Anima Mundi and the First Thomistic Thesis

I answer that, it is impossible to admit that the power of the soul is its essence, althought some have maintained it. For the present purpose this may be proved in two ways. First, because, since power and act divide being and every kind of being, we must refer a power and its act to the same genus. Therefore, if the act be not in the genus of substance, the power directed to that act cannot be in the genus of substance. Now the operation of the soul is not in the genus of substance; for this belongs to God alone, whose operation is His own substance. Wherefore the Divine power which is the principle of His operation is the Divine Essence itself. This cannot be true either of the soul, or of any creature; as we have said above when speaking of the angels. Secondly, this may be also shown to be impossible in the soul. For the soul by its very essence is an act. Therefore if the very essence of the soul were the immediate principle of operation, whatever has a soul would always have actual vital actions, as that which is a soul is always an actually living thing. For as a form the soul is not an act ordained to a further act, but the ultimate term of generation. Wherefore, for it to be in potentiality to another act, does not belong to it according to its essence, as a form, but according to its power. So the soul itself, as the subject of its power, is called the first act, with a further relation to the second act. Now we observe that what has a soul is not always actual with respect to its vital operations; whence also it is said in the definition of the soul, that it is the act of a body having life potentially; which potentiality, however, does not exclude the soul. Therefore it follows that the essence of the soul is not its power. For nothing is in potentiality by reason of an act, as act.

Summa Theologiæ, Ia, Q. 77, a. 1

Potentia et actus ita dividunt ens, ut quidquid est, vel sit actus purus, vel ex potentia et actu tamquam primis atque intrinsecis principiis necessario coalescat.

– Sacred Congregation of Studies, July 27, 1914

That the good actuality is better and more valuable than the good potentiality is evident from the following argument. Everything of which we say that it can do something, is alike capable of contraries, e.g. that of which we say that it can be healthy is the same as that which can be ill, and has both potentialities at once; for one and the same potentiality is a potentiality for health and illness, for rest and motion, for building and throwing down, for being built and being thrown down. The capacity for contraries is present at the same time; but contraries cannot be present at the same time, and the actualities also cannot be present at the same time, e.g. health and illness. Therefore one of them must be the good, but the capacity is both the contraries alike, or neither; the actuality, then, is better. And in the case of bad things, the end or actuality must be worse than the potentiality; for that which can is both contraries alike.

Clearly, then, the bad does not exist apart from bad things; for the bad is in its nature posterior to potentiality. And therefore we may also say that in the things which are from the beginning, i.e. in eternal things, there is nothing bad, nothing defective, nothing perverted (for perversion is something bad).

Metaph. IX, 1051a4-33

The first Thomistic Thesis, promulgated with twenty-three others by the Sacred Congregation of Studies on July 27, 1914, states that being is to be divided by act and potency, such that whatever is, is either pure act, or else it coalesces out of potency and act as its first and intrinsic principles. This teaching is so fundamental, so essential to correct thinking, that any idea about the world that fails to respect it immediately becomes nonsensical or even superstitious.

One such idea already discussed is the process/holographic cosmology which states that everything is actually in everything. A couple posts ago, we amended that to the correct position, namely that everything is in the soul potentially. It follows from either position that the world exhibits a tripartite division similar to that of the human soul (corpus, anima, spiritus). In other words, in some sense a world-soul or anima mundi may be said to exist. It remains only to show how this is so, and to interpret this conclusion according to right reason.

The first division in all creation is that named in Genesis 1:1. The empyrean heaven stands beyond the earth, that is, the material cosmos. If we were to further divide the material cosmos, we would discover that it is composed of two principles: prime matter and form.

In one sense, the question is whether these two principles are substantial realities: whether there is a subsistent Form of the Universe created alongside a subsistent materia prima. The process cosmology answers this question in the affirmative, at least insofar as it can say that anything subsists at all. This is so because one form is repeated holographically throughout all of nature: the common form of all things is the form of the conjuction of all things with all things. However, owing to the fact of change, it is necessary also to postulate something self-enclosed and separate, again in virtue of which we experience difference, disjunction, separateness, or perishing. This is prime matter which has no quiddity, does not participate in the form of the conjunction of all forms, and is therefore identical to nothing, not even itself (it does not have a self).

If there is a world-soul, then it is this form of the conjunction of all forms which encompasses all the world’s action, including its spiritual action, within itself. In Brahminic terms, it is Ātman with a capital A, the macrocosmic correlative to the individual ātman or ego.

