"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

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

by Reginald Garrigou-Lagrange, O. P.


CHAPTER IV: QUESTION 2 —THE MODE OF THE UNION OF THE WORD INCARNATE (cont)

Criterion To Be Followed In The Examination Of These Opinions

All these theologians wish to retain the ontological validity of the common notion of person, namely, an intelligent and free subject, and they wish to pass methodically, although they do not all do so, by the light of revelation, from this common notion of person to the more philosophical notion of person, which is like the guiding star.

We said, however, that according to natural reason, a person is an intelligent subject by itself separately existing, and this absolutely must be maintained.

Moreover, it must be observed that there are assertions of natural reason confirmed by revelation, and these must likewise be preserved intact. First of all, there are affirmative judgments, in which those things that pertain to a person are predicated of the person as a real subject of predication, such as: Peter is a man, Peter is existing, Peter is acting. In these affirmative propositions, however, the verb "is" affirms real identity between subject and predicate, and postulates the same real subject underlying nature, existence, and operation.

Lastly, the following truth must be retained. God alone is His existence, He alone can say: "I am who am."[493] Peter is not his existence. This statement means that the act of existence even when in act is included only in God's essence, which is related to existence as A is to A, for God's essence is the self-subsisting Being.[494] On the other hand, no created essence is its existence, no created essence contains existence as an essential predicate, for in such a case it would be self-existent and would not be created; but existence befits it as a contingent predicate, inasmuch as it is possible for this essence not to exist. Hence it is said of Michael the archangel, that he is not his existence, just as a grain of sand is not its existence. These propositions are commonly admitted by theologians as true, which means that they correspond to a reality, and hence we must say, as the Thomists assert, that before the consideration of our mind, Michael's essence or man's essence is not his existence, which means that it is really distinct from its existence.[495]

Nevertheless we say that Michael is existing, Peter is existing. Thus the verb "is" signifies real identity between subject and predicate notwithstanding the real distinction between created essence and existence.

This principle is the criterion in the judgment of the above-mentioned opinions, and it is manifest that it makes a considerable difference in the notion of person, to whom essence and existence are attributed, according as a real distinction between essence and existence is or is not admitted. The true teaching about person has its foundation in this, that it is a requisite for the verification of the following judgments: Peter is existing, but is not his existence, whereas Christ is existing, and is His existence, just as "He is truth and life."[496]

1) Opinion of Scotus. Scotus holds that a twofold negation is added to the notion of person as applied to a singular human nature, namely, actual dependence on the divine person, and aptitudinal dependence on this same divine person.[497] Thus this humanity of ours is a person, because it is neither naturally apt to be terminated, nor actually terminated by the divine personality.

Scotus gives the following reasons for this conclusion:[498]

(1) Because then there would be some positive entity in the human nature that would be incapable of assumption by the Word. (2) Because it would follow that the human nature assumed by the Word would be wanting in some positive entity... and thus Christ would not be universally a man.

Criticism. Cajetan[499] reproduces exactly these arguments of Scotus, and examines them.[500] Capreolus had already examined them.[501] Later on John of St. Thomas,[502] Zigliara,[503] and Billot[504] had discussed these arguments. The Thomists show that this opinion of Scotus is contrary to the teaching of St. Thomas, and that it does not preserve the common notion of person.

Fundamental argument. The constitutive element of that which is not perfect in nature cannot be assigned to something negative. But as St. Thomas says, "Person signifies what is most perfect in all nature, that is, a subsistent individual of a rational nature."[505] Therefore its constitutive element or its personality cannot be assigned to something negative. John of St. Thomas explains this point well.

1) "Subsistence," he says, "is not the negation of dependence. It is impossible for the independent not to be more perfect than the dependent. But dependence is something positive. Therefore, a fortiori, independence in that genus, cannot be a pure negation, although it is explained negatively, just as simplicity is explained by indivision."[506]

Thus infinity in substance; although it is explained negatively, yet it is something positive. Hence God's independence in being constitutes His greatest perfection.[507] Therefore that by which anything is a subject by itself, separately existing, cannot be a mere negation, for it is that which constitutes a subject as the first subject of attribution. Likewise every negation has its foundation in something positive, as Father Billot says against Scotus.

