"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

REALITY—A Synthesis Of Thomistic Thought

by Reginald Garrigou-Lagrange, O. P.


Father Carlo Giacon, S. J.: recently published an important work, La seconda scolastica (Milan, 1943): which deals with the great Thomistic commentators of the sixteenth century: Cajetan, Ferrariensis, Victoria. The author maintains that the twenty-four theses are the "major pronouncements" of the philosophy of St. Thomas. He has excellent remarks on this doctrine, and on its opposition to Scotism, and to nominalism. Having recognized the great merits of Capreolus, Cajetan, Ferrariensis, and John of St. Thomas, he continues: "After these two great men (Cajetan and Ferrariensis): the Thomistic synthesis, with unimportant deviations, remained intact among the Dominicans. But it became ever wider among the Jesuits, and wider still among the disciples of Suarez than in Suarez himself. There was no return to nominalism, but there was some yielding to nominalistic influences. Scotism, too, which lived on, came to have views somewhat loosely connected with traditional speculation."

While we are in general accord with this author and must commend [1414] his penetrating and disinterested love of truth, we feel bound to differ from him when he maintains that, on the question of ontological personality, Cajetan departed from St. Thomas. It seems well to dwell on this point, since the doctrine of personality is so closely united with that on essence and existence and hence of special importance in treating the Incarnation and the Trinity.

Person (human, angelic, or divine) means a subject, a suppositum which can say "I," which exists apart, which is sui juris. The question is: What is it that formally constitutes that ontological personality, which is the root of the intellectual personality and the moral personality?

Ontological personality, says Cajetan, [1415] is that which constitutes the person as universal subject of all its attributes: essence, existence, accidents, operations. In this view, says Father Giacon, [1416] Cajetan departs from St. Thomas. We, on the contrary, hold that Giacon, who says that existence is the formal constitutive element of personality, has himself departed from St. Thomas. [1417].

Many texts are available in St. Thomas. [1418] Throughout he affirms that the suppositum, that which exists, the subject formally constituted as subject, is really distinct from its existence, and that existence, far from being the formal constituent, is only a contingent predicate. [1419].

Existence is not id quo subjectum est quod est, id quo persona est persona, but id quo subjectum seu persona existit. Natura est id quo subjectum est in tali specie.

To say that the subject, Peter, is formally constituted by a contingent predicate is to suppress all that constitutes him as subject, is to suppress id quo aliquid est quod. Then, there being no longer a real subject, there cannot be longer any real predicate: essence, existence, operation, all disappear with the suppositum.

"That which exists" is not the essence of Peter, it is Peter himself, and Peter, a creature, is not his own existence. [1420].

Peter of himself is Peter, of himself he is a person, but he is not of himself existent, not his own existence; Peter is really distinct from his nature, as whole is distinct from essential part, [1421] and he is really distinct from his contingent existence. [1422] Peter is not his existence, but has existence. [1423].

But then, if person is not formally constituted by existence, nor by individualized nature (since this in Christ exists without a human personality): what is it that does constitute personality?The name "person," says St. Thomas, [1424] is derived from the form which we call "personality," and "personality" expresses subsistence in a rational nature. Again: [1425] The form signified by this noun "personality" is not essence or nature, but personality. Again, speaking of suppositum, i. e.: first substance, he says: [1426] Substance signifies an essence to which it belongs to exist per se, though this existence is not that essence itself.

These texts say, equivalently, that personality is not that by which the person exists, but that by which it is suited to exist, is that by reason of which the person is made capable of existing per se. And this is the teaching of Cajetan.

Further, personality thus conceived is something real, distinct from nature and from existence. In Christ, says the saint, [1427] if the human nature had not been assumed by a divine person that human nature would have its own personality. The divine person, uniting with human nature, hindered that human nature from having its own personality.

But then, one may say, you must admit that personality is a substantial mode. Now St. Thomas never spoke of this substantial mode which later came into vogue among the Scholastics.

The answer is that St. Thomas not only speaks of accidental modes (e. g.: the speed of movement): and of transcendental and special modes of being, but he also freely uses the term "substantial mode." Thus he writes: [1428] By the name "substance" we express that special mode of being, which belongs to independent being. Again, speaking precisely of person, he says: [1429] Person is contained in the genus of substance, not as species, but as determining a special mode of existing. This means, in other words, that personality, just as Cajetan says, is that by which person is immediately capable of independent and separate existence. [1430] Capreolus is less explicit, but is in essential agreement. Suppositum, he writes, [1431] is identified with individual substantial being which has existence per se. He does not say that personality is formally constituted by existence. We can without difficulty admit his enunciations.

Cajetan's doctrine is not merely the only doctrine that agrees with that of St. Thomas, it is also the only doctrine that agrees with that which common sense and natural reason employ when we use the personal pronouns (I, you, he) of the subject which is intelligent and free. There must be something real to constitute this subject as subject. [1432].

Rightly, therefore, does Cajetan say to his opponents: "If we all admit the common notion of person as point of departure, why do we turn away from that common notion when we come to scrutinize the reality signified by that common notion? " [1433] His opponents pass from the nominal definition to a pseudo-philosophic notion, which forgets the point of departure which they originally intended to explain.

Let us summarize.

1. To deny this doctrine is gravely to jeopardize the real distinction of essence from existence.

2. To deny it is to destroy the truth of affirmative propositions relative to a real subject. In propositions like the following: Peter is existent,. Peter is wise, the verb "is" expresses real identity between subject and predicate. Now this identity thus affirmed is precisely that of the suppositum, the person, notwithstanding the real distinction of essence from existence, of substance from accidents. If these propositions are to be true, there must be a reality which formally constitutes Peter as subject. Now this cannot be his individual essence, which is attributed to him as essential part, nor his existence which is a contingent predicate.

Similarly, this proposition spoken of Jesus: This man is God, can be true only by identity of His person, notwithstanding the distinction between the two natures. [1434].

3. To reject this doctrine, to say that personality is existence itself, is to overturn the order of the treatise on the Incarnation. The seventeenth question on the one existence in Christ would have to be incorporated in the second question where St. Thomas discusses the hypostatic union. Further, a common point of doctrine in this treatise is that the person is the principium quod of theandric acts. Now existence, which is common to the three persons, cannot be principium quod of theandric actions which belong solely to the Second Person. [1435].

We regret our disagreement on this point with Father Giacon, who has often penetrated deeply into the merits of Cajetan and Ferrariensis. [1436] He recognizes that they have correctly interpreted and vigorously defended the great metaphysical doctrines of the Thomistic synthesis. Hence we hope that a serene and objective study of our differences on ontological personality will not be without result.

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