Author: Stephen Theron

The   Identity of   All   Being(s)



Theodor Adorno might seem a critic of the modern theological emphasis upon the extremest immanence implicit in infinite transcendence. He sees it as an illegitimate and at bottom vulgar transference of sacrality upon the ordinary. He speaks of


A determining doctrine of the I-thou relationship as the locale of truth – a doctrine that defames the objectivity of truth as thingly, and secretly warms up irrationalism. As such a relationship, communication turns into that transpsychological element which it can only be by virtue of what is communicated; in the end stupidity becomes the founder of metaphysics. Ever since Martin Buber split off Kierkegaard’s view of the existential from Kierkegaard’s Christology, and dressed it up as a universal posture, there has been a dominant inclination to conceive of metaphysical content as bound to the so-called relation of I and thou. This content is referred to the immediacy of life. Theology is tied to the determinations of immanence, which in turn want to claim a larger meaning, by means of their suggestion of theology:…… In this process, nothing less is whisked away than the threshold between the natural and the supernatural… The thorn in theology, without which salvation is unthinkable, is removed. According to the concept of theology, nothing natural has gone through death without metamorphosis. In the man-to-man relationship there can be no eternity now and here, and certainly not in the relationship of man to God, a relationship that seems to put Him on the shoulder… Thus in the jargon transcendence is finally brought closer to men: it is the Wurlitzer organ of the spirit.[1]


Adorno of course knows that the original posture of Hegel (not mention in the above), that of a universal identity in difference, arose out of Christology. The substance of his revulsion here is a preference for transcendental sacrality of the old type, which Hegel declared in contradiction with itself, a way, indeed, of keeping God comfortably far away for everyday purposes. Precisely the dialectic shows that the objective world, the world of fact, is not what it seems, an insight for which it (or Hegel) praises Descartes as being the first to bring to the centre of thinking, thus inaugurating or at least thematizing critical philosophy. For what, after all, are facts (facta, Sachverhälten, Tatsachen)?




From the standpoint of Aristotelian realism the notion of a fact is inherently ambivalent and thus an easy target of criticism. Is a fact objective or subjective? Does it lie around like a substance? It does not. It can seem to duplicate the structure of language which we should seek rather to get behind. Every fact, thus viewed, involves a relation, parallel at bottom to that between subject and predicate. But since this is a logical relation of identity how can a real fact possess it, since it will have either two or more non-identical constituents or just one, upon which identity will get no handle? Thus facts, once accepted, can only be represented by a different logic from that of subject and predicate, which must predicate wholes of wholes, in Aquinas’s words[2], only because predicate and subject “stand for” (supponunt) the same thing, albeit differently. The Fregean function with subject as “argument” makes its appearance. The whole philosophy of Hegel, on the other hand, with its roots in Eckhart, Cusanus and Leibniz (and of course Kant), is built around a notion of identity in difference which possibly more than merely mirrors that identity of suppositio of predicate and subject.[3] For a Fregean the predicate, the “function”, can stand for nothing real in the world.  Nor do we have there a world of separate substances, but a field of relations rather, requiring a “relational” theory of meaning. Words only have meaning in a sentence. But here again, the Hegelian notion, as ultimate figure of reality, is of a relational whole with which each apparent part is identical.

The Hegelian logic, it is necessary to note, is not itself this vision of the notion which that logic identifies and discusses. The logician, that is, is indeed concerned with “the being of things” (cp. Aquinas, logicus non considerat esse rerum) but not in order to confine it within the structure of logic. Hegel’s logic analyses a reality of which logic is but a part, and essence and hence essentialism are but a step on the road to the notion, or up the ladder which one will kick away. There is thus complete accord here with the Wittgensteinian theory of family resemblance, according to which meaning has no necessary connection with universalist essentialism but has to outgrow it.

