McLuhan Studies : Issue 6

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St. Thomas Aquinas's Theory of Communication

Eric McLuhan

St. Thomas Aquinas’s
Theory of Communication

Abstract. The Church provides Catholics with a rich and complex “theory” of communication that pervades every phase of tradition and liturgy. On the one hand, we have communication in the Communion of the Saints. On the other hand, the seven sacraments are all media of communication and have been extensively studied in that respect, particularily the Eucharist whereby we all communicate in and out of time. Each major figure in the Church has amplified or rejuvenated this closely-woven tapistry of thought and practice in his own way. St. Thomas Aquinas stands out as a revolutionary, less because of his use of Aristotle and more because he found a new way to harness the structural power of the rhetorical logos. At once thoroughly traditional and dramatically innovative, the Thomistic article fully embodies his new “Theory of Communication.”

The problem of discussing St. Thomas’s theory of communication is made difficult not because it is subtle and obscure but because it is manifest everywhere in his work. It appears in his constant references to principles of formal causality and ground. It surfaces, to take a few random examples,

in De Potentia Dei, where he points out that formal cause is the ground of being: “...being is the term and proper effect of creation ... [and] ... all being derives from a form.”2

in his doctrine of all being as derived by analogical ratio with its formal cause in God.

in his doctrine of the process of knowing as operating by analogy; that is, by mimesis and formal cause (“the cognitive agent is and becomes the thing known”): “Once in act through this species as through its own form, the intellect knows the thing itself.”3 And “For the likeness of the known in the knower is the form by which the operation takes place.”4

in his doctrine of faith as knowledge enabled by grace.5

In fact, Thomas’s entire discussion of the action of supernatural graces as formal causes in human understanding and human affairs, at the end of the Summa contra Gentiles, Book III, part 2, forms a complete “theory of communication” unto itself.

To identify someone’s theory of communication it is necessary to locate two things: one is that writer’s audience; the other, the effect that the writer proposes to produce in that audience and the manner of doing it. In the Summa for the Gentiles, Thomas discusses these things briefly in Chapter 2 of the first book—a passage remarkable for his use of the first person “I.” It is plain that that work is composed for the use of teachers: in it he sets out material for teachers to use in discussion with “gentiles” and in refuting errors. But his audience is never more in evidence, or more explicitly than when he uses the famous “Thomistic article.”

In discussing Thomas’s theory of communication I would like to begin by examining how he brought some of the resources of traditional rhetoric to bear in an analytical manner an the matter of the logos, and also how he used them as a main means of attacking an audience. St Augustine, long a professional rhetorician, had identified certain problems for the Christian inherent in rhetoric, problems which Thomas sidestepped by his innovation, the article. But first, let us consider how he used rhetoric to analyze a problem of another kind.

St. Thomas’s doctrine of the “five ways” of proving the existence of God is a medieval exemplum of applied rhetorical Practical Criticism. As an exegetical performance, it derives from the conventional understanding of the natural world as having been uttered by God, a parallel text to that of Holy Scripture—the Book of Nature. To cite just one illustration of this commonplace, Alan of Lille wrote of

Omnis mundi creatura

Quasi liber et pictura

Nobis est et speculum...6

St. Thomas’s “five ways” proceed from reference to experience, of the natural world, of things, and of the senses.

The traditional Doctrine of the Logos held, among other things, that the natural order was created by God by means of utterance, that the Divine fiat itself was the act of creation; Name and thing were identical and univocal. To utter the name, “tulip,” or “whale,” was also to utter tulip or whale itself, and to bring it into being. From this flowed a powerful rationale for the traditional science of names and etymologies as directly related to understanding material essences and as embodying esoteric knowledge.

