Love and the act of contemplation in modern Thomism

Eileen Mary Grieco, Fordham University


This thesis has originated in a problem about the nature of intellectual desire. In Thomistic thought, the finality of the intellect is generally understood in terms of an acquisitive drive to possess its object within the realm of intentional being. This drive, however, fails to reach the object in its proper act of existence. Intellect aims not at the reality of its object in itself, but only as the intentional similitude, the content of being insofar as it is abstracted from the existence of the object. In contrast to the acquisitive desire of intellect, benevolent love is a response to being as a reality which transcends the self. While intellect relates to its object only as a content relative to the actuation of its own being, benevolent love sees the other as a value in itself and thus recognizes its object as an absolute, unique act of existence in itself. We find, therefore, a critique of human knowledge from the point of view of love's realism. Human intellect, bound by a desire which seeks only a content relative to its own intentional existence, is thereby cut off from the existential reality of its object. This critique is interesting in that it introduces an epistemological problem in the context of an ethical concern. The intellect cannot know the real because it does not love the real in itself, i.e., because intellect's finality directs it not to being as a reality and value in itself, but only to a good perfective of intellect itself. To answer the "love critique," we need understand intellect's finality in terms, not simply of a concupiscent desire, but of benevolent love. While it may be more customary to think of human knowledge as an information gathering process, aloof from its object, we must rather discover in intellect a "friendship" for its object. In Karl Rahner, we find the key to understanding love to enter into the act of intellect. Rahner sees human knowing itself to be the locus of a loving and spiritual communion with being. For Rahner, the act of intellect consists in a dialectical unity of sensibility and intellect through which human thought is fulfilled in its intersubjective relation to being. Sensibility, the concupiscent side of human knowing, is shown to be sublated within the unity of intellect's spiritual relation to being. These two sides of concupiscent and benevolent love thus form the integrated unity of human knowing.

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Recommended Citation

Grieco, Eileen Mary, "Love and the act of contemplation in modern Thomism" (1993). ETD Collection for Fordham University. AAI9324616.