"The good of the grace of one soul is greater than the good of the nature of the whole universe"
- St Thomas Aquinas Ia IIa, q.24, a. 3, ad 2

— A Commentary on the Third Part of St Thomas' Theological Summa

by Reginald Garrigou-Lagrange, O. P.


Various Scholastic Views About Personality

There are different views about ontological personality among the Scholastics. They are radically divided: some admit and others do not admit a real distinction between what is and its existence, a distinction that is declared among the greater in the philosophy of St. Thomas, and which forms one of the twenty-four theses approved by the Sacred Congregation of Studies in 1916.

Some say, in these days, that the first of these twenty-four propositions on which the others depend, is not found in the works of St. Thomas, who admitted, so they say, only logical composition of potentiality and act, but not real composition in every created:[484]

On the contrary, St. Thomas said explicitly: "Everything that is in the genus of substance is a real composite...; and its existence must be different from itself.... Therefore everything that is directly in the predicament of substance is composed at least of existence and that which exists."[485] This means that there is a real distinction in the created suppositum between that which exists and its existence. The suppositum is the whole, and its existence is a contingent predicate.

Again he writes: "The act that is measured by aeviternity, the aeviternal existence, differs indeed really from that whose act it is";[486] which means that an angel's essence differs really from his existence. On this point Father Norbert del Prado, O. P., has collected many similar texts from St. Thomas in the famous book he wrote on this subject.[487] In this work, he shows that the first truth by way of doctrinal judgment though the highest of causes is that in God alone essence and existence are the same; He alone can say: I am who am.

These truths presupposed, however, among Scholastics who deny a real distinction between what is and its existence, and between essence and existence, Scotus says that personality is something negative, namely, the negation of the hypostatic union in a singular nature.[488] Suarez considers personality to be a substantial mode that presupposes the existence of a singular nature, and that renders it incommunicable.[489]

Among those Scholastics who admit a real distinction between existence and what exists, there are especially three opinions. Cajetan and very many Thomists say that personality is that by which a singular nature becomes immediately capable of existence.[490]

Others, following Capreolus, say less clearly that personality is a singular nature as constituted before it exists.[491] Lastly, Father Billot reduces personality to existence that actuates the singular nature.[492]

PERSONALITY [diagram page 145]:

  • real distinction admitted
    • It is that by which a singular nature becomes what it is, or becomes immediately capable of existence. (View of Cajetan and very many Thomists).
    • It is a singular nature as constituted before it exists (Capreolus)
    • It is existence that actuates a singular nature (Billot)
  • real distinction denied
    • It is a substantial mode that presupposes the existence of the substance (Suarez)
    • It is something negative, the negation of the hypostatic union. (Scotus)



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"Try to turn your heart from the love of things visible and bring yourself to things invisible. For they who follow their own evil passions stain their consciences and lose the grace of God. "

Thomas Kempis

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"This is the greatest wisdom -- to seek the kingdom of heaven through contempt of the world. "

Thomas Kempis

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"The one thing necessary which Jesus spoke of to Martha and Mary consists in hearing the word of God and living by it."

R. Garrigou-Lagrange, OP

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