The Metaphysical Thought of Thomas Aquinas: From Finite Being to Uncreated Being (review)
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Journal of the History of Philosophy 39.3 (2001) 439-440



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John F. Wippel. The Metaphysical Thought of Thomas Aquinas: From Finite Being to Uncreated Being. Monographs of the Society for Medieval and Renaissance Philosophy, No. 1. Washington, D.C.: Catholic University Press, 2000. Pp. xxvii + 630. Cloth, $59.95. Paper, $39.95.

In this weighty volume, John Wippel brings together much of the important research that he has carried out on the metaphysics of Aquinas over the last three decades in order to produce as he calls it, a "Summa metaphysicae" based on the original texts of Aquinas (xxvii). Throughout much of the twentieth century metaphysics has been thought to be Aquinas's greatest philosophical achievement. The historical research of Etienne Gilson and Joseph Owens together with the philosophical reflections of Jacques Maritain did much to place this topic at the heart of Aquinas scholarship. Therefore, this volume both represents Wippel's central research interest and brings to a head an entire school of Aquinas studies of the twentieth century. It is the clearest and most detailed account of the subject in the English language, bearing the hallmarks of Wippel's scholarship: clarity in reference to the arguments and attention to textual chronology.

Metaphysics here does not mean so much a focus on Aquinas's treatment of Aristotle's four causes or his act and potency as much as a clear presentation of Aquinas's reflections on existence (esse) and the implications that this has for his thought. After an introductory discussion of the nature and subject of metaphysics for Aquinas, Wippel devotes the first part of the book to Aquinas's view of existence in order to unpack what it means to talk about individual things as beings, being in general, and the catagories of Aristotle (73-74). Masterfully, he explains Aquinas's analogical approach to being and guides the reader through the interpretive thicket of Cornelio Fabro, G. P. Klubertanz, and Ralph McInerny. An interesting parallel is presented between Parmenides' problem of the one and the many and Aquinas's philosophically interesting view of the composite manner in which concrete individuals exist (161-170). Since no individual creature is the author of its own existence, but does in fact exist, each finite being must receive existence from a single being that exists necessarily. Wippel highlights this and other approaches that Aquinas takes to clarify relations between the many individual beings and the single divine being that lies beyond the study of metaphysics.

Part two is devoted to many of the ways in which Aquinas talks about concrete individuals. Here Wippel explains Aquinas's distinctions between substance and accident as well as between matter and form and how they relate to existence. Part three concludes the work with a treatment of what Aristotle and Aquinas call divine science. This consists of more than a hundred pages on Aquinas's famous arguments for the existence of God (379-500) and a discussion of what human beings can understand about God (501-575). Not only does Aquinas conclude that God exists, but he indicates the limited manner in which human beings can understand the divine. The problem is that if we acquire language in relation to concrete individuals, how can we use words to discuss a being who is not bound by space or time? The solution is to speak of words like "good" and "wise" in an analogical sense. Words like these when applied to creatures are used in a sense that is both similar to but different from the way they are used to [End Page 439] speak of the divine. Reiterating the theme of the one and the many, the name "good" has a single and most excellent meaning when applied to God and a limited sense when applied to creatures.

This is an excellent and accessible book for the educated reader and specialist alike which can be supplemented by works such as Wayne Hankey's God in Himself: Aquinas' Doctrine of God as Expounded in theSumma Theologiae (Oxford: Oxford...