Benozzo Gozzoli, Le triomphe de saint Thomas d'Aquin, 1471

vendredi 17 juin 2011

La primauté de l’esse thomiste vue par Fran O’Rourke

            « Omnis enim nobilitas cuiusque rei est secundum suum esse »[1], déclare saint Thomas dans la Summa contra Gentiles. Fran O’Rourke nous semble avoir bien compris tout ce qu’implique cette thèse cruciale pour la métaphysique du Docteur Angélique, si souvent mal comprise, même de nos jours, et même de ceux dont ce devrait être l’honneur et la vocation de la bien entendre. Voici donc :

« What we are here calling to mind is that in all beings, esse is not a dimension alongside all other aspects of things but is their fullness and foundation. It is identical with them in so far as they are perfections – it is their very perfection – and transcends them in so far they pose a limit to its infinity. Essence is thus a modus essendi, determining the nature of that which is. Esse, however, is not identical with its determinations, although it subsists alone in and through them. Being is the originative perfection which emerges to adopt the particular forms and determinations which constitute the individual. Esse infuses into all finite forms of the real a presence which actualises them from within at their most profound and intimate depth, fulfilling them but surpassing also their grasp so that it is never consumed or exhausted even by their ensemble. It resembles to the source which feeds the stream and impels its flow, but which as distinct is never exhausted in its outpouring. Esse is as the very illumination through which things first emerge and become manifest that they may appear and stand out in their own dimension and relief but which remains itself concealed; the universal and ubiquitous light which illumines all beings but cannot itself be seen. It is the silent and unceasing energy which nourishes and maintains the endless ferment of the universe. Esse is the quiet leaven (aliquid fixum et quietum) whithin the world of beings which, unobserved, perfects and harmonises each and every one within the ensemble and which lies at the origins of the whole. It is the unseen interior of things which reaches outward towards their utmost bounds, but is never enveloped ty them.
            Being is not simply one other among the endless forms or perfections of the created universe but is the most fundamental of all, embracing all others as secondary and implicit. In its generality it forms the fondation o the pyramid, comprehending all things universally within its power. In it simplicity it is the apex, containing all in a virtual manner according to a higher, pre-eminent presence. Being, however, is not merely the sum of all perfections and forms, but is their total simplicity and plenitude. All other qualities which the earlier Platonists would have esthablished as independent, individual forms in themselves, Dionysius united in the simplicity of the single and universal form of Being. In characterising esse as intensive, we view all perfections as contained eminently whithin the primary and plenary perfection of being. These are active only as emerging from the actuality and ontological fullness of being. In turn esse emerges and shines through the medium of beings. Esse is the pre-eminence of all wealth; it constitutes in anticipation all the qualities which are diffracted and dispersed according to its manifold wealth throughout the entitative dimensions of each thing. Esse is the thesaurus of all riches and resources, of whatever ordre, found within any being. In an analogous but superior manner, St Thomas discovers the unity of wealth of all finite being which is diffused and dispersed throughout the multiplicity and hierarchy of creation as present and anticipated in Infinite Subsistent Being.
            In the individual existent, esse is genetically, so to speak, the abundance of existential perfection from which all subsequent characters and determinations emerge, from which they blossom and spring forth. They are its manifestations or modes of presence. The act of being is not an empty, functional or efficient energy which in an instrumental manner simply effects into existence the modes of essence and accident of an individual, but is the wellspring which continually nurtures what-is in all its diverse activity. It is not merely initium but also fons et origo, and more importantly it is their plenitudo essendi. This is the significance of the distinction made between existence as the mere fact of being, and esse as the fullness of perfection and enduring source which constantly renews within each being the ever-present creative power of God who is Absolute Being. To assert being as existential plenitude is to recognise that the perfections within beings over and abve their simple existence are themselves perfections of being itself and that in origine being constitutes their excellence and their abundance. The principle of intensity allows us to conceive the existential richness and diversity of all things, individually and universally, as preserved virtually and causally, according to a higher mode or presence whithin the primary perfection of esse.
            Essence and accidents participate in esse and draw from it their constant energy. Esse is thus the plenitude both of actuality and form, the actus actuum and forma formarum. As primary act and plenary perfection, Being is the treasure store of value, a resevoir of richness and energy. Esse is thus at once both intensive and emergent act; it constitutes within an anterior simplicity and unity all the actuality and perfection of a being and diffuses it throughout its each and every aspect. Esse is the profound and inner pulsation which confers upon each thing its radical irruption and insurge, letting it stand out of and over against the void of nothingness. It is what is most intimate and fundamental whithin each thing, what is most formal, since it includes very other determination. Esse is the exhaustive actuality, the inexhaustible source and fullness of the entire ewalth which conjoins to establish and constitute each entity as a unique being and inserts it according to its due rank within the hierarchic order or the universe. Being is in each its first and final goodness, primary and supreme, fundamental and comprehensive, embracing all its entitative wealth and resources. »

Fran O’Rourke, Pseudo-Dionysius and the Metaphysics of Aquinas,
[Studien und Texte zur Geistesgeschichte des Mittelalters, 32],
Leyde – New YorkCologne, Brill, 1992, 177-179.

[1] CG I, c. 28, n. 2.

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