Author: Thierry Meynard
Part ofCoimbra Textes Adapted into Chinese (coord. by Elisabetta Corsi and Thierry Meynard)
Peer-Reviewed: Yes
Published: June, 22th, 2019
DOI: 10.5281/zenodo.3252378

The latest version of this entry may be cited as follows: Thierry Meynard, “De Anima: Lingyan lishao, Xingxue cushu (juan 1, 4, 5, 6)”, Encyclopedia, Mário Santiago de Carvalho, Simone Guidi (eds.), doi = “10.5281/zenodo.3252378”, URL = “”, latest revision: June, 22th, 2019.

The Concept of the Human Soul

After the concept of God, the concept of the human soul is the most important for Christianity, but because Asian cultures do not have such a concept, the Jesuits made important efforts to introduce it in Japan, China and Vietnam in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries.

The Compendium of Gómez in Japan

Alessandro Valignano (1539-1606), Jesuit Visitor for Asia, was concerned not to expose the Japanese students to “diverse and dangerous opinions or heresies,” but he considered that they should be taught “the essentials and pure, well founded truths with their conclusive arguments.” (Üçerler 1997: 31). Valignano instructed Pedro Gómez (1533-1600), a Spanish Jesuit sent to Japan to teach philosophy, to write in Latin a condensed philosophical and theological course which he completed in 1593 as the Compendium catholicae Veritatis, and which was translated into Japanese in 1595. The course was first used at the Jesuit college in Amakusa, then in Funai. Because the persecution intensified in Japan, Valignano had established in 1594 Saint Paul College in Macao as the training center for the Japanese mission, and in 1597, the course of arts was recognized as a university course, following the standards of the College of Arts of the University of Coimbra (Santos 1994: 79).

The Compendium catholicae veritatis includes three sections: a section on astronomy, a section on the soul, and a section on theology. The students were to spend a few months on each section. The section on the soul is entitled Short compendium of the things told by Aristotle in his three books on the De Anima and Parva (Breve compendium eorum quae ab Aristotele in tribus libris de Anima & in parvis rebus dicta sunt). It is itself divided into three treatises (tractatus). In the first treatise, after four introductory chapters on the soul (chapters 1 to 4), the discussion on the vegetative soul runs on six chapters (chapters 5 to 10). The discussion on the sensitive soul runs through the 22 chapters of the second treatise. The third treatise on the rational soul comprises 21 chapters. The large space attributed to the vegetative and sensitive souls indicates that Gómez did not rush into the discussion on the rational soul, which is the key to the theological beliefs in the immortality of the soul. Indeed, he considered it worthwhile spending half of the class on the vegetative and sensitive souls.

Obviously, Gómez could not have used the famous Coimbra commentary by Manuel de Góis published only in 1598, but since he was teaching philosophy at Coimbra for over twelve years before his departure for Asia, his work on the De Anima was nourished in the milieu of Coimbra. Until today no investigation has been made on the sources of Gómez’s text.

The Lingyan lishao of Sambiasi in China

In China, two Italian Jesuits, Francesco Sambiasi (畢方濟, 1582–1649) and Giulio Aleni (艾儒略, 1582-1649), worked around the same time on the soul, both using the Coimbra commentary on the De anima as main source, but also other Coimbra commentaries as well as other sources.

Sambiasi taught orally (koushou 口授) the Chinese scholar Xu Guangqi 徐光啟 (1562–1533) who transcribed (bilu 筆錄) the work, Lingyan lishao 靈言蠡勺 (Humble Attempt at Discussing Matters Pertaining to the Soul), the first Aristotelian work to be published in China, in 1624. The work comprises two juan, and already in 1935, Verhaeren noticed that the second juan is quite different, being what he calls homilies (Verhaeren 1935: 396–399). According to my research, this juan belongs to spiritual literature, not so much Thomistic or Jesuit, but more probably Augustinian or Franciscan (Meynard 2015: 235).

