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BEING (ENS), ESSENCE (ESSENTIA), AND THE ACT OF BEING (ESSE)

Paul Gerard Horrigan, Ph.D., 2017.

Being (Ens)

Being (Latin: ens) is that which is (ens est id quod est).1 Being (ens) is that which has the
act of being (esse).2 The notion of being (ens) is not a simple notion, but implies a composition
of a subject (that something which is and is the real subject to which the act of being belongs),
and an act (the very act of being or esse of that something).3 A cat, a dog, a rock are all beings
(entia). They are all things or realities. However, strictly speaking, being (ens) does not have
the same meaning as reality or thing (res), for while the term res or thing expresses the
quiddity or essence (essentia) of the being (ens),4 being (ens) is derived from the act of being
(esse)5 (dicitur res secundum quod habet quidditatem vel essentiam quamdam; ens vero
secundum quod habet esse6).

Being (ens) is the present participle of the verb to be (Latin: esse) and we say that being
(ens) signifies a thing in so much as it is, somewhat in the same way that a swimmer designates
a person who swims, or a painter, someone who paints, or a student, designating someone
who studies. Ens un participio presente del verbo essere, come vivente lo di vivere e
sapiente di sapere. Diciamo anche che lamante colui che ama, lo studente colui che studia
e il governante colui che governa. Il participio (amante, studente) si pu dunque indicare
anche per mezzo di espressioni come colui che In questo modo sesprimono le due
dimensioni intrinseche al participio: qualcuno che svolge unazione.

Allo stesso modo, ci che , chiamato ente (anche se si potrebbe dire che ci che esiste
esistente, di fatto questo termine stato poco usato in metafisica). Lespressione ente
equivale pertanto a cio che : significa la cosa che , in quanto possiede lessere. Tale
espressione esprime perci una nozione composta, che include un qualcosa (il soggetto
1
Cf. In I Phys., lect. 3, n. 21 ; In Boeth. De Hebd., lect. 2, n. 24.
2
Cf. In I Sent., d. 37, q. 1, a. 1, sol.
3
Joseph De Torre writes: Ens is that which has the act of being (in Latin: ens est id quod habet esse). There may be
something which does not actually exist but is only a possibility, but then it is not an ens since it does not have the
act of being; it is only an essence or possibility of being. Ens, therefore, is an essence (or manner of being) which
has the act of being: id quod est or id quod habet esse.
This shows that ens is composite, not simple. It has a composition of (a) subject of the act of being, and (b) act
of being. The former is the thing that is; the act of being is reality, not just a mere possibility. The two aspects are
not the same, because to be is one thing, and the manner of being is another. This composition is such that the esse
(to be) is contracted or limited by the essence or manner of being; the ens is only what it can be, that is, its essence:
it is not everything, but only this type of being, this essence.
We can say that while essence is that which the thing is, esse is that by which the thing is. Esse, therefore, is a
metaphysical real component or constituent part of the singular concrete being. It is not something that we grasp as a
notion itself, because then it would be a noun. It is not a thing, but that by which any thing is. It is the actuality of
things, as distinct from their possibility. This is why we should not confuse our concepts (abstract essences) with
reality or actuality(J. DE TORRE, Christian Philosophy, Sinag-Tala, Manila, 1980, p. 76).
4
Cf. De Veritate, q. 1, a. 1, c.
5
Cf. In IV Metaphy., lect. 2, no. 553.
6
In II Sent., q. 37, q. 1, a. 1, sol.

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dellessere, che sempre qualcosa dotata di unessenza determinata) e il suo essere (ci che fa
che il soggetto esista). Per iniziare a capire la distinzione tra queste due dimensioni (il soggetto o
sostanza, e il suo essere) basta pensare alla differenza tra queste due questioni: che cosa sono i
dinosauri (questione dellessenza di qualcosa) e se esistono dinosauri (questione
dellesistenza).7

In metafisica denominano ente tutto ci che realizza lessere, latto di essere. Ente o
essente sono infatti il participio presente del verbo essere, come cantante il participio
presente del verbo cantare, e attaccante del verbo attaccare.

Esiste tuttavia una differenza fondamentale fra gli esempi proposti e la realt dellente.
Una distinzione importante, che la mera grammatica non capta. Un cantante di professione,
anche quando non canta, continua a essere un cantante, e continua a essere molte altre cose
ancora: una donna, un uomo, un padre o una madre di famiglia, un amico di certe altre persone, e
cos via. E qualcosa di simile si pu dire dellattaccante anche quando non sta effettivamente
svolgendo unazione di attacco sul campo di calcio. Invece, senza lessere, lente non ci sarebbe
proprio, ricadrebbe nel nulla. Possiamo cominciare a intravedere ci per il fatto che lessere
latto radicale, intimissimo e costitutivo al quale si appoggia ogni altra perfezione, o dal quale
deriva, senza che egli riposi a sua volta su di un altro atto previo. In questo senso, lessere latto
primario di qualsiasi altro atto e perfezione.8

Grammaticalmente, ens un participio, participio presente attivo. il participio


presente del verbo latino esse, come essente il participio presente attivo dellinfinito essere la
parola ente procede direttamente dalla forma latina ens.