This is in perfect accord with the argument, to be found in scholastic tradition, that the abstractive faculty is the badge of the weakness of our intellect, rather than the intellect’s essence. It is, rather, individuals that are first, that is divinely conceived, this being why it is they that exist, while of the absolute itself nothing abstract is to be predicated, not even existence. Existence, that is, is an abstraction and the primacy of thought consists in its not being originally intentional, as Aristotle saw, saying that thought, the absolute Mind of Anaxagoras, thinks itself only. Paradoxically, this truth entails that there is nothing else, though it be itself beyond being. The Wittgensteinian analysis shows, ultimately, that our linguistic bondage to being, from the copula to the actus essendi, involves no discovery of some ultimate quasi-essence. Even Cajetan saw this, though one can question his assumption that there is therefore an “order” of existence separate from essence, such that “act in the order of existence plus act in the order of essence do not give substance” (the Scotist misreading of Aquinas) “but existing substance”. Reality, rather (of which existence is merely a putative species), might consist of the formalities of an absolute thinking not however reducible to our formalities of essence. Form, that is, once liberated from the hylomorphism applied to an ens mobile built upon “matter”, whether principle or “stuff”, emerges as absolute, recalling, it may be, the Plotinian seam in philosophy.

We have, that is, to envisage a universal which is prior and therefore not abstracted. This is the true absolute universal, and this difference can attach also to a Platonic form, as the good (or the tall) itself, rather than goodness or tallness as generalising our linguistic attributions of quality (or substance). This is preserved in Aquinas’s insistence that esse is an act, the “to be” of infinity not being the “to be” of anything else.

The claim that thought is prior to being, that thought gives reality its pattern, issues then in the holism of the notion, where everything is inter-related and so to be thought truly must be thought all together without separation and even, to be absolute, all at once. In reality, therefore, no element or individual is separable from its multiple relatedness. It is that relatedness. These relations, too, are ultimately one, which as infinite must wholly fill each part, each aspect rather. We have here a simple continuity of type with Trinitarian theology, where the persons are the relations, the relations are the persons.

This final resolution of our own thinking is guessed at and pre-figured in our “natural” attitude, above all in unitary pieces of music not put to the service of some particular drama or comedy. Here no part is itself away from the whole and nothing, not even the whole, is a thing, a substance. The auditory vibrations, the instruments, the players, causally necessary to its production for us, have no part in its meaning. A person might become familiar with such music through the medium of radio or tape or gramophone, or through permanently concealed speakers from where it fills the air, never learning how as an empirical reality it is produced. Thus some peoples have enjoyed a full participation in erotic life without ever knowing or needing to concern themselves with its causal link to the periodic birth of children. Absolute thinking, similarly, brings forth the Word, and “in” or “through” the Word the child which is creation, not however by a separate “decree” (or “ordinance”) of actualisation beyond that thinking itself, since it is able as well to think existence as anything else. Aquinas saw long ago that absolute knowledge must cause its object and not be caused by it.

Of this ubiquitous relationality, therefore, the subject-predicate relation is but one instance. So it is not the case that everything acquires this relational colour just in so far as we have to talk about it, the explanation then offered for this being that we have to (re-)identify what our abstractive intellect was compelled to separate, to abstract, in its very act of apprehensive understanding or conception, thus establishing the truth at home in the judgement. As logic moves on, rather, to being an ontology (logica docens) it appears that this propositional character, predication, saying something of something (else), is all of a piece with that web of relations in symphony which is the whole, seen by us as facts and events, the cat’s being on the mat more real, because more true, than just the cat, although that reality too is not complete until all is considered, the time, the locality of the mat, its colour, the provenance of this and all cats from reptilian and other antecedents as well as what future manifestations they, and this cat in particular, as set for “the fall and rise of many”, are founding.

As indicated, the whole which these relations embody is not itself to be thought of, in regression, as a thing, “the universe”. God, the absolute, is viewed in the absolute religion as a locus or field of relations. The relation of the Word, as of Begetter (Father), issues in creation of which incarnation is the figure and first or “new” instance, the “new creation”. The generation of the Word is not separate from this incarnation (“pre-existent”) in the “economic” Trinity. Thus God is not to be conceived without his creation, freely and lovingly, but by the same token truly, willed.

