Summa th. I, q. 13, art. 5,“Whether what is said of God and of creatures is univocally predicated of them”.

There are two ways to mean that something is distinct or given in the ratio of distinct. First, formally, i. e., by meaning something and its distinction from other things. Secondly, fundamentally or causally, and this is to mean something as grounding its distinction from other things.

What wisdom and other similar features mean in creatures, is not the essence of wisdom plus its distinction from justice, but the essence of wisdom as it grounds its own distinction from justice. Now, wisdom owes this only to its own quiddity; therefore, to mean wisdom as distinct from other things is to mean wisdom as a quiddity.

There are two ways how two perfections are joined: identically and formally. Identically, if we conceive that Socrates’s wisdom and justice are one thing. Formally, it can be conceived in two ways. First, if we conceive that the proper formal ratios, respectively, of wisdom and justice, are one, so that no ratio is third, but there is only the proper ratio of both wisdom and justice. This kind of identity is simpliciter impossible and implies two contradictory things.

Indeed, if those two are no third ratio, then they are not one ratio, because, from the fact that they exclude each other, they hold no ratio of formal identity to each other. And if they are one ratio, then they are a third one, because one, according to itself, is not the other.

Secondly, the formal conjunction can be understood if we conceive the ratio of wisdom and justice to be enclosed eminently, and identified formally, in one formal ratio of a higher order. And this identity is not only possible but is a fact with all perfections in God. For it should not be thought that the formal proper ratio of wisdom is in God: but the ratio of wisdom in God is not proper of wisdom, but is proper of a higher ratio, namely deity, and common to the formal eminence of justice, goodness, power, and so forth. Indeed, even as the reality that is wisdom and the reality that is justice in creatures are elevated to one thing of a higher order, namely deity, and therefore are one thing in God, so the formal ratios of wisdom and justice, respectively, are elevated to one formal ratio of a higher order, namely the proper ratio of deity. They are a formal ratio that is numerically one containing eminently either ratio—not only virtually, as the ratio of light contains the ratio of heat, but formally, as the ratio of light contains the ratio of the calorific virtue.

Although the immaterial esse of material things is their esse secundum quid, yet in itself, and in the order of the universe, it is esse simpliciter and more eminently, even as the ox in the sun is not the ox simpliciter; nonetheless, the esse of the sun, which is the ox eminently, is an esse simpliciter nobler. Thence it has been customary to say that the ox is simpliciter the ox in particular and the ox secundum quid in the soul: yet it is a nobler ens in the soul than in particular.

Summa th. I, q. 77, art. 3,
“Whether powers are distinguished by acts and objects”.


Notice three terms in the title. First, “distinguished”: it is enquired whether they are distinguished, and not whether they are manifested as distinct. And further inquiry is made into the formal distinction per se and directly, and the real distinction as a consequence of the former, the real distinction between powers and essence being supposed. Secondly, “by”, which denotes causality. Thirdly, “acts” and “objects”, in the plural number, which denotes their diversity; accordingly, the question is not whether the object is the cause for the distinction of powers; but whether the diversity of objects and acts is the cause of the essential distinction of the powers of the soul.


The body of the article contains two points: first, the conclusion answering affirmatively; secondly, the modification of one term placed at the conclusion, namely the diversity of the object.

The conclusion is that powers are diversified according to the diversity of acts and objects. And since this conclusion assigns two subordinated causes—namely the diversity of acts and the diversity of objects—, we prove the conclusion as to either cause at once, as follows. The power is essentially, or according to that which is, ordained to the act; therefore, its ratio is taken from the act; therefore, its diversity results from the diversity of acts; therefore, finally, from the diversity of objects.

The antecedent is manifest. The first consequence is self-evident. And so is the second consequence, because the principles of being and the principles of distinguishing are the same. We prove the last consequence, thus. The ratio of the act is diversified according to the diversity of the object; therefore, the diversity of acts supposes the diversity of objects. The consequence is manifest. And we prove the assumption by an exclusive disjunction, as follows. The act is the operation of the passive or active power: but the object specifies either. Regarding the act of the passive power, we prove it thus: the object is efficient of that act; therefore, it specifies it. Regarding the act of the active power: the object is the end or proper term of that act; therefore, it specifies it. And the consequence applies in both cases because the operation is specified by its own principle or term, but heating is specified either by heating heat or by heat terminating heating; similarly, chilling and other similar acts.


