlarge the soul to the infinity of God. Fra Vincenzo’s reply to this important argument is characteristic: the distinction between the acts of the will and of the intellect as given by Ficino is true for the present life. In the future life, the knowledge of God will be aided by the lumen gloriae, the soul will know God immediately in His essence, and thus be enlarged to His infinity through the vision of God, rather than through fruition.

(Kristeller, Studies in Renaissance Thought and Letters, vol. 3, 154-155)

Kristeller notes also that Ficino does not place such a radical division between the present and the future life as does Vincenzo. Rather, the present is a “genuine foretaste of the future life” and so the metaphysical pleasure or enjoyment of God that one enjoys in the present corresponds in a fundamental way to that of the future life. This would recall to any Presbyterian ears the words of the first question of the Shorter Catechism of the Westminster Confession, that the “chief end” of man is to “glorify God, and enjoy him forever.” Vincenzo rejects dilectio and fruitio as forming an essential (essentialiter) part of human beatitude because, as Aristotle argues, this sort of desire aims at a particular good for the sake of pleasure and not for its own sake. According to Tamara Albertini this division between desire (or pleasure, enjoyment, or love – Vincenzo refutes all of them as essential to beatitude) and ultimate beatitude – and the way of dividing the intellect from the will so that one contributes more to beatitude than the other – was considered by Ficino, at least in his later years, to be a false dichotomy (see Albertini, “Intellect and Will in Marsilio Ficino: Two Correlatives of a Renaissance Concept of Mind” in Marsilio Ficino: His Theology, His Philosophy, His Legacy).

Though Kristeller published some of the Latin text of Vincenzo’s treatise, he was only able to transcribe about half of it. For those who may be interested, the Biblioteca Medicea Laurenziana of Florence still has the original copy and has digitized it – click here to read it. The treatise is appended to Vincenzo’s interesting refutation of the doctrine of the “immaculate conception.” The Quod beatitudo… begins on Carta 157r.

Mario Equicola (†1525) on Gender Difference

Titian, Garden of Love (1518), commissioned by duke Alfonso d'Este under collaboration with Mario Equicola
Titian, Garden of Love (1518), commissioned by duke Alfonso d’Este in collaboration with Mario Equicola

Mario Equicola, the famous Renaissance poet, produced one of the comparatively few treatises on women (De Mulieribus) during the Renaissance. Equicola addresses his treatise to the Lady Margherita Cantelmo, who was one of his students and, according to Carolyn James, was being tutored by Equicola even from afar by means of his letters. After demonstrating from both scripture and authorities such as Hermes Tristmegistus and Cicero that the image of God in man is not differentiated in its essence between genders, Equicola invokes the authority of Plato and Aristotle to defend his main argument that the physiological and intellectual differences between men and women are due to poor educational custom and not nature. One traditional hermeneutic that was mined by Renaissance humanists from the texts of the Neoplatonic authors was the attempt to harmonize the apparent dichotomous philosophies of Plato and Aristotle for the sake of defending what they perceived to be the unique truth of perennial philosophical wisdom. Equicola praises both of these philosophers even though the latter wrote little to nothing on the current subject. He writes:

(English translation below)

Divinitatis a secretis semideus Plato in libris quos de republica scripsit in gymnica mulieres certamina deducere non veretur, et iactu lapidum, arcu, funda, luctatione exerceri iubet. In legibus quas ipse vehementer probavit (cum respublica voventis sit atque optantis, illae eligentis) eadem quae masculis eadem feminis exercitia tribuit, legem sanciens ut mulieres rem bellicam non negligant, gymnasticam discant, iaculandi sagiptandi exercitationes, peltasticen, quoque, et omnes armatorum dimicationes; acierum ordinationes, ductiones exercitus, castrorum positiones, et quaecumque ad equestrem pertinent disciplinam. Tales certe non tulisset leges nisi feminas – neque corporis valentia et robore, neque animae excellentia et nobilitate – viris inferiores cognovisset, et ad omnia habiles aptasque ex philosophiae penetralibus percepisset: consuetudineque feminis res forenses et bellicae, non natura, prohibitae.

Aristoteles, cum aliqua iisdem in legisbus et republica non probet, illam de mulieribus sanctionem praeterit, quod homo ingeniosissimus mortalium et gloriae ante alios cupidissimus non utique omisisset nisi sic esse habuisset optime exploratum: naturale enim cognorat, quod maxime natura fieri patitur.

~ Mario Equicola, De Mulieribus Delle Donne, edited by Giuseppe Lucchesini and Pina Totaro, (Rome: Istituti Editoriali e Poligrafici Internazionali, 2004), p. 34.


Plato (the semi-divine) writes in the Republic, by means of a secret divinity, that women are not afraid to launch a competition and he decrees that they are to be trained in throwing stones, in the bow, the sling, and in wrestling. In laws that he has vehemently proven (since the republic is characterized by laws voted on, wished for, and elected) Plato assigns the same rule for the training of both men and women, a rule sanctioning that women not neglect the military art, that they learn gymnastics, and [receive] training in throwing and shooting arrows (also with the pelta), and all the arts of combat: the arrangement of a battle line, the leading of an army, the positioning of encampments and everything that pertains to the equestrian discipline. He would have certainly not proposed such laws if he thought that women are inferior to men (either in power and strength of body or in the excellence or nobility of their souls), and he perceived (from the inner shrine of philosophy) that [women] are capable and well-suited for every activity and that courtly and military duties are prohibited for women because of custom and not because of nature.

