The Metaphysics of Pure Actuality:
Act, Potency, and the Nature of Reality
This paper will argue that classical realism is necessary to confess God as actus purus by examining the necessary metaphysical realities at the heart of the concept. It will also seek to refute modern attempts to confess actus purus while at the same denying classical metaphysics. The thrust of the paper will focus on the key metaphysical corollaries that have captured the imaginations of philosophers since Thales first raised questions concerning the ultimate nature of reality: Cause/Effect, Act/Potency, Existence/Essence, Being/Becoming. This quest for the first principle arrives at a God who is Actus Purus. The paper will then argue, based on Aquinas’ definition, that God is pure act and will demonstrate the necessary corollaries that follow: God is the ultimate cause and is not caused himself. God’s act involves active potential, not passive potential. God’s existence and essence are identical. God is being itself and is never in a state of becoming.
A historical survey of patristic, medieval, and post-Reformation sources will demonstrate that actus purus is the historic, orthodox position of the catholic church. Then, the work of tracing the metaphysical foundation cracks begins by examining the late medieval shifts resulting in nominalism and voluntarism. It will be shown that the doors that were opened by the late medievals were then forcefully entered by figures including Descartes, Kant, Hegel, process theologians, and analytic theologians until classical metaphysics, and actus purus, were abandoned altogether. The implications of this abandonment resulted in pantheism, panentheism, and theistic mutualism, all of which are revisions of classical Christian orthodoxy. Finally, the paper will argue for retrieval of classical realism and actus purus in the contemporary church by showing how participatory metaphysics benefits the church’s worship.
Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary