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Compiled by Anthony Harrison-Barbet


HENRY OF GHENT

(c. 1230 (?) — 1293)

 

MODIFIED AUGUSTINIANISM

Henry, known as the 'Exalted Teacher' (Doctor Solemnis) was born at Ghent, and probably studied at Paris. He was appointed Canon of Tournai and in 1276 Archdeacon of Bruges, which post he combined with teaching in the faculties of arts and theology at Paris. Although not a member of the Order, he was chosen by the Servites as their official theologian.

 

METAPHYSICS/ RELIGIOUS PHILOSOPHY

[1] [See Argument, III, 9; VII; IX.] According to Henry, metaphysics involves a search for 'intelligible essences' implicit in the concept of being, which he regards as the starting point. He distinguishes between imaginary being and extramental being. Ideas composing the former can never exist outside the mind because they are intrinsically incoherent or impossible (for example, round square, golden mountain) [ibid. IV, 7, I]. Extramental being, however, is real being (esse essentiae), and this is either possible or actual existence; the latter therefore also possesses esse existentiae [a]. Henry emphasizes the primacy of essence over existence. Nevertheless he denies that the supposed distinction between essence and individual existence is a real or logical distinction but says it relates to what he calls different 'intentions' (intentiones) [b] and ultimately to the way they relate to God. Existence is not to be understood in terms of some actualization of potential matter through form. Matter itself is created by and has its idea in God [c]. All actual existing essences are exemplata of the ideal exemplars or Divine Ideas which exist in and are known by Him [d]. God is infinite, transcends all limitations, and is totally free in what He might do: His free will has primacy over the intellect [e]. The existence of created beings is therefore not necessary. Actually existing things, although effects of God's causative or creative power and 'outside' God are still dependent on Him [ibid., X, 7; Compendium, XXI, 4, x] [f].

Being for Henry is neither an equivocal nor a univocal concept — though he does distinguish between God as necessary being and 'negatively indeterminate' and his creatures as contingent being and 'privately indeterminate'. However, he thinks of the relation of God's Being to the being of His creatures in analogical terms [see Compendium XXI, 2, vi and viii; XXIV, 8, vi] [g]. Similarly creatures are by analogy divided into substances and accidents. Substances exist in themselves and are not dependent on any other thing. Of these only man may be said to possess form as well as matter: but although Henry admitted a plurality of forms in man, his view varied as to whether there is in man not only a single substantial form (humanity) but also a corporeal form (his later position) [h]. What gives a thing its individuality is neither its matter nor its form alone (both of which are essences at different stages of perfection and which join to make the unitary individual) but its actual extramental existence. This lacks any internal division and makes the thing distinct from other things in relation to God, to whom they are known as numerically distinguishable only through their essence. Henry calls the individual understood in this way a 'double negation' [i] in the sense that it removes all differences and plurality from within and all identity from without. [See, for example, Argument II, 1; V, 8.]

Henry's main argument for the existence of God is a priori and starts from the idea of uncreated being as greatest perfection — which he identified with necessary Being whose existence and essence are necessarily identical [for example, Compendium XXIV, 6, vii] [j]. But he also used lesser arguments — from experience of the physical world [j], though he said that they can tell us nothing about God's nature (such as His unicity and indivisibility) and do not demonstrate His necessity; to demonstrate these metaphysical proofs are required.

 

KNOWLEDGE

[2] For Henry there is a difference between knowing that something is true and knowing its truth. In the case of the former we can have knowledge of particulars through sense-perception and knowledge of universals (intelligible species) through the intellect by means of abstraction [a]. But knowledge of the truth as such, that is, the relation of a thing to God as eternal and unchanging Truth, requires divine illumination, which enables us to see the divine Ideas [Compendium I, 11]. (In this respect God is thus understood as Active Intellect.) [b]. The ideas of necessity and being (of God and his creatures) are innate, not imposed from outside. Henry means by this that they are formed by the mind from itself on the occasion of experience, and thus are implicit in it [c] — not that they are in the mind prior to experience, or are derived from it. He also considers that the human intellect, like God's, is subordinate to the self-determining will [Argument III, 17] [d].

 

CRITICAL SUMMARY

Henry was an independently minded thinker who, while appreciating the difficulties with Augustinianism, was unwilling to take on board uncritically the Aristotelianism of the Thomist synthesis. He is perhaps best seen as creating a comprehensive metaphysical response to meet the challenges posed to the Augustinian tradition (and supposedly to theological orthodoxy) by the new thinking. How he should be viewed philosophically depends on one's standpoint. Thomists of the day might have regarded his thinking as reactionary or retrogressive. A more positive approach would be to view his philosophy as radical and subtle — perhaps as a precursor of Duns Scotus (who was a constructive critic of many of his ideas). Of particular interest, and deserving of close examination, are his 'intentional' distinction between esse essentiae and esse existentiae — both real but the later being additionally 'actualized'; his notion of individuation as 'double negation'; and his acceptance of a double source of knowledge — through abstraction and divine illumination. However, it has been suggested that the many diverse elements in his thought have not been sufficiently worked into a coherent unity.

 

READING

Henry: Argumenta (Arguments); Summa Theologica (Theological Compendium). English translations: 'The Questions on God's Existence and Essence' (Articles 21-24), from the Summa, trans. by J. Decorte and R. J. Teske; also trans. by R. J. Teske, Quodlibetal Questions on Moral Problems, and Quodlibetal Questions on Free Will.

Studies

S. P. Marrone, Truth and Scientific Knowledge in the Thought of Henry of Ghent.

R. Wielock, 'Henry of Ghent', in J. J. E. Garcia (ed.), A Companion to Philosophy in the Middle Ages.

 

 

CONNECTIONS

Henry of Ghent

 

[1a] Metaphysics: Being as starting point; essences — imaginary and real (possible and actual)

   Avicenna

   Averroes

   Aquinas

Duns Scotus

[la 1b]

[2a]

[1b]

[1a]

 

[1b j] Essence and existence distinct only through 'intentions'; essence primary; identical in God

   Avicenna

   Averroes

   Wm of Auvergne

   Aquinas

Duns Scotus

[1c d 1b 5a]

[2a]

[1b]

[1d 3a]

[2b с]

 

[1c] Matter created — existence not actualization of potentility; matter has Idea in God

   Augustine

   Avicenna

   Averroes

   Bonaventura

   Aquinas

Duns Scotus

[4b]

[2a]

[2f h]

[4b]

[2b]

[2f]

 

[1d] Divine Ideas as exemplars

   Augustine

   Avicenna

   Wm of Auvergne

   Bonaventura

   Aquinas

Duns Scotus

[4c]

[1b]

[1d]

[2a]

[3b]

[3c]

 

[1e] God transcendent and totally free — intellect subordinate to will

   Augustine

   Bonaventura

   Aquinas

Duns Scotus

[7b]

[3d 6c]

[5c]

[3d]

 

[1f] Free creation; contingent beings dependent on God as necessary Being

   Augustine

   Avicenna

   Averroes

   Wm of Auvergne

   Bonaventura

   Aquinas

Duns Scotus

[4b]

[1d 3a]

[2e 2g]

[1g]

[2c]

[3f]

[3e]

 

[1g] 'Being'/ God neither equivocal nor univocal — applied analogically; concept of 'indeterminacy'

   Avicenna

   Averroes

   Wm of Auvergne

   Bonaventura

   Aquinas

Duns Scotus

[1e]

[2b]

[1j]

[3a]

[3c]

[1c]

 

[1h] No universal hylomorphism or plurality of forms (though may be both substantial form and corporeal form in man); soul not form of body); personal immortality

   Augustine

   Avicenna

   Averroes

   Wm of Auvergne

   Bonaventura

   Aquinas

Duns Scotus

[4a]

[1f 4b]

[2g 3d e]

[2a]

[4c 5a b c 5e]

[2c 5e]

[2d 2e 4a 4c]

 

[1i] Individuation by 'extra-mental' existence (neither matter nor form alone): 'double negation' theory

   Avicenna

   Bonaventura

   Aquinas

Duns Scotus

[3e 4b]

[4g]

[2b]

[2g]

 

[1j]

Arguments for God's existence, infinity, and unicity:

 

   
 

i a priori — from idea of greatest/ perfect, necessary being

 

   Augustine

   Anselm

   Bonaventura

[3a]

[1e]

[1c]

  ii from experience of physical world (but metaphysical arguments needed)

   Augustine

   Bonaventura

   Aquinas

Duns Scotus

[3b c]

[1b]

[3e]

[3a b]

 

[2a] Knowledge of sensibles (not certain) — particulars and universals; abstraction

   Augustine

   Avicenna

   Averroes

   Bonaventura

   Aquinas

Duns Scotus

[1b]

[5a]

[3c]

[6a b]

[6c]

[5a d]

 

[2b] Knowledge of eternal truths/ intelligibles (certain) through illumination by God (as Active Intellect)

   Augustine

   Avicenna

   Averroes

   Wm of Auvergne

   Bonaventura

   Aquinas

Duns Scotus

[2a]

[3f 5a]

[3b c e]

[2c]

[6c]

[6d e]

[5b]

 

[2c] Innate ideas of necessity, being, and God on occasion of experience

   Augustine

   Avicenna

   Bonaventura

   Aquinas

Duns Scotus

[2b]

[5c]

[6a]

[6c 6f]

[5a]

 

[2d] Human intellect subordinate to will; freedom

   Augustine

   Bonaventura

   Aquinas

Duns Scotus

[7b]

[6c]

[5c]

[4d]