Since Aristotle did not approve of some of Plato’s [arguments] in the Laws and the Republic, he did not make mention of any law concerning women. This man – who was the most talented of mortals and was more desirous of glory than others – would certainly not have omitted [this topic] unless he would have held that [Plato’s conclusions] were most optimally investigated, for he naturally recognized what the highest nature brings into being.

The hermeneutic employed here implies that if Aristotle omitted anything that Plato treated then the latter must have agreed (though Equicola allows for some non-essential disagreement) with his teacher. Yet, a more idealistic or Platonic account of gender difference would seem to work against Equicola’s argument that women are capable of education in the liberal arts despite their gender difference.

Later in his argument Equicola appears to depend more on Aristotle when he argues that the human mind is a tabula rasa and that women have no innate weakness or daftness but may perform well in all of the so-called “masculine” arts with the proper education. He argues, “It was rightly said that custom is a second nature [alteram naturam] – as neither conditions nor habits, vices nor virtues come into being by fortune or fate but by choice and practice [arbitrio et exercitatione] – since we are as a blank canvas [tabula rasa] on which anything can be painted.” As many Renaissance humanists, however, Equicola appears to see no essential difference Platonic and Aristotelian epistemology; he affirms, “Nature has given us an imperfect intellect but which is capable of being perfected. It has also given us the seeds of all the arts and the little sparks of the virtues [virtutum scintillas], but so great is the corruption of bad customs and of such great force that these little flames of the virtues [virtutum igniculi] are extinguished and vices spring forth and are strengthened [in their place].” For Equicola, one’s natural capacities for acquiring the various virtues are innate “little sparks” that are either strengthened or doused by education. Using these principles Equicola is able to argue that the two genders are not different in essence but, nevertheless, have certain bodily differences for the sake of procreation.

Johann Jungnitz (†1588) on the Necessity of Logic for Theology

*The following is my translation of pages 8-11 of Luca Baschera’s Tugend und Rechtfertigung: Peter Martyr Vermiglis Kommentar zur Nikomachischen Ethik im Spannungsfeld von Philosophie und Theologie, (Theologischer Verlag Zurich: 2007). Here Baschera summarizes and offers commentary on Johann Jungnitz’s preface to Ursinus’s version of Aristotle’s Organon:


In 1586 there appeared in Heidelberg an incomplete compendium of Aristotle’s Organon over which the erstwhile theology professor and co-author of the Heidelberg Catechism, Zacharius Ursinus had labored. This work was published posthumously by Johann Jungnitz, a Professor of logic in the University of Heidelberg, who in his preface reflected on the value and necessity of Aristotelian logic as well as philosophy in general.[1] In this text Jungnitz, who was not a theologian, addresses the ever delicate question of the relationship between profane knowledge and theology, in which he explains the traditional defense, namely, that philosophy is not necessary for theologians yet neither does it stand in opposition to the biblical message.[2] Contrary to those who treat philosophy as superfluous, Jungnitz holds that, for theologians, philosophy is indispensible. The task of every good theologian stands on the one hand in the “erudite, methodical, and accurate” treatment of the res sacrae and on the other hand in the defense of orthodox teachings against heretics.[3] However, a theologian who has no philosophical knowledge at his disposal – Jungnitz also numbers mathematics and geography as “philosophy” – will not be able to do justice to his didactic or polemical tasks. According to Jungnitz, proper knowledge of astronomy, physics as well as botany or geography form the conditions for the effective exegesis of holy scripture,[4] while the governance of logic is necessary not only for the conservation of the internal coherence of theological discourse but also to be able to know and refute the faultiness of heretical arguments.[5] Jungnitz admits that heretics often argue “philosophically” in order to reinforce their heretical opinions; however, this should not mislead one into thinking that philosophy is to be blamed for the origin of heresy. Furthermore, one should distinguish thoroughly between the sophistry of the heretic and vera philosophia, which arises from the wisdom of God so that the truth can never oppose it.[6] The constitutive duty of vera philosophia with reference to Truth becomes especially clear by the example of Logic, the goal of which according to Jungnitz lies completely in distinguishing true from false.[7] Philosophical Logic is an art (artificialis), but it conforms to natural logic (naturalis),[8] which constitutes the rules of every rational discourse. This means, among other things, that even if Logic is taught as an art in the writing of philosophy one finds it used as the natural form of thought in the Bible.[9] If, however, the art of Logic arises from a natural, universally valid Logic, which was also used in the Bible then philosophical Logic, insofar as it does not degrade into mere sophistry, is not able to stand in contradiction to Christian Truth. Here, Logic, that commune organum shapes all of the sciences for the recognition of Truth.[10] Furthermore, according to Jungnitz, theology, regina scientiorum cannot abandon [Logic], the very means by which it functions (grundlegende Arbeitsmittel).  In order to be conclusive, a theological argument must be structured according to the same rules which lie at the base of every scientific discourse and are preserved in an especially lucid way in Aristotle’s logical writings.[11] Although from some sides this may be decried as a blasphemous mixture of philosophy and theology, Jungnitz stresses that the mere use of a philosophical paradigm of argumentation (Argumentationsmuster) by the theologian does not place the “otherness” (die Andersheit) of theology as such in question because the “otherness” of each Science depends upon the specificity of their respective objects.[12] So, theology will retain its “otherness” insofar as its theological content remains, even though it shares its modus et methodus demonstrandi with philosophy as well as with the other Sciences.[13]

