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Monday, March 26, 2012

0218: Knasas and Fides et Ratio



Entry 0218: Knasas and Fides et Ratio


In his review of John F. X. Knasas’ Being and Some Twentieth-Century Thomists (New York: Fordham University Press, 2003, 313 pp), Anthony Dean Traylor writes:

Knasas has admirably heeded the call of John Paul II’s encyclical Fides et Ratio not to allow the actus essendi to become eclipsed as we enter into the twenty-first century.

The Review of Metaphysics 58 (2004): 447-449.

Monday, March 19, 2012

0217: The Sources that Led Aquinas to the Discovery of the Notion of Actus Essendi






Entry 0217: The Sources that Led Aquinas to the Discovery of the Notion of Actus Essendi




Professor John F. Wippel writes:

“As for Aquinas’s view that esse or the act of being is the act of all acts and the perfection of all perfections, I am aware of no explicit prior philosophical (or theological) source for this.

“It has been suggested by Gilson (and by others) that Thomas took this notion from Scripture at Exodus 3:14 where, according to the Latin Vulgate, God refers to himself as Ego sum qui sum.

“See Gilson, Introduction a la philosophie chretienne, c.3, pp. 45-58.

“For a similar view concerning the essence-existence distinction see Gilson’s Thomism: The Philosophy of Thomas Aquinas, trans. L. K. Shook and A. Maurer (Toronto, 2002), pp. 95-96.

“Note in particular: ‘Note well that for Thomas Aquinas the revelation of the identity of essence and existence in God was equivalent to a revelation of the distinction between essence and existence in creatures’ (p. 95).

“I would rather argue that it is precisely because Aquinas had already worked out philosophically his understanding of esse or the actus essendi as intrinsic actuality that he could then claim to recognize it in the text of Exodus.

“For instance, in SCG I, c. 22, which Gilson cites, Thomas first offers a series of philosophical arguments to prove that in God essence and esse are identical.

“Only at the end of the chapter does he refer to the text from Exodus for additional confirmation.

“And this is in accord with his usual practice in the first three books of SCG in which, as he writes in Bk I, c. 9, he intends to pursue by following the way of reason those things that faith professes and human reason can investigate about God.

“Editio Leonina manualis, p. 8: ‘… primum nitemur ad manifestationem illius veritatis quam fides profitetur et ratio investigat, inducentes rationes demonstrativas et probabiles, quarum quasdam ex libris philosophorum et Sanctorum collegimus …’

“As for philosophical sources, serious efforts have been made to find Aquinas’s source(s) for developing his notion of esse in one or other Neoplatonic author.

“Pseudo-Dionysius has been proposed as a likely source or influence, especially by Cornelio Fabro and more recently by Fran O’Rourke, among others.

“See F. O’Rourke, Pseudo-Dionysius and the Metaphysics of Aquinas (Leiden-New York-Cologne, 1992), pp. 180ff. See p. 181, n. 161, for references to others.

“One may begin with what is perhaps Thomas’s most comprehensive discussion of this in De Potentia, q. 7, a. 2, ad 9.

“He opens his reply with this remark: ‘That which I call esse is among all things the most perfect, which is evident from this fact that act is always more perfect than potency.’

“But, he continues, a given form is not understood to be in act except by reason of the fact that it is held to be.

“And in support he notes that a form such as humanity or fireness can be considered in four ways: (1) as existing in the potency of matter; or (2) as existing in the power of an agent; or (3) as in the intellect.

“But (4) by reason of the fact that it has esse, it is made existent in actuality.

“And so, in light of this evidence, Thomas concludes that what he calls esse (hoc quod dico esse) is the actuality of all acts and the perfection of all perfections.

