Ante-Purgatory: The 3 Ways Those Who Repent Late in Life are Punished in Dante’s Purgatorio

At this death there ensured a struggled between the powers of good and evil for his soul; since he had uttered the name of Mary with his dying breath and shed a tear of true repentance, the heavily faction prevailed and bore his soul off to Paradise.

Ante-Purgatory

 

1. The Excommunicated

In Canto III, Dante and Virgil encounter those souls who were excommunicated. The reason, however, these souls are in purgatory and not hell is because they repented at the very end of their life. In Dante’s Purgatorio, the repentant excommunicants are actually not in purgatory proper – they are in ante-purgatory or that which comes before purgatory. Virgil and the Pilgrim Dante meet a soul named Manfred. The soul explains that the souls of excommunicants who repent late in life must wait in ante-purgatory thirty times as long as they waited to repent on earth. The wait can, however, be shorted by intercessory prayer. Manfred explains his situation in a very beautiful section of verses:

Horrible was the nature of my sins,
but boundless mercy stretches out its arms
to any man who comes in search of it,

[…]

The church’s curse is not the final word
for Everlasting Love may still return,
if hope reveals the slightest hint of green.

True, he who dies scorning the Holy Church,
although he turns repentant at life’s end,
must stay outside, a wanderer on this bank,

for thirty time as long as he has lived
in his presumptuousness-although good prayers
may shorten the duration of his term.

The reason waiting in ante-purgatory is a punishment is because the souls cannot begin their purgation, and it is their purgation that makes them fit to enter into the beatific bliss of heaven. It is possible that Dante has the souls wait “thirty times as long” as they lived in their presumptuous state due to “a provision in Canon Law that calls for a thirty-day period of grace before the ban of excommunication goes into effect.”1

 

2. The Indolent

After climbing through an arduous gap in the mountain, Dante the Pilgrim is told that Mount Purgatory actually becomes easier to climb the higher you go.2 As they continue their ascent, Dante the Pilgrim and Virgil meet the “indolent souls” who constitute the second class of the “Late Repentants” in ante-purgatory. The indolent souls are lazy. Though they were not excommunicated as the first class of Late Repentants, the indolent souls simply waited until their end of their life to repent. They are punished by having to wait outside purgatory proper for as many years as they waited to repent on earth. An indolent soul named Belacqua explains:

Before I start, the heavens must revolve
as many times as while I was alive,
for I put off repenting till the end.

Prayers could, of course, make my time shorter here:
prayers form a heart that lives in grace–the rest
are worthless, for they go unheard in Heaven!”

Note that Dante again includes the benefit of intercessory prayer when speaking of the punishment of these souls. With the indolent, the concept of praying for the poor souls in purgatory is explained in further detail and includes that those prayers must come from an individual on earth who is in a state of grace.3

 

3. The Unshriven: Violent Deaths

As Dante the Pilgrim and Virgil continue on their ascent, they discover a group of souls chanting Miserere. The souls are the third and final class of the Late Repentants. They are those “who died a violent death but managed to repent in the final moments.”4

We are all souls who met a violent death,
and we were sinners to our final hour;
but then the light of Heaven lit our minds,

and penitent and pardoning, we left
that life at peace with God, Who left our hearts
with longing for the holy sight of Him.”

Here they encounter the soul named Buonconte of Montefeltro. Buonconte’s story is notable: “At this death there ensured a struggled between the powers of good and evil for his soul; since he had uttered the name of Mary with his dying breath and shed a tear of true repentance, the heavenly faction prevailed and bore his soul off to Paradise. But a demon took possession of his corpse and played havoc with it: he conjured up a storm and sent the mortal remains plummeting down the raging and swollen river channels.”5 He states:

I made my way, my throat on open wound,
fleeing on foot, and bloodying the plain.

There I went blind. I could no longer speak,
but as I died, I murmured Mary’s name,
and there I fell and left my empty flesh.

The unshriven or unabsolved begin the theme of each group in purgatory having its own prayer. The unshriven sing the Miserere, which is King David’s famous Psalm 50 asking for forgiveness.6 The unshriven souls request that Dante and others pray for them.7 Continuing the theme of intercessory prayer, Dante asks Virgil about the “power of prayer to affect the will of Heaven.”8 Virgil states, “high justice would in no way be debased / if ardent love should cancel instantly / the debt these penitents must satisfy.”9 In contrast, however, Virgil submits there are “those whose sins could not be urged by prayer / because their prayers had no access to God.”10

 

The Gate of Purgatory

"The Portals of Purgatory" by Gustave Dore.
“The Portals of Purgatory” by Gustave Dore.

While still in ante-purgatory, Virgil and Dante the Pilgrim continue to the Valley of the Princes where the “Negligent Rulers” dwell.11 The rulers are singing the Salve Regina. Though not late repentants, the rulers continue a theme of negligence seen in the excommunicants, the indolent, and the unshriven. After a few other encounters, Dante the Pilgrim and Virgil arrive at the Gate of Purgatory. Three steps lead up to the gate. The first is a marble step “polished to the glaze of a looking glass.”12 The second is a black step, “rough and crumbling, fire-corroded stone.”13 And the third and final step – upon which the Gate of Purgatory sat – was “red as the blood that spurts out from a vein.”14 According to Musa, “the three steps are generally taken t0 represent the three stages of repentance: the first step, which is white and mirror-like, stands for self-examination; the second, black, rough step stands for sorrow for sin, or contrition; the third, flaming-red step signifies satisfaction of the sinner’s debt, or penance.”15 On the threshold of the Gate of Purgatory sits an angel clothed in an ash gray robe holding a sword. When Dante approaches, the angel traces seven “P’s” on his forehead. In Latin, the word for sin is peccatum, which foreshadows the seven capital vices that will be purged in purgatory. The angel even warns Dante to be sure to “wash away” the wounds on his journey. The angel then takes keys given to him by St. Peter – one gold and one silver – and opens the Gate of Purgatory. As the gate opens, Dante can hear Te Deum Laudamus being sung.

  1. Purgatory, Trans. Musa, 39 n. 139. []
  2. See Canto IV, line 88-90. []
  3. See Purgatory, 48, n. 133-35. []
  4. Purgatory, 49. []
  5. Purgatory, Canto V, 49. []
  6. Psalm 50 – DR. []
  7. Canto VI, 25-37. []
  8. Purgatory, 57. []
  9. Canto VI, 37-19. []
  10. Canto VI, 41-2. []
  11. Canto VII. []
  12. Canto IX, 94-5. []
  13. Id. 98. []
  14. Id. 102. []
  15. Purgatory, 105. []

The West has Lost its Moral Vocabulary: 8 Traditional Catholic Answers about Virtue

What does it mean to be a good person? In modernity, the moral vocabulary of society has shifted from a virtue-based language to one of values. Virtues are rooted in reason and reflect a common moral standard for all men. Values are rooted in the individual and reflect an autonomous moral universe.

