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Monday, December 27, 2010

0154: Pope Benedict XVI on Aquinas (XVII)

Entry 0154: In the Apostolic Exhortation Verbum Domini of 30 September 2010, Pope Benedict XVI refers to Saint Thomas Aquinas three times as follows:


In Part I of Verbum Domini, in the section on “The creation of man,” the Pope writes:

“Every human being who comes to consciousness and to responsibility has the experience of an inner call to do good” and thus to avoid evil. As Saint Thomas Aquinas says, this principle is the basis of all the other precepts of the natural law. [28]

Footnote [28]: Cf. Summa Theologiae, Ia-IIae, q. 94, art. 2.

Here is what Aquinas says in Summa Theologiae, Ia-IIae, q. 94, art. 2.

Original Latin:

Primum principium in ratione practica est quod fundatur supra rationem boni, quae est, bonum est quod omnia appetunt. Hoc est ergo primum praeceptum legis, quod bonum est faciendum et prosequendum, et malum vitandum. Et super hoc fundantur omnia alia praecepta legis naturae.”

English Translation:

“The first principle of practical reason is one founded on the notion of good, namely, that 'good is that which all things seek after.' Hence this is the first precept of law, that 'good is to be done and pursued, and evil is to be avoided.' All other precepts of the natural law are based upon this principle.”


In Part I of Verbum Domini, in the section on “The Church as the primary setting for biblical hermeneutics,” the Pope writes:

And Saint Thomas Aquinas, citing Saint Augustine, insists that “the letter, even that of the Gospel, would kill, were there not the inward grace of healing faith”.[85]

Footnote [85]: Summa Theologiae, Ia-IIae, q. 106, art. 2.

Here is what Aquinas says in Summa Theologiae, Ia-IIae, q. 106, art. 2.

Original Latin:

Ad Legem Evangelii duo pertinent. Unum quidem principaliter, scilicet ipsa gratia Spiritus Sancti interius data. Et quantum ad hoc, Nova Lex iustificat. Aliud pertinet ad Legem Evangelii secundario, scilicet documenta fidei, et praecepta ordinantia affectum humanum et humanos actus. Et quantum ad hoc, Lex Nova non iustificat. Unde Apostolus dicit, II ad Cor. III, ‘Littera occidit, Spiritus autem vivificat.’ Et Augustinus exponit quod per litteram intelligitur quaelibet Scriptura extra homines existens, etiam moralium praeceptorum qualia continentur in Evangelio. Unde etiam littera Evangelii occideret, nisi adesset interius gratia fidei sanans.”

English Translation:

“There is a twofold element in the Law of the Gospel. There is the chief element, namely, the grace of the Holy Spirit bestowed inwardly. And as to this, the New Law justifies. The other element of the Evangelical Law is secondary: namely, the teachings of faith, and those commandments which direct human affections and human actions. And as to this, the New Law does not justify. Hence the Apostle says (2 Cor. 3:6) ‘The letter killeth, but the spirit quickeneth.’ And Augustine explains this by saying that the letter denotes any writing external to man, even that of the moral precepts such as are contained in the Gospel. Wherefore the letter, even of the Gospel would kill, unless there were the inward presence of the healing grace of faith.”


In Part I of Verbum Domini, in the section on “Literal sense and spiritual sense,” the Pope writes:

Saint Thomas of Aquinas, for example, states that “all the senses of sacred Scripture are based on the literal sense”.[121] It is necessary, however, to remember that in patristic and medieval times every form of exegesis, including the literal form, was carried out on the basis of faith, without there necessarily being any distinction between the literal sense and the spiritual sense.

Footnote [121]: Summa Theologiae, I, q. 1, art. 10, ad 1.

Here is what Aquinas says in Summa Theologiae, I, q. 1, art. 10, ad 1.

Original Latin:

Auctor sacrae Scripturae est Deus, in cuius potestate est ut non solum voces ad significandum accommodet (quod etiam homo facere potest), sed etiam res ipsas. Et ideo, cum in omnibus scientiis voces significent, hoc habet proprium ista scientia, quod ipsae res significatae per voces, etiam significant aliquid. Illa ergo prima significatio, qua voces significant res, pertinet ad primum sensum, qui est sensus historicus vel litteralis. Illa vero significatio qua res significatae per voces, iterum res alias significant, dicitur sensus spiritualis; qui super litteralem fundatur, et eum supponit.

Hic autem sensus spiritualis trifariam dividitur. Lex Vetus figura est Novae Legis. In Nova etiam Lege, ea quae in Capite sunt gesta, sunt signa eorum quae nos agere debemus. Et ipsa Nova Lex est figura futurae gloriae.

Secundum ergo quod ea quae sunt Veteris Legis, significant ea quae sunt Novae Legis, est sensus allegoricus, secundum vero quod ea quae in Christo sunt facta, vel in his quae Christum significant, sunt signa eorum quae nos agere debemus, est sensus moralis, prout vero significant ea quae sunt in aeterna gloria, est sensus anagogicus.

Sensus isti non multiplicantur propter hoc quod una vox multa significet; sed quia ipsae res significatae per voces, aliarum rerum possunt esse signa. Et ita etiam nulla confusio sequitur in Sacra Scriptura, cum omnes sensus fundentur super unum, scilicet litteralem; ex quo solo potest trahi argumentum, non autem ex his quae secundum allegoriam dicuntur.”

English Translation:

“The author of Sacred Scripture is God, in whose power it is to signify His meaning, not by words only (as man also can do), but also by things themselves. So, whereas in every other science things are signified by words, this science [the science of Sacred Scripture] has the property, that the things signified by the words have themselves also a signification. Therefore that first signification whereby words signify things belongs to the first sense, the historical or literal. That signification whereby things signified by words have themselves also a signification is called the spiritual sense, which is based on the literal, and presupposes it.

“Now this spiritual sense has a threefold division. First, the Old Law is a figure of the New Law. Again, in the New Law, whatever our Head has done is a type of what we ought to do. And the New Law itself is a figure of future glory.

“Therefore, so far as the things of the Old Law signify the things of the New Law, there is the allegorical sense; so far as the things done in Christ, or so far as the things which signify Christ, are types of what we ought to do, there is the moral sense. But so far as they signify what relates to eternal glory, there is the anagogical sense.

“These senses are not multiplied because one word signifies several things, but because the things signified by the words can be themselves types of other things. Thus in Sacred Scripture no confusion results, for all the senses are founded on one---the literal---from which alone can any argument be drawn, and not from those intended in allegory.”

The original Italian of the Apostolic Exhortation Verbum Domini, the English translation of the document, and translations into other languages can be found in the Official Web Site of the Holy See. (Accessed December 12, 2010.)

Monday, December 20, 2010

0153: John F. Wippel on Actus Essendi (III)

Entry 0153: Remarks by Professor John F. Wippel on Actus Essendi

“Nothing enjoys actuality except insofar as it exists. Therefore esse itself is the actuality of all things, including forms themselves.

“Hence [esse] is related to other things not as that which receives is related to that which is received, but rather as that which is received to that which receives it.

“As he uses the term esse in this discussion, [Aquinas] has in mind the intrinsic act of being (actus essendi). It is this … which accounts for the fact that things exist.

“The term esse [signifies] not mere facticity but a principle within every finite substance which serves as its intrinsic act of being (actus essendi) and which accounts for the fact that it exists.” (1)

(1) John F. Wippel, The Metaphysical Thought of Thomas Aquinas (Washington, D.C.: The Catholic University of America Press, 2000), 410 and 489.

Monday, December 13, 2010

0152: Pope Benedict XVI on Aquinas (XVI)

Entry 0152: Pope Benedict XVI invokes Saint Thomas Aquinas to assist him

In the General Audience of 25 August 2010, the Holy Father Pope Benedict XVI spoke about his devotion to saints:

Everyone must have some Saint with whom he or she is on familiar terms, to feel close to with prayer and intercession but also to emulate.

As you know, I too am especially attached to certain Saints: among them in addition to Saint Joseph and Saint Benedict, whose names I bear is Saint Augustine whom I have had the great gift to know, so to speak, close at hand through study and prayer and who has become a good "travelling companion" in my life and my ministry.

And in the book Light of the World (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 2010), the Pope remarked:

Naturally I always pray first and foremost to our Lord, with whom I am united simply by old acquaintance, so to speak. But I also invoke the saints.

I am friends with Augustine, with Bonaventure, with Thomas Aquinas.

