Author: Mário Santiago de Carvalho
Part of: The ‘Cursus Conimbricensis’ (coord. by Mário Santiago de Carvalho)
Peer-Reviewed: Yes
Published: February, 12th, 2019
DOI: 10.5281/zenodo.2563270


Born in the Portuguese northern town of Chaves in 1560, Baltasar Álvares died in Coimbra on February 12th, 1630. He entered the Society of Jesus on November 1st, 1578 in Coimbra, where he studied Philosophy and Theology (1585), continuing his studies afterwards in Évora (1586). He then lectured Philosophy at the Jesuit University of Évora (1590/94) and in the Jesuit College of Coimbra (1594/98), where he also got appointed with the lectures on Theology (1599/1602), the subject matter in which he eventually took his PhD (Évora, November 11th, 1602). Baltasar Álvares had an impressive University career in Évora. Not only was he appointed professor of the chair of Tertia (until 1604), of the chair of Vespers (until 1607), and finally of the chair of Prima (until 1610, and then again between 1612/13), but he was also chancellor of that University for two periods (1610/15 and 1620/22).


It was probably during his first staying in Coimbra that Baltasar Álvares composed the Tractatus de Anima Separata (Carvalho 1991) that was to be published (1598) as an appendix to the ‘De Anima’ in the famous Coimbra Jesuit Aristotelian Course (there is, however, nothing that could prevent him of having composed the appendix in Évora, sometime in between his studies of Theology and his lectures on Philosophy). Baltasar Álvares is better known for having edited Francisco Suárez’s Opera in Évora (1619/21), published in Lyon (1621), and we also owe him the “most complete commentary ever written” on Suárez’s De Legibus (Pereña 1971: LIV), between 1608 and 1612. Pereña mentions several more manuscripts by Álvares (Pereña 1973: LXII) but he is also the author of an Index auctorum (1624). Besides a few appreciations that have been expended concerning his intervention as Suárez’s editor (Gil Colomer 1964), nobody has yet studied Baltasar Álvares’s texts as far as we know, except his Tractatus de Anima Separata (Carvalho 2016; Spruit 2016; Camps 2015; Guidi 2013, 2018 and 2019). After alluding to Álvares’s friendship towards Suárez, Gil Colomer (1964: 143) sticks to the interferences the Portuguese editor might have introduced due to his previous composition of the Treatise on the Separated Soul (Gil Colomer 1964: 138). This Treatise must be interpreted in accordance to the Coimbra Jesuit Course (the books on ‘De Anima’ II, ch. 1, q. 2, of ‘Physica’I ch. 9, q. 9, and of ‘De Generatione et Corruptione’ I ch. 4, q. 8 are explicitly quoted) and, if represents the first Jesuit systematic text on the problem of the separated soul (Carvalho 2016), it must be interpreted in the larger context of Thomism and Scotism, as received by a Dominican (Caietano, Bañez) and even Jesuit complex set (Fonseca, Suárez, Molina) (see Guidi 2019). Finally, it may be noticed that a part of Álvares’s Treatise arrived in China in Guido Alenis’ adaptation of Coimbra ‘De Anima’ (Zhang 1999: 373-4 and Meynard 2017).