Listers, what does it mean to be a good person? In modernity, the moral vocabulary of society has shifted from a virtue-based language to one of values. Virtues are rooted in reason and reflect a common moral standard for all men. Values are rooted in the individual and reflect an autonomous moral universe. Where virtues can discuss justice as something apart from any individual, values are meaningless without the worth imported to them from the individual. A Catholic parish may be rooted in the “values of Christ,” but the local Muslim or atheist community would submit totally different value systems. In politics, one party may value “traditional marriage,” while another party may value “same-sex marriage.” In the West, political discourse has become obsessed with values generally under the guise of individual rights language; yet, is this the best moral jargon the West has to offer? The West was built upon a moral vocabulary that contemplated the soul and virtue. The following eight questions are meant to serve as an introduction to virtue in general – both moral and intellectual. The list is not meant to discuss any particular moral or political issue, but it is meant to offer a moral vocabulary rooted in reason and common to all humanity. And while it is not necessary to understand the following questions, a greater insight into the virtues may be gained by first contemplating the soul –  7 Questions on the Powers of the Human Soul Compared to Other Souls.1

 

1. What is a virtue?

A virtue is “an habitual and firm disposition to do the good.”2 Virtue cannot be reduced to a single act. A man who returns a lost wallet he found in a park may be virtuous, but a single act is not dispositive of virtue. To determine if someone is a virtuous person, often the totality of their actions are considered. The key question is – does this person have a habit of doing what is right? A habit may be defined as a series of actions that constitute a practice. The Philosopher, Aristotle, says a habit is “a disposition whereby someone is disposed, well or ill.”3 A habit that disposes someone to what is good or well for them is called a virtue. It is a good habit. A habit that disposes someone to what is evil or ill for them is called a vice. It is a bad habit. Those who have a habit of doing what is good are properly called virtuous, while those who have a habit of doing what is bad are rightly called vicious.

 

2. How does virtue or vice define a person?

If a person is labeled virtuous or vicious, the label goes beyond the content of their actions and seems to define the very person. Virtue and vice are different species of the genus of habit. A virtue is a good habit, and a is vice a bad habit. An inquiry into which genus habit should be a species under aids in unlocking the deeper nature of a person’s actions. According to Aristotle and Aquinas, habit is a species of quality. The category of quality is one of the ten categories from Aristotle’s Organon. In a broad sense, the categories articulate everything that may be an object of human apprehension. For example, a table. The category of quantity denotes how many tables there are, the category of relations denotes if it is a superior or inferior table compared to other tables, and category of place denotes where the table is, and so forth. The category of quality has four different types: first, shape (rectangular, circular, etc.), second, sense qualities (hot, cold, loud, quiet, etc.), third, capacity (a man has the capacity to run swiftly or a table to bear a great weight), and fourth, dispositions (the quality of being disposed an act). Habit is a species of quality in the fourth sense – of dispositions. Therefore, a habit, whether a virtue or vice, defines the very quality of its subject, the person, as either being disposed to good or evil.4

 

3. Can non-Catholics be virtuous?

Aristotle by Fr. Lawrence, OP. Flickr.
Aristotle by Fr. Lawrence, OP. Flickr.

The natural virtues or “human virtues” are known as “natural,” because they are naturally available to all humanity.5 Every human is a rational animal and is able to acquire the natural virtues. In other words, a person does not need to be Catholic to have the natural virtues. The natural virtues can serve as a common table of dialogue between persons of all faiths and creeds. Each person is a rational animal – meaning they are endowed with the power of the intellect in their soul. Each person has the power to rationally reflect upon their own actions, which is the basis for morality. Acting virtuously is nothing more than acting rationally. Each human – regardless of their “worldview” – is expected to act rationally and hold to the common standard of natural virtue. It is obvious, however, that though all men may acquire the natural virtues, not all men do. One key observation is that virtues are habits, not mandated instincts. The rational soul is like clay upon the potter’s wheel. The rational animal, by the power of the his or her intellect, may choose to act rationally (good) or irrationally (bad). The rational animal may form his or herself into a virtuous or vicious individual. Second, it is true that the rational soul is inclined to what is truly good and rational. All persons choose what is good. The caveat is that the mover of the soul, the power of the will, often times moves the soul toward apparent goods and not actual goods.6 Consequently, though man is a rational animal, he often makes irrational choices toward apparent goods, which can develop into vices. In fact, entire cultures or religions may suppress individuals from being virtuous by habituating them to apparent goods.

 

4. What moral virtues are available to all humanity?

The Cardinal Virtues are the natural moral virtues available to all men. Drawing from both the ancient Greek philosophical tradition and the ancient Hebrew faith of the Old Testament, the Church teaches that there are four Cardinal Virtues: prudence, justice, temperance, and fortitude.7 Prudence is the “elective habit” and may be said to simply be “right reason in action.”8 Prudence is unique insofar as it is both an intellectual and moral virtue. Justice is the virtue whereby a person gives what is due to both God and neighbor.9 It is the virtue of being well-ordered. Justice has the distinction of being the highest virtue of politics or the state. Temperance is the virtue that holds the soul to reason in the face of something pleasurable that would lure it away.10 In contrast, fortitude is the virtue that holds the soul to reason in the face of something that would scare it away.11 The soldier that stands his ground despite an oncoming onslaught is engaging in fortitude. A husband or wife that holds true to their marriage vows despite the allure of adulterous sexual pleasure is engaging in temperance. These four virtues are the “cardinal” virtues, because of the “pivotal role” they hold in morality.12 The Cardinal Virtues are available to all humanity, because they are acquired virtues – meaning they may be “acquired by human effort.”13 Each rational animal, as a creature of the Creator, may acquire these moral virtues, which in turn prepare the soul “for communion with divine love.”14 For grace always perfects nature; thus, the person with great natural virtue has laid a great foundation for divine love.

 

5. Are there virtues that must be given to humanity?

Hope, Faith, & Charity by Fr. Lawrence, OP. Flickr.
Hope, Faith, & Charity by Fr. Lawrence, OP. Flickr.

The Theological Virtues are moral virtues that are given by God. While the Cardinal Virtues are natural virtues, thus they may be acquired by all rational animals; the Theological Virtues are infused virtues, which means they are infused into the individual by God. There are three Theological Virtues: faith, hope, and charity. The Virtue of Faith is that by which Catholics “believe in God and believe all that he has said and revealed to us, and that Holy Church proposes for our belief, because he is truth itself.”15 Truth is not a concept – it is a person, Jesus Christ, and he has wedded himself to humanity through his bride, his body, the Church. The Virtue of Faith, however, cannot be reduced to mere intellect assent. True faith is both belief and living out that belief. The Virtue of Hope is the “anchor of the soul.”16 Hope anchors the believer in virtue by instilling in him a desire for the Kingdom of God, a trust in Jesus Christ, and reliance on the Holy Spirit.17 The Virtue of Charity is the mother of all virtues. It is the virtue by which we love God for his own sake and our neighbors as ourselves.18 Just as the soul is the form of the body, Charity is the form of all virtue – it actuates the potential of virtue. It is the anima (soul) of virtue, because “the practice of all the virtues is animated and inspired by charity, which ‘binds everything together in perfect harmony.”19 Though the Theological Virtues are infused into the person by God, they are properly habits, because once they are given it is the choice of the individual to habituate himself toward the goods of faith, hope, and charity.

