Suárez’s Metaphysics in Its Historical and Systematic Context, edited by Lukáš Novák

In: Journal of Jesuit Studies
Stephen Schloesser S.J. Loyola University Chicago,

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Contemporary Scholasticism vol. 2. Berlin; Boston: De Gruyter, 2014. Pp. vi + 348. Hb, $154.

Victor M. Salas and Robert L. Fastiggi, eds.

A Companion to Francisco Suárez. Brill’s Companions to the Christian Tradition vol. 53. Leiden; Boston: Brill, 2015. Pp. xii + 383. Hb, $193.

These two publications add to a growing body of recent scholarly treatments of Francisco Suárez (1548–1617) (Schloesser, “Recent Works in Jesuit Philosophy,” jjs 1, no. 1 (2014): 105–26). Although Suárez had no entry in the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy as late as 2013, that situation was remedied a year later by scholars Daniel Schwartz and Christopher Shields ( A major impetus for this renewed interest seems to be the way in which Suárez’s thought and historical location escape conventional categories—medieval, Renaissance, Baroque, early modern, and so on. Resisting classification, Suárez provokes reconsiderations of what makes the modern “modern.” Stepping back from the particularities of philosophy as a scholarly discipline, it might also be asked (in the spirit of a recent conference and forthcoming collection) whether there is something “distinctively Jesuit” about this thinker (see Robert A. Maryks, ed., Exploring Jesuit Distinctiveness: Interdisciplinary Perspectives on Ways of Proceeding within the Society of Jesus [Leiden: Brill, forthcoming 2016]).

Taking John O’Malley’s attention to Jesuit rhetorical accommodation of the individual as a starting point, at least five themes in Suárez studies emerge as possible candidates for “distinctiveness.”

  1. (1) Suárez attempts to synthesize seemingly incommensurable elements of two medieval Scholastics: the Franciscan Duns Scotus (c1265–1308), whose (Oxford) nominalism prefigured Renaissance humanism’s particularism, and his Dominican predecessor, Thomas Aquinas (1225–1274), whose (Sorbonne) essentialism enjoyed a revival of authority three centuries later at Trent (and consequently during Suárez’s intellectual career). Suárez ambiguously straddles the sixteenth-century Renaissance (an age of skepticism derived from nominalism) and the seventeenth-century Baroque (in Stephen Toulmin’s phrase) “Counter-Renaissance” (and its quest for certainty).
  2. (2) Suárez’s seemingly confused privileging of univocal being—even while acknowledging the officially mandated analogical position—exemplifies this Scotist-Thomist tension. Following Aquinas (and echoing Trent’s concerns), human knowledge of God’s radical otherness would be impossible without differences in being and without analogical thought. However, without univocity of being, science would be impossible and metaphysics itself could not be a science—all this in an age of “Scientific Revolution.” Two issues are related: Suárez’s emphasis on efficient causality as opposed to final (material vs. immaterial or physical vs. conceptual); and seemingly porous boundaries between mental and actual beings (leading toward René Descartes, Immanuel Kant, and “modernity”).
  3. (3) The individuating principle making a being a singular here and now is not matter, substantial form, or existence. Rather, “each thing individuates itself, and needs no other principle of individuation besides its entity” (see Novák, Suárez’s Metaphysics, 212).
  4. (4) Extending that principle to epistemology: human beings (and God) can know material singular existents—not merely abstract universals—“directly.” This opposes Aquinas, for whom “the intellect does not achieve, in fact, the cognition of the singulars; as they are material, they cannot be known directly by the (immaterial) intellect” (see Novák, Suárez’s Metaphysics, 280, 285).
  5. (5) Suárez was embraced by Reformed Scholastic philosophers—this during the Catholic-Protestant bloodbath of the Thirty Years’ War (1618–1648), which began the year after his death—as the inspiration for Schulmetaphysik. The Iberian Jesuit ironically became a leading intellectual progenitor of Germanic Reformation thought during the “Counter-Reformation,” a legacy eventually reverberating in the work of John Locke and Kant.

Although more common themes may be found coalescing in recent Suárez studies, these five suggest a starting point for outlining Jesuit “distinctiveness” in terms of a preference for the particular and the accommodation of the present (Schloesser, “Accommodation as a Rhetorical Principle,” jjs 1, no. 3 (2014): 347–72).

