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History of Philosophy
Henry of Ghent
by Turner, William (S.T.D.)


Life. Henry of Ghent, Doctor Solemnis, was born at or near Ghent in the first or second decade of the thirteenth century. Very little is known about his early life. In 1267 he became canon of Tournai. Later on he taught with distinction at the University of Paris and took part in the discussion which arose in 1282 concerning the privileges of the mendicants in regard to hearing confessions. Between 1284 and 1293 he made several journeys from Paris to Tournai. He died in 1293, but whether at Paris or at Tournai is uncertain.

Sources. The most important of Henry's works are his Summa Theologica and his Quodlibet. The former was published at Ghent in 1520 and again at Ferrara in 1646; the latter was published at Paris in 1518, at Venice in 1608, and again at Venice in 1613. Monograph: De Wulf, Études sur Henri de Gand, Louvain, 1894, embodied in l'Histoire de la philosophie scolastique dans les Pays-Bas, etc., Louvain, 1895. Doctrines

Henry's system of philosophy agrees, in its general outlines, with the philosophy of St. Thomas. There are, however, some points of difference:

1. Relation of Philosophy to Theology. While agreeing with St. Thomas that philosophy and theology are distinct sciences, and that each has its proper object, Henry insists that philosophy is not to be studied for its own sake, but as an aid to theology:
 
Non licet scientias philosophicas addiscere nisi in usum hujus 
scientiae (theologiae). Qui enim philosophicas scientias discunt, finem 
statuendo in ipsis propter scire naturas rerum . . . , isti sunt qui 
ambulant in vanitate sensus sui. [1]
[1] Sum. Theol., Art. VII, Q. X.
2. Principle of Individuation. The principle of individuation is not matter with its determined dimensions, as St. Thomas taught, but a negative property of the suppositum, or individual. Henry teaches that the remote cause of individuation is matter, inasmuch as matter is the basis of multiplicity, but that the proximate cause is something which is distinct from matter although it is not a positive reality:
Oportet eas (formas creaturarum) individuari ut habeant rationem 
suppositi. . . . Sed quid est in supposito praeter formam quo habet esse 
hoc? . . . Dico aliquid praeter materiam et praeter agens quod est quasi 
dispositio suppositi in quantum suppositum est. . . . Sic ergo nonnisi 
determinatione negationis . . . fit et individuatio et suppositi 
constitutio. [2]  
[2] Quodl., V, 8.
3. Distinction between Essence and Existence. Henry denies the real distinction between essence and existence, thus returning to the doctrine of Alexander of Hales and the first schoolmen of the thirteenth century. He maintains the thesis "Esse sunt diversa quorumcumque essentiae sunt diversae." [3]
[3] Op. cit., I, 10.
4. Plurality of Substantial Forms. Henry maintains that besides the rational soul there is in man another substantial form, the forma corporeitatis, or forma commixtionis corporalis. His argument is as follows: "Aliter enim nihil omnino homo in generatione hominis generaret substantiale, sed tantummodo corrumperet." [4] This form is the famous mediator plasticus of later Scholasticism.
[4] Op. cit., III, 16
5. Theory of Knowledge. Misunderstanding the Scholastic doctrine of ideation, Henry, while admitting, in the case of sense-knowledge, the existence of the species sensibilis as a substitute for the object, denies the existence of the intelligible species on the ground that the phantasm, by becoming spiritualized, determines the intellect to the act of knowledge:
In vi sensitiva apprehensiva requiritur species objecti. . . . In vi 
autem apprehensiva intellectus, nulla species requiritur de objecto, 
quia ipsum (objectum) existens in phantasmate, factum universale, 
praesens est et simul cum intellectu. [5]  
[5] Quodl., XIII, 11.
6. Augustinianism. In more than one point of doctrine Henry of Ghent returns to the Augustinian and Platonic tradition of the eleventh century. For example, he attaches great importance to intellectual memory, teaches that there is no real distinction between the soul and its faculties, and adds to the Augustinian doctrine of exemplarism the theory of a special illumination by which man attains a transcendent knowledge of the essences of things as they exist in the Divine Mind and of supernatural truth:
Naturali enim appetitu bene desiderat (homo) scire etiam illa quae sunt 
supernaturaliter cognoscenda, quae secundum communem illustrationem a 
divino exemplari sine illustratione specialiori non potest 
attingere. [6]  
[6] Sum. Theol, Art. I, Q. II.
7. Superiority of Will to Intellect. Henry is the first of the mediaeval voluntarists. He maintains the superiority of will with respect to intellect. Intellect, indeed, precedes will; nevertheless, will is the more perfect faculty, intellect being merely its servant:
Omnino habitus et actus et objectum voluntatis praeeminet actui, habitui 
et objecto intellectus: idcirco absolute dicendum quod voluntas 
praeeminet intellectui et est altior potentia illo. [7]  
[7] Quoted by Gonzalez, op. cit., II, 317; cf. Quodl., I, 14.
Historical Position. Henry of Ghent contributed to Scholastic philosophy a very able refutation of scepticism. His renewal of the Augustinian tradition, which had been so important in the schools of the centuries preceding the thirteenth, was in keeping with the teachings of the Franciscan masters, and helped to prepare the way for the era of greater Franciscan influence inaugurated by Duns Scotus.

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