Within his apology for the artes Jungnitz stresses the necessity of Logic with reference to the scientific structure of theological discourse as well as for the battle against heresy.  On the other hand the remaining philosophical and naturo-philosophical disciplines contribute primarily to the understanding of holy scripture and aid the theologian in the treatment of difficult theological questions. When Jungnitz wrote his preface, however, such arguments did not portray a novelty (novum) in the history of the Protestant understanding of philosophy. [Rather] all the more should his be treated as a representative example of a general consensus, which crystalized in the course of ten years and to its first formulation Philip Melanchthon had substantially contributed.

[1] Zu Jungnitz und seiner Vorrede zum Kompendium des Ursinus siehe Sinnema, Johann Jungnitz on the Use of Aristotelian Logic in Theology.

[2] Jungnitz, Praefatio, †2r: “Alii fortassis etiam reprehendent vitioque vertent, quod ita magnum studium multamque operam in res obscuras atque difficiles contulerit, easque non modo non necessarias, sed principiis et dogmatibus theologicis etiam adversas eoque a theologorum scholis procul procul repellandas.”

[3] Jungnitz, Praefatio, †2r: “Nam qui unquam inter theologos eminuerunt methodica, erudita atque accurata rerum sacrarum tractatione et pro iis contra haereses propugnatione, operam ecclesiae navantes egregiam, etiam philosophica eruditione praeclare ornati fuerunt.”

[4] Jungnitz, Praefatio, †2v: “De eclipsibus, de motis syderum, qui nobis annos et temporum discrimina conficiunt et quorum frequens in scripturis est mentio, praecipit mathematica. De aquis super coelos, de iride, de fluminum generatione et aliis naturae operibus, ad quae scriptura nos saepe remittit, disputat physicus. […] Locum illum Geneseos capite 2, de fluvio paradisum irrigante et in quatuor deinde se dividente capita, quis absque geographiae cognitione recte intelligat et dextre interpretur?”

[5] Jungnitz, Praefatio, †3r: “Certum est et ipsa experientia docet eos, qui in philosophiae studiis multum exerecerunt, paulatim assuefieri ad acuratam, perspicuam et expeditam res etiam obscurissimas investigandi aliisque tradendi methodum, quam quia deinceps theologicis quoque disputationibus adhibent, hoc consequuntur, ut qui in controversiis quamlibet intricatis rerum fontes sunt et firmamenta praecipua facile videant et iudicent aliisque ordine, dextre, dilucide et utiliter explicare norint.”

[6] Jungnitz, Praefatio, †2v: “Omnibus temporibus fuerunt et nunc sunt, qui ecclesiae doctrinam […] labefactare et convellere conantur rationibus e natura petitis. Quas eo nomine reiicere, quod philosophicae seu physicae sint, fatuitas est, quasi philosophicum quod est, idem continuo sit mendacium. Vera enim philosophia ex principiis natura notis extructa Dei sapientia est et veritas cum veritate theologica minime pugnans, quod verum vero nunquam adversatur.”

[7] Jungnitz, Praefatio, †4r: “Finem illum [logices] certum est esse hunc, ut subsidio logices verum a falso discernamus.”

[8] Jungnitz, Praefatio, †3v: “Logicam artificialem habere ortum suum ex naturali illa logica seu rationis luce ac methodo cognoscendi et iudicandi res.”

[9] Jungnitz, Praefatio, †3v: “Cum […] hanc [lucem rationis] vero nec aliam, nec illustriorem, ne accuratiorem in ethnicorum philosophorum scriptis elucere, quam sit ipsius Spiritus sancti in scripturis quamque animadvertatur in ecclesiae doctorum minus statuamus in sacris quoque scriptis quamque animadvertatur in ecclesiae doctorum divinis disputationibus, non minus certum sit, necessario efficitur nihil obstare, quo minus statuamus in sacris quoque scriptis ab ecclesia sapientibus potuisse ac posse bonae et necessariae consequentiae normas ac methodum notari artemque logicam constitui ac perfici.”

[10] Jungnitz, Praefatio, †4r: “Artem logicam ex natura sua necesse est esse commune organum quibusvis disciplinnis cognoscendis aeque inserviens.”

