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THE ULTIMATE REDUCTIBILITY

OF ESSENCE TO EXISTENCE
IN EXISTENTIAL METAPHYSICS

by

WILLIAM E. CARLO
BOSTON COLLEGE

Preface by

W. NORRIS CLARKE, S.J.

MARTI NUS NIJHQFF / THE HAGUE


a
T H E U L T IM A T E REDUCTIBILITY OF E SSE N C E
TO E X I S T E N C E IN E X I S T E N T I A L M E T A P H Y S I C S
a
TH E U L TIM A T E REDUCTIBILITY
OF ESSENCE TO EX ISTEN CE
IN E X IS T E N T IA L M ETAPHYSICS

by

W I L L I A M E. C A R L O

B O S T O N CO LLEG E

M A R T I N U S N I J H O F F / T H E H A G U E / 1 966
Copyright i6 6 by Martinus Nijhoff, The Hague, Netherlands
All rights reserved, including the right to translate or to
reproduce this book or parts thereof in any form

PRIN TED IN THE N ETH ER LAN DS


In Memoriam

M s g r . G E R A L D B. P H E L A N

Priest, Scholar and Metaphysician


a
PREFACE

This is an exciting book - at least to those who already know something


about the Thomistic metaphysics of essence and existence and who are
interested in basic seminal ideas in philosophy. For it appears at a
most opportune time in the contemporary development of Thomism.
It has now become pretty widely accepted among Thomistic circles
that the rediscovery of the act of existence as the central insight of the
metaphysics of St. Thomas Aquinas is one of the decisive turning
points in the history of Thomism - and of metaphysics itself. A ll of its
repercussions have b y no means been felt yet. But as the implications of
the doctrine have slowly worked their w ay out in the minds of con
temporary Thomists in many quarters of the world, it has become
apparent that the supposed solid front of all Thomists in holding to
the celebrated traditional Thomistic thesis of the real distinction of
essence and existence is not quite so solid as the verbal formula would
lead one to believe. For the same technical formula, it gradually be
came evident, can conceal two considerably divergent interpretations
of the relation of essence to the act of existence.
In the older, long traditional view, esse (the act of existing, or 'To
be ) was indeed the supreme act and perfection. Y e t essence, if pushed
to the limit, seemed to have a certain ontological positiv ity of its own
to contribute (even though only in composition with esse), so that esse
could be said to be added on to it from without, so to speak, as actuali
zing the perfections conceived to be somehow the contribution of the
essence in itself. The notion of essence as real potency, as real recipient
principle, entering into relations of something akin to reciprocal
causality with respect to esse, could easily be pressed in the same
direction, toward what some have come to call the "h e a v y or "solid
notion of essence. The stress on the real distinction, the real compositino,
of the two as the absolutely essential point to be preserved, rather
V III PREFACE

than limitation or participation, is another typical characteristic of


the same line of interpretation. It is this viewpoint which has certainly
been dominant in the great commentators on St. Thomas, who have
in large part formed the outlook of the Thomistic school down to the
recent present. But it is also noteworthy that, as current studies are
revealing more and more, these same commentators - with the excep
tion perhaps of Banez - never quite caught the full novelty and depth
of St. Thomas' notion of the act of existence as the source of all
perfections, including intelligibility.
The other view takes with full seriousness the affirmation that the
act of existence is the source of all perfections, both in God and in
creatures, and that all diversity and grades of being can only arise b y
limitation within the act of esse itself and not b y anything added on
to it. Hence essence must be understood not so much as a real recipient
subject whose own potential perfections are being actualized from
without (though this mode of speaking is legitimate at a certain
incomplete and superficial level of vision), but rather as a negating
principle which contains nothing positive of its own at all (though
always attached to a positive) but performs the sole function of limi
ting from within the act of esse to which it belongs and which it helps to
constitute as a particular determined act of esse distinct from the pure
plenitude of esse alone. Thus each particular new existent (= n ew act
of esse) will, because of its internal negating-limiting principle, contain
only a certain determined qualitative quantum " (to use the author's
own perilous but highly suggestive term) of the unique all-embracing
perfection of esse. Each new particular finite existent will be thought of,
accordingly, not so much as an essence receiving, or being actualized
by, an act of existence, as though the essence itself were the subject,
actualized from without, but rather as a limited, determined, particu
larized act of existence, which becomes a new subject precisely b y
being fixed through its internal negating principle at one determinate
enduring mode of essey becoming a new center and source of its own
action, a new limited expression of the total perfection of esse.
The trouble, however, with this under-the-surface controversy,
is that both points of view, both interpretations of essence, can find
enough textual support in St. Thomas to justify being defended
respectably as Thomistic. Pure textual criticism, therefore, cannot
settle the issue apodictically, though I myself, together with the
author, believe that the deepest and most ultimate level of under
standing of the essence/existence doctrine in the texts themselves is
consistently dominated b y the second point of view.
PREFACE IX

In the presence of this partial textual ambiguity, contemporary


Thomists who believe that St. Thomas' doctrine of essence and
existence has something of permanent - not merely historical - value
to contribute to the understanding of reality must take the responsi
bility of thinking through his basic insight consistently on their own
and formulating it in new language where necessary, in order to avoid
the ambiguities resulting from St. Thomas' attempt - in his desire to
remain as close as possible to the language of his predecessors and
contemporaries - to fuse two perhaps not fully compatible perspectives
into a single technical formula that partially straddles both. Thomists
have so far, however, been a little reluctant to bring the issue clearly
out into the open and commit themselves decisively one w ay or the
other. Even those sympathetic to the negative view of essence have
feared that too clear-cut a commitment to it might endanger the
venerable traditional thesis of the real distinction between existence
and essence, which has always been the hallmark of the Thomistic
school.
And yet the issue must be thought through rigorously and consistent
ly, no m atter what the consequences to technical formulas or contro
versial landmarks. Few Thomists known to me today have faced this
problem and tried to think it through to its ultimate consequences
with more lucidity, consistency, and metaphysical daring than the
author of the present book. Following up on our joint platform
discussion of Fr. Gerald Phelan's pioneering paper along these lines in
the 1957 American Catholic Philosophical Convention, I had the
privilege, as editor of the International Philosophical Quarterly, of
presenting to a wide public the first extended exposition of the author's
views in his long article, 'T h e Role of Essence in Existential Metaphys
ics: A Reappraisal" (December, 1962). This article excited considerable
attention at the time, including a long and laudatory comment b y one
of the leading Spanish Suarezian metaphysicians, J. Hellin, S. J., in
Pensamiento (1964, no. 1), who, precisely as many Thomists had
feared, took it as a decisive step toward abandoning the real distinction,
long the principal point of contention between Suarezians and Thomists
in metaphysics.
The present work, though incorporating most of the material of the
earlier article, goes considerably further. It provides a valuable and
illuminating historical test case, in the position of Giles of Rome,
against which to measure the authentic Thomistic interpretation of the
essence/existence distinction. The special interest of Giles' doctrine is
X PREFACE

that, while apparently holding the same real distinction of essence and
existence as St. Thomas, he goes to the furthest extreme conceivable
for a Christian philosopher in assigning to essence a reality and onto
logical solidity of its own.
But the special metaphysical daring of the author comes out in the
new chapter he has added on the nature of primary matter, interpreted
as nothing but a limiting or negating mode of esse itself, instead of as
some positive ultimate subject really distinct from both form and esse.
This seems to me a necessary consequence of the basic position he is
defending, and Professor Carlo is not afraid to face it. As he points out,
the notion of matter as a positive substratum (though of course in
authentic Aristotelianism and Thomism it is indeterminate of itself and
cannot exist save as informed and actuated by existing form) is one of
the most tenacious holdouts of pure Aristotelianism in Thomism, and
one to which the least efforts have been devoted to explicitly and
rigorously integrating it into St. Thomas' radically new insight into the
primacy of the act of existence. St. Thomas himself, as the author
shows, has a number of profound and highly suggestive texts on matter
as non-being of itself and as deficient esse, but he is still for the most
part, it seems to me, content to leave the Aristotelian treatment of
matter and form intact where there is no pressing need to relate it to his
own new metaphysics of esse and creation. And Thomists since that
time have paid even less attention to integrating it into a rigorously
unified metaphysics of the act of existence. Hence this part of the
author's work is sure to prove the most controversial and the most
difficult to assimilate into Thomistic metaphysics without notable
dislocation of its existing structure, at least with respect to the technical
formulas and articulations of the various components of the system.
Y et, despite m y reluctance to abandon m y own long-established and
convenient categories, the more I reflect, the more advantages I see
in interpreting substantial change as simply a shift from one essential
mode of esse to another, within the continuity of esse itself, seen not
just as accidentally but as essentially plastic, elastic, transformable,
without importing any new positive m etaphysical principle over and
above esse plus a graded series of negations. It seems to me - and here I
am going beyond the explicit analyses of the author to embark upon
m y own reflections - that the permanently valid essential of the argu
ment put forward b y Aristotle for prime matter is the necessity of some
essentially indeterminate and determinable principle to explain
substantial change. But the two other requirements added on by
PREFACE XI

Aristotle himself, those of radical passivity and radical imperfection of


this principle of continuity, seem to me to have been introduced not
from the pure logical and m etaphysical exigencies of the argument but
from two further premisses proper to his own philosophical and cultural
outlook: namely, that all perfection, including activity, is rooted in
form, the principle of determination and intelligibility, and that the
infinite, or the indeterminate in general, can only be a principle of
imperfection. Once one eliminates these two extra premisses, the
indeterminacy required for substantial change could just as well be
that of the one principle of perfection, which does not necessarily have
to remain fixed at one essential mode of perfection but can slip, so to
speak, under the action of causal influences, from one essential level of
limitation to another, as though it were a fundamental energy capable
of being molded or channelled in infinitely diverse ways.
The repercussions, of course, of this rather radically new w ay of
conceiving of substantial change would have to be carefully worked out
and reflected on first before I would be willing to commit myself
decisively to this restructuring of the metaphysical architecture of the
Thomistic system. But I have found it profoundly challenging and
fruitful to make the effort to begin rethinking the problem of change
in these fresh new terms.
But what of matter as the principle of individuation in the same
species, the other key Thomistic doctrine depending on prime m atter as
a principle? It might seem at first far more difficult to explain the
quantitative extension of signate matter as merely a negation or
limitation of esse. Y e t here again one should not close the door on this
new possibility too quickly. Most of the great metaphysicians in history,
both western and eastern, have tended to look on matter in the last
analysis as more of a negation, a deficiency in being, than a solid
positive factor, despite the appearance to our senses. And it seems to
me profoundly stimulating and fruitful to the metaphysician to make
the effort to try and think spatial distance as really only the defective
presence of what we c!all material beings or bodies to each other, and
to rethink the m ultiplicity of parts of an extended material body as
nothing more than a deficiency or limitation in the concentration,
unity, and power of a form (itself already only a limited mode of esse),
as a further relaxing or partial disintegration (as Plotinus would put it)
of the pure concentrated unity-presence of esse in its plenitude. Hence I
think Thomists and all serious metaphysicians have only to gain by
taking up the challenge of Professor Carlo to think through reality in
terms of the powerful unified vision he proposes in this book.
X II PREFACE

Before concluding, there is one objection I should like to discuss


which will surely occur to any careful reader who has grasped the
significance of the notion of essence as negative limitation within the
act of esse : will not this so weaken the meaning of the real distinction
between essence and existence as practically to do away with it, or
retain it only in name? For how can a negative limiting principle
within the sole positive perfection of esse be said to be really distinct
from the latter, to form a real composition with it ?
This is indeed a serious objection. But before attempting to cope
with it directly, let me say that I see nothing sacrosanct or indispensa
ble in this technical formula, so that it must at all costs be preserved
for its own sake. It seems to me that it might, if necessary, be let go and
leave intact the essential core of the Thomistic doctrine of existence and
essence. This essential core consists, to m y mind, in the notion of
limited acts of existence, of multiple diversely limited participations
in the single all-inclusive perfection of the act of existing. And this
limitation of the diverse acts of esse must be an objective intrinsic
ontological state of affairs within each finite being. How one can best
express this ontological state of affairs in technical terms, by the
conceptual tools of real distinction and real composition or in some
other way, perhaps going no further than to speak of intrinsic limi
tation deriving from an extrinsic efficient cause, seems to me a matter
of secondary significance, though still worthy of careful attention.
But is it in fact necessary to abandon the real distinction if one
accepts the notion of essence as negative limit within the act of
existence ? It does seem undeniable that the notion of real distinction
must be attenuated and refined down to the limit if it is to remain a fit
instrument for expressing such a doctrine. Essence certainly cannot be
looked upon as another complementary positive - albeit lower - aspect
of reality ordered to combine with the higher perfection of the act of
existence, as some kind of real recipient with something positive of its
own to contribute. Nor does the essence/existence relation lend itself
with ease to explication in terms of reciprocal causality, since it is
hard to apply the name cause in any meaningful w ay to a negative
limiting principle all of whose positivity lies not in itself but in that
which it limits.
W ould it be enough, then, to say merely that every finite being is an
intrinsically limited act of existence, with the limitation explained
simply b y the restricting action of its extrinsic efficient cause? This
hypothesis seems attractive at first sight and deserves to be explored.
PREFACE X III

But it has its own drawbacks. We would then run up against the
difficulty that the action of the efficient cause is nothing but its actual
intrinsic result in its effect, considered as from the agent, not some kind
of determinate third entity distinct from both the agent and the effect.
Hence the negating or limiting principle, that to which the limitation is
due, must be actually immanent, performing its function, so to speak,
within the finite existent itself. Thus it seems impossible to avoid
postulating some kind of objective duality of principles, duality of
functions, duality of opposite poles, within the finite existent itself,
even though originating from its cause. This can justify, if not actually
demand, something like the terms real distinction, real composition,
to express it, despite the undeniably dangerous and over h eavy
connotations of the expressions if taken too literally. And this objective
duality in the being is reflected in our cognitive representation of it by
the fact that it is strictly impossible for us to think or speak of the
ontological situation without an irreducible duality of terms : limited-
esse, finite-being, participated-perfection, etc.
The above considerations m ay indeed add up to sufficient reasons
for maintaining the traditional technical description of finite being as a
real composition of essence and the act of existence. Y e t the disadvan
tages of the terminology still seem to me very great, especially for
communication to the modern philosophical mind (though it must be
admitted that outside of the Thomistic school no other major philo
sophical school seems ever to have accepted it either). A t best, the real
distinction is a poor w ay of saying something worthwhile. Perhaps it is
stretching human language too far to attempt to express in a single
formula the mysterious composition of positivity and negation that
is at the heart of the finite. Perhaps the only adequate w ay of expressing
the situation is through dialectical language, where we say that the
limiting principle or ontological negation within a finite act of existence
is both other than what it limits and not other. St. Thomas himself,
it should be remembered, much prefers the vague terminology of
other than to exprss the relation of essence to existence than real
distinction or composition, which he uses only with extreme rarity.
In conclusion, there are serious advantages and disadvantages to
retaining the traditional terminology of the real distinction between
essence and existence, if one wishes to think through the primacy of
the act of esse as radically as does Professor Carlo in this book. Y e t I
do not think this position forces one to abandon this long-consecrated
technical language, though it certainly would force us to attenuate its
X IV PREFACE

realism to the limit. I suggest that we m ay finalfy be led, for the sake
of better communication with other philosophers and the avoidance
of the almost insuperable ambiguities of the traditional language, to a
more modest and less explicit formula something like this: in every
finite being there is an intrinsic ontological duality or tension between
the perfection of the act of esse and a partial negation or limitation of
the same act. How real or really distinct the negating, limiting principle
would be, would be left veiled in prudent metaphysical silence, out of
respect for the limits of language.
A t any rate, Professor Carlo deserves our gratitude for having
invited us, through his challenging book, to the profoundly stimulating
and purifying metaphysical experience of thinking through the whole
of reality as but varying limited expressions of the one all-embracing
perfection of the act of existence. Such an interpretation of Thomism,
it seems to me, would make it stand out as the most powerfully unified
metaphysical vision of the world in the whole of Western thought, and
one also with the closest spiritual affinities of any to the great religious-
metaphysical world-visions of the Orient. This would make it easier
also, I might add, to understand how God, in knowing Himself alone,
autom atically knows all possible creatures. For each one of these
particularized divine ideas, or possibles, would be generated simply
by the divine intelligence contemplating the single simple infinite A ct
of existence which is the divine essence in itself, and simultaneously
positing an ordered series of negations of various aspects of this primal
plenitude, each partial negation delivering a new finite mode of esse,
such as, being, but not eternal, not self-conscious, not living, not
omnipresent, etc. This is but one of the m any fruitful applications of a
primacy of esse metaphysics thought through consistently. I invite the
reader to discover and explore the others for himself.

Fordham University W. N o r r is Cl a r k e , S.J


FOREWORD

I am indebted to many people, but I should like to acknowledge m y


indebtedness publicly to some : Professor Etienne Gilson, whose origi
nal research sets the background for any research in this area; Rev. A r
mand Maurer, C.S.B. for his competent help particularly on the ma
terial of Chapter II ; Rev. Joseph Owens, C.Ss.R., whose work has been
a constant source of light and inspiration. I owe most to Dr. Anton C.
Pegis, who made me aware of quality work b y his own high standards
of critical scholarship and historical integrity. He introduced me to
this area of research and this particular topic. I am profoundly grateful
that he has always been able to see farther ahead than I have.
The encouragement and criticism both positive and negative of Rev.
W. Norris Clarke, S.J. springing from his profound scholarship has
been a source of real stimulus for this work. I wish to thank him also
for the illuminating and original preface.
Deep thanks are due to: Dr. John F. K iley and Dr. James K elly of
Merrimack College without whose help this book might never have
been; and m y graduate assistants, Mr. Frank Gendreau and Mr. James
McGregor who gave generously of their time and energies in the com
pletion of the manuscript and the proofs, as did Mr. John Donnelly
and Mr. John Conolly. Miss Jean McCarthy has been invaluable in the
typing and preparation of the manuscript.
I should like to take this opportunity to express m y gratitude to
all m y colleagues at Boston College, to Professors Norman Wells and
Donald Gallagher and praticularly the chairmen of the Philosophy
Department, Rev. Frederick Adelmann, S.J. and Joseph Flanagan, S.J.
for providing an atihosphere of intellectual stimulation and warm
friendship most conducive and necessary to work.
I wish also to thank the editors of the International Philosophical
Quarterly and the Proceedings of the American Catholic Philosophical
Association, and the Board of Trustees of the University of Toronto
for permission to use certain material.

Boston College W il l ia m E. Carlo


a
CONTENTS

Preface by W. N o rr is C la r k e S .J ..................................................... vu

F orew ord................................................................................................ xv

I n t r o d u c t io n ........................................................................................ i

I. The problem : The ontological status of e s s e n c e ..................... 4


1. Apparently contradictory texts in Thomas Aquinas . . 8
2. M eth o d ology.......................................................................... 10
3. The historical location of the p ro b le m ............................ 14

II. Essence as the extrinsic limitation of E s s e ............................ 18


1. Creation and e s s e .................................................................. 18
2. Contemporary analysis of ens b y reciprocal causes . . . 20
3. Creation and the diversification of esse............................ 22
4. U nity and plurality in c r e a tio n ......................................... 31
A. The uniformity of the creative a c t ............................. 31
B. The composition of the c r e a tu r e .................................. 36
5. The indeterminate nature of b e i n g ................................. 39
A. The contraction of b e i n g ............................. 39
Being and the origin of p lu r a lity .................................. 40
Reduction of plurality to c o m p o s itio n ..................... 41
Composition of genus and s p e c i e s ............................. 43
The indetermination of divine e s s e ............................. 46
Critique of Thomas A q u in a s ......................................... 48
Composition of potency and a c t .................................. 54
C o n c lu s io n ....................................................................... 56
B. The form of b e i n g ........................................................... 57
Conclusion ...................................................... 67
6. Graeco-Arabian s o u r c e s ...................................................... 67
XVI I I CONTENTS

A. Being and unity in the De C a u s i s ............................. 78


B. C o n c lu s io n ....................................................................... 83

III. Essence as the intrinsic limitation of E s s e ............................ 87


1. Essence and the p o s s i b l e s .................................................. 91
2. Potency, act and e s s e .......................................................... 92
3. Perfection and e s s e .............................................................. 96
4. The ultimate reducibility of essence to e s se .................... 99
5. C a u s a l i t y .................................................................................... 106
6. Analogy and e s s e ........................................................................106
7. Existence and the doctrine of the divine ideas . . . . 107
8. The distinction of essence and e s s e ......................................109

IV . Metaphysical v e r ific a tio n ................................................................ 116


1. The ontological status of prime m a tte r ................................. 117
2. Hypothesis: the metaphysical articulations of esse and
m a tte r ......................................................................................... 121
3. Matter as a mode of e s se ........................................................... 124
4. The plasticity of e s s e ............................................................... 126
5. Matter as deficient b e in g ........................................................... 127
6. The ontological location of prime m a tte r ..............................131

C o n c lu s io n ................................................................................................. 137
The rehabilitation of e s s e n c e ............................................................140
The scientific structure of Thomistic m e t a p h y s ic s ...................... 141

Bibliography................................................................................................. 142

In d e x ...................................................................................................... 148
IN TROD U CTION

The doctrine of the primacy of existence is a profound achievement of


contemporary philosophical research similar to the revolutionary
character of the transformation worked in the conceptual framework of
Classical Physics b y the concepts of Modern Physics. This authentic
metaphysical insight has been discovered and explicitly elaborated b y
contemporary thinkers. But today does not endure. Already it is
tomorrow and the mind looks ahead to the fruitful developments and
new directions for metaphysical discovery. W hat difference will the
doctrine of the primacy of existence make to metaphysics? W ill
metaphysics remain like the statue of Francis Bacon, worshipped from
afar but without movement or progress? Already, the effort is well
underway to rewrite the basic metaphysical doctrines in terms of this
new principle.
But is it merely a question of re-interpreting the fundamental
metaphysical doctrines in terms of the primacy of existence, or do we
find that the effort, when forthcoming, re-illuminates the prime
principle itself and lays bare aspects of existence, levels of existence,
and existential structure which we would otherwise overlook and pass
b y unheeded?
If existence is the primary principle of metaphysics, in what exactly
does this primacy consist ? If existence has finally supplanted essence
at the metaphysical roof of the universe, in that long development
from Plato to contemporary Existentialism, does this mean that the
understanding of the relations of existence and essence also need
rethinking and rewriting? Can the relations of existence and essence
remain the same in the face of such a radical transformation of prima
cy? Are we still able to conceive of essence and existence as 'separate
but equal with existence simply more equal than essence? But does
not the primacy of existence demand as a logical and natural corollary
2 INTRODUCTION

the subordination of essence, even as essence, if not only the existence


of essence but all its perfection comes from existence, including that
last cherished inheritance, of which no one ever thought it could be
dispossessed, the very knowability and intelligibility of essence itself ?
Then what happens to essence? How can it keep the separate but
equal status of one member of a pair of reciprocal causes? W hat
ultim ately is the ontological status of essence ?
W ithin this question is located the basic thesis, the fundamental line
of argumentation around which this study revolves? First of all, our
fundamental approach is an examination of essence, or perhaps a
reappraisal of essence in the light of the recent developments in exist
ential metaphysics. In that metaphysical revolution from an essential
metaphysics to an existential metaphysics, from a metaphysics built on
the primacy of essence to one which establishes existence as the foun
dation of metaphysics, is it possible to leave all else as it was ? Or does
the movement of existence to the metaphysical roof of the universe
demand a profound metaphysical reorientation?
Obviously an essence which was the object of metaphysics, or, at
least, its primary component, which possessed some sort of being of its
own, enshrined in the invention and popularization of the term esse
essentiae, can no longer fulfill the role to which it has become ac
customed. The alternatives are an ultimate duality at the origin of
metaphysics and the universe, or the subordination of essence to the
actual primacy of existence, a development which even some confirmed
existentialists seem to contemplate with reluctance.
The doctrine of the Primacy of Existence plus the doctrine of Essence
as a Mode of Being, implicit in the notion of existence as the Thesaurus
of the Perfection of Being, develops naturally to the doctrine of the
Ultimate Reducibility of Essence to Esse.
When we trace the history of metaphysics we find a development
from a metaphysics of unity to a metaphysics of being, and from a
metaphysics of being as essence to a metaphysics of being as existence.
When the doctrine of the primacy of existence is added to the Greek
universe of essence, can the metaphysics of Plato, Plotinus and Proclus
be left intact ? Does the philosophy of nature of Aristotle still operate
independently and autonomously ? Or does the doctrine of the primacy
of existence demand a complete re-orientation and revision of the major
metaphysical doctrines ?
If we were to attempt such a re-thinking, purely as an experimental
approach, what would be the result ? It is an interesting experiment, to
INTRODUCTION 3

say the least, and one with profoundly significant results. If we should
reinterpret the major metaphysical doctrines in terms of existence,
what does happen to essence, substance, matter, form, soul, the unity of
the human composite, analogy, the real distinction and the metaphysi
cal basis of the logical structure of genus and species ? Do they remain
exactly as they were ? Do insurmountable problems arise due to this re
thinking ? Do all these doctrines lapse into self-contradictory formula
tions when reduced to existence, or do the major metaphysical doctrines
stand out clearer than before, and are many of the baffling and ap
parently contradictory elements of these precise doctrines resolved and
clarified ?
Does the reduction of all the major metaphysical principles to
existence as ultimate principle, source and end enable metaphysics to
be more than a collection of insights and does it make possible the
construction of an existential metaphysics on a truly scientific basis ?
The Scientific Structure of a Thomistic Metaphysics depends on the
Primacy of Esse and even more so, on the Ultimate Reducibility of
Essence to Esse. The same is true of matter and the other major
metaphysical doctrines.
The doctrine of the Primacy of Existence is a halfway house to the
doctrine of the Ultimate Reducibility of Essence to Existence. Existence
cannot stand self-sufficiently alongside the Platonic essence but must
encompass and include it in the theory of Essence as a Mode of Esse.
Our contention is that a whole universe of metaphysical possibilities
opens up at this point, all flowing from and implying the doctrine
of the Ultimate Reducibility of Essence to Existence. There is still
progress in metaphysics ; there is discovery ; there is the excitement of
invention and innovation. Whether this is the direction in which the
history and science of metaphysics will develop, is conjecture. But that
the science of metaphysics will develop, this is certain !
CHAPTER I

TH E PROBLEM

Recent years have witnessed certain developments in the interpretation


of Thomistic thought. The distinction between an Existential m eta
physics and an Essential metaphysics seems to have been taken as the
starting point for a major metaphysical effort.1 As a philosophical
experiment the principle doctrines of Thomistic metaphysics are being

1 E. Gilson, Being and Some Philosophers, (Toronto, 1952) ; Introduction la Philosophie


Chrtienne, (Paris, Vrin, i960); Ch. I X & X ; pp. 193, 194 & 205; Le Thomisme (5e d.; Paris:
Vrin, 1947), Chap. 12; J. Maritain, Preface to Metaphysics (New Y o rk : Sheed & W ard, 1939) ;
and Existence and the Existent (New Y o rk: Pantheon, 1950) ; J. de Finance, S. J., tre et agir
(Paris: Beauchesne, 1945; 2d d., Rome, i960); G. B. Phelan, A Note on the Form ai
Object of M etaphysics, New Scholasticism, X V II I (1944), 197-201; and The Being of
Creatures, Proceedings of the American Catholic Philosophical Association, X X I (1957),
p. 118 ff. and the comments (a) and (b) on this paper b y W. E. Carlo and W. N. Clarke, S. J.
F ather Clarke makes this perceptive comm ent on Msgr. Phelans paper : I do not think it is an
exaggeration to say that Fr. Phelans paper is a significant milestone in the developm ent of
Am erican Thom istic thought. W hat he has done is to bring out in the open among us some
thing th at has received but little public recognition among Thom ists anywhere and even less
over here. This is the fact th at behind the common front of Thom istic acceptance of the real
distinction between essence and existence in all creatures there lies a rather profound diver
gence of opinion on what this doctrine is really trying to say. The divergence concerns the
precise role th at is assigned to the principle of esse (the act of existence) in its relation to
essence, and consequently the very meaning of essence itself. W. Norris Clarke, S. J.,
Com m entary (b), Proceedings of the A C P A , X X I (1957), p. 128. I can only second Fr.
C larkes remarks. My own reliance on Msgr. Phelans paper will be evident, but m y debt to
his work goes far deeper than this particular study. Also cf. J. Owens, C. Ss. R., Saint Thomas
and the Future of Metaphysics (Milwaukee: M arquette U niv., 1957). A complete biography
would be necessary to recognize sufficiently the contribution of Fr. Owens to these contem
porary developments. W e should not overlook of course the work of : A. Forest, La Structure
Mtaphysique D u Concret, (Paris: Vrin, 1932, reprinted 1956); W. N. Clarke, S. J., W hat is
R eally R eal, Progress in Philosophy, ed. J. M cW illiams, (Milwaukee: Bruce, 1955); W. E.
Carlo, The Role of Essence in E xistential M etaphysics: A Reappraisal, The International
Philosophical Quarterly, II, 4, Dec. 1962, pp. 557-590; cf. also C. Fabro, Participation et
Causalit, (Louvain, 1961); A. Krempel, La Doctrine De La Relation Chez Saint Thomas,
(Paris: Vrin, 1952); N. J. Wells, Capreolus on Essence and Existence, The Modern School
man, X X X V I I I (1960-61) pp. 1-24; An excellent synopsis of the movements we are speaking
of can be found in H. James John, S.N .D ., The Emergence of the A ct of Existing in Recent
Thom ism , IP Q , II, 4, Dec., 1962, pp. 595-620. Mention should also be made of a recent
work exceedingly rich in insight, A. Hayen, S. J., La Communication De V tr e , Vol. II,
(Brussels: Desclee De Brouwer, 1959).
T H E O N T O L O G I C A L S T A T U S OF E S S E N C E 5

rewritten from an existential point of view. The transcendentals,


truth,1 freedom,2 the proofs for the existence of God,3 the doctrine
of the soul,4 substance,5 analogy,6 causality,7 - all these have come
in for important and, in some instances, profound changes.
But there is one tendency which if uncorrected might vitiate much
of this original creative work. I am speaking of the natural inclination
of the mind to ontologize essence. I do not mean the extreme forms of
this doctrine, the reality of the Platonic forms, a realism of universal
concepts, the Avicennian possibles, or all those doctrines in which the
mediaeval thinkers gave to essence a being of its own. The esse essentiae
of Henry of Ghent,8 the being of St. Bonaventure which is indiffer
ent to individual existence,9 the Common Nature of Duns Scotus
which does not exist but somehow is,10 even though it is not the logical
universal, all these are extreme forms of the philosophical tendency
to ontologize essences. W ith them can be classed the T hought of
Descartes, the Spirits of Berkeley, the a priori of K ant and the
Idea of Hegel.
But what I have in mind is a much more subtle manifestation of the
same philosophical impulse. W hat I am suggesting is that the notion of
essence as a primary philosophical conception must be handled with the
greatest caution. In fact it has been suggested that it might be prefer
able to substitute a term which would not contain the subtle inferences
and metaphysical suggestiveness, as well as positive intelligible content

1 G. Phelan, Verum Sequitur Esse Rerum , Mediaeval Studies, I (1939), 11-2 2 ; E. Sal
mon, The Good in Existential Metaphysics (Milwaukee: M arquette U niv., 1952).
2 W. Carlo, Freedom and Hum an Know ledge, in The Concept of Freedom, ed. C. Grindel,
(Chicago: Regnery, 1955), P- 34-
3 J. Owens, C .Ss.R ., The Conclusion of the Prima V ia , The Modern Schoolman, X X X
(1956), 33-53; 109-21; 203-15.
4 A. C. Pegis, St. Thom as and the U n ity of Man, in Progress in Philosophy, ed. J. Mc
W illiam s (Milwaukee: Bruce, 1955), pp. 153-76.
5 J. Maritain, On the Notion of Subsistence, in Progress in Philosophy, pp. 29-46.
6 G. Klubertanz, S. J., The Problem of the A nalogy of Being, Rev. of Metaphysics, X
(1957), 553- 79, and his book St. Thomas Aquinas on Analogy (Chicago: Loyola U niv., i960);
and the writings on analogy of G. Phelan, J. Anderson, A. Maurer, R. Masiello, (see the
exhaustive bibliography in K lubertan zs book for details). A ll these works, despite their
sometimes conflicting conclusions have one thing in common: the attem pt to provide an
existential foundation for the Thom istic doctrine of analogy.
7 Joseph Owens, C .Ss.R ., The Causal Proposition: Principle or Conclusion? The
Modern Schoolman, X X X I I (1955), 15 9 -71; 257-70; 323-39.
8 J. Paulus, Henri de Gand: Essai sur les tendances de sa mtaphysique (Paris: Vrin, 1938),
p. 184.
9 George Klubertanz, S. J., Esse et Exister e in St. B onaventure, Mediaeval Studies,
V I II (1946), 169-88.
10 Etienne Gilson, Jean Duns Scot, (Paris: Vrin, 1952). Also cf. J. Owens, The Common
Nature: A Point of Comparison between Thom istic and Scotistic M etaphysics, Med. Stud.y
X I X (1957), i ff.
6 T H E O N T O L O G I C A L S T A T U S OF E S S E N C E

which Greek philosophy has packed into this one.1 For essence has a
function in the Greek eternal universe which is incompatible with the
Christian universe, at least as it looked to Thomas Aquinas.
The Christian doctrine of creation has a position of peculiar philo
sophical importance not only because it is an explanation of the
origin of things but because it has played a significant part in the
historical development of a metaphysics of being.2 Not only did it call a
metaphysics of being into existence but it is still the testing stone of
a Christian metaphysics. A metaphysics which does not adequately
express the central facts of creation is b y that fact deficient as a
metaphysics, for it does not explain some of the most fundamental
facts in the basic structure of the universe. For the Christian, a
metaphysics which is still primarily occupied with the origin of
plurality and diversity almost to the exclusion of the origin of beings
from nothingness, as Albert the Great and Giles of Rome's were, is b y
that fact an inadequate instrument for the Christian interpretation of
reality.
W ithin this context, it is necessary to emphasize that the notion
of essence when measured against the Christian doctrine of creation is
found wanting. W e intend to demonstrate that its initial presence
makes the fundamental note of creation, the productio ex nihilo,
impossible, for the notion of essence was conceived to explain the
Greek eternal universe and its ratio essendi was to function within such
a universe. How, then, can it be translated, unmodified, to a Christian
world? We have been so preoccupied with an historical interpretation
of the w ay in which Christian thinkers using Greek philosophical
principles attempted to interpret Christian doctrine,3 that invariably
only the prime distinction between the Greek and Christian world

1 Cf. Gerald B. Phelan, The Being of Creatures, Proceedings of the American Catholic
Philosophical Association, X X I (1957), 118 ff. and the comments on this paper b y W illiam
E. Carlo and W. Norris Clarke, S. J. Father Phelan suggests the substitution or equivalency
of modes of being for essences.
2 E. Gilson, The Spirit of Mediaeval Philosophy, Chap. 3 ff. Nos tudes du commentaire
de saint Thom as ont manifest une transposition gnrale de la m taphysique d Aristote.
T ou t le commentaire est finalis par lide de cration (G. Ducoin, Saint Thom as, Commen
tateur d A ristote, Archives de philosophie, X X [1957], 430; cf. ibid., p. 433). T ou t le progrs
de la philosophie se fera donc dans le sens d une synthse platonico-aristotlicienne. E t elle
se fera par lide de cration (A. Bremond, La synthse thomiste de l acte et de lide,
Gregorianum, X I I [1931], 271).
3 Les apologistes du Ile sicle ont donc entrepris la tche immense, et dont lampleur
relle ne devait paratre quau cours des sicles suivants, dexprimer lunivers mental des
Chrtiens dans une langue expressment conue pour exprimer lunivers mental des grecs
(E. Gilson, La philosophie au Moyen Age [Paris: Vrin, 1947], p. 33).
T H E O N T O L O G I C A L S T A T U S OF E S S E N C E 7

views came in for the greatest emphasis. Thomas Aquinas was not the
first or the only one to point out that the fact of creation demanded an
element of newness or novelty in the universe. Things which were not
and now are, were produced b y Being Itself, Ipsum Esse Subsistens.
In an eternal universe, the most basic fact about things was that they
were of different kinds. In a created universe the most fundamental
aspect of things is that b y which they are. Metaphysics is going to be
concerned with the most ultimate of all characteristics of being, the
fact that it is. Thus the introduction of esse is the distinguishing mark
of a Christian metaphysics of being.1
But what about the kind of universe into which this esse was to be
introduced? Not nearly as much labor and effort has gone into the
question of just how much of the Greek universe could be retained.
Avicenna in his masterful and original interpretation of the doctrine of
creation in terms of esse, simply added esse to the Greek universe and
considered that sufficient to explain its novelty. Mediaeval thinkers
followed his lead, as they did in so m any instances, and thought the
addition of esse sufficient to make a creature of the eternal essence of
Greek philosophy. Even recent thinkers who deplore the Avicennian
accidentality of esse continue to assert that the primacy of existence
still leaves the notion of essence intact within a Christian universe.
It (Thomistic metaphysics) does not even reduce his knowledge to a perfect
unity, but only to the ambiguity of mans first knowable, which is a composite of
essence and existence. It proceeds only from the viewpoint of existence, leaving
intact all starting points in the realm of essence, both substantial and accidental.2

But is such an operation possible ? Can the eternal essence of Greek


metaphysics become contingent b y any sort of addition, no matter
how complex ? Is essence indifferent to being eternal or created ? Or is
it just possible that essence is a philosophical concept which was con
ceived to explain an eternal universe and as such has the necessity of
eternality stamped upon it? I am suggesting that the same transfor
mation which Thomas Aquinas worked in the esse of the Liber de
Causis and Avicenna, had to be worked in the essentia transmitted b y

1 For the Greeks, an explanation in terms of essence or nature was alw ays considered the
last word of the philosopher. The Supreme A ct of Being and the ultim ate principle of intel
ligibility in a thing was thought to be form. The Christian revolution in m etaphysics accom
plished b y Thom as Aquinas was precisely to translate all the problems concerning being
from the language of essences into th at of existences (E. Gilson, God and Philosophy [New
H aven: Y ale U niv., 1941], p. 67).
2 J. Owens, St. Thomas and the Future of Metaphysics (Milwaukee: M arquette U niv., 1957)
P- 57.
8 T H E O N T O L O G I C A L S T A T U S OF E S S E N C E

the Arabians from Greek Neoplatonism. The notion of essence qua


essence is incompatible with the Christian universe of Thomas Aquinas.

i. A P P A R E N T L Y C O N T R A D I C T O R Y T E X T S IN T H O M A S A Q U I N A S

One w ay of effectively posing this problem is b y a consideration of


what seem to be contrary and conflicting formulations of meta
physical doctrines within the works of Thomas Aquinas. How can we
explain what appear to be contradictions in the text of Thomas,
between esse as accidental, as happening to essence, [accidit is the word
Thomas uses),1 and esse as non-accidental,2 as that which is most
1 . . . et non intelligitur de esse quod est actus essentiae; hoc enim esse habet relatio ex his
quae causant ipsam in subjecto secundum quod esse non refertur ad aliud, sed ad subjectum ,
sicut et quodlibet accidens (I . Sent.., d. 33, q. 1, a. 1, ad 1). For St. Thom as esse is also
praeter essentiam. In his own vocabulary praeter essentiam is equated with accident. Solum
illud videtur esse praeter essentiam vel quidditatem rei quod non intrat definitionem ipsius ;
definitio enim significat quid est res. Sola autem accidentia rei sunt quae in definitione non
cadunt. Sola igitur accidentia sunt in re aliqua praeter essentiam eius (Contra Gentiles, I, 21).
F ather Peter Nash affirms the doctrine of the accidentality of esse in St. Thom as bu t at the
same time he distinguishes it from the Aristotelian predicamental variety. It is the poste
riority of esse and not merely its accidentality, which is the real lesson of m y former inquiry.
A fter all, St. Thom as holds that esse is accidental to essence. The uniqueness of his position
which eludes Giles, is that he not only distinguishes such accident from the predicamental
v ariety but makes it genuinely prior to essence in the full sense of the priority of an act over
its corresponding potency, as Father J. Owens so well puts it, so that the being of the thing
is form ally determined b y the nature only in the w ay in which act can be determined b y a
potency, and not at all in the Aristotelian sense of form al determ ination in which potency is
determined b y a ct (P. W. Nash, S. J., The Acciden tality of Esse according to Giles of
Rom e, Gregorianum, X X X V I I I [1957], 105). Father Nash adds, The only sim ilarity esse
has to accident for St. Thom as is that it is not necessary to essence, even though essence
cannot prescind from it. Otherwise, esse is absolutely prior to essence [ibid., p. 114).
2 St. Thom as himself, although he uses the term accident to clarify the relation of esse
to essence, nevertheless criticizes Avicenna for having esse added in the manner of an acci
dent to essence, since it is as something constituted b y the very principles of the essence,
(In I V Metaph., lect. 2, n. 558 ed. Cathala). To further complicate the use of esse as accidental
we have St. Thom as positively denying that esse is accidental. E st autem et aliud esse hujus
suppositi, non inquantum est aeternum, sed inquantum est temporaliter homo factum , quod
esse, etsi non sit accidentale, quia homo non praedicatur accidentaliter de Filio Dei, ut supra
habitum est, non tamen est esse principale sui suppositi sed secundarium (Quaestio de Unione
Verbi Incarnati, art. 4). Cf. also A. Forest, La structure mtaphysique du concret (Paris: Vrin,
1932), p. 38, n. i. Also on this doctrine F. Pelster, Archives de Philosophie, III, c.2 and P.
Synave, Bulletin Thomiste, Jan., 1926. The doctrine of the accidentality of esse is of course a
doctrine common to St. Thom as contemporaries, e.g. Giles of Rome. This does not mean that
for these Christian thinkers esse as the prime contribution of God to the creature was only an
accident. It was too basic a constituent of the creature for that. B ut they had no term in their
philosophical vocabulary to express an act that apparently was not part of the essence of the
thing since it was not included in its definition. This holds true even for Avicenna to whom
the doctrine of esse as accidental is usually attributed in its crudity. B ut Avicenna was too
sophisticated a thinker for that. He too has very real doubts about the actual accidental
status of esse. The same or a similar situation m ay be found in the dissatisfaction of some
theologians with the Thom istic doctrine of grace and the supernatural order as located
within the category of accident since it is not due to nature as nature, but is precisely super
natural. Here again we have a reality called accidental which actu ally exceeds the substance
it perfects.
T H E O N T O L O G I C A L S T A T U S OF E S S E N C E 9

fundamental to the thing.1 It is so fundamental, in fact, that a being is


called an ens because of its esse, rather than per essentiam. Ens deno
minatur ab esse.2 The same contradiction appears in the notion of
essence as that which receives esse, limits esse, the id quod which re
ceives esse, and determines it to be in this w ay or that, a determinate
kind of being. On the other hand we have those texts in which Thomas
speaks of essence as co-existens rather than ens,2 as non-esse and finally
as non-ens. Even form does not seem to have being b y right.4
Likewise m atter is that which receives and limits form, the principle

1 Esse autem est illud quod est magis intimum cuilibet, et quod profundius omnibus
inest: cum sit formale respectu omnium quae in re sunt (S .T .I ., q. 8, a. i).
2 Esse duplicitur dicitur. Uno modo secundum quod est copula verbalis significans
compositionem cujuslibet enuntiationis, quam anima facit, unde hoc esse non est aliquid in
rerum natura, sed tantum in actu animae componentis et dividentis. Alio modo esse dicitur
actus entis, in quantum est ens, i.e. quo denominatur aliquid ens actu in rerum n atura
(Quodlibet IX , a. 3). Hoc nomen ens . . . imponitur ab ipso esse {In I V Metaph., lect. 2, n.
558). Cf. in X I I Metaph., lect. 1, n. 2419. Ens autem non dicit quidditatem , sed solum
actum essendi {In I. Sent. d. 8, q. 4, a. 2, ad 2). Ens sumitur ab actu essendi, sed nomen rei
exprim it quidditatem sive essentiam entis {De Veritate, q. 1, a. 1). Unde in compositis ex
materia et form a nec materia nec forma potest dici ipsum quod est, nec etiam ipsum esse.
Forma tamen potest dici quo est, secundum quod est essendi principium; ipsa autem tota
substantia est ipsum quod est; et ipsum esse est quo substantia denominatur ens {Contra
Gentiles, II, 54). For St. Thom as essence is that through which and in which ens has esse. B ut
a thing is not a being because of its form. Non tamen denominatur aliquod ens a form a
{I Sent., d. 23, q. 1, a. 1).
3 Formae autem et accidentia, et alia huiusmodi, non dicuntur entia quasi ipsa sint, sed
quia eis aliquid est; ut albedo ea ratione dicitur ens, quia ea subjectum est album. Unde
secundum Philosophum, accidens magis proprie dicitur entis quam ens. Sicut igitur accidentia
et formae, et huiusmodi, quae non subsistunt, magis sunt coexistentia quam entia; ita magis
debent dici concreata quam creata. Proprie vero creata sunt subsistentia {S .T .I. q. 45, a. 4).
4 Potest autem quis dicere quod id quod participat aliquid est secundum se carens illi;
sicut superficies quae nata est participare colorem, secundum se considerata est non color et
non colorata. Similiter igitur id quod participat esse oportet esse non ens. Quod autem est
in potentia ens et participativum ipsius, non autem secundum se est ens {De Sub. Sep., c.
V I, p. 150-151). Si igitur per hoc quod dico non ens rem oveatur solum esse in actu, ipsa
form a secundum se considerata est non ens, sed esse participans. {Ibid., p. 151-152). . . .
illud quod habet esse ab alio, in se consideratum, est non ens, si ipsum sit aliud quam ipsum
esse quod ab alio accipit {De Pot., q. 3, a. 13, ad 4). Cf. also De Ente et Essentia (ed. Roland-
Gosselin), c. 3, pp. 25-26). T h at these texts are not convincing to all contem porary scholastics
seems to be clear. In a famous little treatise, Aquinas has remarked, Essentia dicitur
secundum quod per earn et in ea ens habet esse. It is in and through essences th at being has
existence. Hence, being apart from essence is being apart from the possibility of existence ; it
is being that cannot exist; but what cannot exist is nothing, and so the notion of being apart
from essence is the notion of nothing. (Bernard J. Lonergan, S. J., Insight [New Y o rk:
Phil. Library, 1957], pp. 371-372.) This traditional position is in marked contrast to certain
recent interpretations of the relations of essence and existence in the structure of being.
It [metaphysics] not only shows him how he himself is of his nature a nothing, bu t also
that his intellect is specified and so graded in intelligibility b y an essence or quiddity which
sim ilarly is of itself a nothing, nam ely, the quiddity of m aterial things. It makes him conscious
of that lack of in telligibility and the need to go beyond it to the act th at makes the quiddity
intelligible. (J. Owens, Saint Thomas and the Future of Metaphysics, p. 58). So positive a
contradiction in two contem porary interpretations of such a basic doctrine in the thought of
Thomas Aquinas is, to say the least, very interesting. T exts after text can be added on
this point.
10 T H E O N T O L O G I C A L S T A T U S OF E S S E N C E

of limitation of form, the principle of individuation of form, and


finally it is non-being, non-ens.1 Matter does not have an esse.2 However,
matter, although pure potency, is in the genus of substance. It actually
has an esse and is a similitudo of the Divine Esse.z The being of matter
will be discussed later as a problem in its own right.
Thus there are two sets of apparently contradictory texts in Thomas
Aquinas. There are those texts in which he speaks of essence as some
how possessing an actuality of its own, as that which receives esse, as
that which limits esse. There is the other group of texts in which
Thomas speaks of essence as non-being, as con-created rather than
created,4 as co-existent rather than existent. This is the fundamental
dichotomy. Is there any w ay of explaining or reconciling these ap
parently opposed positions?

