Monthly Archives: June 2011

Aquinas on Imagination Part 2

A detailed look into translating imaginarius, imaginatio, and imaginativus from Aquinas Latin into equivalent English.

A portion of this was previously discussed in Thomas Aquinas on the Prophet and Imaginary Visions, but new instances have arisen since then that have required further investigation.

The word imagination in the English language has very much evolved since the time of Aquinas and translating it simply as imaginary is not a good word choice.

There is much more to these words than previously thought.

The etymologies of the words imaginarius, imaginatio and imaginativa have a rich history. These are words that have significantly evolved and its difficult to pinpoint the meaning during Aquinas’ period because the interpretations of these words are so diverse and no one author explains these words in similar fashion to another. There is also a problem of translating the equivalent from Latin. There is no corresponding English word that captures the nuance. It has been lost in the modern English vocabulary. The following authors demonstrate this difficulty. However, a common unity can be found from these and one should be able to build a proper framework for coming up with a solution that can create something in English that is similar.

The publication, Medieval Latin: an introduction and bibliographical guide, by Frank Anthony Carl Mantello and A. G. Rigg give the first good clue, “the sensus imaginativus, imagination, combines disparate sensory data to form arcane concepts (e.g., a purple cow).”(1)Medieval Latin: An Introduction and Bibliographical Guide

A second clue can be gleaned from the book, Sir Matthew Hale, 1609-1676: law, religion, and natural philosophy, by Alan Cromartie.

1. Simple apprehension of an object, which happens through the making of sensible images from objects percieved by sense. 2. The putting together of images which they call propositio imaginativa. 3. The putting together of propositions with a deduction or practical conclusion which they call discursus imaginativus and hense arises the appetite.(2)Sir Matthew Hale, 1609-1676: law, religion, and natural philosophy

A third definition can be found in the 1751 publication, “Thesavrvs lingvae Latinae compendiarivs or, A compendious dictionary of the Latin Tongue,” by Robert Ainsworth. It promotes imaginarius as to think or to invent.(3)Thesavrvs lingvae Latinae compendiarivs

A historical analysis on the subject is found on a math website by James Franklin, Diagrammatic Reasoning and Modelling in the Imagination: the Secret Weapons of the Scientific Revolution. Here he goes in detail through the history of observation which includes imagination. His portrait follows the same path as the other writers listed, and adds, “The western scholastics, following Avicenna, produced a very elaborate, and widely known, theory of the ‘inward wits’. It involved five internal faculties, including the ‘imagination’, which stored images, and the ‘phantasy’, (English ‘fancy’), which recombined them.”(4)www.maths.unsw.edu.au/~jim/imagin1.pdf Franklin then goes on to explain how this process has an inherent weakness and its contribution to the witch hunts.

The Middle English Dictionary by Hans Kurath, touted as “the most important modern reference work for Middle English studies,” gives some good illustrations.

He first of all demonstrates a general account of the concept by defining the word imaginacioun which comes from Old French.:

” (a) Phil. The faculty of forming mental images from sense data and of retaining them either immediately or when recalled from memory; (b) more narrowly; the faculty of receiving images from the commune wit [i.e., communis sensus…] and of retaining them; (c) the power of forming mental images of things not experience, e.g. of future or past events, of spirits, etc.; also, the location of the images so formed; (d) an image or thought resulting from the operation of this faculty; (e) the operation of this faculty.(5)Middle English Dictionary

Imaginativus is the:

“Employing mental images; vertu ~ the ability to form and retain images formed from data supplied to the senses or the communis sensus; also, the faculty of combining images into composites having no correspondence in external phenomena…”(6)IBID Middle English Dictionary

Then he went to explain what Imaginarius is:

“Existing in the imagination only,” such as when one is sleeping or awake and has an epiphany.(7)IBID Middle English Dictionary

It must be noted that Hans Kurath supplies a much more developed doctrine after the time of Aquinas. Aquinas had a more primitive version.