 

6. Are there other virtues besides the moral virtues?

Along with the moral virtues, there are the intellectual virtues. The intellectual virtues may be distinguished into two categories: the speculative virtues and the practical virtues. The power of the intellect is the hallmark power of the rational soul, and the speculative virtues help perfect the intellect’s ability to consider truth. Aquinas teaches the speculative virtues “may indeed be called virtues in so far as they confer aptness for a good work, viz. the consideration of truth (since this is the good work of the intellect).”20 There are three habits that perfect the speculative intellect: understanding, wisdom, and science. Now, the speculative intellect has as its end the consideration of truth, and truth itself is a twofold consideration. First, there is the truth that is known in itself. Aquinas submits, “what is known in itself, is as a ‘principle,’ and is at once understood by the intellect.”21 The habit that perfects the speculative intellect’s consideration of principles is the virtue of understanding. It is the “habit of principles.”22 The principles in question are known in themselves, because they are indemonstrable – they are not deduced from other truths. For example, “a whole is greater than its parts.” Moreover, there is the “first indemonstrable principle,” which is the foundation for all others – “the same thing cannot be affirmed and denied at the same time.”23 The second aspect of truth is that which is known to be true “through another.”24 In other words, it is known through the ability to reason. The virtue of wisdom contemplates the highest causes in the universe and allows the intellect to place all being in a rational order. For example, wisdom rationalizes there are living beings and non-living beings, the under living beings there are animals and plants, under animals there is the rational animal and the non-rational animals, and so forth. Science is simply a “body of knowledge,” thus, the virtue of science perfects the intellect through the study of the different bodies of knowable matter. So whereas wisdom will set everything in proper order according to the highest causes, science will study the specific and distinguished bodies of knowledge, e.g., chemistry, astronomy, zoology, botany, etc. So, as Aquinas teaches, “there are different habits of scientific knowledge; whereas there is but one wisdom.”25 One wisdom sets the order, while habits of scientific knowledge are as numerous as the potential to separate one body of knowledge from another.

 

7. Are there other intellectual virtues?

Along with the speculative virtues, there are the practical virtues of art and prudence. The virtue of art is the habit of knowing how to make things. Aquinas states, “Art is nothing else but ‘the right reason about certain works to be made.'”26 Art is understood as an operative/practical habit – in contrast with a speculative habit – for it perfects in the craftsman an “aptness to work well.”27 The second operative or practical habit is prudence. If art is the “right reason of things to be made,” then prudence is the “right reason of things to be done.”28 In the virtue of art, there is an “action passing into outward matter” to create an external object. Through the art of smithing, the blacksmith smiths a plow. In the virtue of prudence, there is an “action abiding in the agent.” Through the virtue of prudence, the blacksmith decides to start his day before dawn. Aquinas summarizes the distinction as “prudence stands in the same relation to such like human actions, consisting in the use of powers and habits, as art does to outward making: since each is the perfect reason about the things with which it is concerned.”29 Prudence is unique insofar as it is both an intellectual virtue and a moral virtue. For example, the blacksmith may make prudent choices in how to operate his smith, while he also may make prudent choices in how to treat his family. Prudence perfects reason, which is necessary in both intellectual and moral matters.30

 

8. Why are the intellect virtues not moral virtues?

Holy Virtue by Fr. Lawrence, OP. Flickr. - "The Latin inscription reads: 'We shall attain the excellence of virtue with the grace of God and the effort of our will.'"
Holy Virtue by Fr. Lawrence, OP. Flickr. – “The Latin inscription reads: ‘We shall attain the excellence of virtue with the grace of God and the effort of our will.'”

If a man is a great botanist does that make him a moral or immoral person? Neither – the acumen of the intellectual virtues, save prudence, does not have a direct moral import. A person may be incredibly intelligent and also vicious at the same time. The intellect does, however, have an indirect moral consideration. For example, the blacksmith has the habit of scientific knowledge needed to smith, and he knows the art of smithing. The moral consideration is what the blacksmith wills to do with the knowledge and art he has. He may create brittle plows and sell them to cheat patrons of their money. He may create the finest swords in the region and donate them to those fighting on the front lines. The moral consideration is not the knowledge itself, but what the soul wills to do with the knowledge. For example, when the will moves the soul to use knowledge for a just or charitable purpose, then the act is a moral act.31

 

  1. Published on All Saints Day 2014 – All you holy men and women of God, pray for us. []
  2. Catechism of the Catholic Church (“CCC”) § 1803 []
  3. Habits: For more on habits and the source for the given quotes, see ST I-II.49.1-2 []
  4. The Categories: A quick sketch of Aristotle’s Categories found in his work, Organon. (1) Substance – that which cannot be predicated of anything else; thus, this particular man or this particular chair; note that while the accidents of the substance may change (e.g., the chair becomes rough or changes color), if the substance changes it forfeits existence (e.g., a human is a human, it cannot change to anything more or less than a human). (2) Quantity (3) Relation – things can be inferior or superior to others, etc. (4) Quality – as described above (5) Place – a substance may be here or there (6) Time – the table is one day old or hundred days old (7) Position – the table is upright or overturned (8) State (or Condition) – the table is in this or that condition (9) Action – to produce a change, e.g., a man may run or kick (10) Affection – to receive an act or to be acted upon, e.g., the table is kicked by the man. []
  5. CCC § 1804 []
  6. ST.II-I.8.1 []
  7. CCC §§ 1805-11 []
  8. CCC § 1806 []
  9. Id. at § 1807 []
  10. Id. at § 1809 []
  11. Id. at § 1808 []
  12. Id. at § 1805 []
  13. Id. []
  14. Id. []
  15. Id. at § 1814 []
  16. Id. at § 1820 []
  17. Id. at §§ 1817-18 []
  18. Id. at §§ 1822-29 []
  19. Id. at § 1827, citing Col 3:14. []
  20. ST. I-II.57.1 []
  21. Id. at a. 2 []
  22. Id. []
  23. Indemonstrable Principles: I-II.94.2 – for example, “Hence it is that, as Boethius says… certain axioms or propositions are universally self-evident to all; and such are those propositions whose terms are known to all, as, “Every whole is greater than its part,” and, “Things equal to one and the same are equal to one another.” But some propositions are self-evident only to the wise, who understand the meaning of the terms of such propositions: thus to one who understands that an angel is not a body, it is self-evident that an angel is not circumscriptively in a place: but this is not evident to the unlearned, for they cannot grasp it.” SPL discusses indemonstrable principles in the list The 6 Step Guide to Aquinas’ Natural Law in a Modern World.” []
  24. Id. at a. 2 []
  25. Id. []
  26. Id. at a. 3. []
  27. Id. []
  28. Id. at a. 4, cf. Metaph. ix, text. 16 []
  29. Id. at a. 3-4 []
  30. Id. at a. 5. []
  31. Id. at a. 1. []

7 Questions on the Powers of the Human Soul Compared to Other Souls

 1. What is a soul?

The soul is the principle of life. Aquinas defines the soul as “the first principle of life in those things which live.”1 In Latin, the word for soul is anima, from which English derives words like animated and animation – to have an anima is to be animated. In contrast, something that does not have a soul, like a table, is considered an inanimate object. It is therefore held that all living corporeal things are animated by a soul. “Living things” is, however, not limited to humans, but includes plants and animals as well. Consequently, plants and animals must also have souls, because they are alive. The question raised is what type of soul does a plant have? What type of soul does an animal have? And how are these souls different than the soul of the rational animal – the human?

 

2. What type of soul does a plant have?

Plants are living beings—they are animated by an anima, a soul; however, is the soul that animates a plant the same soul that animates animals or humans? One consideration is what type of “powers” the life of a plant demonstrates. The Latin word for power is potentia. The term potentia is underneath the English word potential, because if an entity can act on its potential then it has the power to do the act. If there is no potential there is no power. So what is the potential of life in a plant? Imagine a large oak tree. The oak has the power to reproduce via its acorns, it has the power to grow as demonstrated by it moving from acorn to a large oak, and it has the ability to nourish itself via its leaves and deep roots. The ability to reproduce, the generative power, is how the plant soul gains existence. The ability to grow, the augmentative power, is how the oak grows according to its proper size or quantity. The ability to nourish, the nutritive power, allows the soul of the oak to preserve its existence.2 These powers are rooted in the soul of the plant, which is called the vegetative soul. Note that the three powers are able to be distinguished from one another because they all act toward a different object. Imagine still that there is a beehive in the large oak or a horse grazing nearby. The bees and the horse are also alive, but they seem to have powers that go beyond simple growth and preservation.

