Author: Victor Salas
Part of: Suárez’s Metaphysics (coord. by Simone Guidi)
Peer-Reviewed: Yes
Published: February, 14th, 2019
DOI: 10.5281/zenodo.2323341

The latest version of this entry may be cited as follows: Salas, Victor, “Francisco Suárez, Analogy of Being”, Encyclopedia, Mário Santiago de Carvalho, Simone Guidi (eds.), doi = “10.5281/zenodo.2323341”, URL = “”, latest revision: February, 14th, 2019.


Among the various facets of Francisco Suárez’s metaphysics that constitute its unique specificity, that which has generated some of the greatest scholarly controversy is his account of the analogia entis. Some regard it as a misshapen form of Thomistic analogy (Klubertanz 1960: 11-12)—itself a controverted topic. Others, view it as a self-loathing form of Scotistic univocity (Hoeres 1965). Still, others have maintained that Suárez’s doctrine of analogy is reducible neither to Thomistic analogy nor to Scotistic univocity and, instead, stands on its own as an original doctrine (Salas 2015: 336-362). Whatever may be the case, Suárez’s account of analogy emerges from the unique doctrines developed in his larger metaphysical project, in particular his existential theory of being cast in terms of immanent transcendence. As these features emerge from the very character of Suárez’s metaphysics itself, so likewise do they constitute the unique character of his doctrine of the analogia entis over and against not only what is found in Thomas Aquinas’s analogical theory but also against Scotus’s account of univocity.

Formal and Objective Concepts

A few crucial and well-known distinctions must first be identified to understand Suárez’s account of analogy: namely, (1) the distinction between formal and objective concepts and (2) the distinction between being taken as a participle and as a noun. Though these distinctions were already common place in Suárez’s time, the manner in which the Jesuit deploys them constitutes the originality of his own metaphysical project. With respect to the first distinction, Suárez explains that the formal concept is the act of the intellect itself or the mental word (verbum) by which a thing (res) or common character (ratio) is conceived (Suárez, DM, II, s. 1, n. 1). The objective concept, in contrast, is that very thing (res illa) itself or the character (ratio) which is immediately and properly known through the formal concept and terminates the intellect’s intending (ibid.). To use Suárez’s example, when a human being is conceived that (mental) act whereby the human being is known is the formal concept, but that itself which is known—the human being—is the objective concept (ibid.).

This distinction has crucial significance for Suárez’s project since when he maintains that metaphysics is concerned with the objective concept of being as such, the Jesuit does not mean that metaphysics is only concerned with mental acts. On the contrary, the objective concept, properly speaking, is not actually a concept, at least not in the sense of a form intrinsically determining one’s act of conception (ibid.). Rather, it is only called a ‘concept’ through extrinsic denomination in relation to the formal concept, for the objective concept is the «object or matter towards which the formal concept is directed, which the thrust [acies] of the intellect directly intends» (ibid.). What is more, while a formal concept, precisely as a quality of the intellect, is always some positive and true thing, an objective concept need not always be such, for it can be of a privation or it can be a being of reason. Further, though a formal concept is always something singular, an objective concept can be either an individual thing or a universal (ibid.).

Suárez clarifies what the adequate object of metaphysics will be with respect to the objective concept: «In [this science], we especially intend to examine the objective concept of being as such, according to its total abstraction and according to what we have said is the proper object of metaphysics» (ibid.). In explaining that the objective concept of being is taken in its «total abstraction», Suárez reveals something about his understanding of the nature of the conceptus entis. Since it lacks all complexity, plurality, and specific determination the concept of being is most simple. «For this concept of being is not only one, but also most simple [simplicissimus] as one is in the habit of saying, and thus to it is made the resolution of all other [concepts]; for through other concepts we conceive such and such a being» (Suárez, DM, II, s. 1, n. 9).

In championing the unity and simplicity of the conceptus entis Suárez is indeed in broad agreement with Duns Scotus. Scotus had insisted upon the absolute unity of the concept of being and described it as a conceptus simpliciter simplex over and against other concepts that are merely simple or even complex in nature. For Scotus, complex concepts require more than one act of the intellect for their comprehension as occurs, for instance, in forming the concept “white man.” This concept is formed through at least two acts of the intellect in such a way that the concept “white man” can be resolved or analyzed into the more elemental concepts “white” and “man.” “Man,” however, is a simple concept since it can be understood by a single act of the intellect, although it is still resolvable into the more basic concepts of “rational” and “animal.” Similarly, the disjunctive transcendental, “infinite being,” itself a simple concept, is resolvable into the simpler and irreducible concepts “infinite” and “being.” Modal determinations and differentiae predicated in quale and those concepts irresolvable into simpler concepts, such as the conceptus entis, are simpliciter simplex (Scotus, Or. I, d. 3, p. 1, q. 1-2, n. 71). To say that the concept of being is simpliciter simplex for Scotus means that, through the additum of some mode or determination, being is «eminently determinable» (Wolter, 1946: 83). In fact, the concept of being is so simple it is univocal, which means that it is minimal in intension and maximal in extension (Cross 2005: 251–254).