2) "Moreover," adds John of St. Thomas, "natural and proper subsistence is not only opposed to the hypostatic union, but it is also opposed to the existential mode of accident, or even of a part. And if the inherence of accident is something positive and not a negative notion, a fortiori the subsistence of first substance, to which second substance is attributed, must be something positive."[508]

3) Then again, proper subsistence is something primo and per se natural, because it constitutes something of the natural order. Therefore it cannot primo and per se consist in the negation of the hypostatic union, which is supernatural, although the negation may also include this latter, just as in anything of the natural order we have the negation of the supernatural, although things of the natural order are not primo and per se constituted as such by this negation. Thus, according to the opinion of Scotus, either Heraclitus or Thales would have been persons, because their nature was not hypostatically united to any divine person.

4) Finally, in the case of the divine persons, there are in the strictest sense of the terms, three subsistences and three personalities, which, inasmuch as they are subsistences, denote positive realities, and not three negations. And the subsistence of the Word substituting Its subsistence for that of the human nature; but this union did not consist in anything negative, but in something positive.

But there must be analogy between the divine personality and created personality. "Nor is there something unbefitting resulting from this, as Scotus would have, for the Word assumed whatever pertains to the human nature, as a nature, although not whatever pertains to man as a suppositum." As St. Thomas says, "It is a greater dignity to exist in something nobler than oneself than to exist by oneself."[509]

5) Furthermore, it must be said against Scotus that this theory does not make it clear how the following affirmative judgments can be true: Peter is a man, Peter is existing; for the verb "is" expresses real identity between subject and predicate. But this real identity cannot be established by something negative. In other words: that by which anything is a who or a what, or a first subject of attribution, cannot be something negative.

Some Scotists say that a subject is a singular nature.

Reply. The nature itself is not this subject, for as St. Thomas often says: "nature, i. e., humanity, is that by which anything is such, i. e., a man; it is not that which is."[510] Individuation alone is not that by which anything is a who or a what, for matter constitutes this individuation in Christ, namely, this humanity; yet it does not constitute a subject distinct from the Word. Individuation is also found in the parts of a nature, for example, in this flesh, these bones, but these parts do not have the incommunicability that belongs properly to the suppositum.

Moreover, as we said, individuation derived from matter is something very low in dignity, but subsistence and especially personality is something far nobler, for it is that by which anything is a subject by itself separately existing and operating. On the contrary, matter is not that which is, but that by which anything is material.

6) Finally, Scotus denies a real distinction between created essence and existence, and so we should have to say: Peter is his existence, just as we say: God is His existence. But before the consideration of our mind it is true to say: God is His existence, and there is no real distinction between the Deity and His existence. Whereas, on the contrary, before any consideration of the mind, it is true that Peter is not his existence, but has existence, just as Peter cannot say: "I am the truth and the life," but only "I have truth and life." Hence, before any consideration of the mind, there is a certain distinction, not indeed spatial, but real or ontological between Peter's essence and his existence. More briefly, that which truly is not its existence, before any consideration of the mind is distinct from its existence, in some way just as matter is not form, but is related to it as potency is to act, as potency limiting to act determining. Act of itself is not limited, but is limited by the potency in which it is received; so also existence is in various ways limited in the essence of stones, plants, animals, and other things in which it is received.

Wherefore we said that the true doctrine of person has its foundation in this, that it postulates the truth of the following judgments: Peter is existing, but is not existence; whereas Christ is existing and is His existence.

