SYSTEMATIC PHILOSOPHY: Unity in Participation


Thus far, this work has been concerned with the suggestion of Heidegger that, in confronting present problems, real progress could be made only by a "step back." The first lecture stated this as a method and initiated the study of our theme: plenitude and participation. It found that, in the totem, "primitive" or earliest thought was aware of a unity founded in a certain plenitude. The second lecture concerned the intermediate stage to philosophy, namely, myth and poetry; these were studied in their own terms and as transformations of the totemic consciousness. At that level of mental equilibrium in both East and West the plenitude was understood to transcend and to be the origin of the differentiated universe.

It is time now to turn to the development of philosophic systems in order to determine the distinctive contribution which that type of thought can make to an understanding of our theme and to a comprehension of the nature of our cultures predicated thereupon. It is not that no attention had been given to philosophical issues in earlier times. As these issues concern the most essential requirements for human life, their understanding has been central to human concern in all ages; this was the burden of the previous chapters. Jaeger termed the authors of the myths "protoi theologesantes";1 C. Kunhan Raja wrote of the Poet-Philosophers of the Rg Veda; and their hymns served ritual purposes whose eminent importance was stated by Arjuna in the first chapter of the Bhagavad Gita. Nevertheless, their mytho-poetic writings were not philosophy in the proper sense described below.

Aristotle described the wise man, the lover of wisdom or the philosopher, as one capable of universal and difficult knowledge, of greater than ordinary certitude, of identifying causes, and of seeking knowledge for its own sake.2 This set of characteristics need not be definitive for every culture and Aristotle suggested it only as an inductive model. He considered philosophy in the West to have been initiated by the first physicists, such as Thales. In the East most do not consider philosophy in the proper sense of the word to have been initiated until the Upanishads when the issues were separated from the proximate context of ritual and treated by, if not, for themselves.

The essential and, at the time, unclarified role played by the imagination in the mytho-poetic equilibrium had stood in the way of the establishment of a set of proper and precise terms. Once this problem was overcome it became possible to proceed by well-coordinated processes of mediate knowledge such as analysis, logical inquiry, and theory building,3 as well as by intuition, to immediate, indisputable, and self certifying awareness.4 Once established, these processes would lead to systems, for in the order of thought as in that of reality unity is the touchstone of reality. In time each system would generate its own school and in this manner the main body of philosophic work has been carried out. The thought of those whose ingenious intuitions lacked--at times purposely--a corresponding structure of reason for its articulation and defense proved to be short-lived and of limited impact. This chapter will concern the development of the capacity for systematic work in philosophy and the contribution it can make to an improved understanding of plenitude and participation.



If development follows upon need, the words of Xenophanes provide insight into the evolution of the Greek mind from myth to philosophy. He showed how the imaginative element in myth had enticed men to envisage the gods in an inauthentic manner. Rather than principles of unity, truth and goodness, some gods had come to be exemplars of strife, deceit and all manner of evil. "Both Homer and Hesiod have attributed to the gods all things that are shameful and a reproach among mankind: theft, adultery, and mutual deception." As a result, Xenophanes removed the imaginative factors and stated the meaning of the gods in more proper and specifically intellectual terms. Thus, he proceeded to affirm that "There is one god, among gods and men the greatest, not at all like mortals in body and mind. . . . He sees as a whole, thinks as a whole, hears as a whole. . . . He always remains in the same place . But without toil he sets every thing in motion by the thought of his mind."5 A way had been found, namely, philosophy, to state these crucial realities in terms which were susceptible to clear and controlled reasoning. Philosophy had been born.

Characteristically. the Greek mind carried out this search in abstract, rather than in concrete, terms. By focusing upon a certain aspect of reality, and omitting all else it developed clear and cohesive understanding. Even in employing such basic terms as air, fire, and water it considered them as principles which, when combined in various ratios of hot and cold, humid and dry, constitute whatever concretely exists. Where a single element, such as fire or water was singled out this was due to its ability to explain the many states of things. Thus, for example, water, because it can exist in solid, liquid and gaseous states, was able to provide some unified and universal understanding for the entire realm of physical reality. Dasgupta would claim against Shankara, that the Upanishads viewed the development of real beings in the world as a similar process of combining elements.6

This abstract approach to understanding the unity of all was carried to an initial summit in the reasoning of Anaximander (611-547 BC). He proceeded beyond the four basic elements and their combinations, noting that what is most basic in reality must perdure through all physical states, unite them all, and enable one to be significant for another. The principle must, therefore, be neither hot nor cold, neither wet nor dry; it must be without any of the boundaries or limits expressed by names and forms which delimit or define things as contraries. This unlimited was stated negatively as the "apeiron" or "unbounded," that is, the non-specified or undifferentiated.7

The search, for a positive statement of this unity continued. Pythagoras (c580-500 B.C.) sought to express it by numbers. Even Heraclitus, the classical proponent of diversity, was engaged in the same search, for through all diversity he sought unity in the logos. Thus, he considered fire to be the basic principle because, while darting up and dying down, it manifests throughout a certain unified form or shape. While both Pythagoras and Heraclitus recorded a certain unity and difference in what was numbered or changing, on their level of abstraction the issue of the reality of that unity and diversity could not be directly confronted.

Parmenides is the father of metaphysics in the West precisely because he remedied this situation by deepening the process of explicit thought in order to be able to speak of being or reality as such. It is important to note that for Parmenides this knowledge (noeton) is not simply a product of human reasoning; like the Theogony and the Vedas, it is divine knowledge, the response of the goddess. Euripides held that the nous in each man is divine, and for Aristotle it is by the nous that we immediately recognize the first principles and premises upon which deductions are based.

Parmenides contrasts noeton as the intelligible to aistheton as the perceptible, the physical or bodily, whose knowledge is deceptive and dependent upon the physical organs of the body. It is of noein that he says, "It is the same thing to think and to be."8 It is not aistheton, nor a fortiori Locke’s exclusively sense perception or verification, but intellection that is the norm of being and hence of meaning: noein is meaning, notes Guthrie.9 This is the crucial foundation for Western thought: the path of intelligibility is the path of being; conversely what is not intelligible, what is without meaning, is not real. Because the requirements of intelligibility are those of being and vice versa, a science of being will be possible which will concern being without remainder. No valid question of being in principle will be without an answer: "It is the same thing to think and to be." Inasmuch as that science depends upon noeton rather than aistheton it will be a metaphysics.

With intelligibility as the criterion of being Parmenides proceeded on the basis of that which is immediately intellected, namely, "Being Is; . . . Nothingness is not possible,"10 to conclude that all differentiation is impossible. Whether coming into or going out of being, whether divisions or motion, any differentiation would need to be predicated either upon what is, which being already is, or upon what is not, which cannot generate, differentiate or do anything11. There can then be no difference between beings or between states of being; there can be no change or development. As eternal it is not merely an endless extent of time, as it was for Locke; that would be the way of aistheton. Rather, it realizes in itself all the perfection signified by ‘is’ or ‘is real’; it is the perfection and plenitude of being. Being is One.12

It is unfortunate that attention has been directed almost solely to Parmenides’ negation of differentiation, for that is the least important of his considerations. What is central is his direct and lucid clarification that being is, is one, and is intelligible; that it is absolute in perfection; that it is self-sufficient or able to stand in definitive contrast to nothingness;13 that as such it is self-explanatory or able to justify itself before nous; and that it is the ground of all metaphysics or understanding of being.

