Understanding the Proceeding of an Intellectual Emanation in its Uniqueness Employing a Thomist Distinction

 by Br. Dunstan Robidoux OSB 

In attempting to understand the nature of an intellectual emanation as one kind of intellectual act comes from another kind of intellectual act, in the kind of analysis that Lonergan engages in and in the kind of language that he uses, he says that, from an act of understanding which is itself conscious, a second conscious act emerges in a procession which occurs within one’s conscious understanding–a procession which is intrinsically and entirely rational and which, because of its intrinsic rationality, is to be identified as an emantio intelligibilis–an intelligible or rational emanation which belongs to the intelligence in act of an intelligent subject. Cf. Lonergan, “Consciousness and the Trinity,” Papers 1958-1964, p. 136; Edward M. Mackinnon, “Understanding according to Bernard J. F. Lonergan, S.J.,” The Thomist 28 (1964): 103; Frederick G. Lawrence, “The Hermeneutic Revolution and Bernard Lonergan: Gadamer and Lonergan on Augustine’s Verbum Cordis – The Heart of Postmodern Hermeneutics,” Divyadaan: Journal of Philosophy & Education vol. 19, nos. 1-2 (2008): 61. As a rational emanation, conception is thus not best identified or understood in terms which prefer to speak about some kind of causation (involving a relation between cause and effect) or about some kind of “automatic or quasi-mechanical process.” Cf. Mackinnon, p. 103. A word, an inner word, “proceeds because of understanding.” It reflects an act of understanding–a conscious rational awareness which knows that something has been understood through an act of understanding which is being revealed–from an act of understanding which has already occurred. In a way, this word receives from an act of understanding. It is occasioned but it is not caused by an act of understanding even if one can say that the proceeding of an inner word is produced by an act to understanding. Cf. Frederick E. Crowe, The Doctrine of the Most Holy Trinity (Willowdale, Ontario: Regis College, 1965-66), p. 145-146.
To understand, however, why certain critical distinctions need to be made here which, apparently, do not need to be made, one can perhaps turn to a distinction which Aquinas makes that can shed some light on how or why one should avoid language which thinks about intellectual emanation in terms of cause and effect. With respect to the difference then between causality and the kind of proceeding which exists in an intellectual emanation, in the Summa Theologiae, 1a, q. 33, a. 1, Aquinas defines what he means by “principle.” He says that it is “that whence another proceeds.” But, a principle is to be distinguished from a cause (q. 33, a. 1, ad 1 & 3) because cause suggests that a difference exists between a cause and an effect: an effect is something lesser than a cause (it is a different kind of being) and an effect depends or relies upon its cause. Causa portior est effectu; the cause is greater than the effect. Cf. Summa Theologiae, 1a, q. 16, a. 1, ad 3; q. 88, a. 3, ad 2; q. 95, a. 1. See also Summa Contra Gentiles, 3, 77, 6. However, a principle possesses a wider meaning since it refers to what is first, or to what is a point of origin for a given set or order of things. As Aquinas notes as an example taken from mathematics, “a point is the principle of a line.” While a principle can be a cause, in its wider significance, it primarily refers to a first term which orders subsequent terms into an ordered set of related elements. In the language that Lonergan uses, “more generally, principle has been defined as what is first in any ordered set, primum in aliquo ordine.” Cf. Lonergan, “Natural Knowledge of God,” Second Collection, p. 126. On the basis thus of this understanding, a principle as a first term does not imply that any second or third term ad infinitum is of lesser importance or value than the first term. No difference in reality is to be postulated or concluded. A principle admittedly refers to a point of origin but not necessarily to a specific cause. Hence, if one thinks about the relation between an act of understanding and an emanating act of conceptualizing, one can legitimately speak about one act coming after another. However, one does not speak about a lesser stature that belongs to an act of conception even as it comes after or proceeds from an act of understanding. An act of understanding exists as a point of origin. But, the intelligibility that is grasped by an act of understanding is not greater than the intelligibility that is experienced in an act of conception as one apprehends the meaningfulness of a concept or inner word which is the term of an one’s act of conception. With respect then to how one might think about processions within God, by thinking in terms of principle and avoiding any talk about cause, one avoids a theology of the Trinity that recalls the earlier theology of Origen (d. c. 254) who had spoken about divine processions in terms which suggest a cause and effect relationship. In the eternal generation of the Son from the Father, the divinity received by the Son from the Father is less than what the Father more fully possesses. And so, for these reasons, Origen had encouraged views which suggested that, respectively, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit possessed a lesser divinity than that belonging to God the Father. Heretical consequences naturally ensued through theologies which were touched by subordinationist assumptions and Arian conclusions. Cf. Lonergan, The Way to Nicea: The Dialectical Development of Trinitarian Theology, trans. Conn O’Donovan (London: Darton, Longman & Todd, 1976), p. 60.
By taking Aquinas’s understanding of principle (the difference between principle and cause) and by adapting Aquinas’s notion of principle in a manner which combines it with created experiences of rational consciousness, one creates conditions that should further reveal why, in intellectual emanation, a kind of proceeding exists which stands on its own, apart from every other kind of proceeding.

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