One of the breakthroughs in philosophy’s question about Being is Martin Heidegger’s introduction of the term Onto-theology. Both disciplines of philosophy and theology were affected by Martin Heidegger’s pronouncement that the entire history of metaphysics in the West is onto-theological. Heidegger says that “The history of metaphysics is therefore a history of forgetfulness or “withdrawal”.”1 What is withdrawn or forgotten in the history of metaphysics is the very concern of philosophical investigation itself, the question of ‘Being’. But what has been sad in the western philosophy and metaphysics is that the question of Being has been forgotten.2 Such contention affects philosophy because when Heidegger spoke of metaphysics of the West, he meant the entire philosophical tradition of the west. At the same time, it affects theology because of Heidegger’s insistence that philosophical discussion of Being has to be separated from the talk about God. This can then be taken to mean that any talk about meaning has to put aside any talk about God. God has become irrelevant in one’s quest for meaning. Heidegger’s argument then has been an issue for the commentators of another author, namely, Thomas Aquinas. If onto-theology is the character of all metaphysics before him, then that would include Aquinas’ philosophical (metaphysical) teachings. This is especially true because Aquinas’ philosophy is known to be one of the systematic metaphysical systems in the history of philosophy. But a more urgent concern for the commentators of Aquinas is the Heideggerian call to separate the talk of Being from the talk of God. This resolution to the problem of onto-theology runs in direct contrast to the Thomistic system of Christian philosophy. Christian philosophy claims for the possibility of knowing God through the use of reason. More importantly, the peak of philosophical inquiry for Christian philosophers is the knowledge of God.

Charles Guignon, ed, The Cambridge Companion to Heidegger. (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1993), 42. 2 Martin Heidegger, Being and Time, trans. J. Macquarrie & Edward Robinson, 7th ed. (Tubingen: Neomarius Verlag, 1963), 41. This work will henceforth be referred as BT.


In contrast, Heidegger explicitly criticizes the practice of Christian philosophy. He said that “Christian philosophy is a round-square and a misunderstanding.” 3 This is particularly clear in his claim to separate God from Being. He says that God is oftentimes used as an alibi in an argument thereby reducing the true quality of a philosophical argument into a Deus ex Machina fallacy. He says in his Introduction to Metaphysics: Anyone for whom the Bible is a Divine revelation and truth has the answer to the question, “why are there essents rather than nothing?” even before it is asked: everything that is, except God himself has been created by Him. God himself, the increate creator, “is.” One who holds to such faith can in a way participate in the asking of our question, but he cannot question without ceasing to be a believer and taking all the consequences of that step. He will only be to act as if…4

Yet, most Thomistic scholars are also insistent in saying that Aquinas has a solid philosophical system. Josef Pieper writes, “The question is whether we can wholly isolate the theological from the philosophical elements in the works of Thomas, and can consider the one apart from the other. Gilson says that the theology of St. Thomas is a philosopher’s and his philosophy is a theologian’s.”5 This then calls for a rethinking, if not a re-evaluation of the philosophical system set by Thomas Aquinas. Hence, the birth of works, like that of Caputo, which aim at doing a dialogue between the philosophical systems of Martin Heidegger and Thomas Aquinas.

This present paper then is an attempt, not to directly confront the AquinasHeidegger tension on the talk of Being, but to look at one particular book relevant to this issue: Heidegger and Aquinas: An Essay on Overcoming Metaphysics.6 This paper then will endeavor to answer the following questions: What is the significance of the term onto-theology in the philosophies of Aquinas and Heidegger? How did Caputo resolve the Aquinas-Heidegger tension on Being? What are the strengths and Martin Heidegger, Introduction to Metaphysics. (London: Yale University Press, 1959), 7. Henceforth, this work shall be referred to as IM. 4 IM, 7 – italics added. 5 Josef Pieper, Guide to Thomas Aquinas. (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1991), 143. 6 John D. Caputo, Heidegger and Aquinas: An Essay on Overcoming Metaphysics. (Indiana: Indiana University Press, 1982).


weaknesses of Caputo’s argument in resolving the tension on Being in Aquinas and Heidegger? What alternative arguments other than Caputo’s can possibly resolve the issue of onto-theology in Aquinas and Heidegger? This paper is then aimed to contribute to the issue about Being in both Aquinas and Heidegger. Furthermore, this work will also endeavor to highlight the notion of freedom and voluntariness in the philosophy of Aquinas, arguing that to better appreciate Aquinas’ philosophy, there is a need to look into his view on man’s existence on earth: as this existence is both man’s tribute to his God, and his own expression of his quest for meaning. Aquinas’ philosophy is an invitation for people to become more authentic in their choices, and to become more mindful of the things that they do. Many people nowadays are contented with mediocre living thereby failing to manifest their full potential in doing their task for the society. This takes note of the Heideggerian call for authenticity. We are all called to evaluate ourselves by looking at our choices and measure ourselves up as to whether we have fully utilized our freedom to realize ourselves. Without the development of one’s potential, and the practice of authentic freedom, progress becomes a far-fetched ideal.



