Entry 0398: Commentary on Expositio in librum
Boetii De hebdomadibus, lecture 2, paragraph no. 5
In his commentary on Boethius’s De Hebdomadibus Aquinas uses the expression actus essendi twice, in lecture 2: “Sicut possumus dicere de eo quod currit sive de currente quod currat inquantum subiicitur cursui et participat ipsum, ita possumus dicere quod ens sive id quod est sit inquantum participat actum essendi. (…) Sed id quod est, accepta essendi forma, scilicet suscipiendo ipsum actum essendi, est, atque consistit, idest in seipso subsistit; non enim ens dicitur proprie et per se nisi de substantia cuius est subsistere.”
Since the publication of Cornelio Fabro’s works on participation (in 1939 and 1960), the In librum Boetii De hebdomadibus expositio has received considerable attention. Thus, before offering my own commentary on the context surrounding the text where Aquinas explicitly employs the expression actus essendi in his In De hebdomadibus, I shall first review some of the comments that have been offered by other authors in the relatively recent period since Fabro’s books.
“This difference articulates the fact that an angel, as a fully determinate being, is in a determinate way distinguished from other beings, and therefore distinguished in a determinate way from its being. The scheme of id quod est—esse points out that the angel cannot be understood as a distinct essence, which subsequently is a subject of being. Precisely as something which has being (id quod est) it must be distinct from its being, since in each case the id quod est assumes a different character. Thus the difference is not prior to the unity of id quod est and esse, it is a difference in the way forms are related to their esse. The difference does not pertain to the subject considered in itself, prior to the being it receives” (Participation and Substantiality, 82).
B. Rudi A. te Velde
From the passages from Rudi A. te Velde’s Participation and Substantiality in Thomas Aquinas reported below we take the following points:
(a) R. te Velde stresses that Aquinas explains his understanding of the diversity of esse and id quod est (or ens) first in terms of the diverse logical functions that these terms possess. Esse and id quod est (or ens) refer to one and the same reality, but they signify this reality according to distinct modes of signification. Esse signifies abstractly what id quod est (or ens) signifies concretely. Both terms are defined in relation to one another: ens = ‘id quod habet esse,’ esse = ‘id quo aliquid est ens.’
(b) Regarding Aquinas’s affirmation that id quod est (or ens) participates in actus essendi in the way something concrete participates in something abstract, R. te Velde notes that here Aquinas tacitly introduces a new mode of participation, distinct from the ones previously described, namely, participation of the subject in its accidents, of matter in form, of the particular in the universal, and of the effect in its cause.
(c) According to R. te Velde, it is from the analysis of composite things that Aquinas extends the Boethian axiom diversus est esse and id quod est to angelic creatures. Just as in composite things the diversity between esse and id quod est (or ens) is a real diversity, so also in the separate substances esse and id quod est (or ens) are really distinct.
Here are excerpts from Rudi A. te Velde’s Participation and Substantiality in Thomas Aquinas (Leiden, The Netherlands: E. J. Brill, 1995):
“In his tractate De hebdomadibus Boethius first sets down a number of axioms by means of which he intends to prove the thesis that whatever is is good insofar as it is. The most interesting axiom is the statement that diversum est esse et id quod est, ‘to be and that which is are diverse.’ Boethius accounts for this diversity as follows: ‘Being-as such is not yet, but that which is, once it has received the form of being, is and subsists. That which is can participate in something else, but being-as-such participates in no way. For participation comes about when something already is; but something is when it has received being” (Participation and Substantiality, 76-77).
Footnote: De hebd. (ed. Steward/Rand, p. 40): “diversum est esse et id quod est; ipsum esse nondum est, at vero quod est accepta essendi forma est atque consistit. Quod est participare aliquo modo potest, sed ipsum esse nullo modo participat. Fit enim participatio cum aliquid iam est; est autem aliquid, cum esse susceperit.” See for detailed analysis, McInerny, “Boethius and St. Thomas Aquinas,” in Being and Predication, pp. 97-110.
