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Monday, May 26, 2014

0354: Actus Essendi and the Ipsum Esse Subsistens



Entry 0354: Actus Essendi and the Ipsum Esse Subsistens 



The meaning of the word “esse” in the phrase
ipsum esse subsistens

The word “esse” in the phrase “ipsum esse subsistens” refers to God’s actus essendi. Aquinas explicitly affirms that the actus essendi of God is not known by the human intellect. In De Potentia, question 7, article 2, ad 2, for example, one reads that

Ens et esse dicitur dupliciter, ut patet V Metaphysicorum. 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.

That is to say,

Ens and esse can be taken in two ways (Metaph. X, 13, 14). Sometimes they signify the essence of a thing and the actus essendi, 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 the esse of God is evident to us, the phrase esse Dei is taken in the second sense and not the first. For in the first sense the esse Dei 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 is, because we conceive this proposition in our mind from His effects.”

The same doctrine is explicitly stated in Summa Theologiae, part I, question 3, article 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.

That is to say,

“Reply to Objection 2: ‘Esse’ can mean either of two things. It may mean the actus essendi, 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 the esse of God 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.”

Aquinas states clearly that we do not know God’s actus essendi. But Aquinas states clearly as well, as in the conclusion of the Quinque Viae, that we do know God’s existence. Therefore, Aquinas teaching that “God’s actus essendi is God’s essence,” cannot be translated by saying that “the existence of God is His essence.” For the latter statement would lead to the following: Since we do not know God’s essence, we do not know God’s actus essendi, and therefore, we do not know God’s existence. Or, since we do know God’s existence, we know God’s essence (or part of His essence), and therefore we know God’s actus essendi (or part of His actus essendi).

When Aquinas uses phrases like “cum esse Dei sit eius essentia,” or “essentia Dei est ipsum esse eius,” or “cum esse Dei sit ipsa eius essentia,” the word “esse” refers to the Ipsum Esse Subsistens, to God’s actus essendi. In these phrases the word “esse” does not mean “existence” as if God’s existence were equivalent to God’s essence.

The human intellect does not have the power to comprehend the Ipsum Esse Subsistens, yet it does have the power to reach God’s existence:

Relinquitur ergo quod cognoscere ipsum esse subsistens, sit connaturale soli intellectui divino, et quod sit supra facultatem naturalem cuiuslibet intellectus creati, quia nulla creatura est suum esse, sed habet esse participatum. Non igitur potest intellectus creatus Deum per essentiam videre, nisi inquantum Deus per suam gratiam se intellectui creato coniungit, ut intelligibile ab ipso.

That is to say,

“It follows therefore that to comprehend the ipsum esse subsistens is natural to the divine intellect alone; and this is beyond the natural power of any created intellect; for no creature is its own esse, forasmuch as its esse is participated. Therefore the created intellect cannot see the essence of God, unless God by His grace unites Himself to the created intellect, as an object made intelligible to it” (Summa Theologiae, part I, question 12, article 4, corpus).

In the definition of God as Ipsum Esse Subsistens, Aquinas uses the word “esse” to mean actus essendi