How would you define “essence?”

A few years ago a Pastor and counselor coined the phrase, “Anthropological Essencology.” He counseled men only and sought to do research into the essence of man and how that could enable him to better minister to the men he was seeking to help. Basically, this area of research studies the essence of man.

As part of my doctoral research, I coined a phrase, “Theological Essencology.” This means to study and work to discover the essence of God. Some scholars believe God’s essence is love, some holiness, some aseity, and some others assorted definitions.

It became evident early in my research the first task was to come up with a definition of essence itself. The study of essence dates back well in excess of twenty-five-hundred years.  Some of the earliest research can be found in the writings of Plato where he is quoting Socrates. Socrates felt there was a difference between attributes and essence. In fact, in the dialogue between Socrates and Euthyphro, Socrates declares an attribute cannot be an essence and an essence cannot be an attribute.

Plato and Aristotle also contributed to the research of essence. First, Plato felt an essence must be in a substance and throughout the substance. Plato felt if an essence was throughout the substance it must be such that if the substance was to lose its essence it would cease to exist as it currently does. But it was Aristotle that made some major contributions to the study of essence.

First, Aristotle proposed the existent of what he called, ousia (translated substance). This was the idea of anything that existed had a substance. This substance consisted of what is seen and what is not seen. Because what we see cannot be an essence since there are differences. Aristotle stated several attributes of the essence.  First, since it does not consist of what composes as the body, the essence refers to what cannot be seen. Aristotle referred to this as the soul.  Aristotle referred to the essence of man as the soul.

Aristotle postulated the idea that there are accidents. This is best understood as those things that exist but does not require to exist. Aristotle believed essence was that which caused a substance to be what it is. Aristotle, in addition, believed an essence must not be an accident but must be something that is so necessary it cannot not exist.

In summary (I know much more could be said), an essence must be in a substance, throughout a substance, must not be an accident, and applies only to that part of the substance that cannot be seen. Here is my definition for essence, “Essence is the trait contained in and through a substance that without that trait the substance would cease to exist as it currently does. Essence effects all the attributes of the substance. Essence is not an accident but is an essential part of the substance.”

 

 

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