Ens dunque un participio. Ora, la forma participiale si chiama participio perch


prende parte di due elementi, cio partecipa alla natura del nome e alla natura del verbo: ha un
aspetto di sostantivo e un aspetto di azione. Per esempio, quando diciamo lo studente, siamo
abituati a pensare ad una persona, un uomo, che viene indicato muovendo dalla sua attivit di
studiare: luomo che si dedica allo studio; in realt per, nel participio non si dice se il
soggetto sia uomo o meno. Il soggetto resta allora in s indeterminato, viene indicato soltanto
dalla prospettiva, dal punto di vista, dellazione che svolge: cantante colui che canta.
Non so chi , non so cosa , so soltanto una cosa: che canta.

Bisogna per notare che in latino il termine pi forte, molto pi forte: il participio
studens, per esempio, indica non soltanto una persona la cui attivit abituale di studiare,
bens il soggetto che adesso-sta-studiando. Cos, ens indica un soggetto che sta-essendo, indica il
soggetto nellesercizio stesso dellattivit di cui si parla. Come camminante colui che sta-
camminando, cos ente colui che sta-essendo.9

Il participio significa in primo luogo un soggetto o natura e poi (connotativamente)


lessere-atto di questo soggetto o natura. Nellente (id quod est) ci-che (id quod) significa la
cosa, mentre il verbo (est) significa latto (esse). Perci, con la nozione di ens si esprime

7
M. PREZ DE LABORDA and L. CLAVELL, Metafisica, EDUSC, Rome, 2006, p. 24.
8
T. MELENDO, Metafisica del concreto, Leonardo da Vinci, Rome, 2005, pp. 53-54.
9
C. FERRARO, Appunti di metafisica, Lateran University Press, Vatican City, 2013, p. 37.

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innanzitutto e principalmente la cosa e poi e conseguentemente lessere. Se ente significasse
principalmente lessere come significa la cosa che ha atto di essere allora senza dubbio
significherebbe che qualcosa . Ma non significa principalmente la composizione che implicita
quando dico , ma la consignifica in quanto significa la cosa-che-ha-essere. Ente significa
direttamente il soggetto che esiste; ma siccome partecipa del verbo, significa anche (in
obliquo, in modo secondario, consignifica) lessere (esse).10

Being (ens) is not a simple notion but implies a composition of a subject and an act:
The notion of being (ens) is not a simple notion; it implies the composition of a subject (id
quod) and an act (est). Two elements are involved in this notion: something which is and the
very act of being (esse) of that thing. That something plays the role of a subject, that is, the
particular reality to which the esse belongs (as the subject of the act of laughing is the person
who laughs).

Nevertheless, the two elements constitute a unity: one element (ens) implies the
presence of the other element. When we say being (ens) we refer implicitly to its esse even
though we do not yet form the judgment it is or that something is. Likewise, when we hear
the verb is alone, we either assume its subject, or we discover the absence of a subject of the
act.

We can sum this up as follows: 1) Being (ens) signifies principally the thing which is:
being (ens) designates it insofar as it has the act of being (esse) ; 2) Consequently, being (ens)
signifies concomitantly the esse of that thing, because a thing can only be if it possesses the act
of being (esse) ; 3) Therefore, being (ens) refers to something that exists in reality.11

Essence (essentia) is that which makes a thing to be what it is, while act of being (esse) is
that which makes a thing to be. Every finite being (ens) has a real distinction between essence
(essentia) and act of being (esse) as two metaphysical co-principles.12 With God, the Infinite
Being, on the other hand, essentia and esse are identified. Gods Essence is Esse.13

10
J. VILLAGRASA, Metafisica II, APRA, Rome, 2009, p. 11.
11
T. ALVIRA, L. CLAVELL, T. MELENDO, Metaphysics, Sinag-Tala, Manila, 1991, pp. 18-19.
12
Being is a real and intelligible principle, and the knowledge of its reality cannot be separated from the knowledge
of its intelligibility. This dissociation has been carried out in formalistic scholasticism which speaks of the
distinction between essence and existence, instead of the genuinely metaphysical theory of the real composition of
essence and act of being. The former distinction is made between between actual existence, considered as mere
facticity, and the essence considered merely as possible. Essence and existence are, then, no more than two different
states of mind with respect to the same thing considered respectively as a possibility, and as actually existing.
Existence, in this case, does no more than add the concrete and irrational character of the fact to the abstract and
intelligible notes of the essence. Some scholastics even ended up speaking about a distinction between the esse
essentiae, and the esse actualis existentiae, which corresponds to a merely logical starting point (as a reply to the
question what is a thing quid est and if a thing is an est ), but this is a starting point without any
metaphysical dimension.
The real distinction between essence and act of being is not to be identified with the couple to be thought to
really be. The authentic real composition of essentia esse is not the formal nexus of two modes of a being, but
rather the structuring of two real co-principles which make up the primary reality of being.
This composition is the transcendental structure of reality, which occurs in all finite beings inasmuch as they are
beings. This composition of essence and act of being (esse) is real: they are really distinct metaphysical principles
which constitute the radical unum which is being. It is necessary to admit this composition as real (and not only
cum fundamento in re), because finite things are, but they are not the act of being (esse), they do not exhaust being