2. M E T H O D O L O G Y

These inconsistencies certainly need some explanation; and one is


forthcoming. For a prime source of difficulty in any analysis of the
doctrine of being in Thomas Aquinas is the historical context within
which he expresses what are to be revolutionary ideas. He is talking to
the men of his day. He is using the common metaphysical vocabulary,
the current coin of intellectual exchange. Whenever possible he will
appeal to the authority of some definition or formulation which has
gained popular acceptance. It is no accident that Thomas was forced to
express an existential metaphysics within the vocabulary of an
essential metaphysics. His historical location made it impossible to do
1 Similiter igitur id quod participat esse oportet esse non ens. Quod autem est in potentia
ens et participativum ipsius, non autem secundum se est ens; materia est huiusmodi, ut supra
dictum est. Sic igitur omne quod est post primum ens quod est ipsum esse, cum sit participa
tive ens, habet m ateriam . (De Sub. Sep., c. V I, pp. 150-151). Si autem non ens rem oveat
non solum ipsum esse in actu, sed etiam actum seu forman per quam aliquid participat esse,
sic m ateria est non ens. (De Sub. Sep., c. V I, ed. Perrier, pp. 151-152).
2 Nam m ateria secundum se neque esse habet, neque cognoscibilis est. (S .T .I, q. 15, a.
3, ad 3).
3 . . . quod quam vis materia prima sit informis tamen inest ei im itatio primae form ae:
quantum cum que enim debile esse habeat, illud tamen est im itatio primi entis; et secundum
hoc potest habere similitudinem in Deo. (De Veritate, q. 3, a. 5, ad 1). Sed materia secundum
suum esse actuale dependet a forma in quantum form a est ipse actus ejus. (Quodl. I l l , I, 1).
4 A lii vero posuerunt formas dari vel causari ab agente separato, per modum creationis.
E t secundum hoc cuilibet operationi naturae adiungitur creatio. Sed hoc accidit eis ex
ignorantia formae. Non enim considerabant quod form a naturalis corporis non est subsistens,
sed quo aliquid est : cum fieri et creari non conveniat proprie nisi rei subsistenti, sicut supra
dictum est, form arum non est fieri neque creari, sed concreata esse. (S. T. I, q. 45, a. 8).
Unde, secundum Philosophum, accidens magis proprie dicitur entis quam ens. Sicut igitur
accidentia et formae, et huiusmodi, quae non subsistunt, magis sunt coexistentia quam entia;
ita magis debent dici concreata quam creata. Proprio vero creata sunt subsistentia. (S .T .I,
q. 45 , a. 4).
T H E O N T O L O G I C A L S T A T U S OF E S S E N C E 11

otherwise than to employ much of the vocabulary and modes of ex


pression on which he had been intellectually nourished. No thinker
completely escapes the influence of his masters, and Thomas Aquinas
was no exception.
Aquinas was thinking his w ay very carefully out of a philosophical
vocabulary which implied the ontologizing of m atter and essence. He
was conversing with his contemporaries in the only language they
knew. That is why he speaks of m atter as a noun so often rather than
as an adjective "m aterial, because for Bonaventure and for Albert it
was a substance of sorts.
Philosophers who deal in abstractions tend to be heavily dependent
on an inherited vocabulary and the formulations and definitions
constructed out of it. The attempt to coin a metaphysical vocabulary
in a language which had yet to reach such a stage of development
would be a laboriously demanding one. But the attempt to say some
thing new within a highly sophisticated, metaphysical vocabulary is
more easily accomplished b y a modification of that vocabulary which
tends to become second nature to a thinker intellectually nourished on
it, than by the construction of a radically new set of terms to express
novel ideas. Francis Bacon, Rene Descartes, and Martin Heidegger
are fine examples.
To the individual thinker there is something projective about an
abstract formula, the very generality of which makes it possible for
different thinkers to mean different things while articulating the same
words. It m ay take a very great deal of serious work for the beginning
thinker to realize that what these formulae meant to him originally was
something rather different from what other thinkers read into the self
same definitions and formulations.
W ith ultimate self-awareness the prudent man will be careful and
cautious in attempting to re-think metaphysical conceptions of such
profundity. But for better or worse the time comes when he must
propound these doctrines as he sees them. Something like this, I think,
is what happened to Thomas Aquinas. These profound insights which
can transform the perspective of an old science or radically construct
a new one from its roots and foundations often come, I suspect, at an
early age, but they m ay take decades to work out and exert the
influence they should. The young author of the De Ente et Essentia,
himself, had such an initial intuition and it took three decades of hard
work to elaborate it.
Our purpose is to dissect this brilliant intuition from the tried and
12 T H E O N T O L O G I C A L S T A T U S OF E S S E N C E

true formulae in which it was conceived, and to trace out the w ay it


permeated and transformed the whole m atrix of metaphysical and
theological doctrines on which it was to nourish itself till it had grown
into the giant structure of scientific Theology which goes b y the name
of Thomism, the authentic Thomism of Thomas Aquinas.
Aquinas had to say what he wanted to say in this vocabulary:
substance, essence, esse, supposite, nature, form, matter. He was like
the man in a foreign country who wants to say something never before
expressed in that language. Thomas wanted to say something for
which the current Greek philosophical vocabulary was inadequate.
The one set of texts are philosophical concepts couched in the
vocabulary common to the thinkers of his day. A n y number of 13th
century theologians would subscribe to them as simple formulae. But
no one would subscribe to the other set of formulae. No one else in the
13th century would say that a thing is called an ens because of its esse.
In fact in the traditional meaning, in the earliest signification of esse in
Boethius and the Liber de Causis, esse means to be a form, the act of an
essence, as flowing from essence rather than constituting it as essence.
This tradition culminates in the mediaeval latin texts of Avicenna in
which, for the first time, we have a more or less adequate metaphysical
expression of the doctrine of creation wherein esse is an accidental form
perfecting an essence, already constituted as essence. This notion of
essence as constituted in its own right was to be popularized b y Henry
of Ghent in his famous formulation of esse essentiae as opposed to esse
existentiae.
It is significant to note, in respect to this point of Thomas' use of
current contemporary vocabulary when he speaks of essence, that this
is not a unique procedure. Thomas often uses the common terminology
of the day even when the doctrines, technically speaking, are in direct
opposition to his own. There are m any instances in the text of Aquinas
of this type of expression. For instance, we are aware of the fact that
Thomas considered the soul as the first act of the living body, as the
principle of organization of matter, as constituting with m atter the
resultant body. He ranges himself alongside of Aristotle and in oppo
sition to all those thinkers, Platonically inspired or more directly
influenced b y Avicenna, for whom both soul and body are to some
degree constituted substances.
For Bonaventure and Albert the Great, strictly speaking, man is
a composite of body and soul. For Thomas Aquinas, on the other hand,
in technical, precise terms, man is a composite but not of soul and body,
T H E O N T O L O G I C A L S T A T U S OF E S S E N C E 13

for there is no body unless it is constituted by a soul; its principle of


organization is the act b y which it is. A more correct but still subtly
inadequate definition of man would be that he is a composite of soul
and matter. But yet this same formulation of man as composed of soul
and body, although it implies a dual actuality, a plurality of acts, is
nevertheless found scattered throughout his writings. He uses it because
it had become a common and accepted mode of expression, even though
in strict interpretation, it was in opposition to his own doctrine of the
soul as the first act of the body constituting it as a body, and a chal
lenge to his thesis of the unity of man.1
It is Thomas' new and original interpretation of esse which affords
both the occasion and solution of our problem. For such a re-vision
of esse necessarily entails a transformation of the notion of essence and
the entire corpus of metaphysical doctrines. In the one set of texts
Thomas is speaking to his contemporaries and expressing his own
thought in the only language in which he can communicate with them.
In the other set of texts he is stating what is peculiarly his own, his
original contribution to the science of metaphysics; he is pointing up
the divergence between his thought and that of his contemporaries.
He uses the current vocabulary to the extent that he can convert it to
his own meaning. But when it reaches its elastic limit (of stress and
strain), when it can no longer serve as a fit instrument for his ends,
then he abandons it and has recourse to what seem to be contradictions
of the very statements he has already made.
Giles of Rome is an excellent example of the general Greek formu
lations to which most of the Scholastic tradition would subscribe and
which Thomas uses because it is an excellent vehicle for the communi
cation of his ideas. It is only when the analysis of doctrines reaches a
level of precision and sophistication unknown to the Greek vocabulary
that Thomas gives rise to those startling formulations which astonished
and irritated his contemporaries and successors.
W hat is this proper and peculiar set of doctrines which Thomas
Aquinas is expressing on one side of the dichotomy we have indicated ?
How do these doctrines measure up to the standards of a Christian
metaphysics? To what extent and in what w ay do they better express
the fundamental facts of the Christian revelation they are attempting
to interpret and elaborate ? Our contention is that the Greek notions of

1 Quod quidem patet in unione animae et corporis; nam anima naturaliter imperat, et
corpus obedit. [In Metaph., Proemium; ed. Cathala, p. i).
14 T H E O N T O L O G I C A L S T A T U S OF E S S E N C E

essence and of matter are antithetical to a Christian interpretation of


reality.

3. T H E H I S T O R I C A L L O C A T I O N O F T H E P R O B L E M

We would like to take as the starting point for our discussion the very
fundamental problem of the metaphysics of creation as it is found in
the famous controversy of Giles of Rome and Henry of Ghent at the
end of the 13th century. The notion of creation has its origin in Judaeo-
Christian religious thought. Taken over by the philosophers of the
Middle Ages, it became the subject of constant disputes as to its correct
meaning. The classic controversy on the metaphysical interpretation of
creation is, of course, that which occurred late in the thirteenth century
between Giles of Rome and Henry of Ghent.
Now it is within the doctrine of creation that the notions of being
and the real distinction of essence and existence find their proper onto
logical location.1 If one studies the doctrine of creation in a particular
philosopher one will see in concrete, so to speak, his doctrines of being,
essence and existence, and their relations. Creation is the important
test for a Christian metaphysics. A variation in the notion of being will
result in some change in the explanation of the creative act. In fact, in
this classic controversy on the metaphysics of creation in the thirteenth
century, the very difficulties which Giles of Rome found in his ex
planation of creation were the same ones which Henry of Ghent found
such an insuperable obstacle to understanding Giles' interpretation of
the real distinction. For Giles of Rome the Christian doctrine of
creation demanded the real distinction.2 Astute observer that he was,
Henry contended that the real distinction between essence and esse as
res et res, as Giles of Rome interpreted it, was incompatible with a
creatio ex nihilo,3 for it demands a pre-existing subject. He writes:

Non quod ipsi essentiae quasi praecedenti, Deus imprimat esse quo denominetur
existens. . . hoc enim falsum est et omnino haereticum.4

1 Giles of Rome, Op. cit., prop. X X , p. 135, 1. 17 - p. 136, 1. 2. Cf. Prop. X I X , II, 7-10.
2 Quia tota causa quare nos investigam us quod esse sit res differens essentia ex hoc sumitur
u t possimus salvare res creatas esse compositas posse creari et posse esse et non e s s e .........
quod esse esset res realiter ab essentia differens et superaddita illi. (Giles of Rome, Theore
mata de Esse et Essentia, X I X . ed, Hocedez, Louvain, 1930).
3 Cf. J. Paulus, Les Disputes d Henri de Gand et de Gilles de Rome surla distinction de
lessence et de lexistence, Archives dhist. doctr. et litt. du moyen ge,X V (1940), 347-48.
4 H enry of Ghent, Quodlibet II, 4, 5r (Paris, 1518).
T H E O N T O L O G I C A L S T A T U S OF E S S E N C E 15

On the other hand, Henry of Ghent's own doctrine of the intentional


distinction between essence and esse had this merit, at least, that the
whole of the thing could be assigned to the divine causality, not only
as a theological necessity, but also with a metaphysical com patibility.1
However, Giles of Rome insists that if there is no real distinction be
tween essence and esse, then there can be no creation, because im
material substances would exist necessarily.
Sed in his verbis maxime venenum latet. Nam voluerunt isti philosophi quod
substantiae immateriales essent simpliciter necesse esse, et haberent necessita
tem a seipsis, ita quod essent causa suae necessitatis.2

If, Giles of Rome continues, the position of Henry of Ghent is true,


that in creatures essence and esse do not differ really, then there is no
w ay in which things can be caused or be destroyed and reduced to
nothingness. For destruction is accomplished only through the sepa
ration of potency from act. Consequently something which is simple
cannot be separated and thus destroyed.
Ulterius forte dubitaret aliquis utrum secundum rei veritatem substantiae
separatae per se existentes possint aliquo modo dissolvi. Dicendum quod si vera
esset positio aliquorum magnorum, videlicet quod in rebus causatis non differunt
realiter essentia et esse, non videremus viam ad cognoscendum quomodo intel-
ligentiae potuissent de novo causari, nec quomodo possent dissolvi, vel in nihi
lum redigi. Non enim sit dissolutio, nisi per separationem potentiae ab actu. Et
ideo dissolvuntur materialia, quando materia separatur a forma, ita quod in
talibus ipsa essentia habet compositionem et dissolutionem, quia potest una pars
essentiae separati ab alia. Sic etiam in intelligentiis, si potest ibi esse dissolutio,
hoc est quia potest in eis potentia separari ab actu. Ideo impossibile est quod
substantia per se stans, cadat sub corruptione, quia non potest separari eius
essentia, cum sit simplex.3

If there is only an intentional relation between essence and esse, then


they can never be separated. Esse can neither be acquired nor lost
and we are faced not with a created world but with an eternal world
which certainly contradicts the basic notion of creation.

1 Si loquamur de primo esse (esse essentiae), illud sola ratione differt ab essentia creaturae
. . . . Si loquamur de secundo esse creaturae, illud licet non differt re ab essentia creaturae,
non tantum differt ab illa sola ratione in quantum intellectus diversis conceptionibus capit de
ea quod est et quod tale quid est substantia vel accidens sed etiam differt ab illa intentione,
quia quantum ad tale esse ipsa essentia creaturae potest esse et non esse. (Quodl. i , q. 9,
folio 7, recto-verso). Cf. J. Paulus, op. cit., p. 342: La cration nest pas une gnration relle,
mais simplement intentionelle o le sujet ne diffre que logiquem ent du term e. Cf. Quodl. X ,
7, 154 r a. For the explanation of the intentional distinction, cf. J. Paulus, Henri de Gand,
Ch. IV , pp. 220 ff., 237 ff.
2 Giles of Rome, op. cit., prop. X X V I , fol. 9or p; J. Paulus, ibid., p. 344.
3 Giles of Rome, op. cit., prop. X X V I , fol. 89V O.
16 T H E O N T O L O G I C A L S T A T U S OF E S S E N C E

Nec valet si dicatur esse et essentiam differre secundum rationem vel secundum
intentionem, licet sint idem secundum rem. Nam quae idem sunt re, non possunt
secundum rem separari. Non posset ergo intelligentia de novo perdere suum esse,
et per consequens, non potuit ipsum de novo acquirere. Quod fuit philosophorum
opinio contraria veritati, ponentium talia esse ab aeterno.1

Giles concludes that unless there is a real distinction between


essence and esse, neither the production nor the destruction of things
can be explained. Therefore, every effect has to have a composition of
potency and act which are really distinct from each other, whether we
call it potency and act, essence and esse, form and esse, or form and
matter.
Qui ergo ista realiter non distinguit, nec productionem, nec destructionem secun
dum rem salvare poterit. Est ergo omne causatum compositum ex potentia et ac
tu realiter differentibus, sive huiusmodi potentiam et actum appellemus essen
tiam et esse, sive materiam et formam, sive formam et esse, sive essentiam et
actum eius, sive quocunque alio nomine ea nominemus.2

The controversy of Giles of Rome and Henry of Ghent is thus


reducible to a dilemma, and insolvable in that form. But the real
distinction and the intentional distinction have been formulated in
order to explain one aspect of the doctrine of creation and at the same
time to escape a basic difficulty involved in it. Giles of Rome, on the
one hand, insists on the necessity of a real distinction between essence
and esse. W hat he wants to explain by this distinction is exactly how
God, in His ultimate nature, is to be distinguished from the creatures
He has created. For it is His essence to exist, while creatures have to
receive their existence from another. According to Giles, without the
real distinction there is no w ay of distinguishing God from creatures.
Things would exist of necessity. If there were not a real distinction
between essence and esse, they would exist of their essence. E very
creature would be God.
Henry of Ghent, on the other hand, was just as concerned to dis
tinguish God from His creatures. But he was convinced that the real
distinction destroyed the Christian doctrine of a creatio ex nihilo. The
real distinction is heretical, he has told us, because then God would be
giving esse to a pre-existing essence in order to make it exist. Evidently,
Henry of Ghent found a difficulty in the real distinction as it was
formulated b y Giles of Rome. If essence and esse differ really, and if
creation is the communication of esse, what is the status of essence ? It
must be either eternal or created. The first alternative obviously
1 Ibid., fol. 9ir.
2 Ibid.
T H E O N T O L O G I C A L S T A T U S OF E S S E N C E 17

contradicts the very notion of creation, but the second alternative


would lead to the notion of a dual creation, which is a metaphysical
contradiction. For it would mean that an essence could be created, and
hence exist, without existence.
Here, precisely, is the aspect of the doctrine of creation which Henry
wanted to clarify. Unless God gives essence simultaneously with esse,
there is no creatio ex nihilo. Therefore, some sort of identification of
essence and existence is absolutely necessary. Esse is not something
added to essence.1 Essence must be so related to esse that when esse is
communicated, essence also flows from the same creative act.
One possible w ay to safeguard the real identification of essence and
esse, Henry of Ghent saw, was to maintain the notion of the intentional
distinction. For if there is only an intentional distinction between es
sence and esse, then God, in communicating that reality which is esse,
can be, at the same time, the source of essence also. Thus the whole
thing, both essence and esse, comes from the Creator, in a true creatio ex
nihilo. But then how can God be distinguished from creatures on the
basis of the intentional distinction? That is why this controversy is
reducible to a dilemma.
Giles of Rome is correct in his criticism of the intentional distinction,
but Henry of Ghent was perfectly right in his criticism of the real
distinction, at least as posed by Giles of Rome. Giles of Rome cannot
answer the objection of Henry of Ghent in regard to the pre-existence
of essence in the creative act because of his own metaphysical principles.
For Giles of Rome there is something about the creative act which
apparently demands the pre-existence of essence. But this peculiar
character of the creative action is in turn the result of the fundamental
nature of the divine being itself.
Thus we are brought to the conclusion that there is something about
the divine nature which makes the pre-existence of essence imperative.
The answer to the problem of the quasi-eternity of essence in Giles of
Rome is to be found in his notion of God as Ipsum Esse, a notion which
is strongly influenced b y Greek philosophy, especially in the person of
Proclus and the Author of the Liber de Causis.
We suggest that the difficulties which Giles of Rome has with the
doctrine of creation flow from the fact that he has accepted to his
detriment certain Greek metaphysical principles from the Author of the
Liber de Causis, particularly his notion of being itself.
1 et sic omnibus modis oportebit dare quod res quaelibet habet esse per suam
essentiam ut esse non sit res aliqua addita essentiae. (Quodl. I, q. 9, fol. 7r).
C H A P T E R II

E S SE N C E AS T H E E X T R IN S IC L IM IT A T IO N OF E S S E

i. CREATION AND ESSE

Once we have b y patient historical work understood Thomas Aquinas


and his relations to his contemporaries, the next step is a purification
of temporal trappings. The perennial philosophy grew up in the world
of Greek thought and used its vocabulary. Now we must restate it to
free it of the bias given it by the weight of its Greek vocabulary and
philosophical principles.
As we have already stated the doctrine of creation is the testing
stone of a Christian metaphysics. To the extent to which it measures
up to the exigencies of creation to that degree is a notion of being valid
in metaphysics for the Christian thinker. If creation is the emanation of
the whole of being from universal being,1 and if creation is not the
constitution of a composite thing from pre-existing principles,2 as it has
been for so m any in the Scholastic and even Thomistic traditions (in
fact it is implicit in the very vocabulary used to explain the doctrine of
creation, even in Thomas Aquinas himself), then the composite creature
must be produced in being simultaneously with all its principles as
Henry of Ghent so clearly stated. Now the production of esse absolutely,
not inasmuch as it is hoc vel tale, is what is meant b y the ratio of cre
ation.3 Because God is Ipsum Esse Subsistens He can create, which is
1 . . . . cum dicitur, prima rerum creatarum est esse, ly esse non im portat subjectum
creatum ; sed im portat propriam rationem objecti creationis. Nam ex eo dicitur aliquid
creatum , quod est ens, non ex eo quod est hoc ens; cum creatio sit emanatio totius esse ab
ente universali, ut dictum est. E t est similis modus loquendi, sicut si diceretur quod primum
visibile est color, quam vis illud quod proprie videtur, sit coloratum (St. Thom as, S. T. 7 ,
q. 45, a. 4, ad 1). Agens naturale est causa motus, sed agens divinum est dans esse totum
{In I. Sent., d. 7, q. 1, a. 1, ad 3).
2 A d secundum dicendum quod creatio non dicit constitutionem rei compositae ex
principiis prae-existentibus : sed compositum sic dicitur creari, quod simul cum omnibus suis
principiis in esse producitur (S. T. I , q. 45, a. 4, ad 2).
3 Producere autem esse absolute, non inquantum est hoc vel tale, pertinet ad rationem
creationis (S. T. I , q. 45, a. 5).
E x ist, of course, is itself extrem ely tricky. The word is a verb, but it does not describe
something th at things do all the time, like breathing, only quieter-tricking over, as it were, in
E S S E N C E AS T H E E X T R I N S I C L I M I T A T I O N OF E S S E 19

properly to produce or cause the esse of things.1 Omne agens agit sibi
simile . 2 Creation receives its specification from the fact that God is
Ipsum E sse? This gift of being is God's identification tag.4 Moreover,
in producing their esse, God also produces the very substance of things.
Creatio vero, quae est productio ipsius substantiae rei?
Now if creation is the communicatio essey and ipsum esse is the first
effect, what about essence? Where does it come from? It is not pre
existing to receive and limit esse as Giles of Rome held. Instead of wait-
a m etaphysical sort of way. It is only too easy to start wondering what, then existing is. The
Greeks were worse off than we are in this region of discourse, for our different expressions
to be, to exist, and real th ey made do with a single word, einai. We have not their excuse
for getting confused on this adm ittedly confusing topic. J. L. Austin, Sense and Sensibilia,
Oxford, Clarendon Press, 1962 p. 68, note 1.
W ittgenstein says in the Tractatus: N ot how the world is, is the m ystical, bu t that it is
(S 6.44). I believe th at a certain feeling of amazem ent th at anything should exist at all, was
sometimes experienced b y W ittgenstein, not only during the Tractatus period, but also
when I knew him. W hether this feeling has anything to do with religion is not clear to me.
B u t W ittgenstein did once say th at he thought th at he could understand the conception of
God, in so far as it is involved in ones awareness of ones own sin and guilt. He added that he
could not understand the conception of a Creator. I think th at the ideas of D ivine judgm ent,
forgiveness, and redemption had some in telligibility for him, as being related in his mind to
feelings of disgust with himself, an intense desire for purity, and a sense of the helplessness of
human beings to make them selves better. B u t the notion of a being m aking the world had no
in telligibility for him at all.
W ittgenstein once suggested that a w ay in which the notion of im m ortality can acquire a
meaning is through ones feeling that one has duties from which one cannot be released,
even b y death. W ittgenstein himself possessed a stern sense of duty.
I believe th at W ittgenstein was prepared b y his own character and experience to com pre
hend the idea of a judging and redeeming God. B ut any cosmological conception of a D eity,
derived from the notions of cause or of in fin ity would be repugnant to him. He was im patient
with proofs of the existence of God, and with attem pts to give religion a rational foundation.
(N. Malcolm, Ludwig Wittgenstein, A Memoir, p. 70-1). A fter w riting this sentence I learned
th at W ittgenstein once read a paper on Ethics (at a date not known to me, but probably soon
after his return to Cambridge in 1929) in which he said th at he sometimes had a certain
experience which could best be described b y saying th at when I have it I wonder at the
existence of the world. And I am then inclined to use such phrases as How extraordinary that
anything should e x ist! or How extraordinary th at the world should e x ist! Ibid.
1 Cum autem Deus sit ipsum esse per suam essentiam, oportet quod esse creatum sit
proprius effectus eius; sicut ignire est proprius effectus ignis (S. T. /, q. 8, a. 1).
2 . . . quod creare est proprie causare sive producere esse rerum. Cum autem omne agens
agat sibi simile, principium actionis considerari potest ex actionis effectu : ignis enim est qui
generat ignem. E t ideo creare convenit Deo secundum suum esse: quod est eius essentia,
quae est communis tribus Personis (S. T. /, q. 45, a. 6).
3 Cum autem Deus sit ipsum esse subsistens, manifestum est quod natura essendi
convenit Deo infinite absque omni lim itatione et contractione; unde ejus virtu s activa se
extendit infinite ad totum ens, et ad omne id quod potest habere rationem entis (Quodl. III,
1 , 1 ).
4 In spite of the stress which such notable apologists . . . have placed upon the evidence
of design which they claim to detect in the universe, I do not myself feel th at the theist
ought to be much concerned about the issue of this controversy. It is, as I have argued else
where, the existence of the universe, rather than its character, which forms the basis of a
philosophical approach to Christian theism (Mascall, Christian Theology and Natural
Science [New Y o rk : Ronald, 1959], p. 264). Cf. He Who is (London: Longmans, 1943).
5 Creatio vero, quae est productio ipsius substantiae rei, reducitur ad potentiam [Dei]
(S .T .I, q. 45, a. 6, ad 3).
20 E S S E N C E AS T H E E X T R I N S I C L I M I T A T I O N OF E S S E

ing from all eternity like the recipient essence of Avicenna, or being
produced alongside of esse in a dual creation, (barring these alternatives
which, with Henry of Ghent, we consider the only alternative possi
bilities), then essence must rise out of the flood of esse. Essence flows
from esse. Esse gives rise to essence.1
The classic formulation used to solve this dilemma (which we
described within the context of the controversy of the thirteenth
century but which is still the most popular formulation of the problem
of the relations of essence and existence in the creative act) is that of
ens as containing both essence and esse. According to this common
expression, God produces not individual acts of existence, not esses
but beings, entes or entia. The term of the creative act is an ens, not an
esse or an essence but the composite of essence and existence. This ens
is capable of proper scientific analysis, a resolution into its fundamental
components of essence and existence.

2. C O N T E M P O R A R Y A N A L Y S I S O F E N S B Y R E C I P R O C A L C A U S E S

Essence and existence can be arrived at by an analysis of being,


ens, with an awareness of the philosophical implications of creation,
into esse by which all things are and essence which accounts for the
intelligible structuring of being, the philosophical principle which
notes the fact that things are not simply, but they are also in some way,
of some kind. Beings are not only, they are also men or dogs or trees.
The method of metaphysical procedure now in vogue is to begin
with the results of this analysis and consider essence and esse in
creatures as philosophical ultimates, ontological atoms, irreducible
m etaphysical elements, whose explanation is to consist in their mutual
relations. In other words, in the proper role they play in the con
struction of a metaphysics they are to be employed as reciprocal causes
in the Aristotelian sense. Essence and esse are each causes, the one
of the other. Causae ad invicem sunt causae. Esse gives existence to
essence and essence receives and limits esse to be such, a kind of
being. It is b y being received b y the essence that existence is exercised
b y the supposit, and it is b y being exercised b y the supposit that
existence is received by the essence. 2
1 Primus autem effectus est ipsum esse, quod omnibus aliis effectibus praesupponitur et
ipsum non praesupponit aliquem alium effectum (De Pot., q. 3, a. 4); Ipsum enim esse est
communissimus effectus, primus, et interior omnibus aliis effectibus (De Pot., q. 3, a. 7).
Cf. Compendium Theologiae, Pars I, ch. 68.
2 From all this it is clear that the conception we are here proposing, and the very dis-
E S S E N C E AS T H E E X T R I N S I C L I M I T A T I O N OF E S S E 21

Thus a dichotomy of correlative elements in composition, of two


incomplete principles acting on each other respectively according to a
reciprocal causality, seems to be the basic role of essence and esse. W e
are left with a correlation of two real but incomplete co-principles
reciprocally opposed.1 Each increase or decrease in esse involves a
correlative variation in essence.2

Since they represent irreducibly distinct modes of causality, essence and existence
are irreducibly distinct, but the reality of their distinction presupposes their
composition.3

Though existence is the supreme actuality of any existing substance, it is not


act with respect to all that there is in that substance.. . existence does not
monopolize the whole actuality of existing substance. Rather, just as essence is in
potency to the act of its own existence, so also is the act of existence in potency
to the formal act of its own essence.4

Confirmatory evidence of this doctrine and technique, for it is both,


can be multiplied ad infinitum. Such profound metaphysicians as Corne-

tinction between existence as received and existence as exercised, is understandable only in


the light of the axiom causae ad invicem sunt causae.
From the side of form al causality, it is b y reason of the existence received b y the essence
- or because the essence is actuated b y esse - that the supposit exists.
And from the side of dispositive causality (material causality), it is on condition th at
subsistence carries the essence beyond its own order and constitutes it a supposit capable of
exercising existence, th at the essence receives esse and is actuated b y it.
In other words it is b y being received b y the essence that existence is exercised b y the
supposit, and it is b y being exercised b y the supposit th at existence is received b y the essence
(J. M aritain, On the Notion of Subsistence, Progress in Philosophy, p. 37).
1 Cest une dichotomie de puissance et d acte dans lordre mme de lexistence; il y a
limite relle d tre (ut quo) ; il y a acte ultime d tre (ut quo). Les composants sont corrlatifs;
leur causalit respective est rciproque; leur simultanit mme logique est requise de soi.
Un composant est par l autre et lautre composant est par lun; lun est connu par lautre et
lautre est connu par lun. Il ny a pas de disessenciation ou de desexistentiation possible.
Il y a conconnaissance de ces deux principes incomplets form ant un compos qui nest que
cum his, puisque lexistence najoute rien lessence comme contenu d essence (N .-J.
B althasar, Mon moi dans l'tre [Louvain, 1946], p. 96).
2 Rappelons ici que lessence circonscrit lampleur propre de chaque acte d exister.
Chaque variation croissante ou dcroissante de cet acte entraine donc, ipso facto, une
variation corrlative de lessence. C est ce quexprime la formule sym bolique: les formes varient
la manire des nombres (E. Gilson, Le Thomisme, p. 216, n. 2).
3 E. Gilson, Being and Some Philosophers, p. 172: Y e t it is true that essence is really
other than its own existence in virtue of its very act of existing, for, indeed, its act of existing
is w hat enables essence to act as a form al cause, and to make actual being to be such a being.
The very common mistake about this fundam ental thesis of Thomism is due always to the
same overlooking of the reciprocal character of efficient causality and of form al causality.
[Italics mine.] . . . Their composition alone is what makes up a thing, bu t they both become,
so to speak, real because to be then is to be a being, just as to be such is to be such a
being. A ctual existence, then, is the efficient cause b y which essence in its turn is the formal
cause which makes an actual existence to be such an existence.
4 E. Gilson, Being and Some Philosophers, p. 171.
22 E S S E N C E AS T H E E X T R I N S I C L I M I T A T I O N OF E S S E

lio Fabro,1 Fernand Van Steenberghen,2 Andr Marc,3 and many others
past and present repeat this analysis of ens by reciprocal causes.4Msgr. De
Raeym aeker places the theory of reciprocal causes in clear perspective.
At first glance it appears that they (essence and existence) are correlative, and
to this we must held fast. It is in their correlation that the whole reality of the
particular being which contains them, exists ; and since they are identified with
this being, it is in their correlation that all their reality consists. It is impossible
to conceive them outside of the mutual relation which binds them together.
Undoubtedly, we must distinguish them, but without ever separating them,
isolating them, even logically. Hence it is an error to believe that each of these
principles can be considered as being real in itself, abstracting from its relation
with a corresponding principle. For it would then be necessary to maintain
that this relation comes to be added to the reality of these principles; and yet
they have no reality outside of their correlation.5
If neither essence nor esse contribute reality where does reality come
from ? If they constitute reality only in their correlation, what is the
source of reality? Two shadows which together constitute a solid?

3. C R E A T I O N A N D T H E D I V E R S I F I C A T I O N O F E S S E

The contemporary analysis of ens into esse and essentia related as


reciprocal causes in the construction of being is of course an impressive
1 The proportional relation of essence and the act of being - the razione di essere, the
proportion of being, in Fr. F abros term inology - here becomes the form al object which
determines the course of m etaphysical reflection, the order of its problems and solutions.
(C. Fabro, La nozione metafisica di participatione secondo S. Tomaso dAquino (Milan,
1939): pp. 135-138. (Quote is from H. J. John Recent Thom ism , IP Q ). II, 1962, p. 603.
2 F. Van Steenberghen, Ontology, New Y o rk, J. F. W agner, 1952. Its m ethodology
(metaphysics) does not start with lim itation nor with God from the fact th at a finite
being is the subject of two irreducible attributions. T. Gallagher, The Contemporary Status of
the Notion of Existence and Its Limitation In Thomistic Metaphysics, Unpublished Dissertation,
The Catholic U niversity of Am erica, W ashington, D.C., 1958.
3 The proportion of essence to esse, and inversely, the adaptation of the latter to the
former - in short, their mutual correlation, Andre Marc, S. J. L ide de l tre chez Saint
Thom as et dans la scolastique postrieure, Archives de Philosophie, X , 1933. Les essences
peuvent etre envisages de deux points de vue. Le Premier, le point de vue prdicam ental,
est celui de la dterm ination quidditative : cet gard, chaque tre est ce quil est et nest
que ce quil est ; il soppose tous les autres tres. Le second, le point de vue transcendental,
considre les essences titre de degrs et de modes de la perfection d tre, cest--dire comme
les diffrentes participations de ltre, lessence tant alors insparable de Vesse. A cet gard,
il fau t dire que Yesse nest pas seulement reu par lessence, mais quil est aussi spcifi par
elle, bref quil y a une causalit rciproque des deux principes de Yens. L essence nest plus
dfinie en premier lieu comme la puissance et la limite de lacte d tre, elle en est d abord la
mesure formelle, et cela jusques et y compris en Dieu (13). B. Montagnes, La doctrine d'analogie,
L ouvain: Publications U niversitaires 1963, p. 166.
4 The question which remains after reading A. W ingells article is that essence and existence
are ultim ate, reciprocal principles constructing the universe b y their interactions. Cf. A.
W ingell, Vivere Viventibus est esse, Modern Schoolman, (38), 1961; p. 120.
He (St. Thomas) beheld in the universe the essentially differing levels of natures or
essences endowed with corresponding, i.e, fitting, levels of existence (tfss^). De Malo, q. 2, a.
9 ; III, q. 61, a. 1. Cf. Sr. M. Annise, C.S.C., H istorical Sketch of the Theory of Participation ,
New Scholasticism, X X V I , 1952, pp. 49-79.
5 L. D eRaeym aker, The Philosophy of Being, Herder, London, 1954, p. 104-5.
E S S E N C E AS T H E E X T R I N S I C L I M I T A T I O N OF E S S E 23

argument for the distinction of creatures from God, of composite being,


i.e. composed of essence and existence, from Simple Being, Ipsum Esse
Infinitum. This, of course, has been the reason for the popularity of the
doctrine of the Real Distinction between essence and existence,
although there have been, at every age, critics who have seen in the
Real Distinction a challenge to the validity of the Judaeo-Christian
doctrine of creation, from Henry of Ghent to Francis Suarez.
The doctrine of the Real Distinction between essence and esse
involves a doctrine of the Extrinsic Limitation of Esse. This principle of
limitation extrinsic to esse has as a consequence a fundamental meta
physical duality or dichotomy which cannot be glossed over b y speak
ing simply of a Real Distinction of essence and esse.
But w hy did Giles of Rome formulate his peculiar doctrine of the
relations of essence and existence as the Real Distinction between
essentia and esse ? An analysis of the role of essence in the structure of
the creature is illuminating.
This notion of essence as the extrinsic principle of limitation of esse
was introduced into the interpretation of St. Thomas' doctrine of cre
ation in terms of essence and existence and determined and dominated
future interpretations of Aquinas' doctrine down to our day in favor of
the doctrine of Essence as the Extrinsic Principle of Limitation. This
doctrine introduced b y Giles comes proxim ately from the Liber de
Causis and remotely from Plato through Plotinus and Proclus. Giles
has introduced an interpretation from a Greek metaphysics of unity
into the philosophical explanation of creation. Both he and Thomas
Aquinas agree on the theological exigencies. The whole thing comes
from God. But when it comes to explaining this theological doctrine in
terms of the metaphysical principles which develop it, they disagree
vehemently. Does Thomas Aquinas say that both unity and diversity
flow proxim ately as well as remotely from God in spite of metaphysical
principles which were the same as Giles of Rome's ? Or are his meta
physical principles different from Greek philosophy and adequate to
the task of explaining the Christian doctrine of creation without
compromising it b y the Greek doctrine of Being as essence ?
Here I think is the real reason w hy Giles of Rome formulated his
doctrine of the Real Distinction of essence and existence the w ay he
did. He needed essence really distinct from esse as the principle of
extrinsic limitation of esse, and in so doing he set the pattern for later
discussion and formulations within the Scholastic schools right down
to the present day.
24 E S S E N C E AS T H E E X T R I N S I C L I M I T A T I O N OF E S S E

Recent research in the philosophy of Giles of Rome has focused


principally upon two problems : his doctrine of being and the relation of
essence and existence. Attention has also been given to the question of
his philosophical antecedents, especially the respective importance of
the influences of Thomas Aquinas and Neoplatonism on his work. An
examination of his notion of creation in the light of his doctrine of
being can clarify the metaphysical foundations of the doctrine of
Reciprocal Causes as applied to essence and esse, and the more basic
doctrine of Essence as the Extrinsic Principle of Limitation of Esse
which it involves. Such an examination can also provide proper
historical perspective for the re-evaluation of the role of essence in
existential metaphysics.
The value of the history of philosophy in our treatment is only for
philosophy itself. The history of philosophy can be controlled and
employed b y philosophy itself in the handling of a speculative problem.
There is good precedent for such a technique. Aristotle in his day and
Gilson and Fabro in ours, have shown how illuminating can be the use
of historical cases, as instances of the development of principles with
which the speculative philosopher is concerned. Our purpose is
speculative rather than historical, but it is invariably bound up with
the historical transformations of the doctrine under consideration.
The doctrine of creation is important because it was largely in the
attempt to explain creation that Giles formulated his notion of being,
essence and existence and their relations. The controversy which we
have already examined, on the distinction of essence and existence
between Giles of Rome and Henry of Ghent exemplifies this. Both the
Real and Intentional Distinctions were formulated to elucidate the
doctrine of creation. According to Giles, without the Real Distinction
there is no w ay of differentiating God from creatures, like Him, they
would exist of necessity and by their very essence. Henry of Ghent, on
the other hand, was convinced that the Real Distinction destroyed the
doctrine of a creation ex nihilo, because it entails the pre-existence of
essence to the creative act. As we have seen, he argued that unless God
gives essence simultaneously with existence, there is no creation ex
nihilo. Consequently, a real identification of essence and existence is
absolutely necessary. Essence must be so related to existence that when
existence is communicated, essence flows from the same creative act.
In his commentary on the Liber de Causis, Giles of Rome attempts to
answer the charge that he holds the doctrine of a pre-existing essence.
Giles defines creation as a communication of esse, and he distin-
E S S E N C E AS T H E E X T R I N S I C L I M I T A T I O N OF E S S E 25

guishes in the constitution of each creature between the existence which


is communicated and the essence in which it is received. But if creation
is primarily a communication of existence, what part does essence play
in the creative act ? According to Giles, as to our own contemporaries,
essence, as the recipient of existence, limits, diversifies and multiplies it ;
the unity of being is thus owing to the agency of God, and diversity and
m ultiplicity to the essences of creatures.
But although we can see the function of essence as accounting for
diversity and m ultiplicity, the question of its ontological status is still
very much open for discussion. If, however, in the very first act of
creation the creature is present as the limiting principle, it would seem
that creation is not ex nihilo. This objection has been raised by Thomas
Aquinas even before Henry of Ghent. He states that diversity is due to
the creative causality and not to creatures. Giles quotes at length a
text from Thomas' commentary on the Liber de Causis, in which
Aquinas denies the possibility of an essence being present in the first
act of creation.
Thus far Giles seems to have no difficulties in his analysis of the
relations of creation and being. But if he asserts the presence of a two
fold principle in things, essence and esse, and yet creation is occupied
precisely with esse, then what about essence ? It is this difficulty which
causes Giles to attempt to clarify a doctrine which he suggests is not to
the liking of all philosophers. He poses this objection: perhaps someone
might doubt whether, in the first action in which God institutes and
causes a thing, it can be true in some w ay that diversity is due to the
recipient and unity to the agency of God.
Ulterius forte dubitaret aliquis utrum in actione prima qua Deus res instituit
et causat, veritatem habere possit aliquo modo, quod diversitas sit ex parte Dei
agentis.1

We are told that according to some (and Thomas Aquinas seems to


be among them),2 what he is saying is not true in respect to the first
action of God, according to which things are caused and produced in
being or esse. For in this instance, they say, the entire diversity is due
to God.
Dicendum quod secundum quosdam in Deo veritatem non habet quod hie
dicitur, quantum ad actionem primam, secundum quam res causantur, et in
esse producuntur: ibi enim (ut aiunt) tota diversitas est ex parte Dei.3

1 Giles of Rome, op. cit., prop. X V II I, fol. 62r.


2 Saint Thomas, In Librum de Causis, lect. 24, pp. 291-292.
3 Giles of Rome, op. cit., prop. X X IV , fol. 8 iv f.
26 E S S E N C E AS T H E E X T R I N S I C L I M I T A T I O N OF E S S E

Now Aquinas, in his commentary on the Liber de Causis, describes


what he calls a twofold action of the First Cause; one, according to
which it institutes the thing, i.e. creation; the other, according to
which it governs the thing it has instituted. But the assertion of the
Liber de Causis that diversity is due to the recipient does not apply to
the first action which is properly creation ; for if the diversity of effects
is necessarily reduced to a diversity of recipients, then the conclusion
follows that there are some recipients which are not from the First
Cause. Therefore it is necessary to hold that the original diversity of
things is due not to the recipients, but to the First Cause alone, not
because in it some diversity is present, but because it is cognizant of
diversity/" For it is an agent acting from knowledge and, therefore, it
produces diverse grades of things for the completion of the universe.

Diversitas receptionis ex duobus potest contingere : quandoque enim ex agente


sive influente, quandoque autem ex recipiente. Quia enim diversitas causae
causat diversitatem in effectibus, necesse est ut si agens est diversum et recipiens
unum, quod diversitas receptionis causetur ex agente, non ex recipiente. Sicut
aqua quae ex frigido congelatur et ex calido dissolvitur. Si autem e converso agens
fuerit unum et recipiens diversum, erit diversitas receptionis ex parte recipientis,
non ex parte agentis; sicut patet de sole qui indurat lutum et liquefacit ceram.1

An examination of this text of Aquinas, wherein he is treating of the


same point raised b y Giles makes it clear that it is none other than
Thomas Aquinas himself whom Giles has in mind at this point. For
Aquinas tells us, in commenting on the very same proposition that
Giles is examining, that diversity of reception can happen in two ways,
on the part of the agent or on the part of the recipient. Since the
diversity of the cause is the reason for diversity of the effect, therefore,
if the agent is m any and the recipient one, then diversity is caused by
the agent and not b y the recipient. This happens, for example, when
water is frozen b y cold and dissolved b y heat. But if, on the other hand,
the agent is one and the recipient many, then diversity will be due to
the recipient, and not to the agent; just as the same sun hardens mud
and melts butter. Now it is clear that the First Cause is a perfect unity,
having no diversity. But those things which receive the influence of the
First Cause are diverse. Therefore, diversity of reception is not due to
the First Cause, but to the diversity of the recipients. However, this
does not hold for the first creation of things ; otherwise there would be
some creatures which God does not produce. Therefore the diversity of
things must come from God and not from the recipient.
1 Saint Thomas, op. cit., lect. 24, p. 291.
E S S E N C E AS T H E E X T R I N S I C L I M I T A T I O N OF E S S E 27

Manifestum est autem quod causa prima est una, nullam diversitatem habens.
Sed ea quae recipiunt influentiam causae primae sunt diversa. Diversitas ergo
receptionis non est ex causa prima quae est bonitas pura, influens bonitatem
rebus omnibus : sed est propter diversitatem recipientium. Est autem attenden
dum quod duplex est actio causae primae. Una quidem secundum quam instituit
res, dicitur creatio. Alio vero secundum quam res jam institutas regit. In prima
igitur actione non habet locum quod hic dicitur. Quia, si oportet diversitatem
effectuum reducere in diversitatem recipientium, oportet dicere quod sint aliqua
recipientia quae non sint a causa prima; quod est contra illud quod dictum est
supra.. . . omnes habent essentiam propter causam primam. Unde oportet dicere
quod prima diversitas rerum secundum quam habent diversas naturas et virtutes,
non sit ex aliqua diversitate recipientium sed ex causa prima. Non quia in ea
sit aliqua diversitas, sed quia est diversitatem cognoscens. Est enim agens
secundum suam scientiam, et ideo diversos rerum gradus producit ad comple
mentum universi.1

This entire text, with its similes and examples intact, has its parallel in
the commentary of Giles of Rome on the same proposition of the Liber
de Causis.2 Giles gives us the reason for Thomas Aquinas' criticism,
and it is an excellent summary of the position which Aquinas has just
outlined.
They add that according to the intention of this author, this diversity of the
recipient cannot be referred to the first action, because then it is necessary to
posit some recipients which are not from the First Cause, which is against what
is said above in the eighteenth proposition, namely, that all things have essence
on account of the First Being.3

The objection which Giles of Rome is considering is precisely this:


if in the very first act of creation the creature somehow is present as the
limiting principle, would not that destroy the Christian doctrine of
creation? (Thomas Aquinas says it would.) If in the first creation of
things the essence is there to receive its esse, what happens to a creatio
ex nihilo ?
B ut Giles quotes this objection only to reject it, arguing that essence
must be present in the first action of creation or else one cannot account
for m ultiplicity. Existence is diversified only b y its reception in the
recipient nature. He tells us that although there is nothing uncaused
b y God (thus safeguarding a creatio ex nihilo), even in this first action

1 Ibid., p. 292.
2 Cf. Giles of Rome, op. cit., prop. X X I V , fol. 8 iv D, E. U traque enim modo videmus
diversitatem in rebus. Nam aliquando passum est unum ; tamen quia agentia sunt differentia,
ideo est ibi diversitas et contrarietas, ut eadem aqua congelatur, a frigido et dissolvitur a cali
do. A liquando vero converso ponitur esse unitas ex parte agentis, et diversitas ex parte passi,
ut ab eodem sole induratur lutum et liquescit cera. Saint Thomas, Ibid., 291-2. Cf. L. Geiger,
La Participation dans la philosophie de Saint Thomas d'Aquin, Le Saulchoir, Paris, 1942;
pp. 301-302. n. 1. Also P. Nash, Giles of Rome, Auditor and Critic, p. 7.
3 Giles of Rome, op. cit., prop. X X I V , fol. 81 v E.
28 E S S E N C E AS T H E E X T R I N S I C L I M I T A T I O N OF E S S E

b y which things are created in being or esse, there is some plurality and
a certain diversity on the part of the recipients. Giles reaffirms his
doctrine :
Sciendum autem quod quamvis nihil sit quod non sit causatum a Deo, verum
tamen est aliquo modo etiam in actione prima Dei secundum quam res per
creationem producuntur in esse, quaedam diversitas ex parte recipientium.1

After defending the conformity of his teaching to Christian doctrine,


Giles prepares to justify his conclusion philosophically. It would seem
that for Giles to say that diversity comes from God and leave it at that
would be to dodge the metaphysical question and resort to a type of
Theologism. He is looking for a philosophical answer to a philosophical
question. He continues: We teach that God is Ipsum Esse Purum , i.e.,
Esse not received in another. However, nothing can go out from God
through creation which is a simple esse, but every effect has esse
received in essence. For in this w ay God causes things b y communi
cating being or esse to them.
Dicemus enim quod Deus est ipsum esse purum non receptum in alio. Nihil
tamen potest a Deo exire per creationem, quod sit simplex esse; sed omne
causatum est habens esse receptum in essentia. Hoc enim modo Deus causat res,
communicando scilicet eis esse.3

For if the question is raised why some things through creation have
more being and some less, some a more noble being and some a less
noble being, the answer should be that this is due to the diversity of the
natures of the recipients. For it lies in the power of God to produce this
nature or that ; but from the very fact that He produces this nature, He
communicates to it only as much being as that nature can receive. For
according to the present order of things, being or esse is determined
only by reception in a determinate nature.4

1 H enry of Ghent uses very strong language regarding the doctrine of Giles of Rome: Non
quod ipsi essentiae quasi praecedenti, Deus im prim at esse quo denominetur existens. . . . hoc
enim falsum est et omnino haereticum. Quodlibet I I , 4, 5r. Cf. J. Paulus, Les Disputes, p. 3 2 7,
also 332. A dm ettre lantriorit de lessence puissance, vis--vis de ltre, compromet la
cration ex nihilo. J. Paulus, op. cit., p. 334. Cf. H enry of Ghent, Quodlibet X , 7 , 153V .
2 Giles of Rome, op. cit., prop. X X IV , fol. 8 iv F.
3 Ibid.
4 In potestate enim Dei est producere hanc naturam vel illam, sed ex quo producit hanc
naturam com m unicat ei tantum de esse quantum potest recipere illa natura. Secundum enim
hunc ordinem quam videmus esse non determ inatur, nisi ex eo quod recipitur in determ inata
natura. Sic etiam unum esse ab alio esse distinguitur, quia in alia et alia natura recipitur. Ibid.
Cf. Theoremata, II, p. 8 , 11. 11 ff. ; p. 9 , 1. 5. H enry of Ghent, however, denies this. J. Paulus,
Les Disputes, p. 337. La conception de Gilles qui assimile la cration une gnration et la
participation de ltre celle d un accident quelconque compromet en ralit la notion
chrtienne de la cration. L tre nest plus cr de nihilo mais tir de lessence-puissance qui
E S S E N C E AS T H E E X T R I N S I C L I M I T A T I O N OF E S S E 29

Giles of Rome then sums up his conclusion: therefore in this first


action of God, as in the very action of the creation of things, ipsum esse,
and also other perfections which are received in nature, will have a
diverse being or esse due to the recipient natures.

In hac ergo prima actione Dei, ut in ipsa actione creationis rerum, ipsum esse, et
etiam alia quae recipiuntur in natura, habebunt esse diversum ex parte natu
rarum recipientium.1

In the creation of things, God gives to every nature only as much


being as it can receive. The fact that He gives more to one and less to
another, and to each a diverse esse, results from the diversity of the
recipient natures. For in creating, God acts as He acts in knowing and
in understanding Himself to be imitable in many ways b y creatures.
Through His divine knowledge, He can produce many and various
natures; in producing them He will communicate esse to every one.
Therefore, the whole, both nature and esse, will be from God. But the
fact that esse is diverse will result from its reception in diverse natures.
Giles tells us that God is like a sea which offers itself to every vase.
However, no vase can contain the whole of it. According as it is a
greater or lesser vase, it receives more or less of the waters of the sea.
So in the creation of things, God offers His whole Esse to every nature.
However, every nature participates that esse according to the capacity
of its substance. Giles of Rome concludes that in the very first creation
of things there is uniformity on the part of God and a diversity on the
part of the recipients. In communicating being (esse) itself, God offers
Himself to every produced nature which participates as much of that
being or esse as it can.2
Creatures have nothing which is not borrowed. W hat they have, they
have received entirely from God, but these natures themselves contri
bute something as regards the mode of having. For although all
perfections present in effects are from God, they are there in the w ay
their nature requires. Therefore, although God causes the whole, both
nature and esse, He makes an esse determinate b y impressing it on a
determinate nature.3 Giles' reason for this seems to be that God as

prcde, et si Gilles rplique que Dieu cr ici en mme temps la puissance et lacte, c est donc
que cest lessence qui est proprement cr, ou mieux le compos des deux. Or quod etsi hoc
ille intendat, adhuc non potest proprie salvare creationem. Pour tablir ce point, Henri est amen
dvelopper sa propre conception de la cration.
1 Op. cit., prop. X X IV , fol. 8 iv G.
2 Ibid.
3 Ibid.
30 E S S E N C E AS T H E E X T R I N S I C L I M I T A T I O N OF E S S E

Universal Cause possesses a certain indtermination ;1 consequently it is


only from a determinate nature that a determinate esse can be pro
duced.2
The doctrine of Giles of Rome m ay be summarized as follows : in the
first creation of things there was a uniform ity on the part of God
communicating esse to natures and diversity on the part of the reci
pients of that esse. Although it was in the power of God to produce
diverse natures, the fact that He communicates to them a diverse esse
and other diverse perfections is due to the diversity of the natures
themselves.3
In looking back over these texts several questions suggest themselves
to us. Giles is very careful to attribute the causality of the creative
act exclusively to God: a real creatio ex nihilo demands God as a unique
cause. But why does he insist on the fact that in the very first creation
of things, the creature is somehow present as the limiting principle ? Is
the objection of Thomas Aquinas and Henry of Ghent valid when they
argue that if essence is there to limit esse in the initial moment of the
creative act, then a true creatio ex nihilo is impossible ?
Let us examine the reason which Giles of Rome offers in justification
of his stand. God, in accordance with His nature, acts uniform ly.
He appears of necessity to offer Himself in the infinite totality of His
being to every creature alike. It is the essence of the creature which
determines what proportion of this infinite ocean of esse it is to
receive. Giles of Rome admits that even this essence comes from God.
But why then does he insist on its prerogative of determination in the
very first moment of creation ? 4 Are his opponents correct in conclud-
1 Op. cit., prop. X X I I I , fol. 78v K.
2 Quod vero arguebatur in contrarium, videlicet quod ipsum intelligere habet intelligentia
a Deo, dici debet quod totum habet intelligentia a Deo, et naturam , et esse et agere. Tam en
ipsum esse et agere, et intelligere possunt considerari dupliciter, vel secundum se vel secundum
quod sunt quid contractum . Secundum se quidem sunt a producente. Secundum autem quod
sunt quid contractum habent ex recipiente, ex quia intelligere dicit determ inatum modum
agendi. Universale autem regimen rerum quandam indeterminationem et quandam univer
salitatem importare videtur. Ideo illud ratione determ inati modi, potest attribui deter
minatae naturae. Aliud autem ratione universalitatis, si com petit intelligentiae erit ex uni
versali causa. Licet ergo totum faciat Deus et naturam et esse, causat tamen determ inatum
esse imprimendo ipsum determ inatae naturae. In determ inata enim non nisi determ inatum
esse habet produci, quod (quia ratione determ inatae naturae contingit) naturae ipsi potest
attribui. Ibid.
3 Aliquo ergo modo quantum ad esse comm unicatum naturis, et quantum ad perfectiones
superadditas in prima creatione rerum fuit uniformitas ex parte Dei producentis, et diversitas
ex parte recipientium. E rat quidem in potestate Dei producere diversas naturas, sed quod
comm unicaret eis diversum esse, et diversas perfectiones quales eis com m unicavit, hoc ideo
erat, quia sic requirebat diversitas naturarum. Op. cit., prop. X X IV , vol. 821, I.
4 Cf. J. Paulus, Les Disputes, p. 332. Il est superflu de noter le caractre embarrass et
point toujours cohrent de ces responses. . . . Giles will never say exp licitly th at essence is
E S S E N C E AS T H E E X T R I N S I C L I M I T A T I O N OF E S S E 31
ing that his theory of limitation involves a quasi-divine, quasi-eternal
function of essence, - a certain reality of its own of the possible
essence ? In order to understand this, we must examine the doctrine on
which it depends, namely, the Uniformity of the Divine Action.

