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Monday, December 29, 2008

0051: Actus Essendi: Commentary on De Veritate, 1, 1, ad sc 3

Entry 0051: Actus Essendi: Commentary on De Veritate, 1, 1, ad sc 3

It is to be noted that in this text Aquinas uses the term esse to signify actus essendi. This meaning of esse goes beyond the mere fact of existing. This meaning of esse refers to something deeper: it refers to a metaphysical principle, namely, to the metaphysical principle of actus essendi.

After clarifying that from the side of the actus essendi every existing thing is said to be ens and that from the side of the essence every existing thing is said to be res, Aquinas now examines the relationship that exists between ens and quod est.

An existing thing is both ‘that which is’ (quod est) and a thing possessing the ‘act of being’ (ens.)

The point is this: the term ens does not take its meaning from ‘that which is,’ that is to say, from the quod est. The term ens takes its meaning from the metaphysical principle of actus essendi.

Just as laudans (laudantis) is the present active participle for the Latin verb laudare (laudo, laudare, laudavi, laudatus),’ ens (entis) is the present active participle of the Latin verb esse (sum, esse, fui, futurus.)

The term ens (entis) indeed is at times taken to signify ‘that which, in any way whatsoever, is,’ but in the present context Aquinas clearly puts aside this aspect of the meaning of ens to stress the direct relationship that exists between ens and actus essendi.

Monday, December 22, 2008

0050: Actus Essendi: The Text from De Veritate, 1, 1, ad sc 3

Entry 0050: Actus Essendi: the Text from De Veritate, 1, 1, ad sc 3

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

Cum dicitur: ‘diversum est esse et quod est,’ distinguitur actus essendi ab eo cui ille actus convenit. Nomen autem entis ab actu essendi sumitur, non ab eo cui convenit actus essendi.


“In the statement, ‘the term esse is not equivalent to the expression ‘that which is,’” we are saying that the ‘act of being’—which is one of the meanings of term esse—is being distinguished from ‘that, to which that act belongs.’ The term ens—translated as 'being'— refers indeed to the ‘act of being,’ and not to ‘that, whose act it is.’”

Monday, December 15, 2008

0049: Commentary on “The Apprehension of the Act of Being in Aquinas”

Entry 0049: Commentary on “The Apprehension of the Act of Being in Aquinas”

Reference: Orestes J. Gonzalez, “The Apprehension of the Act of Being in Aquinas,” American Catholic Philosophical Quarterly, 1994, Vol. 68, pp. 475-500

This article is a professionally written contribution based on a large number of texts from a wide range of Saint Thomas’ works. The author is clearly familiar with Saint Thomas. The texts are cited, often rather extensively, in the original Latin and reflect faithfully the English paraphrase of their meaning given in the main body of the article. There can be no question that the author is a serious and responsible scholar.

The aim of the article is to present and defend an original, in-depth interpretation of Saint Thomas’ own account of the human mind’s grasp of being and of the first principles. No mention is made of the diverse and often incompatible accounts of that process which have been previously given by well known commentators like Gilson and Lonergan. The author, on the contrary, works out his own exposition of Saint Thomas through a painstaking, step by step argument, each stage of which is supported by a copious array of textual citations.

In his exposition of Saint Thomas the author describes carefully the diverse roles assigned by Saint Thomas to the intellectus principiorum, as a natural habit of the passive intellect, the passive intellect itself, the phantasm, and the act of being of the corporeal object first grasped by sense. The intelligibility of that act of being is transmitted to the passive intellect by the species abstracted from the phantasm illuminated by the active intellect. That species, however, appears in company with the mind’s awareness of its own weakened intellectual light, a finite participation in its Creator’s intellectual light. Somewhat like Lonergan, the author points to the role of the intellectus principiorum as a pre-conceptual grasp of the intelligibility of the first principles prior to their explicit verbalization. The author is no Lonerganian, however, since it is the intelligibility of the sensible singular’s act of being, transmitted to the passive intellect by the species, measured against the mind’s grasp of its own weakened intellectual light—the norm of truth inscribed in the intellectus principiorum, the intellectual habit of the first principles—which would ground Saint Thomas’ metaphysics. The author is parting company here with Lonergan and with the Transcendental Thomists.

The article does not make easy reading. Its argument is worked out with exacting care and, to appreciate its full force, the reader must check the Latin footnotes against the argument being presented in the main body of the article itself. That, however, is not a disadvantage in a scholarly article destined for serious readers. The author concludes his presentation with a careful systematic summary.


