Monday, April 20, 2015

Commentary on Actus Essendi

Text no. 13

Commentary on 

Expositio in librum Boetii De hebdomadibuslecture 2

(Quotations from the writings of 
C. Fabro, P. Ruffinengo and D. Bradshaw) 

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.

E. Cornelio Fabro, Pier P. Ruffinengo and David Bradshaw

In his Partecipazione e Causalità, Cornelio Fabro directs attention to the fact that in order to explain the axiom diversum est esse et id quod est, Aquinas introduces a number of terms which were not present in the De hebdomadibus of Boethius, such as ens, currens, currere, and actus essendi. According to Fabro, the expression essendi forma—which was crafted by Boethius with refined expertise, Fabro remarks—became for Aquinas the ipse actus essendi. Fabro considers that by the time Aquinas composed the commentary on Boethius’s De hebdomadibus the teachings presented in the commentary were well established doctrines in Aquinas’s mind.

Footnote: See Cornelio Fabro, Partecipazione e Causalità, (Torino: Società Editrice Internazionale, 1960), 204-205: “Nel suo commento San Tommaso riporta l’esse all’ens, ciò ch’è assente nel troppo conciso testo boeziano. (…) [Nel]l’esempio indicativo che segue, assente in Boezio e frequente in San Tommaso, della distinzione fra currere e currens: currere indica l’atto indeterminato, currens il soggetto (particolare) in atto… (…) [C]iò che Boezio rende con raffinata perizia con essendi forma diventa per San Tommaso l’ipse actus essendi.” See also C. Fabro, La Nozione Metafisica di Partecipazione, (Torino: Società Editrice Internazionale, 1950), Introduzione, in fine: “Il Commento a Boezio suppone una dottrina ormai stabilita.”

To be noted also is the fact that although Aquinas sometimes goes so far as to use the expression natura essendi, he clearly opted for not using the Boethian expression forma essendi. Only once in his writings, in the context of commenting on the text from Boethius, does Aquinas use the expression essendi forma. This fact is not reported by Fabro, and, to the best of my knowledge, other scholars who have also written on the subject of Aquinas’s interpretation of the Boethian forma essendi have overlooked this fact as well.

Under the guidance of Cornelio Fabro, Pier Ruffinengo has carefully studied the issue of the shift from forma essendi to actus essendi which Aquinas explicitly made in his commentary on Boethius’s De hebdomadibus. Ruffinengo suggests that the originality of Aquinas consists in having shifted from the understanding of esse as forma of the Neoplatonic thinkers to the understanding of esse as actus. The actus essendi of Aquinas is not another forma; rather, it is actus formae. Ruffinengo’s observation is in line with what is generally recognized to be the distinctive contribution of Aquinas to the philosophy of being, namely, the discovery that in subsisting extramental things all acts are in reality potency with respect to the metaphysical principle of actus essendi instantiated by the subsisting thing. Aquinas understands the metaphysical principle of actus essendi to be the actualitas omnium actuum and the perfectio omnium perfectionum.

Footnote: See Pier P. Ruffinengo, “L’ipsum esse non e ancora l’actus essendi di San Tommaso,” Aquinas: Rivista Internazionale di Filosofia 38 (1995): 631-635: “Ed è pure un fatto che Boezio intende Dio come Esse, per quanto nel senso di Forma Essendi (De Trinitate, II, 18-20). Ora sta proprio qui la novità di Tommaso, di intendere cioè Dio non come Forma Essendi, ma come Ipse Actus Essendi subsistens. (…) Però quello che io ho inteso sottolineare al termine del mio excursus storico-teoretico sul pensiero greco e sul neoplatonismo latino fino al sec. XII, … è il passaggio dall’esse inteso come forma all’esse intuito da Tommaso come actus. (…) L’essenziale è che questo esse, sia in senso generale, sia applicato a Dio, prima di Tommaso era sempre stato inteso come una forma accanto alle altre (e Dio era la Forma suprema). L’originalità assoluta e decisiva di Tommaso consiste nell’averlo inteso come actus, actus formae, omnium formarum. E Dio per Tommaso è Ipsum Esse, nel senso di Ipse Actus Essendi subsistens. Insomma: l’ipsum esse dei neoplatonici non è ancora l’actus essendi di S. Tommaso d’Aquino.” See also, P. Ruffinengo, “Giustificazione critica dell’actus essendi e problema del fondamento,” in Quaderni di  Velia, no. 3: Veritatem in Caritate, ed. Giuseppe M. Pizzuti (Potenza: Edizioni Ermes, 1991), 223-242; P. Ruffinengo, Le cose, il pensiero, l’Essere: Fodazione critica della metafisica, (Genova: Marietti, 1988), 140-149; P. Ruffinengo, Ontonòesis: Introduzione alla metafisica, (Genova: Marietti, 2002), 62-95; P. Ruffinengo, Essere oltre l'essente: Ricerca storico-teoretica, (Ancona: Il lavoro editoriale Casa Editrice, 2013); and P. Ruffinengo, “Differenza Ontologica e Actus Essendi: con San Tommaso oltre Heidegger,” Divus Thomas 116, no. 2 (2013): 171-209.

In this regard, David Bradshaw comments that it is remarkable that without any knowledge of the Neoplatonic antecedents of the Boethian axioms (Plotinus, Porphyry, the Anonymous Commentary on the Parmenides, and Marius Victorinus), Aquinas was able to find in the De hebdomadibus an inspiration for his own conception of the metaphysical principle of actus essendi.

Footnote: See David Bradshaw, Aristotle East and West, (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2004), 114-118; and D. Bradshaw, “Neoplatonic Origins of the Act of Being,” The Review of Metaphysics 53 (1999): 383-401. Quoting from Pierre Hadot’s “Forma Essendi: interprétation philologique et interprétation philosophique d'une formule de Boèce” (Les Études Classiques 38 [1970]: 154-155), Bradshaw remarks that Hadot pays what seems just tribute in the remark that Aquinas’s philosophical genius guided him and enabled him to get to the bottom of Boethius’s formulae by intuition.

For more on Boethius, see Claudio Moreschini, A Christian in Toga: Boethius: Interpreter of Antiquity and Christian Theologian (Göttingen: Vandenhoeck and Ruprecht, 2014), 74-76; Christophe Erismann, “The Medieval Fortunes of the Opuscula Sacra,” in The Cambridge Companion to Boethius, ed. John Marenbon (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2009), 155-177; John Marenbon, Boethius, (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2003), 90; and Ralph McInerny, Boethius and Aquinas, (Washington, D.C.: Catholic University of America Press, 2012), 161-253.