In the Platonic tradition, where the notion was first systematically developed, participation (μέθεξις) signifies the derivation of temporal diversity from eternal unity, and the structural dependence of the many on the One. In Christian thought it means the complete dependence of creatures on the Creator in the order of efficient, exemplary, and final causality. Not only was the word commonly used by the Fathers and schoolmen, but the notion is fundamental to their entire thought.
Various Usages. In ordinary usage the word signifies a sharing or taking part in a common effort, glory, nature, or movement; thus in every order of causality one may "share" or "take part" in some whole (pars, part; and capere, take). As a transitive verb, it signifies the act of giving or communicating something to others, as when we say that God shares or participates His life, goodness, and truth with creatures. Ordinarily it is used in the intransitive sense of a subject "having a part" or "taking part" in some reality (physical, moral, or spiritual), as though a whole were somehow divided among many. In this sense it is said that Christ "deigned to become partaker of our humanity" (Sacram. Leon., 159). The postclassical abstract noun designates the active and passive reality of sharing or communicating. In grammar the adjectival form of a verb called a participle similarly signifies a subject sharing some quality or situation (cf. Isidore, Etymol. 1.21.11; Patrologia Latina [Paris 1878–90] 82:88).
In philosophical usage the word is analogical, always involving a reference of many to one or one to many. "To participate is to take a quasi part; thus when something receives a part of what belongs to another fully, it is said 'to share' it, just as man is said to share animality because he does not have the whole of animality exclusively; for the same reason Socrates shares humanity; similarly even a subject shares accidents, and matter shares form, because substantial or accidental form, which of its very nature is common, is limited to this or that subject; likewise an effect is said to participate in its cause, particularly when it does not equal the cause, as when we say that the air shares the light of the sun, because it does not receive light with the same brilliance that exists in the sun" (St. Thomas, In Boeth. de hebdom. 2.24).
Origins with the Greeks. The philosophical notion of participation was used by plato to explain the relation between the contingent, individual forms and the eternal, unchangeable Ideas. aristotle attributes the origin of this doctrine to the Pythagoreans, who taught that all things exist by imitation (μίμησις) of numbers; for him, Plato simply introduced the new term participation (μέθεξις) and said that all things exist by participation, changing only the name. According to Aristotle, both the Pythagoreans and Plato left undecided what this participation or imitation of Forms could be (Meta. 987b 10–14). It is true that the doctrine of participation in the writings of Plato is undeveloped and includes all types of being involving any kind of dependence, likeness, coexistence, and the like.
History of the Concept
Already in the Phaedo things are said "to participate" (μετάσχεσις: 100C, 101C), "to receive" (μετάληψις: 102B), to be what they are by a "presence or communion" (παρουσία, κοινωνία: 100D; also Rep. 437E; Soph. 247A, 248C, E) or even by an "appertaining" (ἐπε[symbol omitted]ναι, παραγιγνεσθαι: 103D, 105C; cf. Symp. 211B) of the "model" in which many participate (Phaedo 78D; cf. Rep. 476A, D; 496A; 507B). In this doctrine Plato saw the answer to Zeno's problem: if many things exist, they must simultaneously be similar and dissimilar, one and many, in motion and in rest (Parm. 127E); Plato's answer is that the "Ideas" do not combine with sensible things but exist per se "apart" (καθ'α[symbol omitted]τά: Phaedo 129D–130A).
Plato and Aristotle. According to Aristotle, who apparently is reporting the oral teaching of the master, between sensible things and separated Forms Plato placed mathematical beings, "which occupy an intermediate position, differing from sensible things in being eternal and unchangeable, from Forms in that there are many alike, while the Form itself is in each case unique" (Meta. 987b 15–18). For Plato the object of wisdom is the Idea as Exemplar (παράδειγμα), the Idea as "that which completely is" (το παντελ[symbol omitted]ς [symbol omitted]ν) and therefore "perfectly knowable" (το παντελ[symbol omitted]ς γνωστόν) as "the One among many" (τླྀ ἓν ἐπὶ τ[symbol omitted]ν πολλ[symbol omitted]ν), thus permitting knowledge transcending the perception of transitory and corruptible things (τླྀ νοε[symbol omitted]ν τι φθαρίντος: Soph. 248E). In the Dialogues of his maturity Plato presents two orders of participation: that of sensible objects in ideal Forms, and that of Forms among themselves. This extension of the notion of participation to the ideal Forms themselves was important for the later development of philosophy, for it allows for various kinds of participation [μετέχεινδ[symbol omitted] πολλ[symbol omitted]ν οὐδέν κωλύει: Parm. 161A; cf. P. Natorp, Platos Ideenlehre (2d ed., Leipzig 1921) 231, 469–470].