 

3. What type of soul does an animal have?

Horse, Feliciano Guimarães, Flickr.
Horse, Feliciano Guimarães, Flickr.

Animals are animated by the sensitive soul. First, animals have the ability to reproduce (generative power), grow (augmentative power), and nourish (nutritive power) as plants do. A horse, however, may reproduce quite differently than an oak tree. Though the powers act toward the same end, the matter of the body the soul acts upon may have a very different means to that end. For example, the sensitive soul typically demonstrates the power of locomotion – to be able to move; however, the tiny wings of the buzzing bee are quite different than the taunt muscles of a galloping horse. Another power that distinguishes the vegetative soul of the plant from the sensitive soul of the animal is its namesake power – the senses. Unlike the oak, the horse is well aware of the world around it. The horse can see, taste, hear, smell, and touch. These five powers under the particular sense act toward a particular object. The power of taste knows the flavor of grass, and the power of sight knows the rolling green hills. The eye, however, only knows its own object. The eye can distinguish between green hills and a blue sky, but it cannot distinguish between green grass and sweet grass. Since every power is distinguished according to its own object, there must be something common to all the senses that distinguishes between all the sense objects; moreover, not only is it able to distinguish between the objects, what is green and what is sweet, but also able to combine the senses into one harmonious sense perception. The power that perceives all the external senses is called the common sense. A horse, much like a dog, may start to associate certain perceptions and remember them; thus, the sensitive soul may also have the power of memory. A dog may even recall what it has perceived through its senses at night in a dream; thus, the sensitive soul may have the power of imagination. In short, animals demonstrate a degree of knowledge, though it is the lowest form of knowledge in Creation.3

 

4. What type of soul does a human have?

There is something uniquely remarkable about the human soul. Aquinas observes that the sensitive souls of animals are driven by natural impulses or instincts. A deer darts at a strange sound, and a colony of bees builds a hive. Humans, however, are different. Like the bees, humans seek shelter, but with one crucial difference. The bees have the natural impulse to build the same hive over and over again. Humanity, however, does not build the same shelter over and over. Humanity has risen from huts to penthouse apartments. How? Humanity is able to reflect upon the shelter as a shelter and the art of making a shelter. Humans can contemplate the very art of shelter construction and may reason about different materials and techniques. A bee does not know itself as a hive-maker or reflect upon the art of hive-making. A bee is a slave to its instincts. A human, however, is a rational animal, and it is in rationality that it can reflect upon the world. The human’s ability to reflect upon his or herself as a person and upon the actions that person takes sets the human apart from the other animals. The ability to reflect is rooted in the hallmark power of the human soul – the intellect. Unlike any other power, the intellect may know itself. It is precisely in this self-reflection, that mankind is able to reason. Humans have a rational soul. Consequently, the ability of humanity to reflect upon its actions is the basis for all morality. Unlike the deer that darts at a sound, a person can reflect upon their actions. Maybe it is more rational to stand and fight, like a soldier fighting alongside his comrades. The reflection upon actions serves as the foundation of moral inquiry, and in this context there are four primary powers of the rational soul to consider: the senses, the passions, the will, and the intellect.4

 

5. What are the passions?

The passions are movements of the soul. A passion could be an immediate inclination toward a sense object. For example, a person is walking down the road and they sense warm buttery bread and immediately feel drawn toward the bakery. There is a movement in the soul toward the bread. A passion could also be an aversion to a sense object. A person walking down the road turns the corner and sees a large snarling hound. The immediate reaction is a movement of the soul away from the sense object. Passions are movements of the soul that affect the soul. A person could feel fearful all day due to an upcoming test. A person could feel joy all day due to an upcoming dinner party. Note in both cases that the person is not stating, “there is a test coming up, I choose to be fearful” or “there is a dinner party coming up, I choose to be joyful.” Rather, it is the object affecting the soul in a different way – either an inclination toward an object or a aversion from an object. Typical passions include love, hatred, desire, fear, joy, sadness, and anger.5 Aquinas places both the senses and the passions in what he refers to as the sense appetite of the soul, which simply means there exists an inclination toward an object apprehended by the senses.

 

6. What is the will?

Whiskey Shots Kirti Poddar Flickr.
Whiskey Shots Kirti Poddar Flickr.

The will is the mover of the soul. According to the Angelic Doctor, “the will is a rational appetite.”6 An appetite is an inclination toward a good; thus, the rational appetite of the will moves the soul toward things that are good. Following Aristotle, Aquinas agrees that all men seek the good.7 If, however, all men use their will to seek the good, why does it appear that humanity so often chooses what is evil and self-destructive? Does an alcoholic will the good when he reaches for another drink? Does a suicide victim choose the good when he takes his own life? Aristotle and Aquinas would both agree on the caveat that while all men seek the good, it is not necessary that the goods they seek be actual goods in truth – only that the person’s will sees the object as an apparent good. The will moves the soul of the alcoholic toward the next drink, because he believes the drink to be a good. The drink, in turn, is affecting his soul. The alcoholic has a developed a passion toward the drink and is now inclined toward it. If, however, the alcoholic tried to remain sober, note that there would be a struggle between his will wanting to move his soul toward what is truly rational, and his passion moving his soul toward the sense object of alcohol. When speaking of the soul and morality, the questions of whether the passions will enslave the will to their inclinations or the will will discipline the passions into a rational order lays at the heart of moral inquiry and act. The rational soul is able to reflect upon its own actions and is so charged with choosing the rational and moral act.

 

7. What is the intellect?

The intellect is the power of the soul to understand. The intellect may be divided into two powers. First, every rational soul has the power of the passive intellect. The passive intellect is the potential for the soul to understand the intelligible. It is a receptive power. The second power, the active intellect, is the power that allows the intellect to abstract the form from the intelligible thing and understand it. For example, a person who has never seen a horse has the passive power to understand what a horse is. If the person then sees a horse, the active intellect allows the soul to abstract from the horse the intelligible form of the horse. For the mind does not take in the actual material horse, but it does take in an intelligible form of it. If the person goes back and tells his friends about the horse, he is recalling that intelligible form through the power of memory. If he theorizes that there must be black horses and brown horses and even horses with wings, he is using the power of his imagination. What if the person pondered whether or not you could eat a horse? Could you hunt a horse for sport? Could you tame it? The person’s power to reflect upon what is a proper act toward the horse, a moral act, is powered by reason. Is reason then a power of the intellect? No. Reason is a movement from one truth to another in order to understand. The person faced with a horse could reason the horse was a living being, an animal, a horse, and even a certain species of horse. Reason allows the mind to come to understand a truth. The intellect, however, simply knows the truth attained. Reason is not a power of the intellect, the reason is to the intellect as movement is to rest.8

  1. Aquinas’ Summa Theologica, ST I-I.75.1 []
  2. ST.I-I.78.2 []
  3. Aquinas on Common Sense, ST I, 78, 4, ad.2. []
  4. The Rational Soul: Following Aristotle, St. Thomas Aquinas gives five genera of powers in the rational soul: vegetative, sensitive, appetitive, locomotion, and intellectual. Note that the higher souls take on the powers of the lower souls: plants have the vegetative powers, animals have vegetative and sensitive powers, and humans have vegetative, sensitive, and intellectual powers. Aquinas refers to these souls as higher and lower based on the object of the their powers. The vegetative powers – which characterize the vegetative soul – have only the body as their object. The sensitive powers go outside the body and have as their object sensible things. The intellectual powers go even further to have as their object universal being. Another consideration is that the ability for man to reflect, the power of the intellect, is in a real way the Imago Dei in man – the image of God. It allows us to create and to be moral. A final consideration here is that the art by which man learns to reflect better – to reason more properly – is logic. Aquinas gives a brief summary of the difference between animals and the rational animal as an introduction to logic in the prologue of his commentary on Aristotle’s Organon. []
  5. CCC § 1772 []
  6. ST.II-I.8.1 []
  7. Id., citing “the Philosopher says (Ethic. i, 1) that ‘the good is that which all desire.'” []
  8. Reason & Intellect: Boethius gave the analogy that the reason was to the intellect what time was to eternity. []

The Agony of the Cross: 2 Thoughts on How Christ Can Suffer Grief and Have Beatific Knowledge

How can Christ call out “My God, my God, why have you abandoned me?” if he has the grace of Beatific Knowledge?