Imaginativus is only used once by Aquinas in the small amount of passages that I have translated on I Corinthians and it is a colloquialism. It is found written as, “virtus imaginativa,” which many medieval writers used as a synonym or alternative to imaginatio.(8)http://www.practicalmattersjournal.org/issue/1/teaching-matters/monastic-imagination

Finding a definition for Imaginatio. Robyn Neville, author of Monastic Imagination? A Pedagogical Reflection believed this word to mean the processing of the information that was collected inside the mind. He also stressed that Aquinas usage of of imaginatio was a synonym to phantasm.

“Thomas Aquinas’ theory of imagination was indebted in large part to Augustine, but also to the scholastic thinkers, whose work he attempted to synthesize. In particular, Thomas understood the imaginative power to function not only in the creative production of images, but also in the analysis of creative possibilities that the senses alone cannot perceive. For Thomas, imagination (which Thomas terms both phantasia and imaginatio) was a “storehouse” in which to incorporate and recall sense data, as part of the system that processed information.”(9)http://www.practicalmattersjournal.org/issue/1/teaching-matters/monastic-imagination

Denis L. Sepper wrote in his, Descarte’s Imagination: Proportion, Images and the Activity of Thinking, that imagination is a “name traditionally given to one of the powers of the mind enumerated in so-called faculty psychologies.”(10) Descarte’s Imagination Pg. 13 He went on to describe imagination is the “the power or habit by virtue of which images are formed in us, is a power of discrimination, it is nevertheless different from other discriminating powers, like the external senses and common sense, because it does not require the presence of an object, although it does depend on the previous activity of these (i.e., if one has never sensed anything, one cannot have images). Because imaginings are not inherently true, imagination must also be differentiated from the cognitive faculties that are always true, like knowledge and intellection. “(11)Descarte’s Imagination Pg. 17.

It has been found only once where Aquinas used the word phantasm in the chapters translated so far which is typically used to bring meaning to a mental image. This would not be surprising to Neville who wrote that phantasm was becoming antiquated and was in the process of being replaced by imaginatio. However, this does not appear to be a strict case with Aquinas. Phantasm was not necessary in his prophetic framework. Although he does briefly use the word imaginatio in the passages translated so far, Interpretatio is the more common word used. A prophet can have a mental multidimensional-image, and has the ability to interpret them, while a tongues speaker may have the ability to speak from a one dimensional-image, but not always has the ability to interpret. Thus, he considered prophecy a higher office because of this. Interpretatio is typically the equivalent of phantasm/imaginatio in Aquinas’ lectures in I Corinthians.

This whole concept is taken to a new level by John F. Wippel in his book, The metaphysical thought of Thomas Aquinas:

“According to Aquinas’s general theory of knowledge, however, other steps are required for this to happen. Still at the level of the internal senses, another internal sense power will produce an image or likeness in which the form of the external object, as appropriately distinguished and organized by the common sense, is preserved. This likeness is known as a phantasm and is produced by the internal sense known as the imagination. This phantasm in turn is submitted to the light of the intellect’s active or abstractive power, the agent intellect, which abstracts the potentially intelligible content contained therein from its individuating conditions and renders it actually intelligible. This abstracted intelligible content in turn is impressed on the other intellective power, the possible intellect (intellectus possibilis), and is grasped or apprehended by it. At this point one will have arrived at some kind of general or universal knowledge of the whatness or quiddity of the thing in question, though one will not yet know it intellectually as this thing, or as an individual.”(12)The Metaphysical Thought of Thomas Aquinas Page 37

With all this information at hand, it explains what Aquinas meant by these key-words. Imaginativus and Imaginatio is about making a mindful observation from seeing, touching, hearing, smelling, spiritual illumination or the combination of these.

Imaginarius is about the actual images stored in the mind whether derived from the senses or created internally. It does not mean that the person understood or brought together this image into a cohesive definition.

Another way of describing it is as a contemporary database structure. Contemporary databases are typically linear, whereas what Aquinas described contains data stored in the mind as a multidimensional-image, a format that contains visual, touch, smell, spirit and hearing data. Imaginarius is a row of data that are neutral to any other data outside its primary key. It is stateless, neither true or false. Imaginatio is a view that connects the primary and foreign keys, uniting certain bits of information together to bring structure and meaning for a specific purpose.