In stating this Parmenides was able to confront directly and for the first time, not merely the fact of differentiation among beings, but the issue of their reality. It is neither surprising nor of great importance that he was not able to resolve this issue. What is important is that due to his contribution the Western mind was able to go to work on the issue. No longer limited to asking about particular differences between specific beings or groups of beings, it could now begin to enquire directly concerning the reality and bases of differentiation, including the meaning of one’s own uniqueness and the nature of one’s relation to others. Progress in philosophy, as philosophers East and West observe, lies in understanding how this unity is lived, not destroyed; whatever meaning there be to the many, it is had in terms of the one.

It is no accident then that the great figures--Plato (429-348) and Aristotle (384-322)--and the major orientations they gave to Western philosophy should follow Parmenides in rapid succession. Once directly confronted with the issue of the reality of differentiation, the Greek mind had either to accept the skeptical position of the Sophists which excluded any basis for organized civil life, or to begin some steps toward the resolution of the issue. These steps proceeded along two routes initiated by Plato, to whom, notes Whitehead, all subsequent Western philosophy is essentially a series of footnotes.

On the one hand, the search was directed toward those factors by which an individual being is most properly itself--ultimately toward the discovery of non-being as not-that-being14 by which one thing is not the other. Along with being, this is a component principle of each thing; in response to Parmenides, it is the key to the difference and distinctiveness of all beings. On the other hand, the community of things as similar or alike requires a source which is itself one. Thus, because John, Mary and Thomas are alike as men, their forms share, partake, or participate in a real human form. This is not limited to the perfection of any one man, but is itself the fullness of the perfection of humankind.

Hence, to participate means to imitate. For Plato the object of wisdom is the idea as exemplar which "completely is" and is therefore "perfectly knowable."15 All else, the many instances, are related as images to that one, either as sensible objects or as more to less differentiated forms. What is essential, as is manifest in his later solution of the problems raised in his Parmenides, is that the relation of participation (mimesis or methexis) is not added to the multiple beings after they have been constituted; it is constitutive of them: their reality is precisely to image.

This implies that the original forms are ontological dimensions of reality which transcend the series of concrete individuals. They are spoken of as ideas or forms in contrast to concrete particulars. The highest of these ideas is the Good or the One in which all else share.16 This permits a more balanced and less imaginative interpretation of Plato’s references to remembering ideas and to the cave in the Republic. Rather than being taken literally to mean prior states of the soul, they express the personal development of one’s awareness of the reality of a higher ontological realm and its significance for one’s life.

They have memory’s directness and certitude, but their source is the Parmenidean norms, for they characterize the relation of the intellect to the source of all being and meaning.

Philosophizing in this mode of participation one need not become trapped in the alternative of either constructing personal but arbitrary intellectual schemes or elaborating an impersonal science. It is rather a gradual process of discovery, entering ever more deeply into the values which we have in order to comprehend them more clearly in themselves and in their source. Because progressive sharing or participating in this source is the very essence of human growth and development, the work of philosophizing is neither an addenda to life nor merely about life. Rather, as was seen regarding totem and myth, philosophy is central to the process of growth itself at the highest level of life and from this process draws its primal discoveries.

Though Plato began the philosophical elaboration of the notion of participation, as his method was dialectical he did not construct a system. His terms remained fluid and his dialogues ended with further questions. It was left to his pupil, Aristotle, to develop the means for more rigorous or systematic work in philosophy. For this he elaborated a formal logic for the strict codification of forms, their conjunction in judgments, and the coordination of judgments into patterns of syllogistic reasoning. With this tool he was able to outline the pattern of the sciences which have played so dominant a role in the Western world to this day.

Further, whereas Plato’s philosophy of participation as mimesis or imaging had been conducive to using ‘reflection,’ e. g. of trees on the surface of a stream, as a simile for the physical,17 this appeared to Aristotle to threaten the reality of the material and differentiated universe. Hence, he soon abandoned the use of the term ‘participation’ and gave great attention to changing or physical things which he saw to be the route to the discovery of the form. By a careful coordination of the sciences of the physical world through a study of their general principles and causes in the Physics, and by relating the Physics to the Metaphysics, he clarified the relation of all changing things to a first principle. This principle is described in Metaphysics XII as subsistent life and as thinking on thinking.18 To this all are related as to their ultimate final cause which they imitate, each according to its own nature. Thus, the source, if not the system, of participation received important philosophical elaboration.

Nevertheless, in Aristotle’s philosophy being was primarily substance and, though what changed was the compost or synolon of form and matter, substance was not the compost but the form only. As a result, his detailed scientific or systematic process of coordinating various types of being and identifying their principles was predicated upon forms according to their capacity for abstract universalization. The physical universe could be understood only as an endless cycle of formation and dissolution of which the individual was but a function. Hence, the freedom and significance of the individual were not adequately accounted for in his speculative philosophy. Further, while the individual’s actions were stimulated and patterned--each in its own way--upon the one objectless Knower (noesis noeseos), the many individuals were not derived therefrom or known by that principle of all meaning. Thus, though intense human concern is expressed in hellenic dramas which reflect the heritage of human meaning as lived in family and society, Greek philosophic understanding was much more specialized and restricted, particularly as regards the significance of the person.

More could not be expected while being was understood in terms of form alone. If, however, the meaning of the person in this world of names and forms is of key importance today in both East and West, if its protection and promotion become increasingly problematic as our cultures become more industrialized and technological, if the search for freedom and human rights is central to our contemporary search to form a decent society, then it will be necessary to look to further developments of the notion of being. These will create higher levels of equilibria by retrieving and making explicit more of what was meant by Parmenides’ One than had been articulated in Plato’s and Aristotle’s philosophies. Indeed, the fact that the thought of Plato and Aristotle was not brought into synthesis by Aristotle himself suggests that it was not possible to do so in terms of being when understood as form. Thus, in order to draw upon the full contribution of both Plato’s notion of participation and Aristotle’s systematic structures it is necessary to look to a later equilibrium predicated upon a significantly deepened understanding of being.


The new equilibrium will have three components: (a) a development in the awareness of the meaning of being; (b) its fruition through Plato’s insight regarding the participation of the many in Parmenides’ One; and (c) the systematization of both (a) and (b) by the tools of Aristotle’s scientific philosophy. As Plato’s contribution had been continually employed, what was required was (1) the discovery of being as existence, and (2) the rediscovery of Aristotle’s works.

1. Development in the understanding of being required transcending the Greek notion which had meant simply being of a certain differentiated type or kind. This meaning was transformed through the achievement of an explicit awareness of the act of existence (esse) in terms of which being could be appreciated directly in its active and self-assertive character. The precise basis for this expansion of the appreciation of being from form to existence is difficult to identify in a conclusive manner, but some things are known.

Because the Greeks had considered matter (Hyle-the stuff of which things were made) to be eternal, no direct questions arose concerning the existence or non--existence of things. As there always had been matter, the only real questions for the Greeks concerned the shapes or forms under which it existed. Only at the conclusion of the Greek and the beginning of the medieval period did Plotinus (205-270 A.D.), rather than simply presupposing matter, attempt the first philosophical explanation of its origin. It was, he explained, the light from the One which, having been progressively attenuated as it emanated ever further from its source, had finally turned to darkness.19 But whence came this new sensitivity to reality which enabled him even to raise such a question?