Listers, St. Thomas Aquinas asks the question, “Whether Christ’s entire soul enjoyed blessed fruition during the Passion?” In other words, how can Christ call out “My God, my God, why have you abandoned me?” if he has the grace of Beatific Knowledge? St. Thomas’ article is presented in part.

 

1. The Problem

In Summa Theologica III.46.8, Aquinas reiterates a common concern regarding Christ’s suffering on the Cross and his Beatific Knowledge:

It would seem that Christ’s entire soul did not enjoy blessed fruition during the Passion. For it is not possible to be sad and glad at the one time, since sadness and gladness are contraries. But Christ’s whole soul suffered grief during the Passion, as was stated above (Article 7). Therefore His whole soul could not enjoy fruition.

Beatific Knowledge comes from one experiencing the Beatific Vision. The beatific vision, the vision of the blessed, or the “science of vision” are all univocal terms that refer to the knowledge of one who has seen God in his essence. St. John refers to the beatific vision when he says that the faithful departed will see God “as he is.” Turning to the biblical tradition within St. John’s Gospel, Christ’s relationship with the Father appears to be in a beatific manner. Christ says, “not that anyone has seen the Father except him who is from God; he has seen the Father,” and furthermore, he states “but you have not known [the Father]; I know him.” Moreover, St. John records, “he who comes from heaven is above all. He bears witness to what he has seen and heard.” These passages seem to “put it beyond doubt that the revelatory power of Christ originated not in a revelation made to him nor in his faith, but in the direct knowledge he has of the Father.”1 As articulated in the question, if Christ’s soul had seen God and did indeed have the Beatific Vision, then the fruition of that comprehension would have filled Christ’s soul with immense gladness; however, since Christ suffered grief and cried out in abandonment on the Cross, Christ must not have had Beatific Knowledge.

 

2. The Answer

Aquinas disagrees with this argument. He answers:

The joy of fruition is not opposed directly to the grief of the Passion, because they have not the same object. Now nothing prevents contraries from being in the same subject, but not according to the same. And so the joy of fruition can appertain to the higher part of reason by its proper act; but grief of the Passion according to the subject. Grief of the Passion belongs to the essence of the soul by reason of the body, whose form the soul is; whereas the joy of fruition (belongs to the soul) by reason of the faculty in which it is subjected.

Can contraries be in the same subject? Aquinas believes so, because he believes that though the higher powers of the soul can have fruition or be glad, the lower powers may suffer. An excellent example of these “contraries” is a mother giving birth. The mother can rejoice in the childbirth, but that does not thwart the lower faculties of the soul from suffering. The higher power of the intellect may be glad that she is giving birth to her child, but that does not stop the lower powers of the senses from suffering. In the midst of joy, there can come a scream of pain. Many who advocate Christ did not have Beatific Knowledge do so on the grounds that if Christ had that fruition of seeing God he would be unable to experience many of the emotions we see him display in the Gospels. In other words, his soul would be so overflowing with the grace of seeing God in his essence he could not be sorrowful or grieve. Christ’s humanity would seem strikingly inhuman as he played out his earthly life.

As in his treatment on the knowledge of Christ, Aquinas tends to “de-mythologize” the idea of Christ having Beatific Knowledge. What then is Christ’s comprehension of the Divine Essence? St. Thomas posits that the soul of Christ could not fully comprehend the Divine Essence. In holding to Christ as one person with two distinct natures, Christ’s soul would have limitations proper to a created soul. As St. Thomas avers, “it is impossible for any creature to comprehend the Divine Essence,” because “the infinite is not comprehended by the finite.”2 Returning to the childbirth example, one of the characteristics of a created rational soul would be that the higher faculties could comprehend a situation and even rejoice in it, while the lower faculties suffered through it. Similarly, Christ’s higher faculties would enjoy the Beatific Knowledge, while the lower faculties suffered. Like the mother crying out, Christ’s cry of abandonment does not negate his Beatific Knowledge.

  1. Did Christ have Beatific Knowledge? – the commentary on whether or not Christ had Beatific Knowledge comes from the SPL list 8 Considerations on Whether Christ had Acquired, Infused, or Beatific Knowledge. []
  2. Knowledge of Christ: For a detailed account of the knowledge of Christ see 8 Considerations on Whether Christ had Acquired, Infused, or Beatific Knowledge. []

Think Animals and Plants Do Not Have Souls? – 3 Lists to Make You Think Again

The soul is “the first principle of life in those things which live: for we call living things animate, and those things which have no life, inanimate.”

Listers, it is my experience that two immediate thoughts occur when a Catholic reads about Sacred Tradition holding animals and plants to have souls. The first is the thought of heresy or some modernist revision of a classic teaching is being submitted. Normally the quick acknowledgment that these teachings rests in St. Thomas Aquinas assuages such fears. The second and more difficult reaction is – “Why does it matter?” To wit, I think it falls to two considerations. The first is the immediate import for how we should treat animals and plants within the order of Creation and secondly – and more telling – the fact that Catholic catechesis on the soul has diminished to such a degree that even the most basic of questions regarding what is a soul? or what has a soul? can no longer be answered. It is one thing to think it is a waste of time to discuss a matter and quite another to lack the basic knowledge to have that discussion. In this stream of thought, we present the soul and the anima of animals and plants to animate the discussion of the soul that can have spectacular import for catechesis on indulgences, grace, purgatory, the sacraments, and more.

An Introduction to the Soul – 6 Questions

Listers, today we are going to take a look into Sacred Tradition and explore the reality of the soul. The following is a basic introduction, and will serve as a foundation for further discussions. All quotes – unless otherwise specified – are taken from our beloved Angelic Doctor and his Summa Prima Pars Q75A1.

What Is the Soul?

The soul is “the first principle of life in those things which live: for we call living things animate, and those things which have no life, inanimate.” In Latin, soul is anima, from which we derive our words animate and inanimate. Things that have life are animated; thus, they have an anima or soul.

Do Plants and Animals Have Souls?

Life “is shown principally by two actions: knowledge and movement.” Plants and animals are animated beings that respectively display knowledge and movement. Where there is life, there must be a soul; thus, yes, plants and animals have souls.

More basic questions on the soul.

 

Plants via Wikicommons Roland zh

Plants Have Souls: 5 Points of Inquiry

Listers, today we continue our study of the soul by delving deeper into the Vegetative Soul or Plant Soul. The following quotes are taken from Gilson’s Christian Philosophy of St. Thomas Aquinas. Gilson is primarily a historian and a philosopher second. He is adequate for certain Thomistic principles, but overall I would suggest Listers look into such giants as Ralph McInerny or Fr. Garrigou-Lagrange.

What Are the Different Types of Souls?

Vegetative: “At the bottom we find a power of the soul whose one object is the body to which it is united,” and “the vegetative soul only acts on its own body.” The Vegetative Soul is the soul of plants.