The essays collected by Lukáš Novák, the result of a 2008 conference held in Prague (, explore these and many other themes. Part One (“General Metaphysics”) opens with Marco Forlivesi and Rolf Darge tracing the roots of Suárez’s conception of metaphysics, including Scotistic and “pre-Scotistic—especially Thomistic—transcendental thought” (39). Arguing that Suárez located “truth [pre-]eminently in basic cognitive acts,” Giannina Burlando sees this “transfer of truth to concepts” having “set a new direction for modern epistemologies”—a “mentalist” turn that recent scholars have both applauded and lamented (depending on their stance toward “modernity”) (63, 84). Victor Salas notes that in his treatment of analogy, Suárez “deliberately places himself at odds with” Cardinal Thomas Cajetan (1469–1534), master of the Order of Preachers (the Dominicans), a pre-eminent Thomist, and Martin Luther’s chief opponent. (Another author observes: Suárez “was always eager to criticize Cajetan” [260].) Following others’ leads (including that of his mentor, John P. Doyle), Salas attempts to “untangle” the univocal-analogical tension with Suárez’s “notion of aptitudinal being as expressed through the confused concept of being” (95, 99).

Fittingly, Suárez’s unlikely Germanic line of reception receives significant attention in a volume published in Berlin. In his investigation of Protestant Schulmetaphysik as the mediating link between Suárez and Kantian transcendental philosophy, Costantino Esposito suggests two factors explaining the paradox of the Spanish Jesuit’s influence on German Protestant thought. First, Suárez’s Disputationes metaphysicae (Salamanca: Renaut, 1597) is “the first manual of ‘metaphysics’ that does not appear together with a commentary on Aristotle, but instead uses his opus as a source, or as a series of materials, for a new discipline.” (However, note Rolf Darge’s vigorously argued contrasting position in the Brill volume considered below.) Second, in developing “a pure metaphysics, the sole condition required is the minimum concept of being qua being (as real being), and all reference to the origin of being [i.e., God] can be left aside.” Suárez’s solution is both Renaissance humanist and Baroque scientific: “To think adequately about the supernatural order of creation, revelation and redemption, this order must be recognized as already present within the purely natural order, even if it is hidden, in the form of pure concepts. […] In order to understand the mystery of creation and redemption, we must no longer weaken the natural order, but instead emphasize it” (119, 120 emphasis added).

Marco Lamanna’s survey of the Reformation context identifies the first appearance of the term ontologia in the Ogdoas scholastica (Sangalli: Straub, 1606) of the Calvinist scholar Jakob Lorhard (1561–1609) (146). Marko J. Fuchs outlines an alternative history of philosophy that travels through Descartes and Spinoza, establishes an immanentist monist metaphysics, and ultimately becomes the basis for post-Kantian German Idealists like Friedrich Schelling and Georg Hegel (105). In sharp contrast to this positive Germanic reception, the Iberian context (argues Daniel D. Novotný) offers the counter-example of the younger Jesuit Pedro Hurtado de Mendoza (1578–1641). Novotný provocatively suggests that, just as Hurtado’s doctrine of “beings of reason” [entia rationis] simply ignored Suárez’s legacy, similar instances of Suárez’s “historical non-significance” will be uncovered in future close textual readings. “This means that Baroque scholasticism is [a] much more adventurous and exciting field for historians to study than previously thought” (206).

In Part Two (“Special Themes”), Jorge Secada considers Suárez’s “master argument” in his Disputationes metaphysicae “for the nominalist thesis” that “everything that exists is singular and individual” (211, 212). Simo Knuuttila and Anna Tropia both explore Suárez’s notion of “sympathy”—partly derived from Neoplatonic sources, employed by thirteenth-century Franciscans, and later found in Renaissance natural philosophy—as an explanation for how “singulars are known by the intellect before the universals” (270, 277, 286). While the late medieval Scotus held that “the soul’s dependence on phantasms” was a deficiency due to Original Sin, the late Renaissance Suárez rejected this theological claim and instead made a distinctly humanist one: “sympathy and connexion among the soul’s powers are the human intellect’s normal channel to acquire information about the world” (286–87). Saverio Di Liso concludes that Suárez moves beyond an Aristotelian physical understanding of efficient causality as the introduction of a form in matter or “principle of motion” [principium movendi]. Preferring “the Stoic, Avicennian and Albertist tradition, according to which efficiency is the ‘impulse’ to being or ‘principium essendi’ (principle of being),” Suárez “reduces the four causes to that of efficiency and establishes that efficiency is the principle that ‘pours’ or essentially imports being into the effect” (237–38). This apparent sidelining of final causality is softened by Stephan Schmid: he argues that for Suárez, even though final causes “might ontologically depend on” efficient causes, they cannot be reduced to them. “In order to explain free actions final causes turn out to be indispensable,” precisely because “they can be self-explanatory:” “the end […] is a cause in such a way that it does not have any prior cause nor any prior reason of causing” (307).

