Corps de l’article

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William L. Safire, Good Advice on Writing

I. Introduction

The reader of medieval philosophy is certainly familiar with the intense academic debates that followed the gradual spreading of Aquinas’ body of work. From polemics with the Averroists to discussions with the defenders of the Augustinian tradition in matters both philosophical and theological, one can see that the writings of the Angelic Doctor were uniquely influential in shaping the intellectual landscape of late medieval thought. Actually, they were also very relevant to the thought of those scholars who opposed them in many points. This was the case with one of the great minds of the middle ages, John Duns Scot.

Predictably, the later disputes between Thomists and Scotists have always been examples of a heated and friendly rivalry that occasionally has more of the former trait than the latter, but never lacks either entirely. Both schools being ardent lovers of truth, it is only to be expected that they sometimes fight for their beloved. One such case was that of the Scotist scholar Francesco Licheto and his remarks on Cardinal Cajetan’s commentary on the Summa Theologiae.

One of the leading scholars of his time, Tommaso De Vio Cajetano held the chair of Metaphysics at the University of Padua soon after becoming bachelor of Theology, at the age of twenty-three. He would also occupy the chair of Sacred Theology, albeit briefly. He presented lectures on Aquinas’ Summa in Brescia, Milan and finally Rome, whither he was transferred in 1500. Cajetan was made Minister General of the Dominican Order in 1507, the same year he finished compiling his commentary on the first part of Aquinas’ magnum opus.[1] The work contained abundant criticism of Duns Scot’s objections to Aquinas. It was widely disseminated in the academic milieu, and would be published along with the Summa a few years later in 1514 (ed. Bologna).[2]

Roughly ten to twenty years Cajetan’s senior, Fr. Francesco Licheto of Brescia was a prominent figure among the Friars Minor and in the cultural circle of Northern Italy. Licheto gradually ascended from vicar of his province to Minister General of the Order, a position attained in 1518 and kept until his death in 1520. Under his leadership and tutelage, the College of Santa Maria di Gesù on the island of the Garda (Isola del Garda) played an important role in the teaching of Duns Scot’s philosophy and theology. He was a dedicated expositor of the Subtle Doctor’s thought and a writer of several commentaries, mostly on Scot’s Ordinationes on the Sentences of Peter Lombard.[3] In the year of 1517, typographer Paganino dei Paganini was commissioned to equip the college’s facilities with a printing press and to publish Licheto’s own contribution to the study of Scot’s Ordinatio on the Second Book of the Sentences : Peritissimi viri. F. Fran. Lycheti de Brixia [ ] In Iohan. Duns Scotus super secundo sententiarum clarissima commentaria.

In his work, Licheto showed to be well acquainted with Cajetan’s commentary, and often displayed the courteous wit of referring to his opponent as “quidam novus expositor primae partis”.[4] On a few occasions, Licheto’s answers to the bold “newcomer” were a bit harsher than usual : “As for the second argument, I briefly say that he [Cajetan] understands neither the Doctor’s thought, nor his words […]”.[5]

II. The Subject Matter

Some of the questions in the third distinction (II Sent., d. 3, q. 8-11) refer to the knowledge of angels. The eleventh question discerns specifically whether or not these spirits would know singulars by acquiring species from them, effectively substituting immaterial means for the work of the senses and the imagination, bodily faculties that angels lack. For Duns Scot, the answer was definitely affirmative. The Subtle Doctor argued that the imagination was no necessary means between the material realities and the abstract intelligible forms : angels could benefit from particular forms (that for us are objects of the senses) and, by means of their active intellect, obtain knowledge of this particular object, here-and-now. It was also his opinion that angels could not know singulars via innate species (as Aquinas taught), since it would either imply that an infinity of particular forms could be contained in a finite mind, or that a species that represents a nature could reach beyond the mere quiddity of the said nature and provide knowledge of singulars. To sustain the latter position would imply a sort of proportionality that was supported by Aquinas and denied by Scot. For Aquinas (as for Augustine), just as the divine essence provides knowledge of things as it is their cause, so do the infused species which reside in the angelic intellects : such species are participated likenesses of God’s creative reasons of things. Having the divine essence as exemplar, the infused species were likenesses of the source of natures, and therefore were able to represent form and matter, allowing for the angelic knowledge of singulars in a similar (albeit limited) way to that in which God knows them.