Concerning the second point of the body of the article, our discussion clarifies that the root of the distinction of acts and powers is the diversity of the objects, and this is multiple; accordingly, the text adds that we are not discussing any diversity whatever of the object, but only the diversity per se of the object as it is an object, i. e., its formal ratio that is per se first set before the power.


To clarify this difficulty, consider that there are four senses of how acts and objects can distinguish powers. First, with “by” denoting a distinctive difference, meaning that the acts are the principles by which powers are distinguished formally, as by their proper differences. This is entirely impossible because a difference is intimate to a thing; and one same element accounts for a thing being such in itself formally, and one in itself and diverse from another essentially.

Secondly, with “by” only denoting the explanatory principle, meaning that powers are distinguished by acts, i. e., they are manifested as distinct by acts and objects, a posteriori. And this opinion proceeded from ignorance about natural philosophy and the distinction between acts as perfections and ends of powers.

Thirdly, with “by” denoting the distinctive principle as entirely extrinsic; meaning that powers are distinguished by acts and objects as by their extrinsic causes, namely final and efficient; even as we can universally affirm about other things that they are distinguished by all their causes in their genus of causing, namely by the formal cause intrinsically, by the effective cause extrinsically, and so forth. And the opinion of these came closer to the truth, yet without penetrating it, for two reasons. First, because it would prevent us from receiving anything singular from the fathers, who only had in mind certain beings when they specified these to be distinguished by acts and objects; secondly, because that opinion did not reach the nature of these beings perspicuously.

The fourth opinion is left, with “by” denoting a definitive principle extrinsic to the thing, but intrinsic to the definition of the thing, so that powers are distinguished by acts a priori, not as by differences, nor as by entirely extrinsic causes, but as by causes necessarily included in their first definitions; and I mean included by addition, in the way one correlative falls into the definition of another. The grounding for this is the assumption made in the antecedent, namely that the power, according to its essence, is said, and is, with reference to the act; that is, because the power, according to its entity, is nothing detached from its act and object; although it is something detached from its term and therefore not in the genus of a relation. Indeed, we imagine, according to divine Thomas, that powers and habitus and similar things are middle entities between the entirely absolute and the totally respective. Accordingly, they are essentially ordained to acts not by anything added, but by their own essences, and essentially, so that even in the first operation of the intellect they cannot be understood without their essences: not because acts are differences of essences, but because the differences of essences of powers and habitus are taken from their order to acts; and I do not mean that they are ordained by an order of the predicament of relation, but by a transcendent order. And this is the first root, and the last one in resolution, in this matter and similar ones, such as movement, first matter, action and passion, habitus, and others. And this standing, all things in the text are plain.


All objections are solved with this, that power, action, passion, and other entia of this kind, are specified essentially and get their esse, unity and diversity from a difference that is intrinsic but does not abstract from an extrinsic object, agent, end or act. To understand this, take into account that nature acts for the sake of ends and produces powers proportioned to the intended acts; and therefore it makes such powers, as exact such quiddities of acts, and not conversely. And because nature does not ordain powers to acts accidentally, it follows that powers are such essentially because the act exacts them to be such according to their essence. And thus, they do not abstract essentially from the transcendent order to acts.


Notice here that we can speak of the powers of the soul in two senses. First, as they are powers: and this is how this whole discourse takes them. Secondly, as they are properties of a particular nature: and thus we do not speak.


In answer to the second, a doubt occurs about that conditional proposition: if the power per se respected a contrary as an object, the other contrary should pertain to another power. The habitus, for example, knowledge, refers per se to one contrary, and yet it also refers to another contrary. Therefore, a fortiori, one single power can refer per se to one contrary, and yet also to another.


A brief solution to this is found in the words “as an object”: by this, indeed, saint Thomas indicated the adequate object. And if some habitus or power has for an adequate object one of two contraries, it is clear that it will never reach the other contrary according to the positive nature that is not included in the other;. However, it would reach it according to the attached privation of the other, because negation can only respect the power or habit of affirmation, and privation can only respect the power or habit of habit.