This volume comprises fifteen essays along with a brief introduction. Language might provide an obstacle for some readers. Twelve essays are in English and three in German; translations of the latter might have made for wider accessibility. Similarly, substantial block passages of Latin primary texts are handled unevenly. In some places, English translation is used in the text’s body and Latin originals placed in footnotes. In others, Latin texts are used in the body and left untranslated. Bibliographies at the end of each essay provide useful foundations for future investigations. Finally, the various studies are unified by a highly detailed “General Index,” another comprehensive “Index of Persons,” and a valuable “Index of Greek Terms.”

The Brill Companion to Francisco Suárez shifts our attention from specifically detailed metaphysics to a broad panoramic survey: metaphysics, epistemology, philosophical psychology, natural law, legal theory, systematic theology, and Protestant Scholasticism. The volume aims at situating Suárez “clearly within his own scholastic framework”—as opposed to a more Anglo-American analytic approach—“and therefore follows an historical and, at times, even continental methodology to address topics that are central themes.” In addition, since Suárez considered himself primarily a theologian, the volume considers “the theological character” of his “intellectual contribution” (vii). This double-pronged philosophical-theological approach is reflected in the editors’ respective disciplines: philosophy (Salas) and systematic theology (Fastiggi).

As might be expected in a “Companion,” the topical scope of the volume’s fourteen essays ranges widely; and the mostly broad surveys of individual subject matters defy any simple organization. Responding to this challenge, the editors’ opening “Introduction” is exemplary: complex conceptual arguments, finely detailed historical contexts, and presentations both lucid and concise. It will now be the starting place for anyone seeking an introduction to (or quick review of) “the Man and His Work.” The editors’ account of Suárez’s hand in implementing the Ratio studiorum (between 1585 and 1591) also helps explain a recurrent theme in Suárez scholarship: namely, that he has been judged by some to be “at best, […] as a (confused) member” of the Thomist or Scotist schools; “or, at worst, […] merely an eclectic thinker with no synthetic insight of his own” (363).

The Ratio’s rocky late sixteenth-century development offers a historical explanation for this “eclecticism.” By treating Aquinas’s vision simply as a model, the Ratio’s first draft provoked a backlash headed by the Spanish Inquisition, ending in the arrest of four Jesuit priests. The Jesuit superior general Claudio Acquaviva and Pope Sixtus V exchanged letters while Suárez mediated between the Inquisition and the Spanish Jesuits. The 1591 version elevated Aquinas’s position in revisions based on classroom experiences at Alcalá. The final 1599 revision “integrated two rather divergent educational models—one, a formal and unifying method from the Roman College, and the other favouring a more liberal approach from the Jesuit Schools in Spain” (6).

This Roman-Iberian “integration” between center and periphery helps explain Suárez’s Thomist-Scotist “eclecticism.” For example: unlike Aquinas, Suárez displays a humanist’s eye in affirming “that God would have become incarnate even if man had not sinned.” However, like Scotus, Suárez feels no need to insist (with Aquinas) on God’s work in history through secondary causes, instead affirming “Mary’s preservation from original sin” via divine intervention in her Immaculate Conception (6, 7). And yet Suárez’s strong Baroque reading of nature’s intrinsic rationality opposes both William of Ockham and Scotus, holding that “the natural law is immutable and cannot be abrogated, not even by the pope”—indeed, “not even by the absolute power of God” (16). The seeming inconsistency in such theological approaches, added to the metaphysical ones noted above (univocity/analogy; direct cognition of singulars), continues to fascinate and frustrate scholars.

From this historical overview, the volume first turns to Suárez’s political thought and legal theory, principally developed in two works (1612–13) toward the end of his life. Jean-Paul Coujou situates them in various historical contexts, including King James I’s absolutist monarchy and the debates between Juan Ginés de Sepúlveda and Bartolomé de las Casas over the status of indigenous Americans. Suárez developed theories of an original democracy, social contract, international order, tyrannicide, and the right to revolt. “For there to be a society,” Suárez reasoned, “it is necessary to make reference to the will being given, for without agreement, this same society remains inconceivable” (48). Thirty-five years before England’s execution of Charles I (1649) and another forty years before Locke’s “Second Treatise” (Two Treatises of Government [London: Awnsham Churchill, 1689]), Suárez rejected the Baroque notion that “God directly communicates [political] authority to a determined man, the monarch, as James I advanced with his theory of the divine right of kings” (58).