To derive the knowledge of both quiddity and singulars from the “form” and “matter” represented in these species was for Scot a mistake, and a most incoherent one for Aquinas to make, since Aquinas stated (against Averroes) that matter was indeed part of a thing’s quiddity.[6] Such species, as Scot had defended elsewhere (II Sent., d. 3, q. 8), simply could not give knowledge beyond quiddity. Additionally, it would be a fallacy of Aquinas to argue that what was true of the greater (the divine essence) would also be true of the lesser (the infused species).[7]

Leaving aside the question of who might be correct on the matter, Cajetan’s criticism of Duns Scot was very thorough.[8] Following Aquinas, he argued that to hold that angels could have their superior intellect directly altered by particular forms, effectively “feeling” without senses, was untenable. (It was also deemed incompatible with the dignity of a purely immaterial nature.) Theirs would be a higher manner of knowing singulars in which it was not the intellect that assimilated to its object (as is the case with us), but rather the opposite : it was the object that, by the very fact that it came into being and participated in its own nature, became assimilated to the likeness (similitudo) of such nature in the angelic mind, where it resided since the angel’s creation. The infused species in the angelic intellect were complete likenesses of both formal and material principles of the created natures and thus capable of providing not only the knowledge of what nature “A” is, but also that this or that particular “A” has come into being here-and-now.[9] According to Cajetan, there was neither the need to presume an infinity of infused species in order to understand an infinity of singulars, nor a fallacy in holding that, in the same manner as such species provide knowledge in God (i.e. being complete likenesses of a nature), so do their limited, less perfect participations provide knowledge in the angelic mind. Their being less perfect than the one and only divine species (that is, the divine mind itself) is no reason to deny them the power of representation that Aquinas claimed for them inasmuch as they were its exemplata.[10]

While studying this issue, even if one is already inclined towards the Thomist solution (as it was the case with this author), after reading Cajetan’s rebuttal of Duns Scot one must also hear the words of Scot’s defender Licheto to the Dominican “newcomer” on such obscure subtleties of angelic thinking ; one must re-open Scot’s second Ordinatio on the Sentences and read Licheto’s own rebuttal to some of the points on which Cajetan had insisted. “Nothing, says the Franciscan commentator, can be an object that adequately moves the intellect with respect to many intelligibles, unless its ratio formalis is also ratio cognoscendi of all of them. And such a singular object, which is ratio formalis for the knowledge of all intelligibles, could not be anything created, since it should be formally infinite.”[11] A few sections later, Licheto reiterates Scot’s position that an angel would indeed acquire knowledge of a singular from the singular itself, via an appropriate singular species. He also admits that this creates a considerable difficulty (hic oritur difficultas non parva), since on the one hand the mere nature of a singular could not provide knowledge of a singular qua singular, and on the other hand the singularity (which, albeit a positive additional reality, is considered a mere condition of the agent) apparently cannot be ratio formalis for producing an intelligible species in the angelic mind.[12] After listing a few additional difficulties that stem from Scot’s texts, Licheto proceeds to number four central assumptions to be employed in the defense of his own solutions to the problem, closely following the teachings of his subtle master.[13]

III. A Puzzling Contradiction, or Rather Two Scholars in One

In the sections that follow, Licheto develops his answer. Here is a summary of his solution ; it is very abridged and at times paraphrased, but nevertheless it is faithful enough for our purpose, as the reader will soon understand :

