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Monday, December 29, 2008


Commentary on De veritate, 1, 1, ad s. c. 3


Entry 0051: Commentary on
De veritate, question 1, article 1, ad sed contra 3

The term ens (entis) indeed is at times taken to signify ‘that which, in any way whatsoever, is,’ but in the present text Aquinas puts aside this aspect of the meaning of ens to stress the direct relationship that exists between ens and actus essendi.

Monday, December 15, 2008


Review of “The Apprehension of the Act of Being
in Aquinas”

Entry 0049: Review of “The Apprehension of the Act of Being 
in Aquinas”


Reference: Orestes J. Gonzalez, “The Apprehension of the Act of Being in Aquinas,” American Catholic Philosophical Quarterly 68 (1994): 475-500.



This article is a professionally written contribution based on a large number of texts from a wide range of Saint Thomas’ works. The author is clearly familiar with Saint Thomas. The texts are cited, often rather extensively, in the original Latin and reflect faithfully the English paraphrase of their meaning given in the main body of the article. There can be no question that the author is a serious and responsible scholar.


The aim of the article is to present and defend an original, in-depth interpretation of Saint Thomas’ own account of the human mind’s grasp of being and of the first principles. No mention is made of the diverse and often incompatible accounts of that process which have been previously given by well known commentators like Gilson and Lonergan. The author, on the contrary, works out his own exposition of Saint Thomas through a painstaking, step by step argument, each stage of which is supported by a copious array of textual citations.

In his exposition of Saint Thomas the author describes carefully the diverse roles assigned by Saint Thomas to the intellectus principiorum, as a natural habit of the passive intellect, the passive intellect itself, the phantasm, and the act of being of the corporeal object first grasped by sense. The intelligibility of that act of being is transmitted to the passive intellect by the species abstracted from the phantasm illuminated by the active intellect. That species, however, appears in company with the mind’s awareness of its own weakened intellectual light, a finite participation in its Creator’s intellectual light. Somewhat like Lonergan, the author points to the role of the intellectus principiorum as a pre-conceptual grasp of the intelligibility of the first principles prior to their explicit verbalization. The author is no Lonerganian, however, since it is the intelligibility of the sensible singular’s act of being, transmitted to the passive intellect by the species, measured against the mind’s grasp of its own weakened intellectual light—the norm of truth inscribed in the intellectus principiorum, the intellectual habit of the first principles—which would ground Saint Thomas’ metaphysics. The author is parting company here with Lonergan and with the Transcendental Thomists.

The article does not make easy reading. Its argument is worked out with exacting care and, to appreciate its full force, the reader must check the Latin footnotes against the argument being presented in the main body of the article itself. That, however, is not a disadvantage in a scholarly article destined for serious readers. The author concludes his presentation with a careful systematic summary.

Anonymous Reviewer

Monday, November 24, 2008


Commentary on De veritate, 1, 1, c.


Entry 0046: Commentary On
De veritate, question 1, article 1, corpus

The text establishes a clear demarcation between the term derived from the metaphysical principle of essence and the term derived from the metaphysical principle of actus essendi. Among other things, the text illustrates the meaning of the transcendental notion of res (thing), a term which derives its content and its transcendental connotation from the quiddity or essence of the thing.

The underlying principle of this doctrine is that, in the real world, one cannot have one of these two metaphysical principles existing without the other being present. In the real world essences exist with the actus essendi, and vice versa, the actus essendi always appears instantiated in an essence. For this reason, the term res (thing) expresses a transcendental notion; it stands for a universal mode of being that follows upon the fact of having an essence. Essences are found in every existing thing without exception.

Thus, from the side of the actus essendi every existing thing is said to be ens and from the side of the essence every existing thing is said to be res.

Monday, November 3, 2008


Benedict XVI on Aquinas (IV)

Entry 0043: Benedict XVI on Aquinas (IV)

On the occasion of the plenary assembly of the Pontifical Academy of Sciences on 31 October 2008, Pope Benedict XVI held a special audience for the members of the Academy. In the address he delivered for them, the Roman Pontiff affirmed that “many of our contemporaries today wish to reflect upon the ultimate origin of beings, their cause and their end, and the meaning of human history and the universe.”

