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THE SUPPOSIT AND THE PERSON

Paul Gerard Horrigan, Ph.D., 2015.

Supposit: Being in the Fullest Sense


A consideration of the various constitutive principles of being should naturally have as its
goal being in the fullest sense, which is the supposit, the subsisting subject. The term subsisting
subject refers to the particular being with all of its perfections. The supposit or subsisting subject
is being in the full sense; it is being in the most proper sense of the term, subsisting, existing in
itself as something complete and finished, distinct from all other things. The supposit designates
the particular being with all of its perfections. The supposit is defined as the individual whole,
which subsists by virtue of a single act of being (esse), and which consequently cannot be shared
with another.
Characteristic Marks of the Supposit
The characteristic marks of the supposit are 1. its individuality (only singular beings
[entia] exist in extra-mental reality, while the universal exists in the mind; a universal essence
cannot be a suppositum for it cannot receive a proper act of being of its own [esse proprium]); 2.
subsistence (we must add subsistence for not everything that can be called individual can subsist;
accidents, for example, are individual but are not subsistent, not having an act of being of their
own [esse as actus essendi]); and 3. incommunicability or unsharedness (because of the
preceding two characteristics, namely, individuality and subsistence, the supposit cannot be
shared by others. The supposit cannot be participated in by various subjects for it exists as
something unique and distinct from other subjects. A rock, for example, does not share its being
with the dog that is next to it).
Elements of the Supposit
What are the elements that make up the supposit? The finite subsisting subject or finite
supposit (suppositum) is composed of act of being (esse, which gives subsistence to the subject,
making it be), essence (essentia, which in corporeal beings is hylomorphically composed of
prime matter and substantial form), and accidents (which are acts that perfect the receptive
subject in potency to be perfected by them).
Supposit and Nature
St. Thomas writes in the fourth article of Quodlibet 2: In every thing to which can
accede something which does not belong to the concept of its nature, the thing itself and its
essence, i.e., the supposit and nature, are distinct. For, in the meaning of the nature is included
only that which belongs to the essence of the species, whereas the supposit has not only what
belongs to the essence of the species but also whatever else accedes to this essence. Hence, the
supposit is signified by the whole, but the nature or quiddity [is signified only] as the formal part.
Now, in God alone no accident can be found added to the essence because His act of being is His
1

Essence, as has been said; hence in God supposit and nature are entirely the same. But in an
angel [i.e., an unreceived subsistent form] the supposit is not entirely the same [as the nature]
because something accedes to it which does not belong to the concept of its essence. For the act
of being itself of an angel is in addition to the essence or nature; and other things [acts of
intellect and will] accede to it, which belong to the supposit but not to the nature.1
Alvira, Clavell and Melendo explain that the essence, and more particularly the form,
gives the individual whole a way of being similar to that of other individuals, thus situating it in
a given species. Due to a common essence or nature, men form part of the human race or species.
As the intrinsic principle of similarity at the level of the species, the essence can be contrasted
with the supposit or individual, which is an unshared reality (distinct and divided from all
others). Consequently, the relation between supposit and its nature is not that which exists
between two principles of being; rather, it is one that entails a real distinction; the supposit is
distinct from its nature in the same way a whole is different from one of its parts.2 The real
distinction between nature and supposit can be seen in two ways: a) in every individual, there is a
distinction between the individuated essence and the whole subsisting subject; b) every
individual is distinct from the common specific nature (taken as a universal perfection which all
individuals share, and which sets aside particular characteristics).3
In his treatment of the distinction between supposit and nature, Renard explains that the
supposit does add something not contained in the nature. It includes everything, says everything
that can be predicated of a being. The nature on the contrary in creatures is distinct from and
consequently does not contain its to be (esse) and its accidents. These words: person,
hypostasis, and supposit designate an integral being.4 A human supposit is the entire being that
is this man.5 The supposit implies that which is most complete.6 Therefore, it takes in the
accidents whereas the nature does not. Consequently, the nature is part of the supposit, a part
which is designated as the formal part.7
Moreover, since the to be (esse) is the highest actuality in the order of being, and the
supposit demands the most perfect completeness in that order, it follows that the substantial to
be (esse) by which a being subsists is of the very essence of the supposit. It is not the supposit
itself, for the supposit includes the whole being; but we may say that it is its most important
factor: for it is that because of which and by which a being attains its highest completion in the
order of being, and by which it exists in its own right (it subsists). The to be (esse) is that in
which the unity of the supposit is founded.8 The to be (esse) pertains to the very constitution of