Concerning the first juan of Lingyan lishao with the Latin text of the Coimbra commentary, Verhaeren recognized the difficulty of putting in parallel the lengthy Coimbra commentary with the much shorter Lingyan lishao. However, he explained away this difficulty by mentioning something written at the end of the Chinese text: “grasping one and leaving out ten thousand” (guiyi louwan 挂一漏萬), and thus Verhaeren considered the Lingyan lishao as a synopsis. He established the dependence of the Lingyan lishao on the Coimbra commentary based on three grounds, which are not fully developed. First, the introduction of the Chinese text is a close translation of the first paragraph of the introduction (proemium) of the Coimbra commentary; second, the structures of the two works are similar; third, the section on the intellect (lunmingwuzhe 論明悟者) describing the production of four images in the cognitive process translates closely to the text of Coimbra. Unfortunately, Verhaeren’s pioneer research did not go further.

In 2009, Isabelle Duceux produced an outstanding Chinese-Spanish bilingual edition of the Lingyan lishao. In it, she challenged Verhaeren’s view, stating “it is very unlikely that the Lingyan lishao is simply an adaptation of the Coimbra commentary on the soul” (Duceux 2009: 36), arguing that there are many comments in the Lingyan lishao that touch on theological questions, with parallels in the Summa theologica, and do not come from a philosophical commentary on the De Anima, either the one by Aquinas or by the Coimbra Jesuits. Therefore, the analysis of Duceux takes as main reference the Summa theologica.

Neither Verhaeren nor Duceux made a thorough comparison between the Lingyan lishao and the Coimbra commentary. In 2015, I published a study which serves as a supplement to their work, showing that the Coimbra commentary is in fact the main source of the first juan of the Lingyan lishao (Meynard 2015).

In the proemium, Góis spells out the triple usefulness of the teaching on the soul: to know oneself, to rule oneself and others, and to face eternity, and Sambiasi expresses the anthropological, ethical and theological usefulness of the teaching on the soul by using exactly the same images, following also Góis in mentioning the double quest of Augustine: to know God and to know the soul (Meynard, 2015: 381-382). This broad vision of humanity as center of the universe had surely a strong resonance among the Chinese.

In Com. De An. II, c. 1, Góis deals with nine questions concerning the nature of the human soul, and out of those, Sambiasi drew some characteristics of the intellective soul as being a substance, being subsistent, spiritual, created by God out of nothing in time and place, as substantial form, and relying on grace. However, Sambiasi added another characteristic, the immortality of the soul, which is not found in the commentary by Góis, but in the De anima separata by Baltasar Álvares (see entry by Meynard).

The Lingyan lishao does not have much to say about the vegetative power. In dealing with the sensitive power, its presentation of the external senses is quite rudimentary, presenting only the list of the five senses without explaining the process of alteration occurring in perception. This rudimentary treatment of the external senses contrasts strongly with Aristotle’s De Anima and with the Coimbra commentary. Yet, the Lingyan lishao discusses in detail the inner senses which are four according to Aquinas: common sense, phantasia, estimative power and memory, but could be reduced to three in human beings: common sense, phantasia and estimative power (ST Ia, q. 78, a. 4).

Góis strives to correct Aquinas’s opinion, arguing that, because the cogitative power is subsumed under phantasia, there are only two inner senses, the common sense and phantasia (Com. De An., III, c.3, q.1, a.3). This shows the freedom of Góis in his interpretation, and Carvalho qualifies his position as “modern” (Carvalho 2010a: 110). The Lingyan lishao does not follow Aquinas’s classification of three or four inner senses, but the Coimbra commentary’s classification of two inner senses only. Duceux clearly saw the discrepancy, but she did not see that the Lingyan lishao was following on this point, as well as on many others, the Coimbra commentary. However, when the Coimbra commentary subsumes the cogitative power under the general term of phantasia, the Lingyan lishao takes exactly the opposite stance, subsuming phantasia under the cogitative power. Perhaps Sambiasi worried that the notion of phantasia or imagination appeared to the Chinese intellectuals too elusive, evanescent and unreal, something like the illusions discussed by the Buddhists. Or perhaps he wanted to emphasize further his project of building a theory of perception not for animals in general, but for human beings because only the latter can cogitate.