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Essence (Essentia)

The substances we see around us are not simple but are composed of two principles:
essence and act of being, the former being related to esse as a potency, and the latter being
related to essentia as act. Essence (essentia) is the proper potency of the act of being (esse) and
together with this act constitutes the substance (substantia). Essence confers upon this substance
a specific manner of being and is defined as that by which a thing is what it is. It is that through
which and in which a being has its act of being (esse).14 Essence pertains truly and properly to
substance while it pertains to accidents only in a qualified sense. Aquinas writes: Just as the
term ens is applied in the absolute and proper sense only to substance, and to accidents in a
secondary, derived way, essence truly and properly pertains to the substance, and to the accidents
only in a certain way, and from a certain point of view.15 Therefore, when we refer to the
essence of something without qualification we refer to the essence of its substance, not to the
essence of its accidents.

Essence as Nature, Quiddity, and the Universal

Essence is often times referred to as a nature, a quiddity, or as a universal. Why is this


so? Alvira, Clavell and Melendo explain that as the specification of the mode of being of a
thing, the essence gives rise to a series of basic properties which give us a better understanding
of essence. These properties themselves give rise to a set of terms which refer to one and the
same reality, while differing with respect to the aspect of that reality which is considered. They
are, however, sometimes employed in an undifferentiated way in common usage.16

Essence as Nature. As the principle of operations, essence is called nature. Nature is


essence from the viewpoint of its proper activity. Nature is essence considered as the ultimate
principle of operations in a being; nature signifies the ultimate principle by which and in
accordance with which anything acts in the way that it does (while the suppositum signifies the
very thing itself to which these activities are referred). Nature is the essence considered as the
root principle of the activities of a being. It expresses the dynamic character of being. A horse,
for example, acts in one way and not in another because it has being in a determinate way,
conditioned by its essence. Thus, each nature has a corresponding type of specific operations.
Trotting, galloping, eating grass and neighing, for example, are natural to the horse because they
are operations which arise from horse nature or horseness itself. Every being explains
Dougherty, has certain powers or faculties which dispose it to act in a certain way, such as the
faculty to know, the faculty to hear, the powers of a plant for photosynthesis. No finite being acts
immediately but rather mediately through certain powers for certain acts. Yet the powers or

(esse) either in intensity or in extension. They are, but without being being (esse): they have being (esse), they
participate in being (esse). The participating principle (the potency: essence) cannot be really identified with that
which is participated (the act: being esse). If essence and esse were identified, the real principle of limitation
(imperfection) would be the same as the real principle of perfection, which would violate the principle of non-
contradiction. There would be no proper explanation for the real existence of finite beings: we would be denying
either their reality or their finiteness(A. LLANO, Gnoseology, Sinag-Tala, Manila, 2001, pp. 116-117).
13
Cf. Summa Theologiae, I, q. 3, a. 4.
14
De Ente et Essentia, chapter 1.
15
De Ente et Essentia, chapter 2.
16
T.ALVIRA, L. CLAVELL, T. MELENDO, op. cit., p. 90.

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faculties of a being for acting are not adequate to explain a beings activities. Uniform and stable
patterns of activities are proper to a species because of a basic determination for such uniform
and proper activities in the very nature of the species. It is grounded in their very essence or
nature.17

Essence as Quiddity. Insofar as essence is signified by a definition, it is called quiddity or


whatness. Quiddity is a term derived from the Latin word quidditas, which is the technical
noun fashioned from quid (Latin for what). The reason is obvious observes Bittle. When we
desire to know what a particular thing really is, we ask the question What is it? And in answer
to this question we obtain a knowledge of its whatness; because, in being told what it is that
makes this thing to be just this being and not another, we find out its essential elements (essence)
in the definition given.18

A definition signifies the essence of something by means of its proximate genus and
specific difference. It gives an answer to the question What is it? The definition of man, for
example, would be rational animal. This is the metaphysical essence of man. Animal would
be the proximate genus and rationality the specific difference that separates him from all other
animals.