Is such a univocal understanding of being similarly on the horizon for Suárez given that he too holds that the concept of being is simplicissimus? One notorious passage that emerges early in the Disputationes metaphysicae seems to suggest that Suárez is content to follow Scotus down the path of univocity.

[E]verything which we have said regarding the unity of the concept of being, is by far seen to be clearer and more certain, than [the notion] that being is analogous, and therefore one may not rightly defend analogy to the denial of the unity of the concept, but if one must be denied, preferably should analogy, which is uncertain, be denied than the unity of the concept, which is seen to be certain by reasoned demonstrations (Suárez, DM, II, s. 2, n. 36).

There is no limit to the number of interpreters who seize upon this text in order to pronounce Suárez’s doctrine as one of univocity (e.g., Rosemann, 1999: 176). Be that as it may and whether adumbrating univocity or not, what is beyond doubt is that Suárez clearly manifests an abiding concern for preserving the absolute unity of the concept of being. The salient question here is: what is the philosophical motive for this concern and, moreover, is univocity the only viable way to preserve the unity of the conceptus entis?

Regarding the motive, for Suárez, as was the case with Duns Scotus, the commitment to the demands of an Aristotelian science led to an uncompromising commitment to the unity of the conceptus entis. Scotus is explicit in this regard when he defines what he takes to be the meaning of univocity:

And so to avoid contention regarding the name of univocation, I call that concept univocal, which is thus one so that its unity suffices for a contradiction [when] affirming and denying itself of the same [thing]; and also it suffices for the middle [term] of a syllogism such that the extremes unite in a middle term that is one in this fashion without it concluding to the fallacy of equivocation (Scotus, Or. I, d. 3, p. 1, q. 2, n. 26).

Scotus’s argument for univocity arises within the context of his efforts to establish a basis for the scientific cognoscibility of God. Without the aid of an evenly distributed middle term in one’s scientific demonstration, one would not be able to shift from the finite realm of creation to the infinitude of God without falling prey to the fallacy of equivocation (Cross, 1999: 35). So crucial is univocity to metaphysical and theological science that, on Scotus’s reckoning, all the magistri have actually made use of univocity in order to establish the nature of the divine attributes even if they deny that fact in their appeals to analogy (Scotus, Lec. I, d. 3, p. 1, q. 1-2, n. 29).

The univocal concept of being plays a «salutary» role, then, in Scotus’s natural theology for, in itself, the concept of being expresses no particular kind of being (Williams, 2005). In his demonstration for the univocity of the conceptus entis, Scotus argues that one can be certain that something is a being and yet remain uncertain whether that being is «created or uncreated, primary or not primary» (Scotus, Or. I, d. 3, p. 1, q. 2, n. 29). Suárez likewise views the concept of being as prescinding from any particular differentiation and considers the plurality of beings not in terms of their plurality but precisely in terms of their agreement in being (Suárez, DM, II, s. 2, n. 14). That is to say, the concept of being is just one. Furthermore and still in agreement with Scotus, Suárez is aware of the implications that the nature of the concept of being have for the prospects of a scientific knowledge of God, for, as he explains, one can only know God from His effects under a common character (Suárez, DM, I, s. 5, n. 15). That common character for Suárez is just the objective concept of being.

In essence, the challenge that Scotus faces is the same one that confronts Suárez, namely, constructing a metaphysics and theology that satisfy the demands of an Aristotelian science, chief among which is the requirement of an evenly distributed middle term (Suárez, DM XXVIII, s. 3, n. 14). Within a metaphysico-theological context, the concept of being itself must possess sufficient unity in order to serve as a middle term through which scientific knowledge of God’s existence and attributes can be secured. The unity of the concept of being achieves that scientific goal, for «being is said with one concept of all things contained under it, for that reason it is able to be a medium of demonstration, and the character [ratio] of being discovered in creatures is able to be the starting point for discovering a similar character of a higher mode to exist in the Creator» (Suárez, DM, XXVIII, s. 3, n. 15). Accordingly, the objective concept of being in preserving that basic unity under which all beings fall, can serve as the much-desired medium of demonstration (medium demonstrationis) across diverse orders or modes of being through which science is preserved (ibid.).