The wish to see creation as a thing apart from divine transcendence, as wholly itself in itself, and only in that way truly a gift given, is the ground for the unhappy consciousness, best typified in Spanish Counter-Reformation Catholicism, to which however John of the Cross supplied a sufficient corrective in his day. God is the all and we must “go through that which we are not”, the “veil” (Psalm of David 104) of creation. Beauty is never seen without its veil, except perhaps after a final marriage at the terminus of .thinking.

This terminus itself, however, will not be impoverishedly static but more like a dance of constant life in which the same figures return in constant freshness and of which liturgy is the representation in anticipation, expressed in all music, all theatre, all poetry or psalmody, coming to expression (not “performed”), celebration, in a place bounded by living paintings and marbled, liquidly mobile sculptures, ourselves.




Once the idea is raised that, viewed from the standpoint of eternity, history is a transmuted dialectic, then the way seems open to viewing the experience of the Jews, the Bible, as an attempt to reconcile our world, the creation, with infinity which, as Hegel says, overlaps and includes the finite (on pain of ceasing to be infinite).[4] Reconciliation is indeed a main theme, sin being what declares the need for it, though this sin is finitude simply. The hope, in Biblical, Pauline terms, is that God shall be all in all, but nothing could lead a man or woman to hope for this unless it were the insight that, beneath appearances, God is all in all. The whole effort is to see reality from the divine or absolute standpoint and not merely from our own. This is also the effort of all science and, even or even more, poetry, to say nothing of music.

For Hegel the Incarnation will finally appear as necessary rather than miraculous, this step being itself the absorption of religion into absolute knowledge, of “the fullness of time”. The reconciliation itself of creation and infinity, of time and eternity, here appears as that which the efforts at reconciliation were demanding. Nor need such an appearance be unique. There are even indications that it could be co-extensive with thought, with thinking individuals in their coinciding true selves or, hence, self.

Christianity, as absolute, is not one more religion of the old type. It is even at times viewed from this older standpoint as an atheism. “Where is thy God?” was a taunt suffered of old by the (probably) exiled Psalmist. This uncertainty, really an openness, comes to fullest expression in the incarnate person himself. “I and the Father are one.” At the same time he teaches us our own identity, from the absolute standpoint, with him and with one another. “Inasmuch as you did it to the least of these you did it to me”. “Love thy neighbour as yourself.” “I in them and they in me.” “You too are members one of another… the body of Christ.” At least our canonical sources are at one on this point.

The primary negative moment in life is death, that of which a free man thinks least, affirms Spinoza. Precisely freedom must overcome or absorb (sublate) death, by choosing and determining the occasion of its occurrence, in Nietzsche’s view of things, which indeed recalls the Johannine witness, “No man takes my life from me. I lay it down of myself.” This was at the same time determined by the actions of others involved, which though, in context, is but to say that it, this choice, determined their actions, as God once hardened Pharaoh’s heart. Pharaoh was none the less free for that. The freedom, of the incarnate one, lay in the affirmation of the absolute pattern, this step being, again, the absolutization of self. “I will have mercy and not sacrifice.” The negative is plain. Thus the incidental cruelties of that death, taken on in the name of all, are there because of the will to the universal, to draw all. The explicit, unfaltering love is the only sign that this is he. Yet it is not a sign, for “no sign shall be given”, but itself an embodiment of the absolute love and freedom behind any thinking or absolute speech, reconciliation namely, as much as an imperative of self-perfection, “my joy”, as a finding of self in the other. “Believe me for the very works’ sake.” We can see here how doubt itself, as an attitude of hesitation, is neutralised. “Even if we have (or have not) known Christ after the flesh, we know him so no more.” An exclusive appeal to the extrinsic inspiration and inerrancy of Scripture can deprive these texts of their power, which is the power of achieved reconciliation, an inauguration of what is henceforth the known movement of history, which, we have seen, is finally a trans-historical series. “All times are his.”