Essence as the Universal. Insofar as essence is known, it is possible for it to be referred


to many individuals, and for this reason it is called the universal. The essence is really present
only in individual things. However, our understanding, setting aside the characteristics which
belong to each singular thing, considers the essence as something universal, which can be
attributed to all individuals having the same mode of being. In accordance with the way of being
which the essence of this horse has in the human mind, it becomes a universal which is
applicable to all horses. This logical consideration of the essence, that is, the essence as a
universal, is what is called secondary substance.19

Essence and Esse. Though capable of being utilized in these various senses, essence
nevertheless stresses its relationship with esse, it being the principle in which the esse of a thing
17
K. DOUGHERTY, Metaphysics, Graymoor Press, Peekskill, New York, 1965, p. 119.
18
C. BITTLE, The Domain of Being: Ontology, Bruce, Milwaukee, 1941, p. 117. Christian Ferraro writes:
Quidditas una parola inventata dagli scolastici per indicare il significato della risposta alla domanda quid est?.
Dal latino passata allitaliano per translitterazione. Letteralmente allora la quiddit sarebbe la cheit (Washeit)
o coseit della cosa, il che cosa della cosa. Siccome per ci che risponde a quella domanda la ratio
significata dal nome, e questa ratio si esprime nella definizione, allora si d il nome di quiddit allessenza stessa
della cosa, in quanto significata dalla definizione(C. FERRARO, op. cit., p. 124).
19
T. ALVIRA, L. CLAVELL, T. MELENDO, op. cit., p. 91. Owens writes: The essence can exist in reality and in
the human intellect. In reality it exists in individuals, as humanity exists in millions of men. The same essence,
humanity, is found separately in every one of these many individuals. It is common to them all. The same essence,
moreover, can exist in your intellect or in the intellect of anyone else who thinks of it. In this cognitional existence it
is no longer individual but specific. It is the universal species man, or human nature in its universality. As a
universal, it represents all individual men in the one concept. It has a unity of its own as universal, just as in any
particular man it has a unity that is individual(J. OWENS, op. cit., p. 133). Ferraro writes: In quanto riferibile a
molti individui, lessenza detta universale. Infatti, nelle cose che troviamo nellambito dellesperienza, lessenza
si trova effettivamente realizzata, singolare; nellintelletto invece si trova allo stato di universalit, perch la
species risulta nellintelletto possibile come effetto dellazione astraente dalle condizioni individuali del fantasma,
operata dallintelletto agente. Luniversale esprime perci lessenza delle cose ma secondo lo stato chessa acquista
nella mente(C. FERRARO, op. cit., p. 124).

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is received and by which it is restricted to a determinate form; essence is so called insofar as a
thing has esse in it and through it. Thus, essence has a meaning over and above that contained in
nature, quiddity, and universal as it directs our attention to that which makes things be, namely,
the act of being (esse): Essence means that through which and in which a being has its act of
being (esse).20

Act of Being (Esse)

