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Cornelio Fabro on the distinction and Composition of essence and esse in the metaphysics of Thomas Aquinas.

CORNELIO FABRO IS WIDELY RECOGNIZED for the important contribution he has made to our knowledge of the metaphysics of Thomas Aquinas through his exposition of the major role played by the notion of participation in the thought of the angelic doctor. Fabro's first major book on participation considered statically (La nozione metafisica di partecipazione secondo San Tommaso d'Aquino (1)) appeared in its first edition in 1939. And in 1961 Fabro published his treatment of participation dynamically considered under the title Participation et causalite selon S. Thomas d'Aquin which, he explains, resulted from work he did while holding the Cardinal Mercier Chair at Louvain in 1954, and which also appeared in an Italian version at about the same time (1960). (2)

According to Fabro there is a very close connection between what he calls transcendental participation considered statically and the real distinction between essence and esse (actus essendi) in Aquinas. This connection will become more evident in some of the arguments considered below which Fabro finds in Aquinas's texts in support of such a distinction. For the sake of context it will be helpful to recall that, basing himself especially upon an important text from Aquinas's Commentary on Boethius's De Hebdomadibus, lect. 2, Fabro finds Thomas distinguishing between what Fabro himself calls predicamental participation and transcendental participation. Thomas's text reads:

   To participate is, as it were, to take a part. Therefore when
   something receives in particular fashion that which belongs to
   another universally, it is said to participate in it, as man is
   said to participate in animal because it does not possess the
   intelligible content of animal according to its total universality;
   and in the same way, Sortes participates in man. In similar fashion
   a subject participates in an accident and matter in form because
   the substantial or accidental form which in terms of its meaning is
   universal, is determined to this or to that subject. In like manner
   an effect is also said to participate in its cause, and especially
   so when it is not equal to the power of its cause, for instance if
   we say that air participates in the light of the sun because it
   does not receive it with the brightness whereby it is present in
   the sun. (3)


In this text Thomas offers a preliminary description of participation--to receive in particular fashion that which belongs to something else in universal fashion. Then he distinguishes different ways in which participation may occur: (1) as man (a species) is said to participate in animal (a genus) because the species does not possess the intelligible content of the genus according to its total universality, or as Sortes (an individual) participates in the same way in man (a species). In such cases, a notion or concept that is less extended shares in without exhausting the intelligibility of a notion or concept that is more universal in extension and, therefore, the participation in question pertains to the order of concepts and may be referred to as logical. (2) In like fashion a subject participates in an accident and matter participates in form since in each case, an accidental form or a substantial form is restricted to a particular subject, whether this be a substance, or whether it be prime matter. (3) An effect is said to participate in its cause, and especially when it is not equal to the power of its cause.

In both the second and third types the participation is not restricted to the order of concepts but applies to the order of reality. Moreover, in both examples of the second type, the participation results in a composition in the order of reality, whether of a subject and an accident, or of matter and form. Yet, as Fabro brings out, participation of the second type is restricted to the order of being insofar as it is divided into the predicaments. Hence one may call this "real predicamental participation." Or to put it another way, both the participant and the participated characteristic remain at the level of finite being. (4) Moreover, Fabro also maintains that, according to Aquinas, participation at the level that transcends being as restricted to the predicaments--transcendental participation, as he names it--also involves a composition within every participating being of two distinct principles, essence and esse (understood as the act of existing [actus essendi]), united as potency and act. Hence it is with this third type of participation, transcendental participation, that we are concerned in this paper because of its close connection with the distinction and composition of essence and the act of existing. (5)

In a number of his publications Fabro presents Aquinas's argumentation for a real distinction between essence and esse. Here I will concentrate primarily on his very full treatment in La nozione metaphysica and will on occasion refer to other writings. Fabro introduces part 2, section 3 of La nozione by offering some clarifications concerning the meaning of "being" (ens or ente), "essence," and the "act of existing" (atto di essere). He points out that for Aquinas "being" is an active participle which signifies in the concrete the exercise of a formality, namely, to exist (esse). Therefore "being" is "that which is" (id quod est). (6) But, Fabro points out, this grammatical explanation is not sufficient to satisfy Aquinas, for it remains too vague; this is because esse cannot be reduced to only one meaning. Indeed, Aquinas often refers to a text from Aristotle's Metaphysics 5.7, (7) where the Stagirite indicates that esse may be understood (1) as that which corresponds to the different predicaments or categories, or (2) as signifying that which is true and non-esse as signifying that which is false, or (3) it, along with "that which is" can signify either potency or act. Fabro comments that while for Aristotle the primary meaning of esse is that which refers to the ten predicaments, Thomas himself introduces some explanations in connection with these meanings which are more than simple variations. Thus in his Commentary on I Sentences he speaks of three ways in which esse is said to signify: (1) the quiddity or nature of a thing; (2) the act of essence (actus essentiae) meaning thereby not its second act or operation but its first act; (3) the truth of composition in propositions (judgments) by serving as the copula. Thomas adds that when used in this third way, although esse exists in the intellect, it is grounded in the esse of a thing, that is, in esse taken in the second way. (8) As Fabro also points out, in this text Thomas distinguishes esse taken as act from the essence of which it is the act. And this distinction is, of course, the primary concern of my present paper.