4. U N I T Y A N D P L U R A L I T Y IN C R E A T I O N

Giles is careful to attribute the causality of the creative act ex


clusively to God: a real creation ex nihilo demands God as a unique
cause. Nevertheless he insists on the fact that in the very first act of
creation the creature is somehow present as the limiting factor. His
basic metaphysical principles compel him to assert this.
In creation existence is communicated in a uniform w ay to all things,
so that its differentiation must be due to its recipient essences. The role
of diversification has to be attributed to the creature rather than to
the Creator because God necessarily offers Himself in the infinite
totality of His Being to every creature alike. It is the essence of the
creature which determines what proportion of this infinity of existence
it is to receive. Thus creatures are the cause of plurality; m ultiplicity
results from their introduction into the universe.
The reason for the quasi-eternity of the Aegidian essence is not very
difficult to discover. Giles of Rome repeats it constantly throughout
his commentary on the Liber de Causis. W hy does essence have to be
present in the first creation of things ? Giles has already told us that
it has to be there to account for plurality. The reason that the role of
diversification has to be attributed to the creature rather than to the
Creator, is because God acts with absolute uniformity. That the uni
form action of the Creator demands a factor of limitation seems to be
the reason for the quasi-eternity of essence.

a . T H E U N I F O R M I T Y OF T H E C R E A T I V E A CT

Giles of Rome offers for our consideration two possible solutions for
the presence of diversity in reality. A t times the recipient of the
action, the 'passive factor as he calls it, is one, and thus diversity and

produced before esse. He does not assert th at there is dual creation. There is a sim ultaneity in
the production which precludes an act of exem plarity prior to the com m unication of esse. The
whole being is produced from nothing. Giles insists, not esse and essence separately. Henry of
Ghent realizes that Giles insists on the composite as the term of creation, but he points up the
inconsistency of this position in line with the quasi eternity of essence. Cf. J. Paulus, op. cit.,
P. 337.
32 E S S E N C E AS T H E E X T R I N S I C L I M I T A T I O N OF E S S E

contrariety must be due to the fact that the agents are different. For
example, we find that the same water is frozen b y cold and dissolved
b y heat. But at other times we find that the unity is on the part of the
agent and diversity is due to the recipient or passive factor, as when by
the very same sun mud is hardened and wax is liquefied.1
This is why the divine goodness is likened to the sun, precisely
because of its uniformity of action. Just as the sun, neither reasoning
nor choosing, diffuses its rays on all bodies alike, so the divine goodness
sends down the rays of its total goodness upon all existing things,
according to their different capacities. In short we are told that,
according to the course of nature, God acts uniformly on all things and
offers Himself totally to all.
Secundum ergo naturae cursum, Deus uniformiter agit in omnia et totius et
totaliter se offert omnibus.2

Giles concludes the phrase according to the course of nature'' because


if God wished, He could do otherwise. He could so ordain it that all
diversity would not be due to the recipients, because He can cause
diversity without any contribution on their part.3 For as Giles states
on another occasion :
Stultum est enim secundum nostrum intellectum velle limitare divinam poten
tiam.4

The significance of this uniformity of the divine action in the meta


physics of Giles of Rome is brought out more clearly when we consider
the fact that Thomas Aquinas would never accept this solution of the
problem of diversity in the creative action. His doctrine on this point is
clear and emphatic. In the De Potentia he poses Giles' position in the

1 Nam si ab una causa tantum produceretur aliquid, nunquam hanc varietatem in p ro


ductione illa salvare possemus. Giles of Rome, op. cit. prop. X X , fol. 69V. Z. U traque enim
modo videmus diversitatem in rebus. Nam aliquando passum est unum, tamen quia agentia
sunt differentia, ideo est ibi diversitas et contrarietas, ut eadem aqua congelatur a frigido et
dissolvitur a calido. Aliquando vero e converso ponitur esse unitas ex parte agentis, et diver
sitas ex parte passi, ut ab eodem sole induratur lutum , et liquescit cera. Op. cit., prop. X X I V ,
fol. ilv D.
2 Ibid., fol. 8 iv . E.
3 Unde Dionysius quarto De Divine N ominibus dicit, quod sicut sol non ratiocinans neque
preeligens radios suos diffundit in omnia corpora, ita quidem et bonitas divina omnibus
existentibus proportionabiliter im m ittit radios totius bonitatis suae. Secundum ergo naturae
cursum, Deus uniformiter agit in omnia, et totius et totaliter se offert omnibus. Omnia tamen
de ipso capiunt secundum exigentiam suae capacitatis. Dicimus autem secundum naturae
cursum, quia si vellet Deus posset aliter agere, adeo quod non tota diversitas esset ex parte
recipientium. Potest enim hunc premovere absque ullis eius praecedentibus meritis. Sed de
hoc agere presens negotium non requirit. Ibid.
4 Op. cit., prop. 4, fol. ig r 00.
E S S E N C E AS T H E E X T R I N S I C L I M I T A T I O N OF E S S E 33

form of an objection. The cause of diversity, the objection states, can


not be God, because He is one and simple. Therefore we must look to
the recipient of the action for the cause of diversity.
Praeterea, in rebus invenitur diversitas, prout una res est alia perfectior. Hujus
autem diversitatis causa non est ex parte Dei, qui est unus et simplex. Ergo
oportet hujus diversitatis causam assignare ex parte materiae.

In answer to this objection, Aquinas states that God does not produce
things from a necessity of nature, but rather from the order of His
wisdom. Therefore, the diversity of things does not come from matter,
but from the order of the divine wisdom which establishes diverse
natures for the perfection of the universe.
. . . dicendum quod Deus non producit res ex necessitate naturae, sed ex ordine
suae sapientiae. Et ideo diversitas rerum non oportet quod sit ex materia, sed ex
ordine divinae sapientiae; quae ad complementum universi diversas naturas
instituit.2

Since God is the cause of being, He is the cause of all the differences of
being; consequently He is the cause of the entire multitude of beings.
Oportet autem illud quod est causa entis inquantum est ens, esse causam
omnium differentiarum entis, et per consequens totius multitudinis entium.3

Thomas Aquinas reiterates and emphasizes his position. We should


hold, he says, that from the One First Being the multitude and diversity
of creatures proceed, not because of the necessity of matter, nor because
of the limitation of potency, nor because of goodness, nor because of the
demands of goodness, but from the order of wisdom, so that the perfec
tion of the universe might consist in the variety of creatures.
Sic igitur dicendum est, quod ab uno primo multitudo et diversitas creaturarum
processit, non propter materiae necessitatem, nec propter bonitatem, nec boni
tatis obligationem; sed ex ordine sapientiae, ut in diversitate creaturarum
perfectio consisteret universi.4

Contrary to the teaching of Giles of Rome, Aquinas tells us that the


diverse grades of creatures are established by one principle with no
prior difference contributed b y the thing.5
1 Saint Thomas, De Potentia, Q. I l l , a. I. obj. 9.
2 Saint Thomas, ibid., ad 9.
3 Saint Thomas, op. cit., Q. I l l , a. 16, ad 4.
4 Saint Thomas, ibid., resp.
5 E x ipso enim ordine universi potuisset ejus ratio apparere, quod ab uno principio, nulla
meritorum differentia praecedente, oportuit diversos gradus creaturarum institui, ad hoc
quod universum esset complementum (repraesentante universo per multiplices et varios
modos creaturarum quod in divina bonitate simpliciter et indistincte praeexistit) sicut et ipsa
perfectio domus et humani corporis diversitatem partium requirit. Saint Thomas, ibid.
34 E S S E N C E AS T H E E X T R I N S I C L I M I T A T I O N OF E S S E

Both the solutions which, as we saw above, Giles of Rome offers


us in his commentary on the Liber de Causis, are to be found in Thomas'
own commentary on the Liber de Causis, in his treatment of the same
proposition with which Giles is here concerned.1 But, whereas Giles
chooses the second solution as typical of the divine action, Thomas
Aquinas chooses the first. It is important to note that here, under Giles'
direct scrutiny, Aquinas states unequivocally that diversity is due to
the creative causality and certainly not to creatures. But again Aqui
nas' objection has little effect. Giles is following his own metaphysical
principles which do not seem to be Thomistic.2
To explain further what he means b y this uniformity of action,
Giles of Rome takes an example from the sphere of politics. The
intention of the legislator, he tells us, should be to lead the polity to
unity and peace. However, unity and peace would never be achieved if
the legislator qua legislator did not keep his relation to all things a
uniform one. D iversity occurs only on the part of the citizens, for those
who are of greater merit and who labor more on behalf of the republic
should be honored. If, therefore, the legislator acts uniformly and
honors the citizens more or less according to their merit, then he
governs as he should and all are provided for as they deserve. This also
holds true for the First Cause.

Et hoc est in regimine primae causae, quia ipsa quantum est de se habet uni
formiter ad omnia, et solum est ibi diversitas secundum merita recipientium, ideo
regimen suum est decorum et pulchrum in fine pulchritudinis.3

Giles of Rome extends this simile of uniformity and diversity in the


political order to God and the things He has created. For the First
Cause is related uniformly to all things, and diversity exists only in
accordance with the desserts of the recipients. We see the effect of this
unity expressing itself in a uniform act, in its total gift of self to the
creature. For God offers Himself wholly to every creature, so that He
is prepared to communicate to every thing His whole being and every
mode of being.4 The First Being communicates Itself wholly to every
thing as much as that thing can receive.
1 Saint Thomas. In Librum de Causis, prop. 24, pp. 291-2.
2 Cf. E. Hocedez on this point. Theoremata, Introd. sec. V III, Influences N oplatoni
ciennes, pp. 72-3. Also P. Nash, Giles of Rom e, The Modern Schoolman, Nov. 1950, p. 9.
3 Giles of Rome, op. cit., prop. X X , fol. 7or R.
4 Dicendum quod in esse creato invenimus varios modos essendi, propter quos ipsa creata
determ inantur ad diversa praedicamenta, et ad diversa genera entis. E t quia quodlibet crea
tum determ inatur ad aliquod genus entis, cuilibet creato com petit specialis modus essendi, et
nulli creato potest communicari omnis modus essendi, etiam loquendo de modis essendi per
E S S E N C E AS T H E E X T R I N S I C L I M I T A T I O N OF E S S E 35

Primum enim ens a quo regulantur omnia, sine invidia communicat seipsum
totum cuilibet rei quantum quaelibet res de ipso potest capere.1

Should someone doubt that the uniformity of the divine action were
characteristic of the creative act as well as of the divine governance,
Giles of Rome states his mind very carefully on this point. N ot only in
the conservation of things, where a diversity of natures is already
present, but in the very first creation of things, in the act of communi
cation of esse, there is to be found a uniform ity on the part of God who
offers His whole self to every produced nature. But diversity is due to
the recipient nature, which participates that esse as much as it can.
There is no doubt at all but that Giles of Rome intends to locate this
uniform ity of the divine action in the creative act itself, and not merely
in the act of conserving natures already created:
Ergo in prima creatione rerum, licet non tantum quantum in ipso regimine, ubi
iam supponitur diversitas naturarum, sumitur aliquo modo, ut quantum a
communicationem ipsius esse, uniformitas ex parte Dei communicantis, qui se
totam obtulit cuilibet naturae productae, et diversitas ex parte recipientium,
qui de illo esse participationem susceperunt quantum potuerunt de illo capere.2

In conclusion, we are told that in some w ay in the very first creation of


things, there was uniformity on the part of God in regard to the esse
communicated in natures, and diversity on the part of the recipients.
Aliquo ergo modo quantum ad esse communicatum naturis, et quantum ad
perfectiones superadditas in prima creatione rerum fuit uniformitas ex parte Dei
producentis, et diversitas ex parte recipientium.3

God is so generous and so liberal that He offers himself wholly to


every creature, just as the sea does to every vessel. However, because
vessels do not have equal capacities they do not receive equally the
waters of the sea. Similarly, because created things are not equal, some
varying in capacity as they do, some receive more, some less of the
divine goodness.4 Inasmuch as God is an infinite ocean of goodness, He
qnos ea ipsa creata determ inantur ad diversa praedicamenta, et ad diversa genera entis, quae
videm us in creaturis. Deus ergo quantum est ex se, offert se totum cuilibet rei, ita quod
paratus est communicare cuilibet totum esse, et omnem modum essendi. Sed nihil totum esse
creatum recipere, quia nihil creatum unum, et idem potest in se comprehendere omnem
m odum essendi, quae videm us in creaturis. Propter quod producta a primo diversificant in
tali esse. E t quaelibet res producta a primo accipit specialem modum essendi ab eo prout
requirit natura sua. Op. cit., prop. IV , fol. i7 v F F .
1 Op. cit., prop. X I I , fol. 40V C.
2 Op. cit., prop. X X I V , fol. 82r H.
3 Ibid., fol. 82r I.
4 Nan Deus ita largus et ita liberalis est, quod se totum offert cuilibet creaturae, sicut enim
mare quantum est ex se offertur totum cuilibet vasi, tamen quia vasa non sunt aequalia, ideo
non aequaliter recipiunt de aqua maris, sic quia res creatae non sunt aequales, sed quaedam
sunt maioris capacitatis quam aliae, et quaedam minoris, ideo quaedam recipiunt plus, et
quaedam minus de divina bonitate. Op. cit., prop. X X , fol. 69 v X .
36 E S S E N C E AS T H E E X T R I N S I C L I M I T A T I O N OF E S S E

offers himself wholly to each and every thing, pouring himself upon
each completely. The reason why any particular thing is not complete
and perfect, and does not have an abundance of this goodness, is due
entirely to the diversity of the recipients. Everything receives not as
much of the goodness of God, as God offers to it, but only according to
the measure of its disposition and capacity.1
No caused thing can receive that infinite ocean of perfection in its
entirety. If an infinite quantity of water should offer itself to a little
vessel, that little vessel could not take the whole of that infinite
quantity of water, but would participate some small part of it. So the
divine goodness offers the whole of itself to each caused thing. However
no effect can receive the whole of it. But each of the effects participates
the First Goodness in different ways, each according to its own mode.2
There is no doubt but that for Giles the divine characteristic of
unity seems to be dominant in the creative action of God. Such unity on
the part of God becomes ever more involved in the very structure of the
universe God has created. This becomes evident as we follow Giles of
Rome in his analysis of creatures.

b . T H E C O M P O S I T I O N OF T H E C R E A T U R E

When Giles turns from God and His creative action to the term and
product of that activity, the creature, we notice that production
necessarily involves composition. In fact, the essential characteristic
of the creature is to be composite. E very creature is a composite in some
w ay or other. Giles of Rome, in his explanation of creation, travels
from a First Principle, which is absolutely simple, to the first creature,
which is a real plurality, whose simplicity is not absolute. The hierarchy
of the universe runs down from a First Cause which is an absolute
unity through various grades of plurality.
For Giles of Rome there is a very real problem in the doctrine of
creation, the problem of the one and the many, the transition from
unity to plurality. And plurality m ay be reduced to composition,
for where there is no composition there is no plurality.

1 Quod Deus est quoddam infinitum pelagus bonitatis, et offert se totum cuilibet rei, et
quantum est de se in omnia influit influxione com pleta, sed quod quaelibet res non sit com
pleta, et perfecta, et non habeat abundantiam huius bonitatis, hoc est ex diversitate recipien
tium, quia non quaelibet res capit de bonitate Dei quantum Deus ei offert, sed solum secun
dum mensuram suae capacitatis et dispositionis. Op. cit., prop. X X X I I , fol. yv &.
2 Op. cit., prop. X V II , fol. 6ov A.
E S S E N C E AS T H E E X T R I N S I C L I M I T A T I O N OF E S S E 37

Omnis plurificatio secundum esse et quaelibet distinctio per absoluta ex compo


sitione sumit originem. In quo enim nulla est compositio, nulla talis plurificatio
esse potest.1

Having confined the problem of the origin of plurality to its obvious


limits within a Christian universe, Giles of Rome examines the struc
ture of the first of creatures, the pure Intelligences, to discover the
source of their plurality. How precisely is the multiplication of Intelli
gence accomplished? The answer is that the being of Intelligence is
finite, limited and particularized because no Intelligence has in itself
the whole of being. Ipsum esse, in itself, is one and simple. However, it
is received in Intelligences according to particular modes and not
according to its total being. The principle of diversity is, as we have
seen, the recipient.2 Plurality arises with the Intelligences because it
first is received in a superior Intelligence according to a more perfect
mode and then in an inferior Intelligence according to a less perfect
mode. This follows the general law that the plurality of things depends
upon the recipient which receives m-according to its own proper mode.
Therefore, although ipsum esse of itself is simple, it is diversified and
partitioned in Intelligences. And because one Intelligence receives
being according to one mode, and another according to another mode,
Intelligences are thus diversified and become diverse forms and diverse
intelligible substances.3
Thus in its gradual procession from the one First Being, esse is
multiplied in Intelligences, and a multitude of Intelligences is produced.
If a multitude of simple and perfect Intelligences is possible, and if the
esse in them can be multiplied, then esse of this type can be multiplied
much more in other beings which are more composite and less perfect.
This is so because in them esse is received in a more participated and
more contracted fashion. Giles has finally, b y a characteristically
devious and prolix argumentation, reached his conclusion. Giles of
Rome agrees completely with the author of the Liber de Causis that

1 Cf. P. Nash, Giles of Rome, p. 13: Giles exclusiveness on this point (his doctrine of
particularity) confirms the suspicion th at his main problem in the constitution of existent
beings is the Platonic one, de eodem et diverso.
2 Quidquid recipitur in rebus compositis trahitur ad modum compositorum, et quantun-
cunque de se sit unum potest plurificari propter ea in quibus recipitur. Esse est huiusmodi.
Ibid., fol. 14V I.
3 Si ergo volum us hoc referre ad diversitatem substantiarum exponatur, videlicet, quod
quam vis esse de se sit unum, tamen quia diverso modo recipitur in intelligentiis, ideo sunt
diversae formae, id est diversae naturae, sive diversae substantiae intellectuales, vel diversae
intelligentiae. Op. cit., prop. IV , fol. 17V DD.
38 E S S E N C E AS T H E E X T R I N S I C L I M I T A T I O N OF E S S E

although being in itself is one, plurality is achieved b y the fact that it is


diversified in Intelligences.1
This, then, is what the creature signifies for Giles of Rome: it is
essentially a composite. It is distinguished from God b y reason of the
plurality present in its inherent constitution. Not only is composition
the distinguishing mark of the creature, but the amount of division, or,
conversely, unity, is the basis for the hierarchy of perfection among
creatures. Those composites which more nearly approach the divine
perfection are precisely those which possess more of unity and less of
plurality. Thus, the angelic Intelligence, which is the nearest to an
absolute unity in the created universe, is the most perfect of creatures
and takes its position at the head of God's creation. In fact, it is upon
the very nature of the creature as a composite that its creaturehood
rests, for it needs parts for its being and also an agent to unite those
parts.
The world we are looking at, then, is one which is composed of a
God who is absolutely simple, a perfect unity, and creatures who are
fundamentally and primarily a composition and a plurality. But the
problem that remains is: how exactly does a world which is a plurality
of composites proceed from an absolute unity which is the first principle
of reality ?
Ipsum esse in itself is one and simple. However, it is received in
Intelligences according to particular modes and not according to its
total being.2 Multiplication of being is accomplished b y a certain parti
cularization of being. Giles of Rome tells us that esse can be multiplied
in beings because in them esse is received in a more contracted fashion.
This contraction seems to involve the reciprocal relations of nature and
esse. W h at is the nature of this contraction? W hat is being for Giles if
it can be contracted in this w ay ?
As we have just seen, the process b y which a uniform divine action
is differentiated and plurified in creatures is what Giles of Rome calls
contraction. The doctrine of the limitation of the recipient is de
manded b y the uniformity of the divine action. And the explanation of
this uniformity of action will follow upon the understanding of this
limitation or contraction of being which finds its ontological locus
within the creative act. A detailed examination of this contraction of

1 Bene dictum est quod quam vis sit unum esse de se, tamen quia diversificatur in intel-
ligentiis, factae sunt diversae formae, id est diversae naturae intellectuales, Ibid., fol. i7 v F F .
2 Ulterius autem quam vis intelligentia non possit recipere totum esse increatum , quia ens
qui est huiusmodi esse est ubique totus, et nulla res ipsum Deum capit. Ibid., fol. i6 v Z.
E S S E N C E AS T H E E X T R I N S I C L I M I T A T I O N OF E S S E 39

being will give us an understanding of what the divine uniformity is


for Giles. Therefore our next step will be to investigate the creative
operation as Giles of Rome explains it, in order to arrive at some under
standing of this limitation in its metaphysical function.

5. T H E IN D E T E R M IN A T E N A T U R E OF B E IN G

The uniformity of the creative action is due to the indeterminate


nature of existence. An undetermined existence must be determined,
contracted and limited by the composite structure of essence, which is a
composition of potency and act. This, of course, does not explain the
presence of plurality, but simply attempts to locate it on a more basic
ontological level.
This contraction of existence b y essence is accomplished through a
determination modeled on that of genus and specific difference in
definition. Existence, wholly indeterminate, is contracted b y being
received within a determinate genus and species. Genus and species are
the mechanism of contraction within essence itself. The actuality that
an essence possesses of itself is an imperfect actuality because it ex
presses a composition of potency and act. In the last analysis, an essence
can contract existence because it is itself composite. Giles of Rome thus
pushes the problem of plurality back beyond the simple limitation of
essence to a structural composition within essence itself. This serves to
confirm his view of the creature as basically and essentially a composite.

A. T H E C O N T R A C T IO N O F B E IN G

So far, the argumentation of Giles of Rome has followed these lines :


in the first moments of creation, essence has to be present to receive
esse if there is to be plurality in the created world. W hy does diversity
demand essence as its principle? Because, as Giles has emphasized,
there is a unity and uniformity about the act of communication of
esse which demands a recipient if any differentiation is to be possible.
That is w hy creatures are the cause of plurality, and their introduction
into the universe results in m ultiplicity. Giles is perfectly logical. If God
acts in such a uniform fashion, then a recipient is necessary in creation.
Even though its presence causes difficulty with the traditional doctrine
of a creatio ex nihilo, as Thomas Aquinas has pointed out, the conclusion
is unavoidable. Otherwise how could we account for plurality?
However, the question that arises at this point is : what does Giles of
40 E S S E N C E AS T H E E X T R I N S I C L I M I T A T I O N OF E S S E

Rome mean b y this uniformity or unity on the part of God ? Thomas


Aquinas has stated clearly that in creation diversity comes from God
alone, not from creatures. Giles of Rome denies this. Evidently Giles'
metaphysics of creation is different from that of Thomas Aquinas.
W hat does Giles of Rome mean by the uniformity of the divine action ?
We can better understand the uniformity of the creative action if
we watch it at work in the construction of the creature. There is a w ay
in which it must be contracted and limited b y its reception in essence.
This contraction b y essence is accomplished through a determination
modeled on that of genus and specific difference. An esse, somehow
indeterminate, is contracted by being received within a determinate
genus and species.

B E IN G A N D T H E O R IG IN OF P L U R A L IT Y

Giles seems to realize that his interpretation of the problem of the


One and the Many in terms of being is not quite compatible with the
view of the author of the Liber de Causis. It seems that the prime
intention of the author of the Liber de Causis is not to treat of being.
Rather, starting with being which in itself is something one, he pro
ceeds to explain how it is multiplied in the separate intelligences, and
how the diversity of Intelligences comes about. A t least, this is how the
problem poses itself to Giles.
Tamen non videtur sua intentio principalis sic determinare de esse, sed ex esse
quod in se est quid unum, vult descendere quomodo plurificatum est in intel-
ligentiis, et facta est diversitas intelligentiarum.1

Giles of Rome proceeds to solve this problem of unity and plurality,


but on his own terms. He uses being as a more fundamental notion than
those of unity and plurality, a notion in which it is possible to reconcile
and unify them. But how precisely does Giles do this ?
We are told that creation is the communication of being. In being, all
beings are united and a plurality of beings is the result of the multi
plication of esse in things.
Et quia in esse uniuntur omnia entia, et ex esse plurificatum in entibus facta est
multitudo entium.2

W hat does being mean for Giles of Rome and what is its exact function
in creation if he is to reconcile the one and the many ?
1 Giles of Rome, op. cit., prop. IV , fol. 13V A, B.
2 Ibid., fol. i3 r A.
E S S E N C E AS T H E E X T R I N S I C L I M I T A T I O N OF E S S E 41

R E D U C T IO N OF P L U R A L I T Y TO C O M P O S IT IO N

Giles of Rome in his attem pt to solve the problem of the one and
the many in terms of being, explains that God embraces all perfections
just as light contains all colors. Just as colors are contractions of light,
so all beings are contractions of ipsum esse. Now if beings are contrac
tions of ipsum esse, how, precisely, is esse contracted and multiplied ?
Esse is first multiplied only through the composition of finite and
infinite, that is, through the composition of esse and form, or of esse and
nature. For example, in the angelic Intelligences, nature is infinite and
esse is finite.
Dubitaret forte aliquis quomodo non multiplicatur esse, nisi per compositionem
finiti cum infinito. Dicendum quod Intelligentiae sunt compositae ex finito et
infinito, id est compositae ex forma et esse, sive ex natura et esse. Natura enim in
eis est infinita, esse vero infinitum.1

In what w ay does this esse become finite ? How does the composition
of esse and form result in the limitation of esse? Esse appears to be
limited b y the very fact of its union with matter. Just as it is impossible
for a form in matter to possess as much perfection as if it were a separate
form, so it is impossible for esse to possess the fullness of its perfection
when it is received in form, because it is limited b y the capacity of the
form in which it is received.2
1 Op. cit., prop. IV , fol. i5 r M, N. Secundum hoc ergo omne creatum com positum est ex
finito et infinito quia compositum est ex esse, quod est finitum , et ex natura, quae est infinita,
id est indeterm inata, Op. cit., prop. V, fol. 2 ir Q.
Ulterius forte dubitaret aliquis quomodo si in intelligentiis est m ultitudo, m ultitudo illa
est ibi quasi sit res vera. Dicendum quod in intelligentiis est m ultitudo illa est ibi quasi sit res
vera. Dicendum quod in intelligentiis est m ultitudo, quia in quaelibet illarum est natura et
esse. Op. cit., prop. V II, fol. 27v Q. On this point of the distinction between finite and infinite
in proposition four of the Liber de Causis, cf. M.-D. Roland-Gosselin, Le De-Ente et Essentia,
pp. 146-149 where he traces the source of the distinction between essence and existence to this
distinction of finite and infinite in the Liber de Causis. Cf. also Saint Thom as in Librum de
Causis, lect. IV. Saint Thom as interprets this distinction as Giles of Rome does, a distinction
between essence and esse.
2 E t impossibile est quod tantae perfectionis sit forma in materia, quantae esset si esset
separata. Albedo ergo in materia non est infinita albedo, quia non habet omnem perfectionem
albedinis. Sed si esset albedo separata, quia illa non contraheretur neque particularetur
per materiam recipientem, haberet omnem perfectionem albedinis. Esset ergo infinita albedo.
Sed non esset infinitum ens, quia licet haberet omnem perfectionem albedinis, non tamen
haberet omnem perfectionem entis. Immo eo ipso quod esset albedo, esset determ inata ad de
term inatam speciem coloris, et non recipiret esse in sua totalitate, sed tantum reciperet de esse
quantum requireret talis coloris species. Illa itaque albedo, secundum hunc modum loquendi,
esset infinita forma, sed haberet finitum esse, et per consequens, esset composita ex finito et
infinito. Sed licet albedo non sit talis, intelligentiae tamen sunt tales, quia sunt formae per se
existentes non receptae in materia. In eis ergo est forma infinita, sive natura infinita, quia
natura in eis habet omne complementum quod pertinet ad perfectionem suae speciei. Esse
tamen earum est finitum quia non recipitur in eis totum esse, sed tantum de esse recipiunt
quantum potest capere illius natura. Ibid., fol. i5 r N - 1 5 V O. Cf. Op. cit. fol. i8r HH.
42 E S S E N C E AS T H E E X T R I N S I C L I M I T A T I O N OF E S S E

The analogy which Giles of Rome draws between matter and form
and esse is not merely a literary comparison. Esse is received in form
just as form is received in matter. The limiting function of form has a
definite resemblance to the limiting function of matter. Giles of Rome
finds that a twofold finitude or limitation can be attributed to the
created thing. One comes from the form, and, if the thing is material,
another limitation or contraction can be attributed to it because of
matter. It is due to its form that a created thing has a finite esse, and
because of matter it has a finite form. Form limits esse the w ay m atter
limits form. Just as if colors were separate (i.e., existed as Platonic
forms), whiteness, due to its species, would be finite ens, but if it is
received in matter, it becomes a finite form.1 Therefore whiteness, if it
were separated, would be an infinite whiteness; likewise, no separate
form, according to the present disposition of things, is determined to a
special mode of that form. But the fact that it is determined and
contracted is due to the matter in which it is received. Thus God,
because He is not esse received in another, is infinite esse. And so,
Intelligences, because they are forms existing per se, are in some w ay
infinite forms. However, because they are determined to a certain
genus of being, they are finite beings, and they have a finite esse. It is
significant to note again that esse must be limited and determined by its
reception in form, just as form is limited, determined, and made finite
b y its reception in matter.
Sic albedo si esset separata, esset infinita albedo, et quaelibet forma separata,
secundum hunc ordinem quem videmus, de se non determinatur ad specialem
modum illius formae. Sed si determinatur et contrahitur, hoc est ratione materiae
in qua recipitur. Sic ergo Deus, quia non est esse receptum in alio, ideo est infini
tum esse. Sic et intelligentiae, quia sunt formae per se existentes, sunt quodam
modo infinitae ad certum genus entis, sunt finita entia, et habent finitum esse.2

Giles of Rome is thoroughly consistent in reducing plurality to


composition.3 The initial composition in the plurification of esse, as we
have just seen, is that of essence and esse A It is through form that esse

1 Dicendum quod rei creatae potest competere duplex finitas, sive duplex lim itatio. Una
ex parte form ae; et si sit illa res materialis, potest ei competere alia lim itatio, et alia con
tractio ex parte materiae. E x form a quidem habet res creata quod sit finitum ens, sed si sit
m aterialis habet etiam ex m ateria quod habeat finitam form am ut, sicut dicebatur, si colores
essent abstracti, albedo ex sua specie haberet quod esset finitum ens, sed ex eo quod recipitur
in materia habet albedo quod sit finita forma. Ibid., fol. i6 v Z.
2 Ibid., fol. i6 v Z. Cf. Theoremata, I, p. 3, 11. 17-26, p. 4, 11. 1-10.
3 Cf. Theoremata, II, p. 5, 11. 13-15.
4 D iversitas ergo secundum genus in unitate analogiae absque compositione esse et essen
tiae fieri non potest. Theoremata, 11, p. 9, 11. 22-24.
E S S E N C E AS T H E E X T R I N S I C L I M I T A T I O N OF E S S E 43

is contracted.1 The contraction of being is accomplished b y the limiting


function of essence. But how does essence achieve this contraction ? Is
there an inner mechanism in the structure of essence which might help
us to understand this contraction of a uniform esse ?

C O M P O S IT IO N OF G E N U S A N D S P E C IE S

Apparently Giles of Rome, himself, is not satisfied with the expla


nation of limitation simply in terms of essence. It sounds in a w ay like
begging the question. Since esse is multiplied because it is received in
different intellectual natures, and since Intelligences are multiplied only
because they have a different esse, then the only reason that esse is
multiplied seems to be just because esse is multiplied, an excellent
formulation in terms of reciprocal causes.
Ulterius forte dubitaret aliquis quia videtur ex hoc peti quod est in principio.
Nam si esse plurificatur quia recipitur in alia et alia natura intelligentiarum,
cum intelligentiae non sint plures nisi quia habent aliud et alius esse, ergo non
plurificatur esse nisi quia plurificatur esse.2

How does Giles of Rome avoid this vicious circle of reciprocal


causes? If the reason w hy esse is multiplied is its reception in essence,
and the reason w hy things of the same essence, such as Intelligences,
are multiplied is because of the different esse they have received, then
obviously some further explanation of the function of limitation is
called for. Giles accomplishes this by showing a further composition
within essence itself.
Forms are like numbers. Just as there cannot be two different num
bers equal in unity, so there cannot be two forms which have received
esse in the same mode. No two forms, of their own nature, are de
termined to receive esse in the same mode. Form requires a certain
mode of perfection by reason of its determination to a certain genus
and a certain species. Because there is one mode of perfection in one
species and another in another species, they receive esse according to
different modes. Giles of Rome has resolved the difficulty he posed for
himself by asserting that a thing by reason of its nature and essence is
determined to a certain genus and to a certain species. Esse which is
received in essence and contracted b y essence is in that process de

1 E t quia res per form am et quantitatem sine materiam suam collocantur in genere, bene
dictum est, quod res, causata per suam formam, habet quod sit determ inatum ens. Giles of
Rome, Super Librum de Causis, prop. IV , fol. i6 v Z.
2 Ibid., fol. 15V. P.
44 E S S E N C E AS T H E E X T R I N S I C L I M I T A T I O N OF E S S E

termined to a certain genus and specific difference. This seems to be the


core of his argument.
Dicendum quod res per naturam suam et per essentiam determinatur ad certum
genus et ad certam speciem. Neque sunt duae species aeque perfectae in genere.
Immo semper una habet rationem privationis respectu alterius, et est imper
fectior ea; et ideo formae sunt sicut numeri. Nam sicut non sunt duo numeri
formaliter differentes aeque distantes ab unitate, vel habentes aequales unitates,
sic non sunt duae formae determinatae ad certum genus, et ad certam speciem,
et ad talem modum perfectionis quae de sui natura non determinentur ut reci
piant esse alio et alio modo. Et quia alius modus perfectionis est in una specie et
alius in alia, ideo ex forma et esse facta est prima multiplicitas entium, ex forma
quidem requirente talem modum perfectionis, et ex esse recepto in forma secun
dum illud modum .1

Although Giles clearly says that the composition of genus and


difference is logical, not metaphysical, still he treats of it here as if it
were on the m etaphysical level. In accordance with a three-fold plurali
ty we find a threefold mode of composition, the composition of matter
and form, the composition of genus and difference, and the composition
of essence and esse. These compositions exist in a hierarchical order.
For the composition of matter and form presupposes the composition
of genus and difference. And the composition of genus and difference is
intim ately connected with the composition of essence and esse.
Secundum autem hanc triplicem pluralitatem inveniemus triplicem composi
tionis modum, quia vel est compositio ex materia et forma, vel ex genere et
differentia, vel ex esse et essentia. Et hae compositiones se habent per ordinem.
Nam compositio ex materia et forma praesupponit compositionem ex genere et
differentia. Compositio autem ex genere et differentia numquam separatur a
compositione ex esse et essentia.2

This becomes more significant when we realize that if form and its esse
were identical and no composition of essence and esse were present, that
form would be pure act and there would be no potentiality in it ; and
therefore the ratio of genus could not be found in it. Thus it is necessary
that a thing which is composed of genus and difference, also be com
posed of essence and esse.
Si ergo forma esset suum esse et non esset in ea composito ex essentia et esse, forma
ilia esset actus purus, et in ea non esset potentialitas aliqua, et per consequens in
ea ratio generis sumi non posset. Oportet itaque rem illam quae est per se in
genere, et quae est composita ex genere et differentia, esse compositam ex
essentia et esse.3

1 Ibid., fol. 15 V. P, Q.
2 Theoremata, II, p. 6, 11. 1 -16 ; p. 7, 11. 1-15 .
3 Ibid., p. 7, 11. 1-15 .
E S S E N C E AS T H E E X T R I N S I C L I M I T A T I O N OF E S S E 45

Now this composite structure of essence is responsible for the


contraction of esse. The composition of genus and difference has a
precise function. Giles of Rome states that a thing is contracted by
being enclosed between genus and species, which define or set limits to
a thing. Genus and species are termini between which the essence of the
thing caused is enclosed, just as in the definition of man as rational
animal, the whole essence of man is enclosed between a certain genus
and a certain difference. This is precisely the reason, Giles asserts, that a
being is finite, because it is enclosed between a certain genus and a
certain difference. Thus it is that the expression containing the proper
genus and the proper difference of something is called definition or
finitio, because it contains the fines, the terms or limits of the thing.
Essentia autem omnium causatorum refertur ad duo, ad genus scilicet et ad
differentiam. Genus autem et differentia sunt termini inter quos clauditur
essentia rei causatae ; ut si definitio hominis sit animal rationale, tota essentia
hominis claudetur inter tale genus, et talem differentiam. Ex hoc ergo est aliquod
ens finitum, quia clauditur inter certum genus et certam differentiam. Et inde
est quod oratio continens proprium genus et propriam differentiam alicuius
dicitur definitio eius, quasi finitio quia continet fines et terminos rei.1

It is not merely the abstract essence which is the locale for the
determination of genus and specific difference, but Intelligences them
selves, Giles avers, in their ontological capacity as creatures, undergo
this process of determination. Since the Intelligence does not possess
esse in its infinity, but has a special mode of being, it is necessarily
contracted to a determinate predicament or category.
Nam cum intelligentia recedat a simplicitate primi et non habeat esse in sua
infinitate, se habeat specialem modum essendi, de necessitate contrahitur ad
praedicamentum determinatum.2

And not only the Intelligences, but the essence of any caused thing is
finite, because it is determined to a certain predicament and to a
certain difference of genus.
Ergo essentia cuiuslibet causatae est finita quia est determinata ad certum
praedicamentum et ad certam differentiam generis.3

1 Super Librum de Causis, prop. X V II , fol. 57r B.


2 Op. cit., prop. V II, fol. 25V C.
3 Op. cit., prop. X V II, fol. 57v E, F. Cf. also Op. cit., prop. IV , fol. i7 v F F : D ubitaret
forte aliquis quare esse totum creatum intelligentia non potest recipere. Dicendum quod in
esse creato invenimus varios modos essendi, propter quos ipsa creata determ inantur ad
diversa praedicamenta, et ad diversa genera entis. E t quia quodlibet creatum determ inatur
ad aliquod genus entis, cuilibet creato com petit specialis essendi, etiam loquendo de modis
essendi per quos ea ipsa creata determ inantur ad diversa praedicam enta, et ad diversa genera
entis, quae videmus in creaturis. Deus ergo quantum est ex se, offert se totum cuilibet rei, ita
quod paratus est communicare cuilibet totum esse et omnem modum essendi. Sed nihil potest
46 E S S E N C E AS T H E E X T R I N S I C L I M I T A T I O N OF E S S E

Just as differences, because they are more contracted, are formal in


respect to genus, so all other perfections, because they are more con
tracted than esse, are formal in respect to being itself.
Imaginabamur enim quod sicut differentiae, quia sunt magis contractae, se
habent per modum formae respectu generis, sic omnes aliae perfectiones, quia
sunt magis contractae quam esse, se habent per modum formae respectu ipsius
esse.1

T H E IN D E T E R M IN A T IO N OF D IV IN E E S S E

This contraction of being is not the determination of the concept


of being, but occurs unmistakably on the ontological level of the
creative act. When the First Cause pours out esse upon the world of
natures, there are three elements that must be distinguished: the
nature that receives esse, the First Cause pouring forth esse, and finally
the esse that flows from the First into nature.2 As we have seen, some
thing indeterminate about this esse that flows from the First necessi
tates its determination through the recipient nature. But if this is what
it means to be a finite, determined esse, then a being which is not
determined to some genus or to the difference of some genus, is
essentially infinite. That is why God is infinite being: He is not esse
receptum in alio? He is undetermined and uncontracted.
The essence of any effect is finite because it is determined to a
certain predicament and to a certain difference of genus, neither of
which can apply to God.4 God is infinite or not limited because He is

totum esse creatum recipere, quia nihil creatum unum, et idem potest in se comprehendere
omnem modum essendi, quae videm us in creaturis. Propter quod producta a primo diver -
sificant in tali esse. E t quaelibet res producta a primo accipit specialem modum essendi ab
eo prout requirit natura sua.
1 Op. cit., prop. X V II I, fol. 62r S. Esse is thus not most formal for Giles as it is for Saint
Thom as Aquinas. Cf. Saint Thomas, De Potentia, 7, 2, ad 9.
2 Imaginamur enim quod semper influentiam v ad at a superiori ad inferius, ut si prima
causa influit esse ipsi naturae, est ibi tria considerare, videlicet naturam recipientem esse,
prim am causam influentem esse, et esse influxum a primo in naturam. Op. cit., prop. V , 2ov N.
3 E t secundum hoc virtus Dei est infinita essentialiter, quia essentialiter huiusmodi virtus
est ipsa divina essentia quae non determ inatur ad aliquod praedicamentum nec ad differentias
aliquorum praedicamentorum. Op. cit., prop. X V II , fol. 57r B. Sic ergo Deus quia non est
esse receptum in alio, ideo est infinitum esse. Sic et inielligentiae quia sunt formae per se
existentes, sunt quodammodo infinitae formae, quia tamen determ inantur ad certum genus
entis, sunt finita entia, et habent finitum esse. Op. cit., prop. IV , fol. i6 v Z.
4 Ulterius forte dubitaret aliquis, quia videtur quod intelligentiae etiam sint finitae formae,
quia sicut determ inantur ad certum genus entis, ita determ inantur ad certam speciem. Sed
species idem est quod forma. Quae ergo sunt in determ inata specie, sunt lim itatae formae.
Dicendum quod Deus non dicitur infinitum esse, quia se extendat ultra esse, ita quod
com petat ei non esse. Sed ideo dicitur infinitum esse quia non contrahitur ad aliquod genus
entis, sed com petit ei omne esse, et omnis perfectio. Ibid., prop. IV , fol. i6 v &.
E S S E N C E AS T H E E X T R I N S I C L I M I T A T I O N OF E S S E 47

undetermined, that is, He is not determined b y definition. For only the


First Cause is entirely infinite and not determined to some genus of
being. Consequently, whatever does not have a special mode of being
but possesses an infinite ocean of esse containing every esse and every
perfection, is contracted to no predicament and is determined to no
genus.1 If there were something which possessed so much perfection
that it would not be determined to any genus of perfection, it would be
an infinite ocean of substance possessing in itself the perfections of all
genera. Such a thing would be infinite because it would have no
limitation or terminus of perfection, not because of a lack of perfection,
but on account of an excellence of perfection. Such an infinite being is
God Himself who is not determined to any genus of perfections.2
In concluding our investigation of the contraction of being, we are
told that because in definition there are two elements, namely genus
and difference, the First Cause cannot be known b y an intellect because
it is not determined to a genus nor contracted b y a superadded differ
ence.3 Not only is the esse which is received in natures indeterminate,
but somehow the Divine Esse Itself m ay be called undetermined and
indeterminate.4
A thinker of the stature of Giles of Rome does not insist on a point of
doctrine unless the logical sequence of his thought demands it. And the
reason w hy Giles places such emphasis on the characteristic uniformity
of the divine action is now clear. The uniformity of the divine causality
in the communication of esse demands that the recipient essence
contract and limit this esse. But the function of the limitation of
essence is reducible to a determination of genus and specific difference

1 Imaginamur enim quod sola prima causa sit omnino infinita, et u t non determ inata ad
aliquod genus entium. Nam ipsa praedicam enta diversos modos essendi nominant. Cui ergo
non com petit specialis modus essendi, sed com petit ei esse quod est pelagus infinitum in quo
reservatur omne esse et omnis perfectio ad nullum praedicam entum contrahitur, et ad nullum
genus determinatur. Sed quia huiusmodi est prim um principium. Ideo ipsum ad nullis
praedicam entum contrahitur et ad nullum genus determ inatur. Op. cit., prop. V I, fol. 23V K.
2 Nam si esset aliquod quod tantum haberet de perfectione, quod non determ inaretur ad
aliquod genus perfectionis, sed esset quoddam pelagus infinitum substantiae, et haberet in se
perfectiones omnium generum, non solum quae sunt, sed etiam quae possunt esse et etiam , si
dici potest, ultra quam esse possunt, tale quid esse infinitum quia non haberet finem et
terminum perfectionis, non propter perfectionis carentiam , sed propter perfectionis excel
lentiam. Tale quid infinitum est ipse Deus qui non determ inatur ad aliquod genus perfectio
num. Op. cit., prop. X V I, fol. 55r V, X . On the phrase pelagus infinitum substantiae cf. St.
John Damascene, De Fide Orth., I, 9.
3 Ibid., prop. V I, fol. 23V J, K, L.
4 U trum autem possit tantum elevari intellectus causatorum supra naturam suam quod
videat ipsam divinam essentiam, et per consequens videat ipsam divinam essentiam, et per
consequens videat rem indeterm inativam et infinitam , licet forte videat eam modo deter
minato et finito, praesens speculatio non adm ittit. Ibid., fol. 23V N.
48 E S S E N C E AS T H E E X T R I N S I C L I M I T A T I O N OF E S S E

within the structure of essence itself. This determination, whatever


else it m ay be, is an effort b y Giles of Rome to explain in some ultimate
fashion the presence of plurality, an effort reminiscent of Proclus'
experiment with the henads. Like that experiment, it is but one step
in the series of an indefinite regression, as we shall explain.
Not only is there something indeterminate about esse, but the
uniformity of the divine action seems to flow from a certain indter
mination of the divine nature. The infinity of Ipsum Esse is equated
with an indetermination, a lack of determination.
For Giles of Rome, then, the plurality of beings is comprehended
within the unity of Ipsum Esse as certain contracted beings. This is
accomplished just as the genus embraces whatever is in the species, and
the species, whatever is in the individual. God creates by giving to
essence the esse by which it is. This union of essence and esse seems to
have the effect of contracting ipsum esse (always in terms of some
strange sort of dynamism present within the Porphyrian tree), to the
limited existence possible within the restricting environs of genus and
species.

