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When a philosophical idea is transplanted from one system or thinker to another, it inevitably brings with it the roots and soil of its meaning, grounds, and operation within the system from which it comes, and its workings in its adoptive system cannot be understood in isolation from these origins. A prime example is Thomas Aquinas's adoption of the Neoplatonic principle that participation entails the limitation of a participated perfection by that which participates it. It has been recognized at least since Norris Clarke's 1952 article (1) that Aquinas draws this idea from the Neoplatonic tradition, specifically the Procline Neoplatonism transmitted to him principally through Pseudo-Dionysius and the Liber de causis. But it is not enough merely to acknowledge the source. To understand how the principle works in Aquinas, we must first articulate its meaning, grounds, and function within the metaphysics of Proclus himself. It is in fact the classic Platonic distinction between a perfection as it shows up in this or that instance and the same perfection, as Plato likes to say, "itself by itself." Proclus uses this principle to argue that all things proceed from "one," (2) and it is this principle that Aquinas uses in arguing that all things are caused to be by ipsum esse subsistens, or God. Hence a thorough examination of how the principle works in Proclus has profound implications for our understanding of Aquinas's philosophical doctrines of creation, of the relation of creatures to God, and of God as ipsum esse. Such examination reveals that the affinity between Aquinas and Proclus is even closer than is generally realized. Since Aquinas did not have direct access to any works of Proclus himself except the Elements of Theology, and that only in his very last years, the philosophical parallelism and even precise verbal resonances are all the more striking, displaying a genuine convergence of thought rather than a mere textual borrowing. Mutatis mutandis--and we shall see that these are for the most part matters of terminology--Aquinas's metaphysics of creation, in its underlying logic and meaning, is in thoroughgoing continuity with Proclus's doctrine of procession by diminution.


Every level in Proclus's hierarchy of causal terms--being, life, intellect, soul, nature, as well as the further articulated sublevels within each--exhibits the universal "monad-multiplicity" structure that dominates his entire system. "Every order, originating from a monad, proceeds to a multiplicity coordinate with the monad, and the multiplicity of every order is referred back to one monad." (3) In each case, the multiplicity consists of the character in question as participated by this or that subordinate term, while the monad is the same character just by itself, or unparticipated. The psychic multiplicity or multiplicity of souls, for example, are soul as participated by this or that body. Hence they are many and different in virtue of their participants: soul as participated by this body is numerically distinct from soul as participated by that body. And each of them, just in that it is confined or limited to the body to which it belongs, is distinct from the psychic monad or soul as such, without and in that sense prior to the "addition" of any participant whereby it would be not just soul, but the soul of something. Or again, the multiplicity of beauty (4) consists of the mutually distinct beauty of this beautiful thing and of that beautiful thing, while the monad is just beauty itself as a unitary intelligible character. The beauty of Helen and the beauty of Penelope, for example, cannot be simply identical, for each includes a limiting condition, to wit, belonging respectively to Helen or to Penelope, which the other does not. For exactly the same reason, neither of them can be simply identical with beauty itself, which has no such limiting condition.
   For the unparticipated, having the status of a monad, as belonging
   to itself and not to something else [literally, as of itself and
   not of an other] and as transcending the participants, generates
   the terms that can be participated.... But every participated term,
   coming to belong to [literally, be of] something else by which it
   is participated, is secondary to that which is present to all
   likewise and has filled them all from itself. For that which is in
   one is not in the others; but that which is present to all alike,
   in order that it may illuminate them all, is not in one, but is
   prior to them all.

In every case, the distinction between multiplicity and monad is the distinction between a character as participated, and thus confined to, or "of," this or that participant, and the same character as unparticipated, or just as that character." Thus, "the multiplicity which is similar to a monad is dividedly that which the monad is undividedly." (7)

The unparticipated monad is logically prior to the multiplicity just in that it does not include in its definition anything other than the character itself. Conversely, the multiple participated terms are posterior to the monad just in that each of them is the same character with something else, to which it belongs and by which it is therefore limited. The participated terms are differentiated presentations, or appearances, of the unparticipated monad: "The things that are uniformly and enfoldedly in the monad appear [[phrase omitted]] dividedly in the offspring of the monad." (8) The beauty of Helen and the beauty of Penelope, for example, are beauty as it occurs, or shows up, in Helen and in Penelope, respectively, and as such are distinct from each other and from beauty just by itself. In this sense, and in this sense only, the monad is the cause, and the multiplicity are its effects. The causality in question just is the logical priority of any perfection itself, to that perfection as possessed and displayed by this or that thing. Proclus's monad-multiplicity structure, repeated at every level of reality, is thus the systematic elaboration of what Plato says of "all the forms": "Each is one, but appearing everywhere in association with actions, bodies, and one another, each appears many." (9)

The limitation of each participated term to its participant is what Proclus calls "diminution" ([phrase omitted]) or "lessening" ([phrase omitted]). Thus he is fond of observing, paradoxically, that the participated terms are "lessened by the addition," that is, by the inclusion of the participant, of that which is not itself the character in question. "For it is necessary in every case that the secondary, being lower than that which is prior to it, fall short of the unity of its producer, and by the addition of something be lessened [[phrase omitted]] from the monadic simplicity of the first." (10) Or again: "In short, in every case, whatever each being is [phrase omitted], that is, that which just is the perfection in question] precedes the things which by diminution are mixed with the privations of themselves." (11) The beauty of Helen, for example, is diminished relative to beauty itself in that it includes in its account a reference to Helen, who is not herself the character "beauty." Since it is only beauty dividedly, that is, as it occurs in Helen, it falls short of the fullness of beauty as such. Likewise each participated soul lacks the fullness of soul as such: it is "lessened by the addition" of the body that possesses it. For the same reason, the participated terms are multiplied by this diminution: they are distinct from each other, and hence are many, in virtue of the limitation of each of them to its own participant. Without that distinguishing diminution, each and all of them would just be the character in question and so would be the unitary monad. If there are many of the same character, they must differ from each other in virtue of something other than that character, to wit, that which, in each case, is not itself that character but has or participates it. (12)

The posteriority of the many participated terms to the unparticipated monad is what Proclus calls "procession," describing in dynamic language, as a productive activity or motion, what is in fact a logical order of priority and posteriority. The beauty of Helen and the beauty of Penelope, and therefore Helen and Penelope themselves qua beautiful, "proceed from" the monad beauty, just in that each is distinguished from the monad by its confinement to a participant. The addition of the participant is not an event: it is simply the fact that the perfection is so confined. The diminution in the effect is what distinguishes it from the cause and thus constitutes it as an effect. "It is by no means lawful that the caused be the same as the cause; for a diminution and deficiency from the unity of the producer generates the secondary things." (13) The distinction of an effect from its cause, and hence its existence qua effect, consists in its diminution relative to the cause, its confinement to its participant. Hence, as Proclus says, "procession comes about through diminution." (14) It is not enough to say that, in every case, the effect is "lesser" than the cause. Rather, we must say that procession itself, the "emergence" of the effects as distinct from the cause, just is the diminution that the participated terms exhibit relative to the unparticipated monad.
   If [the product] should remain only, without proceeding, it will be
   nothing different from the cause, nor will it be something else
   that has been generated while [the cause] remains.... Insofar,
   then, as it has a moment of identity with the producer, the product
   remains in it; insofar as it is distinct, it proceeds from it. (15)

Hence what Proclus presents from the top down, from cause to effect, as a productive activity, must actually be understood from the bottom up, from effect to cause, as the logical relation of a perfection qua participated and thus diminished, to the same perfection without such diminution. "Proceeds from" just means "is a diminution of."

Thus Proclus speaks not only of "procession by diminution" but also of "procession by likeness."
   All procession is accomplished through likeness of secondaries to
   primaries.... If, then, the procession preserves in the diminution
   an identity of the generated to that which generates, and the
   latter is primally such as that which is after it manifests
   secondarily, it [that is, the procession] has its existence through
   likeness. (16)

The procession of the effects from their cause consists in their likeness to the cause. "Likeness" here signifies not reciprocal resemblance between cause and effect, as if they both possessed a common character in different ways, but rather sameness-with-diminution. The cause or monad does not have but just is the character in question. (17) The effect or participated term is the same character with the diminution that constitutes it as an effect. Hence, as Proclus says, the effect or secondary term "is at once the same as and different from" the cause. (18) This sameness-together-with-difference, in which the difference is the effect's diminution, its confinement to a participant, is what Proclus means by the "likeness" of effect to cause. Hence, once again, the effect's procession from its cause in fact just is its status as a participated and thus diminished presentation of what the cause is without diminution.