[11] Jungnitz, Praefatio, †4v: “Primum accipimus […] ratiocinandi methodum ac formam non aliam, sed prorsus eandem a theologis, iureconsultis, medicis et aliis artificibus in discendo et docendo observari […]. Deinde addimus formam, normas ac regulas necessariae consequentiae in demonstrationibus theologicis esse non alias, sed illas ipsas, quae ab Aristotele in omni demonstratione perfecta requiruntur.” An einer anderen Stelle betont Jungnitz explizit die Eminenz der aristotelischen Logik, vgl. Ebd., †3v: “Ex priscis sapientibus, sive ethnicis sive sacris, quorum quidem commentationes extant, neminem praeter Aristotelem in illo genere felicius ac eruditius laborasse.”

[12] Jungnitz, Praefatio, †4v: “Nam res demonstrandae et principia, per quae demonstrantur, sicuti et ipsae demonstrationes sunt diversissimae et quodammodo infinitae et cuiusque rei, quae demonstrari apta est, propriae. Modus autem et methodus demonstrandi seu forma, conditiones et normae demonstrationis perfectae semper eadem manent in omnibus scientiis. Res itaque non omnes eadem, sed aliae ex aliis disciplinis, philosophicae ex philsophia, theologicae ex theologia, depromuntur; ratio vero demonstrandi res quascunque ex una atque eadem logica cognoscitur.”

[13] Jungnitz, Praefatio, †4v: “Qui […] eadem ex theologicis, hoc est in scriptura traditis aut repetitis principiis deducentes et iudicantes, eandem in demonstrando methodum sequuntur, quam observant philosophi, […] illi non magis sacra prophanis miscent, quam cum theologus demonstrationem theologicam ad grammaticorum regulas et loquendi usum conformat, ut congrua sit et latina.”

Siger of Brabant on the Eternity of the World & Epistemology


I happen to be reading through various Medieval texts on the question of the eternity of the world, so I’ll deposit a few thoughts here as I go along. I will be revisiting Bonaventure and Aquinas on this issue in the coming weeks but for now my focus is on selections from King’s translation of Siger’s De aeternitate mundi.

Siger of Brabant’s reading of Aristotle presents a helpful contrast to Bonaventure’s view (which I will present sometime soon) because they both represent the various poles – one sided furiously loyal to Aristotle and the other to Plato.

Siger accepts Aristotle’s arguments from Physics 8 and De Generatione et Corruptione, namely, that the Universe is eternal, yet not “eternal” in the same way as the First Mover. The existence of the First Mover curbs the logical paradox of an infinite regress, thus placing a limit on finitude by means of the division between potency and act. However, the Universe is eternal in the same way that circular motion is eternal. Any “beginning” in circular motion must be preceded by another “beginning” and another and so on. Thus, individual species are also eternal. Any concept of a “first” man presupposes temporality and there could not have been a time before time when “man” would have not existed since time is the measure of motion and motion is circular.

From [§ 22] it follows that the human species, according to philosophers, always exists, and that it did not begin to exist at a time when it had not previously existed at all. For to say that [the species] will have begun to exist at a time when it had not previously existed at all is to say that some individual belonging to the [species] will have begun to exist, before which there existed no other individual belonging to that species. And since the human species is not caused in any other way, according to philosophers, save as having been generated through the generation of [one] individual before [another] individual, the [species] began to exist. Even though in every case everything generated begins to exist, still, [the species] begins to exist, since it did exist and previously had existed. (De aeternitate mundi, I.24.)

This is all quite perplexing partly because “eternity” strains the capacities of reason.

Now, what if we add a further complication to this in order to understand what the implications of this doctrine of the eternity of the world would have on the doctrine of God or the Prime Mover? It seems that for Siger – and as it appears for Aristotle also – the Prime Mover, defined as “thought thinking on thinking” (nous noêsis noeseôs) does not comprehend the totality of existing things within itself without those things simultaneously (if that word works) existing as individuals sempiternally. In other words the Prime Mover does not create based on “forms” that preexist as perfections of the things existing in reality but rather knows itself in the manner of a species within the existing individual species. The division between Prime Mover and “species” is purely logical just as the division between thought, thinking, and thing thought is purely logical. I’d be happy to entertain correction to my reading of Siger but, as it stands, it seems to me that his interpretation of Aristotle represents a more nominalist epistemology than realist of any variety.

Grace Is Not “Stuff”

We all have heard that the Medieval view of grace was uber-realist – that infused grace is a substance that comes into the person. Peter Lombard held the opinion that this substance of grace was the Holy Spirit itself. Thomas Aquinas, while not preferring Lombard’s view, sought to demonstrate the gross errors of the former view.  Some, says Aquinas, believe that infused virtue cannot be increased because any added virtue would be new and different (ergo not “increased”) as any brick added to a wall must be a new brick.

Aquinas’s answer to this objection should be very appealing to the modern linguist.  He says that some are led into error by using “virtue” as a noun. As the Medieval interpreter of Aristotle would know, the science of metaphysics has very much to do with defining things.  Terms like substance, form, genus, species, etc. can be put into a syllogism.  These terms represent the way things are but also the way we think.  The subject and predicate correspond to substance and form.  For example “The ball is round” – “ball” represents substance and “round” represents form.  And because “round” is not a thing separate from the “ball” so one should not speak of “grace” or “virtue” as if it were some “thing” of which other “things” can be predicated. 

