"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.


Common opinion among Thomists. It is Cajetan's opinion, which he explains,[554] and very many Thomists follow.

Cajetan passes methodically from the commonly accepted definition of person, namely, a subject of a rational nature, to the definition of personality. He notes that the name personality signifies that whereby a person is constituted the first subject that is of itself separately, so that it cannot be attributed to another subject.

But that whereby anything is a subjective what, cannot be anything accidental, or a permanent accident, such as the intellectual faculty, or the free will, or a transitory accident, such as an act of conscience or even a free act. It must be something substantial, as constituting the subject of attribution.

But this substantial can be neither a singular nature that is an essential part of this subject but not the subject itself, nor existence, which is a contingent predicate of whatsoever created person, and hence does not formally constitute it. Therefore personality is a substantial mode that terminates the singular nature, so that it may become the immediate subject of existence, for the subject is what is, and not the nature.

This substantial mode terminates the singular nature in some way as the point terminates the line and makes of the line a complete whole; thus, when a line is divided by a point into two lines, whichever of these, that before was in potentia to be continued, now becomes a line in act, becomes some whole in act, by the very fact that it is terminated. Similarly, the line itself, for instance, a circular line terminates the surface of a scroll. This is also the case in the order of substances, for, when an animal of the lower order, a worm, for instance, is divided in two, then we have two worms, two supposita; before the division they were potentially two, now they are actually two.

Thus this humanity, which is in Christ, could be terminated in its own right, and thus it would be a distinct suppositum, a human person. De facto, however, it is terminated by the pre-existing personality of the Word, just as a line is extended so that it remains one line and not two lines; or, better still, just as two lines terminate in the same point at the apex of an angle.[555]

Cajetan's fundamental argument. It may be reduced to the following syllogism.

Something real and positive is required by which the created subject is what is, which is against Scotus. But this cannot be either the singular nature, which is related to the subject as whereby, or existence, which is a contingent predicate of the created subject, which is against other opinions. Therefore something else positive is required, namely, personality, which ultimately disposes the singular nature for existence. It would indeed be repugnant if a substantial mode accrued to substance already existing, for then it would be an accident, which is against Suarez; but it would not be so if it accrued to substance before it existed.

Cajetan's opinion is admitted by Francis Sylvester (Ferrariensis),[556] by Bannez,[557] by John of St. Thomas, Gonet, Goudin, by Billuart,[558] by the Salmanticenses, and by very many Thomists.

There are two proofs for this opinion. 1. It is proved on the authority of St. Thomas; 2. it is proved from reason; 3. it explains satisfactorily the dogma of the Incarnation; 4. it is defended against those who attack the opinion.

Proof from St. Thomas. Cajetan quotes four texts,[559]

a) "Being is consequent upon nature, not as upon that which has being, but as upon that whereby a thing is; whereas it is consequent upon person or hypostasis, as upon that which has being."[560] Therefore being does not constitute personality but presupposes it, and as that which is really distinct from the singular nature, which is not the what or suppositum, as is evident in ourselves who have this flesh, these bones, and also in Christ who has this humanity.

b) "Temporal nativity would cause a real temporal filiation in Christ if there were in Him a subject capable of such filiation."[561] The subject would be a human person, not a nature. On the contrary, the Word cannot acquire a new relation, or an accident that is superadded to Him.

c) "If the human nature had not been assumed by a divine person, the human nature would have had its own personality.... The divine person by His union hindered the human nature from having its personality."[562]

d) "If the human personality had existed prior to the union... then it would have ceased to exist by corruption."[563] And again: "I say that essence is predicated of that whose act is to exist, subsistence of that whose act is to subsist."[564] Therefore subsistence is not identical with subsist. Finally St. Thomas says: "The form signified by the word 'person' is not essence or nature, but personality."[565] But in God there are three personalities and only one essence and one existence. Therefore personality is not existence. St. Thomas likewise says: "The name 'person' is imposed by the form personality, which means the reason for subsisting in such a nature."[566]

Proof from reason. Cajetan's opinion has its foundation in the principle that on the part of the object it is required that the commonly accepted definition of person, namely, an intelligent and free subject, be true, and that these two judgments are true: Peter is existing, but is not his existence.