“This passage leads Thomas to dwell in his commentary on the meaning of ‘participare’ and to distinguish different modes of participation. Thus he is able to explain the rather enigmatic axiom of Boethius. The proposition ‘diversum est esse et id quod est’ formulates a truth about the notion of being, ens. With regard to the term ‘being’ one can distinguish between the abstractly signified ‘to be’ (esse) and the concretely signified ‘that which is’ (id quod est). They are two logical forms of the term ‘being’ which correspond with two different modes of signifying. The infinitive ‘to be’ (esse) is signified as something common and indeterminate; seen from a logical point of view, this ‘to be’ is made finite in two ways, either on the side of the subject which has being (quod esse habet), or on the side of the predicate, as when we say of man not simply that he is but that he is such-and-such, for example, white or black” (Participation and Substantiality, 77).
Footnote: In de hebd., lect. 2, n. 21: “Circa ens autem consideratur ipsum esse quasi quiddam commune et indeterminatum: quod quidem dupliciter determinatur; uno modo ex parte subiecti, quod esse habet; alio modo ex parte praedicati, utpote cum dicimus de homine, vel de quacumque alia re, non quidem quod sit simpliciter, sed quod sit aliquid, puta album vel nigrum.”
“The indeterminate actuality expressed by the infinitive thus becomes determined by the subject to ‘that which is’ (e.g. ‘man is’) and by the predicate to ‘that which is such-and-such’ (e.g. ‘man is white’)” (Participation and Substantiality, 77).
“We are now particularly interested in the first way in which the infinitive ‘to be’ is made finite and determined. According to Thomas, the diversity of ‘to be’ and ‘that which is’ must be interpreted in the light of the relation between being in its infinitive form and the subject which has being (secundum comparationem esse ad id quod est). The subject which has being is different from that being itself. In what way? Not because they refer to diverse things, but because they have different mode of signifying and accordingly a different logical function. A comparison can be drawn with the different forms of the verb ‘to run.’ Just as ‘to run’ (currere) and ‘that which runs’ (currens) differ, so ‘to be’ (esse) and ‘that which is’ (ens) are different: the one signifies abstractly what the other signifies concretely” (Participation and Substantiality, 77-78).
Footnote: Ibid., n. 22: “Dicit ergo primo, quod diversum est esse, et id quod est. Quae quidem diversitas non est hic referenda ad res, de quibus adhuc non loquitur, sed ad ipsas rationes seu intentiones. Aliud autem significamus per hoc quod dicimus esse, et aliud per hoc quod dicimus id quod est; sicut et aliud significamus cum dicimus currere, et aliud per hoc quod dicitur currens.
currere et esse significantur in abstracto, sicut et albedo; sed quod est,
idest ens et currens, significantur sicut in concreto, velut album.”
“So when Boethius says that “being-as-such is not yet,” this means that the infinitive ‘to be’ does not have the required logical form of a subject of which it can be said that it is. We cannot properly say of the infinitive form ‘to be’ that it is, just as ‘to run’ cannot be said to run. ‘To run’ signifies the activity of running, which is the activity of someone who is running. In a similar way, ‘being’ is the actuality belonging to ‘that which is.’ The expression ‘that which is’ signifies in the mode of a subject. Just as ‘that which runs’ can be said to run, in the sense that it is the bearer of the act of running, so ‘that which is’ or ‘being’ (ens) can be said to be, inasmuch as it participates in the act of being (inquantum participat actum essendi)” (Participation and Substantiality, 78).
Footnote: Ibid., n. 23: “…ipsum esse non significatur sicut ipsum subiectum essendi, sicut nec currere significatur sicut subiectum cursus: unde, sicut non possumus dicere quod ipsum currere currat, ita non possumus dicere quod ipsum esse sit: sed sicut id ipsum quod est, significatur sicut subiectum essendi, sic id quod currit significatur sicut subiectum currendi: et ideo sicut possumus dicere de eo quod currit, sive de currente, quod currat, inquantum subiicitur cursui et participat ipsum; ita possumus dicere quod ens, sive id quod est, sit, inquantum participat actum essendi.”
“So far the analysis seems to be mainly logical in character. There is only a diversity with respect to the intentiones according to which they signify. What ens signifies concretely, by way of subject, esse signifies abstractly or, grammatically, in the infinitive mode” (Participation and Substantiality, 78).