Álvares’s metaphysics

The Treatise on the Separated Soul by Álvares is the only text of the Coimbra Jesuit Aristotelian Course explicitly related to metaphysics. Its presence as an appendix of the volume dedicated to the ‘De Anima’ was explicitly required by Manuel de Góis, the main editor of the Jesuit course. Actually, both authors (Góis in De Anima III, c. 13, q. 5, a. 4, p. 439-40 as well as Álvares in Prooemium, p. 441) are well aware of overcoming Aristotle’s metaphysics, a fact that must be stressed since we know that Lutherans and the young Suárez considered that the study of the separated soul should be dealt with in theology (Des Chene 2000: 19); in Suarezian own words: “… illius enim consideratio [sc.: animae separatae] valde theologica est, multumque naturalem scientiam transcendit, et in hac scientia commodiore locum non habet…” (Prooemium, p. 2). Baltasar Álvares’s Treatise may have imposed the need to independently discuss the theme of the separated soul among Catholic literature (Carvalho 2016), even though it was impossible to do it without dwelling on Thomas’s and Scotus’s distinct positions, mostly as followed and reinterpreted by the Dominican School of 15th and 16th centuries (Guidi 2019). After Trent, the theme was common in Portuguese circles. Anselmo (1926: 243) refers a manuscript of Évora (1572), Assertiones ex lib. de Anima quaestio, in which the need to prove the immortality of the soul within the limits of natural reason is intrinsically related to the ‘De Anima’: “Possit ne rationibus naturalibus ostendi animae immortalitas? Defendit Amator Gometius Amarguilho”. Without ignoring this dogmatic obligation, Álvares’s Treatise studies the soul’s way of being out of the body as well as the soul’s operations of knowledge and motion, in systematic form. The polemic in the aftermath of Pietro Pomponazzi’s well-known book can be related – although not in an exclusive mode (Spruit 2016: 118) – with the Treatise, but Álvares leads Trent’s exigencies to a new scholarly level. Without already entering into theoretical issues, we believe this would become patent by a mere inspection of the “Comparison Table”, reproduced at the end of this article, which clearly indicates the level of the enquiry demanded by an impressive number of authorities called to constitute a possible model or a syllabus to future discussions. The study of the soul should be taken in accordance with the attributes which belong to its separated form (such as being in the place of its own, receiving the species from the upper influx of light, and thinking without recourse to phantasms and alike). Also, such a study transcends the frontiers of physiology and belongs to the metaphysician. In order to understand this claim it should be noted, as Álvares’s arguments continue, that the rational soul is the supreme of the existing forms in matter, for, according to the testimony of St. Dionysius in chapter 7 of The Divine Names, the highest part of the lowest touches the lower part of the high. When human soul moves leaves the body, it more or less acquires the state of the separated substances, in accordance with the affections which have no relation to matter. Hence, the discussion on the rational soul, at this level, must belong to the same science that is also related with the intelligences wholly free from the contamination of matter. Yet it is to be noticed that separated souls and angels are two distinct ontological categories (Guidi 2013: 283-4). From Álvares’s point of view, such a study has to be done by the first philosopher, although in such a way that some theological interferences are not eluded viz. Eucharist and the state of the body of Christ during the triduum (Spruit 2016: 102). Moreover, in order to prove the simplex entitas that characterises human soul, the doctrine of Creation, from the book of Genesis, is straightforwardly put in accordance with Aristotle’s’ authority (De Gen. II 3), in order to acknowledge another of its features, viz. the soul as extrinsecus adveniens (d. 1, a. 3 and 5, p. 449, 461). Since the Treatise deals with the rational soul examined from the point of view of its separation, i.e. its substantial immortality (d.1, a. 1, p. 442), the presence of an underlying so-called “Neoplatonized Aristotelianism” has been emphasized (Spruit 2016: 118), and