a. Heidegger’s charge against onto-theology
Before we proceed in our investigation of Caputo’s argument, it would be helpful for us to first define the very word that has caused the tension: onto-theology. What does Heidegger mean when he criticized metaphysics and philosophy as an onto-theology. There are particular works of Heidegger that directly speaks of this concept. In his Introduction to Metaphysics, Heidegger traces the history of philosophy of the West and says that it has missed its real task. Heidegger says that the task of philosophy is to raise the question of Being, which for Heidegger is nameless and temporal. Far from doing its task, philosophy, in Heidegger’s assessment, raises not the question of Being but of being. For Heidegger there is a significant difference between Being and being. The former is


unnamed: it reveals and conceals itself at the same time. But this Being is not a what: Being is not a thing or a substance. What is substantial and entitative is not Being but being. 7 The former is the real concern of philosophy and not the latter. But what happens in the history of metaphysics is that, being (the entity or the substance) has become the topic of inquiry, while leaving Being into oblivion. William Barret asserts that “it is Heidegger’s contention that the whole history of Western thought has shown an exclusive pre-occupation of the first member of these pairs, with the thing-which-is8 and has let the second, the to-be9 of what is, fall into oblivion.”10 Further, Charles Guignon says that “entities obtrude as actually existing as having essential properties while being11 remains concealed.”12 Further, Guignon says, “as a result to the first dawn of history, being comes to be thought of as what endures, what is permanent, what is always there. It is the continuous presence of the substance, that which remains through all changes.”13 These comments are affirmations to what Heidegger has argued about the forgetting or oblivion of Being in the history of metaphysics. In Heidegger’s Being and Time, he traces the start of the oblivion of Being, or what he calls as onto-theology, in the metaphysics of Plato. Heidegger expresses, “metaphysics begins when Plato separates the realm of Being (the Forms or Ideas) and the realm of time (becoming, existence).”14 From this Platonic theory of Ideas, Heidegger continues to trace the continuation of the forgetting of Being to the time of Aristotle. Aristotle shatters the two-world theory of Plato and argues that there is only one real world, and that is the world where we are in. But Aristotle continues to view Being through the Platonic conception of Ideas. For Aristotle, Ideas are housed in a thing, Heidegger employs the distinction of Being and being. The former, according to Heidegger, should be the concern of philosophy, with the latter simply as referring to a thing or entity, which he said to have become the sole concern of metaphysics. 8 This thing-which-is is Barret’s term for being, substance or entity. 9 To-be is Brret’s semantic expression for Being. 10 William Barret, Irrational Man: A Study in Existential Philosophy. (USA: Doubleday and Company, Incorporated, 1958), 212. 11 Though Guignon did not capitalize the first letter of the word, he means the Being of Heidegger in this particular context. 12 Guignon, 17-18. 13 CCH, 18. 14 Martin Heidegger, On Time and Being trans. Joan Stambaugh. (New York: Harper and Row Publishers, 1972), p. ix. Henceforth this work will be referred to as TB.


which for him is a substance. The notion of the substance further reduces Being into being because substance has become another word for a thing or entity. The concept of the substance has become a vital turn in the history of metaphysics that Frede speaks of it as Heidegger’s main challenge: “substance remained the central term in traditional ontology, and substances or things, natural entities with attributes and the capacities to interact causally with one another, remained the building blocks – and became Heidegger’s main challenge.”15 Such forgetting or withdrawal of Being has continued through the time of the Scholastics. In Scholasticism, Being has taken the form of a cause. Being is named as the First Cause, the Uncaused Cause, and even the First Being. “But the withdrawing does not exhaust itself in this concealment. Rather, inasmuch as it conceals its essence, being allows something else to come to the fore, namely ground/reason, in the shape of arxai, aitiai, of rationes, of causae, of Principles, Ursachen (causes) and rational grounds.” 16 Being then has become the first cause and by virtue of this, it has become the Primum Ens, which can be translated in English as the First being, or First Substance. This First being or First Substance is what Christian philosophy names as God. God is equated to Being but with this equation, Being is spoken of as a thing, though the most perfect and the first of all things. Furthermore, with this equation of Being and God, metaphysics has become clearly onto-theological, that is, both a theology and an ontology. It is a theology because metaphysics has become a science of God, and it is ontology because metaphysics is first a science of the Being of beings. “When metaphysics thinks of beings with respect to the ground that is common to all beings as such, then it is logic as onto-logic. When metaphysics thinks of beings as such as a whole, that is, with respect to the highest being which accounts for everything, then it is logic as theo-logic.”17 With this pronouncement then, Heidegger says that metaphysics is, by its very constitution, onto-theological. CCH, 45. Martin Heidegger, The Principle of Reason, trans. Reginald Lilly. (Indianapolis: Indiana University Press, 1991), p.110. This work will henceforth be referred to as PR. 17 Ibid., p.70-71.
16 15