“Thomas’s next step in his exposition is to clarify the statement of Boethius that ipsum esse participates in no way, whereas id quod est is aid to be able to participate in something else. Ipsum esse is unable to participate, either in the way the subject participates in the accident (or matter in form) or in the way the particular participates in the universal. The first mode of participation is excluded because ipsum esse is signified as something abstract and not as subject. And what prevents the second mode of participation—of the particular in the universal—is that there is simply nothing more universal than ipsum esse. As such, as the most universal, it is shared in or participated in by everything else, but does not itself participate in something more universal” (Participation and Substantiality, 78-79).
Footnote: Ibid., n. 24: “Praetermisso autem hoc tertio modo participandi, impossibile est quod secundum duos primos modos ipsum esse participet aliquid. Non enim potest participare aliquid per modum quo materia vel subiectum participat formam vel accidens: quia, ut dictum est, ipsum esse significatur ut quiddam abstractum. Similiter autem nec potest aliquid participare per modum quo particulare participat universale: sic enim ea quae in abstracto dicuntur, participare possunt, sicut albedo colorem; sed ipsum esse est communissimum: unde ipsum quidem participatur in aliis, non autem participat aliquid aliud.”
“By contrast, the concretely said ens, though as universal as esse, does participate, namely in esse. That which is participates in being, not in the way the less universal participates in the more universal, but in the way the concrete is said to participate in the abstract” (Participation and Substantiality, 79).
Footnote: Ibid., n. 24: “Sed id quod est, sive ens, quamvis sit communissimum, tamen concretive dicitur; et ideo participat ipsum esse, non per modum quo magis commune participatur a minus communi; sed participat ipsum esse per modum quo concretum participat abstractum.”
“It seems to me that Thomas has tacitly introduced a new mode of participation here. The participation of the concrete in the abstract does not fall under any of the three modes mentioned earlier. This point has frequently been overlooked in the literature. McInerny, for instance, identifies the way ens is said to participate in esse with the second mode of participation mentioned by Thomas, namely the subject-accident type” (Participation and Substantiality, 79).
Footnote: Cf. his Boethius and Aquinas, p. 205; however, in the chapter “Boethius and St. Thomas Aquinas” from his book Being and Predication McInerny seems to acknowledge that the participation of the concrete in the abstract, of ens in esse, cannot be reduced to any of the three modes of participation (p. 104). Geiger too identifies the participation of the concrete in the abstract with that of subject in form (La participation, p. 78). See also Wippel (Aquinas and Participation, p. 127) who rightly emphasizes the distinct character of the participation in esse; cf. “…in order for a subject to participate in its accidents, Thomas has noted, the subject must first exist. And it exists only insofar as it participates in esse. Participation in esse is clearly more fundamental than that of a substance in its accidents. The same may be said of participation of matter in form.”
“It is this type of participation which comes first in Boethius. For him participation is only possible if something already exists. But Thomas does not just say (with Boethius): only on the condition that something exists is it able to participate in something else, in other words, a subject (an actual substance) can receive something else in addition to what it is in itself. He goes a step further: that which is (ens) participates, namely in being (ipsum esse). It is clear that the concrete ens includes esse and cannot be conceived without it. In ens there is nothing else to understand besides the esse it has; it is not yet determined by something else which differs from esse. So if ‘ens’ is said to signify in the mode of a subject, it cannot be the subject of ‘esse’ in the sense of something which has some being of its own over against the property it is subjected to, as matter is the subject with respect to the form and substance with respect to the accident. The reason for this is that both terms are defined in relation to one another: ens = ‘id quod habet esse,’ esse = ‘id quo aliquid est ens’” (Participation and Substantiality, 79-80).
Footnote: Cf. McInerny, “Boethius and St. Thomas Aquinas,” op. cit. p. 101.
“Their diversity is a matter of signifying the same in diverse ways, according to different intentiones” (Participation and Substantiality, 80).
“Further on in his commentary Thomas comes to discuss another axiom of Boethius which says that ‘in every composite entity esse is different from what is.’ This time a real difference is meant, a difference in reality itself between that which is and its esse” (Participation and Substantiality, 80).