Then one says to such saints also: Help me!

And the Mother of God is, in any case, always a major point of reference.

In this sense I commend myself to the communion of saints.

With them, strengthened by them, I then talk with the dear Lord also, begging, for the most part, but also in thanksgiving--or quite simply being joyful.

Monday, December 6, 2010

0151: Pope Benedict XVI on Aquinas (XV)

Entry 0151: General Audience on Saint Juliana of Cornillon

On Wednesday, November 17, 2010, the Holy Father devoted the Catechesis of the General Audience to Saint Juliana of Cornillon (1191-1258), the saint who worked to promote a liturgical feast of Corpus Christi. She is better known as Saint Juliana of Liege. And the feast of Corpus Christi was instituted as a solemnity for the universal Church by Pope Urban IV in 1264.

Benedict XVI pointed out also that it was Pope Urban IV who entrusted Saint Thomas Aquinas with composing the texts of the liturgical office of Corpus Christi:

Urban IV asked one of the greatest theologians of history, St. Thomas Aquinas -- who at that time was accompanying the Pope and was in Orvieto -- to compose texts of the liturgical office for this great feast. These are masterpieces in which theology and poetry fuse, still in use today in the Church. They are texts that make the cords of the heart vibrate to express praise and gratitude to the Most Holy Sacrament, while the intelligence, penetrating the mystery with wonder, recognizes in the Eucharist the living and true presence of Jesus, of his sacrifice of love that reconciles us with the Father, and gives us salvation.

Here is the text of the Audience. (The original Italian, the English translation reported here, and translations into other languages can be found in the Official Web Site of the Holy See,, accessed November 26, 2010.)



Saint Peter's Square

Wednesday, 17 November 2010

Saint Juliana of Cornillon

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

This morning too I would like to introduce a female figure to you. She is little known but the Church is deeply indebted to her, not only because of the holiness of her life but also because, with her great fervour, she contributed to the institution of one of the most important solemn Liturgies of the year: Corpus Christi.

She is St Juliana de Cornillon, also known as St Juliana of Liège. We know several facts about her life, mainly from a Biography that was probably written by a contemporary cleric; it is a collection of various testimonies of people who were directly acquainted with the Saint.

Juliana was born near Liège, Belgium between 1191 and 1192. It is important to emphasize this place because at that time the Diocese of Liège was, so to speak, a true “Eucharistic Upper Room”. Before Juliana, eminent theologians had illustrated the supreme value of the Sacrament of the Eucharist and, again in Liège, there were groups of women generously dedicated to Eucharistic worship and to fervent communion. Guided by exemplary priests, they lived together, devoting themselves to prayer and to charitable works.

Orphaned at the age of five, Juliana, together with her sister Agnes, was entrusted to the care of the Augustinian nuns at the convent and leprosarium of Mont-Cornillon.

She was taught mainly by a sister called “Sapienza” [wisdom], who was in charge of her spiritual development to the time Juliana received the religious habit and thus became an Augustinian nun.

She became so learned that she could read the words of the Church Fathers, of St Augustine and St Bernard in particular, in Latin. In addition to a keen intelligence, Juliana showed a special propensity for contemplation from the outset. She had a profound sense of Christ’s presence, which she experienced by living the Sacrament of the Eucharist especially intensely and by pausing frequently to meditate upon Jesus’ words: “And lo, I am with you always, to the close of the age” (Mt 28:20).

When Juliana was 16 she had her first vision which recurred subsequently several times during her Eucharistic adoration. Her vision presented the moon in its full splendour, crossed diametrically by a dark stripe. The Lord made her understand the meaning of what had appeared to her. The moon symbolized the life of the Church on earth, the opaque line, on the other hand, represented the absence of a liturgical feast for whose institution Juliana was asked to plead effectively: namely, a feast in which believers would be able to adore the Eucharist so as to increase in faith, to advance in the practice of the virtues and to make reparation for offences to the Most Holy Sacrament.

Juliana, who in the meantime had become Prioress of the convent, kept this revelation that had filled her heart with joy a secret for about 20 years. She then confided it to two other fervent adorers of the Eucharist, Blessed Eva, who lived as a hermit, and Isabella, who had joined her at the Monastery of Mont-Cornillon. The three women established a sort of “spiritual alliance” for the purpose of glorifying the Most Holy Sacrament.

They also chose to involve a highly regarded Priest, John of Lausanne, who was a canon of the Church of St Martin in Liège. They asked him to consult theologians and clerics on what was important to them. Their affirmative response was encouraging.

What happened to Juliana of Cornillon occurs frequently in the lives of Saints. To have confirmation that an inspiration comes from God it is always necessary to be immersed in prayer to wait patiently, to seek friendship and exchanges with other good souls and to submit all things to the judgement of the Pastors of the Church.

It was in fact Bishop Robert Torote, Liège who, after initial hesitation, accepted the proposal of Juliana and her companions and first introduced the Solemnity of Corpus Christi in his diocese. Later other Bishops following his example instituted this Feast in the territories entrusted to their pastoral care.

However, to increase their faith the Lord often asks Saints to sustain trials. This also happened to Juliana who had to bear the harsh opposition of certain members of the clergy and even of the superior on whom her monastery depended.

Of her own free will, therefore, Juliana left the Convent of Mont-Cornillon with several companions. For 10 years — from 1248 to 1258 — she stayed as a guest at various monasteries of Cistercian sisters.

She edified all with her humility, she had no words of criticism or reproach for her adversaries and continued zealously to spread Eucharistic worship.

She died at Fosses-La-Ville, Belgium, in 1258. In the cell where she lay the Blessed Sacrament was exposed and, according to her biographer’s account, Juliana died contemplating with a last effusion to love Jesus in the Eucharist whom she had always loved, honoured and adored. Jacques Pantaléon of Troyes was also won over to the good cause of the Feast of Corpus Christi during his ministry as Archdeacon in Lièges. It was he who, having become Pope with the name of Urban IV in 1264, instituted the Solemnity of Corpus Christi on the Thursday after Pentecost as a feast of precept for the universal Church.

In the Bull of its institution, entitled Transiturus de hoc mundo, (11 Aug. 1264), Pope Urban even referred discreetly to Juliana's mystical experiences, corroborating their authenticity. He wrote: “Although the Eucharist is celebrated solemnly every day, we deem it fitting that at least once a year it be celebrated with greater honour and a solemn commemoration.

“Indeed we grasp the other things we commemorate with our spirit and our mind, but this does not mean that we obtain their real presence. On the contrary, in this sacramental commemoration of Christ, even though in a different form, Jesus Christ is present with us in his own substance. While he was about to ascend into Heaven he said ‘And lo, I am with you always, to the close of the age’ (Matthew 28:20)”.

The Pontiff made a point of setting an example by celebrating the solemnity of Corpus Christi in Orvieto, the town where he was then residing. Indeed, he ordered that the famous Corporal with the traces of the Eucharistic miracle which had occurred in Bolsena the previous year, 1263, be kept in Orvieto Cathedral — where it still is today.

While a priest was consecrating the bread and the wine he was overcome by strong doubts about the Real Presence of the Body and Blood of Christ in the sacrament of the Eucharist. A few drops of blood began miraculously to ooze from the consecrated Host, thereby confirming what our faith professes.

Urban iv asked one of the greatest theologians of history, St Thomas Aquinas — who at that time was accompanying the Pope and was in Orvieto — to compose the texts of the Liturgical Office for this great feast. They are masterpieces, still in use in the Church today, in which theology and poetry are fuse. These texts pluck at the heartstrings in an expression of praise and gratitude to the Most Holy Sacrament, while the mind, penetrating the mystery with wonder, recognizes in the Eucharist the Living and Real Presence of Jesus, of his Sacrifice of love that reconciles us with the Father, and gives us salvation.

Although after the death of Urban IV the celebration of the Feast of Corpus Christi was limited to certain regions of France, Germany, Hungary and Northern Italy, it was another Pontiff, John XXII, who in 1317 re-established it for the universal Church. Since then the Feast experienced a wonderful development and is still deeply appreciated by the Christian people.

I would like to affirm with joy that today there is a “Eucharistic springtime” in the Church: How many people pause in silence before the Tabernacle to engage in a loving conversation with Jesus! It is comforting to know that many groups of young people have rediscovered the beauty of praying in adoration before the Most Blessed Sacrament.

