Glossary of Theological/Philosophical Terms

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Triumph of Saint Thomas Aquinas - by Benozzo Gozzoli - from Musée Louvre Paris
inscription beneath the glory containing Christ expresses His agreement with the theological writings of Saint Thomas Aquinas: BENE SCPSISTI DE ME, THOMMA ("You have written well about Me, Thomas"). The Saint is enthroned in the centre between the great Greek Philosophers Aristotle and Plato. At his feet lies the Arabic scholar Averroes, whose writings he refuted. In the lower part of the picture a group of clergymen can be seen on either side of the Pope, who according to Vasari is Pope Sixtus IV (1471-1484).


Revelation and Theology are not in a world of their own; they are intimately linked to Philosophy, for grace perfects nature. It follows that reason, gained from Philosophy, can aid us in seeing more clearly, deeply and exactly what God tells us through Revelation.

pius_X.jpg (5103 bytes)The extent to which sound Philosophy assists in penetrating the mysteries of the Faith is well indicated by Pope Saint Pius X when he says that the capital thesis in Saint Thomas’ Philosophy "are to be considered as the foundations upon which the whole science of natural and divine things is based; if such principles are once removed or in any way impaired, it must necessarily follow that students of the sacred sciences will ultimately fail to perceive so much as the meaning of the words in which the dogmas of divine revelation are expressed by the magisterium of the Church" (Motu Proprio, Doctoris Angelici).

The following Theological/Philosophical Terms, not normally in daily usage by the laity, are used throughout this Web Site in order to help explain the mysteries of our Catholic Faith. To re-emphasize to importance of Philosphy to Theology, the great Angelic Doctor of the Church, Saint Thomas Aquinas, relied heavily on the brilliant, but heathen, Greek Philosophers Aristotle and Plato (depicted in the above painting), in writing his immortal Summa Theologica. Also, priests are required to take a minimum of two years of Philosophy in the Seminary, to enhance their understanding of the Faith. In turn, the laity should likewise strive to improve their understanding of the Faith as best they can, remembering that all knowledge comes from God, and if we allow Him, He will teach us all we need for salvation. For example, the Philosophical terms of Accident and Substance are used by the Church to explain the greatest of mysteries, Transubstantiation; the changing of bread and wine into the Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity of Christ during Mass.


Glossary of Theological/Philosophical Terms



Accident Accidents are the properties, qualities, attributes which an "object" might possess. Our five-senses perceive "accidents". See also the related term Substance.
Appetite The faculty of appetite is sometimes referred to as desire or concupiscence. It refers to the fact that each individual feels a lack of something within himself. To address this emptiness, he turns elsewhere for fulfillment. When he turns to the world his hunger is said to be misdirected, and he goes unsatisfied. But when he turns to God, his faculty of appetite realizes its God-given function.
Appetite, sense/sensitive (The inferior will) the movements of which can cause emotional changes in the body called passions
Appetite, rational (The superior will) which seeks the good apprehended by the light of reason. But, because of original sin the appetites of the body are not docile servants of the soul, but often rebel against the limitations which reason enlightened by faith impose as the norm of action. Thus the conflict between the two sets of appetites. Yet, it is up to the will to control the whole man.
Beatific Vision The immediate, face-to-face knowledge of God which the angelic spirits and the souls of the 'just' enjoy in Heaven. It is called "vision" to distinguish it from the mediate knowledge of God which the human mind may attain in the present life. And since in beholding God face-to-face, the created intelligence finds perfect happiness, the "vision" is termed "beatific".

CCC-1028: "Because of His transcendence, God cannot be seen as He is, unless He Himself opens up His mystery to man's immediate contemplation and gives him the capacity for it. The Church calls this contemplation of God in His heavenly glory the 'beatific vision': How great will your glory and happiness be, to be allowed to see God, to be honored with sharing the joy of salvation and eternal light with Christ your Lord and God, . . . to delight in the joy of immortality in the Kingdom of heaven with the righteous and God's friends. [St. Cyprian, Ep. 58, 10, 1: CSEL 3/2, 665.]"

Capacity See the related term Faculty.
Concupiscence The loss of the harmony or balance between body and soul. See "Appetite"
Conscience Conscience is a judgment of reason whereby the human person recognizes the moral quality of a concrete act that he is going to perform, is in the process of performing, or has already completed. Conscience is not the Intellect, it is not a Virtue, it is a Practical Judgment of the Intellect; and Prudence is the Virtue (a permanent disposition of the soul) that guides that Practical Judgment. It does not stem from emotions or feelings.
Essence Essence properly denotes the intrinsic constitutive elements by which a thing is what it is and is distinguished from every other. Essence furnishes an answer to the question What? (Quid?) See the related terms Nature and Substance.
Faculty A faculty is a capacity or power for vital operation. Faculties are distinct from the substance which possesses and uses them, for the immediate exercise of vital operations. Some of man's faculties belong to the living body, some belong to the soul.

These facts are the psychological basis for admitting faculties (from facere, to do), capacities (capax, from capere, to hold), or powers (from posse, to be able; the Scholastics generally use the corresponding Latin term potentiĉ).

