In order that it may be known what content to give to these four
terms, it is necessary that we should understand
clearly what may be said of uncreated substance, or God. Namely:
1. That God eminently contains all that is formally contained in created
things, that is, God has certain attributes in which these
created things are more eminently
contained than in the things themselves. (Vid. Pt. 1. Ax. 8, and
Coroll. 1. Prop. 12). For example, we can clearly
conceive of extension without existing objects, and thus, since it
has no power of existence in itself, we have shown
that it was created by God (Prop. 21, Pt. 1.). And, since there
must be as much perfection in the cause as there is in
the effect, it follows that God contains all the perfection
of existence. But since we find later that extended matter is
divisible, that is, that it contains a mark of imperfection,
we cannot, therefore, attribute extension to God. We are
thus compelled to admit that God has some attribute more excellent
than all the perfection of matter and thus
contains (Schol. Prop. 9, Pt. 1.) what the defects of matter
2. God understands Himself and all other objects; that is, He
holds all things objectively, in Himself (Pt. 1. Prop. 9).
3. God is the first cause of all things, and works from an
absolute freedom of will.
What should be understood by [the being of] essence, existence, idea and power.
From these things it is evident what we must understand by these four
terms. In the first place Essence in nothing else than that
mode by which created objects are comprehended in the attributes of God;
an idea is Idea so far as all things are objectively contained in
the idea of God; Power is so called in respect to the
power of God, by which, by an absolute freedom of will He was able to
create everything that
exists; finally, existence is the essence of things apart from God, and,
considered in itself alone, is attributed to things
after they have been created by God.
These four terms are not distinguished the one from the other except in created objects.
From this it is evident that these four terms are not to be distinguished
except in created objects; in God, in no way can they be differentiated.
For we cannot conceive that God is in the power of another, and
His existence, and His understanding are not to be separated from
From what has been said we can readily reply to certain
which have been asked. Such, for example, are the following:
Whether essence is different from existence; and if different,
is it something diverse from idea; and if different from idea, does it
comprehend something extra-mental; which last follows from necessity.
To the first in regard to distinction we would
reply, that essence in God is not different from existence,
indeed the one cannot be conceived without the other. In
other things essence differs from existence, for the one may be
conceived without the other. To the second point we
respond, that things which can be clearly and distinctly
conceived as extra-mental are something different from idea.
But then it is asked, whether that which is extra-mental exists in
itself alone, or whether it has been created by God.
To this we reply, that formal essence does not exist by its own
power, nor even when created. These two conditions
presuppose that the object exists in fact; but they depend upon
the divine essence alone, in which all things are
contained. So far we would assent to the opinion of
those who affirm that the essence of things is eternal.
Again it may be asked, How can we understand the essence
of things, when nature is not yet known; for all things, as we
have just said, depend upon the nature of God. To this I
reply that it is possible from the fact that things are now
actually created. For if things were not yet created I would
concede that it would be impossible until we had an adequate
knowledge of God's nature. In the same way it is
impossible, indeed more impossible then for us to know the
orderly nature of the applications of a parabola whose
nature is not yet known.
Why the author in his definition of essence refers to the attributes of God.
Although the essence of non-existing modes is comprehended in the
substance of these modes, and their real essence is these substances,
nevertheless we desire to refer them to God in order to explain
the essence of modes and of substances in general terms, and
because the essence of modes was not in substance prior to
creation and we are seeking for an eternal essence.
I do not think it worth while to refute those authors who think
differently from us, or even to examine their definitions or
descriptions of essence and existence; this
would only make what is clear more obscure. What, indeed, is
better known than the meaning of essence or
existence? How can we give a definition of anything which
does not at the same time explain its essence?
How the distinction between essence and existence can easily be seen.
Finally, if any philosopher is yet in doubt whether essence and existence
are distinguishable in created objects, he need not take much trouble
to remove that doubt. For if he will merely approach some statue or
object of wood, he will see how he conceives of the
object not yet existing in a certain manner, and how he knows that
it is really existing.