Aquinas addresses the following to those who think that infused virtues must be newly created by inpouring or that they are material elements: 

They do not notice that just as being belongs not to a form but to a subject by means of the form, so too the process of coming into being (which concludes with there being a form) does not belong to the form, but to the subject.  A form x is called a ‘being’ not because it itself is, if we speak strictly, but because something is it.  In the same way, a form is said to ‘come into being’ not because it itself come into being, but because something comes to be it: namely when its subject is brought from capacity to actualization. (Disputed Questions on the Virtues In General, a. 11)

In other words infused virtue does not exist by itself but “something is it.”  Jim is a faithful man, but Jim’s faith does not exist as part of or apart from Jim. But, others have objected, we speak of infused virtue “increasing.” Doesn’t this imply some sort of added thing? Aquinas, again tickling the penchant of the linguist, replies that we name things that are lesser known from the names of things that are better known.  For example, change of place is better understood than change from material corruption.  Therefore, we speak of a dead relative as having “passed away” or as “gone.” He continues:

In a similar way, since we perceive more easily when something changes its size than when it changes in the sense of altering in quality, it comes about that words suitable for change of size are used also in the context of altering in quality.  Now a body that changes its size until it is complete is said to increase, and the final, complete, size is called ‘big’ by comparison with the incomplete.  Similarly, then, for the reasons I have explained, something that changes in its quality from incomplete to complete is said to ‘increase’ in quality, and the complete quality is described as ‘big’ by comparison with the incomplete. Moreover, since the completeness of a thing is its goodness, Augustine says that even in things that are not big in terms of size, we still take ‘more’ to mean ‘better.’ (Ibid)

So, it is easier for us to speak of virtue “increasing” because the notion of something becoming bigger is just easier to understand than the actualization of a potential quality.  The word “increasing” is here used metaphorically or analogically.  Aquinas is therefore o.k. with speaking of virtue as if it were a substance because it is easier to understand it that way, but he stresses that we must not mistake the sign for the thing, we must recognize that we speak in metaphor.  

BUT, infused virtue is not the same as grace! This is true.  So, why have I been talking about virtue? Because, Aquinas raises the same objection to the infusion of grace in the Summa Theologiae and notes the same problem of “picture thinking” (as Lewis would say). Only, he does not go into as much detail concerning the nature of the problem as he does here, and both infused grace and infused virtue are qualities – neither should be spoken of in terms of quantity.  He speaks of the problem and the solution:

Every substance is either the nature of the thing whereof it is the substance, or is a part of the nature, even as matter and form are called substance.  And because grace is above human nature, it cannot be a substance or a substantial form, but is an accidental form of the soul.  Now what is substantially in God, becomes accidental in the soul participating in the Divine goodness, as is clear in the case of knowledge. (ST I-II, Q.110, a.4)

He also explains the difference between virtue and grace, the former being a disposition governed by the natural light of reason and the latter itself being the root and supernatural light of the virtues.  Grace is the principle whereas the virtues are the medium.  Both are infused and both are qualities that actualize a person’s nature.  Both are spoken of as substances but neither are substances.  Infused grace is a new quality caused by man’s “contact” with the Divine nature.  This opinion (that grace is not a substance) marks a break between Aquinas and the tradition of Peter Lombard and demonstrates a tendency of theological picture-thinking that did exist in the Medieval church. Unfortunately, this tendency did not go away with Aquinas’s clarification and continues to prevail today even among Reformed Protestants.

The Platonism of the Early Church Fathers

I may add that from among the fathers of our religion who accepted the theory of Ideas, as did Augustine, none introduced them so that the craftsmen might turn to them and learn how to perform their tasks, but rather as the Ideas toward which God himself looked when he formed the natures of different things. (Peter Martyr, Commentary on Aristotle’s Nicomachean Ethics, p. 172)

Platonism as articulated by Aristotle was utterly impractical.  He demonstrates (in I.6) that if an artist or a craftsman must look to a univocal separate Form in order to know their craft rather than the concrete image that knowledge is useless. Aristotle asks: “How is a man a better doctor or a better soldier by studying the idea itself?”  He continues, “A doctor surely is not intent on health so understood but on the health of man in the concrete, or even better perhaps, on the health of this man.” (Ibid)

Vermigli notes that this does not mean that Aristotle deplored the a priori reasoning used by an artist to better know the principles of his/her craft.  Aristotle argued against the principle that a doctor should begin with an eternal separate Idea of Health without first investigating health as it comes through the experience of healthy things.  The Fathers must have also seen the impractical nature of Platonic philosophy when ministering in their local churches. Theology would have no use for ideas that have no heuristic applicability to Christian holiness. Neither would Aristotle have a use for such impractical ideas in divine science.

De Justificatione ex Sola Fide: Luther’s Rescue of Theology from Philosophy

It is true that Martin Luther had more than his share to say in denunciation of Pagan philosophers, especially Aristotle.  However, one should always seek to discover the context surrounding a particular theologian before defining that person’s “system of thought” or “theological meta-narrative.”  Theology done in this manner is minimalistic – the idea that if I know what X thought about Y then I don’t need to read X on Z to know what X thinks about Z. 