Faculty, lower Man's vegetal and sentient faculties are called his lower faculties. The lower faculties have their proper subject in the composite of man's body and soul
Faculty, higher Man's understanding (that is, his mind, intellect, intelligence, reason) and his will are his higher faculties. Higher faculties have their proper subject in man's soul alone.
Form In its strict philosophical usage, form is limited to its signification of the intrinsic principle of existence in any determinate essence. All species or nature, whether in itself material or existent as immaterial, is called a form. It is not unusual to speak of the angelic form, or even of the form of God, as signifying the nature, or essence, of the angel or of God.
Heart See Will below.
Hypostatic Union Refers to the mysterious union of the divine and human natures in the person of Christ.
Imagination One of four internal senses rooted in the brain. See also Senses below.
Intellect The intellect is not an organic faculty. Intellect is inorganic or spiritual (nonmaterial). By the power of the Soul's intellect we know and understand truth, reason to new truths, and make judgments as to what is right and wrong. The intellect is non-appetible, solely tied to evidence.
Nature Nature properly signifies that which is primitive and original, or, according to etymology, that which a thing is at birth, as opposed to that which is acquired or added from external sources. In Scholastic Philosophy, nature, essence, and substance are closely related terms. Both essence and substance imply a static point of view and refer to constituents or mode of existence, while nature implies a dynamic point of view and refers to innate tendencies. Nature is that whereby it acts as it does.
Nature, Lower The appetites and inclinations of the body.
Nature, Higher The dictates of reason and the command of the will.
Motions of the sense/sensitive appetite in man. The passions are said to dominate whenever an individual is motivated by the desire to have pleasurable experiences. The Apostle Paul would say that such an individual is carnally minded and that he's living according to the flesh. Passions include: Love/Hatred, Desire/Aversion, Joy/Sorrow, Hope/Despair, Fear/Courage, Envy/Lust/Anger. Neither good, nor evil in themselves because (in general) they are independent of reason and will, and are the movements of the sense appetites.
Person Person signifies an individual subject, which is first intellectual, secondly free, i. e.: master of his own acts, one whose acts are self-initiated. To each human person, for example, belong and are attributed, his soul, his body, his existence, his faculties, his operations, the parts of his body.
Personality Personality is that by which the intellectual subject is a person.
Potential See the related term Faculty.
Power See the related term Faculty.
Reason Reason is the faculty enabling us to apply being, to render perceptions intellective, to separate ideas from these perceptions, and to integrate and unite the ideas in judgements and reasonings. The power to apply being as moral law can be called moral reason.
Satisfactions Food/Drink/Rest/Sex
The system of bodily parts or organs by which man exercises sentiency is the cerebrospinal system, which consists of the brain and the spinal cord, the cerebrospinal nerves, and the five (5) external (or peripheral) sense-organs. The five external senses (sight, hearing, taste, smell, touch) have their organs in the outer body, but their findings are conveyed to the brain by nerves. The internal senses (sentient consciousness, imagination, sentient memory, and estimation) have their organs in the brain itself. External sensation is normally, and during man's waking hours, immediately recorded in imagination and consciousness. Imagination also retains and, under stimulus, evokes the recorded images of external sensations. Sentient memory has the single task of recognizing an evoked imagination-image as something experienced in the past. Estimation is an awareness of usefulness or harmfulness (of desirability or undesirability) in a sensed object.
Soul The source of life; the spiritual, rational, and immortal part in man; that part of man which enables him to think, and which renders him a subject of moral government; -- sometimes, in distinction from the higher nature, or spirit, of man, the so-called animal soul, that is, the seat of life, the sensitive affections and phantasy, exclusive of the voluntary and rational powers; -- sometimes, in distinction from the mind, the moral and emotional part of man's nature, the seat of feeling, in distinction from intellect; -- sometimes, the intellect only; the understanding; the seat of knowledge, as distinguished from feeling. In a more general sense, "an animating, separable, surviving entity, the vehicle of individual personal existence."
Spirit A spirit is that which can exist and act without a body. A soul is that which gives life to a living body. We see by their different definitions that soul and spirit are not necessarily to be equated. The only case where we find a soul, which is also a spirit, is in that of the human soul.
Substance The "something" which has all the necessary accidents (qualities), which is the "thing" itself, this "something" is what the philosophers call "substance". For example, regarding the bread and wine of the Eucharist, the mind is not left to itself. By the revelation of Christ the mind knows that the "substance" has been changed, in the one case into the "substance" of His Body, in the other case into the "substance" of His Blood. Our senses perceive "accidents" of bread and wine; only the mind knows the "substance" of His Body and Blood.

See the related terms Nature and Essence.

Supernatural Above the order of created nature. Since God created the entire universe and everything in it, only God is above the order of created nature. Supernatural therefore means a participation in God's own life.

Sanctifying grace is a supernatural gift, a sharing in the nature of God Himself. It gives us the right to enter heaven. If Adam had not sinned, we all would have inherited the supernatural gift of sanctifying grace together with the angelic gifts of special friendship with God, great knowledge, control of the passions by reason, and freedom from suffering and death.

Understanding Mind, intellect, intelligence, reason
Will The Soul's will is the power by which we deliberately and freely choose to "act" or "not to act"; the appetitive power of the intellect. The will is an intellectual appetite and must follow intellect. The will is subordinated to the intellect, its acts must be about what the intellect presents to it. By its nature, it always tends to the good.

Synonymous with a man's Heart.


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Glossary of
Theological/Philosophical Terms
used on this page.