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Monday, December 28, 2009

0102: Translations of the expression "actus essendi"

Entry 0102: Translations of the expression "actus essendi"

Latin: actus essendi
Italian: atto di essere
English: act of being
Spanish: acto de ser
French: acte d'être
German: Akt des Seins (Seinsakt)

Monday, December 21, 2009

0101: Translations of the Expression "Actus Essendi"

Entry 0101: Translations of the Expression "Actus Essendi"

The term "actus essendi" is translated into English as "act of being," into Italian as "atto di essere," into French as "acte d'être," into Spanish as "acto de ser," and into German as "Akt des Seins" ("Seinsakt.")

Monday, December 14, 2009

0100:
Philosophy of Actus Essendi - One Universally Valid Philosophy Recommended by Fides et Ratio (X)

Entry 0100: The Philosophy of the Actus Essendi: The One Universally Valid Philosophy Recommended by Fides et Ratio (X)

Pope John Paul II writes:

Having accepted wholeheartedly the Catholic faith, Jacques Maritain understood philosophical investigation to be “a wisdom of reason not closed but open to the wisdom of grace” (Le Philosophe dans la Cite, Paris, 1960, p. 27.)

This spirit of openness and capacity to receive the light of grace led him to the universality of the philosophy of being, the philosophy of the ‘actus essendi,’ whose transcendental value paves the most direct way to rise to the knowledge of ‘Being’ and pure Act, namely to God.

More than any other facet, Jacques Maritain drew attention to this central intuition of the philosophy of Saint Thomas which thus can be called “the philosophy of the proclamation of being,” “a chant in praise of what is” (The Angelicum Address, 1979, no. 6.)

John Paul II, “Letter to Professor Giuseppe Lazzati, Rector of the Universita Cattolica del Sacro Cuore di Milano on the occasion of the centenary of the birth of Jacques Maritain,” in Doctor Communis, vol. XXXVI, no. 1, 1983, pp. 3-5. (Translation by Keith Buersmeyer.)

Monday, December 7, 2009

0099:
Philosophy of Actus Essendi - One Universally Valid Philosophy Recommended by Fides et Ratio (IX)

Entry 0099: The Philosophy of the Actus Essendi: The One Universally Valid Philosophy Recommended by Fides et Ratio (IX)

Jacques Maritain writes:

It is enough that we should think of the extraordinary philosophic genius of Saint Thomas.


To say, as so many professors are fond of doing, that the philosophy of Saint Thomas is the philosophy of Aristotle is a gross error, as Gilson has rightly insisted.


The philosophy of Saint Thomas is that of Saint Thomas.


And it would be as big a mistake to deny that Saint Thomas owes his philosophy to Aristotle as that Dante owes his language to the fine raconteurs of his country.


Such an extraordinary conjunction of swift insight (one must be something of a poet for that) with ironclad logical rigor may be found in Aristotle too; because he was, in the world of philosophers, both the greatest realist and most perspicacious discoverer of the first apperceptions of the intellect, and the strictest instructor in the unforgiving exigencies of a rigorously rational work, the founder of metaphysics furnished the principles.


He missed, however, those conclusions whose object is the loftiest and which matter most to us.


But Saint Thomas did not just sift out or rectify conclusions – which would, after all, have been a minor contribution. He was possessed of an incomparably deeper vision of the principles themselves; his metaphysical intuition impelled the one he was always to call “the Philosopher” infinitely beyond Aristotelianism and the whole of Greek thought.


The metaphysics of Saint Thomas is not the metaphysics of Aristotle, because it is the metaphysics of Aristotle entirely transfigured.


In other words, Saint Thomas the theologian has, in the service of theology, humbly and without putting in a claim, brought metaphysical wisdom to the most basic and universal degree of intuitive grasp possible to reason.


A metaphysics of “Sein” (esse), a metaphysics born from the intuition of the act of existing [actus essendi] – and whose primary object is this primordial and all-embracing intelligible reality – has the capacity to welcome, recognize, honor, set to rights all that is.


“To conceive God,” writes Gilson, “as the Act of being pure and subsisting by itself, cause and end of all other beings, is by the same token to give oneself a theology that can do justice to whatever is true in other theologies, just as the metaphysics of esse has what is needed to do justice to whatever is true in other philosophies” (Gilson, Trois Lecons sur le Thomisme, p. 700.)


As for the metaphysics which supports such a theology, and without which the latter would not have been (it is this metaphysics which, from the side of reason, provided the indispensable spark), let us cite further lines of our friend:


“For those who live on it, the metaphysics of the Common Doctor accepted in its fullness is a ne plus ultra for the understanding. At once unsurpassable in its own right and inexhaustible in its consequences, this metaphysics is the human understanding itself in its permanent work of rational interpretation of man and the universe” (Gilson, Trois Lecons sur le Thomisme, p. 707.)


Well, we are thus led to consider briefly the relation of Saint Thomas with time. Please pardon me for being myself out-of-date: there is an up-to-dateness which, while bound to manifest itself in time, is, of itself, above time, that’s the up-to-dateness of truth.


The doctrine of Saint Thomas, being essentially grounded in truth, and therefore, as I have already pointed out, open to the whole future, has, of itself, a supra-temporal up-to-dateness.


In other words, the doctrine of Saint Thomas was bound to manifest in time – after Saint Thomas – its supra-temporal truth.

Jacques Maritain, The Peasant of the Garonne, trans. Michael Cuddihy and Elizabeth Hughes, (New York: Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 1968), pp. 132-135.

Monday, November 30, 2009

0098:
Philosophy of Actus Essendi - One Universally Valid Philosophy Recommended by Fides et Ratio (VIII)

Entry 0098: The Philosophy of the Actus Essendi: The One Universally Valid Philosophy Recommended by Fides et Ratio (VIII)

John F. X. Knasas writes:

One twentieth-century interpretation of Aquinas’ conceptually formulated philosophy can show itself to be the one true philosophy.

This is the Thomism about which Gilson and Maritain wrote.


John F. X. Knasas, Being and some Twentieth-Century Thomists, Fordham University Press, New York, 2003, p. 316.

Monday, November 23, 2009

0097:
Philosophy of Actus Essendi - One Universally Valid Philosophy Recommended by Fides et Ratio (VII)

Entry 0097: The Philosophy of the Actus Essendi: The One Universally Valid Philosophy Recommended by Fides et Ratio (VII)

Ambrose McNicholl writes:

What the Pope has in mind does not seem to be a particular fully-codified system of philosophy, nor any individual school of thought within the Scholastic tradition, but certain features of the philosophy of Saint Thomas himself which mark it as in some way rising above all particular perspective to one that is truly universal, with the result that it can be said, in some respects at least, to transcend all other philosophies while at the same time it is able to assimilate the more limited aspects of truth and reality which they express.

The openness of the philosophy of Saint Thomas is grounded in what E. L. Mascall has called “the openness of being.”

It is the human reflection of the transcendence of being itself understood primarily as existing and as explicitly grasped and affirmed.

Such openness is grounded on the intrinsic orientation of the human mind towards existence rather than on the nature of its first principles, especially if these are taken as conceptually formulated propositions.

Neither Leo XIII nor John Paul II have invited us to take the study of manuals; they want us to go back to the thought of Saint Thomas as found in his own works and re-read them in the light of the problems and context of today.

In fact, by referring twice to the actus essendi (“The Angelicum Address,” nos. 6, 7) one may gather that he [Pope John Paul II] thinks, with many others, that it will no longer do to rest content with the rather formalist and essentialist kind of Thomism that dominated the scene until quite recently.

In any case he invites the present-day Thomist to focus his thinking not just on essences or on being but also on what actually exists and on the act by which it is.