Considering these premises, when it was asked whether a singular can cause an intelligible species that represents it — and the question referred specifically to the ratio formalis that would cause the said species — I say that this [ratio] is nature itself, existing in its own singularity and presentiality ; such a nature, in this way, can cause (or be a ratio formalis of causing) the intelligible species that represents the singular as singular. […] Against the main difficulty, therefore, when it is said that “singularity is a mere condition of an agent, not an acting principle (ratio agendi)”, I answer with the Subtle Doctor that although a nature is, in what attains to its form, capable of performing an action proper to itself, it is only under singularity that a formal nature finds itself actual, and thus in proximate potency to exert such action. And if singularity is a condition of the agent in this way, as an action that befits a nature, the Subtle Doctor doesn’t deny [non negat] that, although it is indeed a condition, singularity can be (since he affirms it is a “true entity added to a nature”) an acting principle with respect to certain actions such as the intuitive intellection of singularity itself, or that of an intelligible species that presents the said nature under the nature’s own proper mode (sub ratione propria). […] As for the other difficulty, I answer that when one states that angelic knowledge in the Word is the most perfect, I say that this is true if we compare abstractive to abstractive knowledge and intuitive to intuitive knowledge ; […] but I concede that abstractive angelic knowledge obtained in the divine essence would be, in what refers to a thing’s entity, less perfect than angelic intuitive knowledge obtained from that thing as it exists in its own genus. […] As for the last difficulty, I answer that when it is said that intuitive knowledge is impossible to be obtained from a ratio that stays the same and represents the same whether or not the thing remains, this is to be understood of the intuitive knowledge obtained from a thing according to its own existence. […] If, however, we speak of intuitive knowledge about some object virtually and eminently contained in a ratio formalis […], then I say that whether the contained object exists or not, it can be known intuitively through such a ratio formalis — as is the case with the divine essence, which is ratio formalis for knowing intuitively a rock, whether the rock exists or not : [the divine essence] can itself be ratio formalis of causing intuitive knowledge of the rock that is in the divine intellect ; and this is how the Doctor must be understood. Now, as for the objections against the reasons to the second conclusion, it must be said that the primary and direct intention of Saint Thomas is that the likenesses proceed from God relating to both common and particular conditions. We deny that the infused species is a means of understanding quiddity only ; and Scot has not once presented any effective reason that can prove the opposite. Besides, there is no fallacy whatsoever in arguing from a common exemplar to the general common likeness between the exemplata ; it is actually an argument of necessity. As for the conclusions themselves, we answer by saying that, although an angel could not know singulars via merely adequate species, it is possible if done via superior species, which represent both quiddity and singular conditions. That is Thomas’ way. […] The superior species can be representative means of many quiddities, and singulars, and many conjunctions of quiddity and singularity in rerum natura, in a way that whenever there is the said conjunction, it assimilates to the infused species and provides representation and knowledge of the here-and-now. When assimilation between the state of things and the angelic mind ceases (since now there is another state of affairs), representation ceases. Therefore, we can easily see the response to Scot’s objections. […] To confirm what we have said, let it be known that that proposition above — that Scot employs so frequently —, that “the species that represents a thing now present, now absent, is not sufficient for intuitive (direct, here-and-now) cognition” is not universally true. Besides, Scot’s contention that the same species would be incapable of representing a contingent state of affairs, for it would either be determined to one of two opposites, or would never provide determinate knowledge of either of them, is false.[14]

The dear reader has probably finished the above summary with a slight dizziness and a gigantic question mark hanging before his mind’s eye. This is not the case of an incredibly early Kafka novel, nor a scholastic version of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, but it indeed seemed that the devout Scotist ended his commentary denying and even politely dismissing his master’s positions, and finally planting an enormous Thomist flag down on his own doctrinal hill. What actually happened was that Licheto’s answer had concluded itself inconspicuously after finishing his third answer to objections, and a very large piece of Cajetan’s text simply followed suit and ended the chapter. In our summary, it starts precisely on : “Now, as for the objections against the reasons to the second conclusion…”[15]. There is neither explanation nor announcement. Actually, the marginal notes simply continue without any surprise, naming this section “ad objectiones (“as for the objections”), as if it were the continuation of Licheto’s own answer. It is altogether puzzling to see the opponent’s ideas getting the last word in Licheto’s own work, especially since they discreetly blend into his answer and take over the Franciscan’s speech, invisibly putting Cajetan’s words in his mouth.

A reader familiar with both schools’ general ideas on the matter would probably detect a startling doctrinal confusion at some point of his reading, but might settle for having had little understanding of a very complicated answer that seemed to bring the Scotist to agree with Aquinas. However, if one has Cajetan’s work at hand for comparison, the answer becomes obvious ; what followed was a large section of his commentary on the Prima Pars of the Summa, added verbatim and extensively, without reason : a page-long editorial accident, and one that has evaded editors for almost five hundred years.

We have already made known to the reader that the above quotation is a heavily abridged version of that part of Licheto’s commentary. Indeed we have been forced to selectively paraphrase parts of the text, or even do away with much of it, although we were faithful in quoting the point in which the foreign text was inserted, and in quoting the most glaring contradictions it harbored against Licheto’s actual answer and his general premises. We had two reasons for taking such liberty. Firstly, if the mixed sections were quoted in their entirety, they would fill several pages. For in the 1893 edition his answer begins on page 280 (n. 5) and actually should have ended on page 286, n. 16 ; however, from section 17 to 23 (the actual end of the chapter, on page 291), we have roughly four and a half pages of pure verbatim Cajetanian text, a plain copy of the Dominican’s commentary on STh I, q. 57, a. 2, sections 12 to 22.[16]

Secondly, the material necessity to shorten and adapt the quotation served to highlight the doctrinal contradictions that were distributed along the various paragraphs of foreign text. Because of the section’s size, the doctrinal metamorphosis only becomes more evident if contrasted more closely ; shortening it has given the reader the benefit of the same bewilderment it caused the student who ventured into such passages, but without engaging in a more cumbersome material faithfulness. The reader who wants to see the error in its entirety needs no more than to open both works on their respective sections.

