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Monday, March 30, 2009

0064: Actus Essendi in Fides et Ratio

Entry 0064: Actus Essendi in Fides et Ratio

There is no question that Fides et Ratio contains an explicit reference to Aquinas’ notion of actus essendi.

In the first three paragraphs of his paper on the Metaphysical Basis of Aquinas’ Natural Law, Professor John F. X. Knasas stresses this point as follows.


In discussing the needs of systematic theology, Fides et Ratio mentions the requirement of a “philosophy of being based upon the act of being.” (1) Affixed to this remark is note 115 that references John Paul’s Angelicum address on the occasion of the centenary of Aeterni Patris. A read of that address removes all doubt that the phrase “act of being” is a reference to Aquinas’ notion of “actus essendi .” (2)

In the following paragraph, the encyclical speaks of the desiderata of moral theology. These include an ethics that “. . . implies and presupposes a philosophical anthropology and a metaphysics of the good.” Is this metaphysics of the good the same as the mentioned metaphysics of being based upon the act of being? For a Thomist the answer could not be otherwise. For Aquinas, the good, the ratio boni, is just another way of thinking about being, the ratio entis . Also, it would be a great surprise if in an encyclical trumpeting the metaphysics of Aquinas, the Pope was referring to someone else’s metaphysics of the good.

I want to lay bare what I believe to be the connection between Aquinas’ natural law ethics and his metaphysics of actus essendi. (...)


(1) “If the intellectus fidei wishes to integrate all the wealth of the theological tradition, it must turn to the philosophy of being, . . . Set within the Christian metaphysical tradition, the philosophy of being is a dynamic philosophy which views reality in its ontological, causal and communicative structures. It 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, surpassing every limit in order to reach the One who brings all things to fulfillment.” Fides et Ratio, para. 97.

(2) “The philosophy of St. Thomas deserves to be attentively studied and accepted with conviction by the youth of our day by reason of its spirit of openness and of universalism, characteristics which are hard to find in many trends of contemporary thought. What is meant is an openness to the whole of reality in all its parts and dimensions, without either reducing reality or confining thought to particular forms or aspects (and without turning singular aspects into absolutes), as intelligence demands in the name of objective and integral truth about what is real. Such openness is also a significant and distinctive mark of the Christian faith, whose specific countermark is its catholicity. The basis and source of this openness lie in the fact that the philosophy of St. Thomas is a philosophy of being, that is, of the actus essendi whose transcendental value paves the most direct way to rise to the knowledge of subsisting Being and pure Act, namely to God. On account of this we can even call this philosophy: the philosophy of the proclamation of being, a chant in praise of what exists.” John Paul II, “Perennial Philosophy of St. Thomas for the Youth of Our Times,” Angelicum, 57 (1980), 139-40. No doubt should exist that Fides et Ratio is referring to Aquinas’ central metaphysical notion of actus essendi. Elaborating on actus essendi as the most direct way to rise to the knowledge of God, section 6 of the Angelicum address continues: “. . . it is by reason of this affirmation of being that the philosophy of St. Thomas is able to, and indeed must, go beyond all that presents itself directly in knowledge as an existing thing (given through experience) in order to reach “that which subsists as sheer Existing” (ipsum Esse subsistens) and also creative Love; for it is this which provides the ultimate (and therefore necessary) explanation of the fact that “it is preferable to be than not to be” (Potius est esse quam non esse) and, in particular, of the fact that we exist. “This existing itself,” Aquinas tells us, “is the most common effect of all, prior and more intimate than any other effect; that is why such an effect is due to a power that, of itself, belongs to God alone” (Ipsum enim esse est communissimus effectus, primus et intimior omnibus aliis effectibus; et ideo soli Deo competit secundum virtutem propriam talis effectus: QQ. DD. De Potentia, q. 3, a. 7, c).” For further discussion of my “existential Thomist” interpretation of the encyclical, see my “Fides et Ratio and the 20th Century Thomistic Revival,” The New Blackfriars, 81 (2000), 400-8.

Note: For full text of The Angelicum Address see Entry 0082