Suárez, Francisco (1548–1617)

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Francisco Suárez, the Spanish scholastic philosopher and theologian, "Doctor Eximius," was born at Granada. His father was a wealthy lawyer and Francisco was the second of eight sons, six of whom entered the religious life. In 1564 he applied for admission to the Jesuit order. Perhaps because of ill health he showed little promise at first, and he failed to pass the examinations. Suárez appealed the verdict of his examiners, but his second examinations were not much better than the first. The provincial agreed, however, to admit Suárez at a lower rank. Shortly after his admission to the order, he began his study of philosophy. He showed little promise in the next few months and considered abandoning his studies for a lesser occupation in the order. However, he was persuaded by his superior to continue his studies, and within the next few years he became an outstanding student. Completing his course in philosophy with distinction, he transferred to the theology curriculum at the University of Salamanca and soon became an outstanding theologian.

In 1571 he was appointed professor of philosophy at the Jesuit college in Segovia and shortly thereafter was ordained to the priesthood. From 1576 to 1580 he served at the University of Valladolid and was then honored with an appointment to the chair of theology at the Jesuit college in Rome. Five years later he was transferred to a similar chair at the University of Alcalá. He had now achieved considerable reputation as a theologian and in 1593 was singled out by Philip II of Spain for appointment to the chair of theology at the University of Évora in Portugal. The years at Évora saw the publication of such major works as the Disputationes Metaphysicae (1597); the De Legibus ac Deo Legislatore (1612); the Defensor Fidei (1613), a refutation of the Apologia of King James I of England; and the Varia Opuscula Theologica (1599), which embodied Suárez's contributions to the congruist movement. In 1616 Suárez retired from active teaching; he died the following year.

At the time of his death, Suárez's reputation as a philosopher and theologian was extraordinary, and his metaphysics dominated thought at Catholic and many Protestant universities for the next two centuries. René Descartes is said to have carried a copy of the Disputationes with him during his travels. The Ontologia of Christian Wolff owed much to Suárez, and Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz read him avidly. Arthur Schopenhauer declared that the Disputationes was an "authentic compendium of the whole scholastic wisdom." After Thomas Aquinas, to whom he owed much, Suárez is generally recognized as the greatest of the Scholastics. His philosophy will be considered under two headings, the metaphysics (including epistemology) and the philosophy of law.


The metaphysics of Suárez is basically Aristotelian and Thomistic yet also highly original. It reveals remarkable erudition and a profound knowledge of his medieval predecessors. Some of the outstanding features of Suárez's metaphysics may be shown in a brief exposition of his views on the nature of metaphysics, the theory of distinctions, the principle of individuation, the problem of universals, the knowledge of singulars, the doctrine of analogy, the existence of God, and the problem of freedom.

nature of metaphysics

Suárez defined metaphysics as the science of being qua being. Taken as a noun, being signifies a real essence; taken as a participle, being refers to the act of existing. A real essence is noncontradictory, and by real Suárez means that which can or actually does exist in reality. Being may also be distinguished as real being and conceptual being. Real being may be immaterial, material, substantial, or accidental. The concept of being is analogical, derived from knowledge of the various kinds of real being; it is not univocal. The metaphysician is concerned primarily with immaterial being, and metaphysics is necessary for an understanding of sacred theology.

theory of distinctions

Like his predecessors Suárez held that in God essence and existence are one. Aquinas held that in finite beings essence and existence are really distinct. Suárez, however, maintained that the distinction is solely one of reason, a mental or logical distinction, for to assert a real distinction presupposes a knowledge of existence, and this would entail an essence of existence. To the Thomist objection that the denial of real existence destroys the contingency of created beings, Suárez replied that it is unnecessary to add a real distinction to establish the contingency, for it is in the nature of created being to be contingent. The emphasis upon essence in contrast to existence led Étienne Gilson to refer to Suárez's metaphysics as "essentialistic" in contrast to the "existentialistic" metaphysics of Aquinas.

principle of individuation

The principle of individuation is neither the materia signata of Aquinas nor the haecceitas of John Duns Scotus, although Suárez agreed with Scotus that "individuality adds to the common nature [essence] something which is mentally distinct from that nature and which together with the nature constitutes the individual metaphysically." In composite substances both form and matter individuate, for the essence of the individual is made up of both matter and form, with form the principal determinant. Individuals may be distinguished on the basis of their matterfor example, quantitybut their individuation is determined by form and matter, not by our mode of cognition.