St. Thomas’s technique in this article (Summa Theologiae, Part I, Question 2, Article 3) is to work backwards from the evidence provided by the fact of the utterance to the existence of the utterer. Of the arts of the logos as then practised, that is, of the elements of the trivium, only one provided the necessary apparatus for examining the relation of an utterance to an utterer. Dialectic, as the science of abstract thought and of testing for truth, is unsuitable. Grammar, either as encyclopedic humanism, or as natural science, or as the science of etymology and multi-leveled signification, while basic to the interpretation of meaning in both “texts” (Scripture and nature), yet did not provide a means of deducing from the character of the two “books” the nature or existence of their Author. The science of rhetoric, on the other hand, specifically concerned itself with the character and effects of both utterances and utterers, and it was to this science of the logos that St. Thomas had recourse in formulating his “five ways.” To be is an act; indeed, it is the ultimate act, and we know from the Doctrine of the Logos that it is a rhetorical act.

St. Augustine had based his ideal Christian, the doctus Christianus, on Cicero’s doctus orator, a man of encyclopedic wisdom and eloquence. On this ideal was founded the tradition of Christian humanism and learning; and the twinned arts of rhetoric and grammar had, continuously since St. Augustine, been treated as entirely complementary. The tradition of encyclopedic education for the ideal man—prince, poet, or Christian—continues unbroken from Isocrates to Erasmus: the Ciceronian ideal orator or statesman became the model for the medieval theologian and prince alike largely owing to St. Augustine.

How this came about is discussed by H.-I. Marrou in St Augustin et la fin de la culture antique, a study of the traditional education of the ancient world as it was adapted to the business of educating the great Christian exegetist and the great preacher. Thus the main stream of classical culture flows in the channel of scriptural exegesis as practised by the encyclopaedic humanist, a stream which was much reduced in volume by the scholastic theologians between the twelfth and fifteenth centuries but which reached new levels with the Erasmian effort to restore the “old theology.”7

It is natural then that St. Thomas, as a doctus-orator-theologus, would perform a rhetorical analysis (of the created order, as a logos) which assumed as its ground a grammatical trope (of nature as “quasi liber et pictura ... et speculum”).

For over five hundred years before Cicero, rhetoricians had been investigating the character of rhetorical utterances, and the rhetorical logos, for clues to its structural composition and the source of its power to transform. By Cicero’s and Quintilian’s time it had been decided that this rhetorical logos had five, and only five, components or “divisions.” The first of these was inventio, which consisted of techniques of inventing or discovering material. The second division, dispositio, involved the manner of laying out an oration, the sequential disposition or arrangement of its material. Elocutio, the third division and the heart of the enterprise, governed all aspects of a rhetor’s activities. It determined what would be selected from inventio and how that matter would be disposed. As regards the choice of ornament and style, it guided the use of figures—schemes and tropes—to fine-tune the material. It decided all aspects of delivery—inflection, gestures, etc. E-loqui, meaning speaking out or eloquent utterance, was the discipline of putting-on and putting together harmoniously the audience and its sensibilities, the occasion, and the desired effect: the sensibilities form a direct route to the mode of being of the audience and also to changing it.8 Under the fourth division, memoria, were gathered various memory techniques; and the fifth division, pronuntiatio or actio, was the reservoir of vocal delivery and techniques of stagecraft, the “delivery system” by means of which the entire logos had its impact. Cicero maintained that these five processes informed every aspect of every speech, from the whole down to the least detail. St, Thomas, taking him literally, worked backwards and used each division of the rhetorical logos as a route to demonstrate the existence of the speaker.

St. Thomas’s “first way” is the “argument from motion”:

It is certain, and evident to our senses, that in the world some things are in motion. Now whatever is in motion is put in motion by another, for nothing can be in motion except it is in potentiality to that towards which it is in motion; whereas a thing moves inasmuch as it is in act. For motion is nothing else than the reduction of something from potentiality to actuality. But nothing can be reduced from potentiality to actuality, except by something in a state of actuality. Thus that which is actually hot, as fire, makes wood, which is potentially hot, to be actually hot, and thereby moves and changes it. Now it is not possible that the same thing should be at once in actuality and potentiality in the same respect, but only in different respects. For what is actually hot cannot simultaneously be potentially hot; but it is simultaneously potentially cold. It is therefore impossible that in the same respect and in the same way a thing should be both mover and moved, i.e. that it should move itself. Therefore, whatever is in motion must be put in motion by another. If that by which it is put in motion be itself put in motion, then this also must needs be put in motion by another, and that by another again. But this cannot go on to infinity, because then there would be no first mover, and, consequently, no other mover; seeing that subsequent movers move only inasmuch as they are put in motion by the first mover; as the staff moves only because it is put in motion by the hand. Therefore it is necessary to arrive at a first mover, put in motion by no other; and this everyone understands to be God.