Onto-theology may then have the following nuances: First, it means the “oblivion of Being.” Philosophy is guilty of this oblivion because since the time of Plato, Being has been named as being, like in the case of the theory of Ideas of Plato or the theory of Forms of Aristotle. From that time on, Being has always been equated to one particular concept, like God in the Scholastics, Spirit in Hegel, and many other. Second, it may mean the entanglement of Being and God thereby making theology and philosophy a single discipline. This is especially true in the time of the Scholastics who practice Christian philosophy. Traditional interpretation about the problem of Being in Thomas Aquinas and Martin Heidegger revolves around this basic understanding of the term onto-theology. The Heideggerian criticism however does not stop with the Christian philosophy of the Scholastics. Heidegger continues to subject modern philosophy under his scrutiny. He criticizes Descartes for example because of the latter’s coinage of the Cogito ergo Sum. The Cartesian test for certitude, that is, the self as the measure of certainty, has added a subjective leaning on the issue of being. Steiner relates, “In Descartes, says Heidegger pointedly, transcendence becomes rescendence. Everything is referred back to the human viewer. The cogito becomes the sum; thought precedes being.”18 The Cartesian paradigm is inherited by the whole stretch of the modern period, which is pre-occupied with the self or the subject. But as Heidegger will claim, this is another transformation of the concept of Being. The determinant of meaning becomes the self, and no longer the outside world. This is especially true with Kant’s categories of the mind, whereby the mind contains the categories of space and time which it projects to the outside reality which it perceives. However, there is a problem in this development. With the self becoming the determinant of meaning, Being has been equated with the subjective self. This equation furthers the oblivion of Being since the subjective self, which has been equated with Being by the modern philosophy, is still a being and not Being. This equation of Being and self, is then a confusion of Being and being (self), and Heidegger calls this as the oblivion of the ontological difference of Being and being. Hence, even in modern philosophy, there is one more facet of onto-theology, and that is, the oblivion of the ontological difference of Being and being. Thus, there are three facets of philosophy that has surfaced: (1) oblivion of Being, (2) entanglement of Being and God, (3) and the oblivion of the ontological difference

George Steiner, Martin Heidegger. (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1989), 70.


of Being and being. The entire tradition of western philosophy is an onto-theology because of these three respects. b. The Case of Aquinas and Onto-theology How has Aquinas become part of the onto-theological tradition? What are the particular allegations or criticisms of Martin Heidegger against Thomas Aquinas in relation to the issue about onto-theology? After articulating the definition of onto-theology and naming the extent of this Heideggerian criticism, what remains to be seen is the relation of this criticism to the philosophical system set by Thomas Aquinas. The principle of sub-alternation in Logic, which says that what is true of the universal is also true of the particular, will allow us to argue that if the entire philosophical tradition of the west is an onto-theology, then the philosophy of Thomas Aquinas, which is part of the western philosophical tradition, is also an ontotheology. But in particular, Heidegger mentions Aquinas as part of the representative of the Schoolmen, together with Scotus and Suarez. The offenses of the Schoolmen, and therefore of Aquinas, is two-fold: (1) the concept of existentia and (2) the notion of God. c.1. Aquinas on Existentia The philosophical system of Aquinas contains Aristotelian elements. It manifests traces of the Aristotelian hylemorphism. Hylemorphism, to recall, argues that everything is composed of matter and form. A stone, a chair, a bike and even man, have matter and form. The substantial form is also the essence of the substance, and such essence is defined as that by which a thing is as it is. This essence is also rendered as quiddity or that “whatness” of things.19 The essence then constitutes the reality of the thing. Following the Aristotelian tradition, Aquinas also employs the dualism of matter and form. But Aquinas, together with other Schoolmen, added the concept of existence, which is popularly equated with Aquinas’ esse. This concept of esse has added more color to the controversy of Being between Aquinas and Heidegger. The commentators of Aquinas are at variance with Martin Heidegger in interpreting the concept of esse in Thomas Aquinas. Heidegger equated all Schoolmen in their views about existence. Most schoolmen consider existence to be simply a mode of essence. It is not distinct from essence. Gilson’s review20 Cf. John Wippel, The Metaphysical Thoughts of Thomas Aquinas. (Washington: The Catholic University of America Press, 2000), 24. 20 Cf. Gilson, Etienne. The Christian Philosophy of St. Thomas Aquinas. Notre Dame: University of Notre Dame Press, 1994.