The principal element of being (ens, which is that which is or that which has esse21)
is its act of being (esse).22 If essence (essentia) is that which makes a thing to be what it is, the
20
De Ente et Essentia, chapter 1.
21
Summa Contra Gentiles, I, 22: Amplius. Omnis res est per hoc quod habet esse ; Summa Theologiae, I-II, q. 26,
a. 4: ens simpliciter est quod habet esse(Leon. 6.190).
22
Studies on, or giving extensive treatment to, the act of being (esse): R. J. HENLE, Existentialism and the
Judgment, Proceedings of the American Catholic Philosophical Association, 21 (1946), pp. 40-52 ; H. RENARD,
The Metaphysics of the Existential Judgment, The New Scholasticism, 23 (1949), pp. 387-394 ; M. PONTIFEX,
The Meaning of Esse: A Thomistic View Examined, The Downside Review, 67 (1949), pp. 395-405 ; E. A.
SILLEM, Saint Thomas Aquinas on the Meaning of Esse, The Downside Review, 68 (1950), pp. 414-428 ; M.
PONTIFEX, The Meaning of Esse: A Reply, The Downside Review, 68 (1950), pp. 429-438 ; E. NICOLETTI,
Existentia e actus essendi in S. Tommaso, Aquinas, 1 (1958), pp. 241-267 ; C. FABRO, La problematica dellesse
Tomistico, Aquinas, 2 (1959), pp. 194-225 ; E. BRAUN, Le problme de lesse chez saint Thomas, Archive de
Philosophie, 36 (1959), pp. 211-226, 529-565 ; H. J. JOHN, The Emergence of the Act of Existing in Recent
Thomism, International Philosophical Quarterly, 2 (1962), pp. 595-620 ; C. FABRO, Per la determinazione
dellessere Tomistico, Aquinas, 5 (1962), pp. 170-205 ; D. OGRADY, Further Notes on Being, Esse, and
Essence in an Existential Metaphysics, International Philosophical Quarterly, 3 (1963), pp. 610-616 ; D.
OGRADY, Esse and Metaphysics, The New Scholasticism, 39 (1965), pp. 283-294 ; C. FABRO, The
Transcendentality of Ens-Esse and the Ground of Metaphysics, International Philosophical Quarterly, 6 (1966),
pp. 389-487 ; C. FABRO, Notes pour la fondation mtaphysique de ltre, Revuew Thomiste, 66 (1966), pp. 214-
237 ; J. MARITAIN, Rflexions sur la nature blesse et sur lintuition de ltre, Revue Thomiste, 68 (1968), pp.
5-40 ; F. D. WILHELMSEN, The Triplex Via and the Transcendence of Esse, The New Scholasticism, 44 (1970),
pp. 223-235 ; E. GILSON, Propos sur ltre et sa notion, in Studi tomistici (III): San Tommaso e il pensiero
moderno, Rome, 1974, pp. 7-17 ; C. GIACON, Il contributo originale di S. Tommaso allontologia classica, in
Tommaso dAquino nel suo VII centenario. Congresso internazionale, Rome-Naples, 1974, pp. 281-294 ; B.
LAKEBRINK, La interpretacin existencial del concepto tomista del acto de ser, in Veritas et Sapientia, EUNSA,
Pamplona, 1975, pp. 21-40 ; J. OWENS, Aquinas on Knowing Existence, Review of Metaphysics, 29 (1976), pp.
670-690 ; F. D. WILHELMSEN, The Concept of Existence and the Structure of Judgment: A Thomistic Paradox,
The Thomist, 41 (1977), pp. 317-349 ; F. D. WILHELMSEN, Existence and Esse, The New Scholasticism, 50
(1976), pp. 20-45 ; A. DALLEDONNE, Lautentico esse Tomistico e lequivoco neoscolastico sulla esistenza
come atto in Carlo Giacon, Divus Thomas, (1978), pp. 68-82 ; J. R. CATAN, Aristotele e San Tommaso intorno
allactus essendi, Rivista di Filosofia Neo-scolastica, 73 (1981), pp. 639-655 ; J. C. MALONEY, Esse in the
Metaphysics of Thomas Aquinas, The New Scholasticism, 55 (1981), pp. 159-177 ; M. GIGANTE, Actus essendi
e atto libero nel pensiero di S. Tommaso, in Atti del VIII Congresso Tomistico Internazionale, vol. 5, Libreria
Editrice Vaticana, Vatican City, 1982, pp. 249-282 ; G. BONTADINI, Lessere come atto, Aquinas, 26 (1983),
pp. 325-332 ; J. NIJENHUIS, To Be or To Exist: That is the Question, The Thomist, 50 (1986), pp. 353-394 ;
R. DIODATO, Tra Esse e Deissi: Note per una conferma linguistica dellontologia gilsoniana, Rivista di Filosofia
Neo-Scolastica, 78 (1986), pp. 3-33 ; Y. FLOUCAT, tienne Gilson et la mtaphysique de lacte dtre, Revue
Thomiste, 94 (1994), pp. 360-395 ; A. CT, La question de lesse chez Thomas dAquin et Boce, Revue
Philosophique de Louvain, 92 (1994), pp. 327-335 ; O. J. GONZALEZ, The Apprehension of the Act of Being in
Aquinas, American Catholic Philosophical Quarterly, 68.4 (1995), pp. 475-500 ; P. P. RUFFINENGO, Lipsum
esse non ancora lactus essendi di S. Tommaso, Aquinas, 38 (1995), pp. 631-635 ; R. ESCHAURI MORE, La
nocin de esse en los primeros escritos de Santo Toms de Aquino, Sapientia (Buenos Aires), 51 (1996), pp. 59-
70 ; L. DEWAN, St. Thomas and the Distinction Between Form and Esse in Caused Things, Gregorianum, 80.2
(1999), pp. 353-370 ; R. DI CEGLIE, Fondazione critica dellactus essendi. Tra metafisica e pensiero cristiano in

6
act of being (esse) is that which makes a thing to be. Melendo writes in his Metafisica del
concreto about the act of being (esse as actus essendi): Come radice originaria di tutta la realt
extramentale, Tommaso scopre un attoquestatto lo chiama actus essendi (atto di essere), o
semplicemente esse (essere). E comincia a chiamarlo come il primum absolutum fra gli altri
significati dellessere. Ci che lo caratterizza, come gi abbiamo detto, la sua radicale indole di
atto; e, come conseguenza, il fatto che tutto il resto si trasformi in potenza rispetto ad essoin
Aristotele, al di l della forma o ousa primordiale, non cera alcun atto che venisse prima;
mentre per San Tommaso c: sono le forme sostanziali, pure o immerse nella materia, sono la
potenza rispetto allatto per eccellenza o atto di essere.

LAquinate ha scoperto, al di l della divisione di ente in categorie, e come il


fondamento comune dellattualit di tutte, un atto dal quale tutte e ciascuna ricevono infine la
loro attualit, la loro consistenza; ha scoperto anche che questatto compete in modo stretto alla
sostanza, e per essa e da essa emana la propria perfezione fino agli ultimi predicamenti; ha
chiamato questatto primordiale, atto dellessenza, atto sostanziale, atto dellente e in altri modi
simili; e a esso ha riferito, come la prima e fondamentale accezione, le altre accezioni dellessere.

Si pu dire che questa la principale scoperta della metafisica di Tommaso dAquino.