C R IT IQ U E OF TH O M A S A Q U IN A S

It is significant to note that just as the doctrine of Thomas Aquinas


is opposed to that of Giles of Rome on the eternity of essence and
also on the doctrine of the uniformity of the divine action, so it is
opposed to the theory of limitation of the divine action. Difference does
not contract genus in the ontological order, according to Thomas
Aquinas, the w ay matter contracts form. For him, such a technique of
contraction differs from creation, as he understands it, as logic differs
from metaphysics.
For Aquinas, being cannot be contracted as genus is contracted
through difference. He is quite explicit on this point.
Sed enti non potest addi aliquid quasi extranea natura, per modum quo differen
tia additur generi, vel accidens subjecto, quia quaelibet natura essentialiter est
ens.1

Esse is not divided by differences the w ay a genus is divided, but only


as it is the esse of this or that.
Si vero (esse) non dividatur differentiis sicut genus, sed per hoc quod est huius
vel illius esse, ut veritas habet, magis est manifestum quod non potest esse per se
existens nisi unum.2

2 Saint Thomas, De Veritate, i, i, c.


3 Saint Thomas, Summa Contra Gentiles, lib. II, cap. 52, ed. Leonine, p. 145.
E S S E N C E AS T H E E X T R I N S I C L I M I T A T I O N OF E S S E 49

Being is related to those things which are contained under being in a


very different fashion from the w ay that animal or any other genus is
related to its species. For the species adds to the genus, as man does to
animal, some difference which is outside the essence of the genus. For
animal signifies only the sensible nature in which rational is not
contained. But those things which are contained under being do not
add something besides being which would be outside its essence.1
There is, however, a w ay in which being can be contracted, accord
ing to Thomas Aquinas. And the conditions are the same as those on
which Giles of Rome insists. For being can be contracted b y applying
it to some quiddity or nature.2 Through the addition or subtraction
of differences, definitions vary.
Sicut enim unitas addita, vel subtracta variat speciem numeri, ita in defini
tionibus differentia apposita vel subtracta.3

It is important to notice that, within the context of definition,


Thomas' vocabulary is exactly like that which Giles of Rome uses
within the ontological framework of the creative act. According to
Thomas, there is a twofold limitation of form. One, as the form of the
species is limited to the individual; this is accomplished by matter.
Another, as the form of the genus is limited to the nature of the species.
This limitation of form, however, is not accomplished by matter, but
through a more determinate form from which the difference is taken.
For when the difference is added to genus, it contracts it to the species.
This type of limitation is found in spiritual substances inasmuch as
they are forms of determinate species.
Ad secundum dicendum quod duplex est limitatio formae. Una quidem secun
dum quod species limitatur ad individuum, et talis limitatio formae est per
materiam. Alia vero secundum quod forma generis limitatur ad naturam
speciei, et talis limitatio formae non fit per materiam, sed per formam magis

1 A d quartum dicendum, quod ens alio modo se habet ad ea quae sub ente continentur, et
alio modo animal vel quodlibet aliud genus ad species suas. Species enim addit supra genus,
u t homo supra animal, differentiam aliquam quae est extra essentiam generis. Anim al enim
nom inat tantum naturam sensibilem, in qua rationale non continetur; sed ea quae continentur
sub ente, non addunt aliquid supra ens quod sit extra essentiam ejus. Unde non oportet quod
illud quod est causa animalis in quantum est animal, sit causa rationalis in quantum huius-
modi. Oportet autem illud quod est causa entis in quantum est ens, esse causam omnium
differentiarum entis, et per consequens totius multitudinis entium. Saint Thomas, De
Potentia, III, 16 ad 4.
2 E a vero quae addunt aliquid supra ens, contrahunt ipsum ; sicut substantia, quantitas,
qualitas et alia huiusm odi. . . . A d primum ergo dicendum quod substantia, quantitas et
qualitas, et ea quae sub eis continentur, contrahunt ens applicando ens ad aliquam quiddita
tem, seu naturam. Saint Thomas, Summa Theologiae, I , Q.V, a. III, obj. 1, ad 1.
3 Ibid., a.V , resp.
50 E S S E N C E AS T H E E X T R I N S I C L I M I T A T I O N OF E S S E

determinatam, a qua sumitur differentia. Differentia enim addita super genus


contrahit ipsum ad speciem; et talis limitatio est in substantiis spiritualibus,
secundum scilicet quod sunt formae determinatarum specierum.1

Thus the form of the genus m ay be contracted by a more determinate


form signified b y the difference. But this constitutive difference is
taken from the form of the thing itself, not from another form.2 Genus
and species do not signify different forms, but only one form. It is the
same form that gives anim ality to a man and also makes him man,
whereas the soul of another animal makes it only to be animal. Thus it is
that the universal animal is one in number only by reason, since man
and ass are not animal b y one and the same form.
Ad vicesimumquartum dicendum quod in rebus compositis ex materia et forma,
genus sumitur a materia, et differentia a forma. I ta tamen quod per materiam non
intelligatur materia prima, sed secundum quod per formam recipit quoddam esse
imperfectum et materiale respectu esse specifici, sicut esse animalis est im
perfectum et materiale respectu hominis. Tamen illud duplex esse non est
secundum aliam et aliam formam, sed secundum unam formam, quae homini
dat non solum hoc quod est esse animal, sed hoc quod est esse hominem. Anima
autem alterius animalis dat ei solum esse animal. Unde animal commune non est
unum numero, sed ratione tantum, quia non ab una et eadem forma homo est
animal et asinus.3

Genera and species are distinctions of reason, not an ontological


determination of one form b y another. When matter is removed from
spiritual substances, there remains genus and difference. These remain,
however, not like m atter and form, but like, in spiritual substances,
what is common to itself and to more imperfect substances, as compared
to what is proper to itself.
Subtracta ergo materia a substantiis spiritualibus, remanebit ibi genus et dif
ferentia non secundum materiam et formam, sed secundum quod consideratur in
substantia spirituali, tam id quod est commune sibi et imperfectioribus substan
tiis, quam etiam id quod est sibi proprium.4

In a text of the De Spiritualibus Creaturis, Thomas gives a compre


hensive analysis of the function of genus and species in the structure of
essence. He poses the problem in typically clear-cut fashion. In the
community of the universal, it is necessary to distinguish those things

1 Saint Thomas, De Spiritualibus Creaturis, I, i , obj. 2, ad 2.


2 Sic etiam essentia generis et speciei differunt secundum signatum et non signatum,
quam vis alius modus designationis sit utrobique, quia designatio individui respectu speciei
est per materiam determ inatam dimensionibus, designatio autem speciei respectu generis est
per differentiam constitutivam quae ex form a rei sumitur. Saint Thomas, De Ente et Essentia,
Cap. II, p. 11, 11. 13-18.
3 Saint Thom as, De Spiritualibus Creaturis, I, 1, ad 24.
4 Ibid.
E S S E N C E AS T H E E X T R I N S I C L I M I T A T I O N OF E S S E 51
which are contained in the universal from the universal itself. In every
creature which is contained in some common genus, there must exist a
composition of what is common in it and of that by which this com
munity is limited. Moreover, a spiritual created substance belongs to
some genus. Therefore, necessarily, in the spiritual created substance
there exists a composition of the common nature and of that through
which the common nature is contracted. And this appears to be a
composition of form and matter.
Thomas Aquinas answers his own objection by drawing the basic
distinction which we saw above. Something m ay fall under a communi
ty in two ways ; in one way, as the individual lies under the species, and
in another, as the species is under the genus. Therefore, whenever many
individuals fall under a common species, the distinction of the many
individuals is accomplished through individual m atter which is over
and above the nature of the species. And this distinction is found in
created things.2 But, when there are many species under one genus, the
forms by which these species are distinguished from each other need
not differ really from the form of the common genus. For through one
and the same form, this individual is located in the genus of substance
and in the genus of body, and this holds true even in regard to the most
proximate species.
Quando vero sunt multae species sub uno genere, non oportet quod formae quibus
distinguuntur species ad invicem, sint aliud secundum rem a forma communi
generis. Per unam enim et eamdem formam hoc individuum collocatur in genere
substantiae et in genere corporis, et sic usque ad specialissimam speciem.3

Thomas gives his reasons for the assertion that genus and species
apply to one and the same form. For if this individual were constituted
a substance b y some other form, then, of necessity, the individual
forms, according to which it is located in lower genera and species,
would be accidental forms. This is evident because the accidental
form differs from the substantial; for the substantial form constitutes
a substance while the accidental form is added to an already existing
1 In com m unitate autem universalis oportet quod id quo distinguuntur ea quae continentur
sub communi sit aliud ab ipso communi. In omni ergo creato quod continetur sub aliquo
genere communi, necesse est esse compositionem ejus per quod commune ipsum restringitur.
Substantia autem spiritualis creata est in aliquo genere. Oportet ergo quod in substantia
spirituali creata, sit compositio naturae communis, et ejus per quod natura communis
coarctatur. Haec autem videtur esse compositio formae et materiae. Ibid., obj. 9.
2 A d nonum dicendum, quod sub aliquo communi est aliquid dupliciter. Uno modo sicut
individuum sub specie; alio modo sicut species sub genere. Quandocumque igitur sub una
com m uni specie sunt m ulta individua, distinctio multorum individuorum est per m ateriam
individualem , quae est praeter naturam speciei; et hoc in rebus creatis. Ibid., ad 9.
3 Ibid.
52 E S S E N C E AS T H E E X T R I N S I C L I M I T A T I O N OF E S S E

substance. If the first form, through which it is located in a genus,


makes an individual to be a substance, then all other forms are added
to the individual subsisting in act. Consequently they will be accidental
forms.1
The composition of genus and difference, then, does not stand for the
plurality of forms or for any real composition within the structure of
essence. It serves to distinguish, not one form from another, but a more
perfect form from a less perfect form. That some individual is an
inanimate body and another is an animate body is not due to the fact
that the animate individual possesses some form over and above its
substantial form. Rather it is due to the fact that this animated
individual has a more perfect form, through which it not only subsists
and is a body, but also lives, whereas the inanimate individual has a
more imperfect form through which it attains not to life, but only to
substance and corporeality.
Non enim ex hoc contingit quod aliquod individuum sit corpus inanimatum et
aliud corpus animatum, per hoc quod individuum animatum habet formam
aliquam, cui substernatur forma substantialis corporis, sed quia hoc individum
animatum habet formam perfectiorem, per quam habet non solum subsistere et
corpus esse, sed etiam vivere. Aliud autem habet formam imperfectiorem, per
quam non attingit ad vitam, sed solum ad subsistere corporaliter.2

Thomas Aquinas also finds that the unity of the genus is characterized
b y a certain indetermination and indifference. For that which is
signified b y the genus is not some nature, one in number, in diverse
species, to which is added some other thing which is the difference
determining it, as form determines matter which is one in number. But
what the genus signifies is some form, although not determinately this
or that one. The difference expresses in determinate fashion what is
signified b y the genus in an indeterminate way. The unity of the genus
depends on the community of the form signified, and this unity m ay be
removed b y the addition of the difference which destroys the indter
mination causing the unity of the genus.
Quamvis autem genus significet totam essentiam speciei, non tamen oportet
quod diversarum specierum quarum est idem genus, sit una essentia, quia unitas

1 Si enim secundum aliquam aliam form am hoc individuum habeat quod sit substantia ;
de necessitate oportet quod aliae formae supervenientes, secundum quas collocatur in
inferioribus generibus et speciebus, sint formae accidentales ; quod ex hoc patet. Form a enim
accidentalis a substantiali differt, quia form a substantialis facit hoc aliquid; form a autem
accidentalis advenit rei iam hoc aliquid existenti. Si igitur prima forma, per quam collocatur
in genere, facit individuum esse hoc aliquid; omnes aliae formae advenient individuo sub
sistenti in actu ; et ita erunt formae accidentales. Ibid.
2 Ibid.
E S S E N C E AS T H E E X T R I N S I C L I M I T A T I O N OF E S S E 53
generis ex ipsa indeterminatione vel indifferentia procedit. Non autem quod illud
quod significatur per genus sit una natura numero in diversis speciebus, cui
superveniat res alia quae sit differentia determinans ipsam, sicut forma deter
minat materiam quae est una numero. Sed quia genus significat aliquam formam,
non tamen determinate hanc vel illam quam determinate differentia exprimit
quae non est alia quam illa quae indeterminate significatur per genus. Et ideo
dicit Commentator in duodecimo Metaphysicae quod materia prima dicitur una
per remotionem omnium formarum sed genus dicitur unum per communitatem
formae significatae. Unde patet quod per additionem differentiae, remota illa in
determinatione quae erat causa unitatis generis removet species per essentiam
diverse.1
The genus includes the species im plicitly and indistinctly.2 The
nature of the genus is indeterminate in respect to the species.3 W hat
ever is in the species, is in the genus as not determined.4 Likewise, the
genus contains the specific difference in the same implicit and in
distinct fashion.5 In fact, the genus signifies indeterminately the whole
of what is contained in the species.6
There is certainly no doubt as to what Thomas Aquinas means. The
composition of genus and specific difference is a composition of reason
alone.
. . . . sed si homo aliquo modo ex animali et rationali esse dicatur, non est sicut
res tertia ex duabus rebus, sed sicut intellectus tertius ex duobus intellectibus.
Intellectus enim animalis est sine determinatione specialis formae exprimens
naturam rei.7
And this is why, in direct opposition to Giles of Rome, Thomas Aquinas
says that there cannot be a real contraction of form except b y matter.
The intelligible form is present in the intellect without any contraction
of this type.
Huiusmodi autem non est potentia materiae primae. Nam materia prima recipit
formam contrahendo ipsam ad esse individuale. Forma vero intelligibilis est in
intellectu absque huiusmodi contractione. Sic enim intelligit intellectus unum
quodque intelligibile, secundum quod forma eius est in eo. Intellegit autem
intellectus intelligibile praecipue secundum naturam communem et universalem.
Et sic forma intelligibilis in intellectu est secundum rationem suae communitatis.8

1 Saint Thomas, De Ente et Essentia, Cap. II, p. 19, 1. 14-p. 20, 1. 11.
2 E t ideo relinquitur quod ratio generis vel speciei conveniat essentiae secundum quod
significatur per modum totius ut nomine hominis vel animalis, prout im plicite et indistincte
continet totum quod in individuo est. Op. cit., Cap. I l l , p. 23, 11. 25-28.
3 E t quia, ut dictum est, natura speciei est indeterm inata respectu individui, sicut natura
generis respectu speciei. Op. cit., Cap. II, p. 20, 11. 12-13.
4 Haec autem determ inatio vel designatio quae est in specie respectu generis, non est per
aliquid in essentia speciei existens, quod nullo modo in essentia generis sit; immo quicquid
est in specie est in genere ut non determ inatum. Op. cit., Cap. II, p. 11, 11. 19-p. 12, 1. 1.
5 . . . sed im plicite continet eam et indistincte, sicut dictum est quod genus continet
differentiam. Op. cit., Cap. II, p. 22, 11. 22-23.
6 Sic ergo genus significat indeterm inate totum id quod est in specie. Op. cit., cap. II, p. 16,
11. 1-2.
7 Op. cit., Cap. II, p. 19, 11. 1-5.
8 Saint Thomas, De Spiritualibus Creaturis, I, 1, resp.
54 E S S E N C E AS T H E E X T R I N S I C L I M I T A T I O N OF E S S E

C O M P O S IT IO N OF P O T E N C Y A N D A C T

Giles of Rome is well aware of Thomas' doctrine on this point. He


knows that the essence of a spiritual substance is neither determined to
a genus nor contained in a genus in the same w ay that sensible bodies
are. Bodies are in a genus because they have a nature composed of two
natures, of potency and act, or of m atter and form, so that in them
genus and species are properly found. For from the whole, considered
as the potential part, there is taken the genus, and from the formal
part there is taken the difference, as the concept animated," which
is the difference, is taken from soul. Anim ated signifies the soul
itself, just as the concept white signifies nothing else but whiteness
itself. For the concrete and the abstract signify the same thing. They
differ only in their w ay of signifying it. So it is, that since the difference
is taken from the formal part, there where there is no formal part, but
only pure form, properly the ratio of difference cannot be found.1 Giles
of Rome agrees with Thomas Aquinas that in those beings which are
pure forms, there cannot properly be found the ratio of genus and
difference.2 But then how is it that Intelligences can be contracted and
1 Quantum ad essentiam quidem invenimus, intelligentias aliquid participare de infinitate,
quia non eodem modo determ inantur ad genus, nec eodem modo sunt in genere sicut ista
sensibilia corporea. Nam huiusmodi corpora sunt in genere, quia habent naturam compositam
ex duabus naturis, ex potentia scilicet et actu, sive ex materia, et forma, ita quod in eis sum i
tur, et proprie genus, et proprie differentia. Nam a toto, ut habet rationem potentiae sumitur
ratio generis, a parte autem form ali sumitur ipsa differentia, ut anim atum quod est differen
tia sumitur ab anima, nec aliud significat anim atum nisi ipsam animam, sicut nec album
aliquid aliud significat quam ipsam albedinem. Concretum enim et abstractum , eandem
rem significant. D ifferunt autem solum in modo significandi. Si ergo differentia sum itur a
parte form ali, ubi non est pars formalis, sed est ipsa forma, ibi proprie non potest sumi ratio
differentiae. In intelligentiis ergo, quae non sunt compositae ex materia, et form a, sed sunt
formae per se stantes non proprie potest sumi ratio generis, et differentiae. Giles of Rom e,
Super Librum de Causis, prop. X V II, fol. 57v F, G.
2 Si ergo in ipsis intelligentiis acciperemus rationem generis et differentiae, differentia ibi
accepta non posset dicere partem naturae, cum natura in eis sit simplex et non habeat partem
et partem , nec sit composita ex duabus naturis. Differentia ergo ibi accepta, et genus ibi
sum ptum non differunt ita quod unum eorum diceret partem, et aliud totum , sed quodlibet
diceret totum propter quod differentia illa directe subiiceretur generi, et esset ibi nugatio, si
coniungeretur generi, et si ordinaretur praedicam entum ex talibus generibus, et differentiis.
Tunc huiusmodi differentiae non caderent a latere, sed caderent in recta linea praedicamenta-
li, cum dicerent totum , sicut genera. Non proprie ergo ibi potest sumi ratio differentiae et per
consequens, nec proprie ratio generis, quia quod non proprie habet differentiam non est
proprie genus. Ibid., fol. 57v G, H. ; Non enim sic est essentia in potentia ad esse, sicut genus
dicit quandam potentiam respectu speciei, quia compositio speciei ex genere et differentia est
secundum rationem ita quod genus non est res aliqua realiter differens a quaelibet sua specie ;
et differentia ut praedicatur et ut im plicat totum , non est realiter differens a genere, sed esse
est realiter differens ab essentia. Nam si genus separatur a qualibet specie et a qualibet
differentia, hoc est secundum intellectum tantum , quia per intellectum possum intellegere
quidditatem generis non intellecta aliqua specie vel differentia aliqua ; secundum rem tamen
talis separatio esse non valet, quia genus non est res aliqua realiter differens a qualibet
E S S E N C E AS T H E E X T R I N S I C L I M I T A T I O N OF E S S E 55

determined to some genus? Giles has already committed himself to


this doctrine and in direct contradiction of Aquinas he tells us that in
Intelligences in some w ay the ratio of genus, or difference, and of
species m ay be found.
Sumetur tamen ibi aliquo modo ratio generis, differentiae, et speciei.1

For although the nature of Intelligence is not composed of two natures,


it is neither pure act nor pure potency, because in diverse ways it
implies both actuality and potentiality. Therefore, from the whole
nature, inasmuch as it has the aspect of potentiality, is taken the ratio
of the genus, and from the same whole nature, inasmuch as it has the
ratio of actuality, is taken the ratio of the species. And so the difference
differs from the genus in the same w ay that the species differs from the
genus. For species does not differ from a genus really, so that one
signifies a part of the thing and the other signifies the wdiole thing.
Rather it differs only according to reason, because that same whole
which genus signifies after the manner of a part and after the manner
of potency, the species signifies after the manner of the whole, as after
the manner of potency and act.2
Giles of Rome, however, insists that there is a more fundamental
composition within the structure of essence, a composition of potency
and act within the recipient form itself.
Materia ergo dicit simpliciter potentiam, et esse dicit simpliciter actum, sed
forma dicit medium inter potentiam et actum et aliquo modo utrumque.3

The genus signifies a form midway between potency and act. Nam
genus dicit formam mediam inter potentiam et actum A It is this mixture
of potency and act that determines a thing to some genus.5 In fact the

specierum; sed essentia potest esse realiter non coniuncta alicui esse quia essentia creata
realiter potest destitui omni esse u t quod nullo modo habeat aliquod actuale esse. Propter
quod omnino concluditur quod realiter differt a suo esse. Ergo quia potest essentia creata
intellegi absque eo quod intellegatur esse, non est suum esse. Theoremata, X II, p. 68, 1. 9-p.
70,1. 8.
1 Super Librum de Causis, prop. 17, fol. 57V H.
2 Nam ipsa natura intelligentiae licet non sit composita ex duabus naturis, tamen non est
actus purus, nec potentia pura, diversis enim respectibus actualitatem et potentialitatem
im portat. E x tota ergo natura, ut habet rationem potentialitatis sumetur ratio generis, et ex
eadem tota natura prout habet rationem actualitatis sumetur ratio speciei. Differentia ergo
differt ibi a genere quasi eodem modo quod differt species. Nam sicut species non differt a
genere realiter, ita quod unum dicat partem rei, et aliud totum , sed solum secundum rationem.
Quia illud idem totum quod dicit genus per modum partis, et per modum potentiae dicit
species per modum totius, u t per modum potentiae et actus. Ibid., fol. 57V H.
3 Giles of Rome, Theoremata, X I I , p. 72, 11. 3-6.
4 Compositio autem ex genere et differentia num quam separatur a compositione ex esse et
essentia. Nam genus dicit form am mediam inter potentiam et actum. Theoremata, II, p. 7 -
5 Ibid.
56 E S S E N C E AS T H E E X T R I N S I C L I M I T A T I O N OF E S S E

reason w hy God is not determined to some genus is because in Him


there is no mixture of potency.1 Spiritual substances have a composition
of essence and esse, and within essence, a further composition of potency
and act.2 It is this composition of potency and act that determines the
perfection of things; the more act the more perfect, the more potency
the more imperfect.3

C O N C L U S IO N

It is interesting to note how Giles of Rome reduces even the per


fection of things to a composition of their nature. In short, then, the
contraction of being to a determinate genus and species is accomplished
because of a certain composition within the recipient nature itself. The
problem of creation is literally for Giles of Rome the problem of the one
and the many.
When we ask why genus and species should be the mechanism of
contraction within essence, we find that it is because they signify an
initial composition within essence itself. The actuality that an
essence seems to possess of itself is an imperfect actuality because it
somehow expresses a composition of potency and act. W hy is it that
essence can contract esse and thus cause m ultiplicity? In the last
analysis, because it is itself a composite. Giles of Rome thus pushes the
problem of plurality back beyond the simple limitation of essence to a
structural composition within essence itself. This serves to confirm his
view of the creature as basically and essentially a composite. W hat
Giles of Rome is doing here is similar to what Proclus attempted to do
1 Immo tota causa quare Deus non est determ inatus ad aliquod praedicamentum, est quia
in eo nulla est potentialitas adm ixta, sed est quaedam perfectio pura per se stans. Quicquid
autem habet potentialitatem adm ixtam est determ inatam ad aliquod genus praedicam entale.
Perfectio ergo divina non est apta nata recipi in aliquo, nec est determ inata ad aliquod genus.
Super Librum de Causis, prop. X X I I , fol. 73V E.
2 In prima autem divisione non omni creata comprehenduntur, nam in substantiis spiri
tualibus non est compositio ex materia et forma, sed bene in eis sunt duae aliae compositiones.
His autem tribus compositionibus videlicet ex m ateria et forma, et essentia et esse, et uni
versaliter ex potentia et actu possumus adaptare omnes praedictas diversitates. Op. cit., prop.
X X V , fol. 8 4 V C.
3 Non enim unum albissimum est albius alio albissimo, et quod dictum est de albo et nigro
intelligendum est de perfecto et imperfecto, de actu et de potentia. Nam perfectio sumitur ex
actu et imperfectio sumitur ex potentia, si ergo actus et potentia opponuntur. Illud erit
actualius quod est potentia imperm ixtius. In entibus ergo reperitur major et minor perm ixtio
potentialitatis. Si ergo est aliquis actus nulli potentialitati perm ixtus, ibi non est dare magis
et minus. Unus enim actus purus non potest habere plus de actualitate quam alius actus
purus. Op. cit., prop. X X I I , fol. 7 1 V L. Cum ergo ex hoc una intelligentia sit simplicior alia,
quia est propinquior primo, et minus habet de potentialitate adm ixta, ideo virtus recepta in
intelligentia superiori, quae plus habet de actualitate, et minus de potentialitate, erit actualior.
Ibid.
E S S E N C E AS T H E E X T R I N S I C L I M I T A T I O N OF E S S E 57

with his doctrine of the henads, namely, to explain one plurality in


terms of a more fundamental one, a type of explanation that can go on
ad infinitum.1
The texts of Thomas Aquinas which we have examined indicated to
us just where he would locate Giles' problem. Giles of Rome models the
procession of being on the structure of definition. As aware as he is of
exactly what he is doing, there comes a moment in the development of
his thought when the very structure of definition intrudes in the
creative act with disastrous consequences. No one can say that Giles
of Rome was not formally aware of the technical distinction between
the order of metaphysics and that of logic.2 On the other hand, the
texts of Giles of Rome are unintelligible save in terms of some sort of
substitution of cognitional levels. In fact the difficulties of Giles of
Rome become very understandable when subjected to a criticism
based on the views of Thomas Aquinas.3 But let us look to Giles him
self for enlightenment on this score. If the uniformity of the divine
action is due to a certain indetermination of esse, then the question
logically follows : what does Giles of Rome mean by this indeterminate
nature of esse ? W hy should esse and even God Himself as Ipsum Esse
be undetermined ?

B. T H E FO R M OF B E IN G

It is because being is indeterminate in itself that it must be diversi


fied b y the composite structure of the recipient essence. Now God
Himself is Pure Being of Existence, undetermined to any category
and not contracted to any genus of being. Giles of Rome conceives the
Divine Being after the model of a Platonic separate form, which
exerts formal causality. In demanding a recipient essence in the creative
act, Giles of Rome demonstrates an apparent inability to distinguish
1 Proclus doctrine of the henads arose from the difficulty which the Greek mind always
had in bridging the transcendence of the One and the plurality of Being. The One is obviously
so much of a u nity th at it seems impossible that its first emanation could partake of m ulti
plicity. Platonists right down to A vicenna have experienced this difficulty. The very reason
for the existence of these henads seems to be this transition from u nity to m ultiplicity at its
ultim ate point of origin. Needless to say the significance of this doctrine in Proclus is not that
he im proves on the Plotinian solution, for his distinction only serves to carry the problem one
step further back in w hat would eventually be an infinite regress, but in the fact that he
saw the weak point in this argum entation on the transition from u nity to plurality, just as
Giles of Rome apparently does. Cf. Proclus, Elements of Theology, prop. 21, p. 24; prop. 97,
p. 86. For this history of the doctrine of the henads, cf. Dodds, op. cit., pp. 259-60.
2 Cf. supra n. 62.
3 Cf. the distinction of Giles of Rome between a logical genus and a natural genus. De
Compositione Angelorum, q. 1.
58 E S S E N C E AS T H E E X T R I N S I C L I M I T A T I O N OF E S S E

properly between the roles of efficient causality and formal causality


in the production of existence. The Form of Being seems to exercise a
formal causality. This is the reason w hy a kind of extrinsic material
cause is needed to receive the form of being. This material recipient is
precisely the determinate essence, the extrinsic principle of limitation.
Our complex problem has finally resolved itself into one last question.
It is because there is something indeterminate about being that it
must be diversified b y the composite structure of the recipient essence.
But what is the reason for this indetermination of Ipsum Esse Sub
sistens? For it is from this metaphysical phenomenon that our other
problems flow. If we can understand this indetermination of Esse, then
at least the difficulties of Giles of Rome in the face of the basic doctrine
of creation will make sense.
It is interesting to note that Plato's doctrine of separate Forms is the
background within which Giles of Rome explains how God, Who is
Being Itself, embraces all other perfections. Giles himself tells us the
source of his doctrine in an unequivocal text. Although there is not an
order of gods modeled upon an order of abstractions, as Plato held,
Plato's doctrine helps us to understand certain truths.
His visis, dicamus quod licet non sit ordo deorum secundum ordinem abstracto
rum, ut posuit Plato, iuvamur tamen per haec dicta Platonis ad intelligendum
aliquas veritates.1

And what is the nature of this truth? Namely, that in accordance with
the doctrine and principles of Plato, there is one true God who is Ipsum
Esse Purum, not determined to some predicament nor contracted to
some genus of beings. Furthermore, because that Esse is accordingly not
limited but is a certain endless ocean, all esse is contained in it and
consequently all perfections are contained in it. And these perfections
are not contained there in a participated and contracted fashion, but
in a more perfect and indeed infinite way.
. . . . Propter quod secundum quod est dare unum verum Deum qui est Ipsum
Esse Purum non determinatum ad aliquod predicamentum, non contractum ad
aliquod genus entium. Et quia illud Esse est sic non limitatum, sed est quoddam
pelagus interminatum, in illo Esse continetur omne esse, et per consequens in
illo Esse continentur omnes perfectiones. Sed non continentur ibi perfectiones
istae participative et contractae, sed excellenter et infinite.2

1 Ibid., fol. 8r S.
2 Ibid., fol. 8r S, T ; Cf. Giles of Rome, De Ecclesiastica Potestate, Lib. I l l , cap. q, p. 151,
ed. Scholz.
E S S E N C E AS T H E E X T R I N S I C L I M I T A T I O N OF E S S E 59

It would seem that according to Giles of Rome, Plato erred not so


much in positing the universal form as a reality distinct from the
individual, as in distinguishing a m ultiplicity of these forms by reason
alone and calling them realities.1 For these perfections all participate
in the Divine Being. A thing is apprehended in one w ay b y our intellect
as being, in another w ay as life, and in still another w ay as intelligence.
Therefore, First Being, the source of every being, and First Life, the
source of all life, and First Intelligence, the source of all intelligence,
are not so many gods, but one and the same God.2 There are m any such
logical differences but they do not differ really as the Platonists held.
Esse ergo primum a quo est omne esse, et vita prima a qua est omne vivre, et
intelligentia prima a qua est omne intelligere, non sunt plures Dii, sed unus et
idem Deus, est ergo dare plura talia prima differentia secundum rationem, et
secundum nostrum modum intelligendi, non autem differunt realiter, ut Platonici
posuerunt.3

Perfections, therefore, seem to be in Ipsum Esse as an abstract genus


embraces the species beneath it. For Giles of Rome, the Being of God
somehow resembles a separate Form of Plato.
Not only is the Divine Being modeled on the Platonic Form, but it
seems to behave like the Form of Being. A t the outset, Giles told us
exactly what he means b y creation. Now, in one of his dubitationes, he
supposes that someone might doubt that being is a result of creation,
while living, understanding and other perfections come from form, the
result of a formation. For Giles this presents little difficulty. Something
is said to be produced through the mode of creation which is produced
with nothing presupposed, but that is said to be produced through the
1 Esse ergo primum a quo est omne esse, et vita prima a qua est omne vivere, et intelli
gentia prima a qua est omne intelligere, non sunt plures dii, sed unus et idem Deus. E st ergo
dare plura talia prima differentia secundum rationem, et secundum nostrum modum intelli
gendi, non autem differunt realiter, ut Platonici posuerunt. Op. cit., prop. X V II I, fol. 6ov H.
This position which Giles of Rome is advancing is exactly the doctrine th at Saint Thom as
Aquinas assigns to the author of the Liber de Causis : E t quia auctor huius libri non concordat
cum Platonicis in positione aliarum naturarum separatarum idealium, sed ponit solum pri
mum. In Librum de Causis, X V I, p. 269, X II, p. 257; X V II I, p. 267.
2 Huiusmodi ergo perfectiones quae sunt in causatis, m ultiplicatae et sparsae et im per
fectae, sunt in Deo unitive, simpliciter, et perfectae. Dicamus ergo quod aliqua causata
participant de bonitate primi quantum ad esse tantum . Aliqua vero quantum ad esse, et
vivere. E t aliqua quantum ad esse, vivere et intelligere. Ita quod esse causatorum dicitur esse
ab intelligentia quae est intelligentia prima. Esse ergo, vivere et intelligere in rebus causatis
potest dicere perfectiones realiter differentes et varia. Nam esse rerum carentium vita, est
realiter differens a vivere. Nam vivere est idem quod esse in viventibus. E st tamen realiter
differens ab esse quod est in non viventibus. Sic vivere in carentibus intelligentia, est realiter
differens ab intelligere. Sed licet sic sit in causatis, in Deo tamen esse, vivere et intelligere
unam et eandam rem dicunt, differentem tantum secundum nostrum modum intelligendi.
Giles of Rome, Super Librum de Causis, prop. X V II I, fol. 6ov H.
3 Ibid.
60 E S S E N C E AS T H E E X T R I N S I C L I M I T A T I O N OF E S S E

mode of form or through the mode of information, which is produced


with something presupposed. Now, because among perfections the first
perfection is being, and because being presupposes no other perfection,
it is said to be produced through the mode of creation; but all other
perfections, because they presuppose being, are said to be produced
through the mode of information.1 Creation, then, should be the pro
duction of being with nothing presupposed, and if there is something
presupposed, then the action is reduced to that of formal causality
whereby a form imprints its likeness upon a recipient m atter.2
In demanding a recipient essence in the creative act, Giles of Rome
demonstrates an apparent inability to distinguish properly between
the roles of efficient and formal causality in the production of esse. The
Form of Being seems to exercise a formal causality.
Thomas Aquinas, on the other hand, is very clear and unambiguous
in speaking of the role of formal causality in the production of esse.
Esse does not have a formal cause.
Sed forma non habet sic esse per aliam formam ; unde si sit aliqua forma subsis
tens, statim est ens et unum, nec habet causam formalem sui esse ; habet tamen
causam influentem ei esse, non autem causam moventem, quae reducit ipsam de
potentia prae-existenti in actum.3

The resemblance which the Divine Being has to the Platonic Form is
confirmed b y Giles. In fact, when he deals with the question of abstract
being, he distinguishes two kinds : that which receives it abstractness
from the intellect as uni versais are abstract, and that which is abstract
according to real existence in the w ay that Plato posited the idea of
things. The first type of abstract esse is not God, but the second type is,
i.e., Esse Purum in actual existence.
Propter quod notandum quod esse simpliciter dicitur illud quod est a contractione
et materialitate abstractum, non determinatum ad aliquid genus entis. Hoc
autem esse potest dupliciter sicut abstractio dupliciter potest intelligi. Uno
modo secundum intellectum, sicut universalia dicuntur esseabstracta. Alio
modo secundum realem existentiam, secundum quod Plato posuit ideas rerum.
Cum ergo quaeritur quomodo Deo competat esse simpliciter, hoc est universaliter
sive abstracta secundum intellectum solum, quia tale esse non est substantia,
cum ipsa universalia non sint substantia, et ad tale esse facit intellectus, quia
intellectus facit universalitatem in rebus. Deus autem per se maxime existit et
nihil est quod faciat ad eius esse, scilicet seipso est. Et ideo tale esse sic abstractum
non est Deus, sed est esse simpliciter et abstractum ab omni contractione quia
est esse purum secundum actualem existentiam et rei veritatem.4

1 Ibid., fol. 2r Q.
2 Cf. J. Paulus, Les Disputes, p. 341.
3 Saint Thomas, De Spiritualibus Creaturis, Q.I, a. 1, ad 5.
4 Giles of Rome, In I Sent., Par. I, d. 8.
E S S E N C E AS T H E E X T R I N S I C L I M I T A T I O N OF E S S E 61

Giles of Rome depends on Plato for his notion of God. God compre
hends the perfections of all things because He is Ipsum Esse Purum. He
embraces all perfections as the Form of Being includes all its partici
pants. In that Form of Being is found the perfection of all other forms
as well. According to Giles, that is what Plato should have seen but did
not. To watch a Christian interpret God in terms of a Platonic Form is
an interesting but not unusual sight in the history of philosophy.
If Giles is accurate in the evaluation of his debt to Plato in regard
to the notion of God, then his doctrine of being must in some w ay
reflect this philosophical allegiance. For Giles of Rome, it is b y reason
of its essence, through which a thing is located in a predicament, that it
is being.1 A ny creature is ens through its essence.
Dicebamus enim supra, quod per idem ut per essentiam suam est quodlibet
creatum ens, unum et res praedicamenti.2

Not only essence, but more precisely form constitutes a thing as being.3
Not only the First Being but all other beings are ens per essentiam
suam A Everything but the First is not its esse, but it has essence really
differing from esse. For through the one principle (essence) it is ens and
through another principle (esse) it is existens.
Omne quod est citra primum non est suum esse sed habet essentiam realiter
differentem ab esse et per aliud est ens et per aliud existens.5

There seems to be a basic dichotomy between being and existence.6


Created things have being through their essence, but they exist by
reason of esse superadded to this essence or nature.7

1 Dicemus enim quod per illud idem ut per essentiam suam, per quam res est per se in
predicamento, habet etiam quod sit per se ens et sit una. Giles of Rome, Theoremata, X I I I,
p. 80,11. 1 5 - 1 7 .
2 Op. cit. X IV , p. 90, 11. 18-20.
3 Sciendum ergo quod quaelibet form a dat rei quod sit ens et dat ei quod sit una. Op. cit.,
X I I I, p. 7 8 ,11. 14-16.
4 Quidquid ergo additur essentiae rei facit cum illa essentia unum per accidens, et per
consequens ens per accidens. Non solum ergo esse ipsum Primum sed etiam omne quod est
citra Primum sicut est unum per essentiam suam sic etiam est ens per essentiam suam,
accipiendo ens per se. Op. cit., X I I I, p. 81, 11. 11-16 .
5 Op. cit., X II, p. 66, 11. 13-15.
6 For Saint Bonaventure, also, being and existence are not to be identified; such a dicho
tom y is not unique in the history of philosophy. Existere dat materia formae, sed essendi
actum dat form a materiae. Saint Bonaventure, I I Sentences, 3, 1, 2, 3, resp., ed. Quaracchi.
vol. II, p. 109-110. Cf. G. Klubertanz, Esse et Existere in St. B onaventure, Mediaeval
Studies, 1948, pp. 169-188.
7 Omne quod est citra Primum, ne fiat processus in infinitum, est ens per essentiam suam
sed existit per esse superadditum essentiae vel naturae. Theoremata, X I I I, p. 78, 11. 1-3.
62 E S S E N C E AS T H E E X T R I N S I C L I M I T A T I O N OF E S S E

Nam ut patebit in propositione sequenti, omne tale est ens per essentiam suam
sed non potest existere nisi ipsi essentiae superaddatur esse. Si ergo omne quod
est citra Primum est ens per essentiam, et existit per esse, cum essentia sit
aliud ab esse, oportet quod omne tale per aliud sit ens et per alius existens.1

Just as m atter is formally extended through quantity, so essence for


m ally exists through esse. And as m atter and quantity are duae res, so
essence and esse are duae res, really different.2
Dicemus ergo quod sicut materia formaliter extenditur per quantitatem, sic
essentia formaliter existit per esse. Et, sicut materia et quantitas sunt duae res,
sic essentia et esse sunt duae res realiter differentes.3

Giles speaks of being in terms of essence, form and intelligibility.


Esse contributes nothing to the intelligibility of things, it confers
existence.4 It is through the actuality which they have from form that
material substances are intelligible, but through the actuality which
they have from esse, they are said to exist. Therefore they can be
understood, but they cannot exist, without esse; however, they can
neither be understood nor exist without form.5
For Giles of Rome, then, being is form. To be is to be an essence of
some kind. But what about existence ? W hat is the ontological status
of esse in a metaphysics where ens is denominated b y essentia ? Giles'
texts are cautious in their wording. He is certainly conscious of the
problem involved. But in accordance with the movement of his thought
they follow one necessary direction, a direction which becomes clear
upon the examination of any group of texts relating to esse.6
Just as matter, which is in potency to form and actualized by form,
is really different from its form, so form and essence which is in potency
to esse and acquires esse is really different from its esse? The essence of
the creature of itself is unformed but it is formed and perfected through
esse.

1 Op. cit., X II, p. 77, 11. 162 i.


2 Cf. E. Hocedez, Theoremata, Introduction, p. 35.
3 Op. cit., X X I , p. 134.
4 Actualitas autem ipsius esse nihil facit ad hoc quod res sint intelligibiles, sed facit ut res
existant. Op. cit., X I, p. 60, 11. 18-20.
5 Omnes materiales substantiae per actualitatem quam habent a forma sunt intelligibiles,
sed per actualitatem quam habent ab esse dicuntur existere. Possunt ergo intelligi sed non
existere sine esse, attam en nec intelligi possunt nec existere sine forma. Op. cit., X , p. 52, 11.
I_5*
6 Cf. P. Nash, Giles of Rome, Diversum est esse, et id quod est, p. 91.
7 Sicut ergo materia quae est in potentia ad form am et per agens fit actu sub forma, est
realiter differens a sua forma, sic ipsa form a et ipsa essentia quae est in potentia ad esse et per
agens acquirit esse est realiter differens a suo esse. Theoremata, X II, p. 72,11 17-22.
E S S E N C E AS T H E E X T R I N S I C L I M I T A T I O N OF E S S E 63
Si ergo secundum Augustinum omne mutabile ex aliqua informitate formatur
. . . et quia non solum secundum intellectum, sed etiam secundum rei veritatem,
quaelibet essentia creata est mutabilis, quia de non esse potest acquirere esse,
. . . oportet quod . . . realiter essentia creaturae de se sit informis, sed formetur
et perficiatur per esse.1

Esse seems to be something formal in respect of that in which it is


received.
Sic etiam in proposito, si esse recipitur in aliquo et mediante esse recipitur vivere,
et mediante vivere, rationale, esse erit quid formale respectu eius in quo recipitur,
et vivere erit quid formale respectu rationalis.2

And we are invariably told that which is received is form.


Ratio ergo praecedens quia arguebat via receptionis procedebat modo formalis
quia semper illud quod recipitur est forma.3

Finally we have a text where Giles of Rome comes closest to a precise


definition of esse. Est enim esse quasi forma, et perfectio naturae A Giles
has read Thomas Aquinas too carefully to state baldly that esse is form,
but the whole weight of his thinking forces him in that direction. He
anticipates the difficulty.
Nam sicut materia non potest actu existere sine forma sic nec forma potest actu
existere sine esse. Et si quaeras quid sit esse et nos quaeremus quid sit forma.
Et si dicas quod forma est quidam actus et quaedam perfectio materiae, et nos
dicemus quod esse est quidam actus et quaedam perfectio formae.5

Of course things have to be through their essence, for if a thing was not
ens per essentiam suam then we would have an infinite regress. For if we
ask concerning some thing whether it is ens per essentiam suam or
through something superadded, as esse for instance, then we must ask
concerning that which is superadded, b y reason of what is it ens ? In
order to prevent an infinite regress we must stop at something first,
so we say that anything is ens per essentiam suam A

1 Giles of Rome, In I I Sent., dist. I l l , p. i, q. i, a. 2. Cf. Saint Augustine, De Gen. ad litt.


I, 15, 29.
2 Super Librum de Causis, prop. I, fol. 3V T.
3 Ibid.
4 Op. cit., prop. IX , fol. 35r X.
5 Theoremata, X I I I, p. 82, 11. 13-18.
6 Quia si vellemus accipere ens per accidens, non esset inconveniens quod sicut quae
adduntur essentiae faciunt cum essentia unum per accidens, ita etiam faciunt ens per accidens
et praedicatur de eis ens, modo accidentali. Possumus enim dicere quod si, per se loquendo,
res non esset ens et una per essentiam suam, quod fieret processus in infinitum. Quaeremus
enim de aliqua re utrum sit per se ens et una per essentiam suam vel per aliquid superadditum
essentiae; quod si dicatur quod dicitur res ens et una non per essentiam suam sed per aliquid
superadditum , quaeremus de illo superaddito per quid sit ens et unum. Vel ergo est abire in
infinitum vel standum est in primis, ut dicamus quod quaelibet res per se est ens et una per
64 E S S E N C E AS T H E E X T R I N S I C L I M I T A T I O N OF E S S E

It is significant that in a work where the problem of the origin of


plurality is discussed so thoroughly, there should be a complete lack of
texts referring to the divine ideas. The reason why Giles, in the Commen
tary on the Liber de Causis does not refer to the divine Intellect to explain
the presence of plurality in the universe, as Thomas Aquinas would, is,
precisely, because in the commentary on the Liber de Causis, creation
for him seems to be not a work of reason but of nature. This is perfectly
consistent with and confirmatory of his notion of God as Forma essendi.
If God, in creating, acts like the Form of Being, then He does not act
freely, He does not act from Intellect and Will. We do not im ply that
Giles of Rome has no doctrine of the divine ideas, but only that it is not
there that he looks to the ultimate explanation of the origin of plurali
ty as Thomas does.
In the exemplary causality exercised b y God, Thomas tells us,
things do not participate the divine Nature by a communication in
form according to the same ratio of genus and species, but only ac
cording to analogy.1 Although there is a resemblance, there is not an
absolute adequation of the creature to God. Therefore, even though
the unity of God lacks every trace of multitude and composition, it is
not necessary that such should be the unity of the creature.2 The
production of such a unity would not be creation, but simply generation.
For in generation an effect proceeds ex natura, and consequently only
one esse would be produced.3 Because nature is a univocal cause, its
effect proceeds uniformly.4 But creation implies freedom and thus it is
not necessary that an absolute unity be produced, as in a work of
nature. For God does not act from a necessity of nature but from
Intellect and W ill.5 As an intellectual agent, God can produce a multi
plicity because He can think many things since He is not determined

essentiam suam. Bene ergo dictum est quod in principio propositionis dicebatur, videlicet
quod omnis res quantumcum que sit quid creatum vel quantumcum que sit citra Primum ne
fiat processus in infinitum est ens per essentiam suam. Ibid. For this argument based on an
infinite regress cf. Averroes, In I V Meta., 2, to 3, 67 BC.
1 Ad tertium dicendum quod non dicitur esse sim ilitudo creaturae ad Deum propter
com m unicantiam in form a secundum eamdem rationem generis et speciei, sed secundum
analogiam tantum ; prout scilicet Deus est ens per essentiam, et alia per participationem.
Saint Thomas, Summa, I, IV , 3, obj. 3, ad 3.
2 Ibid., resp. ; A d septimum dicendum, quod licet sit quaedam similitudo creaturae ad
Deum, non tamen adaequatio; unde nos oportet, si unitas Dei caret omni multitudine et
compositione, quod propter hoc oporteat talem esse creaturae unitatem . Saint Thomas,
De Potentia, III, 16, ad 7.
3 Ibid., ad 9.
4 Saint Thom as, Summa I, V I, 3, resp.
5 Saint Thomas, Contra Gentiles, lib. II, cap. 23.
E S S E N C E AS T H E E X T R I N S I C L I M I T A T I O N OF E S S E 65

ad unum .1 An operation of nature, on the other hand, must be prede


termined b y a pre-existing intellect, which is why everything that acts
through nature has a determinate esse.2
Since, therefore, the divine Esse is not determinate but contains
in Itself the whole perfection of being, It cannot act through a necessity
of nature lest, perhaps, it cause something indeterminate and infinite in
being, which is impossible. God, therefore, does not act from a necessity
of nature, but a determinate effect proceeds from His infinite perfection
according to a determination of W ill and Intellect.

Secundo, ex ratione naturalis agentis, ad quod pertinet ut unum effectum


producat ; quia natura uno et eodem modo operatur, nisi impediatur. Et hoc ideo
quia secundum quod est tale, agit; unde quandiu est tale, non facit nisi tale.
Omne enim agens per naturam, habet esse determinatum. Cum igitur esse
divinum non sit determinatum, sed contineat in se totam perfectionem essendi,
non potest esse quod agat per necessitatem naturae, nisi forte causaret aliquid
indeterminatum et infinitum in essendo ; quod est impossible, ut ex superioribus
patet. Non igitur agit per necessitatem naturae; sed effectus determinati ab
infinita ipsius perfectione procedunt secundum determinationem voluntatis et
intellectus ipsius.3

It is important to note how well from the point of view of Thomas, his
criticism of the eternal, necessary universe of Greek philosophy would
seem to apply to Giles of Rome.
The uniformity of the divine action is directly reducible to the
determinatio ad unum of a being acting under the necessity of its nature.
This fact illumines all of the difficulties which Giles of Rome experi
ences in his doctrine of creation. If creation is a work of nature then the
principal doctrines we have seen become intelligible. If God behaves
like a Platonic Form, then, as Thomas says, there would be something
indeterminate about Ipsum Esse, and if there is something indeter
minate about esse, then God in communicating esse, acts uniformly, and
thus the essence must necessarily be present to determine and limit
His action. Thus the entire sequence of doctrines, the Quasi-eternity of
essence, the Lim itation of the recipient, the Uniformity of the creative

1 Ibid., cap. 42.


2 Dicendum quod necesse est dicere voluntatem Dei esse causam rerum, et Deum agere per
voluntatem , non per necessitatem naturae, ut quidam existim averunt. Quod quidem,
apparere potest tripliciter. Primo quidem, ex ipso ordine causarum agentium. Cum enim
propter finem agat intellectus et n atura, necesse est ut agenti per naturam praedetermine-
tur finis et media necessari ad finem ab aliquo superiori intellectu ; sicut sagittae praedeter-
minatur finis et certus modus a sagittante. Unde necesse est quod agens per intellectum et
voluntatem , sit prius agente per naturam . Unde cum primum in ordine agentium sit Deus,
necesse est quod per intellectum et voluntatem agat. Saint Thomas, Summa I, X I X , 4, resp.
3 Op. cit., I, X I X , 4, resp.
66 E S S E N C E AS T H E E X T R I N S I C L I M I T A T I O N OF E S S E

action, the Indeterminate nature of esse, and finally the Form of being,
all fall into an intelligible pattern. Giles of Rome does not make this
difficulty for himself, he does not disagree with Thomas, his quondam
master, for the sake of argument, he is forced b y the logical rigor of his
metaphysical principles to do what he does. It is because his notion of
being is what it is that he is forced to conclude the quasi-eternal
prerogative of determination of essence. An examination of the meta
physical doctrines of Giles of Rome justifies the criticism made in the
thirteenth century by Henry of Ghent that his doctrine would suppose
the pre-existence of essence to esse.
In the concluding portion of this section of our study, we shall turn
to the Liber de Causis itself, for there we shall find one of the sources
of the historical influences that have moulded the metaphysical
position of Giles of Rome. For his difficulties with the doctrine of
creation in his commentary on the Liber de Causis spring precisely
from the fact that he is attempting to interpret creation in terms of
metaphysical principles that were never meant to do the work that he
calls on them to accomplish. The simple fact is that these principles
have their origin and proper function in the eternal and necessary
universe of Proclus and in that of Plotinus before him.
If it is true that Giles conceives of creation in terms of formal
causality, the difficulties which he experiences in expressing this
doctrine are understandable. If God is the Form of Being in a Platonic
sense, then, as Thomas says, there would be something indeterminate
about Being Itself, and thus God in communicating existence, acts
uniformly, and an essence must necessarily be present to determine
and limit this action. Consequently, the entire sequence of Giles'
doctrines, i) the quasi-eternity of essence, 2) the limitation of the
recipient, 3) the uniformity of the creative action, 4) the indeterminate
nature of existence, and finally, 5) the form of being, all fall into an
intelligible pattern.
In demanding a recipient essence in the creative act, Giles of Rome
demonstrates an apparent inability to distinguish properly between
the roles of efficient and formal causality in the production of esse.
The Form of Being seems to exercise a formal causality.
Thomas Aquinas, on the other hand, is very clear and unambiguous
in speaking of the role of formal causality in the production of esse.
Esse does not have a formal cause.
Sed forma non habet sic esse per aliam formam ; unde si sit aliqua forma subsis
tens, statim est ens et unum, nec habet causam formalem sui esse; habet tamen
E S S E N C E AS T H E E X T R I N S I C L I M I T A T I O N OF E S S E 67

causam influentem ei esse, non autem causam moventem, quae reducit ipsam de
potentia praeexistenti in actum.1

C O N C L U S IO N

Giles does not disagree with Thomas, his former master, for the sake
of argument. He is forced b y the logical rigor of his metaphysical
principles. Because his notion of being is what it is, he must assume the
quasi-eternal prerogative of determination of essence. Therefore, an
examination of the metaphysical doctrines of Giles of Rome justifies the
criticism made in the thirteenth century b y Henry of Ghent that his
doctrine would suppose the pre-existence of essence to existence,
although Giles himself denied it, and at the same time explains the role
of essence as the extrinsic principle of limitation of esse to account for
plurality. This is precisely w hy essence must be pre-existing, like the
Avicennian possible, to account for its function as the extrinsic princi
ple of limitation. If God communicates esse in creation then the essence
whose function it is to limit esse must be extrinsic to the esse which it
limits. How else could it receive and determine the esse which comes to
it in creation. This doctrine has endured to our own day. But the
ontological foundations of this pre-existing essence, this possible
being which exists only when it receives esse, but somehow is in
order to receive esse and limit it, its ontological foundations are, I
repeat, extremely shaky.