As for the authorship of the text, it is beyond any reasonable doubt. These are Cajetan’s words copied into Licheto’s, not vice-versa. As mentioned above, the cardinal’s commentary on the Prima Pars was concluded in 1507, and was already present in academic circles before the 1514 Summa edition. Fr. Francesco’s commentary, on the other hand, was published in 1517, was clearly written against Cajetan’s objections, and answered (although discreetly) to the very person of the soon-to-be cardinal. Besides, the text’s content is of strictly Thomist doctrine, and it is evident that whoever wrote it embraces it as true : “Et ex his facillime patet responsio ad obiectiones…” Additionally, its author spends most of the text’s length developing a complex explanation as to why, if an angel possesses infused species since his creation, and the said species are capable of representing singulars, one is not forced to admit that an angel knows contingent futures. Why would a Scotist elaborate, with Thomist instruments, a difficult solution to a problem absolutely absent from the philosophy of his master ?

The insertion begs for an explanation, since it serves no purpose whatsoever in Licheto’s commentary besides that of startling and confusing the reader. Not only does it contradict many points he had specifically stated, but it also settles the last word on the matter. Even if it were meant to be a gigantic quotation of the opponent’s position (something rarely done verbatim by commentators), it would have been more reasonably inserted into the beginning of the section, to be followed by rebuttals — and it would not have been a truncated copy that starts at paragraph 12 instead of its beginning. At the very least, some reference to the quotation would have been in order, even if it was to distinguish it from the author’s own position.

For the purposes of explaining this printing mishap, it must be noted that the insertion is not at all a recent fact. It actually dates as far back as the princeps edition of 1517 (Salò), and persisted unchecked through the editions of 1520 (Paris), 1589 (Venice), 1639 (Lyon) and 1893 (Paris).[17] It was not an error committed by later editors. It happened there and then, almost five centuries ago.

To the readers who would humor the idea of a prankster Dominican monk infiltrating himself into Paganini’s press in order to sabotage the rivals’ edition with pages from his Thomist teacher’s famous work, that idea, amusing as it may be, must be reasonably set aside. Firstly, it would be incompatible with the spirit of the times — not for lack of humor and pranks, of which there were an abundance, but because of the mendicant orders’ respect for truth and sound argumentation on both sides. Secondly, because we must remember that Paganini built his press next to the Franciscan monastery where Licheto taught and lived, and that the monastery was located on an island. It would simply be too bold and complicated a prank.

For us, the most likely explanation is much more trivial.[18] A commentator who answers another in such orderly detail is highly likely to have the studied treatise at hand, on his desk. It is not too far a stretch of the imagination to conceive of Fr. Licheto finishing his work on Question 11, leaving his study for some well-deserved rest and informing his secretary that the work on his desk is ready to be sent to Mr. Paganino for preparing the types. A distraction would have made such secretary gather all the papers from his desk (the fragment of Cajetan’s treatise included), pile them up and add them to the bulk of completed questions. The possibility that Licheto had at hand a manuscript copy of Cajetan’s treatise might explain why it would be in the form of loose leaves (instead of a bound volume) and why it was not detected as a foreign insertion by the press workers. On how it did not reach the author’s attention, however, we can only speculate. After 1517, the last three years of his life were filled with duties and travels required by his position as Minister General of the Franciscan Order, and reading his already published work would certainly take away considerable time from someone with his responsibilities. As for the students, the positions of their respective masters on angelic knowledge were so different on their more general premises, that comparing both schools on these very specific details about the perception of singulars might have been an uncommon undertaking : it is possible that many young Thomists read only Cajetan on the subject, and that many young Scotists read only Licheto. The latter would indeed be startled by what they read, but would not recognize it as a foreign text altogether.

IV. The Misleading Authority of The Marginal Notes

One additional aspect that might have made it difficult to recognize this insertion is the authority of the marginal notes on the commentary. As in most major scholastic editions, Licheto’s commentary includes marginal notes that help the reader to better understand, remember and access the key subjects that are presented. In this case, they do tell us some of the error’s history. We can see that the 1893 edition copied its marginal notes from the 1639 one. This one, in turn, copied its notes from the Venetian edition made fifty years earlier, in 1589. There is a noticeable difference, however, between the notes in that edition and those in the two first ones, of 1517 and 1520.