Proclus's doctrine of the henads or Gods, and of the "one" or "one itself' ([phrase omitted]) as the principle of all things, is neither more nor less than the application of this logical structure, which is repeated at every region within the system of reality, to the system itself in its entirety. As he argues, one is the absolutely common character found in all things whatsoever. Not all things are ensouled, or intellective, or living, and hence neither soul, nor intellect, nor life is the principle of all things absolutely. In Proclus's terms, it is not even the case that all things are beings ([phrase omitted]). The term "being" ([phrase omitted]), for Proclus, always carries the note of intelligibility. Matter, considered in itself as that which underlies all formal characters whatsoever, has no intelligibility of its own and in that sense is not a being. Yet it is not absolutely nothing ([phrase omitted], literally, "not one"), and it exists at all it just insofar as it has some share of one.
   The 'one,' then, is most venerable, being perfective and
   preservative of all beings, and on this account we name thus [that
   is, 'one'] the concept that is in us of the first, and because we
   have seen that not all things are participants in others, not even
   if you say 'being' [ens]; (19) for there is something [to wit,
   matter] that in itself is not a being and is non-substantial; and
   much more is it the case that not all things participate in life
   and intellect and rest and motion; but in 'one,' all things. (20)

All things, then, participate or have the character one, or they would simply not exist at all in any way whatever.

In that they participate one, all things are therefore, as Proclus says, "both one and not-one." (21) This is a typically paradoxical expression of a point that can in fact be articulated in perfectly straightforward terms. Let us begin at a less comprehensive level. Any ensouled thing, for example, is a composite of a participated soul, the soul that it has, and something (to wit, a body) that is not itself soul but that has, or participates, soul. Likewise, every living thing is a composite of participated life and that which is not itself the character life, but has, or participates, life. At the highest or most comprehensive level, we come to what Proclus calls "the one-being" ([phrase omitted]), which he also terms [phrase omitted]. (22) "This," he says, "is nothing other than the highest among beings and what is being itself and nothing other than being." (23) The one-being, then, is being, or that-which-is, taken all together as one, logically prior to the distinctions within it of one being from another. But even the one-being, as its name says, both is and is one. That is, it is being, and it has one as a character. Hence it is not "only one," but is a composite of the character one and that which is not the character one but has, or participates, that character. In this sense all things whatsoever, since they participate or have one as a character, without which they would not exist at all, are one and not-one: they are composites of the participated character one and that which is not itself that character but rather has or participates it.

The participated ones of the various kinds of beings are the henads or Gods. "Each of the Gods is a henad, participated by some being." (24) They are Gods just in that they are the principles by which beings are one or good and so exist at all. (25) As the principles by which beings exist, they are themselves "above being."
   Every God is above being and above life and above intellect. For if
   each [God] is a self-complete henad, but each of those [that is,
   being, life, and intellect] is not a henad but a unified thing
   [[phrase omitted]], it is clear that every God is beyond all the
   aforementioned, being and life and intellect.

But to say that the Gods are participated ones is to say that each of them is not simply one ([phrase omitted]) or one itself ([phrase omitted]), but is some one, this one, the one of this or that being. (27) Hence, like any participated multiplicity in relation to its monad, they are diminished vis-a-vis one itself just in that each of them is the character one as possessed by and so confined to this or that being.
   Is the multiplicity of the henads unparticipated, like the 'one
   itself,' or is it participated by beings, and is each the henad of
   some being, as it were the flower and summit and center of a being,
   in relation to which each being exists? But if they are
   unparticipated, how will they differ from the 'one,' since each of
   them is a 'one' and exists primally from the 'one'? Or in what will
   they be more than the first cause and established by it? For again,
   it is necessary in every case that the secondary, being subordinate
   to what is prior to itself, fall short of the unity of its
   producer, and by the addition of something be lessened from the
   monadic simplicity of the first. (28)

The henads or Gods, then, are distinct from one itself just in that each of them is not unparticipated one but is one as participated and hence diminished by some being.

Since all things exist in virtue of their participated ones, it follows that the principle of all things is simply one or one itself. For as we have seen, in every case a multiplicity of participated terms, together with the participants by which they are diminished, multiplied, and distinguished from one another and from their monad, are posterior to the unparticipated monad. In that logical sense the monad is the cause of all the participated terms together with their participants. Beauty is the cause of all beautiful things, each with its participated beauty; soul is the cause of all ensouled things, each with its participated soul; life is the cause of all living things, each with its participated life. So, Proclus observes, "the cause of till things must be that which all things participate." (29) This does not mean that all things participate the first principle, for as we have seen that is necessarily unparticipated. Proclus's point, rather, is that since all things participate or have one as a character, the cause of all things must be not the participated one of anything but just undiminished, unconditioned one itself. Thus he proceeds to argue that what all things participate is one, and then concludes,
   The 'one,' then, which appears everywhere and is in all beings and
   deserts none of beings, is either from the 'one' which is 'simply
   one' or from what is better than 'one;' (30) for that which
   undergoes 'one' [that is, that which has 'one' as an attribute]
   cannot be otherwise than from the primally 'one,' to which the
   'one' is not present [that is, as an attribute] but is the 'one
   itself or nothing but 'one.' (31)

Later in the same chapter, continuing his argument to a first principle of all things, he observes, "We say 'better' and 'worse' based on proximity to the best, as we define more and less hot based on communion with the primary 'hot,' and in general we judge the more and less with reference to a maximum. It is necessary, then, that there be a first and last limit among beings." (32) It is evident that the "maximum" here means the undiminished or unparticipated perfection that things have, or participate, with varying diminutions. It is in this logical sense that he posits simply one or one itself--not a hypostatized entity named "the One"--as the principle of all things absolutely.

Here again, therefore, now with regard to all things whatsoever and in their entirety, we find the same bottom-up reasoning, from many participants to a multiplicity of participated terms, to an unparticipated monad. Thus Proclus explains that every monad is to its order what one is to all things.
   All the unparticipated monads are referred to the 'one,' because
   all are analogous to the 'one.' ... Being then principles of some
   things, they depend on the principle of all things. For the
   principle of all things is that which all things participate; but
   all things participate only the first, while not all things, but
   some things, participate the others. Wherefore the former [that is,
   the principle of all things] is the first absolutely, while the
   others are first relative to some order, but not absolutely first.

Or again:
   It is necessary, therefore, that prior to the participated causes,
   there pre-exist in every case unparticipated [causes] in the whole
   of things. For if it is necessary that the cause be to its own
   products what the 'one' is to the entire nature of beings, and the
   'one' is unparticipated, transcending all beings likewise as
   unitarily productive of all things, it follows, then, that each of
   the other causes, imaging the excess of the 'one' to all things,
   transcends the things that are in secondaries and are participated
   by them. (34)

It might be better to express this in reverse, and say that the doctrine of one as first principle is, as it were, the projection, with regard to "the entire nature of beings," of the logic that obtains with regard to every distinct order of beings. Thus, in Platonic Theology 2.3, Proclus begins by stating, "The cause of all things must be that which all things participate," (35) proceeds to argue that since what all things participate is one the first principle must be one itself, and then concludes:
   It is necessary that in each genus there be that which is unmixed
   with what is inferior so that there may be that which is mixed,
   just as we say with regard to the forms.... In short, in every
   case, whatever each being is [phrase omitted], that is, that
   which just is the perfection in question] precedes the things which
   by diminution are mixed with the privations of themselves.
   Therefore the 'one' by itself is transcendent to all multiplicity,
   and that which is one and at the same time not one is not first but
   depends from the first 'one,' participating the 'one' through the
   principle, but now manifesting in itself through lessening a cause
   of multiplicity and distinction. (36)

So too, in the opening chapters of Platonic Theology 3, explaining why there must be a multiplicity of henads or Gods, Proclus first lays out the monad-multiplicity structure in general and then concludes, "Much more greatly, then, the fountain of all goods produces what are by nature unified to itself and establishes them in beings. Thus, one God and many Gods, and one henad and many henads prior to beings, and one goodness and many goodnesses after the one." (37)

It follows that, in the same sense in which all ensouled things proceed from soul and all living things proceed from life, all things whatsoever proceed from one, "likewise" or "indifferently." (38) Proclus's system is too often presented in merely sequential terms, as if "the One" generates being, which in turn generates life, which in turn generates intellect, and so on. This leads to the false impression that only being proceeds immediately from the first principle, while all "subsequent" terms proceed from the first only mediately or indirectly. But this is quite wrong. Rather, in accordance with the logic we have articulated, the whole system in its entirety proceeds immediately and absolutely from one itself. All subordinate processions, such as life from being or intellect from life, are not additional to but are contained within the immediate procession of all things from one itself. Being ([phrase omitted]) is the "first" product, not as first in a series to which others will be added, but as most comprehensive, including all others within itself. (39) What proceeds immediately and likewise from one itself is simply and absolutely everything at all levels whatsoever. This procession just is the logical posteriority of all things, in that they exist at all only by being in some way one, to unparticipated one itself.