A third aspect must be explained and that is the role of the intellect and how it differs from imaginatio. Imaginatio refers to an object. For example a dog is composed of a number of physical traits, four legs, wet nose, a distinct bark, smooth fur, and a tail (these traits are derived from the imaginarius). Imaginatio recognizes that these traits combined together defines it as a dog object. Intellectus is an abstraction layer that goes beyond objects, for example, “Lassie the Dog may be treated as a Dog much of the time, a Collie when necessary to access Collie specific attributes or behaviors, and as an Animal (perhaps the parent class of Dog) when counting Timmy’s pets.”(13)http://wiki.answers.com/Q/What_is_Abstraction_in_OOP It speaks about the idea, or concept of a dog and how it applies in a given situation.

The big difference between Aquinas and the modern English usage of imagination is with the concept of reality. Imagination according to Aquinas was the mental snapshot of things that would lead to understanding and solutions, whereas the modern mind equivocates imagination as those things created by the mind which are illusory and have no meaning for real-world situations. Also, Aquinas, along with Medieval writers added the spiritual dimension as a valid sense which they believed had both positive and negative attributes, which today is rejected by most contemporary western minds.

For translating purposes the definition is too long. Seeing with the mind’s eye is a shorter alternative, but it is still too bulky. Wikipedia takes the definition of mind’s eye and reduces it to visualization, “The phrase “mind’s eye” refers to the human ability for visualization, i.e., for the experiencing of visual mental imagery; in other words, one’s ability to “see” things with the mind.”(14)http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mind%27s_eye Visualization still brings some baggage in the English language but not so much as imagination does. Visualization still feels too clinical. Mind’s eye seems closer to his intent.

With all this information now processed, the semantic range of these difficult adjectives can mean mental image, pictorial, seeing with the mind’s eye, mind’s eye, and visualization. Database terms such as tuple, row, and view could also be valid and is actually my personal preference but would fail the general reader in many cases. Pictorial seems out-of-place with the others and does not give the full nuance, but when combined with visiones it makes good sense.

Now that the definitions have been established, here is an example from Aquinas Lectures on I Corinthians, chapter 14, 1C3 (Reportationes 088, R1C cp. 14, 1C3 Pg. 388):

° spiritus meus, id est ratio mea, ° orat, id est dictat mihi quod ego loquar ea quae ad bonum sunt, sive verbis propriis sive aliorum sanctorum. vel ° spiritus meus, id est virtus imaginativa, ° orat, inquantum voces seu similitudines corporalium sunt tantum in imaginatione absque hoc quod intelligantur ab intellectu; * et ideo subdit: ° mens autem mea, id est intellectus meus, ° sine fructu est, quia non intelligit. et ideo melius est in oratione prophetia seu interpretatio, quam donum linguarum.

Fabian Larcher has translated this piece as:

Or my spirit, i.e., my reason, prays, i.e., tells me that I should ask for things which are good, either in my own words or those of other saints. Or my spirit, i.e., the imagination, prays in the sense that words of the likenesses of bodily things are only in the imagination without being understood by the intellect. Therefore, he adds: but my mind, i.e., my intellect, is unfruitful, because it does not understand. Therefore, prophecy or interpretation is better in prayer than is the gift of tongues.(15)nvjournal.net/files/Aquinas-Corinthians.pdf Pg. 174

The use of imagination here in Larcher’s translation does not represent Aquinas’ thoughts within this context. It demonstrates the need for a better alternative.

“Or “my spirit” that is my reasoning “prays,” which means [my reason] organizes in me so that I may frequently say those things that are for the purpose of good, whether by one’s own words or of the other holy ones. Or “my spirit” that is the viewpoint stored in the mind. “prays,” inasmuch if voices are the likeness of physical things only as a record [in the mind] separate from this which is being understood by the intellect. Therefore he adds, “but my mind,” that is my intellect, “is without fruit,” because he does not understand and therefore prophecy or interpretation is better than the gift of tongues.”

What does Aquinas mean here? The viewpoint stored in the mind, and the actual record of an event, circumstance, or thought remains unprocessed. It is a stored piece of data that has been given no meaning. Tongues remains in the realm of simply dealing with unprocessed data. Prophecy or interpretation is a much better tool because it takes the data and makes sense of it.

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Aquinas on Tongues: ICor 14:5-12

A translation of Thomas Aquinas on I Corinthians 14:5 — 12 from the Latin into contemporary English.