The sensitive soul has also an appetitive sense (shisi 嗜司) with concupiscible (yuneng 欲能) and irascible powers (nuneng 怒能), and Sambiasi states that the two powers are complementary: “Anger is not the opposite of pleasure; for example, the anger born out of the irascible power of the grass and plants is called effort” (Carvalho 2010a: 390). Indeed, the Lingyan lishao inherits here from the revalorization of the appetitive sense, or passions of the soul, that we can see in the Coimbra commentary which considers that passions have a physical basis and which legitimizes them as something positive (Carvalho, 2010b: 35).

The Lingyan lishao has a long development on memory, both sensitive and intellective, which is drawn from the Coimbra commentary on Parva Naturalia, and thus we do not elaborate here.

Philosophically, the most important question related to the soul is the theory of knowledge. In Com. De An., III, cc. 4-5, Aristotle discusses agent and patient intellects together, and in Com. De An., III, c. 6, he discusses specifically the patient intellect. For better clarity, the Coimbra commentary discusses separately the two intellects, examining first the agent intellect “which is first by nature and function” through six questions, and then examining the patient intellect through eight questions. In his rendering, the Lingyan lishao focuses mostly on the agent intellect, and does not present a systematic rendering of the patient intellect, as we have in the Coimbra commentary. The Lingyan lishao gives a list of eight characteristics of the intellect. The first is being differentiated as agent and patient. The Lingyan lishao insists on the different functions of the two intellects:

The agent intellect produces all the images in order to help the function of the passive intellect, which then adds light to the images, understands all the objects and obtains their principle; the agent intellect makes possible for principles to be obtained, and the patient intellect obtains them (396).

Here, the agent intellect is described as “help” (zhu 助) for the patient intellect, a relationship expressed in the Coimbra commentary as “almost as a helper” (quasi administer). According to the Aristotelian principle of the superiority of the agent over the patient, the agent intellect should be placed above the patient intellect (Aristotle De Anima, 430a17-18). However, as the Coimbra commentary explains, this principle should not be taken as absolute: if we consider the functions of both intellects, we should prefer the patient intellect to the active intellect, because the function of thinking, which is the highest human achievement, belongs in fact to the patient intellect and not to the agent intellect (Com. De An., III. c.5, q.1, a.3). In terms of practical realization, the concrete understanding happening in the patient intellect is the ultimate finality, and therefore it ranks higher than the theoretical function of illumination by the agent intellect. This valorization of the thinking activity is indeed an important feature of both the Coimbra commentary and the Lingyan lishao. Nonetheless, the absolute necessity of the agent intellect is also clearly expressed: “Why there could not be a single intellect?” It is answered that the intellect cannot understand the materiality of an object, but needs to discard it in order to know it.

In the case of a material object, the Lingyan lishao describes the four steps for understanding: first, from the material object, the vision abstracts its material image (wuxiang 物像); second, the image enters the common sense, detaches itself from matter and becomes a sensitive image (xingxiang形像), also called a particular image (zhuanxiang 專像); third, the image enters the cogitative power as a singular image, differentiated from the images of other objects in virtue of their material connection; finally, the image joins (gui歸) the agent intellect and loses all materiality and singularity, being an intelligible universal (gonggongzhe 公共者), also called spiritual image (lingxiang靈像). The use of the word gui is quite ambiguous since it may suggest that intellectual species return to the agent intellect as if they would have existed before the act of perception. Such reading would make the intellectual species similar to the ideas of Plato. In fact, the verb gui means to join, indicating that the images with the agent intellect produce together the intellectual species. As the Coimbra commentary states, “nothing prevents the intellect to associate itself indiscriminately with all the images in order to produce the intelligible species” (Com. De An., III, c.5, q.5, a.1).