The application of this logical structure to the system in its entirety has radical implications. In all lesser cases, the character in question is a positive intelligible content, which we attain by the removal or taking away ([phrase omitted]) of all that is not that character itself but rather is subordinate to it. Thought ascends to the level of soul, for example, by taking away the corporeality proper to bodies and the generation proper to nature; it ascends to intellect by taking away motion, which is proper to soul; it ascends to being as such, or the one-being, by taking away the formal distinctions whereby beings are many and different from each other. This [phrase omitted] constitutes the mode of negation that signifies neither privation, nor coordinate difference, but causal priority: nature is not body since it is the cause of body; soul is not nature since it is the cause of nature; intellect is not soul since it is the cause of soul; life is not intellect since it is the cause of intellect; being is not life since it is the cause of life. But the ascent by [phrase omitted] cannot stop here. Even the highest level, the one-being, is still an intelligible content, indeed is the unitary containment of all intelligible contents. As such it is not only one, but participates one and so is one and not-one. In the one-being, one is diminished by the addition of being, that which has or participates one. "For whatever you add you diminish the 'one,' and thereby manifest not 'one itself but that which undergoes the 'one': for it is not one alone but in addition to this something else, which has the 'one' by participation." (40) To complete the ascent, therefore, we must take away being ([phrase omitted]) itself, so as to leave one alone with no diminution.
   For the one-being does not remain purely in an unmultiplied and
   uniform existence [[phrase omitted]], but the 'one' surpasses all
   addition; for whatever you add to it, you lessen its supreme and
   ineffable unity. Hence it is necessary to order the 'one' prior to
   the one-being, and suspend the one-being from that which is 'only
   one.' (42)

But to take away being is to take away the entire system, the whole of reality, all of which is contained within being. "If, then, at every procession of beings, the effects are negated of the causes, it is certainly necessary to take away [[phrase omitted]] all things likewise from the cause of all things." (43) At this point, we are left with no intelligible content, nothing that has one, and so with nothing to think. As long as we have any being, anything at all, we still have some one thing and so fall short of one itself. The first, therefore, is not anything, because anything is necessarily some one thing and so not only one. "For this reason it is none of all things, because all things proceed from it." (44)

Unlike soul, intellect, life, or being, therefore, one by itself does not designate any intelligible content, for any such content would be some one thing and so would not be only one. Consequently the name "one" does not succeed in saying what the first is. Thus Proclus explains that the term "one" names not the first principle itself but only our understanding of it, which derives from our recognition of one as the absolutely common character of all things. "It is not that [that is, the first itself] which we name when we call it thus, but the understanding of 'one' which is in us." (45) Hence, "[w]e transfer to it therefore 'one' and 'good' from the donation that comes from it to all beings." (46) Any intelligible meaning of the name "one" refers to the character one as it occurs with diminution in all beings and as we know it from those beings, and so it cannot designate the first itself. Hence Proclus distinguishes between the first and the one that can be thought or known as the cause of being:
   Nor is the first truly one, for it is better, as we have often
   said, than the 'one.' ... There is then some 'one' prior to being,
   which also establishes being and is the primary cause of being; for
   what is prior to this is beyond even unity and cause, unrelated to
   all things and unparticipated and transcendent to all things. But
   if this 'one' is the cause of being and establishes it, there will
   exist in it a power generative of being. (47)

This participated one that is properly the cause of being is what Proclus calls "limit," and its generative power is what he calls "unlimited." (48) Being is therefore the "product" of participated one or limit and its power, or unlimited. Limit and unlimited themselves, Proclus explains, are not "products" (which would lead to an infinite regress) but rather "manifestations" of the first. That is, limit and unlimited are one thought or known as the cause of, and thus as related to, being. As such they are not the the first itself. (49) On the strictly logical ground that anything at all is something that has one and so is not only one, the first disappears completely beyond any thought whatsoever. "It must be none of all things, so that all things may be from it." (50) Consequently, "[a]ll the divine is itself, on account of its ineffable unity above being, unknowable to all secondary things, but can be grasped and known from its participants; wherefore only the first is altogether unknowable, in that it is unparticipated." (51) Hence we "conclude with silence the study thereof." (52)


Aquinas adopts the Procline triadic schema of participant/participated/unparticipated in his understanding of beings (entia), the esse (53) that they participate, and God as ipsum esse. A being (ens), for Aquinas, is a thing that has, or participates, esse. The participation in question here is what is sometimes termed "transcendental" participation, that is, a being's participation or possession of its own esse, the act-of-being (actus essendi) by which it exists. (54) In that any being is something that has esse, a being is not simple but composite, consisting of that which has esse and the esse that it has. Aquinas expresses this composition in a number of ways. It may be articulated as the composition of that which is (quod est) and that by which it is (quo est). (55) Again, perhaps most famously, it is the composition of an essence, or what a thing is, and the esse that it has. (56) Or, perhaps most straightforwardly, it is the composition, within any existing thing, between the thing itself and the esse by which it exists. (57) All of these are ways of saying that a being is a thing that has or exercises an act-of-existing, and as such involves a distinction and composition between the thing and the act-of-existing that it has or exercises. This composition corresponds structurally to the distinction and composition that Proclus articulates within any being between the being which it is and the participated one that it has and by which it exists at all.

For Proclus, any such participated one is not only one, but is "lessened by the addition" of that which has or participates it. It is diminished just in that it is not only one but the one of something. Likewise, for Aquinas, the esse of any being is contracted to the being that participates it, the being to which it belongs, the being of which it is the actuality. "Everything, therefore, which is after the first being, since it is not its esse, has esse received in something, by which esse itself is contracted; and thus in anything created the nature of the thing that participates esse is one [aliud] and the participated esse itself is another." (58) Consequently the thing's esse is not just esse (esse tantum) or esse itself (ipsum esse, (59)) but is rather esse as participated by and so limited to that being. Aquinas's "contraction" thus answers precisely to Proclus's "diminution." And just as, in Proclus, any and every participated, diminished one ipso facto is not the first, so, in Aquinas, the participated, contracted esse of any and every being is not God: just in that it belongs or is contracted to this or that being, it is not subsistent esse and is not esse tantum or ipsum, the universal principle of all beings as such. Thus Aquinas appeals to such contraction in demonstrating that God, as ipsum esse, is infinite.
   Anything is called 'infinite' in that it is not limited
   [finitum].... Form is limited by matter insofar as a form
   considered in itself is common to many, but by being received in
   matter becomes determinately the form of this thing.... Form is not
   perfected by matter, but rather its amplitude is contracted by
   it.... But that which is most formal of all things, is esse
   itself.... Since therefore the divine esse is not an esse received
   in anything, but he is his own subsistent esse ... it is clear that
   God himself is infinite and perfect. (60)

God is infinite, that is, not finite or limited, in that, as ipsum esse subsistens, he is not the esse of anything, by and to which he would be limited or contracted. (61) For the same reason, Aquinas explains, God cannot be esse formale, that is, the participated and therefore contracted esse of any or every being, or esse commune, which is simply the common perfection esse considered in abstraction from the things to which it belongs.
   The divine esse is without addition not only in thought but also in
   the nature of things; not only without addition, but without even
   receptibility of addition. Wherefore from this, that it neither
   receives nor can receive addition, it can further be concluded that
   God is not esse commune, but his own [esse]. And his esse is
   distinguished from all things on this account, that nothing can be
   added to it. (62)

As in Proclus's participation structure, the esse of anything is contracted, or as Proclus would say diminished, by the addition of that which participates it, that of which it is the esse. And as in Proclus, such contraction is the ground of multiplicity. Esse itself, without the addition of a participant, cannot be many, because the members of such a multiplicity would have to be distinguished from one another by the addition to each of something other than esse. (63) This is precisely Proclus's argument for the necessary monadic singularity of any unparticipated term. (64)