Quodlibet. 2, a. 4.
The distinction between nature and suppositum is of paramount importance in theology. St. Thomas Aquinas made
use of this doctrine to express with precision the mystery of the Incarnation: the human nature of Christ despite its
being singular and its full perfection as nature cannot be a suppositum, for it does not include in itself the act of
being.
3
T. ALVIRA, L. CLAVELL, T. MELENDO, Metaphysics, Sinag-Tala, Manila, 1991, pp. 120-121.
4
Compendium Theologiae, ch. 211.
5
Ibid.
6
In III Sent., d. 5, q. 3, a. 3.
7
Cf. Quodlibet II, q. 2, a. 4 ; Summa Theologiae, III, q. 2, a. 2.
8
Quodlibet IX, 3, ad 2m.
2

person.9 Person signifies that which is most perfect in the entire nature, namely, a being
subsisting in a rational nature.10 It must include, therefore, the to be (esse) which is the
actuality of all acts, and the perfection of all perfections.11 Indeed the most perfect completion
consists precisely in this, that a being has its to be (esse), which is an analogous participation in
the divine to be (Esse).12
To repeat then the individual nature differs from the specific nature in that it adds to
the latter the individuating principles (in actu secundo); the supposit differs from the individual
nature in that it adds the to be (esse) and the necessary concomitant accidents.
The Supposit Adds the Proper To Be (Esse) to Individual Nature. It is, therefore, this
substantial to be the very act of esse (which to be is proportioned and due to each individual
nature) that conjoins with the nature to establish the supposit and render it incommunicable in
an absolute sense. Thus the supposit is established by the very act of coming into existence. Let
us analyze this last statement. Since the supposit demands perfect completion, and since the
highest completion in a being consists precisely in the actuation in the order of being by a to be
(esse) that is proportioned to its individual nature, that is to say, by a proper to be (esse), it
follows that an individual nature with its to be will establish a supposit. In other words, the
supposit adds to an individual nature its proper to be (esse).13
Act of Being as the Source of Unity of the Supposit
Alvira, Clavell and Melendo explain that the act of being (esse) belongs to the supposit
and that the source of the unity of the supposit lies in its proper act of being: The constituent act
which makes the suppositum real is esse. What is most proper to the individual is to subsist, and
this is solely an effect of the act of being.14 Nevertheless, one cannot disregard the essence in
explaining the subsistence of a subject, since a being receives esse if it has an essence capable of
subsisting; that is, it must be a substantial essence, not a mere accidental one. For instance, as
man is able to receive the act of being in himself and to be a suppositum because he possesses
human nature, an essence meant to subsist in itself (and, thus, not to inhere in something else, as
in the case of accidents).
However, the specific nature of a thing does not subsist unless it forms part of a
subsisting subject (the individual). That is why it is not quite correct to say that the act of being
belongs to the nature; it only belongs to the suppositum. However, since esse affects the whole
by virtue of the essence, we can say that esse belongs to the suppositum through the nature or

Summa Theologiae, III, q. 19, a. 1, ad 4m.


Summa Theologiae, I, q. 29, a. 3.
11
De Potentia Dei, q. 7, a. 2, ad 9.
12
Cf. Quodlibet, XII, q. 5, a. 5.
13
H. RENARD, The Philosophy of Being, Bruce, Milwaukee, 1950, pp. 230-231.
14
St. Thomas Aquinas always maintained this doctrine, as can be verified from his early writings as well as the later
ones (cf. In III Sent., d. 6, q. 2, a. 2 ; Quodlibet, IX, a. 3, and Summa Theologiae, III, q. 17, a. 3, c.). This was
explicitly defended by Capreolus, one of the commentators of the Angelic Doctor (cf. Defensiones Theologicae divi
Thomae Aquinitatis, T. Pgues Ed., V, Tours, 1907, pp. 105-107). Later on, Suarez and Cajetan regarded the essence
(and not esse) as the ontological basis of the subsisting subject.
10