Fabro also offers an overview of the development that the notion of esse can have in human thinking, beginning with (1) a first notion of esse which marks the first awakening of our intellectual faculty, based on an abstraction from a particular perception in the concrete order and which is extended with subsequent experiences so as to include all new objects (and which he calls ens in communif, (2) the three kinds of esse he has taken from the text from In I Sent., d. 33, which I have noted in the preceding paragraph; (3) a final notion based on intensive metaphysical reflection which is esse understood as an intellectual synthesis in which every particular formality and perfection is fused together with the removal of any potentiality. Curiously, in support of this third understanding of esse Fabro does not here cite any text from Aquinas, although in a note he quotes a text from John of St. Thomas's Logica. (9)

Before presenting Thomas's formal argumentation for a distinction between essence and the act of existing, Fabro develops Aquinas's understanding of esse taken as essence, and then of esse taken as actus essendi. He introduces this by noting that corresponding to the concrete term being {eras') there are two abstract terms, "essence" and esse. These signify two actualities from which a real being results, that is to say--esse essentiae and esse existentiae. (In fact, I would note that esse essentiae and esse existentiae are not used by Thomas himself to express this couplet and the relationship between them, but became a part of scholastic terminology early on in the 1270s and thereafter in disputes concerning the kind of relation that obtains between them, especially as used by Giles of Rome, Henry of Ghent, and shortly thereafter by Godfrey of Fontaines.) And as Pangallo has pointed out, Fabro himself seems to recognize in some of his later discussions the inappropriateness of using this t erminology to describe Aquinas's own understanding of the essence-actus essendi relationship. (10) This is fortunate because the terminology esse existentiae is especially unsuited to capture what Thomas (and Fabro himself) understand by the actus essendi. As Fabro also explains, when we understand the esse essentiae of a thing, we know "what thing" it is, and when we grasp its esse existentiae we know that it exists in fact and cannot be reduced to or confused with a mere concept or vain desire. Fabro also points out that while essence and actus essendi have different meanings, they are not independent so as to be completely separable from one another, since one necessarily implies some relation to the other. (11)

As regards the actus essendi, Fabro makes an important distinction between our taking "existence" as signifying the fact that something exists, and as signifying the intrinsic actus essendi as Aquinas understands this. Fabro refers to the fact of existing as "that by which something is constituted outside its causes," and this, he says, is the external effect or result of the actus essendi. The actus essendi itself is of a more profound nature and is that by which every formality can be indicated as real, that is to say, as distinct from every other not merely in the logical sense, but really in the nature of things. This is the actus essentiae which, for Thomas, is really distinct from the essence or nature of a thing itself. (12) Within this same context Fabro cites a number of appropriate texts from Aquinas such as Quodlibet IX, q. 2, a. 2: "In another way esse is said of the act of being insofar as it is being, that is, by which something is named a being in act in the nature of things," (13) and ST I, q. 3, a. 4: "Second, because esse is the actuality of every form or nature; for goodness or humanity is not signified in actuality except insofar as we signify that it is." (14) Fabro also points out that, according to Aquinas in Qu. disp. de anima, a. 9, esse is that which is most intimate in each thing and in Quodlibet XII, q. 4, a. 1, Thomas writes that substantial esse is not an accident but is rather the actuality of every form that exists whether without matter or with matter. In light of these and other texts Fabro also comments that Thomas could not have even for an instant accepted the Avicennian conception of the actus essendi as a quasi-predicamental accident. (15)

In sum, in this context Fabro is already developing and presenting Thomas's distinctive understanding of the actus essendi as intensive act and, as Thomas also puts it in ST I, q. 4, a. 1, ad 3, as the "most perfect of all" and as the "actuality of all things and also of their forms themselves," and in an oft-quoted text from De potentia, q. 7, a. 2, ad 9, as "the actuality of all acts" and as the "perfection of all perfections." (16) It should also be noted that in light of such texts Fabro expresses his surprise at Pedro Descoqs's refusal to recognize that for Thomas the actus essendi is an act in the strict sense that is related to essence as its correlative (and really distinct) potency. (17)

In La nozione metafisica, Fabro presents five different ways in which he finds Thomas arguing for the real distinction and composition of essence and esse in finite beings. It will be helpful also to recall that before he presents these different types of arguments for this distinction, Fabro points out how closely connected this issue is with what we refer to in English as the problem of the one and the many, or as he puts it, the problem of transcendental participation: How can there be multiplicity, that is, many beings, within the field of esse as such? Or as Fabro also phrases it, what are the conditions that render possible, that is to say, intelligible, a multiplicity of participations and participants in the field of esse? (18)

Fabro notes that Thomas exercises a certain freedom in presenting argumentation for the real distinction between essence and esse in that at times he reasons from the fact that finite beings are caused to the need for them to be composed, and on other occasions he reasons from their composition to the fact that they are caused. Fabro finds no reason for concern about this since everything depends upon the point of view from which Thomas raises the question concerning such beings, for instance, whether as a philosopher or as a theologian. (19)

Hence, Fabro lists as the first of the five different general ways in which Thomas argues for the real distinction between essence and the actus essendi an approach in which, especially in his early writings, Thomas is more heavily influenced by Avicenna and derives this distinction from the fact that a creature is caused by God. Fabro lists a number of texts in which he finds Thomas using this approach, including several from his Commentaries on I Sentences and II Sentences. Some of these, however, arrive only at an implicit distinction between essence and esse. (20) Other texts, however, are quite explicit, such as In I Sent., d. 8, q. 5, a. 2, where Thomas argues that if there is some quiddity that is not composed of matter and form, that quiddity either is identical with its esse and therefore is God and is completely simple, or it is not identical with its esse. In the latter case its esse will be given to it by something else; and because that which does not have something of itself is "possible" (= potential) with respect to that which it receives, such a quiddity will be possible (potential) with respect to its esse and its esse will be its act. And such, he points out, is true of angels and of the human soul. (21) In this text, however, Thomas reasons from the nonidentity of essence and esse in such beings to their caused character, and from their caused character to the presence of potency and act in them. And in fact Fabro also includes this same text under his next general approach wherein Thomas reasons from the real distinction of essence and esse to the caused character of the same. (22)