Thus Aquinas argues, following the pattern of Proclus, that all beings, existing in virtue of their participated and contracted esse, are caused by uncontracted esse itself, or God.
   It is necessary to say that everything which in any way is, is from
   God. For if anything is found in something by participation, it is
   necessary that it is caused in it by that to which it pertains
   essentially.... But it was shown above that God is esse itself
   subsistent by itself. And again it was shown that subsistent esse
   cannot be but one, just as, if there were a subsistent whiteness,
   it could not be but one, since whitenesses would be multiplied
   according to their recipients. It remains therefore that all things
   other than God are not their own esse, but participate esse. It is
   necessary therefore that all things which are diversified according
   to diverse participation of existing [essendi], so that they are
   more or less perfect, are caused by one first being, which is most
   perfectly [quod perfectissime est]. (65)

Perfectissime here clearly means "without contraction": Aquinas's point is not that God has or possesses esse more perfectly or completely than do creatures, (66) but rather that God is not a thing that has esse at all but just is esse itself. As such he does not fall short of the fullness of esse by being an esse received in or participated by something other than itself. The thrust of the argument is that all things that have or participate esse, all things that are not just esse but composites of esse and that which has or receives it, and by which it is contracted and diversified--in short, "everything which in any way is"--are therefore from or posterior to uncontracted, undiversified esse itself. The argument hinges on the Platonic and Procline principle that "if anything is found in something by participation, it it necessary that it is caused in it by that to which it pertains essentially." The latter phrase is Aquinas's way of referring to that which does not participate but rather just is the perfection in question, as the reference to God as ipsum esse and the counterfactual example of "subsistent whiteness" indicate. The causation in question is just the posteriority of a participated, contracted perfection to the same perfection simply by itself. The argument thus replicates Proclus's reasoning from a multiplicity of participated terms, each possessed and thus confined to or diminished by its participant, to the same perfection just as such, unparticipated and undiminished. "As that which participates is posterior to that which is by essence, so too is the participated itself." (67) Aquinas's argument from beings as participants of esse to ipsum esse subsistens as the cause of all beings is therefore structurally parallel to Proclus's argument from all things as participants of one to unparticipated one itself as the cause of all things.

Upon concluding this argument, Aquinas acknowledges its Platonic background: "Wherefore Plato too says that it is necessary to posit a unity before every multiplicity." He then observes, "And Aristotle says, in Metaphysics II, that that which is most being and most true [maxime ens et maxime verum] is the cause of every being and every true thing, as that which is most hot is the cause of every heat." (68) This remark, as well as the reference in the argument itself to things that are "more or less perfect," plainly connects the Platonic argument from participation with the "fourth way" argument to God, which must in fact be understood in the same terms. (69) Things that are more and less good, true, noble, and so on, are things that have these perfections in some way, that is, with varying modes of "contraction" or "diminution." As such they are caused by that which just is that perfection, without contraction. The meaning of maxime ens to which the fourth way concludes is therefore the same as that of quod perfectissime est. Such expressions cannot refer to God as a being that has esse in a maximal or most perfect way. Nothing that has esse could be maxime or perfectissime, for the esse of any such thing would be contracted by that which has it. Rather, as Aquinas makes clear in countless other places, these phrases refer to God as that which does not have but just is uncontracted esse itself. "[God] is maximally being [maxime ens] insofar as he is not a thing that has some esse determined by some nature to which it comes, but is subsistent esse itself, in every way indeterminate." (70) Just as Proclus's first principle is not a thing that is one, that is, that has one as a character and is therefore not only one or one itself, so Aquinas's God does not have esse in a greater way (perfectly or maximally) than "other" beings, but just is nothing but esse itself. The precise verbal parallel between Aquinas's fourth way and the passage from Proclus's Platonic Theology cited earlier, (71) though striking, is of course due to their common derivation from Aristotle. (72) What is more significant, however, is that both Proclus and Aquinas deploy this Aristotelian principle in exactly the same way to argue to a cause of all things.

Likewise, Aquinas adopts the Platonic one-before-many principle in addressing the question "whether all things are good by the divine goodness." Here he presents the "Platonic" theory of "separate essences" prior to the things that participate this or that perfection, rejecting this position with regard to natural kinds but affirming it with regard to being and good. He then explains, "Therefore from the first being and good, [which is such] by its essence, anything can be called a good thing and a being insofar as it participates it by way of a certain assimilation, albeit remotely and deficiently," which is to say, with contraction. Aquinas concludes,
   So therefore anything is called good by the divine goodness, as by
   the first exemplary, efficient, and final principle of all
   goodness. Nonetheless, though, anything is called good by the
   similitude of the divine goodness inherent in it, which is formally
   its own goodness, and gives it the name [that is, the name "good"].
   And so there is one goodness of all things, and also many
   goodnesses. (74)

Here he unwittingly repeats the exact words of Proclus. (75) Again, what matters most is not the verbal identity, striking as it is, but the structural or logical parallelism: in each of the many things that have a perfection such as esse, one, or good, that perfection is found as limited, that is, contracted or diminished, to that thing. As such it is not identical with that which just is that perfection itself, unparticipated, uncontracted, not diversified. "Hence," in Proclus's words, "one goodness and many goodnesses after the one." (76)

Aquinas's argument from beings, as things that participate esse, to ipsum esse as their cause, thus exhibits exactly the same structure as Proclus's argument from any multiplicity of participants, each with its diminished, participated perfection, to an unparticipated monad. Esse is the cause of all things just in that every being exists by its participated, contracted esse. Every being (ens), therefore, proceeds from unparticipated esse itself, or God, just in that its esse is distinguished from esse itself by being contracted to a participant. It follows that the procession of all things from God, that is, their being created, just is the posteriority of the participated esse by which anything is a being, together with that which participates it, to unparticipated esse itself. This logical structure is all that can be meant, in strictly philosophical terms, by "creation." It is of course well recognized that for Aquinas creation "signified passively," that is, the being-created of all things, is not a change or event but is nothing but the relation of dependence of all things on God. (77) "Creation is not a change, but the very dependence of created esse on the principle by which it is established; and this is in the genus of relation." (78) But this doctrine, it seems, is not always taken seriously in its full force: the creation of all things by God, insofar as it can be philosophically understood and justified, just is the logical posteriority of beings, as things that have esse, to unconditioned esse itself.

With Aquinas as with Proclus, therefore, we must always argue from effects to cause, starting with beings as things that have esse and recognizing their posteriority to, and in that sense (only) their derivation from, esse itself. This bottom-up procedure obviates an otherwise insuperable dilemma. It is impossible to explain the existence of beings, as finite participants of esse, if we begin with esse itself and try to derive beings from it. On the one hand, esse as such cannot account for its own contraction. (79) On the other hand, its contraction cannot come from something else, if it is precisely the origin of this something else that we are seeking to explain: a being does not exist prior (temporally or ontologically) to its reception of esse. (80) Nor can we escape this dilemma by saying that the ultimate explanation of the limitation of esse in creatures is God's will, power, knowledge, or creative act. (81) Since these are not really distinct from the divine essence, that is, esse itself, they cannot have any additional explanatory power. Thus Aquinas explains that as creation "signified passively" is nothing but the relation of dependence, so creation "signified actively," that is, attributed to God as an act, just is the divine essence "with a relation to the creature." God's creative act, then, just is esse itself, considered as the cause of all things. But Aquinas hastens to add that this causal relation is nothing real in God but is only "according to reason." (82) To attribute creation to God as an act is to introduce in thought a distinction between God and his act. (83) Hence this thought, like any thought we may have of God, falls infinitely short of God himself. Aquinas's point here may perhaps be compared to Proclus's distinction between one considered as the cause of being, which is a manifestation of the first, and the first itself, which escapes absolutely beyond all thought whatsoever. Since God's creative will or act is not really distinct from God or esse itself, it cannot help explain the derivation of finite beings from esse.

The dilemma results from attempting to think as an origin what is in fact a logical relation. We begin with beings, that is, things that have or participate esse, and recognize that, within these beings, their esse is contracted to that which possesses it. We thereby infer its distinction from and posteriority to esse itself. In just that sense, esse accounts for the existence of all things. We cannot begin with uncontracted esse itself and deduce beings from it; we can only ever begin with beings, existing in virtue of their contracted esse, and dialectically reduce, that is, trace them back, to uncontracted esse itself. As in Proclus, the addition of the participant is not an event but is simply the fact that esse here is contracted. All things are distinguished and in that sense emerge from ipsum esse just in that their esse is contracted to something other than itself. As, for Proclus, the procession of participated terms from an unparticipated monad just is their diminution relative to it, so, for Aquinas, the being-created of all things just is the contraction of their esse to a being that participates it. We may, if we like, turn this around and express it by saying, "God creates all things" or "God causes all things to be." But this cannot legitimately mean anything more or other than that their esse, in that it is contracted to them, is posterior to uncontracted esse itself. Only in this sense can "creation" be philosophically demonstrated and understood.

