Monday, October 31, 2011

Beauty and God's Existence

Entry 0197: Beauty and the Existence of God

"The beauty that perdures in the midst of the world's ceaseless becoming excites in the soul a longing for the infinite beauty that it reflects." 

(David Bentley Hart, "The Mirror of the Infinite: Gregory of Nyssa on the Vestigia Trinitatis," in Re-Thinking Gregory of Nyssa, ed. Sarah Coakley (Oxford: Blackwell, 2003), 118).

Monday, October 3, 2011

Rudi A. te Velde on Existence

Entry 0193: Rudi A. te Velde on Existence


In his Participation and Substantiality in Thomas Aquinas, Rudi A. te Velde writes,
It is not at all clear that ‘existence’ can be regarded as a universal perfection in which things can be said to participate.

It is true that, for Thomas [Aquinas], esse is connected with actual existence. But this does not mean that the notion of actus essendi can be harmlessly rendered by ‘act of existence.’

‘Existence’ may be more familiar and better known than the abstract esse, but it is also more restricted in its use, it seems to me.

One can say that a particular man, for instance Socrates, exists, but does it make sense to say that existence is received in human nature, by which it is contracted?

Existence is not something in which a thing can participate. It presupposes the distinct nature or quiddity to which it belongs, in such a way that the nature itself is of a different order than its actual existence.
Rudi A. te Velde, Participation and Substantiality in Thomas Aquinas, (Leiden, The Netherlands: E. J. Brill, 1995), 185.

Monday, September 26, 2011

Antonio Millan Puelles on Existence

Entry 0192: 
Antonio Millan Puelles on Existence

According to Antonio Millan Puelles,
Fabro did maintain two theses, namely, that existence forms part of the act of being, and that the act of being cannot be reduced to existence, but he did not do so with equal emphasis or clarity.

He [Fabro] paid more—in fact, incomparably greater—attention to the distinction between existence and the act of being. Now, this is not without foundation.

In the very philosophical tradition that developed on the basis of the teachings of Saint Thomas, esse had come to be reduced to existence, the latter term having been taken precisely with the connotation of something that is “inessential” to an entity by virtue of the fact that the latter is identified with essence, in the sense of a possible quiddity.

Esse, understood as the actus essendi—which Saint Thomas has regarded as the primordial and innermost core of every entity—was, in the final analysis, reduced to the status of something incidental in the eyes of a significant and numerous group of people participating in that tradition.

One must agree with Fabro in rejecting the reductionistic interpretation of esse as existence, which is already operative at the level of the thesis of the real distinction between essentia and esse, and one must do so because of the overwhelming documentary evidence produced by Fabro himself in his taking recourse to Saint Thomas’s own texts, and not on the basis of mere lucubrations more or less conjectural in character.

Suffice it to say that it is impossible to translate esse as “existence” when one is considering the gradations of being, a realization that does not however imply that it would be valid to take them as if they were gradations of essence, since that which can be participated in secundum magis et minus (in terms of the more or less) is not essence, but being.

Existence is part of the act of being but the act of being cannot be reduced to existence.

Thanks to Fabro (and in opposition to a long line of eminent interpreters of Saint Thomas’s thought) we have come clearly to see that the reduction of esse to existence is inadmissible always, not just so far as the real distinction between essence and esse is concerned.

It is thus impermissible to translate the statement “non possumus scire esse Dei” (Summa Theologiae, part I, question 3, article 4, ad 2) by means of the sentence, “we cannot clearly know the existence of God.”

In the passage under scrutiny, what Saint Thomas contended is that we are unable to know not just the manner of existence proper (propria) to God, but also the essence proper (propria) to Him, as well as whatever is present in the corresponding act of being which is irreducible to the existential dimension thereof.

And yet, if we are able to know—as Saint Thomas affirmed it too—that God exists, then we are capable of conceiving existence, since it is not possible to understand a proposition containing something unintelligible.

To [Frabro’s] exceptional metaphysical insightfulness we are indebted for having reclaimed and refined the idea of the act of being.
Antonio Millan Puelles, The Theory of the Pure Object, trans. and ed. Jorge Garcia Gomez, (Heidelberg: Universitatsverlag C. Winter, 1996), 319-326.