Fabro also cites the well-known text from Thomas's De ente et essentia, c. 4 as another example of his reasoning from the fact that created beings are caused by God to the distinction of essence and esse within them. This is surprising since, as will be seen below, in that complicated text, Thomas first establishes the distinction between essence and esse and then moves from this to the caused character of every such being and uses this as the point of departure for an argument for the existence of God. Once again, then, I would not place this argument under Fabro's first general approach, as he himself does. (23)

Fabro cites additional arguments that do indeed move from the caused character of created beings to the real distinction between essence and esse, including In II Sent., d. 3, q. 3, a. 1, ad 4; (24) De veritate, q. 8, a. 8; (25) Quodlibet IX, q. 4, a. 1 (where Thomas reasons from the uniqueness of the being whose substance is its esse to the composition of essence and actus essendi in angels, and from their consequent caused character to their potency-act composition); (26) In De Trinitate, q. 5, a. 4, ad 4; (27) CG II, c. 52, argument 3 (where I do not find this reasoning), argument 4, and argument 5; and ST I, q. 3, a. 7, ad 1. (28)

Fabro includes under Thomas's second general way of arguing for the real distinction of essence and esse in created beings texts that move from the real distinction to the caused character of such beings. In these texts, therefore, some other justification must be found for Thomas's assertion that essence and esse are distinct in such beings. As noted above, Fabro also (correctly) includes here In I Sent., d. 8, q. 5, a. 2. (29)

As other examples of this way Fabro also cites Quodlibet VII, q. 3, a. 2 (because to be identical with its esse is true of God alone; an angel is not its own esse and therefore receives this from something else and therefore is in potency with respect to it); (30) In IISent., d. 1, q. 1, a. 1 (for which see my n. 23 above); In IISent., d. 3, q. 3, a. 1, ad 4 (which Fabro also correctly included under the first general approach); De veritate, q. 2, a. I; (31) CG III, c. 13; (32) CG III, c. 65, "Item" 2 (no explicit reference there to the essence-esse distinction); CG I, c. 61 (no reference to the essence-esse distinction); Compendium theologiae, c. 68, "Adhuc" (esse subsistens can only be one and so the essence of no other being is its esse, and its esse is participated and therefore caused). (33)

As a third approach to arguing for the real distinction between essence and esse Fabro appeals to the need to ground the truth of judgment, and he gives credit to Andre Marc for having recalled the importance of this line of argumentation. Fabro cites two major texts from Aquinas from which he draws this argument. (34) The first text, in which, as Fabro acknowledges, Thomas does not explicitly apply his reasoning to the real composition of essence and existence (esistenza), is taken from his Commentary on the Metaphysics, bk. 9, lect. 11 (not lect. 9 as in Fabro's text). There Thomas reasons that the truth or falsity that is present in speech and in thinking must be reduced to a disposition present in the thing itself as to its cause. Thus in a true statement about a composite substance, the composition of form and matter, or of an accident with a subject, must correspond as the foundation and cause of truth to the composition formed within by the intellect in its judgment and expressed in speech. (35) Fabro concludes from this text that for Thomas, if I say, "Something is (exists)," the truth of this statement is based on the real composition of essence and of the actus essendi. Fabro finds this confirmed by a second text from Thomas's Commentary on I Sentences, d. 38, where Thomas writes that since two [features] are present in a thing, the quiddity of a thing and its esse, two operations on the part of the intellect will correspond to these two features, that is, formatio and judgment. (36)

However, a serious question may be raised about the validity of this way of arguing for the real distinction. If one already knows or grants that essence and esse are really distinct in all beings other than God, then one may indeed assign our recognition of these two features of a given being to the two distinct operations of the intellect, that is, to its grasp of quiddities, on the one hand, and to its judging operation, on the other. But this does not seem to justify our reasoning in the opposite direction from our awareness of these two operations on the part of the intellect to a real distinction within any given entity of what is grasped by each operation. (37)

As a fourth way of arguing for the real distinction, Fabro develops an argument based on the similarity that obtains between different beings. He finds Thomas reasoning that similarity always presupposes some composition in at least one of the things that are said to be similar. Either two beings are said to be similar with respect to a third formality, and in that case each will be composed of the participated formality in which they agree, and of that by which they are distinguished from one another; or else one of them is said to be similar to the other, but not vice versa, in that the second is the subsisting formality itself and the first approximates it to a certain degree. In this case composition is found only in the first mentioned being but not in the second. Fabro cites from Thomas's youthful Commentary on I Sentences, d. 48, q. 1, a. 1, where Thomas finds the second kind of similarity obtaining between a creature and God insofar as it participates in goodness or wisdom or something of this type, and then applies this same thinking to the case of esse in his Commentary on II Sentences, d. 16, q. 1, a. 1, ad 3. (38)

Fabro proposes as the fifth general approach to establishing the real distinction argumentation that derives this conclusion from the notion of static participation itself. Before presenting a series of texts from Aquinas to illustrate this approach, however, Fabro comments that as one progresses through Thomas's texts on this issue one finds a process of ever greater simplification. In his first writings Thomas's arguments depend especially on Avicenna, whereas in his mature discussions one argument based on participation becomes ever more dominant. Fabro describes this as evolution of Thomas's thought not in the essential order, but rather in the modal order, that is, in terms of the way or manner in which he presents arguments for this doctrine. And this is owing to Thomas's deepening appreciation of Neoplatonism on this point, based on his study especially of Proclus's Elementatio theologica and of the Liber de causis. (39) But before turning to Thomas's arguments based on participation, in order to bring out this modal development of his argumentation on this issue, Fabro turns to an early text, the much discussed c. 4 of Thomas's De ente et essentia, and then to his mature CG II, c. 52.