I am thinking, for example, of our Eucharistic adoration in Hyde Park, London. I pray that this Eucharistic “springtime” may spread increasingly in every parish and in particular in Belgium, St Juliana’s homeland.

Venerable John Paul II said in his Encyclical Ecclesia de Eucharistia: “In many places, adoration of the Blessed Sacrament is also an important daily practice and becomes an inexhaustible source of holiness. The devout participation of the faithful in the Eucharistic procession on the Solemnity of the Body and Blood of Christ is a grace from the Lord which yearly brings joy to those who take part in it. Other positive signs of Eucharistic faith and love might also be mentioned” (n. 10).

In remembering St Juliana of Cornillon let us also renew our faith in the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist. As we are taught by the Compendium of the Catechism of the Catholic Church, “Jesus Christ is present in the Eucharist in a unique and incomparable way. He is present in a true, real and substantial way, with his Body and his Blood, with his Soul and his Divinity. In the Eucharist, therefore, there is present in a sacramental way, that is, under the Eucharistic Species of bread and wine, Christ whole and entire, God and Man” (n. 282).

Dear friends, fidelity to the encounter with the Christ in the Eucharist in Holy Mass on Sunday is essential for the journey of faith, but let us also seek to pay frequent visits to the Lord present in the Tabernacle! In gazing in adoration at the consecrated Host, we discover the gift of God's love, we discover Jesus' Passion and Cross and likewise his Resurrection. It is precisely through our gazing in adoration that the Lord draws us towards him into his mystery in order to transform us as he transforms the bread and the wine.

The Saints never failed to find strength, consolation and joy in the Eucharistic encounter. Let us repeat before the Lord present in the Most Blessed Sacrament the words of the Eucharistic hymn “Adoro te devote”: [Devoutly I adore Thee]: Make me believe ever more in you, “Draw me deeply into faith, / Into Your hope, into Your love”.

Thank you.

Monday, November 29, 2010

0150: John F. Wippel on Actus Essendi (II)

Entry 0150: Remarks by Professor John F. Wippel

“In the case of matter-form union, specification of the kind of being enjoyed by the composite essence, human being or canine being, for instance, is determined by the act principle within the essence, that is, by the substantial form.

“But in the composition of essence and esse within any finite entity, the specification or determination of the kind of being comes not from the side of the act principle – the actus essendi – but from the side of the potency principle, that is, from the essence.

“This is not surprising, of course, since the essence principle itself either is or at least includes a substantial form. While the form is an act principle within the line of essence, in the line of esse that same form, either in itself in the case of a separate substance or together with its matter in the case of a composite entity, is in potency with respect to its act of being.” (1)

(1) John F. Wippel, The Metaphysical Thought of Thomas Aquinas (Washington, D.C.: The Catholic University of America Press, 2000), 104-105.

Monday, November 22, 2010

0149: Stephen L. Brock on Actus Essendi

Entry 0149: Actus Essendi and Existence (III)

Remarks by Stephen L. Brock

"It is not nonsense to speak of the potential and actual existence of blindness. Its actual existence, of course, can hardly be an actus essendi. The lesson is rather that not every actual existence is an actus essendi.

"The extension comes quite naturally to our minds. And it serves to explain the broader notion of 'existence,' the one that applies both to real natures and to their privations and negations." (1)

(1) Stephen L. Brock, "Thomas Aquinas and 'What Actually Exists,'" Wisdom Apprentice, P.A. Kwasniewski, ed., (Washington, D.C.: The Catholic University of America Press, 2007) pp. 29 and 35.

Monday, November 15, 2010

0148: John F. Wippel on Actus Essendi (I)

Entry 0148: Remarks by Professor John F. Wippel

"If one finds limited instances of act, especially of the actus essendi, this can only be because in every such case the act principle [the actus essendi] is received and limited by a really distinct potency principle.

"It is also true, of course, that according to Aquinas, the essence principle and the act of being (actus essendi) of any creature are both created by God simultaneously, since the entire being is created, including both." (1)

(1) John F. Wippel, The Metaphysical Thought of Thomas Aquinas (Washington, D.C.: The Catholic University of America Press, 2000), 128.

Monday, November 8, 2010

0147: The Thirteen Texts in which Aquinas Uses the Expression "Actus Essendi" (X)

Entry 0147: The Thirteen Texts in which Aquinas Uses the Expression "Actus Essendi" (X)

I. In I Sent., 8, 1, 1, c

II. In I Sent., 8, 4, 2, ad 2

III. In I Sent., 8, 5, 2, c

IV. In III Sent., 11, 1, 2, ad 2

V. De Veritate, 1, 1, c

VI. De Veritate, 1,1, ad 1

VII. De Veritate, 1, 1, ad sc 3

VIII. De Veritate, 10, 8, ad 13

IX. Summa Theologiae, I, 3, 4, ad 2

X. De Potentia, 7, 2, ad 1

XI. Quaestiones Quodlibetales, 9, 4, 1, c

XII. In Metaphysicorum, 4, 2, No. 6

XIII. In De Hebdomadibus, 2

Commentary on Text X: De Potentia, 7, 2, ad 1


Ens et esse dicitur dupliciter, ut patet V Metaph. 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. Cum ergo dicat Damascenus, quod esse Dei est nobis manifestum, accipitur esse Dei secundo modo, et non primo. Primo enim modo est idem esse Dei quod est substantia: et sicut eius substantia est ignota, ita et esse. Secundo autem modo scimus quoniam Deus est, quoniam hanc propositionem in intellectu nostro concipimus ex effectibus ipsius.


"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. Accordingly when Damascene says that God’s existence is evident to us, the esse of God is taken in the second sense and not the first. For in the first sense God's esse is the same as his essence, and as his essence is unknown so also is his esse. In the second sense we know that ‘God exists,’ because we conceive this proposition in our mind from his effects."


Although the text begins with an explicit reference to ens as the present active participle of esse, no mention is made of the fact that ens is more than just a verbal adjective. The stress is placed rather on the fact that esse has two well-defined meanings.

The text from De Potentia unequivocally differentiates esse in its restricted meaning of actus essendi from esse in its wider meaning of “the truth of a proposition.”

With the example of “blindness,” the text sends us back to the conception of “existence,” which I previously described as the consequence of an actual “state of affairs.”

A person lacking sight is a real person, an actual “state of affairs.” And “blindness” connotes the absence of a quality.

Thus, when we say that 'blindness exists,' 'caecitas est,' 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.

In its wider meaning, esse refers to “the truth of a proposition” which may simply state something about the absence of being.

Note on Translation: The expression "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, November 1, 2010

0146: Progress in the Beatification Process of Pope John Paul II (I)

Entry 0146: Progress in the Beatification Process of Pope John Paul II (I)

The beatification process of Pope John Paul II began on June 28, 2005, two months after the death of the Roman Pontiff thanks to a dispensation granted by Pope Benedict XVI.

The Holy Father Benedict XVI waived the normal five-year waiting period before beginning the cause of beatification and canonization of Pope John Paul II on April 28, 2005.

The dispensation waived the normal period of time that the Roman Catholic Church requires before a cause for canonization can be opened after a person dies.

The cause was officially opened by Cardinal Camillo Ruini, vicar general for the diocese of Rome, on June 28, 2005.

The decree proclaiming Pope John Paul II’s life of heroic virtue was prepared by the Congregation for the Causes of Saints and authorized by Pope Benedict XVI on 19 December 2009.

With the approval of the decree on heroic virtue, the servant of God Pope John Paul II qualified for the title "Venerable" and may be beatified with the approval of a miracle.

Monday, October 25, 2010

0145: Aquinas on Catholic Anchor Online

Entry 0145: Anchorage presentation on the “Angelic Doctor” Saint Thomas Aquinas

On 8 October 2010, the Catholic Anchor Online, the Newspaper of the Archdiocese of Anchorage, reported the following:

Saint Thomas Aquinas is the famous 13th century Dominican philosopher, theologian and “Angelic Doctor” of the Catholic Church. According to Pope Benedict XVI, St. Thomas Aquinas’s work has had “fundamental importance” in philosophy, theology, as well as for history and culture.

Among other achievements, explained the Pope in June, “Thomas Aquinas showed that a natural harmony exists between Christian faith and reason… He created a new synthesis which formed the culture of the centuries to come.”

Monday, October 18, 2010

0144: The Uniqueness of the Transcendental Perfection of Actus Essendi

Entry 0144: Actus Essendi and Existence (II)

The Uniqueness of the Transcendental Perfection of Actus Essendi

The transcendental perfection of actus essendi has something unique to it, namely, that it cannot be conceived other than as pertaining to what actually exists as a subsisting extramental thing.