It is known that shortly prior to Plotinus the Christian Fathers had this sensitivity. They explicitly opposed the Greek’s simple supposition of matter; they affirmed that, like form, it too needed to be explained and they traced the origin of both form and matter to the Pantocrator.20 In doing this they extended to matter the general principle of Genesis that all was dependent upon the One who created heaven and earth, the Spirit who breathed upon the waters. In doing this two factors appear to have been significant. First, it was a period of intensive attention to the Trinitarian character of the divine. To understand Christ to be God Incarnate it was necessary to understand Him to be Son sharing fully in the divine nature. This required that in the life of the Trinity his procession from the Father be understood to be in a unity of nature: The Son, like the Father, must be fully of the one and same divine nature. This made it possible to clarify, by contrast, the formal effect of God’s act in creating limited and differentiated beings. This could not be in a unity of nature for it resulted, not in a coequal divine person, but in a creature radically dependent for its being. But to push the question beyond nature or kind is to open the direct issue of the reality of these beings and hence, not only of their form, but of their matter as well. To do this is to begin to ask not only how things are of this kind, but how they exist rather than not exist. This constituted an evolution in the human’s awareness of being, that is, of what it means to be real. This was no longer simply the compossibility of two forms, which Aristotle had taken as a sufficient response to the scientific question ‘whether it existed’; instead to be real means to exist or to stand in some relation thereto.

Cornelio Fabro suggests that another factor in the development of this awareness of being as existence was reflection upon one’s free response to the divine redemptive invitation. The radically total and unconditioned character of this invitation and response goes beyond any limited facet of one’s reality, any particular consideration according to time, occupation, or the like. It is a matter of the direct self-affirmation of one’s total actuality. Its sacramental symbol is not that of transformation or improvement; it is that of passage through the waters, not merely of dissolution and reformation, but of death to radically new life. This directs the mind beyond any generic, specific or even individual form to the unique reality that I am, that I exist as a self for whom living is freely to dispose of my very act of existence. This opened a new awareness of being as that existence by which beings stand outside of nothing (the "ex-sto" of existence) and this not merely to some minimum extent, but to the full extent of their actuality. As this differs in a graded manner it is called by Cornelio Fabro an intensive notion of being.

It took a long time for the implications of the new dimension of awareness to germinate and to find its proper philosophic articulation. Over a period of many centuries the term ‘form’ was used both in its original meaning as kind and to express this new meaning of act as the direct affirmation of being as existing. As the distinction between the two meanings was gradually clarified, proper terminology arose in which the act of existence by which a being simply is was expressed by existence (esse), while that by which a being is of this or that kind came to be expressed by ‘essence’.21

2. But what was the relation between existence and essence, and between the beings thus structured and Parmenides’ One? Because a transformation is not a creation the previous philosophic accomplishments regarding participation in plenitude must not be lost, but integrated within a cohesive structure. Hence, the participational insight of Plato and the systematic tools of Aristotle will be required for true progress. Since Plato and Aristotle had worked together as teacher and student for twenty years it might be expected that their two contributions would have been inseparably linked. In fact, such was not the case. While the body of Aristotelian texts lay sequestered in Pergamon for 150 years, the Platonic influence was gradually extended with Greek culture through Asia Minor to Alexandria. It became the philosophic atmosphere in which the thinking of the Church Fathers took place; especially through the works of St. Augustine it became the general context of the Christian thought of medieval Europe. Hence, while the knowledge of Aristotle in the West was in large part restricted to Boethius’ translations of the Organon, the body of medieval thought itself could be called a Christian Platonism.

In this situation it can be understood how new was the situation when the expansion of Arabian culture into Spain and the contact with the East resulting from the first and second crusades led to the introduction, within the short span of one century, of practically the whole body of Aristotelian works. This was not the mere discovery of some new principles or concepts which, by the proper genius of the medieval mind, would be gradually developed according to the demands of the previously existing Platonic thought pattern. It was the sudden opening of a new world, scientifically articulated in relative separation according to its own genius and its own pattern. Though genetically related, it was not just a new arrival to be reared according to family patterns, but a full grown relative with whom one discussed as with an equal.

If recent studies have done much to point out the need of considering Aristotle against the background of the intellectualism of Plato, they have not eliminated the profound diversity in the basic pattern and orientation of the two bodies of thought.22 When they met in Thirteenth Century Paris there was an increasingly sharp dispute between those, led by Siger of Brabant, who professed a relatively pure Aristotelianism as interpreted in the work of Averroes, and those denominated above as Christian Platonists. Like most disputes in which important issues are at stake either side would lose too much if it were really to defeat the opposition. For what would it profit the Latin Averroists to gain philosophic leadership if they did so at the price of their Christian tradition; or how could the Christian Platonists carry out their hope of uniting all to God if they were to close the door on the new world of science which was being stretched out before them by the Aristotelians?

In these circumstances what was needed was a mediator. Working in the realm of ideas such a mediator could not simply divide the disputed area between the contestants, but would have to exercise the creative genius to relate both in a new and fruitful synthesis as an understanding of the whole. As this meant, first, that he would have to oppose each party on some points which made it unacceptable to the other, the task of conciliation required a campaign with fighting on both flanks. It has been suggested that this battle, fought by St. Thomas Aquinas in his last stay in Paris, was "one of the most decisive battles of the world".23 Upon it hinged the access of future Western thought to its combined heritage of both wisdom and science, the ability of the latter to draw its values from the former, and the fruition of both in an increasingly rich articulation of the meaning of existence. Secondly, the visions of Plato and Aristotle could be brought into mutually fructifying union only on the basis of a radically new insight drawn from the root meaning of human experience. This was available in the understanding of being as existence and was sufficiently profound and open to draw out further implications of both earlier orientations. The result was Thomas’ systematic philosophy of participation.


With the three major components in hand, namely, being understood in terms of esse, the Platonic notion of participation, and Aristotle’s structure for scientific knowledge, Thomas proceeded to develop a systematic metaphysics whose integrating structural principle was that of participation. In view of what has been said above, the test of such a system would be its ability to retrieve and elaborate some of the content of Parmenides’ awareness of the One in a manner which would contribute to understanding, rather than negating, the multiple or the differentiated. We shall consider, then: first, the systematic character of his metaphysics; secondly, the internal structure of participated beings; and thirdly, their causal relation of participation in plenitude.

1. As a systematizing tool for developing such a science Thomas had at his disposal Aristotle’s model of the syllogism (B is C; and A is B; therefore, A is C) as the basic logical form for scientific reasoning. A science is constructed as a study of its subject (A); in the case of metaphysics this is being, understood as that to which it pertains to be. The work of the science is to establish knowledge concerning the attributes, principles, and causes of this subject; it must state what is true of the subject necessarily and always, indeed, what cannot be otherwise.24 This is done by the mediation of the middle term (B) as the essential or quidditative understanding of the subject (A). Whatever can be seen to pertain as an attribute (C) to the middle term (B), which in turn is the nature of the subject (A), pertains to the subject necessarily and always. The resulting judgments constitute the body of conclusions of the science.

There is a classic danger in systematic metaphysics, and it lies at just this point of establishing its subject. The danger is that what is taken as the subject will be but some limited form of reality which the philosopher has comprehended. As a result his scientific metaphysics will systematically reduce reality to that limited vision. This is the characteristic difficulty both of materialism and idealism, indeed of rationalisms of every sort. Thomas protected his thought against this reductionism in two ways. First, he recognized that if the subject of the science must be susceptible of quidditative understanding then in principle it could include only limited beings; if an absolute is to enter the purview of this science it will be as the cause, rather than as a component, of the subject. This is a humble beginning for metaphysics, but it enables metaphysics to retain its scientific rigor. At the same time it protects the transcendent and unlimited character of the Absolute from being cut down to the limitations of the capacity of the human mind for quidditative knowledge, whereas alternate metaphysics often tend to skepticism or to idolatry. Secondly, even for the limited being which is the subject of the science there is no attempt to establish an initial and inclusive definition. The sequence of drafts of Thomas’ Commentary on Boethius’ De Trinitate,25 show him abandoning an attempt to constitute the subject of metaphysics in the same manner as the subjects of the other sciences, namely, by Aristotle’s abstractive apprehension of a determined and delimited form or nature. To obtain the subject of metaphysics he was gradually forced to employ, not abstraction, but judgment which is directly concerned, not with form, but with existence as affirmation. As a result the notion of being is not univocal and delimited as is a form, but analogous or open to affirming in positive terms the full range of existence: whatever is and in whatever way it is.