The objective concept of being bridges the yawning gulf between finite and infinite being, but, again, only under the condition that it leave behind or prescind from all determinations or modes proper to specific kinds of being. Because the objective concept is denuded of all such specifying conditions, it enjoys a unity unto itself. Suárez warns, «[I]f the character of being [ratio entis] just as it is in God essentially includes something other than it does in a creature, then that character [ratio] cannot be one in such a way that it is represented by one formal concept and that it constitutes one objective concept; for it cannot be understood that in one concept as such there would be an essential variety» (Suárez, DM, XXVIII, s. 3, n. 9). To sacrifice the unity of the concept of being would simply be to sacrifice the scientific character of theology and lapse into agnosticism since “being” as it pertains to finite being and infinite being would be equivocal. That had been Scotus’s concern, and Suárez shares it.

Given Suárez’s preference for the unity of the conceptus entis the question naturally arises whether that unity is cast in terms of univocity, as had been the case with Scotus? Perhaps somewhat counterintuitively, in the above-cited passage where Suárez notes his preference for the unity of the concept of being over analogy, he adds, however, that there is no need to reject analogy for the sake of the unity of the conceptus entis. He explains:

In truth, however, neither [the unity of the concept nor analogy] needs to be denied, since, for univocity, it does not suffice that the concept in itself be one in some manner, but it is necessary that it has an equal relation and order with respect to many things, which the concept of being does not have (Suárez, DM, II, s. 2, n. 36).

This text reveals two important features of Suárez’s thinking with respect to the nature of the conceptus entis vis-à-vis analogy. Regarding the first, as he sees it, there is no contradiction between maintaining both the absolute unity of the concept of being, on the one hand, and casting that unity in terms of analogy, on the other. Suárez repeats this assertion again much later in the twenty-eighth disputation where he explicitly addresses the question of the analogia entis with respect to the relationship between God and creature. After noting Scotus’s opinion that being (ens) is said univocally of creator and creature, Suárez quickly summarizes the Franciscan’s argument for univocity: «being [ens] immediately signifies one concept common to God and creatures; therefore it is not said of them analogically, but univocally» (Suárez, DM XXVIII, s. 3, n. 2). Significantly and not surprisingly, Suárez does not disagree with the antecedent—namely, that the concept of being is one and common to God and creature—and even goes so far as to suggest that this claim had already been demonstrated in the first disputation of his own Disputationes metaphysicae (ibid.). Suárez, however, does not infer the same conclusion as Scotus: namely, the univocity of the conceptus entis.

Second, in the above-mentioned passage Suárez alludes to a fundamental difference, as he sees it, between univocity and analogy. Unlike Scotus, whose only requirement for univocity is the satisfaction of certain logical requirements, for Suárez, one cannot determine whether a concept is univocal or analogical without due regard for the inferiora to which the concept extends (Heider 2007: 28). «Something is not said to be univocal or analogical except through an order to its inferiora» (Suárez, DM, XXVIII, s. 3, n. 19). Suárez thinks the kind of unity that univocity requires among its inferiora is much stricter or narrower than what Scotus had suggested such that the unity at issue is amenable to analogy (Heider 2007: 26, n. 21). Univocity, on Suárez’s understanding, has an «equal relation and order» with respect to its inferiora. Analogy, however, lacks that «equality». Though it is not univocal, the concept of being nevertheless preserves such unity so as to be simplicissimus. The pressing question here is: how can the conceptus entis involve within itself an ordered relation required of analogy and still remain absolutely simple and unified in itself?

Being as a Participle and as a Noun: The Existential Character of Being

The answer to this question turns upon Suárez’s very understanding of the nature of being. As Rolf Darge and Daniel Heider have pointed out, given that Duns Scotus and Suárez have diverse transcendental theories—which likewise diversely determines the manner in which both understand being with respect to its differentiae—it would be a mistake to identify Scotus’s conceptus simpliciter simplex with the Suárezian conceptus objectivus entis (Darge 2013). Suárez’s transcendental theory vis-à-vis analogy will be considered in what follows. But, first, to make sense of the difference between Scotus and Suárez on this point the second distinction adverted to above—namely, that between being taken as a noun and as a participle—must be understood. Suárez explains that, at times, being (ens) can be taken as a participle (e.g., sum) and thus always signifies the act of being precisely as exercised. Indeed, taken as a participle, being is simply the same as actually existing (Suárez, DM, II, s. 4, n. 3). At other times, being can be taken as a noun in which case it signifies the formal essence of a thing as that which has or is able to have existence (esse). What is more, nominal being is said to signify existence itself (ipsum esse), albeit not precisely as exercised, but as something able or apt to exist (ibid.).