substantial essence. Nature gives the whole the capacity to subsist, although it is the whole
which does in fact subsist through the act of being.
Since esse is the ultimate act of a being, which gives actuality to each of its elements
(which are no more than potency with respect to esse), these parts are united to the extent that
they are made actual by this constituent act, and referred to it. It is quite correct, therefore, to
claim that the act of being is the basis of the unity of the suppositum.15 No part of the whole,
taken separately, has esse of its own; it is, by virtue of the esse of the composite. To the very
extent that the parts of the whole have esse, they must be a unity, since there is only a single act
of being that actualizes them. Matter, for instance, does not subsist independently of the form;
rather, both matter and form subsist by virtue of the act of being received in them. Operations are
no more than an expression of the actuality which a being has because of its esse, and the same
thing can be said of the other accidental modifications as well. In spite of the variety of
accidents, the unity of the suppositum can easily be seen if we consider that no accident has an
act of being of its own. All accidents share in the single act of being of the substance.16
Perfections of a Particular Being to be Referred to the Supposit
Alvira, Clavell and Melendo also explain why all the perfections of a particular being
must be referred to the supposit: We have seen that the entire actuality of a being has its
ultimate basis in the perfection of its act of being. Since the suppositum is the natural seat of the
act of being, all the perfections of the suppositum, of whatever type they might be, have to be
attributed to the suppositum as their proper subject. Actions, in particular, have to be attributed to
the subsisting subject. Thus, it cannot correctly be said that the hand writes, that the intellect
knows, or that the will loves. In each case, it is the entire man who acts through his powers. Only
that which subsists can act.
It could be further stated that the manner in which an individual acts follows its nature,
which is what determines its manner of being. It can, therefore, be claimed that acting belongs to
the subsisting hypostasis in accordance with the form and nature specifying the kind of
operations it can carry out. Thus, only individuals act, since they alone exist. There is a certain
similarity, however, among the activities of the members of a species, since all of them share in a
common nature. Men think and laugh; dogs bark; each one of the elements of the periodic table
behaves in a particular way. This also explains why no individual can act beyond the limits set
by its own species.
The recognition of the individual as a single subsisting whole provides the metaphysical
basis for avoiding any kind of dualism (between matter and spirit, between senses and
intelligence) and any division of things into stagnant compartments in which the unity of the
whole would be compromised.
This doctrine equally denies the validity of philosophies which acknowledge the
universal as the primary reality (like in Hegelian historicism, socialism, and marxism), thereby
absorbing the individual, robbing it of its metaphysical significance. The actus essendi, as the
15
16

Quodlibet, IX, a. 3, ad 2.
T. ALVIRA, L. CLAVELL, T. MELENDO, op. cit., pp. 121-122.

single act of the suppositum, impedes any reduction of being to a mere relation or to a set of
relations within the same class or category, as these philosophical systems purport to do.17
Supposit the Subject of All Acts
Renard explains that while nature is the principle by which the supposit acts, the supposit
is the principle which acts: It is important to note that nature which is the principle of motion
and, therefore, of action, is the principle by which the supposit acts (principium quo). The
supposit is the principle which acts (principium quod). The person Peter, for example, is the
principle to which all actions must be attributed, while the human nature of Peter is the principle
by which Peter acts in a human manner. To the hypostasis alone, says St. Thomas, are
attributed the operations and the natural properties, and whatever belongs to the nature in the
concrete; for we say that this man reasons, and is risible, and is a rational animal.18 Actions
belong to supposits and belong to wholes and, properly speaking, not to parts and forms and
powers, for we do not say properly that the hand strikes, but a man with his hand, nor that heat
makes a thing hot, but fire by heat.1920
Subsistence
The ontological constitutive act which makes the suppositum real, the ontological
constitutive act which makes the individual subsist, is the act of being (esse as actus essendi).
Battista Mondin (who agrees with this interpretation of St. Thomas by Capreolus and is a
position which is defended by, among others, Renard,21 De Raeymaker,22 Alvira, Clavell,
Melendo,23 Berghin-Ros,24 DeglInnocenti,25 Klubertanz,26 Cardona,27 and Forment28) states in
his 2002 book La metafisica di san Tommaso e i suoi interpreti: Nelluomo, come totalit
dellessere singolo, la persona abbracia la materia, la forma sostanziale (lanima), la forma
accidentale e latto dessere (actus essendi). Il costitutivo formale della persona dato da
questultimo, perch latto dellessere la perfezione massima ed ci che conferisce attualit
alla sostanza e a tutte le sue determinazioni. Perci la personalit appartiene necessariamente
alla dignit e alla perfezione di una realt, in quanto questa esiste per s; il che inteso nel nome
di persona.29 Lactus essendi conferisce alla persona la propriet della incommunicabilit: de

17

T. ALVIRA, L. CLAVELL, T. MELENDO, op. cit., pp. 122-123.


Summa Theologiae, III, q. 2, a. 3.
19
Summa Theologiae, I-II, q. 58, a. 2.
20
H. RENARD, op. cit., p. 235.
21
H. RENARD, op. cit., pp. 230-235.
22
L. DE RAEYMAEKER, The Philosophy of Being, B. Herder, St. Louis, 1957, pp. 243-244.
23
T. ALVIRA, L. CLAVELL, T. MELENDO, op. cit., pp. 121-124 ; T. MELENDO, Metafisica del concreto,
Editrice Leonardo da Vinci, Rome, 2005, pp. 189-213.
24
G. BERGHIN-ROS, Ontologia, Marietti, Turin, 1960, pp. 171-172.
25
U. DEGLIINNOCENTI, Il problema della persona nel pensiero di S. Tommaso, Lateran University Press, Rome,
1967.
26
G. KLUBERTANZ, Introduction to the Philosophy of Being, Appleton-Century-Crofts, New York, 1955, p. 221.
27
C. CARDONA, Metafisica del bene e del male, Ares, Milan, 1991, pp. 62-93.
28
E. FORMENT, Ser y persona, second edition, Barcelona, 1983 ; E. FORMENT, Persona y modo substancial,
second edition, Barcelona, 1984.
29
Summa Theologiae, III, q. 2, a. 2, ad 2.
18