7) It follows from the thesis of Scotus that there are two existences in Christ, which is contrary to the teaching of St. Thomas,[511] and then this means that the humanity of Christ has its own ultimate actuality, namely, its own existence. Thus, before its union with the Word, it is absolutely complete, both substantially and subsistentially. Hence there is danger of Nestorianism in this opinion, since the human nature in Christ appears to be a suppositum distinct from the Word, with whom it can be united only accidentally. Scotus does not wish to affirm this, but his principles ought to lead him to this conclusion. There would be two supposita whose union would not have its foundation in anything positive.[512]

2) Opinion of Suarez.[513] This opinion of Suarez is examined after that of Scotus, since the two views are much alike, although Suarez departs from Scotus inasmuch as he holds personality to consist in something positive, namely, in a substantial mode, which in his opinion presupposes existence for the essence. How does Suarez reach this conclusion?

Often in his eclecticism, Suarez searches for a via media between St. Thomas and Scotus. In the present question, he sees, as the Thomists say, that personality must consist in something positive, and then he says: this positive element cannot be an accident, since person is a first substance. Therefore it must be a substantial mode by which a singular nature is rendered incommunicable, which is what Cajetan said. In Christ, he says, the human nature is not a person, because the mode of personality is wanting to it, the mode of the union taking its place.

But, on the other hand, Suarez holds, as Scotus does, that there is no real distinction between created essence and existence. Hence, in his opinion, the substantial mode which constitutes ontological personality, presupposes not only essence or nature, but also existence.

Thus Suarez frequently in accordance with his eclecticism, as in this question, refutes Scotus by St. Thomas, and St. Thomas by Scotus. But this via media is most difficult to follow, since it is very difficult to maintain the proper equilibrium or stability by this method, so that Suarez in the development of his theses not infrequently fluctuates or oscillates between St. Thomas and Scotus, not taking a firm stand for either view.

Criticism. The Thomists reply:

1) This opinion does not preserve what is fundamental in the truth of the following proposition: Peter is not his own existence, for only God is His existence. He alone can say: "I am who am,"[514] "I am the truth and the life,"[515] and not merely "I have being, truth, and life." But these judgments, acknowledged to be true by all theologians, demand a real distinction between created essence and existence; for, that these propositions be true even before any consideration of our mind, there must be a real distinction between Peter and his existence, whereas, on the contrary, God is really His existence, without even the least of real distinctions.

Hence the Sacred Congregation of Studies (1916), among the twenty-four propositions of St. Thomas that it declared to be the greater, posited a real distinction between created essence and existence. It is the third proposition which reads: "All other beings (except God) which participate in being, have a nature which is limited by existence, and consist of essence and existence, as really distinct principles."[516]

Furthermore, the Thomists with John of St. Thomas[517] say that the substantial mode, which is subsistence, does not presuppose existence, for it is by subsistence that the suppositum is formally constituted as either a suppositum or a person. But, as St. Thomas says: "Being is consequent upon nature, not as upon that which has being, but upon that whereby a thing is such; whereas it is consequent upon person or hypostasis, as upon that which has being. Hence it has unity from the unity of the hypostasis, rather than duality from the duality of the nature."[518] Peter is that which is, and first comes the concept of person and personality before existence that is attributed to the person when we say: Peter is existing, but is not his existence.

Hence personality terminates the nature and ultimately comes existence as primarily befitting the suppositum, and through the intermediary of the suppositum the nature. This is the constant teaching of St. Thomas.[519] There is no existing subject unless the whole being is terminated and incommunicable (e. g., Peter), to whom existence is applicable as a contingent predicate. Being and becoming befit the suppositum, as St. Thomas shows,[520] for the terminus of creation, or even of generation, is that which is, not that by which anything is such as it is.

Therefore very many Thomists say with Cajetan that the substantial mode is the terminus that causes the singular nature to be incommunicable and terminated, just as the point terminates the line and does not continue it,[521] nor is subsistence an unexplainable entity. But it must be something real that constitutes this mode, not nature alone, however, nor existence. Therefore it must be by what terminates the mode. Thus John of St. Thomas, following Cajetan.[522]

3) The Thomists and Father Billot also say against Suarez:

Since the existence of substance is its ultimate actuality, as St. Thomas often says, whatever accrues to substance already complete in its existence accrues to it accidentally. But this mode consisting in personality or subsistence, according to Suarez, accrues to substance after existence. Therefore the mode is not substantial as he would have it, but accidental.