Further--and subsequently this will be of importance regarding the Absolute or Plenitude of perfection--the form of the judgment is negative, setting aside whatever might in principle restrict or limit that affirmation. It states that the existent or beings with which the science will be concerned are not limited to those things which are of a changing or material nature and which are perceived by the intellect working in conjunction with the senses. Because there are both material and non-material things, in order to be real a being need not be material. Being as being, or that according to which it is being, is then not material or changing. This judgment is negative; it negates the limitation of being to only one type of being, namely, material being. By this type of judgment being as the subject of the science of metaphysics is liberated in principle from restriction to a particular kind of differentiated existence. It is opened for any being and for every aspect of being, for whatever might prove either to characterize or to be required by being precisely as being. With this as its subject metaphysics will be a systematic process without shackles, able to respond with faithful accountability before Parmenides’ principle of contradiction and in positive terms to every evidence of being, whether conditioned or Absolute.

2. The systematic construction of participation begins with an analysis of the structure of multiple, differentiated, or finite beings. By conjoining Parmenides’ analysis of the impossibility of beings differing either by being or by nothing with the evidence of differentiation, Plato concluded that there must be some principle by which this being (X) is not that being (Y). The principle will be non-being in the sense, not of nothing, but of not-that-being. Its relation to being, however, was not explained by Plato. By the beginning of the thirteenth century the question had evolved into that of the relation between the act of existence of a being and its essence or nature by which existence is differentiated. Drawing upon both Parmenides and Aristotle, Thomas contributed a solution whose structural principle was that of participation.

Being, as Parmenides had noted, was not limited and not differentiated; affirmation was not negation. Thus, if an existence is found to be limited, that is, negated as regards any more than the certain existence it exercises, this must be due to some principle other than existence. Further, if this principle exists though it is other than existence it must be made to exist by existence, to which it is then related as a passive potency. Finally, if the result is a limited being this principle must be a delimiting capacity for act or existence.

Aristotle had discovered this relation of potency to act as the way in which matter and form, as two principles, constitute one physical or changing thing. Thomas extended its range to this relation between essence and existence. In this way he was able to discover the internal constitution of the subject of metaphysics, a step as crucial for metaphysics as was the discovery of the atomic structure of the molecule for chemistry and the infra-atomic structures for physics. Neither existence nor essence is itself a being or even intelligible by itself alone. Rather, beings are composed of these as intrinsic principles or constituents: existence is the act by which the essence is made to be, and essence is the limiting and defining capacity or potency by which the existence is distinct from every other existent and is of a particular kind. Attempts to think in terms of existence without essence have produced personal affirmation without order, just as thought in terms of essence without existence has produced order that is totalitarian and oppressive. Neither existence nor essence can be or be thought without the other

This insight enabled Thomas to state the basic internal or structural principle for participation. Plato had been able to describe differentiated beings as images of the undifferentiated One. Thomas was able to identify the interior structure of these differentiated beings. They are compost beings, composed of existence which is related as act to essence which is potency or capacity for existence. Conversely, whatever is not composit is unlimited affirmation of being.

3. Finally, on this basis Thomas was able to establish the dynamic or causal relation between composit and incomposit beings precisely as that between participated and unparticipated being. A being whose nature or essence is only potency or capacity for act, and hence really distinct from existence, could not be the explanation of its possession and exercise of existence. The Parmenidean principle of non-contradiction will not countenance act coming from non-act, for then being would come from, and be reducible to, non-being. Hence, compost beings are dependent precisely for their existence; that is, precisely as beings or existent. This dependence cannot be upon another compost being, for that would be equally dependent; the multiplication of such dependencies would multiply, rather than answer, the question. Hence, compost beings as such must depend upon being which is simple or not composit. That is to say, beings composed of existence as act and essence as potency must depend for their existence upon incomposit being whose essence or nature, rather than being distinct from and limiting its existence, is identically existence or being itself. That incomposit is simple, the One par excellence; it is participated in by all multiple and differentiated beings for their existence. The One, however, does not itself participate; it is unlimited, self-sufficient, eternal and unchanging, which Parmenides had shown to be requisite for being. In sum, compost beings are by nature relative, participated, and caused by incomposit being which is Absolute and unique, unparticipated and uncaused.26

On this insight Thomas constructed his five ways,27 which have remained the classic expression of a posteriori reasoning to the Absolute. The beings manifest to our intellect as it works through the senses undergo change, stand in a differentiated relation of contrariety to other beings, and realize their perfection of being or goodness only to a certain greater or lesser degree. This manifests that their being is a composit of their essence related as potency to their existence as act. This internal composition manifests that they depend for their existence upon that One which is uncomposit and hence unchanging, unique, and unlimited; their beings are predicated upon the simple Being Itself (Ipsum Esse). This alone is absolute; all else is related to it and participates in it. Plato had been able to analyze this only externally in terms of the relation of the many to the one and on the basis of formal causality. Thomas, using Aristotle’s insight regarding internal structures and the Christian understanding of being as existence, was able to carry out an internal analysis. In its light the composit internal structure of multiple beings manifests them to be participations, that is, effects of the active or efficient causality of the unparticipated One.



By means of the above structural and dynamic understanding of participation Thomas Aquinas was able to philosophize in a systematic manner upon the theme of plenitude and participation. Indeed, in the view of Cornelio Fabro, L-B Geiger, Arthur Little and others, this theme constituted the central discovery, the coordinating and fructifying principle, of his entire work. Here, we can identify but a few factors in order to illustrate the manner in which a systematic philosophy of participation can contribute to awareness of Plenitude and to the sense of one’s life in this world and with others.

It will be noted that from this point onward our considerations will proceed in an a priori, rather than as above in an a posterior manner. Unfortunately, ‘a priori’ has come to suggest arbitrariness. Etymologically, it means proceeding on the basis of that which comes first and is most basic, namely, proceeding from the cause to the effect. The importance of this a priori phase for metaphysics cannot be over-emphasized, for only by understanding being on the basis of that which is self-sufficient or Absolute can we gain basic understanding of being as such and of participating beings. This was seen by Descartes, Spinoza, and Leibniz, all of whom developed works in metaphysics which proceeded from the absolute to the relative and considered this synthetic procedure to be the proper method for metaphysics. The realist character of Thomas’ thought and his insistence upon the use of a scientific method for metaphysics led him to insist upon building the science around finite being as its subject. Once, however, the cause of that subject--the incomposit or unparticipated being--was discovered all could be seen more deeply and more richly through an awareness of that Absolute on which all depends. In particular we shall consider, first, the radical totality of the creative act; secondly, the extension of the language of being to the Absolute; and thirdly, what can be learned of the participated through a reflection upon the nature of the unparticipated as Unity, Truth, and Goodness.


First, note must be taken of the extent of the dependence of participated on unparticipated being. A preliminary, but not provisional, instance of great importance for our theme is the dependence of matter which the Greeks had presupposed to be a given--unquestioned and hence unexplained. As a result, for the Greeks, action consisted in the transformation of matter, that is, in its successive formation according to different forms: this process ultimately came full cycle, simply to begin once again. In this perspective the individual had no further purpose or meaning than to continue the cycle; nothing was radically new, unique, or personal. Above we saw that early Christian thought directed attention to matter and to its origin from God. A priori reflection in terms of participation can provide further understanding. As incomposit, the Absolute Being Itself is unlimited. For this reason, no reality can be equally original, for that would mean that being would be had only partially by the Absolute. In that case the absolute would in fact be limited and therefore composit; there simply would be no absolute. The question concerning the existence of compost beings would then have no answer either in themselves or in a cause; there would remain only Parmenides’ all impossible way, namely, that Non Being is.