shows the practice of essentialism in western philosophy. In essentialism, the only constitutive element of a thing is its essence, and existence is simply an add-on. Essentialism argues that the reality of the thing is constituted by its essence. If one knows the thing’s essence, then one knows what the thing is. However, Aquinas is not part of them. Aquinas’ reflection of esse separates him from the essentialist tradition of his contemporaries. For Aquinas, there is a real distinction between essence and esse (existence). Hence, with the Thomistic distinction of essence from existence, Heidegger argues that the ontological difference of Being and being is also blurred. Being is not really named in Scholastic philosophy because Scholasticism is essentialist, which means that Being is equated with essence. Essence, however, is a being and not Being. Essence is a static concept, it is that which endures, and is permanent, the congealed concept that is present in all things of the same species. So, with the essentialism of the Scholastics, Being again is reduced to being.21 In addition, Heidegger argues that the essence-existence distinction of the Scholastics was traditionally taken as equivalent for the ontological difference of Being and being. But Heidegger argues that the former is not enough to serve as conceptual equivalent of the latter. In the Heideggerian project of reviving the question of Being in philosophy, he proposes an ontical turn in order to ask the ontological question of Being. Heidegger himself says, “If we are to formulate our question explicitly and transparently, we must first give a proper explication of an entity (Dasein), with regard to its Being.”22 Patricia Johnson writes of this in her book Heidegger where she says, “Heidegger suggests that in order to raise the question of Being in a meaningful way, we must interrogate the right entity.”23 This right entity is the only entity that is able to raise the question of Being, and that entity is Dasein, which can be roughly equated with man. This is the reason why the first part of Being and Time is mainly aimed at articulating the structure of the Dasein. The inquiry over Dasein is the ontical turn that has to be taken in order to raise the ontological question of Being. It is in this ontical requirement of the ontological question of Being that the inadequacy of the Scholastic essence-existence distinction has become clear. Heidegger Cf. Gilson, 41ff. Martin Heidegger, Being and Time, trans. by John Macquarrie and Edward Roinson. (Tubingen: Neomarius Verlag, 1963), 27 – parenthetical note added. This work will henceforth be referred to as BT. 23 Patricia Alternbend Johnson, On Heidegger, (United States of America: Wadsworth), 2000, p.13-14.
22 21


says that the essence-existence distinction is inadequate because it is not enough even to ask the nature of the ontical Dasein. The Dasein is known to be a special entity, and is the only entity that is capable of raising the question of Being. Heidegger himself says, “Dasein is an entity which, in its very Being, comports itself understandingly towards that Being.”24 The Dasein is isolated, and is special of all the beings (entities) in the world. Heidegger continues to express this when he says, “Dasein is an entity which does not just occur among other entities. Rather it is ontically distinguished by the fact that, in its very Being, that Being is an issue for it.”25 This special place of the Dasein is not satisfied by the essence-existence distinction of the Scholastics. The Dasein is not answerable by the question of whatness (essence) or thatness (existence). Rather, the Dasein is an issue of whoness. The Dasein is an answer to the question, who is it? Its thatness is defined by a whoness, and not of a whatness. This means then that every Dasein is different from any other Dasein, unlike the table which can be said to be essentially the same regardless of its color, size and other properties. Hence, with this insight, Scholastics, including Aquinas, is guilty of onto-theology. c.2. Aquinas on Christian Philosophy This is one aspect of onto-theology that is directly concerned with Aquinas. Aquinas is a Christian philosopher. His metaphysics is aimed at articulating God. In fact, his Summa Theologiae is both a theological and philosophical treatise. It is theology because it is a discussion of things pertaining to God. Thomas would call such God as the Primum Ens26, the First Substance. With this, it is almost obviously implied that this being, who is God, is not the Being which Heidegger wishes to become the subject of true philosophical thinking. Rather, God is a being that is only among beings, although the most perfect and the highest of all beings. Therefore, as the Heideggerians would say, Aquinas’ metaphysics is clearly an onto-theology. On the other hand, Aquinas’ Summa is also philosophical. It is clearly philosophical in approach. It makes use of the Aristotelian concept of matter, form, and even essence. It also makes use of the Aristotelian categories. This means then that the Summa uses

BT, 78 – italics is mine. BT, 32. 26 God as the Primum Ens is even already visible in Aquinas’ arguments or ways of proving the existence of God. In the fourth way especially, God earns the topmost rank in the levels of perfection, and yet this could still be taken to imply that God is among the beings, though the highest one. Cf. ST I, q.2, art. 3.



philosophy as an instrument. Such is however a striking characteristics of Christian philosophy, which uses philosophy to forward theological arguments. Hence, in Aquinas’ use of Christian philosophy, he has become part of what Martin Heidegger calls as ontotheological tradition. Further, Aquinas also employs the term First Cause and Primum Ens. These terms are direct targets of the Heideggerian critique. For example, in Aquinas’ argument for the existence of God, the fourth way speaks of God as the most perfect being; and in his second way, Aquinas speaks of God as the First Cause or the Uncaused Cause. Thus, it has been shown that Aquinas’ metaphysics contains some elements which are targets of the Heideggerian criticism. It is in this respect that Aquinas is said to be guilty of onto-theology, and so there is the real need to thoroughly study Aquinas and see whether such accusation could be accepted as true.



a. Naming the Issue: Caputo’s perception Caputo’s assessment about the issue is another breakthrough in the scholarship about Being in Aquinas and Heidegger. Caputo does a good survey of the views of the commentators of both Aquinas and Heidegger. He has discussed the defenses of the Thomists and has deepened the reflections on the Heideggerian criticism. Caputo has pointed out the earlier reflections about the Oblivion of Being in the history of metaphysics. In the second chapter of his work, Heidegger and Aquinas, he has forwarded the Heideggerian critique against the Scholastic system of the Middle Ages, which includes the metaphysics of Thomas Aquinas. Caputo has noted the fact that the Heideggerian criticism against Scholasticism is not simply on the oblivion of Being understood as essentialism that is, the mere reduction of the Being into being. Caputo has pointed out Aquinas’ departure and even critique against the ontological argument of St. Anselm, which is a clear reduction of Being – equated with God – into being, though perceived to be the highest being and higher of which nothing can be thought of. Caputo argues that Heidegger has not fully seen and appreciated this Thomistic departure from the system of St. Anselm. He said, “Heidegger himself, however, is not fully aware, I think, of the extent of St. Thomas’ rejection of the ontological argument.”27 Caputo agrees with Gilson in saying that it is only


H & A, 66.


