Preparation for the 7 May 2019 Session

Resultado de imagen para raphael michael gabrielReading: Aquinas, Thomas. De ente et essentia (chapters 4 to 6, paragraphs 88 to 113).

This second part of the reading we started discussing in March (see corresponding post) passes from the concepts already reviewed in the previous chapters (1 to 3) to see how essences are found mainly in three different substances: God, intellectual (purely spiritual) substances and human beings (who are spiritual and material). St Thomas develops these ideas in chapter 4 (paragraphs 88 to 98).

Chapter 5 (paragraphs 99 to 112) is devoted to explain how essence is found in accidents. Accidents can be defined (to a certain extent), and if we can say that they are something we are referring to their essence. But their essence and that of substances is different.

Chapter 6 is the conclusion not only of the previous two chapters but of the whole opuscule too.

As an introduction to help your own analysis here are some hints:

(1) God's (philosophical) definition is the substance whose essence is being (remember that what the translation we are using calls "existence" should be called by the less literary but more accurate "act of being" corresponding to the Latin "esse"). Other substances have received the act of being which is different from what their essence. But God who is the source of being itself is infinitely actual and simple, not divided in any way. [See paragraphs 89-91.]

(2) Separate intelligences are the philosophical term for what with the aid of Revelation we commonly know as "angels" and denote spiritual beings serving God (in Latin angelus, in Greek ἄγγελος, meaning in both cases "messenger"). Among other such messengers or servers, the Bible mentions Michael, Gabriel, Raphael and the guardian angels. St Thomas describes them as substances not limited by matter (like humans) but not cause of their own being either. They have received being each according to a different capacity--their essence. What distinguishes one separate intelligence from another is the "level of act of being" they hold, with some very close to God and some (the lowest ranked) close to humans. Each of these intelligences is a species to itself. [See paragraphs 92-97.]

(3) Finally human beings are the lowest substance, a composite not only of essence and act of being (like the separate intelligences) but also of matter and form. It is possible for all human beings to belong to the same species because each is limited, individuated from the rest by its matter. [See paragraph 98.]

(4) That's for act of being and essence in substances, which are "self standing entities". But how can we speak of accidents (things which "live" in a substance, which are predicated of a substances, such as "tall" referred to a person)? St Thomas will explain how their essence is qualified and their definition incomplete, always depending on a substance to become complete. [See paragraphs 99-112.]

Challenges / questions for your reflection while reading:
  • Try to grasp and distinguish the concepts of:
    • essence and act of being (translated in the reading as "existence");
    • substance and accident;
    • matter and form;
    • genus and species;
    • act and potency.
  • If, unlike the separate intelligences (each of them a different species), all human beings belong to the same species (have a similar form), how can (if at all) they be identified from one another when they die?
  • If God is pure act of being (Ipsum Esse Subsistens), can we say that he is anything else (Good, Provident, Omniscient, etc.)?
  • We know for sure that humans are material. How can we know we are spiritual too and can we say from a philosophical point of view if we are different from animals (and why)?