Hence, as already stated against the opinion of Scotus, the union of the Word incarnate would thus be merely accidental, since each nature would have its own existence, or its ultimate actuality.

3) Opinion of Father Billot. Father Billot, S. J.,[523] insists especially on this, that St. Thomas maintains there is only one existence in Christ.[524] Father Billot vigorously asserts this against Scotus and Suarez, because he firmly defends against them the opinion of a real distinction between essence and existence. On this point he is truly in agreement with St. Thomas and the Thomists.

But on the other hand, Father Billot, always attacking Suarez, will not admit a substantial mode even in Cajetan's sense, for-he says: "There is nothing positive about the terminus itself except what it terminates, for all that the point does which terminates a line is to deny its further extension, adding absolutely nothing to it."[525]

Cajetan would reply by saying that the terminus itself is not indeed a new thing or reality, but is a real mode, really and modally distinct from the thing itself. Thus a line is made up of divisible parts and of indivisible points; a point that terminates a line, or two lines that converge in it, is neither a nonentity nor a part;[526] So the roundness of a metallic sphere is not nothing; it is something really and modally distinct from substance, even from the metallic quantity that it terminates; the quantity of this metal is not its roundness, and it could have another shape.[527]

But since Father Billot refuses to admit this substantial mode as terminating the nature, so that it is immediately capable of existing, he says that person is a singular nature under its own existence, and he identifies subsistence or personality with the existence of the substance.[528]

He quotes for his opinion especially the passage[529] in which St. Thomas asserts, and in similar passages, that there is one being in Christ. This assertion is indeed valid against Scotus and Suarez, but not against Cajetan, for he also maintains that there is one being in Christ.

Father Billot,[530] who quotes Capreolus for his view, interprets him as saying that person is a singular nature with its existence. Cajetan's answer would be: Yes, it is a singular nature (terminated) with its existence, but it must be declared terminated, for nature in itself is only that by which anything is such as it is, it is not that which is.

The exact words of Capreolus on this point are: "1. The name suppositum is affirmed of that individual which subsists by itself. 2. Understood formally, as a mode, and then by suppositum is meant the composite that consists of the individual with its suchness and its own subsistence."[531] It cannot be inferred from this text that a person and the singular nature are identical, for a person is what is, and the nature that by which something is; nor can it be said that personality is existence, for personality is attributed to a person already formally constituted as a person.

Criticism of Father Billot's opinion. It may be reduced to the following arguments.

1) This opinion is not in harmony with the teaching of St. Thomas, who says: "Being is consequent upon nature not as that which has being, but upon that whereby a thing is; whereas it is consequent upon person or hypostasis as upon that which has being."[532] Hence being or existence does not formally constitute personality, because it is consequent upon a person already formally constituted as such by personality. St. Thomas speaks similarly in the body of the article just quoted.

2) Moreover, St. Thomas takes up this disputed point in discussing Christ's unity of being,[533] by considering, as he himself says in the prologue to the previous question,[534] the consequences of the union. Therefore he first established his teaching on the hypostatic union,[535] and from this that there is only one person in Christ. Then he goes on to deduce that there is one being in Christ, inasmuch as being is immediately consequent not upon nature, but upon person, which alone is what is.

Hence if Father Billot's opinion were the true teaching of St. Thomas, the holy Doctor ought to have shown at the beginning of this treatise[536] that there is one being in Christ, so as to make it clear that there is only one person and only one personality in Christ. But he considers this point only farther on,[537] which presupposes the solution of the problem concerning what constitutes the hypostatic union.