Aquinas, among the Scholastics, who has taught that esse is not a mere mode of essence. To quote him in length here, Caputo says: He rightly points out that St. Thomas’ objection to the Anselmian argument is not that esse does not belong to the order of essentia but rather that we do not know the essence of God. And this implies for Heidegger that the argument fails only because of some kind of contingent failing of the human intellect. Were the human mind able to know the definition of God, Heidegger says of St. Thomas, then one could indeed deduce his existence from his essence. But that is not what St. Thomas is saying. For St. Thomas, to know God in some way other than through a nominal and imperfect definition would imply that we were in a position to have an intuitive knowledge of his essence- which in fact is a subsistent act of existence (ipsum esse subsistens). But that has nothing to do with finding esse as one of the predicates in the divine essentia… I do not think that Heidegger appreciates at all the “existential” quality of the Thomistic doctrine of esse and the abyss which separates it from the ontological argument.28 The foregoing long quotation attests to Caputo’s own criticism versus Heidegger’s reading of the metaphysics of Aquinas. Heidegger would have been wrong if he would simply argue that Thomas’ departure from the Anselmian ontological argument is still caught within essentialism. Instead, Caputo argues, Gilson can be right in arguing that the metaphysics of Aquinas is also another breakthrough in his time, for it is only in Aquinas that the esse, which is roughly transliterated as Being, is thought to be truly distinct from essence. With this then, we cannot say that the onto-theology of Thomas Aquinas is within the nuance of essentialism. This brings Caputo then to confront the Gilsonian defense against the Heideggerian critique. As can be recalled from above, Gilson argues that Thomas Aquinas is a philosopher of Being par excellence because he has thought of Being as esse and not as an essence. Aquinas has made a good advance in the study of Being because he translated the beingessence equation to being-esse equation. So, if Caputo has to probe further the Heideggerian critique, he is faced with one more concern, that is to prove that the Heideggerian critique is beyond the Gilsonian reply. This is why Caputo has devoted a chapter of his work to deal with the deeper nuance of the Heideggerian critique. Caputo argues that onto-theology is not merely the oblivion of Being, but can even be more important than that. Caputo tries to argue that for Heidegger, onto-theology is also the oblivion of the ontological difference between Being and being. The history of philosophy, according to Heidegger, has forgotten this distinction. Caputo says, “Yet this is precisely what Heidegger holds about the “thought of Being.” What Being



means, Heidegger says, has fallen into neglect or oblivion, precisely because the difference between Being and beings has been concealed.”29 So, Caputo would say that Thomists may not simply content themselves with the Gilsonian type of defense because the Heideggerian critique takes deeper nuances than simply essentialism. Therefore, for Caputo, if we are to make a serious dialogue between Heidegger and Aquinas, then we need to put forward the other nuances of the Heideggerian critique against Western philosophy including Aquinas. b. The Depth of Heidegger’s Criticism With the foregoing statements, we can observe that Caputo has departed from the trend of confronting the issue of Being in Heidegger and Aquinas by finding an equivalent notion of the Heideggerian Being in Aquinas. Caputo seems to argue that Aquinas is in no way exempted in the talk of onto-theology if we would solely depend on the metaphysics of Aquinas. Even the Thomistic metaphysics of esse is still part of the onto-theology. In fact, in his introduction of the book, Heidegger and Aquinas, Caputo exclaims: Hence, all those protestations that Thomas is the philosopher of Being par excellence because he thinks Being as act, far from eluding Heidegger’s critique, in fact substantiate it. For Thomas, to be is to be in act, and to be in act is to be capable of action and of rendering other beings actual. To the extent that a being is in act, it is causally efficacious… St. Thomas does not practice a quiet, meditative savoring of the presencing of Being; he has instead reduced presencing to realitas, causalitas, actualitas.30 According to Caputo, Scholasticism cannot overcome the fact that Heidegger views Being as that which reveals and conceals itself at the same time, the Being that sways, that facilitates the possibility of the giving of the gift, the dif-ference of the difference. All of this simply means that the Thomisitic metaphysics remained in the oblivion of that one facet of Being, and that is, the granting of the possibility of the difference between Being and being. This is what Heidegger would call as the Austrag or the dif-ference of Being from beings. It is this “dif-ference” that Aquinas is oblivious of. Caputo further says, “the oblivion is not that Thomas has “forgotten” something, but that the dif-fering itself has withdrawn from what is opened up in the difference.”31 If Gilson defended Aquinas by developing the Thomistic metaphysics of esse, for Caputo such apologetic is insufficient because Heidegger’s criticism is not only limited to essentialism. The latter Heidegger speaks of the Austrag, as that clearing which grants the thinking of Being possible. Even if Thomists would succeed in showing that the metaphysics