Saint Thomas offers, not just a Christian version of Aristotle, but a profoundly new and original philosophy; which means that the Thomist should see Aristotle through the eyes of Saint Thomas and not vice versa.

Having thus secured the existential underpinning of Thomistic theory, the Pope goes on to say that the mind can proceed to uncover “the inexhaustible richness” of what actually exists.

The adjective “inexhaustible” gives us one more clue as to the kind of openness which he has in mind, this time on the plane of concepts. Those used by Saint Thomas may not be adequate or sufficient to express the ontological density of reality.

There is room here for growth, as human knowledge progresses in various directions and on various levels; and its power to assimilate such new findings, without thereby losing its own nature, is perhaps the most striking characteristic of the philosophy of Saint Thomas.

Since man, in virtue of his openness to being, can know himself and his thought, he can see his thought – or, more correctly, his knowledge – in its primordial relation to being and so justify in the most radical way its claim to validity.

This claim would be contested by many, most notably by Husserl, who would accuse the Thomist of remaining within the context of the naturalistic attitude.

The Thomist might reply that it is really Husserl who is conditioned from the start by his “anti-metaphysical prejudice” which may be traced to his complete blindness to the ontological density and richness of esse ut actus as Saint Thomas envisages it; for Husserl quite uncritically takes “to be” as mere givenness and factuality.

This epoche and phenomenological reduction are indeed useful, perhaps indispensable, tools for critical reflection on the meaning that anything can have for man as it enters his experience; but they are no substitute for, much less do they rule out, the basic and intuitive drive of the mind towards what exists.

The reflections, already put forward in so concise a fashion, equip the reader to approach what must be the most commonly heard, if not also the most obvious, objection against any special favor being shown by the Church to any particular system of thought.

To act in this way, it is felt, would conflict with the catholicity of the Church; it would block enquiry along other lines or from different perspectives; it would, as the Pope puts the objection, rule out that pluralism which is implied in the factual diversity of cultures, since it would tie the thought of the Church too closely to one particular cultural tradition – the classical Greek one as developed in the Christian context of the European Middle Ages.

Quite obviously the Pope could not, on this occasion, deal with this problem under all its many complex aspects.

He goes straight to the main point at issue by noting that the philosophy of Saint Thomas differs from all others by its basic insight that the key to the full and proper understanding of reality is to be found in the actus essendi.

It is precisely the actuality of existing that transcends every possible form of being or reality.

A philosophy centered on this actuality is open, in principle, to accept all that any other philosophy can discover about the more limited aspects of reality which it takes to be fundamental; and only a philosophy so centered is capable of such universal assimilation.

No type or aspect of reality is excluded, in principle, by a philosophy centered on the actus essendi.

It is the peculiarity of esse (and of being in so far as it signifies esse) that it is at one and the same time the most universal and yet the most singular and concrete characteristic of all that is real. Everything that is real exists, but in every existing thing that which is unique and most fully singular in it is its actus essendi.

That is why the Pope can state that such philosophy is rightfully able to claim as its own all that can be known through other approaches to reality; and that, in the same way, all the truths which men can learn about reality can claim right of entry into such all-embracing philosophy.

This philosophy therefore does not exclude other approaches which uncover different aspects of reality. It does indeed regard them as insufficient of themselves, as partial and inadequate, if put forward as complete philosophies; but it can regard them as common allies and partners in the concerted effort of mankind to understand reality from every point of view.

A philosophy which sees everything in the light of the actus essendi will avoid eclecticism; it will not rely on the authority of any particular thinker – be it Saint Thomas himself or any of the “Greats” – but on the evidence of what shows itself as it is.

Hence it can claim to be realistic, both in the sense of looking first of all towards real beings as they exist, and then in the sense of fulfilling the real vocation of the philosopher.

It is saved from the unending and aimless adventure of exploring what is only phenomenal, of losing itself in the labyrinthine corridors of the mind, instead of finding its support and strength in the objectivity of the actus essendi.

Philosophy is not just thought about thought or about appearances; it is, above all, thought about what is.

The philosophy of being, as outlined by saint Thomas, can be what it appears, and appear as it is, because it starts in wonder that anything is, and only then tries to find out what it is.

As centered on is (esse ut actus), its central insights have lasting value; as concerned with what is, it is ever open to enrichment.


Ambrose McNicholl, “A Chant in Praise of What is”, Angelicum, 1980, vol. 57, pp. 172-196.

Monday, November 16, 2009

0096:
Philosophy of Actus Essendi - One Universally Valid Philosophy Recommended by Fides et Ratio (VI)

Entry 0096: The Philosophy of the Actus Essendi: The One Universally Valid Philosophy Recommended by Fides et Ratio (VI)
The proliferation of philosophical systems with their claim of universality is no guarantee that they are true. Many of them are patently false. In fact, almost any 'combination of color' can be found in the philosophical positions that thinkers have advanced throughout the centuries.

Can one then conclude that philosophers are free from constraints because a point of reference for philosophical speculation is nowhere to be found?

The issues involved here are fundamental ones and cover a tremendous amount of ground. It is indeed possible to argue at the level of the particulars involved in the different philosophical positions. But the general outlines of an answer can and should be given.

Here I would like to stress the fact that some fundamental aspects of the 'philosophy of being' have been proposed as reference point for the different philosophical schools.

A most authoritative statement in this regard is recorded in the encyclical letter "Fides et Ratio" of John Paul II: "The 'philosophy of being' is strong and enduring because it is based upon the very act of being itself ('ipse actus essendi'), which allows a full and comprehensive openness to reality as a whole." (1)

Pope John Paul II (1920-2005) explains the dynamism and openness of the 'philosophy of being' as follows:

"What is meant by this characteristic 'openness' of the 'philosophy of being' 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.

"The basis and source of this openness lie in the fact that the philosophy of Saint Thomas Aquinas (1225-1274) is a 'philosophy of being,' that is, of the 'act of being' ('actus essendi'); it is the philosophy of the proclamation of being.

"It is from this affirmation of being that the philosophy of Saint Thomas draws its power to justify itself from the methodological point of view, as a branch of knowledge that cannot be reduced to any other science whatever, and as 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.

"Only in this way does the intellect feel at ease (as it were 'at home') and therefore it can never abandon this way without abandoning itself.

"In so far as methodology is concerned it would be hard to exaggerate the importance of this discovery for philosophical research, as indeed also for human knowledge in general.

"Is it to be feared that by favoring the philosophy of Saint Thomas one will undermine the right to exist that is enjoyed by different cultures or hinder the progress of human thought?

"Such a fear would clearly be groundless because the methodological principle invoked above implies that whatever is real has its source in the 'act of being' ('actus essendi'); and because the perennial philosophy, by reason of that principle, can claim in advance, so to speak, all that is true in regard to reality.

"By the same token, every understanding of reality — which does in fact correspond to reality — has every right to be accepted by the 'philosophy of being,' no matter who is to be credited with such progress in understanding or to what philosophical school that person belongs.

"Hence, the other trends in philosophy, if regarded from this point of view, can and indeed should be treated as natural allies of the philosophy of Saint Thomas, and as partners worthy of attention and respect in the dialogue that is carried on in the presence of reality.

"This is needed if truth is to be more than partial or one-sided.

"That is why the advice given by Saint Thomas to his followers: 'look rather to what was said than to who it was that said it' ('ne respicias a quo sed quod dicitur'), is so much in keeping with the spirit of his philosophy." (2)

Endorsement and laudatory words directed towards a philosophical system such as the ones just presented are rare. With unmistakable clarity John Paul II has directed attention towards the 'philosophy of the actus essendi.'

With the caliber of a philosopher and the authority of a teacher, Wojtyla has indicated the code of discipline for philosophers, for he emphasized the self-correcting capacity of true philosophy.