Sensitive: “There is another genus of powers of the soul corresponding to a more universal object, namely, to all sensible bodies, and not merely to the one sensible body with which the soul is united.” The Sensitive Soul is the soul of animals. They possess many powers that plants do not, e.g., the five senses and a type of memory.

Rational: “Above these, there is a power of the soul with a still more universal object; that is, not merely sensible bodies in general, but all being taken in its universality.” The Ration Soul is the soul of man. It alone is made in the Imago Dei, and has immortality and rationality.

More information on vegetative souls.

 

A Leopard in Ngala Game Reserve, Limpopo, South Africa. via Wikicommons Raphael Melnick

Animals Have Souls: 6 Inquiries Into Their Powers

Listers, we continue in our study of the soul. Today we focus on the Sensitive Soul or Animal Soul. The following quotes are taken from Gilson’s Christian Philosophy. I will once again voice my concern over Gilson, and state he is good for certain elementary concepts; however, students of our Angelic Doctor should turn to Ralph McInerny or Fr. Garrigou-Langrange.

Again to escape an accusation of Catholic-Druidism, I’d like to state that the belief that animals have souls dates back to Aristotle, and was maintained with the Scholastic tradition. Moreover, the Vegetative and Sensitive Souls are mortal, they will return to dust, and only the Rational Soul of man is made in the Imago Dei.

What is the Sensitive Soul?

The Sensitive Power “is the lowest degree of the knowledge to be encountered in the universe.” The Sensitive Soul – characterized by the Sensitive Power – brings with it that which is necessary for animal existence.

And we must state that the listed powers are those which the Sensitive Soul adds in conjunction with the powers listed in the Vegetative Soul. Animals, like Plants, have the ability to come into existence, move from a nascent creature to a mature one, and receive nourishment. Likewise, the Rational Soul takes up the powers of both the Sensitive and the Vegetative.

What is a Particular Sense?

The term Particular Sense denotes an individual power that corresponds with a particular object, and is able to inform the soul of various sensible realities. The Particular Sense most commonly has five powers, which we know as the five senses. For example, hearing is the power that corresponds with the object of sound, and it informs the soul of that particular sensible reality.

Particular Sense: “which is the first in the order of sensitive powers and corresponds to an immediate modification of the soul be sensible realities. But the particular sense is in turn subdivided into distinct powers according to the various kinds of sensible impressions it is equipped to receive. Sensible act upon the particular sense by the species which they impress upon it;” hence, “let us begin, then, from the principle that the senses receive sensible species denuded of matter.”

More on the discussion of animals and souls.

Why Did God Make You? – And 24 Other Basic Catholic Questions

Listers, the following lesson is taken from the Baltimore Catechism. The Baltimore Catechism was the standard catechism of teaching the faith and catechizing children from 1885 to Vatican II. Its basic question-and-answer approach is the most natural learning style for the human mind and simplifies even the most complex theological questions.

Listers, the following lesson is taken from the Baltimore Catechism. The Baltimore Catechism was the standard catechism of teaching the faith and catechizing children from 1885 to Vatican II. Its basic question-and-answer approach is the most natural learning style for the human mind and simplifies even the most complex theological questions. SPL has also reproduced 29 Questions Explaining Indulgences and 46 Questions to Help Explain the Sacraments. Those who missed Part I of The End of Man can visit What Is Meant By the “End of Man” and 10 other Questions.

 

LESSON FIRST
On the End of Man
Part II
137-161

 

Q. 137. How is the soul like to God?

A. The soul is like to God because it is a spirit that will never die, and has understanding and free will.

 

Q. 138. Is every invisible thing a spirit?

A. Every spirit is invisible — which means can not be seen; but every invisible thing is not a spirit. The wind is invisible, and it is not a spirit.

 

Q. 139. Has a spirit any other quality?

A. A spirit is also indivisible; that is, it can not be divided into parts, as we divide material things.

 

Q. 140. What do the words “will never die” mean?

A. By the words “will never die” we mean that the soul, when once created, will never cease to exist, whatever be its condition in the next world. Hence we say the soul is immortal or gifted with immortality.

 

Q. 141. Why then do we say a soul is dead while in a state of mortal sin?

A. We say a soul is dead while in a state of mortal sin, because in that state it is as helpless as a dead body, and can merit nothing for itself.

 

Q. 142. What does our “understanding” mean?

A. Our “understanding” means the “gift of reason,” by which man is distinguished from all other animals, and by which he is enabled to think and thus acquire knowledge and regulate his actions.

 

Q. 143. Can we learn all truths by our reason alone?

A. We can not learn all truths by our reason alone, for some truths are beyond the power of our reason and must be taught to us by God.

 

Q. 144. What do we call the truths God teaches us?

A. Taken together, we call the truths God teaches us revelation, and we call the manner by which He teaches them also revelation.

 

Q. 145. What is “Free Will”?

A. “Free Will” is that gift of God by which we are enabled to choose between one thing and another; and to do good or evil in spite of reward or punishment.

 

Q. 146. Have brute animals “understanding” and “free will”?

A. Brute animals have not “understanding” and “free will.” They have not “understanding” because they never change their habits or better their condition. They have not “free will” because they never show it in their actions.

 

 

Q. 147. What gift in animals supplies the place of reason?

A. In animals the gift of “instinct” supplies the place of reason in guiding their actions.

 

Q. 148. What is instinct?

A. “Instinct” is a gift by which all animals are impelled to follow the laws and habits that God has given to their nature.

 

Q. 149. Have men as well as brutes “instinct”?

A. Men have “instinct,” and they show it when placed in sudden danger, when they have not time to use their reason. A falling man instantly grasps for something to support him.

 

Q. 150. Why did God make you?

A. God made me to know Him, to love Him, and to serve Him in this world, and to be happy with Him forever in the next.

 

Q. 151. Why is it necessary to know God?

A. It is necessary to know God because without knowing Him we cannot love Him; and without loving Him we cannot be saved. We should know Him because He is infinitely true; love Him because He is infinitely beautiful; and serve Him because He is infinitely good.

 

Q. 152. Of which must we take more care, our soul or our body?

A. We must take more care of our soul than of our body.

 

Q. 153. Why must we take more care of our soul than of our body?

A. We must take more care of our soul than of our body, because in losing our soul we lose God and everlasting happiness.

 

Q. 154. What must we do to save our souls?

A. To save our souls, we must worship God by faith, hope, and charity; that is, we must believe in Him, hope in Him, and love Him with all our heart.

 

Q. 155. What does “worship” mean?

A. “Worship” means to give divine honor by acts such as the offering of prayer or sacrifice.

 

Q. 156. How shall we know the things which we are to believe?

A. We shall know the things which we are to believe from the Catholic Church, through which God speaks to us.

 

Q. 157. What do we mean by the “Church, through which God speaks to us”?

A. By the “Church, through which God speaks to us,” we mean the “teaching Church”; that is, the Pope, Bishops, and priests, whose duty it is to instruct us in the truths and practices of our religion.

 

 

Q. 158. Where shall we find the chief truths which the Church teaches?

A. We shall find the chief truths which the Church teaches in the Apostles’ Creed.

 

Q. 159. If we shall find only the “chief truths” in the Apostles’ Creed, where shall we find the remaining truths?

A. We shall find the remaining truths of our Faith in the religious writings and preachings that have been sanctioned by the authority of the Church.

 

Q. 160. Name some sacred truths not mentioned in the Apostles’ Creed.

A. In the Apostles’ Creed there is no mention of the Real Presence of Our Lord in the Holy Eucharist, nor of the Infallibility of the Pope, nor of the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary, nor of some other truths that we are bound to believe.