Further differences emerge between nominal and participial being. As a participle, being always con-signifies time. Thus when one utters the proposition “Adam exists,” for example, the proposition is true if and only if Adam actually exists when the proposition is asserted since existence can never be said of something not actually existent (ibid.). This same distinction between nominal and participial being, as well as virtually the same example that Suárez himself adduces, can be found in Duns Scotus (Scotus, QLP, lib. 1, q. 8). The proposition “Caesar is not” concerns esse existere, explains Scotus, and thus designates the non-existence of Caesar. But the non-existence of Caesar does not make the proposition “Caesar is a human” false since esse existere pertains only to being taken as a participle. In contrast, being taken as a noun signifies something as “having an essence,” which being is divided into the ten categories. Accordingly, even if Caesar does not presently exist, the proposition “Caesar is being [ens]” is true if taken in the nominal sense of being (ibid.). This is why, for Suárez, being taken as a noun does not con-signify time, for “being,” taken as real being, is attributed not only to existing things, but also to real natures considered in themselves, whether existent or not (Suárez, DM, II, s. 4, n. 3).

Importantly, Suárez insists that, with respect to nominal being, though existence is prescinded (i.e., abstracted) from, existence is neither excluded nor denied (Suárez, DM, II, s. 4, n. 9). Indeed, something’s existential reference is decisive for its very reality. Nominal being or, as he also calls it, a “real essence” can only be called ‘real’ if, of itself, it is apt to be or exist (Suárez, DM, II, s. 4, n. 7). In describing nominal being as a “real essence” (Suárez, DM, II, s. 4, n. 5), Suárez is not, through the addition of the adjective “real,” identifying nominal being as existentially neutral as Domingo de Soto had earlier claimed. Soto marked a distinction between ens and res such that all existential reference was associated with the prior term and removed from the latter. As Suárez unfolds his account of being, he confronts Soto’s opinion, in which there emerges a transition from being taken with existential reference to a more quidditative notion of being cast in terms of that which is “real.” In scholastic terminology what transpires is a shift from ens (being) to res (thing), which shift entails existential implications (Aertsen 2012: 598).

Well before Soto, Avicenna held that ens and res—together with necessitas—are first imposed upon the intellect (Avicenna, LPP, t. 1, c. 5). For Avicenna, as would be the case for so many medieval thinkers following in his wake, res signifies that which has certitude (certitudo) in that something simply is what it is (est id quod est) in the way that «a triangle has certitude [habet certitudinem] in that it is a triangle, and white has certitude [habet certitudinem] in that it is white» (ibid.). “Certitude,” for Avicenna, is just the proper being (esse proprium) of an essence or quiddity itself, which is other than the actual being the essence has as it exists in an individual or in the mind as a universal (ibid.). Put another way, it is the metaphysical structure an essence has in virtue of which it enjoys an identity over and against another essence (e.g., equinitas as opposed to humanitas). Similarly, Thomas Aquinas, while he denies that essence absolutely considered has any intrinsic being to itself (Aquinas, DEE, c. 3), follows Avicenna’s lead and in his De ente et essentia describes essentia in terms of “form” taken in Avicenna’s sense of “certitudo” (ibid.). Later, in his De veritate and still attuned to Avicenna’s distinctions, Thomas associates res with the essential constitution or quiddity of a being and identifies ens as taken from the actus essendi on account of which being is signified precisely in terms of its existence (Aquinas, DV, q. 1, a. 1). Henry of Ghent, in turn, with his own account of esse essentiae in mind, explains that such being can be called res, which term is derived from the verb “reor, reris” (‘I think, you think’). Moreover, like Avicenna, Henry thinks the reason for its being called “res” is because of the fixed or stable character (ratitudo) that esse essentiae enjoys on account of which it is real and more than just a fiction. Thus, for Henry, even though it might not actually exist (i.e., it might not receive esse existentiae), given esse essentiae’s stability (ratitudo), it can still be called a “thing” (Henry of Ghent, SQO, a. 21, q. 4).

Continuing with this tradition, Soto accomplishes the final decoupling of ens and res, which amounts to the evacuation of existence (esse)—again, that in terms of which something is called a being (ens)—from reality (res). Suárez reports that Soto holds that ens, because it signifies a relationship to existence, is not predicated quidditatively of any created essence. Being, after all, is only said of God essentially. In contrast, res is predicated quidditatively of creatures since it signifies the true and stable (rata), which stability harkens back to Henry’s notion of “ratitudo” and Avicenna’s account of “certitudo.” What is more, Soto holds that “thing” is able to signify this fixed character (rata) without expressing any order to existence (Suárez, DM, II, s. 4, n. 2), which is to say that, as the history of scholastic metaphysics unfolds, the notion of the “real” becomes disassociated from existence so as to become linked with the “thought” (reor, reris) and eventually the “thinkable.”