Compared to the account by Aquinas (ST Ia, q. 79, a. 4, resp), this four-step account is quite elaborated. In the process, we are not surprised to see the roles played by the external sense, the common sense and the agent intellect. The Lingyan lishao inserts also the role of the cogitative power in the formation of intelligible species. In this way it follows the Coimbra commentary which traces back to the Dominican theologian and cardinal Thomas Cajetan (1469-1534) the idea that “the cogitative power expresses the corresponding image of a singular substance,” arguing further: “We do not believe that the cogitative, when it first receives the species of the accident, draws immediately an image of a latent substance expressed in it, but we do believe that it first apprehends this accident, and then, from such a pre-knowledge, enters in the knowledge of the substance” (Com. De An., III, c.5, q.5, a.2). In other word, the knowledge of this particular thing belongs to the cogitative power, that is, to the sensitive power. From there, through the agent intellect, the intellective power draws the knowledge of a substance detached from any singularity.

The Lingyan lishao explains the role of the agent intellect as an illumination, which produces actual understanding in the patient intellect. Similarly, the Coimbra commentary (Com. De An., III, c.5, q.1, a.1) discusses the three functions of the agent intellect: to illuminate the sensitive representations (illustrare phantasmata); to actualize the intellectual object (efficere objectum intelligibile actu); and to produce the intelligible species in the patient intellect (producere in intellectum patientem species intelligibiles). The Coimbra commentary also introduces a more innovative theory about the effective illumination as a way to supersede Aquinas’s radical illumination theory (Con. De An., III, c.5, q.2, a.1), but the Lingyan lishao did not develop this new theory.

The Lingyan lishao has so far described the first characteristic of the intellect as being made of the agent and patient intellects. The other seven characteristics are more succinct. The second is that the agent intellect belongs to the intellective power of the soul. Third, not only does the agent intellect produce intelligible species of material substances, but also it plays a role in forming the intelligible species of immaterial substances. Fourth, the intellect knows the external and material objects, and also knows itself. Self-understanding is not based on any external sense, and the intellect can be compared to a spiritual eye (shenmu神目), which is able to understand all things and also oneself. The understanding of the self is extraordinary in two ways: it is obtained only when the self reflects upon itself, and therefore it is not constant; also, because the soul is found in a body, and therefore mixed with corporal elements, it is impossible for self-reflection to be completely pure.

The fifth characteristic of the intellect is to operate on the basis of the images, or species, of the objects. The patient intellect needs to receive the intelligible species or rational images (lingxiang靈像). The cogitative power provides singular images or species, which are in fact external to the mind. The mind still needs an inner cause to move, and this is found in the mind itself, in the intelligible species. The philosophers (gewuzhijia 格物之家) distinguish four degrees (sideng 四等) for the images: sensitive images associated with the five senses, sensitive images associated with the common sense, intellective images in human beings and intellective images in angels. Verhaeren showed long time ago that this passage depends on the Coimbra commentary (Com. De An., III, c.5, q.3, a.2).

The sixth characteristic is that the intellect is not located on a material place, and thus immortal. The seventh is that it shares similarities with the senses. The final characteristic of the intellect is to perform three functions: direct apprehension (zhitong 直通), composition (hetong 合通) and deduction (tuitong 推通).

The Lingyan lishao deals also with human will, but both De Anima and the Coimbra commentary are very succinct on this, so Sambiasi drew from works of theology, and was probably inspired by ideas of Molina on free will (Duceux: 167).

The Xingxue cushu of Aleni in China

In fact, the honor of initiating the translation should be attributed to Giulio Aleni who in Changshu (Jiangsu province) in 1623 had started his work on the soul. In the late sixteen-twenties he published a first text, called Lingxing pian 靈性篇 (Essay on the spiritual nature). Though the text is today lost, we may infer that it included excerpted translations from the Coimbra commentary on the Com. De An., II, c.1 and from the Coimbra commentary on Parva Naturalia. Later, Aleni expanded his work, adding translations on the sensitive soul (external and inner senses). Between 1635 and 1640, he published the work as the Xingxue cushu 性學觕述 (Summary Exposition of the Studies of Nature), but there is no extant copy. In 1646, he published the definitive edition, which is now commonly used.

