Selected essays presented at Aquinas and the Arabs / Thomas d’Aquin et ses sources arabes research seminars in North America (Fall) and Paris, France (Spring)


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Aquinas and 'the Arabs': Arabic / Islamic Philosophy in Thomas Aquinas’s

Conception of the Beatific Vision in his Commentary on the Sentences IV, 49, 2, 11

Richard C. Taylor, Marquette University & Katholieke Universiteit Leuven

24 September 2011

It is well known that philosophical texts and ideas, analyses and arguments, from the Arabic / Islamic philosophical tradition exercised influence upon the development of theological and philosophical thinking in the Latin Europe in the 12th and 13th centuries and beyond. But too often the positive aspects of this influence have been eclipsed by the emphasis modern scholars have put upon the writings of Latin theologians arguing against reasoning received in the works of Avicenna, Averroes and others of the classical rationalist philosophical tradition in Islam.2 Frequently that emphasis has had its own ideological ends yielding results that have inappropriately led to the dismissal of the importance of the arguments and insights by Muslim and Jewish thinkers of the shared Abrahamic traditions of monotheism.3  Among the multiple purposes of the Aquinas and ‘the Arabs’ Project in collaborative work with the Commissio Leonina are (i) the presentation of a sound and accurate understanding of the value of the contributions of thinkers from the Arabic / Islamic tradition to the development of the theology and philosophy of Thomas Aquinas and other thinkers of his era and later in Europe  and (ii) the proper appreciation and clear articulation of insights, concerns, and issues common among medieval thinkers of the Abrahamic traditions.4  This paper highlights and explicates an important contribution of the Arabic / Islamic philosophical tradition to the theology of Thomas. For at the very heart of his theology of the ultimate end of human existence in the beatific vision or seeing God face-to-face (per essentiam) in his earliest major theological work, the Commentary on the Sentences of Peter Lombard5, Aquinas chose to draw upon the philosophers of the Arabic tradition in his explication of the nature of the key Christian theological issue of ultimate human happiness in the life to come.6

While the role played by the philosophers of the Arabic tradition is easily evident in the formation of the thought of Thomas on the beatific vision, for Thomas this issue is first and foremost a theological issue arising from various accounts of the accessibility or inaccessibility of the “face” of God to human beings in patria, that is, in the next life in heaven.  In this article of his Commentary on the Sentences we find Thomas composing his analysis in the aftermath of the condemnations of 1241 when William of Auvergne, Bishop of Paris, condemned the proposition that the divine essence cannot be seen by angels or human beings.7  Thomas follows this guidance and rejects a view inspired by the Neoplatonism of Dionysius and John Scot Eriugena, an understanding more common in Eastern Orthodox Christianity, that the divine nature itself is ultimately hidden from creaturely view and essentially transcends human experience.8 Although we shall see Thomas mention Avicenna only briefly, earlier theologians had used the best philosophical science of their day, the philosophy of Avicenna, to reason the view that the Divine Essence itself is beyond direct human vision.9 In contrast, Thomas insists that the Scriptural account asserting the direct intellectual vision of God be taken as true and not subject to any interpretive diminution or watering down as allegorical, symbolic, et alia.10  Furthermore, while fully recognizing that for Western Christianity this is a tenet of faith, Thomas still insists that its meaning can be cogently, rationally, and coherently explicated through use of the philosophical sciences of metaphysics and rational psychology.  In this there are two things to note regarding his methodic use of philosophy in theological reasoning. First, here we find Thomas clearly using philosophical reasoning from the Arabic tradition to refute a theological teaching condemned in 1241 which he believed to be incorrect, in this case the doctrine held by some who deny that human beatitude can consist in the veritable knowing of the divine essence.  In this way he makes it clear that philosophical methods have a place in the evaluation of theological reasoning. Second, we also find that in his theology Thomas unhesitatingly employs philosophical argumentation from the Arabic tradition of philosophy and from that tradition extracts the very principle key to his explication of human beatitude in the intellectual apprehension and understanding of the essence of God, the intellectual vision of God “face-to-face.”

This is obviously remarkable for the understanding of the truly essential importance of philosophy in the formation of theological doctrine.11  But it is perhaps even more remarkable and worthy of special note that the solution of the issues at stake here Thomas found only through his careful study of the thought of the philosopher and Muslim jurist Averroes in the Long Commentary on the De Anima.12  There Averroes set forth his controversial doctrine that intellectual understanding on the part of individual human beings comes about only by means of separately existing immaterial intellects, the Agent Intellect and the Material Intellect. On the account of Averroes, these separate intellects come to be “in the soul” in human beings with the Agent Intellect as that by which human beings themselves perform the intellectual operation of separation or abstraction and with the Material Intellect as that which receives the abstraction now as an intelligible in act. It is in virtue of these operations that human beings are denominated rational animals.13  Yet it is also the case that Thomas famously rejects the doctrine of Averroes on the nature of human intellect with detailed analyses found in later works, most notably in his De unitate intellectus contra averroistas, but also even at book two, distinction 17, question 2, article 1, of his Commentary on the Sentences. How could Thomas in this same work both accept from Averroes the model and analysis essential to his doctrine of the human vision of God per essentiam and at the same time reject the account of natural epistemology of Averroes from which that model was taken? This will require explanation.

My focus here is on the critical consideration that Thomas gives to teachings of philosophers from the Arabic tradition as providing possible models for understanding how a separate substance, in this case God, can be a proper object of knowledge on the part of human beings in ultimate human beatitude or happiness in Commentary on the Sentences of Peter Lombard, Book 4, Distinction 49, Question 2, Article 1, “Whether the human intellect is able to attain to the vision of God in His essence.”14

In what follows I first provide (1) an explanation of what it meant for the thinkers examined here to speak of knowing separate substances and then proceed to the analysis of the text of Aquinas. This analysis is then divided into two parts. (2) The first part concerns models from the Arabic tradition rejected by Thomas, namely (2.1) the models provided by the tenth century Baghdad philosopher al-Fârâbî (d. 950)  and the twelfth century Andalusian philosopher Ibn Bâjja / Avempace (d.1139), and (2.2) the model provided by Ibn Sînâ / Avicenna (d.1037).  I then (3) proceed to Thomas’s account of Alexander of Aphrodisias (d. early 3rd century) and Ibn Rushd / Averroes (d. 1198).  It is part of this latter account from Alexander and Averroes which is embraced by Thomas in his first detailed explication of the nature of the beatific vision, of the Scriptural notion of ultimate human happiness consisting of the vision of God “face-to-face” or “in His essence,” per essentiam. In the course of explication of the analysis of Thomas it will become clear that the accounts Thomas gives of the al-Fârâbî, Ibn Bâjja, Alexander, and Averroes came solely from his study of the Long Commentary on the De Anima of Aristotle by Averroes. Thomas’s exposition of the model provided by Avicenna was available to him in the works of Avicenna.15 (4) Finally, I will provide a summary and a response to the question of how Thomas could both accept the model of Alexander and Averroes for his supernatural epistemology of beatitude in patria and at the same time reject that view for natural epistemology in via. I will then conclude with remarks on the understanding and use of insights from the Arabic tradition by Thomas as a manifestation of an ongoing project common to philosophical thinkers of the Abrahamic traditions in the Middle Ages.

1. Knowing separate substances.

What is meant by the notion of knowing separate substances in the Arabic tradition varies in details through all the accounts but must be understood against the background of Platonic and Aristotelian thought.   For Plato this meant knowledge by an apprehension on the part of the rational soul of transcendent and separately existing forms as the ousiai or essences formally imitated by things of the perceptible world of sensation.16  For Aristotle this meant the attainment of intellectual understanding of highest realities and ultimate causes as recounted in Metaphysics 1.1-2 (980a22-983a23).  Reference to that account seems to be present in Nicomachean Ethics 10.7-8 (1177a12-1179a33) where Aristotle speaks of the highest of two forms of happiness achievable by human beings, the happiness of theoretical contemplation and the happiness of the life of virtue. The nature of the transcendent immaterial entities known is indicated as immaterial in his Physics 8 and is expressly explicated as divine substance eternally active in intellectual self-contemplation in Metaphysics 12.  These two views are in a certain way combined in the Plotinian conception of transcendent Nous or Intellect as the entity containing all the forms, a notion conveyed to the Arabic tradition in the Plotiniana Arabica and in writings from the late Greek Neoplatonic tradition.17  The early Arabic philosophical tradition sometimes followed a late Greek tendency to find a certain harmony between the views of Plato and Aristotle and it is under this influence that al-Fârâbî constructed his metaphysical account of emanation and intellection.18 

1.1. al-Fârâbî

Combining the Plotinian notion of a separate intellect full with forms and the Aristotelian notion of an unmixed and causative intellect in act discussed in De Anima 3.5, al-Fârâbî set forth a doctrine of Agent Intellect as the last in a emanative hierarchy reaching from the First Cause (God) to the sphere of the moon.19 The understanding of intelligibles by the human intellect comes about through abstraction or extraction of the intelligible in potency from what has been provided by the external and internal senses of the individual human being. As al-Fârâbî makes clear in several other works, human intellectual understanding takes place thanks to “something” (shai’un mâ)20 which is a power of abstraction provided to the human soul by the Agent Intellect.  With this power the individual human being by means of its own intellect is able to abstract or extract (intazaʿa) or transfer (naqala) the intelligible from its mode of existence as individual in the particulars of sensory experience to the immaterial mode of existence appropriate for intellectual understanding.  In the account by al-Fârâbî the human receptive intellectual power called material intellect in the Arabic tradition (following Alexander of Aphrodisias) or later called possible intellect by Aquinas, is responsible for the activity of abstraction insofar as the rational soul is made receptive of the intelligible as immaterial.21  When a human being through study and reasoning has garnered intelligibles in act for himself in this way, that human being is able to contemplate intellectually those intelligibles in himself as what al-Fârâbî  calls “acquired intellect” and as such begins to lose need for body and senses.  When all the intelligibles have been amassed by the rational soul, the soul comes to fulfillment and realization of itself as an intellectual substance no longer needing the body and becomes like unto the Agent Intellect itself, rising to be near the level of the Agent Intellect. For al-Fârâbî, then, knowing separate substances consists in knowing abstracted intelligibles, knowing the intellect of the rational soul, and also knowing the immaterial Agent Intellect insofar as it is both (i) as provider to human beings of a power by means of which abstraction is accomplished by human individuals and (ii) as ultimate cause of all forms of the sublunar realm.22 In its most transcendent form intellectual understanding or knowing results in the individual human intellect or rational part of the soul being at or near the level of the Agent Intellect. Al-Fârâbî even goes so far to say that this is the real meaning of the religious notion of the afterlife.23  However, he does not hold that knowledge of the Agent Intellect is a direct apprehension or epistemological uniting. However, Thomas gives no evidence of having read this in the teachings of al-Fârâbî and the account of this in al-Fârâbî by Averroes provides a different interpretation.