The impression of a perfection of insight here, of expression, leading to a sacral exclusion of the material concerned within a temple for special adoration, upon, maybe, a special or holy day, is of a piece with the tendency to identify, and therefore absolutize or separate, classical periods within art, music, literature, even history itself, with its “golden” centuries. But “greater things than I shall you do” comes the corrective and even “sins against the Son of Man shall be forgiven”. For “you will be my messengers” to the extent that “whoever listens to you listens to me”, a text robbed of its metaphysical depth by those appropriating it in order to stifle spirit. It is actually the self-abandonment typifying absolute knowledge, of self in other. “You call me master and lord, and so I am”, but still I wash your feet. Who has understood this act, not reducing it to a piece of play-acting patronisation? The absoluteness of such an act, of negation of self in passing into another, could only point to a divine intervention from outside were it not that the insight involved is accessible to each man’s reason, were it not that there is no outside, just as, oppositely, from within the absolute, we said, there is no outside, no literal processio ad extra. What seems to proceed outwards is actually, under this aspect of externality, nothing, and hence, in another terminology, only analogously being, not even known or related to by the absolute. For it is there, in him, her or it, that we have our being and not in our fancied independent selves. Our freedom is his freedom, ever various and without limit. This is what it means to be, essentially, an image of something else and not simply made in imitation or likeness of it. Man discovers himself as likeness only, though even from the beginning he guesses at the deeper truth (“I have said you are gods”), and his whole history brings to light this latter until, “in the fullness of time”, that which is only or absolutely image appears, to be endlessly repeated as living itself endlessly in the world. “Of myself I can do nothing.” I am nothing of myself. In this spirit of self-renunciation, of the particular, Hegel writes his philosophy, Francis declares the divine totality, Thérèse has no virtues. It is not arrogance or megalomania, this departure of the empirical ego before the absolute self. The same supra-personal totality is palpable in Aquinas and it is indeed the meaning of the professorial dignity properly manifested. In music too a divine voice can speak, taking over from the individual “composer” who listens as one recording bird-song. The centre is everywhere, the path oneself. This is freedom, “of the sons of God”, it was said.




We touch a profound chord, truth as poised between the ethical and the historical. Beauty is truth, said one, while Pascal urges his wager. By the fruit the tree is known. Behind this lies the primacy of tradition, of a tradition. Fear of relativism hides these things, as it hinders retreat from or transcending of the miraculous, plainest badge of objectivity, in denial, however, of spirit. In a clash of traditions the best man wins, though the struggle may be protracted. To this extent the factual, like nature, is normative and “ought” is after all grounded upon “is”, simply because it is in reality another name for it. This however can work in the other direction. If Mary ought to have been assumed into heaven then she was. This is an assumption aptly named, it may be, but only because it sits at odds with the realist objective ambience of so-called positive theology in which it was made. Such occasional forays into dialectical necessity, however, quasi veritate coacta, are inevitable. “It was impossible that death should hold him”, even if we be presented with a contradiction in consequence.

This contradiction, anyhow, constantly accompanies that appearance of absolute reason in the world treated here as necessary. The lord who is lord precisely because servant of all, the first last, the last first. “Greater things than I shall you do,” again, and it can indeed appear as if man has, by will and power of absolute infinity, conquered God and thus attained to his own truth. “That all may be one, I in them and they in me.” The inverse equivalences subvert all hierarchical order. “I am come that they may have life”… “and this is life eternal; to know God…” One knows by being, by unity, by identity in difference. The texts sing out as if for the first time.

These texts now. One can raise the question, Christ or his interpreters. The words and actions of one who did not write, unless in sand, are presented in writing as a set of mutually complementary theologies, always something more than those separated out by a later generation of religious leaders, claiming harmony with infinite spirit in virtue of office merely. It is only when we think though that the voice of reason is heard within us. Later ages are still presenting their own versions, inspired by an original Messianism reaching up to Marx, Nietzsche and beyond. Again the spectre of relativism blocks the way, though it is but a negative, insufficient name for reconciliation. Each man’s truth is indeed being saved, as it has been recognised that it has to be.