“‘Hoc quod dico esse est inter omnia perfectissimum: quod ex hoc patet quia actus est semper perfectio potentia. Quaelibet autem forma signata non intelligitur in actu nisi per hoc quod esse ponitur. Nam humanitas vel igneitas potest considerari ut in potentia materiae existens, vel ut in virtute agentis, aut etiam ut in intellectu: sed hoc quod habet esse, efficitur actu existens. Unde patet quod hoc quod dico esse est actualitas omnium actuum, et propter hoc est perfectio omnium perfectionum’ (Marietti edition, p. 192).

“(This, I would note, is a purely philosophical approach, based on Thomas’s observation of the different ways in which form or essence can exist.)

“It must not be thought, Thomas continues, that to what he calls esse anything is added so as to determine it in the way act determines potency: ‘Therefore it is not determined by something else in the way potency is determined by act but rather as act is determined by potency.’

“And so this esse is distinguished from that esse insofar as it belongs to this or that nature.

“Ibid. Note specially: ‘Nec intelligendum est, quod ei quod dico esse, aliquid addatur quod sit eo formalius, ipsum determinans, sicut actus potentiam: esse enim quod huiusmodi est, est aliud secundum essentiam ab eo cui additur determinandum. … Unde non sic determinatur esse per aliud sicut potentia per actum, sed magis sicut actus per potentiam. … Et per hunc modum, hoc esse ab illo esse distinguitur, in quantum est talis vel talis naturae.’

“Finally, as O’Rourke has pointed out, Thomas gives us at least a clue as to one of his sources for his views on this by concluding his reply to this same 9th objection with a reference to Dionysius (presumably to c. 5 of the De divinis nominibus) to this effect that, while living beings are more excellent than (merely) existing beings, nonetheless esse is more excellent than vivere; for living things not only have life, but simultaneously with life they also have esse.

“‘Et per hoc dicit Dionysius quod licet viventia sint nobiliora quam existentia, tamen esse est nobilius quam vivere; viventia enim non tantum habent vitam, sed cum vita simul habent et esse’ (p. 192).

“For O’Rourke see pp. 180-81. Note his quotation there from Solignac, and also the texts he cites from Fabro.

“In his Participation et causalite Fabro suggests that one may distinguish three elements in accounting for Thomas’s understanding of esse as intensive act: (1) the concept of act which, while expanded upon and developed by Thomas, is Aristotelian in inspiration; (2) the notion of intensity of act which, suggests Fabro, is typically Platonic in terms of the Platonic notion of a perfectio separata; (3) the decisive aspect, missing both in Plato and in Aristotle, of the complete and total assimilation of esse to act.

“Fabro identifies two kinds of sources for this third aspect—one scriptural, i.e., Exodus 3:14, which we have already discussed, and the other philosophical, i.e., Neoplatonic speculation regarding being in sources such as Dionysius, the Liber de causis, Proclus, and Boethius.

“He comments that none of these Neoplatonic sources yet contains the Thomistic notion of esse as act, for the good reason that the Aristotelian understanding of act is lacking to them.

“Pp. 198-99. Note that Fabro connects point 2 (the Platonic notion of perfectio separata with a text from Aristotle’s Metaphysics II, c. 1 (993b 24), which Thomas cites in connection with his ‘Fourth Way’ in ST I, q. 2, a. 3.

“If one accepts the authenticity of Bk II, it seems to me that one should regard this text as a remaining trace of Platonism within Aristotle.

“He [Fabro] argues that among these sources the De divinis nominibus of Dionysius and the Liber de causis exercised the greatest influence on Thomas’s development of his new and revolutionary understanding of esse.

“He also remarks that both of these ultimately go back to one same source, Proclus.

“Pp. 222-23.

“As Fabro points out, in his Commentary on the De divinis nominibus Thomas sees Dionysius as correcting the Platonists on a key point.

“They posited separate things existing in themselves (forms or ideas) in order to account for individual composite entities which participate in these separate principles.

“And they distinguished those separate principles from the first principle which they called the Good per se and the One per se.

“According to Thomas, Dionysius agreed with them in also positing a separate life that exists per se, and a separate wisdom that exists per se, and a separate esse etc.