"Once reason successfully intuits and formulates the first universal principles of being and correctly draws from them conclusions which are coherent both logically and ethically, then it may be called right reason or, as the ancients called it, 'orth(o-)s logos, recta ratio.'" (3)

In other words, through philosophy's work and the ability to speculate, the human intellect has produced a rigorous mode of thought. The most precious fruit of this process is the notion of 'actus essendi' which carries with it an intrinsic and inseparable methodology.

Those who proclaim the 'philosophy of being' as the one universally valid philosophy are few. The position is surely rejected by those who sustain that John Paul II did not adhere unconditionally to the doctrines of Saint Thomas Aquinas.

Needless to say, the answer to this is plain and obvious, and calls for applying the saying that "When someone confront things in the most eminent way, it is unavoidable to find the opposition of those who confront them in particular ways." (4)

We must therefore insist, paraphrasing John Paul II, that beyond different schools of thought there is one that transcends them all, the 'school of the actus essendi.' The 'school of the actus essendi' transcends all other schools of thought because the methodological principle on which it rests, is "regulative of thinking as such." (5)

The 'actus essendi' is an all-embracing point of reference on which the power of reason must rely to correctly exercise its functions. Orientation towards the 'actus essendi' is an inherent, essential dynamism of the human mind.

An image from C.S. Lewis should prove helpful here.

It is the story of an aborigine who, "having learned several other languages, was asked to write a grammar of the language used by his own tribe. He replied, after some thought, that it had no grammar. The grammar he had used all his life had escaped his notice all his life. He knew it—in one sense—so well, that—in another sense—he did not know it existed." (6)

This example illustrates how the methodology of the 'actus essendi' operates. Concerning this methodology, the essentials are so basic that they tend to remain unnoticed and generally what one expresses does not reflect the richness and fullness of what is implied.

The act of being inherent to sensible things of nature is constantly making an impact on the intellectual faculty. The intellect's response to that impact is knowledge, but not explicit knowledge. The intellect's response to that impact grows as a personal possession of an implied, non-explicit, intellectual habit.

The proper content of this natural habit is given by the actuality in being of the things of nature in such a way that without explicitly thinking about it—even without ever explicitly thinking about it—you and I and everyone know that actuality in being cannot be affirmed and denied at the same time. This is the intellectual habit generated by the 'actus essendi.'

This habitual intellectual knowledge caused by the 'actus essendi' is the most obvious and primary habit there is. Take away this habit and there is no foundation for human knowledge at all. And yet, this is precisely the habit that is most easily forgotten—"forgotten not because it is so remote or abstruse but because it is so near and so obvious" that we don't even know it exists. (7)

The 'philosophy of the actus essendi' establishes itself as the one true philosophy on the grounds of its own premises and not on the relationship it necessarily has to have to particular thinkers, places and times, nor on the historical and cultural circumstances which allowed it to appear and in which it must live.

Notes

(1) John Paul II, "Fides et Ratio," 14 September 1998, "Acta Apostolicae Sedis," 1999, vol. 91, pp. 5-88, no. 97.

(2) John Paul II, "Address at the Angelicum, The Pontifical University of Saint Thomas Aquinas in Rome," 17 November 1979. The original in Italian was published in "Acta Apostolicae Sedis," 1979, vol. 71, pp. 1472-1483. English translations can be found in "Angelicum," 1980, vol. 57, pp. 133-146, and in "L'Osservatore Romano English Weekly Edition," 17 December 1979, pp. 6-8.

(3) John Paul II, "Fides et Ratio," no 4.

(4) John G. Roberts, "Senate Judiciary Committee Hearings on Nomination, 13 September 2005," "New York Times," September 14, 2005, East Coast Late Edition, p. A26.

(5) Ralph McInerny, "Implicit Philosophy," in "Introduction to Faith and reason: the Notre Dame symposium 1999," Timothy L. Smith, ed., St. Augustine's Press, South Bend, Ind. 2001, pp. vii-xvii.

(6) C.S. Lewis, "Miracles," Macmillan, New York, 1978, pp. 40-41.

(7) C.S. Lewis, "Miracles," p. 41.

Monday, November 9, 2009

0095:
Philosophy of Actus Essendi - One Universally Valid Philosophy Recommended by Fides et Ratio (V)

Entry 0095: The Philosophy of the Actus Essendi: The One Universally Valid Philosophy Recommended by Fides et Ratio (V)

John F. X. Knasas remarks:

I will consider briefly the 1998 encyclical Fides et Ratio in which John Paul II asserts “The Church has no philosophy of her own nor does she canonize any one particular philosophy in preference to others” (no. 49.)

It would be singularly tragic if Fides et Ratio is remembered as an assertion of philosophical pluralism.

Whatever the previously quoted line means, it does not mean that.

A wider reading shows John Paul II reiterating the Church’s commitment to the view that the human intellect can fashion “certain basic concepts [that] retain their universal epistemological value and thus retain the truth of the propositions in which they are expressed” (no. 96.)

Secondly, though John Paul reiterates the standard ecclesiastical recommendation of Aquinas as a model of how to synthesize faith and reason, the Pope is clear (no. 79) that he intends to go beyond this recommendation to something more substantial.

For the well-being of systematic and moral theology, the Pope recommends (no. 97) a metaphysics, a philosophy of being (philosophia essendi), that is based upon the act of being (quod actu ipso “essendi” sustentatur.)

If this sounds Thomistic, it does so because it is.

Affixed footnote 115 directs the reader to the Pope’s 1979 Angelicum address on the centenary of Leo XIII’s encyclical Aeterni Patris. This address leaves no doubt that Fides et Ratio is referring to Aquinas’s central metaphysical notion of actus essendi.

The Pope says that through this actus essendi understanding of what is meant by the existence of a thing, Aquinas’s philosophy is so open to all of reality that the human intellect comes to know God (“The Angelicum Address,” no. 6.)

John Paul certainly appears to be presenting Aquinas’s metaphysics of actus essendi as an unsurpassable human achievement.

Everything else that is true will find a place within this metaphysics.

Nothing in the encyclical warrants saying that the Church teaches that no one true philosophy exists or that the Church has made the pluralist turn.

John F. X. Knasas, “Does the Catholic Church Teach That There Is No One True Philosophy?” in Proceedings of the American Catholic Philosophical Association, vol. 77, 2003, pp 83-99.

Monday, November 2, 2009

0094:
Philosophy of Actus Essendi - One Universally Valid Philosophy Recommended by Fides et Ratio (IV)

Entry 0094: The Philosophy of the Actus Essendi: The One Universally Valid Philosophy Recommended by Fides et Ratio (IV)

Ralph McInerny writes,

In Fides et Ratio n. 4, John Paul II speaks of what he calls "Implicit Philosophy," the truths anyone can be expected to know. His reason for enumerating these truths is that he sees them as the means of overcoming the scandal of philosophy, the dozens of radically different philosophical systems competing for our allegiance. Anyone will detect the Thomistic echoes in the list of tenets of Implicit Philosophy. The Pope's procedure makes clear why he too points us to Thomas and why Thomism is not just another system. We are not being urged to be Thomists as opposed to Hegelians or phenomenologists or whatever. We are being urged to do philosophy well.

The great presupposition of doing philosophy well is that one begin well. The beginnings of philosophy are not acquired in Philosophy 101. They are had before one begins the study of philosophy. The principles or starting points of philosophy are the truths that any human person can be expected already to know. Philosophy moves off from them, not to replace or abandon them, but to develop their implications. Any philosophical position that is at variance with these starting points has gone off the rails.

Ralph McInerny, “Thomistic Natural Law and Aristotelian Philosophy,” in St. Thomas Aquinas and the natural law tradition: contemporary perspectives, edited by John Goyette, Mark S. Latkovic, and Richard S. Myers, The Catholic University of America Press, 2004, pp 37-38.