He must increase, I must decrease, said the Baptist of him that was to come, who in turn said it, in effect, of his disciples, who must be “clothed with power from on high”, such grace, however, being effectively, as full freedom, their very own. As we become possessed by the absolute self we discover by the very same movement our own necessity and eternity, in no sense claimed by a spurious empirical self once we “pass over” from death to life.

The true answer therefore to the query raised above is that there is no true choice between the incarnate absolute and his interpreters, inclusive of ourselves today. Nor is further proof needed of that original reality, the Word handled by men, than our own attitude and accomplishments. It is accomplished, it was accomplished, it will be accomplished. This is the lesson of reason and not merely of faith, though this be the “victory that overcomes the world”.




“When God shall be all in all.”

This final Pauline vision then is surely a celebration of identity. All being is God, one type of pantheist might say. This is the reverse of that, saying that God alone is, a truth that finally becomes manifest, historically because dialectically. The analogy of being as an ontological doctrine, along with the corresponding doctrine of creation, loses the force of this sovereign identity, which however must be, and fails to explain it.

Here is the true focus for the necessity (not less free for that) of the divine ideas, a divine thinking, God being indeed the thought that thinks itself and, accordingly, his own thinking. God, for that matter, is not compelled (God the Father) as by a natural necessity to generate his Son (here the analogy of speech should be recognised). God is that generation, is identical with absolute generation (Thomist enough, ipsae relationes sunt personae). What do we see in the world but generation, the divine thinking which is God himself, both revealing him and yet covering him, as generator, infinite and so hidden, with a veil?   “This also is thou; neither is this thou”, this being the very principle of contradiction which is simply the finite in face of the infinite and yet, by the same token, the annihilation of the finite as consisting in the denial of identity, which alone is.

Identity, we noted, is also reflected in a true theory of predication. Here the copula is taken as affirming identity in being (it may also deny it), any truth of a proposition or thought being affirmed in the same act (actus essendi, veritas propositionis). Predication follows upon an original abstraction (in which our thought comes to birth, again historically because dialectically) from what is everywhere identical and as it were puts it back together again, thought having superior power over “all the king’s horses and all the king’s men” (in the nursery rhyme). Being alone is. This means that any being is identical with all being; that means that being has no parts. Hence I am not a part of God, but I am not God either. Hence Augustine’s insight into “one closer to me that I am to myself”, now seen as effectively negating the phenomenal ego. Seen thus there is a kind of necessity in my being, which is not my being, called in theology predestination, which Aquinas showed well enough does not suppress freedom as we experience it. We become free in identification with this necessity which is infinity. The surd of our experienced contingency is resolved in this necessity and not by appeal to a theologically degenerate voluntarism. “In God we live and move and have our being.”

Now if Paul was thus Hegelian then so were Aristotle and Aquinas, as Hegel always claimed. Indeed they were Hegel. “I in them and they in me”. Identity, the badge and goal, historical because dialectical again, of love. What else is shown by saying, with Aristotle, that the sensible is one with the sense sensing, the intelligible one with the intellect understanding? On this Aristotelian ground Hegel sees the failure of Fichte and Kant. They did not overcome the antithesis of subjective and objective and find themselves “at home in the world”. God remained “mere object... over against subjectivity”, not “our true and essential self.”[5] Anima mea est omnia. So anima mea is no longer anima mea. This would be the conclusion of what religion calls a process of sanctification, historical because dialectical. In the beginning is my end. I am then seen to be the way, moreover.

In knowledge the subject is identified with the object. He takes to himself the object and makes it his own, subjective, without any connotation of limitation or imprisonment in self. Such subjectivity is the acme of objectivity (itself no longer limited, “dark and hostile”). This is what we do in listening with growing appreciation to music, which is, like everything, a communication. The same is true of all knowledge and thinking, inseparable from love (will) as uniting in identity with the object thereby become subject, members one of another indeed, historically because dialectically. History, that is, was the divine thinking which, if identical with the divine essence, as all the ideas must be, ipso facto negates what indeed is a succession of phenomena, viewed absolutely, where “one day is as a thousand years”. It thinks only itself, all in all, and I am not I.