6. G R A E C O - A R A B I A N SO U RCES OF T H E D O C T R IN E OF E SSE N C E AS
T H E E X T R IN S IC P R IN C IP L E OF L IM IT A T IO N OF E X IS T E N C E

The Liber de Causis is the source of the metaphysical principles of


Giles of Rome's doctrine of creation. It is also possible that he was
influenced b y St. Albert's commentary on that work. When Giles gives
essence an actuality of its own apart from existence in the creative act,
he seems to be modeling this act after that b y which the Separate
Intelligence of the Liber de Causis determines the effect of the First
Cause. Essence limits existence for Giles the w ay the Separate Intelli
gences limit and specify the primal effect of existence to produce a
plurality of beings. Essence does for Giles what the secondary cause
does for the author of the Liber de Causis : it produces multitude.
The Liber de Causis is one of the primary channels b y which the

1 St. Thomas, De Spiritualibus Creaturis, I, i, ad. 5.


68 E S S E N C E AS T H E E X T R I N S I C L I M I T A T I O N OF E S S E

notion of being as essence and the doctrine of the extrinsic determina


tion of esse by essence entered mediaeval thought.
In our examination of the historical origins of Giles' doctrine of
creation, we make no pretense to trace all the influences on his thought.
As the conclusion of this part of our study we intend to investigate
simply the sources of the doctrines which we have seen in Giles of Rome,
to be found in the Liber de Causis itself, with special reference to their
Proclean background.
When we turn to the Liber de Causis we find within it a m etaphysical
synthesis which Giles of Rome has appropriated in his own commentary
on that work. The major steps in his doctrine: the quasi-eternity of
essence, the uniformity of the divine action, the limitation of the
recipient, the indeterminate nature of being, the form of being, all
these are integral and essential parts of the teaching of the Liber de
Causis. The occasions of opposition between Giles of Rome and Saint
Thomas are precisely those points of doctrine wherein Giles follows the
author of the Liber de Causis and consequently must part company
with Aquinas, who clearly is at odds with these specific teachings. It
seems to us that it is because Giles is so faithful to the basic doctrines
of the Liber de Causis that he is involved in difficulties with the doctrine
of creation.
It is no easy matter to construct a synthesis of the doctrine of the
Liber de Causis wherein the logical sequence and the systematic
articulations are perfectly demonstrated in the development of the
thought of its author. It was for good reason that his work was known as
the obscure Liber de Causis. However, there is a systematic view of
reality with its own laws and inner development, and possessed of an
internal consistency, to be found within the thirty-some-odd propo
sitions of this work, a doctrine that is basically that of Proclus, but
which shows a development that is definitely not Proclean.
The natural movement of the structure of the Liber de Causis
begins with the First Cause and follows the course of its influence and
contribution to the rest of reality, through the Intelligences and Souls
to the world of sensible N ature.1 The First Cause is pure unity because
it is simple with an ultimate and absolute simplicity.

1 The conspectus of the universe of the Liber de Causis which we are exam ining is bound
to be basically Neoplatonic, for there is a very fundam ental relationship between the Liber de
Causis and the Elements of Theology of Proclus. This Saint Thom as has pointed out in an oft-
quoted text. Cf. Saint Thomas, In Librum de Causis, lect. i, p. 196; also supra, chapter 1,
note i. The peculiar vocation of Proclus was the system atising, w ith alm ost m athem atical
precision, of the Enneads of Plotinus. His Elements of Theology is as exact an epitome of the
E S S E N C E AS T H E E X T R I N S I C L I M I T A T I O N OF E S S E 69

Primum est dives per se ipsum quo non est dives magis. Et significatio ejus est
ejus unitas, non quia unitas sit sparsa in ipso, immo est unitas ejus pura, quoniam
est simplex in fine simplicitatis.1

It is a pure unity in which there is not multitude of any kind whatso


ever.2 It is fixed and constant in its pure unity.3 The One creates unities
and gives unity to others. It is the cause of unity, and those things
which do not possess their unity of themselves but of another are its
effects.4
An examination of this communication of unity, this causal relation
ship between pure U nity and participated unity, is of paramount

fundam ental tenets of Platonism as can be found within the covers of any Neoplatonic
treatise. Startin g with the fact of m ultiplicity, Proclus shows th at there must be a transcen
dent One to explain it. This One, as identified with the Good, is the radical source of the many.
Through participation, the conferring of u nity as an effect, the m any shares in the One and
this according to a specific pattern: first Intelligence, then Soul, and Nature, each possessing
less u nity, and in consequence, less perfection, due to the general notion of causality b y
which it is impossible for the effect to be equal to, or greater than, its cause. The transition
from u n ity to plurality is accomplished through the Intelligence which is a unified m u ltip le,
an iden tity in duality. Cf. Proclus, Elements, prop. 3, p. 4; prop. 5, p. 4; prop. 8, p. 8. Refer
ences to the Elements are to the edition of E. R. Dodds, Oxford, 1933, Greek te x t and English
translation with com m entary. The Elements was translated into Latin b y W illiam of Moerbeke
in M ay, 1268. Cf. M. Grabmann, D ie Proklosbersetzungen des Wilhelm von Moerbeke und ihre
Verwertung in der lateinischen Literatur des Mittelalters, pp. 78ff. On the translation of W illiam
of Moerbeke cf. C. Vansteenkiste. Procli Elem entatio Theologica translata a Guilelmo de
Moerbeke. Notae de methodo translationis, Tijdschrift voor Philosophie, Sept. 1952, pp.
503-516. Saint Thom as quotes copiously from it in his com m entary on the Liber de Causis.
Cf., Elements, pp. x xx i, xlii. For a general interpretation of Proclus cf. L. Rosan, The Philoso
phy of Proclus, New Y o rk, 1949. For the Plotinian doctrine of the One cf. Enneads, III, 9- 4;
V , 5, 4; V I. 6, 13.
1 R. Steele, Opera hactenus inedita Rogeri Baconi, Fasc. X I I , Questiones Supra Librum de
Causis, Nunc Primum Edidit Robert Steele, Accedit Liber De Causis, Oxford, 1935; prop.
X X I, p. 178. Another tex t of the Liber de Causis is that of O. Bardenhewer, D ie pseudo-
aristotelische Schrift Ueber das reine Gute bekannt unter dem Namen Liber de Causis, Freiburg
i.B ., 1882. Neither of these are critical editions. According to Bardenhewer, the Liber de
Causis was written b y an Arab in the ninth or tenth century, not an Arab version of a
Greek original, but an original Arab writing, in which the author utilized very probably an
A rab translation of the Elements of Theology of Proclus. Finally, between the years 1167 and
1187, it was translated into Latin at Toledo b y Gerard of Cremona. This is the Latin tex t
with which the scholastics were acquainted. These facts seem to have been substantiated b y
more recent research. Cf. H. Bedoret, L auteur et le traducteur du Liber de Causis. Revue
Noscolastique de Philosophie, Vol. 41, 1938, pp. 519-33. Cf. also Steele, op. cit., Introd.
Bedoret holds th at A lfarabi 949/50, fulfills the evidence of Bardenhewer. On A lfarabi cf. I.
Madkour, La place dAl-Farabi dans Vcole philosophique musulmane, Paris, 1934; also S.
Munk, Mlanges de philosophie juive et arabe, Paris, 1859.
2 Steele, op. cit., prop. X X , p. 177; prop. IV , p. 164. Cf. Proclus, op. cit., prop. 4, p. 5.
3 Steele, op. cit., prop. X X , p. 177.
4 Illud ergo in quo est unitas fixa non dependens ex aliquo est unum primum, sicut
ostendimus ; et illud in quo unitas inventa ex alio est praeter unum primum verum. Si ergo
est ex alio, est ex uno primo adquisita unitas. Provenit ergo inde, ut uni puro vero et reliquis
unis sit unitas iterum, et non sit unitas nisi propter unum verum quod est causa unitatis.
Jam ergo manifestum est et planum quod omnis unitas post unum verum est adquisita
creata ; verum tam en unum verum purum est creans unitates, faciens adquirere non adquirens,
sicut ostendimus. Op. cit., prop. X X X I I , pp. 186-7. Cf. Proclus, op. cit., prop. 3, p. 4.
70 E S S E N C E AS T H E E X T R I N S I C L I M I T A T I O N OF E S S E

importance for an understanding of Giles of Rome. The author of the


Liber de Causis tells us that a cause is in its effect after the mode of the
effect. First esse is in the Intelligence in an intelligible mode, and
Intelligence is in Soul in an animal mode, and Soul is in sense in a
sensible mode.
Et illud quidem non est ita, nisi quia unumquodque primorum aut est causa aut
causatum. Causatum ergo in causa est per modum cause, et causa in causato per
modum causati. Et nos quidem abbreviamus et dicimus quod res agens in rem
per modum cause non est in ea nisi per modum qui est causa ejus. Sicut sensus in
anima per modum animalem, et anima in intelligentia per modum intelligibilem,
et intelligentia in esse per modum essentialem, et esse primum in intelligentia
per modum intelligibilem, et intelligentia in anima per modum animalem, et
anima in sensu per modum sensibilem.1

Things do not receive what is above them according to the mode of


the thing received but only according to the mode in which they can
receive it.
Quapropter fit quod intelligence secunde proiciunt visus suos super formam
universalem que est in intelligentiis universalibus, et dividunt eam et separant
eam, quoniam ipse non possunt recipere illas formas secundum veritatem et
certitudinem earum, nisi per modum secundum quem possunt recipere eas,
scilicet per separationem et divisionem. Et similiter aliqua ex rebus non recipit
quod est supra eam nisi per modum secundum quem potest recipere ipsum, non
per modum secundum quem est res recepta.2

This limitation of a cause b y the effect in which it is received holds good


even for the First Cause. For although the First Cause exists in all
things, each thing receives it according to the mode of its potency or
capacity. The purpose of the limitation of cause b y effect seems to be to
account for the diversity of reception. The First Cause cannot account
for the diversity of the act of reception; the recipient is the cause of
diversity. It is because of the recipient that the thing received is diver
sified.
But w hy is it that the recipient must account for diversity? This
seems to be due to the fact that the First Cause is one ; it is not diverse.
The First Cause is found in all things according to one disposition. It
exists in one mode.

1 Steele, op. cit., prop. X II, pp. 171-2 . Cf. Proclus, op. cit., prop. 103, p. 92.
2 Steele, op. cit., prop. X , p. 171. As the basis of the doctrine of contraction in Proclus we
find that since the First Good is nothing bu t Good, when you add something to it, then you
diminish its Goodness, changing it from the Good unqualified to a particular good. For
th at added character, which is not the Good bu t some lesser thing, b y its co-existence has
diminished the Good. Proclus, Elements of Theology, prop. 11, p. 12. On lim itation cf. also,
Dodds, op. cit., pp. 246-7.
E S S E N C E AS T H E E X T R I N S I C L I M I T A T I O N OF E S S E 71
Quod est quia quamvis causa prima existt in rebus omnibus tamen unaqueque
rerum recipit eam secundum modum sue potentia. Quod est quia ex rebus sunt
que recipiunt causam primam receptione unica, et ex eis sunt que recipiunt eam
receptione multiplicata. . . . Et diversitas quidem receptiones non fit ex causa
prima, sed propter recipiens quod, est quia suscipiens diversificatur ; propter illud
ergo susceptum est diversificatum. Influens vero existens unum non diversum,
influit super omnes res ex causa prima equaliter. Res ergo sunt causa diversitatis
influxionis bonitatis super res. Proculdubio ergo non inveniuntur res omnes in
causa prima per modum unum. Jam autem ostensum est quod causa prima
invenitur in omnibus rebus per modum unum. Ergo secundum modum propin
quitatis cause prime, et secundum modum quo res potest recipire causam primam,
secundum qualitatem illius potest recipere ex ea et delectari per eam. Quod est
quia non recipit res ex causa prima et delectatur in ea, nisi per modum esse sui.1

There seems to be a unity on the part of the First Cause that re


quires limitation b y the recipient in order to be diversified. The First
Goodness pours goodnesses on all things by one influx, though each
thing receives of that influx according to the mode of its power and its
esse. It pours goodnesses only in one mode, by one common influx, and
the goodnesses are diversified from the concourse of the recipients, some
of which receive more than others.
Quod est quia causa prima est fixa, stans cum unitate sua pura semper, et ipsa
regit res creata omnes et influit super eas virtutem vite et bonitates secundum
modum virtutis earum receptibilium et possibilitatem earum. Prima enim bonitas
influit bonitates super res omnes influxione una ; verumtamen unaqueque rerum
recipit ex illa influxione secundum modum sue virtutis sui esse. Et bonitas
prima non influit bonitates super res nisi per modum unum, quia non est bonitas
nisi per suum esse et suum ens et suam virtutem, ita quod est bonitas, et bonitas
et virtus et ens sunt res una, fit quod ipsum influit bonitates super res influxione
communi una. Et diversificantur bonitates et dona ex concursu recipientis.
Quod est quia recipientia bonitates non recipiunt equaliter, immo quedam
earum recipiunt plus quam quedam, hoc quidem est propter magnitudinem sue
largitatis.2

Plurality arises, in the world of the Liber de Causis, from the recipient
and this determination of the uniform action of the First Cause is
accomplished by recipients acting as secondary causes. W ithin the
concomitant action of causes, a determination takes place. Esse,
animal and man, all contribute to the production of a thing, but esse is
the first to be received in it and the last to leave it.3 Likewise, the first
being gives being to all its effects per modum creationis, but first life and
first Intelligence act per modum formae. 4 Being appears to be somehow

1 Steele, op. cit., prop. X X I V , p. 180.


2 Op. cit.f prop. X X , p. 177.
3 Op. cit. yprop. I, pp. 161-2. On secondary causes, cf. Proclus, op. cit., prop. 56, p. 54.

4 Steele, op. cit., prop. X V II I, p. 176, Cf. Proclus, op. cit., prop. 101, p. 90.
72 E S S E N C E AS T H E E X T R I N S I C L I M I T A T I O N OF E S S E

the substratum (stramentum) for these concomitant causes and to be


limited and determined by them.
Proclus' theory of causality plays an important part in this doctrine
of the Liber de Causis. Proclus says that in their activity primary
causes extend their influence further down the scale of reality than the
secondary causes consequent upon them. For example, what Soul
causes is caused also b y Intelligence, and what Intelligence causes is
caused also by the Good, but not conversely.1 Thus plurality is achieved
through the limitation of secondary causes, and the more causes
involved, the more composite the product.2 Essence appears to do for
Giles of Rome what secondary causes do for the Liber de Causis. Just
as, for Giles of Rome, essence exercises some causality in the extrinsic
limitation of esse in the creative act, so the secondary causes limit and
determine the First Cause.
These texts of the Liber de Causis certainly appear to be the source
of the doctrines of the uniformity of the divine action and the limitation
of the recipient in Giles of Rome. The fundamental neoplatonic doc
trines which they contain are at home in the metaphysics of Giles of
Rome.
That which is one must act with a uniform action. This is the charac
ter of the First Cause with which the author of the Liber de Causis is
primarily occupied. It is its unity that sets the First Cause apart from
and distinguishes it from the remainder of the universe, a universe that
has as its fundamental characteristic, m ultiplicity and composition.
The organization of the universe in the Liber de Causis thus parallels
that which we noted in Giles of Rome, for according to him, the
creature is primarily and necessarily, before all else, a composite thing.
Now, turning to the rest of creation, or rather, as the Liber de Causis
expresses it, to all that which is other than the One,3 we see that the
universe is arranged according to the familiar Neoplatonic hierarchy.
The One, Intelligence, Soul, and finally Nature, are the fundamental
units of reality in order of dignity. Therefore, things other than the
One begin with Intelligence, and it is in this grade of reality nearest
to the One in power and dignity that we shall meet with m ultiplicity in
the Universe.
Intelligence flows immediately from the First Cause, and, as is to be
expected, there is a definite resemblance between offspring and parent.

1 Proclus, op. cit., prop. 57, pp. 54-6. f


2 Op. cit., prop. 58, p. 56.
3 Steele, op. cit., prop. X X X I I , p. 172, Cf. Proclus, op. cit., prop. 1, p. 2.
E S S E N C E AS T H E E X T R I N S I C L I M I T A T I O N OF E S S E 73

Intelligence possesses unity and sim plicity.1 It stands fixed according


to one disposition.2 Intelligence is an undivided substance, and there
fore it is not subject to time from which division flows.3 It is simple
and not composite.4
Now although this unity which Intelligence enjoys is strengthened
b y goodnesses which it receives from the First Cause, it is this factor
which disrupts what would perhaps be absolute unity.5 For there is
plurality present in Intelligence on account of the fact that it receives
goodnesses from the First Cause.6 For its unity is from another and
therefore it is not the One,7 but there is some composition in it for it is
composed of finite and infinite.8 It is composed of esse and form.9 It is a
one having multitude and a multitude in unity.10
It is in this w ay that unity and m ultiplicity arise in the Intelligences.
Intelligence is created immediately by the First Cause, but the beings
which receive goodnesses do not receive them equally, for each thing
receives of the First Cause only according to the mode of its potency.11
Each thing receives of it according to the mode of its capacity and
possibility.12 Thus diversity arises from the recipient and not from the
First Cause.13 Things are the cause of diversity.14
This, then, is the mode of activity and productivity of the First
Cause. It acts in a uniform w ay in accordance with its nature, as befits
the One and absolute U nity. Plurality and diversity arises from its
effects and primarily and principally from the first effect, Intelligence.15
Thus, in spite of the fact that there is some plurality present in Intelli
gence, because every effect of the One has to have some composition to
distinguish it from the One, this plurality is a minimum one. Although
it is with Intelligence that plurality enters the universe, Intelligence

1 Steele, op. cit., prop. V II, p. 167; prop. IX , p. 168; prop. IV , p. 164, Cf. Proclus, op. cit.,
prop. 28, p. 32.
2 Steele, op. cit., prop. V II, p. 167; prop. V I, p. 166.
3 Op. cit., prop. V II, p. 167, Cf. Proclus, op. cit., prop. 171, p. 150.
4 Steele, op. cit., prop. IV , p. 164.
5 Op. cit., prop. V II, p. 167.
6 Ibid.\ prop. X I X , p. 176. Cf. Proclus, op. cit., prop. 3, p. 4.
7 Steele, op. cit., prop. X X X I I , p. 187. Cf. Proclus, op. cit., prop. 3, p. 4.
8 Steele, op. cit., prop. IV , p. 164. On the notion of finite and infinite cf. Proclus, op. cit.,
prop. 102, p. 93. For Plotinus and the origin of this notion in Plato cf. E. Brhier, Plotin
Ennades, V I, p. 8 ff. Cf. also M.-D. Roland-Gosselin, O. P., op. cit., pp. 146-8.
9 Steele, op. cit., prop. IX , p. 170.
10 Op. cit., prop. V II, p. 167.
11 Op. cit., prop. X X IV , p. 180.
12 Op. cit., prop. X X , p. 177.
13 Ibid. Cf. Proclus, op. cit., prop. 3, p. 4.
14 Steele, op. cit., prop. X X , p. 177.
15 Op. cit., prop. IV , p. 164.
74 E S S E N C E AS T H E E X T R I N S I C L I M I T A T I O N OF E S S E

itself is too simple to be a true composite. Despite the composition


necessary to it that it fulfill its proper role in the structure of the
universe, it is still properly speaking, not a composite.1 The author of
the Liber de Causis insists that it does not have parts that a true
composite must possess. That is the reason why Intelligence cannot be
generated.2 It has no parts from the union of which it might be pro
duced.3 That is also the reason w hy it is incorruptible: it has no parts
into which it might be separated.4 As a consequence of the simplicity of
Intelligence it must be eternal;5 it cannot be subject to time. The
Liber de Causis states explicitly that Intelligence forms itself for it sets
its own limits to the unity it receives from the One. It is its own cause.
Intelligence is cause and effect at the same time.6 That is w hy it is, in a
literal sense, eternal. It would have to be separated from itself in order
to be generated or destroyed, for when the cause of the formation of a
thing is itself then it is inseparable from its essence.7 The simplicity of
Intelligence is so absolute that it precludes any coming to be or going
out of existence. Intelligence possesses a completion by which it exists
in virtue of itself, namely through its essence. It is a form.8 This is
what the author of the Liber de Causis means when he calls it stans per
seipsam and stans per essentiam.9
It would seem that when Giles of Rome posits essence as quasi
eternal, and, when he gives to it an actuality of its own in the creative
act, he is conceiving this act in terms of the function of Intelligence
in the limitation of the One. Essence receives and limits esse in a
manner resembling the w ay Intelligence receives and limits U nity. The
metaphysical movement of the thought of Giles of Rome seems to be
modeled on that of the Liber de Causis.
We have already suggested that the reason for the quasi-eternal
prerogative of limitation of essence in Giles of Rome is to be found in

1 The Intelligence which, though simple, is still composite, resembles the spiritual sub
stances of Giles of Rome which, even though simple, have within essence a further composition
of potency and act th at enables it to plurif y a uniform esse. Giles of Rome, Theoremata,II,
p. 7; X I I , p. 72, II. 3-6. Cf. Proclus, op. cit., prop. 171, p. 150.
2 Steele, op. cit., prop. X X I X , p. 183.
3 Op. cit., prop. X X V I , p. 181; prop. X X V I I , p. 182; prop. X X V I I I , pp. 182-3. Cf.
Proclus, op. cit., prop. 47, p. 46.
4 Steele, op. cit., prop. V II, p. 167. Proclus, op. cit., prop. 52, p. 51.
5 Cf. Proclus, op. cit., prop. 171, p. 150; prop. 169, p. 150.
6 Steele, op. cit., prop. X X V I , p. 182.
7 Op. cit., prop. X X V , p. 181; prop. X X V I , p. 181. Cf. Proclus, op. cit., prop. 45, p. 46;
prop. 46, p. 46.
8 Steele, op. cit., prop. X X V , p. 181; prop. V II, p. 167. Cf. Proclus, op. cit., prop.99, p. 88.
9 Steele, op. cit., prop. X X V I , p. 182; prop. X X I X , p. 183.
E S S E N C E AS T H E E X T R I N S I C L I M I T A T I O N OF E S S E 75

his conception of the nature and operation of the First Cause. It is


because of the indeterminate nature of Ipsum Esse flowing from the
First Cause that the uniformity of the divine action, the limitation of
the recipient and the quasi-eternal prerogative of determination of
essence follow logically in the thought of Giles of Rome. Since these
same doctrines are to be found in the Liber de Causis, it will be well for
us to examine at greater length the notions of the First Cause and
Being in the Liber de Causis, in order to confirm our judgment of Giles
of Rome. For it appears that fundamentally it is these notions which
underlie his conception of the metaphysical structure of the universe.
Although, properly speaking, for the Liber de Causis, as for Neo
platonic writers in general, the First Cause is unknowable and un-
nameable, we can, however, name God from his effects. The proper
attitude of the First Cause for the Liber de Causis is not easy to deter
mine. We shall, therefore, examine the titles which it possesses in order
to arrive at an understanding of what the first name of the First Cause
is. It is in this investigation that the similarities between the First
Cause of the Liber de Causis and the Creator of Giles of Rome become
evident. The conception of the First Cause found in the Liber de Causis
is an important key to an understanding of the peculiar behaviour of
the God of Giles of Rome.
Now in the Liber de Causis the First Cause is known b y a multitude
of names. He is pure Goodness,1 the first Infinite,2 the Power of
Powers,3 truly One,4 Pure Being.5
Et intelligentia est habens helyatin quoniam est esse et forma, et similiter anima
est habens helyatin et natura est habens helyatin ; et cause quidem prime non
est helyatin, quoniam ipsa est est esse tantum.6

It is of prime importance to mark the hierarchy existing among these


attributes in order that it might lead us to that name which is most
appropriately predicated of the First Cause.
The First Cause is pure Goodness.7 It is Goodness without end or
lim its.8 In fact, it is infinite and individual through its Goodness,
1 Op. cit., prop. IX , pp. 169-70; prop. X X , p. 177. Cf. Proclus, op. cit., prop. 12, p. 15.
2 Steele, op. cit., prop. X V I, p. 174; prop. X V II , p. 175. Cf. Proclus, op. cit., prop. 92, p. 82.
3 Steele, op. cit., prop. X V I, p. 174; prop. X I X , p. 170.
4 Op. cit., prop. X X X I I , p. 187; X V II , p. 175.
5 Op. cit., prop. IX , p. 170.
6 Ibid., Saint Thom as and Giles understand Helyatin (or ylcachim, an earlier transcription)
as m atter from the Greek vXrt/. Bardenhewer has shown that it comes from Xrrj the whole
or totality. On Xorrjg cf. Proclus, op. cit., prop. 66-74, PP- 63-71. Cf. M.-D. Roland-Gosselin,
O. P. op. cit., pp. 148-9, and O. Bardenhewer, op. cit., section 8.
7 Steele, op. cit., prop. X X , p. 177.
8 Op. cit., prop. X X I I , p. 178.
76 E S S E N C E AS T H E E X T R I N S I C L I M I T A T I O N OF E S S E

through the greatness of its largesse.1 But the attribute of Goodness is


reducible to Unity, for the First is w ealthy per se due to its pure
U nity,2 for it is simple with an ultimate and absolute simplicity.
Res autem simplex una, que est bonitas, est una, et unitas ejus est bonitas, et
bonitas ejus est res una.3

The good of a thing is not only reducible to its unity, but the First
Cause in virtue of its office as Prime Good, acts like U nity, for it pours
goodness upon all things b y one influx, in a single mode. In fine, we are
told that Goodness is unity.4
There also seems to be a dependence of the attribute of Infinity
upon U nity. For a power has as the measure of its perfection nothing
else but its unity. The Liber de Causis tells us that a united power is
more infinite than a multiplied power.
Omnis virtus unita plus est infinita quam virtus multiplicata. Quod est quia
infinitum primum, quod est intelligentia, est propinquum uni vero puro ; propter
illud ergo factum est quod in omni virtuti propinqua uni vero est infinita plus
quam in virtute longinqua ab ea.5

U nity is also the measure of Infinity per se, and not only inasmuch as
Infinity is a perfection of Power. In fact, it is the division or lack of
unity of a power which is the reason for its finiteness, and as a conse
quence it is U nity which is the basis of both Infinity and Power.
Quod est quia virtus quando incipit multiplicari tunc destruitur unitas ejus, et
quando destruitur ejus unitas tunc destruitur ejus infinitas, et non destruitur
infinitas ejus nisi quia dividitur. Et illius quidem significatio est virtus divisa, et
quod ipsa, quanto magis adgregatur et unitur, magnificatur et vehementior fit
et efficit operationes mirabiles : et quanto magis partitur et dividitur, minoratur
et debilitatur et efficit operationes viles. Jam ergo manifestum est et planum
quod virtus, quanto magis adproximat uni vero puro, fit vehementior ejus
unitas, et quanto vehementior fit unitas est infinitas in ea magis apparens et
manifestior, et sunt operationes ejus operationes magne, mirabiles et nobiles.6

For the First Cause is the first pure Infinite,7 a purity that implies
unity.
In formulating an order among these attributes, then, we have an
order of dependence and increasing fundam entality, Power, Infinity,

1 Op. cit., prop. X X , p. 1 77; prop. IX , p. 170.


2 Op. cit., prop. X X , p. 177, X X I , p. 178; cf. Proclus, op. cit., prop. 13. p. 14.
3 Steele, op. cit., prop. X X I , p. 178.
4 Ibid.
5 Op. cit., prop. X V II , p. 175, Cf. Proclus, op. cit., prop. 61, p. 58.
6 Cf. Proclus, op. cit., prop. 95, p. 84. Steele, op. cit., prop. X V II , p. 175.
7 Steele, op. cit., prop. X V I, p. 174.
E S S E N C E AS T H E E X T R I N S I C L I M I T A T I O N OF E S S E 77

and Goodness are all reducible to U nity. The divine names are founded
on U nity. God is the Power of Powers, the First Infinite, and Pure Good
ness, because He is truly One. It is U nity which is the most fundamental
and far-reaching of these attributes of the First Cause.
A ll this of course agrees very well with the fundamental metaphysical
notions of Proclus and Plotinus. Consequently, we can say that the
author of the Liber de Causis follows faithfully in the footsteps of the
Neoplatonists and their metaphysics of un ity.1 But this is not all.
There is another notion that challenges the One in point of metaphysi
cal priority, namely the notion of Being. The First Cause is also Pure
Being, and this attribute appears to rival U nity in fundamentality.
For Goodness seems to be also dependent upon Being as well as on
U nity. The First Cause is First Goodness through its ens and its esse.
Likewise we are told that: Ens primum et Bonitas sunt res una .2 Prime
Being and Goodness are but one and the same thing. Being also under
lies and is superior to Infinity in the First Cause.
Quod est quia si entibus fortibus non est finis per suam adquisitionem ab
infinito primo puro propter quod sunt entia infinita, et si ens primum ipsum est
quod ponit res quibus non est finis, tunc ipsum proculdubio est supra infinitum.3

1 A fter establishing the existence of the One, and showing that the m any participate in the
One, Proclus shows w hy the One comm unicates itself to the many. He proffers the m otivating
force of procession as the Good, a transcendent principle like the One and thus a possible rival
of the One, for if the Good is that on which all things depend, then it must be the principium
and First Cause of all things. Cf. Proclus, Elements of Theology, prop. 13, p. 14. It belongs to
the Good to conserve all beings. B u t u nity also holds together and conserves the being of
each thing. Thus the Good makes the participant one and holds it together according to unity.
U nity, too, b y its presence makes each thing complete. Thus unity is good for all things.
B u t if unification is in itself good, and all goods tend to create unity, then the Good un
qualified and the One unqualified merge in a single principle, a principle which makes
things one and in so doing, makes them good. Goodness then is unification, and unification is
goodness; the Good is One and the One is primal Good. Proclus makes this reduction of
Goodness to U nity: For if it belongs to the Good to conserve all th at exists, and it is for no
other reason that all things desire it, and if likewise that which conserves and holds together
the being of each thing is unity, since b y unity each is maintained in being, but b y dispersion
displaced in being, then the Good, wherever it is present, makes the participant one, and
holds its being together in virtue of this unification. And secondly, if it belongs to u n ity to
bring and keep each thing together, b y its presence it makes each thing complete. In this
w ay, then, the state of unification is good for all things. Op. cit., prop. 1, p. 2. This tex t is
significant. Proclus means that the proper name of the First Cause is U nity, for even the
function of Goodness is to conserve all being precisely through the conferring of unity. The
proper function of Goodness which lies in the completion of a being is reducible to a u nity
which, b y holding a being together, enables it to be. U n ity is basic to being and somehow
causes it. Being, then as an effect of unity, must take on the character of a whole, which is
precisely where its goodness lies. These ideas play a very im portant part in enabling us to
understand the m etaphysics of the Liber de Causis and Giles of Rome. Cf. P. Nash, Giles of
Rome, A uditor and Critic of St. Thom as, The Modern Schoolman, Nov. 1950, p. 13.
2 Steele, op. cit., prop. X X , p. 177. E t bonitas prima non influit bonitates super res omnes
nisi per modum unum, quia non est bonitas nisi per suum esse et suum ens et suam virtutem ,
ita quod est bonitas, et bonitas et virtus et ens sunt res una. Ibid.
3 Op. cit., prop. X V I, p. 174.
78 E S S E N C E AS T H E E X T R I N S I C L I M I T A T I O N OF E S S E

In order to discover then what the First Cause is in the Liber de


Causis, it is necessary to examine the relations of the two notions,
Being and U nity, both of which seem to underlie the divine Goodness,
Power and Infinity. Being and U nity are the fundamental attributes
of God. But which is His first name ? Is the First Cause basically the
One or is it properly Being ?

A. B E I N G A N D U N I T Y I N T H E D E C A U S I S

It is true that the Liber de Causis calls the First Cause Pure Being
and First Being,1 and finally, it gives to it that name so familiar
to students of Thomas Aquinas, Ipsum Esse. But not only the First
Cause is being. Proposition four of the Liber de Causis begins:
Prima rerum creatarum est esse, et non est ante ipsum creatum aliud.2

Being is a creature and indeed the first of all creatures. The second
hypostasis of Neoplatonism is the first creature for the Liber de Causis
for it tells us that the first created being is Intelligence.
Ens autern primum creatum, scilicet intelligentia, habet finem, et virtuti ejus est
finis secundum quem remanet causa ejus.3

It says very clearly that being is nothing else than thought : E t non
intelligo per esse nisi cognitionem A
There seems to be little doubt, then, that both Intelligence and the
First Cause are being. Being before eternity is the First Cause, Being
with eternity is Intelligence, and Being after eternity but above time
is the Soul.5 The point that demands investigation involves these two
statements. The First Cause is being. Intelligence is being, first created
being. The Neoplatonists had taught, however, that the First Cause
was the One which transcends Being and Intelligence.
Yet again, the One is prior to the Intelligence, for the Intelligence, though
unmoved is yet not unity; in knowing itself, it is object to its own activity.
Moreover, while all things, whatsoever their grade of reality, participate unity,
not all participate Intelligence, for to participate Intelligence is to participate
knowledge, since intuitive knowledge is the beginning and the first cause of all
knowing. Thus the One is beyond the Intelligence.6

1 Ibid., prop. X V II I, p. 175; prop. II, p. 162. Res omnes sunt entia propter ens primum.
Prop. X V II I, p. 175; Ens primum dat causatis suis omnibus ens. Ibid., prop. IX , p. 170.
2 Op. cit., prop. IV , p. 164.
3 Op. cit., prop. X V I, p. 174.
4 Op. cit., prop. X X IV , p. 180.
5 Op. cit., prop. II, p. 162, Cf. Proclus, op. cit., prop. 88, p. 80.
6 Proclus, op. cit., prop. 20, p. 22; prop. 13, p. 14. The One must transcend every m ulti
plicity, and Being and Intelligence are both multiple, prop. 5, p. 4; prop. 89, p. 82. Cf.
Plotinus, Enneads, V I, 6, 13.
E S S E N C E AS T H E E X T R I N S I C L I M I T A T I O N OF E S S E 79

For the Neoplatonists, Being is equated with Intelligence. True Being


is Intelligence.
All things proceed from the Intelligence and the whole cosmos has its being
from Nous, an eternal world from an eternal Intelligence, Intelligence is being
and the source of all beings.1

The Liber de Causis, faithful to Proclus, does call the First Cause the
One. However, when it calls the First Cause Pure Being, it is doing
something that Proclus, in his Elements of Theology does not do.2 It is
strange to find the One and the Good, which to Proclus is necessarily
above being, identified with it, especially in a work that is so
largely Proclean in its antecedents.3 However, upon examination, it
becomes clear that the Liber de Causis is still fundamentally Proclean
in its doctrine on this point. According to the Liber de Causis, it is not
the First Cause but Intelligence that is properly being.4
1 Op. cit., prop. 171, p. 150. Saint Thom as was aware of the fundam ental difficulty involved
in the identification of the One and Being. He knew that one of the tenets of Neoplatonism
was the transcendance of the One as over against Being. In Librum de Causis, lect. IV , p. 2 14.
The One and the Good is itself not a being, it is above being. Causa autem prim a secundum
Platonicos quidem est supra ens inquantum essentia bonitatis et unitatis, quae est causa
prim a, excedit etiam ipsum ens separatum , sicut supra dictum est, sed secundum rei verita
tem causa prima est supra ens inquantum est ipsum esse infinitum. Op. cit., lect. V I, pp.
229-30. In stating the reasoning behind this historical conclusion, Saint Thom as offers an
explanation as accurate as if, like Plotinus and Proclus before him, he had consulted the
Republic of Plato: In the order of those things which are predicated of things (the Forms),
he placed the One most common and the Good more common even than being, because the
Good or One is found to be predicated of something concerning which being is not predicated,
eviden tly of prime matter. Plato joined prime m atter to non-being, not distinguishing between
m atter and privation. Moreover, he attributed u nity and goodness to m atter, inasmuch as it
has an ordination to form, for the Good is not only predicated of an end, bu t of th at which is
for an end. So, therefore, as the highest and first principle of things, the Platonists advanced
the One itself and the separate Good itself. B u t after the One and the Good, nothing is found
so common as being; and therefore th ey posited separate Being itself, indeed created, as
participating goodness and unity in number, they placed it first among all created things .
Op. cit., lect. IV , pp. 213-14.
2 Proclus does not call the One being. He does use the phrase Prime Being, to TiQr
ov but b y it he means that being within the triad of Intelligence. For Proclus, even Prime
B eing has a composition of finite and infinite, something that the One could never have.
Elements of Theology, prop. 102, p. 93: prop. 89, p. 83. On being in Proclus cf. prop. 87-96.
pp. 81-87. For Plotinus too, the One is before being and engenders being. In the One there is
not the slightest vestige of being. Plotinus, Enneads, V I, 6, 13. The One is not any being and
is before all beings. Op. cit., I l l , 8, 9. Being cannot be affirmed of the One. Ibid., 8, 10. On the
relation of the One and Being in Plotinus Cf. E. Gilson, Being and Some Philosophers, pp. 21-27.
3 Psychologically speaking, one can philosophize as a Neoplatonist and believe as a
Christian; logically speaking, one cannot think, at one and the same time, as a Neoplatonist
and as a Christian. E. Gilson, op. cit., p. 31. Cf. Dionysius, De D ivinis Nominibus V, P. G.
I l l , 816A. We have a parallel between Dionysius and the Liber de Causis on this point.
Dionysius calls the First Cause being bu t only because it is the Cause of Being. Being is its
first and fundam ental effect. On the hypothesis th at Liber de Causis is the work of A lfarabi
it is understandable w hy God is called esse because according to A lfarabi God is Pure Esse.
Cf. Gilson, La Philosophie au Moyen ge, 2nd ed. 1944* P- 34-8.
4 For Proclus as well as Plotinus, Being seems to be identified with Intelligence, undoubted-
ly a heritage from Plato himself for whom the ideas or forms alone were true being w orthy
80 E S S E N C E AS T H E E X T R I N S I C L I M I T A T I O N OF E S S E

Et causa prima est supra res intelligibiles sempiternas et supra res destructibiles,
qua propter non cadunt super eam sensus neque meditatio neque cogitatio neque
intelligentia. Et ipsa quidem non significatur nisi ex causa secunda quae est
intelligentia, et non nominatur per nomen causati sui primi nisi per modum alti-
orem et meliorem, quoniam quod est causatum est causa iterum, verumtamen
per modum sublimiorem et meliorem et nobiliorem, sicut ostendimus.1

Imm ediately after noting the transcendence of the First Cause, the
author of the Liber de Causis states that it is signified b y Intelligence
and named with the name of its first effect: Nominatur per nomen
causati sui primi. Being is not the proper name of the First Cause. It is
the proper name of Intelligence. The proper name of the First Cause, is
still the One. It is transcendent, not because it is Infinite Being as
Giles of Rome or Saint Thomas would have it, but because it is the One
and the Good. To settle all doubts we repeat a text we used earlier but
now with a new significance. B y esse the Liber de Causis means know
ledge.
Quod est quia non recipit res ex causa prima et delectatur in ea, nisi per modum
esse sui. Et non intelligo per esse nisi cognitionem, nam secundum modum quo
cognoscit res causam primam creantem, secundum quantitatem illam recipit ex
ea et delectatur in ea, sicut ostendimus.2

According to the Liber de Causis, then, being can be described in the


following w ay: to be is to be known, to be a form, to be a composite,
to be many. As with Plotinus and Proclus before him, Being is still the
proper name of Intelligence.3
of the name, the object of true knowledge. B ut Proclus, in his discussion of Intelligence, made
a triad of it, in accordance with his theory of causality. He placed Being beyond both
Intelligence and Life, since n ext to the One it is the most universal cause and thus the highest
participant. Being has a triadic precedence over Intelligence. Though the first principle of the
universe is still the One, and though Being is the proper name of Intelligence, Being has
achieved a prim acy as over against Intelligence, due to the recognition of its greater com m u
nity. Proclus, Elements, prop. 138, p. 122; prop. 101, p. 91; prop. 87, p. 80; prop. 62, p. 58.
Cf. Plotinus, Enneads, V, 9, 8., where he identifies Being and Intelligence.
1 Steele, op. cit., prop. V I, p. 166.
2 Op. cit., X X I V , p. 180. Proclus makes the same identification of thought and being.
E v ery Intelligence gives rise to its consequents b y the act of intellection. Its creative a ctiv ity
is thinking, and its thought is to produce. It produces b y existing and its existence is thought.
It produces b y the act of thinking. Proclus, op. cit., prop. 34, p. 38. Cf. Plotinus, Enneads,
III, 8, 8.
3 It is here that the Platonic method, which is for Saint Thom as Aquinas the cornerstone
of Platonism, makes itself apparent. A nd it is this method, so widely practiced b y his con
temporaries, that Saint Thom as has singled out with a steady insistence throughout his
writings and with rem arkable elaborateness in his com m entary on the Liber de Causis.
W hat is this method? It is the method of modeling the properties of existing beings on the
abstractions of the human intellect. In other words, it is the method of thinking th at being
takes its characteristics as being from w hat it reveals of itself in the state of being thought.
A. C. Pegis, Introduction to Saint Thomas Aquinas, New Y o rk, 1948, p. xviii. For a scholarly
treatm ent of this entire field cf. the work of the same author, Cosmogony and Know ledge,
Thought, Dec. 1943; June, 1944, Sept. 1945. Also Saint Thomas and the Greeks, Aquinas
Lecture for 1939, M arquette U niversity Press, Milwaukee, 1939; The Dilemma of Being and
U n ity, Essays in Thomism, New Y o rk, 1942, pp. 179-83.
E S S E N C E AS T H E E X T R I N S I C L I M I T A T I O N OF E S S E 81

Now the procedure of Giles of Rome is just the reverse of this. For
him, God is Ipsum Esse of Himself.1 Being is the proper name of the
First Cause. He asserts that b y the name F irst is meant something
which is Ipsum Esse, through which everything else receives esse. God
Himself, since He is the First Being and because He is Ipsum Esse, is
the cause of all other beings.
Et quia intelligimus nomine Prima aliquid quod est Ipsum Esse, et omnia alia
per ipsum accipiunt esse, Ipse ergo Deus, quoniam est Primum Ens, et quia est
Ipsum Esse est causa omnium entium.2

Thomas Aquinas, in his own commentary on the Liber de Causis, has


explained how, for Christians, Being supersedes the Neoplatonic One
as the first principle.3 For Giles of Rome, as for the Christian, the First
Cause is Being, and Being is the proper name of God and His most
fundamental attribute. In fact, it is in virtue of this divine prerogative
that He holds the title of Creator, for b y it He is the cause of all other
being. Because God is Ipsum Esse Subsistens, therefore He is able to
create. For it is precisely in a communication of esse that the doctrine of
creation is located. A creature is being because He communicated esse
to it. God is by His nature Being, and the Intelligences are beings
because God made them as He made all of His creatures.4 Saint
Augustine expresses this position exactly: Quid enim est nisi quia tu
es ? This is just the reverse of what happens in the text of the Liber de
Causis, for in that work being is properly the first creature of God and
the First Cause receives the name Being on its account.5
In our analysis of the Liber de Causis we have seen the source of the
major steps of Giles of Rome's doctrine of creation. The Liber de Causis
tells us that diversity is due to the recipient and not to the First
Cause. And why is it that the recipient must account for diversity?
1 Cf. supra, ch. II, p. 57 ff.
2 Giles of Rome, Super Librum de Causis, prop. I l l , fol. 12 r Y .
3 Saint Thom as notes th at the Liber de Causis though certainly based upon the Elements of
Theology of Proclus, does not agree with the Platonic position of the plurality of separate
forms, bu t posits only one Form. In Librum de Causis, lect. X II, p. 257; also lect. X V I, p. 269.
A ristotle (according to St. Thomas) and Christian Doctrine also posit one first principle
instead of a plurality of forms. Op. cit., I l l , p. 210; X V I I I , p. 276. Dionysius does the same
thing for he makes all the other Platonic forms to become properties or attributes of Being.
Op. cit., IV , p. 214; X , p. 248. For since God is Being Itself, Ipsum Esse, all the perfections of
being are attributed to Him. This, in brief fashion, is how for Saint Thom as the Christian
substitutes Being for U n ity as the proper name of the First Cause. E. Gilson, Being and Some
Philosophers, pp. 30, 34.
4 Saint Augustine, Confessions, X I, 5, 7. Cf. E. Gilson, Being and Some Philosophers, p. 24,
where this tex t is quoted.
5 On the reversed relations of Being and the One in Plotinus and Saint Augustine Cf. E.
Gilson, Being and Some Philosophers, p. 24, and b y the same author, Introduction V E tu d e de
Saint Augustin, pp. 260 ff.
82 E S S E N C E AS T H E E X T R I N S I C L I M I T A T I O N OF E S S E

Because the First Cause is Pure U nity, its action somehow partakes of
that unity. The metaphysics of unity of Proclus and the Liber de Causis
seems to have a strong influence on Giles of Rome. The characteristic
phrase, stans per essentiam, of the author of the Liber de Causis by
which he expresses the contribution that being makes in its own
production, its self-causality b y reason of which it is, literally, eternal,
seems to have a similarity to the essence of Giles of Rome which also
has an actuality of its own. When Giles of Rome gives the quasi-eternal
essence an actuality of its own in the creative act, he is modeling this
act after the manner in which Intelligence limits the One. Essence
limits esse for Giles the w ay Intelligence limits unity to produce beings.
Essence does for Giles what the secondary cause does for the author of
the Liber de Causis. It produces plurality.
Finally, in the doctrine of being of the Liber de Causis lies the
reason for Giles' difficulty. The notion that being is form explains
very clearly the action of God as Forma essendi. If God is acting like a
separate form, then of course a recipient matter is needed to determine
and limit its formal causality. In the Liber de Causis, the only reason
that creation differs from information, is simply that esse is the first
effect in a thing and the last to leave it. But it still exercises a formal
and not an efficient causality. Giles, unlike the Liber de Causis, has a
metaphysics of being, in that the First Cause is properly being, but for
him being appears to have a close resemblance to what it is for the
Liber de Causis. The words of a modern historian of philosophy,
speaking of the relations of Saint Augustine to Plotinus express accu
rately the relations of Giles of Rome to the Liber de Causis.

Son Dieu est bien le Dieu chrtien qui cre l'tre, mais c'est un Dieu suprme
ment tre au sens platonicien du terme, qui cre de ltre au sens platonicien du
terme. Rien, au fond, de plus naturel. Augustin ne pouvait concevoir la cration,
qui est le don de ltre, quen fonction de sa conception de ltre. Son Dieu crateur
est donc Celui qui est ce quil est cause premire de ce que les tres sont. 1

It appears that Giles of Rome in his doctrine of creation depends, for


his principles, on Proclus through the Liber de Causis. As the result
of the present investigation, we can see that his universe possesses a
remarkable similarity in metaphysical character to that of Proclus
and his basic metaphysical principles are drawn directly from the
Liber de Causis: the quasi-eternity of essence, the uniformity of the

1 E. Gilson, Introduction L'Etude de Saint Augustin, p. 266.


E S S E N C E AS T H E E X T R I N S I C L I M I T A T I O N OF E S S E 83

divine action, the indeterminate nature of being, and especially the


formal character of esse.