Monday, October 26, 2009

0093:
Philosophy of Actus Essendi - One Universally Valid Philosophy Recommended by Fides et Ratio (III)

Entry 0093: The Philosophy of the Actus Essendi: The One Universally Valid Philosophy Recommended by Fides et Ratio (III)

Professor John F. X. Knasas writes,

No doubt should exist that Fides et Ratio is referring to Aquinas’ central metaphysical notion of actus essendi.

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 .”

(1) Fides et Ratio, paragraph 97: “If the intellectus fidei wishes to integrate all the wealth of the theological tradition, it must turn to the philosophy of being, which should be able to propose anew the problem of being—and this in harmony with the demands and insights of the entire philosophical tradition, including philosophy of more recent times, without lapsing into sterile repetition of antiquated formulas. 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.”

John F. X. Knasas, “Fides et Ratio and the Metaphysical Basis of Aquinas’ Natural Law,” Notre Dame Center for Ethics and Culture, 2002, conference.


Monday, October 19, 2009

0092:
Philosophy of Actus Essendi - One Universally Valid Philosophy Recommended by Fides et Ratio (II)

Entry 0092: The Philosophy of the Actus Essendi: The One Universally Valid Philosophy Recommended by Fides et Ratio (II)

Stephen Pimentel writes,

Notable is John Paul II’s urgent recommendation in Fides et Ratio, par. 97 of a “philosophy of being” that “is based upon the very act of being itself” and that “views reality in its ontological, causal and communicative structures” so as to surpass “every limit in order to reach the One.”

Stephen Pimentel, “Thomas’s Elusive Proof: A Reconstruction of the ‘Existential Argument’ for the Existence of God,” Proceedings of the American Catholic Philosophical Association, vol. 78, 2004, pp 94-106.

Monday, October 12, 2009

0091:
Philosophy of Actus Essendi - One Universally Valid Philosophy Recommended by Fides et Ratio (I)

Entry 0091: The Philosophy of the Actus Essendi - The One Universally Valid Philosophy Recommended by Fides et Ratio (I)

Martin Bieler writes,

“The encyclical Fides et Ratio is an impressive document of the Catholic Church’s esteem of philosophy (57ff.)

“Although it is the declared intention of Fides et Ratio not to canonize any particular philosophy (49,78) there can be no doubt about the fact that the encyclical moves along the lines of Thomas Aquinas’ metaphysics when it outlines the future tasks of philosophical investigation.

“First of all, it strongly emphasizes the importance of a philosophy of being (5, 66, 90, 97) which meets the necessary requirements of a metaphysics that is indispensable for unfolding the truth revealed in Christ (82-83).

“Second, it seems to conceive a philosophy of being in the way Aquinas does by referring to the ‘act of being’ (actus essendi): ‘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 fulfilment’ (97.)


Martin Bieler, “The Theological Importance of the Philosophy of Being” in Reason and the Reasons of Faith, edited by Paul J. Griffiths and Reinhard Hütter, T & T Clark International, New York, 2005, pp. 295-296.

Monday, September 28, 2009

0089: The ‘Aristotle of Aquinas’ and the Notion of Actus Essendi (II)

Entry 0089: In preapration
 

Monday, September 21, 2009

0088: Helium Writer M. J. Joachim’s Tips for Success

Entry 0088: Consult the Experts by M.J. Joachim

The end of summer managed to sneak up on me with a gentle breeze. Before I knew it, the full force of its magic was becoming a distant memory, as the approach of another school year was upon me. All was not lost in the spirit of a well needed break from the daily grind. Though I felt the need to be less active, I found myself just as engaged, but in many different ways.

One thing I did this summer was consult an expert. He’s a fellow Helium writer, one of my favorites, and I cannot express enough gratitude for his contributions to my work. His name is
Orestes J. Gonzalez, and his articles on Helium will inspire you with wisdom and truth.

It is important to choose wisely when asking for feedback on your work. You need someone who shares your passion, preferably has more knowledge about your subject than you, and appreciates your journey, not only as a writer, but as a fellow human being. Today’s tip is to consult the experts, but don’t be blinded by their expertise. There are many who can give you feedback on your work, and only a few will make it worth your while.

Monday, September 14, 2009

0087: Brief Reflections Inspired by the Anniversary of Publication of Fides et Ratio

Entry 0087: Brief Reflections Inspired by the Anniversary of Publication of Fides et Ratio

ABSTRACT

The present article concentrates on one of the central messages of Fides et Ratio, the existence of one universal valid philosophy which serves as point of reference for all rational inquiry.

FULL TEXT

Eleven years ago today Pope John Paul II published the encyclical letter Fides et Ratio. The document was “signed in Rome, at Saint Peter’s, on September 14, the Feast of the Triumph of the Cross, in the year 1998.”

At the time, Alessandra Stanley properly described John Paul II’s document 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).

Fides et Ratio calls attention towards the validity of a universal philosophy, a philosophy which transcends all cultures, particular times, individual thinkers, and the thoughts and lives of all men and women who sincerely seek the truth.

The encyclical defends an appeal to the 'philosophy of being' in order to show that it is possible to move from the historical and contingent circumstances which necessarily envelop philosophical production to the point of reaching the fundamental elements of knowledge produced by the "natural philosophy of the human mind."

John Paul II states, “The ‘philosophy of being’ is strong and enduring because it is based upon the very ‘act of being’ itself (ipse actus essendi), which allows a full and comprehensive openness to reality as a whole” (Fides et Ratio, no. 97.)

It is this explicit reference to Aquinas’ notion of actus essendi what makes Fides et Ratio unique among the papal documents of such authority dealing with the value and universality of philosophy.

The expression actus essendi is a technical term used by Aquinas in its restricted meaning. Translated as ‘act of being,’ actus essendi 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.

With unmistakable clarity, in Fides et Ratio John Paul II directed the attention of philosophers, and thinkers in general, towards the methodology of the actus essendi. In favoring the ‘philosophy of the actus essendi,’ John Paul II identified the school of ‘sound’ thinking.

There is nothing more self-evident to the intellect than the ‘actuality in being’ and the truth that ‘actuality in being cannot be denied and affirmed at the same time.’

Otherwise stated, in the dynamism of acquisition, conception, and articulation of knowledge, a deviation from the order things themselves possess, is simply a poorly grounded inference because the intellect of every human being functions with a natural inclination towards first principles. And since 'actuality in being' cannot be denied -- it is the very first principle unfailingly available to us all -- a tacit affirmation of the methodology of the actus essendi is always at work in the mind of every person.

With the caliber of a philosopher and the authority of a teacher, in Fides et Ratio Wojtyla indicated what the code of discipline for philosophers is and emphasized the self-correcting capacity of true philosophy. “Once reason successfully intuits and formulates the first universal principles of being and correctly draws from them conclusions which are coherent both logically and ethically, then it may be called right reason or, as the ancients called it, orth(o-)s logos, recta ratio” (Fides et Ratio, no. 4.)

Through philosophy’s work and the ability to speculate, the human intellect has produced a rigorous mode of thought. The most precious fruit of this process is the notion of actus essendi which carries with it an intrinsic and inseparable methodology.

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.

In practice these interpreters are no longer giving priority to the actus essendi.

In Fides et Ratio John Paul II expresses forcefully 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.

The actus essendi is an all-embracing point of reference on which the power of reason must rely to correctly exercise its functions.

Monday, September 7, 2009

0086: The ‘Aristotle of Aquinas’ and the Notion of Actus Essendi (I)

Entry 0086: In preapration
 

Monday, August 31, 2009

0085: Actus Essendi: Commentary on In De Hebdomadibus, 2

Entry 0085: Actus Essendi - Commentary on In De Hebdomadibus, 2

Text:

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.