Cajetan says: "If we all acknowledge this principle, in examining the quiddity of the thing signified, why turn away from what is commonly admitted?"[567] In other words, in the transition from the nominal definition to the real definition, why depart from the nominal definition of person, which is, what exists separately of itself in a rational nature? The quiddity of the name contains confusedly the quiddity of the thing, and the explicit definition must not be the negation of the implicit or nominal definition, but must be in conformity with it, otherwise philosophical reason disagrees with the findings of natural reason.

Moreover, for the verification of the two above-mentioned judgments (Peter is existing, but is not his existence), there must be a foundation for the real identity between subject and predicate, which is affirmed in the first judgment, yet such that there is not identity, which is rightly so denied in the second judgment. But this foundation, must be something positive, real, which is substantial and not accidental, which is not existence, however, for this is a contingent predicate of Peter, or nature, which is related as whereby and as an essential part of this subject. It must formally be that whereby anything is a what or a real subject of these divers predications.

Therefore a terminus is required or a mode that is substantial and not accidental. This argument, namely, that on the part of the object there is required real identity between subject and predicate in the affirmative judgment, Peter is existing, is confirmed by several theologians.[568]

The search or hunt for the definition of personality can be more briefly set forth, by beginning with the nominal definition, and by comparing personality with those things unlike it, namely, with negations and accidents, and with those things like it and related to it, such as with the singular nature and with existing substance, as also by separating in this way those things that do not pertain to the genus of substance to which person belongs.

1) Personality is not anything negative, but is something positive, because it formally constitutes person, which is something positive.

2) Personality is not anything positive that is accidental, because person is a substance. Thus consciousness of self, liberty, or dominion of oneself cannot constitute ontological personality.

3) Personality is not the singular nature itself, because the singular nature is not what is, but that whereby anything is constituted in a certain species. If personality were the singular nature itself, then in Christ there would be two personalities, and in God there would be only one person.

4) Personality is not existence itself that actuates the nature, because existence is a contingent predicate of a created person, and it comes to the person already formally constituted as having existence. Peter is not his existence, but only has existence. Peter exists contingently, whereas Peter necessarily is Peter, and, by virtue of the principle of identity, can be only Peter.

5) Personality is therefore that whereby the singular nature becomes immediately capable of existence, and thus the subjective what is really constituted.

This is the commonly accepted opinion among Thomists, and this real definition of personality corresponds to the nominal definition, that personality is that whereby any intelligent subject is a person, just as existence is that whereby a subject exists. This latter assertion is almost frankly admitted by all, and in a confused manner implies that personality is not the same as a person's existence.

3) Finally, Cajetan's opinion very well explains the dogma of the Incarnation.

1) It explains that there is one person in Christ, because it posits in Him two natures, indeed, but only one subsistence or personality, and only one existence, which follows the one and only person in Christ.

2) It explains why the councils call this union subsistential or hypostatic, and not existential or natural. It is not called an existential union, but a hypostatic union, which means a union that is according to subsistence or personality, which means that whereby anything is a what, or a terminated whole, of itself separately existing.

Moreover, as St. Thomas says, "the three persons in God have only one being."[569] Therefore St. Thomas is of the opinion that personality or subsistence is not being or existence, nor is it the singular nature, which is related to the suppositum as whereby and as an essential part. Therefore personality is a substantial mode by which a singular nature is made immediately possible of receiving existence.

The truth of this doctrine is to be seen in the instinct of self-preservation. Now, for instance, every suppositum whether mineral, vegetable, or animal seeks to retain what it possesses. Similarly the human person seeks to retain his nature, body and soul, his existence, his faculties, his integral parts, his operations; he seeks to retain all he possesses. It is not his individualized nature that possesses all these things, but his very person considered as the first subject of attribution, his very "ego."

