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Monday, March 30, 2009

0064: Actus Essendi in Fides et Ratio

Entry 0064: Actus Essendi in Fides et Ratio

There is no question that Fides et Ratio contains an explicit reference to Aquinas’ notion of actus essendi.

In the first three paragraphs of his paper on the Metaphysical Basis of Aquinas’ Natural Law, Professor John F. X. Knasas stresses this point as follows.


In discussing the needs of systematic theology, Fides et Ratio mentions the requirement of a “philosophy of being based upon the act of being.” (1) Affixed to this remark is note 115 that references John Paul’s Angelicum address on the occasion of the centenary of Aeterni Patris. A read of that address removes all doubt that the phrase “act of being” is a reference to Aquinas’ notion of “actus essendi .” (2)

In the following paragraph, the encyclical speaks of the desiderata of moral theology. These include an ethics that “. . . implies and presupposes a philosophical anthropology and a metaphysics of the good.” Is this metaphysics of the good the same as the mentioned metaphysics of being based upon the act of being? For a Thomist the answer could not be otherwise. For Aquinas, the good, the ratio boni, is just another way of thinking about being, the ratio entis . Also, it would be a great surprise if in an encyclical trumpeting the metaphysics of Aquinas, the Pope was referring to someone else’s metaphysics of the good.

I want to lay bare what I believe to be the connection between Aquinas’ natural law ethics and his metaphysics of actus essendi. (...)


(1) “If the intellectus fidei wishes to integrate all the wealth of the theological tradition, it must turn to the philosophy of being, . . . Set within the Christian metaphysical tradition, the philosophy of being is a dynamic philosophy which views reality in its ontological, causal and communicative structures. It is strong and enduring because it is based upon the very 'act of being' itself, which allows a full and comprehensive openness to reality as a whole, surpassing every limit in order to reach the One who brings all things to fulfillment.” Fides et Ratio, para. 97.

(2) “The philosophy of St. Thomas deserves to be attentively studied and accepted with conviction by the youth of our day by reason of its spirit of openness and of universalism, characteristics which are hard to find in many trends of contemporary thought. What is meant is an openness to the whole of reality in all its parts and dimensions, without either reducing reality or confining thought to particular forms or aspects (and without turning singular aspects into absolutes), as intelligence demands in the name of objective and integral truth about what is real. Such openness is also a significant and distinctive mark of the Christian faith, whose specific countermark is its catholicity. The basis and source of this openness lie in the fact that the philosophy of St. Thomas is a philosophy of being, that is, of the actus essendi whose transcendental value paves the most direct way to rise to the knowledge of subsisting Being and pure Act, namely to God. On account of this we can even call this philosophy: the philosophy of the proclamation of being, a chant in praise of what exists.” John Paul II, “Perennial Philosophy of St. Thomas for the Youth of Our Times,” Angelicum, 57 (1980), 139-40. No doubt should exist that Fides et Ratio is referring to Aquinas’ central metaphysical notion of actus essendi. Elaborating on actus essendi as the most direct way to rise to the knowledge of God, section 6 of the Angelicum address continues: “. . . it is by reason of this affirmation of being that the philosophy of St. Thomas is able to, and indeed must, go beyond all that presents itself directly in knowledge as an existing thing (given through experience) in order to reach “that which subsists as sheer Existing” (ipsum Esse subsistens) and also creative Love; for it is this which provides the ultimate (and therefore necessary) explanation of the fact that “it is preferable to be than not to be” (Potius est esse quam non esse) and, in particular, of the fact that we exist. “This existing itself,” Aquinas tells us, “is the most common effect of all, prior and more intimate than any other effect; that is why such an effect is due to a power that, of itself, belongs to God alone” (Ipsum enim esse est communissimus effectus, primus et intimior omnibus aliis effectibus; et ideo soli Deo competit secundum virtutem propriam talis effectus: QQ. DD. De Potentia, q. 3, a. 7, c).” For further discussion of my “existential Thomist” interpretation of the encyclical, see my “Fides et Ratio and the 20th Century Thomistic Revival,” The New Blackfriars, 81 (2000), 400-8.