In presenting the argumentation from the De ente, c. 4, Fabro rightly quotes Thomas's remark that, even though separate substances are not composed of matter and form, they are not perfectly simple so as to be pure act, but have some admixture of potency. Thomas's remark is important because it indicates that his argumentation will not be complete until he has established some act-potency composition in such entities. Fabro then finds Thomas presenting three arguments for the real distinction, the first of which, Fabro states, is logical in nature, and the second and third of which are metaphysical. (40)

Fabro introduces what he calls the logical argument by quoting Thomas's text. Whatever is not included in the intelligible content (non est de intellectu) of an essence or quiddity comes to it from without and enters into composition with it. In support of this major, Thomas reasons that no essence can be understood without those factors that are parts of that essence. But, he continues, every essence or quiddity can be understood without anything being understood about its esse. In proof of this minor he reasons that I can understand what a man is or what a phoenix is, and nonetheless not know whether it exists (an esse habeat) in reality. Therefore, he concludes, it is evident that esse is other than essence or quiddity. (41)

The validity of this way of arguing for the real distinction has often been challenged, not only by thirteenth-century critics of this distinction such as Henry of Ghent and Godfrey of Fontaines, but also by modern and contemporary scholars, including many who do defend the presence of this theory in Thomas's texts (unlike those whom Fabro terms "Suarezians" of the twentieth century such as Chossat, Descoqs, and, I would add, Francis Cunningham (42)). Here I will restrict myself to what I regard as two major weaknesses in the argument. First, somewhat like the fourth approach, it seems to move too quickly from a distinction between two operations on the part of the intellect, a knowledge of indivisibles or what something is, on the one hand, and a knowledge that a given thing exists, on the other hand, to two ontologically distinct principles within any such being.

The second difficulty, which was first suggested to me by some comments by Fernand Van Steenberghen, points to a seeming shift in the meaning of the term esse as it is appears in Thomas's presentation of the argument. The major is proved by an appeal to the fact that a quiddity can be understood without anything being understood about its esse in reality, as when I think of a human being or a phoenix without knowing whether it exists in reality. Here esse expresses the fact that something exists. But in the conclusion, if the argument has succeeded, esse must be taken as signifying the intrinsic actus essendi. This shift in the meaning of esse seems to render the argument invalid.

For these two reasons, therefore, I think it is a mistake to present this as an independent argument that can stand on its own merits when taken out of its context. Hence, unlike Fabro, I prefer to regard this as only the first stage in one complicated argument that runs through three stages, and ends by concluding not merely to a distinction of essence and esse in all beings with one possible exception, but also to their composition as potency and act. (43) Interestingly enough, Fabro himself protests against those who would take the logical argument out of its context and present it as standing on its own without paying attention to its metaphysical foundation. (44)

Thomas ends his presentation of what Fabro calls the "logical" argument with an important remark: "Therefore it is evident that esse is other than essence or quidditiy unless, perhaps, there is some thing whose quiddity is its esse itself." (45) And such a thing, whose quiddity is its esse, comments Thomas, can only be one and first, thereby introducing what Fabro regards as the first metaphysical argument, and what I regard as the second stage in Thomas's general argument. Fabro must be given credit for correctly understanding the meaning and the importance of this argument or stage because it elaborates in systematic fashion the different ways in which something can be multiplied.

Thomas reasons that a thing of this kind (whose essence is its esse [= actus essendi]), if it exists, which he does not here assume, can be multiplied in one of three ways: (1) by the addition of a difference in the way a generic nature is multiplied in species, or (2) by the reception of a form in different instances of matter, as a specific nature is multiplied in individuals, or (3) by reason of the fact that in one instance it is realized without any qualifications (is absolutum) and in all other cases it is received in something else, that is, in a subject. Thomas then argues that if there is such a thing which is its own esse and subsisting esse, it cannot be multiplied in the first way (for it would then not be esse alone but esse plus some form), nor in the second way (for then it would not be pure esse but esse materiale). He implicitly accepts the third approach and concludes that it is necessary that in every other thing, apart from that one possible exception of subsisting esse, a thing's esse and its quiddity or nature or form differ. Therefore in other intelligences likewise there must be a distinction between their form (essence) and their esse. Fabro also notes that in the later Compendium Theologiae, c. 15, Thomas simplifies this process by reducing the possible ways of multiplying something to two, one whereby a form is multiplied by differences, and a second whereby it is multiplied by being received in different subjects. Thereby, as Fabro indicates, Thomas has rendered his argument more rigorous metaphysically. (46)

Thomas introduces what I regard as the third stage of his argumentation in the De ente by using the conclusion of the second stage as the starting point for a brief metaphysical argument for the existence of God. Anything in which its esse (act of existing) is different from its nature (essence) receives its esse from something else (and is caused). Therefore because that which exists by reason of something else must ultimately be traced back to that which exists of itself and is its first cause, one must grant the existence of a first cause which is the causa essendi of all other things by reason of the fact that it is esse tantum. (47)

Curiously, Fabro omits this entire section from his presentation of Thomas's argumentation and turns to the immediately following text to introduce what he calls the second metaphysical argument. There Thomas reasons that what receives something from something else is in potency with respect to it, and what is received is present in it as its act. Therefore that quiddity or form (essence) which is an intelligence is in potency to the esse it receives from God, and this esse (= its actus essendi) is received in it as its act. And thus potency and act are present in intelligences other than God, although not form and matter. At this point Thomas brings to its end this long and complicated argument for the real distinction and composition of essence and esse as potency and act in all beings other than God. (48) I have pointed out elsewhere that this third stage of the argument would succeed in establishing the potency--act composition even if Thomas had not introduced into it his proof for the existence of God. (49) I would suggest that Fabro also was aware of this, and that this may be why he omitted the argument for God's existence from his presentation.