By “motion,” he explains, he means “the reduction of something from potentiality to actuality.” The argument turns on the necessity of there being a “first mover” who is “put in motion by no other,” and who is responsible for bringing things into a created state: an inventor. The “first way” derives from the process of invention—inventio.

St. Thomas’s “second way is from the nature of the efficient cause”:

In the world of sense we find there is an order of efficient causes. There is no case known (neither is it, indeed, possible) in which a thing is found to be the efficient cause of itself; for so it would be prior to itself, which is impossible. Now in efficient causes it is not possible to go on to infinity, because in all efficient causes following in order, the first is the cause of the intermediate cause, and the intermediate is the cause of the ultimate cause, whether the intermediate cause be several, or only one. Now to take away the cause is to take away the effect. Therefore, if there be no first cause among efficient causes, there will be no ultimate, nor any intermediate cause. But if in efficient causes it is possible to go on to infinity, there will be no first efficient cause, neither will there be an ultimate effect, nor any intermediate efficient causes; all of which is plainly false. Therefore it is necessary to admit a first efficient cause, to which everyone gives the name of God.

Of the four causes—formal, efficient, material, final—only the efficient cause operates sequentially. The other three are simultaneous, fully present from the first moment. Now, dialectic, the governing art of the time and the scholastic’s main mode of exposition, reserves for itself only two of the five rhetorical divisions: inventio and dispositio, matter and arrangement. In dialectic and rhetoric, the convention of dispositio was that of logical, linear sequence in argument and of efficient cause in reason and science. Via efficient cause, the “second way” links directly to dispositio.

St. Thomas’s “third way is taken from possibility and necessity,” and is concerned with observation of modes of being:

We find in nature things that are possible to be and not to be, since they are found to be generated, and to corrupt, and consequently, they are possible to be and not to be. But it is impossible for these always to exist, for that which is possible not to be at some time is not. Therefore, if everything is possible not to be, then at one time there could have been nothing in existence. Now if this were true, even now there would be nothing in existence, because that which does not exist only begins to exist by something already existing. Therefore, if at one time nothing was in existence, it would have been impossible for anything to have begun to exist; and thus even now nothing would be in existence—which is absurd. Therefore, not all beings are merely possible, but there must exist something the existence of which is necessary. But every necessary thing either has its necessity caused by another, or not. Now it is impossible to go on to infinity in necessary things which have their necessity caused by another, as has been already proved in regard to efficient causes.9

These various modes and degrees of being and of not-being are taken as manifesting, as “showing forth,” a fundamental and original of being:

[as the paragraph concludes] ... we cannot but postulate the existence of some being having of itself its own necessity, and not receiving it from another, but rather causing in others their necessity. This all men speak of as God.

The third division of the rhetorical logos, elocutio, embraces the same two concerns—“showing-forth” or “speaking-out” (e-loqui), and the “modes” or figures of that speaking-out in the sense of con-figurations of speech10 and postures of the mind as realized in the modes or configurations of beings in creation. Each rhetorical figure is a vivisection of the mind and sensibilities in action. The “third way,” then, derives from elocutio.

St. Thomas’s “fourth way” is a much simpler matter. As Thomas remarks, “the fourth way is taken from the gradation to be found in things.” The concern is not, as might appear superficially, with some sort of simple hierarchical arrangement:

Among beings there are some more and some less good, true, noble and the like. But "more" and "less" are predicated of different things, according as they resemble in their different ways something which is the maximum, as a thing is said to be hotter according as it more nearly resembles that which is hottest; so that there is something which is truest, something best, something noblest and, consequently, something which is uttermost being; for those things that are greatest in truth are greatest in being, as it is written in Metaph. ii. Now the maximum in any genus is the cause of all in that genus; as fire, which is the maximum heat, is the cause of all hot things. Therefore there must also be something which is to all beings the cause of their being, goodness, and every other perfection; and this we call God.

