(Background: Art Humor: Sein Feld (March 11, 2009) and Ides of March Sermon, 2009)
From Cardinal Manning’s review of Kirkman’s Philosophy Without Assumptions—
“And here I must confess… that between something and nothing I can find no intermediate except potentia, which does not mean force but possibility.”
— Contemporary Review, Vol. 28 (June-November, 1876), page 1017
Cardinal Manning, Contemporary Review, Vol. 28, pages 1026-1027:
The following will be, I believe, a correct statement of the Scholastic teaching:–
1. By strict process of reason we demonstrate a First Existence, a First Cause, a First Mover; and that this Existence, Cause, and Mover is Intelligence and Power.
2. This Power is eternal, and from all eternity has been in its fullest amplitude; nothing in it is latent, dormant, or in germ: but its whole existence is in actu, that is, in actual perfection, and in complete expansion or actuality. In other words God is Actus Purus, in whose being nothing is potential, in potentia, but in Him all things potentially exist.
3. In the power of God, therefore, exists the original matter (prima materia) of all things; but that prima materia is pura potentia, a nihilo distincta, a mere potentiality or possibility; nevertheless, it is not a nothing, but a possible existence. When it is said that the prima materia of all things exists in the power of God, it does not mean that it is of the existence of God, which would involve Pantheism, but that its actual existence is possible.
4. Of things possible by the power of God, some come into actual existence, and their existence is determined by the impression of a form upon this materia prima. The form is the first act which determines the existence and the species of each, and this act is wrought by the will and power of God. By this union of form with the materia prima, the materia secunda or the materia signata is constituted.
5. This form is called forma substantialis because it determines the being of each existence, and is the root of all its properties and the cause of all its operations.
6. And yet the materia prima has no actual existence before the form is impressed. They come into existence simultaneously;
[p. 1027 begins]
as the voice and articulation, to use St. Augustine’s illustration, are simultaneous in speech.
7. In all existing things there are, therefore, two principles; the one active, which is the form– the other passive, which is the matter; but when united, they have a unity which determines the existence of the species. The form is that by which each is what it is.
8. It is the form that gives to each its unity of cohesion, its law, and its specific nature.*
When, therefore, we are asked whether matter exists or no, we answer, It is as certain that matter exists as that form exists; but all the phenomena which fall under sense prove the existence of the unity, cohesion, species, that is, of the form of each, and this is a proof that what was once in mere possibility is now in actual existence. It is, and that is both form and matter.
When we are further asked what is matter, we answer readily, It is not God, nor the substance of God; nor the presence of God arrayed in phenomena; nor the uncreated will of God veiled in a world of illusions, deluding us with shadows into the belief of substance: much less is it catter [pejorative term in the book under review], and still less is it nothing. It is a reality, the physical kind or nature of which is as unknown in its quiddity or quality as its existence is certainly known to the reason of man.
* “… its specific nature”
(Click to enlarge) —
The Catholic physics expounded by Cardinal Manning above is the physics of Aristotle.
For a more modern treatment of these topics, see Werner Heisenberg’s Physics and Philosophy. For instance:
“The probability wave of Bohr, Kramers, Slater, however, meant… a tendency for something. It was a quantitative version of the old concept of ‘potentia’ in Aristotelian philosophy. It introduced something standing in the middle between the idea of an event and the actual event, a strange kind of physical reality just in the middle between possibility and reality.”
Compare to Cardinal Manning’s statement above:
“… between something and nothing I can find no intermediate except potentia…”
To the mathematician, the cardinal’s statement suggests the set of real numbers between 1 and 0, inclusive, by which probabilities are measured. Mappings of purely physical events to this set of numbers are perhaps better described by applied mathematicians and physicists than by philosophers, theologians, or storytellers. (Cf. Voltaire’s mockery of possible-worlds philosophy and, more recently, The Onion‘s mockery of the fictional storyteller Fournier’s quantum flux. See also Mathematics and Narrative.)
Regarding events that are not purely physical– those that have meaning for mankind, and perhaps for God– events affecting conception, birth, life, and death– the remarks of applied mathematicians and physicists are often ignorant and obnoxious, and very often do more harm than good. For such meaningful events, the philosophers, theologians, and storytellers are better guides. See, for instance, the works of Jung and those of his school. Meaningful events sometimes (perhaps, to God, always) exhibit striking correspondences. For the study of such correspondences, the compact topological space [0, 1] discussed above is perhaps less helpful than the finite Galois field GF(64)– in its guise as the I Ching. Those who insist on dragging God into the picture may consult St. Augustine’s Day, 2006, and Hitler’s Still Point.