problem of universals

Universals have no existence either in reality or in individuals. There are only individuals; universals do have a foundation in reality, however, for the mind abstracts them from the likenesses of individuals. Suárez criticizes the Ockhamists for insisting that universals are only words or mental constructs, but it is difficult to dissociate his position from theirs, for he strongly insists that there are as many essences as individuals and that each individual being is an individual essence.

knowledge of singulars

With Scotus, Suárez maintained that the intellect has a direct knowledge of singulars. "Our intellect knows the individual material object by a proper species of it our intellects know individual material objects without reflection." Suárez maintained that the active intellect can have this kind of knowledge, for there is nothing contradictory about such knowledge and it is in conformity with experience. Furthermore, it is the function of the active intellect to make the passive intellect as similar as possible to the representation of the phantasms. Unlike Aquinas, Suárez maintained that the passive intellect can abstract the universal and that the active intellect can know the individual material object.

doctrine of analogy

Suárez rejected the Scotist doctrine of the univocity of being. Like Aquinas he accepts the analogicity of being, but he insists that there is only an analogy of attributionnot of proportionalitywhich possesses an element of metaphor. "Every creature is being in virtue of a relation to God, inasmuch as it participates in or in some way imitates the being of God."

existence of god

A metaphysical rather than a physical proof is needed to establish the existence of God. The major defect in the Aristotelian argument from motion is the principle that "everything which is moved is moved by another." For this principle Suárez substituted the metaphysical principle that "everything which is produced is produced by another." From this principle he argued that there must be an unproduced or uncreated being, for an infinite regress either of a series or a circle of finite beings cannot be accounted for. And even if an infinite series were accepted, such a series would depend on a cause external to it. From the conclusion that there exists an uncreated being, Suárez proceeded to demonstrate that there is only one such being. Regarding the nature of such a being, its perfection, wisdom, infinitude, and so on, he followed Aquinas.

problem of freedom

Like Luis de Molina, Suárez was convinced that the Thomist doctrine that God physically predetermines the free act of the individual nullified man's freedom. Suárez maintained that through the scientia media God knows from all eternity what an individual will do if his grace is extended to him, and he consequently gives sufficient grace to effect the congruent action of the individual's will with his grace.

Philosophy of Law

Although Aquinas's influence on Suárez is apparent, Suárez was a highly original and influential thinker in the philosophy of law. He effected the transition from the medieval to the modern conception of natural law, and his influence is particularly noticeable in the work of Hugo Grotius.

nature of law

Suárez maintained that Aquinas's definition of law as "an ordinance of reason directed to the common good" placed an inordinate emphasis on reason or intellect. Suárez did not deny that reason has a part in the law, but he did hold that obligation is the essence of law and that obligation is essentially an act of will. He defined law as "an act of a just and right will by which a superior wills to oblige his inferior to do this or that."

eternal law

Like Aquinas, Suárez distinguished between eternal, divine, natural, and human law. However, the treatment of each is based on Suárez's contention that law is fundamentally an act of will. Eternal law is the divine providence that extends to all creatures and from which the other laws are derived. Defined as "a free decree of the will of God, who lays down the order to be observed," it is immutable and has always existed with God. It differs from the other laws, whose origins depend upon their promulgation; the eternal law receives its promulgation only through the other laws. Man's knowledge of such a law is limited and is reflected in his acceptance of the divine law, the discovery of the natural law, and his promulgation of the human law.

divine law

Divine law is the direct revelation of Godthe Mosaic law. The power and the will of God are the source of man's obligation to obey the divine law. In contrast, the power and the obligation of the human law are directly the will of the legislator, although indirectly the will of God.

natural law

Natural law receives considerable attention from Suárez. This law is the participation of the moral nature of man in the eternal law. The natural law is based on the light of reason, but it is the work of the divine will and not the human will; its ultimate source is God, the supreme legislator. The natural law is not identified with man's nature; it transcends his will. The precepts of the natural law are the general and primary principlesto do good and avoid evil; the more definite and specific principlesthat God must be worshiped; and certain moral precepts that may be deduced from the primary principlesthat usury is unjust, adultery wrong, and so on. There is no dispensation from the natural law; its precepts are immutable. Thus, the introduction of private property did not reflect a change in the natural law, for although the natural law conferred all things upon men in common, it did not positively enjoin that only this form of ownership should endure.