Zhang stated that the first two juan of the Xingxue cushu borrow from the Tractatus de anima separata, but without providing textual evidences (Zhang 1999: 364-379). I have attempted to investigate as much as possible the passages of the Coimbra commentaries translated in the Xingxue cushu. For this, I have received the invaluable help of Professor Mário de Carvalho who is familiar with the entire corpus of the Conimbricenses. Aleni did use the commentaries on the De Anima and on the Parva Naturalia as the two main sources, but he also used the commentary on Physica, the commentary on Nicomachean ethics, the Tractatus de anima separata, and the Tractatio aliquot problematum ad quinque sensus. Here I shall deal only with the De Anima.

As Huang has recently shown, the Lingyan lishao developed a strong focus on the intellective soul, but in Aleni’s Xingxue cushu, the emphasis is more on the sensitive soul, with the five external senses, the sense-perception (zhijue知覺) and the physiological functions of the soul (Huang 2018). Aleni left aside the epistemological function of the soul and the theory of the intellective species (De Anima, III, c. 4-8) which constitute the core of the Lingyan lishao. In other words, unlike the Japanese Compendium of 1593 by Gómez, neither the Xingxue cushu nor the Lingyan lishao give a complete Aristotelian teaching on the soul, but the two works put together represent the complete teaching on the soul.

The Xingxue cushu is clearly Aristotelian in that it pertains to the theory of the three souls, especially the theory of perception (sensitive soul). It is also clear that it inherits the Scholastic reading of the soul developed since the Middle Ages. Moreover, it is important to notice that the Xingxue cushu represents also a Renaissance discourse on the soul, especially the emphasis on the sensitive soul in the Xingxue cushu reflects the Renaissance interest on the human body and medicine. Aleni drew a lot of scientific knowledge from the Tractatio aliquot problematum ad quinque sensus and from the commentary on the Parva naturalia, which included the most recent anatomical discoveries.

Same as Sambiasi, Aleni rendered the proemium of Góis and he made it the foreword to the Xingxue cushu.

In the first juan, Aleni borrowed elements from questions 1 to 7 in Com. De An., II, c.1, stressing that the spiritual nature of the human soul is opposed to matter. Aleni is not so much interested in explaining the theory of hylomorphism of Aristotle as he is interested in stressing the Christian hierarchy of spirit over matter. Not unlike Aristotle, Chinese philosophy does not hold an opposition between spirit and matter, but Aleni precisely blames Chinese philosophers for making qi 氣 the foundation of all reality, which he understands wrongly as purely material, and instead he intends to show that the soul is the highest human reality, above matter or qi. Against the idea of the soul being a composite of three souls, Aleni follows Góis by showing a progressive actualization of three potentialities of the soul, explaining also that the soul has no specific place in the body but present everywhere. Against the monopsychism of Averroes, Góis argues for the individuality of the soul, and Aleni reproduces the argumentation which needs to be read as a refutation of Buddhist and neo-Confucian theories. Alieni makes the point that monopsychism results in an ethical fallacy since it would be impossible to hold someone accountable for his acts, something which is contrary to the message of the ancient sages Yao and Shun 堯舜. Concerning the origin of the soul, Aleni follows the argumentation of Góis, refuting the theories that human soul is transmitted by parents through a biological line or by angels, and arguing instead that human soul is produced and endowed by the Creator.

In the second juan, Aleni tackles the question of the immortality of the soul, drawing from the Tractatus de anima separata, and in the third juan, he deals with the vegetative soul and the four humors, drawing from the Coimbra commentary on De Generatione et Corruptione, and thus, there is no need to discuss here.