One of the major difficulties inherent in the Platonic notion of participation, based as it is on the logicomathematical relation of the universal to the particular, is the famous problem of the "third man" (τρίτος ἄνθρωπος) discussed by Plato (Parm. 132A, B) and urged by Aristotle (Meta. 990b 17 and 1059b 8): If similarity among many individuals presupposed a "form in itself," then the similarity of the many to the one presupposes another form, and so on (see the detailed argument in Alexander of Aphrodisia, In meta. 990a 15, ed. Hayduck, 83–85). For this and other reasons, Aristotle firmly and contemptuously rejected Platonic participation: "To say that they are patterns and that other things share them is to use empty words (κενολογε[symbol omitted]ν) and poetical metaphors" (μεταφορὰς λέγειν ποιητικάς: Meta. 991a 20; cf. 1079a 4–13, 1079b 24–26).
In opposition to the Platonic imitation of a transcendent ideal, Aristotle insisted on the immanence of concrete forms and on the true causality of particular causes on particular effects. Aristotle did not deny the existence of spiritual substances, intelligences, or souls in celestial bodies (Cael. 285a 29–30), but his insistence on physical causality distinguished his doctrine from Platonic participation. The apparent impasse was solved in two ways. Pure Aristotelians such as Alexander of Aphrodisias explained participation by means of causality, while Neoplatonists admitted the necessity of causality within the framework of participation. This latter approach was more influential in Christian thought.
Neoplatonic Teaching. The distinctive aim of neo-platonism was to show the basic harmony between Plato and Aristotle, blaming Aristotle's critique on Plato's faulty expression through "poetic metaphors," "myths," etc. For pagan Neoplatonists it was important to demonstrate the overall harmony between the two outstanding Greek philosophers in order to defend the Greek ideal of wisdom against what they regarded as a barbaric religion founded on expiation for sin by the Crucifixion of Christ.
While faithful to the basic principle of Platonic participation, Neoplatonism transformed it in such a way as to make Aristotle's critique and principles its own. This harmony between Plato and Aristotle was already proclaimed by Ammonius, the teacher of Plotinus, who transcended apparent differences by his "intensive method" (Photius, Bibl. cod. 214; PG 103: 701A–708B). For the Latin West boethius proclaimed this same harmony (In Arist. de interp. 2, prol.; Patrologia Latina 64:433). In Arabic Neoplatonism the theme of agreement pervaded the whole of philosophy; for alfarabi the difference between the two philosophers was simply one of method— Plato chose analysis, Aristotle synthesis—and Aristotle was seen as "the follower and perfecter, the help and consultor of Plato" [F. Dieterici, Alfarabis philosophische Abhandlungen (Leiden 1892) 3, 17–21].
Plotinus. plotinus, the most eminent representative of Neoplatonism, clearly absorbs Aristotelian notions in his Platonic synthesis. In his celebrated doctrine of the three Hypostases (Mind, Soul, Life), Plotinus tried desperately to reduce the distance between transcendence and immanence. For him the νο[symbol omitted]ς of Aristotle coincided with the ὄντως ὄν of Plato since the Mind, the supreme principle of the world, cogitates a multiplicity of Ideas, which are the eternal exemplars of all reality and true knowledge. This multiplicity of Ideas cannot be derived from the sensible world, but from Mind itself. Thus Plato's world of Ideas is localized by Plotinus in the νο[symbol omitted]ς of Aristotle. The crucial problem of causality is solved by the doctrine of emanation (πρόοδος) by means of the world soul, which fashions the world and everything in it according to the separated Ideas in Mind. Since for Plotinus the separated Ideas are endowed with specific quantities, qualities, movements, and rest, all sensible realities depend on the Ideas and derive from them their individual movements and appropriate changes of quantity and quality [cf. A. Covotti, Da Aristotele ai Bizantini (Naples 1935) 226–228]. see emanationism.