Concerning Luther, Heiko Oberman points to his training in Nominalism at Erfurt which may have been the source of his disdain for philosophy.  However, Oberman also notes that Luther critiqued both the via moderna and the via antiqua as neither allowed their philosophy to be guided by the Word of God. Luther reacted to a hyper-dependence on Aristotle, “Should Aristotle not have been a man of flesh and blood, I would not hesitate to assert that he was the Devil himself.” 

Contemporaries immediately recognized the import of the attack, as Aristotle, who had become academic theology’s great authority in the course of the thirteenth century, had provided the terminology and categories used to establish the central concepts of the Holy Scriptures and Church doctrine: God is the “prime mover”; the soul, as “form,” determines the human being; justification takes place through the “infusion of “the power of grace”; the sacrament of the mass transforms the “substance” of bread and wine; man is “free” to decide between good and evil.  Gaining a critical grasp of all these basic notions and finding new biblical terms for them was to cost Luther years. (Heiko Oberman, Luther: Man Between God and the Devil, p. 160)

Although I agree with Oberman’s assessment of Luther’s attitude toward philosophy I do not think that Luther thought of philosophy as completely useless for the church.  I believe that he considered it one of his main tasks to rescue the church from what he considered the infiltration and imposition of philosophy upon theology. He still thought in “Greek” terms of form and matter, substance, accident, etc. and he even agreed with Aristotle at points using him to correct his opponents.  

Evangelicals and Reformed folks point to Luther not only for their understanding of the doctrine of justification by faith alone but for their own identity.  The battle cry of many conservative Reformed folks is “justification by faith alone is the Gospel.” This (I would say minimalist) articulation of the Gospel is exclusive.  If works of any sort intrude into the systematic formula the Gospel has been compromised. If the ordo salutis is tampered with the integrity of that salutus is put in jeopardy. As Reformed Christians many use the doctrine of justification to exclude anyone who is not Reformed from the faith in order to secure his/her own identity as one of the elect.    

Where the doctrine of justificatione ex sola fide for Evangelicals and for the Reformed tends to be the answer to the question “why am I not Catholic?” for Luther it provided the answer to a much more important question: “what ever happened to the supernatural nature of salvation?”  For Luther the Roman Catholic version of Justification was a secularization of the Sacra Doctrina of Jesus and St. Paul. If works make a man righteous before God then the line between the sacred and the secular has become transparent.  Luther writes in his 1535 Lectures on Galatians

The sophists, as well as anyone else who does not grasp the doctrine of justification, do not know of any other righteousness than civil righteousness or the righteousness of the Law, which are known in some measure even to the heathen.  Therefore they snatch the words “do,” “work,” and the like, from moral philosophy and from the Law, and transfer them to theology, where they act in a way that is not only evil but ungodly.  Philosophy and theology must be carefully distinguished. Philosophy also speaks of a good will and of right reason, and the sophists are forced to admit that a work is not morally good unless a good will is present first. And yet they are such stupid asses when they proceed to theology.  They want to prescribe a work before the good will, although in philosophy it is necessary for the person to be justified morally before the work. Thus the tree is prior to the fruit, both in essence and in nature. They themselves admit this and teach that in nature being precedes working and that in ethics a good will is required before the work.  Only in theology do they reverse this and put a work ahead of right reason. (Jeroslav Pelikan, ed. p. 296)

Thus Luther sees the Roman Catholic doctrine of Justification as a confusion between the roles of philosophy and theology and even a misinterpretation of philosophy.  By using the terms “do”, and “work” in their philosophical sense to explain justification the secular realm has encroached upon the sacred to the detriment of the supernatural.  He continues, demonstrating the role works do play in theology:

Therefore “doing” is one thing in nature, another in philosophy, and another in theology.  In nature the tree must be first, and then the fruit.  In moral philosophy doing means a good will and right reason to do well; this is where the philosophers come to a halt.  Therefore we say in theology that moral philosophy does not have God as its object and final cause, since Aristotle or a Sadducee or a man who is good in a civic sense calls it right reason and good will if he seeks the common welfare of the state and tranquillity and honest.  A philosopher or a lawyer does not ascend any higher.  He does not suppose that through right reason he will obtain forgiveness of sins and eternal life, as the sophist or the monk does.  Therefore a heathen philosopher is much better than such a self-righteous person, because he remains within his limits, having in mind only honesty and tranquillity, and not mixing divine things with human. The sophist does not act this way.  He supposes that God pays attention to his good intention and his works.  Therefore he mixes human things with the divine and pollutes the name of God; these things he obviously draws from moral philosophy, except that he abuses this worse than a heathen does […] This is how you must answer all the passages of Scripture about works, in which our opponents stress the words “working” and “doing”:  These are theological terms, not natural or moral ones.  If they are natural or moral, they are taken according to their usage.  But if they are theological, they include right reason and a good will, which is incomprehensible to human reason, blinded as it is at this point; and another reason must come into being, which is the reason of faith.  Therefore “doing” is always understood in theology as doing with faith, so that doing with faith is another sphere and a new realm, so to speak, one that is different from moral doing.  When we theologians speak about “doing,” therefore, it is necessary that we speak about doing with faith, because in theology we have no right reason and good will except faith. (Ibid., pp. 262, 263)