Monday, December 8, 2008

0048: Actus Essendi: Commentary on De Veritate,1,1,ad 1

Entry 0048: Actus Essendi: Commentary on De Veritate,1,1,ad 1

In this text Aquinas clarifies his understanding of the relationship that exists between “language” and the metaphysical principle of actus essendi. The underlying principle is this: The linguistic expression “est” does not necessarily refer to the metaphysical principle of actus essendi. In the text Aquinas clearly puts aside this aspect of the meaning of “est.” The text concentrates rather on the affirmation of the fact of existence.

Many philosophers define “existence” as “fact.” In realistic terms, when we say, for example, “It is a fact that the moon exists,” we simply acknowledge the presence of something having real, demonstrable existence. Whenever anything exists, its “existence” is a fact. In this context, “existence” is more rigorously defined as the consequence of an actual “state of affairs.” And consequently, a non-actual “state of affairs” is never credited with the connotation of “existence.”

Both artificial and natural things can be conceived as actual “states of affairs.” In an existing car, for example, because all the elements have been harmoniously put together, we find an actual “state of affairs” holding in reality. And, by the same token, a fox, an animal, that we suddenly catched crossing the garden, embodies within its being an actual “state of affairs,” namely, an entirety of internal constituents which holding together by the principle of life make it a living being. Because of the natural arrangement of these internal constituents, the fox exists as much as the car exists. The fox exists in accordance with God’s ordinance; the car exists according to the inventions of the human mind.

When we have evidence of a particular thing actually existing in the world and we proceed to affirm its existence, we are simply translating our knowledge of the fact of existence into a true statement. The statement is true because we affirm the existence of “that which is.” This aspect of the verb “est” does not refer to the metaphysical principle of actus essendi; it refers to an actual “state of affairs,” to the fact of existing.

Monday, December 1, 2008

0047: Actus Essendi: The Text from De Veritate,1,1,ad 1

Entry 0047:

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

Cum dicitur verum est 'id quod est,' li 'est' non accipitur ibi secundum quod significat actum essendi, sed secundum quod est nota intellectus componentis, prout scilicet affirmationem propositionis significat, ut sit sensus: verum est 'id quod est,' id est cum dicitur esse de aliquo quod est.


"In the statement 'The true is that which is,' the word 'is' is not here understood as referring to the act of being, but rather as the mark of the intellectual act of judging, signifying the affirmation of a proposition. The meaning would then be this: 'The true is that which is'--'the true' is had when the existence of 'what is,' is affirmed."

Monday, November 24, 2008

0046: Actus Essendi: Commentary on De Veritate, 1, 1, c

Entry 0046:

The text establishes a clear demarcation between terms derived from the metaphysical principle of essence and terms derived from the metaphysical principle of actus essendi. The major concern here is to clarify the meaning of the transcendental notion of res (thing), a term which derives its content and its transcendental connotation from the quiddity or essence of the thing.

The underlying principle of this doctrine is that, in the real world, one cannot have one of these two metaphysical principles existing without the other being present. In the real world essences exist with the actus essendi, and vice versa, the actus essendi always appears instantiated in an essence. For this reason, the term res (thing) expresses a transcendental notion; it 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.

Thus, 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.

Monday, November 17, 2008

0045: Essence and Actus Essendi in the National Review/November 3, 2008/Book Review

Entry 0045:

Commenting on the 'Knowability of God' as explained in E. Feser's latest book, the reviewer writes: “This book… explains splendidly… how the distinction between essence and existence in things means that the principle of causality remains unassailable (despite centuries of unsupported proclamations to the contrary)” p. 53,
National Review, Nov 3, 2008.

Here is what Edward Feser writes on p. 104 of his book: “Nothing can cause itself; whatever comes into existence, or more generally whatever must have existence added to its essence in order for it to be real, must be caused by another. This is the principle of causality… Notice that it does not say ‘everything has a cause’… The principle says only that ‘what does not have existence on its own must have a cause.’”

Monday, November 10, 2008

0044: Actus Essendi: The Text from De Veritate, 1, 1, c

Entry 0044:

Here is another text from the "Series of Texts in which Aquinas Explicitly uses the Expression Actus Essendi:"
Probat etiam Philosophus in III Metaphys., quod ens non potest esse genus. Sed secundum hoc aliqua dicuntur addere super ens, in quantum exprimunt modum ipsius entis qui nomine entis non exprimitur.

Quod contingit uno modo ut modus expressus sit modus generalis consequens omne ens in se.

