Created esse

If, then, esse is not something additional to a thing's essence in the way in which a form determines what it is, nor is it identical with the essence it

16 ST 1a q3 a5 corp.

actualises, we are faced with two questions about Thomas's doctrine of esse. First, what is predicated of a thing when we say that it 'exists'? That is, what do we predicate when we predicate 'actuality'? Second, if not predicated univocally, or equivocally, how is esse predicated? In addressing the first question we should note that the 'real distinction' between esse and essentia holds for Thomas only as of created esse. And the expression 'created esse' is not a neoplasm. This is important. For, contrary to what some have maintained, no doubt with a mind to distinguishing his position from that of Duns Scotus, Thomas holds that it is no part of the meaning of esse that it is created. He says clearly enough - thus far in agreement with Scotus: 'to be caused is not part of what "being" means absolutely speaking, for which reason you can come to know of an uncaused being'.17 If, then, there can be no doubt at all that Thomas thinks that esse is predicable of both God and creatures, equally Thomas unhesitatingly rejects any 'Scotist' proposition about esse being predicable in 'onto-theological' univocity of God and of creatures, as in due course we shall see. In the meantime, then, what you predicate when you predicate esse of a creature and strictly as created is that it stands against -that is to say, in contradictory opposition to - there being nothing at all; for that is what it is for a creature to be created: it is for it 'to be' in that sense which contrasts with there being nothing whatsoever. As Herbert McCabe says, when speaking of God as 'the source of esse', we are speaking of'the being of the thing not just overagainst a world-without-it, but overagainst nothing, not even "logical space" '.18 And this accords well enough with what Thomas says about the divine action of creating, which is the cause of things not merely as to how they are in this or that respect ('secundum quod sunt talia'), or even merely as to what they are ('secundum quod sunt haec per formas substantiales'), but as to their existence as such in every respect;19 and their 'existence as such' can contrast only with nothing. But to say this much already has the oxymoronic shape of the apophatic, because, as we shall see,20 there are bound to be problems with the logical standing of that 'overagainst' which, definitive of created esse, stands in contrast with 'nothing', for nothing is not something of such kind that something else can stand in ordinary logical relations of contrast with it. This is what McCabe means when he says that there is no 'logical space' within which that contrast, which yields Thomas's notion of created esse, can be construed. That is how we have to speak, when speaking

17 'Quia esse causatum non est de ratione entis simpliciter, propter hoc invenitur aliquod ens non causatum.' ST 1a q44 a1 ad1.

18 McCabe, God Matters, p. 59. 19 ST 1a q44 a2 corp.

20 See chapter 11 below.

of esse. The force of the word 'actual' by which esse is said to 'actualise' is that which stands in contrast to there being nothing whatsoever.

This can be put in other terms. You can imagine, and describe, the difference between a world in which this sheep 'Dolly' exists and a world in which Dolly does not exist. You can imagine, and describe, the difference between a world in which there are sheep and a world in which there are not and have never been any. The difference between Dolly's existing and her not existing is just a difference in the ovine world, and you do not get at the created esse of Dolly by contemplating that difference. Likewise, the difference between there being any sheep at all, and there being no sheep at all, is just a difference within the animal world, and you do not get at the created esse which sheep possess by contemplating that difference either. You get at Dolly's esse in its character as created by contemplating the difference between there being Dolly and there being nothing whatever. And if that, as Thomas says, is to grasp the sheep's esse, this is because to grasp a created thing's esse is to grasp its character as created. And this is to say, esse creaturae est creari - the esse of a creature is its being created, and the logical form of the predicate '... is created' is exactly the same as the logical form of '... exists' as predicated of a creature.21 So much for what is predicated by the predication, 'x exists', except to say - in anticipation of the argument of chapter eleven - that it follows from this that we do not grasp fully the esse of a creature until we have shown that it is created. That is to say, what reveals the nature of created esse is precisely the same as what shows God to exist as the Creator of esse.

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