Suárez’s “modernity” is further explored by Jean-François Courtine in his exposition of Martin Heidegger’s influence by and use of Suárez in the early twentieth century. As noted above, Esposito (in Novák, Suárez’s Metaphysics) suggests that Suárez’s appeal for Protestant Scholastics lay in his “ontology” leaving aside reference to God. Courtine similarly associates Suárez with Heideggerian Gott-losigkeit (God-lessness) and the construction of ontology in contrast to “onto-theology.” “Philosophy is godless,” asserted Heidegger in 1926–27; “this does not mean there is no God, but it cannot any more affirm that there is a God” (85). Courtine pitches an unexpected opener in a volume emphasizing Suárez’s primary self-understanding as a theologian.

Twenty-five years ago, Courtine suggested that Suárez’s metaphysics tended more toward a “tinology” rather than “ontology,” i.e., a theory of “something [ti] in general,” a science of what is “thinkable”(Suárez et le système de la métaphysique [Paris: Presses Universitaires de France, 1990], 94n14). Rolf Darge vigorously departs from that position, arguing that Suárez’s radical transformation of Aristotle is “the new quidditative, entirely simple concept of being, which […] is predicated in just the same sense, from God and creature, substance and accidents” (121).

Esposito, editor of the Italian version of Courtine’s monograph (Il sistema della metafisica [Milan: Vita e pensiero, 1999]), identifies an “exquisitely baroque” place for Suárez in which tradition “curves” with “modernity” and is consequently shaped in a new “fold” (see Gilles Deleuze’s The Fold: Leibniz and the Baroque [Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1993]) (125). Luther’s radical separation between God and the world led to “a rift between the natural and supernatural.” Counter-Reformation theology reaffirmed the goodness of humanity and reason’s innate ability to grasp created being. Suárez’s dialectical “zig-zag” between theology and philosophy safeguards the Creator-creature difference by postulating a “pure nature”—“one not dominated by sin, which in principle—or better, as a hypothesis—does not need grace […] and with regard to which divine grace is effectively free, that is, not a must” (126, 138). Sixteenth-century Renaissance humanism’s residue seems worth underscoring: this “pure nature,” on par with “being as such,” was “the utterly ‘natural’ proof of God’s glory” and aptly fit the Jesuit motto: ad maiorem Dei gloriam (146). Co-editor Fastiggi, a systematic theologian, continues Esposito’s line with an overview of Suárez’s dogmatic theology. It provides a valuable starting point for any scholars seeking to investigate this ironically (in that Suárez was “primarily a theologian”) understudied area (162).

Daniel Heider’s essay on universals brings the volume back to ontology. Suárez inverts Scotus’s procedure by coming to universals “only after treating the convoluted issue of individual unity” (165). Similarly, he is “a sharp critic of all versions of the material principle of individuation” and “detaches himself from Aquinas” in that individuals “must be known directly by the intellect” (183). In the end, the theory of universals must make science possible; namely, science must be about “objective concepts or things (being the same for Suárez!)” and not “only about words or formal concepts” (191). Although they do not explicitly say as much, both Heider and Darge explore the nature and possibility of science in what was the age of “Scientific Revolution.” Is science about “reality” or hypothetical “models” of reality? This would be a central issue in 1615–1616, two decades after Suárez’s Disputationes (1597) and just one year before his death, in the exchange between Galileo and the Jesuit Robert Cardinal Bellarmine.

Simo Knuuttila provides a magisterial survey and synthesis of Suárez’s philosophical psychology in relation to his numerous predecessors. Knuuttila’s work (e.g., Emotions in Ancient and Medieval Philosophy [New York: Oxford University Press, 2004]) has become foundational reading in the “emotional turn” in both philosophy and history. His essay here significantly broadens out his contribution in Novák, Suárez’s Metaphysics on Suárez’s theory of “non-causal sympathetic connections between vital acts”: coordination [co-ordinatio], harmony [harmonia, consonantia], concord [consensus, consensio], and sympathy [sympathia] (197, 220). Suárez incorporates sixteenth-century theological, philosophical, and medical discussions using Neoplatonic sources found in Renaissance natural philosophy.