In short, Aquinas's argument from all beings, as things that participate esse, to ipsum esse as cause of all things, is structurally parallel to Proclus's argument from all things as participants of one to one itself as first principle. For Proclus, the perfection common to all things whatsoever, whereby they exist at all, is one; for Aquinas, it is esse: "Esse itself is common to all things." (84) "Since therefore esse is found common to all things, which are distinct from each other as to what they are, it follows that by necessity esse is attributed to them not from themselves, but from some one cause." (85) As Proclus says, and Aquinas agrees, "The cause of all things must be that which all things participate. " (86) In both cases, we first identify the absolutely common perfection--one for Proclus, esse for Aquinas--that occurs, with diverse diminutions or contractions, in all things whatsoever, and in virtue of which they exist at all. We then take that same perfection without diminution and ascribe its name to the first principle of all things. In Proclus's words, "We transfer to it therefore 'one' and 'good' from the donation that comes from it to all beings." (87) This is the exact procedure whereby Aquinas calls God ipsum esse. Thus he frequently refers to God as principium totius esse, "the principle of all esse," (88) clearly indicating that the name esse is transferred to God from that which all things possess from him, namely, their esse. Hence esse in Aquinas holds the same structural position as one in Proclus. Ipsum esse therefore does not name an intelligible essence, for any such essence would be not just esse but a thing that has esse. Thus it does not provide a conceptual grasp of what God is any more than does one in Proclus. (89) The statement that God is ipsum esse is therefore strictly apophatic in meaning. (90) We ascend dialectically to esse as cause of all things by the taking away ([phrase omitted] in Greek, ablatio or remotio in Latin) of all determinate content, since any such content is not just esse but something that has esse. As Proclus repeatedly insists, since we ascend to each higher level by negating or taking away its effects, so we must "take away all things likewise from the cause of all things." (91) So too, for Aquinas,
   The divine substance by its measurelessness exceeds every form
   which our intellect attains; and thus we cannot apprehend it by
   knowing what it is. Yet we have some knowledge of it by knowing
   what it is not. We approach knowledge of it insofar as we are able
   to remove [removere] more things from it by our intellect.... And
   then there will be proper consideration of his substance when he is
   known as distinct from all things [ut ab omnibus distinctus]. (92)

Aquinas's apophaticism, like that of Proclus, is no mere acknowledgment of the grandeur of God and the weakness of the human intellect, but a strict dialectical necessity: since "everything which in any way is" participates esse and in that sense is posterior, dependent, or caused, we must "take away" all things from the cause of all things, leaving no thought whatever of the cause itself.


Having articulated the structural parallelism between Aquinas and Proclus with regard to participation, diminution or contraction, and procession or creation, it remains for us to consider various points of divergence between them.

First, and seemingly most significant, is the much vaunted claim that for Aquinas the supremely common perfection shared by absolutely all things whatsoever is being, so that God is being itself, whereas for the Neoplatonic tradition that Proclus represents the perfection one is even more extensively participated than being, so that his first principle is not being, but beyond being. (93) But this, I submit, is largely if not entirely a terminological confusion, exacerbated in English by the persistent abominable practice of translating both ens and esse as "being." (94) Let us try to disentangle the muddle.

The Greek word [phrase omitted], "being," corresponding to Latin ens, means "that-which-is." This is a concrete, not an abstract, term: it refers not to the character or perfection that a thing has or participates and by which it is a being, but rather to the thing itself. Hence when Proclus argues that being ([phrase omitted]) proceeds from or is produced by one, he is referring to "what is," "all that is," taken all together in its totality. In Latin this would be ens, not esse. That-which-is ([phrase omitted]), containing within itself all the things-that-are ([phrase omitted]), exists in virtue of its participated one and so depends on, or proceeds from, one itself. To say that the first principle is not being but beyond being is to say that it is beyond that-which-is. (95) It is above being ([phrase omitted], not esse) in that it is the cause of all that is. Proclus's distinction between [phrase omitted], that-which-is, and [phrase omitted], one, the perfection by which anything is, thus corresponds closely to Aquinas's distinction between ens, that-which-is, and esse, the perfection by which anything is.

In this regard the (in)famous proposition 4 of the Liber de causis is instructive: Prima rerum creatarum est esse. (96) At some point in the passage from Greek to Arabic to Latin, the wrong word has crept in. To reflect its Procline origin, the line should read, Prima rerum creatarum est ens. In Proclus, being is the "first product" in that it is the highest, most comprehensive level that is not only one but participates one and in that sense is made to be. It is the first composite of "one and not-one," that is, of a participated character one and that which has, but itself is not, the character one. Being is the "first" product, not in the sense that it is first in a series to which other terms will be added, but rather in that it is all-comprehensive: all "other" things are not extrinsic or additional to but contained within being. Being, [phrase omitted], that-which-is, is everything that is, taken all together as one, and this is the "first" and in that sense the only product of one itself. (97) The erroneous use of esse instead of ens in the Liber de causis compels Aquinas, in order to make sense of the proposition, to give it a meaning that works well enough within his own system but has nothing to do with its Procline origin. (98) Had the proposition read ens instead of esse, Aquinas could have comfortably endorsed it without imposing on it an alien interpretation. What is created, or produced, is not esse by itself, which would force us to place God beyond esse, but rather ens, that-which-is, which is a composite of esse and that which has, but itself is not, esse, and as such is caused to be. Thus later in the De causis commentary Aquinas explains that "the first cause is above being [supra ens] insofar as it is infinite [that is, uncontracted] esse itself," (99) and elsewhere he refers to the divine will, which is not really distinct from the divine essence or God himself, as "standing outside the order of beings [extra ordinem entium], as a certain cause pouring forth all being [totum ens] and all its differences." (100) This is just what Proclus means when he says that the first principle is not being because it is the cause of being, and that being, containing within itself all things, is the "first product." Not Aquinas's esse, but rather his totum ens, as that which comes from and so is not God, corresponds to Proclus's [phrase omitted].

The only sense in which being for Proclus does not include all things whatsoever, and thus is narrower in scope than ens for Aquinas, is that, as we have seen, the word [phrase omitted] strongly carries the note of intelligibility: a being is a distinct, determinate, intelligible something, and being in general is the totality of all such intelligible contents. In this sense only, "being" does not apply either to matter or to the Gods. Matter, as that which underlies all formal characters, has no intelligibility of its own, and in that sense is not an [phrase omitted]. This does not mean, for Proclus, that matter is absolutely nothing; it simply means that matter is not intelligible per se. Conversely, the divine henads or Gods are not [phrase omitted] in that, as participated ones, they are principles by which beings are beings. For Proclus, a being is a thing that has the character one in some way. It follows that a God, since it does not have that character but just is that character as possessed by this or that being, is not in this sense a being. We could transpose this into Thomistic terms by saying that a Procline God is not an ens but the participated esse of some ens. (101) This, and only this, is the sense in which the term [phrase omitted] does not apply to absolutely everything, the sense in which matter and the Gods are not beings.

Proclus does in fact have another term that comes much closer in meaning to Aquinas's esse. This is the word [phrase omitted]. Since he uses this word to refer to the principle by which anything exists, it is perhaps best translated as "existence," or, to avoid begging the question, left untranslated as we have done with Aquinas's esse. Proclus expressly equates [phrase omitted] with one: the participated one or limit of anything, in virtue of which that thing exists at all, is its [phrase omitted]. (102) Thus in arguing that one is the supremely common term, even more than being ([phrase omitted]), he observes, "It is possible for that which is not [[phrase omitted]] to have [phrase omitted]; but that which is not even one [[phrase omitted]], and is devoid of the 'one' itself, would be altogether nothing [[phrase omitted]]." (103) Here "that which is not" (that is, is not a being, [phrase omitted]) evidently refers to matter. Hence while matter for Proclus is not strictly speaking an [phrase omitted], that is, a determinate intelligible "this something," it does have [phrase omitted], or existence, and this is the same as saying that it has the character one, without which it would not exist at all. Aquinas would express this by saying that matter does not exist by itself, apart from form, but that it has esse through form. Likewise, while the Gods are not [phrase omitted], beings, in the sense we have explained, Proclus freely refers to them as [phrase omitted]. (104) As the participated ones by which all things exist, the Gods are the [phrase omitted], the existences, of all things. As a term for that by which anything exists, [phrase omitted] even carries to some extent the "act" connotation of Aquinas's esse. Thus when Proclus equates participated one or limit, as the cause of being, with [phrase omitted] he correlates it with the unlimited as its power, [phrase omitted]: limit is to unlimited as [phrase omitted] to [phrase omitted]. (105) [phrase omitted], existence, not [phrase omitted], that-which-is, is thus the closest equivalent in Proclus's lexicon to Aquinas's esse, and the [phrase omitted], of anything is its participated one. Proclus's distinction between [phrase omitted], that which is, and [phrase omitted], one, the perfection by which it is, therefore corresponds closely to Aquinas's distinction between ens and esse.