Con lactus essendi si apre una nuova dimensione delluniverso metafisico, uno spazio, come
esprimevo nel titolo, che si trova al di l della ousa e della forma, e che d di esse una totale
giustificazione.

LAquinate mette in relazione con il primordiale atto di essere le tesi capitali della sua
filosofia prima: la partecipazione, la creazione dal nulla, la distinzione reale tra essenza ed
essere, le relazioni tra essere e operare, la Natura pi intima di Dio, la chiave per comprendere la
dignit della persona, il senso della sua libert, ecc. E con latto di essere le mettiamo in
relazione anche noi.23

Explaining certain features of the act of being (esse) as act, Alvira, Clavell and Melendo
state: a) Above all, esse is an act, that is, a perfection of all reality. The term act is used in
metaphysics to designate any perfection or property of a thing; therefore, it is not to be used

margine allanalisi ontologica della soggettivit proposta da P. P. Ruffinengo, Rivista di Filosofia Neoscolastica,
96 (2004), pp. 529-556 ; S. L. BROCK, On Whether Aquinass Ipsum Esse is Platonism, Review of Metaphysics,
60 (2006), pp. 723-757 ; A. GONZLEZ GATICA, El pensamiento de Gilson sobre el actus essendi tomista,
Pontificia Universit della Santa Croce, Rome, 2006 ; J. F. X. KNASAS, Haldanes Analytic Thomism and
Aquinass actus essendi, in Analytical Thomism: Traditions in Dialogue, edited by C. Paterson and M. S. Pugh,
Ashgate, Aldershot and Burlington, 2006, pp. 233-251 ; S. L. BROCK, Harmonizing Plato and Aristotle on Esse:
Thomas Aquinas and the De hebdomadibus, Nova et Vetera, English Edition, 5.3 (2007), pp. 465-494 ; M.
PAOLINI PAOLETTI, Esse ut actus e giudizio desistenza: sulla riflessione metafisica di . Gilson, Euntes
Docete, 63.1 (2010), pp. 191-215 ; M. PAOLINI PAOLETTI, Conoscere lessere: Fabro, Gilson e la conoscenza
dellactus essendi, in Crisi e destino della filosofia: Studi su Cornelio Fabro, edited by A. Acerbi, EDUSC, Rome,
2012, pp. 157-172 ; J. MITCHELL, Being and Participation: The Method and Structure of Metaphysical Reflection
According to Cornelio Fabro, 2 vols, Pontifical Athenaeum Regina Apostolorum, Rome, 2012 ; C. FERRARO, La
svolta metafisica di san Tommaso. Riflessioni sullemergenza dellesse e la fondazione della libert radicale,
Lateran University Press, Vatican City, 2014 ; C. FERRARO, Il problema dellexistentia e la semantica originaria
dellesse tomistico, Alpha Omega, 18.3 (2015), pp. 377-418 ; C. FERRARO, La interpretacin del esse en el
tomismo intensivo de Cornelio Fabro (I), Espritu, 66 (2017), pp. 11-70.
23
T. MELENDO, Metafisica del concreto, Leonardo da Vinci, Rome, 2005, pp. 155-156.

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exclusively to refer to actions or operations (the act of seeing or walking, for instance). In this
sense, a white rose is a flower that has whiteness as an act which gives the rose a specific
perfection. Similarly, that is which is applied to things indicates a perfection as real as the
perfection of life in living things. In the case of esse, however, we are obviously dealing with a
special perfection.

b) Esse is a universal act, that is, it belongs to all things. Esse is not exclusive to some
particular kind of reality, since without esse, there would be nothing at all. Whenever we talk
about anything, we have to acknowledge, first of all, that it is: the bird is, gold is, the clouds
are.

c) Esse is also a total act: it encompasses all that a thing is. While other acts only
refer to some part or aspects of being, esse is a perfection which includes everything that a thing
has, without any exception. Thus, the act of reading does not express the entirety of the
perfection of the person reading, but esse is the act of each and of all the parts of a thing. If a tree
is, then the whole tree is, with all its aspects and parts its color, shape, life and growth in
short, everything in it shares in its esse. Thus, esse encompasses the totality of a thing.

Esse is a constituent act, and the most radical or basic of all perfections because it is
that by which things are. As essence is that which makes a thing to be this or that (chair, lion,
man), esse is that which makes things to be. This can be seen from various angles:

(i) Esse is the most common of all acts. What makes all things to be cannot reside in
their principles of diversity (their essence), but precisely in that act whereby they are all alike,
namely, the act of being.

(ii) Esse is by nature prior to any other act. Any action or property presupposes a
subsisting subject in which it inheres, but esse is presupposed by all actions and all subjects, for
without it, nothing would be. Hence esse is not an act derived from what things are; rather it is
precisely what makes them to be.

(iii) We have to conclude, by exclusion, that esse is the constituent act. No physical or
biological property of beings their energy, molecular or atomic structure can make things be,
since all of these characteristics, in order to produce their effects, must, first of all, be.