Comment:

In this text Aquinas further explains how he understands the notion of actus essendi. One cannot speak meaningfully about the 'act of being,' without referring to a particular subject, because the 'act of being' is a metaphysical principle.

'Actus essendi' is the metaphysical principle that goes 'side by side' with the metaphysical principle 'essence' in a subsistent extramental thing. And metaphysical principles as such do not subsist by themselves in isolation.

In the real world 'essence' and 'actus essendi' are inseparable. The metaphysical principle of 'actus essendi' always appears instantiated in an 'essence.' And the 'essence' of the thing is what put limits to the thing's participation in 'actus essendi.'

Monday, August 24, 2009

0084: Actus Essendi: The Metaphysical Principles of ‘Essence’ and ‘Act of Being’



Entry 0084: The Metaphysical Principles of ‘Essence’ and ‘Act of Being’


The expression ‘actus essendi’ is a technical term used by Aquinas in its restricted meaning. ‘Actus essendi’ is the metaphysical principle that goes ‘side by side’ with the metaphysical principle ‘essence’ in a subsistent extramental thing.

Three points of reference are indicated here. One, the real finite thing itself existing in the external world; another, the ‘essence’ which makes the thing to be what it is; and yet another, the ‘actus essendi’ which places both the thing with its ‘essence’ in actual existence.

In the real world ‘essence’ and ‘actus essendi’ are inseparable metaphysical principles. The metaphysical principle of ‘actus essendi’ always appears instantiated in an ‘essence.’ And the ‘essence’ of the thing is what put limits to the thing’s participation in ‘actus essendi.’

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 one.

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, August 17, 2009

0083: Pope John Paul II on Aquinas’ Actus Essendi (V)

Entry 0083: Pope John Paul II on Aquinas’ Actus Essendi (V)

Pope John Paul II writes:

Having accepted wholeheartedly the Catholic faith, Jacques Maritain understood philosophical investigation to be “a wisdom of reason not closed but open to the wisdom of grace” (Le Philosophe dans la Cite, Paris, 1960, p. 27.)

This spirit of openness and capacity to receive the light of grace led him to the universality of the philosophy of being, the philosophy of the ‘actus essendi,’ whose transcendental value paves the most direct way to rise to the knowledge of ‘Being’ and pure Act, namely to God.

More than any other facet, Jacques Maritain drew attention to this central intuition of the philosophy of Saint Thomas which thus can be called “the philosophy of the proclamation of being,” “a chant in praise of what is” (The Angelicum Address, 1979, no. 6.)


John Paul II, “Letter to Professor Giuseppe Lazzati, Rector of the Universita Cattolica del Sacro Cuore di Milano on the occasion of the centenary of the birth of Jacques Maritain,” in Doctor Communis, vol. XXXVI, no. 1, 1983, pp. 3-5. (Translation by Keith Buersmeyer.)

Note: This Post was also published under: "The Philosophy of the Actus Essendi: the one universally valid philosophy recommended by Fides et Ratio (X)" [Entry 01-0100.]

Monday, August 10, 2009

0082: Pope John Paul II on Aquinas’ Actus Essendi (IV) - The Angelicum Address

Entry 0082: Pope John Paul II on Aquinas’ Actus Essendi (IV)



The Angelicum Address


Soon after his election as Pope, John Paul II expressed himself unequivocally concerning the notion of actus essendi.

On Saturday, 17 November 1979, John Paul II returned as Pope to his Alma Mater, the “Angelicum”, where he had been a student from 1946-1948. He went to the Angelicum to speak at the conclusion of an international congress, organized by the International Society of St. Thomas Aquinas, to commemorate the hundredth anniversary of the publication of Pope Leo Xlll's Encyclical “Aeterni Patris”.

Here are the words of the Holy Father. (Full Text)

Esteemed Professors and very dear Students!

1. It is with a feeling of deep joy that I find myself once more, after no short space of time, in this hall. It is well known to me because I entered it so many times as a student in the years of my youth when I also came from far away to the Pontifical AthenaeumAngelicum” to deepen my knowledge of the teaching of the Common Doctor, St. Thomas of Aquin.

Since then the Athenaeum has grown significanly. It has been raised to the rank of a Pontifical University by my venerated predecessor, Pope John XXIII; it has been enriched by two new Institutes: to the already existing Faculties of Theology, Canon Law and Philosophy there have been added those of Social Sciences and the Institute “Mater Ecclesiae” which has the aim of preparing future “Teachers of the Religious Sciences”.

I take note with pleasure of these signs of vitality in the old stock which shows that fresh streams of sap flow through it. Thanks to these it can satisfy, through its new scientific institutions, the cultural needs as they gradually show themselves.

The joy of today's encounter is notably increased by the presence of a select group of learned exponents of Thomistic thought who have come here from many places to celebrate the first centenary of the Encyclical Aeterni Patris, published on the fourth of August 1879 by the great Pontiff Leo XIII.

This gathering, promoted by the “International Society of St. Thomas of Aquin,” links up ideally with that held recently near Cordoba in Argentina, on the initiative of the Catholic Argentinian Association of Philosophy, in order to commemorate the same event by inviting leading representatives of present-day Christian thought to exchange views on the theme: “The Philosophy of the Christian Today.”

This present meeting, more directly concerned with the figure and the work of St. Thomas, while doing honour to this celebrated Roman centre of Thomistic studies where one can say that Aquinas lives “as in his own home,” is an act of recognition due to the immortal Pontiff who played so great a part in reviving interest in the philosophical and theological work of the Angelic Doctor.

2. I would like, therefore, to extend my respectful and cordial greeting to those who have organized this meeting: in the first place to you, Reverend Father Vincent de Couesnongle, Master of the Dominican Order and President of the “International Society of St. Thomas of Aquin”; with you I greet also the Rector of this Pontifical University, Reverend Father Joseph Salguero, the distinguished members of the Academic Staff, and all those speakers, noted for their competence in Thomistic studies, who have honoured this meeting with their presence and enlivened its sessions by sharing their store of knowledge.

I would also like to offer my affectionate greetings to you, students of this University, who give yourselves, with eager generosity, to the study of philosophy and theology as well as of the other useful auxiliary sciences, taking as your guide St. Thomas to whose thought you are introduced by the enlightened and earnest efforts of your professors.

The youthful enthusiasm with which you approach Aquinas with the questions which your sensitivity towards the problems of the modern world suggest to you, and the impression of luminous clarity which you gain from the answers which he gives to you in his own clear, calm and sober way, afford the most convincing proof of the inspired wisdom which moved Pope Leo XIII to promulgate the Encyclical whose centenary we are celebrating this year.

3. It cannot be doubted that the chief aim which the great Pontiff had in mind in taking that step of historic importance was to take up again and to develop the teaching of the First Vatican Council on the relations between faith and reason. As Bishop of Perugia he had played a most active role in that Council. In the Dogmatic Constitution Dei Filius, in fact, the Conciliar Fathers had given special attention to this theme of burning actuality.

When treating of “faith and reason” they were united in opposing those philosophical and theological trends which had been infected by the then rampant rationalism. Taking their stand on Divine Revelation, as passed on and faithfully interpreted by preceding Ecumenical Councils, as clarified and defended by the Holy Fathers and Doctors of both East and West, they had declared that faith and reason, far from being opposed, could and should meet in a friendly way (cf. Ench. Symb. DS: 3015-3020; 3041-3043).

The persistent and violent attacks of those who were hostile to the Catholic faith and to right reason induced Leo XIII to re-affirm and to develop the teaching of Vatican I in his Encyclical. Here, having recalled the gradual and ever growing contribution made by the leading lights of the Church, both in the East and in the West, to the defence and progress of philosophical and theological thought, the Pope turns to what St. Thomas did by way of deep penetration and of synthesis.