In the Long Commentary on the De Anima Averroes reports a second more radical view al-Fârâbî is said to have held in his lost Commentary on the Nicomachean Ethics.24 On that reported account knowing separate intelligibles is something beyond human abilities, though precisely what al-Fârâbî meant cannot be determined with certainty through the available indirect sources.25

1.2 Ibn Bajja

For Ibn Bâjja the knowing separate substance takes place after the rational soul has exercised its powers in various levels of intellectual abstraction and finally attains a conjunctive unity (ittiṣâl) with the transcendent Agent Intellect in a process ultimately derived from Plato’s account of dialectical movement through ideas, in ideas and to ideas in the discussion of the Divided Line in the Republic, Book 6.26  Ibn Bajja understands human beings to exercise powers of abstraction on various levels of normal human existence in the formation of notions more and more general, leading all the way up to the sciences. But these abstractions can capture no more than what is present in the imperfect individuals forms which the human being experiences since none have the fullness of the ideas they represent. He describes this in his Goverance of the Solitary as follows.

The philosopher must perform numerous [particular] spiritual acts—but

not for their own sake—and perform all the intellectual acts for their own

sake: the corporeal acts enable him to exist as a human, the [particular]

spiritual acts render him more noble, and the intellectual acts render him

divine and virtuous. The man of wisdom is therefore necessarily a man

who is virtuous and divine. Of every kind of activity, he takes up the best

only. He shares with every class of men the best states that characterize

them. But he stands alone as the one who performs the most excellent and

noblest of actions. When he achieves the final end—that is, when he understands

simple essential intellects, which are mentioned in the Metaphysics,

On the Soul, and On Sense and the Sensible—he then becomes one

of those intellects. It would be right to call him simply divine. He will be

free from the moral sensible qualities, as well as from the high [particular]

spiritual qualities: it will be fitting to describe him as a pure divinity.27

Subsequent to exercises of abstraction, the soul must become intellect and rise through the dialect of ideas to the level of the Agent Intellect to achieve a unity with it. For Ibn Bâjja the end of human existence is the attainment of unity with the Agent Intellect as the attainment of a level of divinity and the means to this are the acts of intellectual development.

1.3 Avicenna

For Avicenna who based his own version of the emanative scheme on that of al-Fârâbî, the Agent Intellect is the cause of all the forms emanated to constitute the things of the world and the intelligibles known by human beings.  For the rational soul, knowing consists in what he variously characterizes using the metaphors of uniting (ittiiṣâl) with the separate Agent Intellect or of emanation (fayd) received from the separate Agent Intellect in the apprehension of the intelligible forms of the world which exist primarily in that Agent Intellect.28  According to the teachings of Avicenna himself intellectual understanding takes place in a coinciding twofold process beginning with the preparation of the soul for the reception of forms with the human abstractive process (tajrîd) forming pre-noetic forms from particular experiences garnered by the external and internal senses in the sublunar realm. When the soul is in this way suitably prepared or disposed, the intelligible form is then emanated from the Agent Intellect.  In this Avicenna combines the Aristotelian approach that finds the foundations of knowledge in the sensory apprehension of the forms of things with a Neoplatonic approach like that found in the Plotiniana Arabica that locates all intelligible essences in transcendent intellect.29   The preparation of the soul is the particular human being’s exercise of the external and internal senses in orienting the rational soul for its reception of intelligibles which can only truly come from the Agent Intellect.  However, we must keep in mind that for Avicenna emanation must be understood as a metaphor for a process he also describes as a conjoining and uniting to the Agent Intellect.30  The rational soul lacks intellectual memory for Avicenna and so in each act of knowing, the soul must receive the emanation or make a conjoining again with the Agent Intellect. In this context, knowing separate substances as scientific knowledge of forms separate from matter and particularity consists in connecting with the Agent Intellect to receive somehow an emanation of the intelligibles present in it. This fits well with Avicenna’s rejection of Aristotle’s view that knowledge involves an identity of knower and known.31 For Avicenna the intelligibles that come to be in the human intellect are not the unique forms themselves in the Agent Intellect but representations of the forms that in some way share in or participate in a derivative way those forms in the Agent Intellect for the intelligible content they possess. Hence, as the forms constituting the world literally must emanate from the Agent Intellect, the intelligible forms too must emanate from the Agent Intellect to account for human intellectual understanding. As we shall see, Thomas understood Avicenna in accord with the metaphor of emanation.

1.4 Alexander of Aphrodisias

For Alexander of Aphrodisias in the De intellectu  knowing separate substance in intellectual understanding consists in the formal presence of the transcendent Agent Intellect (which he also identifies with God)  in the perishable human soul for the apprehension of intelligibles and the apprehension of that presence.32  In his paraphrase of the De Anima, Alexander also understands that the power of human intellectual understanding comes from outside and is not a wholly intrinsic part of the human soul.33  As we shall see, Averroes, the sole source of information on the view of Alexander for Thomas on this issue as discussed in the Commentary on the Sentences, finds in Alexander as well as in Themistius (who is not mentioned by Thomas in this regard) the doctrine of the formal presence of the Agent Intellect in the knowing human soul.

1.5 Averroes

From the time of his early Short Commentary on the De Anima (early 1160s) through the writing of the Middle Commentary (perhaps ca. 1180-1183) and right up through to the completion of the final version of the Long Commentary (perhaps 1186), Averroes consistently held that the transcendent Agent Intellect plays an important part in the realization of intellectual understanding on the part of human beings, a view common to the Greek and Arabic traditions. In all three works Averroes characterizes this role as one in which Agent Intellect is ṣurah la-nâ,  “form for us.”34 Such a characterization in a general way is certainly appropriate since the tradition held commonly that a transcendent Agent Intellect played a role in the actualization of the formal content of intelligibles in the human mind.  In his Long Commentary on the De Anima Averroes saw this doctrine of the Agent Intellect as form for us in Alexander of Aphrodisias who held that perishable individual human intellects are brought to completion in knowing by the transcendent Agent Intellect which Alexander identified with the highest God.35 Averroes analyzed the teachings of Themistius and also found that this Greek commentator as well holds that the transcendent Agent Intellect is form for us.36 However, the true meaning of the teaching becomes clear when Averroes provides a critical analysis of the account of al-Fârâbî.

As indicated earlier, for al-Fârâbî the Agent Intellect plays a crucial role in human intellectual understanding and in the perfection of human substance at the highest levels by providing “something” by means of which the human intellect is able to perform the activity of abstraction or transference of intelligibles from the level of intelligibles in potency in the human imagination to the level of intelligibles in act in the individual human material or receptive intellect.

However, according to Averroes the teaching of al-Fârâbî was that Agent Intellect was only an extrinsic efficient cause acting on humans in such a way as to make possible abstraction and intellectual understanding.37 As such the individual human being is not the acting efficient cause in human intellectual understanding.  As Averroes puts it, the Agent Intellect’s “relation to a human being will be only the relation of the agent to the human being, not a relation of form.”38 That is, it will be the Agent Intellect which abstracts intelligible forms for the human intellect instead of this process taking place through an intrinsic formal cause in the individual human intellect. The reason for Averroes’s rejection is simply that he insists that the active power of intellectual understanding must be “in the soul” (as Aristotle himself insists in De Anima 3.4, 430a13: en tê psuchê) and that it must be present there as “form for us” or a form belonging to human beings by means of which human beings perform the activity of abstraction and intellectual understanding.  If the Agent Intellect does the abstracting or provides forms through emanation from itself, the human individual is not an agent willing and acting in the formation of knowledge. For Averroes, this means that in his novel doctrine the separately existing Agent Intellect and separately existing Material Intellect must come to be present as “in the soul” and must come to be powers formally belonging to the human being who initiates and carries out the operations of abstraction and receptive intellectual understanding.  In an analysis of this elsewhere I have characterized it as a form of participation with the term, “Aristotelian participation.”39 Key to this is the following assertion by Averroes:

For, because that in virtue of which something carries out its proper activity is the form, while we carry out {500} our proper activity in virtue of the agent intellect, it is necessary that the agent intellect be form in us. . . . [I]t is necessary that a human being understand all the intelligibles through the intellect proper to him and that he carry out the activity proper to him in regard to all beings, just as he understands by his proper intellection all the beings through the intellect in a positive disposition (intellectus in habitu), when it has been conjoined with forms of the imagination.40

Here Averroes criticizes al-Fârâbî and asserts that one must hold not that the Agent Intellect is an efficient cause acting on us but that it is “form for us” acting intrinsically in us since we are ourselves knowers by our voluntary actions.41

Averroes himself then clearly held that the Agent Intellect must be “form for us” such that it is somehow not merely extrinsic but in some genuine sense must be intrinsically present in human knowers.  For him the Agent Intellect is (1) “form for us,” as (2) intrinsic to the human soul, and yet also (3) ontologically distinct in its own eternal existence. Further, the Agent Intellect is (4) available to us to be put in use by our will.42 Elsewhere I have argued that this issue can be resolved if Averroes is understood to frame his understanding in light of his study of the Themistius and notions from the Neoplatonic tradition found in Themistius.43  In his Paraphrase of the De Anima of Aristotle, Themistius held that the Productive / Agent Intellect is “actual intellect” and “has all the forms all together and presents all of them to itself at the same time” such that its essence is activity.44 However, for Themistius the human actual intellect does not have of itself the intellectual power for abstraction but rather must be empowered by combining with, being taken over by, or being illuminated by the transcendent Productive or Agent Intellect in order to come to exist in the soul as united with the potential intellect.45  Abstraction or separation of the intelligible in potency takes place when the Productive / Agent Intellect penetrates and takes over the human actual intellect such that intelligibles in potency can be converted to intelligibles in act.46  In contrast, Averroes followed the Arabic tradition in holding that there is a single transcendent Agent Intellect and did not give serious consideration to the notion that each human being has his or her own particular abstracting agent or actual intellect. Also unlike Themistius, Averroes does not consider the Agent Intellect to function as containing all forms.47  Still, Averroes does find in Themistius this notion of the Agent Intellect functioning intrinsically in the human soul and describes this as the Agent Intellect acting as “form for us” in such as a way that it is not only an efficient cause in abstraction but is actually in us as form such that it is we who are abstracting and knowing thanks to its presence and activity intrinsic to the soul.48

The same is the case for the receptive Material Intellect as well according to Averroes for intellectual understanding involves not just abstraction but also the reception of the intelligible transferred from the mode of being of an intelligible in potency to the mode of being of an intelligible in act. Insofar as the intelligible in act is no longer a determinate particular but rather an immaterial intelligible, it requires an immaterial subject to receive it.  This subject is the Material Intellect which is shared by all human beings simply because there must be one set of intelligibles in act shared by all human beings for common knowledge, science and discourse, another notion taken from Themistius by Averroes.49

Hence, the philosophical framework within which Averroes conceptualizes the Agent Intellect as “form for us” is one which permits a transcendent and extrinsic power of an essential sort (the power of intellectual abstraction and understanding) to be shared in an intrinsic way.  Averroes recognized and rejected for himself what he perceived to be Platonic elements such as recollection and a presence of forms outside the soul (in the Productive / Active Intellect) in the thought of Themistius.50  Yet Aristotle’s account of the separate, unaffected, unmixed and essentially active Agent Intellect at De anima 3.5, 430a17-18, required that the Agent Intellect be in some way intrinsic to the human soul as an essential part of the distinctive definition of human being as rational.  The account which Averroes ultimately provides contains key components from Themistius, in particular  (i) the essential combining, uniting, or sharing (scil., participating)  of human intellect in the intellectual activity of the transcendent, external and ontologically distinct Agent Intellect in the activity of abstraction insofar as the Agent Intellect is “in the soul” and “form for us” such that we are active by will and essentially in the production of our own intellectual understanding, and (ii) the notion that there must be a single collection of intelligibles in act shared by all human beings.  For Averroes the requirements that we be the agents in our thinking and that the power by which we think be intrinsic yielded the conclusion that the Agent Intellect must be present as our proper form for these activities to take place. That is, the very nature and actuality of the transcendent Agent Intellect must be shared or participated by us essentially in the fullness of its intellectual power for abstraction and understanding, though Averroes does not use the language of participation to describe this. The same presence in the soul is required for the receptive Material Intellect as well according to Averroes.