In answering to the third objection, a doubt occurs, for the diversity of ratio in the object does not seem to be a sufficient cause for any real diversity of powers. First, because the real ens is not caused by the ens of reason, because the effect is not more perfect than the final or effective cause. Secondly, because a lesser distinction is no sufficient cause for a greater one. Thirdly, because there would be real distinctions of things even with no ens of reason existing, for they do not depend on any work of the soul.


We answer briefly that these objections proceed from a wrong notion of the proposition, “the distinction of objects is the cause for the distinction of powers”. It is necessary to distinguish “distinction” and “cause”. We can discuss distinction actually and virtually, and similarly we can discuss cause as the ratio for causing and cause as the condition for the causing intellect. Indeed, if we would speak properly, no distinction of causes seems to be properly an effective cause as a ratio of causing, for difference is no active form, although sometimes it is a necessary condition for causes. Now according to final causality, although diversity can be a ratio of causation, since something can be made or ordained for the sake of the diversity of some features as ends; yet in the proposed subject it is a condition for final causes. Indeed, the distinction of powers is not ordained to the distinction of objects as ends, but since one power is ordained to one proper end of its own, and another to another, and so forth, ends have the condition of being diverse and it is necessary that they also exact diverse powers. To speak properly of the distinction of objects that are not really distinguished, we are not discussing their distinction taken actually—for that is made by the work of the intellect—but their distinction taken virtually or fundamentally. In this way, the reason why the intellect and the will are distinguished really is not that the ens and the good are actually distinguished by reason; but because the ens and the good are distinguished by a particular formal distinction virtually, which is not due to the work of the intellect, but to the thing itself. And thus, the virtual distinction of objects is the cause, in the sense of the condition for the cause, of the distinction of powers.


From the above, the answer to the first and last objection is clear: now indeed, it is manifest that no real ens is held to depend on any ens of reason.

To the second objection, we answer that, since the unity in the cause is consistent with the diversity of the effects, it is no wonder if lesser diversity in the effects is consistent with greater diversity in the cause.

Thence it is false that a lesser distinction is not the cause of a greater one as the condition for the cause. First, because the unity of the cause can be a cause for distinction. Secondly, because distinction does not express perfection so as to make it necessary to proceed from a univocal or more perfect distinction, but it concerns more the order of the imperfect as departing from unity.



A distinction is nothing but a mutual negation of identity. Indeed, the first ratio of distinction is affirmation and negation, or to be and not to be. It is usually distinguished as two: real and of reason. The real distinction is the mutual negation of real identity, or identity on the part of the thing, between elements; for example, between whiteness and blackness. Such distinction, if made according to forms or formal ratios of things, is called a real formal distinction; if according to entities, real-entitative; if according to modes, it is real-modal. Examples: sky and earth are called really entitatively distinct; action and passion really formally distinct; to sit and to stand, really modally distinct.

Reason is taken in two ways, namely as a mere act of a reasoning person, and as an act of the thing about which reason is given; even as reason is called a universal not because it is only in us or in our mind, but because it is something which, instead of being taken in one entity absolutely, is taken in a collection that is in many and about many. Reason makes this collection.

Hence it is common to propose two distinctions of reason: one called of reasoning reason; the other, of reasoned reason. The distinction of reasoning reason is made by the intellect out of its mere invention and fertility, no occasion or grounding provided by the thing itself, as when the intellect predicates and enunciates the same about itself; for example, “Peter is Peter”. Thus, indeed Peter is distinguished from himself inasmuch as he is a subject distinguished from himself as placed at the predicate, or as conceived as the term and subject of the relation of identity when he is affirmed to be self-identical. The distinction of reasoning reason is also made when the intellect conceives the same thing under a diverse mode of signifying, for example, “the man”, “the man’s”, and so forth: this is only called a distinction as to the mode of understanding or signifying. Whence, strictly speaking, it is no distinction simpliciter, because it is not made by objectively dissimilar concepts or by the repetition of the same concept, but secundum quid, with the same thing standing for two objects. The distinction of reasoned or reasonable reason is made by the intellect with a grounding in the thing and not out of its mere fertility.