3) The Complutenses Abbreviati[538] note that St. Thomas teaches that "the angel is composed of existence and what is."[539] Thus Michael is existing but is not his existence. Hence the holy Doctor teaches that existence enters into composition not only with essence, but also with the suppositum. It would not be so, however, if existence were the same as subsistence or personality. Likewise, the principium quod of the theandric operations in Christ is not common to the three divine persons.[540] But existence is common to the three divine persons. Therefore the principium quod in Christ is not formally constituted by existence.

4) St. Thomas says: "Existence does not pertain to the notion of a created suppositum,"[541] which means that Peter is not his existence. But subsistence pertains to the notion of suppositum, and personality to the notion of person. Therefore they are not really the same as being or existence, at least for St. Thomas.

Finally, St. Thomas[542] treats as distinct the following two questions, namely, whether essence and existence are the same, and whether essence and suppositum are the same. This would be superfluous if there were no real distinction between existence and subsistence. Such is the excellent observation of the Complutenses Abbreviati.

Moreover, it must be observed so as to avoid ambiguity, that subsistence does not mean existence of substance, but subsistence is the abstract name that is the correlative of the concrete name suppositum. Hence subsistence is to suppositum as personality is to person, as existence is to exist, and as running is to run.

Hence subsistence is not an abstract name that would correspond to the concrete to subsist, but to the concrete that is called suppositum. But to avoid this ambiguity, it is better to use the word personality than subsistence, because it is evident that personality corresponds in the concrete to person, and not as such to the word "subsist." Hence subsistence is to suppositum as personality is to person, and as existence is to exist or to being.

5) Father Billot's opinion leads to the denial of a real distinction between essence and existence, a distinction that he firmly maintains nevertheless against Scotus and Suarez. For it must be said that being which is not its existence, is, before the consideration of the mind, really distinct from its existence. But Peter's person, even his personality, is not his existence. Therefore Peter's person, even his personality, is really distinct from his existence.

The major of this argument is the principle from which we deduce that there is a real distinction between essence and existence, and this Father Billot accepts. But the minor is most certain, namely, that Peter's person is not his existence, and therefore it differs from the person of the Word; moreover Peter's personality is not his existence, because it formally constitutes Peter's person, which is not his existence.

In other words, the denial of a real distinction between a created person, constituted as such by his own personality and existence, means that a real distinction between created essence and existence is without any foundation; for a being that is not its own existence is, before the consideration of the mind, really distinct from its existence. But Peter's person, formally constituted as such by his personality, just as his essence, is really distinct from his existence. Only God is His existence, and the truth of this assertion will be most clearly seen in the beatific vision.

This point was more fully explained by quoting several texts of St. Thomas,[543] and in the examination of the recent work of Father Charles Giacon, S. J.[544]

Certain disciples of Father Billot advance the following objection. Peter is not his nature. Yet there is no real distinction between him and his nature. Therefore between him and his existence there is no real distinction.

Reply. I concede the major. I deny the minor and parity of agreement. For Peter is not his nature, because his nature is an essential part of himself, and even an essential part is not identified with the whole.

Thus I concede the major: Peter is not his nature. I deny the minor, for there is a real distinction between Peter and his nature, just as there is a real distinction between the real whole and its real part, and I deny also the parity of argument, because Peter's nature is an essential part of himself, but his existence is not. Thus when we say, "Peter is a man," man is an essential predicate; on the contrary, when we say, "Peter is existing," existing is a contingent predicate.

Father G. Mattiussi replies to this as follows: "St. Thomas says that existence is not included in the notion of suppositum, inasmuch as existence is not essential to any finite thing; but the suppositum can be considered in the order of possible things, without its actually existing"[545]

To this it must be said: When I say that Peter is not his existence, I am not concerned with Peter's possible existence, but with his actual existence; just as when we say that the essence of a created thing really differs from its existence, it is not a question of a possible essence, but of a real essence that underlies the existence which it limits. For as Father Mattiussi himself admits, the act of existing is multiplied and limited only by the real essence and not the possible, in which it is received. Similarly, existence is a contingent predicate of existing Peter, and not of possible Peter. Of existing Peter we say that Peter is existing, but is not his existence; whereas of God, we say that God exists and is His existence.