In short, esse is the first and innermost act of a being which confers on the subject, from
within, all of its perfections. By analogy, just as the soul is the form of the body by giving life
to it, esse intrinsically actualizes every single thing. The soul is the principle of life, but esse is
the principle of entity or reality of all things.24

Explaining how the act of being (esse) is an act which encompasses all perfections, how
it is an act in the fullest sense, and how, in the final analysis, the act of being (esse) is the
ultimate act of a being (ens), Alvira, Clavell and Melendo write that the multiplicity of creatures
reveals the existence of diverse perfections. But, at the same time, it also reveals a perfection
which is common to all beings, namely esse. Esse transcends any other perfection, since it is
24
T. ALVIRA, L. CLAVELL, T. MELENDO, op. cit., pp. 20-22

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present in an analogous manner in each one of them. Every act presupposes and reveals esse,
although it does so in different ways: life, a color, a virtue, and an action all share in the act of
being in different degrees.

This common sharing in the act of being and the accompanying diversity in the way it is
possessed and revealed, are an expression of the fact that all creatures are composed of an act
(esse), which eminently encompasses all their perfections, and a potency (essence), which limits
esse to a determinate degree.

Esse (the actus essendi) is an act which encompasses all perfections. Just as every
man possesses a substantial form (act on the level of essence), which makes him a man, all
things have an act (esse) by which they are all beings. If the human substantial form were to exist
isolated from individual men, it would contain to the fullest possible degree all the perfections
which individual men have in a limited manner, in terms of number and intensity. If it is, in fact,
found to be restricted, this is due to the potency which receives it and limits it. Similarly, the act
of being of creatures, which is an image of the divine esse, is found to be restricted by a potency
(the essence) which limits the formers degree of perfection.

There is, however, an important difference between esse and the other perfections of a
being (the substantial and accidental forms). If any other act were to exist separated from every
potency, it would have the perfection belonging to its own mode of being (a subsistent
humanity would be man in his fullness), but would not possess any of the further perfections
which belong solely to other species. In contrast, the act of being, of itself, encompasses the
perfections, not only of a particular species, but of all real and possible ones.

Esse is an act in the fullest sense. It can be seen then, that the act of being is an act in
the full and proper sense, since it does not of itself include any limitation. The other acts, in
contrast, are particular ways of being and, therefore, only potency with respect to the act of
being. In this sense, they have being, not absolutely, but only in a specific way. Hence, it can be
said that they limit esse as a potency limits its act.25

Since esse possesses most fully the characteristics of act, it can subsist independently of
any potency. Thus, we are able to understand how God can be designated metaphysically as pure
Act of Being, who possesses fully and simply all perfections present among creatures. This pure
Act of Being infinitely surpasses the entire perfection of the whole universe.

In the final analysis, esse can be fittingly described as the ultimate act of a being (ens),
since all things and each of their perfections or acts are nothing but modes of being or forms
which possess, in a limited way (by participation), the radical act, without which, nothing would
be.

25
John Duns Scotus gave a formalist slant to metaphysics, thereby destroying the Thomistic doctrine of esse as act.
The same trend was followed by Suarez, Leibniz, Wolff, and Kant; these philosophers considered esse not as act,
but as effect (being in act): from esse ut actus to esse actu. Hartmann held the same viewWhen Heidegger
reproached Western metaphysics for having lost sight of being, he was in fact referring to the kind of metaphysics
which he had known, namely, the formalist type. It is quite well known that Heidegger had a scant knowledge of the
metaphysics of St. Thomas Aquinas; he had a greater familiarity with Scotus metaphysics.

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Esse is the act of all other acts of a being, since it actualizes any other perfection,
making it be. Human activity, for instance, which is second act, has its basis in operative
powers, which constitute first act in the accidental order. Along with other accidental
perfections, these powers receive their actuality from the substantial form, which is the first act
of the essence. The entire perfection of the essence, however, stems in turn from esse, which is
therefore quite fittingly called the ultimate act and the act of all the acts of a being (ens).26

Prez de Laborda writes concerning the act of being (esse) as the actuality of all acts and
the perfection of all perfections: San Tommaso afferma che latto di essere un atto ultimo, in
quanto tutte le cose desiderano lessere,27 ed latto pi perfetto, in quanto pone in atto tutte le
perfezioni.28 dunque atto di tutti gli atti, poich li attualizza tutti, li fa essere: nessuna delle
forme (essenziali e accidentali) possono attualizzare le rispettive potenze, se non esiste la
sostanza. Ed essa sussiste in virt dellessere che ha ricevuto. Lessere, pertanto, atto rispetto a
tutte le realt sostanziali, ma anche rispetto a tutte le loro forme (che possono anche chiamarsi
atti).