Now that the key teachings of the Arabic tradition have been spelled out, let us proceed to  examine in detail the analysis of Thomas.

2. Thomas and the Rejected Models from the Arabic / Islamic Philosophical Tradition

2.1 al-Fârâbî and Ibn Bâjja / Avempace

At the beginning of his response,51 Thomas immediately asserts that the Christian view that “the ultimate end of human life is the vision of God” should be understood to be precisely parallel with the assertion of the philosophers “that the ultimate happiness of human beings is to understand substances separate in being from matter (ultimam hominis felicitatem esse intelligere substantias separatas a materia secundum esse).”  For there are philosophers as well as theologians who hold that the “vision of God in His essence” is not possible in the present life.  From among the philosophers, Thomas cites the view of al-Fârâbî recounted by Averroes in the Long Commentary on the De Anima.  However, the interpretation of al-Fârâbî as conveyed by Averroes to Thomas is only partially correct on the issue of the involvement of the Agent Intellect in human knowing, as I have noted. According to Averroes, for al-Fârâbî knowledge of intelligibles comes about when the separately existing Agent Intellect acts as an extrinsic efficient cause providing assistance to the human soul to enable the transference of the intelligible in potency in the objects sensed from the level of particularity and intelligibility in potency to the level of intelligible in act in the individual rational soul or intellect. As Averroes ͞͞— Thomas’s sole source — views this, the account of al-Fârâbî is inadequate because the Agent Intellect remains an extrinsic cause operating on the human soul, as explained earlier. The notion of a genuine abstraction of intelligibles from sensory experience is something adopted by Averroes and, through Averroes, by Thomas, though Averroes does not properly recognize that for al-Fârâbî the action of abstraction is done by the human being with a power provided by the Agent Intellect.52

In this opening section of the response, however, Thomas calls attention to Averroes’s report of the doctrine purportedly set forth by al-Fârâbî in his lost Commentary on the Nicomachean Ethics. Averroes writes, “For in his Commentary on the Nicomachean Ethics [al-Fârâbî] seems to deny that there is conjoining with the separate intelligences. He says that this is the opinion of Alexander and that it should not beheld that the human end is anything but theoretical perfection.”53  That is, according to this report which came to Averroes through Ibn Bâjja, al-Fârâbî denied that a genuine conjoining with the Agent Intellect in an immaterial noetic identity is possible since such a thing would require that the human rational soul as a generated and corruptible entity change its substance and become eternal and ungenerated.54  Hence, as Thomas recounts from his reading of Averrroes, al-Fârâbî is reported to have denied that human beings are able to attain to the noetic conjunction and identity indicated in the intellectual understanding of separate substances.  Here in the first section of the Response Thomas then remarks, “Likewise some theologians have asserted that the human intellect can never attain to the vision of God in His essence,” referring both to those who follow the Eastern Christian accounts and those who follow the analysis of knowing in Avicenna.55

Immediately thereafter in next section56 Thomas characterizes this as a view shared by al-Fârâbî and those theologians on account of “the distance between our intellect and the Divine essence or other separate substances.”  While citing Chrysostom for the theological position, Thomas continues to analyze the issue in the epistemological and metaphysical terms of the philosophers. He writes regarding the issue motivating al-Fârâbî’s denial of the understanding of separate substances that “it seems difficult for the created intellect to become (fiat) the uncreated essence in some way.” That is, it is problematic to think there to be a complete noetic identity of knower and known in an immaterial knowing when that would entail the transformation of a human being from a generated and corruptible entity into an immaterial and, consequently, imperishably eternal entity.  His refutation of this view in following section57 cites the De videndo deum by Maurus Magnentius Rabanus (d. 856) under the name of Augustine as an authority in support of the contrary view that there is vision of the Divine essence. However, the rest of his analysis is purely philosophical. Insofar as intellectual understanding is the proper operation of human beings, the happiness of human beings must result from this operation. (This is simply based on the teleological account in the Function Argument from Aristotle’s Nicomachean Ethics 10.7). But if perfection of understanding in an Aristotelian noetic identity of knower and known does not reach the Divine essence, then it is not God but something else in which human happiness consists. That is in fact the doctrine of al-Fârâbî, Avicenna and Averroes, all of whom hold that ultimate human happiness is found in an intellectual understanding reaching the level of the Agent Intellect, or reaching the Agent Intellect itself, or involving the intrinsic presence of the Agent Intellect and the Material Intellect in the human soul. For Aquinas, however, that view is absurd “since the ultimate perfection of anything is in the conjoining with its principle (cum ultima perfectio cuiuslibet sit in coniunctione ad suum principium),” that is, a return and a reverting to its principle. In this case, ultimate perfection can only be found in a complete reversion to the first acting principle (principium effectivum), God.  This Neoplatonic philosophical principle of procession and return which Thomas found in Dionysius and elsewhere 58 he appeals to theologically by citing Revelation 22, 13: “I am the Alpha and the Omega,” in the Divisio Textus at In 1 Sent, D. 2. There he writes, “Consideration of this doctrine will be concerning things insofar as they proceed (exeunt) from God as from a principle, and insofar as they are brought back into Him as to the end (consideratio huius doctinrae de rebus secundum quod exeunt a Deo ut a principio, et secundum quod referuntur in ipsum ut in finem)”59 Nevertheless, the appeal in our context of this article in Book 4 of the Sentences is philosophical, not theological. Both al-Fârâbî and the Christian theologians are wrong in thinking that that the human soul cannot attain to the vision of God and the reason is this principle of procession and return.

Next,60  expressing his own view that the vision of the Divine essence can occur for our intellect just as some of the philosophers say human intellect can have vision of separate substances, Thomas now cites the doctrine of al-Fârâbî  (here his positive view, not the skeptical view ascribed to his lost Commentary on the Nicomachean Ethics) and Ibn Bâjja / Avempace on the nature and end of abstraction. In what following61 Thomas forms his account from the critical analysis by Averroes of the role of imagination in the thought of al-Fârâbî and Ibn Bâjja. Each of these philosophers had asserted that subsequent to sense perception the imagination provides forms for intellectual abstraction and separation from material conditions such that “what results is the understood quiddity which is one and the same for diverse understanding <human beings> (remanet quidditas intellecta que est una et eadem apud diuersos intelligentes).” Drawing precisely on Averroes’ analysis of the abstraction in Ibn Bâjja, Aquinas writes that “when our intellect reaches the highest abstraction of any intelligible quiddity, it understands by this the quiddity of the separate substance which is like to it (quando intellectus noster peruenit ad summam abstractionem quidditatis intelligibilis cuiuscumque, intelligit per hoc quidditatem substantie separate que est ei similis).”62 Thomas’s discussion of the role and nature of abstraction in the thought of Ibn Bâjja, again based solely on the Long Commentary by Averroes, continues in the next section63 where he explains Ibn Bâjja’s abstractive theory of ascension, as it were proceeding up through abstractive quiditative formalities until it reaches a quiddity which is ultimate and from which no further quiddity can be abstracted. For Ibn Bâjja himself the intellectual exercise of forming and knowing abstractions of various sorts in language, natural philosophy, mathematics, and metaphysics lead up to a unity with the Agent Intellect such that the purpose of or end served by intellectual understanding is conjunction and unity with the Agent Intellect and then perhaps on to a higher unity with God, the True One. Thomas in following section64 rejects this approach founded on merely the exercise of human intellectual powers of abstraction simply because the ratio or formal content of an abstracted material substance, let us say of a horse or any number of any other material quiddities, is not of the same ratio or formal content as a separately existing intellectual substance, an entity of a complete different sort.  The exercise of intellectual abstraction based on material substances cannot lead to the knowledge an entity which is essentially immaterial, that is, cannot lead to the quiddity of a separate substance and cannot lead to “above all the Divine essence which is of a ratio altogether different from every created quiddity (precipue diuinam essentiam que maxime est alterius rationis ab omni quidditate creata).”  (In this Ibn Bajja himself is in agreement though Thomas apparently cannot see that through the account he has from Averroes.) Thomas then secondly rejects it in the next part65 again on philosophical grounds since, according to the Porphyrian Tree, the only likeness of ratio or formality between a material substance and an immaterial substance would be the remote genus of substance which said of both. But this is knowledge only in a remote and qualified way without apprehension of distinctive defining difference. He writes, “Consequently, to know God or other separate substances in this way is not to see the Divine essence or the quiddity of a separate substance but it is to know through the effect and, as it were in a mirror (Vnde sic cognoscere Deum uel alias substantias separatas non est uidere essentiam diuinam uel quidditatem substantie separate, set est cognoscere per effectum et quasi in speculo).”  Abstraction alone, then, cannot garner of itself an understanding beyond the nature of what constitute the primary objects for abstraction. Rather, such abstraction remains an understanding of an effect, not of the very essence of the cause of that effect which is sought in this context. In this Thomas is in fact in agreement with Ibn Bajja though they deal with the consequences quite differently. For Ibn Bajja this means that Aristotelian abstraction should be rejected and that a form of Platonism involving the attainment of unity with the Agent Intellect is the only way for there to be the fullness of knowledge of intelligible forms.66

2.2 Avicenna

The second rejected model is that of Avicenna who speaks of intelligibles in act being emanated from the separate intellects, the Agent Intellect to be precise, and impressed upon the human rational soul.  Thomas, however, concerns himself not with this problem but rather only with the account of the Agent Intellect as emanating form to individual human rational souls when he writes in the following section67 that according to Avicenna “the separate substances are understood by us through the intentions of their quiddities which are certain likenesses of them not abstracted from them — because they are themselves immaterial — but impressed by these on our souls (substantie separate intelliguntur a nobis per intentiones suarum quidditatum que sunt quedam ipsarum similitudines non abstracte ab eis, quia ipsemet sunt immateriales, set impresse ab eis in animabus nostris).” Here the separate substances to which he refers are the intelligibles apprehended by the rational soul, intelligibles existing primarily in the Agent Intellect and derivatively by emanation or conjunction in individual human minds.

Next68 Thomas rejects this Avicennian approach because of the principle that “everything which is received in something is in this in the mode of the recipient …. ” which yields the problematic consequence that “the likeness of the Divine essence impressed by it on our intellect will be through the mode of our intellect.” That is, what will be in the human intellect will be imperfect and diminished in accord with the mode and nature of our imperfect human intellects, not in accord with the Divine essence as it is in itself.  In this way even if the ratio or formal notion of the Divine essence is present to the human intellect, it will be present there not as it is in itself but rather in accord with the recipient’s own incomplete and weaker mode of perfection, as if the human intellect were to have in it a small bit of whiteness in regard to what has in itself a great deal of whiteness.  Moreover, he then adds69 that this Avicennian way is said to be inadequate if it attains only the ratio of the genus, as discussed earlier, and it is inadequate if “it concerns the same ratio of the genus but only according to analogy.” Here Thomas’s concern is more clearly expressed when he writes,

Similarly, to the extent that the intellect understands some quiddity, it is necessary that the likeness of its ratio in species come to be in us, although perhaps the mode of being for each is not  the same.  For the form existing in intellect or in sense is not the principle of knowing according to the mode of being it has in each, but according to the ratio in which it shares with the exterior thing.  In this way it is evident that there is no likeness received in the created intellect by which God can in this way be understood such that His essence is seen immediately.  Hence, also, some asserting that the Divine essence is seen only through this mode said that the essence itself is not seen but some brightness, as if a ray of it.70

That is, to see God “face-to-face” or to understand the Divine essence is to apprehend it immediately in a way that requires that there be no mediating likeness as found in the epistemology of Avicenna, an epistemology which be termed a sort of representationalism.71 Any mediating likeness as something created will be a representation and not the Divine essence itself.