Recent scholars would discard the distinction of reasoning reason as a feigned repetition of the same concept with no distinction resulting in the objective concept; yet all schools admit it.

Others, on the contrary, do not admit the distinction of reasoned reason, and, if they do, they revolve it diligently to get others to ground it not in some virtual distinction, but in an actual one from the nature of the thing, or in a formal actual one preceding every operation of the intellect. The common Thomist School grounds this kind of distinction in the thing itself that is distinguished at a certain eminence in which diverse formalities or perfections are united. This eminence in the thing is called a virtual distinction, because the same form somehow does all the functions proper of several lower forms; for example, in the same rational soul the perfections of the vegetative, sensitive and rational life are united. Really and actually it is the same form: however, it has a certain eminence and virtual perfection to perform whatsoever the diverse lower forms—of plants and animals—perform; whence it includes a certain virtual distinction made actual by the intellect operating diverse reasons about that eminence.

To “ground” or “root” serves as an analogy for derived firmness. Understood ratios have two firmnesses: that of their own esse—and this they derive from the intellect, as other accidents derive it from their subjects—and the firmness of their truth—and this they derive from the thing to which they are conformed; indeed, from the fact that a thing is or is not, speech and intellect contain truth or falsehood.

First conclusion

The distinction of reasoned reason is grounded on the eminence or virtue of a higher form or understood nature, which is called a virtual distinction. It requires more than a reference to diverse really distinct connotata after whose fashion the thing may be knowable. This is proved by supposing that judgment about formal ratios differs as things are taken in their own natures or in some higher-order reality. Indeed, things in their own natures are distinguished formally without any intellect operating—since they do not enclose each other in their formal ratios—but the formal ratio of the one is not the formal ratio of the other, because either thing is limited in nature and esse so as not to be the other. By way of an example, calorific virtue and desiccative virtue are distinguished formally in their own natures by the nature of the thing, the calorific virtue being the heating principle so as not to be the drying principle, and conversely. Now, united things are found in some higher-order nature or form as in a higher simple reality in whose adequate ratio they are united formally by formal distinction; consequently, by the nature of things, they necessarily lack such distinction due to the rootlessness of such distinction, namely the limitation by which any of them is itself so as not to be the other. For neither of them is more itself than the other, since they are really united; for example, the calorific and desiccative virtue formally found in the light of the sun being united in one single nature of light are formally indistinct in the formal ratio of light; thus there is no further need to enquire into their definition once the complete definition of the solar light is assigned. Indeed the solar light itself is declared by its complete definition in its height on account of the adequation that must be found between the definition and the defined thing; and consequently, it also manifests its calorific and desiccative virtue, because the calorific virtue is not more itself than the light and the desiccative virtue are, and conversely.

Now although such forms are united in one single adequate ratio formally, yet, because such ratio, on account of its eminence, can objectively terminate and cause the diverse concepts of the intellect, this has led to viewing that ratio as having distinct ratios virtually or fundamentally; and this is where the distinction of reason is grounded: upon that form or nature that, by reason of its perfection, unites several ratios in its only adequate ratio by reason of which the intellect can terminate diverse or distinct, though inadequate, concepts, because the adequate ratio is formally and simpliciter one, even as it is one form.

Hence is deduced the reason of the conclusion as to the first part: the higher form or nature, by uniting several ratios in its adequate ratio, can sufficiently terminate the diverse concepts of the intellect on account of its eminence and contain in its intentional esse diverse inadequate objective concepts; but then the distinction of reasoned reason is made; therefore this is grounded in some eminent or virtual distinction. The major premise is proved, for the intellect can reach that ratio inadequately and consequently two, each one with one concept; for example, the intellect does not reach the simple and supersubstantial nature of God adequately with one act on account of its eminence, but it reaches the ratios of goodness, wisdom, mercy, each with one different concept. The minor premise is also manifest, because such distinction does not occur actually between things or forms in the esse of a thing; therefore, it only occurs in intentional and objective esse. Nonetheless, it does not proceed merely from the fertility of the intellect, but from the eminence of the object uniting several ratios of lower forms into itself. Consequently, it cannot be a distinction of reasoning reason. Thence it follows that it is a distinction of reasoned reason.