The ultimate dualism, in our thinking about these things, is that between being and idea. This too must be overcome in any integrated view of reality. When Wordsworth saw nature as the workings of one mind he saw it thus in virtue of his intuition of its vivid being, the black drizzling crags and so on. Ultimately, being itself is the utterance, the thought of this mind, which therefore includes being as itself beyond it. Or, uncreated being is beyond created being. The choice of terms conveys the same. Mind speaks being, is the being that speaks being, while in the infinite reason nothing is a mere ens rationis.

Here is the place then for some reflections on this ultimate point, which are certainly no discourse on method merely, nor even a statement of axioms, but rather of a beginning in which all is contained because validated or confirmed by all.

“I am more sure of the existence of God than that I have hands and feet”, wrote Newman, in a statement disconcerting to Thomists. For them one is sure about hands and feet, reasoning from them to God as cause. As a prelude to this, however, they need today to dismiss idealism, to establish a realism, taking as an evident axiom that real material being (ens mobile) is what first engages the mind. Efforts are made, in a measure successful, to show that this realism is not naive and that, correspondingly, the Cartesian new start belongs rather to a process of late Scholastic decadence. Today there are varieties of “transcendental Thomism” rejecting this paradigm. Thereby, though, they merge, or should merge, with Hegelianism.

For Hegel idealism and the philosophical spirit are co-terminous. Absolute thought thinks itself, said Aristotle in apparent agreement, though the being of the world seemed to remain a separate datum for him. The Christian thinker, however, post-Anselm, was open to thinking or contemplating the “good infinite” which, he had no doubt, “destroys” the finite, destroys, he means, our unreflective conviction that the finite is self-evidently real. A latterday Parmenides (whom Plato called a giant), Hegel will claim that it cannot be real, is untruth (at odds with its “idea”), since infinity demands this, a point that Sartre will address in his own way. It is worth noting however that Hegel’s approach to Aristotle, one of positive interpretation, was effectively that of Aquinas though the latter did not thematise it. So too he would take Aquinas in so far as he knew him, and also Kant, without whom his own achievement, showing what Kant “should have” meant, is not thinkable.

The Thomists, and Church tradition as a whole, seek to escape this destruction by appeal to “analogy”. Analogy, however, does not cut very deep as anyone who tries it will find. It explains how we can talk about infinite and finite using the only language we have, designed or developed for the finite. It cannot however perform the reverse operation once we have discovered God (and spoken of him in necessarily analogical language) as “all in all”... “in whom we live and move and have our being.” That word “in” is especially crude, as if God contained us as might the sides of a decidedly finite box, which would surely have to be contained in something else.

The perspective of Genesis, with its doctrine of “creation”, seems hardly to go beyond this. The aim was to show that material bodies, visible in the sky or elsewhere, were not gods, not sacred beings, and this was achieved by declaring them to be non-sacral bodies, as it were the alienated, lifeless products of a mere workman (a “demiurge” as a contemporary Greek claimed) who, however, was able to breathe his own life into some of the bodies. For the Hebrews the maker was God himself, who took his divine rest when things were ready and is maybe still taking it. Of course there are ways of demythologizing this picture, as Augustine was not the first to point out.

It was important for Aquinas too to stress a duality of creator and created, having an analogous being therefore, as against the contemporary Manichees (Cathars) who denied the goodness of matter, God’s creature. For matter to be good it had to be, Aquinas assumed. Many have seen the birth of natural science in this doctrine, which was also Aristotle’s, for whom being is substance, observable substances consisting of “informed” matter.

A deeper penetration of Aquinas’s discourse can indeed show that matter, as Hegel will say, does not exist, at least on its own. He calls it a created necessary being, but he means here (and his language, though not confused, confuses... as does anything written with one eye, even a saintly eye, upon unimaginative censors) no more than a necessary potentiality. One can indeed ask whether God “created” potentiality or whether it simply follows necessarily from omnipotence.