ratione personae est quod sit incommunicabilis.30 Grazie allatto dessere la persona diviene
completa in se stessa, ontologicamente chiusa.31
Mondin holds this same position concerning the ultimate ontological constitutive act of
the human person in the act of being (esse as actus essendi) in his earlier 1985 book,
Philosophical Anthropology: The person, as the totality of the individual being, embraces:
matter, the substantial form (the soul), the accidental forms, and the act of being (actus essendi).
The formal constitutive of the person is given by this last element, because the act of being is the
maximum perfection, and it is what confers actuality to substance and all its determinations.
Therefore, the personality belongs necessarily to the dignity and perfection of a reality,
inasmuch as this exists by itself; that which is understood in the name of a person.32 The actus
essendi gives to the person the property of incommunicability33; by virtue of such an act it
becomes complete in itself, ontologically closed.34
Critiques of Scotus on Supposit and Subsistence
Renard describes and critiques the position of Scotus on the supposit as follows: Duns
Scotus asserts that the supposit adds a double negation to an individual nature. This he discovers
by considering the two exceptions when natures are not supposits. The first of these is the human
nature of Christ. This nature has actual dependence upon the divine Word, the second person of
the Blessed Trinity. From this Scotus concludes that the first negation required for the
constitution of a supposit is that of actual dependence upon another. The second case of a nature
not being a supposit is had with the separated souls, that is, those souls that are no longer united
to a body after death. These are not supposits in the strict sense, but only quasi-supposits, for
even though they subsist, their individual nature is not complete, since the soul is the form of the
body and in its nature state must be united to it. In the state of separation, the soul no longer
actually depends (extrinsically) upon the body as it did before death, but it still retains an
exigency for it; this is what Scotus calls aptitudinal dependence. It follows that the supposit adds
a twofold negation of dependence, on actual, the other aptitudinal, to an individual nature.35
It is obvious that a twofold negation cannot be said to be the ultimate reason for the
perfection which incommunicability supposes. At best these negations could be said to manifest
the fact that such a being is a supposit because not communicated. Moreoever, every negation
supposes something positive. Now in our endeavor to discover the positive fundamental reason
for these negations, we find this most positive fact that the supposit is a being subsisting
distinctly (from others) in a nature that is complete. And consequently we affirm that the
supposit adds not a twofold negation, but the proper to be to a complete individual nature.36
Describing and critiquing the position of Scotus on subsistence, Henri Grenier writes:
According to Scotus, subsistence formally consists in a twofold negation: a) in the negation of
30

Summa Theologiae, I, q. 30, a. 4, ob. 2.


B. MONDIN, La metafisica di S. Tommaso dAquino e i suoi interpreti, ESD, Bologna, 2002, pp. 262-263.
32
Summa Theologiae, III, q. 2, a. 2, ad 2.
33
De ratione personae est quod sit incommunicabilis(Summa Theologiae, I, q. 30, a. 4, ob. 2).
34
B. MONDIN, Philosophical Anthropology, Urbaniana University Press, Rome, 1985, p. 248.
35
Cf. DUNS SCOTUS, III Sent., d. 1, q. 1, nos. 9 and 11, ad 3m.
36
H. RENARD, op. cit., pp. 236-237.
31

the actual dependence of a thing on another supposit which assumes it, i.e., which draws it into
its own existence; b) in the negation of even the aptitudinal dependence of a thing on another
supposit according to the order of nature, although this dependence can be supernaturally
safeguarded, as happened in the case of the human nature of Christ.
Contrary to the position of Scotus, subsistence does not consist in a negation. 1. The
opinion which holds that subsistence consists in a negation confuses subsistence with
incommunicability, which is a negative property which results from subsistence ; 2. That which
gives individual nature a certain perfection does not consist in a negation. But subsistence gives
nature a certain perfection. Therefore subsistence does not consist in a negation ; The major is
evident ; Minor. Subsistence consititutes an individual nature a supposit, i.e., perfectly, selfsupporting or sufficient for itself. But to render an individual nature perfectly self-supporting is
to give it a certain perfection. Therefore.37
Critiques of Cajetan on the Supposit and Subsistence
Giving a critique of Cajetan on the suppositum and subsistence,38 Renard writes: Quite a
different theory is offered by Cajetan, namely, the celebrated theory of the substantial mode.
37