Since, then, nothing can be equally original with the Absolute, all else for their total reality must participate in it. Each thing, to the full extent of its being, images in a partial manner the One. Further, as each limited being is in contrast to every other limited being, together they constitute an ever increasing manifestation of being. Though there are more beings, however, there is never more or less of being than the unlimited plenitude of the Absolute. The checks one writes do not add to the money one possesses; still more marvelously, one does not lose the knowledge one shares, but multiplies its instances. No matter how many participate in the One it remains ever the Plenitude and is in no sense augmented or diminished. The incomposit being does not depend upon the incomposit composit beings, but conversely upon it compost beings depend entirely.

This participated and caused character applies to all realities and components thereof; hence, it applies also to matter. As a potential principle its proper reality is that of a relation of potency to form as its act, without which it could have neither meaning nor reality. As a constituent principle of the essences of physical beings matter shares in their reality. Just as there can be no matter existing independently of form, neither can there be matter which with that form does not constitute an essence and participate to the full extent of its reality in the Absolute.

Thus, the causal activity in participation is a creation from nothing. By this is not meant, of course, that there is no cause; actively considered participation is causing. What is meant is that there is involved here only (a) the act which is the Absolute and (b) the effect which depends upon it and by which the Absolute is designated as cause or creator. What is excluded is any independent or equally original existence of the effect in its totality or in any of its principles, e.g., matter.28 The full classical phrase is creation from nothing as regards the effect and any subject thereof (creation ex nihilo sui et subiecti).

Thomas would add that this does not say anything about time. As the measure of motion, this can exist only with physical reality which it cannot precede. However, he sees nothing about the creative power of the Absolute or the nature of physical creatures which would in principle limit the number of years or aeons which might be counted backwards during which there could have been physical participations. Hence, he sees no reason for excluding the possibility of physical reality having existed through time without beginning.29 It is to be noted, however, that even here the relation between the participations and the Absolute remains one of essential dependence in being. Even if they were to have existed from all eternity, multiple beings would not be equally original, but would depend upon the One; this would be creation from all eternity.


In view of this totality of the dependence of participating beings upon the Absolute, it is apparent that any insight concerning the nature of the unparticipated would contribute a radical elucidation regarding realities which participate therein. In order to make its contribution to this understanding a systematic philosophy must first prepare the language it will employ. Any implication of limitation in human thought or expression must be removed from language concerning the Absolute.

We saw that being as the subject of the science of metaphysics expressed only differentiated or limited beings. We saw also that differentiated and compost beings were participations in Unlimited and incomposit Being. This has crucial implication for extending the analogous character of the notion of being. As the subject of the science of metaphysics, being had analogously but properly been said of the entire range of finite beings. It stated the existence of each being according to its essence in the form of a four term analogy of proper proportionality, a proportion of proportions: the existence of A : the essence of A :: the existence of B : the essence of B. On the basis of the participation of this compost subject in its incomposit cause the analogous range of the term being can now be extended from finite to infinite being

To this extension the causal relation of participated effect to incomposit cause makes three essential contributions. (a) It justifies the affirmation of the third term in the analogy, namely, the existence of the Absolute inasmuch as the being and intelligibility even of limited reality (the first and second terms) cannot be grounded in simple nothingness: nothing does nothing, as Parmenides notes. (b) It constitutes the central proportion between the proportions, for the effect as dependent on the cause, must be similar thereto. (c) It founds the proportion in which Absolute Being is expressed (terms three and four) for it requires that the essence of the Absolute be identical with its existence, rather than opposed or even distinct and limiting. Thus, where being said of a finite being states existence according to its essence as a unique instance of human nature, being said of the Absolute in which it participates states Existence lived in its plenitude.30

The above concerns the construction of analogy in a metaphysics whose subject is limited being, from which it moves to the infinite cause of this subject. An analogy is no less necessary in a metaphysics which begins from the Absolute; otherwise, existence would be taken to mean only the Absolute and the Parmenidean rejection of differentiation would be its last, rather than its opening, word.

In both these metaphysics it must be remembered that thought is a human activity and its terminology a human creation. This does not mean that it is only about humans; in fact, it is characteristic of beings which know, as distinct from those which do not, that they can react on the basis of what things are in themselves, rather than simply on the basis of their own subjective conditions. Nevertheless, the classic dictum that "whatever is received is received according to the mode of the receiver" applies also to knowledge. This is particularly significant when humans as participated and related beings speak of the plenitude that is unparticipated and Absolute. For this reason along with the positive and analogous language mentioned above--the classical via positiva--there is a second or negative way of speaking which denies of the Absolute that mode of expression which reflects the potential and composit human nature and its capacities. In order to say that the Absolute or Plenitude of being is good, or even simply that it is, one must use more than one Term and unite these in a judgment. As compost, however, this is not the nature of that One which the participational structures showed to be Incomposit. Therefore, it is absolutely necessary that the compost character of our speech be denied of the One.

This is not an alternate, but a concomitant, to the positive ways; both must be used in every statement of incomposit Being. About this we must be clear. One cannot deny existence or goodness of the unparticipated without rejecting the Absolute; on the contrary, one must follow the positive way and affirm that the Absolute exists, that existence in its original state is realized absolutely. What is denied in the negative way is simply that the absolute exists according to the compost mode which inevitably characterizes all human expressions of the Absolute. Hence, the negative way does not mean that the Absolute does not exist or that it is not non-existent, which would reduce God to the minimal realization of existence. The negative way is not about the Absolute at all, but about man’s mode of expressing it.

Consequently, in the way of eminence one combines the positive with the negative way to say that the Absolute realizes existence eminently, that is, in a mode which surpasses our ability to express. The function of the negative way is simply to keep open the vision of being which was initially opened by the negative judgment of separation through which the subject of the science of metaphysics was obtained. This must be kept open for the positive eminent affirmation of Being Itself so that incomposit Being can manifest itself to human minds despite their human constrictions. In turn, it enables humans to respond in positive terms which similarly are open and unfettered.31

Attributes of Plenitude

These reflections upon language provide direction for reflection upon the nature of the Plenitude of being and life. When Aristotle in his Metaphysics spoke of the categories as basically different ways of being he distinguished approximately ten categories; one was substance, the others were accidents or attributes of substance. Each substance differed from every other substance in relation to which it was an addition of being; the same was true of the attributes or accidents between themselves and in relation to substance. Aristotle’s concern there was to codify the world of names and forms. He intended thereby to lead the mind to the supreme instance of being, through relation to which, by a pros hen analogy, all could be profoundly unified and comprehended. In this categorical or predicamental sense attributes are by nature limited and differentiated; by their realization in the substance the individual develops or becomes more perfect, that is, participates more of being. There is, of course, no question of such categories being applied to the undifferentiated or Absolute.

There is, however, another sense of attribute, one that is transcendental rather than predicamental or categorical. Such attributes apply to all beings; they are the attributes of being as such. These are not really distinct one from another or from being; they do not add reality to being. Neither are they distinct by what is technically termed a major distinction of the mind as are genera and species, because that would imply a real composition in being. Rather, each states the very reality of being, making explicit what was actually but only implicitly stated by the term being as that which is. They explicate or unfold what is stated really and actually, but only implicitly, by the term ‘being’. It must be emphasized that they are not additions to being. They are not attributes, which are beings, but characteristics of being as such; they state simply what it means to be. Such are the unity stressed by Parmenides and later Plotinus, the truth which is found in Aristotle and Augustine, and the good which was central to the main body of Plato’s work. They are reflected in the classic Eastern trilogy: sat, cit, ananda.

