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Sunday, April 26, 2015

Quaerimus VI: In what sense is the distinction between "the form of a [woman's] life" and "the substance of her virtues"?

In a document entitled Duties of a Wife and Mother, distributed at a recent mission on the topics of Our Lady of Lourdes and piety, the author sets forth one of the principles of motherhood as the following:

The service a woman renders her loved ones will become for her the form of her life, the substance and center of her virtues, the rule of piety set by God for her sanctification.

— From Duties of a Wife and Mother, p.2. (Emphases in context.)

He goes on to explain in what ways the "service to her family becomes the form of her life" and "the substance of her virtues."

The service of her family becomes the form of her life when she surrenders herself to its tasks.

— From Duties of a Wife and Mother, p.2. (Emphases in context.)
The service of her family becomes the substance of her virtues when she recognizes that God has provided the grace and all that is required for the highest perfection in every state of life.

— From Duties of a Wife and Mother, p.2. (Emphases in context.)

To understand the distinction he is making here, it seems to me necessary to understand in what sense he is using the terms "form" and "substance." While it is possible that he is using them informally, I think that, given the fundamental importance of the terms in Aristotelian thought, Thomism, and Catholic teaching in general, it is worth at least entertaining the possibility that he is using them in their formal senses.

As a bit of an aside, even if we are to assume that he is using them informally, the question still remains: what really is the distinction he's making here? It appears to be an important distinction, and therefore an important question.

Since assuming an informal use of the terms does not immediately offer a clear answer, let's consider what he might mean if he is indeed using the terms formally. In any case, what we are looking for are definitions of the terms "form" and "substance" in the context of Catholic teaching.

The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy has an article entitled "Substance" which includes a section on "Aristotle's account of substance." This section contains two subsections, "Categories" and "Metaphysics." Given that the entire article is on "Substance" itself, one would hope that each section on the topic might begin with a definition of what it is. So let's begin at the beginning of the section on "Aristotle's account of substance."

Aristotle's account in Categories can, with some oversimplification, be expressed as follows. The primary substances are individual objects, and they can be contrasted with everything else—secondary substances and all other predicables—because they are not predicable of or attributable to anything else. Thus, Fido is a primary substance, and dog—the secondary substance—can be predicated of him. Fat, brown, and taller than Rover are also predicable of him, but in a rather different way from that in which dog is. Aristotle distinguishes between two kinds of predicables, namely those which are ‘said of’ objects and those which are ‘in’ objects. The interpretation of these expressions is, as usually with Aristotelian cruxes, very controversial...

Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, "Aristotle's account of substance".

Although I can't speak for the average reader, this introductory content here is less than reassuring for me. What I set out looking for was a statement looking something like, "Substance is ____," and instead it appears that what I am getting is a discussion on "primary substances" and "secondary substances," with a little bit of controversy in the mix for good measure.

The section on "Metaphysics" offers a little clarification on this point. We read:

The Categories sets out important logical distinctions between different kinds of attribute, but it does not enter into a metaphysical analysis of substance itself. This takes place mainly in Metaphysics, Book Z.

Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, "Aristotle's account of substance".

So, at last, what the article seems to be telling us is that, although Aristotle went into a discussion of substance in the Categories, he doesn't really get around to defining it until the Metaphysics. We read on:

In [Metaphysics], the analysis of substances in terms of form and matter is developed, whereas these notions have no place in Categories. The distinction has led some commentators to talk of Aristotle's ‘two systems’, containing two radically different conceptions of substance.

Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, "Aristotle's account of substance".

"Two radically different conceptions of substance"? Well, ask a simple question, get a not-so-simple answer.

At this point, I have to take a step back and consider whether there might be a resource on the subject that is a bit more accessible and better-suited for our purposes. Although (good quality) material on the internet appears to be limited, I was able to find a document from a somewhat reputable source.