 

Q. 161. Say the Apostles’ Creed.

A. I believe in God, the Father Almighty, Creator of heaven and earth; and in Jesus Christ, His only Son, our Lord; who was conceived by the Holy Ghost, born of the Virgin Mary, suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified; died, and was buried. He descended into hell: the third day He arose again from the dead: He ascended into heaven, sitteth at the right hand of God, the Father Almighty: from thence He shall come to judge the living and the dead. I believe in the Holy Ghost, the Holy Catholic Church, the communion of Saints, the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body, and the life everlasting. Amen.

Do Good Works Merit the Soul in Mortal Sin? And 10 Others Questions on Indulgences

“An Indulgence is the remission in whole or in part of the temporal punishment due to sin.”

Listers, the following lesson is taken from the Baltimore Catechism. The Baltimore Catechism was the standard catechism of teaching the faith and catechizing children from 1885 to Vatican II. Its basic question-and-answer approach is the most natural learning style for the human mind and simplifies even the most complex theological questions.

 

LESSON TWENTY-FIRST
On Indulgences
Questions 839-849

 

Q. 839. What is an Indulgence?

A. An Indulgence is the remission in whole or in part of the temporal punishment due to sin.

 

Q. 840. What does the word “indulgence” mean?

A. The word indulgence means a favor or concession. An indulgence obtains by a very slight penance the remission of penalties that would otherwise be severe.

 

Q. 841. Is an Indulgence a pardon of sin, or a license to commit sin?

A. An Indulgence is not a pardon of sin, nor a license to commit sin, and one who is in a state of mortal sin cannot gain an Indulgence.

 

Q. 842. How do good works done in mortal sin profit us?

A. Good works done in mortal sin profit us by obtaining for us the grace to repent and sometimes temporal blessings. Mortal sin deprives us of all our merit, nevertheless God will bestow gifts for every good deed as He will punish every evil deed.

 

Q. 843. How many kinds of Indulgences are there?

A. There are two kinds of Indulgences — Plenary and Partial.

 

Q. 844. What is Plenary Indulgence?

A. A Plenary Indulgence is the full remission of the temporal punishment due to sin.

 

Q. 845. Is it easy to gain a Plenary Indulgence?

A. It is not easy to gain a Plenary Indulgence, as we may understand from its great privilege. To gain a Plenary Indulgence, we must hate sin, be heartily sorry for even our venial sins, and have no desire for even the slightest sin. Though we may not gain entirely each Plenary Indulgence we seek, we always gain a part of each; that is, a partial indulgence, greater or less in proportion to our good dispositions.

 

Q. 846. Which are the most important Plenary Indulgences granted by the Church?

A. The most important Plenary Indulgences granted by the Church are:

The Indulgences of a jubilee which the Pope grants every twenty-five years or on great occasions by which he gives special faculties to confessors for the absolution of reserved sins; The Indulgence granted to the dying in their last agony.

 

Q. 847. What is a Partial Indulgence?

A. A Partial Indulgence is the remission of part of the temporal punishment due to sin.

 

Q. 848. How long has the practice of granting Indulgences been in use in the Church, and what was its origin?

A. The practice of granting Indulgences has been in use in the Church since the time of the apostles. It had its origin in the earnest prayers of holy persons, and especially of the martyrs begging the Church for their sake to shorten the severe penances of sinners, or to change them into lighter penances. The request was frequently granted and the penance remitted, shortened or changed, and with the penance remitted the temporal punishment corresponding to it was blotted out.

 

Q. 849. How do we show that the Church has the power to grant Indulgences?

A. We show that the Church has the power to grant Indulgences, because Christ has given it power to remit all guilt without restriction, and if the Church has power, in the Sacrament of penance, to remit the eternal punishment — which is the greatest — it must have power to remit the temporal or lesser punishment, even outside the Sacrament of Penance.

Animals Have Souls: 6 Inquiries Into Their Powers

The Sensitive Power “is the lowest degree of the knowledge to be encountered in the universe.”

Listers, we continue in our study of the soul. Today we focus on the Sensitive Soul or Animal Soul. The following quotes are taken from Gilson’s Christian Philosophy. I will once again voice my concern over Gilson, and state he is good for certain elementary concepts; however, students of our Angelic Doctor should turn to Ralph McInerny or Fr. Garrigou-Langrange.

Again to escape an accusation of Catholic-Druidism, I’d like to state that the belief that animals have souls dates back to Aristotle, and was maintained with the Scholastic tradition. Moreover, the Vegetative and Sensitive Souls are mortal, they will return to dust, and only the Rational Soul of man is made in the Imago Dei.

SPL Recommended Reading
SPL on The Soul
SPL on The Vegetative Soul

A Coral Reef in Florida. U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

1. What is the Sensitive Soul?

The Sensitive Power “is the lowest degree of the knowledge to be encountered in the universe.” The Sensitive Soul – characterized by the Sensitive Power – brings with it that which is necessary for animal existence.

And we must state that the listed powers are those which the Sensitive Soul adds in conjunction with the powers listed in the Vegetative Soul. Animals, like Plants, have the ability to come into existence, move from a nascent creature to a mature one, and receive nourishment. Likewise, the Rational Soul takes up the powers of both the Sensitive and the Vegetative.

2. What is a Particular Sense?

The term Particular Sense denotes an individual power that corresponds with a particular object, and is able to inform the soul of various sensible realities. The Particular Sense most commonly has five powers, which we know as the five senses. For example, hearing is the power that corresponds with the object of sound, and it informs the soul of that particular sensible reality.

Particular Sense: “which is the first in the order of sensitive powers and corresponds to an immediate modification of the soul be sensible realities. But the particular sense is in turn subdivided into distinct powers according to the various kinds of sensible impressions it is equipped to receive. Sensible act upon the particular sense by the species which they impress upon it;” hence, “let us begin, then, from the principle that the senses receive sensible species denuded of matter.”

3. What Are the Five Senses?

Touch: “Since sensibles of this kind produce material impressions in us, and since every material impression is made by contact, such sensibles must touch us in order that we may perceive them. Hence the sensitive power which apprehends them is called touch.”

Taste: “There is a second kind of sensible whose impression does not itself modify us, but yet it is accompanied by an accessory material modification. Sometimes this supplementary modification affects both the sensible and the sense organ. This is the case with taste.”

Hearing & Smell: “Hearing and smell suppose no material modification of the sense organ. They perceive from a distance and across an exterior medium, the material modifications which have affected the sensible object.”

Sight: “Finally, we have a last class of sensibles which act upon the sense without any corporeal modification accompanying their action. These are color and light. The process by which such species emanate from the object to act upon the subject is totally spiritual. Here, with the noblest and most universal of the senses, we achieve and operation very similar to the intellectual operations properly so-called. Numerous, indeed, are the comparisons which can be drawn between intellectual knowledge and sight, between the eye of the soul and the eye of the body.”

Elephant in South Africa, 2010.

4. What is Common Sense?

The term common sense today generally refers to a type of sound practical judgment in mundane matters; however, the term original stood in distinction to the particular sense.

Common Sense: “Thus we must posit a common sense, to which we can refer, as to a common term, all sense apprehensions so that it may judge them and distinguish them from one another,” and “indeed, it is quite obvious that we are aware that we see. Such knowledge cannot belong to the particular sense which only knows the sensible form which affects it. But when the modification which this form has impressed upon the particular sense has determined the vision, then the visual sensation, in its turn, modifies the common sense. Thus the common sense perceives the vision itself.”

