The Proper Distinction between Substance and Essence

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Justified

Puritan Board Sophomore
What exactly is the difference between the two? I have a rather intuitive understanding of the difference but am having a difficult time putting it into words. An essence would be what a thing is, while a substance would be something which has an extension in the world (I don't merely mean in the physical world); the substance is that which actually subsists.

I feel like I have a strong understanding of what an essence is, but it's the definition of substance that is giving me trouble.
 

yeutter

Puritan Board Senior
An essence is the set of attributes that define what an entity fundamentally is.
When you say substance are you referring to 'Homoousain'?
 

Justified

Puritan Board Sophomore
I'm looking for a general definition of substance. Like I said, I sort of know what it means intuitively, but I'm looking for a good definition.
 

BayouHuguenot

Puritanboard Clerk
I always thought of "Essence" as the abstract of substance. Substance is a standing-in. But I'm open to other readings.
 

MW

Puritanboard Amanuensis
This is a difficult one because the two terms tend to be used interchangeably when referring to the unity of the Godhead. Conceptually essence might be more of an abstract term and substance a concrete term. When applied to humanity the essence of man would be its quiddity or whatness, and substance would be the concrete manifestation of that in a single human person. In God essence and substance are one.
 

Justified

Puritan Board Sophomore
This is a difficult one because the two terms tend to be used interchangeably when referring to the unity of the Godhead. Conceptually essence might be more of an abstract term and substance a concrete term. When applied to humanity the essence of man would be its quiddity or whatness, and substance would be the concrete manifestation of that in a single human person. In God essence and substance are one.
Thanks for that clarification. That's sort of what I thought was the case.
 

yeutter

Puritan Board Senior
I always thought of "Essence" as the abstract of substance. Substance is a standing-in. But I'm open to other readings.
That is a good definition. Aristotle holds that God is in one sense substance: an invariant form that exists, timeless, outside of space and time, in the eternal substance of the unmoved mover.
 

yeutter

Puritan Board Senior
I thought a Reformed Reidian would consult An Inquiry Into The Human Mind On The Principles Of Common Sense
 

BGF

Puritan Board Sophomore
What exactly is the difference between the two? I have a rather intuitive understanding of the difference but am having a difficult time putting it into words. An essence would be what a thing is, while a substance would be something which has an extension in the world (I don't merely mean in the physical world); the substance is that which actually subsists.

I feel like I have a strong understanding of what an essence is, but it's the definition of substance that is giving me trouble.

I've seen them used interchangeably but have understood that they can be distinguished. Like you, I couldn't express that distinction.

This is a difficult one because the two terms tend to be used interchangeably when referring to the unity of the Godhead. Conceptually essence might be more of an abstract term and substance a concrete term. When applied to humanity the essence of man would be its quiddity or whatness, and substance would be the concrete manifestation of that in a single human person. In God essence and substance are one.

This is very helpful.
 

BGF

Puritan Board Sophomore
This is a difficult one because the two terms tend to be used interchangeably when referring to the unity of the Godhead. Conceptually essence might be more of an abstract term and substance a concrete term. When applied to humanity the essence of man would be its quiddity or whatness, and substance would be the concrete manifestation of that in a single human person. In God essence and substance are one.

Would this be an example of the two terms being one?

WSC Q. 6. How many persons are there in the Godhead?
A. There are three persons in the Godhead: the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost; and these three are one God, the same in substance, equal in power and glory.

Is substance the same as essence here?
 

py3ak

Unshaven and anonymous
Staff member
I answer that, God is the same as His essence or nature. To understand this, it must be noted that in things composed of matter and form, the nature or essence must differ from the suppositum, because the essence or nature connotes only what is included in the definition of the species; as, humanity connotes all that is included in the definition of man, for it is by this that man is man, and it is this that humanity signifies, that, namely, whereby man is man.

The word substance signifies not only what exists of itself--for existence cannot of itself be a genus, as shown in the body of the article; but, it also signifies an essence that has the property of existing in this way--namely, of existing of itself; this existence, however, is not its essence.​

Aquinas, Thomas (2010-06-19). Summa Theologica (Complete & Unabridged) (p. 14,15). Coyote Canyon Press. Kindle Edition.
 

BayouHuguenot

Puritanboard Clerk
I thought a Reformed Reidian would consult An Inquiry Into The Human Mind On The Principles Of Common Sense

I know I should, but I have some Muller on Word doc and it is easier to copy and paste. There is a Reidian answer to this question. We might get there later.

Here is Muller:

Problem of substance
1. Genus/species of a thing
1.1. Being subsisting through or by itself (Keckermann, , Systema logicae minus, I.iii, in Opera, I, col. 175; Substantia est Ens per se subsistens). “substance (substantia) is a being (ens) that has its own existence (proprium esse), and supports incidental properties.”.

2. Beyond Being, and some problems
2.1 essence is the whatness and substance is the existing individual.

3. Related to Divine simplicity
3.1 Since God is one, sole, and absolute, and since there is but a single, undivided divine essence or substance, there can be no genus “god.”
3.2 Therefore, the terms “substance” and “essence” are roughly equivalent in their application to God: the individual being (substance) of God is inseparable from the identity or whatness (essence) that God is.

3.2.1. Indeed, whether one uses essentia or substantia as the proper rendering of ousia, both terms denote “something Absolute, not Relative.

4. The Boethian Problem

In this form, substantia either is taken to mean subsistentia or the definition leads to p 175 a form of tritheism: there cannot be three rational essences or natures in the Godhead. Such language—which understands substance as the equivalent of person in the sense of the Aristotelian “primary substance”—would reduce the unity of the Godhead to a generic unity, with the term “God” indicating a genus or class of beings rather than a single or sole divine Being
By implication, an infinite essence or being can only be one—a denial of numerical oneness would result in the attribution of infinite essence to each one of three separate individuals, clearly an impossibility.
 

Philip

Puritan Board Graduate
Essence is quiddity or whatness.

Substance is stuff or the principle of instantiation. However, given that God is simple, His existence (substance) is His essence.
 

MW

Puritanboard Amanuensis
This is a difficult one because the two terms tend to be used interchangeably when referring to the unity of the Godhead. Conceptually essence might be more of an abstract term and substance a concrete term. When applied to humanity the essence of man would be its quiddity or whatness, and substance would be the concrete manifestation of that in a single human person. In God essence and substance are one.

Would this be an example of the two terms being one?

WSC Q. 6. How many persons are there in the Godhead?
A. There are three persons in the Godhead: the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost; and these three are one God, the same in substance, equal in power and glory.

Is substance the same as essence here?

Assuming "one God" refers to divine essence, the answer would have to be Yes.
 
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