Some have adduced as a source here St. Anselm’s “ontological argument”11; I propose instead (or in addition) that St. Thomas here argues that the observables in the created order, to the degree that they have being, are redolent of the fount and maximum of all being and all good and all perfection. This principle of redolence, of recall, derives from the fourth division of rhetoric, memoria.

St. Thomas’s “fifth way” is “taken from the governance of the world”:

We see that things which lack intelligence, such as natural bodies, act for an end, and this is evident from their acting always, or nearly always, in the same way, so as to obtain the best result. Hence it is plain that not fortuitously, but designedly, do they achieve their end. Now whatever lacks intelligence cannot move towards an end, unless it be directed by some being endowed with knowledge and intelligence; as the arrow is shot to its mark by the archer. Therefore some intelligent being exists by whom all natural things are directed to their end; and this being we call God.

This concern, with “conduct” and “governance” and being “shot to the mark”12 has its locus in the fifth and final division of rhetoric, pronuntiatio or delivery. Just as the five divisions of rhetoric form a simultaneous whole, so do the five proofs cited above. None of the arguments was entirely new, but Thomists agree that St. Thomas developed and arranged them in this article to form a “coherent whole.”13

St. Thomas, in using rhetoric thus, has simply applied the traditional divisions of the integral logos analytically instead of prescriptively—in the way a rhetor would normally employ them—to the grammatical Doctrine of the Logos. He retraced the labyrinth of the speech from the fact of its existence to that of the speaker, a procedure that in our time inheres in that literary discipline called Practical Criticism. Another novelty of the “five ways” is that they are empirical, based on reading and “criticism of text” of the Book of Nature: all begin with direct experience: “In the world of sense...”; ‘It is certain and evident to our senses that in the world...”; “We find in nature...”

I have dwelt in some detail on this one case-study as it were of St. Thomas’s use of the divisions of the rhetorical logos, but it is not the only such use. He employed it occasionally, as far as I can ascertain, when discussing one or another aspect of the logos or fiat of creation. (Another use, for example, occurs in De Potentia Dei, Book I, Question 3, Article 4.) I should also point out that St. Thomas was not the first to make analytical use of the five divisions of classical rhetoric in this manner. Writers deployed them from time to time in both sacred and secular literature, and they have been continuously in use in literature and the arts from ancient times to our own. Two precedents are the Pentateuch of the Old Testament, the five books of which are patterned after the five divisions of rhetoric so that they form a simultaneous whole; and Cicero’s five books on oratory, the three of De Oratore along with the Brutus and Orator, which Cicero noted formed a single work. Subsequent to St. Thomas, the Tridentine Mass was deliberately shaped using the five divisions of rhetoric: the first two divisions structure the first part of the Mass, “The Mass of the Catechumens”; in the remaining “Mass of the Faithful,” the Offertory, Canon, and Communion perform the functions of elocutio, memoria, and delivery. The Mass, of course, is a single complex prayer. In our time, the five divisions have been used extensively by poets such as W. B. Yeats, T. S. Eliot, and Ezra Pound.

St. Thomas used the five divisions analytically, rather like a microscope, to turn the gaze inward upon a matter and anatomize it. He used them in a parallel manner when he turned the gaze outwards, towards his audience. In both cases, however, the form of the operation is that of the word (logos) understood through rhetoric.