C O N C L U S IO N

We are now in a position to draw certain general conclusions con


cerning the doctrine of creation of Giles of Rome in his commentary on
the Liber de Causis. Henry of Ghent has accused Giles of teaching that
essence pre-exists the communication of esse in the creative act. This
is a valid criticism because although Giles of Rome does not say this
explicitly, he does insist that essence must be present at the first
moment of creation in order to account for plurality. It is the necessity
of explaining the origin of m ultiplicity that causes Giles to posit
essence as the necessary explanation for diversity in creation, despite
the fact of Saint Thomas' warning that it makes a creatio ex nihilo
impossible: an admonition Giles of Rome had before him when he
wrote his commentary on the Liber de Causis.
Giles of Rome did not manufacture this difficulty for himself. He
was not heedless of the admonition of his former master. But he was
forced b y his basic m etaphysical principles to posit the quasi-eternal
prerogative of determination of essence. These fundamental doctrines
follow upon each other with a rigorous necessity.
Essence must be present in the first moment of creation because
plurality is produced b y the limitation of esse b y essence. Lim itation
must be due to the recipient essence, precisely because God acts with a
uniformity of action. This uniformity of the creative action is due to
the indeterminate nature of esse. An undetermined esse must be
determined, contracted and limited by the composite structure of
essence, a composition of genus and species, and more fundamental
still, a composition of potency and act. This, of course, does not explain
the presence of plurality but simply attempts to locate it on a more
basic ontological level. The reason for the indeterminate nature of esse
is that God acts in a manner similar to the form of being [forma
essendi), a doctrine for which he acknowledges his indebtedness to
Plato. Esse according to Giles of Rome is conceived as a kind of form or
essence. Indeed he tells us that a thing is a being because of its essence :
the terms ens comes from essentia. Given Giles' notion of being, the
quasi-eternal prerogative of determination of essence must follow, as
Henry of Ghent saw so clearly.
Finally, the doctrine in the Liber de Causis that being is a form
84 E S S E N C E AS T H E E X T R I N S I C L I M I T A T I O N OF E S S E

explains the action of God as Forma essendi. If the First Cause acts
like a separate form, then a recipient matter is needed to determine and
limit its formal causality. In the Liber de Causis, the only reason that
creation differs from information is simply that existence is the first
effect in a thing and the last to leave it. But it still exercises a formal
and not an efficient causality.
The doctrine of Saint Thomas Aquinas is at odds with Giles of Rome
on every one of these basic metaphysical principles. Saint Thomas
states very clearly that the presence of essence in the first moment of
the creative act would destroy the very notion of a creatio ex nihilo,
because something would be before it was created. Saint Thomas also
denies that in creation the recipient is the principle of limitation and
states that diversity must come from God alone. Likewise, according
to him there is nothing undetermined about the Divine Nature because
it is Pure Act, the most determined of all things for it has no trace of
potentiality, and furthermore esse cannot be determined b y something
more formal than itself. Nor can being be contracted the w ay genus is
contracted by its specific differences.
God is not the Forma essendi for Saint Thomas, because, according
to him, esse (which, in its purity, is the divine essence), does not
function as a formal cause. Saint Thomas states his mind very clearly
on this point. It is in a work of nature, not of reason and intelligence
that the cause acts uniformly and is determined ad unum. If, in
creation, God acted as a Form, ex naturaythen something indeterminate
would be produced. (An infinite cause, operating uniformly, naturally
generated one, indeterminate effect). But this is impossible, Saint
Thomas claims, because creation is a free action, a work of the Divine
Intellect and Will, not a work of nature. Certainly, in this precise
contradiction of metaphysical doctrines there is little trace of the
student-master relationship between Giles of Rome and Saint Thomas
Aquinas.
The relations of Giles of Rome to the Liber de Causis become clearer
when compared to the relations that existed between Saint Augustine
and Plotinus. Saint Augustine was engaged in the impossible attempt of
interpreting creation in terms of Greek philosophy.1 His good fortune
lay in the fact that his theological acumen dominated his philosophical
instruments.2 Likewise Giles, in his doctrine of creation, never over
steps the limits of correct theology, but that is not due to his philoso-
1 E. Gilson, Introduction V E tu d e de Saint Augustin, p. 263.
2 Op. cit.t p. 269.
E S S E N C E AS T H E E X T R I N S I C L I M I T A T I O N OF E S S E 85

phical principles. Like Saint Augustine, his philosophical instruments


would lead him some place else if their natural movement was not
curbed and guided b y an exact theology.1
The real master of Giles of Rome in his solution of this problem
is the author of the Liber de Causis. On each point of his m etaphysical
argumentation, he draws on the ideas of the Liber de Causis in oppo
sition to the teaching of Saint Thomas. His fundamental notion of
being bears strong resemblance to that of the Liber de Causis. The
universe in which Giles' notion of being is most at home is the eternal,
necessary world of Greek philosophy organized in terms of the One
and the M any.1
The conclusion of the present section of this study is that the source
of the difficulties which Giles of Rome has with the doctrine of creation
m ay be traced to principles he finds in the Liber de Causis. In his
explanation of creation he is utilizing metaphysical principles which
can never perform the task he asks of them. As a m atter of fact they
were formulated to explain the eternal and necessary universe of
Greek philosophy.
When we speak of the dependence of mediaeval doctrines on
Christian doctrines we are not implying some general cultural influence.
W e mean the articulations of precise doctrines. In Greek philosophy it
is essence which makes beings to be the kind of things they are. And in
the Christian universe essence still keeps that function of limiting and
determining a primal unity, such as the One of Plotinus or the God of
the Liber de Causis and Avicenna.
The all-pervasive doctrine, explicit and implicit, of essence as the
extrinsic principle of limitation of esse flows from the Greek notion of
being as a form which can be without existing.
This doctrine comes from Neoplatonism as modified by the Arabian
monotheists, Avicenna and particularly the Liber de Causis. It was
proxim ately the author of the Liber de Causis who influenced Giles of
Rome, who in his turn, placed his stamp from the beginning on the age
long controversies on the relations between essence and existence.
The function of essence as the Extrinsic Principle of Lim itation of
esse came to Giles from the analysis of the doctrine of creation in the

1 It is interesting to note that the sim ilarity of their problems lead Saint Augustine and
Giles of Rome into similar difficulties, as is to be expected when the m etaphysical principles
of an eternal, necessary universe are used to explain its very antithesis, the created universe.
For Saint Augustine had the same difficulty in locating m atter ontologically as Giles of Rome
had with essence. Op. cit., p. 265.
86 E S S E N C E AS T H E E X T R I N S I C L I M I T A T I O N OF E S S E

Liber de Causis and it is within the context of the origin of plurality and
the distinction between creator and creature that the subsequent
discussions and bitter controversies on essence and existence have their
definitive formulation and determining background, but more of this
presently.
We chose Giles of Rome's doctrine of creation and being because
we are convinced that it was his formulation of the doctrine of the Real
Distinction of Essence and Existence which has set the guide lines for
all later discussions of not only the Real Distinction but also Being and
Creation. He makes the perfect foil for the correct understanding of that
set of apparently contradictory texts we find in Thomas Aquinas. We
could have chosen Cajetan, Suarez or John of St. Thomas to illustrate
our point. It is the self-same metaphysics of U nity disguised as a
metaphysics of Being, namely a metaphysics of Essence, which is
controlling in the formulation of the various problems and solutions
of the Relations of Essence and Esse, particularly in terms of reciprocal
causes.
C H APTE R III

E S S E N C E AS T H E I N T R I N S I C L I M I T A T I O N OF ESSE

To recapitulate, the fundamental metaphysical structure of being for


Thomas Aquinas is a very different one from that of Giles of Rome just
examined. For Aquinas, esse has a profounder and more basic role in the
constitution of being. Esse is more intimate to any thing than the
essence which determines it.1 In fact the name ens is taken from the
act of being.2 As we have seen, a thing is not ens because of its essence
but because of its actus essendi. It is the name res that expresses the
essence of a being.3
Ens sumitur ab actu essendi, sed nomen rei exprimit quidditatem sive essentiam
entis.4

According to Saint Thomas being is denominated b y esse.5 This is of


course a radical divergence from the roles that essence and esse play in
the metaphysics of Giles of Rome, and the scholastic tradition of
which he is both progenitor and representative. There ens, properly,
does not even include esse.6 For Aquinas essence is that through which

1 Saint Thomas, I I Sent., i , i , 4, c. . esse autem magis intim um cuilibet rei quam ea
per quae esse determ inatur; unde et rem anet, illis remotis, ut in Libro de Causis, prop. 1,
dicitur. Unde operatio Creatoris magis pertingit ad intim a rei quam operatio causarum
secundarum.
2 Ens sumitur ab actu essendi. Saint Thomas, I Sent., dist. V III, q. 1, a. 1 ; dist. X X V ,
q. i, a. 4; Contra Gentiles, I, c. 25 ; II, c. 54. Cf. De Veritate, q. 1, a. i ; In Boet. De Hebdom., c.
II.
3 Saint Thomas, De Veritate, q. 1, a. 1.
4 Ibid.
5 Unde in compositis ex materia et form a nec materia nec form a potest dici ipsum quod
est, nec etiam ipsum esse. Form a tamen potest dici quo est, secundum quod est essendi
principium ; ipsa autem tota substantia est ipsum quod est; et ipsum esse est quo substantia
denom inatur ens. Saint Thom as, Contra Gentiles, II, 54.
6 Verum quia ens per se dicit unum per se et non includit esse, immo per se ens significat
genera praedicamentorum , oportet quod per illud idem per quod res in praedicamento sit
ens per se; et quid hoc est per essentiam suam . Giles of Rome, Theoremata, X I I I , p. 83, 1.
6-p. 84,1. i.
88 E S S E N C E AS T H E I N T R I N S I C L I M I T A T I O N OF E S S E

and in which ens has esse.1 But a thing is not a being because of its
form. Non tamen denominatur aliquod ens a form ai In fact, properly
speaking, forms should not be called beings at all but rather co-exist-
ents.
Sicut igitur accidentia et formae, et huiusmodi quae non subsistunt, magis sunt
coexistentia quam entia; ita magis debent dici concreata quam creata. Proprie
vero creata sunt subsistentia.3

This is diametrically opposed to Giles, for whom essence, as we have


seen, seems to possess a definite actuality of its own by reason of which
it has a claim to being.
Ergo cum essentia de se dicat actualitatem aliquam praeter esse, ex essentia et
esse una natura tertia conflari non potest. Dicebatur enim supra quod ipsa
essentia aliquam actualitatem importat, licet illa actualitas non sit tanta quod
sine esse potest existere.4

But though essence does have some degree of actuality, this is not
sufficient for existence, Giles of Rome tells us.5 Although of itself
essence has some actuality, it cannot be in act without esse.6 Giles, of
course, is insistent on the point that essence does not pre-exist esse,
even though he can present no alternative.7
For Saint Thomas, on the other hand, nothing has actuality unless
inasmuch as it is, for ipsum esse is the actuality of all things even of
forms themselves.

1 . . . . sed essentia dicitur secundum quod per earn et in ea ens habet esse. Saint Thom as,
De Ente et Essentia, Cap. I, p. 4 , 11. 15-16.
2 Saint Thomas, I Sent., dist. X X I I I , q. 1, a. 1.
3 Saint Thomas, Summa Theologiae, I, 45, 4, resp.
4 Giles of Rome, Theoremata, V I, pp. 28-9.
5 Dicere itaque possumus quod, licet essentia in qua suscipitur esse dicat de se aliquam
actualitatem , quam non dicit materia quia materia est potentia pura in genere entium, illa
tamen actualitas quam im portat essentia non est tanta quod sufficiat ad hoc quod sit in
rerum natura. Oportet igitur ab ipso agente aliquam actualitatem et aliquod complementum
superaddi ipsi essentiae, ad hoc quod essentia existt et sit in natura rerum; illa autem
actualitas et complementum dicitur esse. Op. cit., V, p. 2 1 , 11. 1-8.
6 Sic etiam, cum esse sit actus formae, agens naturale prius dat formam quam causat esse.
Habet enim form a quandam potentialitatem respectu formae. Ipsa enim forma, ut in praece
dentibus dicabatur, licet de se dicat quandam actualitatem , non tamen dicit tantam actuali
tatem quod possit esse actu sine esse. Ipsum ergo esse dat quandam actualitatem form ae.
Op. cit., V II, p. 3 7 ,11. 9-16. Cf. Op. cit., X X I, p. 30, 31; X , p. 57, 58.
7 Sed nunquam una et eadem essentia numero modo subest uni esse, modo alii. Unde
essentia non praeexistit ipsi esse, licet materia praeexistat form ae. Op. cit., V I, p. 26, 11.
17-20. . . . nec etiam actus imprimitur actui vel idem sibi ipsi quia tunc res producta esset
antequam fieret sed actus imprimitur potentiae. Op. cit., V, p. 24. 11. 11-13 . D icebatur enim
quod materia potest praeexistere formae sed essentia non potest praeexistere suo esse. E t
quia m ateria potest praeexistere, potest transm utari ad form am ita quod imm ediatus terminus
transm utationis poterit esse forma. Sed essentia non praeexistit ipsi esse; ideo non poterit
transm utari ad esse, ita quod sit imm ediatus transm utationis term inus. Op. cit., V I, p. 29, 30.
E S S E N C E AS T H E I N T R I N S I C L I M I T A T I O N OF E S S E 89

Nihil enim habet actualitatem nisi inquantum est. Unde ipsum esse est actualitas
omnium rerum et etiam ipsarum formarum.1

For Thomas Aquinas, God alone is ens per essentiam suam because
He is Ipsum Esse. But Giles of Rome, while accepting this formula of
Aquinas in his usual manner, gives it a very different interpretation.
For him, anything is ens per essentiam suam, but because the essence of
the created thing does not signify a complete act but is in potency to
esse, therefore essence is not enough for a thing to exist in act unless
there is superadded to it some esse which is the act and completion of
essence. This is how being taken in itself differs from existence.2
Giles, having stated his position very exactly, explains how it is
that he can use Saint Thomas' formulae even though his own doctrine
is so very different.
Verum quia nominibus utimur ut volumus, multotiens pro eodem accipitur ens
et existens, secundum quem modum loquendi multotiens invenitur quod Primum
est ens per essentiam suam, caetera vero sunt entia per participationem. Nam
cum Primum essentialiter habeat esse, caetera vero participent esse, accipiendo
ens ut includit esse, et ut est idem quod existens, ipsum Primum est ens per
essentiam, caetera vero per participationem.3

It seems to us that the current technique of treating essence and


existence as Aristotelian reciprocal causes is still a continuation of the
doctrine of the Liber de Causis of Essence as the Extrinsic Principle of
Lim itation resulting in the Aegidian doctrine of the Pre-existing
Essence and the Avicennian doctrine of the R eality of the Possibles.
For the Avicennian theory of the possible essences continues still to
exert a tangible influence on our notions of being. Being traditionally
has been divided into actual and possible and just recently the claim
of the possible essence to the title of being has again been upheld.
But possible being is simply no being.4 Essences considered in them
selves are in potency and potential being cannot exert causality.
" . . . . quia quod est potentia, nondum est; unde nec agere potest." 5
W hat is in potency is not yet, consequently it cannot act as a cause. To

1 Saint Thomas, Summa Theologiae, I, 4, 1, obj. 3, ad 3.


2 Redeamus ergo ad propositum et dicamus quod quaelibet res est ens per essentiam
suam. Tam en quia essentia rei creatae non dicit actum completum sed est in potentia ad
esse, ideo non sufficit essentia ad hoc quod res actu existt nisi ei superaddatur aliquod
esse quod est essentiae actus et complementum. E xistu nt ergo res per esse superadditum
essentiae vel naturae. P atet itaque quomodo differat ens per se acceptum et existens.
Theoremata, X I I I, p. 83-84.
3 Ibid.
4 Impossibile est quod sit aliquod ens quod non habeat esse . . . (De Veritate, q. 21, a. 2).
5 . . . quia quod est potentia, nondum est; unde nec agere potest (Cont. Gent., I, 16).
90 E S S E N C E AS T H E I N T R I N S I C L I M I T A T I O N OF E S S E

operate is a function of that which possesses esse. Thus essence must be


considered in a new light. This means simply that essence is merely a
mode of being or a mode of esse.1 Now this formulation seems to us to
have far reaching repercussions, beginning with esse itself and echoing
all the w ay down to the doctrine of matter.
Perhaps a very fundamental approach to the nature of metaphysical
knowledge is under consideration here. In the interior and profound
depths of being we can discern a fundamental ontological structure,
that b y which a thing is and that b y which it is what it is. When
investigated, these terms of a careful analysis satisfy certain funda
mental exigencies of ultimate reality. But if we shift from the static
architectonic structure of ens to the mysterious metaphysical move
ments accomplished in the very depths of being, a completely different
picture of the relations of essence and existence is necessitated b y what
we know of esse itself. If esse is prior to essence, how are they related?
Simply as concepts, the result of an intellectual analysis of ens, or as
causal principles functioning in the ontological order? But in a se
quence of causes the prior causes the posterior ontologically and
explains intellectually the subsequent causes. The Aristotelian notion
of reciprocal causes fails at this point.
W hat we call essence must be an intrinsic limitation or determination
of esse. It cannot be extrinsic. This Ultim ate Reduction of essence to
esse has as one of its advantages the fact that the dynamism of sub
sistence need not be provided b y another act. Esse alone channeled by
essence, supplies all the energies of the substance. Esse and subsistere
are not in absolutely different orders.2 The transition from esse to
subsistere is accomplished through the specification, in function of its
role of intrinsic limitation, b y essence. We have here not a multiplication
or addition of acts, of esse plus subsistere, but one self-same act mani
festing its dynamism in a specified, contracted w ay.3 Because of the
hierarchical location of the human knower as the lowest of intellectual
beings he needs a plurality of inadequate notions to grasp and express
the complex intelligibility of what is in last analysis a single act of to-
be, an existent. Esse is existence in its rich nudity. Subsistere is achieved

1 De Anim a, q. i , a. i : modus ipsius esse.


2 Subsistence plays (but in an absolutely different order) a role analogous to an ultim ate
disposition, or is, so to speak, a kind of ultim ate disposition for the exercise of esse. This
involution of causes is at the core of the problem (J. Maritain, Subsistence, p. 37).
3 Verbi gratia esse significat aliquid com pletum et simplex sed non subsistens; substantia
autem aliquid subsistens significat sed alii subjectum {De Pot., q. 1, a. 1).
E S S E N C E AS T H E I N T R I N S I C L I M I T A T I O N OF E S S E 91
b y the role that essence plays in the specification of esse. Essence is
located somewhere in between these points of polarity of being.1

i. E S S E N C E A N D T H E P O S S IB L E S

The relation of essence to existence is not an irreducible paradox.


Essence is not a true possible as opposed to a being of reason.2 Some
contemporary Scholastics would im ply that the term 'being' as ap
plied to actual and possible being is used in two radically and intrin
sically different senses which, though related by dependence and analo
gy of extrinsic attribution cannot be reduced to any one single meaning
applicable to all by proper and intrinsic analogy." 3 But this contradicts
an existentialism which finds in existence the source of all perfection,
and consequently essence.4
How can essence be called being by an analogy of extrinsic attri
bution unless somehow there is an essence to be so called ? The essence
is thereby considered as a possible with some claim to being in order to
have being predicated of it b y a so-called extrinsic attribution. But if
possible being is no being, then essence is simply specified existence or
nothing at all. The possible essence of which some contemporary
scholastics speak, for instance, is simply an intentional being and exists
only in the mind b y a mental divorce from esse. Quidditatis esse est
quoddam esse rationis. 5 Between esse and esse intentionale there is no
alternative except the never-never land of Platonic Ideas and Avicen
nian essences.6
1 Our concept of being, so far as it is incapable as such of the divine sim plicity, is situated
between esse and substantia: between the a ctu ality to be and the subjective recep tivity of
that which receives being- its potential ground (Bernard K elly, The Metaphysical Background
of Analogy [London: Blackfriars, 1958], p. 7).
2 W hat is a true possible as opposed to a being of reason? (W. N. Clarke, W hat is
R eally R eal? in Progress in Philosophy, p. 71).
3 B ut we are im plying th at the term being as applied to actual and possible being is used
in two radically and intrinsically different senses which, though related b y dependence and
analogy of extrinsic attribution, cannot be reduced to any one single meaning applicable to
all b y proper and intrinsic analogy (Ibid., pp. 68-69).
4 B ut the situation changes radically when it is a question of an absolutely ultim ate and
transcendent predicate such as being. Here we are in the presence of a participle which
expresses an a ctiv ity or state so absolutely prim ary and fundam ental to its subject that
it constitutes the very subject itself as real subject, so th at without it there sim ply would not
be any subject at all outside the mind to talk about. Does not the peculiar intelligible content
of such a participle render impossible a non-existential noun use of itself which pretends to
speak of a subject as though it were somehow still real or present, while am putating intel
lectually the very act which renders the subject intrinsically real or present at all in any
proper sense? (Ibid., p. 68; cf. p. 61).
5 St. Thomas, I Sent., d. 19, q. 5, a. 1, ad 7.
6 A fter such a statem ent confirming the non-being of essence, how can one then
speak of essence and existence as reciprocal causes? For the one flows from the other and
92 E S S E N C E AS T H E I N T R I N S I C L I M I T A T I O N OF E S S E

Instead of talking about possible being, i.e., in terms of a con


ception of second intention like possibility, or schematic meta
physical notions like potency and act, the discussion of the problem of
the possibles should be transposed and formulated in terms of more
immediate metaphysical principles of essence and existence. When
formulated thusly in its proper m etaphysical terms, the problem be
comes clear. A possible is an essence without existence. Possible
being is a relic of the Greek essence.
The doctrine of the Possibles is so critical because it can serve as
a fulcrum to shift a metaphysics in an existential or essential direction
and even to degrees of existentiality or essentiality. In fact the problem
of metaphysics has been always to incorporate existential elements
within a metaphysics of essence or to incorporate essential elements
within a metaphysics of existence. Even a metaphysics which recog
nizes the primacy of esse still has difficulty in rooting or grounding
essence within an existential order. If such grounding is impossible or
ineffective, as in contemporary Existentialism, essence must be elimi
nated from philosophy or reduced to some arbitrary project. If, on
the other hand, philosophic insight demands the retention of essence to
explain ontologically so many basic aspects of reality, intelligibility
and order, then the procedure is to place essence side by side with esse
and attempt b y a system of reciprocal causal relations to weave essence
more deeply into the heart of a metaphysics, to accomplish b y the
multiplication of proportions and relations some sort of union.

2. P O T E N C Y , A C T A N D E S S E

As in all other sciences we find in metaphysics both ontological and


schematic principles. B y schematic principles I mean those whose
primary purpose is to organize or unify the multifarious data of the
science (like the atomic theory in physics), rather than to capture more
directly some aspect of reality. To our mind potency and act are
principles of this order. Strictly speaking, in an immediate ontological
fashion, potency and act are not. There are simply instances of potency
and act; essence and existence in the existential order; matter and
form in the essential order; and substance and accident in the oper
ational order. There simply is no potency and act as such. Potency and

essence is the specification of existence, lim iting it to those perfections it carries within itself,
its ontological riches. Even the existential thinker is capable of falling victim to the form ula
tion of essentialism and consequently m odifying his existentialism more or less.
E S S E N C E AS T H E I N T R I N S I C L I M I T A T I O N OF E S S E 93

act are principles to explain the mutual relations of cause and effect.
As such they are used to explain the causal relations between a cause
and its effect.1
Potency and Act, as schematic principles permitting the organization
of reality on different levels, can be reduced to the dynamism of esse,
which manifests itself as perfection and to the Lim itation of esse on the
different levels of reality: essence and existence; m atter and form;
substance and accident. The fact that substance is the source of the
dynamic act of the accident rather than the reverse shows up a weak
ness in the universal schematization of potency and act, at least as it is
employed by Thomas Aquinas. For theoretical symmetry, substance
should be potency to the act of accidental form, as it would be for an
essentialistic thinker such as Bonaventure.
The ordering of being according to act and potency is still a m eta
physics of unity masquerading as a metaphysics of being, namely, a
metaphysics of essence. But act is a concept of second intention located
within the order of essence to explain the perfection of essence. Pure
A ct is a conception of essence which possesses all the perfection belong
ing to essence. Created essences are mixtures of potency and act. This
is still a metaphysics of unity, - a God who is one and simple and a
creature which is a plurality, a many. The transition from unity to
plurality is traditionally accomplished b y the doctrine of the Divine
Ideas. But as we will show the doctrine of the Divine Ideas is itself
reducible to Ipsum Esse Subsistens. A ll act is act because of esse ; act is
ultim ately reducible to esse. God is Pure A ct because He is Ipsum Esse
Subsistens. He is not Ipsum Esse because He is Pure Act, at least in
terms of metaphysical priority and fundamentality.
B y the use of the doctrine of potency and act to explain the relations
of essence and existence in immaterial substances, Thomas Aquinas is
trying to say that the creature is still a unity even though created and
failing of the absolute unity of the Divine Being. The formulation of a
doctrine of essence and existence from the raw materials of Boethius
and the Liber de Causis carries implicit in the vocabulary and termi
nology it employs a metaphysics of unity and composition. If the
creature is composed, in the language of the Liber de Causis, of finite
and infinite, of essence and existence, how can it still remain a natural
unity ?

1 In natura rerum corporearum materia est ut potentia respectu formae et forma est
actus ejus; et iterum natura constituta ex materia et forma est ut potentia respectu ipsius esse,
inquantum est susceptiva ejus [De Spir. Creat., a. i).
94 E S S E N C E AS T H E I N T R I N S I C L I M I T A T I O N OF E S S E

The Aristotelian doctrine of potency and act, as Fathers Fabro and


Clarke have pointed out is an appropriate doctrine.1 A being is itself
and yet capable of becoming something else. Both these elements exist
side by side within the unity of substance. So Thomas transposes
them to show that even though a creature falls short of the divine unity
as a result of creation, it is still one. This state of affairs can be explained
doctrinally within the principles of Thomas Aquinas by the unity
conferred on a being b y its esse.
We can imagine Thomas Aquinas faced with the complex problem of
saying something new in the language of his predecessors and con
temporaries. A ll the vocabulary was there at hand, and a very ade
quate system of terminology it was. Except that he wanted to say
something which had never been said before in that vocabulary. From
Aristotle he had substance, accident, matter, form, potency and act.
From Boethius, Dionysius, the Liber de Causis and Avicenna he had
even the terms essence and esse and existentia. His vocabulary is not

1 The first requisite for unravelling the com plex threads which interweave to make up the
Thom istic act and potency doctrine is to recognize th at it contains tw o distinct elements.
The first is a composition of two correlative m etaphysical principles called act and potency,
first introduced b y Aristotle to explain the process of change. The second is the relating of
these tw o principles to each other in terms of a theory of infinity and lim itation, which, it
must be adm itted b y all, cannot be found explicitly in Aristotle. The historian of St. Thom as
must trace the origins of both these elements and not take it for granted that because the two
are inseparably united in Thom istic m etaphysics they must also have been so joined from
their first appearance in the history of thought. (W. Norris Clarke, The Lim itation of A ct b y
Poten cy, New Scholasticism, Vol. X X V I , 1952, p. 172).
We see here emerging in sharp relief the irresistible tendency of the classical Greek mind
(and one of its great weaknesses) - reflected in its art and in a thousand different cultural
manifestations - to identify perfection with clear-cut lim ited form, to identify in telligibility
as such with the human mode of intelligibility, i.e., with definition b y distinct, clearly deli
mited concepts. In such a perspective, where finite essence is taken as the type of perfect
being, it is clear that the relations between being and nonbeing will be quite different from
those between esse and essence in the Thom istic outlook. (Ibid. p. 177).
. . . throughout the early works of St. Thomas, up to and exclusive of the Contra Gentiles,
the lim itation principle is never found expressed in terms of act and potency bu t exclusively
in its traditional Neoplatonic form or a close paraphrase, e.g. E v ery abstract or separated
form is infinite. His standard practice is then to deduce the real distinction of essence and
existence from this principle in terms of participant and participated. Only as a last stage
does he say th at wherever there is a relation of received and recipient there must be a com
position of act and potency. Thus act and potency take on the aspect of lim itation only as a
kind of post factum consequence, so to speak, not as a first principle. {Ibid. p. 192).
It is only from the Summa Contra Gentiles on that he appears to realize the possibility of
fusing both the lim itation principle and act and potency into a single synthetic principle.
Now for the first time we find appearing the well-known form ulas quoted so often in Thom istic
textbooks, such as, No act is found limited except b y potency ; An act existing in no
subject is limited b y nothing etc. Here too for the first time we find exp licitly stated the
reason for the transposition of the compositions resulting from participation into act and
potency; because only in terms of act and potency can the intrinsic u nity of any composite
being be m aintained. {Ibid. p. 192-3).
E S S E N C E AS T H E I N T R I N S I C L I M I T A T I O N OF E S S E 95

new, but what he was to do with it, the ideas to be expressed in this
traditional vocabulary, was a real innovation. The testimony of his
contemporaries and immediate successors indicate their bafflement and
frustration. They knew very well that he was trying to do something
new. One after another accused him of innovation. Perhaps much of
the annoyance, at times bitterness, flowed from the fact that they did
not know what he was doing. Even basically sympathetic interpreters
took upon themselves the task of correcting his doctrine and bringing it
more into conformity with Aristotle or Plato or the Liber de Causis or
Averroes or Augustine, and so on.
We know now that what Thomas Aquinas had to contribute was a
new metaphysical perspective revolving in some w ay around the prima
cy of esse. Perhaps his first problem in the re-writing of all the meta
physical doctrines to fit rigorously into the perspective he envisioned
was that of the proper location of esse as he understood it. Certain of his
predecessors had, after surveying the philosophical vocabulary availa
ble, settled on form as the most adequate expression of what they
meant b y esse, although they were not completely at ease with such
an adequation. However they were not ready to add a completely new
doctrine to the brilliant achievement of their predecessors.
W ith Thomas Aquinas, however, the break came, and come it had
to, if progress was to be made. But he was faced with the same problem
of locating esse. W hat was it after all: substance, accident, matter,
form, potency? A ll of these presented insurmountable problems. But
what about act ? It was probably the most abstract of all conceptions
and had the further advantage of a lack of precise definition. It was a
relative or correlative notion employed to explain change and secondary
causality. Besides its rather scanty connotation it possessed a very wide
denotation so that one more philosophical entity might be added to it
without disrupting the whole and causing too much reaction. But of
course the most fundamental reason was that there was a natural
intelligible affinity between act as communicating the richness and
perfection of form and substance b y its relative opposition to potency
and its correlative composition with potency to form a natural unity.
Looking over the selection of philosophical terms and the ideas they
served to communicate, Thomas Aquinas chose actus essendi for the
point of articulation of his innovatory metaphysics with the Neoplato-
nic metaphysics and the Aristotelian physics. A ct was the traditional
notion which best expressed what he meant b y esse, - but act for Aqui
nas is not as basic a notion as esse.
96 E S S E N C E AS T H E I N T R I N S I C L I M I T A T I O N OF E S S E

Fabros dependence on the notions of potency and act to explain


essence and existence can be looked at in different frameworks of
development and perspective. Perhaps he is asking the theory of poten
cy and act to do what it was never meant to do.
Potency and act are intelligible and explained in terms of esse and
essence, not vice versa. This is a difficulty in Father Fabros definition
of esse as intensive, emergent act, defining the more intelligible by the
less intelligible. We have an intuition of esse in the existential judge
ment grasping the object of metaphysics. Potency and act are schem
atic notions drawn from an analysis of change in the Philosophy of
Nature.
Esse as act is according to Fabro an extension of the Aristotelian
principles to an area of reality which Aristotle had never contemplated.
But potency can be rooted in esse as the amount of esse and the
difference of esse added to it provides the difference between the genus
and the species. Esse can be limited in various ways. It can diminish
and it can augment. But potency means the lack of some esse it could
have or should have, but a positive being which possesses perfection
and because of its mode of esse can include all possibilities below it or
all the modes of perfection of esse contained in that esse. A thing is
potential only because it is somehow actual, only because it has some
being or esse, but not all the being or esse it could have and which a
variety of causal interactions will provide for it, some eliminated by
the absence of certain causes and some present by reason of the presence
of certain causes.

3. P E R F E C T I O N A N D E S S E

The Divine Wisdom has constructed an order of things based on the


degree of perfection in beings, ranging from the imperfect to the per
fect.1 In the nature of things God is the Thesaurus of all perfection and
different natures participate the Divine Perfection according to differ
ent grades.2 Forms, both material and immaterial, differ from each
other because one is more perfect than another according to the ratio
of its proper nature, inasmuch as the proper ratio or intelligible struc-

1 For the Thom istic vocabulary of the perfect and the imperfect see L.-B. Geiger, O .P.,
La participation dans la philosophie de S. Thomas dA quin (Paris: Vrin, 1942), appendix B,
pp. 469-72.
2 E t sic quicquid dicitur de Deo et creaturis invenitur secundum quod est aliquis ordo
creaturae ad Deum ut ad principium et causam in qua praeexistunt excellenter et virtualiter
omnes rerum perfectiones (S. T ., I , q. 13, a. 5).
E S S E N C E AS T H E I N T R I N S I C L I M I T A T I O N OF E S S E 97

ture of a species consists in a certain grade of perfection.1 The fact that


creatures are of different species necessitates their unequal degrees of
perfection. There can be no formal distinction without inequality.2
For the forms which determine the diverse natures of beings, and by
reason of which things are what they are, are nothing else, in the last
analysis, but diverse qualities of perfection. An increase in the degree of
perfection results in a change in species.3 The greater the perfection a
thing possesses, the higher a kind of thing it is. The further the creature is
removed from God, the more radically imperfect it is.
We are accustomed to take these terms perfection and imperfection
as very general and non-technical ones. For instance we tend to inter
pret potency and act as more technical terms than perfection and
imperfection, when actually they are all to be taken as technical
metaphysical terms signifying degrees or proportions or modes.4 The
perfect is the finished, the complete, the actual; the imperfect is the
unfinished, capable of receiving further actuality. A basic identity or
reduction can be found between the imperfect and the potential and the
perfect and the actual.5 But this identity can be reduced to a more
fundamental and basic identity. For esse is the most perfect of all
things.6 And the perfection of every thing comes to it from its esse?
1 . . . ita in formis tam materialibus quam a materia separatis una est perfectior alia
secundum rationem propriae naturae, inquantum scilicet propria ratio speciei in tali gradu
perfectionis consistit {De Substantiis Separatis, c. VI).
2 Mais poser des cratures d espces diffrentes, c est ncessairement poser des cratures
de perfection ingale. Par o les choses multiples et distinctes qui exprim ent la ressemblance
divine peuvent-elles en effet se distinguer? . . . Or, il ny a pas de distinction formelle possible
sans ingalit. E. Gilson, Le Thomisme, 5th d., p. 216.
B ut this a ctu ality is always, in our experience, only th at of a particular essence: the
forms from which it is really distinct and to which it is only lent, set a lim it upon its capacity
for indefinite expansion, compelling it to adapt itself to their form al status, and to insert its
perfecting only in the line of their perfection. 26. Cornelio Fabro, C.P.S., Un itinraire de
S. Thom as, Revue de philosophie, X X X I X (1939), 302. quoted b y H. J. John, S.N .D ., Ibid.,
p. 605.
3 Or il ny a pas de distinction formelle possible sans ingalit. Les formes qui dterm inent
les natures diverses des tres, et en raison desquelles les choses sont ce quelles sont, ne sont
rien d autre, en dernire analyse, que des quantits diverses de perfection; c est pourquoi lon
peut dire avec Aristote que les formes de choses sont semblables aux nombres auxquels il
suffit d ajouter ou de retrancher une unit pour en changer lespce (E. Gilson, Le Thomisme,
pp. 216-217).
4 Unumquodque perficitur secundum modum suae substantiae: ex modo igitur perfectio
nis alicujus rei potest accipi modus substantiae ipsius. CG. II, 55.
5 Cum ergo operatio naturae procedat ab imperfecto ad perfectum et ab incompleto ad
completum, im perfectum est prius perfecto secundum generationem et tempus, sed per
fectum est prius im perfecto substantia. . . . Sed, licet in rebus generabilibus imperfectum sit
prius perfecto et potentia prior actu, considerando in aliquo eodem quod prius est im per
fectum quam perfectum et in potentia quam in actu, simpliciter tamen loquendo oportet
actum et perfectum prius esse. . . . {De Principiis Naturae, cap. 4).
6 Hoc quod dico esse est inter omnia perfectissimum {De Pot., q. 7, a. 2, ad 9).
7 Omnis enim nobilitas cuiuscum que rei est sibi secundum esse {Cont. Gent., I, 28).
98 E S S E N C E AS T H E I N T R I N S I C L I M I T A T I O N OF E S S E

A ctuality also flows from being.1 Esse, in fact, is the actuality of all
acts and because of this it is the perfection of all perfections.2 E very
essence is actualized b y its esse.3
Ipsum esse is the ultimate act that can be participated by all things.4
This phenomenon b y which God gives more being to one thing and less
to another is nothing new in theological tradition. The order of per
fection was reducible to being according to St. Augustine . . . . dedit esse
amplius, aliis minus .5 The creature, then, is characterized by a certain
deficiency in the degree and mode of being. Esse autem rerum creatarum
deductum est ab esse divino secundum quandam deficientem assimilatio-
nem . 6 Creation is not only an exodus, it is also a descent. No creature
receives all of the divine perfection but they all receive being in vary
ing and diminishing degrees.7 To put it in the crudest and crassest
terms, it is the amount of esse that decides the grade of perfection.8 B y
the very fact that creatures are not Ipsum Esse Subsistens but take
their origin ex nihilo, they have within themselves the shadows of
possibility and imperfection.9

1 Esse autem est illud quod est magis intim um cuilibet, et quod profundius omnibus
inest: cum sit formale respectu omnium quae in re sunt . . . Thom as Aquinas, 7, q. 8, a. i.
Omne ens inquantum est ens est actu . 7 , q. 5, a. 3.
2 Unde patet quod hoc quod dico esse est actualitas omnium actuum, et propter hoc est
perfectio omnium perfectionum (De Pot., q. 7, a. 3, ad 9).
3 Sicut autem ipsum esse est actualitas quaedam essentiae, ita operari est actualitas ope-
rativae potentiae. Secundum enim hoc utrum que eorum est in actu : essentia quidem secundum
esse, potentia vero secundum operari (De Spir. Creat, a. 11).
4 Ipsum esse est actus ultimus qui participabilis est ab omnibus, ipsum autem nihil
participat (De Anima, a. 6, ad 2).
5 . . . dedit esse amplius, aliis minus. . . . (St. Augustine, De Civ. D ei, X I I , 8). Cf. De
Imm. Animae, X II, 9 and De Trin., V, 2, 3.
6 In lib. de Divin. Nomin., c. I, lect. I (Opuscula, ed. Mandonnet, t. I, p. 232).
7 La cration nest pas seulement un exode, c est aussi une descente: Nulla creatura
recipit totam plenitudinem divinae bonitatis, quia perfectiones a Deo in creatura per modum
cujusdam descensus procedunt (Cont. Gent., IV , 7. ad Nulla creatura, E. Gilson. Le Thomis
me, p. 219). Dans cette progression, chaque espce dpasse en perfection la prcdente; la
raison pour laquelle la divine sagesse produit lingalit des cratures est donc celle-l mme
qui lincline en vouloir la distinction, c est--dire la perfection plus haute de lunivers
(Le Thomisme, p. 217). Is it possible to translate this m etaphysical fact of perfection into the
language of essence and esse to see whether it can be explained on a m etaphysical as well as
theological level ?
8 St. Thom as tries to solve the difficulty b y the idea th at form does not actu ally give,
bu t only determines the nature of esse (H. L yttkens, The Analogy between God and the World
[Uppsala: Alm quist and W iksells, 1952], p. 170. Cf. S. T., I, q. 9, a. 2, ad 3; q. 13, a. 1, ad 2;
q. 45, a. 4. Meyer in The Philosophy of St. Thomas, p. 105, had pointed out that St. Thom as
is here following an Aristotelian line (the form gives esse) and also a Neoplatonic (existence b y
participation in esse). In the former case esse receives its contents from form, which in the
latter case is secondary. Esse then decides the grade of perfection (H. Lyttkens, op. cit.,
p. 170).
9 Creatura, ex hoc quod est ex nihilo, habet in se tenebras possibilitatis et im perfectionis
(De Pot., q. 4, a. 2; Ibid., ad 14 et ad 2). Cf. A. Forest, La structure mtaphysique du concret,
p. 27. Cum dicitur: omnis creatura est tenebra vel falsa vel nihil in se considerata, non est
E S S E N C E AS T H E I N T R I N S I C L I M I T A T I O N OF E S S E 99

Thomas Aquinas' Fourth W ay of proving the existence of God, with


the analogy it introduces, demonstrates the degrees of being which
demand a maxime ens as compared to those things which are magis et
minus entia. Even if the causality exerted b y this maxime ens is the
efficient causality which is proper to being, there is yet a real conti
nuity of being moving from the lesser to the greater and eventually to
the maxime ens.
The descending hierarchy of perfection culminating in a universe
which contains the deficient and the evil within it, m ay be impossible
of explanation but we would like to suggest that the laws of meta
physical causality whereby no effect can equal its cause makes it
impossible for God in His Goodness to communicate Himself totally.
But this decreasing series of perfections approaches in the indefinite
ness of material goods to the diminishing point between the infinite
and the indefinite.

4. T H E U L T I M A T E R E D U C I B I L I T Y O F E S S E N C E T O E S S E

It is our contention that St. Thomas' doctrine of being bears the


interpretation not only that essences are modes of being, but also that
they are intrinsic modifications of esse. But when this doctrine is
coupled with that of the non-being of essence, what happens to essence ?
It is non-ens because it is other than ipsum esse which it receives from
another. That which participates esse has to be non-ens. Forms are
coexistents rather than beings. They are concreated rather than
created. Essence is the intrinsic modification of the dynamism of actual
exercise of the act of being. W hy not describe essence then as the place
where esse stops, bordered by nothingness ?
A fter all, for Thomas, esse is even the source of all cognoscibility and
all intelligibility. Unumquodque, quantum habet de esse, tantum habet de
cognoscibilitate.1 We should be mindful that he made this statem ent

intelligendum quod essentia sua sit tenebra vel falsitas, sed quia non habet esse nec lucem nec
veritatem nisi ab alio ; unde si consideretur sine hoc quod ab alio habet est nihil et tenebra et
falsitas: [De Ver., q. 8, ad rationes vero ad 2).
1 Cont. Gent., I, 71. St. Thomas, to follow the technique we traced in our analysis of the
relations of esse and perfection, sim ilarly reduces know ability to actu ality: . . . quia secun
dum hoc unumquodque cognoscibile est, in quantum est actu (S .T ., I, q. 5, a. 2). Ens and
verum are likewise reducible to actu ality which holds a proportionate relation to know ability :
Unumquodque cognoscibile est secundum quod est actu et non secundum quod est in
potentia, ut dicitur in X I Metaph. Sic enim aliquid est ens et verum , quod sub cognitione cadit,
prout actu est. (S.T. I, q. 87, a. 1). This a ctu ality is invariably, as we saw in the case of
perfection, identified with esse: . . . ratio veritatis fundatur in esse, et non in quidditate.
(I Sent., d. 19, q. 5, a. 1, ad 7; cf. De Ver., q. 1, a. 3, sed contra). St. Thom as uses Aristotle
100 E S S E N C E AS T H E I N T R I N S I C L I M I T A T I O N OF E S S E

in the face of a contemporary thought for which, without exception,


essence was the source of all intelligibility as Giles of Rome bears
witness. He certainly had his reasons for so radical a conception and
they are are to be found in his ultimate metaphysical doctrine of the
relations of essence and esse.
Esse should not be considered as the abstract concept of being,
greatest in extension but with a minimum, impoverished comprehen
sion. Is it possible that the notion of Ipsum Esse Subsistens contains
only the precision that God is, with no further intelligible content?
Are we stretching the fact of God's existence into a intelligible aspect
of His nature? Does existence have the intelligible content necessary
for the derivation of an entire metaphysics? The esse of Thomas
Aquinas is a Thesaurus of perfection including within itself all modes
of being. The intelligible barrenness of the concept of being, correlated
in modern times with its universal extension, follows only if being is
conceived as a genus.1
Esse possesses within itself all perfection. It is the Thesaurus of
the riches and intelligible values of actual essence.2 That is w hy esse
is identified with perfection and perfection is ultim ately reducible to
esse b y Thomas Aquinas, as we saw earlier. Esse possesses within itself
all perfections of every mode of esse. Vivere in viventibus est esse.s
Intelligere in intelligentibus est esse. Even the complex intelligibilities
and perfections of intelligence is a mode of esse. Even the term simili
tudo which we would expect to be applied only to essence is applicable
as authority for this reduction: .. . sicut est dispositio rerum in esse, ita et in veritate. {In
I I Metaph., lect. 2, 298). Cf. Cont. Gent., I, 62; also on this point see the article of Gerald B.
Phelan, Verum Sequitur Esse Rerum (note 2 above). It makes him conscious of th at lack
of in telligibility and the need to go beyond it to the act th at makes the quiddity intelligible.
(J. Owens, Saint Thomas and The Future of Metaphysics, p. 58).
1 E t sic quicquid dicitur de Deo et creaturis invenitur secundum quod est aliquis ordo
creaturae ad Deum ut ad principium et causam in qua praeexistunt excellenter et virtualiter
omnes rerum perfectiones. (S .T . I, q. 13, a. 5). Manifestum est quod primum ens, Deus, est
actus infinitus, utpote habens in se totum essendi plenitudinem, non contractam ad aliquam
naturam generis vel speciei. {De Spir. Creat., a. 1).
2 Can we be quite certain that the words act of being are not in some w ay contradictory?
H owever we m ay define the word act, it is evident th at I cannot speak of the act of being
unless I am ready to give up the idea of conceiving anything resembling a subject of the act,
a someone who fulfills the act. We should have to adm it th at this subject itself is, and th at
would send us back again to a being which is anterior to the act of being. We must then, la y it
down as a principle th at the act of being is itself this same subject, bu t th at in some w ay it is
its own creator. Let us adm it that we can really think of this creation of self b y self. B u t
there does not appear to be anything there which could be regarded as capable of assuming
specifications according to various differing modes, of which one would be w hat we call
existence. Gabriel Marcel. The Mystery of Being, II, Faith and R eality, p. 30.
3 Alio modo dicitur esse ipse actus essentiae; sicut vivere, quod est esse viventibus, est
animae actus; non actus secundus, qui est operatio, sed actus prim us. {I Sent., d. 33, 1,
a. 1, ad 1).
E S S E N C E AS T H E I N T R I N S I C L I M I T A T I O N OF E S S E 101

to esse. A ll esse is a similitudo of the Divine Esse. Even m atter is a


similitudo of Ipsum Esse Subsistens.1 God is the metaphysical source of
the intelligibility of things precisely as Ipsum Esse not Summa Essen
t ia l
If the Thomist did not know that God was Ipsum Esse Subsistens he
would be greatly restricted in the metaphysical technique open to him.
He could of course move from the being of things to a First Cause
which carried in Itself in some w ay the explanation of the totality of
beings. Such an approach could travel from entia to ens per se, or even
from the kinds of things to a source of their intelligibility, i.e., from
essences to the Summa Essentia.
Such procedures, although they would serve to explain the fact of
being, and the fact of the organization of being, would however serve to
reduce analogy to a one w ay thoroughfare. But if analogy operates not
only on the level of ens and essentia but also, and this more profoundly,
in the very depths of esse, then the metaphysical habitus in its voyage
from existents to Ipsum Esse Subsistens finds a certain m etaphysical
commutation possible. He not only goes from finite, contingent acts of
existence to Existence Itself, but he can return bearing all the riches of
further perception that such a metaphysical insight affords.
If in God His Essence is identical with His Existence, as Ipsum Esse,
if he possesses all the wealth of reality and the sum of the perfections of
being, then this knowledge of the relative ontological status of essence
and existence in the Godhead, serves to extend our vision and give
added dimension to our comprehension of the peculiar relations of
essence and existence in the creature. This does not mean that our
initial metaphysical intuitions and conceptions are vitiated but only
that they are widened and deepened. The relation between our know
ledge of creatures and our knowledge of God is like a reversible reaction,
each enriching and modifying the other, culminating in that scientific
equilibrium which is the deepest satisfaction and the contemplative
peace of the intellectual habitus.
This doctrine of the non-being of essence and the ultimate reducibili
ty of essence to esse is, we think a logical consequence of the interpre
tation of essence as a mode of being. Essdasknowable in its limitation is

1 E x hoc vero quod dixit quod divinitas est esse omnium, ostendit quod a Deo in omnibus
quaedam divini esse similitudo reperitur. (Cont. Gent., I, 26).
2 God, as Creator, is Ipsum Esse Subsistens. Therefore it follows th at the Procession of
Persons still p la y a part in the com m unication of esse according to some modes. . . . dicendum
quod etiam processiones Personarum sunt causa et ratio creationis aliquo modo, ut dictum
est. St. Thomas, Summa Theologiae, I, q. 45, a. 7, ad 3.
102 E S S E N C E AS T H E I N T R I N S I C L I M I T A T I O N OF E S S E

called essence and form.1 Precisely because it is a limited esse it can be


grasped b y a finite intellect. There is a certain proportion between the
cramped, circumscribed human intellect and the limited character of
the being it apprehends. The vocabulary of adaptation of esse to
essence is again forced upon us b y the ontological locus given to essence
considered in itself and apart from the mind in which it is conceived
and the real esse it specifies.2
The elimination of essence from the metaphysical picture b y the
modern existentialist is both an inability to reduce it to existence
and an indication of the incom patibility of the Greek essence with an
existentialism. This comes back to saying that existence and non
existence cannot be treated as terms which are patient, if we m ay so
express it, of being looked at simultaneously in a picture."
The ultimate reduction of essence to esse should not be confused
with the identification made b y Henry of Ghent and Francisco
Suarez.3 Their arguments are useful and of compelling cogency in
showing some kind of reduction, as Father Joseph Owens had pointed
out in his usual capable fashion in the case of Suarez.4 But the identifi-
1 . . . constat enim aliquid per suam substantiam , discernitur per formam, congruit per
ordinem (S .T ., /, q. 45, a. 7).
2 P articularly does the author seem right in noting (p. 115), against w hat we wrote in the
first draft, th at the act of existing is of itself perfectly adapted and accom m odated to the
essence which is its form al principle; so perfectly th at it can be joined to no other essence in
the actuation of the la tter. W hence it follows th at it ought to be considered an im possibility
for one essence to be joined to another essence in a common actuation, hence in an act of
existing in so far as it is the actuation of the essence (J. Maritain, On the Notion of Sub
sistence, Progress in Philosophy, p. 29, n. 1). For the author to whom M aritain is referring
in this passage, see the articles of H. Diepen, O .S.B ., La critique du Baslisme selon saint
Thom as d A qu in , Rev. thomiste, L (1950) nos. 1-2. The ultim ate reducibility of essence to
esse provides a natural, intrinsic proportion between essence and esse. If essence is a mode of
esse, then the essence varies with the degree, or to put it crudely, the am ount of esse. Essences
are as it were quanta of existence. There is therefore no need of an artificial adaptation or
accom m odation of essence and esse as reciprocal causes, related as metal to mold or the
interlocking pieces of a jig-saw puzzle. Such a proportion flows naturally from the very
structure of being, intrinsic to esse.
3 Dicendum ergo est eandem rem esse essentiam et existentiam (Suarez, Disp. Metaph.,
X X X I , Section 6, 23); . . . essentiam creatam . . . non distingui realiter ab existentiae, ita
ut sint duae res seu entitates distinctae (Ibid., X X X I , Section 6, 1).
4 W hat the Suarezian Discussion accomplishes in an entirely convincing manner, however,
is to show definitively th at essential being and existential being cannot be distinguished in
reality outside the mind. . . . Suarez has presented his arguments with such pitiless cogency
th at the case of the real iden tity of essential being and existential being should have been
closed forever. The Suarezian Discussion shows with incontestable rigor th at when the terms
of the problem are posed as essential being and existential being both types of being really
coincide. . . In the present revival of interest in the m etaphysical doctrine of St. Thom as, the
case of Suarez is perhaps the best object lesson in w hat happens when the Thom istic essence is
represented as any kind of essential being or even conceived as having some kind of proper
being in its own right, whether such being is looked upon as real or as only intentional.
Father Owens is of course well aware th at on a profounder m etaphysical level such an
identification is not absolute. B y the same token, the Suarezian Discussion leaves entirely
E S S E N C E AS T H E I N T R I N S I C L I M I T A T I O N OF E S S E 103

cations of Henry of Ghent and Suarez, if looked upon under the aspect
of a reduction, are pointed in the opposite way. They are both meta
physics of essence and if there is any reduction it is of existence to
essence, just the reverse of the argumentation we have employed and
the conclusion we expect to reach.
Examples and illustrations are of use in metaphysics not so much for
their power of direct and intuitive illumination as for their capacity to
communicate those intelligibilities which so often remain incompre
hensible in abstract and technical formulation. When we state that
essence is not that which limits existence extrinsically, that it is not an
id quod, but that it is the intrinsic limitation of esse, the point at which
existence stops, bordered b y nothingness, exact comprehension may
not be forthcoming. But if we were to use the typical example which
the thirteenth century was accustomed to employ in explanation of the
relations of essence and existence, then the state of affairs might be
come clearer.
Let us then compare esse to an infinite ocean of being, and essence
to the vessel or container in which it is received. Each essence receives
as much esse as it can contain just as each pitcher receives only as
much of the waters of the ocean as it can hold within its limits of
circumscription. This analogy of Giles of Rome expresses, we think
rather adequately, not only the view of the thirteenth century but
much of contemporary scholastic thinking on the relations of essence
and existence. Although existence does give actuality to essence, it is
essence as a reciprocal cause that limits, circumscribes and determines
it. To essence belongs the capacity of contracting esse.
However, in order to express what we mean by essence or the intrin
sic limitation of existence, let us modify our metaphor. Let us consider
existence as if it were a liquid poured from this same pitcher simul
taneously with a sudden drop in temperature. Under freezing conditions
it becomes a solid before it strikes the ground. The liquid existence is
possessed of its dimensions, its own limitations. The shape it assumes
is the determination of its own substance. Essence is not something
extrinsic to existence which limits and determines it in the w ay that a
pitcher shapes its recipient liquid, but essence is rather the place
where existence stops. There is nothing in water which is not water.
There is nothing in an existent which is not existence. Essence is the
untouched the profound m etaphysical doctrine contained in the Thom istic texts; nam ely
th at the essence of a creature is other than either its real or its cognitional being. . .. B u t
Suarez exhibits no knowledge th at such a doctrine ever existed and no notion that it could
even be possible (J. Owens The Suarezian Discussion on Essence and Being, The Modern
Schoolman, X X X I V [1957], 189-191.
104 E S S E N C E AS T H E I N T R I N S I C L I M I T A T I O N OF E S S E

intrinsic limitation of esse, the crystallization of existence, bordered by


nothingness. This is why Thomas can speak of essence as non-being.
This is why it is not so much created but rather con-created. This is
why it is a co-existent rather than an existent.
Essence is the intrinsic principle of limitation of esse, the surface
tension restricting, delimiting and containing, all at once, the existen
tial energies to this particular level and, to put it crudely, amount
or degree of perfection.
Despite the obvious difficulties entailed in attempting to express
what is basically a qualitative phenomenon in crude quantitative
terms, let us try another example at the risk of appearing naive.
Although the imagination plays no more than a supporting role in
metaphysics,1 (according to Thomas we never have a concept no matter
how abstract but that some image however inchoate and inadequate,
rises to the forefront of consciousness) let us imagine, then, existence
as a stream rushing down the mountain side. Again, for our purposes it
is frozen b y a sudden drop in temperature. An axe at this point can
help us to explain what we mean b y essence as the intrinsic limitation of
existence. If we cut the stream into several pieces or blocks thev will
differ only b y the pattern left by the blade of the axe. There is nothing
in the blocks but frozen water or ice. But one is distinguishable from
another b y the place where they stop, the myriad grooves and raised
surfaces left b y the blade of the axe. This is what we mean when we
say that essence is the intrinsic limitation of existence. It is not that
which limits esse, it is the limitation of esse ; it is not that which receives,
determines and specifies esse, it is the very specification itself of
existence.
The term habens esse is another relic of the Greek philosophical voca
bulary with its essentialistic context which Thomas inherited at the
very start of his philosophical career. He had to say what was to be
said in this vocabulary. But habens esse means simply for Thomas that
in creatures their essence is not existence simply, their essence is not
simply to exist as is the case with the Divine Esse. Instead of being
Ipsum Esse Subsistens, creatures are finite, limited esses . It is the fact
1 Sicut enim dicit Boethius, lib. De Trin., c. n , col. 1250, t. ii. in his quae sine materia
sunt, oportet non ad imaginationem deduci: quia hoc plurimum officit in divinis (/ Sent.,
d. 33, q. i , a. i, ad 2).
2 E st autem m ultiplex modus essendi rerum. Quaedam enim sunt, quorum natura non
habet esse nisi in hac materia individuali; et huiusmodi sunt omnia corporalia. Quaedam vero
sunt, quorum naturae sunt per se subsistentes, non in materia aliqua, quae tamen non sunt
suum esse, sed sunt esse habentes ; et huiusmodi sunt substantiae incorporeae, quas angelos
dicimus. Solius autem Dei proprius modus essendi est, ut sit suum esse subsistens. (/, 12, 4 c ) .
E S S E N C E AS T H E I N T R I N S I C L I M I T A T I O N OF E S S E 105

of the finite limited character of the created esse which is indicated b y


the habens esse.
If we take literally the words habens esse then the implication is
that something has esse, either as ens or essentia, but the doctrine of
creation demands that essence be constituted simultaneously with the
communication of esse in the creative act. This is precisely what Thomas
is indicating when he says, i(Deus simul dans esse, producit id quod esse
recipit et sic non oportet quod agat ex aliquo praeexistenti. {De Pot., I l l ,
i , ad 17). The controversies of Giles of Rome and Henry of Ghent show
very clearly that such an interpretation carries a Platonic influence
with God conceived as the Form of Being which needs a m atter to act
upon, a matter which is precisely the possible essence.
The embarrassing fact of the apparently contradictory texts on
Thomas' notion of essence can be handled in two ways. We can of
course place the texts side b y side and say: Of course, essence is a mode
of being and communicated with esse in the creative act, but it is also
that which receives and has esse and seems to. account for a plurality of
beings. But this to our mind is simply to set both horns of the dilemma
of the doctrine of creation, when interpreted in terms of essence and
existence, side by side and accepting this as a solution, the contem
plation of the profound m ystery between.
Unless we can somehow reduce essence to esse so that in the commu
nication of esse in the creative act we see essence as the limitation, the
intrinsic limitation, the very specification itself of esse, then we cannot
reconcile the dilemma involved in creation.
This is not to eliminate essence or make it so much surplus meta
physical baggage, but it is to explain it m etaphysically, not as an ulti
mate Platonic Form hovering with ghostly determination in the
Platonic heaven until it is given existence, and possessing being of
itself in someway before it exists, essence, however, still performing its
fundamental role as essence. We still know essences, but we can now
explain them as the intrinsic limitation of esse. Esse as moulded and
determined intrinsically is then conceptualizable and known in the
concept, and called essence. But essence itself is not what is most
fundamental in reality. A ll its perfection, even its intelligibility and
knowability comes ultim ately from esse, the perfection of all per
fections, the act of all acts.
106 E S S E N C E AS T H E I N T R I N S I C L I M I T A T I O N OF E S S E

