On Being and Essence

Thomas Aquinas

Translated with an introduction and notes by Armand Maurer. Second revised edition. MST 1. 1968. 79 pp. ISBN 978–0–88844–250–5 • $11.95

Thomas’ short treatise De ente et essentia (On Being and Essence) is a classic text on the meaning and mystery of being. One of his early works, it was written before Thomas became Master of Theology at Paris in March 1256, and thus does not contain the architectonic metaphysical and theological structures of the Summa theologiae and the Summa contra Gentiles.

Yet there is little in this early work that does not find answering echoes in the later expositions and commentaries. The lineaments of Thomas’ own great philosophical advances are all here. Already in the De ente he describes being (esse) as the actuality of essence, the two forming a composition that results in a being (ens). God has no other essence or nature than being; he is being in all its purity. Creatures receive being as a participation of the divine being, their essences limiting the degree of this participation. It is from these insights that Thomas will develop his radically new account of the problem of being, an interpretation in which existence itself will be seen to hold the primary place in the order of being.

The extensive notes to the translation are complemented by a detailed historical and critical introduction to the treatise and its place in Thomas’ metaphysical oeuvre. The work includes a bibliography of editions and translations, a list of medieval and modern readings of the De ente et essentia, and an index. This text provides an elegant and useful introduction to medieval metaphysics and is ideal both for classroom use and private study.

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