Date of Award

Spring 1984

Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)



First Advisor

Keefe, Donald J.

Second Advisor

Klocker, Harry J.

Third Advisor

Lamb, Matthew L.


Traditional Thomism, both philosophical and theological, has assumed that the esse/essence distinction drawn by St Thomas Aquinas lies within the domain of philosophy (nature) rather than of theology (grace). The source of this assumption is Thomas himself, who supposed the substantial correlation of esse and essence to be natural, thereby relegating grace to the role of accident. This dissertation challenges that fundamental assumption. The dissertation consists of two parts. In Part I, the esse/essence distinction itself is analyzed. The approach is methodological, not historical. Arguing that the basic methodological principle of Thornism is the act/potency complementarity which Thomas derived from Aristotle, Part I concludes that the correct application of that principle requires us to regard esse as gratuitous rather than as natural. That is to say, grace, within Thomist methodology, is substantial, not accidental. The second part of the dissertation applies the principles of Thomist methodology worked out in Part I to contemporary Roman Catholic theology, first, with regard to the nature/grace problematic and the question of method which it has raised within this century, and, secondly, with regard to the problem of contemporary historical consciousness and the need for a new perspective which it has raised i n the wake of Vatican II. Arguing that Transcendental Thomism has failed to resolve the methodological problem with regard to the relationship between nature and grace and that liberation theology has failed to find the new perspective which contemporary historical consciousness indicates we require, Part II concludes that the act/potency methodology of Aristotle, as transformed by the Thomist esse/essence distinction, opens the way to a new theological approach to creation as Christocentric and covenantal, and that such an approach not only overcomes the methodological problems with regard to the nature/grace relationship, but also provides the new ' perspective which historical consiousness today requires.


Part II of the dissertation is available as an additional file because of its size.

littl_j_19842.pdf (20884 kB)
Part II of dissertation