The topic chosen for the plenary meeting was Scientific Insight into the Evolution of the Universe and of Life. The Holy Father contributed by saying that there exists a reading of the world offered by science as well as a reading of the world offered by Christian Revelation. He stressed, however, that the understanding of creation from the side of faith is not opposed to the empirical evidence offered by the sciences.

Going back to the early origins of science, the Holy Father commented that, in its early stages, philosophy offered a somewhat horizontal interpretation of the origin of the world. The early philosophers did not have the concept of “creation” and therefore the genesis of the world was seen as a transformation of one thing into another.

It was not until later that the notion of “creation” was incorporated into philosophical reflection especially with the advent of Christian philosophers. It is well known that it took centuries of reflection to arrive at the notion of God as Pure Unparticipated Actus Essendi.

In this regard, the Holy Father clarified that “A decisive advance in understanding the origin of the cosmos was the consideration of being qua being and the concern of metaphysics with the most basic question of the first or transcendent origin of participated being. In order to develop and evolve, the world must first be, and thus have come from nothing into being. It must be created, in other words, by the first Being who is such by essence.”

Then, the Pope continued, “To state that the foundation of the cosmos and its developments is the provident wisdom of the Creator is not to say that creation has only to do with the beginning of the history of the world and of life. It implies, rather, that the Creator founds these developments and supports them, underpins them and sustains them continuously.”

“Thomas Aquinas,
” the Holy Father noted, taught that the notion of creation must transcend the horizontal origin of the unfolding of events, which is history, and consequently all our purely naturalistic ways of thinking and speaking about the evolution of the world. Thomas observed that creation is neither a movement nor a mutation. It is instead the foundational and continuing relationship that links the creature to the Creator, for He is the cause of every being and all becoming (cf. Summa theologiae, I, q.45, a. 3).”

Monday, October 20, 2008


On The Tenth Anniversary of
Fides et Ratio (II)

Entry 0041: On the Tenth Anniversary of Fides et Ratio 

Ten years after the publication of the encyclical letter Fides et Ratio, the Pontifical Lateran University, in collaboration with the Pontifical Academy of Sciences and the World Conference of Catholic University Institutions of Philosophy, organized a conference in Rome to commemorate the anniversary.

On 16 October 2008, the participants were received in audience by the Holy Father Pope Benedict XVI. In his speech the Pope spoke of the “constant relevance” of the encyclical, which, he said, “is characterised by its great openness to reason, especially in a period in which there is speculation about [reason's] weakness." Then the Pope added that in the encyclical "John Paul II underlined the importance of uniting faith and reason in a reciprocal relationship, while respecting the autonomy proper to each.”

“Reason,” said Pope Benedict XVI, “discovers that beyond its own achievements and conquests there exists a truth that can never be discovered by using its own parameters, but only received as a gratuitous gift. The truth of Revelation is not superimposed on the truth achieved by reason; rather it purifies and exalts reason, enabling it to expand beyond its confines to become part of a field of research as unfathomable as the mystery itself.”

Pope Benedict XVI concluded: “The passion for truth impels us to turn into ourselves to discover the profound meaning of our lives in the interior man. True philosophy must lead people by the hand and bring them to discover how fundamental knowing the truth of Revelation is for their own dignity.”

Monday, October 6, 2008


Benedict XVI on Aquinas (III)

Entry 0039: Benedict XVI on Aquinas (III)

On 17 January 2008, Pope Benedict XVI had intended to visit the University of La Sapienza in Rome. The Roman Pontiff 
was not able to make the trip, but he asked one of his collaborators to read at the University the speech he had prepared for the occasion.

As he has done on similar occasions when addressing university professors and students, the Holy Father chose to reflect on the relationship of faith and reason. An extensive part of the speech was devoted to the enduring originality of the thought of Saint Thomas Aquinas. Here is what the Holy Father said.