For Teilhard de Chardin, too, there is no “dead” matter. He speaks of the evolution of matter and it is indeed becoming apparent that the evolutionary frame of thought demands a more unitary scheme, in which we do indeed live and move and have our being in God, all in all.

For mind thinking itself nothing is given or could be given as outside of it. The position is glimpsed in Aristotle’s depiction of the soul or mind as “in a way all things”, again. Absolute mind indeed first thought the world, and still does, within itself, knowing itself as imitable as Aquinas puts it. But imitation as a word is just a variation upon “species”, the representation or apppearance that every idea is, even qua idea. And in the case of absolute mind, he has to grant, each idea is identical with thought itself, with simple divine act, esse, on his scheme.

He will also say, compelled by his premises, that God knows us or any creature not as they are in themselves but in his own idea of them (which as idea is one with himself). But he will neglect the apparent consequence, that if so then we are not in ourselves, since the divine knowledge is also causative of our being. He would have to say that God also knows us, or chooses to know us, as being outside the sphere of his more normal knowledge (of ideas). This, in such a case, possibly but not obviously contradictory, would be the divine idea of creation as such.

Aquinas maintains against Muslim fatalists that a God who could not create, could not create free beings in particular, would be less admirable as a God, not infinite in fact. This does not follow though if it is ever a question of a creation incoherently postulated or self-contradictory in its concept. An orthodox Christian or theologian would be bound to elaborate a doctrine of creation not thus contradictory. It could be claimed that Hegel has done this. Hegel then might even help to show, by his known dialectical principles, that Aquinas (and even maybe the Bible) is not contradictory either, or not more than on the surface. The same might apply to the doctrine of the analogy of being, found ultimately compatible with the Gospel affirmation, “There is none good but God”.

Hegel is often written off by Thomists as one blind to the glory of being, the actus essendi, one who pairs or equates it with (the idea of) nothing. Being, for Aquinas, is perfectio perfectionum omnium, while Hegel writes, in the course of criticizing Kant:


Neither we nor the objects would have anything to gain by the fact that they possessed being. The main point is, not that they are, but what they are, and whether or not their content is true. It does no good to the things to say merely that they have being...[6]


 This might seem to be just the common or garden essentialism that Aquinas overcame. Yet even for him it is form that gives being. One has first to be something, a what. While if the form itself has or is an actus, then is not mind or nous, for Hegel too, the actuality of all these acts which reflect it? What he denies, rather, is the actuality of matter as an “in itself” or object.


We are chiefly interested in knowing what a thing is: i.e. its content, which is no more objective than it is subjective.[7]


Nor should we forget that the category of a thing, etwas, also finds its place in his dialectic. It is not, that is, set over against the ideas, which, for him, would be to set it over against God and thus limit or destroy the infinite.








[1]  T. Adorno, The Jargon of Authenticity, transl. Tarnowski & Will, Northwestern University Press, Evanston 1973, pp.16-17.

[2]  In De ente et essentia.

[3]  Among Scholastics this identity is explicit in Vincent Ferrar´s treatise De suppositionibus in the fifteenth century, but it can be shown to be implicit in Aquinas. The claim that the predicate has no ”supposition” (does not ”refer”, to cite a questionable equivalence) reads back a Fregean frame into this earlier logic (cf. S. Theron, ”The Supposition of the Predicate”, The Modern Schoolman , 1995).

[4]  The Scholastic adage, plura entia sed non plus entis, states the paradox accurately enough.

[5]  Hegel, Encyclopaedia, Logic 194.

[6]  Hegel, Encyclopaedia, Logic 42; see also Wissenschaft der Logik I, 1, Kap. 1Ca, Anmerkung 1, “Der Gegensatz...”, Werke 5, Suhrkamp, Frankfurt 1969,  p.84.

[7]  Encyclopaedia, eodem loco.

written by Stephen Theron

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