In order to develop a systematic list of such attributes, Thomas studied the different types of judgments of existence. If absolute or concerned with being itself, this can be affirmative: ‘being is being’; or negative: ‘being is not divided with non-being,’ which, as Parmenides had noted, simply is not. This indivision of being is its unity or oneness: ‘being is one’.

Judgments of existence can also be relative, provided the relation be in terms of reality which is not in principle limited or limiting; just as to define radio waves in terms of the reception of an only AM radio would be to understate their extent. For this reason the relation must be stated in terms, not of physical life, but of the spirit; not of the potter, but of the poet. The relative judgments state the relation of being to spirit as open to all and any being, or to being as such. Speaking first in relation to intellect, being can be said not to be concealed, but to be positively open to the intellect, that is, to be intelligible or true. Secondly, as will is sensitive to the value of all being, in relation to will being is judged to be desirable or good.32

Because unity, truth, and goodness are characteristics of being as such, they also state or explicate incomposit or unparticipated Being where they are found absolutely. To make progress in awareness of the absolutely One, True, and Good we should look further into self-identity, knowing, and willing. In doing this, however, we must be sure to remove those elements of composition or potency which characterize these spiritual acts in their limited human realizations.

With the mind thus opened for Absolute Being and a method for allowing its life to be explicated in our reflection, it is now possible to sample the nature of the insight with which systematic serial reflection of this type can enrich the awareness of Plenitude and participation described above.

Unity. The first of these explicitations of the Plenitude of perfection is that which Parmenides had stated so forcefully, namely, unity or oneness. As Existence (sat) being is undivided, that is, it is in no way non-being: it stands against or out of nothingness (the ex-sto of existence). This much must be said of being as such, and hence of any being or any aspect of being. Through an analysis of the participated character of differentiated and compost beings, however, it was possible to open the mind to that Unparticipated Being in which all else participates, and to know that it is not composit but absolutely simple in its internal constitution.33 As such it is unlimited in perfection and realizes the totality of the perfection of the act of to be; it is the All-perfect, the All-powerful. Further, this is without division or differentiation, as metaphysicians always have insisted. Boethius expressed this classically as perfect self-possession; in contrast to temporal differentiation, he defined eternity as: "the perfect and simultaneous possession of limitless life."34

We have seen in totem and myth the unitive implications of this for the human relation to fellow humans and to nature. A systematic philosophy of participation develops this understanding by clarifying that the many participated beings are not simply divisions of place in what previously was undifferentiated, for that could mean a simple juxtaposition or contiguity of things. Neither is it merely the type of dependence that obtains between brothers in a family who remain ever related by consanguinity and origin. The formal effect of the participative, creative causality of Being Itself is the constitution of differentiated and participating beings not merely as individuals in a species, but as beings or existents. This creative causality continues to be exercised as long as they continue to exist and is called conservation. Thus, the unity of all participated beings is predicated, not upon a fact of the past, but upon their presently and actually participating in the existence, the actuality, the life of the All-perfect which is causally and creatively active in them to the full extent of their being.

What was said above about matter being caused means that all reality whatsoever in or of being is the dynamic expression of that which in itself is simple. This is the "discretio divina" of which Thomas speaks. It constitutes a plurality of participated beings related as contraries among themselves such that the being of one is not that of another and two beings together express more of being than either one alone. However, the same cannot be said of their relation to the One in whom all participate. There is no dualism here; the participants do not constitute more of being than the Absolute itself, but only more beings, more instances of being. Parmenides’ vision of the One has been retained; that which is is the One, in which we live and breathe and have our being.

Truth. The second characteristic of being is truth, which in Eastern thought is expressed by the term: cit. As a characteristic of being as such and hence of any being, it explicates being as open to consciousness or able to be known by intellect. In positive terms being is intelligible, in negative terms it is unconcealed. This much can be known by reflection upon the ability of the intellect to make Parmenides’ all englobing judgment: ‘being is, non-being is not’. Inasmuch as the intellect can make this judgment about being, being as such must be open to intellect or intelligible. This is not an adjunct to, but formally includes, the unity of being. What is open to intellect, or intelligible, can not be other than or alongside, as it were, being, its identity or its unity, for then what would be known would not be being, but nothing. Truth is not a different actuality than being or unity, but their perfection.

Further, when this is reflected upon in terms of the participational structures identified above, it becomes evident that the Absolute, incomposit, simple act of existence in which all participate must in undifferentiated identity be: (a) agent or subject of intellection or consciousness, (b) power of consciousness, (c) act of consciousness, and (d) object of consciousness. This is but a further explicitation of what is meant by the unity which is the One; it constitutes the simple and subsistent act of knowledge or consciousness—it is Truth Itself.35 As in Eastern thought with cit, it is consciousness without object36 in the sense of anything distinct from it, on which it would depend and by which it would be determined. This means, not that it is without content or meaning, but that it is meaning itself.

Still further, because it is totally self-conscious it perfectly comprehends the full range of the limited states of perfection or combinations of perfections according to which its essence can be imitated in participating beings. This pattern of ideas, which Socrates had intuited in his search for virtue and which Plato recognized must have prior ontological reality, Augustine located in subsistent Truth. There, Thomas identified its character as exemplar cause after the pattern of which all things are created.37 Interestingly, the most profound systematic comprehension of its constitution is had through the notion of measurement and the functions of being and non-being therein.38 It would seem that this notion in some form entered the mind of the author of Rg Veda, X, 25, mantra 18, "who with a cord has measured out the ends of the earth"; some relate this to Rg Veda X 129, mantra 5, "a cord was extended across."39

In any case, the Unparticipated as Truth or total lucidity in which all participate for their being is the foundation of the intelligibility of the universe. It is the basis of the conviction that the road of intelligibility is the road of reality; that finding sense is not merely an intellectual pastime of solitary minds but the way of sharing with others more deeply in the real; and that the rule of reason, especially when enriched but not abrogated by insight, is the sole rule that is truly humane both in personal and in public life.

Goodness. The third characteristic of being is goodness, which in Eastern thought is reflected in the term ananda. This is a still more explicit affirmation of unity and truth, for what is able to be known as being or perfection can also be appreciated as perfective. In this sense being relates to will; it is desirable or good. More directly, each being in its unity as being undivided with non-being and in holding to its own being or perfection is love of its own perfection.

When the unparticipated Plenitude of Being, Unity, and Truth is considered in these terms it can be seen that the Absolute is Goodness Itself. As with Truth, it is the subsistent identity of: (a) agent or subject, (b) power or will, (c) act, and (d) object of act. Thus, the plenitude of perfection is subsistent Goodness, or Love itself. This is not desire, which is love of a perfection which is absent. It is perfect, conscious identity with unlimited goodness,40 that is, it is holiness. As the perfect possession of this goodness it is also its enjoyment, which is to say, bliss or ananda.

In this explicitation of the unparticipated incomposit being there is also to be found the intelligibility of the creative or participative character of the Absolute. Note that what is sought there is intelligibility, not necessity. From Plotinus, through Spinoza to Hegel, philosophers have often sought for necessary and necessitating intellection of the creative act itself. This has succeeded only in generating a vision neither of human freedom nor of Absolute and Unconditioned being, for it has made the source depend upon other beings for its perfection. What should be sought is not a necessitating reason for the Absolute being’s creativity, but only intelligibility for it actively participating or sharing its perfection.