5. Do Animals Have Imagination?

Why would animals even need imagination? – “The objects apprehended by an animal determine what its movements and actions will be. Thus it would never make a move toward satisfying its need if it could not represent these same objects to itself even in their absence. Thus the animal’s sensitive soul must be capable, not only of receiving sensible species but also of holding and preserving them within itself.”

“Since therefore, the sensitive power of the soul is the act of a corporeal organ, it must have two different powers, one to receive sensible species, the other to preserve them. This power to preserve is called fancy or imagination.”

6. What Type of Memory Does the Sensitive Soul Have?

Estimative Power (Memory): “The sheep does not avoid the wolf, nor the bird glean the straw because the shape and color of these objects are pleasing it displeasing, but because they perceive them directly as either opposed to their nature or in accord with it. This new power is called the estimative power. It makes possible the fourth internal sensitive power, memory.”

Plants Have Souls: 5 Points of Inquiry

An inquiry into the Vegetative Soul.

Listers, today we continue our study of the soul by delving deeper into the Vegetative Soul or Plant Soul. The following quotes are taken from Gilson‘s Christian Philosophy of St. Thomas Aquinas. Gilson is primarily a historian and a philosopher second. He is adequate for certain Thomistic principles, but overall I would suggest Listers look into such giants as Ralph McInerny or Fr. Garrigou-Lagrange.

1. What Is a Soul?

“In its wide sense, soul is defined as the first act of an organized body capable of performing the functions of life;” thus, “like all form, a soul is an act.” The soul is the form of a body. It is the first principle of life. In Latin, the soul is the anima which animates the body. Where there is life, there is a soul.

Read More:
SPL on Matter & Form
SPL on The Soul

2. What Are the Different Types of Souls?

Three Types: Vegetative, Sensitive, and Rational Souls

Vegetative: “At the bottom we find a power of the soul whose one object is the body to which it is united,” and “the vegetative soul only acts on its own body.” The Vegetative Soul is the soul of plants.

Sensitive: “There is another genus of powers of the soul corresponding to a more universal object, namely, to all sensible bodies, and not merely to the one sensible body with which the soul is united.” The Sensitive Soul is the soul of animals. They possess many powers that plants do not, e.g., the five senses and a type of memory.

Rational: “Above these, there is a power of the soul with a still more universal object; that is, not merely sensible bodies in general, but all being taken in its universality.” The Ration Soul is the soul of man. It alone is made in the Imago Dei, and has immortality and rationality.1

3. What Does Powers of the Soul Mean?

As the first principle of life, the soul is the seat for certain vital functions. These functions or powers of the soul have particular actions, which can be determined and separated according to their objects.

“Thus actions and the powers from which they come are distinguished from on another by their objects.”

“Cannibal Tree” – A tree grown around a sawed off stump Wikicommons Jan Tik

4. What Are the Powers of the Vegetative Soul?

Overall, the Vegetative Soul must be able to provide the basic powers of life demonstrated by plants. The plants ability to nourish itself, grow, or even begin the miracle of life are all powers rooted in the first principle of life – the soul.

Vegetative Power: “The body considered as receiving the life of the soul which informs it.” The Vegetative Power imports three distinct powers: generative, augmentative, and nutritive.

The Threefold Division of Power within the Vegetative Soul

Generative Power: “By the first of these operation the body receives actual existence.”

Augmentative Power: “At the beginning of their existence they have only imperfect being as far as quantity is concerned. For them there must be, besides the generative powers, an augmentative power, through which they achieve their proper natural state.” The Augmentative Power is what allows and governs living organisms to move from a nascent state to mature one. In the case of plants, they move from a seed to a mature plant.

Nutritive Power: If the soul contains the ability to govern itself growth from nascent to mature, it must also have a way to nourish itself. “The very conservation of the individual demands a nutritive power to restore continually what it has lost, and to bring to it what it needs if it is to attain its perfection of stature, as well as what it needs to produce the seeds necessary for its own reproduction.”

“Thus the vegetative power itself supposes a generative power which confers being, an augmentative power which confers fitting stature, and a nutritive power which preserves it in existence and in its own proper quality.”

5. Do Other Souls Have These Powers?

Does not the Sensitive Soul of animals and the Rational Soul of man have augmentative and nutritive powers? Do we not grow and receive nourishment? Yes. In studying the three types of souls, one can see the principle that the higher orders and perfects the lower. The Sensitive Soul will take up the powers of the Vegetative and the Rational Soul will take up the powers of both. In certain cases, a perfection happens and the power that resides in the lower soul actually differs from the same power in a higher soul, e.g., the memory displayed by animals and the memory displayed by rational animals.

  1. Catholic Druidism: Dear Listers, to avoid any accusations that we here at SPL are actually quasi-Catholic-druids and not faithful students of St. Thomas Aquinas, let us clearly state – once again – that the souls of plants and animals are mortal, they return to the dust, and only the rational soul of man bears immortality and the Imago Dei. []

Intro to the Soul: 6 Questions

The soul is “the first principle of life in those things which live: for we call living things animate, and those things which have no life, inanimate.”

Listers, today we are going to take a look into Sacred Tradition and explore the reality of the soul. The following is a basic introduction, and will serve as a foundation for further discussions. All quotes – unless otherwise specified – are taken from our beloved Angelic Doctor and his Summa Prima Pars Q75A1.

Is the Soul a Body?

No, the soul “is simple in comparison with the body, inasmuch as it does not occupy space by its bulk.” – St. Augustine, De. Trin vi 6. Whereas bodies are complicated with such traits as weight and dimensions, the soul is not.

What Is the Soul?

The soul is “the first principle of life in those things which live: for we call living things animate, and those things which have no life, inanimate.” In Latin, soul is anima, from which we derive our words animate and inanimate. Things that have life are animated; thus, they have an anima or soul.

Ponies near Welwyn Garden City, Hertfordshire. Wikicommons via Christine Matthews

Do Plants and Animals Have Souls?

Life “is shown principally by two actions: knowledge and movement.” Plants and animals are animated beings that respectively display knowledge and movement. Where there is life, there must be a soul; thus, yes, plants and animals have souls.

Is Every Principle of Vital Action a Soul?

“It is manifest that not every principle of vital action is a soul, for then the eye would be a soul, as it is a principle of vision; and the same might be applied to the other instruments of the soul: but it is the first principle of life, which we call the soul.”

How Can We Articulate This “First Principle of Life?”

Plants and Animals (including the Rational Animal: Man) are composite beings – they are composed of matter and form. We know matter never exists without form, e.g., wood must always be in the form of a tree, chair, table, etc., it can never be some formless woodness. Matter – since it cannot exist on its own – is in potential to form; or rather, we may say that the form is the act and matter is the potency. Without form, the matter does not exist.

Now, animated – ensouled – beings differ in their articulation of matter and form. Our form is not our external dimensions, but rather the “first principle of life” – the soul. The soul is the form of the body. It is the act that gives life.

“Therefore the soul, which is the first principle of life, is not a body, but the act of a body.”

For further reading, see SPL on Matter & Form.

A Leopard in Ngala Game Reserve, Limpopo, South Africa. via Wikicommons Raphael Melnick

Are All Souls Immortal?

No, they are not. Though the purview of the Catholic tradition allows for the belief of Plant (Vegetative) and Animal (Sensitive) souls, it is clear that only the souls of humanity are made in the Imago Dei and bear immortality. Plant and Animal Souls also differ in their respective powers from each other and from the Rational Soul of man.

Plants and Animals return to dust at death, while the immortal soul of man is ultimately bound to either heaven or hell.