H. GRENIER, Thomistic Philosophy, volume 3 (Metaphysics), St. Dunstans University, Charlottetown, Canada,
1950, pp. 181-182.
38
A brief exposition and critique of Cajetans thesis of the substantial mode (modus substantialis) is also given by
Ferraro: La tesi del modo sostanziale. Questa tesi stata ipotizzata specialmente dal Gaetano, ha predominato
nel tomismo fino a met del secolo scorso, pi o meno, e pervive tuttora presso molti tomisti. Essa nasce, da una
parte, da una sbagliata esegesi dei testi di san Tommaso e, dallaltra e pi profondamente dal grave errore
speculativo chiamato formalismo o essenzialismo, che d il primato allessenza sullesse, al contenuto sullatto.
Diceva il Gaetano che il costitutivo del supposito non pu essere la existentia vale a dire lesse perch
lesistenza appartiene al supposito: cio quando avviene lexistentia il supposito si presuppone come gi costituito
nella sua suppositalit, poich il supposito ci che ha ed esercita lesistenza. Lesistenza infatti pone il supposito
fuori delle cause, per cui la sussistenza non pu essere costituita dallesistenza. Bisogna indagare allora sulla linea
del essenza. Ora, su questa linea il costitutivo non pu essere la stessa natura dellessenza, perch se cos stessero le
cose, tutte quante le essenze possibili sarebbero dei suppositi. Il costitutivo del supposito dunque un nuovo
principio che, trovandosi sulla linea dellessenza, verrebbe a completarla con unultima terminazione, in virt della
quale lessenza si renderebbe immediatamente capace di esistenza: questo varebbe sia per le sostanze separate che
per quelle composte. Si tratterebbe allora di una terminazione dellessenza individuale antecedente allesistenza.
Questa terminazione un modus substantialis, modo sostanziale. Il modus substantialis, poi, non da confondersi
con lindividuazione, perch questa si riferisce al rapporto della specie in comune con gli individui, alla
comunicazione della natura universale agli inferiori (i particolari), mentre qui si parla dellincomunicabilit che si
riferisce ad un ulteriore termino sustentante. Fra lessenza sostanziale e il modo sostanziale ci sarebbe una
distinzione non di ragione ma reale-modale, come quella che ci sarebbe, p. es., tra la linea e il punto nel quale finisce
e termina la linea. Lexistentia (lesse) verrebbe ad attualizzare lessenza del supposito ormai completata e
immediatamente disposta ad esistere, facendola effettivamente esistere.
Questa dottrina va rigettata per pi motivi. 1) Innanzitutto, perch misconosce il valore di primum
metaphysicum che corrisponde allesse, il quale viene diminuito a favore dellessenza: esso sarebbe il fiorire
dellessenza e si limiterebbe semplicemente a mettere in esistenza tutta la ricchezza che apparterrebbe allessenza di
per s: cos non sarebbe il fondamento ontologico di tutta lattualit dellens, bens soltanto il principio effettivo
della sua effettualit reale, il fattore della sola e semplice positio extra causas. 2) Poi, perch c nella posizione
gaetanista una radicale, radicalissima, ambiguit. Infatti, se la terminazione dellessenza conferitale dal modus
substantialis si trovasse sulla linea dellessenza, allora si aprirebbe un regresso allinfinito, perch il modo
sostanziale si troverebbe sempre e comunque sulla linea dellessenza e non si capirebbe come potesse mai
trascenderla: ci vorrebbe unaltra terminazione per avvicinarlo pi alla linea dellesistenza, la quale richiederebbe
ancora unaltra terminazione, e cos via; se invece trascende lessenza conferendole qualcosa che si trova sulla linea