In words which should be quoted in their flowing classical Latin he has no hesitation in pointing to the Angelic Doctor as the one who carried rational research into what faith makes known towards results which have proved to be of lasting value: “Thomas gathered their doctrines together — they had long lain dispersed like the scattered limbs of a body — and knitted them into one whole. He disposed them in marvellous order and increased them to such an extent that he is rightly and deservedly considered the pre-eminent guardian and glory of the Catholic Church.

"Again, beginning by establishing as is only right, the distinction between reason and faith, while still linking each to the other in a bond of friendly harmony, he maintained the legitimate rights of both, and preserved their respective dignities in such a way that human reason soared to the loftiest heights on the wings of Thomas and can scarcely rise any higher, while faith can expect no further or more reliable assistance than such as it has already received from Thomas” (Leonis XIII, Acta, vol. I, pp. 274-275; English translation, J.F. Scanlan, in: St. Thomas Aquinas, Angel of the Schools, by J. Maritain, London, 1933, Appendix I, pp. 204-206).

4. Statements as weighty as these call to commitment. To us, heeding them a century later, they above all offer practical or pedagogical guidance; for, in so speaking, Leo XIII wanted to set before teachers and students of philosophy and theology the highest ideal of a Christian dedicated to research.

Well then, what are the qualities which won for Aquinas such titles as: “Doctor of the Church,” and “Angelic Doctor,” awarded him by St. Pius V; “Heavenly Patron of the Highest Studies,” conferred by Leo XIII in the Apostolic Letter Cum hoc sit of 4 August 1880, that is, on the first anniversary of the Encyclical we are celebrating (cf. Leonis XIII, Acta, vol. II, pp. 108-113)?

The first quality is without doubt his complete submission of mind and heart to divine Revelation, one which he renewed on his death-bed, in the Abbey of Fossanova, on the seventh of March 1274. How beneficial it would be for the Church of God if also today all Catholic philosophers and theologians followed the wonderful example of the “Doctor communis Ecclesiae”!

Aquinas treated the Holy Fathers and Doctors with the same reverence, in so far as they bear common witness to the revealed Word, so much so that Cardinal Cajetan did not hesitate to write — and his words are quoted in the Encyclical: “St. Thomas, because he had the utmost reverence for the Doctors of antiquity, seems to have inherited in a way the intellect of all” (In Sum. Theol. II-II, q. 148, a. 4 c; Leonis XIII, Acta, vol. I, p. 273; ScanIan, loc. cit, p. 204).

The second quality, one which has to do with his excellence as a teacher, is that he had a great respect for the visible world because it is the work, and hence also the imprint and image, of God the Creator. Those therefore who sought to accuse St. Thomas of naturalism and empiricism were mistaken.

“The Angelic Doctor”, we read in the Encyclical, “considered philosophical conclusions in the reasons and principles of things, which, as they are infinite in extent, so also contain the seeds of almost infinite truths for succeeding masters to cultivate in the appropriate season and bring forth an abundant harvest of truth” (Leonis XIII, Acta, vol. I, p. 273; Scanlan, p. 205).

Lastly, the third quality which moved Leo XIII to offer Aquinas to professors and students as a model of “the highest studies” is his sincere, total and life-long acceptance of the Teaching Office of the Church, to whose judgment he submitted all his works both during his life and at the point of death. Who does not recall the moving profession of faith which he wished to make in that cell at Fossanova as he knelt before the Blessed Eucharist before receiving it as his Viaticum of eternal life!

“The works of the Angelic Doctor”, writes Leo XIII once more, “contain the doctrine which is most in conformity with what the Church teaches” (ibid., p. 280). His writings make it clear that this reverential assent was not confined only to the solemn and infallible teaching of the Councils and of the Supreme Pontiffs. An attitude, as truly edifying as this, deserves to be imitated by all who wish to be guided by the dogmatic Constitution Lumen Gentium (n. 25).

5. These three qualities mark the entire speculative effort of St. Thomas and make sure that its results are orthodox. It is for this reason that Pope Leo XIII, wishing to treat “of the method of teaching philosophical studies in such a way as shall most duly correspond with the blessing of faith and be consonant with the respect due to the human sciences themselves” (Leonis XIII, Acta, vol. I, p. 256; Scanlan, p. 190), looked principally to St. Thomas as “leader and master of all the Doctors of the Schools” (ibid., p. 272).

The immortal Pontiff recalled that the method, the principles and the teaching of Aquinas had, down the centuries, been especially favoured not only by learned men but by the supreme teaching authority of the Church (cf. Encycl. Aeterni Patris, loc. cit., pp. 274-277). If today also, he insisted, philosophical and theological reflection is not to rest on an “unstable foundation” which would make it “wavering and superficial” (ibid., p. 278), it will have to draw inspiration from the “golden wisdom” of St. Thomas in order to draw from it the light and vigour it needs to enter deeply into the meaning of what is revealed and to further the due progress of scientific endeavour (cf. ibid., p. 282).

Now that a hundred years of the history of thought have passed we are able to appreciate how balanced and wise these appraisals were. With good reason, therefore, the Supreme Pontiffs who succeeded Leo XIII, and the Code of Canon Law itself (cf. can. 1366, par. 2) have repeated them and made them their own.

The Second Vatican Council also, as we know, recommends the study and the teaching of the perennial philosophical heritage, of which the thought of the Angelic Doctor forms a notable part. (In this connection I would like to recall that Paul VI wanted an invitation to attend the Council to be sent to Jacques Maritain, one of the best known interpreters of Thomistic thought, intending also in this way to signify his high regard for the Master of the Thirteenth Century and for a way of “doing philosophy” that is in keeping with the “signs of the times”).

The Decree on priestly formation (Optatam Totius), before it speaks of the need for teaching to take account of modern trends in philosophy, especially of “those which are most influential in the homeland of the candidates,” requires that "philosophical subjects should be taught in such a way as to lead the students gradually to a solid and consistent knowledge of man, the world and God। The students should rely on that philosophical patrimony which is forever valid” (n. 15; Vatican Council II, ed. A. Flannery, O.P., Dublin, 1975, p. 718).

In the Declaration on Christian Education (Gravissimum Educationis) we read: “By a careful attention to the current problems of these changing times and to the research being undertaken, the convergence of faith and reason in the one truth may be seen more clearly.

This method follows the tradition of the doctors of the Church and especially St। Thomas Aquinas” (n. 10; Flannery, p. 735). The words of the Council are clear: the Fathers saw that it is fundamental for the adequate formation of the clergy and of Christian youth that it preserve a close link with the cultural heritage of the past, and in particular with the thought of St. Thomas; and that this, in the long run, is a necessary condition for the longed-for renewal of the Church.

There is no need for me to reaffirm here my intention to carry out fully what the Council has laid down, since I made this quite clear already in the homily which I delivered on 17 October 1978, shortly after my election to the Chair of Peter (cf. AAS, 70,1978, pp. 921-923) and several times afterwards.

6. I am very pleased, then, to find myself this evening among you, who fill the halls of the Pontifical University of St. Thomas, drawn by his philosophical and theological teaching, just as great numbers of students from various nations surrounded the chair of the Dominican friar in the thirteenth century when he taught in the universities of Paris or of Naples or in the “Studium Curiae”, or in the House of Studies of the Priory of Santa Sabina in Rome.

The philosophy of St. Thomas deserves to be attentively studied and accepted with convictions 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 (1) 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.

[(1) For the translation of the expression actus essendi, see the translator's note below.]

It is from this proclamation of being that the philosophy of St. Thomas derives its ability to grasp and to “affirm” all that shows itself to the human intellect (what is given by experience, in the widest sense) as a determinate existing being in all the inexhaustible richness of its content; that it derives its ability, in particular, to grasp and to “affirm” that “being” which is able to know itself, to be filled with wonder in itself, and above all to decide for itself and to fashion its own unrepeatable history.