If it is the case that Suárez appropriates Soto’s understanding of res and if res is precisely that which is «without an order to existence», then there would be a definite shift in the Suárezian metaphysics away from existence to the “thinkable” (Courtine 1999: 231), for he identifies res with ens. According to Jean-François Courtine, Suárez conflates what had been kept «neatly» separated by the Thomists, who, after marking a distinction between ens and res concentrated their focus upon ens and allowed metaphysics to retain its existential import (Courtine 1999: 240). Despite the fact that Suárez recognizes an etymological distinction between ens and res, Courtine insists that Suárez’s reduction of ens to res—that is, from id quod habet esse to id quod habet essentiam realem—rather than of res to ens, completes a «radical reversal» of Thomist doctrine (ibid.). Nevertheless, Jan Aertsen argues that Courtine’s interpretation presupposes that Suárez, while identifying ens with res, retains Soto’s existentially neutered understanding of res (Aertsen 2012: 601–602). But, given Suárez’s account of ens as essentia realis, which is “real” precisely because of its existential reference (ibid., 602), Courtine’s representationalist read becomes implausible.

Suárez insists contrariwise to Soto that one cannot understand an essence or quiddity to be “real” without simultaneously understanding it as having an order to existence (Suárez, DM II, s. 4, n. 14). Here, José Pereira’s assessment of Suárez’s account of being is particularly helpful when he says that nominal being is «existence considered in its intelligible content, and not in its actual exercise» (Pereira 2007, 112). For Suárez, ens is not reduced to res but in establishing an identity between the two, res is resolved in terms of the very existential orientation of ens itself.

Suárez’s existential understanding of being has implications for his account of analogy. While the diversity of beings can be overcome by their agreement in existing, which gives rise to the unified concept of objective being, that existence is nothing (really) distinct from the diversity of beings themselves (Suárez, DM XXXI, s. 1, n. 12). Indeed, the identity between being and existence is one of the signature theses advanced in the Suárezian metaphysics. Suárez maintains that, «Existence as existence corresponds to being as such and is intrinsic to its character, whether in potency or in act, taken just as it would be being» (Suárez, DM, L, s. 12, n. 15). Accordingly, the concept of being is not just an abstraction that bears no existential import or relation to the diversity of beings that exist in unequal degrees. While being is transcendent, it does not form a logical genus. Rather, being is intimately transcendent and thus always bears an existential order to its inferiora. Suárez’s notion of “intimate transcendence,” developed in direct opposition to Scotus’s transcendental theory, not only distinguishes his view of transcendentality from Scotus but also determines the reason why he rejects univocity for the sake of analogy.

Intimate Transcendence and Its Implications for Analogy

Rolf Darge argues throughout his works devoted to Suárez’s transcendental theory that Suárez represents a return to a pre-Scotistic understanding of the transcendentals in which convertibility with being is key (Darge 2004). This stands in contrast to Scotus’s development of the transcendentals wherein the chief criterion of transcendentality is not convertibility, but that nothing, except being, be more supervenient (Scotus, Or. I, d. 8, p. 1, q. 13, n. 114). This understanding leads Scotus to posit the novel idea of disjunctive transcendentals. Suárez deliberately departs from the Scotistic perspective and, «criticizes what he call a fundamentum of Scotus’s position, his proof that being cannot be predicated in quid of ultimate differences» (Aertsen 2012: 603). Whether Suárez’s reading of Scotus is «historically accurate» or not it is irrelevant to the details of the final determination of his own opinion (Honnefelder 1990: 229-34; Heider 2007: 34, n. 50). Unlike Scotus, Suárez shares the same fundamental transcendental perspective of pre-Scotistic thinkers such as Thomas Aquinas, who himself says that, «quaelibet natura est essentialiter ens» (Aquinas, DV, q. 1, a. 1). A similar sentiment can be found in Thomas’s master, Albertus Magnus who holds that «whatever is in created being is being [ens]» (Albertus, DNN, c. 5, n. 9).