Translated from the Latin text: Reportationes 088 R1C cp 14 Pg. 388 lc2

I Corinthians 14:5 – 12


1c2. Here the Apostle excludes the objection or false understanding that one can have concerning the things mentioned before. For some were embraced to believe by that reason the Apostle preferred prophecy to the gift of tongues because it was that the gift of tongues ought to be frowned upon. From which place in order that he prevents this, he says, “and I would you,” whereby he first demonstrates that he intends to arrive at something, secondly he assigns a reason here. As it says in that place, “For greater, etc.,” he then says, clearly this, that what was written above, I meant that I do not want you to reject the gift of tongues but “I wish everyone to speak in tongues,” nevertheless that, “I wish more that you would prophecy.” “that He is to bestow to all so that all people… etc., [might prophecy]” (Numbers 11:29), to which he assigns when he says, “for greater, etc.,” as if he should say, therefore I wish that you would prophecy more, because “greater is, etc.,” and the reason is of this manner, because sometimes some are being moved by the holy Spirit to speak something mysterious, that they themselves do not understand. From whence in that place, they have the gift of tongues.

On the other hand, sometimes they not only are speaking in tongues but also those who are speaking, they interpret. Therefore, he also says, “unless perhaps they should interpret.” For the gift of tongues with an interpretation is better than prophecy because as it has been written, the interpretation of whatsoever difficulty relates to prophecy. Therefore, the one who speaks and interprets is a prophet and the one who has the gift of tongues and interprets [does so] in order for the Church to be built up. Consequently he says, “in order for the Church, etc.,” that is he should not only understand himself, but also that he should build up the Church. “Let us mutually guard what are the things of edification” (Romans 14:19), and “Let each one of us please his neighbour in goodness for edification” (Romans 15:2).

“Now then brothers, etc.” He demonstrates here the gift of prophecy to be more excellent than the gift of tongues, by example and this in three ways: first by an example having been supplied by himself, secondly by the example having been supplied by a lifeless thing, in which place it says, “Yet there are things without life, etc.”. Third by the example having been supplied by men who are speaking in diverse ways, as it says, “So many, etc.”[so many kinds of tongues in this world].(1)Douay-Rheims He thus additionally supports by a personal perspective: he then maintains that I do not have the gift of tongues less than you, but that if I was to speak only in tongues to you and was not interpreting then I would be worthless to you and subsequently neither you to exchange to anyone else. And this is what he says, “Now then brothers, if I will come to you speaking in tongues.” This can be understood in two ways. Namely, whether in unknown tongues or to be literal, by whatever sign which has not been understood.

“What shall I profit you, unless I speak to you either in revelation, [or in knowledge or in prophecy or in doctrine?] etc.,”.(2)Douay-Rheims Whereby it is bound to be noted with respect to those four things, specifically “whether in revelation, etc.,” they have the ability to distinguish two modes. One way belonging to those things by which anything exists, and so ought to have been understood, that the vivid image of the mind for the purpose of acquiring knowledge also [originates] from the four things because whether it is from divine things and this vivid image pertains to the gift of wisdom. For concerning the divine things, as it has been written above, is revelation because “they are things of God that no one knows, etc.,” and for that reason he says, “in revelation” I Corinthians 2:11 which clearly that the mind is to be illumined for the purpose of acquiring knowledge, or its [origin] is from earthly things and not [originating] just from whatever but [originating] only tantum from them, which they are for the building-up of the faith, and this pertains to the gift of knowledge, and therefore he says, “in knowledge,” not geometry, nor astrology, because these do not pertain to the building-up of the faith, but in the knowledge which is relating to holy things. “He gave him the knowledge of the holy things, etc.,” (Wisdom 10:10), or it is from future events, and this pertains to the gift of prophecy, for that reason he also says, “or in prophecy,” “she knows signs and wonders before they are to be done also evens of time and ages” (Wisdom 8:8).