The notion of any other transcendental perfection, on the other hand, remains logically coherent regardless of whether or not the perfection has being, regardless of whether or not the perfection is instantiated in the real world—in what has actual existence.

By contrast, the notion of actus essendi changes radically if it is not understood as the innermost perfection of what actually exists as a subsisting extramental thing.

In other words, ‘existence’ is inseparable from the perfection of actus essendi.

Any of the transcendental perfections can be made the object of thought without considering whether or not the perfection exists in the real world. Not with actus essendi.

The perfection of actus essendi cannot be made the object of thought without considering that this perfection is the perfection of the real world.

The notion of actus essendi forces the mind to think of the real. No other notion, none of the notions of the other transcendental perfections, is so tied to the real as to be, even in thought, inseparable from the thought of the real itself.

And yet the notion of actus essendi cannot be reduced to ‘existence.’ ‘Existence’ is not something in which a thing can participate.

See Battista Mondin, “L’Oggeto e il metodo della metafisica secondo Aristotele e secondo S. Tommaso,” Sapienza, vol. 55, no. 2, 2002, pp. 129-153.

Monday, October 11, 2010

0143: The Thirteen Texts in which Aquinas Uses the Expression "Actus Essendi" (IX)

Entry 0143: The Thirteen Texts in which Aquinas Uses the Expression "Actus Essendi" (IX)

I. In I Sent., 8, 1, 1, c

II. In I Sent., 8, 4, 2, ad 2

III. In I Sent., 8, 5, 2, c

IV. In III Sent., 11, 1, 2, ad 2

V. De Veritate, 1, 1, c

VI. De Veritate, 1,1, ad 1

VII. De Veritate, 1, 1, ad sc 3

VIII. De Veritate, 10, 8, ad 13

IX. Summa Theologiae, I, 3, 4, ad 2

X. De Potentia, 7, 2, ad 1

XI. Quaestiones Quodlibetales, 9, 4, 1, c

XII. In Metaphysicorum, 4, 2, No. 6

XIII. In De Hebdomadibus, 2

Commentary on Text IX: 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.


"The Latin verb ‘esse’ can mean either of two things. It may mean the ‘act of being,’ or it may mean 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 know that this proposition which we form about God when we say ‘God is,’ is true; and this we know from His effects, as said above in Question 2, Article 2."


Reading the works of Aquinas one 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. Thus he writes,

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.

In the first sense God’s esse is His actus essendi; in the second sense, esse applied to God means ‘God exists.’

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.

See also (a) This Journal, Entry 0048; and (b) Stephen L. Brock, "Thomas Aquinas and 'What Actually Exists,'" Wisdom Apprentice, P.A. Kwasniewski, Ed., The Catholic University of America Press, Washington, D.C., 2007, pp 13-39.

Note on Translation: The expression "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, October 4, 2010

0142: The Self-Evident Connotation of the Actus Essendi (VI)

Entry 0142: The Self-Evident Connotation of the Actus Essendi (VI)

Aristotle maintains in the Posterior Analytics that it would not be possible to know the essential nature of anything and yet be ignorant of its existence: “Thus it follows that the degree of our knowledge of a thing’s essential nature is determined by the sense in which we are aware that it exists” (Post. Anal., 93a 28.) Such essential natures are known without mediation, i.e., without demonstration. Their existence, likewise, is known without mediation—as self-evident.

Our knowledge of the existence of any individual thing which comes under the purview of our immediate experience is self-evident. To Aristotle, “it would be absurd to try to prove that nature exists” (Physics, 193a 8.)

(Ralph J. Masiello, “A Note on Essence and Existence,” The New Scholasticism 45 [1971]: 491-494.)

It should be noted here that while actus essendi is inseparable from existence, existence as such is separable from actus essendi. There are in the external world things which are self-subsisting and things which are not self-subsisting.

The actus essendi of a self-subsiting extramental thing is what causes the thing—and everything in it—to stand actually present in the real world. And the presence of a self-subsiting extramental thing in the real world, the fact of its existence, is inseparable from the actus essendi of the thing.

In the real world, however, there are many things which are not self-subsiting. Things which are not self-subsisting, despite the fact of their actually existing in the real extramental world and that their actuality is real, do not possess actus essendi. And yet their existence is a fact.

The point I want to stress is this, that the connotation of existence is self-evident in both, in things which are not self-subsiting things and in the self-subsiting extramental things of nature. And more importantly, that in the self-subsiting extramental things of nature not only is existence self-evident, their actus essendi is also self-evident.

Monday, September 27, 2010

0141: Blessed John Henry Newman on Aquinas

Entry 0141: Blessed John Henry Newman on Aquinas

Blessed John Henry Newman was responsible for organizing the translation and publication of Aquinas’ Catena aurea. In the preface to the translation Newman writes:

It is impossible to read the Catena of S. Thomas, without being struck with the masterly and architectonic skill with which it is put together. A learning of the highest kind,—not a mere literary book-knowledge, which might have supplied the place of indexes and tables in ages destitute of those helps, and when every thing was to be read in unarranged and fragmentary manuscripts—but a thorough acquaintance with the whole range of ecclesiastical antiquity, so as to be able to bring the substance of all that had been written on any point to bear upon the text which involved it—a familiarity with the style of each writer, so as to compress into few words the pith of a whole page, and a power of clear and orderly arrangement in this mass of knowledge, are qualities which make this Catena perhaps nearly perfect as a conspectus of Patristic interpretation. Other compilations exhibit research, industry, learning; but this, though a mere compilation, evinces a masterly command over the whole subject of Theology (Preface from Catena Aurea of Saint Thomas Aquinas, Oxford, 1841.)

Monday, September 20, 2010

0140: Beatification of Cardinal John Henry Newman

Entry 0140: Beatification of Cardinal John Henry Newman


My Brothers and Sisters in Christ,

This is an evening of joy, of immense spiritual joy, for all of us. We are gathered here in prayerful vigil to prepare for tomorrow’s Mass, during which a great son of this nation, Cardinal John Henry Newman, will be declared Blessed. How many people, in England and throughout the world, have longed for this moment! It is also a great joy for me, personally, to share this experience with you. As you know, Newman has long been an important influence in my own life and thought, as he has been for so many people beyond these isles. The drama of Newman’s life invites us to examine our lives, to see them against the vast horizon of God’s plan, and to grow in communion with the Church of every time and place: the Church of the apostles, the Church of the martyrs, the Church of the saints, the Church which Newman loved and to whose mission he devoted his entire life.

I thank Archbishop Peter Smith for his kind words of welcome in your name, and I am especially pleased to see the many young people who are present for this vigil. This evening, in the context of our common prayer, I would like to reflect with you about a few aspects of Newman’s life which I consider very relevant to our lives as believers and to the life of the Church today.

Let me begin by recalling that Newman, by his own account, traced the course of his whole life back to a powerful experience of conversion which he had as a young man. It was an immediate experience of the truth of God’s word, of the objective reality of Christian revelation as handed down in the Church. This experience, at once religious and intellectual, would inspire his vocation to be a minister of the Gospel, his discernment of the source of authoritative teaching in the Church of God, and his zeal for the renewal of ecclesial life in fidelity to the apostolic tradition. At the end of his life, Newman would describe his life’s work as a struggle against the growing tendency to view religion as a purely private and subjective matter, a question of personal opinion. Here is the first lesson we can learn from his life: in our day, when an intellectual and moral relativism threatens to sap the very foundations of our society, Newman reminds us that, as men and women made in the image and likeness of God, we were created to know the truth, to find in that truth our ultimate freedom and the fulfilment of our deepest human aspirations. In a word, we are meant to know Christ, who is himself “the way, and the truth, and the life” (Jn 14:6).

Newman’s life also teaches us that passion for the truth, intellectual honesty and genuine conversion are costly. The truth that sets us free cannot be kept to ourselves; it calls for testimony, it begs to be heard, and in the end its convincing power comes from itself and not from the human eloquence or arguments in which it may be couched. Not far from here, at Tyburn, great numbers of our brothers and sisters died for the faith; the witness of their fidelity to the end was ever more powerful than the inspired words that so many of them spoke before surrendering everything to the Lord. In our own time, the price to be paid for fidelity to the Gospel is no longer being hanged, drawn and quartered but it often involves being dismissed out of hand, ridiculed or parodied. And yet, the Church cannot withdraw from the task of proclaiming Christ and his Gospel as saving truth, the source of our ultimate happiness as individuals and as the foundation of a just and humane society.