3. The Adopted Model from the Arabic / Islamic Philosophical Tradition:

Alexander and Averroes

Thomas then72 sets forth his own doctrine explicitly stating that he is drawing on the views of Alexander of Aphrodisias and Averroes as found in book three of the Long Commentary on the De Anima by Averroes.  Immediately Thomas reviews the philosophical principles that must be respected in the account.  First, the form apprehended in cognition of immaterial separate substances cannot derived by abstraction based on apprehension of composite material substances.  What is known in such abstraction cannot be more than what is present in the apprehended composite material substances, a position he shares with Ibn Bâjja, as mentioned earlier. For, in that case what is known would not be the separate substance but rather the composite determinate material substances and their nature, the starting points and foundations of the abstraction. Second, if a separate substance is to be known in its essence, it cannot be known through the intermediation of a representative impression caused by a separate substance for that would not be direct knowledge of the essence but rather knowledge of something created. Hence, as Thomas puts it, “Rather, it is the separate substance itself which is conjoined to our intellect as form, so that it is what is understood and that by which it is understood (set est ipsa substantia separata que coniungitur intellectui nostro ut forma, ut ipsa sit quod hic intelligitur et qua intelligitur).”

In the context of this discussion by Thomas of the knowing of separate substances, the doctrine of Averroes is read by Thomas as requiring that separate intellects be both that by which we know (qua intelligitur) the separate intellect, that is, that it be “form for us” as intrinsic to the soul and that it also be that which is known  (quod intelligitur), that is, the apprehended object of knowing.  In the teachings of Averroes this would correspond to the notion that the powers by which knowing takes place (qua intelligitur) are the separate Agent Intellect and the separate Material Intellect working together and that which is known (quod intelligitur) are the intelligibles in act in the separate Material Intellect. Phrased in another way, the formal and intrinsic power by which the activity of intellectual understanding takes place are these cooperating separate intellects and the objects of that intellectual understanding consist of intelligibles in act in the Material Intellect.  This is Averroes’s account of natural human knowing, an account very different from that of Aquinas who holds that these intellects are in fact just powers of the individual soul and that the objects of understanding are the natures of things in the world.73 In taking over this model, Aquinas understands God’s very own Divine essence as the lumen gloriae that functions as that by which we understand (corresponding to the Agent Intellect or, better, the Agent Intellect and Material Intellect working together) and as also that very thing which is understood (corresponding to the abstracted intelligibles that come to exist in the Material Intellect).

In the next section74 we see that Thomas insists that in the vision of God in his essence that by which the vision takes place (qua intelligitur) must be the Divine essence itself.  He stresses that this is not to be understood as in natural philosophy.  He writes, “Indeed, it ought not to be understood as if the Divine essence is the true form of our intellect or that out of this and our intellect simply one thing is made, as in natural  things made from natural form and matter (Quod quidem non debet intelligi, quasi diuina essentia sit uera forma intellectus nostri uel quod ex ea et intellectu nostro efficiatur unum simpliciter, sicut in naturalibus ex forma et materia naturali).” That is, the Divine essence should not be understood to become ontologically the very form constituting human intellect and carrying out the operation of intellectual understanding.  Were that the case, it would be God knowing God, not a blessed human being in heaven knowing God face-to-face. Instead, he writes,

Rather, [it should be understood to come about] because the relation of the Divine essence to our intellect is as the relation of form to matter.  For whenever there are any two things of which one is more perfect than the other and these are received  in the same recipient, there is a relation of one of the two to the other, namely of the more perfect to the less perfect, as is the relation of form to matter. (Set quia proportio essentie diuine ad intellectum nostrum est sicut proportio forme ad materiam. Quandocumque enim aliqua duo quorumunum est altero perfectius, recipiuntur in eodem receptibili, proportio unius ad alterum, scilicet magis perfecti ad minus perfectum, est sicut proportio forme ad materiem.)

That is, it is not inappropriate to use the language of matter and form to characterize the perfection of one thing by another. Thomas takes this principle from several passages in Averroes’s Long Commentary, among them the following two.

For with respect to every activity which has come to be from the gathering together of two different things, it is necessarily the case that one of those two be as it were matter and instrument and the other be as it were form or agent. The intellect in us, therefore, is composed of the intellect which is in a positive disposition and the agent intellect, either in such a way that the propositions are as it were matter and the agent intellect is as it were form, or in such a way that the propositions are as it were the instrument and the agent intellect is as it were the efficient [cause]. For the disposition is similar in this case.75

When this conjoining in us between the agent intellect and the material intellect has been established, we will be able to find out the way in which we say that the agent intellect is similar to form and that the intellect which is in a positive disposition (in habitu) is similar to matter. For in regard to any two things of which one is the subject and the second is more actual than the other, it is necessary that the relation of the more actual to the less actual be as the relation of form to matter. With this intention we say that the proportion of the first actuality of the imaginative power to the first actuality of the common sense is as the proportion of form to matter.76

For Thomas here the Divine essence must not displace the power of the human intellect since then, again,  God would be seeing God, rather than a human being seeing God. Instead the human intellect, itself a formal power of the soul, receptive in relation to the enabling  intellectual power of the Divine essence, finds the Divine essence to be present in it as a supernatural actualizing power by which the Divine essence can be seen.  Thomas states that the model for this is found in Averroes and Alexander insofar as they speak of the Agent Intellect as being “in the soul” (again, as does Aristotle in De Anima 3.5, 430a13: en tê psuchê) as a form acting in intellection and as a separate substance apprehended by that intellection.77  This is the notion of acquired intellect in Alexander, the notion that in intellectual understanding the perishable human soul comes to have acting in it with the power of intellectuality the Agent Intellect itself, which for Alexander is God.  In the case of Averroes as understood here by Thomas, it means that it is not necessary that the formality by which intellectual understanding takes place  (qua intelligitur) be solely intrinsic; rather, it is reasonable to hold that a separately existing immaterial substance can be the power by which intellectual understanding takes place.

In the final section of the response of Thomas,78 he spells out this philosophical account of how the Divine essence is form for the human intellect by explicating the relevant principles supporting this teaching.  First, he explains that the formal power of intellectual understanding (“a form by which the intellect understands”  qua intelligitur) and the intellect itself come to be one in intellectual understanding (quod intelligitur) should be understood as analogous to hylomorphism, the unity of form and matter, which constitutes a single existing being. In this way there is a single understanding of the Divine essence on the part of the human being which comes about when the Divine essence is qua intelligitur or, in the language of Averroes, “form for us,” in this enhanced human intellectual understanding of quod intelligitur, the object of understanding, the separate substance, the Divine essence itself.

However, it is important to understand how the analogy fails.  For in the case of natural things, what is subsistent — the hylomorphic composite — cannot function as the form for some other matter.  Matter cannot be the form of anything and so what is itself a composite of form and matter cannot also be the form for some other matter.  But, argues Thomas, for immaterial substances subsisting per se such as the human soul, there is nothing in its principles precluding its becoming form of some matter and composite with that matter.  Thomas then states, “However, in the case of the intellect, it is necessary that the intellect in potency itself be taken as matter and the intelligible species as form; the intellect understanding in act will be as composed of each (In intellectu autem oportet accipere ipsum intellectum in potentia quasi materiam et speciem intelligibilem quasi formam, et intellectus in actu intelligens erit quasi compositum ex utroque).” That is, the intellect itself which is an actuality and an immaterial form can be considered insofar as it has potentiality for the reception of intelligible forms which will perfect it in its full actuality. This is what Thomas calls the possible intellect.  This receptive intellect is able to receive another form, the intelligible species, in intellectual understanding thereby becoming “understanding in act” as “something composed of each.” The reception of this form further actualizes and perfects the human intellect which becomes an intellect understanding in act through that reception and perfection.  Hence, in principle it is not unthinkable that what is already an intellect be further actualized by another form. In this way it is not unthinkable that a transcendent immaterial form come to be formal and actual in relation to another lower form in a way analogous to the relationship of form and matter. That is, Thomas is stating that there are two senses in which separate substance can be “form for us.” The first is as a supervening form and a formal principle of understanding in the fashion similar to that in which Averroes has the separate Agent Intellect provide the needed actuality for intellectual understanding by the individual.  The second sense is that by which the object apprehended comes to be a known form in the human being.  In Averroes this was the teaching that the abstracted forms come to exist in the separate Material Intellect functioning as their ontological subject, a subject to which human beings are connected in intellectual understanding through intelligibles abstracted but originally provided as intelligibles in potency in the human imaginative power taken broadly. For Thomas, however, the object abstracted in natural human cognition becomes the intelligible species in an individual human mind which is not the object of knowledge itself but a means to knowing the objects of knowledge, the natures of the things of the world.

Hence, we see that there are models showing how what is form and intellect can receive another form and perfection. But how can this be understood in the case of some immaterial subsisting substance which is not in matter but is at once intelligible and intelligent? Thomas then states a principle from Aristotle’s Metaphysics, when he writes, “However, any given thing is intelligible insofar as it is in act, not insofar as it is in potency, as is evident in Book 9 of Aristotle’s Metaphysics.”79 This Thomas cites to set up his assertion that this doctrine can apply to the Divine essence acting in the human intellect.  For “the Divine essence is pure act.”  Given that the Divine essence is pure act, it must be pure intellect and hence capable of being in the human intellect as its form, as Averroes and Alexander — as understood by Thomas — assert is the case when the human intellect is in the activity of intellectual understanding. However, what is an immaterial form per se is a form which is immediately intelligible per se.  In this case there is no need for abstraction and separation of the intelligible form from matter. Hence, since the Divine essence is itself pure act, then Thomas concludes that “it can be a form by which the intellect understands, and this will be the beatific vision (poterit esse forma qua intellectus intelligit. Et hec erit uisio beatificans).” As Brenet has pointed out, in this case God is able to be present to the soul in the same way that the intelligible species is present to the soul as that by means of which science of worldly things is possessed. However, in this case what is present in that fashion is not something which requires abstraction in order to be intelligible since God is a pure form.80 Here Thomas has passed beyond the accounts of Alexander and Averroes to present his own teaching, for Alexander did not propose that God is the direct apprehended object of intellectual understanding nor did Averroes assert that there is direct intellectual cognition of the Agent or Material Intellects.  Hence, we find Thomas here using their teachings on separate intellect as “form for us” in a very different way from its use in his sources.

4. Conclusion

What we have see here is the use of the thought of Averroes and Alexander by Thomas as he sets forth a philosophical justification for the Christian theological doctrine of beatitude.  That justification was found in Thomas’s understanding of the philosophical noetics of ordinary human intellectual understanding as set forth in the Long Commentary on the De Anima by Averroes. Other accounts such as those of al-Fârâbî, Ibn Bâjja and Avicenna were rejected as unsuitable models since they involved either a denial of an intellectual understanding of separate intellectual substance or a denial that such an intellectual understanding can take place directly and without intermediate representation.