29 30

Ibid., 2. Ibid., p.6. 31 Ibid., 149.


of Aquinas is not essentialist, but rather of esse, still such defense is insufficient because it does not take into mind the dif-ference of Being and beings. Further, the Heideggerian critique highlights the condition and role of man as important in raising the question of Being. Heidegger says that metaphysics, especially that of the Scholastics, asks the question about the whatness and thatness of beings. In fact, Caputo was clear in commenting that this Scholastic distinction is often mistakenly confused with the ontological difference between Being and beings. 32 But the essence-existence split of Scholasticism is insufficient to account for the Being of beings. This is especially true for one special entity, the Dasein. The Dasein is not answerable by the question of whatness (essence) and thatness (existence) but rather of whoness. Caputo has this to say, “The Dasein, cannot at all be interrogated as such by the question What is this? We gain access to its beings only if we ask: Who is it? The Dasein is not constituted by whatness but – if we may coin the expression – by whoness.”33 Hence, in Caputo’s view, there is now then the need to go beyond the question of essentialism in Aquinas. It is not enough to show that Aquinas’ metaphysics is that of esse not of essentia or ens. Rather, there is now the task for the Scholastics to confront this one facet of onto-theology: the dif-ference of Being and beings. Along with this task is the need to account for a Thomistic interpretation of man, and see whether Aquinas can accept the belief that man can be the bearer of Being. c. Caputo’s Resolution: Aquinas’ Way Out Seeing the lack in the approaches of those who previously confront the Being issue in Aquinas and Heidegger, Caputo proposed another view in this dialogue. He is ready to accept that the metaphysics of Aquinas may not really be exempted from onto-theology. Aquinas is guilty of what Heidegger charged of him, and the Thomists are wrong in denying this. Caputo says, “In its own historical acuity, St. Thomas’ thought, as metaphysical theology, is guilty of the charges which Heidegger makes against metaphysics.” 34 Even the Thomistic metaphysics of esse remains to be a metaphysics, and is therefore still ontotheological in its very constitution. But Caputo is not also ready to accept that Thomas is altogether oblivious of the difference of Being. Thomas is not guilty of the oblivion of Being, even of the dif-ference of Being. Caputo’s approach however is no longer metaphysical. He finds Aquinas’ orientation Cf. Ibid., p.76. Ibid., 120. 34 Ibid., 247.
33 32


to Being not through the latter’s metaphysics, but through his mystical tendencies and orientations. Caputo says, “My argument will be that there is a more profound nonmetaphysical tendency inscribed within the essence of St. Thomas’ metaphysics which needs to be made explicit… there is an orientation within his metaphysics, toward a nonmetaphysical experience of Being, a tendency within Thomistic metaphysics to transform itself, not, to be sure, into what Heidegger calls “thought,” but into mysticism.”35 With this, Caputo does a retrieval of Thomistic metaphysics by tracing the mystical elements in Aquinas’ thought. This is what Caputo would call as religious aletheiology. Caputo argues that there is always in Aquinas a desire to commune with the Divine. This desire for Communion with God is, for Caputo, Aquinas’ questioning of Being. That Aquinas desires communion with God can be seen both in the life and in the writings of Aquinas. First, there is an instance in the life of Aquinas when he experiences a temporal union with God after which Aquinas stopped writing his Summa. It has been recorded that after this incident, Aquinas proclaims: “What I have written seems like straw to me compared to what I have seen and has been revealed to me.” 36 This narration attests that Aquinas has been consistently preparing for that union with the Divine, and all his works have to be interpreted in view of that end, which is communion. Secondly, the Thomistic notion of intellectus attests that Aquinas himself provides pages of his metaphysical for reflection about the mystical union. The intellectus is different from ratio in the sense that the former is unitive while latter is a kind of a discursive thought. Aquinas’ reflection for intellectus gives us a glimpse of his belief about communion with the Divine, thereby attesting that Aquinas’ thinking transcends metaphysics to give way to mysticism. Caputo now then says that this mysticism may not be the thought that Heidegger wants philosophy to take heed, but this mysticism in Aquinas provides him the occasion and the clearing to experience Being. In short, Aquinas, as a mystic, could not be said to be ontotheological. In the end, Caputo says that there can hardly be a way to establish a dialogue between Aquinas and Heidegger. Aquinas can be said to be truly guilty of Heidegger’s charge against metaphysics. However, Heidegger also missed to see that Aquinas is also a mystic and is thereby granted an authentic encounter of Being. Aquinas then is mindful of the dif-ference of Being which grants him the possibility for an authentic type of thinking. Aquinas then is in no way a deserter to task of a philosopher. He is not naïve of Being, and should not be equated with the rest of onto-theologians in the history of metaphysics. Caputo has this in the concluding paragraph of his work where he says:
35 36

Ibid., 247. Ibid., p.253. see also James Weisphl, Friar Thomas de Aquino: His Life, Thoughts and Works. (Garden City New York: Doubleday Publishing, Inc., 1974) p. 321.


