Matter of the Sacraments by New Advent Encyclopedia
(Greek hyle; Latin materia; French matière; German materie and stoff), the correlative of Form. See HYLOMORPHISM; FORM.
Taking the term in its widest sense, matter signifies that out of which anything is made or composed. Thus the original meaning of hyle (Homer) is "wood", in the sense of "grove" or "forest"; and hence, derivatively, "wood cut down" or timber. The Latin materia, as opposed to lignum (wood used for fuel), has also the meaning of timber for building purposes. In modern languages this word (as signifying raw material) is used in a similar way. Matter is thus one of the elements of the becoming and continued being of an artificial product. The architect employs timber in the building of his house; the shoemaker fashions his shoes from leather. It will be observed that, as an intrinsic element, matter connotes composition, and is most easily studied in a consideration of the nature of change. This is treated ex professo in the article on CAUSE. It will, however, be necessary to touch upon it briefly again here, since matter can only be rationally treated in so far as it is a correlate. The present article will therefore be divided into paragraphs giving thescholastic doctrine under the following heads:
- Secondary Matter (in accidental change);
- Primordial Matter (in substantial change);
- The Nature of Primordial Matter;
- Permanent Matter;
- The Unity of Matter;
- Matter as the Principle of Individuation;
- The Causality of Matter;
- Variant Theories.
Accepting matter in the original sense given above, Aristotle defines the "materialcause" hoion ho chalkos tou andriantos kai ho argyros tes phiales. That the form of the statue is realized in the bronze, that the bronze is the subject of the form, is sensibly evident. These two elements of the statue or bowl are the intrinsic "causes" of its being what it is. With the addition of the efficient and final cause(and of privation) they constitute the whole doctrine of its ætiology, and areinvoked as a sufficient explanation of "accidental" change. There is no difficulty in understanding such a doctrine. The determinable "matter" (here, in scholasticterminology, more properly substance) is the concrete reality — brass or white metal — susceptible of determination to a particular mode of being. The determinant is the artificial shape or form actually visible. The "matter" remainssubstantially the same before, throughout, and after its fashioning.
The explanation is not so obvious when it is extended to cover substantial change. It is indeed true that already in speaking of the "matter" of accidental change (substance), we go beyond the experience given in sense perception. But, when we attempt to deal with the elements of corporeal substance, we proceed still farther in the process of abstraction. It is impossible to represent to ourselves either primordial matter or substantial form. Any attempt to do so inevitably results in a play of imagination that tends to falsify their nature, for they are notimaginable. The proper objects of our understanding are the essences of those bodies with which we are surrounded (cf. S. Thomas, "De Principio Individuationis"). We have, however, no intuitive knowledge of these, nor of their principles. We mayreason about them, indeed, and must so reason if we wish to explain the possibility of change; but to imagine is to court the danger of arriving at entirely falseconclusions. Hence whatever may be asserted with regard to primordial mattermust necessarily be the result of pure and abstract reasoning upon the concrete data furnished by sense. It is an inexisting principle invoked to account forsubstantial alteration. But, as St. Thomas Aquinas remarks, whatever knowledge of it we may acquire is reached only by its analogy to "form" (ibid.). The two are the inseparable constituents of corporeal beings. The teaching of Aquinas may be briefly set out here as embodying that also of Aristotle, with which it is in the main identical. It is the teaching commonly received in the School; though various other opinions, to which allusion will be made later, are to be found advanced both before and after its formulation by Aquinas.
If we were "obliged to define its essence, it would have for specific difference its relation to form, and for genus its substantiality" (Quod., IX, a. 6. 3). And again: "It has its being by reason of that which comes to it, since in itself it has incomplete, or rather no being at all" (De Princip. Naturæ). Such information is mainly negative in character, and the phrases employed by
The use of the term "privation" by Aquinas brings us to an exceedingly interesting consideration. While primordial matter, as "understood" without any form or privation, is an indifferent potentiality towards information by any corporeal form, the same matter, considered as realized by a given form, and actually existing, does not connote this indefinite capacity of information. There is, in fact, a certainrhythmic evolution of forms observable in nature. By electrolysis only oxygen and hydrogen can be obtained from water; from oxygen and hydrogen in definite proportions only water is generated. This fact St. Thomas expresses in the physical terms of his time: "If any particular matter, e.g. fire or air, were despoiled of itsform, it is manifest that the potentiality towards other educible forms remaining in it would not be so ample, as is the case in regard to matter (considered) universally" (De Nat. Mat., v). The consideration gives us the signification of "privation", as used in the theory of substantial change. Matter is "deprived" of the form or formstowards which alone it is potential when actually existing in some one or other state of determination. Hence the distinction that is found in the Opuscule "DoPrincipiis Naturæ".