According to this view, the formal aspect of person and supposit is a substantial mode which
completes the essence in the order of concreteness, so that a nature which is terminated by this
mode is a supposit, while one without it is not a supposit. Cajetan admits, however, that a nature
which has been assumed by a higher supposit does not exist by its own proper to be, but is
actuated by the to be of the higher supposit, as we have explained to be the case of the human
nature of Christ. On the contrary, the formal effect of the substantial mode is to make it
impossible for such a nature to exist by any other to be except its own.39
What the nature of this mode is appears difficult to determine. Cajetan affirms that
personality is a reality constituting the personIt is a reality that can be reduced to the genus of
substance, as for instance the reality rational. Unlike rational, however, it is not a specific
difference but it is the last term, and as such a pure term of the nature of a substance.40 What,
then, is this terminus ultimus of Cajetan? In the first place, the substantial mode has no causality.
It is not, however, a mere figment, but is like a point at the end of a line.41 From this we would
judge that it adds nothing positive to the nature, for a pure term, a point, is not something
positive superadded to the line, but it is the line itself in so far as it terminates. Hence, we are not
able to understand how on the one hand this mode can be said to be a reality in the order of
substance, something most positive since it makes the substance become incommunicable; and at
the same time how can it be said to be a pure term like the point of a line which certainly adds
nothing positive to the line.42
De Raeymaeker observes: Following Cajetan, a goodly number of Thomists think that
the constitutive principle of personality must lie on the side of the nature, rather than on that of
the existence. In order that a reality may be a person, its nature or its essence must be made
complete by a mode of subsistence, to which there necessarily corresponds a principle of
existence which is peculiar to it.43 In the absence of such a mode this principle of existence must
itself disappear.
This opinion seems to rest on this consideration that personal existence implies a special
mode of existence, and consequently that this principle must be looked for along the line of the
mode of being, of the taleity of the nature. This point of view is inaccurate, for the present case
does not have to do with answering the question quid sit?, what is this reality?, but rather with
dellesistenza, allora quel modo sostanziale superfluo, poich gi suppone lesistenza, senza la quale non
potrebbe trovarsi sulla linea della medesima e comunque resta il fatto che per questi autori essa appartiene
allambito dellessenza. 3) Bisogna daltronde dire che lessenza nel suo piano proprio non ha bisogno di
terminazione alcuna che la renda pi essenziale. Infatti, per san Tommaso, la sostanza si converte nel ricettivo
proprio dellesse in virt della forma (per formam enim substantia fit proprium susceptivum eius quod est
esse[Summa Contra Gentiles, II, 55]). 4) Se per questo modo sostanziale volesse essere una realt
intermedia, che non sia n essenza n esistenza, allora la situazione speculativa si presenterebbe quanto mai grave
e, senzalcun dubbio, a capire tali asserzioni farebbe fatica perfino san Tommaso(C. FERRARO, Appunti di
metafisica, Lateran University Press, 2013, pp. 189-191).
39
Cf. J. MARITAIN, Distinguer pour unir ou les degrs du savoir, Descle, Paris, p. 845.
40
Est terminus ultimus, ac ut sic, purus, naturae substantiae(In III, q. 4, a. 2).
41
Non solum est extra genera causarum extrinsecarum, sed etiam extra causas intrinsecasPunctum enim est ita
terminus lineae(Loc. cit.).
42
H. RENARD, op. cit., pp. 238-239.
43
Cf. R. GARRIGOU-LAGRANGE, La synthse thomiste, Bibl. franaise de Philosophie, 3rd series, Paris, 1947,
pp. 657-667.

the question an sit?, does it exist? Does it exist in itself, is it precisely that which subsists? Only
that which subsists, is: the parts and the principles are not in themselves, but they exist in the
subsistent reality with which they communicate, with which they are united, and to which they
belong as constitutive elements or into which they are assumed.
Cajetan refines his conception of the mode of subsistence by comparing it to the last
point which terminates a line.44 And yet, we cannot deny that this point forms a part of the line,
and that it is not distinct from the line. Similarly, the nature which is a principle of limitation has
no need of any mode which would serve to terminate it. It is, by definiton, a mode of
substantial being, oriented by its whole being towards the real principle of being, which is the
reason of the existence of the whole subject: an existence, to be sure, which is a subsistence,
since the principle of it is found in the very structure of particular being.45
Critiques of Suarez on the Supposit and Subsistence
Renard describes and critiques Francisco Suarezs position on subsistence as follows:
Suarez affirms that subsistence is a substantial mode. I understand, he says, that a being is
constituted existing by itself, and altogether incommunicable and therefore as a supposit by a
term, that is, a positive mode of a substantial nature.46 It is not, however, the same kind of mode
as that of Cajetan. For unlike Cajetan, Suarez does not admit the real distinction. Consequently,
unlike the personality of Cajetan, the Suarezian mode follows the to be and does not precede
it. The difficulty, were one to accept this mode, is very great. Any determination that follows the
to be can only be an accident, since the substance is already actuated. Now it is impossible to
see how an accident could be constitutive of a supposit, since according to Suarez this
determination must be in the order of substance, a substantial mode.47
Grenier: Suarez identifies the essence and existence of finite being. He teaches that
subsistence is a mode which is added to substance after existence. The fallacy of this opinion is
obvious: subsistence cannot be an accident; but it would have to be an accident if it were added
to a substance after it had received its existence.48
Koren: Suarez explained subsistence as a substantial mode which completes the
individual substance. Since he did not admit the real distinction of essence and to be in finite
beings, his substantial mode comes to the substance after the to be. It is difficult to see how

