Edith Stein’s Phenomenology and Christian Philosophy
Edited By Mette Lebech and John Haydn Gurmin
Exemplars and Essences: Thomas Aquinas and Edith Stein
← 288 | 289 →GERALD GLEESON
ABSTRACT: This paper examines Edith Stein’s account of essentialities, with their ‘essential being’, in the light of recent debates about divine exemplary ideas in the thought of Thomas Aquinas. It compares the lines of argument used by Stein and Thomas to explain the need for divine exemplars, and then examines a recent debate among Thomists about how Thomas understood the relationship between exemplars and God’s act of creation. This issue bears upon Stein’s claims for the priority of essentialities as archetypes that measure the realizations or actualizations of finite beings.
In this paper I take up the topic of essentialities [Wesenheiten] or pure forms (whether common or individual) to which Edith Stein attributes ‘essential being’ [wesenhaftes Sein].1 Readers of Finite and Eternal Being will know that Stein sought to deflect criticism of her account of essentialities as overly Platonic by associating them with Thomas Aquinas’ exemplary divine ideas, thereby suggesting her Platonism was of a mild form that ← 289 | 290 →even Thomas would accept.2 It may be less well known, however, that among recent interpreters of Thomas there is considerable debate about how Thomas understood the divine ideas, and about the logical priority of divine exemplars to God’s act of creation. This debate among Thomists raises questions not only about whether Stein’s account is consistent with that of Thomas, but also about what Thomas did hold (or should have held) about the divine exemplars. I will not be able to settle...
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