The 1517 edition contains a very small number of notes ; they are sparsely distributed and have very brief content. Remarkably, the entire commentary on Question 11 is devoid of them. They stop appearing near the end of the (penultimate) Question 10 (on “Difficultas occurrens”), and only reappear on the Quaestio Unica of the following Distinction 4 onwards (ironically, “Thoma Gaietanus contra Doctorem arguit”). This is consistent with the scribe’s overlooking the adversarial foreign content by the time of the establishment of the original printed text : he had not touched that question.

The 1520 notes are most interesting. The scribe who worked on this edition copied most of the sparse and brief notes from the 1517 one, and expanded some of them ; he also added a very large number of new notes.[19] Upon Question 11, however, the scribe adds an abundant number of side notes up to the point where the foreign insertion begins. From the “Ad objectiones contra rationem ad secundam conclusionem” until the end of the question, the scribe becomes mute, only to return to his activities on the following Distinction 4. The foreign part is clean of notes. Could he have noticed something odd ? He seems to have prudently refrained from making notes on a piece of argumentation of which he could not possibly make any sense — but without being able to recognize it as an insertion and thus pointing it out as such to the editors before printing.

By 1589, a new scribe comes along and remakes the side notes completely. Some of them still sit next to the same places of the text, but this seems to be because of the passages’ intrinsic importance : many places lack the notes they once possessed, the few places that coincide have new text, and many places receive notes for the first time. At least in Question 10, it is visible that the note structure is basically rewritten without reference to the old one, or at least without too much regard to it. A scribe who had disregarded the previous set of notes would not have perceived the great disparity between the first half of Question 11 and the foreign section beginning at Ad objectiones. Additionally, in 1589 Licheto’s text would already be “settled” by the authority of two major editions, which had existed for roughly seventy years. There was no reason to presume an insertion, especially one of this size. Therefore, two possibilities come to mind, and they are not mutually exclusive : 1) that the scribe had full confidence on the text ; and 2) that he was not following the argumentation too closely so much as summarizing the main points of paragraphs and sections. This would explain the tranquility with which he highlights them without realizing that they really contradict the author in both tone and content.

We see the following observations : “Ad obiectiones” (in the very beginning of the insertion, which points to objections that are not there) ; “De materia duplex est sermo” (in which Cajetan explains that matter is in one sense that which individuates, and in another sense part of the quiddity ; this is his reply to Scot’s argument concerning Aquinas’ disagreement with Averroes) ; “Cognosci per propriam speciem dupliciter contingit” (where Cajetan defends the typically Thomist doctrine that angelic species are not likenesses of a type merely adequate to things, but excellent) ; “Nota et bene” (on the difficult doctrine Cajetan proposes so as not to admit angelic prescience : that the duration in which a contingent thing’s quiddity and singularity are conjoined is itself no object of angelic knowledge, but rather a condition for knowledge) ; “Quomodo Scotus defendat suam opinionem” (precisely where Cajetan explains his very personal doctrine, one so peculiar to him that it was nowhere in Aquinas’ works and will be in fact vehemently rejected by the commentator of the Contra Gentiles, Sylvester of Ferrara[20]) ; “Doctrina Sancti Thomae” (in which Cajetan, far from presenting an opposition, proceeds to connect the said doctrine to Aquinas’ teaching, thus mentioning his name) ; and finally “Supponit responsionem ex dictis” followed by “Respondetur cum triplici distinctione” (the concluding paragraphs in which, to the eyes of the scribe, Licheto’s argument would have prevailed).

V. Concluding Remarks

After inspecting these five editions and doing considerable research, I still had found no editorial mention of this error. I also turned to the new critical edition of the Subtle Doctor’s works by the Commissio Scotistica, although I did not expect it to shed direct light on the matter, since what is currently being established and published is Scot’s critical text itself, not that of his commentators. Neither would the specific study of Volume VII of the critical edition (which contains the Distinction 3 of the Ordinatio In II Sententiarum) yield any mention or note about this error, since the commission has confirmed the traditional understanding that “Question 11” is itself an interpolation of material actually belonging to Scot’s Reportationes,[21] probably added after Question 10 because it provides further answers on the subject of angelic knowledge. Even though Licheto’s 1517 princeps already commented on the extra question, the earliest manuscript of the Ordinatio we could study indeed confirms that Scot’s distinction originally contained only ten.[22] Since the critical volumes on the Reportationes are yet to be produced, we still do not have any contemporary mention about the commentators of this section of Scot’s work, or about the text these commentators produced. If this is truly the case, the writer of this article hopes to have contributed to the commission’s invaluable editorial efforts by pointing out a significant fact in the history of a commentary produced by a scholar who before our time also dedicated his life to studying and divulging the Franciscan master.