What has been said also clearly shows the sublimity of Christ's personality; for He has not a human personality, and therefore all that pertains to His human nature is under the dominion of the Word incarnate. It is the person of the Son of God who possesses all these things, and therefore nowhere in creation has there been such a perfect illustration of God's supreme dominion both in the past and in present times, as in the case of Christ's most holy humanity.

The Complutenses Abbreviati give a good explanation of this doctrine in their philosophical works. It is fitting here to quote their proofs. They remark: "It must be said that there is a real distinction between subsistence and existence. Such is the teaching of St. Thomas, for he says: 'Being is consequent upon nature, not as upon 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.’[570] But that which is consequent upon another is really distinct from it.... He also says: 'An angel is composed of existence and what is,’[571] and he expounds this doctrine here remarkably well by saying that existence forms a composite not only with the essence of a thing, but also with its suppositum; but if it were really identical with the subsistence of a thing, it could not enter into composition with the suppositum, but we should have to say that it formally constitutes the suppositum. Then in another work, he says: 'Existence does not pertain to the notion of suppositum,’[572] but subsistence belongs to the notion of suppositum, and even formally constitutes it as such....

"Finally, the holy Doctor, in discussing various questions, asks whether essence and existence are identical in created things, and also whether the essence and suppositum are the same.[573] This would be superfluous if existence and subsistence are not really distinct....

"The second proof for this thesis is founded on an argument taken from St. Thomas,[574] which may be presented as follows: Act is really distinct from the real subject in which it is received; but the suppositum is the real susceptive subject of existence. Therefore the suppositum is really distinct from its existence. This second consequence is a legitimate inference from the first consequence; for it is by subsistence that the suppositum is formally constituted. Hence if existence really differs from the suppositum, and is received in this latter, it must presuppose subsistence as a reality, and be really distinct from this latter. The minor is clarified: because that receives as what existence, which comes into being as what and operates as what; for becoming is ordered to being, and being to operation; but to come into being as what, and to operate as what belongs properly to the suppositum, which is the common teaching of scholastic theologians and philosophers. Therefore the suppositum really is the recipient as what of existence.

"The third proof for this assertion made above is taken from the previously quoted argument of St. Thomas,[575] and is substantially as follows: That which belongs intrinsically to the notion of suppositum is really distinct from that which accrues to it and is completely superfluous to the proper notion of suppositum; but subsistence belongs intrinsically to the notion of suppositum, whereas existence accrues to it and is not at all included in its proper notion. Therefore existence is really distinct from subsistence. The major and the consequence are evident. But the first part of the minor is sufficiently clear, ... and the Complutenses give a brief proof and conclude that this is an eternal verity, namely, the suppositum is a subsisting substance and incapable of being attributed to another.... The second part of the minor is expounded as follows: Existence does not apply necessarily and essentially to the suppositum, otherwise this proposition, the suppositum exists, would be an eternal truth, which is absurd. Therefore existence is an accidental attribute of the suppositum, and is not included in its proper notion.

"The first confirmation of these proofs is that the suppositum is identical with the first substance that is directly assignable among the predicamentals; but the aforesaid substance is not constituted a reality by existence, inasmuch as all things placed among the predicamentals prescind from the notion of existence....

"The second confirmation is that existence and subsistence are lacking in every principle of identity. Therefore they are not really the same. The antecedent is proved first of all because existence does not pertain to the notion of subsistence; otherwise anything of which subsistence is predicated would also require existence to be predicated of it. Consequently, just as this proposition, man is subsisting, is eternally true, so also this proposition, man is existing, would be eternally true, which nobody would concede. Again, existence does not enter into the concept of any third object by which it would be identified with subsistence: for no third object can be thought of, except the suppositum, whose concept, however, does not include the notion of existence, as we have just seen. Finally, existence and subsistence do not originate from the same form."[576] Such are the splendid comments of the Complutenses, who preserve absolutely intact, therefore, the interpretation of St. Thomas offered by Cajetan.

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St Augustine

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

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

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