View Articles

Monday, April 13, 2015

0401: Commentary on Actus Essendi
– Text no. 13 (D)



Entry 0401: Commentary on Expositio in librum   

Boetii De hebdomadibuslecture 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.


D. Ralph McInerny

From the passages from Ralph McInerny’s Boethius and Aquinas reported below we take the following points:

(a) McInerny emphasizes strongly that both Boethius and Aquinas explicitly affirmed that the axiom diversum est esse et id quod est is a self-evident axiom.

(b) McInerny underscores the philosophical nature of Boethius’s De hebdomadibus.

Here are excerpts from Ralph McInerny’s Boethius and Aquinas, (Washington, D.C.: Catholic University of America Press, 1990):

“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” (Boethius and Aquinas, xiv).

De hebdomadibus makes no appeal to the Catholic faith. Indeed, it proceeds on the basis of truths which need only be heard to command assent” (Boethius and Aquinas, 130).

“(3a) Omni composito aliud est esse, aliud ipsum est. (3b) Omne simplex esse suum et id quod est unum habet. This is the order in which the axioms turning on the one occur in Thomas [in his commentary on Boethius’s De hebdomadibus,] and, as we shall see, it is fitting that they should, whatever the textual situation might be. In any case, it is clear that simple and composed are modes of oneness. Moreover, we are moving from a diversity in the conceptual or intentional order, a diversity in the realm of meanings and accounts of words, to statements about the presence or lack of a corresponding diversity in the things to which the words refer” (Boethius and Aquinas, 211-212).

“Not only is there a difference of account between ens or quod est and esse, in the composite things of this world there is a real difference as well. Here we have a locution that led to talk of the Real Distinction, and the context makes what the contrast intended is. ‘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’ (n. 31). Whether we are speaking of simple or composite things, when we use the terms ens and esse they will have different accounts, different modes of signifying, and certain restraints will follow on those modes. Now this poses a problem when what we are talking about are simple things. We have no choice but to use a language which is suggestive of complexity, and the reason is that our language is fashioned to express what we first know and what we first know are complex, composite, things” (Boethius and Aquinas, 212).

Footnote: This was St. Thomas’s point in Summa theologiae, [I], q. 13, a. 1, ad 2m.

“‘Est ergo considerandum, quod sicut esse et quod est differunt in simplicibus secundum intentiones, ita in compositis differunt realiter’ (n. 32)” (Boethius and Aquinas, 212).

“A question we can put at this point is this. Is it the identification of esse and quod est in simple things which is taken to be evident and their non-identity in composite things that requires showing, or the reverse? The remark of Thomas we have just recalled makes it clear what his view is. The complexity in our language is a sign of what is most knowable by us, namely, composite things. The major concern then would be to guard against attributing to the things being spoken of the complexity of our talk about them” (Boethius and Aquinas, 212).

“The question would be unintelligible if we had not seen that the status of being an axiom, a communis animi conceptio, does not exempt from being dependent for its manifestation on another. But, needless to say, the manifestation of an axiom could scarcely be a matter of demonstration or proof, since that would require a middle term and axioms are immediate. And what Thomas tells us is that the real diversity of quod est and esse in composite things is clear from the forgoing: quod quidem manifestum est ex praemissis. What are the elements of this manifesting?” (Boethius and Aquinas, 212-213).

1. Dictum est enim supra quod ipsum esse

a. neque participat aliud, ut eius ratio constituatur ex multis;
b. neque habet aliquid extraneum admixtum, ut sit in eo compositio accidentis;
c. et ideo ipsum esse non est compositum.

2. Res ergo composita non est suum esse.

[In the footnote McInerny provides the following translation:] “It was said above that (1) existence itself (a) neither participates in anything, such that its account would be composed of many (b) not has anything extraneous mixed with it, such that there is in it a composition with accidents, (c) therefore existence itself is not composed. (2) Therefore, the composed thing is not its existence” (lectio 2, n. 32).

“Would it make any sense to speak of this as a proof of the real distinction between esse and quod est in composite things? There is one ideo and one ergo in the sequence, which might lead the unwary to think a demonstration is being claimed. But clearly this is not the case. It seems obvious enough that 1a and 1b mention the kind of complexity not to be found in ipsum esse and thus enable us to know what would be meant by calling it simple. They could be called a conjunction of modi tollentes. If something participates in another such that its account is composed of many elements, it is composite. But this is not the case with ipsum esse, so it is not composite. And so too with 1b. But what are we to make of the ergo in 2? If ipsum esse is simple, as has been shown, it follows that a composite thing is not existence” (Boethius and Aquinas, 213).