5. C A U S A L I T Y

The fundamental capacity of causality escapes imagination and is


rooted in the m etaphysical structure of a thing. The source of dyna
mism is below and beneath, more basic than the peripheral sensibles as
grasped b y the imagination in the unity provided b y quantity. It is no
less than the dynamism of the act of existence of a thing that is the
primal source of the metaphysical energies overflowing and pouring
out in causal acts.
We must be very careful not to apply the Aristotelian psychological
paraphernalia too anthropomorphically to the Divine nature. God is
Ipsum Esse Subsistens and He acts as an efficient cause communicating
esse to creatures. In other words, He produces existents b y a free act of
efficient causality.
W hat justification is there for the explanation of essence and esse
in terms of reciprocal causes ?
If the causal principle is properly the conclusion of a demonstration
which roots its major in being, w hy use the posterior to explain the
prior ? How can we use the notion of cause to explain the principles of
being ? Is not this a bit like a reversal of the accustomed positions of
that well-known animal and its conveyance ? 1

6. A N A L O G Y A N D E S S E

The very term modes of being" implies a variation on a theme, a


modification of a unitary reality. Being is somehow one if it is to be
varied and modified; not the logical unity of the concept of Being of
Cajetan; not even the unity of order for a metaphysical computation
of degrees of being" according to B. Montagnes; but degrees of being
implies that there is something, somehow one, which can be reduced
from more to less, to certain metaphysical levels of being.
The explanation of the analogy of being by a series of essences, the
principles of difference of things, cannot provide the unity needed. If
there are degrees of esse which vary b y their essences, even then, it
seems they must be alike b y their esse; not by some vague use of the
phrase modi essendi" to link essences as somehow, in some general
way, being, but the precise and exact significance of the term. Things
differ b y their essences, they are one b y their esse. But, if so, how?
1 Cf. J. Owens, The Causal Proposition - Principle or Conclusion? , The Modern
Schoolman, X X X I I , M ay, 1955; p. 339.
E S S E N C E AS T H E I N T R I N S I C L I M I T A T I O N OF E S S E 107

Only the doctrine of Esse as the Thesaurus of all perfection' can


provide the superabundant store of perfection to be limited in individu
al essences. If being is a form which is limited b y matter, is the same
thing true? It would seem so. But in this case does not esse need
essence in order to become limited, finished and perfect because it
possesses the indetermination of the concept or form of being, not esse ?
This specification is involved in the articulations of efficient cau
sality, the production of the creature b y God. In this way, just as
essence is reducible to esse, so formal causality is reducible to efficient
causality as an aspect of its efficacy. God as efficient cause is also the
exemplary cause of things. The esse He communicates makes a thing
to be, the esse He communicates in a limited mode makes a thing to be
a kind, to exist in this way, to be possessed of an essence. Just as
essence flows from esse as the intrinsic principle of limitation and/or
determination, so formal causality is the limitation and determination
of efficient causality to the production of this kind of being.
The unity and plurality of things are certainly fundamental meta
physical facts of the universe. But they are not the most basic and
foundational aspects of reality. Things are one because of their esse.
God is Simple because He is Ipsum Esse. Creatures are composite only
because they are limited esses that unite with other limited esses in
secondary causality, and can, consequently, be separated. U nity and
plurality have to be based on and rooted in being and ultim ately in esse.
In a metaphysics of being as esse we can explain all the facts of the
universe including unity and plurality. U nity and plurality cannot of
themselves found a metaphysics. They must be rooted in being, not
unity but the one, not plurality but the m any; one what? one being;
m any what ? many beings. Plurality is the result of the limitation of
esse. Not of an extrinsic limitation which means separability and thus
composition, but an intrinsically limited being which as we said before
needs other beings for its perfection, thus forming a composite due to
the role of secondary causes in contributing their esse for the establish
ment and constitution of composite productions.

7. E X IS T E N C E A N D T H E D O C T R IN E OF T H E D IV IN E ID E A S

The traditional method of explaining the origin of plurality is


through the doctrine of the Divine Ideas. But the doctrine of the
Divine Ideas takes one just so far in explaining the origin of plurality
and then it fails. How is a m ultiplicity of Divine Ideas rooted in the
108 E S S E N C E AS T H E I N T R I N S I C L I M I T A T I O N OF E S S E

Divine Essence ? To push the origin of plurality back to the rationes, the
respectus, or intelligible aspects of the Divine Essence which the Divine
Intellect perceives as imitable in a variety of modes b y creatures is, it
would seem, merely to relocate the point of confrontation between a
unitary Divine Essence and the Divine Intellect which perceives it as
imitable. The basic rationes which seem to underlie the plurality of the
Divine Ideas and a Simple Divine Essence is still a traditional Greek
formulation of the One and the Many! Using the model of the human
intellect as a foundation for the doctrine of the Divine Ideas, as Tho
mas Aquinas explains the historical origin of the doctrine in the De
Veritate, would seem to introduce plurality into being through a lesser
being, an esse intentionale of sorts. Although this might be effective
with a created intellect, can it be much more than a metaphor when
applied to a Being for Whom to Know is to Be. The rationes or respectus
which Aquinas speaks of in the Summa, in a certain summation and
crystallization of his doctrine, seems to be still the traditional Greek
formulation of a metaphysics of essence, an Augustinian Summa
Essentia of which creatures are the Bonaventurian reflections. But if
God is Ipsum Esse Subsistens, how does He serve as the foundation for
a plurality of essences, whether Divine Ideas or created essences ?
How is the Divine Essence imitable in an indefinite variety of ways
reducible to the proper name of God, Ipsum Esse Subsistens ? Here
again the doctrine of the Ultim ate Reducibility of Essence to Esse
explains the apparent dilemma. If Ipsum Esse is the Thesaurus of
perfection then to look on esse as imitable in this w ay b y this creature
and in that w ay b y that creature is to say that essences are modes of
esse. Esse perceived in the Divine Ideas as limited to this mode, or to
that finite determined essence, is still to look upon essences as existen
tial quanta.
There is also a problem of how this projection of the Divine Ideas,
this essence, is joined to its esse. Does the union of essence and esse
take place outside the creative act and posterior to it, or does it form a
secondary stage within the creative act ? First God gives esse and then
He communicates essence to it? Or does He produce an essence qua
essence and then give esse to it ? In either case we have a dual creation
or the production of a being out of nothing in steps, - with one of the
steps seemingly a halfway house from nothing to existence through
essence, which is not nothing but does not exist until it receives esse
but somehow is with a being of its own as essence.
B y making the created essences of things collapse back upon the
E S S E N C E AS T H E I N T R I N S I C L I M I T A T I O N OF E S S E 109

Divine Ideas we do not solve the problem of the ultimate origin of


essence, rather, b y pushing it back to the Divine Ideas we simply place
the burden of explanation on a Simple Divine Essence which is reduci
ble in its turn b y metaphysical analysis and causal priority, at least in
the vocabulary of Thomas Aquinas, to Ipsum Esse Subsistens. Thus the
explanation of essence must ultim ately be in terms of esse and precisely
located in the creative articulations in efficient causality of Ipsum
Esse and the created, finite, limited esse it produces, namely the creature.
The real danger in explaining the relations of creatures to God is
not atheism but pantheism, the ties between Ipsum Esse and finite
esses are much profounder than any differences. But as long as we
remember that esse is communicated through efficient causality and
not formal causality there is no danger of pantheism, of making God
the Form of the World as W illiam of Auvergne was tempted to do.
The relations of Ipsum Esse and finite esse are always articulations of
efficient causality.

8. T H E D I S T I N C T I O N O F E S S E N C E A N D E S S E

The whole question of the distinction" between essence and exis


tence is located within a metaphysics of unity and has to be reformu
lated in other terms to make sense within a metaphysics of existence.
If things are simple and composite than how do esse and essence fit
into such a metaphysics ? Are they merely units which can be multiplied
and divided to account for the plurality of immaterial substances or
the distinction of creatures from the creator ?
If something is absolutely one, then essence and existence must be
identified. If something is composite, then it follows that they are
separable and distinct.
But in a metaphysics of esse a being is one because of its esse and
two beings have more than one act of existence. If unity follows being,
what does it mean to ask the question : Is there a distinction between
essence and existence ?
W hy does Giles of Rome hold a doctrine of the real distinction
between essence and esse ? ; to distinguish the creature from God as the
composite is distinguished from the simple ? ; to explain the creatibility
of the creature ? ; to account for the corruptibility of the finite material
thing ? ; or to account for a plurality of creatures by the diversification
of esse; by an extrinsic determination ? Only secondarily is it because
God is Infinite Being and the creature is a finite being.
110 E S S E N C E AS T H E I N T R I N S I C L I M I T A T I O N OF E S S E

Contemporary Scholastics invariably are repeating the context of the


discussion of the Distinction of Essence and Existence as set b y Giles of
Rome. Even when they recognize the primacy of esse they still use
essence and esse as counters in a system of multiplication which serves
to distinguish God from creatures as U nity from plurality, the One and
the many, rather than as Infinite Being from Finite Being.
The common perspective on the role of essence in the history of
metaphysics is that it serves to m ultiply creatures, and, added to esse
or vice versa, makes the composite possible. Thus the distinction
between essence and existence provides a workable formula to distin
guish or explain the difference between a God Who is absolutely
simple and the creature which is fundamentally a composite, some of
whose parts are separable and thus corruptible. This is extremely
useful and, we repeat, the common framework of thinking for the
doctrine of the Real Distinction.
However, all this can be reduced to and explained by a Metaphysics
of U nity. The Neoplatonist Proclus and the Arabian author of the
Liber de Causis could provide this rigorous argument. In fact, as we
have seen, they do! But at other points this argument begins to
disintegrate. None of these thinkers have ever explained satisfactorily
the transition from unity to plurality. The presence of the many was a
problem for Greek philosophy from the Pre-socratic thinkers to its
last famous champion, Proclus. The doctrine of the henads is a case in
point.
Even in a Metaphysics of Essence which is a Metaphysics of U nity
disguised as a Metaphysics of Being, the problem persists with, for
example, Avicenna's famous axiom, ab uno, unum."
Things are not their esse, they are composed" of essence and esse.
W hatever Thomas Aquinas meant by this formulation he obviously
did not mean the same thing that Giles of Rome or Cajetan meant. His
notion of being militates against it. He uses the Greek formula because
it does serve to distinguish the creature from God, but not in terms of
being so much as in terms of unity and plurality. It is because creatures
are composite that we can distinguish them from the perfect simplicity
of Ipsum Esse Subsistens.
However, a duality at the heart of metaphysics is intolerable. This
was the profound and fundamental reason for the attacks on the real
distinction between essence and existence as formulated b y Giles of
Rome, Henry of Ghent, Duns Scotus, and Suarez. A ll of these thinkers
saw that the real distinction between essence and existence endangered
the doctrine of creation, and particularly the unity of creation.
E S S E N C E AS T H E I N T R I N S I C L I M I T A T I O N OF E S S E 111

But if essence is conceived as the intrinsic principle of determination


of esse, then diversification, plurality and multitude can be explained
without positing an eternal or pre-existing essence or jeopardizing the
distinction between God and creatures, between Ipsum Esse Subsistens
and finite esses.
When Duns Scotus and Francis Suarez made existence a mode of
essence, they recognized the impossibility of a duality of principles at
the foundation of metaphysics. They were forced to reduce esse to
essence as a mode of essence.
The phenomenon of the transliteration of doctrines in different and
even opposing philosophies is a fact of philosophic experience and
attests to the perennial nature of philosophical problems and conclu
sions. Often the same doctrines and insights arise, but on different
philosophical levels. The history of the controversies on the relations
of essence and esse has a significant message to teach us. Namely, that
the roof of the universe can be occupied b y only one principle, Ipsum
Esse Subsistens and that the roof of metaphysics can be occupied by
only one principle, esse. As all creatures flow from God, so all other
principles flow from esse in the creative act. Creation is not a marriage,
a joining of esse and essence, but a true birth. Esse is posited within its
intelligible dimensions, limited intrinsically by its essence, a true
existential Quantum.
The entire controversy on the Distinction of Essence and Existence
beginning with Giles of Rome and Henry of Ghent and developing
through an infinitude of variations possible to both the profound and
the agile mind is but another application of what m ay be called
Moments of Tension in the history of philosophy. Just as Proclus
conceived the doctrine of the Henads as a point of confrontation
between unity and plurality, blunted and dulled b y the multiplica
tion of minor ones" or henads tapering off into unity b y the very
indefiniteness of their multiplicity, a shading from unity to plurality
which really consists only in pushing the problem back one step
further and hoping it will then disappear. But no m atter how tenuous
and vague the plurality, it must still be accounted for.
Likewise, the history of the discussions of the Real Distinction is
based upon another such Moment of Tension in which the data of the
problem, the facts of creation, although theologically no problem (for
there the facts are clear), philosophically seem unexplainable in terms
of the metaphysical principles and the formulations used precisely to
explain them. Both sides, or should we say all sides, of the controversy
112 E S S E N C E AS T H E I N T R I N S I C L I M I T A T I O N OF E S S E

accept to their detriment the posing of the problem by Giles of Rome


which he took from Greek philosophy via the Liber de Causis. Essence
is the ultimate principle of metaphysics. To be is to be a form; to be is to
be an essence. Even w ith the recognition of the ultimate fundam entality
of existence in the explanation of the doctrine of creation, essence never
quite loses its heritage from the Greek eternal universe and this is why
Suarez, devastatingly critical as he is, still has little in the w ay of
a constructive contribution to make, other than the same reduction of
esse to a mode of essence.
Our contention is that this dilemma will never be solved until we
recognize the Ultimate Reducibility of Essence to Esse. The doctrine of
the primacy of being, the Prim acy of Esse is not enough. For essence
still retains its inheritance of being in some way or other, a separate but
unequal status," which still gives us a fundamental duality in the
structure of the creative act and indeed in the object of metaphysics.
But if we recognize that essence is a mode of esse, that it flows from
esse in the efficient causality of the creative act, that it and all its
perfections are reducible to esse b y metaphysical analysis, then there
is no dilemma of the Real Distinction as Thomas Aquinas' vocabulary,
when pruned and isolated, explains to us, (this and no more). Essence
is really other than esse precisely because it is the limitation of esse, the
intrinsic limitation of esse. In the creature, its essence is not its esse
because esse as esse is not identical with limitation. Considered without
limitation it is the totality of perfection, Ipsum Esse, God Himself. The
formula : In the creature its essence is other than its existence, is really
no problem and presents no difficulty to the doctrine of the Ultim ate
Reducibility of essence to existence. It means simply this, the creature
is a limited and finite esse as compared to the creator Who is infinite
Esse. The creature is distinguished from the creator on the basis of its
limited finite nature, not on the basis of some constitutive plurality or
composition as compared with the Simplicity of the creator, a compo
sition which follows upon and is the result of the finitude of esse, a
finite esse seeking to remedy its own limitation and imperfection by
the appropriation of further esse in secondary causality. According
to Thomas Aquinas, even the separate substances, the composition and
plurality of which have been so difficult to explain, are finite beings
and in need of Ipsum Esse, some sort of union with God.
In a metaphysics of U nity disguised as a metaphysics of being,
Esse, somehow one, is distinguished from the creature b y its sim plicity.
The creature is set off from the Creator by its composite structure of
essence and existence. It is a plurality.
E S S E N C E AS T H E I N T R I N S I C L I M I T A T I O N OF E S S E 113

In a metaphysics of esse, essence needs only a subordinate relation


of efficient causality to demarcate God from creatures. The creature
is a limited esse or a being or esse with an essence.
It is because the finite being as finite does not possess esse perfectly,
because, although it participates being (esse), it does not participate it
according to every mode of being. The creature does not receive the
whole perfection of being, but it has an imperfect esse. Perhaps it
would be more precise to say it is an imperfect esse, or even more
precisely, it is constituted as a certain level of perfection, a particular
magnitude of esse, an existential quantum, a degree of being.
Limitation is an essential characteristic of the creature. The creature
is a limited or finite being. Even though the essence of the creature is
the intrinsic limitation of esse, and constituting with its esse its sub
stance, there is nevertheless no possibility of identifying its essence
with its existence, the creature with esse or even its own esse. Because
it is the limited and finite character of the created being that forever
stands in the w ay of infinity, of the superabundance of esse, of that
identification of essence and existence which occurs only in God, and
in the object of metaphysics considered by the human reason.
In the case of no finite being can its essence be existence or even its
own existence. Precisely because its esse is limited to this specific and
particular mode of being, this kind of thing, it is never possible to
identify essence, the intrinsic principle of limitation with esse. It would
be equally impossible to identify a limited esse with Ipsum Esse
Subsistens or Infinite Esse.
When one surveys the history of the problem of the relations of
essence and existence one is struck by the awesome complexity and
vast net of ramifications in which more than one thinker has become
entangled. Surely, if the dilemma could have been resolved in terms of
essence it would have been so b y the efforts of such gifted thinkers as
Giles of Rome, Henry of Ghent, Duns Scotus, Capreolus, Cajetan, John
of St. Thomas, Francis Suarez, Vasquez and many more, the catalogue
of whose names and distinguished titles would fill volumes. But what
has been the result of such labors. The mountains have been in labor
and given birth to the awesome complexities of the real distinction,
the logical distinction, the intentional distinction, the modal distinction,
the distinction between essence and existence, between esse essentiae
and esse existentiae, between esse essentiae and existence, between
essence and esse existentiae, with every apparent possibility exhausted
and every ingenuity exercised. But the net result has been in inverse
114 E S S E N C E AS T H E I N T R I N S I C L I M I T A T I O N OF E S S E

proportion to the genius and energies expended. W hy is this so ? If it


were possible to solve this problem in this metaphysical setting and on
these terms, surely there would have been results from such a glistening
array of intellectual artillery. Instead the net result has been another of
those moments of tension which we have seen in the history of philoso
phy, similar to the Henads of Proclus, in which the unity of metaphysi
cal being is achieved b y some sort of multiplication of relations, a
criss-crossing, webbing, and re-weaving of a complicated set of rela
tions so complex that they must add up to a sort of unity. This is an
inverse approach to the problem of the One and the Many from that
which Proclus took. Proclus began with a U nity and tried to explain
plurality. The metaphysics of essence through the doctrine of reciprocal
causes begins with a fundamental plurality which makes secure the
distinction of the creature from God and then attempts to weave the
unity of being out of a fundamental ontological duality by a doctrine of
reciprocal causes. Essence gives to being that it is of a certain type or
kind. Esse gives to essence its existence. This seems to work until we
come to ask the question of the ontological status of essence. Then the
whole structure seems to disintegrate giving evidence to the shaky
underpinning on which it has been based.
In the problem of the relations of essence and existence there is no
distinction" because distinction occurs only between two intelligible
polarities or two essential determinations. Likewise there is an analytic
reducibility b y the metaphysics of essence to esse from whence it flows,
but not an identification, because identification" involves a perfect
agreement of similitude or at most a uniqueness of similitude, but
distinction and identification occur always between intelligible,
determined aspects of entities, namely their essences or essential
determinations.1
It is a very significant fact that Thomas Aquinas (although he had
a detailed doctrine of Distinction as he demonstrates on other occasions
and in other contexts, for example, the Trinity), however, avoids this

1 Cf. on this point J. Hellin, El Esse Plenum Y La Esencia , Pensamiento, 20 (1964) no. 78
in a discussion of m y article on this topic (Cf. W. E. Carlo, The Role of Essence in E xistential
M etaphysics: A Reappraisal, International Philosophical Quarterly, 2 (1962); pp. 557~59-
Father Hellin translates the doctrine of the R educibility of essence to esse as an Identifi
cation of essence and esse in a Suarezian sense. W hen Fr. Hellin says th at the whole reality of
the essence is due to existence, this for Suarez means only that essence exists b y esse and
reality is the fact th at it is, not that it is an essence, - only th at it is an actual or real essence
The fact th at Suarez uses the language of similitude exclusively, identification, indicates
to our mind th at he is working com pletely within the order of essential determinations. See
the superb articles of Fr. Hellin, Pensamiento, 1956, p. 157SS., and 1957, p. 2iss.
E S S E N C E AS T H E I N T R I N S I C L I M I T A T I O N OF E S S E 115

vocabulary completely when he comes to discuss the relations of


essence and existence. Only once does he use the verb distinguitur,
to our mind in a general sense, although he uses real distinctions and
logical distinctions in technical fashion in other contexts and with
great skill. But distinction does not apply to the relations of essence
and esse precisely because esse is superintelligible. This is why accord
ing to Aquinas the only correct w ay of speaking of the relations of
essence and esse, taking into account the precise character of the modes
of being involved, is b y the expression essence is other than esse, as
we have seen above.
W hat is of prime significance in regard to the doctrine of the Ultim ate
Reducibility of essence to esse, is that certain baffling problems such as
matter, form, the human soul, the doctrine of analogy, the nature and
autonomy of logic, the ontological status of logical entities, can all be
clarified and explained scientifically b y a reduction to principles and
causes; in this case the cause of causes is esse. (The doctrine of the
U nity of the Human Composite and the doctrine of Divine Ideas are
excellent cases in point).
CHAPTER IV

METAPHYSICAL VERIFICATION

In constructing a Thomistic metaphysics, every major doctrine,


beginning w ith the Object of metaphysics and developing its scientific
structure through the doctrines of Analogy, Potency and Act, the
Lim itation of Being, Essence and Existence, and the Transcendentals,
U nity, Truth and Goodness, - we repeat, every major doctrine is
reducible to esse. This is precisely the basis for the scientific structure
of Thomistic metaphysics. It is this Reduction to esse which serves as
the unifying principle of the science, just as the Atom ic Theory in
Physics, the Periodic Series in Chemistry and the theory of Evolution in
Biology are theories of Total Organization of these sciences and help
them to achieve the unity and organization and the predictive power
which characterize full-fledged and mature sciences.
Of course a theory of total organization is useful for unifying the
multifarious data of the science but it does not, of itself, provide the
ontological footing for the science unless it somehow is linked to and
arises from the ontological causes and/or principles with which the
particular science is engaged. But since esse is not only the principle to
which all these doctrines m ay be reduced, but also the source from
which every metaphysical entity, whatsoever, flows, and totally so,
matter, form and soul flow from esse. In fact, the only reason w hy they
are reducible to esse b y a scientific analysis and synthesis is because
they flow from esse causally. The ontological foundation of every
m etaphysical doctrine is esse, because every metaphysical entity
whatsoever, flows from esse, arises at some moment or stage,
primal or secondary, in the procession of creatures from Ipsum Esse
Subsistens and then returns to Subsistent Esse Itself. Let us as a meta
physical experiment see whether the doctrine of the Ultimate Reducibi
lity of Essence to Esse can be verified b y an examination of the theory
of Prime Matter, the subject of many philosophical vicissitudes.
METAPHYSICAL VERIFICATION 117

i. T H E O N T O L O G IC A L S T A T U S O F P R IM E M A T T E R

To recapitulate, contemporary developments in the theories of the


m etaphysical relations of essence and esse have carried esse to a position
of primacy over essence. Thinking on these basic metaphysical princi
ples has gone on to root all the perfection of being in esse rather than
essence. In fact, the logical result has been efforts to reduce the
perfection of essence as essence to esse. As we have seen, a good deal of
interest has been generated in attempting to establish the precise
ontological significance of those texts that refer to essence as non-
being. 1
Along with the inability of the doctrine of Possible Being to justify a
being of its own, the doctrine of Prime Matter is having difficulties
with its own claim to ontological status. This claim has for a long time
been considered a dubious one and there have always been thinkers
who have had difficulty with the cryptic formulation of the doctrine of
m atter in both the classical texts and the manual tradition.2

1 Cf. Chapter I, note i.


2 C o n t r a d i c t o r y s e c o n d a r y s o u r c e s : The apparently contradictory nature of the
traditional interpretation of m atter has disturbed a great m any thinkers. A French philosopher
put the m atter well. . . .the more deeply th ey scrutinize their idea of m atter and of the
properties that represent it, the darker th at idea becomes and the more it looks as though it
wanted to escape them . (D Alem bert, Discours prliminaire de VEncyclopdie, quoted b y E.
Gilson & T. Langan, Modern Philosophy, (New Y o rk : Random House, 1963), p. 314. This
same difficulty persists to the present and shows up in contem porary writings. Likewise we
speak of m atter, that is, m atter in the substantial order, as though it were something, even
though b y definition it is not som ething. (J. Owens, St. Thom as and Elucidation, New
Scholasticism, X X X V , 4, Oct., 1961).
In 1867 S. Tongiorgi could write of m atter what has so often been said of essence, that it is
somehow indifferent to existing. Ergo materia est indifferens essentialiter ad existendum. (S.
Tongiorgi, Institutiones Philosophicae, New Y o rk, 1867, p. 157). W hile P. Hoenen can describe
m atter as potential being without qualification, E. Gilson presents the problem in his
custom ary com petent fashion. Of all the kinds of potentiality, the first to present itself is the
potency to substantial being. W hat is th at which can become a substance? This pure
possibility of being a substance is called prime matter. Taken b y itself and separately, it
cannot be conceived for the simple reason th at it possesses no being of its own. Nullum esse
habet, Averroes says of it. T hat it is nothing of itself does not prove th at it is incapable of
existing. Prime m atter exists in the substance from the very moment th at the substance
itself exists, and b y virtue of the act which makes it exist. This act which constitutes the
substance is the form. From and b y the form, substance receives whatever is positive in its
being, since, as we have said, it is in and b y the form that its act-of-being penetrates it. This
also rem ains true of m atter: forma dat esse materiae. Prime m atter is the very possibility of
substance. It is to the form of the substance that m atter owes whatever actual being it has.
(E. Gilson, The Christian Philosophy of Saint Thomas Aquinas, New Y o rk: Random House,
1956, p. 177).
Hampus L yttkens tells us that the idea of materia prima, the general basis of all things, is
difficult to grasp. Being absolutely indefinite, and accordingly intellectually inaccessible and
incomprehensible, m atter can only be conceived if characterized b y form. A mysterious
118 METAPHYSICAL VERIFICATION

The notion of prime m atter as it was considered in the 13th century


falls short of a clear, concise statement and definite ontological
location. St. Bonaventure in traditional Augustinian fashion along
with such thinkers as Albert the Great and Richard of Middleton gave
to prime m atter a form of its own, however attenuated and abortive.
We m ay be opposed to this doctrine but at least we can understand it in
order to disagree positively. For in this theory matter has a substantial
constitution which affords it a very precise ontological location, even
though we might consider such substantiality an insuperable obstacle
to the ultimate, substantial unity of a composite of which such a
element is thus introduced in creation. (Hampus L yttkens, The Analogy between God and the
World, Uppsala: Alm quist and W iksells, 1952, p. 166).
Hugh R. King echoes this confrontation with m ystery in the understanding of the doctrine
of Prime M atter. Even while it lived, the doctrine of prima materia remained a subject of
m ystery and controversy. For in so far as anything has some recognizable character, capable
of analysis and therefore exhibiting in discourse some universal characteristic, it is ipso facto
informed; and insofar as it is informed it is a this, a substance, and hence not prima materia.
(Hugh R. King, A ristotle W ithout Prima Materia, Journal of the History of Ideas, X V I I I ,
i, January, 1957, pp. 37 o- i ).
Some thinkers insist on the clear-cut separation of existence from both m atter and form.
The very possibility of the real existence of m any form ally diverse or num erically distinct
beings rests upon the separation of existence from both m atter and form (Leonard J. Eslick,
W hat Is the Starting Point of M etaphysics? Modern Schoolman, May, 1957, p. 261). Pure
poten tiality and the Thom istic Philosophy of Nature, through the analysis of substantial
change, can indeed show th at m atter, in its prim ary and ultim ate nature, is pure potentiality.
As a potential and indeterminate principle, it cannot sim ultaneously be the intrinsic principle
within a being which makes it actually to exist. (Ibid., p. 260). It is impossible to deny th at
the notion of prim ary m a tter. . . must be considered as a fiction, i.e. an intrinsically contra
dictory notion . . . The notion of prim ary m atter, the result of a regressive process of abstraction,
is not only a lim it-concept (Grenzbegriff) bu t an overstepping of the possibilities of concep
tual thought (Grenzberschreitung des begrifflichen D enkens (A. W enzl, Sitzungsberichte
der Bayerischen Akadem ia, Philosophisch-Historische Klasse, 1958, 1; quoted b y N. Luyten,
O .P., M atter as a Poten cy, The Concept of Matter, ed. E. McMullin, Notre Dame, 1965,
p. 127).
In his skepticism as to the ontological reality of prime m atter, Krem pel reduces it to a
function of efficient causality. This seems to be basically a reduction to the relations of
potency and act which are schem atic principles that operate within causality. La causalit
matrielle se trouve transforme de la sorte, en causalit efficiente. Les termes matire et
forme se rduisent deux relations d une substance unique la premire vis--vis des substances
futures que lavenir peut en dduire; la seconde vis--vis des substances prcdemment pro
ductrices de la substance prsente. La causalit unique et suprme de Dieu nest pas affecte
par cette substitution qui sassimile, au reste, le principe thomiste d individuation en repor
tant la dcision sur lindividu son origine (A. Krem pel, op. cit., p. 609). En somme, nous
transposons la causalit matrielle en causalit efficiente. En mme temps, nous interprtons
les termes: matire et forme - tout comme: puissance et acte, en gnral - de plusieurs
relations logiques fondes de la mme entit relle compacte. Une substance corporelle
s appelle: matire, vis--vis des substances futures possibles quelle peut produire en sacri
fiant sa propre existence; elle sappelle: forme - actualisation vis--vis de sa propre origine;
forme - acte, vis--vis de ltat prsent. (Dans lhylmorphisme authentique aussi, la matire,
pour autant quelle est actualise dans un corps existant, nest pas matire, puissance
substantielle, lgard d un corps passe - comme telle elle a jou son rle - ni matire,
puissance, lgard de la forme prsente - ce serait renier son actualisation survenue - elle
fait uniquement droit son nom de matire puissance, vis--vis des formes futures possibles,
formarum educibilium (Ibid., p. 606-7). Or, dans un changem ent accidentel, il revient cer-
METAPHYSICAL VERIFICATION 119

principle is a constituent element. But when we turn to what we might


call the Aristotelian, Averroistic or even Thomistic theory of matter,
certain difficulties do arise. I am not referring to the basic philosophi
cal purpose of the doctrine. That is evident. It does serve to insure the
substantial unity of the composite, human or otherwise. But the
comprehension of the intelligible content of the theory is not quite as
clear-cut and definite.
W hat is pure potentiality, stripped of all determination, deprived
of all form? Y e t it combines with form, exerting a real causal efficiency
in order to limit it. This principle is in the genus of substance but it
tainem ent au mme, de voir dans le subiectum le collaborateur matriel, comme le veu t
lhylmorphisme classique, ou un collaborateur efficient. (Au reste, rien ne soppose ce
que lon retienne les termes: subiectum et matire, d autant moins quils nexercent pas
seulement une efficience, mais la reoivent. Cette efficience se caractrise par une apparente
imm obilit ou rsistance. En effet, on appelle: matire ce qui coopre de faon apparemm ent
passive avec la cause efficiente de ce nom, tel le bois avec le menuisier, le corps avec le chirur
gien, tout en reevant, en mme temps, leffet. {Ibid., p. 605).
Other thinkers would claim th at m atter is the actual being itself which contains the con
ditions for further development. For this reason there are philosophers who are very skeptical
about hylomorphism as the system atic theory holding th at all corporeal beings are composed
of prime m atter and substantial form. On the other hand, however, th ey are quite willing to
recognize A ristotles great merit in having introduced the hylom orphic w ay of thinking in
general. According to this general hylom orphic w ay of thinking, m atter is the actual being
itself which contains the conditions for further development and thus is the material cause
in a broad sense with respect to all kinds of actualizations. (J. Peters, M atter and Form in
M etaphysics, New Scholasticism, Vol. X X X I , 1957, p. 456-7). Not knowing just what to do
with m atter J. Peters reduces it to form. B u t he does illustrate and recognize the intolerable
position of m atter as a principle which neither is nor can be conceived when exam ined from
the point of view of being. And he does this despite what is a basically phenomenological
method. There is the constant danger th at hylomorphism will be regarded as a dualism in
which a timeless m atter receives (though in substantial unity) supra-temporal forms that
have their origin from elsewhere - as the human artist gives form to an adjacent matter.
A gainst this dualism we shall have to be on our guard, certainly from the viewpoint of an
ontology which acknowledges th at the corporeal, as regards both m atter and form, is created.
The doctrine of the essential interrelation of m atter and form, in which both are considered
to be ontic aspects of the corporeal being and so identified with each other in the concrete in
spite of and even in their very opposition, is a safeguard here against the aberrations which
take m atter and form more or less as independent beings. {Ibid., p. 483).
M atter even enjoys a m etaphysical priority over the constituted substance with its own
act of existence. . . . but in a corporeal substance the composition of m atter and form enjoys
a m etaphysical (not temporal) priority over the composition of the thus-constituted sub
stance with its own act of existing. It should not be forgotten, however, th at we are not here
describing two different moments of the same composition, but tw o different orders of
com position. (E. Gilson, Being and Some Philosophers, p. 173). Father Gerard Sm ith cloaks
a profound insight in wit and metaphor. There is no objection to poking fun at Aristotles
description of prime m atter provided you see his point. He is saying that there is a factor in
any being of a specific kind which is thoroughly unintelligible except in its expectancy of
substantial form, and heres the point: to that expectancy (of substantial form) which is
prime m atter. . . Now if incongruity is a factor in fun, we have in prime m atter the funniest
incongruity there i s . . . Laugh if you will at the incongruous ability of what is not even dust
(it is prime matter) to assume a form b y which a material composite can adore God. B u t
don t laugh at the description of th at ability (neque quid, neque quantum, neque quale. . .)
as if it were a poor description. T ry yourself to describe a formless ability to be of any m aterial
kind of being. Y o ur description will either be A ristotles or it will be as nonobjective as the
120 METAPHYSICAL VERIFICATIO N

does not exist except under form. It is so completely bare of intelligibili


ty that even God does not know matter : He does not have a divine idea
of matter except in the composite, under form.
Matter is pure potentiality but it receives and determines form. It
exerts causality but it does not exist. It is non-being or nihil. But in
other texts it has a form of its own. It is without qualification but it
is a similitudo and has a being of a sort, a weak esse and an incomplete
esse. It is almost nothing, yet it is a being. These apparently contra
dictory texts are the same kind which we find in the doctrine of the
possible essence.1 This section of our study textually will investigate
the uneasy ontological status of prime matter.
childs picture of Pharaohs arm y crossing the Red Sea: no sea, because it has receded; no
arm y because it has passed. A complete blank. In other words, if you don t care to use A risto t
les description of prime m atter, you can t say anything intelligible at all about generation
and corruption, at least not intelligible in terms of kinds of beings. G. Sm ith, S. J., The
Philosophy of Being, New Y o rk, The MacMillan Com pany, p. 53).
Consequently when a contem porary manual of Scholastic philosophy gives a definition of
m atter like the following, it is not eliminating the problems but only crystallizing them.
Prime m atter is defined as an incomplete substance which as the first and undetermined
subject constitutes, together with the form, the physical essence of a b o d y H ickey, Summula
Philosophiae, Dublin, 1904, p. 137).
Calling prime m atter an incomplete substance is not dissolving the difficulty but only
including it in the form ulation of the problem, a problem which seems, historically to have
begun with A ristotles pupil and successor, Theophrastus. Theophrastus first asked the
question as to whether m atter is being or not-being? It m ay also be noted that A ristotles
pupil and successor, Theophrastus, in his short m etaphysical treatise takes up the question
whether m atter (uln) is being or not-being, and whether or in w hat sense Being can be
predicated of it. This, if any, is the point where the Tradition begins - and begins with a
genuine Aristotelian problem and concept of m atter. (F. Solmsen, A ristotle and Prime
M atter: A R eply to Hugh R. K in g, Journal of the History of Ideas, X I X , 2, April, 1958,
p. 247). It should of course not be assumed th at Theophrastus depends specifically on the
passage in de gen. et corr. The relation of m atter to Being ousia) is repeatedly brought up in
the Metaphysics (e.g., V III, 1) {Ibid.).
The doctrine of prime m atter is not clear-cut and complete in Aristotle. F. Solmsen in his
brilliant textual analysis of A ristotles doctrine makes this point. As Aristotle sometimes
uses the term Materia Prim a for approxim ate m atter, it is possible that he did not at all
times hold the concept of prime m atter with equal firmness or clarity of conviction. Y e t
beyond this mere possibility we can hardly go [Ibid., p. 245). B ut for Aristotle, even though
he identifies m atter and the so-called elements (322bl), ultim ately it seems to have only
potential existence. Inevitab ly m atter of which Aristotle in the Metaphysics speaks as
that which in itself is neither a particular thing nor of a certain quan tity nor assigned to any
of the categories b y which Being (to ov) is determined. [Ibid., p. 244). Consequently the
hold of prime m atter on Being and reality is precarious even in A ristotles doctrine of
prime matter. {Ibid., p. 243).
1 There is no scarcity of apparently contradictory Thom istic texts on m atter and being.
H aving in mind the doctrines of St. Bonaventure and St. A lbert in which m atter has a form
of its own and is consequently to some extent a constituted substance or body which the
human soul caps and completes as an informing principle, St. Thom as is quick to assert that
m atter is pure potentiality and unformed. B ut he goes further and refuses to adm it being of
any kind to prime m atter. Although m atter can be conceived in itself, materia secundum se
esse non possit {De Veritate, 3, 5, ad 3). M atter is non-being. . .sic materia est non ens. S i
autem non ens removeat non solum ipsum esse in in actu, sed etiam actum seu formam per quam
aliquid participat esse, sic materia est non ens {De Substantiis Separatis, V I, ed. Perrier,
pp. 151-152). Quod autem est in potentia ens et participativum ipsius, non autem secundum se
METAPHYSICAL VERIFICATIO N 121

If we begin the experiment of rethinking the basic principles of


metaphysics in terms of the doctrine of essence as the limitation of esse
and ultim ately reducible to esse, then the correlative doctrines of the
non-being of essence and the non-being of first matter face us. The
solution to the problem of the possible essence as we have seen is a
com paratively simple one. Possible being is no being. The possible
essence is literally no being, no essence, nothing at all of itself. The only
thing that exists is a Being which could cause it.

2. H Y P O T H E S I S : T H E M E T A P H Y S I C A L A R T I C U L A T I O N S O F E S S E A N D
M ATTER

However, when we come to understand the precise ontological laws


of first matter we have a very knotty situation to resolve. One of the
things which it might be interesting to point out in more precise
fashion is the w ay in which matter articulates with esse. In fact, simply
as an hypothesis to be tested we might state that any attempt to ex
plain the ontological location of prime matter without reducing it to a
mode of esse is ultim ately fruitless and eventually ends in the kind of
discussion that consists in repeating over and over again the simple
elements of the definition of prime matter. It is pure potency. It is
absolutely undetermined. It is the substratum that makes change
possible. Added to an abstract form it accounts for individual differen
ces, etc.
est ens; materia est huiusmodi, ut supra dictum est [Ibid., p. 150-1). Matter cannot exist in
itself. It does not have an esse. Nam materia secundum se neque esse habet, neque cognoscibilis
est (I, 15, 3, ad 3).
W hat we know of m atter in itself and the conditions under which we know it, make an
interesting point of comment. St. Thom as says quod quamvis materia secundum se esse non
possit, tamen potest secundum se considerari', et sic potest habere per se similitudinem (De
Veritate, 3, 5, ad 3). On the other hand in the Summa Theologiae, he tells us, as we saw above,
Nam materia secundum se neque esse habet, neque cognoscibilis est [I, 15, 3, ad 3).
All kinds of questions come to our mind as we read texts such as these. If m atter is non-
being, how can it receive and lim it form ? How can it exercise material causality when it is not ?
Saint Thom as tells us that potential being is not, and consequently it cannot act, it cannot
exert causality. .. . quia quod est potentia, nondum est', unde nec agere potest (Cont. Gent., 1, 16).
W hatever the problems involved and however they are to be solved, it is also true that
there are texts in which St. Thom as certainly seems to be giving m atter some sort of being
of its own. M atter seems to possess a weak esse, a debile esse, bu t an esse nonetheless. . . .
quod quamvis materia prima sit informis, tamen inest ei imitatio primae forma: quantumcumque
enim debile esse habeat, illud tamen est imitatio primi entis; et secundum hoc potest habere
similitudinem in Deo. [De Veritate, 3, 5, ad 1). It is certainly textu ally correct that forma
dat esse materiae and that materia secundum suum esse actuale dependet a form a.. but at
the same time St. Thomas seems to be saying that m atter has an incomplete esse, bu t again,
esse nonetheless and however qualified. Sed materia habet esse ex eo quod sibi advenit, quia de
se habet esse incompletum [De Principiis Naturae, ed. Pauson, cap. I, p. 80, 11. 8-12). Not
only does m atter have an incomplete esse, but it is the most incomplete being of all. Materia
prima incompletissimum inter omnia entia [De Spirit. Creat., a. 1).
122 METAPHYSICAL VERIFICATIO N

B ut to explain the nature of prime matter and to locate it ontologi-


cally is to deal with a problem that lies on the frontier not so much of
natural science and a philosophy of nature but on the frontier of the
philosophy of nature and metaphysics. A t least this is the w ay I read
those texts of St. Thomas which constantly and recurrently speak of
m atter and esse in the same breath. To explain matter and to locate it
ontologically is to see it m etaphysically as a deficient esse, a debile
esse, a weakness at the heart of being but one for which there is a
remedy just as there is for the limited nature of the human intellect.
Motion and change are the attainment of perfection of further esse, and
thus represent the achievement of higher or lower, superior or inferior
essences. Essence is determined by existential quanta/' not higher as
best absolutely, for even the lower m ay articulate more perfectly in the
return of the total universe of being to Ipsum Esse Subsistens.
Since m atter is a mode of being we should be able to explain the
doctrine of matter with all its application without using the term
matter itself, but substituting a metaphysical language of esse plus
some adjective or group of descriptive modifiers in lieu of a definition.
I cannot think of a single metaphysical principle which would be
violated in such an experiment with this notion of m atter as a mode of
esse.
The question as to the ontological location of prime matter arose in
Aristotle and Theophrastus, not as an isolated phenomenon but as one
aspect of a general and characteristic tendency of Greek philosophy.
Monsignor Gerald B. Phelan has expressed this tendency in a particu
larly felicitous phrase. The efforts of Greek thinkers . . . gave rise to
the various devices adopted b y the Atomists, Plato, Aristotle, right
down to Plotinus, to give some form of non-being droit de cit in the
metropolis of philosophy." 1

1 G. B. Phelan, The Being of Creatures, p. 118. Certain contem porary thinkers who are
well aware of the historical vicissitudes resulting from the attem pt to attribute being to the
non-existent, nevertheless have not quite been able to solve the problem to their own complete
satisfaction. D. J. B. H awkins states the problem clearly. Ontologically nothing is sim ply
nothing. There seems to be a corollary th at everything we can think about is real in some sense.
Y e t this makes the notion of reality thin almost to the vanishing point (D. J. B. Hawkins,
Being and Becoming, New Y o rk, 1954, p. 33). B u t after such an explicit statem ent he feels
called upon to add and qualify. Y e t probability is more than mere possibility, and even
possibility is more than nothingness {Ibid., p. 34). Then he continues to show how this
position can be attenuated still further. Powers and habits seem to have a special kind of
reality of their own, halfw ay between nonentity and full a ctiv ity [Ibid., p. 35).
Y e t Professor Gilson in one of the few forthright statem ents on this topic establishes the
uncompromising choice that faces the realist philosopher, a choice which contem porary
Scholastic epistemologists seem reluctant to make. There is only one realism w orthy of the
name. It is that which consists in attributing existence to what exists and refusing it to
METAPHYSICAL VERIFICATIO N 123

The test case problems of the doctrine of matter, the experimental


facts that the conception of matter is ordinarily employed to explain,
would include historically: the substratum underlying change,
individuation, indetermination and pure potency, abstraction, exten
sion and so on. The notion of matter was formulated historically to
explain the fact of change. To be more precise, it was formulated to
explain the basic continuity underlying change. The absence of some
such enduring or perduring principle, it appears, would seem to
reduce change to a combined annihilation and creatio ex nihilo. The
continuity of weight and dimension, or their mathematical equivalents
of mass and space, seems to indicate by a concrete, empirical verifica
tion, the necessity of such a principle. This evidence has been embodied
in the law of conservation of m atter and its reformulation in terms of
mass and, more recently, energy. These functions would seem to posit
a separate principle such as prime matter. Undoubtedly these evidences

everything else. And there is only one idealism which consists in refusing existence to what
exists and attributing it to what does not exist. Il ny a quun ralisme digne de ce nom.
Cest celui qui consiste attribuer lexistence ce qui existe et la refuser, tout le reste.
E t il ny a quun idalisme qui consiste refuser lexistence ce qui existe et lattribuer ce
qui nexiste pas (E. Gilson, Ralisme Thomiste, p. 230). It was precisely this confusion of
knowledge and being which St. Thom as found in the Platonists. . . .secundum Platonicorum
suppositiones, qui, universalium abstractionem ponentes, quanto aliquid est abstractius et
universalius tanto prius esse ponebant. (In lib. de Causis, ed. Saffrey, prop. 2; p. 13). A nd of
course the antidote is a precise one, and of prime importance for an understanding of the doc
trine of prime matter. Non enim necesse est ea quae intellectus separatim intellegit separatim
esse habeant in rerum naturae. {De Sub. Sept. 2, ed. Lescoe, 8, p. 43).
W hen philosophical principles do not correspond with beings, the tem ptation is to ontolo-
gize them and produce a logical composite of multiple principles rather than a being whose
u nity flows from its esse. Esse is not like the dye which permeates all the cells of the tissue,
or a glue or cem ent (to use a favorite exam ple of Giles of Rome) which suffuses through the
cracks to keep the article of furniture in one piece. Rather (if we have to use metaphors at all),
esse is more like the m agnetic field which can be converted b y the dynam o into the electricity
to light and heat a city. A ll other principles are modes and modifications of esse, including
m atter as well as form, an esse which embraces them all.
W ithout a m etaphysics of existence how could A ristotle locate m atter accurately within
the world of being? It was unintelligible so it could not be being. T o be was to be a form.
B u t it was involved in the causal interactions of substances, which function conferred upon
it a reality of sorts. To posit a m atter and form com pletely separate from existence is to
relapse into the Greek emanation in which plurality arose b y an external and extrinsic
recipient. B ut this is Greek philosophy not Thom istic thought.
Granted that we must in some w ay explain the phenomenon of individuation and the
numerical plurality of individuals, must we do so b y the addition of distinctly new and
separate principles ? Does the m ultiplication of principles really explain the com plexities of
reality or merely reform ulate the problem in ever more abstract terms ? If we can explain the
stark basic facts of existence and experience b y the complex behavior of the prim ary principle
are we not more adequately satisfying the demands both of reality and ideal science? We
are not doing aw ay with these principles, we are reintegrating them more tightly within a
m etaphysics of authentic esse.
The difficulties of the possible essence and the pure potency of first m atter stem in part
from the difficulties of thinking about non-being with an intellect whose first and adequate
object is being, as we shall see later.
124 METAPHYSICAL VERIFICATION

are strong ones and need philosophical explanation. But need we ex


plain them b y what some have accused of being a Platonic form. In
other words are we ontologizing a separate causal principle under the
necessity of explaining such experiential facts ? Do we need to m ultiply
principles and do we need more principles than essence and existence to
explain any ontological status?
We are of the opinion that such an interpretation of prime matter
is much more faithful to Aristotle and Averroes than it is to Thomas
Aquinas. This analysis of prime matter is the same kind of metaphysi
cal phenomenon which we have already seen in the theory of the
possible essence. It would seem that m atter can be rooted more
fundamentally in the metaphysics of being than we have been ac
customed to doing. W hy is it that when we attem pt to extend meta
physical principles to cover all of the reality to which they properly
apply, we always stop short at change ? As soon as it is a question of
explaining change we prescind from the principles of being and fall
back upon the Aristotelian theory of m atter and form. But Thomas
Aquinas was not aware of such limitations on the doctrine of being. He
speaks of change as the movement from esse ad non-esse. He actually
defines motion as actus existentis imperfecti in potentia. W hy do we al
most invariably ignore the large number of texts in which Thomas
Aquinas seems to be attempting to explain change in terms of esse?
Such an effort is actually very fruitful.
If we look on matter as a mode of esse and attempt to reinterpret
the several basic problems of reality which matter was conceived to
explain, we find that they can be explained quite precisely and signifi
cantly in terms of esse. And what is even more significant, St. Thomas
himself attempted just such an interpretation, as confirming texts
clearly indicate.