It was seen that Truth Itself comprehends the order of possible being, that is, all the ways in which the simple Plenitude of perfection can be imitated or shared by differentiated being. Subsistent Love, blissfully rejoicing in its goodness, perceives in it "the idea of a possible universe, with all the ways it has of sharing in . . . being and life and goodness. This provides the sufficient but non-compelling reason. . . . It is a gift that deserves to be given." Its causality is predicated, not upon a need, a lack, or a desire on the part of the All-perfect, but upon "the gracious will to share, chosen in perfect freedom."41

Participating beings are known and loved by this same act of Knowledge and Love by which the One knows and loves itself.42 They do not measure Absolute Truth, but are known as sharing therein; neither are they loved as ends in themselves, but as ordered to Goodness or Love Itself. In the orders of both final and efficient causality creatures come to be on account of the Absolute Goodness; they are "ordered or directed to this goodness to be received or participated in."43 The life of each person is thus an echo of, and a participation in, Subsistent Love; if lived well it should be in harmony with others and with nature, all of which are participations in that same Love. Even more, as an imitation of that Love by which one is loved, one can know that one’s life is to be lived in terms of sharing with others rather than of grassing as the Buddha taught or of holding to oneself. This, rather than merely the avoidance of the suffering which inevitably follows any opposite course, is both the reason and the means for avoiding karma. Finally, a philosophy of participation can aid one to understand that life lived in imitation of creative Love will bring oneself and others into that same Love which, having been the Alpha, must also be the Omega of all.

In summarizing his exposition of the cosmology of the Rg Veda, Radhakrishnan concludes: "We see clearly that there is no basis for any conception of the unreality of the world in the hymns of the Rg Veda. The world is not a purposeless phantasm, but is just the evolution of God."44 Above we have seen the way in which a systematic philosophy can analyze and develop this theme. It elaborates the distinction of the compost and differentiated from the incomposit and undifferentiated Being, but avoids duality inasmuch as the very being or existing of the compost beings of the differentiated universe is nothing other than the participating--the sharing and manifesting—of that One. Further, it enters into the Absolute in order to learn more of that Wisdom and Love which is the Plenitude of perfection, which is unsublatable and creative.


By way of conclusion to this study of a systematic philosophy of plenitude and participation it seems appropriate to remark briefly upon the reality of the participants, the nature of the cause, and the task for a systematic philosophy.

The Participants. Thomas studied the reality of the differentiated universe in a work he wrote for Islamic thinkers. The Mutakallim had attempted to affirm the power of the Absolute by holding the insubstantiality of creatures. They claimed that creatures could not themselves cause, but were mere occasions for the creative action of the Absolute, indeed, that creatures ceased to exist at each moment and had continually to be recreated. Etienne Gilson claims that no point is argued by Thomas with more passion than the substantial character of created beings.45 In the light of his insight regarding participation the absolute was not being affirmed, but denied by the reduction or elimination of the reality or active power of its effects. Thomas repeatedly returned to this theme in his chapters on "The True first Cause of the Distinction of Things" and "On the Opinion of Those Who Take Away Any Proper Actions from Natural Things."46 It should be noted that in these chapters he is not arguing for the reality of multiplicity as a simple chaos of different and clashing beings. What he is asserting is the reality of an ordered unity, the sharing of the one in a graded and interactive order of individuals, species, and genera. In other words, he is carrying forward Aristotle’s view of a universe of beings which, acting according to their proper natures, imitate, each in its own manner, the unity and perfection of That One which is the plenitude of perfection or perfection itself.

Because causing is a sharing, not a loss, of perfection--as can be seen best in the work of the poet--the effect has some degree of likeness to the cause. Due to the essentially limited character of any one composit being the intention to share limitless perfection constitutes sufficient intelligibility for the creation, not of one only, but of a great multitude of beings, each of a different form from the other. Further, it explains why these beings should be, not inert, but active and should by their interaction form an intensive unity which would the more munificently share in, and proclaim, the perfection and power of its source. By not only being, but sharing its being, creation manifests the power of its source; by its complex order, it manifests the wisdom of its origin; by the good of its order which contributes to the well being of all, it manifests the Love that is its source.47

God as Absolute. Throughout this development of the systematic structure of the metaphysics of Thomas Aquinas I have deliberately used, not the term "God," but the terms ‘Absolute," "The One," and the like to state the Plenitude in which all participate. This was done in order both to illustrate and to test the conviction that the real content of a so-called "theistic metaphysics" is not incompatible with, but dependent upon and indeed coterminous with, one that is articulated in terms of the Absolute. I have never subscribed to the oft supposed opposition between the so-called God of the philosophers and the God of revelation and scripture. That opposition would appear to be predicated upon an inadequate understanding of either one or both terms

Unfortunately, the term ‘God’ and the theism predicated thereupon are subject to the continual recurrence of the destructive anthropomorphic tendencies which had overtaken the Greek myth in the days of Xenophanes. A.C. Bose gives a more recent list of such tendencies in the Introduction to his Call of the Vedas. A monotheistic God must, he thinks, be masculine, father, patriarch and king, who lives in a particular place and is locked in combat with an anti God.49 This is reflected in the notion of divine action after the pattern of a despot, against which Spinoza wrote in his Ethics. All such notions imply limitation, for they situate the divine within a set of contrary notions each of which, as distinct from its contrary, implies limitation. Such limitations require the correction which is expressed by the notion of the Absolute articulated in a philosophy of participation as the incomposit and subsistent Plenitude of Being.

Conversely, the term ‘absolute’ also has its vicissitudes. In order to protect this from limitation, affirmations of its positive perfection are at times denied, leaving in the final analysis an impersonal essence expressed in double negatives ungrounded in positive affirmation. A systematic metaphysics of participation concludes instead to the Absolute as subsisted, indeed, supreme being, the plenitude of perfection and expressed in terms of knowledge and love.

We saw that the controlled purification of the transcendental characteristics of being, in conjunction with reasoning from participating beings to the Plenitude in which they share, manifested the Absolute as Unity, Truth, and Goodness. If being that is unique, intellective, and loving in whatever degree is thereby personal, then being which is subsistent Unity, Knowledge, and Love must be so above all. It was seen also that, as such, unity, truth and goodness are explicitations of what is actually but only implicitly stated by being. Hence, they carry no implication of limitation or contrariety. The same must be said of these three as identity, knowledge, or love which are the characteristics of the person. They are as open as is the meaning of existence itself which each of these affirms in a progressively more explicit manner. Consequently, as such, person is not a closed or contrary notion, but is as open as is truth and love. The more perfect the person, the more open and sharing. The more personal the communication the more it is able to be shared without diminution of its source--again our paradigm is the poet. The plenitude of perfection is the subsistent Person who without loss share love, truth, and being itself.

Of such being, Absolute and personal, the term God is appropriately predicated. Jaeger says of the pre-Socratics, "the predicate God, or rather Divine, is transferred from the traditional deities to the first principle of Being (at which the philosophers arrived by rational investigation), on the ground that the predicates usually attributed to the gods of Homer and Hesiod are inherent in that principle to a higher degree or can be assigned to it with greater certainty."49 The same is true of the Absolute in the thought of Thomas at the juncture of the Platonic, Aristotelian, and Christian traditions.

This is not to say that human being gave a comprehensive knowledge of God, or indeed of any existent; nor is it meant to imply that man can grasp the unique way in which God exists, the eminent and proper mode of deity. Neither is within the capabilities of man. But it does question the common assumption that there is an opposition, rather than a necessary identity, between the notion of the Absolute and that of the Personal God. In the systematic philosophy of Thomas they are identical and indispensable one to the other. Today, when our awareness of the meaning of person is subject to equally to great threat and great development, this is perhaps the most creative element in religious metaphysics.

The Task of Systematic Philosophy. Taken together the two prior considerations generate a paradox for the human mind and suggest the importance of the work of philosophy. The first conclusion concerned the reality of the participated and differentiated universe, including men. These, we said, were both from God as their origin and toward God as their goal. The second conclusion concerned the absolute character of God as the unparticipated, undifferentiated and incomposit. From the conjunction of the two we concluded to the paradoxical consideration that both man and his universe are directed toward that which definitively transcends them both.