Because these “sophists” have blurred the line between civil “doing” and theological “doing” Luther reiterates this distinction between “doing” and “doing with faith.” The former is civil and is worthless before God whereas the second is a gift of the Holy Spirit and brings justification. Cain performed a good work that was moral but Abel performed a good work with faith.  What Luther is here arguing is a classic Medieval doctrine. Just as the unaided reason of man cannot attain the Beatific Vision the cardinal virtues without the addition of the theological virtues cannot reach justification.  Although the Roman Catholic church of his day also held to this distinction what Luther is implying is that the “sophist” position adds “doing” to the theological virtues and therefore negates the necessity of even having a category for the supernatural.  

I am inculcating these things so diligently in order to set forth the doctrine of faith clearly, so that you may be able to reply correctly and easily to the objections of our opponents, who confuse philosophy and theology and make theological works into moral works.  A theological work is a work done in faith; thus a theological man is a man of faith.  In like manner, a right reason and a good will are a reason and will in faith.  Thus faith is universally the divinity in the work, the person, and the members of the body, as the one and only cause of justification; afterwards this is attributed to the matter on account of the form, to the work on account of the faith. (Ibid., pp. 266, 267) 

Only with the divine gift of faith can man be justified.  Here, Luther is attempting to rescue the supernatural. A good analogy for how this works, he says, is given to us in the Person of Christ:

The kingly authority of the divinity is given to Christ the man, not because of His humanity but because of His divinity.  For the divinity alone created all things, without the cooperation of the humanity.  Nor did the humanity conquer sin and death; but the hook that was concealed under the worm, at which the devil struck, conquered and devoured the devil, who was attempting to devour the worm.  Therefore the humanity would not have accomplished anything by itself; but the divinity, joined with the humanity, did it alone, and the humanity did it on account of the divinity.  So here faith alone justifies and does everything; nevertheless, it is attributed to works on account of faith. (Ibid)

Just as Christ the man did not accomplish anything by himself but conquered death on account of the divinity so sinners are justified before God not based on civil righteousness but on account of the divine gift of faith, which (as Mannerma tells us) for Luther is the presence of Christ within the believer.  Thus one can see a bit more of the context of Martin Luther’s thought on Justification.  He was not seeking to do away with philosophy altogether but he was seeking to put it in its proper place. Philosophy as long as it remains the ancillae theologiae is welcomed by the theologian. However, when moral philosophy encroaches upon theology and the faculties of man are given more power than which they are naturally endowed philosophy must be shown its place as subordinate to theology and the doctrines of the pholosophi must be refuted.  For Luther as soon as “doing” is added to justification one has replaced theology with philosophy and therefore justification coram Deo with justification coram humano.

Vermigli on the Good of Unbelievers: Grace Perfects the Civil Realm

The common Reformed Christian ethic rejects Aristotle’s virtue theory as semi-Pelagian if not full-blown Pelagian.  Recent studies of the works of Peter Martyr Vermigli have shown that if the above premise is true then an irreconcilable conflict exists within Reformed theology.  If Vermigli, the man who was highly respected by John Calvin as an orthodox scholar, held to a view of the virtues that leads inevitably to a crypto-Kantian ethic of duty then either “Calvinism” is self-contradictory or everyone since the 16th century has completely missed the point. 

However, Vermigli adopted Aristotle’s virtue theory, that the good is not innate in man and must be cultivated through experience, yet he made an important distinction which Thomas Aquinas also made: “Man’s nature may be looked at in two ways:  first, in its integrity, as it was in our first parent before sin; secondly, as it is corrupted in us after the sin of our first parent.” (ST Ia-Iiae, Q. 109, a. 2) Vermigli added that Aristotle’s virtue theory is only true after the fall and that Adam would have been naturally engrafted with all the virtues.  Once again Aquinas says something similar:  “The first man had knowledge of all things by divinely infused species.” (ST Ia, Q. 94. a. 3).  And:

in the state of innocence man in a certain sense possessed all the virtues … For it was shown above that such was the rectitude of the primitive state, that reason was subject to God, and the lower powers to reason.  Now the virtues are nothing but those perfections whereby reason is directed to God, and the inferior powers regulated according to the dictate of reason … Wherefore the rectitude of the primitive state required that man should in a sense possess every virtue.” (ST Ia, Q. 95 a. 3)

But this only delays the answer to the question.  If the virtue theory is true post-lapsarian then one is still left with the question of how unbelievers can do good works.  Is it not liberal Christianity that claims that through good efforts men and women can be genuinely good people, even unbelievers?  The following passages from Vermigli’s Romans commentary should explain (a) what Paul means in ch. 2 by the idea of the law written on the hearts of all men and (b) what types of good Vermigli thinks can be done by those who have rejected their creator.  (Notice that Vermigli does adopt a Thomistic understanding of nature and grace but that these two are not seen in opposition – Reason [speculative and practical] is not hindered by Revelation but perfected; therefore, all good deeds by believers and unbelievers alike are gifts of the Holy Spirit)   