Professor Etienne Gilson often remarked that the Thomistic article presents “one of the big mysteries” of medieval philosophy: where did Thomas get that article? By any measure, the article seems rather an odd and convoluted form to use in structuring an argument—when compared, say, to the syllogism or other (and more efficient) scholastic forms of article or dialectical procedure. And why did he use it some times and not others? One can discern in it a kind of exitus et reditus pattern, or a sort of thesis-antithesis-synthesis system, but both are gravely distorted from their ideal forms. When looked at from outside philosophy and theology, from the standpoint of literature, the article makes another kind of sense:

Anyone familiar with the persistent use which Joyce makes of the labyrinth figure as the archetype of human cognition will have noticed the same figure as it appears in the dramatic action of a Thomistic “article.” There is first the descent into the particular matter of the “objections.” These are juxtaposed abruptly, constituting a discontinuous or cubist perspective. By abrupt juxtaposition of diverse views of the same problem, that which is in question is seen from several sides. A total intellectual history is provided in a single view. And in the very instant of being presented with a false lead or path the mind is alerted to seek another course through the maze. Baffled by variety of choice it is suddenly arrested by the “sed contra” and given its true bearings in the conclusion. Then follows the retracing of the labyrinth in the “respondeo dicendum.” Emerging into intellectual clarity at the end of this process it looks back on the blind alleys proffered by each of the original objections. Whereas the total shape of each article, with its trinal divisions into objections, respondeo, and answers to objections, is an “S” labyrinth, this figure is really traced and retraced by the mind many times in the course of a single article. Perhaps this fact helps to explain the power of Thomas to communicate a great deal even before he is much understood. It certainly suggests why he can provide rich esthetic satisfactions by the very dance of his mind—a dance in which we participate as we follow him.

His “articles” can be regarded as vivisections of the mind in act. The skill and wit with which he selects his objections constitute a cubist landscape of great intellectual extent seen from an airplane. The ideas or objects in this landscape are by their very contiguity set in a state of dramatic tension; and this dramatic tension is provided with a dramatic peripeteia in the respondeo, and with a resolution in the answers to the objections.14

The drama of dialectical oppositions plays on the surface of the article in the contradictions between topic and objections, objections and Sed contra and replies to objections. But beneath this surface tension there lies a different structure, and another drama, a further unity. The five elements of St. Thomas’s article comprise a simultaneous order since they too use the rhetorical pattern.

In keeping with rhetorical form, each article begins with a quest—an inventio. With this opening “Utrum” (“Whether...”), the topic is located, placed on centre stage: and discovered via doubt, not propositional certainty:

The second element, the list of objections, provides the ground for the enterprise, the direction for the quest (questio) and the formal cause for the article. Here St. Thomas parades the ignorance—the indisposition (dispositio)—that will be used to probe and to winkle out the truth. St. Thomas’s audience is put front and centre every time in the objections: it is the target of the article / logos and its ignorance supplies the form. Limning the ignorance in the objections is a technique for manipulating the probe of inventio across the bounding line between ignorance and truth, anticipating the Respondeo and, as a sort of exploratory gloss, the subsequent replies to the objections.

The third component of the Thomistic article always begins with the words, Sed contra..., and offers a statement of the true path. The words may come from Thomas’s own reason or from an indisputable authority. (Occasionally, the Sed contra takes the form of another extreme view—the authority’s—which is not always in harmony with Thomas’s own views.) This is the elocutio moment, that of showing-forth or bestowing of right reason. It is normally brief, having the character of epiphany. This and the fourth element comprise a turn or reversal that flips the reader back across the bounding line that circumscribes the ignorance limned in the earlier parts of the article. The Respondeo, which complements the Sed contra, brings to bear on the quest the full measure of wisdom and eloquence, tradition and reason. It supplies the memoria function in the rhetorical logos. In the last section, the objections are “delivered” systematically, one by one, in the light of the foregoing.

The foregoing explains not only the source and the structure of the celebrated article, but also why it had that particular pattern and had to have all five elements. But why bother to pattern the article after a rhetorical logos at all?

The reasons are spelled out in St. Augustine’s De Doctrina Christiana. Augustine frequently reiterates the traditional Ciceronian formula for the ideal orator as a man of encyclopedic wisdom and eloquence as that of his ideal Christian teacher. The formula derives from the Roman translation of the Greek term, logos: having no single-word translation, they used the hendiadys, ratio atque oratio—wisdom and eloquence. In turn, this pairing symbolized the pairing of grammar (encyclopedism) and rhetoric (eloquence), a traditional alliance which Martianus Capella immortalized in his monumentally popular De nuptiis mercurii et philologiae.15

“We have all known,” writes Prof. Muller-Thym, “St. Augustine’s dependence on Cicero in many details.”