It is a mistake to conflate the metaphysics of Thomas Aquinas with the rationalist systems of modern metaphysics, to forget its essentially religious and mystical inspiration. It is a mistake to remain only in the level of what Aquinas has explicitly said and to pay no heed to what is unsaid. And if Thomists are wrong to insist that the doctrine of esse as the actualitas omnium actuum is as it stands a response to Heidegger – instead of a confirmation of his worst suspicions – the Heideggerians are wrong to think that the doctrine of actualitas is all that there is for this thinker. Oddly enough, the Heideggerians have not listened attentively enough to what is unsaid in these sayings, das im Sagen Ungesagte, not even when they are put on warning by Thomas himself.37 IV. a. CRITIQUE AGAINST CAPUTO In Praise of Caputo As what has already been noted, Caputo makes a breakthrough in the reflection about the issue of Being between Heiedegger and Aquinas. For one, Caputo helps us to see that the term onto-theology which is readily understood to mean simply as the tradition of essentialism, still has many other nuanced connotations. Caputo initiates the realization that onto-theology means the oblivion, not just of Being, but even of the ontological difference of Being and beings, and even of the ontological dif-ference of Being and beings. The latter nuances were not seen by previous Thomists, which became the reason why these thinkers have not fully confronted the Heideggerian critique. The failure to see the problem leads to an insufficient response. Caputo does a good part in clarifying the problem for those who are interested with this issue at hand. Secondly, Caputo initiates another style of responding to the problem. Whereas previous apologists of Aquinas endeavors to establish equivalence in the concepts of Aquinas and Heidegger, Caputo leads us to an alternative way of seeing the unsaid things to argue for the philosophical orientation of the saint. The argument about the religious aletheiology of Aquinas is one alternative way to solve the problem. As far as I know, Caputo is the first to do this. In short then, the contribution of Caputo rests on the breakthrough he introduced with regard to the problem at hand. Caputo interprets the issue of onto-theology into a deeper level, and he also deepens the response of the Thomists into the problem. In effect, Caputo deepened the reflections of both the Thomists and the Heideggerian. b. Possible Weaknesses However, there are some reasons to doubt whether Caputo was correct in his pronouncement about the insufficiency of Aquinas’ written metaphysics to confront the

H & A, 284.


Heideggerian critique. If the metaphysics of esse is found to be insufficient, that should not hinder us to look for other alternatives. One alternative could be taken from current developments in Thomism which gives emphasis on existential character of Thomas Aquinas. For example, there are those who wished to argue that the Thomistic orientation to Being is visible enough in Aquinas’ concept of vocation, freedom and voluntariness. 38 Other writers also emphasized the participative metaphysics of Aquinas39 which traces man’s rootedness in God. Such rootedness is used as a premise to argue for a constant discernment and thinking in the life of man. The reflection about the existential character of Thomistic metaphysics gives us light especially with regard to the Heideggerian concept of the Dasein. This is rather important because the Dasein is the thinker of Being. The reflections about man as Dasein is what Heidegger would call as the “ontical priority in the question of Being.”40 For Heidegger there is a need to search for that being that is capable of asking the question of Being. But such being is none other than the Dasein. Further, Heidegger says that the metaphysics of the West fail to address the ontical priority of the question of Being precisely because metaphysics fail to address man as he/she is. As mentioned above, it is Heidegger’s contention that man lies outside the scope of Scholasticism’s hylemorphic tradition which posits the essence-existence distinction. Man is not just a whatness and a thatness as other things are. But rather man is a whoness. As to what constitutes the whoness of man is its involvement in the world, and the place which it creates in the midst of the things in the world. Hence, if this is the whoness of man, then we can also say that man maintains such whoness when he defines himself in the world. But this self-definition of man in the world is also present in Aquinas, especially in his own concept of freedom and voluntariness. That man is free is part of the basic gifts of man for Aquinas and such freedom is the condition for his self-actualization. Hence, with this existential development in the thoughts of Thomas Aquinas, there can be a possibility of establishing dialogue between the Heideggerian project for the ontical priority in the question of Being. This, I believe, Caputo If the existentialist Thomists succeeded in showing an equivalent notion of Dasein, then perhaps this can be an avenue for dialogue between Heidegger and Aquinas. See Eleanore Stump’s arguments on voluntariess in Kretsmann, Norman and Stump, Eleonore. The Cambridge Companion to Aquinas. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1993. 39 Aureada, Fr. Jose Antonio. “The Concept of Grace in St. Thomas Aquinas: (II) The Nature of Theological Participation.” Philippiniana Sacra, vol. 29, no. 87, 1994. 40 BT, 32.




With the foregoing discussion, we have endeavored to see the contribution of Caputo in the development of the talk about Being in Aquinas and Heidegger. Caputo’s contribution is significant in achieving deeper understanding of Being in the thoughts of Aquinas and Heidegger. As mentioned, his critique against the work of Gilson deepens the problem and allows us to see that there are indeed other venues to view the issue in a clearer light. Surely, the book contributes much in the history of metaphysics and this would give guidance for future studies for both Aquinas and Heidegger.