Finally, Newman teaches us that if we have accepted the truth of Christ and committed our lives to him, there can be no separation between what we believe and the way we live our lives. Our every thought, word and action must be directed to the glory of God and the spread of his Kingdom. Newman understood this, and was the great champion of the prophetic office of the Christian laity. He saw clearly that we do not so much accept the truth in a purely intellectual act as embrace it in a spiritual dynamic that penetrates to the core of our being. Truth is passed on not merely by formal teaching, important as that is, but also by the witness of lives lived in integrity, fidelity and holiness; those who live in and by the truth instinctively recognize what is false and, precisely as false, inimical to the beauty and goodness which accompany the splendour of truth, veritatis splendor.

Tonight’s first reading is the magnificent prayer in which Saint Paul asks that we be granted to know “the love of Christ which surpasses all understanding” (Eph 3:14-21). The Apostle prays that Christ may dwell in our hearts through faith (cf. Eph 3:17) and that we may come to “grasp, with all the saints, the breadth and the length, the height and the depth” of that love. Through faith we come to see God’s word as a lamp for our steps and light for our path (cf. Ps 119:105). Newman, like the countless saints who preceded him along the path of Christian discipleship, taught that the “kindly light” of faith leads us to realize the truth about ourselves, our dignity as God’s children, and the sublime destiny which awaits us in heaven. By letting the light of faith shine in our hearts, and by abiding in that light through our daily union with the Lord in prayer and participation in the life-giving sacraments of the Church, we ourselves become light to those around us; we exercise our “prophetic office”; often, without even knowing it, we draw people one step closer to the Lord and his truth. Without the life of prayer, without the interior transformation which takes place through the grace of the sacraments, we cannot, in Newman’s words, “radiate Christ”; we become just another “clashing cymbal” (1 Cor 13:1) in a world filled with growing noise and confusion, filled with false paths leading only to heartbreak and illusion.

One of the Cardinal’s best-loved meditations includes the words, “God has created me to do him some definite service. He has committed some work to me which he has not committed to another” (Meditations on Christian Doctrine). Here we see Newman’s fine Christian realism, the point at which faith and life inevitably intersect. Faith is meant to bear fruit in the transformation of our world through the power of the Holy Spirit at work in the lives and activity of believers. No one who looks realistically at our world today could think that Christians can afford to go on with business as usual, ignoring the profound crisis of faith which has overtaken our society, or simply trusting that the patrimony of values handed down by the Christian centuries will continue to inspire and shape the future of our society. We know that in times of crisis and upheaval God has raised up great saints and prophets for the renewal of the Church and Christian society; we trust in his providence and we pray for his continued guidance. But each of us, in accordance with his or her state of life, is called to work for the advancement of God’s Kingdom by imbuing temporal life with the values of the Gospel. Each of us has a mission, each of us is called to change the world, to work for a culture of life, a culture forged by love and respect for the dignity of each human person. As our Lord tells us in the Gospel we have just heard, our light must shine in the sight of all, so that, seeing our good works, they may give praise to our heavenly Father (cf. Mt 5:16).

Here I wish to say a special word to the many young people present. Dear young friends: only Jesus knows what “definite service” he has in mind for you. Be open to his voice resounding in the depths of your heart: even now his heart is speaking to your heart. Christ has need of families to remind the world of the dignity of human love and the beauty of family life. He needs men and women who devote their lives to the noble task of education, tending the young and forming them in the ways of the Gospel. He needs those who will consecrate their lives to the pursuit of perfect charity, following him in chastity, poverty and obedience, and serving him in the least of our brothers and sisters. He needs the powerful love of contemplative religious, who sustain the Church’s witness and activity through their constant prayer. And he needs priests, good and holy priests, men who are willing to lay down their lives for their sheep. Ask our Lord what he has in mind for you! Ask him for the generosity to say “yes!” Do not be afraid to give yourself totally to Jesus. He will give you the grace you need to fulfil your vocation. Let me finish these few words by warmly inviting you to join me next year in Madrid for World Youth Day. It is always a wonderful occasion to grow in love for Christ and to be encouraged in a joyful life of faith along with thousands of other young people. I hope to see many of you there!

And now, dear friends, let us continue our vigil of prayer by preparing to encounter Christ, present among us in the Blessed Sacrament of the Altar. Together, in the silence of our common adoration, let us open our minds and hearts to his presence, his love, and the convincing power of his truth. In a special way, let us thank him for the enduring witness to that truth offered by Cardinal John Henry Newman. Trusting in his prayers, let us ask the Lord to illumine our path, and the path of all British society, with the kindly light of his truth, his love and his peace. Amen.




Cofton Park of Rednal – Birmingham

Sunday, 19 September 2010

Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,

This day that has brought us together here in Birmingham is a most auspicious one. In the first place, it is the Lord’s day, Sunday, the day when our Lord Jesus Christ rose from the dead and changed the course of human history for ever, offering new life and hope to all who live in darkness and in the shadow of death. That is why Christians all over the world come together on this day to give praise and thanks to God for the great marvels he has worked for us. This particular Sunday also marks a significant moment in the life of the British nation, as it is the day chosen to commemorate the seventieth anniversary of the Battle of Britain. For me as one who lived and suffered through the dark days of the Nazi regime in Germany, it is deeply moving to be here with you on this occasion, and to recall how many of your fellow citizens sacrificed their lives, courageously resisting the forces of that evil ideology. My thoughts go in particular to nearby Coventry, which suffered such heavy bombardment and massive loss of life in November 1940. Seventy years later, we recall with shame and horror the dreadful toll of death and destruction that war brings in its wake, and we renew our resolve to work for peace and reconciliation wherever the threat of conflict looms. Yet there is another, more joyful reason why this is an auspicious day for Great Britain, for the Midlands, for Birmingham. It is the day that sees Cardinal John Henry Newman formally raised to the altars and declared Blessed.

I thank Archbishop Bernard Longley for his gracious welcome at the start of Mass this morning. I pay tribute to all who have worked so hard over many years to promote the cause of Cardinal Newman, including the Fathers of the Birmingham Oratory and the members of the Spiritual Family Das Werk. And I greet everyone here from Great Britain, Ireland, and further afield; I thank you for your presence at this celebration, in which we give glory and praise to God for the heroic virtue of a saintly Englishman.

England has a long tradition of martyr saints, whose courageous witness has sustained and inspired the Catholic community here for centuries. Yet it is right and fitting that we should recognize today the holiness of a confessor, a son of this nation who, while not called to shed his blood for the Lord, nevertheless bore eloquent witness to him in the course of a long life devoted to the priestly ministry, and especially to preaching, teaching, and writing. He is worthy to take his place in a long line of saints and scholars from these islands, Saint Bede, Saint Hilda, Saint Aelred, Blessed Duns Scotus, to name but a few. In Blessed John Henry, that tradition of gentle scholarship, deep human wisdom and profound love for the Lord has borne rich fruit, as a sign of the abiding presence of the Holy Spirit deep within the heart of God’s people, bringing forth abundant gifts of holiness.

Cardinal Newman’s motto, Cor ad cor loquitur, or “Heart speaks unto heart”, gives us an insight into his understanding of the Christian life as a call to holiness, experienced as the profound desire of the human heart to enter into intimate communion with the Heart of God. He reminds us that faithfulness to prayer gradually transforms us into the divine likeness. As he wrote in one of his many fine sermons, “a habit of prayer, the practice of turning to God and the unseen world in every season, in every place, in every emergency – prayer, I say, has what may be called a natural effect in spiritualizing and elevating the soul. A man is no longer what he was before; gradually … he has imbibed a new set of ideas, and become imbued with fresh principles” (Parochial and Plain Sermons, iv, 230-231). Today’s Gospel tells us that no one can be the servant of two masters (cf. Lk 16:13), and Blessed John Henry’s teaching on prayer explains how the faithful Christian is definitively taken into the service of the one true Master, who alone has a claim to our unconditional devotion (cf. Mt 23:10). Newman helps us to understand what this means for our daily lives: he tells us that our divine Master has assigned a specific task to each one of us, a “definite service”, committed uniquely to every single person: “I have my mission”, he wrote, “I am a link in a chain, a bond of connexion between persons. He has not created me for naught. I shall do good, I shall do his work; I shall be an angel of peace, a preacher of truth in my own place … if I do but keep his commandments and serve him in my calling” (Meditations and Devotions, 301-2).