its closer historical set begun to be disentangled (Guidi 2019). In addition to this, a theme like the “immortality” can be related to the ideal of the exaltation of Humanity, a characteristic of the Renaissance, prolific also in Modern times (Benigno Zilli 1960: 65-77). Here we shall be particularly interested in two points. The Treatise begins by making “with moderation” the history of opinions about the immortality – based on Nicolau Fabentino (De immortalitate animorum), Agostino Steuco (De perenni philosophia) and Basil Bessarion (Contra calumniatorem Platonis) – and goes on to study the alleged opinion of Aristotle on the same theme. After enumerating the authors and the texts for and against immortality, it refers to the hesitancy of the Philosopher (aliquantulum haeserit), while admitting that he had propounded the thesis of immortality (d.1, a. 1, p. 446). If it is true that the immortality can receive a rational demonstration (animae rationalis immortalitas naturali ratione demonstratur), it is no less true that some arguments of faith (d. 1, a. 5) are added. The reason for it is that, after the fall, rational arguments lack the aid and the illumination of the faith (d. 1, a. 3, pp. 451-3) is required. In line with the coherence pointed out in relation to the definition of the soul in Góis’s De Anima, Álvares’s main argument focuses on the substantiality of the soul (in the sense that it exists by itself and does not depend on another, neither as a part, nor a form). Such a peculiarity consisting in not-depending on the matter to exist is strengthened by the consideration of the soul’s own activity (against Pomponazzi and Caietano) that confers all possible independence of the intellect regarding the contribution of phantasms. The soul acts by itself (operari per se), viz. it does not need the body to think (quoad intellectionem non simpliciter pendet a corpore), given three orders of reasons mentioned once again in relation to De Anima II, c. 1, q. 2, a. 2. Another fundamental aspect of Álvares’s argument lies in the existence of spiritual acts in men and women; ecstasy, e.g., has already been taken into consideration (Camps 2015). The subtlety of the knowledge of those acts (ut ad intimas etiam rerum quiditates, aut penetrat aut penetrare contendat), as well as the power (potens) and the ability to conjecture the future and remembering the past (coniectandique in futurum atque etiam praeteritorum recordandi) are overtly proven. In addition, one has to mention the pages dedicated to the free acts of the will, an exercise of liberty freed from contrariety and contradiction and only satiated in the infinite good (1, a, 3, p. 447-8). It has been drawn to our attention (Aho 2009: 60) that the moral argument that Álvares uses will reappear in Descartes’ Preface to the Meditations. Anyway, the relations between the theologian of Coimbra and the philosopher of La Flèche have been noticed since Gilson (1913: 141) up to the present (see Guidi 2019). The immateriality of the soul imposes separation. This is a theological topic with epistemological relevance, based on the idea that the separation of the soul makes the intellect more expedite and perceptive, and the will much more ardent and evident. Rational soul is credited with three prerogatives: instilled by God, without matter, and therefore extrinsic; originated in God’s innermost; high spiritual condition, immune to any relation with the matter, thus non-dependent on the support of the imagination, and being the only form able to receive spiritual activities. The soul’s ability to true, exact and evident self-awareness is underlined. In their separated condition, souls clearly know the infused species and the acquired species in a much more distinctive way than they used to do during their historical life. The evidence that characterizes the state of the separated soul is perceived through (i) the ability to know all sensible objects; (ii) a distinct knowledge of itself and of the other souls; (iii) the ability to naturally know all the possible things that exist in God. Besides the idea of progress in the separated knowledge, the division between Thomism and Scotism is surpassed, thanks to a third modern thesis, allegedly rooted in St. Augustine, which seems to extend the range of the so-called “middle science”.

