Virtue and Being according to Thomas Aquinas
Espíritu: ISSN 0014-0716, Year 58, Issue 138, 2009, pages 11-36
The word “virtue” is usually associated with the domain of the moral virtues, or with other dispositions that belong to the first species of quality. However there is a broader use of the concept of
virtue in Aquinas´ work. Virtue can be regarded as pure perfection, which is fully realized in God, “Virtus virtutum”. For the correct understanding of this doctrine it is highlighted the difference between “dimensional quantity” and “virtual quantity”. Saint Thomas not only identifies in God virtue with being but also he understands being in some way through the concept of virtue: God is the being according to all the power of being. The concept of “virtus essendi” is capital to understand Aquinas’ metaphysics of participation. While God is the being according to all the power of being, in creatures whose “essentia” differs from “esse”, being is found with a certain measure or mode and not according to all its power. Hence the need for the creature to complete the likeness of God, in whom being, essence and virtue are identical, through accidental determinations added to its substance. God is Goodness “per essentiam” because in Him being and virtue are identical. The creature is good by participation,
because being is not in it according to all its virtue. That’s why the perfection of substantial being (“esse simpliciter”) is completed by the perfection added by accidents, which intensify the perfection of the finite “virtus essendi”.
Thomas Aquinas, Virtue, “Virtus essendi”, “Actus essendi”, Pure perfection, Virtual quantity