By a stroke of sheer genius Henri-Irénée Marrou read in St. Augustine this remarkable sentence:

O, would that on both these matters (i.e., de vi et potentia animae) we could question some most learned, and not only that, but most eloquent, and wholly most wise and perfect man.

For who can this doctissimus and eloquentissimus be if not the doctus orator, the vir doctus et eloquens of Cicero? And thence, after a most remarkable reading of all the text of St. Augustine, we are forced with Marrou to the conclusion that all his life St. Augustine was a grammarian and an eloquent man in the best Ciceronian and Quintilianian sense of the word. It was the whole gamut of grammarial technique he applied to the exegesis of Scripture. It was a reworked puerilis institutio and politior humanitas whose treatises he began to write, but which were not completed. Cicero wanted to become an historian; St. Augustine did become one, in the best Latin and Roman tradition in the De Civitate Dei. And to make clear to Christians the state of and the preparation for Christian eloquence, as Cicero had written De Oratore, St. Augustine wrote that charter of Christian education, the De Doctrina Christiana. Here, in a word, was a man in whom eloquence was coming back to life in the purity of the Ciceronian ideal. But instead of addressing men to guide them toward the common good of the city, as Brutus, Cassius, and Cicero had done, Augustine and the Christian orators had to resort to eloquence to guide the Christians to God, the common good of the City of God.16

St. Augustine is wary of the power of rhetoric which so easily can shift its effect from teaching to persuasion, with unfortunate results. The difficulty is simply stated: any conversion that derives from a rhetor’s pressure is no conversion. The impetus must come from inside the convert, not from outside, embodied in an eloquent or persuasive speech. Christian oratory, then, is continually on a tightrope.

Most commonly, rhetoric manages persuasion by one of the three established routes: ethos (appeal through character), pathos (appeal through sentiment), or logos (appeal through reason). The routes are as well known as is the layout of an oration from exordium to peroration. But behind the civilized façade of cliché activity lies the raw power of primal utterance. The Thomistic article circumvents rhetorical persuasion; and instead it deploys the rhetorical logos in attack mode, not to change the reader’s mind or thinking so much as to set the reader to rights. It brings the integral logos to bear on the reader’s faculties, not one at a time as with the usual modes of rhetorical appeal, but from all sides at once. The article is neither neutral nor passive nor objective, but an active agent on the attack. Its function is medicinal. The form—formal cause—is the rhetorical logos, the logos prophorikos of the Stoics. In their medicinal aspect, then, the five divisions of the Thomistic article function as follows.

St. Thomas confronted head-on the problem of how to avoid the dilemma Augustine identified: with his curious article he resolved it. St. Thomas did not invent the technique of using rhetoric therapeutically: that is a principal function of literary satire—and it could well be said that there is a large satiric (in the serious sense) dimension to his article. One other well-known “medicinal” work that uses the same five-part structure is Boethius’s Consolation of Philosophy.

That Thomas deployed the article in some of his works and not in others suggests that there is a decorum that governs its use. It appears in works throughout his career, e.g., from the De veritate (1256-1259) and Quodlibetal questions (1256-1259) to the Summa Theologiae (1266-1273), so it is not simply something that he stumbled across at some point in mid-career and used from then on. It was not used, on the other hand, in discursive writings, such as the Summa contra Gentiles, and would have been inappropriate there: that summa is directed at teachers, to supply them with material to heal not their ills (so there is no need to apply the medicine to them) but the “ills” or misconceptions of their audiences. Obviously, this is a very large and complex matter that merits a separate study.