44

Cajetan writes that the mode of subsistence is the ultimate terminus, and as such the pure terminus of the nature
of the substance. To terminate, as such, does not bespeak any causality. This mode is not only outside the
genera of extrinsic causes, but also outside the intrinsic causes, since it is related to the nature not in the genus of
formal cause or in that of material cause, but as its terminusNor is this an invention, but it has the support from
the termini of quantity; a point is the terminus of a line in such wise that it is not a cause of it(CAJETAN, III
Summa Theologicae, q. 4, a.2, X [Editio leonina, vol. II, Rome, 1903, p. 76 b]. Cf. J. J. Balthasar, Mon moi dans
ltre, Louvain, 1946, pp. 171-178: Historical notes on the subject of the modus subsistendi, exposition and
critique of Cajetains theory).
45
L. DE RAEYMAEKER, op. cit., pp. 245-246.
46
F. SUAREZ, De Incarn., disp. XI, sect. 3; cf. etiam Disp. Meta., disp. 34, sect. 4, no. 24.
47
H. RENARD, op. cit., p. 239.
48
H. GRENIER, op. cit., p. 184.

such a mode could be substantial because it accedes to a substance which is already actualized by
to be.49
De Raeymaeker: Francisco Suarez teaches (as does the Thomistic school) that
personality is founded on a constitutive principle of finite being; and then (like Capreolus) that is
formally on the side of existence that we must look for it, and not on the side of the quidditative
aspect of reality.50 Suarez, however, cannot find it in the principle of existence itself, since he
rejects the distinction between essence and existence. Furthermore, as the nature or the essence
cannot be identified with the person, he is forced to admit a mode, modus substantiae, which
serves to determine the existence itself, and to terminate it in such a way as to make a
subsistence of it.51 This theory, which has been taken up by only a few authors, contradicts one
of the principles most solidly established and admitted by most of the Scholastics, namely, that
the act of existence is in the line of ultimate act and is in no wise determinable.
Whatever determines substance, outside of the act of existence, can be conceived only
as an accidental modification, which is therefore in he line of the essence or mode of being. The
Suarezian mode of substance which must terminate substantial existence is to be rejected, just
as the mode of union which is intended according to Suarez to terminate the accident and to
bind it to substance.52 In both cases solution is given to pseudo-problems which result from an
erroneous conception of the structure of particular being. If we conceive the principles of this
structure of the finite as correlations, there is no need to appeal to modes of union to explain the
unity of the composite being. And neither is there any reason to reject as contradictory the real
distinciton between the principle of taleity and the principle of existence, the first being the
reason of the limitation and of the individuality, and the second being the reason of the
subsistence of particular being.53
Person
A human being is a particular type of supposit, namely, a rational supposit. Rational or
intellectual supposits are called persons. A human being, therefore, is a person. The sixth century
A.D. Roman philosopher Severinus Boethius gave the definition of the person as an individual
substance of a rational nature (natur rationalis individua substantia). Aquinas defines the

49

H. J. KOREN, Introduction to the Science of Metaphysics, B. Herder, St. Louis, 1965, p. 207.
Suarez writes: (I say)that personality is given to a nature in order that it may give it the last complement in the
line of existence, or (so to speak) in order to complete its existence in the line of substance. Hence, personality is not
properly the terminus or the mode of the nature according to the esse essentiae, but rather according to the esse
existentiae of that very nature(F. SUAREZ, Disputationes metaphysicae, d. 34, a. 4, n. 23 (Vivs, Paris, 1866, vol.
26, p. 274a).
51
Suarez states: In created things, per se existere or the perseitas existendi does not belong to the nature formally
by itself or by its existence, but by something real, and that, really distinct from it and from its existence(F.
SUAREZ, De Incarnatione, disp. II, sect. 3, n. 10 (t. 17, p. 443 b). Confer J. J. Balthasar, op. cit., pp. 184-193,
exposition and critique of Suarezs modalism.
52
Suarez himself made the comparison between the modus unionis of an accident (which is, as it were, the ultimate
terminus of existence itself), and the modus of a substance (by which ultimately the existence of a nature is
terminated, so that it may be in itself without dependence on anything supporting it). Cf. Disputationes
metaphysicae, d. 34, s. 4, n. 24 (vol. 26, p. 274 b).
53
L. DE RAEYMAEKER, op. cit., pp. 246-247.
50