Conversely, Aquinas's esse, as the perfection by which all things are, is much closer, in its metaphysical status, role, function, and meaning, to Proclus's [phrase omitted] than to his [phrase omitted]. This crucial point is obscured when esse is translated as "being." As the act or perfection by which beings are, esse is not itself a being, an ens, a thing that has this perfection or exercises this act. Creatures are not esse but entia, things that have esse; God is not a thing that has esse but just is esse itself. Thus it is not the case that for Aquinas, in supposed opposition to Proclus, the term "being" extends to include both creatures and God. This is nothing but an illusion that results from allowing the term "being" to blur the distinction between ens and esse. For Aquinas as for Proclus, there is no common term that embraces both creatures and God, or all things and the principle of all things. (106) To be sure, Aquinas frequently speaks of God as an ens. But he explains that this usage is only ever analogical, referring to God as the principle of which every ens, existing by its contracted esse, is a likeness. "Whatever is said of God and creatures is said according as there is some order of the creature to God as to its principle and cause, in which all the perfections of things exist excellently." (107) This is not unlike Proclus's explanation of how the first principle may be called an [phrase omitted] (as when Plato speaks of "the [phrase omitted] of the good"), although it is not an [phrase omitted] in the proper sense of a determinate intelligible content. (108) As any multiplicity of participants, with their participated perfections, are to their monad, so all things absolutely are to one itself. In that sense the one may, analogically, be termed an [phrase omitted]. So, for Aquinas, all beings (entia) absolutely stand in this relation to ipsum esse, and in that sense only, God may be termed ens. But just as one itself is above being ([phrase omitted]) or [phrase omitted] in the sense of determinate intelligible content, which exists by the one that it has, so Aquinas's God is above being (ens) in the sense of that which has esse and exists by the esse that it has. (109) As we have seen, God for Aquinas is above being (ens) in that he is uncontracted esse, (110) just as, for Proclus, the first principle is above being ([phrase omitted]) in that it is undiminished one.

Perhaps a more genuine difference between Proclus and Aquinas is that for Proclus the participated ones of beings are the henads or Gods, real divine persons to whom he offers prayer, devotion, and ritual worship. (111) For Aquinas, of course, participated esse has no such religious significance: it is simply the actus essendi of this or that creature. But as I have suggested elsewhere, (112) this cultic and confessional difference, real as it is on its own level, can perhaps be seen to overlie a deeper metaphysical affinity. On the one hand, Proclus is very clear that each God, and all the Gods taken together, absolutely and infinitely are not the first itself, precisely in that they are participated and therefore diminished, or as Aquinas would say, contracted.
   Every God is a beneficent henad or a unifying goodness ...; but the
   first is the good simply and one simply, while each of those after
   the first is a certain [[phrase omitted]] goodness and a certain
   henad.... For each of them is a certain good, but not all the good
   ... wherefore that [that is, the first] is the good, as
   constitutive of all goodness. For not all the existences [phrase
   omitted] of the Gods together are equal to the 'one,' so great an
   excess is that allotted over the multiplicity of the Gods. (113)

To worship them as Gods, therefore, is not to mistake them for the first, which cannot be an object of such worship precisely because it cannot be intended at all but disappears altogether: "Let us as it were celebrate him ... as he is God of all Gods and as henad of henads and as beyond the first inaccessibles and as more ineffable than all silence and as more unknowable than all existence [[phrase omitted]], holy among holies." (114) "Let it be honored by silence and by union prior to silence." (115) Conversely, could we not say that for Aquinas, what is divine is, most fundamentally, actuality, as for Proclus what is divine is one? Esse in Aquinas, like one in Proclus, is the "actuality of all acts" and "perfection of all perfections," (116) and as unparticipated esse itself God is not anything actual (that is, actualized), nor the actuality of anything, but sheer actuality itself. Actuality, and so divinity, is found everywhere with contraction, as the esse of each being, and nowhere without contraction, as just actuality itself, which is thus absolutely transcendent, infinitely "distant," (117) ab omnibus distinctus.

The greatest truly philosophical difference between Aquinas and Proclus with regard to the issue at hand is that we do not find in Aquinas the "fractal" structure of Proclus's system, in which the same monad-multiplicity pattern repeats itself, level within level, at greater and lesser degrees of "magnification." While Aquinas admits the Platonic one-before-many principle, he locates all Proclus's "monads" in God, where they are not really distinct from each other or from ipsum esse. To negotiate this difference lies beyond the scope of the present study, for it would entail a far-reaching dialogue at the level of Proclus's and Aquinas's entire systems of thought. Such a dialogue would have to address, at least: how Aquinas can justify his rejection of really distinct unparticipated terms, prior to particulars but posterior to the absolutely simple first principle; how Proclus's monads are not, as Aquinas represents them on the basis of his limited sources, a series of mutually extrinsic "separate ideas," but are contained in one another so that "all things are in all things, but in each in its own way," (118) and indeed each is all in its own way; and even the very meaning of "real distinction" and how we should understand the relation between thought and reality. None of this, however, affects or alters Aquinas's thoroughgoing adoption of the Procline logic of procession by diminution with regard to beings, their participation of esse, and esse itself as the principle of all things.

"Platonism" is said in many ways. Is Aquinas's ipsum esse Platonism? (119) Emphatically yes: but not in the sense, regularly repudiated by Aquinas, that it is a pseudo-genus "being," first conceptually abstracted from the differences among beings and then hypostatized; nor in the sense that ipsum esse is just the common perfection esse considered in abstraction from the things that participate it. That, in Aquinas's terms, is not ipsum esse subsistens but rather esse commune. To be sure, such a conception provides the meaning for the name esse as applied to God, which may in part explain why it has sometimes been confused with ipsum esse. (120) The principle of all things is called esse, however, not because this name provides a conceptual grasp of what God is, but because all things exist by their participated esse, which precisely as participated cannot be first. Hence, in accordance with the Procline reduction of a participated multiplicity to an unparticipated monad, we call the principle of all things esse itself, thereby indicating its priority to, not its identity with, that which is found participated in all things. So, Proclus explains, "It is cause of existence [[phrase omitted]] to all things.... We transfer to it therefore 'one' and 'good' from the donation that comes from it to all beings. For we say that the cause of the things that all beings participate is none other than that which is established prior to all these." (121) In just this sense, the meaning of Aquinas's doctrine of ipsum esse as cause of all things, and the reasoning that underlies it, is altogether Platonic.

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(1) W. Norris Clarke, "The Limitation of Act by Potency: Aristotelianism or Platonism?" New Scholasticism 26 (1952): 167-94. For a more recent treatment of this theme in Aquinas see John F. Wippel, "Thomas Aquinas and the Axiom that Unreceived Act is Unlimited," in Metaphysical Themes in Thomas Aquinas II (Washington, D.C.: The Catholic University of America Press, 2007), 123-51. Wippel considers it "likely ... that the axiom's remote origins are Neoplatonic" (144), but does not examine its grounds in its original Neoplatonic context and concludes simply that "Thomas regards it as a self-evident axiom or adage" (150).

(2) For reasons that will emerge I avoid the conventional expression "the One."

(3) Proclus, The Elements of Theology (hereafter, El. theol.), ed. and trans. E. R. Dodds, 2nd ed. (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1963), 21, 24.1-3; compare Proclus, Platonic Theology (hereafter, Plat, theol.) (Theologieplatonicienne, 6 vols., ed. H. D. Saffrey and L. G. Westerink [Paris: Belles Lettres, 2003]), 3.2, 8.1-12. All translations from Proclus are my own.

(4) This example is justified by El. Theol. 22, 26.16-21, where Proclus mentions, as examples of monads, not only being, intellect, and soul, but also "each of the forms," including "the beautiful," "the equal," "living thing," and "man." "For," he concludes, "the demonstration is the same."

(5) El theol. 23, 26.25-34.

(6) On the "adverbial" nature of Proclus's distinctions see Dirk Baltzly, "Mereological Modes of Being in Proclus," Ancient Philosophy 28 (2008): 395-411, at 395-99.

(7) Plat. theol. 3.32, 9.7-8.

(8) Plat. Theol. 3.2, 8.12-14.

(9) Republic 5.476a5-7, my translation. For Plato's distinction between a form "in us" or "that we have" and a form "itself' or "in nature," corresponding to Proclus's distinction between participated and unparticipated terms, see Parmenides 130b4; Phaedo 102d6-7, 103b5.