If St. Thomas’s theory of communication is difficult to see, it is because it is everywhere evident and in plain sight; and he is everywhere consistent. He adheres closely to the principles of formal causality and bases his communication strategy on them. He employs traditional rhetoric, not for argument in the expected manner, but both analytically, where the logos of being or of creation is concerned, and prescriptively, in shaping the celebrated article. In both cases, the form (formal cause) is the logos prophorikos, the rhetorical logos. The Thomistic article, then, is an active agent to be applied therapeutically not for the purpose of persuading the audience in the usual manner but to attack or cure an illness of the understanding or the imagination—to restore the patient’s mental and spiritual balance and empower the him or her to recover right reason.

Works Cited

Aquinas, St. Thomas. Summa Theologiae. New York: Benziger Brothers, Inc. (Dominican translation, in 3 vols.), 1947.

__________. On Being and Essence / De ente et essentia. Trans., George G. Leckie. New York: Appleton-Century-Crofts, Inc., 1937; Rpt., 1965.

__________. Summa contra Gentiles (On The Truth of the Catholic Faith). Book One: God, Newly Translated, with an Introduction and Notes by Anton C. Pegis (New York: Doubleday / Image Books, 1955). Book Two: Creation, Newly Translated, with an Introduction and Notes by James F. Anderson (Image Books, 1956). Book Three; Providence, Part I, and Book Three: Providence, Part II, [both] Newly Translated, with an Introduction and Notes by Vernon J. Bourke (Image Books, 1956).

Augustine, St. De Doctrina Christiana, any edition.

Boethius, Tractates, Consolatione Philosophiae, Trans. H. F. Stewart, E. K. Rand, S. J. Tester. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press; London: William Heinemann, Ltd: Loeb Classical Library. Or any edition.

Capella, Martianus. De Nuptiis Philologiae et Mercurii. Ed. Adolfus Dick, 1925. Rpt. Stuttgart: B. G. Teubner, 1969. Trans. William Harris Stahl, Richard Johnson, E. L. Burge, Martianus Capella and the Seven Liberal Arts. 2 vols. New York: Columbia University Press, 1970.

Chenu, M. D. “The Plan of St. Thomas’ Summa Theologiae” in Cross Currents, Vol. II, No. 2. New York: Cross Currents Corporation, Winter, 1952.

Cicero. De Oratore. 2 vols. Trans. E. W. Sutton and H. Rackham. Loeb, 1942, 1967-8.

__________. Brutus and Orator. Trans. G. L. Hendrickson and H. M. Hubbell. Loeb, 1939, 1971.

Copleston, F. C. Aquinas. Great Britain: Penguin Books, New York: Viking / Penguin, 1955.

Curtius, E. S. European Literature and the Latin Middle Ages. Trans. Willard R. Trask. New York and Evanston: Harper & Row, Harper Torchbooks / The Bollingen Library, 1953.

Gilson, Étienne. The Spirit of Mediaeval Philosophy. Trans., A. H. C. Downes. New York, 1936.

Marrou, Henri-Irenée, Saint Augustin et la Fin de la Culture Antique. Paris, 1938.

McLuhan, H. M. “Henry IV, a Mirror for Magistrates.” Toronto: University of Toronto Quarterly, Vol. XVII, No. 2, January, 1948.

__________. “Joyce, Aquinas and the Poetic Process.” Renascence, Vol. IV, No. 1, Autumn, 1951, pages 3-11.

Muller-Thym, Bernard J. “St. Thomas and the Recapturing of Natural Wisdom,” in The Modern Schoolman, May, 1941.

Quintilian. Institutio Oratoria. Trans. H. E. Butler. 4 vols. Loeb Classical Library, 1920-1922.

Weisheipl, James A. Friar Thomas D’Aquino. Garden City, New York: Doubleday & Company, Inc., 1974.

1 De Anima 415 b 12.

2 Question 3, Article 16, ad 22.

3 Summa contra Gentiles, Book I, chapter 53.

4 Summa contra Gentiles, Book I, chapter 54. See the comment, for example, by F. C. Copleston, Aquinas (Great Britain: Penguin Books, New York: Viking / Penguin, 1955), page 185.