In contrast to this transcendental perspective, Scotus holds that «being [ens] is not univocally said in ‘quid’ of all intelligible things per se, for [it is not said] of ultimate differences, nor of the proper attributes of being» (Scotus, Or. I, d. 3, p. 1, q. 3, n. 131). If being is not predicated in quid of the ultimate differentiae which are added to being from without then this means that the resolution of the concept of any being must occur through its reduction to simpler concepts. Ultimately, being together with its determination are reached as concepts that are simpliciter simplex. The determining concept and the concept of being must be «primarily diverse» which means that the two concepts share nothing in common. If they were not primarily diverse and did enjoy some common character—putatively being—then the reason for their ultimate distinction must be sought by means of yet another determining concept, which, if not itself primarily diverse, would require yet another determining concept, leading to an infinite regress (Wolter 1946: 82–83). What is more, for Scotus, the relation between the conceptus entis and its determining differentiae is cast in terms of the relationship between act and potency. «Just as being is composed of act and potency in a thing, so is the concept that is one through itself composed from the concept of potentiality and actuality, or of a determinable and determining concept» (Scotus, Or. I, d. 3, p. 1, q. 3, n. 133).

Scotus draws a metaphysical conclusion from his conceptual analysis. Not only is being conceptually distinct from its differentiae, it is also really or modally distinct. While Scotus does not think that a modal distinction obtains between a thing and a thing as in a real distinction simpliciter, he is convinced that there is still a basis in reality anterior to the operation of the intellect for the distinction. This means then that the differences of being are not essentially being and are only called “being” denominatively (Scotus, Or. I, d. 8, p. 1, q. 3, n. 139). This same modal distinction holds between being and its passiones, which means that being is not included within the passiones entis either (Darge 2012: 78). To analyze conceptually the mode “finite” or “infinite” does not yield the concept “being.” Contrariwise, analyzing the transcendental disjuncts “infinite being” and “finite being,” produces two mutually distinct concepts: that of “being” and that of the transcendental mode “finite” or “infinite.”

The metaphysical situation for Suárez unfolds along entirely different lines. Though he agrees with Scotus that «being does not indicate a determinate nature» and is thus transcendent, he parts company with the Franciscan when he describes that transcendence as intimate (Suárez, DM, II, s. 4, n. 14). To say that being is transcendentally immanent means that being is contained within all beings and even within their ultimate differences. «[T]he character of being [ratio entis] [is] transcendent and intimately included in all properties and in all determinate kinds of being, and in the determinate modes of being themselves» (Suárez, DM, XXVIII, s. 3, n. 21). Suárez thus summarily rejects Scotus’s modal distinction, which, again, is a distinctio ex natura rei prior to the operation of the intellect (Suárez, DM, II, s. 3, n. 7). Yet, if being is not distinct in re from its differences, then being is not only the source of various things’ agreement, being is also diverse on account of itself. Given that being is really included within all of its differences, on account of which it is diverse, there can only be a distinctio rationis ratiocinate, which comes about through the «inadequate concepts» the intellect forms of one and the same thing (Suárez, DM VII, s. 1, n. 5).

Understanding being and its differentiae in terms of a distinctio rationis ratiocinate yields a much different conception of being than it had for Scotus. While Scotus framed the conceptus simpliciter simplex in terms of the composition of act to potency in such a way that an extrinsic difference is added to the concept of being so as to determine it, Suárez rejects such a compositional model (Suárez, DM, II, s. 5, n. 18). The distinct concepts of “being” and “finite,” for example, given their real identity, are related as a more indeterminate concept (“being”) to a more determinate concept (“finite being”). One can abstract the concept of being only through intellectual precision, but this precision does not consist in separating one from another, as, for example, form would be separated from matter (Suárez, DM, II, s. 6, n. 10). Rather, Suárez’s account involves a kind of «conceptual focusing» (Pereira 2007: 110–13). One can thus conceive something more confusely in a less determined or in a more inadequate way, but one can also conceive the same exact thing more determinately by tuning his conception more finely as one focuses a microscope.

To describe the conceptus entis as «confused» is to say that it is indistinct and, as such, it includes in itself its inferiors, not explicitly or in terms of their proper determinations, but as leaving aside, though not denying or rejecting, that specificity, whereby the concept attains a consideration of its inferiora in terms of their community in existence (Doyle 1969, 327). Leaving existence aside but without rejecting it follows from Suárez existential understanding of being as a noun. While being transcends its inferiora prescisively and thereby attains a unity unto itself, it nevertheless remains «intimately» transcendent, which is to say, really identical with its inferiora. «There is a certain duality in the objective concept of being, which allows us to consider the objective concept of being both as the subject and as the terminus of the descent» (Heider 2007: 39). Such being the case, the relation or order to existence that being carries with it is preserved in its confuse, conceptual expression. In a passage that deserves quoting at length Suárez explains:

[A]lthough the common concept [of being as such], as abstract, is one in itself, however, the reasons constituting the particular beings are diverse, and by them, as such, each is constituted absolutely in the existence of being. Then … the common concept of itself postulates such a determination with the order and relationship to one [or to a single Being]; and therefore, just as this concept is one, it is not altogether the same, because it is not of itself altogether uniform—a uniformity and identity which univocals require in their meaning—and it is in this manner that the definition of univocals ought to be explained (Suárez, DM, XXVIII, s. 3, n. 21).

