Essence. This word, like its kindred ens, is traced by Quintilian to a
certain Flavius or Fabianus, but by Seneca to Cicero. As ens means taken
generally existence, and taken particularly an existing individual, so
essence means that which constitutes the existence of anything, makes it
that which it is. It is formed from a real or conjured up participle
present of the verb to be, essens, to which it stands in exactly the
same relation as does the Greek ὀυσία to
Accordingly it seems at first to have been
employed by the Latins as the translation of that,
for which end, however, it became gradually supplanted by substantia.
The result was that the schoolmen distinguished between substance and
essence, and denoted by the latter, the true definition of a thing, to
the exclusion of all that is accidental.
In this sense the reality of the thing is not necessarily implied. An
ens rationis has its essence quite as much as that which actually
Of God alone can it be said that existence is an element of His essence.
The use of the word essence for the product of distillation is obviously
connected with the true and general meaning of the word.
The adjective essential is used continually as synonymous with needful.
Here, however, we do not depart from the true force of the word. It is
essential that we do this, means that doing this is of the essence of
that which we desire or propose.