(10) Plat, theol. 3.4, 14.19-22

(11) Plat. theol. 2.3, 30.20-22.

(12) El. theol. 22, 26.10-15.

(13) Plat, theol. 3.2, 6.24-7.1

(14) El. theol. 125, 110.33.

(15) El. theol. 30, 34.20-25.

(16) El. theol. 29, 34.3-11.

(17) Dodds's translation of, for example, El. theol. 18 is therefore highly misleading: "Everything which by its existence bestows a character on others itself primitively possesses that character which it communicates to the recipients." What Proclus actually says is, "Everything which by its existence provides to others, itself primitively is that [[phrase omitted]] which it communicates to the recipients" (El. theol. 18, 20.3-4). For a similar mistranslation of Aquinas, see below, n. 66.

(18) Plat. theol. 3.2, 7.13.

(19) This part of Proclus's Parmenides commentary is extant only in Latin translation.

(20) Proclus, InPlatonisParmenidem Commentaria [In Farm,.], 3 vols., ed. Carlos Steel (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 2007-2009), 7, 510.13-19.

(21) El. theol. 2,2.15.

(22) Plat, theol. 3.9, 35.13-21; 3.9, 38.8-9. Like Plato and Plotinus, Proclus uses the term [phrase omitted] to signify being qua intelligible. On this term see further below, n. 95.

(23) Plat. theol. 3.9, 135.5-7.

(24) Plat. theol. 3.5,17.14-15; compared, theol. 116,102.13-27; El. theol. 119, 104.16-30.

(25) For the perfect convertibility of "one" and "good" see El. theol. 13,14.24 16.8.

(26) El. theol. 115, 100.28-31; compare Plat, theol. 3.3, 14.8-9.

(27) El. theol. 133, 118.10-11.

(28) Plat. theol. 3.4, 14.11-22.

(29) Plat, theol. 2.3, 24.15-17.

(30) For meaning of this proviso see below, p. 697.

(31) Plat. theol. 2.3, 26.1-6.

(32) Plat. theol. 2.3, 28.9-13.

(33) El. theol. 100,90.7-16.

(34) Plat, theol. 3.2, 10.16-26.

(35) Plat. theol. 2.3, 24.15-17.

(36) Plat, theol. 2.3,30.14-26.

(37) Plat, theol. 3.3,14.1-6.

(38) Plat, theol. 2.7, 50.7-11; 2.12, 72.17-18.

(39) See, for example, Plat, theol. 3.9, 35.8-9; 3.9, 39.3-4; 3.13, 47.3-5.

(40) Plat, theol. 2.10, 63.14-17.

(41) On this term in Proclus see below, pp. 711-12.

(42) Plat. theol. 3.20, 69.5-10.

(43) Plat, theol. 2.10, 62.15-18; compare In Parm. 6, 1075.13-1077.15. See also Plat, theol. 3.23, 82.7-9.

(44) Plat, theol. 2.5, 37.24-25.

(45) In Parm. 7, 509.12-13.

(46) Plat. theol. 2.9, 60.22-24.

(47) Plat, theol. 3.8, 31.11-20. On this point see Gerd van Riel, "Horizontalism or Verticalism? Proclus vs. Plotinus on the Procession of Matter," Phronesis 46 (2001): 129-53, at 139.

(48) Plat. theol. 3.8, 32.2-5.

(49) Plat, theol. 3.9, 36.13-19. When Proclus says that "limit is a God, proceeding to the intelligible summit from the unparticipated and first God" (Plat, theol. 3.12, 44.24-45.1), this must be taken to mean that limit is what any God, as a participated one, is to its participants. See Gerd van Riel, "Les henades de Proclus sont-elles composees de limite et d'illimite?" Revue des sciences philosophiques et theologiques 85 (2001): 417-32, at 426-28.

(50) In Parm. 6, 1076.23-25.

(51) El. theol. 123, 108.25-28.

(52) In Parm. 7, 521.25.

(53) For present purposes it seems best to leave this term untranslated. To translate it as "being" confuses it with ens (see below, pp. 709-14). "Existence" is better but has the defect of substituting an abstract noun for an active verb, and takes us outside the "being" family of words. "Act-of-being" is more accurate but is a gloss rather than a translation, and needs to be reserved for translating Aquinas's phrase actus essendi.

(54) See John F. Wippel, The Metaphysical Thought of Thomas Aquinas: From Finite Being to Uncreated Being (Washington, D.C.: The Catholic University of America Press, 2000), 125.

(55) For example, De ente et essentia, editio Leonina, vol. 43 (Rome: Editori di San Tommaso, 1976), 3.

(56) For example, De ente et essentia, 3.

(57) For example, Quaestiones de quolibet, editio Leonina, vol. 25/1 (Rome and Paris: Commissio Leonina/Cerf, 1996), 2, 2,1, ad 1.

(58) Quaestio disputata de spiritualibus creaturis, ed. Leo W. Keeler (Rome: Gregorianum, 1937), 1, resp. All translations from Aquinas are my own.

(59) In the passage cited Aquinas uses the phrase ipsum esse in referring to the participated esse of the creature. Compare Summa theologiae, editio altera emendata (Ottawa: Commissio Piana, 1953), I, q. 4, a. 3: "Esse itself [ipsum esse] is common to all things." Obviously ipsum esse in such statements does not mean subsistent, unparticipated esse itself. The word ipsum here merely serves to reinforce the distinction between participated esse and that which participates it.

(60) Summa theologiae I, q. 3, a. 1.

(61) Since "subsistent" here means that this esse is not the esse of anything distinct from itself, it corresponds closely to "unparticipated."

(62) Summa contra gentiles, ed. Ceslaus Pera et al. (Rome and Turin: Marietti, 1961), bk. 1, c. 26, 11.

(63) For example, Summa contra gentiles, bk. 1, c. 42,10; Summa theologiae I, q. 11, a. 3.

(64) El. theol. 22, 26.10-15; see above, pp. 688-89.

(65) Summa theologiae I, q. 44, a. 1. This effectively combines into a single argument what in Quaestiones disputatae de potentia (De potentia), ed. P. Bazzi et al., 9th ed. rev. (Rome and Turin: Marietti, 1953), 1, 3, 5 are presented as three distinct arguments associated with Plato, Aristotle, and Avicenna respectively, but that are really all versions of the same line of reasoning.

(66) Here the Dominican Fathers' translation is egregiously misleading, rendering quod perfectissime est as "which possesses being most perfectly." The whole thrust of Aquinas's argument is that God does not possess esse but just is esse itself. The distinction between creatures and God is precisely the distinction between things that possess esse and unpossessed esse itself.

(67) Summa theologiae I, q. 3, a. 8. This statement occurs in the course of Aquinas's demonstration that God is not in composition with anything. Not incidentally, he supports this article with references to his chief Procline sources, Pseudo-Dionysius and the Liber de causis.

(68) Summa theologiae I, q. 44, a. 1.

(69) Summa theologiae I, q. 2, a. 3. On the intimate connection between the argument at I, q. 44, a. 1 and the fourth way, see Lawrence Dewan, "What Does Createdness Look Like?" in Divine Creation in Ancient, Medieval, and Early Modern Thought: Essays Presented to the Rev'd Dr Robert D. Crouse, ed. Michael Treschow, Willemien Otten, and Walter Hannam (Leiden: Brill, 2007), 335-61, at 340. For the Procline nature of the fourth way, see above all Fernand Van Steenberghen, "Prolegomenes a la 'Quarta Via'," Rivista di filosofia neoscolastica 70 (1978): 99-112. Since Van Steenberghen confines himself to Aquinas's textual sources, to wit, Pseudo-Dionysius and the Liber de causis, he does not cite Proclus, Plat, theol. 2.3, 28.9-13 (quoted above, p. 693), which would clinch his case. Matthew W. Knotts, "A Contextual and Philosophical Analysis of Aquinas's Fourth Way," Archive of the History of Philosophy and Social Thought 59 (2014): 37-54, attempts to show that the fourth way should not be understood in Neoplatonic terms. But he does so (at 45-47) only by arguing that it is not Augustinian. Since Van Steenberghen connects the fourth way not with Augustine but with Procline Neoplatonism, Knotts's argument completely misses the point. Knotts also mistakenly refers to Van Steenberghen's 1980 volume Thomas Aquinas and Radical Aristotelianism, which says nothing about this issue, rather than to his 1978 article on the fourth way.

(70) Summa theologiae I, q. 11, a. 4.

(71) See above, p. 693.

