Future Priests of the Third Millennium

A little insight into the life of seminarians from various dioceses preparing for ministry as Roman Catholic priests, including daily activities, personal interests, special events, the spiritual life, news from the seminary, and almost whatever comes to our minds!

Monday, December 08, 2008

Hylomorphism is not a Dirty Word

The following is the first in a series of posts in which I hope to outline some of the principles about matter and form that we have been learning in our Philosophical Anthropology Class.


Hylomorphism as outlined by Thomas Aquinas in Part One of the Summa Theologiae, Questions 75-76.

When one attempts to describe a human being how does one go about this great task? This is the account of Hylomorphism a teaching that has been developed in ancient and medieval thought that really is essential to modern Catholic thought. To begin with we must understand where Aquinas is coming from and describe his use of Aristotle and to understand the essence of the soul within that scheme. What is the soul what is its job and what is it composed of, along with how it exists and for how long (does it dissolve or die after the body is no more). The next thing we look to understand hylomorphism in St. Thomas’s view is what is meant by the union of body and soul and even if such relationship exists between the two. Finally we will discuss how it matters in the contemporary period and find how really relevant it is to our modern problem Hylomorphism has its roots in Aristotle, but is really developed by Aquinas in his questions, “75 The Essence of the Soul” and “76 The Union of Body and Soul” from the Summa Theologiae.

The soul is the essence or the 'actuality' of any living objects. We can then say that it is the act of the animal which makes it the particular animal. [1] Taken from Aristotle, every living thing has a soul, while non-living things do not and all things are made up of matter and form. The soul is simply the form of living things. Matter and form are distinct in that matter is the material from which a thing is made and form is the shape. Form is what makes particular matter or a particular thing that which it is. Aristotle’s example is that the soul is like sight. The soul’s essence as analogous to the eye would be sight. If the eye did not have sight it would not be an eye at all. Thus sight is what makes the eye what it is and gives it its form and essence. The form of living thing is the soul and we see that this living soul things certain powers. Plants have vegetative or nutritive powers, which nurture the plant body itself as itself preserving itself. The same would be said of sensitive animals, which have souls described by their ability to sense and differentiate simple things. Animals he declares have vegetative powers along with sensitive powers; and these are separated by those with and without locomotion. Lastly is Man, which is seen as having all these powers yet, possessing one more power which is the rational power. Man at the heart of creation and gives him the abilities or powers of plants animals with additional abilities due to his rational nature. This rational nature is the intellectual soul, which is able to transcend (go beyond itself) to relate intelligently with God and the natural world. The natural world is thereby in dominion of Man and serves the purposes of Man. From this we come to see how much St. Thomas uses Aristotle for his proofs on the soul and the important distinctions that are made in his questions on the understanding of the soul and then its relationship to the body. This is a natural and philosophical analysis of the universe as the nature of man is understood in the world relating to the heavens.


[1] 26-27