It is the historical merit of Saint Thomas Aquinas—in the face of the rather different answer offered by the Fathers, owing to their historical context—to have highlighted the autonomy of philosophy, and with it the laws and the responsibility proper to reason, which enquires on the basis of its own dynamic. Distancing themselves from neo-Platonic philosophies, in which religion and philosophy were inseparably interconnected, the Fathers had presented the Christian faith as the true philosophy, and had emphasized that this faith fulfils the demands of reason in search of truth; that faith is the “yes” to the truth, in comparison with the mythical religions that had become mere custom. By the time the university came to birth, though, those religions no longer existed in the West—there was only Christianity, and thus it was necessary to give new emphasis to the specific responsibility of reason, which is not absorbed by faith. Thomas was writing at a privileged moment: for the first time, the philosophical works of Aristotle were accessible in their entirety; the Jewish and Arab philosophies were available as specific appropriations and continuations of Greek philosophy. Christianity, in a new dialogue with the reasoning of the interlocutors it was now encountering, was thus obliged to argue a case for its own reasonableness. The faculty of philosophy, which as a so-called “arts faculty” had until then been no more than a preparation for theology, now became a faculty in its own right, an autonomous partner of theology and the faith on which theology reflected. We cannot digress to consider the fascinating consequences of this development. I would say that Saint Thomas’s idea concerning the relationship between philosophy and theology could be expressed using the formula that the Council of Chalcedon adopted for Christology: philosophy and theology must be interrelated “without confusion and without separation”. “Without confusion” means that each of the two must preserve its own identity. Philosophy must truly remain a quest conducted by reason with freedom and responsibility; it must recognize its limits and likewise its greatness and immensity. (Excerpt from the Lecture by the Holy Father Benedict XVI at the University of Rome ‘La Sapienza,’ 17 January 2008.)

Monday, August 18, 2008


Grammar and Signification of Ens and Esse


Entry 0032: Grammar of Ens and Esse 

Concerning the significations of ens and esse, it is instructive to turn our attention to an important point of Latin grammar. 


Just as laudans/laudantis is the present active participle for the Latin verb laudare (laudo, laudare, laudavi, laudatus), ens/entis is the present active participle of the Latin verb esse (sum, esse, fui, futurus.)

Laudans/laudantis is translated into English as ‘praising,’ a verbal adjective used to modify the noun that refer to ‘someone who is now exercising the action of praising.’ But ens/entis is more than just a verbal adjective. In the context of the 'philosophy of being,' ens/entis is most of the time translated into English as a noun, ‘being,’ to signify ‘that which, in any way whatsoever, is.’


According to Aquinas our minds conceive everything sub ratione entisQuidquid cadit in intellectu, oportet quod cadat sub ratione entis, he says in De Virtutibus 1, 2, ad 8, “Whatever is grasped by the intellect must fall under the notion of being.”

Now, as mentioned above, Aquinas is aware of the fact that the terms ens/entis and esse signify in more than one way. He is explicit on this in De Potentia 7, 2, ad 1, when he says:


Ens et esse dicitur dupliciter: 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.

Ens and esse may be taken in two ways (Metaph. x, 13, 14). Sometimes they signify the essence of a thing and the act of being, 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.

Monday, August 11, 2008


Benedict XVI on Aquinas (II)

Entry 0031: Benedict XVI on Aquinas (II) 

On Sunday, 28 January 2007, in St Peter’s Square, Rome, Pope Benedict XVI began his Reflection before the Recitation of the Angelus with the following observation, 
Today the liturgical calendar commemorates St Thomas Aquinas, the great Doctor of the Church. With his charism as a philosopher and theologian, he offered an effective model of harmony between reason and faith, dimensions of the human spirit that are completely fulfilled in the encounter and dialogue with one another. According to St Thomas’ thought, human reason, as it were, ‘breathes:’ it moves within a vast open horizon in which it can express the best of itself. When, instead, man reduces himself to thinking only of material objects or those that can be proven, he closes himself to the great questions about life, himself and God and is impoverished.”

Monday, August 4, 2008


Actus Essendi and Existence

Entry 0030: Actus Essendi and Existence

Reading the works of Aquinas one finds that he used the Latin verb esse to signify in more than one way. In his Summa theologiae (I, 3, 4, ad 2,) he is clear on this point.