Footnote: Whether or not the translation of the Posterior Analytics included in PL 64 is that made by Boethius, he would have been aware of chapter 7, Book Two of that work. “At vero si demonstrabit quid est, et quia est, et qualiter eadem ratione demonstrabit, definito enim unum aliquid, et demonstratio, id autem quod est et quid est homo, et esse hominem, aliud est. Postea per demonstrationem dicimus necessarium esse demonstrare omne quia est, nisi substantia sit, esse autem non substantia ulla est, non enim est genus, quod est, demonstratio itaque erit quia est, quod quidem et non faciunt scientiae. (…)” PL 64, 748D-749A.

“But 2 says more; the composite thing is not its existence. [The statement in] 2 can seem to be merely 1c converted: ipsum esse non est compositum coverts to compositum non est ipsum esse. The ergo then would simply be the sign of the converted form being yielded by the original proposition” (Boethius and Aquinas, 213-214).

Footnote: Boethius wrote extensively of conversion of propositions as well as of the relation of propositions on the Square of Opposition, and used sequuntur and igitur lavishly to speak of contradictories, such that if the universal affirmative is true, then the particular negative is false. See, for example, PL 64, 773 ff.

“But, again, 2 is not just the converted form of 1c. How should we understand this?” (Boethius and Aquinas, 214).

“The most straightforward way would be this. A composite thing cannot be identified with one of its components, particularly one that has just been shown to be incomplex. But quod est is a compound of what receives existence and the existence received. If this complexity were only in the intentional order, the thing would not be composite, but simple. This enables us to understand the relative swiftness with which Thomas establishes the sense of (3a:) [Omni composito aliud est esse, aliud ipsum est]. What is being asserted is assented to straight off when we know what is being said” (Boethius and Aquinas, 214).

“Anyone who knows what a composite thing is will know that its existence is diverse from what it is. A composite thing is something that has come into being as a result of a change and is thus composed of matter and form. For it to be is for the form to inhere in, to actuate, the matter. But for the form so to inhere in the matter is not what the form is, nor what the matter is, nor what the conjunction of them is. The form explains the kind of existence the composite thing enjoys, but it is not the efficient cause of its own inherence in the matter. For a composite thing to be is for its parts to continue to cohere, for its form to inhere in its matter. For it thus to be in act, to be actual, is what is meant by its existence, suum esse(Boethius and Aquinas, 214).

“That nothing more arcane than this is in play is clear when we go on to the comment on (3b:) [Omne simplex esse suum et id quod est unum habet]. If there are simple things, there can be in them no real diversity of quod est and esse. If there were, they would be composite and not simple. This is not a proof that there are such simple things. Indeed, so far as the De hebdomadibus is concerned, there is only one such simple thing, the First Good, the creator of complex things and the explanation of both their existence and their goodness” (Boethius and Aquinas, 214-215).

“We can thus see the appropriateness of the ordering of the axioms bearing on the composite and the simple as St. Thomas had it. The reverse order might suggest that, while there is no difficulty understanding the identity of quod est and esse in simple things, problems arise when we try to grasp their diversity in complex things. The fact of the matter is, we have no philosophical warrant for talking of simple thing(s) except on the basis of a proof that they exist. If they exist, there are axiomatic truths about them, such as the one mentioned at the outset, namely, that incorporeal things are not in place. But our knowledge and our language and our certainties commence in the realm of the complex. As we have several times recalled, that is a fundamental reason why our language suggests complexity. The problem is to stretch our knowledge and our language to the incomplex when we have established, on the basis of truths about the complex, that such things exist” (Boethius and Aquinas, 215).

“When Thomas turns to (3b:) [Omne simplex esse suum et id quod est unum habet], he reminds us of the obvious, namely that our notion of simple things is arrived at by negating composition in them. Since there is composition and composition, there are degrees of simplicity. Something can be called simple because it lacks a certain kind of complexity, yet involve another kind. Typically, Thomas begins with corporeal things that are relatively simple, as the elements are simpler bodies than mixed bodies whose composition involves contraries. Nonetheless, the basic composition in physical bodies is that of matter and form, since this follows on the very fact that they are physical or natural, that is, have come into being as the result of a change. Matter is the subject which persists through the change, and form is the determination it receives as the result of the change” (Boethius and Aquinas, 215-216).