Some go so far as to hold that the movements which the soul imparts to the body in which it is are the same in kind as those with which it itself is moved. … It is in the same fashion that the Timaeus tries to give a physical account of how the soul moves its body; the soul, it is there said, is in movement, and so owing to their mutual implication moves the body also. After compounding the soul-substance out of the elements and dividing it in accordance with the harmonic numbers, in order that it may possess a connate sensibility for ‘harmony’ and that the whole may move in movements well attuned, the Demiurge bent the straight line into a circle; this single circle he divided into two circles united at two common points; one of these he subdivided into seven circles. All of this implies that the movements of the soul are identified with the local movements of the heavens.

De Anima I, 406b16-407a2

However, we must amend the process view insofar as it fails to account for the reality of things. This means, in this case, that it fails to respect the real distinction between act and potency. Consequently it does not see that prime matter stands to form as potency to act or as body to soul, and therefore that the presence of things in one another is only a potential presence, actualized in a limited way as motion, and in particular, that the universal presence of all in one is an exclusive power of the intellect.

The mutual presence of all things is itself potential not actual. This is not to say that their mutual indwelling is not real; it is a real power. But it cannot be actualized all at once. The mind has to pass from the apprehension of one thing to another. It cannot become everything at the same time. Therefore, there cannot be a subsistent Form of the Universe or world-soul. Our own experience would be excluded from it, the fact of which negates its unity.

However, there can be a world-soul insofar as it stands to the operations of the individual soul as potency to act. And in fact there is. Traditional science and its reliance on the network of sympathies between celestial bodies and the human body (in which the corruptible elements find their exemplary mixture) stand as a witness to the pre-established harmony between the macrocosm and the soul, such that this harmony exists primarily in the soul and secondarily in the macrocosm.

In short, we find that the music of the spheres can only be actualized within the human soul; the celestial bodies in all their vastness and indifference were actually created for the sake of man as their singular organizing principle. Not only the human soul, but in fact the body itself is a microcosm, because the relationship between the elements and the soul finds its fullest expression in the body where there is finally an identity of being.

The harmony and regularity of nature is first because of God. Second, it is because of man, the only corporeal substance made — body and soul — in the image of God. Man is not the efficient cause of nature’s harmony (which would be idealism), but he is its proximate final cause. And this is how man is the archetype of the universe, and hence how there is a world-soul in potentia which vivifies and organizes all material things with respect to man and draws them to him for his use and appreciation.


The magi of the Renaissance distorted things in two ways. First, magic itself is based on an intense love of self and, by extension, the world. The microcosm/macrocosm relationship is reversed, even as the ideal of Man as Magus emphasizes his will at the expense of his intellect. The magus operates first by entering into the channels of sympathy that unite the higher and lower elements. This we all do in the act of contemplation, but the magus does it rather to operate. He glorifies himself in perfecting the world according to the divine attributes that he perceives in himself. By condescending to the world, he declares that he exists for the world’s good. By contrast, the saint is perfected in glorifying the God Whose attributes he sees reflected in the created world. The world exists for his good, and he exists for God as returning the love that He has expressed in creating and redeeming him.

Second, by elevating man to a divine status, the magus actually distorts the microcosm/macrocosm harmony. It does not follow that an infinite God could only generate an infinite universe; but if man himself is an infinite being, then he must reside in an infinite habitat. The spheres rather confine him than accompany his hymn of praise, so it is his goal to escape them, literally, and venture into the endless sea of stars. What then of the world-soul? In the end, it must be overcome.

If, as Boehme defined it, magic is that which creates itself out of nothing, then it must also be that which destroys itself for no reason. Because its essence is to operate, it is the antithesis of the static geocentric order and the harmony of soul that it represents. In order to complete its Opus, Magic must be slain by the magicians and its corpse be fed to the infant Science; or rather, Magic is the ouroboros whose self-devouring is Science. Or Magic is the ouroboros as devoured, and Science is the ouroboros as devouring.

Is modern science then superstitious? That is a delicate question, and what follows is a trite response: not insofar as it forms a part of contemplation. However, the anti-myth of scientism, the anti-myth of Man as Techno-Mage wielding purely mechanical powers over a purely mechanical universe for arbitrary aims — as a form of the subordination of contemplation to operation, it is sinful. Scientistic belief is objectively superstitious, and anyone who knows that in itself it is a product of magic, yet remains entrenched in his scientism, bears the full guilt of it.

Arboretus