As was noted above, Fabro selected the argumentation from the De ente, c. 4, and arguments taken from CG II, c. 52, in order to bring out a certain modal development in Thomas's presentation of his arguments for the real distinction. As regards CG II, c. 52 in comparison with De ente, c. 4, Fabro notes the presence of the Boethian formula in its title ("Quod in substantiis intellectualibus creatis differt esse et quod est") and the absence of the logical argument as well as of any reference to Avicenna in its text.

Fabro comments that c. 52 includes seven arguments, and that these can be divided into three main categories. The first category includes three arguments which develop the second argument (or second stage, on my reading) of De ente, c. 4 in a more personal way, as Fabro describes them. All three of these arguments are based on the impossibility of multiplying self-subsisting esse, just as was the second argument (or the second stage of the argument) in De ente, c. 4. The seventh argument (which appears to be Fabro's third category) is explicitly formulated in terms of the notion of participation, and this constitutes something new when compared with the De ente and with works from Thomas's first teaching period at Paris. Fabro evidently includes the remaining three arguments in a distinct and second category, although he does not explicitly say this but lists them under paragraph "B." He finds them reasoning in some way from the caused character of such beings to the essence-esse distinction within them, or in the third argument from the uniqueness of God as the First Agent to his uniqueness in being identical with his esse. (50)

Fabro defers consideration of the seventh argument in CG II, c. 52 for the following section in his book which he titles: "La partecipazione come ultima ragione metafisica nella posizione tomista circa la composizione reale di essenza e atto di essere." (51) There he has gathered together an excellent collection of "vague texts" and then of "explicit texts," which he introduces by stating his underlying premise: Just as predicamental participation requires a real composition of distinct elements in concrete participants, whether of matter and form or of substance and accident, in like fashion in the line of esse each concrete existent must be composed of its substance and of an actus essendi, provided that it is granted that the actus essendi has the true nature of an act. And in support Fabro quotes from Quodlibet II, q. 2, a. 1: "When something is predicated of another by participation, it is necessary that something be there in addition to that which is participated." The qualification Fabro introduces here ("qualora si conceda che l'atto di essere ha vera ragione di atto") is very important. At the same time this need not be taken as implying that Thomas's arguments for the real distinction and composition of essence and esse beg the question by assuming what needs to be proved, that is, the presence of a really distinct actus essendi in every finite or caused or participated entity. (52)

While space will not permit me to analyze the many texts Fabro has collected to illustrate this fifth kind of argumentation, I will mention one from the very late De substantiis separatis, c. 8. There Thomas is refuting certain arguments that had been offered in support of matter-form composition of separate substances (angels). In responding to the fourth argument he counters that if spiritual substances lack matter, this does not mean that they cannot be distinguished (from God); for some potency remains in them insofar as they are not ipsum esse but only participate in it. He then argues again for the point that there can be only one being that is identical with its esse and concludes that, in contrast, since everything that exists must possess esse, in everything apart from the first being, esse is present as an act and the substance of the thing that has esse is a potency which receives esse as its act. Fabro comments that in this argument participation is introduced to serve as the ratio propter quid for the composition of essence and the actus essendi of any creature. (53)

Fabro concludes his presentation of these numerous texts by offering a synthetic version of Aquinas's argumentation for this real distinction and composition as based on participation, and I will conclude this discussion by presenting it:

Major: Every creature is said (to be) a being by participation.

Minor: But everything which is by participation must be divided into a participant and that which is participated so that every thing that participates is composed of a participant and that which is participated as of potency and act.

Therefore: Every creature is [really] composed of act and potency in the line of being as of that which is participated and that which participates. What participates is called "essence" or "suppositum," and what is participated is ipsum esse seu actus essendi. (54)

In support of the major Fabro argues that every created substance in itself is finite, either in its own order, or at least in relationship to esse itself. This, he points out, follows from the fact that it is of a given kind or type of being and hence does not capture the total fullness of being itself. This is true even of created spiritual substances. (55) I would add that this is brought out very well by another text Fabro had cited earlier in his collection of explicit texts dealing with the essence-esse distinction and participation, that is, In De Hebdomadibus, lect. 2. There Thomas has arrived at the point in his Commentary where he finds Boethius moving from a difference of esse and quod est that applies only to the order of intentions to their real distinction in composite beings. As regards simple beings Thomas distinguishes between that one being which is perfectly simple, and in which its esse and quod est are identical, and others which, while lacking matter-form composition and therefore not existing in matter, are nonetheless composite in another way. This is because every such form, even a Platonic form if one should grant their existence for the sake of discussion, and certainly Aristotle's higher separate substances, cannot be identified with ipsum esse itself. Each one of them is of this or that kind and thus determines esse to its own kind or species of being and therefore only has esse, but is not identical with it. And because any such being is determined with respect to its species, Thomas continues, it is not esse commune but participates in it. Hence any such being is not truly or perfectly simple. This text is very significant, not only because it supports the major premise in Fabro's argument, but because it explicitly indicates that in this context Aquinas is speaking about participating in esse commune, that is, the actus essendi viewed universally. He is not here speaking of participating in esse subsistens, as he does often enough in other contexts. (56)

In support of the minor of his argument Fabro recalls the parallel he had earlier drawn between the real composition involved in predicamental participation, whether of a subject in an accident or of matter in form, on the one hand, and in the transcendental order, on the other hand, the real composition and distinction involved in the participation of essence in the act of esse. Therefore, he concludes that every creature must be composed of essence (that which participates) and of a really distinct actus essendi (in which it participates). (57)

In light of Fabro's important contribution to our understanding of Aquinas's views on participation, it is only fitting that he would conclude his presentation of Thomas's different ways of arguing for a real distinction and composition of essence and an act of existing in all finite beings by offering a synthetic argument based on the participated character of such beings. And while other students of Aquinas's metaphysics might classify his arguments for this distinction and composition in somewhat different ways, (58) Fabro is surely correct in drawing out the close connection between Thomas's metaphysics of participation, especially at the transcendental level, his understanding of esse as an intrinsic act of existing, and his defense of a real distinction and composition of essence and esse in every finite being.