VI. Books


Aquinas, Thomas St. Concerning Being and Essence, trans. by George Leckie. New York: Appleton-Century-Crofts, Inc. 1837. _________________. The Basic Writings of Aquinas, trans. & ed. by Anton Pegis, OP. Indianapolis : Hackett, 1945. _________________, Summa Theologiae, trans. English Dominican Province New York: Benzinger Brothers, Inc., 1947. _________________. On Being and Essence, trans. Maurer, Armand. Toronto: The Pontifical Institute of Medieval Studies, 1991. Heidegger, Martin. Early Greek Thinking, trans. by David Farrell Krell and Frank Capuzzi. Frankfurt: Holswege, 1950. ______________. Being and Time, trans. by John Macquarrie & Edward Robinson. Tubingen: Neomarius Verlag, 1963. ______________. An Introduction to Metaphysics. London: Yale University Press, 1959. ______________. Basic Writing, trans. by David Farell Krell. London: Routledge, Kegan and Paul, 1978. ______________. On Time and Being, trans. by Joan Stambaugh. London: Harper and Row Publishers, 1972. ______________. The Basic Problems of Phenomenology. Indianapolis: Indiana University Press, 1982.


Caputo, John. Aquinas and Heidegger: An Essay on Overcoming Metaphysics. Indiana: Indiana University Press, 1982. ___________. The Metaphysical Element in Heidegger’s Thought. New York: Fordham University Press, 1986. Chenu, Marie-Dominique. Aquinas and His Role in Theology. Minnesota: Liturgical Press, 2002. Clark, Mary, ed. An Aquinas Reader. New York: Doubleday and Company, Inc., 1972. Dreyfus, Herbert and Hall, Harrison. Heidegger: A Critical Reader. Oxford: Blackwell Publishers, 1992. Frede, Dorothea: “The Question of being: Heidegger’s Project.” The Cambridge Companion to Heidegger, ed. Charles Guignon. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1993. Gilson, Etienne. The Christian Philosophy of St. Thomas Aquinas. Notre Dame: University of Notre Dame Press, 1994. Guignon, Charles, ed. The Cambridge Companion to Heidegger. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1993. Hemming, Laurence Paul. Heidegger’s Atheism. Indiana: Notre Dame University, 2002. Hill, William. The Search for the Absent God. New York: The Crossroad Publishing Co., 1992. Inglis, John. On Aquinas. United Kingdom: Wadsworth Thomson Learning, 2002. Inwood, Michael. Heidegger: A Very Short Introduction. New York: Oxford University Press, 1997. Johnson, Patricia Altenbernd. On Heidegger. United Kingdom: Wadsworth Thomson Learning, 2000. Kerr, Fergus. After Aquinas: Versions of Thomism. Oxford, Blackwell Publishing, Ltd., 2002. Kretsmann, Norman and Stump, Eleonore. The Cambridge Companion to Aquinas. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1993. Mennesier, A.I. Pattern for a Christian According to Thomas Aquinas. New York: Alba House, 1992. Nichols, Aidan. Discovering Aquinas: An Introduction to his Life, Work and Influence. London: Darton, Longman and Todd, Ltd., 2002. Pegis, Anton, ed. Introduction to St. Thomas Aquinas. New York: Random House Inc., Inc., 1945. Wippel, John. The Metaphysical Thoughts of Thomas Aquinas. Washington: The Catholic University of America Press, 2000.


Journals Aureada, Fr. Jose Antonio. “The Concept of Grace in St. Thomas Aquinas: (II) The Nature of Theological Participation.” Philippiniana Sacra, vol. 29, no. 87, 1994. Blanchette, Oliva. “Are There Two Questions of Being?” Review of Metaphysics, vol. 45, 1991. Caputo, John. “Auto-Deconstructing or Constructing a Bridge? A Reply to Thomas A. F. Kelly.” American Catholic Philosophical Quarterly, vol. 76, no. 2, 2002. ___________. Demythologizing Heidegger. Indianapolis: Indiana University Press, 1993. ___________. “The Thought of Being an dthe Metaphysics of Esse.” Philosophy Today, vol.26, no.3, 1982. ___________. “Presenting Heidegger.” American Catholic Philosophical Quarterly, vol.69, no.2, 1995. Gamwell, Franklin. “Speaking of God After Aquinas.” Journal of Religion, vol. 81, no.2, 2001. Guagliardo, Vincent. “Aquinas and Heidegger: The Question of Philosophical Theology.” The Thomist, vol.53, no.3, 1989. Hemming, Laurence Paul. “Heidegger’s God.” The Thomist, vol. 62, no. 3, 1998. Hermida, Ranilo. “Towards the Celebration of Being Human: A Retrieval of the Metaphysics of Thomas Aquinas and Martin Heidegger.” Philippiniana Sacra, vol. 33, no.99, 1998. Hoping, Helmut. “Understanding the Difference of Being: on the Relation between Metaphysics and Theology.” The Thomist, vol.59, no.2, 1995. Kelly, Thomas. “On Remembering and Forgetting Being: Aquinas, Heidegger, and Caputo.” American Catholic Philosophical Quarterly, vol. 76, no. 2, 2002. Knasas, John F. X. “A Heideggerian Critique of Aquinas and a Gilsonian Reply.” The Thomist, vol.58, no.3, 1994.