It must be said that esse applies to a thing in two ways. In one way, it means the act of being, actus essendi. In another way, it means 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 God’s esse nor His essence; but only in the second sense we can understand the esse of God. For we know that this proposition which we form about God when we say ‘God is,’ is true; and this we know from His effects.
In the first sense God’s esse is His actus essendi; in the second sense, esse applied to God means ‘God exists.’ Here is the Latin text as it appears in the Summa theologiae (I, 3, 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.
By means of demonstration and reasoning one can prove the ‘existence’ of a thing without having to have recourse to the sense experience of an existing exemplifying individual. The grasping of the ‘act of being’ of a particular thing is indeed the strongest evidence that the thing exists. But to answer the question of whether or not a thing exists, one does not have to interact directly with the existing sensible thing. The grasping of the ‘act of being’ requires direct and immediate contact with individual, real sensible things; knowledge of the ‘existence’ of a particular thing, does not. 

Monday, July 14, 2008


John Paul II on the Philosophy of Being


Entry 0027: John Paul II on the Philosophy of Being

In Memory and Identity (
New York: Rizzoli, 2005, p 12), Pope John Paul II writes, If we wish to speak rationally about good and evil, we have to return to Saint Thomas Aquinas, that is, to the philosophy of being.”

Monday, July 7, 2008


Benedict XVI on Aquinas (I)


Entry 0026: Benedict XVI on Aquinas (I)

During his Apostolic Journey to Germany on the occasion of the XX World Youth Day, in praising the city of Cologne, Pope Benedict XVI remarked, "
I would like to recall that . . . Thomas Aquinas, the greatest theologian of the West, studied and taught here" (Address at the Cathedral of Cologne, 18 August 2005). 

Monday, June 30, 2008


On the Tenth Anniversary of
Fides et Ratio (I)


Entry 0025: On the Tenth Anniversary of Fides et Ratio


Five years prior to the publication of his encyclical lettter Fides et Ratio, when addressing the plenary assembly of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, John Paul II took advantage of the occasion to express his great appreciation for the efforts made by the Congregation in conducting a survey on the relationship between faith and philosophy. This is “a subject particularly close to my heart,” the Pope said on 19 November 1993. It actually took twelve years to complete the work that led to Fides et Ratio. The encyclical letter was signed by the Pope on 14 September 1998 and released on 16 October 1998 to mark the twentieth anniversary of his Pontificate. At the time, Alessandra Stanley described the Pope’s encyclical as “one of his most personal pronouncements to date: a crystallization of his philosophical and theological thinking over a lifetime” (The New York Times, October 16, 1998).


The successor of John Paul II, Benedict XVI, was alert to the fact that the year 2008 marked the tenth anniversary of the publication of Fides et Ratio. On 7 June 2008 in his Address to Participants at the Sixth European Symposium for University Professors, Pope Benedict XVI said:

For me it is a motive of profound joy to meet you on the occasion of the Sixth European Symposium for University Professors on the theme: Widen the horizons of rationality: Perspectives for Philosophy. ... I would like to express my gratitude to the organizing committee for this choice which permits us, among other things, to celebrate the tenth anniversary of the publication of the encyclical letter Fides et Ratio of my beloved predecessor Pope John Paul II. Already on that occasion 50 civil and ecclesial philosophy professors of the public and pontifical universities of Rome manifested their gratitude to the Pope with a declaration which confirmed the urgency of relaunching the study of philosophy in universities and schools.

In Fides et Ratio John Paul II states forcefully that the Church does not canonize any philosophical system. But in explaining the statement the observation is made equivalent to saying that the ‘philosophy of being’ is an inherent, essential ‘tool’ of the power of reason. Here is Pope John Paul II in his own words: (1) the ‘philosophy of being’ “is strong and enduring because it is based upon the very ‘act of being’ itself, which allows a full and comprehensive openness to reality as a whole;” (2) the ‘philosophy of being’ “can claim in advance all that is true in regard to reality;” and (3) the philosophy of the actus essendi is “a branch of knowledge that cannot be reduced to any other science whatever because is one that transcends them all by establishing itself as independent of them and at the same time as bringing them to completion in regard to their true nature.” (The first quote is from Fides et Ratio, no. 97. The other two quotes are from The Angelicum Address, Acta Apostolicae Sedis 71 [1979]: 1472-1483, nos. 6-7).