Et hoc affirmative:

Non autem invenitur aliquid affirmative dictum absolute quod possit accipi in omni ente, nisi essentia eius, secundum quam esse dicitur; et sic imponitur hoc nomen res, quod in hoc differt ab ente, secundum Avicennam in principio Metaphys., quod ens sumitur ab actu essendi, sed nomen rei exprimit quidditatem vel essentiam entis.

Monday, November 3, 2008

0043: Pope Benedict XVI on Aquinas (IV)

Entry 0043:

On the occasion of the Plenary Assembly of the Pontifical Academy of Sciences on 31 October 2008, Pope Benedict XVI held a special audience for the members of the Academy. In his address the Roman Pontiff affirmed that “many of our contemporaries today wish to reflect upon the ultimate origin of beings, their cause and their end, and the meaning of human history and the universe.”

Concerning the topic chosen for the Plenary Meeting this year, Scientific Insight into the Evolution of the Universe and of Life, the Holy Father explained the teachings of the Magisterium of the Church. There exists, the Holy Father said, a reading of the world offered by science as well as a reading of the world offered by Christian Revelation. He stressed, however, that the understanding of creation from the side of faith is not opposed to the empirical evidence offered by the sciences.

Going back to the early origins of science, the Holy Father commented that, in its early stages, philosophy offered a somewhat horizontal interpretation of the origin of the world. The early philosophers did not have the concept of “creation” and therefore the genesis of the world was seen as a transformation of one thing into another.

It was not until later that the notion of “creation” was incorporated into philosophical reflection especially with the advent of Christian philosophers. It took, however, centuries of reflection to arrive at the notion of God as Pure Unparticipated Actus Essendi.

In this regard, the Holy Father clarified that, “A decisive advance in understanding the origin of the cosmos was the consideration of being qua being and the concern of metaphysics with the most basic question of the first or transcendent origin of participated being. In order to develop and evolve, the world must first be, and thus have come from nothing into being. It must be created, in other words, by the first Being who is such by essence.”

Then, the Pope continued, “To state that the foundation of the cosmos and its developments is the provident wisdom of the Creator is not to say that creation has only to do with the beginning of the history of the world and of life. It implies, rather, that the Creator founds these developments and supports them, underpins them and sustains them continuously.”

In particular, he said, “Thomas Aquinas taught that the notion of creation must transcend the horizontal origin of the unfolding of events, which is history, and consequently all our purely naturalistic ways of thinking and speaking about the evolution of the world. Thomas observed that creation is neither a movement nor a mutation. It is instead the foundational and continuing relationship that links the creature to the Creator, for He is the cause of every being and all becoming (cf. Summa Theologiae, I, q.45, a. 3).”

Monday, October 27, 2008

0042: Actus Essendi: Commentary on In III Sent., 11, 1, 2, ad 2

Entry 0042:

In this text Aquinas addresses the problematic issues that arise when one treats the terms “creature” and “man” as if they were concepts coming form the same kind of intellection.

The initial assumption is that the concept “man” is included within the category of “creatures.” But, if this were the case then, from the affirmation “Christ is man,” one would have to conclude “Christ is a creature.”

The response begins with a flat negation of the initial assumption. Simply expressed, the term “creature” cannot be conceived as a more general and wider category than the category of “man.”

The supporting argument is drawn from the two metaphysical principles “essence” and actus essendi.

The terms “creature” and “creation,” says Aquinas, are rooted on the metaphysical principle actus essendi; not on the metaphysical principle of “essence.” Due to this connection then, the term “creature” does not have the properties of a concept derived from ordinary abstraction.

In other words, just as we do not generate a genus from the metaphysical principle of actus essendi, because the individuals contained in a genus differt according to their actus essendi, so also we do not have a genus behind the term “creature.” The individuals contained within the term “creature” do not have something in common by virtue of having a univocally common “nature,” they are called “creatures” because of their actus essendi.

Christ is a man but Christ is not a creature. In Christ, the uncreated Divine Actus Essendi takes on a human nature and it is this Divine Actus Essendi what makes Christ a real existing human being. The Most Holy Humanity of Christ can be said to be a “creature” only as part of Christ in the uncreated Divine Actus Essendi. Compared to the human nature of ordinary men, the human nature of Christ is not instantiated on account of a substantial human actus essendi.

Monday, October 20, 2008

0041: On The Tenth Anniversary of the Publication of Fides et Ratio

Entry 0041:

Ten years after the publication of John Paul II’s Encyclical Fides et Ratio, the Pontifical Lateran University, in collaboration with the Pontifical Academy of Sciences and the World Conference of Catholic University Institutions of Philosophy, organized a conference in Rome to commemorate the anniversary.