The fourth juan deals with the five external senses, and draws extensively from the Coimbra commentary: vision (Com. De An., II, c.7), hearing (c.8), smelling (c.9), tasting (c.10), and touch (Com. De An., III, c.1). After the theoretical explanation, Aleni adds also a series of problems which come mostly from the Treatise on Some Problems related to the Five Senses (Tractatio aliquot problematum ad quinque sensus) by Cosme de Magalhães. See entry by Meynard.

The fifth juan deals with the inner senses, and same as Sambiasi, Aleni drew mostly from Coimbra Com. De An., III, c.2 and c.3. However, Aleni did not adopt the simplified version of the two inner senses promoted by Pedro da Fonseca and Góis, but he stayed with the tradtional version of the four inner senses by Aquinas. Concerning memory, we mentioned above that the Lingyan lishao has a section on memory encompassing both sensitive and intellective memory. Aleni states that he refrains himself from discussing intellective memory, and instead focuses on sensitive memory, drawing materials from the Coimbra commentary on Parva Naturalia, same as Sambiasi did.

Juan 6 discuss human appetite and will, and Aleni drew most of the material from the Coimbra commentary on Nicomachean Ethics. Only the end of this juan, on motor functions, is derived from the Coimbra commentary on De Anima.

The last two juan of the Xingxue cushu discus mnemonics, sleep and wake, breadth, longevity and shortness of life, old age and youth, life and death, and Aleni drew this from the Coimbra commentary on Parva Naturalia, as already suggested by Verhaeren in 1935.

Though the Lingyan lishao and the Xingxue cushu have a lot of overlaps, especially the description of the three parts of the soul, the inner senses including sensitive memory, yet, the two treatises go much beyond the traditional scope of the De anima and developed into different directions, the Xingxue cushu towards physiology, and the Lingyan lishao towards spirituality (Meynard 2017: 66).

Also, the Lingyan lishao is a rendering into Chinese of Western philosophy, and does not engage in discussion with Chinese traditions. On the contrary, the Xingxue cushu is much more engaged with Chinese traditions. Instead of using neologisms like linghun 靈魂or anima, it strives to use Chinese concepts like xing 性. Also, the work is built as a dialogue, part of which is fictious, representing the questions and answers of the scholastic commentaries, but part of which is real, being actual debates that Aleni had with Chinese scholars to refute Buddhist, Neo-Confucian or Daoist ideas, and to prove the validity of Western anthropology through the use of Confucian concepts.

Already in Europe, the Jesuits were attempting to build a science of the soul which would go beyond the traditional boundary of philosophy, attempting to argue through reason alone questions which were reserved in the past to theology, like the creation of the soul and its immortality. When Jesuits moved to Asia, there was an even stronger imperative in discussing those themes with the means of reason alone, and not with the means of Bible. This shows how philosophical reason was able to build in Asia a science of the Christian soul.


Primary sources

  • Aleni (1646), Giulio. Xingxue cushu 性學觕述, Chinese Christian Texts from the Roman Archives of the Society of Jesus, Taipei Ricci Institute, 2002, vol. 6: 45-378
  • Álvares (1598), Baltasar. Tractatus de Anima Separata, in Commentarii Collegii Conimbricensis Societatis Iesu, In tres libros de Anima Aristotelis Stagiritae (Coimbra): 441-536.
  • Gómez, Pedro (1593), Breve compendium eorum quae ab Aristotele in tribus libris de Anima & in parvis rebus dicta sunt, in Compendia compiled by Pedro Gómez for the Jesuit College of Japan, edited by Kirshitan Bunko Library, Sophia University, Tokyo: Ōzorasha, 1997, volume 2. The Latin manuscript is available on line at the website of the Vatican library (; accessed on 2019/3/1.
  • Sambiasi, Francesco, Lingyan lishao 靈言蠡勺, Xu Guangqi quanji 徐光啟全集 edited by Zhu Weizheng 朱維錚 and Li Tiangang 李天綱, Shanghai: Shanghai guji chubanshe, 2010, vol. 3: 377-428.
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