Aquinas against spiritual matter

Tomasz Stepien


Nature of angels have been the object of interest of Christian thinkers since the times of the Fathers of the Church when the teaching of Holy Scriptures was confronted with Late Ancient Philosophy. The teaching on the intellectual beings in noetic realm was very important especially for Neoplatonic philosophers. It was Plotinus who first used Aristotelian concept of hyle noete (intellectual mater) to describe the distinctions between spiritual beings. His opinions evolved at ancient Neoplatonic systems and found its place in Arabic and Jewish philosophy. Idea of intellectual matter took its fully developed form in the writings of Avicebron (Solomon ibn Gabirol). His work Fons vitae was early translated to Latin in twelve century and was widely read. Through this work much of Neoplatonic philosophy was transferred to Latin Europe along with the teaching on spiritual beings and spiritual matter.  St Thomas Aquinas, who confronted his ideas building systematic angelology, also knew work of Avicebron. The main problem of Christian angelology at his time was to show the difference between the nature of angels and God. This distinction did not played the key role in pre-christian systems, because there was no Scripture like concept of the one God as the only creator who transcends all beings. For the medieval Christian thinkers the idea of spiritual mater seemed to be very helpful in resolving this issue. It allowed them to claim that angels as creatures had spiritual matter in their essences while God was pure form and pure act. St Thomas Aquinas explained this difference in unique way using his new metaphysics. He argues that God is subsistent act of being (ispum esse substitens) and angels do not have their own essence identical with their being. Spiritual beings (often called by him „separated substances”) are composed of act of being (ipsum esse) and essence, which is form (forma). Thanks to such explanation there is no need to claim that there is a spiritual matter in nature of angels and Aquinas formulates arguments refuting this idea. In De substantis separatis he shows that such solution allows to reject spiritual matter and helps to demonstrate that angels have purely spiritual nature. His approach to the problem also preserves the claim of fundamental difference between God and spiritual creatures.


St Thomas Aquinas; Angelology; Spiritual being; Spiritual matter

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ISSN: 2281-3209                DOI Prefix: 10.7408

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