The definite service to which Blessed John Henry was called involved applying his keen intellect and his prolific pen to many of the most pressing “subjects of the day”. His insights into the relationship between faith and reason, into the vital place of revealed religion in civilized society, and into the need for a broadly-based and wide-ranging approach to education were not only of profound importance for Victorian England, but continue today to inspire and enlighten many all over the world. I would like to pay particular tribute to his vision for education, which has done so much to shape the ethos that is the driving force behind Catholic schools and colleges today. Firmly opposed to any reductive or utilitarian approach, he sought to achieve an educational environment in which intellectual training, moral discipline and religious commitment would come together. The project to found a Catholic University in Ireland provided him with an opportunity to develop his ideas on the subject, and the collection of discourses that he published as The Idea of a University holds up an ideal from which all those engaged in academic formation can continue to learn. And indeed, what better goal could teachers of religion set themselves than Blessed John Henry’s famous appeal for an intelligent, well-instructed laity: “I want a laity, not arrogant, not rash in speech, not disputatious, but men who know their religion, who enter into it, who know just where they stand, who know what they hold and what they do not, who know their creed so well that they can give an account of it, who know so much of history that they can defend it” (The Present Position of Catholics in England, ix, 390). On this day when the author of those words is raised to the altars, I pray that, through his intercession and example, all who are engaged in the task of teaching and catechesis will be inspired to greater effort by the vision he so clearly sets before us.

While it is John Henry Newman’s intellectual legacy that has understandably received most attention in the vast literature devoted to his life and work, I prefer on this occasion to conclude with a brief reflection on his life as a priest, a pastor of souls. The warmth and humanity underlying his appreciation of the pastoral ministry is beautifully expressed in another of his famous sermons: “Had Angels been your priests, my brethren, they could not have condoled with you, sympathized with you, have had compassion on you, felt tenderly for you, and made allowances for you, as we can; they could not have been your patterns and guides, and have led you on from your old selves into a new life, as they can who come from the midst of you” (“Men, not Angels: the Priests of the Gospel”, Discourses to Mixed Congregations, 3). He lived out that profoundly human vision of priestly ministry in his devoted care for the people of Birmingham during the years that he spent at the Oratory he founded, visiting the sick and the poor, comforting the bereaved, caring for those in prison. No wonder that on his death so many thousands of people lined the local streets as his body was taken to its place of burial not half a mile from here. One hundred and twenty years later, great crowds have assembled once again to rejoice in the Church’s solemn recognition of the outstanding holiness of this much-loved father of souls. What better way to express the joy of this moment than by turning to our heavenly Father in heartfelt thanksgiving, praying in the words that Blessed John Henry Newman placed on the lips of the choirs of angels in heaven:

Praise to the Holiest in the height
And in the depth be praise;
In all his words most wonderful,
Most sure in all his ways!
(The Dream of Gerontius).


(SEPTEMBER 16-19, 2010)



Cofton Park of Rednal - Birmingham
Sunday, 19 September 2010

Brothers and Sisters in Jesus Christ,

I am pleased to send my greetings to the people of Seville where, just yesterday, Madre María de la Purísima de la Cruz was beatified. May Blessed María be an inspiration to young women to follow her example of single-minded love of God and neighbour.

When Blessed John Henry Newman came to live in Birmingham, he gave the name “Maryvale” to his first home here. The Oratory that he founded is dedicated to the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin. And the Catholic University of Ireland he placed under the patronage of Mary, Sedes Sapientiae. In so many ways, he lived his priestly ministry in a spirit of filial devotion to the Mother of God. Meditating upon her role in the unfolding of God’s plan for our salvation, he was moved to exclaim: “Who can estimate the holiness and perfection of her, who was chosen to be the Mother of Christ? What must have been her gifts, who was chosen to be the only near earthly relative of the Son of God, the only one whom He was bound by nature to revere and look up to; the one appointed to train and educate Him, to instruct Him day by day, as He grew in wisdom and in stature?” (Parochial and Plain Sermons, ii, 131-2). It is on account of those abundant gifts of grace that we honour her, and it is on account of that intimacy with her divine Son that we naturally seek her intercession for our own needs and the needs of the whole world. In the words of the Angelus, we turn now to our Blessed Mother and commend to her the intentions that we hold in our hearts.

© Copyright 2010 - Libreria Editrice Vaticana

Monday, September 13, 2010

0139: Pope Benedict XVI on Aquinas (XIV)

Entry 0139: Pope Benedict XVI on Aquinas (XIV)

On Sunday, September 5, 2010, the Holy Father paid a short visit to Carpineto Romano (in Italy,) the birthplace of his predecessor Pope Leo XIII. The short visit included the celebration of Holy Mass commemorating the 200th anniversary of the birth of Leo XIII. In the homily Benedict XVI mentioned the appreciation Leo XIII had for the teachings of the Angelic Doctor and stressed the importance of the philosophy of Saint Thomas Aquinas. Here is what the Pope said:

Every Pastor is called to pass on to the People of God "wisdom" not abstract truths; in other words a message that combines faith and life, truth and practical reality. Pope Leo XIII, with the help of the Holy Spirit was able to do this in one of the most difficult periods of history for the Church by, staying faithful to tradition and, at the same time, measuring up to the great open questions. And he succeeded precisely on the basis of "Christian wisdom", founded on the Sacred Scriptures, on the immense theological and spiritual patrimony of the Catholic Church and also on the sound and crystal clear philosophy of St Thomas Aquinas, whom he esteemed highly and promoted throughout the Church.

The original Italian, the English translation reported here, and translations into other languages can be found in the Official Web Site of the Holy See, at (accessed September 12, 2010).

Monday, September 6, 2010

0138: The Self-Evident Connotation of the Actus Essendi (V)

Entry 0138: The Self-Evident Connotation of the Actus Essendi (V)

In the process of teaching, the teacher must direct the attention of the student to a self-evident principle because many issues do not at first appear self-evident. In Some Philosophers on Education, Francis C. Wade explains this as follows:

“The key notions of teaching are these: The teacher knows a conclusion as seen in the light of a self-evident principle; he goes through the reasoning process before the student, using signs, words, things, gestures, to manifest his reasoning; the student’s natural reason then acts on its own to know what the teacher knows… Once the self-evident principle is seen to be self-evident…, and the facts as fitting under the principle…, then the conclusion stands out clearly as being lighted up by the clear light of a self-evident principle.”

Now, concerning the metaphysical principles of essence and actus essendi, Aquinas was the one who saw them as self-evident principles. There is no question that Aquinas takes these two principles as point of departure for his theological and philosophical reasoning, and that in doing so, Aquinas elevated theological and philosophical wisdom to heights never seen before.

See Francis C. Wade, “Saint Thomas Aquinas and teaching,” Some Philosophers on Education, Edited by Donald A. Gallagher, The Marquette University Press, Milwaukee, 1956, pp. 67-85.

Monday, August 30, 2010

0137: The Self-Evident Connotation of the Actus Essendi (IV)

Entry 0137: The Self-Evident Connotation of the Actus Essendi (IV)

Even as gravitation was operative in nature before Newton formulated the Law of Gravitation, the metaphysical principles of essence and actus essendi were present in reality all the time.

Before Newton, the experience of gravitation was interpreted as if there were several forces acting in nature. Newton’s contribution to our knowledge of nature was that he saw gravitation as a universal phenomenon.

Before Aquinas, the demonstrations of the existence of God were based on the observation of the fact of existence. Aquinas elevated the reasoning to a higher plane with the discovery of the metaphysical principle of actus essendi.

Monday, August 23, 2010

0136: The Self-Evident Connotation of the Actus Essendi (III)

Entry 0136: The Self-Evident Connotation of the Actus Essendi (III)

“What is self- evident is paradoxically difficult to discover, because it's not self-evident until it's seen” (William Matthews, Curiosities, University of Michigan Press, 1989, p. 138.)

Aquinas was the thinker who saw that in an existing material thing there is a double composition: first the composition of ‘primary matter’ and ‘substantial form’ and then composition of ‘essence’ and ‘actus essendi.’

Monday, August 16, 2010

0135: The Self-Evident Connotation of the Actus Essendi (II)

Entry 0135: The Self-Evident Connotation of the Actus Essendi (II)

Concerning the real distinction between the metaphysical principle of ‘essence’ and the metaphysical principle of ‘actus essendi,’ Norman Kretzmann says that this distinction “is one we can readily recognize in connection with contingent entities.”