For it ought to be noted that prophecy is not to be ordinarily taken here. In fact following what was written above, but in fact it is specially received here as the manifestation of future events only. And it is being defined according to this by Cassiodorus, “prophecy is announcing with unchangeable truth the inspiration of matters in the future.” “I will yet pour out teaching as prophecy, etc.,” (Ecclesiasticus 24:46), or it is from moral acts and this pertains to teaching. And therefore he says “or in doctrine.” “He who teaches in doctrine,” (Romans 12:7). “Good instruction shall give grace,”(3)Douay-Rheims (Proverbs 13:15). These can be distinguished in a different way with the diverse modes in regards to acquiring understanding and so one ought to know that all knowledge is either from a supernatural source, namely God, or from a natural one, namely from the natural light of our intellect. If then from a supernatural source, namely from the divine light having been poured in, this can be in two ways. Because either the knowledge is suddenly being poured-in and so it is by revelation or being successively poured-in, and so it is by prophecy. For the prophets did not suddenly possess [it], but successively and by parts, which their prophecies have demonstrated. For if knowledge is truly to be acquired by a natural source that is either through personal study, and so it pertains to knowledge, or being related by another person, and so it pertains to teaching. “Even things without life, etc.,”

He shows the same thing by examples which have been selected from inanimate things, namely by instruments which seem to have a voice and first by instruments of joy, secondly by instruments of battle. Whereby it says, “For if uncertain etc.,” He then says, this is not only to be well known by those which were written above, but again in reference to hose which give voice without life, because to speak in tongues does not profit others by no means alone and “Even things without life that give sound.”.

Against this. The voice is a sound which has been brought forth and formed by natural means from the mouth of a living thing. It is not therefore these that are without life that give a voice. It is to be said that although the voice by no means exists except of animals, yet it can be said by a certain likeness, in fact accompanying that certain thing, such as [musical] instruments, they have a certain harmony and melody, and therefore he makes mention of these things, specifically concerning the cithara, which gives voice by a sense of touch, and the flute which is by blowing as The actual copy reads si ergo haec dant vocem sine distinctione. “Si” here does not seem to fit. I think it is a copyist error and should read “sic”. these then give a voice lacking distinction. “How shall it be known, etc.,” While man intends to express something by an instrument, say, some songs which are being composed whether about sorrow or joy,“You will have a song as in the voice The Vulgate reads “canticum erit vobis sicut nox” The Aquinas text has “vox” instead of “nox” of the sanctified solemnity and joy of heart as one goes with the flute and is to enter the mountain of the Lord” (Isaiah 30:29). Or even to playfulness, if the sound is confusing and indistinct, it will not be able to be determined to what is being played by any sort of flute or cithara.

Therefore if a man is speaking in tongues and it is not being interpreted, any sort he would wish to say, he will not be able to be understood. “If indeed it gives an uncertain sound, etc.” He shows in this place the same thing by the example of an inanimate object, clearly by instruments having been arranged for battle. This similarity is being taken from the Book of Numbers 10:1-10 where it in fact is being read that the Lord instructs Moses that he was to make two silver trumpets which they were for the purpose of bringing the people together, moving the camp, and for battle. Also anyone of these mentioned possessed a certain way concerning how the trumpet sounds because they were differently giving a sound when they were obligated to come together for a public meeting, differently when they were moving the camp, and differently when they were warring. For that reason the Apostle argues that just as “if the trumpet is to give an uncertain sound,” that is indistinct, it is not known whether they ought to prepare themselves for battle. And so you, if you speak in tongues so much, unless you are to speak a distinct voice by which ought to be understood (4)”Interpretando” is a gerundive. Larcher has “unless you make your speech clear by interpreting or explaining” which doesn’t capture the nuance of the gerundive well. In Aquinas’ thinking, one can argue that “interpretando” also can mean to understand. Intepreting and understanding are synonyms in his view. or explained, anyone will not be able to know anything you are possibly saying. The proclamation Larcher has here, “By “bugle” can also be understood “preachers.” The key here is to understand the Latin for praedicator. The text is somewhat vague and can lead to different translations, and I think mine is more in keeping with the context. cannot be understood by the trumpet. (Isaiah 58:1) “lift up your voice like a trumpet, etc.,” For the reason why he is not able to know what you are speaking is because, “you will be one of those who are speaking in the air,” I Corinthians 14:9 which is useless. “I fight not as it were one who is beating the air, etc.,” (I Corinthians 9:26).