Thomas also expounds this doctrine and names Averroes explicitly in an account in the De Veritate Q.8 (De cognitione angelorum), A.1, entitled, “Whether the angels see God in his essence.” There he reasons that beatitude consisting of intellectual vision of God is the most perfect operation of a rational creature. Using the notion that the ultimate perfection of anything involves its return to its principle, he explains that, since faith teaches that God creates all rational creatures immediately, “hence it is necessary according to faith that every rational which reaches beatitude see God in his essence.”81 He later mentions Averroes (and not Alexander) as the source for the key notion, writing

How a separate essence can be joined to the intellect as form the Commentator shows as follows in Book 3[of his commentary on the De Anima: whenever two things one of which is more perfect than the other are received into something able to receive [them], the proportion of the more perfect to the less perfect is as the proportion of form to what it is able to perfect, as light is the perfection of color when both are received in a transparent [medium]. For this reason since the created intellect which is present in a created substance is more imperfect than the divine essence existing in it, the divine essence is compared in a certain way as form in relation to that which is understood.82

The doctrine of Thomas remains the same in later works so the importance of Averroes for the formation of Thomas’s account of beatitude persists.83 However, as J.-B. Brenet points out, reference to Averroes regarding this teaching disappears with the Summa contra gentiles.84

However, it would seem that precisely the sort of epistemological solution that Aquinas permits here for the understanding of the intellectual understanding or seeing of God in his essence or “face-to-face” is the very epistemological solution Thomas altogether rejects in other works when analyzing the epistemology of Averroes. Elsewhere Thomas insists that the agent intellect and material intellect cannot be separate in being because these powers of knowing must be intrinsically present in the human knower, otherwise the knower would not be the human being but the separate intellects.85 It is this problem to which several fourteenth century supporters called attention when they raised the issue of whether this teaching of Aquinas is in contradiction to his own critique of Averroes.86  For the present, however, I would suggest that the context is different and the purpose as well here.  For here in the Commentary on the Sentences Thomas is speaking of the supernatural involvement of God in enabling a vision of the divine essence by the blessed in patria, in the afterlife. The context is not that of natural human knowing in via, in the natural world.  Hence, what we find here is not so much something in contradiction to the critical rejection of Averroes’s view of natural knowing in via that Thomas vehemently set forth repeatedly, as rather an instance where the “form for us” account Thomas saw in the natural accounts of Averroes and Alexander is found by Thomas to be suitable as a model for understanding the non-natural, indeed supernatural, vision of the divine essence promised for the afterlife in Scripture as ultimate human beatitude.  Here in the account in the Commentary on the Sentences Thomas is not philosophically proving the nature of the final end of human beings to be the beatific vision. That would require a much more thoroughly argued teleological account.  Rather, here Thomas begins with the Christian theological doctrine assumed as true by faith and draws deeply on the Arabic and Greek philosophical traditions to provide a consistent account of just how that theological teaching may be be understood cogently. As I see it, this constitutes just another instance of the work of thinkers of the Abrahamic tradition as they negotiate their way toward a more thoughtful conciliation of revealed religion and natural human reason.  The same is found in very differing ways in al-Fârâbî, Ibn Bajja, Avicenna and Averroes, even if their negotiations were more rationalist in character than would likely suit Aquinas and others of the Latin tradition.  Still,  all of these thinkers held for the existence of one First Cause and Ultimate Principle of the universe as God and each in his own way asserted that understanding of that First Cause constitutes part or all of the end for human beings and ultimate human happiness.

Thomas Aquinas is the most well known, innovative and insightful theologian and philosopher in Europe in the High Middle Ages and in various ways his teachings and methods continue to nourish theological and philosophical thought even today.  However, it is less broadly known and less well documented with precision that the thought of Thomas was very profoundly influenced by his engagement with philosophical teachings arising originally in the Arabic / Islamic philosophical tradition in such diverse places as Baghdad, Cordoba, Cairo and Bukhara. In each of these cities and many others throughout the lands under the governance of Muslim political leaders, the intellectual development of philosophy and science continued with new analyses and understandings of optics, medicine, mathematics, natural sciences and philosophical reasoning, not uncommonly with Muslims, Christians and Jews working together as teachers and students. Philosophy and science as advanced in the Arabic / Islamic tradition was foundational to the development of thought in Europe through extensive translations at Toledo in Spain, at the court of Frederick II in Sicily, and elsewhere. Considered in this context, Aquinas has much in common with the philosophical tradition found in the Islamic world insofar as he worked to reconcile the powerful philosophical reasoning of the Greek pagan tradition with the monotheism common to the religions of the three Abrahamic traditions, as had philosophical thinkers of Islamic, Jewish and Christian traditions alive inside the Islamic world. Viewed in this light, Aquinas as well as other thinkers such as his teacher, Albert the Great, the Franciscan Bonaventura, and many other Europeans can be seen as forming their philosophical and theological views only through participation in what is a common negotiation between secular philosophy and science on the one hand and, on the other hand, the common values and principles found in the three of the Abrahamic traditions of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam.  Viewed in this way, the unproductive model of conflict, clash and attack among representatives of the Islamic, Christian and Jewish philosophical traditions should be put aside as inadequately descriptive of the historical reality. Thinkers of these three traditions argued for their own understandings and against those of others both within and outside their faith traditions. That is, rigorous argument, disagreement, refutation and defense of philosophical and theological positions were the common methods used inside each of the three traditions and should be seen as the method by which philosophical and theological understanding advanced in sophistication and insight.  The more appropriate and encompassing model is that of a common endeavor by philosophers and philosophical theologians of the three traditions to conciliate and reconcile secular science with the common principles of the three Abrahamic faiths, Judaism, Islam and Christianity.

1 A draft of this paper was presented at the annual Spring conference sponsored by the Commissio Leonina and  Aquinas and ‘the Arabs’ Project, “Thomas d’Aquin et ses sources arabes / Aquinas and ‘the Arabs’” held at the Bibliothèque du Saulchoir 27-28 March 2009. I have benefitted from comments and questions raised there and elsewhere I have presented drafts of this article.

2 The Jewish rabbi, theologian and philosopher Moses Maimonides who wrote his famous Guide for the Perplexed in Arabic was schooled in the Arabic / Islamic philosophical tradition and followed methods of philosophical analysis set forth by Al-Fârâbî, Avicenna, Averroes and others of that tradition. To that extent his philosophical work, although distinctive, can reasonably be included as part of the classical rationalist Arabic / Islamic philosophical tradition.

3 I have particularly in mind here, for example, the polemical treatment of the development of metaphysics in the Arabic / Islamic tradition found in Etienne Gilson’s Being and Some Philosophers (Toronto: Pontifical Institute of Mediaeval Studies, 1949).

4 For details on this project, see Although thinkers of the Arabic tradition were of various ethnic backgrounds, Aquinas often speaks of them as the Arab philosophers or the Arabs. The Aquinas and ‘the Arabs’ Project collaborates with the Commissio Leonina and holds two research conferences annually, in the Fall in North America and in the Spring in Paris. For information, see and click on Research Seminar Conferences.

5 This work was written in the period of 1251/52-1256. The best editions are S. Thomae Aquinatis, Scriptum super libros Sententiarum magistri Petri Lombardi episcopi Parisiensis, t. 1. P. Mandonnet, ed. (P. Lethielleux, Parisiis, 1929); S. Thomae Aquinatis, Scriptum super libros Sententiarum magistri Petri Lombardi episcopi Parisiensis, P. Mandonnet, ed., (P. Lethielleux, Parisiis, 1929); S. Thomae Aqunatis, Scriptum super libros Sententiarum magistri Petri Lombardi episcopi Parisiensis, M. F. Moos, ed., (P. Lethielleux, Parisiis, 1956); S. Thomae Aquinatis, Scriptum super libros Sententiarum magistri Petri Lombardi episcopi Parisiensis, t. 4. M. F. Moos, ed., (P. Lethielleux, Parisiis, 1947); and Sancti Thomae Aquinatis, Opera omnia, t. 7/2: Commentum in quartum librum Sententiarum magistri Petri Lombardi (Typis Petri Fiaccadori, Parmae, 1858). Also see A. Oliva, Les débuts de l'enseignement de Thomas d'Aquin et sa conception de la “Sacra Doctrina”. Édition du prologue de son “Commentaire des Sentences” de Pierre Lombard. (Bibliothèque Thomiste, 58: J. Vrin, Paris, 2006) 303-340; and P. M. Gils “Textes inédits de st. Thomas: Les premières rédactions du ‘Scriptum super tertio Sententiarum’,” Revue des Sciences Philosophiques et Théologiques, 45 (1961, pp. 201-228; 46 (1962), pp. 445-462, 609-628.

6 In saying this I merely echo what has been stated by J,-P. Torrell, O.P., in his study, J.-P. Torrell, O.P., “La vision de Dieu “per essentiam” selon Saint Thomas d’Aquin,” View and Vision in the Middle Ages - Micrologus. Nature. Science and Medieval Soceties, V , (Florence: Edizioni SISMEL-Il Galluzzo, 1997), 43-68; reprinted in Recherches Thomasiennes. Études revues et augmentées, J.-P. Torrell, O.P. (Paris: Vrin, 2000) 177-197. “En réalité, la vision de Dieu est au coeur de sa théologie et il en traite comme du ressort même de la vie chrétienne.” 196. In a valuable 2006 study of In 4 Sent. d. 49, q. 2, a. 1, J.-B. Brenet offers similar remarks in an analysis more focused on philosophical issues. He writes, “Thomas place lui-même au coeur de sa conception de la vision béatifique la pièce centrale d’un dispositif  noétique intégralement philosophique que, par ailleurs, il entend et prétend démonter et détruire.” See “Vision béatifique et séparation de l’intellect au début du XIVe siècle. Pour Averroès or contre Thomas d’Aquin?” in Les Sectatores Averrois. Noétique et cosmologie aux XIIIe – XIVe siècles, Dragos Calma,  and Emanuele Coccia, ed., ( Freiburger Zeitschrift für Philosophie und Theologie, 53 (2006),  1/2.), pp, 310-342. See p. 329.  Brenet’s work is in part prompted by Charles J. Ermatinger’s article, “Giles of Rome and Anthony of Parma in an Anonymous Question on the Intellect,” Manuscripta 17 (1973) 91-115.

7 Torrell (2000) 178.

8 Torrell (2000) 178-180.

9 See the fine account by P.-M. de Contenson in S. Thomas et l'avicennisme latin, in Revue des sciences philosophiques et theologiques 43 (1959) 3-31 and Avicennisme latin et vision de Dieu au début du xirie siècle, Archives d'histoire littéraire et doctrinale du Moyen Âge 34 (1959) 29-97. In the former article de Contenson also discussed the role of David of Dinant in the controversy leading up to the condemnation of 1210 at 49-51.