On 16 October 2008, the participants in the congress were received in audience by the Holy Father Benedict XVI. The Pope spoke of the “constant relevance” of the Encyclical, which, he said, “is characterised by its great openness to reason, especially in a period in which there is speculation about [reason's] weakness." Then the Pope added that in the Encyclical "John Paul II underlined the importance of uniting faith and reason in a reciprocal relationship, while respecting the autonomy proper to each.”

“Reason,” said the Pope, “discovers that beyond its own achievements and conquests there exists a truth that can never be discovered by using its own parameters, but only received as a gratuitous gift. The truth of Revelation is not superimposed on the truth achieved by reason; rather it purifies and exalts reason, enabling it to expand beyond its confines to become part of a field of research as unfathomable as the mystery itself.”

Benedict XVI concluded: “The passion for truth impels us to turn into ourselves to discover the profound meaning of our lives in the interior man. True philosophy must lead people by the hand and bring them to discover how fundamental knowing the truth of Revelation is for their own dignity.”

Monday, October 6, 2008

0039: Pope Benedict XVI on Aquinas (III)

Entry 0039:

On 17 January 2008, Pope Benedict XVI had intended to visit the University of La Sapienza in Rome. He was not able to make this trip. The Roman Pontiff, however, asked one of his collaborators to read the speech he had prepared for the visit.

As he has done on similar occasions when addressing University professors and students, the Holy Father chose to reflect on the relationship between faith and reason. An extensive part of the speech was devoted to praise the enduring originality of the thought of Saint Thomas Aquinas. Here is what the Holy Father said.

It is the historical merit of Saint Thomas Aquinas—in the face of the rather different answer offered by the Fathers, owing to their historical context—to have highlighted the autonomy of philosophy, and with it the laws and the responsibility proper to reason, which enquires on the basis of its own dynamic. Distancing themselves from neo-Platonic philosophies, in which religion and philosophy were inseparably interconnected, the Fathers had presented the Christian faith as the true philosophy, and had emphasized that this faith fulfils the demands of reason in search of truth; that faith is the “yes” to the truth, in comparison with the mythical religions that had become mere custom. By the time the university came to birth, though, those religions no longer existed in the West—there was only Christianity, and thus it was necessary to give new emphasis to the specific responsibility of reason, which is not absorbed by faith. Thomas was writing at a privileged moment: for the first time, the philosophical works of Aristotle were accessible in their entirety; the Jewish and Arab philosophies were available as specific appropriations and continuations of Greek philosophy. Christianity, in a new dialogue with the reasoning of the interlocutors it was now encountering, was thus obliged to argue a case for its own reasonableness. The faculty of philosophy, which as a so-called “arts faculty” had until then been no more than a preparation for theology, now became a faculty in its own right, an autonomous partner of theology and the faith on which theology reflected. We cannot digress to consider the fascinating consequences of this development. I would say that Saint Thomas’s idea concerning the relationship between philosophy and theology could be expressed using the formula that the Council of Chalcedon adopted for Christology: philosophy and theology must be interrelated “without confusion and without separation”. “Without confusion” means that each of the two must preserve its own identity. Philosophy must truly remain a quest conducted by reason with freedom and responsibility; it must recognize its limits and likewise its greatness and immensity. (Excerpt from the Lecture by the Holy Father Benedict XVI at the University of Rome ‘La Sapienza,’ 17 January 2008.)

The Pope identifies the birth of the faculty of philosophy as an independent faculty within the organization of the universities with the intervention of Aquinas who underscored a legitimate distinction between philosophical wisdom and theological wisdom as two complementary forms of learning. Significant in this regard is the fact that Benedict XVI credits Aquinas with this development.

Monday, August 18, 2008

0032: Ens and Actus Essendi

Entry 0032:

It is because of the way we have to express our knowledge that we are forced to apply the term ens to accidents and privations, and even to that which is not real. Aquinas remarks that our minds conceive everything sub ratione entis, as if every thing we conceive was actually exercising the action of being: Quidquid cadit in intellectu, oportet quod cadat sub ratione entis, he says in De Virtutibus 1, 2, ad 8, “Whatever is grasped by the intellect must fall under the notion of being.”

To shed some light on this, it is instructive to turn our attention to an important point of Latin grammar. Just as laudans/laudantis is the present active participle for the Latin verb laudare (laudo, laudare, laudavi, laudatus), ens/entis is the present active participle of the Latin verb esse (sum, esse, fui, futurus.)