" Matter that does not connote a privation is permanent, whereas that which does is transient". The connotation of a privation limits primordial matter to that which is realized by a form disposing it towards realization by certain other definite forms. "Privation" is the absence of those forms. Permanent matter is matter considered in the highest degree of abstraction, and connoting thereby no more than its correlation to form in general.
Further, this (permanent) matter is said to be one; not however, in the sense of a numerical unity. Every corporeal being is held to result from the union of matter andform. There are in consequence as many distinct individual realized portions ofmatter as there are distinct bodies (atoms, for example) in the universe. Nevertheless, when the severally determining principles and privations are abstracted from, when matter is cognized in its greatest abstraction, it is cognized as possessing a logical unity. It is understood without any of those dispositions that make it differ numerically with the multiplication of bodies (De PrincipiisNaturæ).
More important is the doctrine that grounds in matter the numerical distinction of specifically identical corporeal beings. In the general doctrine of
At this point a peculiarly delicate question arises. The abstract essence of manconnotes matter. If, then, primordial matter be the principle of individuation, it would seem that the abstract essence is already individualized. Wherein would liethe admitted difference between the species and the individual? On the other hand, if that be not the case, it would appear equally evident that, in adding to theindividual a principle not contained in the abstract essence, it would no longer be an object of classification in the species. It would not be merely the concrete realization of the essence, but something more. In either case the doctrine would seem to be incompatible with modern Realism.
Here, as formerly, the fact must not be lost sight of that the reasoning begins with the concrete bodies actually existing in nature. It is by an abstraction that we consider matter without the actual quantity that it always exhibits when realized in corporeal substance. Peter, as a matter of fact, differs from Paul, yet they are specifically identical as rational animals. Peter is "this" man, and Paul is "that", but "this" and "that", because "here" and "there". "Form is not individuated in that it is received in matter, but only in that it is received in this or that distinct matter, and determined to here and now" (In Boeth. de Trin. Q. iv, a. 1). It is evident that "here" and "now" are the immediate and inseparable signs for us of the individual. They indicate "hœc caro et ossa". And they are only possible by reason of (informed) matter, the ground of divisibility and location in space. Still, it must be noted that "materia signata quantitate" is not to be understood as primordial matterhaving an aptitude towards fixed and invariable dimensions. The determined dimensions that are found in the existing subject are to be attributed, St. Thomasteaches, to matter as "individuated by indeterminate dimensions preunderstood in it" (" In Boeth. de Trin.", Q. iv, a. 2; "De Nat. Mat.", vii). This remark explains how an individual (as Peter) can vary in dimension without varying in identity; and at the same time gives the reply of Aquinas to the difficulty raised above. Primordialmatter, as connoted in the essence, has am aptitude towards indeterminate dimensions. These dimensions when realized are the ground of the determined dimensions (ibid.) that make the individual hic et nunc an object of sense-perception (De Nat. Materiæ, iii).
Since Primordial Matter is numbered among the causes of corporeal being, the mature of its causality remains to be considered. (See CAUSE.) All scholastics admit its concurrence with form, as an intrinsic cause; but they are not unanimous as to the precise part it plays. For Francisco Suárez it is unitive; for John of St. Thomasreceptive. The Conimbricences place its causality in both notes. It would, perhaps, seem more consonant with the doctrine of
The teaching of Aquinas has been given as substantially identical with that ofAristotle. The main point of divergence lies in the opinion of Aristotle that the world — and consequently matter — is eternal.
These systems are mentioned here because through them
For the changeableness of changeable things is capable of all thoseforms to which the changeable are changed. And what is this? Is itsoul? Or body? If it could be said: 'Nothing: something that is and isnot', that would I say . . . 'For from nothing they were made by Thee, yet not of Thee: nor of anything not Thine, or which was before, but of concreated matter, because Thou didst create its informity without any interposition of time.'
- Materia primo prima, the universalized indeterminate element of contingentbeings. This has real and numerical unity.
- Materia secundo prima, united with "form" and quantified.
- Materia tertio prima, subject of accidental change in existing bodies.
For Scotus, who acknowledges his indebtedness to Avicebron for the doctrine (De rerum princip., Q. viii, a. 4), Materia primo prima is homogeneous in all creatures without exception. His system is dualistic. Among later notable scholasticsFrancisco Suárez may be cited as attributing an existence to primordial matter. This is a logical consequence of his doctrine that no real distinction is to be admitted between essence and existence. God could, he teaches, "preserve matter without a form as He can a form without matter" (Disput. Metaph., xv, sec. 9). In his opinion, also, quantified matter no longer appears as the principle of individuation. A considerable number of theologians and philosophers have professed his doctrineupon both these points.
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