Lessere inoltre perfezione di ogni perfezione. Senza lessere della sostanza, ogni sua
perfezione resta una pura possibilit, unidea astratta non realizzata nella realt. Tutte le
perfezioni, dunque, perch siano reali, presuppongono lessere. Ma lessere , come abbiamo
annunciato, una perfezione ben diversa a tutte le altre, una perfezione di un ordine che non
formale.29 Essendo di un ordine diverso, non una perfezione che si possa aggiungere alle altre
perfezioni, come se fosse una determinazione formale in pi. Non una tra le perfezioni
possedute, ma ci che rende possibile lavere delle perfezioni. Possiamo dire, con san Tommaso,
che lessere una perfezione intima e profonda,30 che si manifesta nelle molteplici perfezioni di
una realt. inoltre una perfezione ricevuta: infatti, proprio dellente creato non
semplicemente essere, ma aver lessere e averlo ricevuto per partecipazione.31

In De Potentia Dei, St. Thomas writes: Esse is the most perfect of allesseis the
actuality of all acts, and therefore the perfection of all perfections(esse est inter omnia
perfectissimumesse est actualitas omnium actuum, et propter hoc est perfectio omnium
perfectionum).32 In Summa Theologiae I, q. 4, a. 1, ad 3 Aquinas states of esse: Esse is the
most perfect of all things, for it is compared to all things as that by which they are made actual;
for nothing has actuality except so far as it is. Hence esse is that which actuates all things, even
their forms. Therefore it is not compared to other things as the receiver is to the received; but

26
T. ALVIRA, L. CLAVELL, T. MELENDO, op. cit., pp. 107-109.
27
Latto ultimo lessere: essendo infatti ogni movimento un passagio dalla potenza allatto, ultimo atto ci a cui
tende ogni moto; e poich il moto naturale tende a ci che naturalmente desiderato, necessario che latto ultimo
sia ci che tutte le cose desiderano, e questo lessere(Compendium, I, 11).
28
Fra tutte le cose lessere la pi perfetta, poich verso tutte sta in rapporto di atto. Nulla infatti ha lattualit se
non in quanto esiste: perci lessere stesso lattualit di tutte le cose, anche delle stesse forme. Quindi esso non sta
in rapporto alle altre cose come il ricevente al ricevuto, ma piuttosto come il ricevuto al ricevente(Summa
Theologiae, I, a. 4, a. 1, ad 3).
29
Non si deve pensare che quando si attribuisce ad una cosa lessere le si aggiunge una qualche cosa che le sia
propria in modo pi formale, determinandola, cos come latto fa con la potenza: lessere tale da essere diverso
essenzialmente da ci cui viene aggiunto per determinarlo(De Potentia, q. 7, a. 2, ad 9).
30
Cfr. Summa Theologiae, I, q. 8, a. 1.
31
M. PREZ DE LABORDA and L. CLAVELL, Metafisica, EDUSC, Rome, 2006, pp. 163-164.
32
De Potentia Dei, q. 7, a. 2, ad 9.

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rather as the received to the receiver(Ipsum esse est perfectissimum omnium: comparatur enim
ad omnia ut actus. Nihil enim habet actualitatem, nisi in quantum est: unde ipsum esse est
actualitas omnium rerum, et etiam ipsarum formarum. Unde non comparatur ad alia sicut
recipiens ad receptum, sed magis sicut receptum ad recipiens).33

tienne Gilson points out that Aquinass teaching of the positing of esse above form was
nothing less than a revolution. He had precisely to achieve the dissociation of the two notions of
form and act. This is precisely what he has done and what probably remains, even today, the
greatest contribution ever made by any single man to the science of being.34 Therefore,
continues Gilson, supreme in their own order, substantial forms remain the prime acts of their
substances, but, though there be no form of the form, there is an act of the form. In other words,
the form is such an act as still remains in potency to another act, namely, esse.35

As supreme and ultimate act in order of substance or essence, the form makes a thing to
be what it will be if it is to be, but supreme and ultimate as it is, form cannot make this thing to
be a being. This is the case, since there is needed from another order an act which is still more
supreme and still more ultimate: esse: Esse itself is the highest act in which all things are
capable of participating, but esse itself does not participate in anything (ipsum esse est actus
ultimus qui participabilis est ab omnibus, ipsum autem nihil participat).36

Of the fundamental and primary doctrine of esse that is at the heart of the metaphysics of
the Angelic Doctor, Gilson states: This doctrine is situated at the center of ThomismTo say
that esse is related as an act, even to the form itself ad ipsam etiam formam comparatur esse ut
actus is to assert the radical primacy of esse over essenceUnderstood in this way, esse is put
at the heart, or, if one prefers, at the very root of reality. It is therefore the principle of the
principles of reality.37

33
Summa Theologiae, I, q. 4, a. 1, ad 3.
34
. GILSON, Being and Some Philosophers, Pontifical Institute of Mediaeval Studies, Toronto, 1952, p. 174.
35
Ibid.
36
Q. D. De Anima, a. 6, ad 2.
37
E. GILSON, Le Thomisme, fifth edition, Vrin, Paris, 1947, p. 50.

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