The Catholic University of America

(1) First ed., Milan: Societa Editrice 'Vita e Pensiero,' 1939; second ed., Turin: SEI, 1950; third ed., Turin: SEI, 1963, reprinted with variations of first ed. also indicated: Opere Complete, vol. 3 (Rome: EDM, Segni 2010), which will be cited here.

(2) Louvain: Publications Universitaires de Louvain, 1961. For the Italian version see Partecipazione e causalita secondo S. Tommaso d Aquino, 1st ed. (Turin: SEI, 1960), recently republished in Opera Complete, vol. 19 (Rome: EDIVI, Segni, 2010).

(3) Expositio Libri Boetii De Ebdomadibus, Leonine ed. 50:271, 11. 70-85: "Est autem participare quasi partem capere. Et ideo quando aliquid particulariter recipit it quod ad alterum pertinet universaliter dicitur participare illud, sicut homo dicitur participare animal quia non habet rationem animalis secundum totam communitatem; et eadem ratione Sortes participat hominem. Similiter etiam subiectum participat accidens et materia formam quia forma substantialis vel accidentalis, quae de sui ratione communis est, determinatur ad hoc vel illud subiectum. Et similiter etiam effectus dicitur participare suam causam, et praecipue quando non adequat virtutem suae causae, puta si dicamus quod aer participat lumen solis quia non recipit earn in claritate qua est in sole." Translation mine here and throughout, unless otherwise indicated.

(4) Fabro, La nozione metafisica, 143; Mario Pangallo, L'essere como atto net tomismo essenziale di Comelio Fabro, Studi tomistici 32 (Vatican City: Libreria Editrice Vaticana, 1987), 25.

(5) Fabro, La nozione metafisica, 175. For the similarity on this point between the two kinds of participation Fabro cites ST I, q. 45, a. 5, ad 1 and Quodlibet II, q. 2, a. 3 [= q. 2, a. 1], Note that Fabro devotes part 2, section 2 of La nozione metafisica to predicamental participation, and part 2, section 3 to transcendental participation. At 185 n. 3, while commenting briefly on a remark he quotes from M. T. L. Penido to the effect that Thomas's doctrine of participation is based on the real distinction between essence and existence, Fabro proposes to reverse this point by saying "in un primo tempo e la distinzione fra essenza ed atto di essere che e fondato sulla nozione di partecipazione."

(6) Fabro, La nozione metafisica, 186.

(7) Metaphysics 5.7. 1017a 22-27, 31-33.

(8) Fabro, La nozione metafisica, 186-87. For Thomas see In I Sent., d. 33, q. 1, a. 1, ad 1, Mandonnet ed. 1:765-66.

(9) Fabro, La nozione metafisica, 187-88. Note especially: "una nozione di essere che e la syntesi, nella quale vengono a trovarsi fuse tutte le formalita e perfezioni particolari con la remozione di ogni potenzialita" (188). See n. 6 for the reference to John of St. Thomas, Logica, ed. Beatus Reiser (Turin: Marietti, 1933), 1:500. See Pangallo, L'essere come atto, 28, who observes that Norberto Del Prado in his De Veritate fundamentali Philosophiae Christianae (Fribourg: Society of St. Paul, 1911), 7, lists only the three usages of esse from Thomas's Ini Sent., d. 33 that we have noted above, without adding the others. This is significant since Del Prado's book itself is an important source for Fabro's own work (see Pangallo, L'essere como atto, 20).

(10) Ibid., 29. For the unhappy consequences that followed from the acceptance of this terminology see especially Fabro, Participation et Causalite, 280-84, and then the remainder of this section entitled "L'obscurcissement de l'esse dans Vecole Thomiste," 285-315.

(11) Fabro, La nozione metafisica, 188.

(12) Ibid., 195. Also see 197.

(13) Ibid, 195. For Thomas see Leonine ed. 25.1:94: "Alio modo esse dicitur actus entis inquantum est ens, idest quo denominatin' aliquid ens actu in rerum natura."

(14) Leonine ed. 4:42: "Secundo, quia esse est actualitas omnis formae vel naturae; non enim bonitas vel humanitas significatur in actu, nisi prout significamus earn esse." Note the immediately following sentence: "Oportet igitur quod ipsum esse comparetur ad essentiam quae est aliud ab ipso, sicut actus ad potentiam."

(15) Quaestiones disputatae de anima, Leonine ed. 24.1:79: "Dicendum quod inter omnia, esse est illud quod immediatius et intimius convenit rebus"; Quodlibet XII, q. 4, a. 1, Leonine ed. 25.2:404: "Et sic dico quod esse substantiale rei non est accidens, sed actualitas cuiuslibet formae existentis, sive sine materia sive cum materia." For Fabro see La nozione metafisica, 195.