Laudans/laudantis is translated into English as ‘praising,’ a verbal adjective used to modify the noun that refer to ‘someone who is now exercising the action of praising.’ But ens/entis is more than just a verbal adjective. In the context of the 'philosophy of being,' ens/entis is most of the time translated into English as a noun, ‘being,’ to signify ‘that which, in any way whatsoever, is.’

Now, as mentioned above, Aquinas is aware of the fact that the terms ens/entis and esse signify in more than one way. He is explicit on this in De Potentia 7, 2, ad 1, when he says:

Ens et esse dicitur dupliciter: quandoque enim significat essentiam rei, sive actum essendi; quandoque vero significat veritatem propositionis, etiam in his quae esse non habent: sicut dicimus quod caecitas est, quia verum est hominem esse caecum.

Ens and esse may be taken in two ways (Metaph. x, 13, 14). Sometimes they signify the essence of a thing and the act of being, and sometimes they denote the truth of a proposition even in things that have no being: thus we say that blindness is because it is true that a man is blind.
More specifically, with regard to the issue of the actus essendi, we must say that the use of the expression actus essendi in Aquinas is more technical, it has a more restricted meaning, than that of ens and esse.

The actus essendi is the act of a subsinting ‘essence,’ which amounts to say that the ‘exercise of the action of being’ belongs properly to what falls under the Aristotelian category of substance. Actus essendi is one of the two inseparable metaphysical principles of an existing subsistent extramental thing.

When Aquinas uses the terms ens and esse to signify actus essendi, he is referring to a metaphysical principle, the metaphysical principle that goes ‘side by side’ with the metaphysical principle ‘essence’ in every existing hypostasis, to the metaphysical principle that does not multiply with the accidents.

Monday, August 11, 2008

0031: Pope Benedict XVI on Aquinas (II)

Entry 0031:

Following the indications of Fides et Ratio, the Holy Father Pope Benedict XVI has underscored the Church’s teaching concerning the authority of Saint Thomas Aquinas. On Sunday, 28 January 2007, in St Peter’s Square, Rome, the Pope began his Reflection before the Recitation of the Angelus with the following observation,

Today the liturgical calendar commemorates St Thomas Aquinas, the great Doctor of the Church. With his charism as a philosopher and theologian, he offered an effective model of harmony between reason and faith, dimensions of the human spirit that are completely fulfilled in the encounter and dialogue with one another. According to St Thomas’ thought, human reason, as it were, ‘breathes:’ it moves within a vast open horizon in which it can express the best of itself. When, instead, man reduces himself to thinking only of material objects or those that can be proven, he closes himself to the great questions about life, himself and God and is impoverished.
Without making explicit reference to the doctrine of the actus essendi, Benedict XVI emphasizes that the philosophy of being as developed by Aquinas stands to reason, because of its full and comprehensive openness to reality.

Monday, August 4, 2008

0030: Esse and Actus Essendi

Entry 0030:

In the context of the philosophy of being as developed by Aquinas, the Latin esse is considered to be the cognate word for both the English term ‘existence’ and the English phrase ‘act of being.’ Reading the works of Aquinas one certainly finds that he used the Latin verb esse to signify in more than one way. In his Summa Theologiae (I, 3, 4, ad 2,) he is clear on this point.
It must be said that esse applies to a thing in two ways. In one way, it means the act of being, actus essendi. In another way, it means the composition of a proposition effected by the mind in joining a predicate to a subject. Taking esse in the first sense, we cannot understand God’s esse nor His essence; but only in the second sense we can understand the esse of God. For we know that this proposition which we form about God when we say ‘God is,’ is true; and this we know from His effects.
In the first sense God’s esse is His actus essendi; in the second sense, esse applied to God means ‘God exists.’ Here is the Latin text as it appears in the Summa Theologiae (I, 3, 4, ad 2):
Ad secundum dicendum quod esse dupliciter dicitur, uno modo, significat actum essendi; alio modo, significat compositionem propositionis, quam anima adinvenit coniungens praedicatum subiecto. Primo igitur modo accipiendo esse, non possumus scire esse Dei, sicut nec eius essentiam, sed solum secundo modo. Scimus enim quod haec propositio quam formamus de Deo, cum dicimus Deus est, vera est. Et hoc scimus ex eius effectibus, ut supra dictum est.
By means of demonstration and reasoning one can prove the ‘existence’ of a thing without having to have recourse to the sense experience of an existing exemplifying individual. The grasping of the ‘act of being’ of a particular thing is indeed the strongest evidence that the thing exists, but the knowledge of the ‘existence’ of a particular thing and the grasping of its ‘act of being’ are entirely different issues. The grasping of the ‘act of being’ requires direct and immediate contact with individual, real sensible things. On the other hand, to answer the question of whether or not a thing exists, one does not have to interact directly with existing sensible things.