10 See Torrell (2000) pp. 178-179 on the contradictory passages of Scripture on this issue.

11 Brenet remarks, “Et même s'il va de soi qu'étudier la pertinence de tout ces parallèles (ceux de

Thomas lui-même, ceux qu'on lui préte, le rapport de Gérard de Bologne ˆ Thomas, celui entre GéŽrard et HervéŽ NŽédellec, etc.) est une autre affaire, que l'emprunt qu'on a relevéŽ ne fait pas de la conception de Thomas le simple calque d'une thse d'Averroès, pas plus qu'elle ne règle le problème de leurs liens, il n'est peut-être pas inutile de pouvoir relever que ce dossier, où s'inverse ponctuellement l'idŽée, chère ˆà Gilson, que la philosophie n'aurait progressŽ qu'en Žtant fŽécondéŽe par la thŽéologie, tŽémoigne d'un dynamisme propre ˆ la querelle de l'averroï•sme.” Brenet (2006), 342.

12 On the importance of Averroes in this issue, see de Contenson, S. Thomas et l'avicennisme latin, pp. 26-28; Ed. H. Wéber, “Les Apports positifs de la noétique d’Ibn Rushd à celle de Thomas d’Aquin,” in Multiple Averroès. Actes du Colloque Internationale organisé à lóccasion du 850e anniversaire de la naissance d’Averroès. Paris 20-23 septembre 1976 (Paris: Les Belles Lettres, 1978) 211-248, in particular 212-219; and J.-B. Brenet, “S’unir à l’intellect, voir Dieu. Averroès et la doctrine de al jonction au coeur du thomisme,” Arabic Sciences and Philosophy 21 (2011) 215-247.

13 This is discussed in detail in my article, “Themistius and the Development of Averroes’ Noetics,” forthcoming (2011/12) in Soul and Mind. Medieval Perspectives on Aristotle's De Anima (Philosophes Médiévaux LII),  ed. J.-M. Counet & R. Friedman (Leuven: Peeters Publisher). the 2007 Proceedings of the 50th Anniversary Conference of the DeWulf-Mansion Centre for Ancient, Medieval and Renaissance Philosophy, Katholieke Universiteit Leuven, Belgium.  This is also discussed in my “Intellect as Intrinsic Formal Cause in the Soul according to Aquinas and Averroes,” in The Afterlife of the Platonic Soul. Reflections on Platonic Psychology in the Monotheistic Religions, Maha El-Kaisy Friemuth and John M. Dillon, ed. (Leiden: Brill, 2009) 187-220 and in the introduction to the English translation of the Long Commentary on the De Anima.  For the latter, see Averroes (Ibn Rushd) of Cordoba. Long Commentary on the De Anima of Aristotle, Richard C. Taylor, trans. & intro., Therese-Anne Druart, subeditor.  (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2009), lxvi-lxxv.

14 A full English translation of this text is available at I am grateful to Adriano Oliva, O.P., of the Commissio Leonina, for providing a superior unpublished provisional text of this article from the fourth book of the Commentary on the Sentences, a work which is not yet critically edited.  The edition of the Sentences in the four volumes by Mandonnet and Moos is incomplete since it does not include the second half of Book IV. For this final portion of the work one wound normally consult Sancti Thomae Aquinatis, Opera omnia, v. 7/2: Commentum in quartum librum Sententiarum magistri Petri Lombardi (Parma: Typis Petri Fiaccadori, 1858). However, the text is included in the edition of the Summa theologiae published in Ottawa, v. 5, (1943), 446b-454a as  Supplementum, Q.92, A.1. Since I am using an unpublished version of the text, I will indicate sections of this article with the text numbers provided in the online version of the Scriptum super Sententiis provided by Enrique Alarcón at

15 Regarding the prominence of Avicenna in discussions of this issue, see the articles by de Contenson mentioned in note 9.

16 The classic account of this in Plato’s Republic begins at 475e in Book 5 and extends through Book 6.

17 On the Plotiniana Arabica, see Peter Adamson, The Arabic Plotinus: a Philosophical Study of the “Theology of Aristotle” (London: Duckworth, 2002). For a short account, see Adamson’s “The Theology of Aristotle,” The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Summer 2010 Edition), Edward N. Zalta (ed.), URL = <>.

18 Recently Marwan Rashed has argued against the traditional attribution to al-Fârâbî of the treatise On the Harmonization of the Opinions of the Two Sages. See his “On the Authorship of the Treatise On the Harmonization of the Opinions of the Two Sages Atributed to al-Fârâbî,” Arabic Sciences and Philosophy 19 (2009) 843-82.

19 See for example ch. 3 of al-Fârâbî on the Perfect State (Mabadi' ara' ahl al-madina al-fâḍila) Abu Naṣr al-Fârâbî, ed. and tr. Richard Walzer (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1985) 100-104.

20 Alftrabi. Risalah fî al- ʿaql, ed. Maurice Bouyges, S.J. (Beyrouth: Dar el-Machreq Sari, 1983, 2nd edition) 12.7-9.

21On this see my, “Abstraction in al-Fârâbî,” Proceedings of the American Catholic Philosophical Association 80 (2006) 151-168.  More precisely, for Aquinas abstraction is carried out by the combined work of the agent intellect acting and the possible intellect receiving, both of which are intrinsic to the human soul.

22 This is the account of the Risalah fî al- ʿaql, though al-Fârâbî expresses different views in other works. See my “Abstraction in al-Fârâbî,” 155-157 and the notes there for this doctrine in the Mabadi' ara' ahl al-madina al-fâḍila and al-Siyâsa al-madaniyya. The Risalah fî al- ʿaql is the work most relevant for the present discussion since it was a source used by Averroes in the development of the doctrine of abstraction which was adopted by Aquinas.

23 Risalah fî al- ʿaql, 30.9-31.9.  In al-Siyâsa al-madaniyya, the Agent Intellect exercises care for human beings so that they may “reach the highest ranks of the perfection which may can attain, which is ultimate happiness. This comes to pass when man comes to the rank of the Agent Intellect.” Al-Fârâbî’s The Political Regime (al-Siyâsa al-Madaniyya also known as the Treatise on the Principles of Beings), ed. Fauzi M. Najjar (Beirut: Imprimerie Catholicque, 1964) 32.

24 See Averrois Cordubensis Commentarium Magnum in Aristotelis De Anima Libros,  ed. F. S. Crawford (Cambridge, MA: Medieval Academy of America, 1953) 433; Averroes (Ibn Rushd) of Cordoba. Long Commentary on the De Anima of Aristotle (2009) 345-46. Hereafter the Latin edition of Crawford will be cited as LCDA with pages of the Latin indicated in { } brackets. The English translation indicates Latin pages also with these brackets.

25 On the source of this report, see Steven Harvey, “The Place of the Philosopher in the City according to Ibn Bâjjah.” In The Political Aspects of Islamic Philosophy. Essays in Honor of Muhsin S. Mahdi, ed., Charles E. Butterworth (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1992) 199–233. For a recent account of these and related issues, see Phillipe Vallat, Farabi et l’École d’Alexandrie. Des prémisses de la connaissance à la philosophie politique (Paris: Vrin, 2004).

26 See the edition of the Treatise on the Conjunction of the Intellect with Man in Ibn Baǧǧa (Avempace). La conduite de l’ isolé et deux autres épitres. Introduction, édition critique du texte arabes. traduction et commentaire, Charles Genequand (Paris: Vrin 2010) 194-196. This work is available in English translation in Classical Arabic Philosophy. An Anthology of Sources, pp. 269-283.  Also see Alexander Altmann, “Ibn Bajja on Man’s Ultimate Felicity,” in Harry Austryn Wolfson Jubilee Volume, (Jerusalem, 1965) v. 1, pp. 47-87.

27 Ibn Bâjjah, Tadbîr al-Mutawannid, in Risâ’il Ibn Bâjjah al-Ilâhîyah (Ibn Bâjjah [Avempace]. Opera Metaphysica, ed. Majid Fakhry (Beirut: Dâr an-Nahâr, 1968; 2nd ed. 1991) 79–80;  The Governance of the Solitary, partial translation by Lawrence Berman, in Medieval Political Philosophy, ed. Ralph Lerner and Muhsin Mahdi (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 3rd ed.) 131–132. Translation slightly modified.

28 Both metaphors are used by Avicenna in close proximity in Avicenna’s De Anima (Arabic Text) Being the Psychological Part of Kitâb al-Shifâ’, ed. F. Rahman (London: Oxford University Press, 1959) 235-236;  Avicenna Latinus. Liber De Anima seu Sextus de Naturalibus IV-V,  ed. S. Van Riet (Louvain: Editions Orientalistes, and Leiden: E. J. Brill, 1968) 127-128. For a general study of emanation in Avicenna, see see the account of Olga Lizzini in her Fluxus (fayḍ). Indagine sui fondamenti della metafisica e della fisica di Avicenna (Bari: Edizioni di Pagina, 2011). However, Lizzini’s focus is not primarily on epistemology and she provides only a modest account of it.

29 See Cristina D’Ancona “Degrees of Abstraction in Avicenna. How to Combine Aristotle’s De Anima and the Enneads,” in Theories of Perception in Medieval and Early Modern Philosophy (Helsinki: Springer, 2008) 47-71.

30 Precisely how to understand the noetics of human intellect in Avicenna is a matter of current controversy and disagreement. What might be called the standard account is the emanationist view espoused by Thomas in his reading of Avicenna.  That is basically in accord with the views of Herbert Davidson in his Alfarabi, Avicenna, and Averroes, on Intellect (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1992. However, this has been challenged. See Dimitri Gutas, “Intuition and Thinking: The Evolving Structure of Avicenna's Epistemology,” in Aspects of Avicenna, ed. Robert Wisnovsky (Princeton: Markus Wiener Publishers, 2001; reprinted from Princeton Papers: Interdisciplinary Journal of Middle Eastern Studies, Vol. IX) 1-38; Dag Nikolaus Hasse, “Avicenna on Abstraction,” in Aspects of Avicenna, 39-72; and the novel approach to the issue in Jon McGinnis in “Making Abstraction Less Abstract: The Logical, Psychological and Metaphysical Dimensions of Avicenna’s Theory of Abstraction,” in Proceedings of the American Catholic Philosophical Association 80 (2006) 169-183. I will address these critiques and defend the traditional account elsewhere.

31 Avicenna’s De Anima (Arabic Text), Book 5, ch. 6, 239-241; Latin 134-138.

32 “This then [is what] the potential intellect, when it is being perfected and has developed, thinks. For just as the power of walking, which a human being has as soon as he comes to be, is led to actuality, as time advances, by being perfected itself and not by being affected in some way, in the same way the [potential] intellect too when it has been perfected both thinks the things that are intelligible by nature and makes sensible things intelligible to itself, as being productive.”  Alexander of Aphrodisias, De Anima Liber Cum Mantissa, ed. Ivo Bruns. Berlin, 1887. [Commentaria in Aristotelem Graeca, Suppl. II, pt. 1] pp. 110.30–111.2; Alexander of Aphrodisias. Supplement to On the Soul, R. tr. W. Sharples. London: Duckworth, 2004, pp. 34-35. “The intellect that is by nature and from without will assist that in us, because other things too would not be intelligible, though being [so] potentially, if there did not exist something that was intelligible by its own peculiar nature. This, being intelligible by its own nature, by being thought comes to be in the one who thinks; it is intellect that has come to be in the one who thinks, and it is thought ‘from without’ and [is] immortal, and implants in the material [intellect] a disposition such that it thinks the things that are intelligible potentially.” Greek 111.28-32; tr. 36-37.

33 Alexander, De Anima Liber Cum Mantissa (1887), 90.20–91.4; Alexandre d’Aphrodise. De l’Âme, tr. Martin Bergeron and Richard Dufour (Paris: Vrin, 2008) 213; The De Anima of Alexander of Aphrodisias: A Translation and Commentary, tr. Athanasios P. Fotinus (Washington, DC: University Press of America, 1980), 119-120.