“By comparison with physical substance then, if there were a substance that is form alone, it would be simple. Thomas uses the plural, as Boethius did not, since such subsistent forms admit of variety and plurality. “If then some forms were found not to be in matter, each would be simple insofar as it lacked matter, and thus quantity which is a disposition of matter, but because each form would be determinative of existence, none of them would be existence, but all would have existence” (Boethius and Aquinas, 216).

Footnote: “Si ergo inveniantur aliquae formae non in materia, unaquaeque earum est quidem simplex quantum ad hoc quod caret materia, et per consequens quantitate, quae est dispositio materiae, quia tamen quaelibet forma est determinativa ipsius esse, nulla earum est ipsum esse, sed est habens esse” (lectio 2, n. 34).

“We see here an application of the Boethian omne namque esse ex forma est that he himself did not grasp. In the composite thing, its esse can be said to be constituted, as it were, by the principles of its essence (quasi constituitur per principia essentiae), but chiefly by its form” (Boethius and Aquinas, 216).

Footnote: In IV Metaphysic., lectio 2, n. 558. In Boetii De trinitate, q. 5, a. 3, c.: “Secunda operatio respicit ipsum esse rei, quod quidem resultat ex congregatione principiorum rei in compositis, vel ipsam simplicem naturam rei concomitatur ut in substantiis simplicibus.”

“Thomas waives the difference between Plato and Aristotle on the Ideas, and cites them as examples. Nor is this unusual. Thomas will always agree with Aristotle’s rejection of the Forms or Ideas when taken to be the separate counterpart of common names of sensible things. But he will eagerly embrace the Forms as ways of grasping simple things” (Boethius and Aquinas, 216).

Footnote: On this see the remarkable prologue to St. Thomas’s commentary on De divinis nominibus of Pseudo-Dionysius. “Haec igitur Platonicorum ratio fidei non consonat nec veritati, quantum ad hoc quod continet de speciebus naturalibus separatis, sed quantum ad id quod dicebant de primo rerum Principio, verissima est eorum opinio et fidei christianae consona.” Text as edited by Ceslai Pera, O.P., Marietti, 1950.

“That which is truly, through and through, simple will not be a subsistent form of being, but subsistent existence itself. And here we must say that there can be only one truly simple thing, and this is God” (Boethius and Aquinas, 216).

Footnote: “Id autem erit solum vere simplex, quod non participat esse, non quidem inhaerens, sed subsistens. Hoc autem non potest esse nisi unum; quia si ipsum esse nihil aliud habet admixtum praeter id quod est esse, ut dictum est, impossibile est id quod est ipsum esse, multiplicari per aliquid diversificans: et quia nihil aliud praeter se habet admixtum, consequens est quod nullius accidentis sit susceptivum. Hoc autem simplex unum et sublime est ipse Deus” (lectio 2, n. 35).

“In the case of De hebdomadibus, the text of Boethius seems to be making an obvious point—it is explicitly said to be a per se nota one—when it states that diversum est esse et id quod est” (Boethius and Aquinas, 250).

Both Boethius and Thomas are careful to establish the meanings of forma and esse with reference to physical substances. Unless this is first done, the extension of the diversity [of esse and quod est] to subsistent forms cannot coherently be carried off. More importantly, this background is needed to grasp the significance of Thomas’s description of God as Ipsum esse subsistens(Boethius and Aquinas, 252).

(The observation that the axiom diversum est esse et id quod est is a self-evident axiom is presented by McInerny in several other of his works. See his “Boethius and Saint Thomas Aquinas,” Rivista di Filosofia Neo-Scolastica 66 [1974]: 219-245; Being and Predication: Thomistic interpretations [Washington, D.C.: The Catholic University of America Press, 1986], 55;  “Saint Thomas on De Hebdomadibus,” in Being and Goodness: The Concept of the Good in Metaphysics and Philosophical Theology, ed. Scott MacDonald [Ithaca, Cornell University Press, 1991], 75-76; Praeambula Fidei: Thomism and the God of the Philsophers [Washington, D.C.: The Catholic University of America Press, 2006], 303; and “Saint Thomas Aquinas,” in The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, ed. Edward N. Zalta, 30 September 2009.)

(Regarding the philosophical nature of Boethius’s De hebdomadibus, see also Jan A. Aertsen, “What is First and Most Fundamental? The Beginnings of Transcendental Philosophy,” in Was ist Philosophie im Mittelalter? ed. Jan A. Aertsen and Andreas Speer [Berlin: Walter de Gruyter GmbH & Co., 1998], 179.)