“But he disagreed with them in that he did not hold that these separate principles were diverse from one another, but united them with one supreme principle, or God.

“For this in Thomas see In De divinis nominibus V, n. 634, p. 235.

“See Fabro, Participation e causalite, pp. 224-25.

“Thomas finds Dionysius holding that the first existent, which is God, causes every thing that exists in any way whatsoever (n. 628).

“He also holds that all things therefore in some way come together in God (conveniunt in Deo) because, as Thomas explains, every form which is received in something is limited and rendered finite according to the capacity of that which receives it.

“Thus a given white body does not possess the whole of whiteness according to the total power (posse) of whiteness.

“But if there were a separate whiteness, nothing would be lacking to it of that which pertains to the power (virtus) of whiteness.

“But all things other than the First Being have a received and participated esse and therefore do not possess it according to the total power of being (virtus essendi).

“Only God, who is ipsum esse subsistens, possesses it according to its total virtus (n. 629).

“Fabro cites Aquinas’s justification for applying the name being (ens vel qui est) to God.

“If a cause is named from its effect, it is most fittingly named from its principal and most worthy effect.

“But among all other effects, esse itself is more primary and principal.

“Therefore God is fittingly named “being” (ens).

“See n. 633.

“Thomas continues by quoting Dionysius: ‘et ipsum per se esse est senius, (idest primum et dignius) eo quod est per se vitam esse et eo quod est per se sapientiam esse et eo quod est per se similitudinem divinam esse.’

“See Fabro, pp. 228-29.

“Fabro concludes that the principal source for the Thomistic notion of intensive esse is, therefore, Dionysius, although he goes on to explore this in the Liber de causis and in Thomas’s late Commentary on the same; but I will pass over that here.

“See Fabro, La participation et causalite, pp. 231-44.

“O’Rourke also heavily, even more heavily than Fabro, emphasizes the influence of Dionysius on Aquinas’s understanding of esse as intensive act.

“Moreover, he stresses much more the importance of the notion of virtus essendi in Thomas’s development of his own position.

“Op. cit., pp. 167-74.

“On p. 172 he cites two texts where Dionysius does use this expression, although they do not appear in C. V but in C. VIII, 1 (332, 334).

“We have just noted Aquinas’s reference to this in his Commentary on De divinis nominibus.

“And this is not the only context in which Thomas assigns a virtus essendi or a potestas essendi to esse taken as the act of being.

“One of the most striking, I think, is to be found in his argumentation for divine perfection in SCG I, c. 28.

“As will be recalled from our discussion above in Ch. V, there Thomas reasons that if there is something to which the total power of being (tota virtus essendi) pertains, no excellence among those that can belong to any thing can be lacking to it.

“But esse according to its total power (secundum totam essendi potestatem) belongs to that thing which is identical with its esse.

“Because God is identical with his esse, as was proved above (c. 22), adds Thomas, it follows that nothing of the power of being is lacking to him.

“See the first argument offered in c. 28. For the Latin see Ch. V above, n. 18.

“In brief, there do seem to be significant Neoplatonic influences on Aquinas’s identification of esse as intensive act.” [1]
Note

[1] John F. Wippel, Metaphysical Themes in Thomas Aquinas II, (Washington, D.C.: The Catholic University of America Press, 2007), 281-284.