That being which is not its existence is really distinct from its existence. But Peter's person, even his personality, is not his existence, which is a contingent predicate. Therefore Peter's person, even his personality, is really distinct from his existence, which is really distinct from his personality.

Father Mattiussi[546] quotes three texts of St. Thomas in proof that he, too, was of the same opinion, namely, that subsistence is the existence of substance. On the contrary, in these texts we read: "Subsistence is said of that whose act is to subsist, just as essence is said of that whose act is to exist."[547] On the contrary, these texts do not in any way contradict Cajetan's opinion. Father Mattiussi does not search for that by which anything is a what, or for that in which the concrete, this man differs from this humanity. This man is what is, humanity that by which he is. They differ however by that which constitutes man the first subject of attribution, for it is the concrete that is constituted, whereas the form is in the subject. The Complutenses Abbreviati present this argument in various forms and excellently, showing that otherwise the proposition, man is existing, would be an eternally true proposition, just as this proposition, man is a substance of a rational nature. They insist on this, that subsistence or personality is intrinsic to the notion of a created person, whereas existence accrues to it and is completely outside the notion of person.[548] Hence Father Billot's opinion denies the truth of the following proposition: Peter is not his existence.

6) Moreover, Father Billot's opinion denies the truth of another proposition, -namely, that Peter is existing. For in every affirmative proposition, the word "is" expresses real identity between subject and predicate. This real identity, however, must have its foundation in some real positive thing, in that by which anything is a what. But that by which anything is a what, is neither even a singular nature nor existence. For nature is that by which anything is such, for example, a man; existence is that by which anything is established beyond nothing and its causes. And two elements related to each other as by which, do not constitute a one that is a what, that is, a subject of itself separately existing.[549]

7) Moreover, Father Billot overlooks the fact that in God there are three personalities and one existence, not three relative existences but one esse in that is substantial. St. Thomas says: "There is only one being in God and three subsistencies."[550] Therefore personality is not being.[551]

8) Capreolus does not say that personality is formally constituted by existence, but he says, supported by Cajetan on this point: "The being of actual existence is called the act of the essence as whereby of the suppositum, and the act of the suppositum as what exists....Existence thus pertains to the notion of suppositum, not forming a part of the suppositum, nor is it included in the essence of this latter, but is related to it by way of connotation and is implied indirectly, which is about the equivalent of saying that the suppositum is identical with the individual substance having existence. Such was the opinion of St. Thomas, so I think."[552] Cajetan admits this. There is, indeed, a more recent opinion that maintains person is the singular nature itself underlying its existence.

Criticism. This does not explain whereby anything is properly what is, or the first subject of attribution subsisting of itself, first substance. For the singular nature, for example, this humanity, is not what is, but whereby anyone, namely, Peter or Paul, is a man. Hence we say: Peter is not his humanity, because the whole is not its part, it is not identical with its part, but includes other things besides; thus Peter includes his nature, existence, and accidents. Hence we seek that whereby a person is formally constituted the first subject of attribution, not attributable to another subject; whereas, on the contrary, this humanity is attributed to each human being.

Moreover, this humanity immediately is not capable of the act of existing, for it is not what exists. We are seeking the subject of this singular nature, of its existence and accidents.[553]

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Footnotes

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"The essence of perfection is to embrace the will of God in all things, prosperous or adverse. In prosperity, even sinners find it easy to unite themselves to the divine will; but it takes saints to unite themselves to God's will when things go wrong and are painful to self-love. Our conduct in such instances is the measure of our love of God."

St Alphonsus de Liguori

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"Though the path is plain and smooth for people of good will, those who walk it will not travel far, and will do so only with difficulty if they do not have good feet, courage, and tenacity of spirit. "

St John of the Cross, OCD - Doctor of the Church

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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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