John Kronen’s essay returns to theology in his examination of Suárez’s influence on two representatives of the period of “high Protestant scholasticism,” between sixty and ninety years after his death: the Reformed Francis Turretin (   fl. 1679–1685) and the Lutheran David Hollaz (    fl. 1707). Diverging from Esposito (above) who suggests that Suárez’s appeal for Protestant Scholastics was an ontology leaving aside references to God (cf. Heidegger’s Gott-losigkeit), Kronen argues instead that it was precisely ontology’s function as the foundation grounding ancient theology that attracted them. Scholasticism arose only in “catholic Protestants,” not radicals who “either rejected the ancient creeds or accorded them little importance.” Since these “catholic Protestants” needed “the technical terminology that the Fathers had adopted from Greek philosophy,” they re-appropriated “the ontology implicit in the older theological terminology” so that they could “study with care the subtle analyses of that ontology in the Fathers and the Schoolmen” (222). After delineating examples of crisscrossing agreements and disagreements, Kronen provocatively asks whether “the generic distinction between Catholic and Protestant” was actually anything more than “a social construct founded on politics and tribal allegiances” (246).

Two more chapters return to metaphysics, and especially the problem of concepts, for which Suárez is interpreted by some as leading in the direction of modern “mentalism” (249n3). Daniel Novotný’s exposition of “beings of reason,” closely following Suárez’s own theoretical structure, will serve as a reading guide to Disputation 54 of the Disputationes, fortunately available in English (John P. Doyle, On Beings of Reason: Metaphysical Disputation liv [Milwaukee: Marquette University Press, 1995]). Michael Renemann evokes the necessity of considering theology in Suárez’s analysis of human knowledge. “We cannot doubt the knowability of things, since this knowability is intrinsic to them, due to the fact that they are known by God prior to their creation” (313, 332).

Another two of the remaining chapters ensure that the complex (or “confused”) character of Suárez’s thought endures to the volume’s end. José Pereira interprets Suárez’s complexity in historical terms. On the one hand, he was the “consummator” of the realist and Scholastic phase of philosophical speculation; on the other hand, “he was the initiator (though an unwitting one) of another phase, the idealist, modern, and nihilist.” For Pereira, this “shift from realism to idealism” was one from “cosmos” to “chaos:” “an era of irrepressible, if chaotic, creativity” (312). The volume concludes with co-editor Salas’s exposition of Suárez’s ambivalent approach to analogy, given his concern “for preserving the conceptual unity of being” (362). Here as with Heider and Darge above, it might be useful to explore Suárez within the context of the “Scientific Revolution,” living as he did in the wake of Copernicus, as Galileo’s contemporary. On the one hand, a (Scotist) unitary conception of being is necessary for science; on the other, Tridentine reaffirmations of (Thomist) analogy demanded knowledge of the Creator and the goodness of creation.

Paul Pace’s survey of “Suárez and the Natural Law” is perhaps the essay that most clearly underscores “Jesuit distinctiveness” and the early Jesuits’ Renaissance humanist origins. Suárez’s “interest in the challenges raised by the individual case gave him the more or less merited portrayal as being one of the fathers of casuistry” (296). Pace explicitly notes “Nominalism’s insistence on the importance of individual action” and its influence on Suárez’s thought (277, 283). Pace might profitably be read in tandem with Heider on universals and individuals. On the one hand, general, self-evident principles may be more universally accepted, while being less relevant and concrete; on the other, proximate conclusions and concrete actions are more relevant but “less likely to be universally accepted” (284). The key to casuistic flexibility in Suárez’s apparently rigid conception of natural law—capable of abrogation by neither pope nor God—lies in his divisions of the law’s precepts. Although natural law in itself (quoad substantiam) is singular and universal among humanity, human knowledge of it (quoad notitiam) is not (291). Positive formulations of its precepts in spoken or written words will only be approximations, i.e., “formulations that do not express well enough the natural precept as it is in itself” (292). Evaluating goodness or malice must thus depend on better formulations accounting for circumstances and concrete possibilities, grappling “with the concrete reality of each particular situation [in order] to arrive at the real natural law principle” (296). As Stephen Toulmin writes: “In practical disciplines, questions of rational adequacy are timely not timeless, concrete not abstract, local not general, particular not universal. They are the concern of people whose work is centered in practical and pastoral activities” (see Schloesser, “Accommodation,” 353). In a word: casuistry.

Thanks to several translations, all essays in the Brill Companion are accessible in English. A useful bibliography of Suárez’s writings (the twenty-eight volumes of the nineteenth-century Opera omnia, Paris 1856–1877), select medieval and Scholastic texts, and secondary literature serves as a point of departure for future explorations. Two indexes (author and subject) give the collection unity and continuity. Both the Brill and De Gruyter volumes suggest a corollary effect of untangling “eclectic” strands in this towering figure of “Jesuit philosophy”: a clearer emerging picture of what constitutes “Jesuit distinctiveness.”

DOI 10.1163/22141332-00301005-01

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