The second part is also proved, to wit, the insufficiency of any reference to really distinct diverse connotata; for this kind of distinction is found between divine attributes, and it can in nowise proceed from such reference, and this for two reasons. First, because the cause owes nothing to the effect, but conversely—whence God is not called wise because wisdom is derived from him, but rather the created thing is called wise inasmuch as it imitates divine wisdom. Secondly, because from eternity, when creatures did not exist, and even if they were never to be, it was true to say that God is wise, good, and featured with other attributes of this sort. Notice that one same attribute is not at all signified by two different names, as happens with synonyms. Therefore, this kind of reference to diverse connotata is insufficient, but something is required in the object itself, namely the eminence containing several ratios united in one.

From the above, it follows that the distinction of reasoned reason on our part marks out a certain imperfection of the intellect, which, often unable by itself to apprehend wholly, by one single concept, all those perfections united in that single adequate ratio, fashions diverse concepts and imposes diverse names signifying those ratios. This work of the intellect is not worthless or hollow, because something real corresponds to all its concepts: the distinct inadequate ratios united in one simple adequate ratio that contains the perfections of all those forms virtually, thus exerting their functions.

Second Conclusion

The distinction of reasoning reason does not consist in the sole repetition of objective concepts, but in some comparison or respect resulting in the apprehended object as it were extrinsically on account of being apprehended as two. For example, when I say, “Peter is Peter”, no distinction of reason taken formally results by the fact that the same name is repeated twice, but because a certain comparison of Peter to himself is made. Hence results a respect of reason, not indeed proceeding from his own intrinsic parts—indeed, he has no distinct ratios, even inadequate, manifested by this name—but arising extrinsically, as it were, from the very concept apprehending Peter as two objects.

And this differentiates it from the distinction of reasoned reason, to which there correspond in the object, and as it were intrinsically, diverse inadequate ratios united in one single adequate ratio—although in act they never become diverse or distinct except by concepts of the intellect. The saintly doctor teaches so with these words: “the distinction between the divine attributes does not proceed from God himself but resides in the concepts of the intellect where this ratio signified subjectively is diverse”. This means that the exercise of that distinction between attributes results from diverse concepts subjectively existing in the intellect; yet objectively, the diverse ratio corresponding to them, by sprouting from the very eminence of the object, provides firmness.


The distinction of reasoned reason cannot actually place anything in the genus of reality in the objects themselves to render these distinct, otherwise, it would be real; therefore it consists in a mere denomination resulting from the fact that the intellect knows the object in this or that manner with a diverse formal concept.


The alleged formalities are represented as distinct not because they are so from their nature or objectively, inasmuch as one is represented and not the other, because, formally, there is still no distinction until it is placed formally by the intellect or a comparison of it. Therefore, no distinction on the part of the object corresponds to the distinction of reasoned reason, and consequently it only resulted from the diversity of the concepts.

Answer to the Antecedent

The distinction of reasoned reason can place nothing actually in the objects themselves in the genus of a thing as it is a thing: but it can place something in it as it is a ratio, i. e., as it is in a diverse manner that it terminates in act a concept of the mind and is manifested. This is not merely an extrinsic denomination of something known, but a certain relative opposition of reason engendered in the thing itself from the mode of knowing it where the distinction of reasoned reason takes root and derives firmness. Whence it is not altogether extrinsic to the thing, but in a certain way intrinsic, because it is consequent to it as a passion of its own, yet not without profit for the intellect.

Answer to the consequent

These formalities are represented as distinct not because they are distinct by nature, but because they are united in one higher form in which diverse concepts can exercise termination and manifestation, for the intellect does not always tend to that form adequately and according to its whole contents, due to its imperfect mode of understanding in the present life. This requires no actual division or distinction on the part of things, but only a virtual one.

Excerpted and translated by Patricio Shaw from

Dilucidum Philosophiæ Syntagma e D. Thomæ Aquinatis Doctoris Angelici, B. Alberti Magni, et optimorum quorumque Philosophorum effatis ac dogmatibus concinnatum, variaque erudition locupletatum, a R. admodum P. F. Nicolao Arnu, Ordinis Prædicatorum. Tomus Septimus Theologiam Naturalem, seu Metaphysicam complectens. Padua, 1686.