The structure of the ‘Treatise on the Separated Soul’

Let us now present a summary of Baltasar Álvares’s Treatise. With its six disputes, the whole Treatise is divided into three structural parts: the argumentative (sententia, demonstratio, iudicare); the ontological (esse) and the active (operatio), the latter further subdivided into the level of knowledge (cognitio), or immanent, and that of movement (motus), or transitive. Or, according to the detail of the disputations dividing the Treatise: the immortality and nature of the soul vs. the remaining separated substances (dispute 1); its way of existing outside the body (extra corpus) (dispute 2); the powers of their knowledge, their species and habits (dispute 3); the act of knowing (actus cognoscendi) (dispute 4); the object of its knowledge (obiecto cognitionis) (dispute 5); local movement (dispute 6). Defending a general conclusion easy to present here – “… it is evident that the rational soul can persist after the dissolution of all things” (d. 2, a. 1, p.470) – the structure of the first dispute can be summarized as follows: the discussion on the immortality of the soul was of great interest to philosophers throughout the history (a. 1); Aristotle’s doctrine about this particular subject is taken into account (a.2); the demonstration of the immortality of the soul by the natural reason is advanced (a.3); also, the objections to this demonstration and the respective answers to them (a.4); the contents of faith regarding this particular subject matter are introduce (a.5); a few solutions given by some authors to the arguments are put forward (a.6); finally, the state of the separated soul in relation with the angels is presented (a.7). The second dispute of Álvares’s Treatise is about the status and mode of being of the soul outside the body. First, it is defined the type of separation (a.1), viz. a deprivation or separation from the second act of the soul; afterwards (a.2), it is asked if such a separation is natural, to which the following three answers are given: (i) either in the process, or in its product, the separation is not natural but, (ii) not being violent, it is (iii) preternatural. Another question then arises whether the soul naturally tends towards its union with the body (a.3), a question whose response, from a formal point of view, will serve, above all, to emphasize the naturalness of the resurrection. On these two subject matters see Guidi (2019). As said elsewhere by Góis (De An. II c, 1, q. 6 and Phys. II c, 1, q. 24), if the soul surpasses all the other forms, rational soul (which is also volitional) must not see its natural desire compromised and its societas corporis defrauded. The second dispute ends by discussing an argument by Scotus presented in the immediately preceding article (a. 4). Turning now to the third dispute, dedicated to the study of the knowledge that the soul can attain, it is asked whether the cognitive faculties (potentiae cognoscentes) accompany the soul with the death of the body (a corpore abeuntem). An affirmative response is given only with regard to the intellect (aa. 1 and 2). Again, an affirmative answer is given to the question as whether the species and habits of the soul, either belonging to the intellect or the will, gathered during its union with the body, accompany the soul when it separates from the body (a. 3). Against Pedro da Fonseca, it is then refused that species naturally or efficiently derive from the intellect of the separated soul (a.4). Also, it will be asked (a.5) whether, in addition to the species that the separated soul brings from its worldly experience, can other species be reached, whether extracted from objects, printed by God, or both. Since Thomas’s arguments – separate souls receive the species infused by God and do not abstract them – and Scotus’s – the species come from the objects – are only probable, both theses will be surpassed by a third, more modern thesis, ex D. Augustini doctrina (a. 6). This discussion is interesting as far as the history of philosophy is concerned, and it is worth retaining the new position according to which, in the beginning of the world, God printed the copies of things in the separate intelligences and introduced the species into them by a certain natural law. It is also recognized that it could be a pleasant philosophical motive (neque insuavior est proposita philosophandi ratio) to defend that God has thus determined it as a natural law that competes with that which the creature freely exercises (d. 3, a. 5, p. 502-03). It is impossible not to read these assertions and discussions without having in mind Coimbra heavy relation towards the doctrine of the “middle science”. Still in this third dispute, one reads that the separation of the body makes the intellect more expeditious and insightful, and the will much more ardent, the faculty of motion more obvious, and also that the agent intellect acquires another way of applying itself to external objects and their images. Due to its theme, the actual knowledge, the fourth dispute is very important. Arguments against the existence of actual knowledge by the separated