Academic journal article The Review of Metaphysics

Aquinas on Concord: "Concord Is a Union of Wills, Not of Opinions"

Academic journal article The Review of Metaphysics

Aquinas on Concord: "Concord Is a Union of Wills, Not of Opinions"

Article excerpt

IN AT LEAST SIX PLACES AQUINAS WRITES: "Concord is a union of wills, not of opinions." (1) This dictum is problematic because one would think that without some union of opinions, union of wills can not obtain. This article seeks to clarify the meaning of this dictum and to show that it does not imply that shared opinions are unnecessary for concord.

Before proceeding it is important to advert to a tempting but probably false lead: to read "opinion" against the background of the distinction between the different modes of cognition (opinion, science, understanding, and faith). (2) In his dictum, Aquinas does not seem to be using the term "opinion" in this specialized manner but rather as a general term to refer to beliefs. (3)


To examine concord as a feature of Aquinas's account of friendship one must start by looking at the dynamics of love. It was an accepted view, originating in Neoplatonism and influential in Christian mysticism, that love involves a certain movement toward a unity between the lover and the loved. When, in In III Sent, d. 27, q. 2, a. 1, Aquinas introduces "concord" as the fourth characteristic of reciprocal well-wishing and equates it with "union of wills," this must be read in its proper context: as one of the sorts of union that is part of the dynamics of love. (4)

In ST I-II, q. 28, a. 1c, Aquinas distinguishes between two kinds of unions between lovers: real (physical closeness to each other) and affective. The affective union is love, and it puts in motion the process toward real union, which is an effect of love. (5) Affective union consists in some sort of apprehension and can take two shapes. In erotic love the lover apprehends the beloved as part of his own well-being. In love of friendship, unlike in erotic love, we do not have an expansion of the self such that it comes to encompass our friend's well-being. (6) Rather, what matters is that we perceive the friend as a like.

Earlier, in ST I-II, q. 27, a. 3c, Aquinas is busy explaining how likeness (similitudo) "causes" love. (7) There he argues that likeness consists in the "sharing of one form," so two persons alike "are in some way one in that form," just as two human beings "are one in their belonging to the human species." He then goes on to say that, in this manner, "the love of one goes to the other as toward himself, and wills him good as he wills to himself." (8) From this it follows that the union which is sought after in love of friendship consists in having certain alikeness (that is, sharing in one form or uniformity). (9)

Aquinas's discussions of concord are placed within discussion of two kinds of relationships: (1) the relationship between lover and beloved, and (2) the relationship between those who pursue a common end (or love the same person). (10)

I start by looking at (1) as discussed in In III Sent, d. 27, q. 1, a. 1c. A loves B. This apparently carries the consequence that the will of B becomes a sort of directing rule (regula operas) for A. (11) But what does it mean for the will of the beloved to become a directive rule for the lover? There Aquinas argues that when the appetite or affection (affectus) fixes itself on an object apprehended as good, the loved good impresses its form on the appetite or affect of the lover, not unlike the way intelligible forms impress their form on the intellect. The fact that the beloved impresses its form on the lover's appetite creates a kind of union: "the lover is one with the beloved, who is made into the form of the lover." (12) In this fashion, as Aquinas says, love can be said to be "transformative." (13)

Things move (and human beings act) in accordance with their form (unumquodque autem agit secundum exigentiam suae formae). In the case of human beings, this form--namely, the end we are after is both our principle of action and a rule of our works (principium agendi et regula operis). Thus, the lover whose affection is informed by the beloved becomes inclined by love to act according to what is required by (the form of) the beloved (exigentiam amanti). …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed


An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.