Footnote: De hebd. (ed. Steward/Rand, p. 42): “Omne simplex esse suum et id quod est unum habet. Omni composito aliud est esse, aliud ipsum est.” Cf. In de hebd., lect. 2, n. 31: “Deinde cum dicit, ‘Omni composito,’ ponit conceptiones de composito et simplici, quae pertinent ad rationem unius. Est autem considerandum, quod ea quae supra dicta sunt de diversitate ipsius esse et eius quod est, est secundum ipsas intentiones; hic autem ostendit quomodo applicetur ad res.”
“When something is conceived as a being, this way of conceiving admits of a difference in that thing, a difference which must be assumed in the case of composite things. Why is it that in the case of composite things the esse is different from the id quod est? It was found, Thomas explains, that ipsum esse does not participate in anything else. For it cannot be reduced to something more universal, nor can it be mixed up with something external in the sense of being composed with an accident. Ipsum esse is therefore not composed, it is logically simple and pure. From this one must conclude that a composite thing cannot be its esse, otherwise it would not be composed” (Participation and Substantiality, 80).
Footnote: In de hebd., lect. 2, n. 32: “Est ergo primo considerandum, quod sicut esse et quod est differunt in simplicibus secundum intentiones, ita in compositis differunt realiter: quod quidem manifestum est ex praemissis; dictum est enim supra, quod ipsum esse neque participat aliquid, ut eius ratio constituatur ex multis; neque habet aliquid extraneum admixtum, ut sit in eo compositio accidentis; et ideo ipsum esse non est compositum. Res ergo composita non est suum esse: et ideo dicit, quod in omni composito aliud est esse, et aliud ipsum compositum, quod est participatum ipsum esse.”
“So far Thomas simply clarifies the meaning of Boethius’s statement. Composite things cannot be identical with their being, as being itself is something simple” (Participation and Substantiality, 80-81).
“For Boethius composition here refers to material things. What he means is the composition of matter and form. But Thomas extends the composition even to forms without matter, separate forms which from a physical point of view are simple. Even in separate forms there is a difference between that which is and its being. And this is because separate forms are still different from each other, each determined according to its own species; therefore, the esse which they have in common must be determined differently in each of them according to a different form. As each of these forms determines the esse which is proper to it (determinativa ipsius esse), none of them coincides with its esse, but is something which has esse” (Participation and Substantiality, 81).
Footnote: Ibid., n. 34: “Si ergo inveniantur aliquae formae non in materia, unaquaeque earum est quidem simplex quantum ad hoc quod caret materia (..); quia tamen quaelibet forma est determinativa ipsius esse, nulla earum est ipsum esse, sed est habens esse.”
“Thus as regards to the composition in reality, not only are material things composite, but even pure forms count as composite from a metaphysical point of view. In order to account for the multiplicity of separate forms, each form must be distinguished from the other; and since it has no matter, each form must be distinct by itself, as a special form of being. Each form plays the role of id quod est, but in each case it must be a different id quod est, thus a different way of having esse. So it is clear that id quod est must be different from its esse; in each id quod est the esse is differently determined. And therefore none of the forms is absolutely simple, but they participate, each in a different way, in being” (Participation and Substantiality, 81).
Footnote: Ibid., n. 34: “manifestum erit quod ipsa forma immaterialis subsistens, cum sit quiddam determinatum ad speciem, non est ipsum esse commune, sed participat illud: (…) unaquaeque illarum, inquantum distinguitur ab alia, quaedam specialis forma est participans ipsum esse; et sic nulla earum erit vere simplex.”
“What is the significance of the participative structure of ‘being’ as described in the commentary on the De hebdomadibus? This tractate is the source of one of the ways in which Thomas conceives the essence-esse distinction. The Boethian pair of ‘id quod est’ and ‘esse’ is especially applied by Aquinas to the mode of being of separate substances (angels). In the angel, and a fortiori in every creature, ‘that which is’ differs from its ‘be-ing,’ for ‘that which is’ is the subsistent form and its ‘be-ing’ is that by which the substance of the angel is” (Participation and Substantiality, 82).
Footnote: S.Th. I, q. 50, a. 2 ad 3. This text will be discussed in detail in chapter 8.3 (part II).