Here is Kretzmann’s explanation.

[This distinction] is so pervasive that we wouldn’t ordinarily notice it.

For instance, if I want to know whether there is such a thing as a marsupial bat, I want to know whether or not anything with that essential nature exists, to know whether or not that nature is instantiated, or has being. I know roughly, what nature a marsupial bat must have, but I don’t know whether it has being.

And the same distinction characterizes every contingent thing: if and when it actually exists, it instantiates some essential nature that could also be uninstantiated or that could be, and very often is, instantiated also by the existing of some other individual.

We couldn’t know that unicorns don’t exist if we didn’t know, roughly, their essential nature; but the essential nature of unicorns doesn’t entail their non-existence. We need to know a lot more than what sort of thing a unicorn must be in order to know that there aren’t any. In short, a contingent thing’s being is other than its essential nature.

The real distinction of ‘essence’ and ‘actus essendi’ is as self-evident as the distinction between ‘matter’ and ‘form.’ Just as there is a basic observation that leads to the recognition of the principles of ‘primary matter’ and ‘substantial form,’ namely, the observation of substantial changes, there is also a basic observation of ‘something’ in the things of nature that leads to knowledge of the principles of ‘essence’ and ‘actus essendi.’

There is no question, however, that Aquinas’ philosophical work has a sense of direction dictated by revelation.

The philosophical understanding of the ‘causation of being’ of the world, for example, is directed by the revelation of the truth about the creation of the world in time.

Thus when thinking with the mind of God, the activity of creation is a ‘causation of being’ which carries with it the real distinction between ‘essence’ and ‘actus essendi.’

This constraint is in fact a trait in St. Thomas way of philosophizing. According to Aquinas, before an essence is instantiated in an individual thing, that essence -- antequam esse habeat -- is present in God’s mind without the ‘actus essendi.’ Without act of being, a possible essence or quiddity is identified by Aquinas with the mind of God.

“Ex hoc ipso quod quidditati esse attribuitur, non solum esse, sed ipsa quidditas creari dicitur: quia antequam esse habeat, nihil est, nisi forte in intellectu creantis, ubi non est creatura, sed creatrix essentia;” De 2. (From the very fact that being is ascribed to a quiddity, not only is the quiddity said to be but also to be created: since before it had being it was nothing, except in the intellect of the creator, where it is not a creature but the creating essence.)

Inscribed in the subsisting things of nature (in the causatum,) there is the ‘essence’ of the thing caused, and the thing’s participation in ‘actus essendi.’ These are the two reference points needed to answer the two basic questions about a thing, quid est and an sit.

Monday, August 9, 2010

0134: The Thirteen Texts in which Aquinas Uses the Expression "Actus Essendi" (VIII)

Entry 0134: The Thirteen Texts in which Aquinas Uses the Expression "Actus Essendi" (VIII)

I. In I Sent., 8, 1, 1, c

II. In I Sent., 8, 4, 2, ad 2

III. In I Sent., 8, 5, 2, c

IV. In III Sent., 11, 1, 2, ad 2

V. De Veritate, 1, 1, c

VI. De Veritate, 1,1, ad 1

VII. De Veritate, 1, 1, ad sc 3

VIII. De Veritate, 10, 8, ad 13

IX. Summa Theologiae, I, 3, 4, ad 2

X. De Potentia, 7, 2, ad 1

XI. Quaestiones Quodlibetales, 9, 4, 1, c

XII. In Metaphysicorum, 4, 2, No. 6

XIII. In De Hebdomadibus, 2

Commentary on Text VIII: De Veritate, 10, 8, ad 13


Ad decimumtertium dicendum, quod intellectiva potentia est forma ipsius animae quantum ad actum essendi, eo quod habet esse in anima, sicut proprietas in subiecto; sed quantum ad actum intelligendi nihil prohibet esse e converso.


"The intellective power is a form of the soul with reference to its ‘act of being,’ for it exists in the soul as a property in a subject. But there is nothing to prevent the opposite of this, from being true with reference to the act of understanding."


In this text Aquinas makes use of the principle of metaphysical priority. The application of metaphysical priority to the notion of ‘act’ results in the following gradation of acts:

First act:

Pure Act (God)

Second act:

Actus Essendi (the metaphysical principle that goes with ‘essence’)

Third act:

Substantial Form (which exists in both spiritual and material beings)

Fourth act:

Accidental Form (like the intelligence of men and angels)

Fifth act:

Activity of Accidental Forms (like reasoning in man)

Sixth act:

Products of Certain Activities of Accidental Forms (like a conclusion reached after a process of reasoning)

In the text, Aquinas mentions four acts: 1) the actus essendi, 2) the soul--a substantial form, 3) the faculty of the intellect--an accidental form, and 4) the act of understanding--an activity of an accidental form.

Now, from the perspective of the actus essendi, it makes sense to say that the intellectual faculty of man inheres in the soul because the metaphysical principle of actus essendi refers to a self-subsisting individual that is actually existing here and now.

De Veritate, 10, 8, ad 13, expresses this as follows: "The intellective power is a form of the soul with reference to its ‘act of being,’ for it exists in the soul as a property in a subject." (Intellectiva potentia est forma ipsius animae quantum ad actum essendi, eo quod habet esse in anima, sicut proprietas in subiecto.)

But with respect to the activity of the intellectual faculty, the soul could be made the content of our thinking. The intellectual faculty of man can direct its activity towards getting information about our soul. In this sense, the soul informs, ‘gives form,’ to our act of understanding.

Note on Translation: The expression "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, August 2, 2010

0133: Pope Benedict XVI on Aquinas (XIII)

Entry 0133: General Audience on Saint Thomas Aquinas

“The Summa Theologiae consists of concentrated reasoning in which the human mind is applied to the mysteries of faith, with clarity and depth to the mysteries of faith, alternating questions with answers in which St Thomas deepens the teaching that comes from Sacred Scripture and from the Fathers of the Church, especially St Augustine. In this reflection, in meeting the true questions of his time, that are also often our own questions, St Thomas, also by employing the method and thought of the ancient philosophers, and of Aristotle in particular, thus arrives at precise, lucid and pertinent formulations of the truths of faith in which truth is a gift of faith, shines out and becomes accessible to us, for our reflection. However, this effort of the human mind Aquinas reminds us with his own life is always illumined by prayer, by the light that comes from on high. Only those who live with God and with his mysteries can also understand what they say to us,”

the Holy Father said at the General Audience on Wednesday, 23 June 2010.

Here is the text of the Audience. (The original Italian, the English translation reported here, and translations into other languages can be found in the Official Web Site of the Holy See,



Saint Peter's Square

Wednesday, 23 June 2010

Saint Thomas Aquinas (3)

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

Today I would like to complete, with a third instalment, my Catecheses on St Thomas Aquinas. Even more than 700 years after his death we can learn much from him.

My Predecessor, Pope Paul VI, also said this, in a Discourse he gave at Fossanova on 14 September 1974 on the occasion of the seventh centenary of St Thomas' death. He asked himself: "Thomas, our Teacher, what lesson can you give us?". And he answered with these words: "trust in the truth of Catholic religious thought, as defended, expounded and offered by him to the capacities of the human mind" (Address in honour of St Thomas Aquinas in the Basilica, 14 September 1974; L'Osservatore Romano English edition, [ore], 26 September 1974, p. 4).

In Aquino moreover, on that same day, again with reference to St Thomas, Paul VI said, "all of us who are faithful sons and daughters of the Church can and must be his disciples, at least to some extent!" (Address to people in the Square at Aquino, 14 September 1974; ORE, p. 5).

Let us too, therefore, learn from the teaching of St Thomas and from his masterpiece, the Summa Theologiae. It was left unfinished, yet it is a monumental work: it contains 512 questions and 2,669 articles. It consists of concentrated reasoning in which the human mind is applied to the mysteries of faith, with clarity and depth to the mysteries of faith, alternating questions with answers in which St Thomas deepens the teaching that comes from Sacred Scripture and from the Fathers of the Church, especially St Augustine.