Proclus. More profoundly, the syncretist, Neoplatonic notion of participation revived the pre-Socratic notion of "dialectical method," which reached its widest application in proclus. The novelty of this dialectic, explicitly introduced into the doctrine of participation, is the importance given to negation as the momentum of change, and consequently as the foundation of dialectics itself [cf. G. W. F. Hegel, Geschichte der Philosphie, ed. Michelet (Berlin 1833) 2.66]. These negations (ἀποφάσεις) were not considered privations of being, but productions of opposite determinations, as sketched in Plato's Parmenides. Proclus maintained that "the method of negations (τρέπος τ[symbol omitted]ν ἀποφάσεων) has an unusual character; it conforms to the dignity of the One; its function is primary; it far transcends all things in the unknowable and ineffable excellence of simplicity" (Theologia Platonis, 2.10). The work of Proclus marks the high point in the speculative synthesis of Plato and Aristotle, replacing the negative attitude of Alexander (see the explicit statement of Simplicius, In 3 de caelo, 7.306a 1).
In general it can be said that Arabic Neoplatonism and augustinianism developed the common, intuitive notion of participation ascending toward the One; it stemmed from the traditions of Plotinus and Porphyry. The Thomistic notion of participation, on the other hand, is directly inspired by the more rigorous dialectical method, which stemmed from iamblichus and Proclus through pseudo-dionysius and the small Arabic work entitled liber de causis .
From the beginning St. thomas aquinas appreciated the radical difference between Platonic and Aristotelian principles. Rejecting the Neoplatonic concordism prevalent in medieval Augustinianism and Arabic writers, he developed a precise notion of participation based upon a new concept of esse as the actus essendi, not to be confused with the existentia of Augustinianism and rationalism. It is from the concept of esse as the ultimate act that St. Thomas developed his notion of participation and his entire metaphysics (see existence).
Basic Elements. The most important elements in the Thomistic notion of participation include the concepts of act, of the unicity of the substantial form, of the personal individuality of the human soul, and of the real distinction between essence and esse, or act of being, in creatures.
Concept of Act. Aquinas's starting point is the Aristotelian concept of act as perfection in se and per se. Thus by its very nature act is prior to potency, whether it is understood as activity or as form. St. Thomas accepted this "primacy of act" without reservation, and rejected the attempt of avicebron to reduce everything to potency instead of to act. Because of this new concept of act as perfection, the affirmation of being, there arose a new and wider concept of potency as capacity to receive perfection, i.e., negation as privation. Two important consequences follow from this for St. Thomas: (1) Potency is not a univocal concept signifying prime matter alone, but an analogical concept embracing all the ways a thing can be a subject of act: "Being a subject is not peculiar to the matter that is part of substance, but is a universal property of all potentiality" (De subs. sep. 8).(2) Prime matter, being exclusively a "subject," can have no act whatever of its own; all its actuality stems from form so that not even God can make matter exist without form (Quodl. 3.1.1). (see matter and form).
Unicity of Substantial Form. The second element in the Thomistic metaphysics of participation follows from this new concept of act and potency: the unicity of substantial form in all bodies, living and nonliving. In man this unique substantial form is his intellectual soul. For St. Thomas a "plurality of forms," even hierarchically ordered from lowest (forma corporeitatis ) to the highest (forma intellectiva ), would destroy the essential unity of act in man; all acts after the first could be nothing but accidental forms. This view was fiercely contested during St. Thomas's lifetime, because it seemed to deny that Christ's dead body continued to be divine when separated from a permanent form; but for St. Thomas divinity and identity were due not to form, but to the Person of the Word who continued to be united hypostatically to both body and soul (Quodl. 2.2.1 and ad 1). In St. Thomas's view, the single form in man is responsible not only for the spiritual functions of thinking and willing, but also for the lower functions of sensation, nutrition, and natural motions (Summa Theologiae 1a, 76.3–5). Thus the higher form is said to contain the lower forms virtually. (see forms, unicity and plurality of.)