Note: For full text of The Angelicum Address see Entry 0082

Monday, March 23, 2009

0063: Actus Essendi: The Text from In De Hebdomadibus, 2

Entry 0063: Actus Essendi - The Text from In De Hebdomadibus, 2

Here is another text from the "Series of Texts in Which Aquinas Explicitly Uses the Expression Actus Essendi:"

Deinde cum dicit, ipsum enim esse, manifestat praedictam diversitatem tribus modis: quorum primus est, quia ipsum esse non significatur sicut ipsum subiectum essendi, sicut nec currere significatur sicut subiectum cursus: unde, sicut non possumus dicere quod ipsum currere currat, ita non possumus dicere quod ipsum esse sit: sed sicut id ipsum quod est, significatur sicut subiectum essendi, sic id quod currit significatur sicut subiectum currendi: et ideo sicut possumus dicere de eo quod currit, sive de currente, quod currat, inquantum subiicitur cursui et participat ipsum; ita possumus dicere quod ens, sive id quod est, sit, inquantum participat actum essendi: et hoc est quod dicit: ipsum esse nondum est, quia non attribuitur sibi esse sicut subiecto essendi; sed id quod est, accepta essendi forma, scilicet suscipiendo ipsum actum essendi, est, atque consistit, idest in seipso subsistit.

Monday, March 16, 2009

0062: Actus Essendi: Commentary on In Metaphysicorum , 4, 2, No. 6

Entry 0062: Actus Essendi - Commentary on In Metaphysicorum, 4, 2, No. 6

Just as he did in De Veritate, 1, 1, c, in the present text, Aquinas once again clarifies his understanding of the transcendental notion of res (thing), a term which derives its content from the quiddity or essence of the thing.

The underlying principle of this doctrine is this. In the real world one cannot have the metaphysical principle of ‘essence’ in isolation from the metaphysical principle of actus essendi. One cannot have one without the other. In the real world essences exist with the actus essendi, and vice versa, the actus essendi always appears instantiated in an essence. It is for this reason that the term res (thing) expresses a transcendental notion; res stands for a universal mode of being that follows upon the fact of having an essence. Essences are found in every existing thing without exception.

It is this inherent unity of the two most fundamental metaphysical principles what allows Aquinas to provide a coherent metaphysical account of the transcendental ‘one’ and the charaterisctic ‘unity’ of a subsisting thing.

From the side of the actus essendi every existing thing is said to be ens and from the side of the essence every existing thing is said to be res. But it is from the internal inseparability of these two metaphysical principles that every existing thing is said to be unum. Unum is as well a transcedental notion; unum derives its content from the indivisibility of 'essence' and actus essendi.

Monday, March 9, 2009

0061: Commentary on Quaestiones Quodlibetales , 9, 4, 1, c

Entry 0061: Actus Essendi - Commentary on Quaestiones Quodlibetales 9, 4, 1, c

This segment addresses the issue of the metaphysical identity of the substance of an angel. Two reference points are highlighted, namely, the Aristotelian composition of primary matter and substantial form against Aquinas’ distinction between the metaphysical principles of “essence” and actus essendi.

With respect to the Aristotelian composition of matter and form, the substance of an angel is not at all the result of two components coming together to generate a composite.

The substance of an angel is a form that does not need matter to subsist. The substance of an angel is a form that subsists for itself.

In the material world, on the other hand, a substantial form does not have existence in itself. In the material world, a substantial form exists in the composite.

With respect to Aquinas’ distinction of “essence” and actus essendi, the substance of an angel is called “potency” in the most radical way: ipsa substantia Angeli in se considerata est in potentia ad esse, cum habeat esse ab alio. In Aquinas, angels can be thought of as not existing.

Of the two meanings of esse, in this context, Aquinas evidently is not referring to the truth of a proposition. The structure of text unmistakably forces esse to mean actus essendi.

Here Aquinas departs from Aristotle. For Aquinas, a substantial form is a “potency” with respect to the actus essendi.

Regardless of whether they are substantial or accidental, and of whether they belong to angels or to material things, for Aquinas all forms are “potency” with respect to the actus essendi.

Monday, March 2, 2009

0060: Actus Essendi: The Text from In Metaphysicorum 4, 2, No. 6

Entry 0060: Actus Essendi - The Text from In Metaphysicorum 4, 2, No. 6

Here is another text from the "Series of Texts in which Aquinas Explicitly uses the Expression Actus Essendi:"

Sciendum est enim quod hoc nomen homo, imponitur a quidditate, sive a natura hominis; et hoc nomen res imponitur a quidditate tantum; hoc vero nomen ens, imponitur ab actu essendi: et hoc nomen unum, ab ordine vel indivisione. Est enim unum ens indivisum. Idem autem est quod habet essentiam et quidditatem per illam essentiam, et quod est in se indivisum. Unde ista tria, res, ens, unum, significant omnino idem, sed secundum diversas rationes.


For it must be borne in mind that the term 'man' is derived from the quiddity or the nature of man, and the term 'thing' from the quiddity only; but the term 'being' is derived from the 'act of being,' and the term 'one' from order or lack of division; for what is one is an undivided being. Now what has an essence, and a quiddity by reason of that essence, and what is undivided in itself, are the same. Hence these three—thing, being, and one—signify absolutely the same thing but according to different concepts.