“There are many, etc..” I Corinthians 14:10 He takes up the example in this place the concerning those speaking diverse languages. He [Paul] does three things about this. First he shows the diversity of language, secondly the uselessness those speaking from themselves to another in foreign languages, “in linguis extraneis” which it says, “if then I know, etc..” I Corinthians 14:11 Thirdly he finishes-up what he intended when it says, “So you also, forasmuch as you are zealous, etc.,”(5)Douay-Rheims I Corinthians 14:12. With the first he says there are many and diverse languages in the world and anyone can speak whatever he wishes. Nevertheless, if he is not to speak a designated one,(6)”si tamen on loquatur determinate” Larcher has “but if he does not speak precisely, he is not understood.” “Determinate” as an adverb does not exist so it is up to the translator to capture the nuance here. it is not going to be understood. And this is what he says, “There are many, etc..” This can be explained in two ways: because it can be connected with that which precedes, for it is being said, “you will be one of those who are speaking in the air, and there are many, for example, etc..” as if he should say, therefore in the air, that is, you are uselessly speaking in all the languages, because you are speaking without understanding which still by this they have [their] very own meanings of voice, that they are capable to be understood, for nothing is without a voice. Or it thus can be punctuated,(7)”Punctuari” I can’t find a dictionary reference from this here so I am guessing from the modern English usage, backed up by Larcher, plus the Latin verb appears to be infinitive passive. All this combined is my sort-of solution here. “you will be one of those who are speaking in the air, and there are many, for example, kinds of languages,” that is, with individual languages.

“If then I do not know, etc.,” He shows in this place the uselessness of this. And this is what he says, “If I am to speak in all the languages,” but, “If I do not know the power of the voice,” that is, the meaning of the voice. “I will be to whom I am speaking to a barbarian.” “I am about to bring upon you a nation from far-away, a nation to whom you are ignorant of the language”(8)The Vulgate has “adducam super vos gentem de longinquo domus Israhel ait Dominus gentem robustam gentem antiquam gentem cuius ignorabis linguam” whereas the Aquinas text reads, “adducam super te gentem de longinquo, gentem cuius ignoras linguam.” (Jeremiah 5:15). Note that barbarians according to some, these are being named of whose idiom is altogether different from Latin. However, others say that any foreigner is a barbarian to every other foreigner when in fact he is not being understood by him. But this is not true, because, according to Isodore,(9)http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Isidore_of_Seville barbarian is a particular nation. “In Christ Jesus there is not a barbarian, Scythian, etc.,” The Vulgate has, “barbarus et Scytha servus et liber sed omnia et in omnibus Christus.” Aquinas only has ” in christo iesu non est barbarus et scytha, etc..” He is assuming the reader knows the full verse when doing this. (Colossians 3:11). But following that it is to be correctly said, barbarians are to be appropriately named to those who thrive by the power of the body, are deficient in the power of reason and as if they are outside the laws and without the rule of justice. And Aristotle seems to agree with this in his Politics.

As a result when he [Paul] says, “So [you also], etc.,” I Corinthians 14:12: The Vulgate begins with “sic et vos” and Aquinas’ text begins with “sicut” He finishes what he intended and this can be arranged in two ways. First that it may be punctuated this way, as if he is saying, thus I will be a barbarian to you if I am to speak without meaning and interpretation, just as you will be barbarians to one another. And for that reason, “Seek that you may abound, etc,.” and this “Forasmuch you are eager, etc.,” or, another way, the entire thing is to be placed under distinction, as if he was to say, therefore you are not to be barbarians, in fact like I do in another way, “Forasmuch you are eager of spirits,” that is, of the gifts of the holy Spirit, “seek” from God,(10)Larcher doesn’t think this is a part of a Bible verse and translates it as regular text. A 1563 version produced by Castrensis agrees with Larcher. However the modern manuscript I am working from does believe it is. The wording here suggests that it is from I Corinthians 14:12. The Vulgate reads “quaerite ut abundetis”. “that you may abound.” “The greatest strength is in abundant justice” (Proverbs 15:5), which indeed is to build up others in justice. “Ask and it will be given to you, seek and you will find, knock and it will be opened” (Matthew 7:7).■


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