Individuality of the Soul. The third element in the Thomistic metaphysics of participation is the personal individuality of the human soul and its functions. This rejection of the principal Averroist tenet is developed under two aspects: (1) Phenomenologically, one's consciousness, thoughts, aspirations, desires, and loves are seen to be personal functions, belonging to a concrete, individual person. (2) Metaphysically, the ground of this phenomenon is seen to be none other than the personal intellectual soul (first act), which is the root of human activity (second act). The immateriality of certain personal functions, such as thinking and aspiring, indicates that the personal soul has an immaterial esse proper to it and inseparable from it: "Esse properly belongs to the form, which is act…. But it is impossible that a form be separated fromitself; therefore it is impossible that a subsistent form should cease to be" (Summa Theologiae 1a, 75.6; 50.5).
Essence and Esse. The fourth element in the Thomistic metaphysics of participation is the real distinction in all created things between essence and the act of being (esse ). This fundamental Thomistic insight, originally derived from Boethius and avicenna, was eventually seen as a consequence of the primacy of act in participation. This is seen in two stages: (1) Being (esse ) is the first perfection and the act of all acts (ibid. 1a, 4.1 ad 3, 2); pure perfection (perfectio separata ) cannot be anything but unique; subsisting being must be one, namely God, whose essence is to be. (2) All creatures, whose essence is not to be, must participate or share existence as a gift; thus all creatures are beings (entia ) by participation. In this view essence is a subject, a potentiality for esse, which is the sublime reality shared by many as a gift from God. With this view of participation, St. Thomas could reject Augustinianism, which made matter essential for creatures, and Averroism, which made immaterial substances (intelligences) independent of God's creative and sustaining act. Finally, this participation is the basis for the Thomistic doctrine of analogy between God and creatures, for just as God is being by essence (per essentiam ), so creatures are being by participation (per participationem: see Summa Theologiae 1a, 4.3 ad 3). In St. Thomas's conception, esse is no longer an accident, as Avicenna thought, but the immanent act of substance, and the proper effect of God alone (Quodl. 12.5.1).
Kinds of Participation. Some Thomists (e.g., L. B. Geiger) believe that St. Thomas developed two notions of participation, each distinct: (1) Participation by similitude (secundum similitudinem ), in which participated beings diversely reflect, mirror, or symbolize the reality participated. (2) Participation by composition (secundum compositionem ), in which a subject shares, or has, the participated characteristic, e.g., esse. In this view creatures not only participate in esse by composition, but the very composite is a "similitude" reflecting God.
Static Structure of Being. Other Thomists, rejecting this interpretation of the Thomistic synthesis, prefer to see in St. Thomas's doctrine of participation a complete dissolution (the Hegelian Aufhebung ) of the Platonic-Aristotelian tension. For these, esse as the act of all acts must be distinguished not only from essence, but also from existence in the Kantian sense. In order to preserve the theory of actus essendi, they prefer to divide participation initially into transcendental and predicamental: the first type concerns esse and its transcendental attributes; the second concerns univocal formalities of genus with respect to species, and species with respect to individuals. Transcendental participation of esse has already been mentioned; it is the second that needs special consideration because of its Aristotelian roots. It is true, as Aristotle says, that genera and species are predicated of subjects essentially (per essentiam ) and not by participation (per participationem ). However, a genus is differently realized and actualized in the various species according to different degrees of participated perfection (cf. Fabro, La nozione metafisica di participazione, 161). Thus while genera and species may be logically predicated as univocal and essential attributes, in the physical order they must be considered as potestative wholes, capable of being shared unequally according to different degrees of perfection. Predicamentally even individual men participate in human nature (see text of In Boeth. de hebdom. 2.24, quoted above). St. Thomas speaks about predicamental participation when he says, "Just as this individual man participates in human nature, so every created being participates, if I may say so, in the nature of being (naturam essendi ), since only God is His esse " (Summa Theologiae 1a, 45.5 ad 1; cf. C. gent. 1.32; Quodl. 2.2.1). Thus in a static or structural consideration of beings, transcendental participation is the real composition of subject and esse, while predicamental participation is the real composition of matter and form in essence, and substance and accident in general.