Monday, July 28, 2008

0029: Actus Essendi and the Second Operation of the Mind (I)

Entry 0029:

According to Fabro, the judgmental knowledge of ‘existence’ so emphasized by Gilson is preceded by the intellect’s direct and immediate apprehension of the actus essendi. Fabro was familiar with Gilson’s position and strongly argued against it. In Fabro’s view it is not through the ‘act of judgement’ that the mind has access to the notion of actus essendi.

Fabro addresses the issue in his “The Transcendentality of Ens-Esse and the Grounds of Metaphysics” (International Philosophical Quarterly, 6, pp 389-427, 1966) in unequivocal terms.
[The following clarification] concerns the locus intentionalis of esse or the actus essendi, that is, the phase or function of the mind that grasps reality insofar as it is in act. Such an absolutely primary function, when it is a question of ens, stands poles apart from abstraction and cannot be an object of abstracting reflection properly so-called, but only of direct and immediate apprehension. One interpretation, quite widespread among Neo-Thomists, tries to resolve the question with a good deal of elegance: just as in simple apprehension ‘essence’ is grasped, so too in the judgment esse is grasped. (See Actualite et originalite de l’esse thomiste, Revue Thomiste, 56, 1956, p. 485 and Participazione e Causalita, Italian Ed., p. 41.) They maintain that the texts of Thomas are explicit on this meaning: Cum in re duo sint quidditas rei et esse eius, his duobus respondet duplex operatio intellectus. Una quae dicitur a philosophis formatio, qua apprehendit quidditates rerum. Alia autem comprehendit esse rei componendo affirmationis. (See In I Sent. 37, 1, 3, In I Sent. 19, 5, 1, and In Boeth. De Trin. 5, 3.) But let it be said for the peace of us all: these and other similar texts do not treat at all of our precise question: they deal with the characteristic function of the two operations of the mind which divide the two-fold content of the notion of ens, ‘essence’ and actus essendi. Therefore, the notio entis precedes them both, just as, in fact, ens precedes res and verum in the grounding of the transcendentals.

Monday, July 21, 2008

0028: Actus Essendi and Existence (I)

Entry 0028: Actus Essendi and Existence (I)

Although connected with actus essendi, the meaning of the term ‘existence’ does not denominate the metaphysical principle of actus essendi. Fabro indicates this clearly.

In his “The Intensive Hermeneutics of Thomistic Philosophy: The notion of Participation,” (The Review of Metaphysics, 1974, Vol. 27, p. 470), Fabro writes:

The authentic notion of Thomistic participation calls for distinguishing actus essendi as ‘act’ not only from ‘essence’ which is its ‘potency,’ but also from ‘existence’ which is the ‘fact of being’ and hence a ‘result’ rather than a metaphysical principle.

Then in the article on “Participation” that he wrote for The New Catholic Encyclopedia (2nd ed., Detroit, 2003, Vol. 10, pp 905-910) he adds,

For St. Thomas the difference between ‘to be’ and ‘to exist’ is founded on being—as ‘intensive emergent act’—that is diversely shared by each being.

Fabro’s command of the notion of participation in Aquinas allows him to easily identify the interpreters who “stop at ‘existence’ as a fact and a positing of reality,” and to easily set them apart from interpreters who “are willing to probe into the profundity of Thomistic speculation concerning ‘act.’” (See “The Transcendentality of Ens-Esse and the Grounds of Metaphysics”, International Philosophical Quarterly, 6, pp 389-427, 1966.)

Monday, July 14, 2008

0027: Actus Essendi and Phenomenological Analysis

Entry 0027:

John Paul II does not belittle the power of the philosophy of being as many interpreters of his thought do. In Memory and Identity (Rizzoli, New York, 2005, p 12), John Paul II writes,

If we wish to speak rationally about good and evil, we have to return to Saint Thomas Aquinas, that is, to the philosophy of being.
According to the Pope, phenomenological analysis ends up in a vacuum if it does not find its significance within the larger horizon of the philosophy of being. John Paul II presents Aquinas’ metaphysics as an unsurpassable human achievement. And he is emphatic: “Everything else that is true will find a place within this metaphysics.”