human law

Human law must be based on either the divine law or the natural law and is best exemplified in political philosophy. Following Aristotle, Suárez held that man is a social animal. He rejected the view that political society is artificial, the result of a social contract or an enlightened egoism. The state is natural, and the legislative power is derived from the community and exists for the good of the community. The ultimate source of such power is God, who bestows it as a natural property upon the community. Such power is actualized only upon the formation of a political society. The form of government is essentially a matter of choice by the people. The modernity of Suárez is revealed in his rejection of the medieval ideal of the imperial power. He accepted the sovereignty of individual rulers and was skeptical of the feasibility of a world state. In discussing the rule of tyrants, he distinguished between a legitimate ruler who behaves tyrannically and a usurping tyrant. Revolt against the latter is self-defense; it is even legitimate to resort to tyrannicide provided that the injustice is extreme and the appeal to authority impossible. In the case of the legitimate ruler, the people have a right to rebel, for they bestowed the power upon the ruler. Tyrannicide is rejected here, and the rules of a just war must be followed. Suárez maintained that war is not intrinsically evil; just and defensive wars are permissible, and considerable attention is given to the conditions for waging a just war. Suárez also rejected the extremist views of papal power over temporal rulers, but he argued for the spiritual supremacy and jurisdiction of the papacy. This implied that the papacy has an indirect power to direct secular rulers for spiritual ends.

See also Aristotelianism; Duns Scotus, John; Essence and Existence; Gilson, Étienne Henry; Leibniz, Gottfried Wilhelm; Molina, Luis de; Natural Law; Ockhamism; Peace, War, and Philosophy; Philosophy of Law, History of; Schopenhauer, Arthur; Scientia Media and Molinism; Thomas Aquinas, St.; Thomism; Universals, A Historical Survey; Wolff, Christian.


modern editions

Works mentioned in text and others are to be found in the Opera Omnia. 28 vols. (Paris, 18561878). The Disputationes Metaphysicae have appeared in a Latin and Spanish edition (Madrid, 19601964). For the philosophy of law see especially the Selections from Three Works of Francisco Suárez, S.J. (De Legibus, Defensor Fidei, and De Triplici Virtute Theologica ). 2 vols. (Classics of International Law, No. 20, Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1944). There is an introduction by J. B. Scott.

bibliographical works

McCormick, J. J. A Suarezian Bibliography. Chicago, 1937.

Mugica, P. Bibliografica suareciana. Granada, 1948.

Scorraille, R. de. François Suarez de la compagnie de Jésus, d'après ses lettres, ses autres écrits inédits et un grand nombre de documents nouveaux. 2 vols. Paris: Lethielleux, 19121913. The most authoritative bibliographical study.

metaphysical and epistemological studies

Alejandro, J. M. La gnoseologica del Doctor Eximio y la accusación nominalista. Comillas, Spain, 1948.

Breuer, A. Der Gottesbeweiss bei Thomas und Suarez. Fribourg, Switzerland, 1930.

Conza, E. Der Begriff der Metaphysik bei Franz Suarez. Leipzig, Germany, 1928.

Descoqs, P. "Thomisme et Suarezisme." Archives de philosophie 4 (1926): 434544.

Dumont, P. Liberté humaine et concours divin d'après Suarez. Paris, 1960.

Grabmann, M. "Die Disputationes Metaphysicae des Franz Suarez." In Mittelalterliches Geistesleben. 3 vols., Vol. I, 525560. Munich: Hueber, 19261956.

Hellin, J. La analogía del ser y el conocimiento de Dios en Suárez. Madrid, 1947.

Mahieu, L. François Suarez, sa philosophie et les rapports qu'elle a avec la théologie. Paris, 1921.

Mullaney, T. Suárez on Human Freedom. Baltimore: Carroll Press, 1950.

philosophy of law studies

Perena Vicente, L. Teoría de la guerra en Francisco Suárez. 2 vols. Madrid: Consejo Superior de Investigaciones Cientificas, Instituto Francisco de Vitoria, 1954.

Recaséns Siches, L. La filosofía del derecho en Francisco Suárez. Madrid, 1927.

Rommen, Heinrich. Die Staatslehre des Franz Suarez. Munich and Gladbach: Volksvereins-Verlag, 1926.

collected essays

Estudios eclesiásticos 22 (8586) (1948).

Gemelli, A., ed. Scritti vari. Milan: Vita e pensiero, 1918.

Pensamiento, special issue, 4 (1948).

John A. Mourant (1967)