34 See my “The Agent Intellect as ‘form for us’ and Averroes’s Critique of al-Fârâbî,” Topicos (Universidad Panamericana, Mexico City) 29 (2005)  29-51. Reprinted with corrections in Proceedings of the Society for Medieval Logic and Metaphysics 5 (2005)18-32 Also see Marc Geoffroy, “Averroès sur l’intellect comme cause agent et cause formelle, et la question de la ‘jonction’ - I,” in Averroès et les averroïsmes juif et latin. Actes du colloque tenu à Paris, 16-18 juin 2005, ed. J.-B. Brenet, (Turnhout: Brepols, 2007) 77-110.

35 LCDA 484-485.

36 LCDA 445.

37 I discuss the views of al-Fârâbî in various works in the article cited in note 21.

38 LCDA 502. Averroes understands the account of al-Fârâbî differently from the one I gave earlier of the “something” which the Agent Intellect provides to the soul for carrying out abstraction.

39 See the forth coming article cited in note 13. “Themistius and the Development of Averroes’ Noetics,” forthcoming in Soul and Mind. Medieval Perspectives on Aristotle's De Anima (Philosophes Médiévaux LII),  J.-M. Counet & R. Friedman, ed. Peeters Publisher, Leuven.

40 Quoniam, quia illud per quod agit aliquid suam propriam actionem est forma, nos autem agimus per intellectum {500} agentem nostram actionem propriam, necesse est ut intellectus agens sit forma in nobis.

Et nullus modus est secundum quem generetur forma in nobis nisi iste.  Quoniam, cum intellecta speculativa copulantur nobiscum per formas ymaginabiles, et intellectus agens copulatur cum intellectis speculativis (illus enim quod comprehendit ea est idem, scilicet intellectus materialis), necesse est ut intellectus agens copuletur nobiscum per continuationem intellectorum speculativorum.

Et manifestum est quod, cum omnia intellecta speculativa fuerint existentia in nobis in potentia, quod ipse erit copulatus nobiscum in potentia.  Et cum omnia intellecta speculativa fuerint existentia in nobis in actu, erit ipse tunc copulatus nobis in actu.  Et cum quedam fuerint potentia et quedam actu, tunc erit ipse copulatus secundum partem et secundum partem non; et tunc dicimur moveri ad continuationem.

Et manifestum est quod, cum iste motus complebitur, quod statim iste intellectus copulabitur nobiscum omnibus modis.  Et tunc manifestum est quod proportio eius ad nos in illa dispositione est sicut proportio intellectus qui est in habitu ad nos.  Et cum ita sit, necesse est ut homo intelligat per intellectum sibi proprium omnia entia, et ut agat actionem sibi propriam in omnibus entibus, sicut intelligit per intellectum qui est in habitu, quando fuerit continuatus cum formis ymaginabilibus, omnia entia intellectione propria. LCDA 499-500. Emphasis added. On this text and its importance in the thought of Aquinas, see my “Intellect as Intrinsic Formal Cause in the Soul according to Aquinas and Averroes,” cited in note 13.

41 This principle and its use by Thomas is something I have discussed elsewhere.  See my “The Agent Intellect as ‘form for us’ and Averroes’s Critique of al-Fârâbî,” cited in note 33.

42 For example, see LCDA 439.

43 See my “Intelligibles in act in Averroes,” in Averroès et les averroïsmes juif et latin. Actes du colloque tenu à Paris, 16-18 juin 2005, J.-B. Brenet, ed., (Turnhout: Brepols, 2007) 111-140. There I identified the understanding of Themistius as Neoplatonic.  While there is  some support for holding influence from the Neoplatonic tradition, H. J. Blumenthal argues against that view in his “Themistius, the last Peripatetic commentator on Aristotle?”, in Arktouros, Hellenic Studies presented to Bernard M. W. Knox on the occasion of his 65th birthday, Glen W. Bowersock et al., eds., (Berlin 1979) 391-400, and also in a revised account under the same title in Aristotle Transformed. The Ancient Commentators and Their Influence, Richard Sorabji, ed., (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1990) 113-123. In this latter version, Blumenthal adds a brief discussion of the arguments of E. P. Mahoney in favor of identifying Neoplatonic language and notions in the thought of Themistius on the relationship of the human intellect and the transcendent Productive Intellect. See Mahoney’s “Themistius and the agent intellect in James of Viterbo and other thirteenth-century philosophers,” Augustiniana 23 (1973) 423-67. For other articles by Mahoney touching on this issue, see Blumenthal (1990) pp.119-121 and the notes there. I discuss the role of the Paraphrase of the De Anima by Themistius in the thought of Averroes at greater length in “Themistius and the Development of Averroes’ Noetics,” cited in note 13.

44 Themistius, In Libros Aristotelis De Anima Paraphrasis, R. Heinze (ed.). Berlin: G. Reimeri, 1899) [Commentaria in Aristotelem Graeca, 5.3], 100.20-21;  Themistius, On Aristotle’s On the Soul, Robert B. Todd (trans.) (Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Press, 1996), 124.  An Arabic Translation of Themistius’ Commentary on Aristotle's De Anima, M. C. Lyons (ed.), (Columbia, South Carolina, and Oxford, England: Bruno Cassirer Publishers Ltd.,1973) 181.12-13. This may have also functioned as assuring that the abstractions made by individuals on the basis of sense perception and subsequent images formed in the soul are in accord with one another and the forms as in the Productive Intellect, though Themistius does not make explicit mention of this.

45 See Themistius In Libros Aristotelis De Anima Paraphrasis Greek (1899) 98.19-24; English (1996) 122; Arabic (1973) 172-174; Greek (1899) 99.6-10, Themistius English (1996) 123, Themistius Arabic (1973) 179.6-9; and (1899) 103.30-33, Themistius English (1996) 128-129, Themistius Arabic (1973) 188.12-14.

46 Themistius writes that “. . . the productive intellect settles into the whole of the potential intellect, as though the carpenter and the smith did not control their wood and bronze externally but were able to pervade it totally. For this is how the actual intellect too is added to the potential intellect and becomes one with it.” Themistius Greek (1899) 99.15-18;  Themistius English (1996) 123;  Themistius Arabic (1973) 179.14-17.

47 That the Productive / Agent Intellect contains all the forms I understand from the remarks of Themistius that (i) the potential intellect is moved to think only by an intellect that thinks all things, Themistius Greek (1899) 103.31-32,  Themistius English (1996) 128,  Themistius Arabic (1973) 188.12-13; (ii) “the intellect that illuminates in a primary sense is one” (1899) 103.32, Themistius English (1996) 128-129;  Themistius Arabic (1973) 188.13-14; (iii) “we who are combined from the potential and the actual [intellects] are referred back to one productive intellect, and that what it is to be each of us is derived from that single [intellect]” (1899) 103.36-38, Themistius English (1996) 129,  Themistius Arabic (1973) 188.18-189.1; (iv) “we would not understand one another unless there were a single intellect in which we all shared” (1899) 104.2-3, Themistius English (1996) 129,  Themistius Arabic (1973) 189.3; and (v) “divine intellect, which is separate and exists in actuality, thinks none of the enmattered forms” but thinks only separate forms “continuously and perpetually” (1899) 114.34-115.9, Themistius English (1996) 141, Themistius Arabic (1973) 209.16-210.10. For a recent discussion of these issues in Themistius, see Myrna Gabbe, “Themistius on Concept Acquisition and Knowledge of Essences,” Archiv für Geschichte der Philosophie 92 (2010) 215-235.

48 LCDA, 445. Averroes seems to have read Themistius Greek (1899) 99.11 ff., Themistius English (1996) 123.25 ff., Themistius Arabic (1973) 179.9 ff., as identifying the actual intellect with the Agent Intellect.  For the Middle Commentary that seems clearly to be the case. See Averroes. Middle Commentary on Aristotle's De Anima. A Critical Edition of the Arabic Text with English Translation, Notes and Introduction, by Alfred L. Ivry, (Provo, Utah: Brigham Young University Press, 2002) 117.8-10. There he writes, “You ought to know that Themistius and most commentators regard the intellect in us (al-caql alladhî fî-nâ) as composed of the intellect which is in potency (al-caql bil-quwah) and the intellect which is in act (al-caql alladhî bil-ficl), that is, the Agent Intellect (al-caql] al-faccâl). In a certain way it is composite and does not think its essence but thinks what is here, when the imaginative intentions are joined to it. The intelligibles perish due to the passing away of these intentions, forgetting and error thus occurring to [our intellect]. They interpret Aristotle’s statement in this manner, as explained in our commentary on his discourse.”

49 “There need be no wonder that we all are as a group composites of what is in potency and of what is in act.  All of us whose existence is by virtue of this one are referred back to a one which is the Agent Intellect. For if not this, then whence is it that we possess known sciences in a shared way? And whence is it that the understanding of the primary definitions and primary propositions is alike [for us all] without learning?  For it is right that, if we do not have one intellect in which we all share, then we also do not have understanding of one another.” Themistius, Arabic (1973), pp. 188.17-189.4: وليس ينبغى أن يعجب من أن نكون كلّنا معشر المركّبين من الذى بالقوة والذى بالفعل وكلّ واحد منّا إنّما وجوده من قبل ذلك الواحد نرجع إلى واحد هو العقل الفعّال فإنّه لولا ذلك من أين كانت تكون لنا  العلوم المتعارفة مشتركةً ومن أين كان يكون الفهم للحدود الأول وللقضايا الأول متماثلا بلا تعلّم فإنّه خليق أن يكون لو لم يكن لنا عقل واحد نشترك فيه كلّنا لم نكن أيضا نفهم بعضا عن بعض  This corresponds to Themistius, Greek (1899), pp. 103.36-104.3: εἰ δὲ εἰς ἓνα ποιητικὸν νοῦν ἃπαντες ἄναγόμεθα οἱ συγκείμενοι ἐκ τοῦ δυνάμει καὶ ἐνεργείᾳ, καὶ ἑκάστῳ ἡμῶν τὸ εἶναι παρὰ τοῦ ἑνὸς ἐκείνου ἐστίν, οὐ χρὴ θαυμάζειν. πόθεν γὰρ αἱ κοιναὶ ἔννοιαι; πόθεν δὲ ἡ ἀδίδακτος καὶ ὁμοία τῶν πρώτων ὅρων σύνεσις καὶ τῶν πρώτων ἀξιωμάτων; μήποτε γὰρ οὐδὲ τὸ συνιέναι ἀλλήλων ὑπῆρχεν ἄν, εἰ μή τις ἦν εἰς νοῦς, οὗ πάντες ἐκοινωνοῦμεν.  Themistius, English (1996), p. 129: «There is no need to be puzzeled if we who are combined from the potential and the actual [intellects] are referred back to one productive intellect, and that what it is to be each of us is derived from that single [intellect]. Where otherwise do the notions that are shared (koinoi ennoiai) come from? Where is the untaught and identical understanding of the primary definitions and primary axioms derived from? For we would not understand one another unless there were a single intellect that we all shared.»

50 Et debes scire quod nulla differentia est secundum expositionem Themistii et antiquorum expositorum, et opinionem Platonis in hoc quod intellecta existentia in nobis sunt eterna, et quod addiscere est rememorari: “You ought to know that there is no difference between the exposition of Themistius and the other ancient commentators and the opinion of Plato in regard to the fact that the intelligibles existing in us are eternal and that learning is recollection.” LCDA 452; tr. 361-2.

