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Monday, November 17, 2014

0378: The Self-Evident Connotation of the
Actus Essendi (XIX)



Entry 0378: The Self-Evident Connotation of the
Actus Essendi
(XIX)



Looking for a point of departure for an argument in favor of the real distinction (or real composition) of essence and actus essendi in extramental subsisting things of nature, John F. Wippel directs attention to the following axiom in which he identifies two parts: the first part is that “Unreceived act is unlimited”; the second, that “Act is not limited except by a distinct potency that receives it.”

Wippel’s contention is that Aquinas accepts both parts of this axiom. The point is valid but the texts Wippel offers in support of this claim are text in which the axiom is not being used by Aquinas to established the real distinction (or real composition) of essence and actus essendi. (See J. F. Wippel, “Thomas Aquinas and the Axiom that Unreceived Act is Unlimited,” in Metaphysical Themes in Thomas Aquinas II, [Washington, D.C.: The Catholic University of America Press, 2007], 123-151.)

The texts examined by Wippel are the following:

De ente et essentia, chapter 4
In I Sententiarum, distinction 8, question 2, article 1
In I Sententiarum, distinction 43, question 1, article 1
In De Hebdomadibus, lecture 2
Summa contra Gentiles, book I, chapter 43
Summa contra Gentiles, book II, chapter 52
Compendium theologiae, book I, chapter 18
Summa theologiae, part I, question 7, article 1
Summa theologiae, part I, question 7, article 2
Summa theologiae, part I, question 50, article 2, ad 4
De spiritualibus creaturis, article 1
De substantiis separatis, chapter 8
In De causis, lecture 4
In De divinis nominibus, chapter 5, lecture 1

Wippel then turns attention to an argument that appears in a sed contra to affirm that the text of this sed contra is both a very clear expression of the first part of the axiom and also an immediate application of the second part of the axiom to the metaphysical constitution in creatures of essence and actus essendi. The text of the sed contra is the following.

In I Sententiarum, distinction 8, question 5, article 1, sed contra 2:

“Praeterea omnis creatura habet esse finitum. Sed esse non receptum in aliquo non est finitum, immo absolutum. Ergo omnis creatura habet esse receptum in aliquo, et ita oportet quod habeat duo ad minus, scilicet esse, et id quod esse recipit.”

That is to say:

“Every creature has finite esse. However, an esse that is not received in something is not finite, nay it is unrestricted (absolutum). Therefore every creature has an esse that is received in something, and so must have these two at least—namely, esse, and that which receives esse.”

Despite the lack of textual evidence, Wippel still concludes that it is in accord with Thomas’s thought to employ the axiom to establish the real distinction (or real composition) of essence and actus essendi in finite entities. Moreover, Wippel indicates that some authors (J. H. Nicolas, C. Fabro, N. del Prado, L. De Raeymaeker, and J. de Finance) have considered the axiom as an effective way of establishing the real distinction.

Thus, having shown first that Aquinas accepted the axiom and second that the axiom is a good point of departure to argue for the real distinction, Wippel then asks this third question: What justification does Aquinas offer for the axiom?

After briefly analyzing two implausible assumptions, Wippel not surprisingly answers with the following statement: “And so by a process of elimination I have concluded that Thomas regards it as a self-evident axiom or adage” (Wippel, p. 130).