The Thomistic Distinction between the Act of Understanding and the Formation of a Mental Word: Intelligere and Dicere in Aquinas

The Incarnate Word 9 (1):33-49 (2022)


What is the distinction between understanding and forming a concept? In my view, for Aquinas, intelligere (the act of understanding) and dicere (the forming of a verbum or mental word) are not two different acts, but simply two different aspects of the same act of understanding. In the following, I will explore more in depth what this distinction means for Aquinas. Firstly, I will give a mostly doctrinal or systematic overview of the issue and, secondly, I will support my claims with relevant textual evidence, taken exclusively from Aquinas’ Summa Theologiae. This study, as an appendix, is part of “The Influence of Kant in Transcendental Thomism: Rahner, Lonergan and Von Balthasar” (forthcoming). In my view, Lonergan’s way of distinguishing intelligere and dicere is different from St. Thomas’ way. In the body of my book, I focus on Lonergan’s reasons to distinguish these notions in his own particular way, whereas this study focuses on St. Thomas’ doctrine. It is my hope that the following lines will foster an understanding of St. Thomas’ epistemology and of its application to Trinitarian theology.

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Andres Ayala
University of St. Michael's College (PhD)

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