St. Thomas is thinking of this “being” and of its dignity when he speaks of man as that which is “the most perfect thing in the whole of nature” (perfectissimum in tota natura: S. Th. I, q. 29, a. 3) a “person”, requiring that it must be given exceptional and specific attention.

This says all that is essential with regard to the dignity of the human being, even though much more still remains to be investigated in this field, one where the contribution of modern trends of philosophy can be helpful.

It is also from this affirmation of being that the philosophy of St. Thomas draws its power to justify itself from the methodological point of view, as a branch of knowledge that cannot be reduced to any other science whatever, and as 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.

Moreover, 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).

St. Thomas puts philosophy moving along lines set by this intuition, showing at the same time that only in this way does the intellect feel at ease (as it were “at home”) and therefore it can never abandon this way without abandoning itself.

By maintaining that the proper object of metaphysics is reality “in so far as it is being” (sub ratione entis) St. Thomas pointed to that analogy which accompanies being as such, finding there the justification of the method for forming propositions dealing with the whole of reality and with the Absolute itself.

In so far as methodology is concerned it would be hard to exaggerate the importance of this discovery for philosophical research, as indeed also for human knowledge in general.

There is no need to stress the debt owed to this philosophy by theology itself, since it is nothing other then “faith seeking understanding” (fides quaerens intellectum) or the “understanding of faith” (intellectus fidei). Not even theology, then, can abandon the philosophy of St. Thomas.

7. Is it to be feared that by favouring the philosophy of St. Thomas one will undermine the right to exist that is enjoyed by different cultures or hinder the progress of human thought?

Such a fear would clearly be groundless because the methodological principle invoked above implies that whatever is real has its source in the actus essendi; (1) and because the perennial philosophy, by reason of that principle, can claim in advance, so to speak, all that is true in regard to reality.

[(1) For the translation of the expression actus essendi, see the translator's note below.]

By the same token, every understanding of reality — which does in fact correspond to reality — has every right to be accepted by the “philosophy of being,” no matter who is to be credited with such progress in understanding or to what philosophical school that person belongs.

Hence, the other trends in philosophy, if regarded from this point of view, can and indeed should be treated as natural allies of the philosophy of St. Thomas, and as partners worthy of attention and respect in the dialogue that is carried on in the presence of reality.

This is needed if truth is to be more than partial or one-sided. That is why the advice given by St. Thomas to his followers in his “Letter on how to study” where he said: “look rather to what was said than to who it was that said it” (Ne respicias a quo sed quod dicitur), is so much in keeping with the spirit of his philosophy.

That is also why I am so pleased that the programme of studies in the Faculty of Philosophy in this University offers, besides the theoretical courses dealing with the thought of Aristotle and of St. Thomas, other courses such as: Science and Philosophy, Philosophical Anthropology, Physics and Philosophy, History of Modern Philosophy, the Phenomenological Movement, as required by the recent Apostolic Constitution Sapientia Christiana for Universities and Ecclesiastical Faculties (AAS 71, 1979, pp. 495-496).

8. There is still one more reason why the philosophy of St. Thomas has enduring value: its prevailing characteristic is that it is always in search of the truth. In his commentary on Aristotle, his favourite philosopher, he writes: “Philosophy is not studied in order to find out what people may have thought but in order to discover what is true” (De Coelo et Mundo, I, lect. 22; ed. R. Spiazzi, n. 228; “Sudium philosophiae non est ad hoc quod sciatur quid homines senserint, sed qualiter se habeat veritas”).

The reason why the philosophy of St. Thomas is pre-eminent is to be found in its realism and its objectivity: it is a philosophy “of what is, not of what ppears,” (de l'etre et non du paraitre). What makes the philosophy of the Angelic Doctor so wonderfully apt to be the “handmaid of faith” (ancilla fidei) is that it has gained possession of truths of the natural order, which have their origin in God the Creator, just as truths of the divine order have their source in God as revealing.

This does not lessen the value of philosophy or unduly restrict its field of research; on the contrary, it allows it to develop in ways that human reason alone could not have discovered. Hence the Supreme Pontiff Pius XI of holy memory, issuing the Encyclical Studiorum Ducem on the occasion of the Sixth Centenary of the Canonization of St. Thomas, did not hesitate to declare: “In honouring St. Thomas something greater is involved than the reputation of St. Thomas, and that is the authority of the teaching Church” (In Thoma honorando maius quiddam quam Thomae ipsius existimatio vertitur, id est Ecclesiae docentis auctoritas; AAS 15; 1923, p. 324; English trans. Scanlan. loc. cit., p. 238).

9. St. Thomas, because his “reason was enlightened by faith” (Vatican Council I. Dogmatic Constitution Dei Filius, ch. 4: DS. 3016), was in fact able to throw light also on problems concerning the Incarnate Word, “Saviour of all men” (Prologue to Part III of the Summa Theologiae).

These are the problems to which I referred in my first Encyclical Redemptor Hominis, in which I spoke about Christ as “Redeemer of man and of the world, centre of the universe and of history. . . the chief way for the Church” for our return “to the Father's house” (nn. 1, 8, 13).

This is a theme of the highest importance for the life of the Church and for Christian science. Is not Christology perhaps the basis and the first condition for working out a more complete anthropology such as is required by the needs of our day? We must not forget that, in fact, it is Christ alone who “reveals man fully to himself” (cf. Pastoral Constitution Gaudium et Spes, n. 22).

St. Thomas has, moreover, shed the light of reason, purified and elevated by faith, on problems concerning man: on his nature as created to the image and likeness of God, on his personality as worthy of respect from the first moment of his conception, on his supernatural destiny as found in the beatific vision of God, One and Three.

On this point we are indebted to St. Thomas for a precise and ever valid definition of that which constitutes man's essential greatness: “he has charge of himself” (ipse est sibi providens; cf. Contra Gentiles, III, 81).

Man is master of himself, he can make provision for himself and form projects towards fulfilling his destiny. This fact, however, taken by itself, does not settle the question of man's greatness, nor does it guarantee that he will be able, by himself, to reach the full perfection of personality.

The only decisive factor here is that man should let himself be guided, in his actions, by the truth; and truth is not made by man; he can only discover it in the nature that is given to him along with existence. It is God who, as creator, calls reality into being and, as revealer, shows it forth ever more fully in Jesus Christ and in his Church.

The Second Vatican Council, when it speaks of this self-providence of man “in so far as it involves knowing what is true” (sub ratione veri) as a “kingly ministry” (munus regale), goes to the heart of this intuition.

This is the teaching which I set out to call to mind and bring up to date in the Encyclical Redemptor Hominis, by drawing attention to man as “the primary and fundamental way for the Church” (n. 14).

10. I must add one last word at the end of these reflections which, of necessity, have to be brief. It concerns the thought with which Leo XIII ends his Aeterni Patris, “Let us follow the example of the Angelic Doctor,”,(Leonis XIII, Acta, loc. cit., p. 283) is what he advises.

That is what I also repeat this evening.

This advice is indeed fully justified by the witness which he gave by his manner of living and which gave force to what he said as a teacher. He had indeed the technical mastery befitting a teacher, but, prior to this, his manner of teaching was that of a saint who lives the Gospel fully, of one for whom love is everything: love of God, the primal source of all truth; love of one's neighbour, God's masterpiece; love of all created things, for these also are precious caskets full of the treasures which God has poured into them.

If we look for the driving force behind his commitment to a life of study, the secret urge which led him to consecrate himself through a total dedication, we find it in his own words: “All things issue from charity as from a principle, and all things are ordered towards charity as to an end” (A caritate omnia procedunt sicut a principio et in caritatem omnia ordinantur sicut in finem: In John, XV, 2).