(72) Aristotle, Metaphysics 2.1.993b24-32.

(73) Or Platonic principle: see Wippel, "Platonism and Aristotelianism in Aquinas," in Metaphysical Themes II, 272--89, at 283 n. 36: "If one accepts the authenticity of Bk II [of Aristotle's Metaphysics], it seems to me that one should regard this text as a remaining trace of Platonism within Aristotle." This remark presupposes the view that Aristotle is not profoundly Platonic but retains at most "traces" of Platonism.

(74) Summa theologiae I, q. 6, a. 4.

(75) See above, p. 695.

(76) Plat. theol. 3.3, 14.5-6.

(77) For an exceptionally good treatment of this point see Dewan, "Createdness."

(78) Summa contra gentiles, bk. 2, c. 18, 2. Compare Summa theologiae I, q. 45, a. 3, ad 2.

(79) Compare Wippel, "Axiom," 151: "Precisely because esse is the actuality of all acts and the perfection of all perfections, one cannot account for its limitation simply by appealing to esse itself."

(80) This dilemma constitutes the long-standing debate as to the relative priority of limitation and composition. See Wippel, Metaphysical Thought, 12431. In fact neither limitation nor composition can be prior to the other because they are simply two ways of expressing the same thing, the of-ness or belonging of a participated term to that which participates it.

(81) For suggestions pointing in this direction see, for example, Rudi A. Te Velde, Participation and Substantiality in Thomas Aquinas (Leiden: Brill, 1995), 159; Wippel, Metaphysical Thought, 130-31.

(82) Summa theologiae I, q. 45, a. 3.

(83) Compare Proclus, In Parm. 7, 1168.16-1169.4

(84) Summa theologiae I, q. 4, a. 3.

(85) De potentia 3, 5. Aquinas adds, "And this, it appears, is the reason of Plato, who held that before every multiplicity there be some unity, not only in numbers but in the nature of things."

(86) Plat. theol. 2.3, 24.15-17.

(87) Plat, theol. 2.9, 60.22-24.

(88) For example, Summa contra gentiles, bk. 1, c. 68, 3; Summa theologiae I, q. 3j a. 5; I, q. 4, a. 3; De potentia, 3, 1.

(89) Compare Te Velde, Participation, 120; Jean-Luc Marion, "Saint Thomas d'Aquin et l'onto-theo-logie," Revue thomiste 95 (1995): 31-66, at 59-65, esp. 64; Stephen L. Brock, "On Whether Aquinas's Ipsum Esse Is 'Platonism,'" The Review of Metaphysics 60 (2006): 269-303, at 301.

(90) Compare Brian Davies, "Kenny on Aquinas on Being," The Modern Schoolman 82 (2005): 111-29, at 113-14, 124-27.

(91) Plat, theol. 2.10,62.17-18.

(92) Summa contra gentiles, bk. 1, c. 14, 2-3. Compare Scriptum super libros Sententiarum, ed Pierre Mandonnet and Maria Fabian Moos (Paris: Lethielleux, 1929-1937), 1, 8, 1, 1, ad 4: "When we proceed to God by way of remotion, first we negate of him corporeal things, and then even intellectual things, as they are found in creatures, such as goodness and wisdom; and then there remains in our intellect, that he is, and nothing more, wherefore it is as in a certain confusion. But in the end we remove from him even this esse itself as it is in creatures; and thus it remains in a certain darkness of unknowing."

(93) For example, Clarke, "Limitation," 187; Fran O'Rourke, Pseudo-Dionysius and the Metaphysics of Aquinas (Leiden: Brill, 1992), 203.

(94) To avoid this confusion it might be best to translate esse literally, as "to be." This works extremely well in some cases, for example, "To be is common to all things" or "To be is the actuality of all acts and on this account is the perfection of all perfections." In other cases it is more awkward, as in "God is to be itself subsisting by itself." But this very awkwardness is valuable in highlighting the crucial point that for Aquinas the first principle is expressed not by a noun but by a verb. God is not a thing but an activity, sheer activity without any agent.

(95) The same holds true for Proclus's insistence that one is not [phrase omitted] but above [phrase omitted], or [phrase omitted]. For, as we have seen, Proclus expressly equates [phrase omitted] with the one-being, that is, that-which-is taken all together as one. In this respect Morrow and Dillon's translation of substantia (clearly representing [phrase omitted] in the Latin translation of the Parmenides commentary) as "existence" is misleading. See In Parm. 7, 497.1-5; Proclus' Commentary on Plato's Parmenides, trans. Glenn R. Morrow and John M. Dillon (Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1987), 580. A Greekless reader is almost bound to assume that "existence" means something like Aquinas's esse, so that Proclus's argument that the first principle is not "existence" makes him fundamentally different from Aquinas. Once we realize that Proclus is speaking of [phrase omitted], the apparent opposition dissolves.

(96) Die pseudo-aristotelishes Schrift Ueber das reine Gute bekannt unter dem Namen Liber de causis, ed. Otto Bardenhewer (Freiburg im Breisgau: Herder, 1882), 166.19.

(97) Compare Baltzly, "Mereological Modes," 399.

(98) He interprets it as referring to the created esse of the highest beings, or intelligences. See also Summa theologiae I, q. 45, a. 4, obj. 1 and ad 1, where he again finds it necessary to explain (or explain away) this troublesome proposition.

(99) Super Librum de causis expositio, ed. H. D. Saffrey (Fribourg and Louvain: Societe Philosophique/Nauwelaerts, 1954), 6.

(100) Expositio libri Peryermeneias, editio Leonina, vol. 1*/1, editio altera retractata (Rome and Paris: Commissio Leonina/Vrin, 1989), 1,14,22. Compare Summa theologiae I, q. 45, a. 1, where Aquinas again speaks of "the emanation of all being [totius entis] from the universal cause, which is God."

(101) On the relation between Proclus's Gods and Aquinas's esse see further below, pp. 714-15.

(102) For example, Plat, theol. 3.9, 39.27; 3.14, 51.6; 4.1, 7.29-8.1. The last passage reads, [phrase omitted]." Saffrey and Westerink translate [phrase omitted] "l'Un et existence," as if power were generated from two things, the One and [phrase omitted]. This is incorrect. The unlimited is the power of [phrase omitted], that is, of participated one or limit, and being is the product of limit and its power, the unlimited. Hence Kai is epexegetic: Proclus is saying that power comes from "'one,' that is, [phrase omitted]," and that power together with this one establishes being.

(103) Plat, theol. 2.3, 25.20-22.

(104) For example, El. theol. 133, 118.18.

(105) Plat. theol. 3.9, 40.4-6.

(106) Compare Wippel, Metaphysical Thought, 571-72; Marion, "Saint Thomas d'Aquin," 45.

(107) Summa theologiae I, q. 13, a. 5.

(108) In Parm. 7, 1200.25-1201.2

(109) Compare Dewan, "Createdness," 344: "'[B]eing in its totality' (totum ens) is the name for God's effect, which he is himself beyond." And again, 360: "Creation is a doctrine which pertains to reality as such.... The Creator himself must be beyond reality, and can be called 'real' only in a somewhat new meaning of the word" (italics in original).

(110) See above, pp. 710-11.

(111) Strictly speaking this is true only as far down the scale of being as the celestial bodies. The participated ones of things subject to generation and corruption are not "self-complete henads" or Gods but only "illuminations of unity." See El. theol. 64, 60.20-62.12.

(112) Eric D. Perl, "Neither One nor Many: God and the Gods in Plotinus, Proclus, and Aquinas," Dionysius 28 (2010): 167-91, at 190.

(113) El. theol. 133, 118.8-19.

(114) Plat, theol. 2.11,65.5-14.

(115) Plat, theol. 3.7, 30.7-8.

(116) De potentia, 7,2, and 9.

(117) "The infinite distance of creature to God:" Quaestiones disputatae de veritate, editio Leonina, vol. 22.2/1 (Rome: Sancta Sabina, 1970), 11, ad 4.

(118) El. theol. 103,92.13.

(119) See Brock, "On Whether Aquinas's Ipsum Esse Is 'Platonism.'"

(120) Most notoriously by Klaus Kremer, Die neuplatonische Seinsphilosophie unci ihre Wirkung auf Thomas von Aquin (Leiden: Brill, 1966). Kremer's identification of ipsum esse with esse commune has been universally and rightly rejected; but this identification is not authentic Neoplatonism.

(121) Plat. theol. 2.9, 60.19-26.

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Title Annotation:Thomas Aquinas
Author:Perl, Eric D.
Publication:The Review of Metaphysics
Article Type:Essay
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Jun 1, 2019

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