Causal Participation. Parallel to this static consideration of being, one must consider the dynamic or causal order. Causal participation is likewise twofold: transcendental and predicamental. Causal transcendental participation is the production of the common esse of all creatures by creation (De pot. 3.5 ad 1–2; De ver. 21.5 ad 5–6). Esse is the proper effect of divine causality (creation and divine conservation), and it is in virtue of this direct production of esse that God works immediately on every created cause. Causality as predicamental participation, on the other hand, is concerned with fieri or becoming in the order of genera and species. Here the pertinent principle is "form gives esse " (forma dat esse ), which seems to invert the causal relationship discovered in the transcendental order. However, the principle has two meanings: (1) substantial form bestows formal and constitutive esse, inasmuch as it confers a specific kind of being; (2) substantial form as formal act of the essence is the true subject of the actus essendi (C. gent. 2.54). Thus form is the predicamental mediator between God and the existing finite being (cf. Fabro, Participation et causalité, 344–362). From this it follows that in all the actions of creatures, even the free actions of men, God intimately operates in all things as the universal First Cause of all being and all activity. Creatures, however, participate in this causality only on condition that they likewise remain true and responsible causes of action.
Extension of Participation. To the extent that participation allows one to conceive the universe as a reflection of divine ideas or exemplars, one may speak of participation by similitude. The exemplary causality of immaterial forms on material forms is expressed by Boethius (De trin. 2), while Pseudo-Dionysius refers to the exemplars of all existing things as preexisting in the mind of God (De div. nom. 5.8; Patrolgia Graeca 3:824). But here again participation by similitude must be considered in both the transcendental and the predicamental orders. Transcendentally this similitude exists in the relation of dependence of finite being on the Infinite (see infinity). In the predicamental order this similitude can be seen in the universal affinity all beings have for each other. Thus lower beings tend to approach the more perfect as though they participated in their perfections. This ontological affinity, which orders the entire cosmos, can be expressed as the principle of the metaphysical continuity of beings, which St. Thomas borrows directly from Pseudo-Dionysius: "Divine wisdom joins the highest of the lower to the lowest of the higher" (De div. nom. 7.3; Patrologia Graeca 3:872; cf. Proclus, Elem. theol., prop. 147, ed. Dodds, 128).
In view of this principle, all created knowledge can be seen in terms of participation. Thus angelic intuitive knowledge of itself resembles (by participation) divine intuition, while through infused species it participates in all other things (Summa Theologiae 1a, 56.2; De subs. sep. 13). Similarly, human intuitive knowledge of first principles resembles angelic "intellection," while man's more characteristic knowledge is reasoning, whereby he reaches out to all other reality. Even the highest of the sense faculties, the cogitative power, participates in rationality and in a certain freedom (ibid. 1a, 78.4 ad 5; In 3 anim. 13.397). Likewise, sense appetites participate in rationality and freedom when they obey the order of right reason (In 3 sent. 184.108.40.206; Summa Theologiae 2a2ae, 47.5 ad 1); this participation is realized through moral virtue.