The two divergent transcendental theories found in Scotus and Suárez not surprisingly generate divergent conclusions regarding the nature of the concept of being that ultimately lead to its univocal expression in Scotus and analogical character for Suárez. Moreover, the intimate transcendence of being determines the kind of analogy that Suárez accepts. Given being’s intimate containment within all beings, Suárez readily rejects any form of analogy that does not accommodate being’s intimate presence. In assessing the two common forms of analogy prevalent in scholastic discussions, namely, proper proportionality and attribution, Suárez dismisses the former for the sake of the latter. His reason for rejecting an analogy of proper proportionality stems from the fact that, despite Cajetan’s claim to the contrary (Cajetan, DNA, c. 3), it is merely a form of extrinsic analogy. An analogy of proper proportionality is one wherein «it is necessary that one member be absolutely such through its form, while the other is not absolutely but as stands in such a proportion or comparison to the other» (Suárez, DM, XXVIII, s. 3, n. 11). A creature, however, has its own intrinsic being, which, though caused by God, nevertheless pertains to the metaphysical constitution of a creature itself, for which reason Suárez holds that the creature «is being absolutely through its own character and without considering such a proportion» (ibid.).

While an analogy of attribution respects the intrinsic character of a thing’s being, not just any form of attribution will serve. Suárez rejects the idea that God and creature are related to being as to a common, third thing, for «nothing can be thought as prior to God and creature, as through an order to which both God and creature would be called beings» (Suárez, DM, XXVIII, s. 3, n. 12). Thomas Aquinas had made a similar claim himself in establishing his thinking on analogy (Aquinas, ST I, q. 13, a. 5), which is why both the Dominican and Suárez propose an analogy of attribution of one to another. But, even within attribution it can still be the case that the attribution is extrinsic, as is the case with the famous Aristotelian example of ‘health’ (Suárez, DM, XXVIII, s. 3, n. 14). A creature’s definition with respect to its being, however, is not such that reference to God is made. Rather, the creature is being insofar as it stands outside of nothingness. This observation is crucial for satisfying the demands of a science. Suárez observes that, «if a relation to God, for example, is added to the being of a creature, since it is a participation in the divine being, thus the creature would not now be defined as being, but as such a being, that is, created [being]» (Suárez, DM, XXVIII, s. 3, n. 15). According, there would not be a single concept of being but, as Henry of Ghent had thought, two (Henry, SQO, a. 21, q. 2, ad 3): one proper to God and another proper to creation. But if being generates a twofold concept, then any effort to reason from the one to the other would succumb to the fallacy of equivocation. An analogy of intrinsic attribution, however, does not fall prey to equivocation, for such an analogy turns upon the intrinsic being that each analogate possesses. What is more, the intellect is able to abstract that common, objective concept of being that can then serve as a middle term of scientific demonstration (Suárez, DM, XXVIII, s. 3, n. 15).

But how is it that a concept thoroughly one in itself and prescinding from all differences fails to be univocal? Suárez is clear:

Since being itself, howsoever abstractly and confusedly it is conceived, of itself demands this order, that first and per se and as completely it pertains to God, and through [God] it descends to the rest, which are not unless with an order to and dependence upon God (Suárez, DM, XXVIII, s. 3, a. 17).

Univocity does not require such an ordered descent to its inferiora, argues Suárez in differentiating univocity from analogy, but descends equally (ibid.). It is only because the concept of being is one and predicated of many that some mistake it for a univocal concept (ibid.). But, still, how can a concept that is one in itself and which does not express divine being, created being, substances, or accidents demand a prius–posterius descent?