soul are put forward and answers to them are given (a.1). The dispute begins by opposing two theses, that of Plato – the soul unites by accident with the body – and that of Aquinas – it unites “per se” and “ex natura sua” –, which will be overcome by a modern thesis. This thesis privileges what, so often, Pedro da Fonseca used to call the “compositive sense”. While in the body the soul operates as a part (ut quo), separated from the body it acts as a whole (ut quod). In addition, there is a confrontation with an Ockhamist argument, which Álvares does not accept in its entirety (non plane satisfaciat). He will respond saying that it is likely that with the soul happens the same as with the angels: the soul can always exercise some knowledge about itself or about an external object so as to be easy to arrive at a new knowledge, as it happens historically with man and women who are able to move from one knowledge to another in a discursive sequence (d. 4, a. 1, p. 506). Six doubts are related with the superiority (plenius intelligatur) of the knowledge of the separated soul (a. 2). Here, two points interest us most. In the first, it is said that if the separated soul knows the infused species in a particular way, it also knows the acquired ones in a more particular way (distinctius); this means that by the natural light of the separated intellect the soul is capable of a different kind of knowledge and that God can produce the kind of species that meet that capacity. In the second point of interest, it is asked whether the soul thinks discursively or not. Admitting (with Ockham) a certain discursiveness, justified by the previous relation of the phantasms to the body, it is added that are some “notitias iudicatiuas” in their primordial condition (imprimis/ex primo) that are not discursive, viz. the assent on principles (assensus principiorum), the act of the science per se infused, the beatific vision, and a certain knowledge of principles (quidem principiorem cognitionem). The fifth dispute examines the range of things known, materially considered, first the natural ones, in three assertions (a.1); then the supernatural ones, in the same number of assertions (a. 2). We are particularly interested in the first two assertions related to the knowledge that the separated soul has of natural things: (i) the separated soul has the power to know (cognoscere valet) all the sensible; (ii) it can distinctly know (distincte poteste cognoscere) itself (se), as well as its internal acts and powers, and other souls. Then, in connection to the knowledge of the supernatural, suffice to mention the first assertion: (iii) the separated soul can naturally know in a clear way the possibles that exist in God. The proof of (i) lies in the fact that the greater the mode of being of the soul, the greater its insight to know (d. 5, a. 1, p 514). About (ii), the authority of Augustine (de Trin IX 3) is surprising, even touching on what is modernly called the problem of intersubjectivity: the soul captures (percipiet) the other souls by a distinct and natural knowledge, not by itself but by their substances or species, provided that they are not too far apart (d. 5, a.1, p. 516). Finally, with assertion (iii), one reaches the evidence, the pure possibility of what does not entail logical repugnance (d. 5, a. 2, p. 518). The Treatise ends – dispute 6 – disputing the movement (de appetitu / de motu) of the separated soul. Asking if its ability to move is autonomous or comes from outside, it is concluded that the separated soul is capable of movement and to move other things that are external to it, being this capacity (potentia movendi / facultas motrix) distinct from the intellect and the will (d. 6, a. 2, p. 524-5).

List of Works

  • An licitus sit servorum mercatus praesertim aetyoporum qui a lusitanis exercetur, BNL 2540.
  • De iure ac dominio ipsorumque speciebus, BNL 2540.
  • De legibus ad questionem 90 a patre Baltasar Alvarez, anno 1608, BNL 2756.
  • Index auctorum damnatae memoriae (…), Lisbon, 1624.
  • Tractatus de Anima Separata, in Commentarii Collegii Conimbricensis Societatis Iesu, In tres libros de Anima Aristotelis Stagiritae (Coimbra 1598), pp. 441-536.


  • Aho (2009), T.“The Status of Psychology as Understood by Sixteenth-Century Scholastics”, in S. Heinämaa & M. Reuter (eds.), Psychology and Philosophy. Inquires into the Soul from Late Scholasticism to Contemporary Thought, Springer Science: pp. 47-66.
  • Anselmo (1926), A.J. Bibliografia das obras impressas em Portugal no século XVI, Lisboa.
  • Benigno Zilli (1960), J. Introducción a la Psicologia de los Conimbricenses y su influjo en el sistema cartesiano, Xalapa.
  • Camps (2015), M. da C. “A questão da imortalidade da alma intelectiva segundo Baltasar Álvares (1598) e Francisco Soares Lusitano (1651)”, Revista Filosófica de Coimbra 24: pp. 123-148.
  • Carvalho (1927), J. de. Boletim da Biblioteca da Universidade de Coimbra 8: pp. 439-48.
  • Carvalho (1991), J.V. de. «Jesuítas Portugueses com obras filosóficas impressas nos séculos XVI-XVIII» Revista Portuguesa de Filosofia 47: pp. 651-659 [with more bibliographical references].