51 [22723] Responsio. Dicendum quod . . . peruenire quod Deum per essentiam uideat.

52  In this matter Thomas is in fact in agreement with al-Fârâbî in significant ways, insofar as Thomas holds that the light or power of intellectual abstraction is something given to human beings by a transcendent extrinsic power and that this power as an intrinsic part of the rational soul makes intellectual abstraction and understanding possible. For Thomas this light of the intellect or power of intellectual understanding, the agent intellect, while naturally present in each human rational soul in the powers of active intellect and possible intellect, is nevertheless a likeness of and a participation in the Divine intellectual light of God.

53 LCDA 433; tr. 346.

54 Averroes several times discusses al-Fârâbî’s change late in life to the view that the human immortality through intellectual conjoining is “an old wives’ tale.” See Averroes’ remarks in Epistle 1 in Averroès. La béatitude de l’âme. Editions, traductions et études, ed. & tr. Marc Geoffroy and Carlos Steel (Paris: Librairie Philosophique J. Vrin, 2001) 220; and Epistle 2, 230.

55 See Torrell, “La vision de Dieu “per essentiam” selon Saint Thomas d’Aquin,” (cited in note 6) 178-185.

56 [22723] Et utrosque ad hoc mouet distantia . . . quarumcumque substantiarum separatarum.

57 [22723] Set hec positio omnino stare non potest . . . in fine eas possimus intelligere.

58 The literature on this is vast.  For an example, see Paul Rorem, “‘Procession and Return’ in Thomas Aquinas and his Predecessors,” The Princeton Seminary Review 13 (1992) 147-163.

59 Scriptum super libros Sententiarum, t. 1, Mandonnet ed., 57.

60 [22723] Vnde oportet ponere . . . procedunt duobus modis.

61 [22723] Quorum primus est quod . . . que est ei similis.

62 Cf. LCDA 490 ff. Also cf. 424.

63 [22723] Secundus modus est quod . . . intelligitur quidditas separata.

64 [22723] Set iste modus non uidetur . . . ab omni quidditate creata.

65 [22723] Secundo, quia dato quod esset . . . et quasi in speculo.

66 See the account of Genequand in his introduction to Ibn Baǧǧa (Avempace). La conduite de l’ isolé et deux autres épitres (cited in note 26) 53-82.

67 [22723] Et ideo alius modus . . . in animabus nostris.

68 [22723] Set hic modus etiam nobis non uidetur . . . ad illum qui habet multum.

69 [22723] Alio modo adhuc magis deficiens . . . idem modus essendi utrobique.

70 [22723] Et similiter ad hoc quod intellectus intelligat aliquam quidditatem, oportet quod fiat in eo similitudo eiusdem rationis secundum speciem, quamuis forte non sit idem modus essendi utrobique.

Non enim forma existens in intellectu uel sensu est principium cognitionis secundum modum essendi quem habet utrobique, set secundum rationem in qua communicat cum re exteriori. Et ita patet quod per nullam similitudinem receptam in intellectu creato potest Deus intelligi ita quod essentia eius uideatur immediate. Vnde etiam quidam ponentes diuinam essentiam solum per hunc modum uideri, dixerunt quod ipsa essentia non uidebitur, set quidam fulgor quasi radius ipsius.

71 Avicenna rejects the Aristotelian notion of knowledge consisting in an identity of knower and known and instead himself holds that knowing involves the formation of an intelligible form in the knower through contact with the Agent Intellect.

72 [22723] Vnde nec iste modus sufficit . . . intelligitur et qua intelligitur.

73 For Averroes the Material Intellect and the Agent Intellect are principles philosophically discovered by the analysis of human cognition rather than direct objects of human intellectual experience. What is experienced by human beings is the apprehension of intelligibles in act that constitutes science in the human theoretical intellect. For the human individual, knowledge of these two intellects comes not by some direct perception as such but rather through a complex reasoned account.

74 [22723] Et quidquid sit de aliis substantiis separatis . . . se habebit ad intellectum sicut forma ad materiam.

75 LCDA {497}. Et omnis actio facta ex congregato duorum diversorum, necesse est ut alterum duorum illorum sit quasi materia et instrumentum, et aliud sit quasi forma aut agens. Intellectus igitur qui est in nobis componitur ex intellectu qui est in habitu et intellectu agenti, aut ita quod propositiones sunt quasi materia et intellectus agens est quasi forma, aut ita quod propositiones sunt quasi instrumentum et intellectus agens est quasi efficiens; dispositio enim in hoc est consimilis.

76 LCDA {499} Et cum fuerit verificata nobis hec continuatio que est inter intellectum agentem et intellectum materialem, poterimus reperire modum secundum quem dicimus quod intellectus agens similis est forme et quod intellectus qui est in habitu similis est materie. Omnia enim duo quorum subiectum est unum, et quorum alterum est perfectius alio, necesse est ut respectus perfectioris ad imperfectius sit sicut respectus forme ad materiam. Et secundum hanc intentionem dicimus quod proportio prime perfectionis virtutis ymaginative

ad primam perfectionem communis sensus.

Also see in particular for this passage {499} “When this conjoining in us between the agent intellect and the material intellect has been established, we will be able to find out the way in which we say that the agent intellect is similar to form and that the intellect which is in a positive disposition is similar to matter. For in regard to any two things of which one is the subject and the second is more actual than the other, it is necessary that the relation of the more actual to the less actual be as the relation of form to matter. With this intention we say that the proportion of the first actuality of the imaginative power to the first actuality of the common sense is as the proportion of form to matter.”

77 Note that what is accepted from Alexander and Averroes for the description of the supernatural enhancement of the human intellect in patria is the notion of “form for us” which for them described an enhancement required for natural human knowing. Thomas by no means accepts their shared view that the individual human soul perishes with the death of the body.

78 [22723] Et quod hoc sufficiat ad hoc quod intellectus . . . unionis qua spiritus unietur Deo.

79 The proper reference is to Metaphysics 8.6, 1045b24. However, Aquinas is following the text and interpretation found in the Latin translation of Averroes’s Long Commentary on the Metaphysics.  The Arabic translation differs considerably from the Greek and Averroes interprets it to mean that the immaterial separate entities moving the heavens, insofar as they are pure forms and actualities separate from matter, are thereby per se intelligible as well as intelligent. See Averroes Tafsîr mâ bacd al-‡abîcah, ed. Maurice Bouyges, S.J.. vol. 2 (Beirut: Dar al-Machreq Editeurs [Imprimerie Catholique] 19672), Book ˘â’ c.16, p.1102; Aristotelis Metaphysicorum Libri XIIII cum Averrois Cordubensis in eosdem commentariis et epitome in In Aristotelis Opera Cum Averrois Commentariis, (Venice: Iunctas, 1574) vol. 8, VIII c.16, f. 225r F. On form as the cause of actuality, see Metaphysics VIII 2, 1043a19-21. The cause of actuality in a composite thing is the form. See Averroes Tafsîr mâ bacd al-‡abîcah, Book ˘â’ c.7, p.1055; Aristotelis Metaphysicorum Libri XIIII, VIII c.7, f. 215v K.  I discuss this in “Averroes on Psychology and the Principles of Metaphysics,” The Journal of the History of Philosophy. 36 (1998) 507-523 ; see 519-21, especially 519, note 41.

80 See Brenet 2006.

81 Constat enim quod cuiuslibet intellectualis creaturae beatitudo consistit in sua perfectissima operatione; illud autem quod est supremum in qualibet creatura rationali est intellectus; unde oportet quod beatitudo cuiuslibet creaturae rationalis in nobilissima visione intellectus consistat. Nobilitas autem intellectivae visionis est ex nobilitate intellecti, sicut etiam dicit Philosophus in X Ethicorum quod ' perfectissima operatio visus est visus bene dispositi ad pulcherrimum eorum quae cadunt sub visu ; si ergo creatura rationalis in sua perfectissima visione non perveniret ad videndum divinam essentiam, beatitudo eius non esset ipse Deus sed aliquid sub Deo, quod esse non potest quia ultima perfectio cuiuslibet rei est quando pertingit ad suum principium: ipse autem Deus immediate omnes creaturas rationales condidit, ut fides Vera tenet; unde oportet secundum fidem ut omnis creatura rationalis quae ad beatitudinem penrenit, per essentiam Deum videat. Sancti Thomae de Aquino, Opera omnia, t. 22, v.2, Quaestiones disputatae de veritate, Q.8, A.1, 217.134-155.

82 Qualiter autem essentia separata possit coniungi intellectui ut forma, sic ostendit Commentator in III De anima: quandocumque in aliquo receptibili recipiuntur duo quorum unum est altero perfectius, proportio perfectioris ad minus perfectum est sicut proportio formae ad suum perfectibile, sicut lux est perfectio coloris cum ambo recipiuntur in diaphano; et ideo cum intellectus creatus, qui inest substantiae creatae, sit imperfectior divina essentia in eo existente, comparabitur divina essentia ad illum intellectum quodam modo ut forma. Et huius exemplum aliquale in naturalibus inveniri potest: res enim per se subsistens non potest esse alicuius materiae forrna si in ea aliquid de materia inveniatur, sicut lapis non potest esse alicuius materiae forma; sed res per se subsistens quae materia caret, potest esse forma materiae sicut de anima patet. Et similiter quodam modo essentia divina, quae est actus purus, quamvis habeat - esse ornnino distinctum ab intellectu, efficitur tamen ei ut forma in intelligendo; et ideo dicit Magister in II dist. II Sententiarum quod unio corporis ad animam rationalem est quoddam exemplum beatae unionis rationalis spiritus ad Deum. Quaestiones disputatae de veritate, Q.8, A.1, 218.208-234.

83 See, for example, Summa theologiae, prima pars Q.12, and prima secundae QQ. 1-5.

84 Brenet 2011, 240. There Brenet explains that in an early version of the Summa contra gentiles Thomas mentions Averroes in connection with the issue of beatitude but Thomas chose to remove that reference in the final version.

85 For example, Summa Contra Gentiles, 2.59, 12: Id quo aliquid operatur, oportet esse formam eius: nihil enim agit nisi secundum quod est actu; actu autem non est aliquid nisi per id quod est forma eius; unde et Aristoteles probat animam esse formam, per hoc quod animal per animam vivit et sentit. Homo autem intelligit, et non nisi per intellectum: unde et Aristoteles, inquirens de principio quo intelligimus, tradit nobis naturam intellectus possibilis. Oportet igitur intellectum possibilem formaliter uniri nobis, et non solum per suum obiectum. Summa contra gentiles (Rome: Typis Riccardi Garroni, 1918)  [S. Thomae de Aquino Opera Omnia Iussu Leonis XIII P.M. edita Cura et studio Fratrum Praedicatorum Tomus XIII], p. 415b Amplius. Texts such as this found in a number of the works of Thomas are analyzed in my article, “Intellect as Intrinsic Formal Cause in the Soul according to Aquinas and Averroes,” in The Afterlife of the Platonic Soul. Reflections on Platonic Psychology in the Monotheistic Religions, Maha El-Kaisy Friemuth and John M. Dillon, ed. (Leiden: Brill, 2009), pp. 187-220.

86 See the articles by Ermatinger and Brenet cited in note 6.