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person as every being which subsists in an intellectual or rational nature;54 a person is a rational
or intellectual subsistent. Person is the name used to designate the most perfect beings that
exist, namely, God, the angels and men. Since all perfections stem from esse, the excellence of
these substances is due either to the possession of the fullness of the act of being (God as Esse
Subsistens), or to a high degree of participation in esse which angels and men have. In the final
analysis, to be a person amounts to possessing a likeness of the divine esse in a more sublime
way, that is, by being spiritual; it means having a more intense act of beingultimately, the
entire dignity of the person, the special greater perfection of his operations, is rooted in the
richness of his act of being. The latter is what makes him a person and provides the basis of his
psychological uniqueness (self-knowledge, spiritual love, etc.) and of his moral and social value.
Consequently, neither consciousness nor free-will, neither responsibility nor inter-personal
relations can constitute a person. All these perfections are merely accidents whose being is
derived from the act of being, the only real core of personality.55
Giving a metaphysical analysis of the human person rooted in the intensive act of being
(esse as actus essendi), Jos Angel Lombo and Francesco Russo write: Thomas Aquinas
affirms: Person signifies what is most perfect in all nature: that is, a subsistent individual of a
rational nature.56 the dignity of the person is not based directly upon how he acts but on what
he is as such independently of whether all his potentials are expressed or not. From this
affirmation it follows that the value of human life, or of the human person, is incommensurable.
Its intrinsic value does not depend on and is not increased by other qualities, nor is it comparable
with them. What each individual is worth as a man does not admit comparison with a specific
technical ability or physical performance.
Alongside this statement of Thomas Aquinas, we can place the classic definition of
Boethius, according to which the person is an individual substance of a rational nature.57 Both
affirmations contain three important metaphysical notions: individual, nature, and substance. In
order to understand the person from a metaphysical point of view, it is not enough to affirm that
he is something individual because individuality also belongs to accidental properties, i.e., to
what exists as a perfection or characteristic of a subject. For example, weight or color, which do
not subsist in and of themselves but inhere in something else (white and yellow do not exist in
general but as a white page or a yellow flower).
Likewise, it is not enough to say that the person is a substance, i.e., something that
subsists in itself and not in something else, nor that he is a nature because this is a generic and
abstract concept. Nature indicates something common to all individuals and, hence, belongs to a
species, whereas, in reality, a nature always subsists in individualized form, i.e., with
54

Cf. Summa Contra Gentiles, IV, 35.


T. ALVIRA, L. CLAVELL, T. MELENDO, op. cit., pp. 123-124.
56
Persona significat id quod est perfectissimum in tota natura, scilicet subsistens in rationali natura (Summa
Theologiae, I, q. 29, a. 3). St. Thomas condenses the notion of person into the expression subsistens rationale; i.e.,
subsistent rational being: cf. A. Milano, La Trinit dei teologi e dei filosofi: Lintelligenza della persona in Dio, in
Persona e personalismi, Dehoniane, Naples, 1987, pp. 56-61. On the conception of the human person in St. Thomas
see J. A. Lombo, La persona humana en Toms de Aquino: Un estudio histrico y sistemtico, Apollinare Studi,
Rome, 2001.
57
Natur rationalis individua substantia(S. BOETHIUS, Liber de persona et duabus naturis contra Eutychen et
Nestorium, ad Joannem Diaconum Ecclesi Roman, ch. III, PL 64, 1343).
55

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characteristics that make it a specific individual of its species and which are not per se part of the
definition of a specific nature (in other words, not horseness or dogness but this horse or that
dog exist in extramental reality).
Thus, uniting the three notions (individual, substance, and nature) with the term person,
we are referring to an individualized substance of a rational nature. As regards human nature, the
person is singular, unique and unrepeatable. The ultimate foundation of this uniqueness and
unrepeatability is the possession of a specific act of being (actus essendi), which confers
actuality to the substance and to its determinations. Everything the person knows, everything he
wants, and everything he does stems from the act by virtue of which he is. Although this subject
can be interpreted in various ways, let us seek to draw some basic outlines.
What do we mean by the expression act of being? We mean the metaphysical principle
by which something really is not existence as man, as cat, or as rock, which derives from its
nature, or essence but being, simply and radically. In truth, of course, being belongs to all
individual subsistent substances, but of these the person shows a higher level of subsistence
because he acts propter se, as the principle of his own actions. With respect to other subsistent
individuals, his act of being is possessed more specifically.
The irreducible dignity of the human person lies not so much in abstract reason (as
could seem at first glance in Boethiuss definition) but in the rationality or spirituality possessed
by a concrete individual who subsists by virtue of an act of being. It is evident that the individual
human goes though various stages of development, but there is a continuity in his existence.
Either he is a human being or he will never become one however many perfections may be
externally attributed to him and however many the external circumstances in which he may find
himself. It is not phenomenological-existential properties that determine personal existence but
the other way round: From personal existence arise the specific characteristics of the human
person that can be studied from a phenomenological-existential perspective.
The human person possesses the act of being in himself and for himself but not from
himself; that is, he does not, from an ontological viewpoint, create himself. His existence is
granted by the Subsistent Being, in other words, God. At the origin of each human person is a
free creative act of God, who institutes that person as a novelty in existence, in His image and
likeness. The dignity of the person derives, then, from his origin and from his actual being.58

58

J. A. LOMBO and F. RUSSO, Philosophical Anthropology: An Introduction, MTF, Downers Grove, IL, 2015, pp.
140-142.

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