(16) For Fabro see La nozione metafisica, 196-97. For Thomas see ST I, q. 4, a. 1, ad 3: "ipsum esse est perfectissimum omnium: comparatur enim ad omnia ut actus. Nihil enim habet actualitatem, nisi inquantum est: unde ipsum esse est actualitas omnium rerum, et etiam ipsarum formarum" (Leonine ed. 4:50); De potentia, q. 7, a. 2, ad 9: "Hoc quod dico esse est inter omnia perfectissimum: quod ex hoc patet quia actus est semper perfectior potentia.... Unde patet quod hoc quod dico esse est actualitas omnium actuum, et propter hoc est perfectio omnium perfectionum" (ed. P. M. Pession, Marietti ed. 1965, 192).

(17) Here (La nozione metafisica, 196) Fabro refers explicitly to Descoqs's Praelectiones Theologiae Naturalis, T. II, 534. In his article "Circa la divisione dell'essere in atto e potenza secondo San Tommaso," Divus Thomas 42 (1939): 529- 52, Fabro responded especially to Descoqs, "Sur la division de l'etre en acte et puissance," Revue de Philosophic 38 (1938): 410-30. In turn, Descoqs responded to this study by Fabro in his "La division de l'etre en acte et puissance d'apres Saint Thomas," Divus Thomas 43 (1940): 463-97. And in response to this Fabro countered in detail with his somewhat polemical Neotomismo e Suarezismo (Piacenza: Editrice Divus Thomas, 1941; Rome: EDIVI, Segni, 2005).

(18) Fabro, La nozione metafisica, 201.

(19) Ibid, 208.

(20) See, for instance, In I Sent., d. 2, q. 1, a. 1, ad 2, where Thomas writes that if some other essence could be similar and equal to the divine essence, and if that esse derived from the divine essence, the esse of that essence would depend on the divine essence "et sic incideret in illam essentiam potentialitas, per quam distingueretur ab essentia divina, quae est actus purus" (Mandonnet ed. 1:61); d. 3, q. 4, a. 1, where Thomas writes: "omne habens esse ab alio est possibile in se" and cites a pseudo-Avicennian work, De intelligentiis, for this (Mandonnet ed. 1:113).

(21) Mandonnet ed. 1:229-30.

(22) Fabro, La nozione metafisica, 208.

(23) Ibid. Fabro also places under the first approach In II Sent., d. 1, q. 1, a. 1 (Mandonnet ed. 2:12). But here again Thomas reasons from the real distinction (as established by a version of the intellectus essentiae argument) to the caused character of beings enjoying varying degrees of excellence.

(24) Mandonnet ed. 2:115.

(25) Leonine ed. 22.2:246.

(26) Leonine ed. 25.1:102-03.

(27) Leonine ed., 50:156.

(28) Leonine ed. 4:47, quoted by Fabro in the body of his text (208), presumably because of its succinctness and clarity: "Est autem hoc de ratione causati, quod sit aliquo modo compositum: quia ad minus esse eius est aliud quam quod quid est. "

(29) Mandonnet ed. 1:229.

(30) Leonine ed. 25.1:18.

(31) Leonine ed. 22.1:39: "si ergo Deus participaret scientiam quasi dispositionem adiunctam, ipse non esset suum esse et ita ab alio esse haberet."

(32) While the application to the distinction between essence and esse is not explicit, Fabro may have thought that it is implied by this remark: "Adhuc. Quidquid inest alicui praeter suam naturam, advenit ei ex aliqua causa" (Ed. Leon, manualis [Rome, 1934], 239).

(33) Leonine ed. 42:103.

(34) Fabro, La nozione metafisica, 209-10.

(35) In IX Met. (Turin-Rome: Marietti, 1950), lect. 11, n. 1898.

(36) In II Sent., d. 38, q. 1, a. 3 (Mandonnet ed. 2:903).

(37) For a similar reservation about the validity of this approach see Pangallo, L'essere come atto, 34-35.

(38) See Fabro, La nozione metafisica, 210. For the first text see Mandonnet ed. 1:1080. For the second see Mandonnet ed. 2:398. Regarding the second kind of agreement (similarity) between things, Thomas writes in the latter text: "et talis convenientia esse potest creaturae ad Deum, quia Deus dicitur ens hoc modo quod est ipsum suum esse; creatura vero non est ipsum suum esse, sed dicitur ens, quasi esse participans."

(39) Fabro, La nozione metafisica, 211.

(40) Ibid. For Thomas's text see Leonine ed. 43:376: "Huiusmodi ergo substantiae, quamvis sint formae tantum sine materia, non tamen in eis est omnimoda simplicitas nec sunt actus purus, sed habent admixtionem potentiae."

(41) Ibid.

(42) For references to studies by Chossat and Cunningham see my The Metaphysical Thought of Thomas Aquinas (Washington, D.C.: The Catholic University of America Press, 1981), 136 n. 11; for references to Fabro's dispute with Descoqs see above, n. 17.

(43) For my own detailed discussion of this argument along with references to other contemporary discussions of it see my Metaphysical Themes in Thomas Aquinas (Washington, D.C.: The Catholic University of America Press, 1984), 107-32; and The Metaphysical Thought of Thomas Aquinas, 137-50. For Van Steenberghen see his Leprobleme de I'existence de Dieu dans les ecrits de s. Thomas dAquin (Louvain-la-Neuve: Editions de l'Institut Superieur de Philosophie, 1980), 37-41.