Monday, March 12, 2012

0216: Aquinas as Guide and Model for Philosophical Thinking





Entry 0216: Aquinas as Guide and Model for Philosophical Thinking



Cardinal Georges Cottier has explicitly affirmed that, in the Encyclical Letter Fides et Ratio, Saint Thomas Aquinas is presented as a model not only for those who have the vocation of theologians, but also for those who have the vocation of philosophers:

San Tommaso e presentato come modello sia per quanti hanno la vocazione di teologo, sia per quanti hanno la vocazione di filosofo. [1]


Here I report some excerpts from Fides et Ratio which confirm Cottier’s affirmation:

The Magisterium's intention has always been to show how Saint Thomas is an authentic model for all who seek the truth. In his thinking, the demands of reason and the power of faith found the most elevated synthesis ever attained by human thought, for he could defend the radical newness introduced by Revelation without ever demeaning the venture proper to reason. (no. 78)

This insistence on the need for a close relationship of continuity between contemporary philosophy and the philosophy developed in the Christian tradition is intended to avert the danger which lies hidden in some currents of thought which are especially prevalent today. (no. 86)

A renewed insistence upon the thought of the Angelic Doctor seemed to Pope Leo XIII the best way to recover the practice of a philosophy consonant with the demands of faith. "Just when Saint Thomas distinguishes perfectly between faith and reason," the Pope writes, "he unites them in bonds of mutual friendship, conceding to each its specific rights and to each its specific dignity." (no. 57)

If it has been necessary from time to time to intervene on this question, to reiterate the value of the Angelic Doctor's insights and insist on the study of his thought, this has been because the Magisterium's directives have not always been followed with the readiness one would wish. (no. 61)

The Church has been justified in consistently proposing Saint Thomas as a master of thought and a model of the right way to do theology. (no. 43)

Although he made much of the supernatural character of faith, the Angelic Doctor did not overlook the importance of its reasonableness; indeed he was able to plumb the depths and explain the meaning of this reasonableness. Faith is in a sense an “exercise of thought”; and human reason is neither annulled nor debased in assenting to the contents of faith, which are in any case attained by way of free and informed choice. (no. 43)

Precisely in the light of this consideration, and just as I have reaffirmed theology's duty to recover its true relationship with philosophy, I feel equally bound to stress how right it is that, for the benefit and development of human thought, philosophy too should recover its relationship with theology. (no. 101)

Looking unreservedly to truth, the realism of Thomas could recognize the objectivity of truth and produce not merely a philosophy of “what seems to be” but a philosophy of “what is.” (no. 44)

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 (ipsum actus essendi,) 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. (no. 97)

I have judged it appropriate and necessary to emphasize the value of philosophy for the understanding of the faith, as well as the limits which philosophy faces when it neglects or rejects the truths of Revelation. (no. 100)

In itself, the term [Christian philosophy] is valid, but it should not be misunderstood: it in no way intends to suggest that there is an official philosophy of the Church, since the faith as such is not a philosophy. The term seeks rather to indicate a Christian way of philosophizing, a philosophical speculation conceived in dynamic union with faith. (no. 76)

Note


[1] Georges Cottier, “Tommaso D’Aquino, Teologo e Filosofo, nella Fides et Ratio,” in Fede e Ragione: Opposizione, Composizione?, Mauro Mantovani, Scaria Thuruthiyil, and Mario Toso, eds. (Rome: Libreria Ateneo Salesiano, 1999), 187-194.




Monday, March 5, 2012

0215: The Self-Evident Connotation of the Actus Essendi (IX)





Entry 0215: The Self-Evident Connotation of the Actus Essendi (IX)



In the article on Saint Thomas Aquinas in the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, professor Ralph McInerny writes:

“Thomas accepts from Boethius that it is self-evident that what a thing is and its existing differ (diversum est esse et id quod est).” [1]

And earlier, in his Boethius and Aquinas, Ralph McInerny had made the following remark:

“That the diversity between esse and id quod est is self-evident is one of the great overlooked claims of De hebdomadibus and of Thomas's commentary on it.” [2]

Notes


[1] Ralph McInerny and John O’Callaghan, “Saint Thomas Aquinas,” The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, Edward N. Zalta (ed.). (First published online Mon Jul 12, 1999; substantive revision Wed Sep 30, 2009; accessed August 3, 2011.)


[2] Ralph McInerny, Boethius and Aquinas, (Washington: Catholic University of America Press, 1990), p. xiv.