Monday, July 7, 2008

0026: Pope Benedict XVI on Aquinas (I)

Entry 0026:

During his Apostolic Journey to Germany on the occasion of the XX World Youth Day, as he was ‘singing’ the praises of the city of Cologne, Pope Benedict XVI remarked,

I would like to recall that… Thomas Aquinas, the greatest theologian of the West, studied and taught here (Address at the Cathedral of Cologne, 18 August 2005).
When Benedict XVI identifies Aquinas as the greatest theologian of the West, the emphasis falls on the fact that the Pope’s affirmation is an integral part of the Ordinary Magisterium of the Church, a point worth revisiting.

Monday, June 30, 2008

0025: Fides et Ratio

Entry 0025:

Five years prior to the publication of Fides et Ratio, when addressing the plenary assembly of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, John Paul II took advantage of the occasion to express his great appreciation for the efforts made by the Congregation in conducting a survey on the relationship between faith and philosophy. This is “a subject particularly close to my heart,” the Pope said on 19 November 1993. It actually took 12 years to complete the work that led to Fides et Ratio. The Encyclical letter was signed by the Pope on 14 September 1998 and released on 16 October 1998 to mark the 20th anniversary of his Pontificate. At the time, Alessandra Stanley properly described the Pope’s Encyclical as “one of his most personal pronouncements to date: a crystallization of his philosophical and theological thinking over a lifetime” (The New York Times, October 16, 1998).

The successor of John Paul II, Benedict XVI has expressed his awareness that the year 2008 marks the tenth anniversary of the publication of Fides et Ratio. On 7 June 2008 in his Address to Participants at the Sixth European Symposium for University Professors, the Pope said:

For me it is a motive of profound joy to meet you on the occasion of the Sixth European Symposium for University Professors on the theme: Widen the horizons of rationality: Perspectives for Philosophy … I would like to express my gratitude to the organizing committee for this choice which permits us, among other things, to celebrate the 10th anniversary of the publication of the Encyclical Letter Fides et Ratio of my beloved Predecessor Pope John Paul II. Already on that occasion 50 civil and ecclesial philosophy professors of the public and pontifical universities of Rome manifested their gratitude to the Pope with a declaration which confirmed the urgency of relaunching the study of philosophy in universities and schools.

In Fides et Ratio John Paul II forcefully expresses that the Church does not canonize any philosophical system. But in developing the exposition the observation is plainly made equivalent to saying that, beyond the various systems and schools of thoughts, the ‘philosophy of being’—and more concretely the doctrine of the actus essendi—is an inherent, essential ‘tool’ of the power of reason. In other words, the actus essendi is an all-embracing point of reference on which the power of reason must rely to correctly exercise its functions. Accordingly, the Pope says, (1) the ‘philosophy of being’ “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,” (2) the ‘philosophy of being’ “can claim in advance all that is true in regard to reality,” and (3) the ‘philosophy of being’ “is capable of assimilating every new authentic value emerging from the history of every culture whatsoever.” For John Paul II, the philosophy of the actus essendi is “a branch of knowledge that cannot be reduced to any other science whatever because is one that transcends them all by establishing itself as independent of them and at the same time as bringing them to completion in regard to their true nature.”

Monday, June 23, 2008

0024: Actus Essendi and Personalism

Entry 0024:

As interpretations of the thought and writings of Pope John Paul II proliferate, the words ‘misjudging’ and ‘misreading’ have been used to characterize some of these interpretations. The latest instance I have seen appeared on issue No. 184 of FIRST THINGS (June/July, 2008, p 38) where Professor Russell Hittinger writes,

Some have claimed that John Paul II is subordinating both human action and metaphysics to a philosophy of personalism, but that misjudges [John Paul II’s] steady desire to repristinate what Leo XIII had proposed in Aeterni Patris.
Hittinger’s remark is presented after having pointed out that, throughout John Paul II's Pontificate, the Pope embraced wholeheartedly the responsibility of not only defending the philosophy of being and the doctrine of the actus essendi but also that of showing how relevant Aquinas’ realism was to the practical problems of the present world.

John Paul II’s message that from the methodological point of view, the philosophy of the actus essendi is “a branch of knowledge that cannot be reduced to any other science whatever because is one that transcends them all by establishing itself as independent of them and at the same time as bringing them to completion in regard to their true nature,” has not been heard in a variety of circles. The Pope’s fundamental attitude towards the ‘philosophy of being’ is clear and explicit but many interpreters of John Paul II—dazzled by the novelty of Husserl’s phenomenology, Scheller’s personalism, and the philosophy of consciousness—have ended up rejecting that in the Pope’s mind there is one - universal - valid philosophy, the ‘philosophy of being.’ In practice these interpreters are no longer giving priority to the actus essendi.