From this principle of the metaphysical continuity of all being also emerges a conception of the world as an orderly solidarity of all things (De ver. 16.1). This continuity, imperfectly realized in the static structure of being, reaches its fullness when beings reach their ultimate goals through activity. For man this ultimate goal is the dynamic, supernatural union with God that is possible only through grace, which is a participation in the life and powers of God as He is in Himself. "Only a rational creature is capable of God (capax Dei ) in this way, because he alone can know and love God explicitly" (De ver. 22.2 ad 5); for this reason "only rational creatures have an immediate directedness to God" (Summa Theologiae 2a2ae, 2.3). Consequently, because man's spirit is infinitely receptive, he cannot find complete happiness in anything that is good only by participation, but can find it only in Him who is goodness per essentiam (ibid. 1a2ae, 3.7). This is eternal beatitude. The highest and most sublime participation ever willed by God is the personal union of the Word with human nature in Christ. As "a partaker of our human nature" God not only renewed the whole human race (ἀνακεφαλαίωρις), but He also gave men the power to become partakers of divinity through the grace of Christ.
Participation and Analogy. The Platonic theory of vertical imitation and the Aristotelian theory of horizontal causality of universals on particulars tend to emphasize formal univocity, while the true language of participation is necessarily that of analogy. The Thomistic notion of participation, founded in esse as supreme intensive act, makes it possible to pass from finite to Infinite Being through analogical discourse. Since the foundation of all analogical language is participation, the three basic types of analogy are discussed here in terms of participation.
Analogy of Proportionality. Basically this analogy, whether proper or metaphorical, is a proportion of two or more proportions, for example, accidents are to their being proportionately what substance is to its being. Despite the radical difference between substance and accident, there is a certain proportional similarity that allows us to use one predicate of both analogically. The basis of this proportional similarity is the fact that all accidents participate in the being (esse ) of substance. Thus while the formal, logical structure of this kind of analogy is simply relations of similarity, its root is actual dependence and participation. In the wider, transcendental order, all creatures have their esse by participation from God, Ipsum Esse Subsistens. Consequently the analogical proportionality between the goodness of God and the goodness of creatures, the wisdom of God and the wisdom of creatures, and the like, is based on the fact of transcendental participation, which is the basis also for predicamental participation (composition of substance and accidents, matter and form). It is this static analogy of proportionality that is expressed in the tension of similarity-dissimilarity according to the Platonic view of the vertical "fall" of beings. Moreover, it is precisely through this static analogy of proportionality that beings obtain the proper consistency of esse, each in its own way, since each being is actuated by the proper act of participated esse. For St. Thomas—in keeping with the demands of Heidegger—the difference between to be and to exist is founded on being, as intensive emergent act, that is diversely shared by each being.
Analogy of Attribution. In contrast to static analogy of proportions, analogy of intrinsic attribution is dynamic in that it is based on causality and dependency. In analogy of attribution, a term that properly belongs to one subject, for example, healthy in body, is attributed to other subjects because of some causal dependence, for example, healthy apples, healthy medicine, and so on. In the analogy of being, esse properly belongs to God alone, but it is predicated of creatures because God creates and conserves the esse of each creature. This analogy is called intrinsic attribution because each creature really does have being intrinsically, even though it is from another. Analogy of attribution emphasizes the "otherness" of the characteristic participated. Thus creatures are being only by participation (ens per participationem ), and accidents are being only by participation. In this way analogy of proportionality presupposes analogy of attribution in the existential order. For this reason analogy of attribution culminates metaphysical investigation in resolving the many to the One, the diverse to the All. While pantheism denies the transcendence of God, either by reducing God to creatures or by identifying creatures with God, the metaphysics of St. Thomas maintains the transcendence of God above all creatures and at the same time recognizes His immanence in participated being. In fact, only a doctrine of participation can maintain both His transcendence and His immanence.
Analogy of Inequality. The analogy of inequality within genera and species, as has been explained, is founded on predicamental participation. While the logician considers genera and species to be univocal abstractions, the realist sees that a genus is differently realized in the various species; that is, the perfection of the genus is unequally shared by the various species within a given genus. This inequality of participation is the indispensable condition for multiplicity of species, just as the indispensable condition for multiplicity of individuals is the divisibility of matter. Thus from the formal point of view, a generic definition is univocally predicated of various subjects, but from the existential point of view, these subjects participate unequally in the full perfection (cf. Summa Theologiae 1a2ae, 88.1 ad 1; C. gent. 1.32).
See Also: being; existence; emanationism; immanence; transcendence; act; causality; analogy.
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