Principium Vs. Principiatum: The Transcendence of love in Hildebrand and Aquinas


This paper seeks to defuse two claims. On the one hand, I confront the Hildebrandian claim that Thomism, by placing the principium of love in the needs and desires of the lover rather than in the beloved, denies the possibility of transcendent love; on the other, I seek to refute the Thomistic objection that Hildebrand lacks a sufficient understanding of nature and its inherent teleology. In order to accomplish this, a distinction must be made between different kinds of principium or “for-its-own-sakeness.” Using St. Thomas’ theory of friendship-love, I show how every affective movement in fact has two fundamentally different principia: an “end-desired,” and an “end-for-whom” the former is desired. I next note that “value” and “bonum honestum” each encompass both of these types of “worthiness,” and that the failure to distinguish between these two has led to much of the misunderstanding between Thomists and Hildebrandians: for while the latter sometimes seem to include inanimate objects like sunsets under the higher “worthiness” (as “ends-for-whom”), the former often tend to classify even the beloved under the lower “worthiness” (as a mere “end-desired”), which are both untenable positions. It is shown, however, that for St. Thomas it is the higher, more ultimate sense of “worthiness” that is the foundation of friendship-love, and that thus love remains a truly “transcendent” or “ecstatic” phenomenon. Two objections are then addressed: 1) St. Thomas’ claim that substantial unity is the greatest cause of love, and 2) his claim that man’s primary end is Vision. In both these respects I argue that Aquinas’ position needs correction; still I maintain that neither claim should be taken to imply that, for Aquinas, man is his own center, his own chief “end-for-whom.” Finally, while Hildebrand emphatically denies that natural teleology can explain man’s transcendence (a Thomistic position), this denial seems to flow simply from confusing two ways in which “nature” can be invoked as an explanation: where he sees it invoked as the final cause, Thomists actually invoke it as simply the formal cause of our love for our true Final Cause.

Author's Profile

Francis Feingold
St. Patrick's Seminary & University


Added to PP

441 (#29,039)

6 months
64 (#45,219)

Historical graph of downloads since first upload
This graph includes both downloads from PhilArchive and clicks on external links on PhilPapers.
How can I increase my downloads?