by Marion Montgomery
The Word in the desert
Is most attacked by voices of temptation,
The drying shadow in the funeral dance,
lament of the disconsolate chimera.
Etienne Gilson (in The Spirit of Thomism, 1966) remarks: "That one does not see any light, may be a fact; to infer from it that there is no light, is a non sequitur." The comment is in a chapter, "A Metaphysics of the Name of God," which seems to me highly pertinent to the history of Eliot's pursuit of the Word, from his Bradleyan studies to his more comfortable assurance in the Four Quartets. Gilson explicates Saint Thomas' argument for
the Being at the center of being, or in Eliot's late phrasing of the idea, "the Word in the desert." He proceeds from Saint Thomas' argument that the act of being has no quiddity of its own "precisely because it does not belong in the order of essence." Existence, the act of being, is separate from the existing of a particular being; that separate act of being is signified by a judgment: namely that existence is the common principle of all existing things. "That whatness [ens] of things [res] differs according to their respective natures, but concerning their thatness [esse], only one of two things can be done -- it can be affirmed or denied." The act of existence, which is common to all things, is "not [itself] a being but rather is that which makes such and such a thing to be a being." "All the other beings are essences, or substances that have their respective acts of being; but their universal cause is not an essence having such an act, it is that very act." The argument that esse is a name of God is then related to scripture in which existence is affirmed as the name of God: Qui est (Exodus 3:14). Eliot, underlining the highest attribute of man, intellectual substance, chooses his phrase out of the New Testament: the Word in the
-- Footnote, p. 27, Marion Montgomery, T. S. Eliot: An Essay on the American Magus, University of Georgia Press, 2008