In A Christian Humanism: Karol Wojtyla’s Existential Personalism (Mariel Publications, New Britain, Connecticut, 1980), Andrew N. Woznicki recognizes that,

Although Wojtyla makes frequent reference in his works to phenomenology, it would be an ‘incredible misreading’ to call his philosophical anthropology a ‘phenomenology.’ Any attempt at combining these two philosophies, i.e., a philosophy of being and a philosophy of consciousness, is out of question, especially with respect to merging the philosophy of being with a philosophy of consciousness, as one that reduces all reality to the subject-consciousness and its contents. In Osoba i Czyn [The Acting Person], such a melding is completely out of question. Hence Wojtyla rejects any notion of merging a philosophy of consciousness with a philosophy of being.
And in a Letter to the Editor entitled, Phenomenology and the Pope: An ‘Incredible Misreading’ (“The New York Times,” 24 December 1978), Alfred Bloch communicates,

Prof. Anna-Teresa Tymienniecka, one of America’s leading exponents of phenomenology, without offering a shred of evidence, claims that a book written by cardinal Wojtyla about 10 years prior to his becoming Pope places him in the ranks of phenomenologists. As authorized translator of the Pope’s book Osoba i Czyn [The Acting Person], I cannot let this incredible misreading and misinterpretation of his philosophical work be left unchallenged. On pages 10 and 11 the Cardinal wrote in the book under consideration as follows: ‘The empirical position accepted by us does not embrace and certainly cannot be equated with the phenomenological concept of experience.’ The italics are his. The Cardinal follows this statement with a series of critical assessments of phenomenology from which this school of thought will find it difficult to extricate itself.
Even in the context of philosophical anthropology John Paul II remains unyielding on presenting the methodology of the actus essendi as the one - universal - valid point of reference to keep philosophical reflection from running aground. In his Address to the International Congress of the Saint Thomas Aquinas Society (4 January 1986) the Pope indicated that “Thomistic anthropology does not end in the abstract consideration of human nature. It shows, on the basis of experience, a striking sensibility, so dear to modern people, for the concrete historical condition of the human person, for—as one would say today—his ‘existential situation.’ It shows a sensibility also for the uniqueness and dignity of the individual person; for his dynamic and moral aspect; for the ‘phenomenology’—we could say in modern parlance—of human existence. To understand the great esteem which the Angelic Doctor has for the reality of the person, we must go back to his metaphysics, in which the greatest perfection is given to ‘being’ understood as the ‘act of being’ (esse ut actus). Here, the person, much more than ‘nature’ or ‘essence’, by means of the ‘act of being’ which sustains him, is exalted to the very height of the perfection of ‘being’ and reality, and thus of good and value.”

I would say that if in his philosophical writings previous to 1978, John Paul II left any doubt about his stance concerning the philosophy of the actus essendi, he certainly closed that argument during his Papacy. As late as 1999, in his Apostolic Letter Inter Munera Academiarum, he insists, “I considered it opportune to revise the Statutes of the Pontifical Academy of St Thomas [Aquinas], so that the metaphysical realism of the actus essendi which pervades all the Angelic Doctor’s philosophy and theology can enter into dialogue with the many directions in today’s research and doctrine.”

Monday, June 16, 2008

0023: Two Metaphysical Principles: ‘Essence’ and ‘Act of Being’

Entry 0023:

The doctrine of the actus essendi appears at every turn in the philosophical and theological writings of Aquinas.

Still Aquinas is emphatic in saying that the metaphysical principle of the actus essendi is inseparable from ‘essence’.

At times Aquinas' reflections concentrate more heavily and almost exclusively on the side of the metaphysical principle of ‘essence,’ but often his reflections rely entirely on the metaphysical principle of actus essendi. Nevertheless, throughout his writings, Aquinas crosses from the plane of ‘essence’ to the plane of the actus essendi and vice versa with remarkable facility.

The task of disentangling the nuances in doctrine he thus generates is not an easy

For Aquinas, the ‘act of being’ is the most profound perfection of a thing; it is an internal incommunicable metaphysical principle inseparable from the thing itself, from the ‘essence’ of the thing, and from anything that exists in the thing. No ‘essence’ actually present in nature makes itself known to the intellect without simultaneously making known its proper participation in ‘act of being.’

Monday, February 18, 2008


Entry 0022

KEYWORDS: Act of Being, Actus Essendi, Aquinas, Fabro, Fides et Ratio, Gilson, Intellection, John Paul II, Maritain, Methodology, Personalism, Philosophy, Saint Thomas, Science, Theology, Thomas, Thomistic, Tommaso d'Aquino