(44) Fabro, La nozione metafisica, 212-13. Fabro comments that this argument is very rare in Aquinas's texts, and cites as a parallel In II Sent., d. 3, q. 1, a. 1 (see Mandonnet ed. 2:87). He then adds references to ST I, q. 3, a. 5; CG I, c. 22; and Compendium Theologiae, c. 11. Fabro refers to what he views as another form of this argument which can be called "logical-metaphysical" and which, he says, like the first one, is Avicennian in origin. Here he has in mind arguments wherein Thomas maintains that what is present in a genus has a quiddity that differs from its esse. Without discussing these texts, Fabro cites In I Sent., d. 8, q. 4, a. 2; d. 26, q. 4, a. 2; De veritate, q. 21, a. 1, ad 8; In II Sent., d. 26, q. 1, a. 4; CG I, c. 25; ST I, q. 3, a. 5; Compendium Theologiae, c. 14. While I prefer to treat these arguments as different from the De ente argumentation, since Fabro does not discuss them here, I will pass over them. On the De ente text also see Comelio Fabro, "Un itineraire de Saint Thomas. L'Etablissement de la distinction reelle entre essence et existence," in his Esegesi Tomistica (Rome: Libreria Editrice della Pontificia Universita Lateranense, 1969), 94-99.

(45) Leonine ed. 43:376.

(46) Fabro, La nozione metafisica, 213. For Thomas see Leonine ed. 42:87.

(47) Leonine ed. 43:377,11. 127-46.

(48) Ibid., ll. 147-54. See my n. 40 above for Thomas's earlier remark. For Fabro see La nozione metafisica, 213-14. Note that on p. 214 Fabro comments that in De veritate, q. 8, a. 8 (Leonine ed. 22.2:246,11. 121-26), Thomas explicitly attributes this second "metaphysical" argument (or my third stage) to Avicenna. But there Thomas finds Avicenna reasoning from the fact that things have their esse from something else to the distinction in them of esse and essence, whereas in the De ente Thomas reasons from the distinction of essence and esse to their caused character. He does, however, reason from their caused character to their act-potency composition.

(49) See my The Metaphysical Thought of Thomas Aquinas, 150.

(50) Ed. Leon, manualis, 145-46.

(51) Fabro, La nozione metafisica, 215.

(52) Ibid. For Thomas see Leonine ed. 25.2:214: "Quandocumque autem aliquid praedicatur de altero per participationem, oportet ibi aliquid esse praeter id quod participatur." Though not quoted here by Fabro but fully cited on p. 230 as text 24, the text continues: "et ideo in qualibet creatura est aliud ipsa creatura quae habet esse, et ipsum esse eius." For the charge that Thomas's various arguments for this claim are all guilty of begging the question in this way see the well-documented study by David Twetten, "Really Distinguishing Essence from Esse," in Wisdom's Apprentice. Thomistic Essays in Honor of Lawrence Dewan, O.P., ed. Peter A. Kwasniewski (Washington, D.C.: The Catholic University of America Press, 2007), 40-84. Limitations of space will not let me comment at length on Twetten's charge nor, for that matter, on the positive proof he himself presents at the end of his article. I would only say here that for Thomas or Fabro to hold that some factor must be present in an actually existing entity that is not present in one that exists only possibly or potentially is not for them to assume that such a factor or act must itself be really distinct from such a thing's essence. That they are really distinct and composed is what Thomas's various arguments are intended to prove.

(53) Fabro, La nozione metafisica, 233. For Thomas see Leonine ed. vol. 40, D 55:164-87. For 1271 or later as the date for the De substantiis separatis see the "Brief Catalogue" in Jean-Pierre Torrell, Saint Thomas Aquinas. Vol. I: The Person and His Work, rev. ed. (Washington, D.C.: The Catholic University of America Press, 2005), 350, 435.

(54) Fabro, La nozione metafisica, 235. For the same argument see Pangallo, L'essere come atto, 38. There he also refers to Fabro's Introduzione a San Tommaso, La metafisica tomista e it pensiero modemo (Milan: Ares, 1983). See there, in particular, 112-13. There Fabro comments that Aquinas was originally directly dependent on the "extrinsicist" metaphysics of Avicenna, but that in his mature works he appealed to the notion of the primacy of act by means of the notion of participation in two steps: (1) a pure and separate perfection can only be one, and esse is the first perfection and the act of all acts; therefore subsisting esse can only be one; (2) creatures are beings by participation insofar as their essences participate in esse, and so essence is potency with respect to esse, the first and ultimate act of each reality. See 26780 for another helpful collection of Thomistic texts dealing with this.

(55) Fabro, La nozione metafisica, 235.

(56) See Leonine ed. 50:272-73, especially 11. 230-51. On this text see Fabro, La nozione metafisica, 36-37, 220-21; also his Neotomismo e Suarezismo, 5455. In my view this distinction between participating in esse commune and in esse subsistens is very important within Aquinas's theory of transcendental participation, and is something that Fabro did not bring out quite as explicitly as one might have wished in his truly groundbreaking works on participation. For more on this distinction see my The Metaphysical Thought of Thomas Aquinas, 110-23.

(57) Fabro, La Nozione Metafisica, 235.

(58) See, for instance, my own classification in my The Metaphysical Thought of Thomas Aquinas, 137 and following, and my debt in working this out to Leo Sweeney, "Essence/Existence in Thomas Aquinas's Early Writings," Proceedings of the American Catholic Philosophical Association 37 (1963):97-131.

Correspondence to: John F. Wippel, School of Philosophy, The Catholic University of America, Washington, DC 20064.

* Previously published in Italian in a volume commemorating the 100th birthday of Comelio Fabro entitled Crisi e destino della filosofia. Studi su Comelio Fabro, ed. Ariberto Acerbi (Rome: EDUSC, 2012), 139-56, under the title "Fabro sulla distinzione e composizione di essenza ed esse nella metafisica di Tommaso d'Aquino." Republished here in English with slight revisions with the editor's permission.
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