It is the task of a metaphysics of participation to resolve this paradox, not by eliminating the reality of either the compost or the incomposit, but by uniting them in their affirmation of being. Reality acts according to its nature and can share only what it is, for, as Parmenides notes, to derive being from non-being is an all impossible way.50 Thus, the effect of the causality of the incomposit being, whose essence or nature is precisely existence or to be, is the existence or act of being of its creatures. In other words, it is precisely because of the definitive transcendence of the divine as the unique, subsistent Being that God is present to us in his very essence, by his power causing our being. In this light, two conclusions follow. Because our essence is distinct from our existence, as is the case for all compost beings, it can truly be said that God is more present to us than we are to ourselves. Further, because his immanence is in proportion, rather than in tension, with his transcendence, it is more proper to say, not that God is in us who participate in Him, but that we exist in God.

This vision has been the well spring of the world’s scriptures. The old and new Testaments expressed the transcendence in terms of heaven. The Vedas point especially to that which is within. Both say that God is beyond all and that man must lose himself in order to find Him. As lived, it has been the basis of the great schools of asceticism and of yoga developed in India and greatly admired by those engaged in the spiritual quest the world over.51

It must stand also as a test for every philosopher, drawing one beyond the successes of one’s system and urging one ever forward to more adequate awareness of the infinite correlation of Transcendence and Immanence. This is the eminently worthwhile task and one which will ever challenge and elicit the combined efforts of humankind.

Dasgupta summarized the vision of the Upanishads as follows.

In spite of regarding Brahman as the highest reality they could not ignore the claims of the exterior world, and had to accord a reality to it. The inconsistency of this reality of the phenomenal world with the ultimate and only reality of Brahman was attempted to be reconciled by holding that this world is not beside him but it has come out of him, it is maintained in him and it will return back to him.52

Every philosophical System must ask whether it or any other has succeeded in taking full account of, and giving definitive expression to, all the elements in that rich statement of the common patrimony of mankind. If the answer is yes then our philosophic work is completed. If not then in this age of science and technology, of rapid development for society and person, the philosophy department must be the most exciting place in the university. It is there that one can reach most deeply into one’s heritage to retrieve meaning long since forgotten. There also, and in concert with other metaphysical systems in the heritage of mankind, one is invited to evolve the more ample systematic vision of participation in Plenitude which in those increasingly complex times is required for the communion of men in God.


1. Jaeger, p. 10.

2. Metaphysics, I, 1, 981-982.

3. Mahadevan, pp, 4-5.

4. Bernard Lonergan, Method in Theology (London: Darton, Longman and Todd, 1971), pp. 6-13; "St. Thomas’ Thought on Gratia Operans," Theological Studies, III (1942), 573-74.

5. McLean and Aspell, p. 31.

6. Dasgupta, I, 53, See Pall Deussen, The Philosophy of the Upanishads (New York: Dover, 1966), pp. 182-95, 237-39.

7. Jaeger, pp. 24-36.

8. McLean and Aspell, p. 40, fr. 3.

9. W.K.C. Guthrie, The Earlier PreSocratics and the Pythagoreans, Vol. I of A History of Greek Philosophy (Cambridge: At the University Press, 1962), p. 41.

10. McLean and Aspell, p. 40, fr. 3 and 6.

11. Ibid., pp. 42-43, fr. 8. See Guthrie, pp. 28-29.

12. Guthrie, pp. 29-30.

13. McLean and Aspell, pp. 42-43. fr. 8.

14. Plato, Sophist, 259 A.

15. Ibid., 248 E.

16. Plato, Republic, 509.

17. Ibid., 509-511.

18. Noesis noeseos: "Thought thinks itself as object in virtue of its participation in what is thought," Metaphysics, 1072 b 19.

19. Plotinus, Enneads, II 5(25), ch. v.

20. Maurizio Flick and Zoltan Alszeghy, Il Creatore, l’inizio della salvezza (Firenze: Lib. Ed. Fiorentina, 1961), pp. 32-49.

21. Cornelio Fabro, La nozione metaphisica di partecipazione secondo S. Tommaso d’Aquino (Torino: Societá Ed. Internazionale, 1950), pp. 75-122.

22. A Survey of a number of authors on this point is found in Robert Henle, St. Thomas and Platonism (Hague: Nijhoff, 1956), p. xviii. See also William D. Ross, The Ideas of Plato (Oxford: Univ. of Oxford Press, 1942) p. 226; Joseph Owens, A History of Ancient Western Philosophy (New York Appleton-Century-Crofts, 1959), pp. 358-59.

23. Arthur Little, The Platonic Heritage of Thomism (Dublin: Golden Eagle Books, 1950), p. 14.

24. Aristotle, Posterior Analytics, I, 2, 71 b-72 a. 27.

25. The Method and Division of The Sciences, trans. by Armand Maurer (Toronto: The Pontifical Institute of Mediaeval Studies, 1953).

26. Fabro, La nozione metafisica di partecipazione.

27. Thomas Aquinas, Summa theologica (New York: Benziger, 1947), I, q. 2, aa. 2 and 3; Summa Contra Gentiles, trans. by A. Regis (New York: Hanover House, 1955), II, 10-21.

28. Summa contra Gentiles II, 16; Summa theologica I, q. 14, a. 11; On the Power of God (Westminster, Md: Newman Press, 1952), q. 3, a. I ad 12; and Truth, trans. by R.W. Mulligan et. al. (Chicago: Regnery, 1952-1954), q. 2, a. 5.

29. Summa contra Gentiles II, 31-38.

30. George F. McLean, "Symbol and Analogy Tillich and Thomas," Revue de l’Université d’Ottawa, XXVIII (1958), 193*-233*, reprinted in Paul Tillich in Catholic Thought, T. O’Meara and D. Weisser, eds. (New York: Doubleday, 1969), pp. 195-240.

31. Summa theologica I, q. 13.

32. Truth, qq. I and 21.

33. Ibid.., Summa theologica I, qq. 3 and 11.

34. De consolatione philosophiae, trans. by H. R. James (New York: New Universal Library, 1906), 5. 6.

35. Truth, qq. 1-8; Summa theologica I, qq. 14 and 16 .

36. Keith, p. 437.

37. Summa theologica I, q. 15.

38. T. Kondoleon, "Exemplarism", New Catholic Encyclopedia V, 712-15. See also On the Power of God, q. 3, a. 16 ad 5 and Summa theologica I, q. 15, a 2.

39. MacDonell, p. 210.

40. Truth, q. 21; Summa theologica I, qq. 19 and 20, a. 1.

41. John Wright, "Divine Knowledge and Human Freedom: The God Who Dialogues," Theological Studies, XXXVIII ( 1977), 455.

42. Summa contra Gentiles I, 76.

43. Wright, p. 464.

44. Radhakrishnan, I, 103.

45. E. Gilson, Elements of Christian Philosophy (Garden City, N.J.: Doubleday, 1960), pp. 189-93.

46. Summa contra Gentiles II, 45 and III-I, 69.

47. Ibid., III-I, 69,16 and II, 45, 7-8.

48. Abinash Bose, The Call of the Vedas (Bombay: Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan, 1970), pp. 19-21, 50.

49. Jaeger, pp. 31, 203-206.

50. McLean and Aspell, p. 40, fr. 2, 6. 7.

51. Abhishiktananda, Saccidananda: A Christian Approach to Advaitic Experience (Delhi: ISPCK, 1974), pp. 30-34, 64-65.

52. Dasgupta, I, 51.

Last Revised 06-Feb-09 02:25 PM.