Gabriel Vasquez, the neo-Scholastic theologian, was born at Villascuela del Haro, Spain, and died at Alcalá. Educated in the Jesuit houses of study in Spain, he taught moral philosophy at Ocaña from 1575 to 1577 and theology at Madrid and Alcalá. Eventually he succeeded Francisco Suárez in the chair of theology at Rome, where he taught from 1585 to 1592.
His Commentaria ac Disputationes in Primam Pattern S. Thomae, a lengthy commentary on Part I of Thomas Aquinas’s Summa Theologiae, contains much philosophical speculation. A posthumously published summary of this work, Disputationes Metaphysicae, helped to popularize his philosophy.
Vasquez’s most influential contribution lies in his distinction between the formal concept in the understanding (a mental entity, or “idea,” constituting knowledge, qualitas ipsa cognitionis) and the objective concept that is the reality that is known (res cognita) through the formal concept.
Since, in the view of Vasquez, the actual being (esse) of the thing that is known is identified with the act whereby it is known (cognosci), we may have here one of the sources of idealism in modern philosophy.
There is little doubt that René Descartes’s Jesuit teachers knew the thought of Vasquez, and hence the Cartesian teaching that ideas are direct objects of knowledge may owe a good deal to Vasquez (see the study by R. Dalbiez).
Like Suárez, Vasquez introduced many changes into Thomistic metaphysics. He rejected the view that essence and existence are really distinct, opposed the theory that act is limited by the potency in which it is received, and argued that matter as marked by quantity (materia signata quantitate) cannot be the principle that individuates bodily things.
In psychology Vasquez also had teachings that are highly personal. He saw no reason for postulating two intellectual powers in man (agent and possible intellects, in Thomas) and implied that the one understanding can do the work of both.
He regarded man as a composite of soul and body, but he treated these two “parts” almost as if they were two different substances joined together by a peculiar sort of metaphysical semireality that he called a “mode.” Here again, we may have a source of Descartes’s mind-body problem and of the psychophysical parallelism of post-Cartesianism.
In his long discussion of St. Thomas’s proofs for the existence of God,Vasquez again showed a critical attitude toward the thought of Thomas. In place of the traditional Five Ways of demonstration (which require the acceptance of a metaphysics of causality), Vasquez described a whole new series of arguments of his own.
God’s existence is demonstrated from the claim that morality requires it (an argument that reappears in Immanuel Kant) and from various types of “spontaneous assents” based on what one learns from parents, on a survey of the whole of reality (ex rerum universitate), and on our knowledge of the divine conservation and governance of the world. It is evident that Vasquez’s work is one of the reasons that Thomism came to be misunderstood in modern philosophy.