  • Carvalho (2016), M.S. de. “Beyond Psychology – The Philosophical Horizon of the ‘Coimbra Commentary on Aristotle’s De Anima’ (1598)”, in Daniel Heider (ed.), Cognitive Psychology in Early Jesuit Scholasticism, Neunkirchen-Seelscheid: pp. 67-95.
  • Catálogo dos Professores de Philosophia no Collegio da Companhia de Jesus de Coimbra desde o ano de 1555, e no d’Évora, in Rerum Scholasticorum quae a Patribus ac fratribus huius Conimbricensis Collegii scripta sunt, BGUC Ms 993 [also published by Carvalho 1927].
  • Coxito (1989), A.A. «Álvares (Baltasar)» in Logos. Enciclopédia Luso-Brasileira de Filosofia 1, Lisboa: pp. 199-201.
  • Des Chene (2000), D. Life’s Form. Late Aristotelian Conceptions of the Soul, Ithaca London.
  • Gil Colomer (1964), R. “El tratado ‘De Anima’ de Francisco Suárez. Observaciones histórico-críticas” Convivium 17-18: pp. 127-141.
  • Gilson (1913), E. Index Scolastico-cartésien, Paris.
  • Gomes (1960), J.P. Os professores de Filosofia da Universidade de Évora, Évora.
  • Guidi (2013), S., L’antropologia di Descartes e l’angelologia scolastica. Tesi di Dottorato in Filosofia, Università degli studi di Roma “La Sapienza”, Roma.
  • Guidi (2018), S., L’Angelo e la macchina. Sulla genesi della ‘res cogitans’ cartesiana, Milano: Franco Angeli.
  • Guidi (2019), S., “Separated Soul and Its Nature: Francisco Suárez in the Scholastic Debate”, in Francisco Suárez (1548–1617) Jesuits and the Complexities of Modernity. Edited by Robert Aleksander Maryks Juan Antonio Senent de Frutos, Brill: Boston-Leiden, pp. 351- 377.
  • König (1678), G. M. Bibliotheca Vetus et Nova (…) Ordine alphabetica digesta, Norimbergae.
  • Lohr (1988), Ch. H. Latin Aristotle Commentaries. II Renaissance Authors, Firenze.
  • Martins (1999), A.M. “Pedro da Fonseca e a recepção da ‘Metafísica’ de Aristóteles na segunda metade do século XVI”, Philosophica 14: pp. 165-178.
  • Meynard (2017), Thierry. “Aristotelian Works in Seventeenth-Century China: An Updated Survey and New Analysis”, Monumenta Serica: Journal of Oriental Studies 65.1: pp. 67-91.
  • Pereña (1971), L. “Estudio Preliminar”, in Francisco Suárez, De Legibus I, Madrid.
  • Pereña (1973), L. “Estudio Preliminar”, in Francisco Suárez, De Legibus IV, Madrid.
  • Praça (1868), L. História da Filosofia em Portugal. Edição preparada por P. Gomes, Lisboa 1974, pp. 146-48.
  • Santos (1972), M.A.M. dos. «Ensaio de síntese panorâmica da filosofia dos portugueses no século XVI» Repertorio de História de las ciências eclesiásticas en España 4: pp. 283-84.
  • Sommervogel (1884), C. Dictionnaire dês ouvrages anonymes et pseudonymes publiés par dês réligieux de la Compagnie de Jésus depuis sa fondation jusqu’à nos jours, Paris.
  • Spruit (2016), L. “The Discussion on the Separated Soul in Early Modern Jesuit Psychology”, in Daniel Heider (ed.), Cognitive Psychology in Early Jesuit Scholasticism, Neunkirchen-Seelscheid: pp. 96-122.
  • Zhang (1999) Q. “Translation as Cultural Reform: Jesuit Scholastic Psychology in the Transformation of the Confucian Discourse on Human Nature”, in J.W. O’Malley et al. (ed.), The Jesuits. Cultures, Sciences, and the Arts 1540-1773, Toronto Buffalo London: pp. 364-379.

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