3. M A T T E R A S A M O D E O F E S S E

The Aristotelian doctrine of prime matter is a partial view of veri


table existence and the role it plays in physical change. When Aristotle
arrived at the idea of prime matter b y a progressive process of ab
stracting all positive determinations from the substratum underlying
change, is it possible that, as he peeled away form after form, he arrived
at a reality that was, but was not conceptualizable ?
If by some conceptual or logical technique Aristotle prescinded from
the intelligible in the Thomistic substance, would he not be brought
METAPHYSICAL VERIFICATIO N 125

face to face with a privation or deprivation rooted in esse? If the


developmental maturation of being, interpreted as a series or a set of
intelligibles, based upon esse tendere, is removed, then the interior
existential dynamism is not b y that fact eliminated from being. Matter
too, must be rooted in being in a Thomistic metaphysics. It cannot be
ontologized as simply another Platonic form as it seems to have been
for Aristotle.
This implies a m etaphysical view of reality in which a primal esse
manifests itself in two basic limitations or bifurcations of which the
first is essence and existence, the second matter and form. And just as
essence and existence are not reciprocal causes but essence is reducible
to existence, so matter is the limitation of form, the place where form
stops, in what is basically an immaterial universe.1
Aristotle's theory of form and matter is still the same Platonic
universe of ideas and world of flux located within the concrete substan
ce. But the question in a Thomistic metaphysics, as we have seen above,
is to reduce matter to an ontological locus as an articulation and
limitation of esse.2
It has been considered quite an accomplishment of recent years,
and correctly so, that Thomists have come to a realization of the
significance of the doctrine that form gives esse to matter. It has been
of great help in the solution of the problems arising from the relations
between the soul and its body. If the human soul is the principle of
existence for its matter, then no incompatibility exists between the
immortal and necessary nature of the soul and the fact that it is united
to a body. For the soul can easily be the principle of existence for
m atter if it has existence of itself.3
But what does it mean to say that form gives existence to matter ?
Does it mean that matter somehow is, like the possible essence, but
does not exist till its union with form. Or does it simply mean that
form as the concrete existent is that in which matter has existence as a
privation of some sort? A further question that is provocative of
thought is this one. How does the fact that there is one esse make the

1 Cf. on this doctrine W. Carlo, The Role of Essence in Existential M etaphysics, pp.
584-589.
2 Moreover, this whole ontological structure is, in each substance, but the unfolding of
an individual act-of-being created and continually kept in existence b y Gods power. In and
b y its form, the creative Esse penetrates substance to its very m atter, and the subject to its
very accidents (E. Gilson, The Christian Philosophy of St. Thomas Aquinas, p. 177).
3 Cf. A. C. Pegis, St. Thom as and the U nity of Man, in Progress in Philosophy, ed. J.
McWilliams, Milwaukee, 1955, pp. 153-176. Cf. C. Fabro, Participation et Causalit, p. 632.
126 METAPHYSICAL VERIFICATION

human composite a natural unity if it is still composed of both matter


and form unless matter as well as form is reducible to the self-same
esse

4. TH E P L A S T IC IT Y OF E S S E

Matter does not seem to be some principle standing apart from form,
but is rooted in the concrete thing as an aspect of the individual by
reason of its perfectibility. Esse has an elasticity about it. It is per
fectible, it can develop. The child grows and the puppy in time becomes
the adult dog. But they were always what they were.
W ithin the limits of the same essence or species an accretion of
existence seems to be possible. Saint Thomas' discussion of Aristotle's
argument for the indeterminateness of matter per viam predicationis
(1denominative) makes sense only in a metaphysics of esse. In a meta
physics of essence such as that of Aristotle, a subject which is neither a
substance nor a form cannot be located within being. It has no ontologi
cal status. This is w hy some look on Aristotle's argument as a vicious
circle. In an essentialistic metaphysics in which to be is to be an essence,
a matter without qualification or character is precisely a monster. But
in a metaphysics of esse there is a reality below and beneath essence
which is not of itself determined or limited but is still the very founda
tion of the real and the source of essence and all that lies within it.
W ithin esse precisely we find a reality which is both transcendent and
inclusive because it embraces all the determinants of the categories
since it is perfection as unlimited. Esse thus provides an ontological
status for matter outside of form but still within being as the phe
nomenon of the elasticity of esse.
The fundamental facts of change whose explanation demanded the
postulation of the theory of m atter and form, involve in some w ay a
plasticity on the part of being. Esse must be plastic, permutable, elastic
in structure. Things, each of which is an existent, a concrete act of esse,
share in the dynamism, the causal efficacy of Ipsum Esse Subsistens.
The whole universe of esse is an elastic thing, each component acting
on the other, the constituents sharing their basic acts of existence.
Each thing desires esse. It is in this that the ratio of the good consists.
The apple offers up its existence to the aggrandizement of the individual
act of animal existence in nutrition. Material things are subsisting on
the bare perimeter of reality. They need outside aid for their operations.
My act of existence can modify, as efficient cause, the act of existence
METAPHYSICAL VERIFICATIO N 127

of the apple or the tree, which in turn are plastic to the assumption of
this mode of being or of that. The whole universe in its total perfection
approaches, within the limits of creaturehood, the infinite perfection of
Ipsum Esse Subsistens.1
The movement of the material being to add to its esse has a very
illuminating parallel for St. Thomas with the amplitude of the intel
lectual being.
. . . quia cum (anima) sit infima in ordine intellectualium substantiarum, sicut
materia prima est infima in ordine rerum sensibilium.2

Just as knowledge is a remedy for the imperfection of the lowest of the


intellectual substances whereby it takes within itself the forms or
principles of perfection of other things, likewise when St. Thomas says
materia prima is the lowest in the order of sensible things, is he also
saying that the lowest in the order of sensible things, whatever that
m ay be, is prime matter?
The role of matter in the amplitude of human knowledge is more
basic than m ay appear at first glance. After all, this is the mode of
perfection of a material being. If man had no m atter and the body-
consequent upon it, would he be able to change, to grow and expand
and become more perfect?
Matter is not act or form. It is not privation. It differs from them b y
reason.3 It is potency, a passive potency in traditional vocabulary, the
ability of a being to become something other, b y an increase or decrease
of esse. Matter as potency, then, might be called the elasticity or
plasticity of esse.

5. M A T T E R A S D E F I C I E N T B E I N G

Defects seem to flow from m atter.4 The nature of m atter seems to


require defects.5 That a body is corruptible, fatigable and possesses
defects of this kind follows from the necessity of matter.
1 And in the same w ay, the very fact that form also transcends m atter (materia est
propter formam), is the fundam ental cause of becoming - this becoming as the continuous
w ay to being-more, to intenser actu ality and participation of to be. (J. Peters, Matter
and Form in M etaphysics, p. 479). Also on this point . . .est materiae corporalis ut recipientis
et subiecti ad aliquid altius elevati (Cont. Gent., II, 68).
2 De Anim a, I, 8, resp.
3 Materia differt a forma et privatione secundum rationem {De Prine. Nat., Opuscula,
ed. Perrier, I, n. 5).
4 . . .dicendum quod corruptibilitas est ex defectibus qui consequuntur corpus humanum ex
necessitate materiae: et maxime post peccatum, quod subtraxit auxilium gratiae {De Anim a,
I, 8, ad 9).
5 . . . e t {homo) subjacet defectibus secundum quod natura materiae requirit {De Anima,
I, 8, resp.).
128 METAPHYSICAL VERIFICATION

.. . sed quod hoc corpus sit corruptible, fatigabile et huiusmodi defectus habeat,
consequitur ex necessitate materiae. Necesse est enim corpus sic mixtum ex
contrariis subjacere talibus defectibus. . . . Sciendum tamen est, quod in remedium
horum defectuum Deus homini in sua institutione contulit auxilium justitiae
originalis. . . 1

This notion of deficiency or defect is rooted in being or to be more


precise, its absence or lack. The fact that a being is produced or
created determines it to be finite. For due to the very fact that it is
produced ex nihilo, it has some defect and it is in potency for it is not
pure act and so must be finite.2 Matter in its ultimate signification
revolves around a 'la c k of being/' Since the material being is not
being itself but only by participation, it lacks some being and so has
m atter.3
If matter is neither form, nor privation, nor evil,4 but is still in some
basic w ay reducible to esse then perhaps it is esse as limited, as, to put
it crudely, existential quanta approaching but not completely, one of
the Primal Modes or Stages of esse as unfolding, i.e. essence.
Matter is not esse itself, nor the determination or limit of esse, nor the
absence of esse purely and simply, but "the esse itself as somehow
deficient/' but deficient precisely in what is not owed to it b y its nature,
by the kind of thing it is, but in what it could receive from secondary
causes.
The dynamic energies of esse, somehow incomplete and able to receive
further grants of esse and to become more than it is and in the process
to be another kind of being or more perfectly being within its own
kind, - this explains the phenomenon of reality the Greeks explained
by the notion of matter.
A limited esse, on the horizon of eternity is what man is, capable of
receiving further esses in his movement towards his own perfection
which is at the same time the return of creatures to God, of all limited
esses to Infinite Esse whence they sprang.5
1 Ibid.
2 . . .dicendum quod ipsa ratio facti vel creati repugnat infinito. Nam ex hoc ipso quod fit ex
nihilo, habet aliquem defectum, et est in potentia, non actus purus ; et ideo non potest aequari
primo infinito ut sit infinitum . {De Potentia, i , 2, ad 4). . . . dicendum, quod omnes parti
culares defectus hominum causantur ex corruptibilitate et passibilitate corporis, superadditis
quibusdam particularibus causis. . . (I - I I , 14, 4).
3 [De Sub. Sep., c. V I, p. 150-1).
4 A d secundum dicendum quod nullum ens dicitur malum inquantum est ens, sed in-
quantum caret quodam esse : sicut homo dicitur malus inquantum caret esse virtutis, et oculus
dicitur malus inquantum caret acumine visus (1 , 5, 3, ad 2).
5 One explains nothing b y man, since he is not a force but a weakness at the heart of
being, a cosmological factor, but also the place where all cosmological factors, b y a mutation
which is never finished, change in sense and history. (M. M erleau-Ponty, In Praise of
Philosophy, p. 44).
METAPHYSICAL VERIFICATION 129

When we speak of m atter as a "deficient esse, this definition on


the metaphysical level satisfies all the basic needs of the traditional
formulations of m atter as well as the exigencies of an existential m eta
physics. Like the doughnut which includes the hole within its definition,
even though the hole is nothing, the doughnut might be called a
deficient or material cruller. In a general sense privation is only the
negation of form in a subject.1 But more precisely it is the absence of a
form that should be present.2 Privation is predicated only of a deter
minate subject.3 But the being plus the absence of being it could receive
from another add up to matter. For m atter is a "being in potency and
the fact that it is not in some respect act is called privation, and that
through which it is actualized is called form.4 But m atter is that in
which both form and privation are understood.5
There is a purely logical relation between the individual matter and
the substantial form.6 While prime m atter is a being of reason,7 with
the characteristics of the universal concept, according to some thinkers,
something which in itself is non-being, is considered b y the intellect as
a certain being just as in the case of negations, privations etc. For
when being is predicated in these instances it signifies the truth of the
proposition and not the essence of the thing existing outside the
mind, and so defects are said to be, not because they have esse in re

1 Cum privatio nihil aliud sit quam negatio formae in subiecto {In I Phys., lect. 15 ; ed.
Leon., II, n. 7).
2 Privatio nihil aliud est quam absentia formae quae est nata inesse {In I De Caelo et
Mundo, lect. 6, ed. Leon., III, n. 6)
3 Negatio non determ inat sibi subiectum . . ., sed privatio non dicitur nisi de determ inato
subiecto {De Prine. Nat., Opuscula, ed. Perrier, I, n. 4).
4 A d hoc ergo quod sit generatio, tria requiruntur: scilicet ens potentia, quod est m ateria;
et non esse actu, quod est privatio; et id per quod fit actu, scilicet form a. . . {De Prine.
Nat., III, p. 82, 11. 3-5, 12-13).
5 E x dictis igitur patet quod materia differt a forma et a privatione secundum rationem.
Materia enim est id in quo intelligitur forma et privatio. {Ibid., I l l , p. 84, 11. 11-13 .
Licet materia prima non habent in sua ratione aliquam form am sive privation em . . . nunquam
tamen denudatur a form a et privatione ; {De Prine. Nat. Opuscula, ed. Perrier, I, n. 6).
6 Nos recherches sur la relation entre la matire individuelle et la forme prsente, chez
saint Thomas, aboutissent donc ce rsultat: il y a une relation purement logique entre la
matire individuelle et la forme substantielle; une relation accidentelle entre le corps et
lme. Venons -en, la relation de la matire la forme passe. Impossible de la supposer
relle (A. Krempel, La Doctrine de la Relation, p. 59-60).
7 The R-principle here will still be the individual m atter-substratum of the individual
change (however we are to describe it) ; the C-principle is still the generic notion, applicable to
qualified as well as unqualified changes. Hence, the indeterm inacy we associate with it can
only be the indeterm inacy of a generic concept (material cause) in relation to specific in
stances (e.g. this man). It is not the indeterm inacy of a concept signifying an en tity th at is
itself ontologically featureless (E. McMullin, M atter As A Principle , The Concept of Matter,
P. 193).
130 METAPHYSICAL VERIFICATION

but because the intellect composes privation with a subject as a kind


of form.1
This is what we mean when we say that being plus the absence of
being add up to matter. But m atter is not privation as we pointed out
earlier. It is in a w ay rooted in something positive. Because the being
lacks esse, it can gain esse. This is what is meant b y matter, ens in
potentia, a deficient esse, a debile esse but one which has a remedy for its
imperfection.2 Essence is the primary limitation, a mode of esse, essence
1 Aliquid quod est in se non ens, intellectus considerat ut quoddam ens, sicut negationes,
et huiusmodi {In 5 Metaph., lect. 9, ed. Cathala, n. 896).
Ens dicitur dupliciter: uno modo quod significat essentiam rei extra anim am exis tentis;
et hoc modo non potest dici ens deform itas peccati quae privatio quaedam est; privationes
enim essentiam non habent in rerum natura. Alio modo secundum quod significat veritatem
propositionis ; et sic deform itas dicitur esse, non propter hoc quod in re esse habeat, sed quia
intellectus componit privationem cum subiecto sicut form am quandum {II Sent., d. 37, q. 1,
a. 2, ad 3).
2 Fr. Luyten, b y suggesting a deficiency of substantial determ ination locates m atter in
form, bu t St. Thom as says precisely and specifically th at m atter is not form nor is it the lack
of form, th at is to say, privation. It is only if we locate the inadequacy within being, and more
accurately esse that we can have an explanation of m atter on the correct m etaphysical level.
This pure indetermination of prim ary m atter must be seen in its connection with deter
mination. We might call it the constitutive or fundam ental inadequacy of substantial deter
mination. Expressed in a more concrete w ay: a m aterial reality is what it is in such a w ay that
it bears in itself the possibility of sim ply not being w hat it is. In this sense it is meaningful to
say that any determ ination one considers of itself implies inadequacy. It would not make sense,
of course, to posit this inadequcy apart from the determ ination, no more than it would make
sense to speak about the lim it of a surface entirely apart from the surface itself. It would be
irrational to say th at the lim it is not real on the grounds th at it cannot be examined separately
from the surface. To maintain that prim ary m atter is unreal because its pure poten tiality
cannot be shown apart from the determ inate thing is, therefore, unjustified. And so one m ay
conclude that there is no absurdity in adm itting a real pure indetermination, provided one
does not posit it as a reality existing in itself, bu t rather as a constitutive deficiency of the
given material thing. It is a deficiency, th at is, it indicates the possibility of this things
becoming another thing, in which latter thing it will again have the meaning of fundam ental
deficiency; it is thus a sort of hallm ark of the things former - and future - non-being.
(N. Luyten, Matter and Poten cy, The Concept of Matter, p. 128).
Father McMullins criticism of this notion of inadequacy or deficiency is well taken
here if it is a criticism leveled at the notion of m atter as the absence of a formal determ ination,
a privation, somehow required and possessing a claim on nature. This I think is the point of
his criticism. B u t his argument cannot be leveled at the notion of an inadequacy or im per
fection or deficiency on the level of esse. For inferior and im perfect beings have more or less of
esse b y their location in the hierarchy of creation. In fact essence and consequently nature
flows from these existential quanta or spiritual m agnitudes (as St. Thom as speaks of
qualities in quantitative terms). Therefore, this deficiency of esse is prior to any claim on
nature th at privation might hold, because it is prior m etaphysically to the very constitution
of the nature. . . .connected with this point is another - you suggest that the fact that a
thing m ay become something else is a defect of the thing or an inadequacy or deficiency.
This, once more, raises a real difficulty because it seems to im ply that it is an inadequacy or
deficiency of the acorn th at it can grow into an oak. Does not this linking of potency with
inadequacy seem to lead to a radically Platonic view of the universe in which changeability is
necessarily a defect? In a universe of growth and process, surely potency cannot as such be
equated with inadequcy. It is proper for the acorn to become an oak. In fact, if it does not
become an oak, the form of the acorn itself has somehow or other come to nothing. (E.
McMullin, Com m ent on the paper of Fr. N. Luyten, Ibid., p. 134). However, on the level
of esse, inferior and im perfect beings do have a rem edy for their imperfection in their move-
METAPHYSICAL VERIFICATION 131
as imperfect esse. Matter signifies a secondary limitation, this imperfect
being as deficient when a point is reached in the descent of creatures
from God at which the esse does not correspond to, is more or less than,
one of the Prim al Stages of being expressed b y the doctrine of the
Divine Ideas.1

6. T H E O N T O L O G I C A L L O C A T I O N O F P R IM E M A T T E R

Let us now repeat the basic argument of this section of our study
which we introduced as an hypothesis but which we will now restate
as our conclusion. A n y attem pt to explain the ontological location of
prime m atter without reducing it to a mode of esse is ultim ately fruit
less and eventually ends in the kind of discussion that consists in
repeating over and over again the simple elements of the definition of
prime matter. It is pure potency. It is absolutely undetermined. It is
the substratum that makes change possible. Added to an abstract
form it accounts for individual differences, etc.
B ut to explain the nature of prime matter and to locate it ontologi
cally is to deal with a problem that lies on the frontiers not so much
of natural science and a philosophy of nature but on the frontiers of the
philosophy of nature and metaphysics. A t least this is the w ay I read
those texts of St. Thomas which constantly and recurrently speak of
matter and esse in the same breath. To explain m atter and to locate it
ontologically is to see it m etaphysically as a deficient e s s e a debile
esse, a weakness at the heart of being, but one for which there is a
remedy just as there is for the limited nature of the human intellect.
Motion and change are the attainment of perfection of further esse, and
thus the achievement of higher or lower, superior or inferior essences.
For essence is determined b y existential quanta/' Not higher as best
absolutely, but even the lower m ay articulate more perfectly in the
return of the total universe of being to Ipsum Esse Subsistens.
Attem pting to explain prime m atter exclusively on the level of the

ment towards perfection as we have seen. Motion and change are the attainm ent of perfection
of further esse, and thus the achievem ent of higher or lower, superior or inferior essences.
N ot higher as best absolutely for even the inferior and lower m ay articulate more perfectly
in the return of the total universe of being to Ipsum Esse Subsistens.
1 Una et eadem form a, secundum quod constituit materiam in actu inferioris gradus, est
media inter materiam et seipsam, secundum quod constituit eam in actu superioris gradus.
Materia autem prout intelligitur constituta in esse substantiali secundum perfectionem
inferioris gradus, per consequens, intelligi potest ut subiecta accidentibus. {De A nim a, 2. g;
cf. a. i i , ad i8). The secondary mode or the form of the individual is somewhere in between
or m idway between m atter and the form of the species.
132 METAPHYSICAL VERIFICATION

philosophy of nature is like attempting to explain the origin of the


universe b y one of the contemporary cosmological theories like Hoyle's
theory of the Continuous Creation of Hydrogen Atoms, or LeMettre's
Big Bang" theory of the Explosion of the Prim eval Atom, or Gamow's
Equilibrium Modification of LeMettre's theory of the origin of the
universe.1 But they all miss the point. How do you explain the primitive
stuff with which they start if not b y a doctrine of creation. The choice
is simple. It is a choice between creation or literally nothing. Likewise
the choice between an explanation of prime matter purely in terms of a
philosophy of nature means that prime matter is going to be reduced to
nothing but the fact that a thing can change. But this is a conclusion of
common sense and not an explanation b y causes, a scientific explana
tion in terms of the metaphysics of esse. (We are eliminating at this
point the interpretation of matter as pure potentia, the ontologizing of
matter as a separate philosophical principle b y an essentialistic meta
physics) .
In the contradictory texts we have seen, St. Thomas on the one hand
is attempting to deal w ith m atter on the level of the philosophy of
nature as an explanation for change, abstraction, individuation,
extension and so on. But when he is working within the context of
what kind of being is prime matter? and in what w ay does it
exist?, he knows very well that he is asking metaphysical questions
of being and conducts himself accordingly. This is the only explanation

1 Cf. For a discussion of these theories, cosmological we m ight call them, and their articu
lation with the Christian doctrine of creation, W. Carlo, Tow ard a System atic Philosophy of
Science, St. John's University Studies, Philosophical Series I, New Y o rk, i960; pp. 5~5 ;
see particularly, pp. 31-39.
In our constant emphasis on the articulations of the philosophy of nature and m etaphysics,
and at this point, the articulations of celestial physics and metaphysics, we do not intend in
any w ay to violate the autom ony of these separate disciplines, or perhaps distinct would be a
better word. Father Joseph Owens in a precise analysis states the distinction and respective
functions of these different sciences. In distinguishing his two tables, the solid one he wrote
on and the nearly all em pty space table he knew as a physicist, Eddington failed to stress
th at his knowledge of his scientific table was constructed from his knowledge of the ordinary
table. The scientific construct was the result of understanding the ordinary table in qu an tita
tive terms. The same ordinary table can also be understood scientifically (in the traditional
sense of knowledge through causes) in terms of substantial principles, form and m atter, as is
done in natural philosophy. It can also be understood in terms of entitative principles,
essence and being, as is done in m etaphysics. T h ey are all different accounts of the same
thing, given on different levels of scientific (again in the centuries-old meaning of scientific )
investigation. A ll these different accounts are necessary for a well-rounded understanding of
sensible things. None of these accounts can afford to despise any of the others, nor to seek to
substitute for any of them, nor to interfere with any of them. Each has its own role to play, a
role that only itself can play. The Aristotelian m atter is a principle for explaining things on
the level of natural philosophy. On th at level it has its own predicates, predicates that still
have to be used today in the properly balanced explanation of nature. (J. Owens, C .Ss.R .,
Matter and Predication in A ristotle, The Concept of Matter, p. 113).
METAPHYSICAL VERIFICATIO N 133
that makes sense in the light of those crucial texts wherein St. Thomas,
unlike many present day Scholastics and Thomists, does interpret
matter in terms of esse.
Unde hoc ipsum esse in potentia quod habet materia prima, sequitur derivatum
esse a primo essendi principio, quod est maxime ens.1

How precisely does prime matter relate to esse derivatum ?, but it does
relate in some way. There is an articulation between matter and esse.
Oportuit communicari creaturae ut per virtutem causae primae operantis in
ipsa, aliquod esse simplex, vel materia produceretur.2

The connection between esse and matter seems here to be one of


apposition. We have already seen many texts wherein St. Thomas seems
to be interpreting matter in terms of esse and wherein the articulations
of motion, change and esse seem to be his precise preoccupation. But
the list can be added to indefinitely.3
Perhaps we might even go one step further and point out that a
metaphysics of esse can supply an ontological explanation and location
for prime matter with which a metaphysics of essence would find it
difficult to compete.
I used the word theory of the doctrine of matter and form not be
cause for Saint Thomas m atter is provisional or hypothetical, or that
he considered it other than an established philosophical doctrine, a
veritable knowledge of reality, but primarily because of the conflicting
and contradictory nature of the secondary sources. Many Scholastic
thinkers hold opposing and contradictory viewpoints and it is this
state of indecision, doubt and, at times, acute philosophical embarrass
ment that made theory a term suitable to the occasion to m y thinking.
The doctrine of prime m atter should be an explanation on the level
1 {In V I I I Phys., 2, 974). Cf. A. Hayen, S.J., op. cit., p. 74.
2 {II Sent., i , i , 3, c).
3 . . .quia potentia ad esse non solum accipitur secundum modum potentiae passivae,
quae est ex parte materiae, sed etiam secundum modum potentiae activae, quae est ex parte
form ae {De Pot., 5, 4, ad 1). Esse secundum se, non est finitum nec infinitum quia non est
quantum, nisi in quantum subjacet motui, vel ut est rei quantae. {In V I I I Phys., lect. 21).
E t ideo aliter dicendum quod ex infinitate temporis non ostenditur habere infinitatem nisi
illud quod tempore mensuratur vel per se, sicut motus, vel per accidens, sicut esse rerum quae
m otui subjacent, quae aliqua periodo motus durant, ultra quam durare non possunt. {De
Pot., 5, 4, ad 1). In rebus compositis ex materia et forma, genus sumitur a materia, et
differentia a forma, ita tamen quod per materiam non intelligitur materia prima, sed secundum
quod per form am recipit quoddam esse imperfectum et materiale respectu esse specifici.
{De Spirit. Creat., I, ad 24). The esse of material things seems to fall short of the esse of the
species.
Materia, secundum se considerata, secundum modum suae essentiae habet esse in poten
tia, et hoc ipsum est ei ex aliqua participatione primi entis. {De Sub. Sep., 6, 45). M ateria
secundum suam substantiam est potentia ad esse substantiale. {In I Phys., 15, 131).
134 METAPHYSICAL VERIFICATION

of causes and not merely on the level of common sense knowledge of


effects, results and conclusions. Likewise we can reason to a substratum
underlying change, a principle within the nature of the ens mobile, and
we can then go a step farther in scientific explanation in reducing
matter to a mode of esse. The reasoning or demonstration does not
possess the artificial certitude and necessity of mathematics, but it is
still a necessary and certain explanation on the level of more and more
basic causes and principles. Many lines of converging evidences unite
to give us the philosophical doctrine of prime matter.
One of the most difficult aspects of prime matter, among a veritable
host of difficulties, is its basic definition, descriptive or generic. St.
Thomas calls matter ens in potentia. It is a pure potentia. But does he
mean that there is a pure potency existing as prime matter like the
external matter of Aristotle, or does he refer to the simple fact that a
substance which is already in existence, still possesses the capacity of
being further perfected? It is, but it is not all that it could be. It is
capable of adding to its original grant of esse the esse it receives in
accidental modifications from secondary causes. When St. Thomas calls
matter ens in potentia/' does he mean ens in potentia , or does he
mean <(ens in potentia?" It would seem that he is referring simply to
the developmental aspect of an already existing substance - the fact
that it is capable of further perfection. It is true that it is the aspect of
potentiality, of insufficiency of the existent substance, that is called
matter, but it seems to me that this is as far as Thomas Aquinas would
go in asserting the being of prime matter as a philosophical principle
in its proper metaphysical location. When we term matter substance
we mean only the very potency itself which is nothing but an imper
fection of the existing substance, in the order of substance.
Nec aliud dicimus materiae substantiam quam ipsam potentiam quae est in
genere substantiae. Nam genus substantiae, sicut et alia genera, dividitur per
potentiam et actum, et secundum hoc nihil prohibet aliquas substantias quae
sunt in potentia tantum esse diversas, secundum quod ad diversa genera actuum
ordinantur.1
Matter, as far as I can judge, is a relative term and one which can
apply to everything which is capable of receiving a causal efficacy,
which consists in a modification of its original grant of esse through an
accidental increase or loss of esse. Sicut autem omne quod est in potentia
potest d id materia, it a omne a quo aliquid habet esse, sive substantiale
sive accidentale, potest d id forma.2 In conclusion, then, b y m atter we
mean an ens in potentia, that is, an existent which is capable of per-
1 De Sub. Sep., 6, 146-47. 2 De Princ. Nat., 1
METAPHYSICAL VERIFICATION 135

fecting itself or being perfected by the reception of esse to the ag


grandizement and completion of its original essey precisely because it
lacks esse.
Matter is not simply mode or limitation but it is a secondary mode
or limitation. Essences are the primal stages of esse, and make
things to be the kind of things they are. But within this primal stage
there is a secondary stage which enables a thing to be more or less what
it is, to increase in being without becoming other than what it is. It is
this phenomenon associated with change and matter which Saint
Thomas is indicating when he uses the term debile of esse to signify
matter ontologically. Of course it is always in a determined being
that the desire for further determination is found through the appetite
of the material being for esse.
In omnibus causis agentibus ordinatis, id quod est ultimum in generatione et
primum in intentione, est proprius effectus primi agentis. . . In omni autem actio
ne esse in actu est principaliter intentum et ultimum in generatione; nam eo
habito, quiescit agentis actio et motus patientis. Est igitur esse proprius effectus
primi agentis, scilicet Dei. Et omnia quae dant esse, hoc habent in quantum
agunt virtute divina.1

Matter is not privation of form because the material being is fully


constituted as the kind of being it is. It has its proper form. But it can
yet develop to become more or less what it is. The boy can become a
doctor, lawyer or Indian chief, without ceasing to be the kind of thing
he is, without ceasing to be man. He possesses the perfection of his own
proper form. He is not deprived of a perfection due to him b y his form,
such as would be if he were blind or dumb, when he is not a butcher,
baker or candlestick maker. That is why Saint Thomas speaks of m at
ter as a negation of being, a deficient esse, and a debile esse, and
definitely not as a privation or negation of form. If the material being
does not become another kind of thing then it does not take on a
completely new formal perfection.
The whole weight and bias of metaphysical interpretations of matter
has been in the direction of insuring some distinction between matter
and being, in order to insure the rights and privileges of the immaterial,
the spiritual, so much so, that the continuity of being and matter has
been neglected, leading to the perverse situation in which reality is
conceived as a fundamental plurality and the different knowledges as
m utually exclusive and independent. But the derivation of essence and
matter from esse as modes of esse, and the metaphysical reduction of
essence and matter to esse in a scientific and causal explanation serves
1 C.G. I l l , 66, adhuc i.
136 METAPHYSICAL VERIFICATION

to guarantee the unitary nature of reality and the unitary nature of the
sciences which study it, with metaphysics as the integrative knowledge
because its proper object includes in a general way, all beings and
therefore all the objects of the other sciences, not in their own proper
rationes but in its own proper object.
CONCLUSION

The ultimate reduction of essence to esse gives a primal unity to meta


physics, which the dichotomy of essence and esse could not provide for
this highest of the human sciences.1 It achieves the unity that Greek
philosophy with its dying breath in Proclus attempted to reach, the
ideal of science. W ith the ultimate reducibility of essence to esse, the
two notions of metaphysics as ens qua ens, the abstract knowledge of a
formal object, and as the knowledge of the First Cause of Being (the
Aristotelian Separate Substances) coalesce.
The assertion of the primacy of existence to essence is a halfway
house on the w ay to the doctrine of the ultimate reducibility of essence
to existence. The theory of the existential judgment with its adverbial
expression of essence seems to support an interpretation of essence as
simply the mode of esse.2

1 F inally, there is manifested repeatedly in the history of human thought the longing for
a general science th at will in some satisfactory w ay assess the relative place of each of the
particular sciences and allow the work of all to be seen in some kind of u nity and harm ony.
This will have to be a science th at regards all things from the widest possible viewpoint, and
so be able to judge the respective functions of the sciences which treat of particular groups or
aspects of things. Such a general science would be able to show the limits and the realtive
bearing of every science, itself not excepted, and so would act as an antidote against the
tem ptation of the expert to interpret everything merely from the restricted viewpoint of his
own competence, even though th at competence be m etaphysics itself. Such a general science
alone can satisfy, as far as is possible in this life, the unifying tendency of the human intellect,
which is not content until it sees a universal principle of order in some w ay pervading all the
objects th at are presented to it. Only then is the order sought b y speculative wisdom attained.
There, then, are the needs which are waiting to be filled b y an appropriate m etaphysics.
J. Owens, St. Thomas and the Future of Metaphysics, p. 28-29.
2 The doctrine of creation is bound to m odify the notion of m etaphysics itself, in th at it
introduces into the realm of being a first cause to whose causality everything is strictly
subjected. E. Gilson, Being and Some Philosophers, p. 156.
E ven within the orbit of the Thom istic interpreters, no such finality is apparent. Am ong
those who claim to be explaining the doctrine contained in the Thom istic texts, there has in
fact been endless disagreement throughout the centuries, and perhaps never more so than at
the present time. The Thom istic writings, far from closing all m etaphysical efforts, have
rather given rise even within their own boundaries to intense and centuries-long labor in the
138 CONCLUSION

Likewise the doctrine of creation is explained in typically Christian


fashion because everything is strictly subject to the First Cause in the
dynamism of metaphysical principles rather than as a theological
premise.
E very function which essence at present fulfills will still be served
by essence as finited esse. The intelligible structure of the universe will
remain intact but it will rise more immediately from its primary
principle, be reducible more directly to the very source of its intelligi
bility and, in fine, essence, will be woven more intim ately into the very
fabric of an existential metaphysics.
W e have a descent, hierarchical in perspective, from Plato's essences,
abstract in nature and separate from the things of which they are the
essences, to Aristotle's essence, existing somehow within the thing
of which it was the source of intelligibility, directly to the doctrine of
the ultimate reducibility of essence to esse in which the footloose and
rootless Aristotelian essence which had somehow been jammed meta
physically into the concrete, individual thing, actually takes ontological
root in the very foundation of being. In other words a unity of the
plurality of metaphysical principles is achieved.
The concept existence is 2nd intention, that b y which ens is ens
(a being is called ens because of its esse). Therefore ens is a concept
because it grasps existence in its limitation, as it were clothed in the
intelligibile necessities" of essence. But b y existence we signify the act
of existence b y which a thing is, as grasped in the existential judgment.
That is w hy every single judgment, one term or otherwise, expresses
the existential act which lies at the root of essence and gives it its
intelligibility and perfection, inasmuch as essence is a mode of esse.
There is quite a difference between a descriptive metaphysics and
an explanatory one. We can state on the basis of observation that an
accident is ens ab alio but then the task remains of explaining this
metaphysical fact in terms of being and existence, b y the dynamic,
inner movements of esse.
Metaphysics is an explanatory science b y its nature, but it is ex
planatory of reality and the other knowledges by which the intellect
appropriates this reality. In its own structure as a science and in its
critical evaluation of its own concepts it is necessary to see these not
only as the formulation and crystallization of metaphysical obser-

attem pt to arrive at their authentic m eaning. . . . It (Thomism) is a doctrine th at has to be


re-thought and re-lived through the changing problems and differing outlook of each suc
ceeding generation. J. Owens, St. Thomas and the Future of Metaphysics, pp. 8-9.
CONCLUSION 139
vations but as intricate, articulating members of the metaphysical
movement of esse. Mere theory and the reality explained coalesce, a
phenomenon that can only be approximated in the other knowledges.
The laws of being are at the same time the laws of the unification of
knowledge or what we call theory. The doctrine of the ultimate
reducibility of essence to existence serves this purpose of internal
organization and explanation for the science of metaphysics.
Although the function of essence as the principle of limitation in an
existential metaphysics might on superficial examination appear to
be a purely negative one, on closer scrutiny this appears to be incorrect.
Essence is not a positive being apart from the existence of which it is
the limitation, but it is definitely a positive principle of philosophy
when understood as the intrinsic limitation of esse. Its function can be
designated b y affirmative terms, contraction, refraction, channeling of
perfection, specification, determination. In each instance the point is
that the existential energies of existence do not achieve what we term
"k in d " or "ty p e " unless b y the function of this essential limitation.
The existential dynamism channeled through its precise degree of
perfection is this kind of being. We can look upon the essence as
displaying and showing forth the riches and intelligible perfections of
esse. An essence actually existing, with all its intelligible perfections,
might be called a limited esse. But the danger of such terminology is
that of forgetting the phenomenon of limit and identifying essence
with existence, misinterpreting its primary function of limitation and
the production of a finite being, whose existential perfections achieve
this kind of being. Essence is the intrinsic principle of limitation but
still somehow positive because the creature is not just a part of God as
finite esse might be a part of ipsum esse but due to its limitation,
determination, its function of intrinsic specification, it becomes this
"kind of being" with the perfection of such and such a mode.
Thomas Aquinas knows that the creature is not God, but just what
is the characteristic which distinguishes the creature from God or
which makes the creature to be other than God ? Obviously there can
not be anything in the creature which is not in some w ay in God
("em inently" is as good a technical term as any) due to the fact that
what is in the effect must be also in some w ay in the cause. But what
positive effect could the creature have which is not, somehow or other,
a diminution or limitation of the Divine Perfection, some characteristic
which exists in its superabundance in God? Obviously for Aquinas
there is none ! This is the difficulty in rooting the creaturehood of the
140 CONCLUSION

creature in composition as we saw above. It might serve to distinguish


the creature from a God Who is Pure U nity, U tter Simplicity, but the
question ultim ately arises as to how the creature acquires a charac
teristic which is not in God, namely plurality, for He is U nity Itself.
This is precisely the Greek dilemma and solvable only in terms of a
metaphysics of being which provides a continuity between God as
Being and the beings He makes to be. However, this is not a meta
physics of essence which provides a continuity of similitude or likeness
in which resemblance provides the necessary causal continuity.
Bonaventure and Duns Scotus have shown the ultimate result of just
such a metaphysical attempt.
The difficulty with a metaphysics of essence is that essence would be an
interpretation of all reality in terms of kinds of perfection limited to such
and such. But what would such a notion of being or essence be when ap
plied to the Infinite Cause of all things; God would be "a ll kinds, b y
some kind of "negative theology. ' W hat sort of com patibility is there be
tween the notion of essence and Infinite Being ? Plotinus, Proclus, the
author of the Liber de Causis and Scotus Erigena saw this inadequacy
of essence to serve as the first principle of reality and an explanation of
the Divine Nature. For this same reason Thomas Aquinas reinterpreted
the universe in terms of existence. This is a deceptively simple hypothesis
with a God as Ipsum Esse and as a result the Thesaurus of Being,
Intensive A ct as Fabro puts it, possessing all the perfections of all
kinds of being, all essences within Itself because all are ultim ately
reducible to esse. A ll essences are modes of esse. Essence is the intrinsic
principle of limitation intrinsic to esse. Before existence nothing
happens. After existence all that happens does so.

T H E R E H A B IL IT A T IO N OF E SSE N C E

Essence is not absorbed into esse and eliminated from metaphysics.


Nor is it in the creature identified with esse, something that is true only
of God. The created essence is not its esse, it is the intrinsic limitation of
esse, the prism through which the intelligible riches and perfections of
esse are refracted and contracted to this kind of being. This limitation
is the result of the creative act pouring out in less and less perfection
until it reaches the least perfect of material beings.
Essence is not esse, nor is it its esse. It is precisely the limitation of
esse which restricts esse to this kind of thing and consequently con
ceptually knowable and definable.
CONCLUSION 141

T H E S C IE N T IF IC S T R U C T U R E O F T H O M IS T IC M E T A P H Y S IC S

Esse certainly has multiple and different significations. It can mean


the operations of things or their substances or the act of substance or
essence. But Aquinas knows very precisely what he means b y esse. The
fact that it can be used legitim ately within Thomas' own thought is
because essence, substance, ens, matter, form, accident, operation,
analogy, the transcendentals, can all be reduced to esse, are all modes of
esse. That is what metaphysics is all about. Metaphysics acquires its
scientific structure from the fact of the Ultim ate Reducibility of all
metaphysical doctrines to being, all entities to esse, essence and matter
in particular.
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INDEX

A e gid ia n essence, 31, 89 D ion ysiu s, 32, 79m, 94


A lb e rt th e G reat, 6, 1 1 , 12, 67, 120 D iv in e Esse
A lfa ra b i, 69, 79m in d eterm in a tio n of, accord in g to G iles,
an a lo g y , 3, 5, 64, 10 1, 106-107, 116 , 141 4 6 -4 8 ,57.58
and esse, 106-107 critiq u e (Thom istic) of in d eterm in a te
A risto tle , 2, 12, 20, 23, 94, 95, 96, 97, 99, d iv in e Esse, 48-53
118 , 119 , 122, 123, 124, 125, 126, 138 D iv in e Ideas, 64, 93, 107-iog, 115 , 131
A to m ists, 122 D u n s S cotus, 5, n o , i n , 113 , 140
A u g u stin e, 8 in ., 82, 84, 85n., 98, 108, 120
A verro es, 95, 117 , 124 ens,
A v ic e n n a , 7, 8n., 12, 57., 85, 94, 110 co n te m p o rary a n a ly sis of, 20-22
A v ic e n n ia n possibles, 5, 67, 89, 91 E rigen a, S cotus, 140
esse essentiae, 2, 5, 12, 113
B aco n , F ran cis, 11 esse existe n tiae , 12, 113
B erk ele y , 5 essence,
B o eth iu s, 12, 6 in ., 93, 94 co-existen s, 9, 10, 103
B o n a v en tu re , 5, 11, 12, 108, 120, 140 ens p er essen tiam suam , 61, 62, 63, 83,
89
C aje ta n , 86, 106, 110 , 113 e x trin sic prin cip le of lim itatio n , C hap.
C apreolus, 113 I I passim , 89, 107, 13 9 -14 0
C larke, W . N orris, 94 G reek u niverse of, 2, 6, 7, 112
com position , in trin sic prin cip le of lim itatio n , C hap.
and p lu ra lity , 41-43, passim I I I passim , 139 -14 0
an d genus and species, 39, 40, 43-46, 52, as lim ited esse, 9 -10 , 102, 107, 13 8 -13 9
5 3 54 lim itin g prin cip le, 9 -10
an d a c t an d p o te n c y , 54-56 m e ta p h y sics of, 2, 86, n o , 126, 139
co n tra ctio n of bein g, 39, passim m ode of being, 2, 3, 90, 99, 112 , 137,
b y genus an d species, 39, 40, 43-46, 83 140, 141
b y a c t and p o n te n cy , 54-56, 83 n on -ens, 9, 99
c o n tra d ic to ry te x ts , n on -esse, 9
essence and esse in S t. T ho m as, 8-10 essence and existen ce
m a tte r in S t. T hom as, g-10 re la tio n of,
m a tte r in se co n d a ry sources, 117-n g, real distin ction , 3, 14-17 , 23, 24, 61, 86,
132 iog-115
creation , in te n tio n a l d istin ction , 15-17, 24, 113
and d iv e rsificatio n of esse, 22-31 lo g ica l d istin ction , 113 , 115
and esse, 18-20 m odal distin ction , 113
n a tu ra l n ece ssity for G iles, 64, 65 as recip roca l causes, 2, 20-22, 24, 38,
te stin g ston e o f C h ristian m eta p h ysics, 43, 86, 89, 90, 92, 103, 106, 114
6, 14, 18 existen ce,
as a ccid en tal, 8, 12
D e R a ey m a e k e r, 22 e x trin sic lim ita tio n of, C hap . I I passim ,
D escartes, 5, 11 89, 107, 139-14
INDEX 149

as form , 12, 13, 62, 63 B ein g and U n ity in, 7 8 -8 3


in trin sic lim ita tio n of, C hap. I l l passim , L o g ic a l D istin ctio n , 113 , 115
13 9 -14 0 L y ttk e n s , H a m p u s i i 7 n .
m e ta p h y sics of, 2, 109, 113
m ode of essence, m - 1 1 2 M arc, A n dre, 22
as n on -acciden tal, 8 m atter,
p la s tic ity of, 1 2 6 -12 7 A risto te lia n d o ctrin e of, 124, 125
p rim a c y of, 1, 2, 3, 92, 112 , 137 c o n tra d ic to ry te x ts in S t. T h o m as,
sim ilitu d o of D ivin e Esse, 101 g -10 , 132 in se c o n d a ry sources,
source of all co gn o scib ility , 99, 105 117 -119
T h esau ru s of P erfectio n of B ein g, 2, debile esse, 120, 121, 122 1 2 7 -1 3 5 , 141
100, 107 genus of su bstan ce, 10
E x iste n tialism , 1, 92, 102 as lim itin g p rin cip le of form , 9, 120, 121
as m ode of being, 90, 12 4 -12 6
F ab ro , 22, 24, 94, 96, 140 o n tolo gica l lo ca tio n of, 1 3 1 - 1 3 6
F o rm of B ein g, o n tolo gical sta tu s of, 1 1 7 - 1 2 1 , 122, 126
G od as th e, 5 7 -6 7 , 82, 83, 84 as p rin cip le of in d iv id u atio n , 9
as exercisin g form al ca u sa lity , 58, 60, 66 pure p e te n tia lity , 12 0 -12 1, 13 1, 134
as a P la to n ic F orm , 57, 58, 60, 61, 66 M odal D istin ctio n , 113
freedom , 5 M ontagnes, B., 106

G am o w , 132 N eo p lato n ism , 24, 77, 78, 79, 85, 95


G erard of Crem ona, 69
G iles of R om e, 1 3 , 1 4 - 1 7 , C hap. I I passim , O w ens, Joseph, 102, 106, 132m
87, 88, 89, 100, 103, 105, 109, n o , i n ,
Pegis, A. C., 5, 125
113
G ilson, 24, 122 P eters, J., 119
G od, P la to , i , 2, 23, 58, 59, 60, 61, 73, 79m , 83,
as In fin ite Esse, 42, 46, 47, 48, 57, 58 95, 122, 138
as T h esau ru s of P erfection , 96, 108, 140 P la to n ic form s, 5, 42, 65, 8 in . 91, 105, 124,
125
H egel, 5 P lo tin u s, 2, 23, 57m , 66, 68, 69, 77, 79m,
H eidegger, 11 80, 8 in ., 82, 84, 85, 122, 140
h e ly a tin , 75n, P o rp h y ry , 48
henads, 48, 57n, n o , i n , 114 P roclu s, 2, 17, 23, 48, 56, 66, 68, 68-69n.,
H e n ry of G hent, 5, 12, 1 4 - 1 7 , 18, 20, 24, 69m, 7on., 7 m ., 72m , 73m, 74, 75, 76,
25, 28, 30, 66, 83, 102, 103, 105, n o , 77m , 78m, 79m , 8on., 81, 82, 110, h i ,
i n , 113 n 4, 137, 140
H o yle, 132
R e a l D istin ctio n , 3, 1 4 - 1 7 , 23, 24, 61, 86,
10 9 -115
in ten sive a ct, 96, 140
R e cip ro ca l causes, 2, 20-22, 24, 38, 43, 86,
In te n tio n a l D istin ctio n , 1 5 - 1 7 , 24, 113
89, 90, 92, 103, 106, 114
Ip su m Esse, 17, 19, 28, 29, 37, 38, 41, 48,
R ich a rd of M iddleton , 120
57. 59, 6 1, 65, 75, 78, 8 in ., 88, 89, 93, 98,
I O I , 107, 108, 109, 112 , 140 S co tu s, see D u n s S cotus,
Ip su m E sse Subsistens, 7, 18, 58, 93, 98, Solm sen, F ., 119
100, 10 1, 104, 106, 108, 109, n o , i n , soul, 3, 5, 12, 13
113 , 116 , 122, 126, 127, 131 S teen bergen , F . V a n , 22
S uarez, F ., 23, 86, 102, n o , i n , 112 , 113 ,
John of S t. T h o m as, 86, 113 ii4n.
su bstan ce, 2, 5, 141
K a n t, 5 S u m m a E ssen tia, 101, 108
K in g , H u g h R ., 118
K rem p el, A ., 118 T h eop h ra stu s, 119
T h esa u ru s of P e rfe ctio n of B ein g,
L e M ettre, 132 E sse as, 2, 100, 107
Liber de C ausis, 7, 12, 17, 23, 24, 25, 26, 27, G od as, 96, 108, 140
34, 37, 40, 41, 64, 66, 67, 68, 70, 7 1, 72, T on gio rgi, J., 117 m
74, 76, 77, 78, 84, 85, 86, 89, 93, 95, n o , tran scen d en tals, 5, 141
113 , 140 tru th , 5
150 INDEX

U ltim a te re d u c ib ility of essence to esse, V a sq u e z, 113


2, 3, 99-J0 5, 108, 112 , 115 , 13 7 -1 4 1
u n ifo rm ity of c re a tiv e act, 29-56, 38, 39, W illia m of A u vergn e, 109
40 , 4 7 , 48 , 5 7 , 65 , 7 1 , 72 ,8 3 W illia m of M oerbeke, 69
u n ity , m e ta p h y sics of, 2, 23, 77, 86, 93, W ittg en stein , 19
109, 110 , 112
u n ity of hu m an com p osite, 3, 13, 115
a