5 Summa contra Gentiles Book III, part 2, chapter 152.

6 Patrologia Latina, CCX, 579 A. Cited in E. R. Curtius, European Literature and the Latin Middle Ages, Trans. W. R. Trask (New York and Evanston: Harper & Row, Harper Torchbooks / The Bollingen Library, 1953), page 319; and vide page 326 for a brief overview of the medieval trope of the world as a book.

7 “Henry IV, a Mirror for Magistrates” by H. M. McLuhan (Toronto: University of Toronto Quarterly, Vol. XVII, No. 2, January, 1948, page 159).

8 M. D. Chenu showed that St. Thomas used rhetorical decorum as a guide in deciding the order of presentation of texts in the Summa Theologiae:

St. Thomas himself tells us expressly the intention of his new work: he wants to remove the obstacles which official instruction then presented, in that: “ea quae sunt necessaria ad sciendum non traduntur secundum ordinem disciplinae, sed secundum quod requirebat librorum expositio (lectio), vel secundum quod se praebebat occasio disputandi (quaestiones).” —“Those things which are necessary for knowledge are not taught according to the order of the discipline, but according to the requirements of the explication de textes, or according to the demands of the occasion of the disputation.”

—“The Plan of St. Thomas’ Summa Theologiae” in Cross Currents, Vol. II, No. 2, Winter, 1952 (New York: Cross Currents Corporation), page 67. A propos Thomas’s education in the trivium he gives the merest sketch: “Such was the general method of instruction in the schools from the twelfth to the thirteenth centuries: the texts were “read”, and the books which thus served as the bases of courses were officially inscribed in the programs of the various faculties. In grammar, Priscian and Donatus were read; in rhetoric, Cicero and Quintilian; in logic and in philosophy [i.e., dialectic], Porphyry, Boethius, then Aristotle; in medicine, Isaac Israeli, etc.” (Page 68.)

9 The same matter formed an argument in the Summa contra Gentiles (Book III, Part 2, Chapter 97, para. 13):

Hence, the fact that creatures are brought into existence, though it takes its origin from the rational character of divine goodness, nevertheless depends solely on God’s will. But, if it be granted that God wills to communicate His goodness to His creatures by way of likeness as far as it is possible, then one finds in this the reason why creatures are of divers kinds, but it does not necessarily follow that they are differentiated on the basis of this or that measure of perfection, or according to this or that number of things. On the other hand, if we grant that, as a result of an act of divine will, He wills to establish this particular number of things, and to bestow on each thing a particular measure of perfection, then as a result one finds the reason why each thing has such and such a form and such and such matter...

This paragraph alone could provide the core of still another aspect of Thomas’s theory of communication.

10 In the first Book of the O. T., Genesis, the creation takes place as each being is “spoken,” that is, uttered: so beings, their degree, intensity, hierarchy, configurations, and organization, are as it were, “figures” or tropes of that mode of Divine speech.

11 Vide F. C. Copleston, Op. Cit., page 112.

12 A clear reference to the discussion of hamartia in Aristotle’s Poetics. Hamartia meant “off the mark,” “off-centredness”; literally, eccentricity.

13 Copleston, Op. Cit., page 127. Copleston remarks further,Does any particular argument possess a special or pre-eminent importance? Modern Thomists often assert that the third proof, bearing explicitly ont he existence of things, is fundamental. But if we look at the two Summas, we do not find Aquinas saying this. So far as he gives explicit preference to any particular proof it is to the first, which he declares, somewhat surprisingly, to be the clearest. (Page 127)

14 From “Joyce, Aquinas and the Poetic Process,” by H. M. McLuhan, Renascence, Vol. IV No. 1, Autumn, 1951, pages 3-11.

15 More copies of this work survive than of any other: it was a kind of fourth-century Finnegans Wake.

16 Bernard J. Muller-Thym, “St. Thomas and the Recapturing of Natural Wisdom,” in The Modern Schoolman, May, 1941, pages 65-66.

Medievalism: The Future of the Past

A St. Michael’s College Symposium
Joseph Goering, Francesco Guardiani eds. Ottawa: Legas, 2000

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