Entry 0238: The Revelation of God in Exodus 3:14 and the Real Distinction
Aware of the fact that Etienne Gilson answered in the affirmative the question “Is
Saint Thomas doctrine of the real distinction
between actus essendi and essence
dependent on the prior acknowledgement that God is the Ipsum Esse Subsistens?” Leo J. Elders remarked that “despite the
guiding role of revelation, Saint
Thomas’ doctrine of being belongs to the level of
natural reason.” (1)
Elders, however, grants that “the self-revelation of God to Moses as the One who Is, … facilitated the formulation of the doctrine of God as Self-subsisting Being itself and of the real distinction between being and essence in creatures.” (2)
John Wippel has similar remarks when he develops an argument for the real distinction based on the limited character of individual beings.
Wippel asks: “Does this argument [the argument based on the limited character of individual beings] for a real distinction and composition of essence and esse in finite beings presuppose knowledge of God’s existence?” (3)
And he answers: “Recognition of its starting point, the fact that limited beings exist, clearly does not. But what about its appeal to the axiom that unreceived esse is unlimited? Does not this presuppose knowledge that God exists? I have suggested that acceptance of this axiom rests on Thomas’ particular way of understanding esse. Does not his understanding of esse as the actuality of all acts and the perfection of all perfections presuppose the Judeo-Christian revelation of God as subsisting esse as implied in Exodus 3:14? As I see things, it does not.” (4)
(1) Leo J. Elders, The Metaphysics of Being of St. Thomas Aquinas in a Historical Perspective (New York: E. J. Brill, 1993), 182-183.
(3) John F. Wippel, The Metaphysical Thought of Thomas Aquinas (
The Catholic University
Press, 2000), 175.