Now commeth he unto the Gentiles:  whiche ought not to complayne, thoughe they perished, seing they had not the lawe of Moses.  For hee declareth that they were not utterly without a lawe, because they did by nature those thinges which were contayned in the law.  And when hee sayth, by Nature, he doth not utterly exclude the helpe of God.  For all truth that men knowe, is of God, and of the holy ghost.  And nature here signifieth that knowledge, whiche is grafted in the myndes of men.  Even as in the yes of the body, god hath plated the power of seinge. Neither doth Paul in this place entreate of the strengthes, by which the Gentiles being helped performed these things:  For, that shall afterward be declared, how by the spirite and grace of Christ the power to lyve uprightely is ministered unto the regenerate.  But now he speaketh onely of certayne outwarde honest and upright actions, which as touchyng civill righteousness, might by nature be performed of men. 

He explains his point further: 

Augustine noteth the same and addeth, that therefore the worke of the law is sayd to be written in the hartes of the infidels, because the lineamentes of the first estate still abode.  Thereof we gather, that the writing of the lawe of God in the hartes of men, is after two sortes:  one is, which serveth only to knowledge and iudgement:  the other is, which besides that adeth both a readiness, and also strength to doe that which is iudged to bee iuste and honest.  And the Image of God, unto which man is created, is not, as touching this, by hys fall bitterly blotted out, but obfuscated, and for that cause hath neede to be renued by hym.  So naturall knowledges are not fully quenched in our mindes, but much of them do still remaine:  which thing Paule now toucheth.  Wherefore, the difference between the olde Testament and the newe, abydeth whole:  although Paule so speaketh of the ungodly Ethnickes, that they had the worke of the lawe written in their hartes.  Neither is sayd, that because of these thinges which they did or knewe, they attained unto the true righteousness.  Yea rather when Paule had shewed, that they wanted it, he [surveth?] them up unto Christ.  Chrysostome in deede upon thys place, writeth:  that God made man kutarcha , that is, sufficient of himselfe to escheive vices, and to embrace vertue.  Whiche if he understande of man as he was first created, is true.  But after hys fall it is not to be graunted, for asmuch as without Christ we can doe nothying of our selves:  yea, by or owne strengthes we can not so much as thinke any good thyng, much lesse to doe any thyng.  Unlesse peradventure he understand this as touching the knowledge of iustice and uprightness in generall, wherof we doe now speake.  For the self same father in an other place more then once avoucheth, that we have altogether need of the grace of Christ.  That which the Apostle now maketh mencion of, touching the knowledge of the Gentiles, is very apte to repell the sclaunderous talke of the ungodly, which use to say:  Why came not Christ before?  How was mankinde provided for before hys coming? What wrought hys providence then?  By these thinges which are now spoken, thou now perceavest, that mankinde was then also provided for.  For as touching knowledge they had inough whether we understand that, which pertayneth unto contemplation:  or that which is directed to workying and doing.  Wherefore, before the coming of Christ they dyd uniustly complaine, that they were forsaken, when as they had knowledge, and thought not them selves to want sufficent strengthes.  

Therefore Vermigli makes a distinction between two different types of good: civil and spiritual.  Those who have rejected their creator by serving the objects of sense experience rather than the One to whom those objects point can only do civil good, but those who through the regenerating work of the Holy Spirit uniting sinners to Christ have the supernatural virtue of faith can do both spiritual (that produced by the Spirit) and civil good.  Virtues, therefore, are only true and complete if they are perfected by the Holy Spirit.  Thomas Aquinas explains that there are two reasons why man needs this grace in the state of corrupted nature:  (a) “in order to be healed” and (b) “furthermore in order to carry out works of supernatural virtue.” (Ibid) Neither complete good nor works of faith, hope, and charity can be done without the grace of the Holy Spirit.  

By the grace of God sin was not allowed to completely corrupt man’s nature – now even the unbeliever is able to do objective good.  Vermigli shows himself to be following not only the orthodoxy of Luther and Calvin but that of St. Augustine, Thomas Aquinas, and other Fathers of the church.  One final passage should exonerate him from the implicit charge of Pelagianism and explain fully his alteration of Aristotle’s virtue theory in conformity with the Gospel.  His is a true example of Grace perfecting Nature:

As for the thesis that virtues are produced and destroyed by and through the same things, it is true as far as civil morality is concerned, but it is not universally valid. Adam received virtues directly from the hand of God, but he corrupted them by his own evil pride; thus, they were not produced and destroyed by and through the same things.  The same must be said of those who receive them at once from God. Aristotle says, “By doing just things, we are made just.”  This, however, only applies to civil and inherent justice; we must hold a far different opinion of the justice by which we are justified … Everyone should not only see to it that he conforms to the dictates of reason in his civil behavior; he should also make certain, with a devout and reverent spirit, that his actions and decisions are pleasing to God. (Commentary on Aristotle’s Nicomachean Ethics, p. 297)

Vermigli on the Divine Ideas

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.