And in fact the huge intellectual effort of this master of thought was stimulated, sustained and given direction by a heart full of the love of God and of his neighbour. “The knowledge of what is true is given by the fervour of love” (Per ardorem caritatis datur cognitio veritatis; ibid., V, 6).

These words could be taken as his motto. They allow us to perceive, behind the thinker able to rise to the loftiest heights of speculation, the mystic accustomed to go straight to the very fountain of all truth to find the answer to the deepest questionings of the human spirit. Did not he himself tell us that he never wrote anything nor gave class unless he had first had recourse to prayer?

One who approaches St. Thomas cannot set aside this witness which comes from his life; he must rather follow courageously the path traced out by him and bind himself to follow his example if he would wish to taste the most secret and savoury fruits of his teaching. This is the burden of the prayer which the Liturgy places on our lips on his feastday: “O God, since it was by your gift that St. Thomas became so great a saint and theologian, give us the grace to understand his teaching and follow his way of life.”

This is also what we ask from the Lord this evening, as we entrust our prayer to the intercession of “Master Thomas” himself, a master who was deeply human because he was deeply Christian, and precisely because he was so deeply Christian was so deeply human.



The text of this Address appeared in the following publications:

1. In Acta Apostolicae Sedis, no. 15, vol. LXXI, 30 November 1979, pp. 1472-1483, in the original Italian.

2. In Angelicum, vol. 57, fasc. 2, 1980, pp. 121-132, in the original Italian.

3. In Angelicum, vol. 57, fasc. 2, 1980, pp. 133-146, English translation.

4. The translation given above appeared in L’Osservatore Romano, English Weekly Edition, 17 December 1979, pp. 6-8.


Translator's Note

Reference: Pope John Paul II, “Address at the Angelicum,” 17 November 1979.

The following translator’s note accompanies the L’Osservatore Romano English Weekly Edition translation.


(1) (Translator's note). No literal English rendering could convey the meaning which this technical Latin expression [actus essendi] - or its equivalent esse ut actus - had for St। Thomas, and presumably retains for Pope John Paul.

It does not refer to the mere fact of existing, of “being there,” especially if this is taken in a spatial or temporal sense.

The meaning of the Latin
esse is not properly expressed by the infinitive “to be”, for this may refer only to the function of the copula in a proposition.

Nor is the abstract term “existence” adequate, for we are dealing with the most concrete of all realities.

“Actual existing”, or “actual, be-ing”, come closer to the meaning intended; but to avoid the connotation either of “existence” or of “being” which can be taken in a substantive sense, it might be advisable to coin the active and concrete word “is-ing”.

What St. Thomas has in mind is the most actual of all actualities, the most perfect of all perfections, the inmost principle and source of all the actuality, perfection, reality, and indeed also of the knowability, of anything that is.

It is esse in this metaphysical sense which makes anything be, and be real; it is the immediate source of the reality and perfection of all things.

This may help the reader to appreciate the Pope's insistence on this insight, so central in the thought of St. Thomas, and the implications which he draws from it in nn. 6 and 7 of his discourse.

(L’Osservatore Romano, English Weekly Edition, 17 December 1979, pp. 6-8.)

Monday, July 6, 2009

0070: Exploring Spiritual Truths with Orestes J. Gonzalez by M. J. Joachim


Entry 0070: Exploring Spiritual Truths with Orestes J. Gonzalez by M. J. Joachim

Today I have the pleasure of sharing my faith with you through one of my favorite authors on Helium. He is none other than Fr. Orestes J. Gonzalez, and his work has taught and inspired me more than I could possibly say. For obvious reasons Father’s articles focus on faith as he explains the
existence of God, debates about angels being real, or educates us on why God is not one of man’s inventions. More in depth discussions on Catholic theology can be found in his blog, Actus Essendi.

While most of Father’s articles are written on spirituality, he does venture out into other channels as well. His
essay on love is not to be missed, as he discusses the overuse of the term, and details love’s many dimensions with concluding thoughts about its ecstasy. Moreover, I would be negligent if I did not share what I think to be a very sound article in which Father answers the question of whether or not there is only one true religion. Regardless of your belief system, you will find peace and comfort in the articles written by Fr. Gonzalez. I am so happy to introduce you to one of our spiritual leaders on Helium.

Monday, April 27, 2009

0068: Pope John Paul II on Aquinas’ Actus Essendi (III)

Entry 0068: Pope John Paul II on Aquinas’ Actus Essendi (III)

In his Encyclical Letter “Fides et Ratio,” John Paul II states that “the ‘philosophy of being’ is strong and enduring because it is based upon the very act of being itself (ipsum actus essendi), which allows a full and comprehensive openness to reality as a whole” (“Fides et Ratio,” 14 September 1998, Acta Apostolicae Sedis, 1999, vol. 91, pp. 5-88, no. 97.)

With unmistakable clarity, in “Fides et Ratio” John Paul II directed our attention towards the methodology of the actus essendi. In favoring the ‘philosophy of the actus essendi,’ John Paul II identified the school of ‘sound’ thinking.

With the caliber of a philosopher and the authority of a teacher, Wojtyla indicated the way philosophers disqualify themselves. “Once reason successfully intuits and formulates the first universal principles of being and correctly draws from them conclusions which are coherent both logically and ethically, then it may be called right reason or, as the ancients called it, orth(o-)s logos, recta ratio” (“Fides et Ratio,” no. 4.)

In other words, through philosophy’s work and the ability to speculate, the human intellect has produced a rigorous mode of thought. The most precious fruit of this process is the notion of actus essendi which carries with it an intrinsic and inseparable methodology.

Monday, April 20, 2009

0067: Pope John Paul II on Aquinas’ Actus Essendi (II)

Entry 0067: Pope John Paul II on Aquinas’ Actus Essendi (II)

Even in the context of philosophical anthropology John Paul II remains unyielding on presenting the methodology of the actus essendi as a point of reference to keep philosophical reflection from running aground.

Thomistic anthropology does not end in the abstract consideration of human nature. It also 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, [by means of the actus essendi which sustains him,] is exalted to the very height of the perfection of being and reality, and thus of good and value…

Thus in the anthropology of Saint Thomas we find largely satisfied both the demand of subtle and systematic analysis and that of providing a foundation and a justification for the highest values of the person—so frequently invoked today—… The anthropology of Saint Thomas always closely unites the consideration of ‘nature’ with that of ‘person’ in such a way that nature is the foundation of the objective values of the person and the latter gives a concrete meaning to the universal values of nature (“Address to the participants in the International ongress of the Saint Thomas Aquinas Society”, 4 January 1986, Nos. 3-5, published in L’Osservatore Romano English Weekly Edition, 27 Janurary1986, pp. 6-7, in Acta Apostolicae Sedis, Vol. 78, 1986, pp. 633-637.)

Monday, April 13, 2009

0066: Pope John Paul II on Aquinas’ Actus Essendi (I)

Entry 0066: Pope John Paul II on Aquinas’ Actus Essendi (I)

As late as 1999, in his Apostolic Letter Inter Munera Academiarum, John Paul II remarked, “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, April 6, 2009

0065: Actus Essendi and the ascent to God

Entry 0065: Actus Essendi and the ascent to God

Reflecting on the “Actus Essendi Way” developed by Aquinas to prove the existence of God, David Bentley Hart writes:



In the terms of Aquinas, there is simply an obvious incommensurability between the 'essence' and the existence of things, and hence finite reality cannot account for its own 'being.'



And if this incommensurability is considered with adequate probity and clarity, it cannot fail but lead reflection towards something like what [Aquinas] calls the 'Actus Essendi Subsistens' - the subsisting Act of Being - which is one of his most beautiful names for God."

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.

Text

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. (...)



Footnotes

(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.