In Book V, Lesson 10 of the document, entitled Commentary on the Metaphysics, Thomas addresses exactly the question with which we are dealing, namely, "What are the meanings of substance?"

Aristotle now explains the various senses in which the term substance is used; and in regard to this he does two things. First, he gives the various senses in which the term substance is used. Second (903), he reduces all of these to two (“It follows”).

In treating the first part he gives four senses of the term substance.

Commentary on the Metaphysics, "Meanings of Substance", St. Thomas Aquinas.

Although it appears that we are still dealing here with a potentially complex definition, at least we have a trustworthy guide. He begins by quoting the relevant sections from Aristotle's Metaphysics:

440. The term substance (substantia) means the simple bodies, such as earth, fire, water and the like; and in general bodies and the things composed of them, both animals and demons and their parts. All of these are called substances because they are not predicated of a subject, but other things are predicated of them.

441. In another sense substance means that which, being present in such things as are not predicated of a subject, is the cause of their being, as the soul in an animal.

442. Again, substance means those parts which, being present in such things, limit them and designate them as individuals and as a result of whose destruction the whole is destroyed; for example, body is destroyed when surface is, as some say, and surface when line is. And in general it seems to some that number is of this nature; for [according to them] if it is destroyed, nothing will exist, and it limits all things.

443. Again, the quiddity of a thing, whose intelligible expression is the definition, also seems to be the substance of each thing.

444. It follows, then, that the term substance is used in two senses. It means the ultimate subject, which is not further predicated of something else; and it means anything which is a particular being and capable of existing apart. The form and species of each thing is said to be of this nature.

Metaphysics, Book VIII, Aristotle.

He then goes into a not-so-brief discussion of what all this means. Most relevant for our purposes is the concluding part, in which he gives the final definitions of the term, along with a definition of the term "form" and how it is distinct from "essence":

903. It follows (444).

Then he reduces the foregoing senses of substance to two. He says that from the above-mentioned ways in which the term substance is used we can understand that it has two meanings. (1) It means the ultimate subject in propositions, and thus is not predicated of something else. This is first substance, which means a particular thing which exists of itself and is capable of existing apart because it is distinct from everything else and cannot be common to many. (2) And a particular substance differs from universal substance in these three respects: first, a particular substance is not predicated of inferiors, whereas a universal substance is; second, universal substance subsists only by reason of a particular substance, which subsists of itself; and third, universal substance is present in many things, whereas a particular substance is not but is distinct from everything else and capable of existing apart.

904. And the form and species of a thing also “is said to be of this nature,” i.e., substance. In this he includes the second and fourth senses of substance; for essence and form have this note in common that both are said to be that by which something is. However, form, which causes a thing to be actual, is related to matter, whereas quiddity or essence is related to the supposit, which is signified as having such and such an essence. Hence “the form and species” are comprehended under one thing—a being’s essence.

905. He omits the third sense of substance because it is a false one, or because it is reducible to form, which has the character of a limit. And he omits matter, which is called substance, because it is not substance actually. However, it is included in the first sense of substance, because a particular substance is a substance and is individuated in the world of material things only by means of matter.

Commentary on the Metaphysics, "Meanings of Substance", St. Thomas Aquinas.

Clear enough?

I might have to spend an afternoon (or a few afternoons) on that excerpt and get back with you.

In the meantime, I leave the question outstanding as Quaerimus VI.

On the Traditional Calendar, April 26th is the Feast of Our Lady of Good Counsel. On the New Calendar, it is Good Shepherd Sunday.

Mater Boni Consilii, ora pro nobis.

Lord Jesus, Author and Dispenser of all good, Who in becoming incarnate in the womb of the Blessed Virgin has communicated to her lights above those of all the heavenly intelligences, grant that in honoring her under the title of Our Lady of Good Counsel, we may merit always to receive from her goodness, counsels of wisdom and salvation, which will conduct us to the port of a blessed eternity. Amen.

— From the Our Lady of Good Counsel Litany, courtesy EWTN.