In this reflection, in meeting the true questions of his time, that are also often our own questions, St Thomas, also by employing the method and thought of the ancient philosophers, and of Aristotle in particular, thus arrives at precise, lucid and pertinent formulations of the truths of faith in which truth is a gift of faith, shines out and becomes accessible to us, for our reflection. However, this effort of the human mind Aquinas reminds us with his own life is always illumined by prayer, by the light that comes from on high. Only those who live with God and with his mysteries can also understand what they say to us.

In the Summa of theology, St Thomas starts from the fact that God has three different ways of being and existing: God exists in himself, he is the beginning and end of all things, which is why all creatures proceed from him and depend on him: then God is present through his Grace in the life and activity of the Christian, of the saints; lastly, God is present in an altogether special way in the Person of Christ, here truly united to the man Jesus, and active in the Sacraments that derive from his work of redemption.

Therefore, the structure of this monumental work (cf. Jean-Pierre Torrell, La "Summa" di San Tommaso, Milan 2003, pp. 29-75), a quest with "a theological vision" for the fullness of God (cf. Summa Theologiae, Ia q. 1, a. 7), is divided into three parts and is illustrated by the Doctor Communis himself St Thomas with these words: "Because the chief aim of sacred doctrine is to teach the knowledge of God, not only as he is in himself, but also as he is the beginning of things and their last end, and especially of rational creatures, as is clear from what has already been said, therefore, we shall treat: (1) Of God; (2) Of the rational creature's advance towards God; (3) Of Christ, Who as man, is our way to God" (ibid.,I, q. 2). It is a circle: God in himself, who comes out of himself and takes us by the hand, in such a way that with Christ we return to God, we are united to God, and God will be all things to all people.

The First Part of the Summa Theologiae thus investigates God in himself, the mystery of the Trinity and of the creative activity of God. In this part we also find a profound reflection on the authentic reality of the human being, inasmuch as he has emerged from the creative hands of God as the fruit of his love. On the one hand we are dependent created beings, we do not come from ourselves; yet, on the other, we have a true autonomy so that we are not only something apparent as certain Platonic philosophers say but a reality desired by God as such and possessing an inherent value.

In the Second Part St Thomas considers man, impelled by Grace, in his aspiration to know and love God in order to be happy in time and in eternity. First of all the Author presents the theological principles of moral action, studying how, in the free choice of the human being to do good acts, reason, will and passions are integrated, to which is added the power given by God's Grace through the virtues and the gifts of the Holy Spirit, as well as the help offered by moral law.

Hence the human being is a dynamic being who seeks himself, seeks to become himself, and, in this regard, seeks to do actions that build him up, that make him truly man; and here the moral law comes into it. Grace and reason itself, the will and the passions enter too. On this basis St Thomas describes the profile of the man who lives in accordance with the Spirit and thus becomes an image of God.

Here Aquinas pauses to study the three theological virtues faith, hope and charity followed by a critical examination of more than 50 moral virtues, organized around the four cardinal virtues prudence, justice, temperance and fortitude. He then ends with a reflection on the different vocations in the Church.

In the Third Part of the Summa, St Thomas studies the Mystery of Christ the way and the truth through which we can reach God the Father. In this section he writes almost unparalleled pages on the Mystery of Jesus' Incarnation and Passion, adding a broad treatise on the seven sacraments, for it is in them that the Divine Word Incarnate extends the benefits of the Incarnation for our salvation, for our journey of faith towards God and eternal life. He is, as it were, materially present with the realities of creation, and thus touches us in our inmost depths.

In speaking of the sacraments, St Thomas reflects in a special way on the Mystery of the Eucharist, for which he had such great devotion, the early biographers claim, that he would lean his head against the Tabernacle, as if to feel the throbbing of Jesus' divine and human heart.

In one of his works, commenting on Scripture, St Thomas helps us to understand the excellence of the sacrament of the Eucharist, when he writes: "Since this [the Eucharist] is the sacrament of Our Lord's Passion, it contains in itself the Jesus Christ who suffered for us. Thus, whatever is an effect of Our Lord's Passion is also an effect of this sacrament. For this sacrament is nothing other than the application of Our Lord's Passion to us" (cf. Commentary on John, chapter 6, lecture 6, n. 963).

We clearly understand why St Thomas and other Saints celebrated Holy Mass shedding tears of compassion for the Lord who gave himself as a sacrifice for us, tears of joy and gratitude.

Dear brothers and sisters, at the school of the Saints, let us fall in love with this sacrament! Let us participate in Holy Mass with recollection, to obtain its spiritual fruits, let us nourish ourselves with this Body and Blood of Our Lord, to be ceaselessly fed by divine Grace! Let us willingly and frequently linger in the company of the Blessed Sacrament in heart-to-heart conversation!

All that St Thomas described with scientific rigour in his major theological works, such as, precisely, the Summa Theologiae, and the Summa contra gentiles, was also explained in his preaching, both to his students and to the faithful.

In 1273, a year before he died, he preached throughout Lent in the Church of San Domenico Maggiore in Naples. The content of those sermons was gathered and preserved: they are the Opuscoli in which he explains the Apostles' Creed, interprets the Prayer of the Our Father, explains the Ten Commandments and comments on the Hail Mary.

The content of the Doctor Angelicus' preaching corresponds with virtually the whole structure of the Catechism of the Catholic Church. Actually, in catechesis and preaching, in a time like ours of renewed commitment to evangelization, these fundamental subjects should never be lacking: what we believe, and here is the Creed of the faith; what we pray, and here is the Our Father and the Hail Mary; and what we live, as we are taught by biblical Revelation, and here is the law of the love of God and neighbour and the Ten Commandments, as an explanation of this mandate of love.

I would like to propose some simple, essential and convincing examples of the content of St Thomas' teaching. In his booklet on The Apostles' Creed he explains the value of faith. Through it, he says, the soul is united to God and produces, as it were, a shot of eternal life; life receives a reliable orientation and we overcome temptations with ease.

To those who object that faith is foolishness because it leads to belief in something that does not come within the experience of the senses, St Thomas gives a very articulate answer and recalls that this is an inconsistent doubt, for human intelligence is limited and cannot know everything. Only if we were able to know all visible and invisible things perfectly would it be genuinely foolish to accept truths out of pure faith.

Moreover, it is impossible to live, St Thomas observes, without trusting in the experience of others, wherever one's own knowledge falls short. It is thus reasonable to believe in God, who reveals himself, and to the testimony of the Apostles: they were few, simple and poor, grief-stricken by the Crucifixion of their Teacher. Yet many wise, noble and rich people converted very soon after hearing their preaching. In fact this is a miraculous phenomenon of history, to which it is far from easy to give a convincing answer other than that of the Apostle's encounter with the Risen Lord.

In commenting on the article of the Creed on the Incarnation of the divine Word St Thomas makes a few reflections. He says that the Christian faith is strengthened in considering the mystery of the Incarnation; hope is strengthened at the thought that the Son of God came among us, as one of us, to communicate his own divinity to human beings; charity is revived because there is no more obvious sign of God's love for us than the sight of the Creator of the universe making himself a creature, one of us.

Finally, in contemplating the mystery of God's Incarnation, we feel kindled within us our desire to reach Christ in glory. Using a simple and effective comparison, St Thomas remarks: "If the brother of a king were to be far away, he would certainly long to live beside him. Well, Christ is a brother to us; we must therefore long for his company and become of one heart with him" (Opuscoli teologico-spirituali, Rome 1976, p. 64).

In presenting the prayer of the Our Father, St Thomas shows that it is perfect in itself, since it has all five of the characteristics that a well-made prayer must possess: trusting, calm abandonment; a fitting content because, St Thomas observes, "it is quite difficult to know exactly what it is appropriate and inappropriate to ask for, since choosing among our wishes puts us in difficulty" (ibid., p. 120); and then an appropriate order of requests, the fervour of love and the sincerity of humility.

Like all the Saints, St Thomas had a great devotion to Our Lady. He described her with a wonderful title: Triclinium totius Trinitatis; triclinium, that is, a place where the Trinity finds rest since, because of the Incarnation, in no creature as in her do the three divine Persons dwell and feel delight and joy at dwelling in her soul full of Grace. Through her intercession we may obtain every help.

With a prayer that is traditionally attributed to St Thomas and that in any case reflects the elements of his profound Marian devotion we too say: "O most Blessed and sweet Virgin Mary, Mother of God... I entrust to your merciful heart... my entire life.... Obtain for me as well, O most sweet Lady, true charity with which from the depths of my heart I may love your most Holy Son, our Lord Jesus Christ, and, after him, love you above all other things... and my neighbour, in God and for God."