To answer this question one must recall that the objective concept of being taken as a noun is such that it prescinds from a thing’s existence but without excluding or denying that existence. What this means is that the concept of being always enjoys an existential and thus metaphysical relation to its inferiora. Suárez explains that being (ens), because of its intimate transcendence, «only confusedly and as if in potency includes its inferiors» (ibid.). But, as the inferiora of being exist in diverse manners and according to varying degrees ranging from the infinitude of God to the lowliness of accidental being, the concept of being of itself bears an orientation towards the inequality of being, which bucks univocity and calls for analogy. In contrast to the concept of being, proper concepts, such as that of God or of creatures, express the same concept of being, not through the addition of a foreign difference, but in a more determinate fashion (ibid.). It is the same concept except that it is expressed more or less determinately. This means that the concept of being, insofar as it is intimately transcendent, is included in «all proper determinate natures [rationibus] of being» (Suárez, DM, XXVIII, s. 3, n. 21). Suárez concludes:

And therefore all though the common nature, as abstract, would be one in itself, however, the natures constituting single beings are diverse, and through them as such each and every thing is constituted absolutely in its being. Thereon … the common character of itself demands such a determination with an order and relation to one, and therefore, although according to a confuse character it is the same, since it is one, nevertheless it is not entirely the same, since of itself it is not entirely uniform and identical which are [both] required for univocity (ibid.).

For Suárez, being’s intimate transcendence and existential orientation form the reason why he insists that the conceptus entis is fundamentally analogical.


Several features unique to the Suárezian metaphysics determine the Jesuit’s account of the analogia entis. His appropriation of a pre-Scotistic transcendental theory coupled with an existential view of being is decisive for Suárez’s unique understanding of the analogia entis. Nevertheless, though Suárez joins Thomas Aquinas and others in their estimation that the differences of being are being itself, Suárez does not thereby offer a rehashing of Thomistic analogy. Far from it, the Thomistic tradition’s favor of proper proportionality, especially as championed by Cajetan and John of St. Thomas, is decisively rejected for the reason that creatures are not called beings on account of their relationship to God. Nor can Suárez’s theory be reduced to a more ancient form of Thomistic analogy that is expressed by none other than Thomas Aquinas himself. Suárez is very well familiar with Thomas’s metaphysics of participation upon which is predicated his notion of analogy and finds Thomas’s argument for the non-univocity of being excessive. That argument is excessive, not because it favors analogy, but because it compromises the unity of the concept of being that is so crucial for a scientific metaphysics and theology (Suárez, DM, XXVIII, s. 3, n. 9). In the end, Suárez, in transcending both the Thomistic and Scotistic traditions, might very well constitute the consummation of an Aristotelian-based scholastic metaphysics (Pereira 2007). This is not to suggest that Suárez was followed without question and in total fidelity with respect to his doctrine of analogy or otherwise. Far from it, for the history of Jesuit scholasticism tells a different story. Nevertheless, even among those Jesuits who would reverently but decisively disagree with Suárez’s doctrine of the analogia entis, for example, Hurtado de Mendoza, Rodrigo de Arriaga, Thomas Compton Carleton, etc., important to their own accounts is the understanding of being as intimately transcendent, which the Doctor eximius labored so meticulously to elaborate.


Primary Sources

  • Albertus Magnus, [DNN] Super Dionysium de Divinis Nominibus, Cologne, Aschenforff, 1972.
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  • – [DV] De veritate. Rome, Editori di San Tommaso, 1975.
  • – [ST] Summa theologiae, Rome, Ex Typographia Polyglotta, 1888.
  • Avicenna, [LPP] Liber de philosophia prima sive scientia divina, Louvain-Leiden, E. Peeters-       E.J. Brill, 1977.
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  • Duns Scotus, John. [Lec.] Lectura, Civitas Vaticana, Typis Polyglottis Vaticanis, 1950–.
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  • ­­­- “Suárez and Medieval Transcendental Thought,” in Victor M. Salas, ed., Hircocervi           and Other Metaphysical Wonders: Essays in Honor of John P. Doyle. Milwaukee, WI:          Marquette University Press, 2013, 65–93.
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  • Honnefelder, Ludger. Scientia transcendens: Die formale Bestimmung der Seindheit und Realität   in der Metaphysik des Mittelalters und der Neuzeit. Hamburg: Felix Meiner, 1990.
  • Rosemann, Philipp. Understanding Scholastic Thought with Foucault. London: Palgrave    MacMillan, 1999.
  • Pereira, José. Suárez: Between Scholasticism and Modernity. Milwaukee, WI: Marquette   University Press, 2007.
  • Salas, Victor M. and Robert L. Fastiggi, eds. A Companion to Francisco Suárez. Leiden: Brill,       2015.
  • Williams, Thomas. “The Doctrine of Univocity is True and Salutary,” Modern Theology 21          (2005): 575–85.
  • Wolter, Allan. The Transcendentals and Their Function in the Metaphysics of Duns Scotus. St.      Bonaventure, NY: The Franciscan Institute, 1946.

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